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President Clinton Returns to White House

Aired June 14, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Bill Clinton is back at the White House and may be coming soon to a bookstore near you.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy.

ANNOUNCER: Where will that energy and joy be directed next? Will it be a boost or a burden for John Kerry's candidacy?

Plus, crazy for who?

Today, on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: President Bush very graciously welcomed Bill and Hillary Clinton back to the White House today. But thank goodness it was only for a visit.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Too bad it was the Clintons that had to leave.

Before we get to the latest chapter of Bill Clinton's career, we're going to bring you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

I thought it was distasteful when George W. Bush asked for an audience with the pope in an election year. I thought it was disrespectful when our doofus president called the pope sir, when everyone knows the pope is supposed to be addressed as Your Holiness. But what he did after the meeting was contemptible beyond words.

"The National Catholic Reporter," an independent newspaper, reported that, after his meeting with the pope, President Bush asked the Vatican secretary to state to help the bishops in the United States be more active in political issues such as stem cell research, that President Bush opposes and Nancy Reagan is actively supporting.

For Catholics, a trip to the Vatican is an act of devotion. The only thing George W. Bush is devoted to is his own political survival. If this disgusting act demonstrates one thing, it's that George W. Bush doesn't have a prayer.


NOVAK: You know -- you know, James, let me make three points.

Point No. 1, politicians have been going to see the pope on political trips for as long as I have been alive. Point No. 2, I would hope that some of our liberal bishops would follow the teachings of the pope, as the president would. And, third, my friend...


NOVAK: Just a minute. Listen to me. You can't -- you can't hear when you're talking.


CARVILLE: Go ahead. Go ahead.

NOVAK: You don't call...

CARVILLE: I'm listening.

NOVAK: You don't call the president of the United States doofus, whether he's Bill Clinton or George Bush.



CARVILLE: Well, he is a doofus. You don't call the pope sir.


CARVILLE: You don't call the pope sir.


CARVILLE: You don't call the pope sir. It's a doofus thing to do. He's a doofus.


CARVILLE (singing): Doofus, doofus, doofus, doofus, doofus, doofus.

NOVAK: It was reported on page one of "The Washington Post" this morning that John Kerry -- quote -- "has left many on his own staff wanting, both in terms of strong leadership and inspiration."

Who said this, George W. Bush, the Republican National Committee, me? None of the above. "Post" reporter Jim VandeHei quoted a senior Kerry adviser as criticizing his own candidate. The point of the story is what I've saying for some time. Enthusiasm to put Kerry in the White House does not match the fervor over getting rid of Bush. This is not just a referendum on the incumbent. Americans are asking, why the long face, Senator Kerry? He hasn't answered yet.


CARVILLE: Well, that was a doofus story, Bob.

First of all, if Jim VandeHei, who -- I don't know this guy's name -- who's piping, you know, unknown quotes in there would have been with me out with Democrats, where I addressed the DFL Democrats in Minneapolis this past Saturday. In San Antonio, I was with the Texas Democrats.

There is an unbelievable amount of enthusiasm for John Kerry.


CARVILLE: And what -- what Jim VandeHei and that whole political section of "The Post" think they're going to do the same thing to John Kerry they did to Al Gore, I got news for them. They ain't going to get away with it this time.



CARVILLE: And if I see this stuff again, this kind of piping quotes kind of garbage in this kind of story, where they can't find anybody to say anything, there's a lot of enthusiasm out there. It was a doofus story.


NOVAK: You like that word, don't you?

CARVILLE: I love that word. Doofus.


NOVAK: Doofus. I think it fits you.

CARVILLE: No, it fits the guy up there.


CARVILLE: A couple of months ago, the State Department came out with a report that said, in 2003, terrorism dropped to the lowest level in more than three decades and had declined than 45 cent -- 45 percent since President Bush took office.

