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CNN CROSSFIRE

President Bush Addresses Troops; Congressman DeLay Still on the Hot Seat; Should Americans Leave Iraq?

Aired April 12, 2005 - 16:30:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: Crossfire. On the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Terry Holt. In the CROSSFIRE, President Bush traveled to Ft. Hood, Texas, today, to let American troops know they are making progress in Iraq and in the War on Terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The terrorists have made Iraq a central front in the War on Terror. Because of your service, because of your sacrifice, we are defeating them there where they live so we do not have to face them where we live.

ANNOUNCER: Donald Rumsfeld heads to Iraq where he echoes the president's message of progress there. But the Defense secretary says it's not time to come home yet.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The way I think of it is that we don't really have an exit strategy, we have a victory strategy.

ANNOUNCER: Iraqis are trying to build a government while thousands of Americans remain in that country. Is the U.S. winning in Iraq? Today on CROSSFIRE.

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

PAUL BEGALA, CNN HOST "CROSSFIRE": Welcome to CROSSFIRE. President Bush held a photo-op with troops at Ft. Hood, Texas, today, but with no weapons of mass destruction, no evidence of Saddam having links to al Qaeda and no end in sight for the occupation, many Americans are wondering whether Mr. Bush's mission in Iraq has been worth the loss of 1,545 lives.

TERRY HOLT, GUEST CO-HOST: But we are making progress. President Bush says U.S. forces will keep troops -- terrorists -- under constant pressure so Americans 20 years from now won't have to deal with another September 11 before questioning on whether we are winning the war on Iraq. Here's the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

(voice-over): Former President Bill Clinton thought he needed to come to his wife's defense, but in doing so he seems to manage to stick his foot in his mouth. At a news conference yesterday President Clinton reacted to reports that Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein wants to work against Hillary Clinton's reelection in the Senate. Clinton said this about Finkelstein, who happens to be gay. WILLIAM CLINTON, FMR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This guy believes his party is not serious and is totally Machiavellian in its position -- or, you know, as David Brock said in his great book "Blinded by the Right," there's some sort of self-loathing there.

HOLT: "Self-loathing"? As another strategist and a friend of Finkelstein put it, considering all the complaints the Clintons have had when their private lives got public attention, Bill Clinton ought to know better than to make judgment about someone else's private life.

BEGALA: The man is defending his wife. I admire that. Mr. Finkelstein's gay marriage was the subject of a story in the "New York Times," it was not private at all. It was a very public deal. But, I'm happy we have found the first gay American that Republicans want to stand up for, happens to be Arthur Finkelstein. God bless Mr. Finkelstein. Finally a Republican who should have a right -- a gay American, rather, who has a right to be married.

HOLT: Finally, one. Now let's see if we can have the same rights for everybody else.

Well, for the first time in a decade wages of middle class Americans are going down, this according to the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the cost of housing, healthcare and gasoline are all going through the roof. That means you are working harder for less.

This of course stands in sharp contrast to the economy under President Clinton and the Democrats in the middle-class income actually went up and millions more Americans were lifted out of poverty. Under President Bush, corporate profits are up and CEO pay is soaring, but inflation-adjusted wages for you are down. That is, of course, by design. President Bush supports policies that have shipped jobs overseas and shifted the burden of taxes away from the most privileged and on to the hardest pressed. Mr. Bush's economic policies can be summarized by the great old country song, "they got the gold mine, you got the shaft."

BEGALA: Oh, come on.

HOLT: I love that song.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Job creation in this country, has been consistent for over the last two years. We created millions of new jobs. We have the highest homeownership in history in this country. Obviously, since September 11 after the amazing shock that this country suffered, this president has put us back on the road to recovery.

HOLT: How long are you all going to blame 9/11 for the Bush economic policies? I think that's morbid. We lost 3,000 souls on that day. We shouldn't use that as a crutch to blame Mr. Bush's failing.

BEGALA: And a million jobs in the aftermath.

HOLT: But what about wages?

BEGALA: We'll do a whole show on this, believe me.

