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Laura Bush Appears on Tonight Show; Tom DeLay's Troubles Debated

Aired April 27, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, the Republican speaker of the house signals he may be willing to roll back new ethics rules.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think we need to move forward in the ethics process. I think there are issues out there that need to be discussed.

ANNOUNCER: Democrats say the new rules had been designed to protect embattled House Leader Tom DeLay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's like taking two steps forward in terms of undermining the ethics process, and one step back, if they don't also change the staffing changes that they have made there.

ANNOUNCER: A judicial showdown on the other side of the Capitol. Senate Republicans say no way to Democratic offers to break the logjam over judicial nominees.

And -- will a little filibustering by former Vice President Al Gore have any impact on this fight? Today, on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live, from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


Speaker Hastert made it put-up-or-shut-up for the Democrats. He proposed a roll back of rules that will open the way for a House Ethics Committee investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. But now it appears that Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have some ethics explaining of their own to do.

PAUL BEGALA: Oh, nonsense, Bob! Nancy Pelosi has not been admonished by the Ethics Committee three times. Tom DeLay has, and now that House Republicans have admitted they were wrong to change the rules of the ethics committee, is it only a matter of time before Senate Republicans admit they were wrong to try to change the rules on confirming judges? We will discuss all of that today in the CROSSFIRE but first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." BEGALA: Fresh from getting his talking points from his hand- holding buddy, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Bush gave us his thoughts on energy policy. I suppose nothing inspires Mr. Bush more than a visit with a despotic, unelected, oil-drunk sheik who's ripping off Americans at the pump.

But, Mr. Bush, strangely, did not propose anything that might make a Saudi prince uncomfortable, nothing that will lower gas prices or reduce Saudi profits. The president's most original proposal today is to build oil refineries on former military bases. Great, base closings have hammered lots of former military communities and now they get tons of toxic waste as a lovely parting gift. Look, Mr. President, if you really want to give subsidies to oil companies and polluters to build refineries, just let them put a refinery on your ranch in Texas.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, you let it out of the bag. You usually are very careful in not letting the truth come out, but this time you did, because, you don't want refineries built. One of the reasons we have so many energy problems is that people of your ilk have put a choke-hold on building new refineries.

BEGALA: I want to build them. Build them in the rich people's neighborhood instead of the poor.

NOVAK: That's silly.

BEGALA: Build them on Mr. Bush's ranch. It's a God-forsaken, desolate wilderness -- put it on (INAUDIBLE) ranch.

NOVAK: You don't know even know where these military reservations are.

BEGALA: Oh, of course I do.

NOVAK: The left-wing today is holding 121 rallies around the country attacking Republican efforts to break filibusters against judicial nominees. The most interesting (INAUDIBLE) rally occurred at noon today in Washington with that golden-oldie, blast- from-the-past, none other than Al Gore! Back in 1988 when he first ran for president, Senator Gore campaigned as a moderate. In 1992 he had moved left, but was still calling himself "a DLC new Democrat" when he became Bill Clinton's running mate. He moved further left in his own dreary campaign for president in 2000, and now he's arm-in-arm with the MoveOn extremists. Do Democrats really pay any attention to Al Gore? I'm afraid they do.

BEGALA: Well this Democrat does. I love Al Gore. In fact, later in the program, I'm going to play a clip from the speech. It was a brave speech. It was a patriotic speech, and somebody in the Democratic party is standing up to Mr. Bush and his thuggery, and Al Gore was the first to do it, and now Harry Reid is, and Nancy Pelosi is. Our leaders in my party are fighting back, and Democrats ought to feel good about that. It started with Al Gore.

NOVAK: You and -- you and James Carville wrote a very good column, saying that the Democrats ought to stand for something, but now you just repudiating yourself, because all he does is stand against something.

BEGALA: We'll talk about Mr. Gore later, and I'll play you a tape of a piece of that speech. You will love it.

Well, terrorism has exploded since President Bush invaded Iraq on the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda. The "Washington Post"'s Susan Glasser reports today that government statistics show significant attacks have jumped from 175 to 655 in just one year. That's a 374 percent increase.

The figures for Iraq are even worse. Terrorist attacks there rose from 22 in 2003 to 198 in 2004, a 900 percent increase. And what is the Bush administration doing about the terrorist threat? Well, Mr. Bush campaigns on it when he wants to score cheap political points, but as soon as the election's over, he covers it up.

Here's what I mean: the Bush administration has ordered the State Department to stop releasing the numbers of terrorist attacks in its annual terrorism report. Who can blame them? Look, if I'd spent years talking about terrorism instead of actually fighting it, I would want to cover it up, too.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, the thing that you don't -- may not even understand -- is the fact that they had a faulty measurement system in the past. They underestimated the number of terrorist attacks, so these are false comparisons that are coming out. Anyway, aren't you embarrassed to always be saying we're not doing any good about terrorism, when in fact everybody knows there hasn't been a major terrorism incident since 9/11?