Of course, any idiot who turns on the news every day can tell you that's not the case. Last week, one of the great truth-tellers in Washington, Congressman Henry Waxman, who is definitely not a doofus, called them on it. And yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that the report was -- quote -- "a big mistake" -- unquote.

Now, I have a pretty fair amount of respect for Colin Powell, but when he said the report wasn't an intentional attempt to cook the books, I have to say, I have a pretty high degree of skepticism. After all, when they say that terrorism is at its lowest level and it's actually at a 20-year high, they're just not cooking the books. They're deep-frying them.


NOVAK: Well, you're suggestion that Colin Powell is telling a lie, I will tell you something, James. This kind of vicious politics that you engage in...

CARVILLE: Vicious politics? What's vicious?

NOVAK: You mind if I talk while you're interrupting?

CARVILLE: Well, tell me. I'm not vicious.


NOVAK: This kind of vicious politics, where you call a great patriot like Colin Powell a liar, I mean, people are really sick of it.



CARVILLE: I didn't call him a liar.

NOVAK: Hey. Hey.

CARVILLE: I didn't call him a liar.

NOVAK: I listen to you. I listen to you. And I personally resent that.


CARVILLE: Tell me where I called him a liar.


NOVAK: You said skepticism.


CARVILLE: I'm skeptical. Does skeptical mean the same thing as liar? No. I'm skeptical.

NOVAK: It's no secret...


NOVAK: Can I continue, please?

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

NOVAK: It's no secret that the senior George Bush was not my favorite Republican president, but he is one of my favorite people.

Who else, on his 80th birthday, would make a parachute jump? His advice for couch potatoes is terrific -- quote -- "Get out and do something. Just don't watch TV" -- end quote. I took that advice a few weeks ago and, at age 73, also jumped with the U.S. Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team.

But there were big differences. President Bush's first jump was in combat, after the Japanese shot down his plane. This was his fifth jump. It was my first. It was also my last.



NOVAK: Getting out and doing something can only go so far.


CARVILLE: You know, it was -- and I'm very fond of President Bush 41. He's a very personable guy.

But, on a sad note, Bob, his longtime host and dear friend and one of the most respected people in the political business, Bob Teeter, passed away today in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And I know you that join me in giving the Teeter family all the best.

NOVAK: He's longtime friend, and sympathies to his family.

CARVILLE: You bet. Thank you.


Bill Clinton was back at the White House today. Fortunately, it was only a temporary visit.


NOVAK: As he starts a tour to sell his new book, will he also try to sell John Kerry to the voters?

And, later, why are some members of the Congress so infatuated with Madonna?


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



CARVILLE: The last elected -- that is elected -- president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, were guests of honor at the White House this morning. They unveiled their official portraits which hang in the White House. Both Clintons talked about being inspired by other portraits of former presidents and first ladies that hang in the executive mansion. Now President Bush can stare at these pictures and be inspired, too.



CARVILLE: To talk about the legacy of our last elected president, Bill Clinton, his new book and the up-and-coming book tour, we have a couple of inspiring guests, a person that I do not share a common political philosophy, nor skin color, but a common haircut...


CARVILLE: ... my dear friend, talk show host Armstrong Williams, along with Illinois Congressman, my dear friend and general pain in the rear Rahm Emanuel, who is now -- who was a senior adviser to President Clinton.


NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, before I ask you the question that I was going to ask you, I just want to...

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Before you ask me the question before...

NOVAK: Before I ask you the question I planned to ask you, James says that Bill Clinton was our last elected president. Unlike James, I assume you have read the Constitution and you know the Electoral College elects the president. So you wouldn't agree that he was our last elected president, would you?

EMANUEL: I agree with Al Gore. He is now the president of the United States.

NOVAK: Thank you. I'm glad you said that. That's very good.

Now, my question...

EMANUEL: I hope you understand, that was my answer before my answer.


EMANUEL: Thank you.

NOVAK: Now, the question, "The New York Times" today says that President Clinton's first priority now is to hawk as many books as he possibly can.

