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CNN CROSSFIRE

Senate Stalemate Continues; British Intelligence Reports Lack of Evidence in Run-up to Iraq War; Howard Dean Attacks Limbaugh `Hypocrisy'; Tillman Family Speaks Out About Pat's Death

Aired May 23, 2005 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE! On the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Terry Holt. In the CROSSFIRE, Howard Dean continues his bare knuckles brand of politics. The DNC chairman blasts the Republican party, Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh. Did Dean go too far?

And, it's down to the wire in the Senate. Will the Republicans go nuclear over judges, or is there any chance of a compromise?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's enough people in the Senate on both sides that would like to kind of back off the ledge here and give these nominees a fair shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know there are some people who are trying to find a so-called compromise, but one thing that can't be compromised and that is the Constitution.

ANNOUNCER: The fight over the filibuster enters its final hours, today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

PAUL BEGALA, ON THE LEFT: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

A hearty band of senators are still working to keep the Republican leadership from destroying a time-honored tradition of that body and turning the place into a giant rubber stamp for President Bush. They don't have much time. The Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist is about to force a vote on the right-wing Senate power grab.

TERRY HOLT, ON THE RIGHT: Meanwhile, the Democrats' leader is at it again. DNC chairman Howard Dean is throwing bombs at conservatives -- guess what -- but at least this time, he wasn't screaming.

Before we get into all of that, here's the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Seems like every time the Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean opens his mouth, something, well, incredible comes out. Over the weekend, Dr. Dean defended his attack on Rush Limbaugh's painkiller addiction. That's right, a medical doctor mocking a man who has a substance abuse problem. Dean's reasoning -- he says Rush Limbaugh has belittled other and the good doctor sees it as his job to point out hypocrisy where ever he sees it. He says it's galling to be lectured on moral values by people with their own problems.

Check in the mirror, Mr. Chairman. You said you hated Republicans. You said Republicans were brain dead, and aren't you the former candidate who scared off primary voters with a scream? If yesterday's "Meet the Press" appearance was Dean's coming out party, maybe next time it should include a muzzle and leash.

BEGALA: You know, Terry, I think -- I think it's wrong to make fun of Mr. Limbaugh's alleged drug addiction or admitted drug addiction problem, and I pray for him. I really do. But, the hypocrisy point that Dean makes is a powerful one. The Republican party is led by, for example, men like this anti-gay activist mayor in Spokane, Washington, who turns out is on gay websites allegedly offering jobs to men in exchange for God knows what. The hypocrisy over there, to have Tom DeLay lecturing my side about moral superiority.

HOLT: I don't like when liberals say that they're election's good (ph)...

BEGALA: I don't like when conservatives think they're morally superior?

HOLT: You have to go all the way to Spokane to find a defense for Howard Dean today.

BEGALA: Well, just before election day last year President Bush taped a message for swing voters in Arizona in which he wrapped himself in the heroism of Pat Tillman, the Arizona cardinal star who enlisted in the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan. Tillman's mother says Mr. Bush used her son. After Tillman's death, the Bush administration spread the false story that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire while storming a hill and shouting commands to his comrades. The truth is more tragic. Tillman was killed by American forces in one of the heartbreaking accidents that happen in every war.

Mary Tillman said the fact that the Bush administration, quote, "lied about Pat's death is disgusting," unquote, and Tillman's father sums up his attitude about the Bush administration, saying, quote, "maybe lying is not a big deal anymore," unquote. The truth is, heroes like Pat Tillman deserve a commander-in-chief who doesn't use casualties as political props and who actually tells the truth about a war. God bless the Tillmans.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERS)

HOLT: Well, you know what, I was at the Bush campaign the day that the news came down about Pat Tillman's death and I don't think any one of us who sat there and heard that weren't absolutely stricken -- I mean, almost nauseous at the loss. But, look, this family is in pain and I'm not sure that their pain should be used as a political prop anymore. BEGALA: It's not a political prop. They gave an interview to the "Washington Post." It's in the "Washington Post" today.

HOLT: And then the "Washington Post" obviously sold newspapers.

BEGALA: They broke their silence. They broke their silence because they want the country to know that George Bush lied about their son.

HOLT: President Bush -- excuse me, you are using these people's pain...

BEGALA: That's their words.

