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CNN CROSSFIRE

President Clinton Undergoes Bypass Surgery; Can Kerry Stop Bush Momentum?

Aired September 6, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


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

In the CROSSFIRE: Former President Bill Clinton undergoes bypass surgery in a New York hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is recovering normally at this point, so I think right now everything looks straightforward.

ANNOUNCER: We'll go live to New York Presbyterian Hospital for an update.

On this Labor Day, John Kerry makes a move to refocus his campaign as the presidential race heads toward the home stretch.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the most overblown thing. And people are frankly creating fiction out of something that doesn't exist. Our campaign, I think, is very much on track.

ANNOUNCER: Can he stop President Bush's post-convention momentum?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Welcome to this Labor Day edition of CROSSFIRE.

Election Day is just eight weeks from tomorrow. With polls bearing better news for President Bush, Senator John Kerry is beefing up his campaign staff.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Can Kerry stop President Bush's pretty remarkable surge in the polls? Can Bush keep up his sudden momentum?

We've got a lot to talk about today from the presidential battlefield, but, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, President Bill Clinton is said to be doing heart bypass surgery this morning.

The latest now from CNN's Adaora Udoji -- Adaora.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, so it's going to play before me or I need to throw to it?

CARVILLE: We're throwing to you.

CARLSON: We're throwing to you right now. Can you hear us?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You've got the pitch. You're tagged. Get your glove up. Boom.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Can you hear me? OK. Well, you know, we're going to -- we are instead -- we're going to put you on ice, so to speak.

And, instead we're going to talk to a man who has spoken to President Clinton himself repeatedly over the past couple of days, James Carville, who happens to be sitting on the set.

Welcome, James.

CARVILLE: My goodness. All right.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Very excited that the surgery went well.

CARLSON: So here you have President Clinton, famously loquacious in a hotel -- in a hospital room stuck there for a number of days, with a phone, ends up calling you a lot.

CARVILLE: Oh, I called him, too.

CARLSON: Not surprisingly. What did he say?

CARVILLE: Well, I would say our ratio of talking about the Kerry campaign to heart problems were like 20 Kerry campaign to one heart problems.

CARLSON: Well, good for him.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: So what did he say about the Kerry campaign?

CARVILLE: You know, very engaged and very interested. CARLSON: Now, you have lost your microphone, so you can't speak either.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: So, in fact, yes, we have lost you and the reporter.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Right. Thank heaven it's Labor Day. OK. There you go.

CARVILLE: There we go. We're back now.

CARLSON: So what did he say about the Kerry campaign, Clinton?

CARVILLE: What did he say about the Kerry campaign? He said that he is crazy about Senator Kerry, and that he was glad to see that he was starting to engage, and that he thought he needed to talk more about things he would do differently and hold this president accountable for the lack of job growth, for the explosion in health care costs, for the lack of planning in Iraq, for the fact that we were in a quagmire, that we went in with no allies, that we don't have the kind of relationships with other countries, and that he needed to make some changes.

And he and Senator Kerry I think talked last night. One of the kind of funny things he told me is that the nurse came in after the conversation and he said he got so excited during the conversation that, actually, they showed that his blood pressure went up during the conversation. So this kind of tickled me.

CARLSON: I feel the same way, actually. Yes, he would be a great CROSSFIRE host.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, we're going to actually go back Adaora Udoji, who is standing live in New York at the hospital in which President Clinton was operated on today.

Can you hear me, Adaora?

UDOJI: Absolutely, Tucker. I do hear you. And we are at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, which is in Upper Manhattan.

You can see, there are people are just filing out, because we just got a debriefing from the two doctors who led the team of 15 who operated on President Clinton today. They called it a relatively routine quadruple bypass surgery. You're actually looking on the higher floor of the building, where we believe that President Clinton is now resting.

They said that they had found significant blockage, that one of the reasons why they waited a couple of days to go forward with the surgery was because they had given him blood-thinning medication and they were concerned about bleeding. At this point, the president is awake, though he's still sedated and not able to speak just yet because he still has a breathing tomb -- a breathing tube. Excuse me.

