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Rhetoric Heats Up Over Judges; Bush Threatens to Veto Stem Cell Bill; Tabloid Photos Show Saddam in Underwear

Aired May 20, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE, a showdown vote over judicial nominees may be just days away. And the rhetoric is heating up.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The audacity of some members to stand up and say, "How dare you break this rule," is the equivalent of Adolph Hitler in 1942 saying, "I'm in Paris, how dare you invade me?"

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: What we're witnessing in this debate is an arrogant power grab by the Republican right.

ANNOUNCER: Another emotional issue is also taking center stage: stem research. Will supporters be scared off by the threat of a presidential veto?

And personal pictures of Saddam Hussein appear in a British paper, some of them really personal. Who took them? And are they a violation of the Geneva Conventions?



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

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Both Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for what could be an unprecedented battle in the U.S. Senate. Hanging in the balance, the fate of President Bush's judicial nominees, the future of the filibuster, and the unique nature of debate in the Senate itself.

JOE WATKINS, CO-HOST: And another battle is brewing between Congress and the White House over stem cell research. It's a fight that could end at the president's desk with his first veto.

Before we look into those stories here's our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

President Bush is staying true to his convictions on key moral issues. The president spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this morning in Washington. Referring to his opposition to abortion and stem cell research, Mr. Bush urged people to pray that America uses the gift of freedom to build a culture of life.

He also said the best way to honor the late Pope John Paul II is to foster an environment where the strong protect the weak.

This president speaks out for those who can't speak for themselves. He maintains his pro-life positions no matter what political climate. Election time or not, President Bush is consistently on the side of life.

BEGALA: That's just not true. He declared an unjust and immoral war that the pope, John Paul II, whom he lauds today, begged him not to wage. That was not a pro-life thing to do.

He executed scores of people in Texas. Some of them may well have been innocent. Some of them were certainly retarded. Many of them, the pope himself begged Mr. Bush not to kill them. He killed them anyway.

For George W. Bush to be quoting John Paul II, who I hope will soon be made a saint, is a sacrilege and he should be ashamed of himself.

WATKINS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. What -- what the president has done in Iraq a wonderful thing. I mean, look at democracy that's taken place. All the people who are going to experience the freedom.

BEGALA: Don't wrap yourself in the Holy Father. Don't wrap yourself up in John Paul the Great. And then...

WATKINS: With the contribution of the right to life.

BEGALA: ... policies that John Paul would call terrible.

WATKINS: When they go to the issue of the sanctity of life.

BEGALA: Yes, the sanctity of life. The people on Death Row who George Bush kills and then laughs about killing them. I saw him do it. He was my governor. Shame on him.

Well, anyway, on to other moral issues. Spokane Mayor Jay West returned to work today. West, you may know, is one of the Republican party's leading opponents of gay rights. When he was in the state legislature, he blocked legislation to guarantee equal treatment of gays and lesbians.

But he took a leave of absence from the mayor's office after allegations that he molested children in the 1970s, charges he vigorously denies. Mayor West does, however, acknowledge seeking dates on, whatever that is.

And the FBI and local law enforcement are investigating west for allegedly using his office to solicit dates from men, including one he believed to be just 18 years old.

Now, the pious preachers of the Republican right who burn with desire to control your personal life have been strangely silent in the case of Mayor West. Right-wing politicians who want to control other people's lives ought to first get control of their own.

WATKINS: Well, they have been rightly quiet. And the reason why is because we're going to let the process run out the way it is, it's supposed to run out. People are innocent until proven guilty.

And certainly this is an unfortunate set of circumstances. I wish Mayor West the very best. He was smart to step aside from all of this for a few weeks and to try to sort things out. And we'll see what happens with the investigation.

BEGALA: Isn't it hypocritical to deny rights to other people that you seek for yourself? Just because you're a powerful Republican. And he can go and practice the gay lifestyle and get away with it. Why does he want to discriminate against other gays in his state who are not wealthy and powerful?

