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Infighting in Congress Worsens

Aired April 21, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Donna Brazile, on the right Robert Novak.
In the CROSSFIRE: inflation up, stocks down and consumers suffering sticker shock every time they fill up. Polls point to the economy as a top concern among Americans. So why is Washington so preoccupied with fighting over filibusters, Tom DeLay and Terri Schiavo? Is Congress really doing its job?

And when the smoke clears in the California Assembly, will Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger be take the results of one proposed bill very personally?


Live from the George Washington University Donna Brazile and Robert Novak.



If you're feeling frustrated with what Congress is doing, or not doing as the case may be, you are not alone. Thanks to Democrats, more interested in undermining the Republican agenda than moving the country forward, things are really in disarray under the Capital Dome.

DONNA BRAZILE, CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: Disarray? Ah, but for sure, don't blame the Democrats, it's obvious that the Republican agenda is completely out of touch with the American people. Can you say economy? We'll talk about it.

But first the best little political briefing in television our political CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The names of two controversial Bush judicial nominees are headed to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved sending circuit court nominees Priscilla Owen and Judge Judy Rogers Brown. The vote was 10 to 8 down party lines for both.

This is the second attempt at confirmation for both of these two left-over judges. The Senate has already looked at the qualifications of these candidates once and they failed the test. How many votes do they need?

Come on, Mr. President. Democrats have confirmed 95 percent of your judges and most of them were pro-life. This has nothing to do with the lack of faith, but a lack of confidence that these nominees will uphold the rule of law.

NOVAK: You know, Donna these two left-over judges are really very outstanding Supreme Court justices in their own states. A black woman in California, a white woman in Texas. They're not controversial, they're conservative and that's what you object to.

And what you didn't say is that they were approved by a majority of the United States Senate, they voted for them, but it wasn't -- they were filibustered. Where you need 60 votes. But is going to come to an end soon, because there's going to be a vote, it's coming up where they're going to stop this minority rule in the Senate.

BRAZILE: Bob, look, the Republican have gotten 95 percent of their judges and these judges have failed the test. They're not going to fly.

NOVAK: 16 have been blocked and that's unprecedented.

House Democrats refuse to take yes for an answer when the new Republican leaders of the House Ethics Committee agreed to launch a full-scale investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the offer by Republican Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington State a sham.

But do Democrats have other reasons for demobilizing the Ethics Committee? Speaker Dennis Hastert says so, saying four or five ethics cases deal with Democrats. He didn't say who, but Republican sources revealed three Democrats with pending ethics cases. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, Jim McDermott of Washington and guess who? Nancy Pelosi of California. Crusading against Tom DeLay may have opened a can of worms for the Democrats.

BRAZILE: Oh, Bob, I don't think so. These are trumped up charges. Nancy Pelosi's records are in order, Stephanie Jones -- Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, she amended her records.

Look, the Republicans are playing a game of survivor. When they don't like the rules, they change the game or they condemn the game. So, it's time that we play by one set of bipartisan rules on the Ethics Committee and let the games begin.


NOVAK: I've been covering Congress for a long time. And I'll tell you this, all the charges against DeLay -- of going out on somebody's dime, of putting your relatives on the payroll, there's hundred of Congressmen who...


BRAZILE: Bob, I wish I can tee off for $300,000. Maybe we should both go to the golf course today.

President Bush was at it again this morning trying to sell his idea of private accounts for Social Security. But before he utters another word, he should look at the track record of one of his closest allies. The campaign committee of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, lost, yes, lost more than $16,000 in the stock market in the first three months of this year.

What's more, say the "Chattanooga Times Free Press," records show the committee also needs an infusion of $60,000 to cover the outstanding balance on the bank loan. A spokesman for the committee says Senator Frist has full confidence the stock market will rebound.

And this is one of those guys who's leading the charge to privatizing Social Security. If we've been waiting for something to make a case against privatizing Social Security, this is it. I'd rather try my chances at the slot machines in Las Vegas, Bob.


NOVAK: Well, you know, you may not know this, Barbara (sic) -- but the Dow Jones average went up 200 points today. You see this -- one thing that you leftists can't agree on is that the American economy is the greatest engine in the world and it is always going to go up over the long run.

And I'll tell you this, the personal accounts do not permit the kind of speculation that you had in the Frist committee. There's very limited options. And I'll tell you this, I would ask Mr. Frist to call me up and ask me they invest in. Because I didn't lose any money this year.

BRAZILE: It's like a rollercoaster, Bob.

NOVAK: Democrats are delighted to get money in support from a left-wing operation called that received big bucks from leftist billionaire George Soros. But they are finding he who takes money from the piper must dance to the piper's tune.

