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Politics of Terri Schiavo Case

Aired March 23, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Ralph Nader; on the right, Robert Novak.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every minute that goes by from this point is something that we're very concerned about. So, we just have to hope for the best.

ANNOUNCER: Terri Schiavo's parents and brother are pleading with federal judges and vow to take their case to the Supreme Court in their quest to have her feeding tube restored. Will the justices respond in a way that other judges haven't?

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: This is exactly the issue that's going on in America that -- attacks against the conservative groups, against me and against many others.

ANNOUNCER: Tom DeLay says the Schiavo case is another attack on the Christian right. His opponents say he's trying to divert attention from his own problem. Is anyone playing politics with the Terri Schiavo case?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Ralph Nader and Robert Novak.



Terri Schiavo's parents are racing against the clock. The full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have refused to revisit a request to restore their brain-damaged feeding tube, a request already rejected by a three-judge panel of the same court. Will the Supreme Court intervene?

My co-host today is consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He and I will delve into the Schiavo case.

First, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." RALPH NADER, GUEST CO-HOST: Vice President Dick Cheney praises Bush's appointment of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank and John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as advancing our public diplomacy. Hello.

Wolfowitz, the unilateral destroyer, a primary architect of the disastrous Iraq war, is become Wolfowitz the multilateral builder? While hawk John Bolton, who openly hates the U.N. and has said no U.S. dues should be paid to the U.N., is to represent the U.S. at the U.N.? What is up here? Spreading more messianic, militarist, big-business domination and go-it-alone diplomacy around the world? No wonder people around the world who we have to work with are voicing opposition. For more, see

NOVAK: You know, Ralph, I haven't felt so happy in years. John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz are terrific appointments. They're brilliant men. If you knew them, you would know how smart they are. And, as a reformer, you should be happy that they are going to clean up inefficient organizations and, in the case of the U.N., a highly corrupt organization.

NADER: I'll let you rebut yourself on that.


NOVAK: Oh, you will. OK.


NOVAK: John Edwards, the Democrats' candidate for vice president last year, just found work, $40,000 a year at the university of North Carolina Law School. Why does a multimillionaire trial lawyer need another 40 grand?

Republicans ask why a presidential hopeful gets any money from a state institution? The university says the money for Edwards comes from private sources. But it's a matter of what pocket you put the money in. Besides, what is the state university doing creating what they call a Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and giving it to a politician who ran for president preaching class warfare and claiming there are two Americas?

Is the great UNC a liberal Democratic fortress? Is the pope Catholic?

NADER: Vintage Novak. You should be praising Edwards for not going for the big-money job. He seems to be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Every university should study how to reduce poverty, especially since tens of millions of Americans are in poverty, whether they are working or not.

NOVAK: You know, I speak on the college campus sometimes, Ralph, and the students tell me they are sickened by the left-wing professors they have to deal with. And to create a John Edwards for president center at...


NOVAK: ... the University of North Carolina is disgusting.

NADER: That's because the only students who come to hear you are sickened.

NOVAK: No. No.




You know the Patriot Act goes too far when former Republican Congressman, ex-CIA official and ex-suspect DA Bob Barr says enough is enough. In an open letter today to President Bush, Mr. Barr and his very conservative associates said it is time for Congress to amend several provisions of the so-called Patriot Act to protect Americans' most fundamental freedoms.

Many conservatives and liberals are joining together to restore our civil liberties by repealing sections of the Patriot Act. There's no place in our republic for secret searches of homes and businesses without notice, arrests without charges, indefinite imprisonment without attorneys, relying on secret evidence, collecting personal information on law-abiding Americans, misuse of military tribunals, too vague a definition of terrorism and weakening the judiciary while abandoning probable cause standards.

For more information on conservative Barr's letter, visit, to whom he is a consultant.

NOVAK: Well, you should know, Ralph, of course, that this -- this bipartisan liberal and conservative group didn't say we should repeal the Patriot Act. They said it needs some improvement. I agree with about 98 percent of what they said there.