HOLT: ...just to have a nice little discussion on this program. I wish we hadn't brought it up, frankly.

President Bush and Afghan president Hamid Karzai met at the White House today to sign a historic agreement between the two allies, an agreement that spells out the long-term goals shared by the two nations. They remain committed to the war on terror, to economic development and to ending the dependence on the drug trade in that poverty-stricken region. President Karzai thanked President Bush for helping to establish freedom and democracy in the region. Bush was quick to correct Karzai: the credit goes to the American people whose sacrifices made freedom possible.

He's right, because those sacrifices -- because of those sacrifices, children are going to school, women are gaining their basic human rights, and people see hope in their future where once there was only despair. The determined -- our determined president led the way. Without his decisive leadership, who knows where Afghanistan would be today, but probably not at the White House talking about freedom and democracy. President Bush made that happen.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: President Bush invaded Afghanistan in a just war. That was a just war. It was a righteous war. We had to do that. We had to do that. We were attacked in part because the Taliban had hosted al Qaeda. There's no debate about that. Every single Democrat in the Congress except for one supported that. The problem is, the president was not determined. He lost his focus and went and attacked Iraq, which was no threat to America. Meanwhile, Afghanistan...

HOLT: How can you argue...

BEGALA: ...is still in trouble. He should have finished the job in Afghanistan. It's not mission accomplished.

HOLT: There are 5,000 people that are running for office in Afghanistan today because of democracy. That is an accomplishment. Be proud of it.

BEGALA: Speaking of the war in Iraq, Walter Pincus of the "Washington Post" today -- Sunday, rather -- reports, quote, "even before the war in Iraq, many senior intelligent official in the government had doubts about the case being trumpeted in public by the president and senior advisors," unquote. The president said Saddam had mobile biological weapon units even though the "Post" reports that the CIA said the source of that report was not reliable. And months before the war, the director of Air Force Intelligence said that Iraq's unmanned aerial vehicles were likely not intended for a chemical or biological attack on the U.S., although the Bush administration said otherwise.

Look, President Bush misled us. He wanted a war and so, as the British government in a secret memo revealed, quote, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," unquote, but what is interesting to me is that the "Post" played Pincus's blockbuster story on page A26 of the Sunday paper. I don't know, perhaps exposing lies about a war that the "Post" supported on its editorial pages doesn't please the "Post"'s key suburban demographic. Why else would they bury such an important story by such a good reporter? I don't know, Terry. You tell me.

HOLT: The suburban demographic of Washington, D.C., happens to be pretty Democratic. I think it's on A26 because we've heard all this before.

BEGALA: So, it's not news that the President lied us into war?

HOLT: The mis-leader moniker that President Bush got from the Democrats was repudiated in the last election. He won. Move on.

BEGALA: Well, everything seems to point to a showdown on Capitol Hill in the United States Senate. Next, will senators find a compromise on President Bush's judicial nominees, or will Republicans go nuclear in an unprecedented power grab? And then this -- Howard Dean is speaking out. We will debate why Republicans are, as Bill Clinton used to say, squealing like a pig stuck under a gate. Later, in the CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLT: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is ready to put it to a vote. The nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen should come up for a vote tomorrow. And Senator Frist says he's also ready to push to keep the filibuster from being a weapon of obstruction.

In the CROSSFIRE, as the Senate showdown comes down to the wire, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Barbara Comstock, former Justice Department spokeswoman. Thanks for coming on, guys.

BEGALA: And, by the way, Barbara, the mom of a new graduate from the University of Virginia. Congratulations for that. Well done, Mom.

HOLT: She couldn't possibly be old enough to have a child.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER DOJ SPOKESWOMAN: That we can all agree on. BEGALA: You were clearly a teenage mom.

Let me drag you, though, down into the seamy world of politics again. But congratulations on your son. I think one of the problems in this fight is that both sides are painting with broad brushes. Liberals say, well, they're a bunch of right-wing whack-jobs. I've said that myself. They are, these judges. And conservatives say, well, they're people of faith. And I'm sure they are.

Let's get to specifics. One of the two that Terry just mentioned is this judge, Janice Rogers Brown. She's on the California Supreme Court. She's got a record. Boy, does she. And she's very vocal about her views. Here's how she describes the New Deal, which seems to be agreed upon in America, except for Judge Brown. She spoke out, according to today's "Wall Street Journal," against what she called the "revolution of 1937, when the Supreme Court began upholding New Deal legislation, calling it 'the triumph of our socialist revolution.'"