One non-dancer was Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland, second- ranking Democrat in the House as minority whip. He committed the sin of voting for the bankruptcy reform bill that contends people should pay their bills.

That's a sin for, which is running radio ads against Congressman Hoyer. The organization's political director accuses Hoyer of masquerading as a friend of the working people.

That's what happens, Steny, when your financed by George Soros and his friends.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, Steny Hoyer is a great man. But its inexcusable that someone would have voted for that bankruptcy bill that would pull the rug from under the middle class and working people even more.

I'm glad MoveOn is standing up. And you know what, this is not about party, it's about principle. And MoveOn has a lot of principles. And I'm glad they're standing up for it.

NOVAK: Do you know how many Democrats in the House voted for the bankruptcy reform bill? How many do you think?

BRAZILE: All but...

NOVAK: 1, 2?

BRAZILE: Shame on all of them.

NOVAK: 73 of them!

BRAZILE: Shame on each and every one of them.

NOVAK: You just want conformity to the left-wing bias of

BRAZILE: I want to help the middle class and working people in this country.


NOVAK: Is Congress taking care of the things you care about? Next, we'll ask whether Congress is really doing its job.

And members of the California assembly may be about to light a fire under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a great story. And we'll have it later on CROSSFIRE.



NOVAK: A new poll shows the state of the economy emerging as a major concern to Americans outside the beltway in Washington. Democrats in Congress are intent on attacking the House majority leader in the nominee for the united nation ambassador. Is Congress spending entirely too much time on politics and not enough on substance?

Our guests today, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, a former adviser to the Democratic National Adviser Howard Dean and Cliff May, former Republican National Committee communications direct, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies -- Donna.

BRAZILE: Thank you. Hey, Cliff. Good to see you.

This poll, once again, demonstrate what Democrats have been saying all year long, that the Republican majority is out of sync, out of touch and basically not focusing on the real concerns of middle class, ordinary Americans. What can they do to get their House back in order?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I think it's going to be very important for Republicans to show some leadership on the economy, because I think when House members goes back home they'll hear it about gas prices, for example.

But at the same time, this is a bipartisan problem, because you don't hear Democrats saying we have a good idea. You hear Democrats saying Tom DeLay. A few years ago he went to Moscow probably to play golf. Tom DeLay, I think he had somebody from his family working on his campaign. This Democrats do.

Neither party in congress is focused on the economy. I think it's an issue that can burn or can build either party when they get focused on it and neither one is yet.

BRAZILE: But it is true that Republicans control the agenda. And of course we're talking about Tom DeLay, because the Republicans who set the agenda have not given us anything to fight about.

MAY: And we've got Democrats, unfortunately, blocking the agenda. By Democrats who think their job is to obstruct Republicans from doing anything.

Look, on things like energy, wouldn't it be good if Democrats and Republicans can come together and say let's actually figure out some ways so we don't have to depend on Middle Eastern oil forever, and so that the price of energy doesn't continue to go up.

BRAZILE: So you're saying that the Democratic Party will be able to offer amendments and offer alternatives on the House and Senate floor so that we can have...


MAY: If they want to work with Republicans, I say give it a try, just once, see what happens.


NOVAK: Steve, if I were to be critical of the Democrats...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Far be it from you to be critical, Bob, come on!

NOVAK: But I just want to quote to you what some tried and true, loyal Democrats say. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, really a dynamic guy, I think you will agree, possible presidential candidate. He said this week, "we just can't be negative. We just can't just attack the president at every turn. We have got to stand for something."


NOVAK: Then I want to quote to you two guys who often sit here, I wouldn't ordinarily quote them, but they're not here. Paul Begala and James Carville. And they wrote a column yesterday in "USA Today" And they said, "the biggest problem the Democrats face is not that they're seen as standing for too many liberal issues or standing for too many conservative positions, it's that Democrats aren't seen as standing for anything."


NOVAK: Do you agree with that?

MCMAHON: Well, listen, when the Republicans keep coming with ideas like let's privatize Social Security, it's only the Democrats who can stop them because the Republicans won't stop them.

So when the Republicans control the agenda, when they get to decide what we're going to be debating, what we're going to be voting on, the Democrats can offer alternatives and they can oppose bad ideas. But you know, when the Democrats try to move an energy bill, the Republicans shut it down, when the Democrats ask for an investigation of Tom DeLay to find out if he violated any laws or House rules, the Republicans won't go forward.

So at any single instance, when the Democrats have tried to get action on any individual item, whether it's energy policy, whether it's minimum wage, whether it's healthcare for every American, the Republicans are blocked.

