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CNN CROSSFIRE

Bush and Kerry Debate Iraq

Aired September 30, 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: The candidates are hunkered down in Florida back in the eye of the political storm. In a matter of hours, Bush and Kerry go face to face in their first debate. Both sides are gearing up for a battle on Iraq.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: I think that this debate is going to be, as it should be, on the war and how well President Bush has conducted the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Under John Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in charge in Iraq.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At last count, there are at least 10 different positions he's taken with respect to the situation in Iraq.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: And I think what we need from the president is some truth about what is really happening in Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: From a political battleground talking about a real war. Who will emerge with the momentum after tonight's Florida face- off?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the University of Miami, site of tonight's presidential debate, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: In about 4 1/2 hours, the moment Democrats have been salivating about for nearly four years. Finally, they get a chance to go face to face with President George W. Bush. The only problem is, it looks like they have chosen the wrong man for the job.

John Kerry is long-winded, inconsistent, and has about as much personal appeal to the people here in Florida and across the country as another hurricane. (LAUGHTER)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, Bob, speaking of hurricanes, it's the University of Miami Hurricanes here in our audience.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But I think George W. Bush's term in office has been a disaster for the American people. He's -- well, he's rained on the economy, tour the roof off our foreign alliances. He has totally blown the war on terrorism.

But tonight, though, I hope the skies will get a little clearer, as does the choice for the American people.

CNN's live debate coverage will begin at 7:00 Eastern. CROSSFIRE's final debate preview is just ahead.

But first, let's begin with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Another bloody day in Iraq today. In just one of the attacks, more than 40 people killed, most of them children, in a car bombing in Baghdad. Ten American soldiers were among the wounded. In another attack, a suicide car bomber killed an American soldier and two Iraqis just outside Baghdad. Insurgents also launched a rocket attack against coalition forces, killing one soldier and wounding seven.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera broadcast a new video today of 10 new hostages who have been taken by militants. Military intelligence experts say the situation in Iraq is getting worse. Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees, but one voice disagrees. One man looks at the carnage and the chaos and says this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making progress.

They're making progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Let's hope tonight's debate will be a rendezvous with reality for Mr. Bush, because I don't know how much more of his kind of progress America can stand.

NOVAK: You know, one thing that I believe that the Democrats have a hard time learning, but the polls ought to indicate it, that you can't make progress in this election by imitating Al-Jazeera, by being the Bad News Bears, by just being negative about anything that's going on there.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Not saying there has no been progress. BEGALA: The president has to level with the American people about a war, and he's not doing it.

NOVAK: John Kerry outdid himself on new silliness on ABC's "Good Morning America." The senator was asked about his ridiculous explanation of voting against funds for U.S. troops in Iraq. He said, I actually did vote for $87 billion before I voted against it.

His new explanation -- quote -- "It was just a very inarticulate way of saying something. And I had one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries.'

But that was March 16. The primaries were over. He spoke at a midday rally, not late at night. The Republicans responded that John keeps his watch on French time and it was late at night in Paris.

BEGALA: I don't know what time it was in Paris. I know what time it is in Iraq. It is time to have a president who knows what the hell he is doing there, who has a plan to get out of there.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I know what time it is in America. It's time we have a president who can revive this economy. That's what we ought to be talking about instead of worrying about John Kerry's watch.

NOVAK: Let me ask you this. How is it possible that he would make such a mistake that he would not even know what time of day it was when he was talking about it?

BEGALA: Who cares?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Who cares

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: How can Bush invade a country and not have an exit strategy? That's a bigger mistake.

NOVAK: You don't care if he's disconnected. I will bet you this. If you were in there prepping him for that, he never would have made that mistake.

BEGALA: Well, you're too kind, but I don't think it was a big mistake.

Well, a new study shows that the majority of all the Pentagon spending goes to contractors, not to soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. And the majority of those corporate contracts go to big corporations that don't even win the contracts by competitive bidding.

A Center For Public Integrity study found that the Pentagon's biggest corporate contractors get most of their contracts without bidding for them, without competition, but with huge profits. Halliburton alone received more than $4.3 billion of defense contracts, much of them without bidding for them.

When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took office, Halliburton was the 37th largest defense contractor. Now Halliburton is seventh. They didn't get there by winning competitive bids. You know, in the novel "Catch-22," Major Milo Minderbinder says, I would like to see government get out of the war altogether and leave the whole feud to the private sector.

Somebody needs to tell Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney that was supposed to be satire.

NOVAK: Well, you know, the Democrats have a lot of fun pounding on Halliburton. But, as a matter of fact, they do the job cheaper than the government does it. People who have been to Iraq say they have done a very efficient job. Who would you have feed all the people we have there? We're in this. Somebody has to take care of it. That's just silly to attack a corporation because Dick Cheney happened to be CEO of it.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: They're ripping us off and they get no-bid contracts.

