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CNN Crossfire - Transcript

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CNN Crossfire - Transcript


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Democrats in Congress are showing a complete willingness to try and prevent any progress from being made on nearly any issue. And when they get mad, when they think the Republicans are trying to go around them-that's what can happen when you're being really obstructionist.

"In the CROSSFIRE" today, Congressman Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Congressman Peter King, Republican of New York. (Applause.)

BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you. Welcome back. Peter, Bob wants to couch this as sort of Democratic obstructionism or partisan politics. The problem with that is, think of what happened today. Our president goes to Mississippi. There's no redder state. It's as strong a Republican state as it could be-the home of Trent Lott. No stronger Republican than Trent Lott.

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: And Haley Barbour.

BEGALA: And Haley Barbour.

Trent Lott though today said he's not happy with the president's Social Security program, and he said it moves it towards a welfare program, which clearly nobody wants.

Here's what a think tank said about the president's proposal. This is The Century Foundation. Its vice president for programs took a look at what the president proposed the other night, and he said this, "Someone who earns 60 percent above the average wage-that would be somebody making about 58,000 today-would face a 25 percent cut upon retirement and a 42 percent reduction later on in his retirement. For a worker at that income level who opens a private account with the maximum contribution, the guaranteed benefit from Social Security would be reduced by 87 percent, to just $3,750 a year in today's dollars."

You don't support those kind of cuts in Social Security for middle class Americans, do you, Congressman?

KING: I wouldn't consider them cuts. And we can debate this and dissect it, if we can get to the table. For instance, Senator Moynihan, when he introduced his legislation back in 1998, he was also calling for a 1-point cut across the board for all Social Security recipients, whether they were low income or upper income.

BEGALA: One percent in the cost-of-living adjustment.

KING: Right, yes.

BEGALA: Which I happen to not support.

KING: Which is significant. Okay. I'm just saying --

BEGALA: That's a big difference from 87 percent cut for a guy making 58-grand a year.

KING: No, no, no.

NOVAK: There's no way he --

KING: No, they factor that in with --

BEGALA: Yes it is. If you take the private accounts-if you take the private account --

KING: No, they factor that in-factoring that in with the personal account -- (applause) -- factoring it in with the personal accounts-you can play games. In fact, also Joe Klein, who was, you know, one of yours, almost --

BEGALA: He's a journalist. He's a great guy, but you know --

KING: That's right, you're not a journalist. I forgot. Bob's a journalist. Any event --

BEGALA: He is; I'm not. Don't tar me. I'm an American. (Laughter.)

NOVAK: All right, this is going downhill fast.

KING: No, Joe Klein said in Time magazine, this is a thoughtful proposal. I'm just saying, let's put it on the table. Let's go to the table. The president deserves credit for bringing personal accounts. He's trying to make it progressive, which you should like.

BEGALA: So you don't close the door on --


KING: (INAUDIBLE) -- as James Carville said, if you guys keep saying no, people are going to turn against the Democrats. I'm just saying, put it on the table. What are you afraid of? I support Carville.

NOVAK: Mr. Menendez, you're a member of the leadership and chairman of the caucus, and you are so smug, you think you're really winning this fight on Social Security. But I want to show you a couple polling results, new polling results just taken the last few days from the CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup poll. "Worried that Democrats will not go far enough in changing Social Security?" Yes, 61 percent. No, 37 percent. That's not even close.

And then "Bush is mainly trying to help Social Security," 55 percent; "dismantle it," 41 percent. That's after you people have been throwing the kitchen sink at him. You think the American people are pretty stupid. They're pretty smart, aren't they?

MENENDEZ: I think they're exceptionally smart, which is why they're not buying the president's proposal.

Look, Bob. He came to New Jersey and tried to sell snake oil, and New Jersians knew it didn't make any sense whatsoever. Paul mentioned one set of statistic. How about 36,500. You get a 28 percent benefit cut if you're a future retiree who makes 36,500. You get, under the president's latest proposal, a 28 percent benefit cut.

