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New Start or More Gridlock?; Ted Cruz and Martin Luther King

Aired October 17, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, moving on with a new agenda. Will he find any takers or the same old hard feelings?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now there is folks on the other side that think my policies are misguided. That's putting it mildly.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Representative Steven Horsford, a Democrat of Nevada, and Representative Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican. A new start or more of the tame? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a pair of freshman congressmen who've just gotten a crash course in how things get done here in Washington.

The president took an opportunity today not to bring two political parties together or to assure the country that he will get us back on course. Instead he took swipes at Republicans, lectured us about how government should work and, of course, criticized Washington.


OBAMA: We know that the American people's frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That's not a surprise. That the American people are completely fed up with Washington.


CUPP: You know, Van, the way the president always sniffs at Washington dysfunction, you'd think he'd been living in Duluth for the last six years, like he left for the weekend and came home and the kids had trashed the apartment. I mean, it really is sort of mind- boggling.

Mr. President, this is your town. This is your Congress. This is your mess. JONES: Well, listen, no matter what this president does, you guys are going to knock him. When he doesn't go on television and tries to stay out of the way, he's always missing in action. He goes on TV, he's arrogant. No matter what this president does, he gets beat up on, and I'm sure he's exasperated as our guests here in the CROSSFIRE tonight. We have Representative Steve Horsford, a Democrat from Nevada, and Representative Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican.

Both of you guys, welcome. You are both freshmen, fresh persons, I guess we should say, to be politically correct.

CUPP: Baptism by fire, right?

JONES: I know. What a crazy way to start. Let me start with you. I mean, we are already off to the same kind of thing. I hear from a lot of conservatives that, you know, this president, you know, he never reaches out. He never tries to negotiate. He's just -- he's a dictator; he's a tyrant.

Let me throw some facts at you, and you tell me why I'm wrong. I don't see it that way at all. This president has reached out. I remember when he got inaugurated, Republicans met -- this is before the Tea Party, before he'd done anything -- and said, "We're going to block him on everything." Not just the bad stuff: everything.

I remember McConnell saying, "It's going to be a one-term presidency."

I remember people yelling at him, "You lie" on the Congress floor.

I remember with the stimulus bill, he reached out to you, $300 billion in tax cuts. Republicans voted against tax cuts to vote against him.

Health-care bill, Republican bill, Romney-care. Republicans voted against their own principles on that. Can you tell me, honestly...

CUPP: Don't let him get away with all that, Congressman.

JONES: You'll have time to respond. But here's my question. Don't you think the president has done anything right? Can the Republicans take zero responsibility for the tone?

REP. LUKE MESSER (R), INDIANA: I think all parties have responsibility for the tone here in Washington. I think the president is the president of the whole country, not just the president of the Democratic Party.

And when you have events like took place over the course of the last couple days, it doesn't help matters for him to try to do your job, Van, or the job of other Democratic commentators. He needs to bring folks together.

You know, Steve and I have worked together, gotten to know each other as freshmen. I think one of mandates of our class is that folks expect us to come here and at least get along. There may be times on principle that -- that we don't agree. But we ought to try to get along.

Here's the big thing, though. As I think some of the whining out of our party about his comments today, the reality is what he said today won't matter near as much as what he does over the course of the coming weeks and months.

CUPP: Oh, that's completely -- that is completely true, but Congressman Horsford, for as long as we've known him, the president has been talking about trying to transcend politics, change the tone in Washington. He said it in 2008. He said it in 2012. How was his speech today, just focusing on the rhetoric, which could have been an opportunity to really transcend, how is the speech today, a message -- scolding message to Republicans, how is that real change?

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD (D), NEVADA: Well, I don't see it the way you just said. It's not about scolding Republicans as much as it was to thank our public servants who work hard every day to provide critical services to my constituents, to Luke's constituents throughout this country. They got beat up during this shutdown. They got used as a punching bag.

And the only reason that the government is open today is because Senator Reid, Leader Pelosi, the House Democrats' unity and the resolve of the president. If it were up to the Republicans, we would still be shut down; 800,000 people would still be on furlough; our economy would be suffering. And...

CUPP: Mitch McConnell gets no credit in your calculus?

HORSFORD: Mitch McConnell, for doing his job? For agreeing to pass a funding bill and averting a default...

CUPP: So he was just doing his job, but the president transcended today by voting for more government spending?

MESSER: I think it's much more productive to focus on moving forward. We've got a budget to balance, but I can't let that pass.

CUPP: Please don't.

MESSER: The reality is House Republicans passed 13 different bills, I think one or two of them Steven voted for, that would have kept areas of government open. The folks would have gotten paid. This was all used by -- as political leverage by the president and Harry Reid to force the result -- to force the result they got.

