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CNN CROSSFIRE

Hillary Clinton Has Competition; Senate Averts Disaster; More Dead in Iraq

Aired May 24, 2005 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE -- on the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Terry Holt. In the CROSSFIRE, has a last-minute compromise in the Senate defused the so-called nuclear option?

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thank god for this moment and for these colleagues of mine.

ANNOUNCER: The deal gives three controversial judge nominees an up or down vote. And, the majority leader warns Democrats not to bring back filibusters or he'll renew the nuclear option.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: That's what it takes to move this body forward we will do that once again.

In the House, the controversy over more federal money for stem cell research reignites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:: This is one of those issues that have no easy answers.

ANNOUNCER: Moderate Republicans are willing to expand funding, but President Bush has promised to veto any attempt to put more money into research he says destroys life. Compromise and controversy in Congress, today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

Moderate Republican -- for many that term seemed like an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or compassionate conservative, but what a difference a deal makes. Perhaps inspired by their friends over in the Senate, moderate Republicans in the House are daring President Bush to veto their bill to fund stem cell research.

TERRY HOLT, ON THE RIGHT: And, on the other side of the Capitol, 14 members of the U.S. Senate found compromise out of controversy last night. As part of the deal, three stalled nominations for the federal bench will come back to have a vote. In fact, the Senate voted this afternoon to end this delaying tactic that had blocked Priscilla Owen's nomination, and President Bush will be meeting with Owen at the White House in a few minutes. Was it a good deal?

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

HOLT: Bad news on the home front for Hillary Clinton. Even if some already had her sitting in the White House in '08, the senator may have a fight on her hands just to keep her current job. Westchester Democrat -- district attorney Jeanine Pirro says she'll either run for the Senate or another state-wide office.

New York Republicans like what they see, a three-term D.A., telegenic, smart, a well-spoken woman from the suburbs. Pirro is also getting encouragement from national leaders like Ken Mehlman, the party chair, who thinks she can be the same kind of state-wide figure George Pataki was -- succeed in New York politics.

It will be an interesting race to see. Clinton has refused to take the same pledge she did in 2000 when she promised to finish her Senate term. According to recent polls, New Yorkers don't like that one bit. Senator Clinton probably shouldn't be measuring drapes in the Oval Office just yet.

BEGALA: I certainly wish Ms. Pirro the best of good fortune as she loses desperately to the most talented woman in American politics. Hillary is going to beat her like a bad piece of meat, like a red- headed mule, she's going to beat her like a red-headed stepchild. I hope she steps up there. She is going to do to him what she -- what -- to Ms. Pirro -- what she did to Rick Lazio...

HOLT: She's going to use the Senate race...

BEGALA: ...who's good-looking, and smart, and Hillary crushed him.

HOLT: ...as a stepping stone to the national stage and New Yorkers are going to watch it and watch it carefully. I think she better be careful.

BEGALA: Well, why don't we bet a six-pack of cold beer on it?

HOLT: You got it.

BEGALA: OK, well, on a more serious note, insurgents attacks claim the lives of eight American soldiers in just 24 hours in Iraq bringing the total number of Americans killed to 1,643. All of this bloodshed was supposed to protect us from weapons of mass destruction, weapons that President Bush's own intelligence sources told him were not there.

The war supposed to prevent Islamist terrorists from infiltrating Iraq, something that was not happening before Mr. Bush's war but is most definitely happening now. So, Mr. Bush is left with democracy as the justification for war, and Iraqis have used their newfound democracy to choose a leader who is pro-Iranian, who leads a party that has been tied to terrorist bombing of an American embassy, and who so opposes women's right he won't even shake hand with Condoleezza Rice, America's secretary of sate.

Still Mr. Bush insists we are making progress. I just don't know how much more of Mr. Bush's brand of progress American troops can stand.

HOLT: I can't believe you would be against democracy because you didn't like the outcome of an election. I mean, we elect people we don't like in this country all the time. In fact, we call some of them really bad names -- your party, what they are doing to Tom DeLay right now. You got to let democracy have its place even if you don't like the outcome.

BEGALA: No, I don't. First off I don't need to send 150,000 men and women to die..

HOLT: Bad outcomes don't repudiate democracy.

BEGALA: ...in a war that America didn't have an interest in. They did not threaten America one bit. We should not have had that war.

HOLT: So you don't like the democracy or the war?

BEGALA: Eight more men died in that war and President Bush ought to have a strategy to bring those guys home and to win this thing, and he doesn't.

