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CROSSFIRE

The Clintons Come to Washington; Is GOP Too Far Right?

Aired May 14, 2014 - 18:28   ET

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


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Wolf, it was throwback Wednesday in Washington. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton came to town. It's back to the '90s.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: I don't think so, S.E. They're looking to the future. The only throwback is your party.

CUPP: OK.

CUTTER: The debate starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE. The Clintons strike back.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First they said she faked her concussion. And now they say she's auditioning for a part on "The Walking Dead."

ANNOUNCER: Bill and Hillary come to Washington and defend the family brand. Will they scare off the competition?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still thinking about running for president? And when will you make that decision?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Yes, and later.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, and Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist. Are all eyes on the Clintons? Or the alternatives? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on left.

CUPP: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight a pair of top political strategists.

Listen, I've got a message for Karl Rove: thanks but no thanks. This afternoon, Bill Clinton took your silly softball pitch and knocked it out of the ballpark.

Look, it's neither sexist nor out of bounds to raise serious legitimate questions about Hillary's health, so I appreciate the effort. But imposing a ridiculous conspiracy theory, all you did was buy her a week of sympathy. And Karl, you turned it into a punchline that gave Bill Clinton a perfect setup.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: Now they say she's really got brain damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think they're just trying--

B. CLINTON: If she does, I must be in really tough shape, because she's still quicker than I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Hardy-har-har. All right. Let's not make a habit of gifting zingers to Bill Clinton. We'll take it from here, Karl.

CUTTER: You know, actually, I don't disagree with a thing you said.

CUPP: I bet you don't.

CUTTER: Except for this: that Karl Rove should not go away. He should keep out there and giving us the crazy theories.

CUPP: Don't listen to her.

CUTTER: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Kevin, we'll start with you.

There's something else that Bill Clinton said today about the absurdity of Karl Rove's question. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: I got to give him credit, you know, that embodies that old saying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: The consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Explain to me how this wasn't a small-minded attack on the part of Karl Rove?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think in order for it to be an attack, I think it has to be premeditated and there has to be some sort of conspiracy there.

I just happen to disagree with the Democrats who believe that we're sitting around conspiring to introduce things like Hillary Clinton's health into a 2016 conversation, and Karl Rove is, like, you know, the one with the starter's gun on this. I think that this was -- Dr. Rove's comments were--

CUTTER: Dr. Rove.

MADDEN: -- were -- I think they were awkward, and I think they ultimately were erroneous. But they were about an obvious point, which is that there's a difference between being a technical non- candidate and a candidate and the level of scrutiny that you get. And that ultimately, I think that Hillary Clinton as she goes to the sequence of deciding whether or not she wants to run, she's considering those issues, and I think that--

CUTTER: So you're saying that it's erroneous but not small-minded?

MADDEN: No, I think it -- I don't think that Karl Rove went into that event wherever this news was made with the design on sort of introducing this element to the conversation. I absolutely disagree with that.

I think one of the reasons that we're continuing to talk about it today -- and I don't mean this in a criticism way. I mean it as a clinical observation, which is that the Clinton operation smartly seized upon it. She may not be a candidate, but her operation is operating like she is a candidate.

CUPP: But Hilary -- Hilary--

MADDEN: They worked very quickly to engender some sympathy like you said.

CUPP: You hear brain damage. Of course, you're going to act on it.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, they had to respond and respond fast. You can't turn something like that around.

MADDEN: Yes. Well, I think it escalated as it went.

ROSEN: Just as a matter of -- can't let that sit out there.

But really the thing I'm questioning of that you said is that this wasn't calculated. It seems to me that this whole effort by the House GOP to create the Benghazi committee fell flat. The media ridiculed it. The public yawned. It just went nowhere.

And so, you know, they keep needing to come up with sort of the next page in the anti-Hillary playbook, because they know she's about to go on her book tour.

MADDEN: There are so many pages in the anti-Hillary playbook.

ROSEN: They know crowds are going to come to her events, and she's going to get a lot of funding. And they want to do as much damage as possible before she gets out there publicly.

CUPP: We'll get to Benghazi. But before we do that, I just want to -- I want to talk about your bench, the Democrats' bench just for a little bit, because if Hillary doesn't announce soon, I don't know what the prospects are.

Joe Biden is a great guy but he's, like, 100 years old. Martin O'Malley in Maryland, I don't know, is known to but three people outside of his home state. Elizabeth Warren, I think, is far too extreme. She's left of left.

If Hillary doesn't announce soon, hasn't she taken up all the oxygen from these other players who I think would need a significant amount of time to engender the kind of support that she already has?

ROSEN: First of all, Joe Biden as the vice president I think has a lot of support in the Democratic Party. So I'd almost put him in a special category.

