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Religion and Politics

Aired March 25, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Donna Brazile; on the right, Reverend Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE: While Terri Schiavo's parents grasp at legal threads to restore her feeding tube, is the religious right gaining support because of the Terri Schiavo case or is it about to feel a backlash?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As one Catholic father to another, he's begging the governor to save his daughter. Bob Schindler and Mary Schindler are pleading with Governor Bush.

ANNOUNCER: If the courts ultimately fail them, Florida Governor Jeb Bush emerges as the Schindlers' last hope. What will he do and how might it affect his political future?

Terri Schiavo, religion and politics. When does a question of right or wrong become a matter of right or left?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Joe Watkins.



It's a week now since Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed and her parents' relentless pursue of relief from the courts shows no sign of letting up. In fact, an emergency hearing is set for about an hour from now in state court in Clearwater, Florida.

DONNA BRAZILE, GUEST CO-HOST: If legal avenues finally end, Florida Governor Jeb Bush is preparing his response. Plus, there's the issue of special interest groups who have latched on to Terri Schiavo' case. We'll examine their motives.

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

He's gone to war and he has spent taxpayers' dollars as if there's no tomorrow, but it's the Terri Schiavo case that has triggered a mild earthquake in George W. Bush's presidency. Mr. Bush's job approval rating in a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll has fallen to 48 percent. It's his lowest mark since taking office. That's down seven points from a poll conducted just last weekend, before the president signed the Schiavo bill into law Monday.

Granted, there are other contributing factors to consider. Rising gas prices and sagging confidence in the economy are big ones. But his position on Terri Schiavo's predicament certainly isn't helping his case with the American people. There's no doubt President Bush is facing fallout from his action in cahoots with his pals on Capitol Hill. When will they ever learn to trust the American people?

WATKINS: Well, Donna, you know, it's not about popularity. The president doesn't care about the popularity polls. He cares about doing what's right. And, clearly, doing what he did, signing that bill to keep Terri Schiavo alive, was the right thing to do.

And he's not the only one that thought that. There were a lot of Democrats that joined him and agreed with him on this issue. So, the president is doing the right thing. I support him 1000 percent.

BRAZILE: So, you're telling me that, next time there is an emergency, we should wake him up and make sure that he come from vacation?


BRAZILE: And really act on behalf of the American people and the intelligence bill and other things that they've foot-dragged along?

WATKINS: Well, in this case, the president is always going to err on the side of life. And he did the right thing. I applaud him for it.


WATKINS: Lots of courage.

Former Senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards is a very busy man. He has begun a job as head of the University of North Carolina Law School's new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. I command him for tackling poverty. And I wish him much success. It's a big problem.

But tell me this. What does a multimillionaire like Senator Edwards need with a $40,000-a-year job? That's chump change to him. Not only that, Edwards is appearing on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" to talk about the NCAA basketball tournament. And he released his first podcast on his Web site, where he chats about the tournament, among other things.

Now, is there really an appetite in America for John Edwards' opinion on basketball? If so, maybe there really are two Americas. Now, here's a wild thought. Maybe he's just really keeping his name out there for another run in '08.

Do you think he's going to run for the presidency in '08?

BRAZILE: Well, I hope he puts his hat in the ring, along with others, like Hillary Clinton.

But, look, John Edwards is a man who deeply cares about solving the issues of poverty in this country. And, besides, he's from North Carolina, the Tarheel State. They're famous for loving basketball.


WATKINS: Of course they love basketball. You know, I commend him for what he's trying to do to fight poverty. I think it's a good thing. And it has to do with doing with politics, partisan politics in particular. It has to do with doing what's right. And I commend him. I think it's a good thing. And I wish him the best...


BRAZILE: And I'm glad he's not turning into a high-paid Washington lobbyist, like some people I know when they leave office.




BRAZILE: Well, I must say, I'm shocked. I'm shocked to learn that the federal government may have not been entirely truthful about what it knew regarding Osama bin Laden's whereabouts a few years ago.

A newly discovered Pentagon report appears to go against Washington's long-standing position that it didn't know if al Qaeda's head honcho escaped the battle of Tora Bora in 2001 or if he was even there. The report is posted on the Pentagon Web site. Visit it today. It says that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay admitted to helping bin Laden escape Tora Bora. Though it doesn't say exactly when, there are still a lot of questions about the information in the document.