WATKINS: Well, clearly, the law will speak for itself. And justice is blind hopefully.

Politics has no place in criminal cases. Well, try telling that to Texas prosecutor who's pursuing felony charges against three associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Travis County district attorney Ronnie Earle made the keynote speech at a Democratic fund-raiser last week. And if that wasn't inappropriate enough, in his speech Earle reportedly called DeLay a bully.

Texas GOP leaders are outraged, saying Earle's motive in the case against DeLay's associates is clearly political. They're calling on him to resign, and that's exactly what he should do. Earle is using his office to go after people who disagree with his politics.

Maybe this D.A. could find a job in Washington, where he'll find plenty of fellow Democrats who are out to get DeLay and anyone associated with him.

You know, Paul, at the end of the day -- at the end of the day -- it's OK you can clap too, I like that. At the end of the day, politics has no place in the legal system. I mean, if Ronnie Earle is pursuing criminals, but he ought not...

BEGALA: I'm burdened by facts. I actually know Ronnie Earle. He'd been a prosecutor down there for a quarter of a century. Most of the politicians he prosecuted were his fellow Democrats.

He wasn't politics putting politics ahead of prosecution then. He goes after the wrongdoing whenever it is. He indicted a Democratic speaker of the House in Texas. He indicted a Democratic attorney general in Texas. He has gone after Democrats where he believed they are corrupt. These associates of DeLay he believes are corrupt. They should be -- have their day in court, as well. And maybe Tom DeLay, too. We shall see. But don't attack Ronnie Earle.

Well, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League, known as NARAL endorsed Rhode Island Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee for re-election in the U.S. Senate.

NARAL was said to have exerted strong pressure on Democrats to keep pro-life congressman and Democrat Jim Langevin from running against Chafee. And now, having intimidated the Democrats, NARAL is endorsing the Republican.

Probably smart politics for NARAL, actually. They probably don't want to be seen as the tool of only one political party.

By endorsing one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate, NARAL has clearly declared its independence from the Democratic Party. Good for them. Question is, will Democrats declare independence from NARAL, as well?

Democrats will always be the pro choice party. That's not a question. But it is unwise for Democrats to allow any special interest group to veto its candidates or dictate its position.

Pro-life Democrats like Bob Casey Jr., who's challenging the Neanderthal Republican Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, will probably feel a little more welcome in their party than they have in years.

WATKINS: Well, good for you, Paul. Not regards to Rick Santorum. Rick is a friend of mine, of course. Not with Rick Santorum. But with regards to your statement here. You know, no special interest group should have a political party in its back pocket.

And clearly, it seems it me, isn't there room in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates?

BEGALA: There's room at the top. Harry Reid is the leader of the Democratic Party. And he's pro-life.

Who's the highest ranking pro-choice in the Republican Party? I don't know. Rudy Giuliani? He doesn't have a job. Who? I mean, seriously, the leader in my party in the Senate is pro-life. Where are the pro-choicers in the Republican Party?

WATKINS: There are pro-choice in the Republican Party. A lot of them, even in President Bush's cabinet, but the president is strong on the issue of pro-life.

BEGALA: Well, the fighting over judges has reached new lows in the Senate with one Republican, well, Neanderthal, really, comparing his opponents to Adolph Hitler. Next, we will debate the war of words over how we choose powerful federal judges. And later, who would take pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear? Someone with a strong stomach, no doubt. And just how did those pictures make their way into the newspaper? We will discuss all of that later in the CROSSFIRE.


WATKINS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The stage is set for two major battles in Washington. Democrats and Republicans are in a heated standoff over President Bush's judicial nominees and their right it get an up-or-down vote.

And the sensitive issue of stem cell research may also soon trigger a confrontation, this one between the White House and Congress. A bipartisan bill in the House would expand federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells, but President Bush is opposed it. And today, he threatened to issue his first veto if the bill makes it to his desk.

Today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Vic Kamber and "Human Events" editor Terry Jeffrey.

BEGALA: Guys, good to see you again.


