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CNN CROSSFIRE

Bolton Nomination Vote Delayed; Bush Signs Bankruptcy Bill

Aired April 20, 2005 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE, on the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE, a Senate panel delays a vote on John Bolton, the man President Bush wants to represent the U.S. in the United Nations. Democratic are criticizing the nominee, saying his blunt style is all wrong for such a diplomatic role. Now, there are new allegations the nominee abused his authority.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: I heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton.

ANNOUNCER: The White House says it's still behind Bolton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not concerned at all because John Bolton has answered all the questions during committee hearings and has demonstrated that he's well qualified for the job as ambassador to the U.N.

ANNOUNCER: Should John Bolton become America's top diplomat at the United Nations?

Today, on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Hello, everybody.

Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

New allegations of abusive behavior against John Bolton have derailed, at least for now, his nomination to be America's ambassador to the United Nations. Some senators are worried Mr. Bolton may be too much of a bully, an abuser, even perhaps, a thug. Republican senators and even one high-ranking Bush administration official are openly wondering whether Mr. Bolton is the right man for a sensitive diplomatic post.

JOE WATKINS, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": But, the White House stands behind their man and calls the charges by Bolton's critics "trumped-up allegations." Is too much being made of Bolton's habit of tough talk? Before we get to that, here's the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Bankruptcy attorneys say they expect business to pick up over the next six months because of the bill President Bush signed into law today. It's the biggest overhaul of the nation's bankruptcy law in 25 years and will make it harder for some people to get up and walk away from their debt. The president says too many people were abusing the bankruptcy laws, walking away from debts they had the ability to pay.

Now, fewer people will be able to erase all their debts and will have to work out some kind of repayment plan. Why are lawyers expecting a rush of filing? The tougher guidelines don't go into effect for six months, so there could be a rush to the courthouse to take advantage of old rules while people still can.

And, Paul, I think this is a great thing. I think this is good -- you know why I think it is? Because, for all those little business people, who started a business, as best they could, for those people who have lost out on payments because folks have said, I can't pay you.

BEGALA: It's for the big credit card companies. If you are poor, you to have to pay, even if you're bankrupt. If you're rich, they allow something called an asset protection trust that is separate from bankruptcy, so this is -- guess what, it's Republican. Good for the rich, bad for the poor. It's not fair, it's Republican. That's what they do on all these issues.

WATKINS: Good for little business people. Good for little business people.

BEGALA: I am told, however, that -- I want to introduce, very quickly -- joining us from Capitol Hill to talk about the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador is Senator Barbara Boxer. She is a Democrat from California and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which yesterday decided to postpone its vote on Mr. Bolton's nomination.

Senator Boxer, good to see you again.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks.

WATKINS: Senator Boxer, let me ask you this question. I want to read to you, first of all, something that Norm Coleman -- he's a member of the committee -- said. And I'm read -- these are not my words, these are Senator Coleman's words.

BOXER: Go right ahead.

WATKINS: "The president wants this kind of nominee. He wants someone who is willing -- and I am going to be very blunt here -- I think the U.N. needs a little kick in the butt, to be real blunt. They need reform. Kofi Annan is recognizing it, now, the whole world knows it, and Bolton is the guy that can do it."

Now, everyone agrees that the U.N. really is in need of some serious reform here. I mean, what it this about? Do the Democrats just want to block the president from getting his man in?

BOXER: No, of course not, and I was so happy to see Republican Senator George Voinovich join us.

The question here isn't whether the U.N. needs reform. Everyone -- it certainly does. So does the U.S. Senate, maybe even CROSSFIRE needs reform. I mean, a lot of people need -- the question is, you have someone by the name of John Bolton, who has a history of trying to get people to tell him what he wants to hear. And this is intelligence information. If they don't give him that information, he tries to fire them, and when you are dealing with independent intelligence analysts, way at the bottom and you are way at the top, you could create an imminent threat from a country and put our soldiers into a war-like situation. Sound familiar? The fact is, we need real intelligence, and we don't need to politicize intelligence. That's big.

The other issue is, the bullying issue, which, you know, yes, you want someone strong. But, you know, maybe I'm old-fashioned but I always look at people who really are strong. They don't have to bully you. They can win points by reasoning with you and being tough...

WATKINS: Well, is it bullying or is it the fact that he's strong?