NOVAK: By last count, John Kerry, going into tonight's debate, had 11 top-level strategists. So it would seem the very last thing he needed was a new senior adviser. But he just -- he just got another new one, and what a new senior adviser he got, Jesse Jackson.

Yes, you might have thought that the rev was a political has- been, but the Kerry campaign didn't. That's because the Kerry heavy thinkers are worried about George W. Bush cutting into the black vote, maybe into 20 percent of it. And that is because the real black preachers, the ones, Paul, that really have a church, they don't like homosexual marriage. Jesse Jackson does. And John Kerry is betting on the wrong African-American.

BEGALA: I'll tell you what. Jesse Jackson risked his life so that young people like these students at the University of Miami could vote. He's a hero of the civil rights movement.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And if he helps register and get out more voters, then God bless him.

NOVAK: Can you believe that, with the conservative black preachers inching away from the Democrats and inching toward Bush, they have hired Jesse Jackson? I can't even fathom that. It's because Jesse Jackson criticized them. I guess the way to get on the Kerry team is to say something bad about them.

BEGALA: No, it's actually to go out and register voters. I think Jesse Jackson has registered more voters than any other American.

(BELL RINGING) BEGALA: And he'll help register and turn out voters, then God bless him. I love him.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, up next, it is the political version of must-see TV. We're only hours away from the crucial first meeting between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, both of whom right now are probably as nervous as a hooker in church.

Well, who will emerge from the Miami heat with the big mo as we head in the campaign's homestretch? We'll ask two experts coming up next.

And then I've got one more question for President Bush, one that I would be asking if I were sitting in Jim Lehrer's chair tonight. Later on in the CROSSFIRE, I'll let you know the one question President Bush fears the most.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Tonight, together on the same stage for the first time, they'll be taking their best shots at each other point-blank.

Now together on our stage and stepping into the CROSSFIRE, Jamie Rubin, an adviser to John Kerry on foreign policy, and Republican Congresswoman from Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

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

First, Congresswoman, thank you for letting us into your district and onto your campus. Our audience should know -- I'm going to hold it up here. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is also a student at the University of Miami. I have her student I.D. here.

Can we get a shot of this here, guys?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And you look like a freshman here. You look like a freshman. So...

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Now, that's one thing we all agree on, whether they are holding up Kerry signs or Bush signs. Go, Canes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: There you go.

Well, you're awfully gracious to host us on your campus, where you'll be getting a doctorate in September.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, from your mouth to God's ears.

BEGALA: On a more grave matter, the news of the day Iraq is tragic, over 40 people killed, most of them children, by terrorist car bombers, American soldier killed as well, 10 new hostages taken. Will President Bush finally tonight have a rendezvous with reality and confront the fact that we're in a lot of trouble in Iraq and his policy is failing us there?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROS-LEHTINEN: We are in a lot of trouble.

But we're in a lot of trouble not because the U.S. has brought trouble. It's because we're surrounded by terrorists internationally and President Bush had the courage and the foresight to go in there and root out the terrorists. Meanwhile, we have got a candidate for the presidency who doesn't know what he's going to do in Iraq.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROS-LEHTINEN: One day, he's for it. One day, he's the anti-war president -- candidate. We don't know where he is going to be tomorrow. Trust and confidence, that is what President Bush has.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you, though, Jamie's candidate, Senator Kerry, gave a speech at New York University, where, agree or disagree with it, he laid out a specific four-point agenda for Iraq. What's the president's agenda to fix things in Iraq?

ROS-LEHTINEN: It's very simple.

We have an international coalition, even though Senator Kerry says we have no international coalition. We're going to stay there. We're going to root out the terrorists. And it's going to be a model of democracy, not a Jeffersonian democracy, not a perfect world.

But Senator Kerry wants to hand a permission slip to the United Nations, tell France to -- ask, please, let us know what we're supposed to do. He voted for it. He voted against it. He's now for it. He's now against it. Who knows where he'll be tomorrow? The four-point plan is a 10-point plan by the next day. Forget about it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Jamie, on this first debate, just hours away from it, the Swift Boat Veterans have put out a new ad. And this is with the widows of men who died in Vietnam.

They have Mary Jane McManus saying that all the prisoners of war in North Vietnam were tortured to obtain confessions of atrocities. And then they quote John Kerry's testimony in 1971, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, talking about his comrades. And then we have another widow saying on the other hand John Kerry came home and accused all Vietnam veterans of unspeakable horrors.

You can say that his fellow officers were somehow telling lies, but when these outraged widows of Vietnam veterans say that about your candidate, what's your response?