BEGALA: Terry, let's begin with this new low in rhetoric over the fight over the filibuster.

It actually began a couple of months ago when Robert Byrd of the Democratic Party, a student of history, quoted Allen Bullock (ph), who is an historian, saying that Professor Bullock (ph) had noted that Hitler, quote, "turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

Byrd then bordered (ph) on that saying this is what the nuclear option seeks to do.

Republicans were outraged that Senator Byrd had made a reference to Hitler and then juxtaposed it with them. And in fact, the most outraged senator of all, Rick Santorum, had this to say about Robert Byrd comparing the Republicans to Hitler.

"Senator Byrd's inappropriate remarks comparing his Republican colleagues with Nazis are inexcusable. These comments lessen the credibility of the senator and the decorum of the Senate. He should retract his statement and ask for pardon."

Well, my goodness just a few weeks later, let's look at Rick Santorum himself comparing Democrats to Nazis. Here's Rick Santorum.


SANTORUM: The rule has been in place for 214 years that this is the way we confirm judge -- judges, broken by the other side two years ago. And the audacity of some members to stand up and say, "How dare you break this rule?" It's the equivalent of Adolph Hitler in 1942, saying "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city?"


BEGALA: To set aside the foolishness of contradicting yourself within a few weeks, what about the hypocrisy of Santorum?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, I don't know, Paul. I think we can trivialize what's a very serious debate that's going on in America today but being politically correct and saying that any politician, whoever makes any analogy that references Hitler, automatically is going to get hit by the thought police.

BEGALA: Shouldn't Hitler -- shouldn't Hitler be out of bounds? My God.

JEFFREY: The underlying question here is who's trying...

BEGALA: You can disagree about filibustering move is like Hitler (ph)?

JEFFREY: ... to thwart representative government here and impose a certain type of dictatorship? The answer is that the Democrats are.

KAMBER: And they've got to...

JEFFREY: Exactly right. They do not want representative government. They want a left-wing agenda enacted through the judiciary, particularly through a Supreme Court. Things that they could never get passed through the legislation.

BEGALA: Now Hitler did not have a left-wing agenda, though, did he, Terry? Because my history maybe skipped over that.

JEFFREY: Well, he -- yes, he did. He was -- he was a national socialist.

WATKINS: Let me -- let me...

JEFFREY: He was a national socialist. He also didn't believe in God.

WATKINS: Vic, I want to clear the air here, because obviously, folks want to talk about what the senator said, Senator Santorum said.

But let me -- let me share what he also said with regard to that remark. He said, "This is meant to dramatize the principle of an argument, not to characterize my Democratic colleagues. And my point was that it was preposterous for someone to trample a well established principle and then accuse his opponents of acting unlawfully when they try to reestablish that principle. Nevertheless, it was a mistake."

He did say it was a mistake. He says it was a mistake. So he apologized.

KAMBER: After -- after he got beat up.

BEGALA: He's not saying he was sorry. He did not apologize.

WATKINS: He meant no offense. He said he meant no offense, which is a good thing.

KAMBER: After it was pointed out to him how bad it sounded, how ridiculous he sound and how hypocritical. And he did not apologize. He just said he made some mistake. He still believes that what Democrats are doing is equated to Hitler, I would think, from what he said.

WATKINS: Well, here's what I want to get to actually. I don't want to -- I don't want to dwell on this thing because he did apologize for what he said. He said it was a mistake what he said.

But there's a proposal out there by senators Byrd and Warner, that would allow the president to have a list of nominees that might be acceptable to these -- to the committee.

Now, doesn't that take away too much of the -- of the president's power? I mean, after all it's the president of the United States. I think he won in 2004.

KAMBER: Well...

WATKINS: Isn't it his right to choose who he might?

KAMBER: Joe, I'm not sure -- He has chosen who he wants.

WATKINS: And to nominate who he wants.

KAMBER: And he's done that. No one has taken away the right. The right to choose, the right to nominate. The Senate also has the right to confirm.

