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Legal System Not Budging on Terri Schiavo Case Despite Repeated Pleas from Parents; 'Political Alert:' Bush Vs. AARP;

Aired March 30, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Reverend Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE: The parents of Terri Schiavo continue fighting to reconnect their daughter's feeding tube, but a federal court slams the door on their emergency request for another hearing. Another high-profile visitor comes to Pinellas Park. The first member of Congress visits Schiavo's hospice.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I sometimes got to tell you that I get chills from listening to doctor after doctor getting on talk shows and television shows, saying, oh, I would easily pull the plug on this case, or, I would easily remove a feeding tube here.

ANNOUNCER: It's been 13 days without nourishment for Terri Schiavo. How long will Schiavo's parents be able to hold on to their glimmer of hope?




ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Joe Watkins.


Another legal setback for Terri Schiavo's parents today. A federal appeals court in Atlanta refused to intervene in Schiavo's case the day after that court had agreed to allow Bob and Mary Schindler to file a petition seeking to reconnect Terri's feeding tube.

JOE WATKINS, GUEST CO-HOST: It's now been 13 days since that tube was disconnected. And even the -- with high-profile visits to Florida from Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Jesse Jackson, it looks like the options for Terri's parents are nearly exhausted.

We'll get into the issues in a moment. But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush went to Iowa today to promote his plan to fix Social Security. Why does the AARP have a problem with that? According to "The Washington Post," the AARP will spend more than $5 million in just two weeks on TV ads like this one blasting President Bush's plan to fix Social Security.

What's the problem? The AARP doesn't like the idea of setting up personal accounts, even though it sells its own mutual funds to its members. So, instead, it buys TV time and organizes protests when the president or members of Congress go on the road to talk about the need to fix Social Security. And where are the Democrats?

They haven't really done anything, except say they don't like the president's plan either. Here's a tip for both groups. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with the president, but instead of trying to scare people into being against the only idea on the table, how about coming up with some ideas of your own?

BEGALA: They do have ideas. That's not a fair criticism.

Congressman Obey from Wisconsin has put a plan out there, Congressman Sabo from Minnesota. Senator Harry Reid, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, has put forward a plan. And, basically, the plans for my party are this. First, stop George Bush from stealing from the Social Security trust fund to finance tax cuts for the rich.


BEGALA: Second, make him pay back the money he has already stolen. Third, let's strengthen retirement security without borrowing $2 trillion and cutting Social Security benefits.


BEGALA: That's the Democratic plan. It's a good plan. If Bush will get on board that, maybe he would be popular again.


BEGALA: Republican House Leader Tom DeLay has been sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee more than any other current member of Congress. Think about that. Being the scummiest member of the Republican Congress is quite a feat, kind of like being the tallest guy on the Houston Rockets. You got a lot of competition.


BEGALA: Delay preaches his Christian value and then jets off on luxury junkets paid by gambling interests and corrupt lobbyists. The Campaign For America's Future, a reform group, is airing this ad now in targeted congressional districts.


NARRATOR: Tom DeLay can't wash his hands of corruptions by involving Congress in one family's personal tragedy, but Congress can certainly wash its hands of Tom DeLay.


BEGALA: Well put. I say it's time to reform Congress without delay.


WATKINS: Well, I don't think that's the case. Tom DeLay has certainly been very strong. And because he's been so strong as a leader in the House, he's been a real lightning rod for discontent. I mean, there are folks that are after him because of redistricting in his home state of Texas. And this is really very, very mean-spirited. Tom DeLay also, by the way...


WATKINS: ... for Terri Schiavo.

BEGALA: Roy Blunt, Roy Blunt, Roy Blunt is the next leader in the House.

WATKINS: And I applaud him for that.

BEGALA: Roy Blunt is the next highest ranking Republican. He's not at all corrupt. He's just as strong. He's just not crooked. DeLay is crooked. He is corrupt. And Republicans should not be choosing him to be their leader.


WATKINS: He's not crooked.


WATKINS: In this country, we say innocent until proven guilty.

BEGALA: Three times, he's been sanctioned guilty by his House Committee on Ethics.


WATKINS: Yes, but he's not been found guilty by anybody. He's still an innocent man. And we ought to respect that.

BEGALA: Well...

WATKINS: There was a teachers' meeting in Afghanistan today and a great example of using the bully pulpit of the White House to promote progress in a new democracy.

