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Is Democrat Filibuster of Judges Religious Bigotry?

Aired April 15, 2005 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is going to church to build support for President Bush's judges. He's headlining an event called Justice Sunday. Can Christian conservatives crack what they call the Democrats' filibuster against people of faith?

He's a man with a mission: Democratic Chief Howard Dean goes national with his game plan for the party's future. Can Dean reshape the debate over family values and lure voters back to the Democratic poll?

Today, on CROSSFIRE.

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


PAUL BEGALA, CROSS FIRE CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Republicans are playing the religion card. They claim that Democrats are opposing 10 of President Bush's nominees for the federal judiciary because of religion.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has agreed to join some prominent Christian conservatives for what they are calling Justice Sunday, an hour-long program to be telecasted to congregations around the U.S. on April 24 seeking to make the case that 10 millionaire lawyers are somehow victims of discrimination.

TERRY HOLT, GUEST CO-HOST: Organizers hope to reach a million people with their message that Democrats are using the filibuster against people of faith as they stall President Bush's nominees. We'll talk about it.

Now, the best little political briefing in television. The CROSSFIRE political alert.

Some stunts -- oh, excuse, me if you haven't filed your taxes yet, you have 7 1/2 hours left. This is never a day Americans look forward to: taxes are too high, regulation is too great, the code is hopelessly complicated. But there is good news, more than 100 million people have lower taxes today than before President Bush took office. Republicans ended the death tax and the marriage penalty and millions of low-income Americans now pay no federal taxes at all. And no serious economists would dispute that, because the President Bush's tax cut, the economy has recovered, millions of jobs have been created. Where would we have been if the Democrats had won the election?

John Kerry said he would raise taxes as one of his first acts as president. You can curse tax day, but rejoice, there is always election day. And think of the money you save by electing President Bush!


BEGALA: Well, think of where those tax cuts go. When they are fully phased in, 52 percent, the majority of tax cuts, goes to 1 percent. Now, guess what 1 percent is? What do you think, folks? Is it 1 percent of the poorest? Is it 1 percent of our veterans? 1 percent of our heroes? No, the richest dirt bags of America gets 52 of the whole Bush tax cut. It's a rip-off. It's a Paris Hilton economy.


HOLT: You can't argue that 100 million people have lower taxes. And you can't argue the tax cuts spur economic growth and it's why we're creating millions of jobs.

BEGALA: That's why we're booming, man.

OK. We'll have plenty of time to debate that today. But speaking of our economy, Professor Timothy Sneeding of Syracuse University has taken a good look at how America's poor folks stack up against poor people around the world. We have the greatest gap between the rich and the poor of any well to-do-country. And our poor children are especially bad off compared to other poor kids in other developed countries.

And what is the Republican response to the cry of poor children? Well obviously, it's abolish the estate tax. The tax that's only paid by the wealthiest millionaires who inherit the nation's largest fortunes.

In fact, 98.6 million of Americans are already exempt from the estate tax.

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. I would add a whole lot more of them so as long as Republicans are running the country. And so somewhere in America, a poor child is crying. And somewhere else, in a very different part of America, Paris Hilton is laughing her ass off.

HOLT: Well, I tell you, the Democrats are already selling themselves as the party of compassion. But it's not compassionate to let retirement security go so the people can't save and invest for their own retirement. It's not at all moral to have a welfare state that takes care of people rather than helping them to take care of themselves. I think you're missing the point.

BEGALA: What about the poor. What has President Bush done for the poor?

HOLT: Strengthening the economy, growing jobs.

BEGALA: It ain't strong for the poor. We have more poor people than ever before.

HOLT: Cleaner water, better healthcare. Give me a break.

BEGALA: We'll come back to that.

HOLT: Some stunt are effective, some are goofy and tasteless and dumb. Circling the U.S. capital today is a 12-foot statue of Uncle Sam giving majority leader -- in effigy of course -- Tom DeLay of course -- a sound spanking. The genius who sponsored this are and the Campaign for America's Future. is headed by Ben Cohen, co-founder Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Now, Republicans have done they're fair share of silly photo ops. We once had the grim reaper standing next to the Speaker of House to call for an end of the death tax. But at least a point.

Today's Uncle Sam photo-op is pointless and embarrassing. And it shows how lost the Democrats are. They have no ideas, no agenda and oh, my goodness, not a good sense of humor.