BOXER: ...but not being a bully. No, see, I -- I think there's a difference between being a bully and threatening people, especially people that don't have power, and being strong and standing your ground on the principles that you bring to bear, and this is where we're seeing this terrible pattern emerge. And, by the way, since George Voinovich has the courage to step forward, we are getting more and more calls of the stories that are just rather shocking. And I, again, want to say how courageous he was, because, trust me, this was unscripted. No one expected it.

BEGALA: Senator Boxer, first, good to see you, thanks for doing this. I know you're busy and you have votes coming up.

BOXER: I do.

WATKINS: I think there is a point that my conservative and Republican friends make which is pretty valid, which is, the president won, we lost. OK, I don't want John Bolton. I don't want any of his cabinet in office but we did lose. And, so, let's say you are successful and you get rid of Mr. Bolton. You don't think President Bush is going to send Madeleine Albright or Dick Holbrook up there, is he? He's going to send some other ultraconservative to espouse the same kind of right-wing views Mr. Bush holds, and frankly, he won the election. What's wrong with that?

BOXER: Well, that's fine. As a matter of fact, I supported John Danforth who was the former U.N. ambassador. A arch-conservative, a minister, a wonderful, wonderful man. And so, sure, of course I expect George Bush to send someone who shares his views. I don't expect him to send someone -- and I've called on him to just scrap this nomination. You know, I don't expect him to send someone who tried to put political pressure on intelligence experts and analysts to change their opinions, so that this particular person can make a case against another country. That is frightening. So, that's what these issues are about.

WATKINS: Well, you know, it's interesting -- five former secretaries of state say that anyone as energetic and effective as John Bolton is bound to encounter those who disagree with him. Isn't this what this is about, really? This is an energetic guy, this is a tough guy, a guy who is going to do a great job as the next ambassador to the United Nations. Isn't that what this is about? It shouldn't be about a witch hunt on some allegations, should it?

BOXER: I find it amazing. Are you a Republican talking about witch hunts? I think that's kind of interesting. But, let me just say...

(APPLAUSE)

...this is nothing but an investigation that is very important where people who are supposed to give the American people the true information about threats to our country are being -- are facing, from John Bolton, and have faced political pressure to change their opinion. Thank goodness they had the moral fiber and character. Thank goodness Colin Powell went all the way over to meet with these intelligence analysts and say, you know, don't let anyone bully you. I mean, God bless him for doing that. So this is one time when I would hope that Republicans and Democrats can agree and, again, I was happy to hear some of Chuck Hagel's comments. Of course, he wasn't there with his votes but he said he is not wedded to this nomination.

As these stories come in, what is emerging is someone who is simply not good for this job. I think John Bolton would be great working with the president on the White House on a political agenda. But, for this job as U.N. ambassador, I just can't imagine. It's like making Phyllis Schlafly the head of the Planned Parenthood Federation -- it doesn't fit. You know. It just doesn't fit.

BEGALA: Senator Boxer, I'm told that you have got to go vote, so I do want to thank you, very much, for joining us. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When CROSSFIRE returns after this break, Joe and I will have more for you on the political alerts across the country, and then, we'll hear from the Republican side of the aisle. Conservative Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana will step into the CROSSFIRE and defend the Bolton nomination, coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. More news from the United States Senate: when you hear words like flinty, independent and maverick, you think they are cliches about New Englanders. And yet, there is Jim Jeffords, the flinty, independent, maverick Senator from Vermont announced today he will retire from the U.S. Senate when his term expires next year. Senator Jeffords was a Republican through the dark days of Watergate, through the Reagan revolution, through the Gingrich revolution, until George W. Bush came along.

President Bush, who promised ton a uniter, not a divider could not unite his own party. His bullying tactics and radical right wing agenda drove Jim Jeffords, life long Republican out of the party to become an independent. And to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, Jeffords didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left Jim Jeffords.

If you are a Republican who believes in things like a balanced budget, a clean environment and ethics in government, there's just no room for you anymore in the party of Tom DeLay and George W. Bush. You ought to be like Jim Jeffords and declare your independence.

WATKINS: Well, clearly Paul, this is a case where Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party. I mean you can't -- whatever you say, George Bush has united this party. He is a second term -- he's elected to a second term for the U.S. presidency. He has done a great job in uniting the party.