BEGALA: That's a subject we should do a whole program on, because we're not doing enough.

NOVAK: The new candidate for big mommy is Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. She just signed a new law banning the sale of soft drinks, candy bars and gum in Arizona elementary and middle schools. This fits the concept that the government plays the role of big mommy, on the theory that real parents are incapable of taking care of their own children. It's bipartisan. Governor Napolitano is a Democrat, but the bill she signed was sponsored by a Republican.

The nation's leading big mommy in dictating what school children can eat is a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. What kind of country permits politicians to dictate what children can eat?

BEGALA: A civilized country that has government run schools like ours! The government has an obligation to protect our children from this corporate toxic waste in those vending machines, and God bless Janet Napolitano. God bless Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for standing up for our kids instead of the big food industries that are trying to (INAUDIBLE) to make money and poison our kids.

NOVAK: It doesn't bother you at all that these people are telling us what our kids can eat? What I have -- I have to...

BEGALA: Somebody has to tell them.

NOVAK: If that's -- then the parents. See, the thing is, you would take the kids...

BEGALA: A parent is not at the school.

NOVAK: You would take the kids and put them in a re-education camp.

BEGALA: No, I'd put them in a school.

NOVAK: Take them away from their parents. Let the parents -- let the government take care of it.

BEGALA: The schools are "en loco parentes (ph)."

The Republicans raise the white flag of surrender in their war to save Tom DeLay from the Ethics Committee. House Speaker Dennis Hastert today says, he now wants to repeal the new rules he put in place to protect Tom DeLay at the committee. Just ahead -- are Republicans throwing Mr. DeLay into the bus? Or will Mr. DeLay's allies on the Ethics Committee sweep things under the rug?

And later, does Laura Bush have a future as a baseball coach? We'll show you why she was talking fastballs, or maybe slow balls, with Jay Leno later in the CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Republican leaders in the House are trying to give Democrats a reason to get back to work on the Ethics Committee, but the desperate Democrats are still looking for ways to avoid any responsibility for the problem. And to keep beating up on Tom DeLay today.

In the CROSSFIRE former Representative, Vic Fazio, former Democrat of California.

And former Representative David McIntosh, Republican of Indiana --Paul.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you both. Thanks for coming by. David, let me start with -- I think this is the picture of the year. Maybe it was -- maybe the picture of the year was the president holding hands with that oil bandit from Saudi Arabia. But I think he might have surpassed it. Look at here, he did all but shake hands. You know the producer put the wrong picture up. The picture that was on the front page of every newspaper, had the two of those guys almost holding hands. They were turning to the far right and waving. I don't know if you saw it. It was in all the newspapers today.

Can you just make my Democratic heart feel good and tell me that Tom DeLay will pose for pictures like that with every single Republican who's running for reelection? Because we'll beat everyone of them like a bad piece of meat.

DAVID MCINTOSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: No, I think he will, and I think they'll win elections. Tom -- yes. Tom is a effective leader. The reason he's being attacked now with all of these things is that he is an effective majority leader in the House. He's passed one bill after another with 40, 50, 60, 70, Democratic votes along with all the Republicans. And they're sending it over to the Senate to see what they'll work on it. And I served with Tom. He's a decent honorable man. We were in a bible study together. Everybody is going to be attacked in Washington when they are effective.

BEGALA: Did he study that part about not stealing?

MCINTOSH: Yes, he applied it.

NOVAK: As far as we know, he hasn't stolen anything. He hasn't -- nobody has accused him of stealing anything. And I really hate -- hate to see people on national television accused of being a criminal when they are not. He's not a criminal, is he?

VIC FAZIO (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think the committee really needs to go to work to determine just what Tom DeLay has done?

NOVAK: Do you think he's a criminal? Honestly, do you think he's a criminal?

FAZIO: I'm not going to say he's a criminal. But there's certainly been a lot things that have come out of the Abrams (ph) and investigation that make Tom DeLay look like he's ethically challenged. And the Republicans have mishandled this, Bob. There is no way they should have said to their conference, you've got to pass a rule that will absolve Tom DeLay and the loss of his leadership position if he's indicted. There's no way they should have tinkered with the rules of the Ethics Committee and brought this to impasse. So, they're going back on it today, Bob. And that's long overdue.


MCINTOSH: Let's hope they -- that the Democrats take yes for an answer. Because they're ready to go. They want the committee to work. Tom has said publicly, I want this committee to review my case. I want a fair forum to do that.

NOVAK: You and I -- you and I have been around a long time. And I think we can be honest with each other. There's no...