The question is, long-term solvency of Social Security. The question is not to be ideologically driven at any cost on privatization. And then yes, we can come to the table, and we can help, as we did with Ronald Reagan, when he was president, achieve greater viability for Social Security.

But I look at the other poll number that just came up, the CNN/Gallup poll -- 58 percent of Americans say that they rejected the president's plans, and that was after his address the other night.

NOVAK: You know, the interesting-and you talk be about benefit cuts, and that's so deceptive. It isn't like they're cutting the present benefits. They're cutting for certain people what the benefits would be into the future.

MENENDEZ: That's a benefit cut.

NOVAK: That isn't a benefit cut.

MENENDEZ: If I worked all the years. I contributed to Social Security --

NOVAK: It's more money than they are getting now.

MENENDEZ: -- and I have an expectation of what it will be, you're cutting the benefit that I have worked for all along.

NOVAK: It's more money-it's an increase, though.

MENENDEZ: You know, Bob, the problem is, you come from the point of view, like the Club For Growth, which says that Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state. If we can drive a spear through it, we can end the welfare state.

NOVAK: That's what you said. I didn't say that.

MENENDEZ: Most Americans believe that Social Security is something they worked for, contributed to and expect to have their-and expect the government to keep its promise. (Applause.)

KING: And that's what George Bush believes, which is why he's trying to save it.

BEGALA: Let me move to another topic if I could. The president, laudably, wonderfully, had a primetime news conference last week on Thursday night. It was the first time in a year that he'd met with the press in primetime. He's been doing it more this term, and I really do applaud that. I think it's good for the country. He said something-he was asked about America's military capabilities given our commitments in Iraq. Was he concerned that that would-that our commitments in Iraq were degrading the Army's ability to do other things. Here's what the president told our country.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The person to ask that to, the person I ask that to at least is to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, my top military adviser. I said, Do you feel that we've limited our capacity to deal with our problems because of our troop level in Iraq? And the answer is, no. He doesn't feel like we're limited. He feels like we got plenty of capacity.


BEGALA: Well, now let's see what General Myers actually says. A classified report that he delivered to Congress yesterday leaked, thank goodness. And here's what the "New York Times" reports from that classified report.

"In a classified report, General Myers cited reduced stockpiles of precision weapons, which were depleted during the invasion of Iraq, and the stress on Reserve units, which fulfill the bulk of combat support duties in Iraq, as among the factors that would limit the Pentagon's ability to prevail as quickly as war-planners once predicted in other potential conflicts."

The president misled the country again, didn't he, Peter?

KING: No, he did not. No, he did not, and he never has. The fact is --

BEGALA: Never has? When has he told the truth? It's a short list.

KING: Actually, that's-you know, you're trying to refight the last election, which you lost, and you lost it because --

BEGALA: It's not about the election. It's about lying to the country about our men and women who are risking their lives for us, Congressman.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) in the last election. You lost in that, and you're going to lose again. What General Myers went on to say is, there is no doubt that we can do whatever mission we're asked to do. Of course when you're in a war-BEGALA: But he said it would be longer and bloodier and more casualties with more Americans dead. That's what he said, wasn't it, Congressman?

KING: But he said we can-he said we can definitely do it. And any time --

BEGALA: But with greater-more American boys dead.

KING: Any time there's one war going on, it always makes it more difficult in the other.

BEGALA: That's not what Mr. Bush said, is it?

KING: Yes he did.


KING: Yes, of course he did.

NOVAK: Congressman Menendez --

KING: What, do you expect him to tell our enemy exactly every deficiency we have? The bottom line is, we can do whatever we have to do, and we continue to do it. Of course it's difficult. That's what war is about. That's what life is about. (Applause.)

NOVAK: The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, would like to be president. If not that, vice president. He said, "We just can't be negative. We can't just attack the president at every turn. We've got to stand for something." You disagree with that, I take it.