HOLT: It looks like John Kerry isn't interested in the long-term tradition of comity or respect among the members of the United States Senate. The failed presidential candidate launched an Internet campaign targeting another senator, to get him to vote against John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. John Kerry's online target was Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee, who, like Kerry, is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the group holding the hearings on Bolton's nomination.

A Kerry spokesman said he was targeted because he was considered a swing vote. What a surprise: John Kerry breaking a hallowed tradition in the Senate. Both gentlemen are on the same committee. If Kerry's got a convincing argument against Bolton, why doesn't he just turn to him and make it instead of attacking him on the Internet? I suspect this is a cry for help. A man who lost the national stage and doesn't quite know what to do with himself.

BEGALA: What Senate tradition? When Bill Frist, the Senate Republican leader, went to North Dakota to attack the Senate Democratic candidate Tom Daschle, did you protest that?

HOLT: In the context of a campaign....

BEGALA: This is a campaign. Chafee is up for reelection. Kerry thinks he should vote one way. He's raising the issue. It's just called democracy. We have 1500 guys dead in Iraq for democracy. Why can't John Kerry practice democracy in America?

HOLT: Trying to stay on the national stage with a weak effort. He should just make his arguement on the floor of the United States Senate rather than go behind the back...

BEGALA: Do you think Chafee's going to win or lose reelection?

HOLT: I think Chafee will win, a Republican from Rhode Island.

BEGALA: Another day, another Tom DeLay scandal. The House Republican leader has already been admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee. That is, if you are keeping score, more than any other current member of Congress. More recently we learned that Mr. Delay has been taking luxury junkets that may well have been paid for by gambling interests instead of a think tank as DeLay claimed.

And now, the Associated Press reports, "fund-raisers for a political committee, founded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, routinely solicited donations by identifying legislative action that prospective givers wanted, from video gambling to law suit limits." The AP's documents offer a behind-the-scene look at DeLay, Inc., where legislation is sold to the highest bidder. I wonder what Republicans' devout Christian supporters are thinking about documents that show Mr. DeLay in bed with gambling interests. I wonder how Republicans across America are going to explain to their constituents why they've chose as their leader a gold-plated Washington sleazebag.

HOLT: Sleazebag.

BEGALA: That's what he is.

HOLT: Just exactly the level of rhetoric we need in this. There's only one reason why you guys are attacking Tom DeLay, and that's because he's effective. He has won victory after victory...

BEGALA: No, because he's corrupt.

HOLT: ...in the U.S. House of Representatives, because the Republican agenda is winning, and you guys can't be trusted.

BEGALA: Because he's corrupt. There's hundreds of other Republicans, we're not tackling...

HOLT: You tried this with Newt Gingrich, and it didn't work. Get an agenda and we'll have a debate.

BEGALA: He's corrupt. I can't wait until we get rid of them, then we'll have a debate.

Well, the message from the Bush administration today is that America is making progress in Iraq. Think that's really the case? And when will things be stable enough for American troops to finally come home?

And one man who knows an awful lot about Iraq is going to be taking a lead in a very important race here at home. We'll tell you about Colin Powell's plan later in the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Both President Bush in Texas today, and Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq, were talking about just how swell things are going in Iraq. But, a new survey says most Americans believe the war was not worth it. In the CROSSFIRE to debate Iraq, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- she is a Republican from Florida -- and Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- he is a Democrat from Ohio.

HOLT: Welcome to the program, Mr. Kucinich, nice to see you.

During the presidential campaign, you were in the primaries, running for president, and your primary issue was the war in Iraq, and how we should get out, essentially a cut and run strategy. You have to be happy that you were wrong.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Well, actually, history has shown already I was right, that there was no reason for the United States to attack Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. As a matter of fact, you know, if you read the commission on intelligence...

HOLT: We freed 25 million people. KUCINICH: We're "dead wrong." This report said that the administration was "dead wrong." We shouldn't be there, and we should work with the U.N. to get the U.N. in and the U.S. out. We still need to do that. We need to bring our troops home.

HOLT: But Dick Durbin, a colleague in the Senate, says obviously, that we can't cut and run on democracy in its infancy.