FAZIO: I've been on the Ethics Committee for eight years. I know the process.

NOVAK: It's a different -- it's not your father's Ethics Committee, Vic. And there's no question in anybody's mind, is there, that this was a carefully, calculated plan to bring down Tom DeLay. I mean, the idea that suddenly all these -- when you find -- "The New York Times" running page one stories about a trip made five years ago that everybody knew about. This is a campaign, isn't it? FAZIO: Until the Jack Abramson thing broke, a lot of research was done into these no profit entities, that have been funding travel. You know, there's no question that when people kind of cut corners on the ethics rules, they hope that nobody will find out. But eventually all of this will come out, Bob. And so the best thing to do is let the ethics process work as has historically it has. Let the process go forward. Sure, anybody that gets themselves in trouble helps their political opponents at the same time. You can't totally separate.

BEGALA: A moment ago Bob said something I totally agree with, which doesn't happen often. He said -- and I wrote it down. This is not your father's Ethics Committee. Let me tell you what that means to me. In the past the Ethics Committee controlled by the Republicans was independent enough to admonish Mr. DeLay three times when the committee believed that it had -- he had performed unethically on three separate occasions. Since then, the committee members on the Republican side have been purged and replaced with people who -- let me tell you what "USA Today" says about the new Republicans on the committee.

"All -- this is quoting "USA Today," not me. "All five Republicans on the House Ethics Committee have financial links to Tom DeLay that could raise conflict of interest issues should the panel investigate the GOP majority leader. DeLay's Leadership Political Action Committee gave $15,000 to the campaign of Representative Melissa Hart, who would chair a panel to investigate DeLay if the committee moves forward with the probe. DeLay's PAC also has donated to the campaigns of ethics Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington, Judy Briggert of Illinois and Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Cole and the remaining committee Republican, Lamar Smith of Texas, contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund."

MCINTOSH: I bet Tom DeLays PAC has donated to every single Republican in the House. So, that doesn't mean anything. No, what -- I know Doc Hastings. He's the chairman of that committee. He's a tough guy. He has said I'm going to investigate this. And I think he will do a great job of doing it. I really do.

BEGALA: As a partisan Republican, you say that, that makes me nervous.


MCINTOSH: And he'll do it in a bipartisan way. That's what he did. He reached out with an olive branch, saying, come back to the committee, Democrats, I'll do what you want -- which is open an investigation of Tom DeLay. Tom has said I'll take that, because I want a fair forum of both parties represented.


NOVAK: Vic Fazio, the hypocrisy here is just incredible. Ordinary people would think he's the only guy who has ever taken one of these trips sponsored private organizations. I just want to give you -- put some facts up there. There's been over the past year $16.2 million have been spent on trips taken by congressmen. I'm sure you took plenty of them. Five thousand...

FAZIO: My wish is we'd taken more.

NOVAK: Five thousand four hundred and ten trips taken. Trips taken by Democrats 3,025, by Republicans 2,375.

BEGALA: Nothing wrong with travel. Congress should travel.


NOVAK: And the just -- and the one -- and the thing they're making a fuss about this foundation that gave some money to DeLay, did you know that they gave money for trips by Congresswoman Pelosi's staff, the Senate Democratic leader. Do you know of the 42 trips that her staff takes 12 were never officially reported, 29 percent of them.

BEGALA: Everybody should -- everybody should comply and everybody should...

NOVAK: Everybody does it, don't they.


NOVAK: ... investigate Pelosi.

BEGALA: But What We have to worry about with Tom is that he had a lobbyist picking up the greens fees at St. Andrews and other things that clearly were not part of a non-profit entity support for his trip, however, costly some of his trips were. There's nothing wrong with non-profit entities helping members learn more about their world.


BEGALA: But the problem is when lobbyists are behind them using them as a shell that is a problem.

NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break. Just ahead we'll ask our guest why anyone, anyone would listen to Al Gore on any subject, particularly filibusters.

And the latest on why security was on high alert at the White House today.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff reporting from Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, police think they have solved the series of rapes going back 30 years with the help of DNA.

President Bush is rushed to a protected underground shelter after an unidentified aircraft alarm.

And what veteran journalist Jim Lehrer thinks about the changing face of network news.

All those stories and much more just minutes away on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Judy Woodruff.

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Former Vice President Al Gore is back in Washington today making the case that Republicans are attempting to erase 200 years of history by eliminating the right of senators to filibuster nominees for the federal courts.

Still in the CROSSFIRE, former Republican Congressman David McIntosh of Indiana and former Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio from California.

NOVAK: Vic Fazio, would you really like to make the case of keeping the filibuster -- that racist institution -- in the hands of Al Gore and, a left-wing organization, financed by the leftist billionaire George Soros. Is that what you want?