And what the senator here is talking about, when he says 214 years and changed, he's wrong. We've always had -- they've always the right to use the filibuster. And they didn't use it until two years ago. So what? That's their right, as a party.

We're protected -- of all people -- I hate to say it, Joe, protecting the minority should be our first and foremost thing we think about, and the Democrats are the minority today. But the Republicans will be at some point.

BEGALA: A lot ground here. Another I think really integrity issue today. George W. Bush, and he likes to pose as a strong leader and yet has gone longer in his presidency without vetoing a bill than any president in recent memory.

But today, he threatened a veto. Let's see if he follows through. He threatened to veto a law that would allow research on embryonic stem cells. Because he says he's allowed very limited research on some lines of stem cells but not others. There are Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who want to broaden that, because, they -- well, here's what some scientists say. "The president limited funding for research on human embryonic stem cells to cell lines already in existence at that time (2001). A study published in January in the journal 'Nature' said" -- "Nature Medicine that is -- "said all those lines are contaminated."

So the research that the president has allowed is useless. And so there are Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who want to extend that research. Why would the president veto it?

JEFFREY: Well, actually, there's two issues here. There's whether or not the research can be done. That's the first issue. The second issue is whether the taxpayers should be forced to pay for it?

The research has not been banned. I think it should be.


JEFFREY: The question is whether or not you or me should be forced by the federal government to subsidize the research. And what president has said is he is not going to make the taxpayers pay for research in which a human embryo is deliberately killed by a scientist, where the scientists uses a human life like a tool.

You want to make a Nazi analogy? This is what the Nazi doctors -- this is what Dr. Mengele did at Auschwitz. They reduced a human being to a simple object.

BEGALA: Terry? What about moms and dads who have babies through in vitro fertilization? Are they Nazis, too?

JEFFREY: If you deliberately take the life...

BEGALA: Are -- are those moms and dads Nazis?

JEFFREY: If you deliberately take the life of an innocent human being, and a human embryo is a human being, that is an act of murder. You cannot morally do it. You ought not to be able to legally do it. And you should not...

BEGALA: So moms and dads...

JEFFREY: ... should not -- the government should not force taxpayers to pay for it.

WATKINS: Quickly, Laura Bush is the daughter of a parent who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. And isn't she right when she warns against the false hope that a cure for -- for this thing is right around the corner, if only the study of stem cell research was expanded?

KAMBER: Well, there's two things you're saying there. It's wrong for anyone to suggest that the cure for Alzheimer's or any disease is around the corner. It's going to take money. It's going to take research. It's going to take time. Stem cell, from all I have read, stem cell research moves us in the direction of finding cures for a number of things, including Alzheimer's. And to talk about the federal government not funding programs that find cures for us is ridiculous.


A quick break right now. And when we return, a dictator revealed. Next, how did pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear -- where's my barf bag? -- show up on newspapers around the world?

And did someone you know steal "Star Wars?" Wolf Blitzer has that story right after this.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, who's responsible for distributing humiliating photos of Saddam Hussein? We'll talk to Saddam Hussein's legal counsel.

Stem cell research is back in the news with an announcement in South Korea and a veto threat from President Bush.

And some people are watching the new "Star Wars" movie without going to the movie theaters. It's on the Internet illegally, and Hollywood wants to know how it got there.

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

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The U.S. government says it is investigating exactly how revealing and disgusting photos of Saddam Hussein ended up in a British tabloid. The pictures in London's "The Sun" newspaper show the deposed dictator charmingly in prison, one, showing him in his underwear.

The tabloid claims U.S. military sources released the photos as a mental blow to Iraqi insurgents, but senior military forces tell CNN, the U.S. military did not give the photos to the tabloid. Military officials say because it wasn't a sanctioned release by the U.S. government, the Geneva Conventions were not violated by the United States of America.

Still in the CROSSFIRE, to discuss this topic, this disgusting topic, "Human Events" editor Terry Jeffrey and Democratic strategist Victor Kamber.

