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Military Announces List of Prospective Base Closures; Tom DeLay Fires Back at Accusers; Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich Work Together

Aired May 13, 2005 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE, dozens of major military bases tagged to close. Tens of thousands of jobs to be cut. Which ones go? Which ones stay? And will this really improve America's defense?

Tears, cheers and a healthy dose of partisanship all in the name of embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He takes the opportunity to fire back at his critics.

REP. TOM DELAY, (R-TX) MAJORITY LEADER: Our opponents have offered nothing. Nothing. No ideas, no leadership, no agenda, and in just the last week, we can now add to that list, no class.

Once bitter political enemies, now Senator Hillary Clinton and former house speaker Newt Gingrich are joining forces. What's really behind this unlikely alliance? Today on CROSSFIRE.

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


TERRY HOLT, GUEST CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Welcome to CROSSFIRE where we are watching political battles of all sorts today. Governors are lining up with vows to fight today's Pentagon recommendation to close 33 military bases. And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took the opportunity at last night's dinner to fire back at a few of his attackers.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: He also shed a couple of tears, which I feel bad about.

Then later in our program, there's a surprising new alliance between Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. We will consider why this likely duo has teamed up today in the CROSSFIRE.

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

Well, last November, the good people of South Dakota decided they had enough of Tom Daschle, so despite his clout as the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, they voted him out of office. Republicans attacked Daschle as a Washington insider and a big spender. And now today, the Bush administration has targeted Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota for closure.

Perhaps, the anti-spending South Dakotans are happy to give up the $278 million a year they get from Ellsworth, which after all is a federal installation. Such an anti-government state as South Dakota should be relieved to shed the 11,000 folks who live or work at Ellsworth, which is by the way, the state's second largest employer.

South Dakota is a farming state. And so folks there well know they reap what they sow.

So look South Dakota, I have some free advice for you, if you want a little help trying to save Ellsworth, maybe you should hire the smartest new lawyer over the at firm of Allston and Bird here in Washington. His name is Tom Daschle.

HOLT: Now, Paul, I know, I know that you understand that the BRAC commission is an independent commission that was set up so that politicians wouldn't have to take the heat for closing bases. I know you're not attacking the president for the Ellsworth closure today.

BEGALA: Well, I'm attacking South Dakotans for bouncing Tom Daschle out of office. And I'm attacking John Thune for misleading his citizens by saying he can save Ellsworth.

By the way, Tom Daschle would have had an appoint to that B.R.A.C. Commission. He would have saved Ellsworth. There's absolutely no doubt about it. He did the last round. He would have this time. So South Dakota, good-bye to your Air Force base. Good luck!

HOLT: All right.

Democrats have launched yet another bid to derail John Bolton's confirmation, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Late yesterday Senator Barbara Boxer of California placed a hold on the Bolton nomination, after a Senate committee send his nominations to the Senate without a recommendation. Boxer's hold is a maneuver to keep Bolton's name from reaching the Senate floor. This is the same Senator Boxer who said in 1997, "according to the U.S. constitution, president nominates, the Senate shall provide advice and guidance. And it is not the role of the Senate to obstruct to process and prevent numbers of highly qualified nominees from being given the opportunity for a vote on the Senate floor."

Boxer's hold is pure politics. Part of a do-nothing, obstructionist strategy meant only to try to make the president look bad.

Give it up, Senator Boxer. Let the man have his vote, up or down. They know they can't win an up-or-down vote. It's just part of a last gasp of a political strategy of a do-nothing Senate Democrat Caucus. BEGALA: Well, I guess your criticism is that Boxer and other Democrats are behaving like Republicans. And maybe they are. But they're playing hardball.

I don't think that this stalemate -- I don't think the Democrats are trying to make President Bush look bad. He's doing a good job of that on his own, by sending this man Bolton up there, who is an embarrassment.


HOLT: Paul, please!

BEGALA: Look, the president has a right to his team, but this guy is an embarrassment.

HOLT: This is a Hail Mary pass. And it's going to fall.

BEGALA: Well, nearly two weeks ago a previously-secret memo was leaked. It proves that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to go to war in Iraq. In the memo, written in 2002, the head of British intelligence reported to the prime minister, Tony Blair, some eight months before actually going to war. He wrote this quote, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD -- weapons of mass destruction -- but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" unquote.

Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy, so wrote America's closest ally months before the war. The story finally made the "Washington Post" today on page A-18. Why is this smoking gun reported by Walter Pincus, one the best journalist in the land, winding up on page A-18, proving that President Bush may have lied us into war? Well, I suppose it's because the real news will be if we ever discover proof of Mr. President Bush told the truth about this war, that would be real news.