NOVAK: I think it -- I think that Ashcroft went too far and refused to bow to any criticism.

NADER: You are redeemed.

NOVAK: The bat...


NOVAK: The battle cry of European workers has been demands for long vacations and short work weeks, especially in France. The Europeans have looked down on their American brethren working so hard.

The French enjoy their month-long vacations and 35-hour work weeks. The result, rising unemployment and reduced competitiveness for France. So, the conservative-dominated French National Assembly voted yesterday to end the 35-hour work week. The new law also for the first time permits optional overtime in return for extra pay. The French labor leaders seem terribly afraid that the French workers might be required to do a little bit of work. Wouldn't that just be horrible?

NADER: They don't call you the prince of darkness for nothing, Bob.


NADER: For heaven's sake, unemployment, when have you a 30-hour week, you spread out more jobs for more people. And France's problem is corporate globalization.

By the way, in your exalted position, you are quite able to live in order to work all the time. But most millions of people want to work in order to live.

NOVAK: Well, most people like to work.

And you know, under Naderomics, when you -- when you spread out the work week, instead of creating more jobs, it creates more unemployment.


NOVAK: You ought to study that. It's very interesting.

Terri Schiavo's parents are hoping for the Supreme Court to save her. What's the next step in this heart wrenching-case? And what are the political implications?

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.



NOVAK: The legal maneuvers continue five days after removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. For the second time in less than a day, a federal appeals court refused to hear a request to reinsert the tube. What will or what should happen next?

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, and Dorothy Timbs, legislative counsel for the National Right to Life Committee.

Ms. Norton, I'm going to play you a little statement made by Brother Paul O'Donnell, who is a spokesman for the Schindler family, Ms. Schiavo's family. Let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL O'DONNELL, SPOKESMAN FOR SCHINDLER FAMILY: Her face is starting to get very hollow around the chin. There are indentations, ridges under the eyes. Her tongue is swelling. She is being starved to death. She is dying.


NOVAK: As a compassionate person, Ms. Norton, don't you feel some kind of shame or embarrassment that we, as a civilized country, are treating an innocent person in a way that we wouldn't treat a dog?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: The only embarrassment I felt eventually is having to go to the House floor on a Sunday night because of the Republicans tried to do something that has never been done in 215 years of the American republic. They tried to intervene into court proceedings and to -- overturning all of the principles of federalism for which they have stood.

In terms of what is happening to this young woman, the only standard that is important here is what Terri wanted. And we know what Terri wanted, because it's been adjudicated for seven straight years.


NOVAK: You gave me a -- you gave me a lawyer's answer, Eleanor. And I'm probably foolish for trying. But I've been trying all week to get people sitting there to say if there isn't some kind of heartbreak over taking a woman who obviously was not a vegetable, who was -- had lost -- who was in a state of consciousness, but treating her as you wouldn't treat a dog, as dehydrating her, as starving her to death. Isn't there some feeling?

NORTON: Dr. Novak, the fact is that the experts say that this notion of starvation is in fact not applicable to somebody who is in a persistent vegetative state. She does not feel starvation. She is not in pain. And to the extent that she is, she's in a hospice, where they know how to take care of it, Doctor.

NADER: Ms. Timbs, what do you think probably your two favorite Supreme Court justices, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, should decide?

DOROTHY TIMBS, NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE COMMITTEE: Well, obviously, our position here is that Congress had every right to step in, and they have done so before. They have done so in habeas corpus proceedings. They have done so in the right to remove civil rights actions into federal court.

And this -- we feel this is a right -- this is an example where the rights of people with disabilities is concerned. And so, I believe that the justices should rule in our favor.

NADER: In what way, though?

TIMBS: Well, they should rule, first of all, on the temporary restraining order, which is the issue at home today. If Terri dies, everything is moot. Everyone knows that here today.