And, at this rate, they're predicting a four- to five-day hospital stay, perhaps a two- to three-month recovery. They say his prognosis is good. They expect that he will be -- quote -- entirely, normally, will be able to maintain an entirely normal and routine lifestyle relatively quickly and said he was in very good health, which of course is going to help his recuperation period.

Also, they read a statement from Senator Clinton and Chelsea, who the doctors said have been with President Clinton nonstop for the last couple of days. They were in the waiting room while his surgery was taking place, that surgery about four hours. They, of course, were there waiting for him.

Afterwards, they came out saying that they were thanking God and the hospital for the successful surgery. They say it's been an emotional roller coaster, like so many families in America know when they are facing a bypass surgery operation. They said that the president is optimistic and that his faith will carry him through the days and weeks and months ahead.

And, again, the medical team saying that his prognosis is very good, that his recovery is going to be taken really over a matter of weeks, rather than days.

And let's just take a quick listen to what they said just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHWARTZ: The recovery goes in several phases.

The first part of the recovery, he's well into. The president is awake. And over the course of the next several hours, we hope to get the tube that assisted his breathing out. He'll spend a period of time in a closely-monitored area, an intensive care unit. He will then be progressively ambulated and continue his recuperation at home.

At home, he will have a schedule of exercise that will gradually increase and he will gradually resume an entirely normal physical exercise and work schedule.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UDOJI: So a very good prognosis for the former President Clinton, undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery today.

One other quick note, James. Also today, the medical staff that said that Senator Clinton and her staff were requesting that the notes and the calls and all of the flowers that are being sent here to New York Presbyterian actually go to his Web site. So there's a place for people to express their support, which they've said they've gotten a lot of, in fact, over 30,000 messages in the last couple days. CARVILLE: Adaora, for all of the people out there -- it was very difficult for me to hear because we were preparing for the show, but did I hear correctly that one of the doctors said that if President Clinton followed the right diet and exercise, that he could expect a normal life expectancy from here on?

UDOJI: Absolutely. And, in fact, they said entirely normal, that it was in his favor, that, in the last couple of months he had lost some weight, following a very strict diet and doing a lot of exercise. It helped him tremendously. And they were expecting that at this point that he would live an entirely, entirely normal life, that he is going to be eased into some exercise.

They believed, in fact -- there was some discussion about whether or not he was going to be able to hit the campaign trail, and they said they thought he would be. They did not know to what extent, saying, of course, as you know, that campaigning can be quite stressful. But they do anticipate that at some point in the near future or so that he would be able to get back out there -- James.

CARVILLE: I suspect if he goes out and has a burger and fries, a lot of people will call Senator Clinton and Chelsea and tell them and rat him out.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: So he's going to have to be pretty careful

(CROSSTALK)

UDOJI: I think in a New York minute.

CARVILLE: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Well, we're glad to hear the good news.

CARLSON: That poor man being tattle on.

Adaora Udoji, thank you, in New York. We appreciate it.

Now, the other news today, of course, James, you were on page one of "The New York Times" in a story.

CARVILLE: My goodness.

CARLSON: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Big wheel in a Georgia cotton field.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You certainly are. And it described you -- described you as the person, you and our other CROSSFIRE co-host, Paul Begala, as the people that the Kerry campaign turned to essentially in desperation as advisers looking for help.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I know Adam Nagourney and he would not say that because he's a fine reporter. And that's not true.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: No, look, he essentially said they're turning to you as an adviser because they need your help. What are you doing for them?

CARVILLE: Well, I'm not -- first of all, I don't have any official role with the Kerry campaign. But I said exactly what I've said on here. When I've spoken to him, I said, look, you had a bad August. You need to make some changes. Let's talk about the kinds of things that we can do to make this better.