NOVAK: Steve, there you go again, as Ronald Reagan would say. See, just all you can do is attack. And I want you to tell me, name me one Republican, member of Congress, governor, member of the national committee let's privatize Social Security. You said the Republicans say let's privatize Social Security. Name me one who has ever said that.

MCMAHON: The president's one.

NOVAK: He's never said that.

MCMAHON: He said let's privatize Social Security.


NOVAK That's a lie! I'll tell you what. I'll buy you anything you want if you can tell me...

MCMAHON: You've got guys stacked up in Congress wanting to move Social Security money into private accounts.

NOVAK: No one ever said let's privatize Social Security, did they? Never!


MAY: No, No. We're talking about...


MCMAHON: And by the way they want to cut benefits too. They want to plunge us $2 trillion further into debt for the pleasure of doing it.

NOVAK: There you go again.


BRAZILE: We'll change the words when the game no longer fits they're needs.

You know, Bob quoted two -- three fine Democrats. Let me quote a Republican who's in the "Washington Post" today, Representative Vernon Ehlers from the great state of Michigan. He said -- he went back home during the recent break and he said, he heard a lot of frustration from his constituents. And he said, we need to, you know, tell the Congress to really -- let's get our act together. He said, if we continue at the rate we're going, we may well lose a few seats.

Now, Cliff this is coming from inside the Republican house. This is not Democrats frustrated, this is a Republican who's telling his colleagues he can't get anything done.

MAY: He's saying exactly what I said to you after your first question, Donna, that I think Republicans, and Democrats too, need to start focusing on real economic issues. And not disporting economic issues. When we talk about...

BRAZILE: Let's talk about the energy bill.

MAY: This privatization -- people need to understand what we're really talking about here is whether people should have the choice, would haven't to do it, the choice...

NOVAK: And only young people.

MAY: And only young people, not anybody over 50, to have a personal account. Everybody at this table, I guarantee you, owns some stocks. Why can't poor people own stocks too? Why can't poor people?

MCMAHON: We gave Bill first the choice and he just lost $16,000.

MAY: That's his choice.

MCMAHON: What are we going to tell people when they are ready retire and the money is not there?

MAY: You'll tell them what you're telling them they're too stupid to make a choice on their own, you will make it for them.

MCMAHON: Go tell it to Senator Frist.

NOVAK: Let me -- let me...

MAY: He can get out of the market if he wants to.

I bet he's made money over the years.

BRAZILE: He can cannot afford to lose $16,000, most Americans can not afford to lose $16,000.

MAY: Give people choice. No one would be forced to, give them a choice.

BRAZILE: That's a lot of money.

MAY: I'm telling you, personal accounts an idea that time is coming, eventually...

BRAZILE: Especially if Congress won't raise they're pay, but raise they're own pay.

NOVAK: You may not admit it on this program, but I want you to think where the Democrats are right now. Three of the issues that have been -- there are a lot of things going on in Congress. It's not that nothing's being passed -- there was a bankruptcy reform bill, permanent repeal of the estate tax and tort reform.

MCMAHON: The middle class has been clamoring for those three things, Bob, clamoring.

NOVAK: Look at the Democrats' voting record -- 73 Democrats voted for bankruptcy reform, 42 voted for the permanent repeal of the estate tax, 50 voted for tort reform, those are massive defections by a party which no longer has a southern conservative democratic base.

MCMAHON: But, Bob, look at who...

NOVAK: Your party can't even decide what it wants to do on these issues.

MCMAHON: Look at profits from every sing will one of these things -- big business and insurance companies, not regular folks.

NOVAK: Why don't you respond to what I said about the Democrats?

MCMAHON: We're talking about these three bills.

NOVAK: But what about those Democrats up there?

MCMAHON: The Democrats are standing up for middle class families.

MAY: Those are the ones who voted for those bills.

NOVAK: Those are the ones that voted for it.

MCMAHON: But the Democratic party as a whole didn't vote for them.


MCMAHON: There are always a few people you pull off, Bob.

MAY: Here's what's going on here.

MCMAHON: But -- look who benefits from those bills, it's the big financial interests in this country.

NOVAK: All America benefits...


NOVAK: When we come back, the politics of personal destruction. Is that all the Democrats care about anymore?

And having insurgents in Iraq on a vulnerable new target. Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after this break.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, 11 people, including six American civilians, are dead after a helicopter crashes in Iraq. Authorities believe it was shot down by insurgents.

Teens and drug abuse: it's not just about illegal drugs. What you may want to check in your own medicine cabinet.

And, decades after the Vietnam era, some emotions are still very raw. What one veteran did to Jane Fonda and how she responded.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now, back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: Is Congress living up to its job description of representing the American people? Our guests today are former RNC Communications Director Cliff May, currently president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, an adviser to Governor Howard Dean, now the chairman of the DNC.