And, as you pointed out, it's a crime in Florida to starve a dog. And yet, today, we stand here in a civilized nation and we sanction the starvation and dehydration of a woman who is not term terminally ill, who left no written directive, and whose guardian, so-called husband, Michael Schiavo, is very susceptible to a conflict of interests here, living with another woman, has had two children with her. It seems questionable.


NADER: Don't you think this could be solved? All these court decisions are based on one situation, that Michael Schiavo is the guardian.

So, if Michael Schiavo now, who basically has a common law wife and two children and could be considered conflicted, asks the court to relieve him of the guardianship and transfer it to the mother and father of Terri, who want to take care of her for the whole duration, don't you think that's the best way to solve this problem?

TIMBS: Well, that's one -- that's a possibility. That's one possibility of many.

To me, the crux of this issue is whether this was her wish, whether Terri said, I want to be starved and dehydrated to death in the event that I become incapacitated. And if you don't have something like that written down, I think we should err on -- on the side of caution.

NOVAK: Congresswoman, let me -- since I know you're a very compassionate person, but I couldn't get you to -- twice, I tried to get to you look at this as a compassionate person. But you are also a very good lawyer. I want you to look at it as a lawyer.

There was a dissenting opinion on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today by Judge Charles R. Wilson. I believe he's a Clinton appointee. This was a dissenting opinion. And he said, "The denial of plaintiff's request for an injunction frustrates Congress' intent, which is to maintain the status quo by keeping Terri Schiavo alive until the federal courts have a new and adequate opportunity to consider the constitutional issues raised by plaintiffs."

I mean, isn't that obvious that if you say, OK, we're not going to rule on it and she dies, as Ms. Timbs says, the issue becomes moot?

NORTON: Well, it's true that many of my colleagues wanted in fact to keep Terri alive for as long as they could.

But the law and the only law they could have passed said that the court was to look at -- was to issue an injunction after a hearing on the merits on the denial of her constitutional or federal rights. That required a hearing on a temporary restraining order. And to do a temporary restraining order, you must find a likelihood of success, in fact, a strong likelihood of success.

There was no strong likelihood of success. That is federal law.


NORTON: They did -- they did -- they did what the law requires. Whatever you may want, they did what the law requires.

And on habeas corpus, if I may tell you, never has the Congress intervened into a single person's habeas corpus proceeding. In fact, the Congress has passed laws drawing in habeas corpus, so that you cannot, in a criminal proceeding, go for habeas corpus in the broad way we used to, no matter how much evidence comes forward that you may be innocent.

TIMBS: If I may make a point, though, on the case, you say that you have to prove a strong likelihood of success on the merits.

Even the case, though, that the court cited, the Ruiz (ph) case, noted that there will be circumstances where the irreparable harm is going to be so grave that you have to take that into account. It's an elastic test. It's not a rigid test.

NORTON: They took that into account. The court specifically said, there will be irreparable harm. But it said, under all of the rulings, the most important factor is that there must be a likelihood of success.

And if I may say so, Justice Rehnquist is the -- is the of an opinion that says that there is a liberty to in fact stop medical -- medicine when you want to.

NOVAK: We're going to take a break.

And when we return with our guests, we'll ask whether the governor of Florida could still have influence over the Terri Schiavo case.

And, right after the break, an uptake on why funerals for victims of this week's Minnesota school shooting are being delayed.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Bill Hemmer in New York City.

Coming up at the top of the hour here, Wolf Blitzer continues his reporting from the USS Carl Vinson, as he continues his assignment in the Persian Gulf today

Also ahead, we have been hearing about the political side of the Terri Schiavo case. We'll cover the medical angle and the legal side in a moment here.

Those funerals are being delayed in Red Lake, Minnesota. Authorities now trying to continue to investigate Monday's school massacre. How are the survivors now coping with the aftermath? We will check in there.

All the stories and a whole lot more coming up at the top of the hour on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." See you in a couple minutes here.

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: We're talking about the Terri Schiavo case.