I obviously spoke to President Clinton about this. He had some ideas. And, you know, when you fall back a little bit, as Senator Kerry has, and people are rallying together, I think that they have made -- and let me say this, that they've made the right kinds of changes. They have put themselves in a position where these things should work. And I think that we're going to have -- Senator Kerry is going to is have a much better September than he did August, much, much better.

And I can tell the Democrats around the country who have been very concerned about this that, yes, they recognize a problem and, yes, they're moving decisively to fix this problem.

CARLSON: Now, I went back today and read a piece that you and Paul did in 1992 for "The New York Times" after you helped President Clinton win the presidency.

CARVILLE: Right.

CARLSON: And you had a great quote here. And I thought I'd throw it back in your face, just to be mean.

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

CARLSON: You said -- quote -- "It's always been our belief that consultants don't win elections. Candidate do."

I agree with that.

CARVILLE: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Why the focus on the consultants around the campaign now? CARVILLE: Well, I don't think it's the focus on so much the consultants around the campaign.

I think there's a focus that Senator Kerry, you know, needs to draw distinctions and talk about his things. And he's doing that, and he's enthusiastically doing that. And if I look at what he's done here in the last couple days, I think he's doing a lot better.

But it's not -- you have to run a campaign. The candidate couldn't do it by himself. But I think that you're looking at a campaign and you're looking at candidate, most importantly, that says, you know what? What I was doing was not the best thing, not the best thing. And I'm changing it. And that's what you need as a president, somebody that says -- not somebody that will never make a mistake, but something that can recognize a mistake, fix it and move on. That's the big thing.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I think he ought to keep running on his four months in Vietnam. I thought that was a great idea.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: All right, up next on CROSSFIRE, Labor Day and a campaign shuffle. John Kerry makes a move to refocus his campaign message. You just heard some of that. With the election just two months ago, is it too little, too late to neutralize what's turning out to be a pretty big Bush bounce? That's our debate.

We'll engage right when we return.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Call it what you will, a shakeup or beefing up the staff. As the presidential election moves closer to the homestretch, John Kerry's campaign is making some changes in a bid to refocus the campaign's message.

And Kerry's some gotten some personal advice from former President Bill Clinton, as the move comes as some new polls show President Bush has opened up a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent.

In the CROSSFIRE, Republican strategist Barbara Comstock and Democratic Peter Fenn.

CARLSON: Peter, thanks for joining us.

James Carville, the latest strategist of the Kerry campaign, was making an interesting point. Unfortunately, we had to go to a commercial a minute ago. But he said the obvious, which is, the Kerry campaign has made a lot of mistakes. And a lot of loyal Democrats, like James, have made that same point. Doubtless, you agree. What do you think the key mistakes Kerry has made are?

(LAUGHTER)

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Is this a kind of have you "stopped beating your wife" kind of a thing? Is that what we're doing?

CARLSON: No. No, no, I'm serious. It's out in the open now.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: I will tell you one of the things that we should have had was money in August to answer some of the charges.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Oh, they've got enough money.

FENN: No, no, no. This is the problem. We had the $75 million for three months. The Republicans get the $75 million for two months.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: But the other thing -- I'm going to tell you something about this.

I know how hard it is when they're coming at you tooth and nail with falsehoods to try and stay above it. You know something? We're too nice. And, you know, there's a great quote, a great quote from Mark Twain which is that a lie can travel halfway around the world and the truth is still putting on its shoes. Let me tell you something, what the Kerry campaign has got.

We're all set.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Now, wait a second.

FENN: We've got the fast jogging shoes and we're going to move with it.

CARLSON: Wait a second.

FENN: And we will answer those charges.

CARLSON: I want to contrast your answer with that -- your diagnosis with that of Chris Dodd, who is, whatever else he is, is a pretty smart guy, senator from Connecticut, Democrat.

He says -- quote -- quote -- to "The New York Times" -- "Vietnam in terms of John Kerry's service, that was a good point to make, but making it such a central point invited the kind of response you've seen."