But with other people, there's no question that there's no oxygen in the room to get a lot of attention, and I -- but that doesn't mean there's not talent there. That just means there's no oxygen.

And so, you know, if Hillary decides not to run, I think people going to very quickly look at the rest of our talent. And it seems odd that we should worry about somebody being too left when you've got a guy like Marco, you know, Rubio or Ted Cruz.

CUPP: Look, the Republican bench is great. We've got rising stars. There's no coronation on our side.

ROSEN: I'm not worried at all about that perception.

CUPP: Hillary Clinton isn't giving any of these -- including Joe Biden -- isn't giving any of these guys a real chance.

ROSEN: Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton isn't doing anything. We in the media are doing this.

CUPP: She's refused to say whether she's running or not.

ROSEN: But nobody's saying whether they're running, really.

CUTTER: It's 2014. It is 2014.

ROSEN: We still have another election to go before we need to have a candidate declare.

CUPP: Candidates aren't made overnight. And I don't think anyone at this table believes that Martin O'Malley can wage a significant opposition to any of the Republican contenders in a year.

CUTTER: Has anybody declared a--

ROSEN: The fact of the matter is as soon as -- if Hillary Clinton were to step aside, as soon as she did, there would be plenty of attention and plenty of time for somebody else to--

CUTTER: I want to -- I want to change gears a little bit. I'm not sure who said it, but somebody said we'd get to Benghazi later. Well, it's later.

Kevin, President Clinton also made a point today about the Benghazi investigation, agreeing with many of us that this is not about protecting embassies for the future; this is a gotcha game. Let's hear -- listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: Most Americans don't know how many American diplomatic personnel were killed when President Bush was president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: There were 13 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities during George Bush's administration. Many Americans died, unfortunately. But I don't remember any outcries from Republicans when that was going on. Where was the investigation? And there was none. Let me save you the time.

And let's just agree on what this is. This isn't about getting to the bottom to ensure that we prevent attacks in the future. This is a gotcha game.

MADDEN: Well, I'm not familiar with some of those -- some of the facts related to some of the events that did take place in the Bush administration. I do think that the problem with that argument that President Clinton makes, is that he's arguing that we should always look forward, and yet at the same time he introduces a comparison that looks backward.

CUTTER: Well, except that he -- before that he talked about the multiple investigations.

MADDEN: I think what's driving -- what's driving the Benghazi issue right now is that there are members of the House of Representatives that feel that the administration just has not answered crucial questions or has stalled along the way on crucial questions that deserve answers and that the families and those of the victims that they deserve answer.

CUTTER: Dozens of parents--

MADDEN: There was one e-mail that was pretty critical that was missing.

CUTTER: Ever prepped anybody for a Sunday show?

MADDEN: Pardon me?

CUTTER: Ever prepped anybody for a Sunday show?

MADDEN: Are you kidding me? That's the one job I hated.

ROSEN: We're not really going to say that because somebody missed an e-mail over Sunday show talk points.

CUPP: It was a critical e-mail.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: This is what was critical. What was critical is what actually happened, and that has been well-documented. We have the bipartisan Pickering -- Pickering/Mullen Report from -- from well-established public servants looking at these issues. We have a significant number of hearings. We had the secretary of state, herself, go to the Congress. There's nothing that evaluating an additional e-mail by a White House press staffer--

MADDEN: They have an important oversight role here, and those members on that committee who believe that they've got enough answers, they want more. And I think that's one of the reasons that they're making the argument that we should have additional information and have those hearings.

They don't feel that they are -- they're not satisfied, given the level of oversight charge that they have, that they have those answers.

Now, I mean, let's talk about the politics of it. I mean, look at the politics of it. I believe that there are a lot of base Republicans that it's a very important issue for them. There are a lot of base Democrats where they figure, they say, let's move on. And I'll tell you, quite frankly, I don't really think it motivates that many people in the middle. So to always blame somebody on the politics of it, I think is not--

CUTTER: I think in this case there's a legitimate claim--

MADDEN: Members of Congress who take their job seriously--

CUTTER: We're going to come back to this.

MADDEN: -- like Trey Dowdy (ph), who's a former prosecutor.

CUTTER: Chris Christie was also here in Washington today. I don't know if you knew that. And Kevin, it may surprise you, but I think he got something half right. I'll ask you about it after the break.

First, here's today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." Which Republican presidential candidate did Hillary Clinton publicly support? Is it Barry Goldwater? Nelson Rockefeller? Or Richard Nixon? We'll have the answer when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back. Now the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz.

Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater girl way back in is 1964.

CUPP: Oh, I knew it. Attagirl, yes.

CUTTER: But let's fast forward 50 years later to today. Here in Washington, Republicans and the media are obsessed with the Clintons.