First lady Laura Bush, a former schoolteacher, met with women training to be teachers at Kabul University. Mrs. Bush says that making sure women there receive an education is the most critical tool to keep Afghanistan's democracy growing. The first lady noted that, when the Taliban ran things, Afghan women were denied any chance of learning and were denied most other basic human rights. Since the U.S. showed the Taliban the door, millions of women have been able to return to work and school and millions of women had the chance to vote in free elections last October. Mrs. Bush also brought more than $20 million earmarked for education with her. The trip is an excellent use of her celebrity to highlight the progress of democracy in that part of the world. My hat is off to you, Laura Bush.

BEGALA: And mine as well. I admire Mrs. Bush. She doesn't need to do that, you know?


BEGALA: And any time a first lady takes a long trip like that, any time she goes to see our troops, it's a wonderful thing. I do think it's important for all of us. I hope she comes home and tell her husband, don't take your eye off the ball in Afghanistan.

The narco traffickers are back. They're growing more poppies than every before. The Taliban is trying to come back and oppress women again. God bless Laura Bush for shining a light on that. And let's hope her husband follows her lead.


BEGALA: Good for Mrs. Bush.

Well, speaking of Mrs. Bush's husband, Alex Young, Karen Bauer and Leslie Weise are all patriotic American citizens. Their local congressman, Republican Bob Beauprez of Colorado, got them tickets to President Bush's recent Social Security dog-and-pony show in Denver. And yet, these three Americans were tossed out of the event, thrown out, their attorney claims, by a Republican staffer, not for disrupting the event. They didn't. Not for threatening anyone. They were perfectly peaceful. They did nothing wrong.

And yet some Republican thug allegedly threw them out of the president's meeting. Why? Because, they allege, they arrived in a car with a bumper sticker reading -- quote -- "No more blood for oil" -- unquote. That's it, a bumper sticker. Well, welcome to George W. Bush's America. You can exercise your free speech, so long as you agree with Mr. Bush. God only knows what Mr. Bush's thugs had done if they had shown up with this.



BEGALA: Arrest me. Take me away.


WATKINS: Well, the truth of the matter is, Paul...


BEGALA: That is thuggery, isn't it?


BEGALA: Careful. Bush will arrest you.

WATKINS: The same thing happened to me. I was denied access to a Clinton White House event back in the 1990s.

BEGALA: For a bumper sticker.

WATKINS: No, because I had worked with George Herbert Walker Bush.

BEGALA: Nonsense.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

BEGALA: Nonsense.

WATKINS: This happened to me. I was with a client of mine. I was supposed to be coming to this event.

BEGALA: You were lobbying. Well, OK.


WATKINS: No, no, I wasn't lobbying.


WATKINS: It was a wonderful event at the White House. And I was there at the gates and I was denied access.

BEGALA: Had you been invited?

WATKINS: I had been invited and I was turned...

BEGALA: Who threw you out?

WATKINS: A White House staffer.

BEGALA: Nonsense. That's baloney.

WATKINS: Democrat.


BEGALA: Well, you join me. Whatever thugs threw these American citizens out, you know, George Bush works for them, not the other way around.

WATKINS: Terri -- Terri Schiavo's parents had hoped a federal appeals court would listen to their plea. Now the focus turns to Tallahassee and the Florida legislature. Next, we'll debate the political and legal fight over Terri Schiavo's life. 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.

Any ray of hope Terri Schiavo's parents thought might have been offered by the federal appeals court has been shut off now that that court has again denied a request for a rehearing.

Meanwhile, politicians, from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to Republican Senator Rick Santorum, are on the scene and have been courageous enough to pose for the cameras.

Here in the CROSSFIRE, Tony Perkins, president and executive director of the Family Research Council, and Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the congressional delegate from the District of Columbia.

Good to see you both. Thank you for coming in.


WATKINS: Congresswoman, so many people are trying to make this a political issue by saying that this is about politics, Republicans want this and so and so want this, and people are posturing for the cameras. But, ultimately, I think the presence of people like Rick Santorum and Jesse Jackson, people you would usually not see together, or, for instance, Jesse Jackson meeting today with Governor Jeb Bush in Florida, again, two people you normally wouldn't think of being together on an issue, doesn't that show this is bigger than politics?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: Well, it is bigger than politics.