JAMIE RUBIN, ADVISER TO SENATOR JOHN KERRY: Well, obviously, it is working with you. You're bringing this issue up.

Vietnam happened a long, long time ago. We're in a war right now in Iraq.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIN: And what the American people want to know is what is going to happen in Iraq. And they know they have a president who got us into a terrible mess in Iraq. And the guy who got us into this mess is not going to be the one that can get us out.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIN: You know that old...

NOVAK: Well, you know, Jamie...

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: Hold on, Bob.

You know that old commercial, E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen? The problem is, when George Bush speaks, the world doesn't listen. That's why we're in trouble.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Am I dreaming or did John Kerry bring up the Vietnam War repeatedly in the Boston Convention? He had all his comrades out there. He said reporting for duty. Or -- didn't your campaign attack George Bush for not showing up at some National Guard drills? Didn't you bring up Vietnam?

RUBIN: Look, what John Kerry did in Vietnam was win an award for bravery and then come home and, as a young man, speak very powerfully about his opposition to the war. That's called duty and service.

And what the people...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIN: What the people of this country want -- what the people of this country want is a debate about this war, not about Vietnam. These Swift Boat Veterans have been discredited time and time again.

NOVAK: Have those widows been discredited/

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: These Swift Boat Veterans have been discredited.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely not.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me bring Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen back into...

RUBIN: To the real world, right.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We are in a war in Iraq. We are bogged down. And this was foreseeable.

The president didn't plan for it, but smart people warned him. Let me read you a quote from one of these smart people who, a decade ago, warned what would happen if we invaded Iraq: "I would guess, if we had gone into Iraq, we would still have forces in Baghdad today. We would be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home. The question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam Hussein worth? The answer is, not very damn many. We're not going to get bogged in the problem of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

Do you know who said that?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No. Tell me.

BEGALA: Dick Cheney.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He was right then. And we should never have gone into that country.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROS-LEHTINEN: But let me tell you what John Kerry said.

John Kerry, in his own words, said -- he said it would be naive to the point of dangerous for the United States not to take out Saddam Hussein.

BEGALA: I'm curious about Dick Cheney, though. The question was about Vice President Cheney.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Come on.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But we would have a commander in chief who says -- in his own words, he said it would have been naive to the point of danger for us not to remove Saddam Hussein. And that was then. This is now.

BEGALA: I'll give 100 bucks to the Hurricane Scholarship Fund is you will answer the question about Dick Cheney.

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: How about that?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Dick Cheney supports our policy. He supports the president. He knows we're doing the right thing.

NOVAK: Jamie Rubin, your candidate, Senator Kerry yesterday on "Good Morning America" gave what is one of the all-time 10 top worst interviews I have ever seen.

And he made mistakes. But the worst thing he said was when he was asked was it worth it to go into Iraq and he answered, it depends on the outcome, ultimately. It depends. What kind of answer is that from a presidential candidate? Did you brief him to give that answer

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIN: Bob, this is a serious issue, this war. And if George Bush remains in office and we lose the credibility of the world and America is discredited and we have to cut and run because George Bush doesn't have the staying power, then maybe it won't be worth it.

But if John Kerry is elected president, despite all the mistakes that George Bush made, despite all the mistakes going into here, he's going to stay and finish the job and the world will be a better place.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: With all due apology, with all apologies, Jamie, he was asked whether it was worth to go in. The American people need an answer on that. Is he going to say it wasn't worth it or it was worth it? "It depends" is not an answer, is it?

RUBIN: Well, Bob, this is not a sound bite. This is a war. And the issue needs to be taken very seriously.

Are we better off today because of the way George Bush handled this war? No. We're worse off. Iraq is now a terrorist haven.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You're saying it wasn't worth it.

RUBIN: Iraq is now a terrorist haven. Iraq is now a terrorist haven. There were no weapons of mass destruction. American soldiers are dying. And $200 billion into this, he has got no plan to get us out. And were we -- wouldn't we have been better off going after Osama bin Laden on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as John Kerry has called for. Presidents have to make decisions. They have to get their priorities straight. Osama bin Laden should have been the priority of this president.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIN: And he made

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: But, remember, the senator was asked, knowing what you know now, would you have voted differently on the vote to authorize the force, use of force in Iraq? And he said no. Where does he stand?

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: Where does he stand? One answer. We don't know where he stands.

RUBIN: That's a very simple issue, a very simple issue.

You're in Congress. You understand the role of Congress is often to strengthen the hand of the president, so he could go to the United Nations and get the inspectors back in.

ROS-LEHTINEN: How many times? We went 17 times. How many more times?