But it once again supports the notion that the Bush administration took its eyes off the ball. Osama bin Laden's name should now be changed to Osama been forgotten.


WATKINS: No, it's Osama been hiding. That is what he's doing.

BRAZILE: Oh, he...

WATKINS: Osama has been hiding, because we are after him. This president has not taken his eye off the ball. This administration has not taken its eye off the ball. Terror affects all of us, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. WATKINS: And this president has been right on the ball with regards to that. He's going to get Osama bin Laden.


BRAZILE: Senator Kerry said last year in a debate that this administration took the eye off the ball in Tora Bora. The administration denied it. And, once again, now they're admitting after the election that they knew.


WATKINS: Well, if you want to believe what a detainee said, of course. I mean, let's face it.



WATKINS: Look at all the terrorists that have been captured and have been put out of commission already by this administration. The idea is to keep Americans safe.

BRAZILE: But the No. 1 culprit is still having cold pizza delivered to his cave.



WATKINS: Interested in some light reading?

"The Pig Book" is sizzling on stores right now. It -- it -- it chronicles some of Congress' more spectacular pork barrel projects from 1991 to 2004, more than 52,000 of them, running a tab of $185 billion. Waste? You tell me. Check this out, $15 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa, $2.2 million to renovate the North Pole, $273,000 to combat Goth culture -- Goth culture -- in Missouri.

I suspect Senator Rick Santorum, for one, is especially dismayed by such frivolous use of taxpayer money. A couple of weeks ago, he and other senators rolled out the Senate Republican poverty alleviation agenda. The 12-point plan includes boosted charitable giving, enhanced welfare reform, hunger relief and work programs. Senator Santorum's plan to fight inner-city poverty could use an infusion a whole lot more than, let's say, a study of screw worms, which, by the way, got $102 million.

You know, the Republicans are beaten up so often, Donna, for not caring about the poor and the oppressed, but Senator Santorum and a number of his colleagues have come out with a 12-point plan that really is going to do something to help people who are down on their luck.

BRAZILE: Well, look, look, Democrats welcome Republicans' interest in helping and serving the poor. But I got to agree with you that I think there's a lot of pork in this budget. And, by the way, what's a screwworm?



BRAZILE: Next on CROSSFIRE, conservatives and their religious right using the Terri Schiavo case to push their political agenda.

WATKINS: The battle over...

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.



WATKINS: The battle over restoration of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is making its way up the judicial ladder once again. The brain- damaged woman's plight is a private family matter which has taken on a very public life of its own.

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Vic Kamber and Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Welcome to CROSSFIRE.




BRAZILE: Andrea, I found it amazing to read in "The New York Times" that some conservatives organizations are exploiting this case to raise money and find new donors.

In fact, Reverend Lou Sheldon, the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, the organization that you work, said the following. He said -- he said, "This is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement."

LAFFERTY: That is distorted.

BRAZILE: Was he referring to fund-raising? I mean, this is a fund-raising appeal, what it said at the bottom. Please donate online.


BRAZILE: Are you planning to give this money to the family?

LAFFERTY: We have sent out e-mails that specifically link to Terri's Web site to send the money there to help her. What we are trying to do is educate the American people about what's going on. And that was a very distorted piece by "The New York Times" once again. And...

BRAZILE: What's distorted? It's the fact that you're raising money or...

LAFFERTY: They tried to make it sound like that groups are trying to raise money off Terri Schiavo. That's not true. Every conservative, pro-family, Christian group.


BRAZILE: But here's an organization -- here's an organization...

LAFFERTY: That wasn't Traditional Values Coalition.



LAFFERTY: You're talking to me. I represent churches. So, 43,000 churches...

BRAZILE: So you're saying that your group is not raising money?

LAFFERTY: We sent out an e-mail in February and again in March that specifically linked to Terri's Web sites. We're sending the money there.

All of the groups, including ours, need to raise money and do raise money. But we get most of our funding from churches. So, it is highly offensive for articles like this to be in the paper or comments such as yours. We are here fighting to try to save Terri Schiavo's life.

BRAZILE: And not raise money?

LAFFERTY: We're here trying to fight to save Terri Schiavo's life and not raise money, no.

WATKINS: Vic, obviously, there are those who want to make this a political thing. Republicans have certainly come under a lot of fire for intervening, for any kind of intervention in this case.