HOLT: One Florida Democrat is learning that no good deed goes unpunished. Congressman Robert Wexler has found himself to be the target of attacks since he parted company with his leadership, introducing his own Social Security bill. The Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call" quoted one of Wexler's Democratic colleagues saying, about him, quote, "he looked like a kid who forgot to take a shower before he came to school."

Democratic leaders have refused proposing anything to fix Social Security. The last time they needed -- this is the last thing they needed, to have somebody bolt from their flock. Democrat's have a bigger problem though. Wexler's district is the second -- has the second largest number of people getting Social Security benefits in this country. Democrats ignore Wexler's instincts at their peril. They could be in for a very cold shower of their own.

BEGALA: First off, the president has misled us, as he did about the war, about Social Security. The trust fund is in quite good shape for 37 more years, which is more I can say about the president's stewardship of the economy.

HOLT: Name one -- name one fact the president's got wrong. Social Security collapses on itself.

BEGALA: President Bush says Social Security in like, eight years..

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: The baby boom generation will have most of these kids in this audience working three jobs.

BEGALA: They are already working three jobs because Bush's economy is so lousy!

(APPLAUSE)

HOLT: They ought to have a chance to own their own retirement and not rely on a moribund system going broke.

BEGALA: The president has never liked Social Security. In his first race for Congress in '78 he wanted to demolish Social Security. Still trying to do it, but the Democrats are stopping him, and I say, god bless the Democrats.

HOLT: I feel bad -- I'm going to let have you the last word.

BEGALA: Well, when you think of Paris Hilton, you think of two things. Obviously, a woman who washes her own car and someone who loves a nice juicy hamburger. OK, maybe not. But I'm betting from now on you will.

See, Miss Hilton is the star of a rather racy new ad which has some on the sanctimonious Republican right up in arms. They want it off the air. Paris Hilton is, of course, the very embodiment of everything the Republican party stands for in the age of Bush. She is a mega-wealthy heiress who possess as vast fortune for which she has done for no work. Like George W. Bush himself, Miss Hilton is wealthy just because of her name.

Mr. Bush believes that Miss Hilton should not have to pay any taxes on her vast inheritance. Conservative Christians who are watching and appalled by this ad might want to consider this: Mr. Bush wants to tax every penny that you earn from hard work, but doesn't want to tax a single dime that Paris Hilton inherits. Now, that ought to bother you a whole lot more than a sexy ad on television.

HOLT: I feel sorry for Paris Hilton.

BEGALA: Sorry for her?

HOLT: I can't believe you're picking on her. I mean, come on, she's got to make a living.

BEGALA: She's the embodiment of the Republican party.

HOLT: Well, no, she is the embodiment of Hollywood who commercializes everything, cheapens everything and sells it for the highest buck.

BEGALA: She's a Republican heiress.

HOLT: She's the creation of your liberal friends in Hollywood.

BEGALA: Why should a waitress have to pay tax on every dollar she earns and an heiress not pay a dollar? Why shouldn't Paris Hilton have to pay money on her inheritance?

HOLT: And I say, the folks that are out there making money off of her are making it quite nicely with the Democrats, too.

BEGALA: Well, I hope we get a chance to play more of that ad coming up just to infuriate my friends on the right.

Next on the CROSSFIRE, will the House stand up to the president and defy his veto threat over expanded federal funding for stem cell research?

And, over on the other side of the Capitol, nuclear politics has been defused at least for now. Why are Democrats crowing and conservative Republicans crying over last night's last-minute compromise over federal judges?

And, later, this -- Oprah Winfrey joins Hillary Clinton tonight in Washington. Is this a dream ticket or what? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Will moderate Republicans in the House actually stand up to President Bush on the issue of stem cell research? Some believe that scientists who say new discoveries could treat Parkinson's, cancer and other diseases, but the president says he'll veto the bill to expand new federal funding, saying that embryonic stem cell research destroys life.

Of course, on the other hand, Mr. Bush boasts he's actually funded some stem cell research. So, does stem cell research destroy life? Or should we fund it. Or perhaps both?

Today in the CROSSFIRE to debate this, former Congressman Bob Walker, he's a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

(APPLAUSE)

HOLT: Welcome, gentlemen. Peter, I want to ask you -- I want to focus on the politics of stem cell research, because as it turns out, the Democratic Party has made this sort of the poster child issue. Who is the -- incidentally, who is the first president in the history of this country to fund stem cell research?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Ronald Reagan, probably.

HOLT: President Bush. President George W. Bush.

FENN: Well, if you're talking about the politics...