But here's the real story I think everybody is missing. The Republican Party is lurching to the right. Don't believe other headlines about the Tea Party's time being over.

Consider this: the Republican establishment spent millions of dollars to ensure their Senate nominee won in North Carolina, but their candidate, Thom Tillis, still believes in abolishing the Department of Education and outlying contraception -- not exactly mainstream establishment positions.

In Iowa, the establishment has embraced Joni Ernst who has turned herself into Sarah Palin in order to win that primary. We all know how mainstream that is.

So, the Tea Party is not dead. It just renamed itself. It's now called the Republican Party.

And the CROSSFIRE tonight: Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Kevin?

(LAUGHTER)

CUTTER: Hasn't the --

CUPP: You agree, right?

MADDEN: Endorse.

CUTTER: Thank you for your agreement here.

Hasn't the Tea Party --

ROSEN: I do.

CUTTER: -- pushed Republicans away from the mainstream? Alienated them from the center of this country? The majority of American people?

MADDEN: No, look. I mean, what the Tea Party has done inside the party I think is a great thing on things like accountability and responsibility on issues like spending, deficits and taxes, right? I think what it's done electorally is, you know -- and I would say there's a legitimate criticism or legitimate analysis that said, like, about a couple months ago that there was big splits and there were factions within the party.

Right now, I think everybody is starting to come together and form a grander coalition that's actually helping the Republican Party.

CUTTER: All of those positions are moving to the right. What's happening with immigration?

MADDEN: You look, for example, in the North Carolina race -- I mean, we had three conservative candidates down there and the best campaign won. I think the same has been in place --

ROSEN: Right. And that's the point Stephanie raised is that they all have the same position.

I think the Tea Party is not about -- MADDEN: And they're going to beat Kay Hagan down there because they're talking about issues that matter. They're talking about what these -- these candidates are talking about what they're for. They're talking about what they're for when it comes to patient-centric health care, what they're for on economic growth that's going to create jobs and bring up wages.

ROSEN: The reason the Tea Party still has power, and you're right, it is the Republican Party, is because it's not really about their candidates. It's about their firm commitment to this, like, take no prisoners politic that has --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: That's an absolutely simplistic view of what's always been -- of what's always been a reform element inside the Republican Party.

ROSEN: No, they have driven the Republican Party away.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: One at a time. One at a time.

ROSEN: They've driven the Republican Party away from compromise on things like education, on things like jobs, things even like bipartisan --

CUPP: Let me --

ROSEN: -- immigration. They absolutely have.

CUPP: A different interpretation here. Honestly, I wish you and Stephanie were right.

I see the complete opposition happening. I actually see Republicans softening on some of their principles to sound more appealing. Rand Paul this week, for example, told Republicans essentially to cool it on voter ID because it sounds offensive. I've seen a number of examples of this over the past few months.

Now, he's also talking about prison reform which I happen to like, but doesn't it worry you that some Republicans are kind of stealing your best stuff and really trying to soften their message?

ROSEN: Actually, it doesn't because -- and by the way, voter ID doesn't just sound offensive, it is offensive.

CUPP: Eighty percent of the country support voter ID laws.

ROSEN: Well, they don't support Republican legislatures stopping people from voting.

So, you've got me wrong if you think that it wouldn't be good for Democrats if we could come to a compromise on immigration, if we could come to a compromise on education reform, if we could actually come to a compromise on something as business-oriented as tax reform. I think actually you have a whole host of Democrats in Washington who would really like Republicans to soften not just their image but actually their position.

MADDEN: Well, I would disagree with the idea -- I would even disagree with you, S.E., on the idea that they're softening their principles. I think they're doing a much better job of clarifying our principles and aligning ourselves with the larger electorate.

CUTTER: That's interesting.

CUPP: Let me argue with Kevin for a second, because Rand Paul did not change his mind on the principle of voter ID. He said we need to talk about it less because it sounds offensive. He's not changing the principle. He wants to change the rhetoric. Now, I don't mind, I don't mind changing rhetoric, but in saying we should walk back our values because it sounds offensive -- no, let's find better ways. Let's find better ways to explain our position.

MADDEN: I'm going beyond on issues like economic growth, economic opportunity, education, even on issues like immigration and health care. Republicans are doing a much better job. The reason we're going to win, we're going to win very big in 2014 is because we're doing a much better job defining what we're for.

CUPP: Kevin, economic opportunity? Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty all suggest we raise the minimum wage. Nobody, nobody on our side of the aisle thinks that is good for jobs.

MADDEN: That's not true. That is -- there's a "all of the above" argument when it comes to how we're going to help on (AUDIO GAP). I think what Santorum and Pawlenty and others have said is that, yes, you have to strike a balance. Oftentimes when you're looking at an issue like the minimum wage, that you can strike that balance.