That means that, at this time, when John Kerry may need his help, Bill Clinton is being as selfish as usual. He's all for me, me, me, not worrying about John Kerry. Is that correct?

EMANUEL: Are you OK, Bob? Is everything OK?

NOVAK: Don't worry about me. Just answer the question.


EMANUEL: Two things. Just two weeks ago, it was, Bill Clinton will overshadow John Kerry. Now it's all just about Bill Clinton and he's all selfish and he's not going to help John Kerry.

NOVAK: It's the same thing.


Well, I think, first of all, he is going to help John Kerry as much as John Kerry wants his help and he's also going to help sell the books. And neither one is -- it's not a choice between the two of them. And I think -- to tell you the truth, I think the book is going to help John Kerry tremendously, in the sense that what it is going to indicate is that this is what happened, the peace and prosperity that happened, under a Democratic president, unlike the jobless economy we have got and the endless occupation we have got today.


CARVILLE: Armstrong, we're talking about President Clinton and President Bush.

And Congressman Emanuel has done a great service to the people of the United States by putting out a report today that shows four different things, this thing on terrorism, of course, where Colin Powell had to come back and make very severe corrections on an issue of fundamental importance, when Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson had to acknowledge that terrible mistake through an aide (ph) in reporting things on racial disparity, where EPA Administrator Leavitt said that -- a report where there were these profound errors to try to benefit the mercury industry were all in error, and where the cost of the Medicare drug bill was overstated by the administration -- understated the administration by like $400 billion.

Can you think -- can imagine anybody in Bill Clinton's administration or Bill Clinton making an error this big, much less four of them? Can you think back at anything that the Clinton administration put out that tried to cook the books on any level like this?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, we can talk about scandals vs. mistakes. You take your choice.

CARVILLE: Scandals? What -- what scandal? He had sex with an intern, OK? I'm talking about policy mistakes.


NOVAK: Let him answer the question. You just made a speech.


CARVILLE: Look, you had your turn. It's my turn.

NOVAK: Well, you're making a speech. You won't let him answer the question.

CARVILLE: I'm making a speech. No -- answer the question. Go ahead.

WILLIAMS: Listen...

CARVILLE: Give me a policy lie that Clinton told like this.

WILLIAMS: Listen, President Bush and this administration admitted there were mistakes and misjudgments made in this war against Iraq.

No one can argue the fact that the economy has grown 1.4 million jobs in this economy. And, also, I think something that the American people look at is that no matter what you say about the mistakes and the bad judgments that they've made, obviously, they're doing something right, because we have not had one attack on American soil in terms of terrorism since 9/11. And I think that is something -- you can find bad in anybody.

And the president has made his mistakes. But we should also embrace and praise the good, that America is still safe today, more than it was before 9/11. And you should give him that credit.


CARVILLE: I understand. And I appreciate that you -- you can't find anything comparable in the Clinton administration to the level of deception that was contained in these four reports put out by the Bush administration.

WILLIAMS: You know, I can sit here and talk about the scandals of Whitewater, Travelgate and many of the things that President -- that was involved...

CARVILLE: That was all exonerated.

WILLIAMS: No, it was there, until it was proven that -- and it may have just been a question.

But, look, we can sit here and talk about the mistakes. I think what people want to do is try to move this dialogue forward.


WILLIAMS: We have a lot of issues facing the country and we don't need to be involved in a...



CARVILLE: You know what? If I had their record, I would want to move it forward, too.

EMANUEL: One of the things is, I agree, we got to have a dialogue that talks about America going forward and what it's got to do to make tomorrow and a better tomorrow move faster to today.

The question is, on each of these reports, you have a pattern where each Cabinet secretary after -- on this terrorism report where Powell said, look, I don't know how this accident happened, but we misreported. On health disparity, Tommy Thompson, between black and white -- let me just say.



NOVAK: Just a minute. Just a minute.

EMANUEL: It's the only show where you're the guest and you don't get answer a question.