But once you see a man who ran for president and one who is running for the Senate, it's hard to say that politics isn't in here. What really put politics in here was not who is meeting now. It is 535 members of Congress intruding into the private affairs, tragically private affairs of a family. And America has spoken. Eighty percent of them says, hey, whatever side you're on in your case, stay out of my end-of-life decision, Congress.


BEGALA: Well, Mr. Perkins -- let me bring Mr. Perkins into this.

First, it's good of you to do this. Thank you for -- for joining us.

The 11th Circuit Court just this afternoon turned down another appeal from Ms. Schiavo's parents. The reporting of that decision -- I'll tell you, I haven't read it yet. The ink is not dry yet. But the reporting on that, our reporter on the scene, Rick Sanchez, says the court used rather stinging language against those who have accused the court of judicial activism, saying, in fact, that had they gone beyond the law, if they ruled the way that Mrs. Schiavo's parents had asked, that would have been judicial activism. Isn't this a case where you are seeking judicial activism, even though conservatives traditionally say they don't it?


I think what happened here is, you had a bipartisan majority of Congress acted on behalf of the -- of Terri's parents, who asked their congressman to get involved in this issue, brought the measure before Congress. Bipartisan majority acted, passed it, simply asking the courts to look at the facts anew. And you had two branches of government doing that, both the Congress and the president, who signed it.

But then you have the court, who really is in this persistent state of arrogance, in that they refuse to acknowledge that there are three branches of government and there's a system of checks and balances. What has been happening -- what has happened here is, the court is shaping new public policy on end-of-life decisions. That is a policy decision that should be made by the legislative branch.

BEGALA: Well, I disagree. You may like or dislike the way the court has come out. But it seems to me they have been very restrained here. They have been strict constructionists. They have said this, in effect.

Florida law says that the patient's wishes control. The court has found, as a matter of fact, beyond -- not beyond a reasonable doubt, but -- but preponderance of evidence, that Mrs. Schiavo had said she did not want to be fed or resuscitated in an artificial way. And so they're acting on that. The law says that the husband stands in for the spouse. The courts seem to me to be very restrained and strict constructionists, which is what you people say you want. Where -- what -- where have they gone wrong?

PERKINS: Well, what the courts have done, there is information that has surfaced that Congress has seen. There's over two dozen different affidavits that have been filed by caregivers.

BEGALA: This is 15 years into the deal.

PERKINS: That's right. And there has been information that has come forth.

BEGALA: This week.

PERKINS: That has -- no, over the last several months. This same judge, Judge Greer in Florida, has reigned over this case for four and a half years.

BEGALA: What party is he in, by the way?

PERKINS: I don't know what party he is in.

BEGALA: He's a Republican.

PERKINS: Well, believe me, there are not...


BEGALA: He is. He's a conservative Republican.

PERKINS: Not all Republicans are good.


BEGALA: I've learned that.

WATKINS: Let me -- let me ask you this, Congresswoman. This is ultimately -- I mean, lots of people aren't into politics. They don't know Democrats from Republicans. Hopefully, most people do, but some people don't.

And, certainly, in this case, the reason why you have got Jesse Jackson and Rick Santorum and -- in other words, Democrats and Republicans, who are standing in and with this family, because the family has said, please help us. Help to us save our daughter. Our daughter is dying. We want to see her live.

And you now have a police officer standing in the bedroom denying this woman. That is so that, in the event that somebody came in and wanted to hand-feed her, they are denied that -- she is denied that opportunity because there's now a police officer standing in the bedroom. How do you -- how do you respond to that?

NORTON: How I would respond to it is, this is a government of laws and not men.

Jeb Bush apparently understands that. When the courts have acted, it is not the right of anybody to say, there are some actions outside of the law I want to take in implementation of my own conscience. You know whose conscience matters here? Terri's conscience and seven years of litigation. I'm sure brutal cross- examination have resulted in the conclusion that, in her opinion, her conscience said that, I don't want to be kept forever in a life like that.

WATKINS: That is coming from her husband.

NORTON: That is coming from seven years.

WATKINS: Who, by the way, is with another woman and has babies by another woman. Isn't that right?


NORTON: And those -- that is coming from court decision after court decision, including -- 22 different judges have heard this case. And, you know, what is most scandalous about what you have just said and what those on the other side are saying is that it doesn't matter to them that this is a country of laws.