BEGALA: Actually, I think it's very funny. I think it's hilarious. I think Mr. Delay could use a little spanking, a little discipline, he is never going to get it from his fellow Republicans in the House. But what's wrong with it?

These guys have a good sense of humor. And it's the Republicans who can't take the joke.

HOLT: Well, you know, again, if they did have an agenda, they wouldn't have to drive around with effigies and spanking and all of that.

BEGALA: But you know what, it got on CNN, didn't it? It was a pretty successful stunt.

HOLT: ...just darn awful.

BEGALA: Well, speaking of Tom DeLay, Common Cause has called on House Speaker Dennis Hastert who, in the words of Common Cause, quote, "uphold the integrity of the House as an institution," unquote by acquiring the Ethics Committee to look into the multifaceted sleaze that is Republican house leader Tom DeLay.

Common Cause alleges that DeLay has -- quoting Common Cause now -- quote, "gutted the ethics process, firing the ethics chairman for leading investigations critical of DeLay and replacing two other ethics members with party loyalists who have given money to DeLay's legal defense fund." unquote. Speaker Hastert of course could fix all of this, stand up a credible ethics committee and let it investigate the DeLay scandal. Hastert could do that, that is, if he had a spine. Sad truth is Speaker Hastert does not control the House, Tom DeLay controls Speaker hastert.

So, if you want a speaker with guts, and courage and backbone, you will have to wait for Nancy Pelosi, because it is going to take a woman to clean up the mess in the House.


HOLT: Well, in fact, Nancy Pelosi is the owner a political action committee that's actually been fined for improper activity. Democrats and travel and trips abroad were part of this big thing. The biggest travelers in Congress, the top five, are Democrats.

BEGALA: So, why doesn't Speaker Hastert look into it? Because he wants to protect Democrats? Because he's protecting his boss, boss DeLay?

HOLT: DeLay said he will come to the meeting, but the Democrats won't show.

BEGALA: No. Hastert won't stand up a credible ethics committee. He let DeLay fire all of the honorable Republicans on there.

HOLT: Just show up and vote.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Bill Frist is trying to turn the fight over ten judicial nominees into a bit of a religious crusade. Dr. Frist will be joining Christian leaders around the country on April 24 on a special telecast. We will debate that in the CROSSFIRE in just a minute.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Nine days from now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will join some of the movers and shakers from the religious right from a program they call "Justice Sunday." The one-hour telecast will target American Christian congregations is being advertised as an effort to stop Democrats from using the filibuster against people of faith.

So, are Democrats secretly opposing judicial nominees because opf their religion, or are Republicans hurling outrageous charges in order to rev up their political base?

Joining us today in the crossfire: Tony Perkins -- he's with the Family Research Council, one of the sponsoring organizations of "Justice Sunday" -- and on the left, Democratic strategist Julian Epstein.

Tony, if I could start with you, sir.


BEGALA: Thank you. It's good to see you again. Welcome back. Let me show the ad, the flyer that's been out to promote this thing that you are involved in. It claims the filibuster was once used to protect racial bias and it is now being used against people of faith. Who?

PERKINS: Well, let's look at the nominees for the appellate corrupts that have been filibustered and there is this new --

BEGALA: I have them here.

PERKINS: -- this code term, "deeply held personal beliefs" -- look at Charles Pickering, look at --

BEGALA: Right, and you've decoded this. What does it mean, for those of us who don't have the secret decoder ring?

PERKINS: It means -- according to Charles Schumer, they have the wrong position on abortion, and they --

BEGALA: That sound like policy, not religion.

PERKINS: -- or they're either strong-believing Catholics or Protestants who believe in the Bible.

BEGALA: Where has Chuck Schumer ever said he's against strong- believing Catholics or Protestants?

PERKINS: Go back and --

BEGALA: I am a strong-believing Catholic --

PERKINS: Go back and look at the record.

BEGALA: -- despite what Wolf Blitzer has said on this air. I am a strong-believing Catholic. Chuck Schumer is very nice to me.

PERKINS: Charles Pickering -- the fact the he made the statement, back in 1983 when he was the chairman of the Mississippi Southern Baptists, that he felt the Bible was a guide book for life. And that was used against him in the effort, when he was brought up (ph).