KUCINICH: You know, this report that I just got here, apropos of what you said -- I just received this, Paul, I'm actually releasing this on this program -- Congressional Research Service, here's what they say about our presence. That we're building bases in Iraq now. And they are saying that it suggests substantial U.S. investment to improve facilities that could be used for the longer term could be perceived as indicating a more extended U.S. presence. Instead of building bases and pouring money into these bases, we should be building a path out.

HOLT: But we're opening schools, building hospitals...

KUCINICH: Oh, please. I mean, we can't find the money from the $9 billion. They can't account for $9 billion that was supposed to go to do the same things you're talking about. Administration says one thing and they do another. Don't we -- haven't we caught on to this?

BEGALA: Let me ask you about this, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. It's good to see you again.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Good to see you, Paul, thank you.

BEGALA: Congressman Kucinich mentioned the shifting rationale for the war. First it was the threat to America, that they have the weapons of mass destruction that they'll use. Then it was Saddam had links to al Qaeda. Then we were told the Iraqis could pay for their own reconstruction. None of that worked out. We haven't been credited as liberators. None of that worked out.

So, now as Terry notes, we are told what we liberated 25 million people to give them democracy. Let me tell you how they are using the democracy. They have chosen a prime minister. His name is Ibrahim al Jaafari. Let me tell you about Mr. Jaafari -- you know about him, obviously, but our audience doesn't, in case they don't know.

Here's the book on Ibrahim al Jaafari. He's a member of the Dawa Party -- the leader of the Dawa Party, with very close ties to the Iranian dictators next door. In 1983, Dawa was linked to the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait where six people were murdered. He lived in Iran, a terrorist state, for nine years. Today, as the leader of Iraq, he refuses to shake hands with women. He was the leader of a push to make Islamic law -- sharia -- control on issues on women's rights, like marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Did 1,545 Americans die so that a misogynistic, theocratic nutball can lead Iraq?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh my gosh, take it easy. Oh, my golly. Get the meds. Take it easy.

BEGALA: Is that why they died?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Every one of those lives is important. I have a stepson who is a Marine officer, will be deployed in Iraq, and very proud to serve the country, very proud to wear his uniform...

BEGALA: Pro-Iranian, theocratic nutball who won't shake hands with women.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... for the 8.5 million people who successfully voted for the first time in their lives.

BEGALA: They are nuts!

ROS-LEHTINEN: For the government that they choose. Now, for the government that they choose. We never said this is going to be a Jeffersonian democracy. We did not say we're going to...

BEGALA: Actually the president did. He did in Cincinnati, Ohio. He went and promised that it was going to be like Wisconsin but with better (INAUDIBLE).

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, we said we are going to empower the Iraqi people to police themselves, and they have. Every day we have more Iraqis...

BEGALA: So, you endorse -- you endorse Ibrahim al Jaafari.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I endorse the right of free people to freely elect their own leaders. Now, let me tell you, we have multiparties existing there. We have people who are responsible for their own security. We are training Iraqi police officers. We are training judiciary folks. We are training them at all levels and this is thanks to the great sacrifice of those over 1,500 men and women who gave up their lives so that these people could be free. Hallelujah for freedom and hallelujah for democracy. It is worth it.

KUCINICH: Let me just add this, though. Everything this administration said about Iraq was wrong. You know, there's a line in the Bible that says "that which is crooked cannot be made straight." This whole thing in Iraq is crooked. The 9/11 Commission proved how wrong it was. The Senate Intelligence Commission proved it. And what do the commission on intelligence say, the president's own commission say? That the administration was "dead wrong." Now, they are trying to blame the intelligence, but they wrote the book!

ROS-LEHTINEN: But Dennis, you can't -- you can't move -- you can't move past that.

KUCINICH: Move past it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: You cannot see the reality of today. What is the reality of today for the Iraqi people?

KUCINICH: Nice to meet you. ROS-LEHTINEN: The reality -- the reality is -- that they are going to schools...

BEGALA: You are shaking hands with a woman, Dennis. Be careful! You can't be the leader of Iraqi.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They are building clinics, that they are opening small businesses.