MENENDEZ: Oh, absolutely. We have stood for time after time on energy policy. You know, the president's policy is just to give the oil and gas industries about $22 billion -- 93 percent of all the benefits in the energy bill. I guess Mr. Cheney, Vice President Cheney was part of that. We have a different vision. Our vision is renewable energy sources. Our vision is to make sure gas prices go down. Our vision is to make sure that the world understand that we have helped them dramatically.

NOVAK: We've got to take a break. (Applause.)

Next I'll ask whether Democrats really consider conservative ministers to be the anti-Christ in the continuing fight over judicial nominees.


Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush's approval rating is an anemic 48 percent just 100 days after his second inaugurate. By comparison president Ronald Reagan was over 55 percent at this point, President Bill Clinton nearly 60. Is it Mr. Bush's unpopular Social Security privatization plan or is his inability to do anything about gas prices, or perhaps the high deficit of the unpopular war in Iraq. Maybe all of the above is driving him down.

Here to debate it in the CROSSFIRE, New York Republican Congressman Peter King and New Jersey Democratic Congressman Robert Menendez.

NOVAK: Mr. Menendez, one of your bright new rookie senators, Senator Salazar of Colorado, you don't have many new rookie senators, says that Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family, who's been trying to get confirmation of judicial judges is the anti-Christ. Do you think-do you agree with that? Even if you don't agree with that? Do you think that's a proper political discourse?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I don't agree with it. I will say that what happened to Senator Salazar in his state where those entities attacked his wife was totally uncalled for and is not Christian in any way. The reality is that the importance of the question of judges goes to the very heart of what our country is going to be like, because federal judges appointed for life make decisions that have greater impact than Peter and I as members of Congress. And the fact of the matter is to change 200 years of history is absolutely wrong. It doesn't provide for checks and balances. And is about Republicans changing the rules so they can get their way, that's unAmerican.

BEGALA: Congressman King, let me ask about that topic. One of those radical right wing preacher, Reverend Pat Robertson a pillar of the Republican Party, ran for president, did very well. Surprised a lot of people in the Iowa Caucus when he ran for president in your party, was asked this weekend by George Stephanopoulos...


BEGALA He was asked by George Stephanopoulos, just two days ago this question. Why-he asked him why did he write in his book that liberal judges were the greatest threat America ever faces. And George said surely not as great a threat as al Qaeda, the terrorist who attacked us just a few years ago. Here's what Reverend Robertson said.


PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: You look over a course of 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.


BEGALA: A few bearded terrorists. They killed friends of mine and friends of yours, I'm sure. That's outrageous isn't it.

PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: Pat Robertson is totally wrong, unequivocally. And he should retract everything he said. But the issues that Bob raised on judges is important. Because it's not really a 200 year tradition. In fact, if you went into what tradition, for the last 200 years, there's only one federal judge that was really filibusters and that Abe Fortas. And that you can discuss whether it was a real filibuster or not.

NOVAK: He didn't have the votes to pass any ways.

MENENDEZ: (INAUDIBLE) Republicans, wasn't it.



KING: And Bob (INAUDIBLE). I was saying-is the only one in the last 200. The unwritten rule was that you let these nominees come to a vote. So, I-while ordinarily reluctant to for the nuclear option. I think in this case where you have for the first time in 200 years a party systematically blocking judges...

NOVAK: I want to get a question in.


KING: That was on the committee. That wasn't done by a filibuster. There's a difference.

MENENDEZ: The Republicans stopped 60 of Clinton's judicial nominees through the equivalent of filibuster using-over 200 nominees. No, no, they didn't bring them to a vote so many times. And so the bottom line is they want to change the rules of the game. And it's tomorrow you know, Republicans could be in the minority.


NOVAK: That has to be the last word. Thank you...

KING: The rules of the Senate have always been changed.


NOVAK: Congressman Menendez, Congressman King, thank you very much.

KING: I couldn't (INAUDIBLE)


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