BEGALA: So we're against Baptists? Two of my last party's three nominees were Southern Baptists.

PERKINS: But you also have William Prior.

BEGALA: So we're against the Southern Baptists.

HOLT: Julian, thanks for coming on the program. I wanted to ask this question because I think it's really obvious. I think -- what's the difference between Republicans mobilizing people of faith -- going out and speaking to people who should be concerned about this process run amok -- and Democrats mobilizing liberals, activists, trial lawyers, gay groups. Why is it wrong for Republicans to talk to Christians but not -- but it's okay for Democrats to talk to all of those folks?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: It's not wrong. I think it's a good thing and I think Democrats talk to plenty of Christians as well. I just think that Republicans ought to be honest about this.

First of all, this is being fueled by the Terri Schiavo case and remember it's the conservative courts that supported the decisions. The Supreme Court --

HOLT: But on your side, you have your own industry of sleaze. You have --

EPSTEIN: If I can finish the point -- you asked me a question, I want to try to respond to it. The conservative courts, the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court were dominated by Republican appointees.

Secondly I think the Republicans should be clear what their agenda is. It isn't, I think the defense of religious values. I think it is to promote a set of public policies that will defend the aristocratic class this in this country.

HOLT: Oh, give me a break! This is about judges, filling vacancies and Democrats standing in the way. Mr. Epstein --

EPSTEIN: It is about when government can get in and tell us when and how we can pray.

HOLT: -- this filibuster strategy is leaving vacancies on the bench when justice has to be done. Justice is supposed to be guaranteed to be swift and sure.

EPSTEIN: I just hope wonder if you know your facts. I just wonder -- I'd just before you come on, hosting the show, you know your facts.

HOLT: Excuse me, but --

EPSTEIN: Right now the federal judiciary is 95 --

HOLT: My goodness! That kind of lack of civility is part of this industry of sleaze you guys are using to bring down people like Tom DeLay, people like Charles Pickering?

EPSTEIN: This kind of lack of preparation, Terry -- you talk about lack of civility. You ask me a question and you don't allow me to answer the question. Let me answer the question.

HOLT: I believe I heard a dodge of the question.

EPSTEIN: Can I answer the question? Okay, let me answer the question. Let me try on inform you about this.

HOLT: Sure, your turn. (APPLAUSE)

EPSTEIN: Thank you very much. Ninety-five percent of the federal judiciary is filled -- over 200 judges that the president has put up for nomination have been approved.

HOLT: Thank goodness.

EPSTEIN: Only 10 judges have been blocked through the filibuster. Under the Clinton administration the Republicans blocked 60 -- over 60 judges -- from going to the bench. Now if you're concerned about filibuster, if you're concerned about vacancies, do you think what the Republicans did when president Clinton was in office by blocking six times as many judges was wrong?


HOLT: That was not by use of the filibuster.

BEGALA: I want to come back to the question of religion -- that's what has made this such an incendiary charge. In point of fact, actually, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee, when president bush took office there were 110 vacancies in the federal courts. Today there are 27. It seems like the judiciary is not short of members. Let me ask you a question, though.

PERKINS: The appellate court level--

BEGALA: The question is, Democrats have helped confirm --

HOLT: Let me clarify. The appellate level.

BEGALA: He's not going to let me ask the question

PERKINS: No, but I want -- you made a statement that is not accurate.

BEGALA: It's absolutely accurate.

PERKINS: If you look at the important appellate court level where constitutional issues are decided, it's only 67 percent of the president's nominees have been confirmed.

BEGALA: Only batting .670.

PERKINS: And that is the lowest of any modern president.

BEGALA: Sixty-seven have been confirmed, though, you say -- taking your statistics.

PERKINS: Sixty-sevent percent.

BEGALA: Sixty-sevent percent of the judges you most care about, the higher court appellate judges. Why did Democrats let them through if we're against people of faith? Were they not people of faith? Did they not have deeply held beliefs? Did we somehow miss the memo? (APPLAUSE)

PERKINS: No, this is it.

BEGALA: It is as savage -- I think it's beyond the bounds for you to accuse my party of religious bigotry when there are principled policy differences between the two parties. It's got nothing to do with religion.

PERKINS: That is not -- those that have taken positions in their past, either on the bench in decisions they have made or statements they have made -- that show that they have, quote/unquote, deeply held personal beliefs have been targeted for filibuster.