KUCINICH: I saw it...

ROS-LEHTINEN: How much are you going to keep going -- we had that election.

HOLT: The reality is...

ROS-LEHTINEN: We've had that debate. Bush won.

BEGALA: Whoa...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Get over it.

HOLT: Well, this is about...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Now we're going to enforce the Bush doctrine of spreading freedom, democracy, and hope to oppressed people.

KUCINICH: You know what I can't get over? I can't get over that we attacked a nation that did not attack us, that we spent the lives of over 1,500 American servicemen and serivcewomen, that we're spending a billion dollars a day, losing a service person every day. I'm not going to get over that. And I think we need to get out of Iraq. It's time to get out of Iraq.

HOLT: But the subject is the future. The subject is the future.

KUCINICH: The future, you know, what is past is prologue. If you are standing on a lie, where do you go from there?

HOLT: But I would dispute almost everything you said.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But, Dennis,(INAUDIBLE) would you have -- we ignored the bombings on the U.S Embassies in Africa, we ignored the bombing of the World Trade Center. We ignored every terrorist act against our country.

BEGALA: No, we didn't actually. We attacked the terrorists. We didn't attack Iraq which was not behind any -- was Iraq behind any of the terrorist activities?

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: Was Iraq responsible for 9/11?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, let me ask you: did we do right in Afghanistan? KUCINICH: Were they responsible for 9/11?

ROS-LEHTINEN: We have --

KUCINICH: OK. I'll answer your question, you answer mine.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Terrorists have a common link and we have seen Zarqawi, bin Laden, all of the folks who want to injure the United States of America, are our common enemy. Whatever their name is and wherever they are.

KUCINICH: I am answering her question.

ROS-LEHTINEN: What about Afghanistan? Did we have a right in Afghanistan?

KUCINICH: Here's the thing. The United States has a right to defend itself, but we also have an obligation to know the difference between someone attacking us and someone not attacking us. Now I'm going to ask you. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11?

ROS-LEHTINEN: And as I said, every terrorist who wants to put the United States in their sights is our enemy.

BEGALA: This is not a criminal court.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: Saddam Hussein will be tried, will be tried, for the crimes that he has committed, the mass grave...

KUCINICH: He never actually had anything to do with 9/11, Ileana.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I answered you, Dennis. The Afghanistan was a direct attack -- the Taliban was a direct attack against the United States.

KUCINICH: Iraq. 9/11, Iraq...

ROS-LEHTINEN: And, as the president said, any country that harbors terrorists, that gives them sanctuary, that provides any comfort to the enemy, is an enemy of the United States. And we will -- have a right to go in there.

KUCINICH: How are we ever going to have peace in the world if we have an administration that will use any justification whatsoever to wage aggressive war against any nation.

ROS-LEHTINEN: You believe the Iraqi people are worse off now?

BEGALA: Congresswoman, hang on just a second. We're going to come back to this in just a second Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Kucinich, hang on just a second. When we come back, I'm going to ask our guests why it is that the majority of the Americans in a new poll say the war in Iraq was not worth the loss of American blood and American treasure.

And then, just ahead, Wolf Blitzer has details on the latest company targeted by an identity theft investigation. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour: move over Choice Point. Another company that collects personal data LexisNexis is reporting that 280,000 records have been stolen. How you can protect yourself from identity theft.

A close relative of the Ebola virus has started killing people in Africa. Are Americans safe? We'll talk with Dr. Julie Gerberding at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A man hunt has just ended in Georgia with the arrest of an ex- convict suspected of murder and sexual assault. We'll have details. All those stories and much more only moments away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back. It has been two years since that statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. American troops are still not being greeted as liberators. And more and more Americans are now saying the war was not worth the price.

Still with us in the CROSSFIRE Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democrat Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, let me show you the poll. This is a Gallup organization poll commissioned by CNN and "USA Today." Asked a question, a simple question was it worth going to war in Iraq? For quite a long time Americans were saying yes, now the majority of them are saying no. Are the American people wrong, stupid?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I am glad -- I'm glad we have a president who does not go by popularity polls. He does not go by Gallup polls.