WATKINS: It's scandalous that I said that...


NORTON: And that, in fact, we take such -- we take such matters to an objective body. And the only objective body in this country is a court of law, not you, me, Santorum or Jackson.


BEGALA: Mr. Perkins, you run -- we said this in your introduction, but let me make sure our audience knew. You run a group called the Family Research Council. It's a well-known conservative organization, pro-family conservative organization.

You have been highly involved in this case. And I want to ask, why this case and not another? "The Washington Post" reported about a different case and asked your organization about it a week ago. This is what "The Post" reported: "Amid the gathering storm of the Schiavo controversy, Wanda Hudson fought a lonely battle to keep Texas Children's Hospital from removing her son from a ventilator," by the way, against her wishes. "Mario Caballero, Hudson's Houston-based attorney, said she prayed not only for her son's survival, but also for the sort of political intervention Schiavo had received. Neither Medicaid, nor Hudson's bank account could cover the cost of prolonged care. And when no other facility would accept him, Texas Children's pulled the plug, and Sun Hudson died seconds later, without fanfare or political outcry."

Your organization was asked about this. Your spokesman, Jayd Henricks said simply, he wasn't familiar with the Hudson case.

Why get so involved in Terri Schiavo, when this case -- George Bush signed a law that says a hospital can take away your breathing tube without your family's permission. Why aren't you protesting that?

PERKINS: Well, two different cases here.

No. 1, you are talking about taking someone off of a respirator, as opposed to -- don't confuse the issue with Terri Schiavo. She is not on a -- there's no plug to be pulled. There was no respirator. She was breathing on her own. The only thing she needed was...

BEGALA: So, you're OK with a law that Governor Bush signed that says a hospital can take away life support, against your family's wishes? Are you comfortable with that law?

PERKINS: The Terri Schiavo case was something that the organization has been involved in for three years.

BEGALA: I understand. Are you comfortable with that law?

PERKINS: So this has been an ongoing issue that we've been involved in. BEGALA: Then why ignore Wanda Hudson? Is it because you are comfortable with a law...


BEGALA: ... that says a hospital, which is a profit-making enterprise, can pull the plug, against the family's wishes? Is that a good law? Is that a humane law, a pro-family law that Bush signed?

PERKINS: Not against -- not against the family wishes.

BEGALA: Yes, sir, they can in Texas.

PERKINS: Well...

BEGALA: Governor Bush signed a law giving hospitals power over families' wishes, against the family's wishes to pull the plug. Is that a pro-life, pro-family policy that Governor Bush set in place in my state?

PERKINS: I don't know all about that case. I would say not. But...

BEGALA: My question is, why don't you, though? Why are you so involved in the Schiavo case and you ignore Wanda Hudson's plea for life for her baby?

PERKINS: Let me answer it, because we have been involved in this case for over three years.

You have a case here -- I'm you have children that ask you, why can't Terri have a glass of water? And what do you say? Because -- because her husband doesn't want her to? I mean, what kind of message does that send to my girls, that an estranged husband can go to a court and get an order to starve a woman to death?

NORTON: You know, I just want to tell you, I just want to say this about starving a woman to death.


NORTON: This inflammatory language maligns each and every hospice in the United States. And this is where America turns to for compassionate end-of-life care. It's an outrage to do that.


BEGALA: I'm sorry. I'm going to have to -- OK, every, we're going to have to take a quick break.

When we come back, we'll ask our guests about the involvement of Congress' least ethical member, Tom DeLay, in this difficult ethical case.


BEGALA: And just ahead, Wolf Blitzer rides along as U.S. troops train for the deadly attacks they face in Iraq.

Stay with us.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the first lady, Laura Bush, completes her visit to Afghanistan. Hear her special message for Afghan women.

How U.S. troops in Iraq are trained to avoid insurgent attacks. We'll take to you a live-fire exercise.

And the confirmed death toll from the Indonesian earthquake climbs. We have new pictures.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

WATKINS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Today's appeal's court decision follows three rulings last week by that court against Bob and Mary Schindler. Just this morning, Bob Schindler said it wasn't too late for his daughter. They will return to court.

Still in the CROSSFIRE, Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate from the District of Columbia, and Tony Perkins, president and executive director of the Family Research Council.