Now, those laws that the court upheld were child labor laws, overtime laws, minimum wage law. Why does President Bush want someone on the court who doesn't believe in child labor laws?

COMSTOCK: Well, Judge Brown has been returned to the court again by 76 percent of Californians. So I think you need to ask a lot of your Democratic friends in California, because she is a mainstream judge. And these views that she has on -- just on what -- how the laws should be interpreted are mainstream. That's why California has supported her.

BEGALA: Do you believe the New Deal was socialistic and unconstitutional?

COMSTOCK: That is -- she was making -- no, she was talking about --

BEGALA: She does. I just read it. She's not a liar, is she? She just told us what she thinks.

COMSTOCK: Listen, she has upheld the laws that the state -- folks out in California have passed. Whatever comments she's making about things that happened in the '30s do not impact what she does. She is somebody who looks at what the law says and supports it. And that is the same thing with Priscilla Owen. The real reason Priscilla Owen is going to be voted on tomorrow, has been opposed for four years is because she supports parental notification, parental consent. That's -- which is what the law in Texas, what they passed. That's the same thing your Democratic governor, Brad Henry in Oklahoma, he just signed a law like that too. Is he out of the mainstream? I don't think so. And that's why we are having this debate, because these judges are very much in the mainstream. They have broad support. You have Senator Nelson from Nebraska is going to be supporting these judges, and I don't think he's out of the mainstream. He wants to vote up or down. The American people understand, we need to have a basic up-or-down vote.

HOLT: This is -- that's exactly right. And I'm worried about the Democratic Party, as I say almost every time I come here.

BEGALA: I'm sure it's genuine concern.

HOLT: Well, and this -- these mainstream judges to be portrayed as out on the fringe, it's hurting you. Today in the "USA Today"/CNN/Gallup poll, they were asked which would you preserve, preserving the filibuster or an up-and-down vote on judges? Nineteen percent want to preserve the filibuster. I suspect that they think it's just another sandwich from Burger King, the belly buster, or something. But it looks to me, if you look at these numbers, that you're having trouble getting your message out, Steve.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, actually, if you look at another set of numbers that appeared this weekend, the Congress has lowest favorable rating that it's had ever since just before the Democrats --

HOLT: So obstruction works?

MCMAHON: Well, no, no, no.

HOLT: Obstruction makes people angry.

MCMAHON: I think the last time I checked, Terry --

HOLT: I'm worried that this is the part that's going against the Democrats.

MCMAHON: The last time I checked -- the last time I checked, the Congress was run by Republicans, the White House was occupied by a Republican president. There's a 33 percent favorable --

HOLT: But the Democrats had the chance to run the Senate with this filibuster strategy. They're trying to be in charge.

MCMAHON: -- there's a 33 percent -- Congress has a 33 percent favorable rating. And to give you some historical perspective, the last time Congress was perceived this badly was just before the Democrats lost the Congress in 1994. And I think that because of things like Terri Schiavo and the overreaching that occurred there, because of --

HOLT: And Democrats reaching for the filibuster.

MCMAHON: -- changing 214 year of tradition on the filibuster, the Republicans are becoming viewed as a party that abuses power and that is arrogant and that ignores institutions that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The facts are that the president has had 218 judges sent up to the Hill -- 211 of those judges have been confirmed -- 211.

HOLT: Please, the president has the lowest percentage of judges at the appellate level. Even Clinton did better than President Bush.

MCMAHON: Ninety-five percent have been confirmed. BEGALA: (INAUDIBLE) Let me ask you the principle. The principle here is an alleged right, which is nowhere in the Constitution, to have an up-or-down vote. There's no such right. But if there is, why is it --

HOLT: It's common sense.

BEGALA: Okay, let me ask you -- common sense is not too common among my Republican friends, because when Bill Clinton was in the White House, on 60 occasions, you all denied votes to Clinton nominees. Why was it wrong to deny votes to Clinton judges, but it's okay to insist on them for Bush judges?

COMSTOCK: Okay, first, let's get the fact. One-third of President Bush's appellate judges have been opposed.