But the truth of the matter is, is that this hasn't been a case that has split along party lines. A lot of Democrats, a lot of liberal Democrats, have joined Republicans, because, at the end of the day, they know that this woman deserves the right to be nourished.

Now, what do say to that? What do -- what do -- what do -- how do -- how do you attack Republicans for wanting to keep Terri Schiavo alive?


KAMBER: Well, let me...


KAMBER: Very easy, very easy, because you raised it to begin with. People are trying to make this political.

This is a personal family situation. It should not be political. Democrats -- there are several Democrats that have joined with Republicans. But this is a Republican issue. The Republicans brought Congress back...

WATKINS: What, the right to eat, the right to nourishment, the right to life?

KAMBER: The right to go after a base in this country to sell their agenda.

WATKINS: Has nothing to do with base -- has nothing to do -- has nothing -- has nothing to do with base.



KAMBER: Joe, if they -- if Republicans, if Republicans cared about -- if Republicans cared about keeping people alive...

WATKINS: Then why are Democrats like Congressman Ford and Senator Obama and Elijah Cummings, why are these Democrats, who are not -- these are not Republicans. These are Democrats who support...


KAMBER: Joe, we know there are Democrats that believe that she should have her chance in a certain way. We're not suggesting that there's only one agenda. But the people that have brought it up are the Republicans. If they were so concerned about right to life...

LAFFERTY: Ralph Nader? Ralph Nader?

KAMBER: If they were so concerned about right to life, how about feeding people in this country that don't have food?


KAMBER: How about putting medical and health care...




WATKINS: ... talking about.

KAMBER: No, you're not. WATKINS: Rick Santorum...


KAMBER: You're dealing with one person -- you're dealing with one person's life, so that you can get political traction. And that's all it's about.


LAFFERTY: Let me comment here.


BRAZILE: Andrea...

LAFFERTY: I -- I ran an organization where I took care of homeless children. I had homeless children live with me because the county couldn't find foster parents.

KAMBER: And we should applaud that. I'm all for it. Great.

LAFFERTY: The pro-family movement is very concerned and very involved in our communities in helping feed people.

KAMBER: I'm not suggesting -- I'm not suggesting they're not. But they're not on the Hill lobbying those same Republicans that are voting to cut budgets, to cut budgets.

LAFFERTY: I'm on the Hill. I'm a lobbyist and I'm lobbying.

KAMBER: Then where's health care? Where are the Republicans for health care? Where are the Republicans to feed people? It's not there.

LAFFERTY: They are there. They are there.


BRAZILE: Well, Andrea, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that this is much larger than politics. Some people are also saying that the Republicans and the conservatives, like your organization, you're using this to undermine the American judiciary. Where do you stand on that?


BRAZILE: Are you using this case to undermine federal judges, as well as state judges? Clearly, there is a campaign now against Judge Greer.


LAFFERTY: Greer acted on his own.

(CROSSTALK) BRAZILE: A conservative Republican, a regular churchgoer. By every definition of the word, he's no liberal. So why are you going after the judges?

LAFFERTY: I don't know what church he goes -- I don't know anything about what church he goes to. This is an example of a judiciary out of control. And we are here trying to save a life. And it's exposing the judicial system.

BRAZILE: So you will...

KAMBER: So, the Republican Supreme Court is out of control. The appellate court is out of control.


LAFFERTY: It's going back to -- no. It starts...

KAMBER: It's the Congress that's out of control.

LAFFERTY: It started with Greer.


KAMBER: The Congress should not have brought this up. They're out of control.


LAFFERTY: You're taking -- it started with a judge taking the word of an adulterer. This man, Schiavo, now has a common law wife and children. He doesn't care about Terri Schiavo.

KAMBER: The judge listened -- the judge listened to the medical evidence.


LAFFERTY: Oh, there is so much -- there needs to be a new trial.

WATKINS: Vic, conservatives -- in politics, politicians are always criticized for bending to the will of the polls and for doing for what looks to be politically expedient. But this is a case, clearly, where a lot of politicians just -- they didn't care about the polls. They just moved on principle.


KAMBER: Do you believe that?

WATKINS: I do, indeed.


KAMBER: You don't think if a poll had been taken before that Saturday meeting, we'd have the vote? WATKINS: You tell me why Chaka Fattah took time to come down.

KAMBER: I'm telling...

WATKINS: He's a Democrat.

KAMBER: I am telling you,...