FAZIO: I think it would be a good thing for any federal judge to be able to get at least 60 percent of the Senate's support. The American people, by the way, think that's a good idea. They support keeping 200 years of history. Particularly in light of the fact that 95 percent of the judges that have been nominated by Mr. Bush have been agreed to, have been allowed to serve.

This not a problem other than the Bush administration wanting everything. Everyone who is nominated they want approved. It's never been that way.

MCINTOSH: Vic, it's not quite right. What they want is an up and down vote. And the constitution says 50 votes in the Senate not 60. And they want to preserve 200 years of tradition there where the Senate has confirmed a lot of justices on the Supreme Court, a lot of judges with 52, 53, 54 votes. Just bring them out, let the Senate vote on them up or down for each one of those individuals.

FAZIO: You have to know that history has kept Democrats and recently in the Clinton administration we have a good example of it from ever...


FAZIO: They couldn't get out of committee. Because under the rules of the committee, Bob, they wouldn't -- if one senator objected, and Jesse Helms did it regularly, you couldn't get even a vote in committee. so it's...


FAZIO: Well, because they never got to the floor.

BEGALA: That's a distinction without a difference. They didn't get floor votes, because they didn't get a committee vote. So they just moved the process back one space.

By the way, the vice president made another point, there's a -- interesting... MCINTOSH: Vice President gore seemed to say this was all really about his election when I read his remarks.

BEGALA: This is what the vice president pointed out, Conservative allies that the Republicans have claimed. It's about religion. Let me show what Vice President Gore said today. Great speech.


AL GORE, FRM. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against people of faith. How dare they. How dare they.


BEGALA: God bless Al Gore. He's a faithful Southern Baptist. You mentioned you went to Bible study as a member of Congress. What evidence is there that Democrats are opposing these ten millionaire lawyers because of their religion?

MCINTOSH: Well, 10 millionaire lawyers. Janet Rodgers Brown is a Supreme Court Justice -- she is, I believe, a Christian -- evangelical Christian.

BEGALA: I haven't the slightest idea what religion -- how am I supposed to know...


NOVAK: They are -- they are opposing Judge Prior of Alabama because of his religion.


NOVAK: They have said...

BEGALA: They've approved any number of Catholics.

NOVAK: They talk about his religious views. They have.

BEGALA: They talk about his judicial views. Look at what Justice Owens.


BEGALA: She discloses that on her bio. Is her anti-Episcopalian prejudice in America now? Is that what this is, Episcopalians are being prejudiced against?

MCINTOSH: I agree with you. There should not be any type of prejudice based on religion.

BEGALA: There is no Democratic prejudice against people of faith. And it's monstrous... MCINTOSH: The Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee have been saying we want to know what your faith is, because we think that personal views...


NOVAK: If I could get a word in. You just -- you just said you need 60 votes to -- you should have 60 votes to get a judge confirmed. You know, I want to tell you something. There's going to be a Democratic president again some day. There may be a Democratic president and there may be a Democratic Senate with about 58 -- 48 Republican senators. What are you going to do then?

FAZIO: Bob, that's exactly what John McCain and Bob Dole and George Will and Allen Simpson and others have been saying to the Republicans. There will be a day when the Democrats are back in charge and you don't want to do away with the 60 votes.

NOVAK: You think that's OK then, to stop that?

FAZIO: I think that 200 years of history has been good enough for this country so far.

NOVAK: I don't believe you.

Thank you very much. The time is up, Vic Fazio.

MCINTOSH: 200 years, there has never been a filibuster, Bob.

NOVAK: That's right...

MCINTOSH: There's just been up or down vote. That's all they're asking for.

NOVAK: Thank you gentlemen. Wish you were both back in Congress.

Next, First Lady Laura Bush pitches a few one liners at Jay Leno.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. First Lady Laura Bush was on "The Tonight Show" last night saying she has no plans to run for office herself. Probably disappointing for Republicans who would like to see the 85 percent approval rating.

But she did have time to talk baseball with host Jay Leno. She offered a critique of the president's form when he threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' baseball game a couple of weeks ago.


JAY LENO, TONIGHT SHOW HOST: There he is there.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Good, so you saw that it was high and outside.

LENO: It was a little high and outside. Did you criticize him for that being high and outside?

BUSH: And to the right, too. Outside to the right.

LENO: Well, he's kind of to the right, so that's OK.



BEGALA: That's great.

NOVAK: As long as the president stays to the right I'm happy with it.


BEGALA: It's good to know we have a first lady with a sense of humor. And I hope she can correct her husband from screeching off to the far right. But she is a delight. I'm glad she did the show.

From the left, I'm Paula Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. By the way, Mrs. Bush, you are welcome here any time.

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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