I think that's a thoughtful thing to say. He shouldn't have made that the centerpiece of his campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: I will tell you something. I think it should have been a point, but, you know, the economy is going to hell in a handbasket.

(APPLAUSE)

FENN: And one of the things that we've got to do, if you were the CEO of a corporation and you had gone from the largest, largest -- the -- where you have more money than ever before in your corporation, and then you had the largest deficits, where you had promised seven million new jobs and you had lost two million, where you had taken the average employee and $1,500 as your CEO, you have slashed it, and...

CARLSON: You would be executed.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: You would be fired as fast as you could say Madison Square Garden.

CARVILLE: Barbara, as opposed to Iraq 34 years ago and comparing John Kerry's Silver Star to George Bush not even showing up to National Guard meetings, let's move to something relevant, Iraq today.

The president claims to be making progress. We had more American soldiers wounded in August than any month we've had. We had 66 American soldiers killed in August. Today, seven young Marines have lost their lives. I mean -- and the president now says that he miscalculated in Iraq.

Now, what is more important, the fact that we're losing more people than ever in Iraq, the fact that we are spending more money than ever in Iraq, the fact that the president of the United States miscalculated, the vice president said we would be greeted with roses, or John Kerry won a Silver Star in Vietnam? What do you think the America people want to focus on?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, James, as Tim Russert pointed out to you yesterday when you did the same tirade, John Kerry said, even knowing everything he knows now, he would vote to go to war in Iraq.

CARVILLE: No, he did not say that.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

COMSTOCK: And he did say he would go.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He said he would have authorized the war. He did not say he would have gone to war. (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He never say that. Don't misinterpret it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: What's more important, the fact that Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket or John Kerry won a Silver Star? Which one do you think is more important?

COMSTOCK: The most important thing is what we said out -- last week at the convention and what Rudy Giuliani and John McCain and all the speakers pointed out. The president has a plan to fight the war on terror. And he is fighting that. And he is taking it to the terrorists overseas, so that they won't be here.

CARVILLE: Right.

COMSTOCK: We just went through two very peaceful conventions where we got to talk about the issues. And we were protected by Homeland Security, because George Bush has increased this.

Now, the difference in the conventions is, is in our convention, we had a forward-looking president talking about the economy, talking about he wasn't going to raise taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Didn't he talk about Medicare was in sound shape and the next day, we had the largest increase? Do you think he knew when he gave that speech that America was going to be hit with a 17 percent increase?

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: Well, James, you failed to point out that that is from a Clinton-era 1997 Medicare reform that is in place, that John Kerry voted for that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Do you think that President Bush knew?

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I'm sorry to interrupt, but let me get Peter Fenn back in here.

Peter -- wait, Peter, let me ask you a question.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Hold on, please. You said a second ago -- and I'm quoting you -- "The economy is going to hell in a handbasket." That's the same line that the Kerry campaign, which hasn't talked much about Iraq, not enough for my taste, has made again and again. Here's the results of that. Not only is Bush winning by more than 24 points on terrorism, according to every poll we have.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: More than 20 points. But he's also winning when you ask people which candidate, Bush or Kerry, would be a better steward of the economy. He's winning on taxes, no surprise. He's winning on education. I would like you to explain why the American people think this. It's kind of odd, don't you think? If we're in a worldwide depression, why are they voting for Bush?

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: The Bush campaign has spent $100 million, an entire convention, eviscerating John Kerry.

CARLSON: On national security.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: On everything. And you know how many times that the president of the United States mentioned unemployment in his address? Zero.

CARVILLE: No, come on.

FENN: The number of time outsourcing? Zero. The number of times he said new jobs? Once.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Oh, no.

FENN: The number of times middle-class family? Once.

CARVILLE: No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Surprise, surprise.

CARVILLE: No. He didn't talk about any of that? Oh, my God.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What is this, the Harper's Index? This has nothing to do with anything.