BEGALA: Were there 205 who were confirmed?

EPSTEIN: That's right.

BEGALA: It's 205 -- did they not have deeply-held beliefes, were they not religious?

PERKINS: What we're doing is we're telling --

BEGALA: Were they pro-choice, by the way? I doubt it.

PERKINS: Just like that flyer that was up there, we are putting people into a category of either they have to choose publicly displaying their faith or public service.

BEGALA: Based on what?


EPSTEIN: Let me try and help you both out. Can I just bridge a gap, here?

HOLT: Excuse me. Ben Nelson is working on a bipartisan compromise because he says that he's worried about the people in the red states, that Democrats are going to lose even more support. Are you worried that this might backfire politically, this filibuster strategy?

EPSTEIN: There is not a filibuster strategy. There has been fewer filibusters here, as I pointed out to you just a minute ago, than when Republicans were in control and when Clinton was in the White House. That's point one.

Secondly, I think it's fine for us to have this kind of debate that the two of you were just having. But I do not think that you should say, when Democrats say that we don't think that judges should be able to tell us when we ought to pray and how we ought to pray or that the government ought to get into our intimate decisions -- whether it's abortion or our privacy or anything else -- I don't think we ought to say -- in the spirit of what you talked about with an honest debate -- that's somehow religious bigotry, or that's somehow anti-Catholic, or that's somehow anti-Christian. That's where the dishonesty comes.

It's fine for us to have a debate about these things. But to say that we disagree that the government ought not be able to dictate when and how we pray or where we pray in public places is somehow religious bigotry.

HOLT: But that's not what's taking place, here.

EPSTEIN: That's exactly what's taking place with many of these judges.

HOLT: No, what's taking place is that they're identifying these candidates who have expressed these deeply-held religious or personal beliefs -- that's their terms -- that they are not qualified for the bench because they will not be credible, independent judges and that's wrong.

BEGALA: Last word for this segment. We're going to have more to come in just a minute. When our guests return, we're going to ask about the Democrats' appeal to people of faith. My party's chairman, Howard Dean, has a game plan for his party and it involves reaching out to femr people of faith. We'll see if Mr. Perkins and Mr. Epstein agree with that.

And what caused this deadly hotel fire in Paris? The latest on the investigation, right after the break.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King reporting from Washington.

Coming up at top of the hour, a hotel fire in Paris kills 20 people, 10 of them children. So far, investigators think it was accidental.

World leaders gathered in tiny Monaco to say farewell to Prince Rainier.

And McDonald's turns 50. How to celebrate, fries or birthday cake?

All of those stories and much more, just minutes away on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, John King. We look forward to seeing you the at top of the hour.

Here at CROSSFIRE, Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean wants to reshape the debate over such contentious issues as abortion and win back Democratic defectors while luring voters by drawing them to our party's position on the economy and health care.

Governor Dean laid out a game plan in an interview in today's USA Today. We are discussing it in this segment with Tony Perkins, he is with the Family Research Counsel and Julian Epstein is an Democratic strategist.

HOLT: Julien, I have to ask this -- you know this is coming. We just had a segment where Democrats were outraged at the majority leader for taking faith as part of the discussion. And yet Howard Dean is saying you guys have to do exactly the same thing. I don't get it.

EPSTEIN: Well, we're not outraged. In fact, we welcome and embrace the conversation about and the dialogue about faith. We just think that it is not always done honestly on your side as can be.

But I think -- look, I think Democrats -- I think Democrats do need to engage in the values debate. I think we need to do that better. I think we need to be better on values. I think we need to be tougher on national security.

HOLT: Then stop attacking people of faith. I think that would a good start.

EPSTEIN: I don't think that's true. I think we need do better on issues of reform.

But I think look, if you want to talk about values, I think Democrats just have to did a better job of talking about it.

HOLT: It's not talk. You have to walk the walk. Why don't you be pro-life? Why don't you be pro-family? Stop attacking the faith.

EPSTEIN: Why don't you stop trying to protect the aristocratic class. Why don't do you something about children that come into this world that have no healthcare? And trying to pit talk seniors with their Social Security taxes so you can give them a tax break.