WATKINS: Took time to come down and vote in support of saving Terri Schiavo's life.

KAMBER: I'm telling you that, had the poll, had the poll been taken before...

WATKINS: Elijah Cummings...


LAFFERTY: You Democrats are trying to make this. You're saying it is...


BRAZILE: Democrats didn't do anything.

KAMBER: Had the polling been taken before Congress convened, you would not have had a session in Congress that weekend. That's that simple. This country is run by polls on both parties. I'm not defending Democrats over that. But they run on polls. The polling has shown the country is on the side of the -- of the family to keep this out of the courts.

BRAZILE: But, Andrea, do you see a contradiction, traditional conservatives, who in the past condemned judicial activism, and now being confronted with evangelicals and others urging judges to act and to get involved in cases like this? How will you resolve this matter?

LAFFERTY: Asking judges to be involved. We believe that, again, there needs to be a new trial.

I am here. I am a Christian first. I'm a conservative second. And we need to show compassion for a woman. In the United States of America, in the 21st century, we should not be starving someone to death.

KAMBER: Can I ask a question. I'm not sure what that means, I'm a Christian first and a conservative second. I'm a Christian. I'm a Democrat. You know, my father was a minister.

LAFFERTY: I'm a Bible...


KAMBER: So, what does that have to do with being a conservative or a liberal?


BRAZILE: I wanted to know. I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not attacking...



BRAZILE: I'm not attacking Christians. I'm raising the contradictions that many Christians on the right have with dealing with this issue as paramount in defining the issue of life, when there are other issues that more define the issue of life as well.

WATKINS: Well, Donna, there are Christian people on both sides of the aisle. There's no doubt about that.

BRAZILE: I agree.

WATKINS: There are principled people on both sides of the aisle. That's why this was not a pure party-line vote. There were democrats who voted in synch with the president and the Republicans on the issue, because they felt it was the right thing to do.

BRAZILE: And there are Republicans who voted against this measure as well.

LAFFERTY: And the president -- the Congress and the president have acted because they -- it is what they're supposed to do to protect citizens, to protect life. This has nothing to do with politics.

BRAZILE: They set a dangerous precedent of undermining local courts, when there has been 19 different trials.


LAFFERTY: It has to do with true compassion, true compassion.

KAMBER: I would have hoped that the president, if you show true compassion, I would have hoped the president...


KAMBER: Well, I'll stop.


WATKINS: When our guests return, we'll ask how the Schiavo case might impact the political future of Governor Jeb Bush.

And, do you like to travel? Do you speak several languages? Find out who's hiring right after the break.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf Blitzer continues his trek through the Persian Gulf. Today, he's in Baghdad.

Terri Schiavo's father says she's down to her last few hours. And there's an emergency court hearing in Florida set to begin within the hour. Could the political fight over the Schiavo case split the GOP?

And the CIA is looking for a few good spies. We'll tell you why potential intelligence agents are in such high demand.

All those stories and much more moments away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: In less than 45 minutes, an emergency hearing will -- will be convened in the state of Florida on a new motion from the parents of Terri Schiavo. While we wait, we are considering the potential fallout from this very emotional case.

Our guests are Traditional Values Coalition executive director Andrea Lafferty and Democratic strategist Vic Kamber.

WATKINS: Hey, Vic.

The first question has to do with Governor Bush. You know, I'm a big supporter of Jeb Bush. And I think he's doing a great job. You know, he has been a man who has stood on principle. And, in this case, he's doing all he can, within the restrictions of his job, of course, and the law, to save the life of Terri Schiavo. Why are you against that?

KAMBER: Well, first of all, it's terrific to know you admire Jeb Bush. What he's doing right now, my question is, why didn't he do it a month ago or two months ago?

WATKINS: Well, he's done other things, the Terri law, the law, Terri Schiavo law.


KAMBER: Why didn't he go to the legislature then? Why didn't he go to all the extremes he is doing to now? It's become a political issue now. And that's how he is dealing with it, as a political issue.

I understand he may believe it and he may be principle. I'm not going to give him any high marks for doing what he should have done a month ago, six months ago, three years ago. He's been governor for six years now.

WATKINS: Well, of course...


KAMBER: If he's believed this, why didn't he do something in the beginning? (APPLAUSE)

WATKINS: We all know, Vic -- we all know that he has intervened before. And thanks to Governor Bush in the past...

KAMBER: And failed. And failed. And failed.