NOVAK: That's right, because you weren't asked a question.


EMANUEL: You guys would be helpful without any guests.



CARVILLE: He's in a particularly cranky mood.


NOVAK: You weren't asked a question.

And this program was supposed to be about Bill Clinton, and we're having this screed of repeating of what he said. I want to talk about Bill Clinton. Is that OK?


NOVAK: Now, this is a new book called "Presidential Leadership," put out by a man names James Taranto from "The Wall Street Journal."

CARVILLE: Oh, objectivity.

NOVAK: From "The Wall Street Journal," who had 50 scholars across the spectrum, men, women, all races, on several qualifications of the president.

Let's see how they came out. President, great, one, George Washington, two, Abraham Lincoln, three, Franklin Roosevelt; near great, Ronald Reagan; average, No. 24, Bill Clinton. That's what he was. He didn't accomplish much of anything, didn't do much of anything. He was an average president, wasn't he?


EMANUEL: Bob, two things.

First of all, every president gets evaluated by the state of the country they inherited and the state of the country they left behind. And, second, as you well know, as time goes on, and you drive through the rear-view -- and you look through the rear-view mirror, history gets better focused. People had a certain view of Truman right after his presidency and they have a certain of Truman today.

And I have no doubt that Bill Clinton will be remembered as a great president because of the country he inherited and the country that -- just wait a second -- on job growth, on income growth, on decline in poverty rates, and on respect around the world, we were stronger at home when he left office and more respected abroad when he left office.

NOVAK: Let me...


EMANUEL: And that, I'm sorry, Bob, is a fact.

As Ronald Reagan used to say...

NOVAK: All right, you answered the question.

EMANUEL: As Ronald Reagan used to say, facts are a stubborn thing.

NOVAK: His fellow Democrat, Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 Commission, said this the other day recently: "President Clinton had let pass opportunities to arrest or kill al Qaeda's leadership when the threat was much smaller."

Isn't that a tremendous blight on this administration?

EMANUEL: As you know, well...


EMANUEL: Two things. Just a second.

When there was attempt to blow up the LAX Airport and the gentleman was caught coming over on the northwest border, he was stopped. There was an attempt to blow up the tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York. That individual terrorist was stopped. There was a lot of terrorists stopped there. And, as we just found out, in the last 2 1/2 years, it ain't easy to catch Osama bin Laden.

We have well over 14,000 U.S. troops, not counting how many NATO troops. It's not that easy. We did go after him and we didn't get him. But we tried. And that cannot be taken away.


CARVILLE: All right, Armstrong, my good friend here, let me -- let me -- let -- let -- let's look ahead here a little bit, because we're talking about president -- do you think that President Clinton should have, like, taken the $12 million advance and not put the book out? Or what should he have done? You're a good conservative, a man who believes in the work ethic. So, if you were advising him, what's he done wrong so far in this?

WILLIAMS: You know, I think the marketplace should decide that.

President Clinton was president for eight years. He has a story to tell. There are some things that he did that I didn't particularly appreciate. But there are many things that he did that many Americans love and respect. I think he has a book to write. I think he should write that book. I do think, because of what happened over the last week with President Reagan's state funeral and now President Clinton's book tour, it is going to still overshadow Kerry. And I think it is going to remind people of the greatness and the things they liked about Clinton.

And they will see Kerry as a mediocre candidate. I don't think it will help him in the long run, this book tour that he's about to go on.

CARVILLE: OK. I just wanted to get your opinion on that.

NOVAK: I was very much interested, though, in your -- the question of what Bob Kerrey said, that there was a better chance. You didn't quite answer my question, that there was a better chance under President Clinton to nab Osama bin Laden than there was after 9/11. That's a problem, isn't it?


EMANUEL: Based on what is there a better chance to nab him? On what, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, on what Bob Kerrey said.


EMANUEL: Look, I just -- I do think we do know...


CARVILLE: ... Richard Clarke said, what John Kerry said, what all these other people said.