BEGALA: Look, read all the papers. I know he won an election. But it's very interesting to me that a moderate is no longer welcome in the Republican Party.

WATKINS: No, no, no, that's not so.

BEGALA: Their leader Bill Frist is out there making outrageous claims about Democrats and religion, jumping into bed with the cook right at some kind of a telecast of churches. All of them.

WATKINS: We've got a range of people involved in the Republican Party.

BEGALA: Oh, from Neanderthals to Cro-Magnon

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: No, no, no.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Any Homo Sapiens are leaving the party.

WATKINS: Gas hit a record high of $2.28 a gallon last week. It has fallen a little since. And analysts say it could drop more this summer. But the cost of unleaded regular would still be nearly two bucks a gallon. President Bush has a plan to address it.

Speaking at the U.S. Hispanic Chambers of Commerce today, he said U.S. reliance on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American dream. He called on Congress to pass his energy bill saying they've had four years to do something about the problem of America's dependence on foreign oil. The president called for conservation, alternative fuels and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. All ideas that would cut the need for oil from other countries. The House can vote on the version of this bill this week.

It is time to address the problem instead of continually pushing it off. The president is right, it's time to act.

BEGALA: Well, John, look at some of the coverage of that bill. It's very interesting will do nothing about gas prices. And to the president's credit today, he said that in his piece to the Hispanic Chamber.

WATKINS: Very honest.

BEGALA: But you know what it will do? It will raise taxes, $29 billion on everybody here through a back door means of making you all put $29 billion back in the pockets of energy companies. So, if you think have you too much money and Exxon has too little you should vote for the Bush energy plan, because that's what he wants to do.

WATKINS: Well, this is what we talk. We talk about the Democrats having an agenda other than just being the party of no. In other words, the president makes a proposal. Democrats come back...

BEGALA: On this kind of a party, it's hell no, not just no.

WATKINS: No, no, no, absolutely not. We got to do something about energy. We have to do something about energy.

BEGALA: How about standing up to Mr. Bush's friends in Saudi Arabia? That would be a start to do something about energy. They don't seem to want to do that.

Well, Republicans on the House Ethics Committee just may be sounding the sound of retreat. They said this afternoon they will support an investigation of charges against Tom DeLay, but as ever with Republicans there's a catch, Democrats would have to in turn agree to is eat of new pro-DeLay rules. Fat chance.

Meanwhile, Mr. DeLay himself has ordered an investigation not of his own ethics but of Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan. Kennedy's crime, well, he wrote the majority opinion that stopped states from executing children. That's right.

I know it was fun while it lasted, but mean, old Justice Kennedy says we can't execute kids anymore, gang. One DeLay ally called an opinion by Justice Kennedy, quote "Marxist, Leninist and Satanic." unquote.

Now, set aside the fact that Marx and Lenin didn't believe in Satan and focus on this, DeLay's ally then quoted with approval from Joseph Stalin who defended his policy of murdering his opponents by saying quote "no man, no problem." And they call themselves the pro- life party.

WATKINS: Well, you know, this is more attack on Tom DeLay who is really fighting for his political life. Tom DeLay is unfairly being beaten up here from all different sides and only because he's a successful conservative Republican House leader.

BEGALA: Should we begin impeachment proceedings against Justice Kennedy? Do you think that's a wise move? Because DeLay does.

WATKINS: I think we should stop persecuting Tom DeLay. That's what we should stop doing. That's what the Democrats need to stop doing.

BEGALA: Start persecuting Justice Kennedy who's a Reagan conservative on the Supreme Court because doesn't want to kill children? That's kind of a radical statement.

Well, anyway. OK. When we come back, we'll have Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, a conservative Republican willing to defend John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The Bolton nomination, that would be John Bolton, not Michael, to be America's ambassador to the United Nations has stirred ways on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided to postpone a vote on the nomination when one Republican senator from Ohio, George Voinovich, suggested he need more time to think it through.

Joining us now to give us the Republican perspective on the Bolton nomination is Congressman Mike Pence. He is on the House International Relations Committee and on the subcommittee that oversees the U.N. He knows his stuff on this issue. Congressman Pence good to see you again.

REP. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: Thank you, Paul. Good to be back.