BEGALA: Why are you applying a different standard for different presidents?

COMSTOCK: We aren't applying a different standard.

BEGALA: Of course you are.

COMSTOCK: What we're talking about is when you have judges who have majority support, which all of these judges have majority support, because they have the 55 Republicans, and then they have a number of Democrats, like a Senator Nelson, who's support --

BEGALA: When you're in the majority, the rules are different, and when the Democrats are --

COMSTOCK: No. When the American people have voted to have a majority in the Senate and a majority in the Congress, they want to have their -- I mean, Senator Daschle lost his race in large part because of judges. He was seen as the person who was obstructing judges. We just want to have an up-or-down vote. And even Democrats want to have that, which is why they're trying to cut a deal.

BEGALA: Why -- okay, we're going to have to take a break. My question is why not an up-or-down vote when Clinton put 60 judges up there? You guys are upset about seven.

COMSTOCK: You didn't have the majority.

BEGALA: We have to take a quick break, Barbara.

COMSTOCK: You did get votes.

BEGALA: And Governor Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, is going to be on Judy Woodruff's "INSIDE POLITICS" program tomorrow. So coming up, we will preview that appearance and debate why the outspoken Democratic chairman he has tough-guy Republicans whining and crying like school girls who've lost their Hello Kitty lunchboxes.

And should Medicaid be paying for Viagra for sex offenders. Wolf Blitzer has the latest on a few cases where that is actually happening.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, we're following several stories.

Five years after its last major ruling on abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court says it will return to the issue with a case involving parental notification.

Iraqis on edge: is a civil war brewing -- Sunni vs. Shiite. We'll have the latest on the deadly bombing at a popular restaurant and a mosque bombing that wounded 11 children.

And there's an up -- uproar in New York state after a report that state tax money is buying Viagra for convicted sex offenders. All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: And welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, Republicans like to pose like they're the tough guys. They like their politicians to dress up in flight suits and land in aircraft carriers even if they were drinking beer in Alabama during the real war. But Democratic Chairman Howard thinks they're just a bunch of bullies. And so he's decided to deal with them the only way you can, by standing up the bully and punching him in the nose. Now Republicans are whining and crying that Governor Dean is just too mean. Well, does Howard Dean go too far or do Republicans just need to pull up their leg warmers and quit whining.

Still in the CROSSFIRE former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock. And Steve McMahon, Democratic strategist, who by the way was the media strategist for Howard Dean when he ran for president.

HOLT: Well, Steve, let me -- let me -- you know, beer drinking Alabama, I don't know...

MCMAHON: Did somebody ever see him in Alabama? Was he actually spot there had?

HOLT: There was certainly Perrier drinking on Park Avenue by Chairman Dean. As we know his '60s weren't spent exactly out there with the veterans. Howard Dean, you know, some people save sound files from Seinfeld and in the "Simpson," and that's funny. Some of the sound files out of Howard Dean, though, I keep them because I think they're funny, if not maybe just a little tragic. Let's play one for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: The thing that really bothered me the most, which the 9/11 Commission said also wasn't true, is the incineration that the president continues to make to this day that Osama bin Laden had something to do with supporting terrorists that attacked the United States. That is false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: We all know he was wrong.

COMSTOCK: Doesn't think he's really guilty, either.

HOLT: He was talking about Saddam Hussein. But this is -- this is my point...

MCMAHON: It was clear he was talking about Saddam Hussein.

HOLT: He is so ready to go on the attack. So frothing at the mouth, that he doesn't bother to get the facts straight. And I would turn the attention to Tom DeLay. He says Tom DeLay ought to be in jail without ever having a trial. And yet he was for -- and where he did get it right. He did say Osama bin Laden shouldn't be presumed guilty. So, I wonder what's the difference between Tom DeLay and Osama bin Laden.

MCMAHON: Well, first of all -- first of all -- first of all -- first of all, I don't know where to start. Coming from somebody who did such a good job defending a president who has made more of these gaffs, probably than any president certainly in my lifetime. In fact, during the debate he said that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the terrorist attacks in New York City. And I think everybody knew that he misspoke. But Howard Dean has never said...

HOLT: Howard Dean has made a career and in his chairmanship of this...

MCMAHON: No, he didn't...