HOLT: But what I'm saying is -- what I'm saying is that the party has chosen to play stem cell research. In fact, John Kerry -- John Kerry said, I think irresponsibly, quote, "We will one day get -- Chris Reeves will get up out of his wheelchair and walk again." Aren't you playing this too hard.

FENN: I'll tell you, Terry, I think when you talk about the politics of this, you have to realize that Nancy Reagan --

HOLT: I'm sorry, that was John Edwards.

FENN: -- is one of the people that has strongly supported this because of her husband's Alzheimer's. You look at --

HOLT: And you use that argument politically.

FENN: -- at pro-life Republicans like Orrin Hatch, who supports embryonic stem cell research. Look, this is something that is really crucial to solving diseases. We should take it out of the right wing straitjacket and be pragmatic about it.

This president wants it both ways. Oh, we're going to have stem cell research; we're not going to have it. I think it's very important to go ahead with this.

BEGALA: Sorry to interrupt, but I want to bring Bob into this. First, our viewers may not know that when you were in the Congress, you were one of the leaders on issues relating to science. I have extraordinarily high regard for your contribution, frankly, to science, even though we're on the opposite side of the aisle.

I do think that the president is morally incoherent on this issue. I respect people who believe that stem cell research destroys life, but then why brag that he funds it? I think Nancy Reagan -- if it's destroying life, you certainly wouldn't want to fund it. The president funds some, but not enough in the eyes of many scientists.

I think Nancy Reagan has a clearer view on this, and here's our former first lady.

"There are so many diseases that can be cured or at least helped that we can't turn our backs on this. We've lost so much already, I can't bear to lose any more."

Now you don't believe that Nancy Reagan is anti-family, do you?

BOB WALKER, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: No. And one of the important things that's come out of this debate is the fact that we're now finding that there are lots of alternatives out there. The Republicans are going to pass, the president's going to sign a cord blood stem cell bill. Cord blood offers some real treatment possibilities. In fact, we've already to found 60 to 70 diseases that can be treated with the cord blood stem cells. And what we need is more education on some of those kinds of alternatives.

Going to the embryonic stem cells, the fact is, so far we have found no cures that are directly tied to them. And so what the president has really said is --

BEGALA: Kind of a chicken-and-egg problem, in that the federal funding is not available for this research right now.

But help me out again. Help me to understand something.

WALKER: The president -- President Bush has put money into embryonic stem cell research.

BEGALA: Okay, but help me understand that.

WALKER: And plus the fact a lot of that is being done on the private side as well. And what President Bush has done is assured that a lot of that private research can continue.

BEGALA: So help me out. If it's wrong, if it's murder, as the president says, it's destroying life, why allow it in any way, shape or form. And why fund it a little bit. If it's murder, he must stop it right away. But of course it's not murder. That's why he allows a little bit of it. Right?

WALKER: Well, I think what you have is, you're walking a very fine line here about -- in the area of bioethics. And I think the president has attempted to assure that we have the appropriate limitations on the research, but at the same time, assure that we are doing the kind of research that needs to be done. And in the case of cord blood, you do not take a life.

HOLT: And let me go to that, because I think that you guys have rightly said that maybe we take morals too seriously when we apply it to science. But isn't morality supposed to be considered in science? Shouldn't we, like in every part of life?

FENN: Absolutely it should be considered. Absolutely. And the Castle-DeGette bill -- and the Castle-DeGette bill --

HOLT: It's almost like you would divorce science.

FENN: -- talks about using embryonic cells that are not sold, that the approval of the donor is there, that these are cells that would be thrown out. We're not talking about cloning. We're not talking about the kinds of boogiemen that the right wing tries to put out there. We're talking about very scientific, solid research that helps people. And I, for the life of me, don't understand why this administration --

HOLT: But not as much as you guys have argued. You said that people would get up out of their chairs. That's not fair. That's not going to happen.

FENN: I think the reason is -- well, listen. But when you look at where the -- scientists say spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer, Parkinson's, diabetes, youthful diabetes, cancer, heart disease. That's a lot of diseases that can be helped.

BEGALA: We're going to take a quick break, and we're going to move in the next segment away from science into more political science, because next in the CROSSFIRE, we'll discuss the nuclear meltdown in the Senate, which has been averted, at least for now. But will there be any fallout from the right for Republican senators who want to run for president in '08?

And, the web was certainly buzzing today with news on Iraq's most wanted terrorist. Wolf Blitzer has all the details next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour some Middle East Web site say the top insurgent leader in Iraq has been wounded. We'll tell you why the Pentagon is skeptical.

A major manufacturer of generic drugs is recalling all its products and freezing production. We'll tell you why.