NOVAK: You know, if you listen to Howard Dean and most Democrats, all you hear is attack, but it's a personal attack. It's a personal attack on John Bolton, one of the smartest guys I've ever met, Tom DeLay.

MCMAHON: Not one of the nicest guys, however.

NOVAK: He is a nice guy, for people who don't...

MCMAHON: Don't work for him.

NOVAK: Who are not -- those people didn't work for him.

BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE) around the office.

NOVAK: They were just rude and offensive. And, also Tom DeLay, I think, is one of the great legislative leaders of our time. And isn't this just the pers -- the politics of personal destruction, that you think that the way to get ahead in politics is to attack your enemies?

MCMAHON: Listen, I don't think that's what it's about at all. In the case of both those people, if they've got nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about. And all the Democrats are asking for is to find out the facts. And, you know, it's unfortunate that Congressman DeLay put himself in this position, it's unfortunate that Mr. Bolton did, through their own actions, but the Democrats are just looking to find out the facts so that people can make a judgment. If they've got nothing to worry about, they got no problem.

BRAZILE: Cliff, you know, I think Republicans enjoy pointing fingers when they can't seem to get things done their way, instead of looking in the mirror. I don't know why they're afraid to look in the mirror. But...

MAY: This is why they're afraid to look in the mirror.

BRAZILE: You're a little -- a little eye candy on that (INAUDIBLE). But, by the way, Mr. Bolton seemed to be damaged goods. I mean, can he be resurrected? I mean, you have many leading Republicans, even the chairman, who is a little lukewarm in supporting him, and of course, some other members -- Mr. Voinovich, and Mr. Chafey, and others -- Mr. Hagel -- they're not too keen on this guy.

MAY: Boy, I hope he can be -- this can be resurrected -- because he's exactly what we need right now at the United Nations. We need...

MCMAHON: Arrogant belligerence?

MAY: No, we need an ambassador who represents America to the United Nations, not the United Nations to America. This is a guy who will be in favor of real reform, and if you don't think the United Nations needs real reform -- I know you know it does. And, I mean, it's not all Kofi Annan's fault. The fact of the matter is, this institution is unaccountable to anybody, it's mired in scandals -- the biggest financial scandal in world history, those terrible sexual scandals, as you know. There has got to be reform there and we need some tough love. Bolton is exactly the guy to do it, and to say he yelled at somebody who worked for him who didn't do a good job -- Bill Clinton used to yell at people. John Kerry used to -- Howard Dean would yell at people.

BRAZILE: Well, it sounds like...

NOVAK: (INAUDIBLE)...was a Kerry supporter. I yell at Kerry supporters all the time.

BRAZILE: Yelling must be a thing that men do when they don't get their way.

MAY: They got to forgive us that.

NOVAK: You said something a moment ago, when you said, if it's okay to attack somebody, and defend yourself -- what was all the whining I heard by Hillary about the politics of personal destruction, that were so mean to her husband? Didn't it -- are you saying it's OK to attack a Republican, but not a Democrat? Is that it?

MCMAHON: No, no, no, I'm not saying that at all. I'm not saying that at all. What I'm saying -- what I'm saying is, if somebody has violated House rules, or perhaps violated the law, or if somebody is being put into a position that is -- where they're representing the United States to the world, we have every right as...

NOVAK: But, you've never seen a Democrat who should be attacked, have you?


MCMAHON: Of course. Anybody who breaks the law or violates House rules should be investigated.

NOVAK: We're out of time. Thank you very much, Steve McMahon...

BRAZILE: Thank you. Thanks, Cliff

MAY: Thank you.

MCMAHON: Thanks.

NOVAK: Arnold Schwarzenegger has enough trouble with the Democrats in the California assembly. Now, some lawmakers are going after one of the governor's favorite past times. Guess what it is.


NOVAK: California has some pretty strict rules about smoking in public places. So, when Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, he erected a smoking tent in the capital courtyard. The "govern-ator" takes great pleasure in a good cigar every now and then, but a state assembly committee yesterday approved a bill to ban smoking in enclosed courtyards of state buildings. One Democratic assemblyman says, smoke can get track trapped in the yards and pose a threat to non-smokers. If it becomes law, that would mean, no more cigars at work for the governor.

Give me a break. This is a mean-spirited Democratic jab at California's popular Republican governor. Have we become so petty that even an occasional stogie, outdoors, is a political target?

BRAZILE: Well, Bob, you know, Democrats are tired of having all this smoke thrown in their face. So, let's clean air for everybody. From the left, I'm Donna Brazile.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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