EMANUEL: We had a very good chance in the sense that we stopped terrorism here in the United States. We didn't get Osama bin Laden, but, as far as I can tell, we haven't done that yet either.

NOVAK: We've got to take a break.

When we come back, we'll put our guests in the "Rapid Fire" and ask why Bill Clinton is still obsessed with Ken Starr.

And right after the break, have U.S. shoppers been targeted by al Qaeda? Wolf Blitzer reports.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, new concerns about homeland security after a Somali citizen is accused of plotting to blow up a Columbus, Ohio, shopping mall.

Attacks kill 16 people in Baghdad, including civilian contractors. We'll ask coalition spokesman Dan Senor how all this violence will impact on hopes to rebuild Iraq.

And James Bamford, the best-selling author and a prominent critic of the Iraq war, talks about potential trouble right inside the CIA.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions almost as fast as Bill Clinton is going to be selling copies of his new book.

In the CROSSFIRE, conservative talk show host and my friend Armstrong Williams and Illinois Congressman and my friend Rahm Emanuel.

NOVAK: Congressman, in his excellent speech to the book-sellers, President Clinton indicated -- attacked Ken Starr, the special prosecutor, again. Is that a score he still has to settle, do you think?

EMANUEL: I hope so.

CARVILLE: Yes, me, too.


CARVILLE: I think we'll be settling that one for a long time.

EMANUEL: That's right. We had a constitutional crisis over what Ken Starr did. And I think we have a very -- if he has something to say, it's part of the presidency. If he left it out, you all would criticize him for leaving it out.

CARVILLE: Armstrong, John Kerry right now is running better than either Bill Clinton did in '92 or Ronald Reagan did in '80. What do you attribute his strong political showing right now to? Is it -- do you think it's his bio or his excellent record? Or what is it that makes him such -- so attractive to the American people at this point?


WILLIAMS: Well, it has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Kerry. Mr. Kerry's platform is to criticize and denounce Bush. It's the fact that people are disenchanted with the president. They're disenchanted with this war. They don't know where this war is going. And until the president builds the confidence in the one area where he gained his greatest strength, they will continue to question his leadership and it will favor Mr. Kerry.

EMANUEL: I agree.

NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, President Clinton says that you don't have to say that George W. Bush is a bad person. Do you agree with him or James Carville?

CARVILLE: Where did I say he was a bad person?

NOVAK: I thought you called him a doofus.

CARVILLE: A doofus. That's not a bad person. It's means somebody is kind of silly.



CARVILLE: It's just like you call your brother a doofus.

EMANUEL: What's the basis of the question? Do you have to? What is that based on?

NOVAK: The president said you don't have to say he's a bad person. Do you agree with that?

EMANUEL: If you're running for president, you should talk about what you want to do for the country, but you also got to have some -- if you have a different vision...


EMANUEL: ... you shouldn't be shy about noting the differences.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you, Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

Thank you, Armstrong Williams.

CARVILLE: Thank you, sir.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.


NOVAK: Next, we'll tell you what happened when a congressman tried to strike a pose with Madonna.


CARVILLE: Madonna is really in vogue right now. Her concert tour is one of the hottest tickets in town. But Republican Congressman Lee Terry of Nebraska seems to have crossed over the border line.

According to "The Washington Post," he used the material mom's picture on a fund-raising invitation that said, "Come take a holiday with Representative Lee Terry and Madonna." She didn't cherish that idea. And Congressman Terry got a letter from her telling him to cease and desist. When it comes to Madonna, you do have to justify her love.


NOVAK: Is she a Democrat, James?

CARVILLE: I don't know. She was for Wes Clark, but I don't know. But Britney Spears is a Republican. And she and Madonna kissed each other, so you can take your pick there, right there.



CARVILLE: Well, from the left, I'm James Carville. That's it from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Tomorrow, the Reverend Al Sharpton will be the guest host on the left.


NOVAK: Don't miss that.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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