BEGALA: One of the new allegations that has been risen comes from a woman from Dallas by the name of Melody Townsel. Ms. Townsel in fact works for Charlie Black, a great friend of this program, a conservative Republican political consultant. She alleges that Mr. Bolton abused her. That she was on a USAID project, trying to further President Bush's -- well, America's foreign policy -- when Mr. Bolton representing a client she was having a dispute with -- well, here's her letter. Here is her words:

"Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and generally behaving like a madman. I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton then routinely visited me to pound on my door and shout threats."

She went on to say that she was -- that he said that she was about to be indicted for fraud, which was not true. Which is a terrible form of slander. Now she hasn't been put under oath. Don't you think it was right for the Senate to slow down, stop, perhaps put this woman under oath and hear from Mr. Bolton in case he's being smeared? PENCE: Well, I think first and foremost, Paul, it's right that every senator, Republicans and Democrats have the opportunity to get their questions answered. And my understanding is that Senator Voinovich simply was not able to be at some of the early hearings. And while I'm disappointed that we will have the service that John Bolton can provide as ambassador to the United Nations delayed, I think it was altogether fitting that ambassador -- excuse me, Chairman Senator Lugar from my own state of Indiana has elected to accommodate the desires of his colleagues to have questions answered.

But in the end, I believe the president's choice for ambassador to the United Nations will be recommended by the committee and he should well be confirmed by the United States Senate.

BEGALA: Counsel, let me ask you about this question of character. I have to say, in full disclosure, I supported Bolton's nomination unlike most Democrats, because I believe the president should have his person in there. And I don't mind a blow hard or a bomb thrower -- metaphorically speaking -- at the U.N. My goodness, Madeleine Albright and Dick Holbrooke in the Clinton administration were controversial and strong, not very diplomatic, actually, in their speaking. And I think they did a great job.

But my deference to the president's choice here runs out yesterday, perhaps like others, when I started hearing these tales of abuse, of character defects, of him at the Justice Department threatening to fire a woman who wanted to extend her maternity leave. Now, that's not very pro-family and that's not very good values, is it?

PENCE: Well, I am not as familiar with those allegations as you are. And I can tell you that as you know here on Capitol Hill things get pretty rough, elbows get pretty sharp and sometimes baseless accusations get made. All the more reason why I think Chairman Lugar was right to delay the vote and have his colleagues have the opportunity to ask the questions of Mr. Bolton and others that they think is relevant. But I do believe at the end of the day the Senate should confirm Undersecretary John Bolton as our new ambassador to the U.N.

As you know, Paul, I'm on a new subcommittee in the House of Representatives that was organized by Chairman Henry Hyde to provide oversight at the United Nations. A $10 billion oil-for-food scandal. This is an institution that is in need of reform. And I believe the president's choice for our ambassador to the United Nations is just the man to bring a frank but constructive message of reform to the U.N.

WATKINS: Congressman, obviously these allegations have to do with his management style and some disagreements over the way he manages some of the people who have worked for him. Shouldn't we be more concerned about the policies he will enact, the way he would go about reforming the United Nations and the role he sees for the United Nations as the ambassador to the U.N.?

PENCE: Joe, I -- look, I know you very well. And I know you would take seriously any serious accusations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. But there is a sense many of us have that these accusations about a brusque personality, about being a quick-tempered person, are a bit of a sidebar.

John Bolton is man who served two successive Bush administrations, this one as the under secretary for nonproliferation, but the prior Bush administration he was that undersecretary, as you know, to oversee international organizations.

He is a man who knows the United Nations. He is ready to bring a blunt but constructive voice for the United States into that well.

BEGALA: Congressman Mike Pence thank you very much. A busy day.

By the way, walking, talking demonstration you can be quite conservative and awfully civil and decent. Congressman Mike Pence thank you very much for joining us in the CROSSFIRE. Good of you to come over.

Coming up, Condoleezza Rice told an interviewer she's interested in running for president, or did she? We will translate secretary of state for you after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice, our secretary of state, is of course fluent in Russian. And she was asked today by Moscow radio if she was interested in running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Niet, niet, niet, niet, niet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: CNN has translated that for you. The first da meant yes, and then seven times niet, niet, niet, no, no, no, no, no. So, I guess that's a no.

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

WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins.

Join us again next time for another addition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

END

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