HOLT: ... this so called -- misspeaking.

MCMAHON: Terry. Terry.

HOLT: It's got to drive Hillary Clinton crazy.

MCMAHON: Howard Dean never...

HOLT: You have to put a muzzle on the guy.

MCMAHON: Howard Dean never said nor did he suggest that Tom DeLay isn't entitled to a trial. And he wasn't reaching a legal...

HOLT: He said he should be in jail.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: Nor he is charged or investigated.

(CROSSTALK) HOLT: He should be put in jail without a trial.

MCMAHON: He said -- he never said -- Terry, he never said that Tom DeLay shouldn't have a trial. In fact, he said a jury will decide this.

COMSTOCK: There's no jury investigating Tom DeLay.

MCMAHON: There is a grand jury -- there's a grand jury in Texas.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: There is not. That is false. There is not a grand jury investigating Tom DeLay.

MCMAHON: It's a grand jury. But hold on -- hold on one second. Hold on one second. He never said Tom DeLay didn't deserve a trial. He wasn't offering a legal opinion. He was offering the opinion of a man -- of a man who has seen the long list of things that Tom DeLay has done including taking a trip that a lobbyist went around and paid for with a credit card, a $100,000 golf trip. And you know, he thinks that if that's not illegal it should be. There's a grand jury in Texas looking into it. And we'll see what happens.

COMSTOCK: That is absolutely false. There is not a grand jury.

BEGALA: There is a grand jury in Texas that is looking into money laundering allegation against three close DeLay associates. Tom DeLay has not been indicted. He has not been indicted, and therefore that makes him qualified to lead the party of Lincoln.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: ... wasn't investigated. And Ronny Earl (ph) who just had a fund raiser with Dean's buddies is the partisan prosecutor...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Barbara, let me pull it out of the weeds in just a second here. Let me just pull it out of the weeds. The "USA TODAY"/Gallup poll, CNN poll today asks the country a pretty simple question. Do you think we'd be better off if Democrats or Republicans ran the Congress. Here's the response. Only about a third -- 36 percent can't get any lower than that, want the Republicans -- almost half the country, 47, prefer the Democrats. If it gets any lower, are they going to be hunting you all down with dogs out there come election time? Or how bad can it get for the Republicans.

COMSTOCK: Listen, Paula, as you, as a very good Democrat, I think the last month in the "USA Today" the Democrats real problem is they won't admit they have a problem. They aren't -- they're seen as not standing for anything.

BEGALA: And still we whipping your butts. It's true Democrats don't have a good agenda, but we're still kicking your but by 11 points. COMSTOCK: You know, there's joke that's great about elections. And that is why -- what is great about having Tom DeLay as majority leader, because we are beating your butts on votes. Seventy-three Democrats joined us on the bankruptcy bill, including...

BEGALA: Credit card bailout. Those 73 ought to be ashamed of themselves.

COMSTOCK: We had 50 Democrats join us on class action. Dozens and dozens of Democrats are joining the Republicans on votes. You guys can't keep your own team with you.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That's going to have -- that's going to have be the last words.

Barbara Comstock, former Justice Department official, former Republican National Committee official. And my friend Steve McMahon, Governor Dean's media advisor. Thank you both very much for a fun debate.

Well, a fellow movie star had a few harsh words over the political efforts of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stay tuned for the behind the scenes of a real life star wars out in Hollywood. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Actor and political activist Warren Beatty gave the commencement address at Berkeley's Public Policy School in California over the weekend. Beatty there blasted another actor, current California Governor Schwarzenegger. Warren says he would do a lot better at the job than Arnold has done. But tragically Beatty does not plan to run himself. Wouldn't you just love, Terry, see a race between "Bullworth" and the "Terminator." I'd pay for that.

HOLT: Nanny nanny boo boo. He could do a lot better job. You know, I really -- I almost stop going to movie after last year. I saw all these people hating Republicans for no other reason. I say get on the ballot it -- get on the ballot -- get on the ballot and expose yourself to the scrutiny of the public. And then come out with a political opinion.

BEGALA: I'm for that. Run Warren run.

From the left I'm Begala, waiting for Warren Beatty to join us in the CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: And from the right, I'm Terry Holt, join us again next time for another of edition of CROSSFIRE.

Wolf Blitzer starts right now.

END

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