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CNN Crossfire - Transcript

Location: Unknown



August 31, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Republican National Convention Day Two

GUESTS: Larry Gatlin, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Ackerman

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Robert Novak, Paul Begala



NOVAK: Welcome back to the CNN diner.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will undoubtedly pump up the party faithful at tonight's session of Republican National Convention. But considering the way John Kerry's campaign is going, there may not be much left for the Terminator to terminate.

In the CROSSFIRE today, Representative Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida.




BEGALA: Good to see you both again. Thank you for joining us.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN, (D), NEW YORK: Good to be with you.

BEGALA: Congresswoman, the big news this week is not the carefully scripted high-dollar and frankly well-orchestrated convention your party is running. It's when the president got off- message. The president of the United States told the world that America cannot win the war on terror.


BEGALA: Today, he tried to flip-flop and backtrack and hide behind international law, but he really has no idea what he's talking about on terror, does he?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, what he was saying is very simple.

It's like saying we will never do away with homicides. Now, that's a realistic statement, wouldn't you say? We are going to do everything we can to make sure that one person does not kill another person. But in the United States of America, we've got to think that maybe that's going to be a reality that we're going to confront forever. But we will still incarcerate people. We will sentence them. We will arrest them. We will investigate them.

What the president is saying, we may not be able to win this war on terror. But it's a worthy war and it's worthy of every American to participate in and our allies as well.


BEGALA: Is he that ignorant, frankly-I'm sorry to use such a harsh word-is he that ignorant of history that he doesn't understand that the Germans defeated the terrorists in the Baader- Meinhof Gang, the Italians defeated the Red Brigade terrorists? You can defeat terrorism. And America will if we have a new president. Isn't that what the point the president is trying to make?


ROS-LEHTINEN: No. If we have a new president and that president's name is John F. Kerry, we will defeat the terrorists today or maybe tomorrow. Or maybe we'll wait for 20,000 U.N. resolutions or maybe



ROS-LEHTINEN: Or maybe we'll wait for the French to kick in. We will never defeat that. We know the answer with Kerry.

NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, are you as naive as Paul in thinking that you can turn the terrorism issue into a plus for the Democrats?

ACKERMAN: Well, from what I remember, first of all, it was George Bush that declared war on terrorism. He didn't declare on murder.


NOVAK: Well, OK. All right. But it's like war on poverty, war on drugs. You keep fighting it and then it never goes away.

ACKERMAN: No. If you declare a war, you have to have a strategy to win the war.

And this is a very unique war. And you had to have a strategy to win the peace, too. This president has no strategy to win the peace. It was obvious going in. It's obvious as he muddled through this. The only thing he was right about that was John Kerry's service was more courageous than his.


NOVAK: I want to-I want to-I want to-I want to read you a quote given by the former mayor of New York City last night at the convention.

He said: "Having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader. Winston Churchill saw the dangers of Hitler, while his opponents characterized him as a war-mongering gadfly."

Now, I know you're a student of history, Congressman Ackerman. Isn't there a comparison to where you can compare Winston Churchill and George W. Bush, and John Kerry sounds a lot like Neville Chamberlain?

ACKERMAN: I don't think he sounds like Neville Chamberlain at all. I think he sounds more like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.


NOVAK: No, John Kerry.

ACKERMAN: No, no, George W. Bush.


NOVAK: ... about John Kerry.


NOVAK: No, I said John Kerry. You got all mixed up.


ACKERMAN: That's what he sounds like.

BEGALA: Well, let's take up the good mayor here on his comparison.

Winston Churchill was warning the world about Adolf Hitler for years as he came to power in Germany. President Bush on the other hand ignored the warnings from the Hart-Rudman Commission, ignored warnings directly given to him by President Clinton, ignored warnings given to him-let me finish-by Sandy Berger, President Clinton's National Security Council, ignored warnings from Richard Clarke, his own counterterrorism expert, and even went out and played golf at Riverview Country Club after being told that bin Laden had a plan to attack our America.


BEGALA: He wasn't Winston Churchill. He was Rip Van Winkle, wasn't he?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, no. Let's talk about who was ignoring what.