But we're doing a much better job as a party, and so are many of the candidates who join the contrast against the failed policies of Democrats, the failed policies of the Obama administration.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: Why is President Obama's average approval rating is like 44 percent right now?

ROSEN: If that were true, if Republicans really did have a positive proactive message, then all these campaign ads that are actually hurting Democrats in all these states would be about that. But they're not. All they do is --

MADDEN: They absolutely are. They're drawing contrast.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: They're drawing contrast with the wrong policies, the policies that haven't -- Hilary, they're drawing contrast with the policies that haven't worked and then they're prescribing their vision for what they would do here in Washington.

ROSEN: They're essentially trashing the president, associating the senators with the president.

MADDEN: No, trashing the president --

ROSEN: They're not talking about a proactive --

MADDEN: Hilary, pointing out the president's record on a failed economy is not trashing the president. That's introducing facts to the voters.

ROSEN: First of all, the economy has not failed. We have had 30 months of --

MADDEN: We haven't had the -- we're not -- so we're living up to our economic potential right now?

ROSEN: No, of course, there's more to do. But Republicans -- we're so far ahead of where the Republicans took us that to even go back would be crazy.

MADDEN: We'll see at the ballot in November. We'll come back here afterwards, and we'll talk about it.

CUPP: OK.

ROSEN: And we'll see how many voters think it's because of those issues versus the president.

CUPP: OK. Well, stay here. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Is the Tea Party getting stronger or weaker? Tweet stronger or weaker using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I am outraged about a so-called ethics pledge that is anything but ethical.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back.

Now, it's time for outrages of the day.

Nebraska Republicans just nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who thinks that religious freedom gives you the right to break any law that you want. Ben Sasse's Web site says, quote, "Government cannot force citizens to violate the religious beliefs under any circumstances."

Really? Any circumstances? Are honor killings now OK? How about polygamy?

Seriously, though. The real-life implications of what he is saying and what he really means is that he doesn't believe women should have access to contraception or reproductive health, or that LGBT Americans receive the same protections against workplace discrimination. I think it's outrageous. I think it's impractical extremism. Sadly, it's way too typical of the Republican right wing right now.

CUPP: OK, well, on my side, Hollywood's got a short attention span. The hullabaloo around the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott is dying down. But if Hollywood is looking for another nearby protest opportunity, may I suggest nearby UCLA.

There, pro-Palestinian groups are trying to keep students who visited Israel with pro-Israel groups from participating in campus government. Students for Justice in Palestine has drafted an ethics statement requiring candidates running for undergraduate student government to pledge not to travel to Israel with pro-Israel sponsorship. Pro- Palestinian travel is just fine, however.

Frighteningly, the university has decided not to take a side in what amounts to blanket discrimination and rank anti-Semitism. Hollywood's own dark history clouds anti-Semitism and blacklisting of this sort. So, I imagine this should hit close to home.

So, come on, celebs, UCLA is just right around the corner. What are you waiting for?

CUTTER: Let's check back on our "Fireback" results. Is the Tea Party getting stronger or weaker? Right now, 34 percent of you say stronger, 66 percent of you say weaker.

CUPP: Yes, I got to agree. What do you guys think?

CUTTER: Kevin, why don't you take the first crack at that.

MADDEN: Well, I think --

CUTTER: Somewhere in between?

MADDEN: I would say that the reform element of accountability and responsibility inside the American electorate has aligned itself with Republicans and is very strong.

CUTTER: Hilary?

ROSEN: I think it's sort of wishful thinking. We talked about this before. The Republican leadership in the House and the Senate and across this country have so bent over to make the Tea Party positions their positions that it's absolutely indistinguishable from the rest of the Republican Party now.

So, I think it's kind of irrelevant.

CUTTER: Why do you think that the House hasn't brought up immigration reform yet, out of curiosity?

MADDEN: Well, I think right now, where you have the focus they want a comprehensive approach. I think anything that's big and, quote, "comprehensive" is really hard to get through right now.

I think there are a lot of folks --

CUTTER: It doesn't --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: No, I think there are a lot of folks right now that would rather see legislation in smaller chunks get through, and that would be easier to get through.

CUPP: I love how strong you guys think the Tea Party is. I'm seeing -- I'm seeing a shift.

I'm a seeing a shift. I'm seeing --

MADDEN: I love -- I love watching --

CUPP: Used to be Tea Partiers and used to talk Tea Party language move to --

MADDEN: I love watching you all --

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: -- enthusiasm, then you're not going win in November.

MADDEN: I love watching Democrats misdiagnose.

CUTTER: Thanks to Hilary Rosen and Kevin Madden, the debate continues online, CNN.com/Crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.