BEGALA: In point of fact, the Democrats chose a new leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid. He's prolife. Governor Dean in his interview said we need more pro-life candidates. They've recruited Bob Casey Junior, a pro-life candidate to run against Slick Rick Santorum up in Pennsylvania. You've got to applaud the Democrats for that, don't you?

PERKINS: Certainly. And I saw those comments that we need pro- life Democrats. And he's absolutely right, there are places in the South where there are still good solid Democrats that are pro-life, they're losing because of their position.

I noticed he didn't say that we should have good pro-life Democratic candidates for judges, because Harry Reid would filibuster them as he has the other pro-life judges.

BEGALA: Of the 205 -- of the 205 judges confirmed, how many were pro-choice for abortion rights?

PERKINS: They did not take positions. BEGALA: What do you want to guess given that President Bush nominated them. And the Republican Senate confirmed them. I guess 204 were pro-life, just a guess.

PERKINS: The point is you have to hide where you stand on the issues.

BEGALA: The Democrats voted for all of those pro-lifers.


BEGALA: How can you say the party is hostile to...

PERKINS: They have no record. That's the problem, we are driving people in their religious and their moral convictions have to be under the table and hidden in order for them to serve in the public.

BEGALA: That's what those 205 do, they lied?

PERKINS: No they, didn't lie, they just didn't make it public. And that's why judges take such lengths to try not to chart new territory in their decisions or even take positions if they can avoid in their written decisions, because they don't want it to come back and haunt them when they are nominated for hire.

EPSTEIN: I think we all agree that we would like to reduce the incidents of abortion in this country. There no question about that. We all share that. The problem that we have, and why I object to the Republicans evocation on the values of the way you describe them, Terry, is because that's where the conversation stops for you guys.

HOLT: That's not true.

EPSTEIN: Never does it come up...


HOLT: I was only pointing out that it seems to be contradictory that on the one hand you talk about religion as a political thing, but then don't have a policies.

EPSTEIN: Contradictory that you are pro-birth but don't give a damn about that baby after it's born.

HOLT: Oh, excuse me! Excuse me, pro-family policies...

EPSTEIN: Or that your economic policies protect the aristocratic class and you don't do anything for the rest of the country who is trying to find a better opportunity in this country.


HOLT: A strong economy helps everybody creates more jobs.

BEGALA: We had one under Bill Clinton. I remember it. We used to have a strong economy. I helped create it with Bill Clinton.

EPSTEIN: Affordable health care for the 40 million people that you have done nothing about who don't have health care? That's your answer.


PERKINS: That's because of the trial attorneys who keep suing doctors who are driving up costs of health care.

BEGALA: Tony, give you the last word. Jim Wallace a liberal preacher has looked at the Bible and says 3,000 times Jesus has spoke about the poor. Shouldn't conservatives talk about the poor more?

PERKINS: They absolutely do. And they do something about it.

BEGALA: In the Republican party they do?

PERKINS: Republicans who happen to be Republican, they take care of the poor.

BEGALA: What, where? I want move there!

PERKINS: They don't look at the government to do it. They do it themselves, that's the difference between Democrats and Republicans. You want the government to do it...

BEGALA: That's the last word. Tony Perkins from the Family Research Counsel, Julian Epstein Democratic strategist. Thank you very much.

Of course, most of us don't want to pay anymore than we have to in taxes, but next I'm going to tell you about a group of people who are actually begging to pay more taxes. Stay with us to find out who they are.


BEGALA: Welcome back to the CROSSFIRE. This question, is it possible for a class of ill repute to achieve greater respectability? No, not talking about Tom DeLay House of Representatives, I am talking about brothels in Nevada where owners of the brothels thought they ought to pay more in taxes. The Nevada State Assembly said it didn't have a time to look at the bordello business -- as if.

The assembly bill proposed, though, would have placed a 10 percent tax on food and drinks served in the states 28 legal brothels, plus the $2 surcharge, on well, I guess they call them each party.

The industry lobbying requested the tax in the hope of creating goodwill in legalizing prostitution seem even more acceptable.

HOLT: I just think -- we're still going to get most of our money from people of faith rather than brothels through tax cuts.

BEGALA: They could be hookers of faith. You see, you don't know!

HOLT: Hopefully, yes.

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

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

Join us again next time for another addition of CROSSFIRE.

WOLF BLITZER starts right now.



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