WATKINS: Vic, obviously few people are excited about the fact that, in every sense of the word, about the fact that Saddam Hussein is pictured in this London tabloid in his underwear. That's no cause for anybody to rejoice. But at the same time, wouldn't you rather see pictures of Saddam that way in prison than to see him standing, holding his gun and still in control of his country?

KAMBER: Well, we know he's in prison. We don't need to see pictures in his underwear or anything else.

The question really is was it released by our government under some false issues and pretending we're not taking credit for it? Why were they released? Is it to embarrass Muslims? Is it to do things -- is it a violation of the Geneva Convention? Let's be candid with it.

The only people that took pictures are American, the American military, who has him in prison. And the only way they could have gotten released unless somebody is on the take, is that somebody in the military gave them out. That's what the question is, it seems it me.

BEGALA: Terry, the White House today, the Bush White House, I think correctly -- they certainly know more about it than I do -- say that this is possibly a violation of the Geneva Convention. The president's spokesman today said that this was wrong to do and decried it in very strong language.

Who is in charge here? If not the Americans, the government is saying it's bad. The government did it. Who the hell is running this thing? Abu Ghraib first and now Saddam in his skivvies? Which I could have gone my whole life without seeing? Who's in charge?

JEFFREY: Well, first of all, we don't -- we don't know all of the facts here, obviously, so we can't make definitive judgments. We don't know why...

BEGALA: Ten bucks you'd find a way to blame the Democrats for this one, Terry? Come on. This is Bush's responsibility, right? He invaded the guy's country. He captured him. Why isn't he responsible for us seeing him half naked?

JEFFREY: The president of the United States cannot be personally responsible for every single thing that every person does in the United States government. I would say...

BEGALA: Just the good things.

JEFFREY: I think you have to withhold judgment -- wait a minute. I think you have to withhold judgment on why and how these pictures were taken. There may have been legitimate reasons for taking these pictures of Saddam Hussein. And...

BEGALA: I defer to the White House here.

JEFFREY: ... you can't possibly make a reasonable judgment. Yes.

BEGALA: You're right. That's why I defer to the president of the United States, who says, his spokesman, that this is wrong.

JEFFREY: But on the question -- on the question of why these were leaked to a British tabloid, leaving aside the editorial question of why the people decided to actually publish the pictures.

KAMBER: We know why they published them. The same way you published things. Salacious nature.

JEFFREY: There is...

WATKINS: There's an investigation under way. We don't know who did this.

KAMBER: We know why they were published. We know why they were published.

JEFFREY: No, we don't.

KAMBER: There's money to be made. There's papers to be picked up.

JEFFREY: True, true.

KAMBER: So we know why.

BEGALA: And on that note, there's money to be made in advertising, and hopefully, it will be more attractive people in their underwear in the ads we're about to show you.

But Terry, Jeffrey, thank you very much. Terry of "Human Events," Victor Kamber, Democratic strategist. Thank you both very much.

WATKINS: Good to see you.

BEGALA: For an interesting debate.

Well, the old movie asked the question, guess who's coming to dinner? Well, here in Washington, she'll be sharing dinner with the president of the United States. Find out why next.


BEGALA: And finally, this from my very special, "Why didn't I think of that when I was in the Clinton White House file?"

"Washington Post" says a porn star will be attending dinner with President Bush next month. The paper says Mary Carey and her producer have ponied up $5,000 for tickets to a big GOP bash at the Washington Convention Center.

The 24-year-old porn star is no stranger to politics. She came in seventh in the 2003 California governor's recall election. And is said to be contemplating a run for lieutenant governor next year.

We were going to show you a picture of her in her underwear, but our producer, Kristie Schon (ph), says she doesn't wear any. That's the actress, not the producer.

Joe, what's the big deal? She just does in the movies of what George Bush does to the whole country? So why not let her in?

WATKINS: For anybody who said that the Republican Party is not a big tent, here you have it. We are a very big tent.

BEGALA: 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 edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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