HOLT: You know, Paul, we talked about this all year last year. It was called the presidential election. The American people didn't buy it. This whole misleading argument that the Democrats have made. The American people re-elected this president overwhelmingly.

BEGALA: What do you think that means? The intelligence and the facts were fixed around the policy.

HOLT: Oh pleased.

BEGALA: I know what it means when my dog is fixed. It ain't very fair deal. The intelligence was fixed built Bush administration.

HOLT: I'm sorry.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are hopping mad and rightfully so. The object of their anger is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The Senate is already inching toward a showdown on the issue of Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. But what does Harry Reid do?

Yesterday, he stood on the Senate floor and began making wild accusations against one of these judges. Reid declared that Sixth Circuit nominee Henry Saud would have been one of the filibuster targets. All you would have to do, he said, quote, "is go upstairs and look at confidential report from the FBI and I think we would all agree there is a problem there."

Excuse me? You cite a confidential report. You offer no specifics. It reminded me of another senator run amok, one from the '50s who said, "I hold in my hand the names of 57 card-carrying communists." Tell me, Paul, the Democrats haven't really sunk to this level.

BEGALA: First off, this so-called confidential file, Reid never disclosed anything that was in it. Its existence was reported in the right wing press weeks and weeks ago. There's nothing new here at all. All Harry Reid is doing is repeating what was already reported in the right-wing press. That's Harry Reid's problem.

But I hope that Senators look at the background of these guys. President Bush is trying to put right-wing hacks on our federal bench. And Democrats ought to take a hard look at their records to make sure.

HOLT: He ought to have his day in court, you know. And in this country, you have the right to face his accuser. Harry Reid ought to let the man have vote up or down on the Senate floor.

BEGALA: He can't get the votes. He doesn't have the votes. He needs 60. He don't have them.

Well, the lobbyist was circling their limousines at a vast right- wing suck-up session last night for Tom DeLay. Just how many seats will the ethically-challenged Republican leader cost his party? That question when we return.

And get this, what were Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich up to? We will debate the significance of this extraordinary odd couple later in the CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.


Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: The Pentagon is recommending the closure of 33 major military installations across the United States. Closings are part a realignment that would cut an estimated 29,000 jobs, that counts both military and civilian work force. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday, the changes would mean a net savings of $48 billion over 20 years. Now, that may sound like a lot until you realize only one half of 1 percent of the Pentagon's budget.

Meanwhile, embattled Republican House Leader Tom DeLay is trying to rally the troops for political warfare, so what is the political fallout of all of this? Joining us today in the Crossfire, Republican Representative Mike Pence of Indiana and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat who represents the District of Columbia in Congress.

Good to see you both.

Congressman Pence, the biggest news, I think today is -- the biggest base is Ellsworth Air Force Base. And enormous installation in South Dakota. The B-1B is based there. Tom Daschle was the Democrat leader, he had protected Ellsworth while he was in there. In fact used appointments to the BRAC to try to protect Ellsworth. In the campaign, John Thune, his Republican opponent suggested he should be elected to the Senate to replace Daschle, because he, Thune, was the one who could save Ellsworth.

He's what Thune said during the campaign. Let me quote from him. "I think we've got to have somebody that has a relationship with the President of the United States -- can work constructively across party lines in the Congress to get this done, if we're going to save Ellswroth.

Do the people of South Dakota look like a bigger chump or John Thune?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I think neither. It's so important.

BEGALA: They weren't played for chumps.

PENCE: No, I don't believe so. Because as we say south of Highway 40, it ain't over until it's over. The -- the BRAC Commission has come out with its recommendations, Paul. And now I think we even saw on the airwaves live a little bit ago here on CNN, that Senator John Thune is now rolling his sleeves up and going to work to make a case for Ellsworth. He's -- and he's going to make the case based upon the criteria of the BRAC, which has to do with military value and has to do with the economic impact of a closure. And in each of those cases, I happen to believe that Senator Thune...

BEGALA: But your state gains 2,200 jobs. The state of Indiana gains 2,200 jobs under this. Are you going to kill a plan that gets your state 2,200 jobs in order to protect some guy who couldn't get his job done.