BEGALA: Do you think the American people are wrong.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And further more, the American people voted. No, the American people were right when they voted President Bush.

BEGALA: No, but they're wrong now and saying it wasn't worth it.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, you would have had this same kind -- depends on how it is phrased and the way they use a word.

BEGALA: That's all it asked, was the war worth it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: If you would have had it in November, and if you would have asked that same question I bet you would have gotten the same response. But when they had -- when they had the chance to vote, they voted for a president who was decisive. You knew where he stood. And let me tell you -- to go back to some other point we were making.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: You know you were saying that we were in it...

KUCINICH: I want to answer this -- I want to answer this. And I want to speak directly to those sentiments of the American people that are expressed in that poll. It's time to bring our troops home. It's time to recognize that this administration misled the Congress and the American people when they said there were weapons of mass destruction.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Then also We were misled by France, by Germany, by Russia, by China.

KUCINICH: Bring our troops home who are the targets of insurgents. Are we going to lose the life every day of an American serviceman or sericewoman? Are we going to spend a billion dollars a week on this? Isn't it time that we recognize that we need to reach out to the world community. Get the U.N. in and get the U.S. out of Iraq. Get out of Iraq. Somebody in Congress has to say that.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: What about all the U.N. resolution.

KUCINICH: Somebody in Congress has to say get out of Iraq.

ROS-LEHTINEN: The U.N. resolutions. We were not in it alone. France voted with it, Germany, Russia, China.

KUCINICH: They didn't vote for us to attack Iraq.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They had the same intelligence. Oh, when it came to action they fled the scene, absolutely.

KUCINICH: There was no proof, Ileana.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They voted how many resolutions that said...

KUCINICH: I'll go back to the question I asked you. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11?

ROS-LEHTINEN: You ask all of your friends in France and Germany and Russia.

BEGALA: There actually is a filibuster rule here on CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: Yes there is.

BEGALA: Terry, go ahead.

HOLT: Mr. Kucinich I, frankly, am worried about the Democratic Party because as I heard you today, you're backwards-looking.

KUCINICH: I have had that concern, too. HOLT: And you don't have an agenda for the future. I wonder -- you know, Hillary Clinton in fact has said that until you get it, that security in this country is the number one issue, you're not going to win any more elections. Do you disagree with Hillary Clinton on that?

KUCINICH: This isn't a question of what Hillary Clinton thinks. Let me share with you as my world view. I see the world as being interconnected and interdependent. We need to work with the world community to get rid of all nuclear weapons, to support the biological weapons convention, the chemical weapons convention, the small arms treaty, the land mine treaty, join the international criminal court. Sign the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty.

HOLT: I think I rather that the U.S. lead the world.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And then we join hands and we sing "Kumbaya."

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: You could be singing it at the funeral of our troops.

BEGALA: A spirited debate. We'll have you back again for more. Colin Powell however is on our minds here in the CROSSFIRE. He's had a lot of big jobs in his day. He's taking on a new position that places him at the front of a very visible field. We'll explain all of that next in the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back.

Colin Powell spent a whole lot of time in Jeeps in his 35-year military career. And then as secretary of State he logged plenty of hours in limousines. But on Memorial Day Secretary Powell will be traveling in the style he most prefers. Powell will be at the wheel of the pace car, opening the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. The good general who tools around Washington in a Corvette will lead the drivers around the old Brickyard in what else, a red-hot vette. Powell says he's honored to be part of the great American tradition. I can't think of anybody better, except maybe than Bob Novak who has a lead foot.

HOLT: I say put the pedal to the metal, Secretary Powell. As a Hoosier and lover of the Indy 500, what a great thing to do. And he's has got to feel the energy that everybody does on that racetrack that day.

BEGALA: I just think it's terrific. He led us around in circles at the U.N. And now hopefully he'll look better...

HOLT: He'll look better in that helmet than Michael Dukakis did in the tank.

BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paula Begala. And that's it for CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: And I'm Terry Holt from the right, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

WOLF BLITZER starts right now.

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