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: Strengthening the hand of the president and going to war are two very different things. And you know that.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I absolutely agree. If Senator Kerry would be president, we would still be at the United Nations asking for another resolution and not doing anything about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The president did say that he miscalculated in Iraq. What has he done to recalibrate for his miscalculations?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, I think that we have a winning strategy. And I...

BEGALA: But he did say he miscalculated, didn't he?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't know what President Bush might have said at one particular point.

RUBIN: You forgot that one.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But let me tell you, let me tell you what he's saying. Let me tell you what his position is.

BEGALA: Today.

ROS-LEHTINEN: His position is that this is the right war at the right time and in the right place.

NOVAK: OK. We have to take...

ROS-LEHTINEN: And Senator Kerry doesn't know where he is on any particular moment on any issue internationally or domestically. You can't count on Kerry.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Up next in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask whether Senator John Kerry will ever be able to finish an answer as fast as Jamie Rubin, in less than two minutes.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And, after the break, the Iraq war will likely be topic No. 1 at tonight's debate. Wolf Blitzer has an update on another bloody day in Baghdad.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer on the campus of the University of Miami.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the stage clearly set for the first Bush-Kerry presidential debate. We'll tell you what to watch for. Three car bombing attacks in Baghdad have killed dozens of people, including 34 children. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledges, the violence is getting worse. And the arthritis drug Vioxx is being pulled off drugstore shelves amid concerns it could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come a whole heck of a lot faster than President Bush can knowledge what a disaster he's gotten us into in Iraq.

Jamie Rubin is with us. He is an adviser to John Kerry on foreign policy. And Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in whose district we are sitting, she's a Republican from Miami.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Jamie Rubin, the Democrats have been whining that Senator Kerry has only two minutes to give an answer. Do you think he can answer any question in two minutes?

RUBIN: I think John Kerry will perform brilliantly tonight.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIN: And he'll show the American people that when it comes to foreign policy, he has got serious answers. He's not running for head cheerleader. He's running for president of the United States. And he's going to give those serious answers.

BEGALA: Congresswoman, the president has a speech coach, debate coach, media advisers, trainers. Can you promise me tonight he'll actually pronounce nuclear correctly?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't know about him pronunciation.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: "Nucular."

ROS-LEHTINEN: But I know about his policies. I know about his convictions. And I know that he's going to do the right thing for America and he's going to have one position that he's going to stick with.

I don't know about...

BEGALA: "Nucular."

ROS-LEHTINEN: Senator Kerry, whether he's going to have that wonderful pronunciation guide. But he's wrong on the issues and he's wrong on America. He's wrong on the war.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Rubin, the president is likely to ask a rhetorical question. Is the world better off with Saddam out of power? What will the answer be by Senator Kerry? It depends?

RUBIN: No, the answer will be that nobody begrudges the Iraqi people their joy in having Saddam Hussein in prison. But the single most important fact in this election is that George Bush actually said, knowing everything they know now, they wouldn't have done one thing differently in Iraq; 18 months later, it is in chaos, $200 billion, mistake after mistake. And they wouldn't do one thing differently.

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Will President Bush mention the name Osama bin Laden? ROS-LEHTINEN: Of course he will. We're tracking him down. We're tracking him down. We're doing everything we can.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Yes.

We're going to have to go. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, thank you very much.

Jamie Rubin, my friend and Kerry adviser on foreign policy.

Thank you both very much.

RUBIN: Thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Up next, Mr. Novak and I each have one killer question that we hope debate moderator Jim Lehrer will ask tonight. We guarantee these questions will stump the candidates. Now see how you would handle them next in the CROSSFIRE.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE here on the campus of the University of Miami, home of the Miami Hurricanes.

You know, the third man on the stage tonight, PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, is renowned for his fairness. That's why he's presided over more presidential debates than anyone else. But talent, integrity and experience may not be enough. So Mr. Novak and I have each have one killer question to offer Mr. Lehrer for tonight.

And, Bob, mine is this. He should turn to the president and say, September 11 was the worst national security disaster in American history. Why didn't you fire anyone on your national security team after that example of incompetence?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I'm going to ask a question that a lot of Americans would like to have asked, but none are going to ask. Senator Kerry, did you marry Teresa for her looks or for her money?

BEGALA: Oh, that's real love. No, I -- look, I think she's -- apparently, she's well off. That's what they say. I know that she's a great-looking woman.

NOVAK: I'd like to know. What do you think it was, the looks or the money? BEGALA: She's a beautiful woman. They are clearly very much in love. Why Laura ever fell for a guy like George, I'll never know, because she's a class act. I don't know what she ever saw in this guy.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time, tomorrow, for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

And be sure to stay with CNN. Our prime-time coverage begins tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The debate begins at 9:00.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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