And the Florida Senate has just rejected a bill to reconnect her feeding tube.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighteen yeas, 21 nays, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By your vote, the bill is defeated.


NOVAK: More on the legal measures being taken to still to try to keep her alive and the politics of her life and death.

Our guests are Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat, District of Columbia, and National Right to Life legislative counsel Dorothy Timbs -- Ralph.

NADER: I must say, I don't see a government interest in denying the parents their desire to take care of Terri. I don't see a government interest.

I think that shifting the guardianship from Michael to the mother and father of Terri is the way to resolve this. Nobody knows what Terri would say. She was alleged to have said something, hearsay, to the side of the family of her husband. She didn't talk about feeding tubes. She doesn't have a ventilator. She doesn't have a heart pump. I don't see the government interest.

So, this puts me on a different political spectrum than Eleanor Holmes Norton. And so, let me put it this way. The Democrats usually are very compassionate about preventing occupational diseases and air pollution and medical malpractice deaths and so on. And, on this, they seem to be in the harsh arena. Apart from all the quibbles about jurisdiction, we're getting right down to who should be the guardian here.

And, on the other hand, the Republicans were so vocal with their compassionate statements on Sunday about this one person. And they are about as cruel as I have seen a political party on hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths on the job, in the environment, and in hospital malpractice. Can you bridge that gap?


NADER: Can you bridge that gap?

TIMBS: Well -- well, first of all, you know, this issue is not about Republicans and Democrats. If you look at the House vote, you had almost as many Democrats who voted for this issue as we had -- as we had Republicans. In the Senate, we had some disagreement about the form that the bill should take, but there was no formal objection. So, I'm not going to speak to that. If you disagree with Republicans' positions on other things, you know, I'm sorry for that. We're not even a Republican organization. This issue is about the rights of just people with disabilities.

Senator Harkin recognized that. And that's why he took the lead on this as well. And I'm happy to hear that you agree that the guardianship should go to the parents, which...

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alan Dershowitz, who, like Ralph Nader, is an honest guy, says that this -- if this were a death penalty case and the legislature was saying no, the liberals would be jumping up and down. If you had some murderer, a murderer who was about to be murdered and the -- and this sort of thing was going on to save -- to make sure he was killed, the liberals wouldn't like it. Isn't that true?

NORTON: I don't know what Alan is talking about.

The fact is that the right to life, let's base this on the fact that murderers can in fact go into court, but on a much more limited circumstance than was allowed for this single person in this case. And that's the important thing to remember. Yes, if the state is going to deprive you of your life, it is she who said that she did not want to live under these circumstances.

If the state is going to deprive you of your life -- if the state is going to deprive you of your life, then, of course, habeas corpus obtains, very limited habeas corpus today.

NOVAK: That's going to be the last word.

Thank you very much, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dorothy Timbs.

First, it was Florida. Then it was Ohio. Now America is waiting on the outcome of another high-profile voting controversy. We'll explain after this.



NOVAK: "American Idol" has gone the way of Florida and Ohio, no hanging chads, but many voters no doubt did think they were voting for one candidate when they actually were voting for somebody else.

Last night, viewers called in to cast ballots for their favorite singers. The lowest vote-getter is supposed to be bounced from the show. But this time, Fox mixed up contestants' phone numbers. So, rather than name a loser tonight, as planned, Fox will air encore performances and let viewers vote again. We'll get the results on a special show tomorrow night. An embarrassment reversed or was it just giving the network an extra play of a highly rated program?

NADER: Bob, I'm glad you recognize that the Republican-governed states of Ohio and Florida messed up with the voters.


NADER: Maybe this "American Idol" controversy will generate reform, so that...


NADER: So that there will be federal standards for federal elections, as we discussed last year on our voting -- on

NOVAK: I -- I -- I got bad news, George W. Bush will still be president.



NADER: All right. From the progressive left, I'm Ralph Nader. Got a new blog on

NOVAK: That's it for CROSSFIRE, isn't it? 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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