(APPLAUSE) FENN: But, Tucker, why didn't he talk about it? He didn't talk about it because he promised seven million new jobs when he came in.

CARLSON: The president doesn't create jobs. No president creates jobs. It's a lie.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Well, he said that.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: He said his tax cuts would. And even with his tax cuts, we're losing

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: ... unemployment rate, lower than when Bill Clinton was reelected.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: You guys are the Ted Kennedy, "dream will never die" Democrats.

FENN: That is wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: You want a Massachusetts liberal...

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: ... raise taxes.

CARLSON: One at a time.

FENN: No, I'd love to have this tax debate. You know what he's going to do? He's going to get this budget under control.

COMSTOCK: He wants to raise taxes, right. He wants to raise taxes.

FENN: And you're going to have more jobs that are high-paying jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: Raising taxes on small business owners, on small business owners.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: That's small business owners.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Hold on. Hold on. Ding, ding, ding.

Presumably, if everything you say is true, then there should be some evidence that the public recognizes it. That's the question I just asked you. You said essentially the American people are so stupid, so dumb...

FENN: No no.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... that they believe political ads before reality. That's what you just said. I think it is an awfully low opinion.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: You're going to see a campaign that's focused, that is on the mark, that's drawing the comparisons between Bush and Kerry.

And I'll tell you, this guy has been a disaster for the economy and he's been a disaster for foreign policy. "The Atlantic Monthly" had an incredible article which talked about how...

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: So the Dukakis Democrats are going bring new economic...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Dukakis Democrats.

COMSTOCK: Dukakis Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Hold on, hold on, hold on.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: A real hero, not a Yale cheerleader.

CARLSON: Right.

CARVILLE: Not a little wimpy guy, but a strong guy like John Kerry.

CARLSON: All right. Yes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: We're going to take a quick break.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That's right. You'll notice, the audience is applauding to James Carville's point that John Kerry, very, very hunky, very, very hunky.

Well, still to come on CROSSFIRE, why are Democrats worried that John Kerry, the very hunky John Kerry, his choice of hobbies might not be helping his image? A very hunky hobby, though.

We'll explain when we return.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE to handicap the presidential race with just eight weeks to go, Democrat strategist Peter Fenn, Republican Strategist Barbara Comstock, two of our favorites.

Welcome.

CARVILLE: Barbara, what do you know Kitty Kelley's up-and-coming book?

(LAUGHTER)

COMSTOCK: You know, you can stick to all the attacks, because that's the problem. John Kerry did only attacks in his convention.

CARVILLE: Right.

COMSTOCK: What we're talking about is the John Kerry.

CARVILLE: John Kerry attacked...

COMSTOCK: You guys, you have this Ted Kennedy, "dream will never die" thing. You want a Massachusetts liberal.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Peter Fenn...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: ... didn't mention George Bush's name once.

CARLSON: Let me just say, I think, in the end, the Kitty Kelley book will probably help Bush.

But let me ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: A lot of Democrats, including Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, have made the point, it's one thing to go windsurfing on your vacation, if that is what turns you on. But to invite cameras, to invite the press to watch you windsurf, probably not a good choice on John Kerry's part. Do you agree?

FENN: Well, just could have used a little more wind. But we're going to have plenty of wind at our back as we go into September and October, no problem.

CARLSON: Wow. A metaphor.

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: What do you think requires a better person, to windsurf or to be a cheerleader at Yale?

COMSTOCK: Well, I think Jay Leno got it right when he said that even John Kerry's hobby depends on which way the wind is blowing. You've got this windsurfing, flip-flopping...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Yes.

CARVILLE: Rah, rah. Go, team, go. Go, go, go.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, first of all, let me just, for the record, it was cheerleader at Andover, not Yale.

James, do the research, OK? Do the reporting, OK?

FENN: It's an Eastern...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: We are out of time. Barbara Comstock, Peter Fenn, thank you.

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Joining us again tomorrow, Tuesday, for yet more CROSSFIRE.

Have a terrific Labor Day.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

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