Listen, they won this phase of the debate. They did. Because essentially, the bill that passed last night is a bill that the president would have signed on September 30. But we now need to move forward, and our nation's leader needs to be a part of making that happen, helping that happen.

CUPP: Congressman. HORSFORD: Nobody won from this, first of all. The American people, unfortunately, who have been struggling, are the ones who paid the biggest price: $24 billion of lost economic activity because of 16 days of a GOP shutdown. It was unnecessary; it was reckless; it was irresponsible. It never should have happened, and I'm glad that we now have reopened the government, that we averted a crisis.

S&P recorded record points today, because we did our job yesterday, and it's the job that we need to keep doing.

JONES: Let me ask you a question. I mean, we did have 16 days. It was pretty rough for everybody, certainly rough for the workers your just referenced; rough for Republicans; rough for everybody. But last night you voted against opening the government. You voted against lifting the debt ceiling. If everybody had followed your leadership, sir, today we would be in economic catastrophe. How do you justify that vote? And what do we think about from you going forward? How do you justify that vote?

MESSER: I voted no yesterday, because it was a bad deal for the American people. I mean, the president got a blank check on the national debt into the middle -- you know, the middle of next spring. The date is February, but it could be pushed with extraordinary measures into March and April.

JONES: So you'd rather the government be shut down right now and in default?

MESSER: Listen, the facts...

JONES: You're a congressperson.

MESSER: No, no, I know the president's had -- had some great rhetoric in the last couple of weeks, but lost in that rhetoric is this. The 27 times in the last 40 years, budget-spending reduction deals came in conjunction with the debt ceiling.

CUPP: Yes.

MESSER: Presidents Reagan, presidents Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, even this president two years ago.

JONES: You have done a great job, honestly, of making sure we are aware of that history, but the history I'm concerned about is last night and your vote. Would you be happy if right now we were in default?

MESSER: No, nobody wanted to be in default.

JONES: Well, but you vote -- you didn't vote for this.

MESSER: Frankly, the president didn't negotiate. Now we're where are.

HORSFORD: Absolutely -- that's just not accurate, Luke. The president's budget is $238 billion less than the funding bill that we just approved that funds government through January. That was the budget that Paul Ryan himself proposed.

Had you guys just accepted that in July, we would have been able to keep our government open, averting the default, and we could have been focusing on a jobs bill, passing immigration reform, moving our country forward. There's a lot of other thing we could have been doing.

The president and Democrats met the Republicans at their own budget number, but the Republicans couldn't take yes for an answer.

MESSER: This is what passes for negotiation now, this president and the Democrats, they decide what thing we don't like we should take. They decide something they don't like, too. And then that's a compromise. That's not the way that real compromise works in real life. Sure doesn't work that way in my marriage, probably not in yours, either. And what we need to do now is not focus on the last 12 days or 16, 17 days, and focus on what we're going to do to avert the next shutdown.

CUPP: Well, and let me talk to you about that next thing coming up. Because I'll -- I'm going to admit Republicans lost on Obama care. They didn't defund it. They didn't delay it. They barely got any changes made to it.

But on the other thing that Republicans wanted to accomplish: attaching spending cuts, deficit reduction, entitlement reform to the debt ceiling debate, we haven't lost there. We now have two months to negotiate on the debt ceiling, which is exactly what Republicans have wanted.

And I promise you, Congressman, Republicans will get what they want, at least in part, attached to that debt ceiling deficit. So don't you think it's a little premature for Democrats to be wagging their fingers at Republicans and declaring victory?

HORSFORD: Again, I don't view this as a victory, first of all. Second of all, the debt ceiling is about past and current financial debt and obligation, not about future debt and obligations. If Luke and the Republicans want to negotiate about the budget going forward, then fine. They should have passed a clean funding bill and averted a default, and instead of holding us hostage -- you talked about negotiation. My wife doesn't negotiate with a gun to my head. She comes to me and says, "Let's talk about something we need to..."

MESSER: Rhetoric is part of what's contributed to the problem here. It's not what happened. It's not a fair description of where we are.

JONES: Well, listen, we're going to obviously keep this conversation going. We're just getting started. We still have got to talk about what happens next. Your point, we've got questions for you on that.

Look, when we get back, though, I'm going to shock everybody. Because I'm going to talk about the ways that Ted Cruz is like Dr. Martin Luther King. CUPP: Oh, wow.

JONES: And the ways that he's not. Stay tuned.


JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we have Democratic Congressman Steven Horsford and Republican Congressman Luke Messer.