BEGALA: Mr. Perkins, a few days ago, March 18, to be specific, Congressman Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, the most sanctioned man in the Congress by the House Ethics Committee, spoke to your group and said this: "One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America."

He went on to say, "This is exactly the issue of what is going on in America of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."

Do you think it's a form of mental illness for Mr. DeLay to compare his ethical woes to Ms. Schiavo dying?

PERKINS: Tom DeLay came to our briefing because he has a history of working on issues that are important to life, to promoting family.

And he came, gave us an update on Terri Schiavo. And while he was there, I simply asked him, I said, would you let our folks know what is going on with you and the attacks of folks in the media, who are -- when they can't debate the message and they argue, they attack the messenger. And he has been under attack. BEGALA: I guess, do you agree with the statement that God brought Schiavo to us to help elevate what is going on in America, Mr. Delay's political agenda or perhaps your own?

PERKINS: I can't speak for Tom DeLay.

BEGALA: Did God strike Terri Schiavo down, so as to elevate political issues?


PERKINS: You will have to ask Tom DeLay that question.

BEGALA: That is what he said to your group.


WATKINS: Well, Congresswoman, so often, you have been, I think, sometimes on the same side as Jesse Jackson on a number of issues. And why is it that liberals, when Jesse Jackson shows up at one place or another, maybe fighting against the death penalty or whatever, liberals cheer him and they are behind him 1000 percent, and there are signs and placards waving on his behalf, but yet and still, when he shows up in Florida at this hospice, at the request of the parents, to champion the cause of the right of this woman to have life, where are the liberals? Where are the liberals?



NORTON: First of all, Jesse would protest. The liberals are on the side of Terri and a court...

WATKINS: And her life, and saving her life?


NORTON: And Terri, according to seven years of litigation, said she didn't want to live like this. That's where the liberals are. When it comes to Jesse, Jesse will tell you he has taken more than his fair share of criticism from the left. So, the left doesn't cheer anybody...

WATKINS: Well, he's not the only one.

NORTON: Yes, but...

WATKINS: Of course, you know there are a number of congressmen, Harold Ford, Chaka Fattah, Elijah Cummings.

BEGALA: And don't forget Rick Santorum.

WATKINS: And Rick Santorum.

BEGALA: Because it's not a circus until the chief clown shows up.


NORTON: Right.



NORTON: All of these people are sincere.

BEGALA: Mr. Perkins, a "TIME" magazine poll says 53 percent of evangelical Christians agree with Mrs. Schiavo's husband. Are they sinners? Are they murderers? A majority of evangelical Christians, are they murderers?


I think what -- there's a criticism of Congress. And the Congress took, again, a bipartisan majority, very reasoned response in this case. Leadership is not about reading the polls and finding out which way the people are going. Congress I think provided leadership. And I think, ultimately, when all the facts come out, it will be seen as this.

But I think the real issue that will be highlighted when this unfortunate tragedy is over -- and it appears it will soon end -- is that this dispute that was between Terri's parents and her estranged husband will be a dispute between the branches of government.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.

Mr. Perkins, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the United States Congress, thank you both very much.

And next, remembering a couple of men who made a real impact on everyone around them.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: We end today's CROSSFIRE with a pair of farewells.

Attorney Johnnie Cochran died Tuesday of an inoperable brain tumor. Cochran, a past guest on CROSSFIRE, may be best known for his successful defense of O.J. Simpson on murder charges 10 years ago. He also, though, worked on a lot of major cases for many years. And one colleague remembers Cochran's commitment to the common man.

Also, former Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama died at age 83. The three-term Democratic senator won the Silver Star for his heroism in World War II and was beloved on Capitol Hill, and never more so than that famous day when he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to blow his nose during a hearing and removed a pair of his wife's panties.


BEGALA: Heflin took it in good spirit and goodwill.

And that good spirit and goodwill will be missed from both Johnnie Cochran and Howell Heflin. God bless them both.

WATKINS: Thank God they were his wife's.


BEGALA: God bless them both. This will be a great loss here on Capitol Hill for everybody who loved Senator Heflin.

WATKINS: Absolutely. Johnnie Cochran was a good man.

BEGALA: And Johnnie Cochran was a good man.

WATKINS: Yes, he was a good man.

BEGALA: Took on difficult cases.


BEGALA: And he came here and talked about his book. It's a terrific book. I hope people read it.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. 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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