PENCE: The consolidation in Indianapolis of the Finance Center, closing lots of small offices around the country is in the taxpayer's interest. Ellsworth Base, though, I will tell you, Paul, I really do believe that, as Senator Thune has already begun to argue in the national media and will argue with the commission, and I'm sure vigorously with the administration. Having all of our B-1B bombers at just one facility as opposed to two, and also recognizing that Ellsworth is the second-leading employer in South Dakota are both compelling cases. And I wouldn't bet against John Thune or South Dakota. HOLT: Madame Delegate, thank you for coming on the show. It's a great pleasure to meet you.

I have a statement from your office, talking about The Walter Reed facility, that that's going to be consolidated with the Bethesda facility and some other losses here in the District. It wasn't but about 10 seconds on the Hill before Democrats started blaming President Bush, as Paul did in the opening for these closings. I know you're not going to that, are you?

You'll fight for Walter Reed.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), DC DELEGATE: No. I'm going -- I'm going to go to President Bush and say, we have a huge disproportionate in this nation's capital. We're a city, therefore we don't have the resources of state to fill it on, -- fill it in. You're responsible for your nation's capital just like we are.

HOLT: So you're going to ask for more money from the government.

NORTON: I'm going to ask for plan A, don't close our historic flagship Army Medical Center here. Plan B, if you do, make sure we're compensated. We have -- 6,500 jobs.

HOLT: But shouldn't...

NORTON: Sixty-five hundred jobs. Look at Virginia, 1,500 jobs. We're a city. We can't take it.

HOLT: I understand that.

NORTON: A huge bite out of the economy.


HOLT: Isn't the real question for Walter Reed and Bethesda, where the military service personnel can get the best and highest medical care, shouldn't that be the first standard.

NORTON: Yes, and I think closing your flagship Army Medical Center doesn't sound like it's the best way to ensure you -- to ensure the army. The general was there. This is where all the most wounded of the soldiers come. This is where members of Congress go every week. This is the state of the art army medical facility. Now, look, I know I'm crying the blues along with people all over the United States. There is one unique difference, and that is as the capital of the United States, it's a city without a state, and you can't just pull it out from us, you've got to help us out.

PENCE: This is a great argument, it does seem to me, Paul, to be for the BRAC itself. And as a conservative, I support the idea of putting our national security...

BEGALA: BRAC, an acronym for the Commission Base Realignment...

(CROSSTALK) PENCE: That's exactly right. We want to -- we want to put our national security and military decisions above politics at least in the first instance. Now, people like Eleanor and myself and Senator Thune we'll have our say, will have input, and ultimately the president will sign off or reject the commission's recommendations.

BEGALA: Let me -- let me turn to something that it is -- pure politics and as political warfare. Last night, I just couldn't have been happier, because Tom DeLay poked his little head up again. And 900 lobbyists and right-wing kooks gathered at a big hotel to celebrated. Now, just -- do me this favor and promise me that you'll arraigned for every one of your Republican colleagues in the House, everyone who I want to see defeated that they'll take a picture with Tom DeLay. Will you do you that for me, because here's what he said last night. He's my Congressman by the way Tom DeLay, as I grew up in that district. Here's my Congressman last night. Happy man, there he is.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX) MAJORITY LEADER: Our opponents have offered nothing. Nothing. No ideas. No leadership. No agenda. And it just the last week, we can now add to that list, no class.


BEGALA: Well, he's a man who flies on luxury jets with lobbyists. I guess he knows about class, but is that what he defines as class or being admonished by the Ethics Committee three times. Is that his idea of class? Or is it -- his idea to threaten judges, to call the EPA the Gestapo. Where does this guy come off -- where does this guy come off talking about class?

PENCE: Well, I just love seeing this worked up, Paula. He must have really done more good last night then I thought we did.

BEGALA: Oh, yes for the Democrats.

HOLT: I'm signing up for a picture-taking session. I'm calling up there now.


BEGALA: Name me one vulnerable Republican Congressman who wants his picture taken with Tom DeLay.

PENCE: Well, I'll tell you, there's an awful lot of them. And I was proud...

BEGALA: Name me one.

PENCE: I was proud along with dozens of other members of Congress to participate in last night's tribute to this majority leader. Look, it's important that the Ethics Committee has found a way to go forward. It's important that a bipartisan committee take a look at the allegations that have been leveled at the majority leader, and frankly at other members of the Congress, Republicans and Democrats, that are facing ethics' allegations. We need to get this out in the newspaper and into the Ethics Committee.

BEGALA: No, no, no.

PENCE: We have. But the bottom line is that the majority in the Congress supports the majority leader, and what you saw last night, Paul, and I think it's making you crazy is that organizations that represent millions of conservative Americans support Tom DeLay too.

HOLT: Just a quick reaction. Tom DeLay's point about nothing and no agenda, how would you respond to that?