And "Tonight's Show" host Jay Leno testifies at Michael Jackson's trial. We'll go there, all those stories, much more only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The fighting over who gets to be a federal judge may not be over. Even with last night's compromise the Democrats are backing off their filibuster threats for some, but not all of the president's nominations. Still in the CROSSFIRE, Democrat strategy Peter Fenn and former Republican Congressman Bob Walker.

BEGALA: Bob, it's not hard to figure out in Washington, the question is always who wins, who loses. You know, we're sort of a strategic mindset here on this program. It's not hard for me to figure out who won. Harry Reid, leader of the Senate Democrats, held Democrats together. Something that doesn't happen very often. My party is famously disunited. Reid through strength of leadership pulled the entire party together and pulled off, I think, quite a victory. Here's Harry Reid, I think, explaining why he thinks it's a win for his party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We have sent President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the radical arm of the Republican base an undeniable message, abuse of power will not be tolerated, not be tolerated by Democrats or Republicans. And your attempt, I say to the vice president and to president, to trample the Constitution and grab absolute control is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: That looks like a man who's feeling his oats. Looks like strength begets strength. And look out here comes the Democrats

WALKER: Well, there's another old tradition in Washington, that is when've you just been run over by a train you get up and declare victory. And I think that's exactly what Harry Reid was doing. The fact is that people he said were unacceptable candidates for the court, and were too radical to serve on the Circuit Courts of Appeal are now going to get a vote and going to become people who are going to be on the court of appeals. And so I don't think -- I don't think in that sense there was a winner or a loser in this. I think probably it was the Senate being a Senate. That they come up to the brink of tough decisions and they find a way to maneuver past them, and go on. And I think that's more likely.

HOLT: Seems to me that this is a prelude to a bigger fight, the Supreme Court fight everyone knows is looming. And along the way your party has -- the Democrats have collected an odd group of supporters. And I wonder people like moveon.org, in fact, Harry Reid is speaking to a moveon.org group tonight, and maybe just right after this show. Moveon was the group that blew up the capitol, I mean, quite tacky and quite tasteless in a TV ad attacking Bill Frist. Haven't you guys sold your soul in preparation for this...

FENN: You are talking about the "Star Wars" ad with the lasers. I think Terry that was humor.

HOLT: Be careful who your friends are.

FENN: The biggest losers I tell you in this are the right wing. The right wing got run over.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: The people for the American Way said that the Democrats sold you out, sold them out.

FENN: That isn't what happened. I mean what happened was we preserved the rule of law here, and at least temporarily. And we, you know, we may have a fight when the Supreme Court nominees come up, no question. But you know, Newt Gingrich didn't take any time, he's up in New Hampshire. New Hampshire, we know what people do in New Hampshire, testing the waters for a presidential campaign. He immediately attacked John McCain, because of McCain's role in this. Look, moderates in the United States Senate are an endangered species. It's like the spotted owl. I mean...

HOLT: If you read the headlines today the moderates were in charge of this deal.

BEGALA: I'm sorry to cut you off, I want to go to James Dobson who was leader of Focus on the Family. He's a renowned leader of conservative movement politics. Here's how he assessed this. He doesn't see it as a victory to conservatives at all.

Dr. Dobson says, "This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of republicans and a great victor for united Democrats. Only three of President Bush's nominees will be given the courtesy of an up or down vote." Dr. Dobson continues, "And it's business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blacked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed."

I agree with Dr. Dobson, don't you?

WALKER: Well, I think that that -- I think that a lot of the conservative groups are unhappy as of this morning. However, as these court nominees and it's likely to be more than three get approved and go to serve on the bench. I think a lot of them will recognize that there was some good that came out of the deal, even though they didn't get everything that they wanted.

And in the end, if it allows us to bring conservative Supreme Court Justices to the Senate, and get them approved I think then we'll have been a very important step forward.

BEGALA: That will be the test, right, Terry?

HOLT: I think -- I think that -- what I want to know, though, is the liberal groups are out today in the newspaper saying they are very unsatisfied with this deal. Isn't it true, in this game, when everybody hates it that's when you make a deal?

FENN: You might be right, Terry. The fact, though, is that Bill Frist also put himself on the line on this. And I think he's -- not only is he a lame majority leader, lame duck as a senator, but he may be a little lame in his presidential campaign right now, too. But look it's still early. Things will happen. You know, we'll see down the road how it all shakes out.

BEGALA: That will be the last word.

Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist, thank you very much. Bob Walker, former congressman for Pennsylvania, thank you both very.

Up next, why is the current first lady of talk getting together with the former first lady of the United States? Stay with us and we'll show you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END

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