BEGALA: Winston Churchill, my...


BEGALA: Come on. That's an embarrassment.

ROS-LEHTINEN: President Clinton, we had bombs here in the United States. We had bombs in U.S. embassies in Africa.

BEGALA: Well, I know you hate Clinton. I know you hate Clinton. But I asked you to defend Bush.


ROS-LEHTINEN: We had eight years-we had eight years of terrorism. And President Bush is kind enough not to point out that President Clinton ignored all of these terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens.


BEGALA: It's simply not so, but it's also not responsive.

Let me ask you again to try...


BEGALA: Look, I know it's hard to defend the indefensible. And if President Bush were half as intelligent as you, I would sleep better at night. But he's not.

And I'm asking you again, how on earth can your guy Rudy compare our president, who is clearly asleep at the switch, with Winston Churchill?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No. No. Not only is that absolutely untrue, but let's talk about John Kerry's record


ROS-LEHTINEN: Of not going to the Intelligence Committee hearings, of saying he voted for the war and then against the war, of doing this and then doing that. John Kerry, you never know where he stands. You may not like George W. Bush, but he acts the way that he says.


ACKERMAN: And there's a lot of us that wanted to believe our president that gave him the authority to use force if necessary as a last resort.

ROS-LEHTINEN: It was the right decision then. It's the right decision now.

ACKERMAN: I was one of them also.

And after he proved that he had no way of winning this war, he didn't know which way was up, he had no idea of how to conduct an entire process, I also voted against the $87 billion, because it went against a bunch of people who were nothing but a bunch of war profiteers, including the vice president and his former company.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, my golly.

NOVAK: Congressman.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Calm down. Calm down.


NOVAK: Congressman, last night, Senator McCain called out Michael Moore for saying there was nothing really wrong with the rocky regime of Saddam Hussein. And Paul criticized Senator McCain for doing that.

I want to read you a quote that was made on the floor of the House on October 8, 2002. He said: "We must recognize Saddam Hussein's regime as a reign of evil, promising the world nothing but terror and death." You know who said that?

ACKERMAN: Who said it?

NOVAK: Gary Ackerman.

ACKERMAN: Great statement.


NOVAK: So you are with-you are with-you are against Michael Moore, then? Is that right?


ACKERMAN: No. Did you see the movie?

NOVAK: I wouldn't dare see it.

ACKERMAN: Well, then it's fair for you to comment on it, I'm sure.

NOVAK: No. No.


NOVAK: I'm asking you, did you think Michael Moore was...


ACKERMAN: Michael Moore didn't say that Iraq was a bed of roses. He said nothing like that. You should see the movie before you become a critic.


NOVAK: Do you think McCain-I read all about it. Do you think McCain is being unfair to Michael Moore? Do you side with Michael Moore against McCain?

ACKERMAN: I don't know if McCain-I don't know if McCain saw the movie either.

NOVAK: I'm asking you a question. Do you side with Michael Moore?

ACKERMAN: I saw the-I saw the movie.

NOVAK: Do you defend the movie?

ACKERMAN: I thought it was a great movie.

NOVAK: Oh, my God.

BEGALA: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen...


ACKERMAN: Before you're critical, you should know what you're talking about, Bob. You should go and see...


NOVAK: Gary Ackerman sounds like he is supporting John McCain and not Michael Moore.



ACKERMAN: There's lots of evil, terrible people in the world who are dictators. We've not declared the Bush doctrine on any of them. We've not gone into Syria. We've not gone into North Korea. We've not gone into Iran. Why not?


ACKERMAN: Where is the Bush doctrine with people who have real weapons of mass destruction?

ROS-LEHTINEN: John Kerry will not vote to fund those wars. He'll vote for the authority, but not for the funding for our boys and guys-girls.

BEGALA: We'll running long on this segment, so I want to ask you about our featured speaker tonight, not our wonderful first lady, who I'm never going to criticize, but Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, who is for abortion rights, for gay rights, for gun control.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Is this a great party or what?