NORTON: I say, leave the boy alone. He's doing -- he's doing fine. Look, don't blame Tom DeLay on the Democrats. The Democrats haven't gone out after Tom DeLay. The newspaper...

HOLT: They haven't?

NORTON: The nemesis last night...

HOLT: The DNC says that it's their number one priority.

NORTON: Yes, the nemesis last night was the press, because that's who's been writing all of this. Telling the American people what they did. this is the lowest profile leader in a very long time. He decided to stick his head up with the Schaivo case, and America said, what? Where did he come from.

BEGALA: Hang on just a second. We're going to take a quick break. And when we return on this topic, back in the old days when I worked in the Clinton White House, Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House and he as not much of a fan of the Clintons. So, why is it that now Newt is saying such nice things about Hillary Clinton?

And then, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on moves to make John Paul II a saint. That, right after this break. Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, the Pentagon recommends closing 33 major U.S. military bases in the United States. We'll have reaction from a New Jersey community that could be hard hit.

Behind the scenes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden: We'll hear directly from the former CIA station chief who was the first American sent to Afghanistan with orders to kill bin Laden.

And Pope Benedict XVI starts the process that could make John Paul II a saint.

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

BEGALA: And now, this story of a real-life odd couple. Two names I thought I would never mention in the same breadth, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

No, they're just friends, but it seems the old political enemies have come to a meeting of the minds on at least a couple of issues. Most importantly, healthcare and national security. So as my kids would say, what's up with that?

Our guests today: Congressman Mike Pence -- he is a Republican from Indiana -- and Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.

HOLT: Madam Delegate, I wanted to find out your background on Newt Gingrich. Paul and I were sitting behind the gate, before the show, and we thought, well, she certainly can't like this guy. But in fact, you beat Hillary Clinton to the punch, you had quite a close relationship with Newt when he was Speaker.

NORTON: Yes, I knew Newt back then.

HOLT: So, she's not breaking any new ground. But I want to know this, do Democrats really -- are they really comfortable with their presumptive Democratic nominee cuddling up to the evil Newt Gingrich to win an election?

NORTON: Everybody understands first that each one want to be president. And what better way to be president than cuddle up to your opposite type.

HOLT: It's like Godfather -- enemies close, friends closer. Something like?

NORTON: Absolutely. But, each suffers from the caricature painted by the other party. I happen to have gotten to know Newt very well when he was in the House, because of the District on Columbia.

Newt's problem is that he believes that IQ and ability to be president are closely correlated. Therefore -- Hillary, on the other hand, always -- she and Bill Clinton got to be president and Mrs. Clinton because he was a middle of the road hawkish Democrat. So, nobody should really be surprised.

BEGALA: In fact, Newt has said that Hillary is hawkish on national defense. They serve on a Pentagon advisory board together. And it happens to be true, she's very strong on national defense and no better person to speak to that than Newt Gingrich is there Congressman.

PENCE: Well, Newt Gingrich, I think, is re-emerging on the national stage. And he's right to give credit where credit is due. On a broad number of issues related to the war on terror, Senator Clinton has been a strong supporter of national defense. But I have to tell you, like many conservatives, I remember Hillary healthcare, Paul. And while...

BEGALA: Well, how are we doing with private healthcare? Not so good with that either.


PENCE: There wasn't a great deal of detail this week about what it was, exactly that Senator Clinton and Newt Gingrich were agreeing on. But as someone, as you know, I oppose the prescription drug entitlement that the Congress passed.

BEGALA: Because it was too much money and you were right about that.

PENCE: Hoping the agreement is not for more government.

BEGALA: Thank you for that. I have to go on that note. Congressman Mike Pence from Indiana, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from here in D.C. And I mentioned Congressman Pence from Indiana, so is Terry Holt.

So why are so many Hoosiers not only on CROSSFIRE but at the White House? They're taking over. We will explain the invasion of nice people from the Midwest right after this.


HOLT: Well, I'm an Indiana man. And today, I'm doubly proud. President bush honored four NCAA teams, the so-called spring and fall champions, at the White House today. And two of those teams are from my home state of Indiana.

The president was presented with jerseys from the Cal State Fullerton Baseball team, the Stanford Women's volleyball team and the Indiana Hoosiers men's soccer team and the Notre Dame women's soccer team.

BEGALA: Well, good going for those. And by the way, Cal State Fullerton beat my Texas Longhorns in the college world series. We'll get you this year, though.

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

HOLT; And from the right, I'm Terry Holt. Join us again for the next edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER" starts right now.



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