WATKINS: And succeeded as well, I mean, succeeded in getting her tube reinserted when it's been taken out before. So, you have to give him credit. I mean, he has been doing all the right stuff for a long time, consistently.

KAMBER: Isn't it horrible we're sitting here talking about this one woman's life as if she's a piece...

WATKINS: No, it's not, because every person's life matters, Vic.


WATKINS: every person's life matters. Yours does. Mine does.


KAMBER: But we're dealing with...


KAMBER: ... as if she's a piece of meat. We're not dealing with it as a life.


WATKINS: Andrea, first of all, would you advise -- thank you. Would you advise Governor Bush to take matters in his own hands and send in federal or state agents to go and take this woman out of her bed?

LAFFERTY: I'm shocked. I have to respond what Vic said first, talking about -- we're not talking about her as being a piece of meat. She's a life.

KAMBER: Yes, she is. And we should be praying for that life.

LAFFERTY: And the problem is, there are those that are treating her that way.


LAFFERTY: And that's why people such as myself and others are engaged in this issue, because we believe in life before birth, up until death, until -- and what's happening is outrageous.

KAMBER: You believe in life before -- you believe in life before life, but not while they're living usually. That's the problem.

(APPLAUSE) LAFFERTY: Oh, we do believe while they're living.

WATKINS: No, no, no, absolutely, while people are living as well.


BRAZILE: But I have an important matter. And that is, this week, the Catholic Church announced a renewed campaign to oppose the death penalty. There's been an alliance between evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church in the past. Will the evangelical Christians join the Catholic Church in opposing the death penalty?

LAFFERTY: Don't know. I do support the death penalty.

KAMBER: How could you -- how could you sit here and say that? How could you...


LAFFERTY: Terri Schiavo is innocent.

KAMBER: The most heinous murderer in the world is still a life. How would you put him to death...





BRAZILE: And how do we know if those 3,000....

WATKINS: And the most heinous murderer is treated better than Terri Schiavo.





WATKINS: How is it that somebody who has committed the act of murder, like the fellow in California who killed his wife and unborn child, how is it that he has the right to life and Terri Schiavo doesn't? How is that Terri Schiavo doesn't have the right to nourishment? He has the right to nourishment. Why doesn't -- why doesn't -- why doesn't Terri Schiavo have that right?


LAFFERTY: Yes. KAMBER: She made a decision, because I believe her husband.

WATKINS: How do we know?

LAFFERTY: Her husband?

KAMBER: Because I believe her husband.



KAMBER: She made a decision. And the doctors have told us she will never come out of what she has got.

LAFFERTY: Many Americans don't believe her husband.


KAMBER: Well, many Americans don't, because they don't want to. The fact is, she made a decision.


LAFFERTY: He's a questionable character at best.

BRAZILE: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you, Vic.

This debate will continue.

Next on CROSSFIRE, we'll have just a little conversation. You won't believe what Barbara Bush is saying about Hillary Clinton. Find out right after this commercial break.



WATKINS: Former first lady Barbara Bush -- she's one of my favorites, by the way -- usually keeps a low profile, so perhaps we should pay especially close attention when she shares her thoughts about the next presidential race.

Mrs. Bush spoke to students at a leadership forum yesterday in Modesto, California, where she predicted that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democratic candidate for president in 2008. What's more, says Mrs. Bush, Senator Clinton will lose. Mrs. Bush also predicted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won't run in 2008.

And I think she's right, Donna. I think she's absolutely right. I think -- well, certainly, I know Condi has said again and again that she is not going to run for the presidency in '08. And I think that's smart, because she wants to really concentrate on being a great secretary of state.

BRAZILE: But Hillary Clinton is more than qualified. Like Elvis and Oprah, she's known by the majority of Americans.

WATKINS: Oh, no doubt qualified.

BRAZILE: She is on a first-name basis. And I not only believe that she will run, but I believe that she can win. And she's more than experienced to be commander in chief.


BRAZILE: You heard it here first.

WATKINS: Well, she's clearly qualified. The question is, is she -- does she have what it takes to be the president of the United States? And, clearly, she's...


BRAZILE: America is ready. America is ready.

WATKINS: She's a lightning rod for...


BRAZILE: It's time that you support Hillary.


BRAZILE: From the left, I am Donna Brazile. Happy Easter. That's it for CROSSFIRE.


WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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