BEGALA: Do you agree with Schwarzenegger on those issues or Bush?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I mean, we are a big-we are a big-tent theory. I'm pro-life, but I'm for-I understand gay rights. I'm for human rights. I disagree somewhat with our platform. I agree somewhat with our platform purpose. That's the greatness...


ROS-LEHTINEN: That's the greatness of our party.


ROS-LEHTINEN: There is room for everyone in our party.


ACKERMAN: ... undecided who agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger on those issues. They will be voting Democratic...


ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, no, no. It shows the greatness of our party.

NOVAK: We're going to take a break. We're going to take a break.

But when we come back, we'll be back with The "Rapid Fire" to find out if John Kerry's campaign needs a serious shakeup.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

Coming up at top of the hour, day two of the Republican Convention. We'll talk with the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card.

Worried Democrats call on John Kerry to up his campaign staff. We'll get the response from the DNC chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

And suicide bombers kill 16 people, wound scores more in Israel.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Welcome back to the CNN diner here in New York City.


BEGALA: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where questions come faster than even President Bush can flip-flop on whether we can win the war on terror. We are here at the Republican National Convention with Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York City and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They all retire from New York City into my district. So we get them.


NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, there's been a lot of reports that Senator Kerry is not doing well and a shakeup in his staff is needed. Do you believe a shakeup in his staff is necessary?

ACKERMAN: I don't believe he's not doing well. I think he's doing absolutely spectacular. It's interesting. When there's a two- point difference in Kerry's favor, the Republicans keep saying, oh, it's within the margin of error.


NOVAK: No shakeup necessary, then?

ACKERMAN: No shakeup is necessary.

NOVAK: All right.

ACKERMAN: We've got to shake up the country and get people out to vote and make sure everybody votes, especially in the state of Florida. You have to help us out there.


ROS-LEHTINEN: We're going to get it right. We're going to get it right this time.

BEGALA: Congresswoman, do you condone or condemn Bush delegates wearing Band-Aids with a Purple Heart on them to mock John Kerry's bleeding for our country and, by extension, the other thousands of American men and some women...


ROS-LEHTINEN: My husband is a proud Vietnam vet. And I can tell you that he does not say anything about John Kerry's service in Vietnam.

What he does disagree with is what he said about people like him and veterans like him...

BEGALA: What about these Band-Aids?

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... when he came back to the United States. And that is to say that they're all Genghis Khan and that they're all murderers and rapists. And that is wrong. And it's still wrong today for him to have said that about our guys.


NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, the swift boat veterans have just sent a letter today to Senator Kerry saying they will drop the ads if he will apologize for his anti-American comments he made after the war. Do you think he should apologize for those comments?

ACKERMAN: I wouldn't characterize them as anti-American.

NOVAK: Do you think he should apologize for them?

ACKERMAN: He was criticizing atrocities that Americans-and you can't say there were no atrocities committed during the war.

NOVAK: Do you think he should apologize for them? That's the question I'm asking you.

ACKERMAN: I think that what you're trying to do is what the George Bush people are trying to do, is to change the subject. The American people...

NOVAK: You won't answer the question.

ACKERMAN: The American people aren't fighting the Vietnam War right now. And if you want the Democrats to play like the Republicans, maybe we should give out things to how to cure a hangover.



BEGALA: Congressman, do you endorse President Bush going on the show of Rush Limbaugh, a hate monger?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think Rush Limbaugh has a very dedicated following. He is very well loved, especially in our state of Florida, because he's a Florida resident as well.

BEGALA: He's under investigation in Florida, in fact, isn't he?


ROS-LEHTINEN: You know, that's your characterization of it.

ACKERMAN: But Florida is under investigation.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no.

BEGALA: This will be the last word.

ROS-LEHTINEN: What I think is that it's going to be getting to a wider audience and he's going to be doing that through all kinds of audiences.

BEGALA: That is going to have to be the last word. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen...


BEGALA: ... from Florida, Congressman Gary Ackerman from New York, sorry to cut you off, but we are out of time.

And we're fixing to get a little bit country here at the CNN diner. After this break, Larry Gatlin will join us in the CROSSFIRE.


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