Now look, I'm going to shock everybody tonight. There's something about Ted Cruz that I actually admire. And there's something about him that really concerns me.

He took bold action for something he believes in. Every leader I admire has done that, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., my personal hero. But here is the difference. And here's what really bothers me about Ted Cruz.

Senator Cruz will not take personal responsibility for his own actions or for the consequences of his action. He says, "This is not my shutdown. This is Obama's shutdown."

Now look, Dr. King never called a rally or a march and then said, "This is not my rally. This must be Bull Connor's rally." Dr. King's tactics were controversial; they were provocative, but he owned them.

Ted Cruz should have taken personal responsibility and said, "Yes, I did this, and here is why."

Don't blame other people for the shutdown, Senator Cruz. Own it. And the fact that you won't makes me fear that you're not going to be a great leader, but a mis-leader.

So with that, I want to turn to you. You've been allied with Senator Cruz. You share a lot of the same views, but I know your dad. And I am very concerned that we are setting a bad example of the adults now, whatever we believe, not taking personal responsibility. Are you concerned about that?

MESSER: I agree. I mean, I agree that folks on both sides of the aisle need to take personal responsibility. We talked earlier about the president's comments today. The reality is, is by definition, the government got shut down. That's not the way it's supposed to work. And we need to find a way through it.

I think the real test, the real decision about the last two weeks, is going to come next year as Obama care rolls out. If Obama care is a rousing success, then the last two weeks are going to look a lot like they do today. If Obama care is -- is a big failure, it will look much different.

JONES: Can I ask you one quick question about this? Because I didn't get this clearly from you last time. We did have the shutdown. You did not vote to reopen the government. You had your reasons for that. But we're going to be in the same situation again. You've got a bunch of people saying different things. McCain and McConnell saying never going to have a shutdown; Cruz says might have a shut down. Where are you on another shutdown?

MESSER: I think we need to go to work today. I was glad to see the budget leaders working. And the American people won't excuse another shutdown. So we have got to work together, all parties...

JONES: Fair enough.

MESSER: ... to make sure we find a compromise that keeps the government open.

CUPP: Congressman Horsford, the president keep saying we have to stop careening from crisis to crisis. But in my mind, it seems like we're just careening from policy failure to policy failure, whether on immigration or gun control, Syria, these budget messes, it doesn't seem like the president has managed to accomplish much. He is winning on politics, I give you that, absolutely. But what is the achievable policy that he's really managed to sort of like batten down in his second term?

HORSFORD: Well, look, this president has worked extremely hard, despite the obstructionism that has happened in the Congress, to move our country forward. Under this president in the last two years, our economy has added more jobs every month consecutively month after month.

He wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform and has put a very clear plan forward. I'm proud to be sponsoring HR-15, which mirrors the policy that he wants to see implemented, but you know what? He needs a Congress that will work with him and not against him. Senator Reid and the leadership in the Senate is working with him, but unfortunately, Speaker Boehner and a faction of Republicans in the House have blocked him in every way.

CUPP: But all this talk -- yes, but all this talk of Republican obstructionism really makes it seem like Obama and Democrats see him as a victim. Will that be his legacy, one of victimhood instead of leadership?

HORSFORD: Look, this is about helping our president succeed for the country. This is about America succeeding.

I believe in a country that can still do great things as the president talks about, but we need a Congress that will work with him to achieve that. And right now we have too many Republicans who are about ideology, who are about an extremism, who aren't about doing their job on behalf of the American public.

MESSER: I think we've got -- we've got to improve our tone a little bit here, but you know, one of lessons of events over the last few days is that it's very hard to move big public policy without public sentiment on your side.

The president has more powers of persuasion than anyone in the world, more tool -- If he calls a press conference, people will come. He said the other day that one of the coolest things about being president is if you call anybody in the world, they call you back.

But when the president decides to try to order people to do things instead of trying to persuade them to do things, he's going to have a small presidency.

JONES: Well, speaking of message -- and we are now trying to move forward to figure out what we can expect going forward -- there seems to be some mixed message or some confusion about what we should learn in your party.

Rush Limbaugh had this to say today. I want you to hear this sound and then I want to read something to you, and you give me your take on this. What should we take from this? Rush Limbaugh. Do we have that?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I was trying to think earlier today, if ever in my life I could remember any political -- major political party being so irrelevant. I have never seen it. I have never seen a major political party simply occupy place holders, as the Republican Party is doing.


JONES: So now that's him going after the establishment, after the mainstream of the party. And then at the same time, you have conservative activist Grover Norquist, and he says he's blaming the opposite crowd. He says, "if you make a mistake as big as what they did," talking about the Ted Cruz crowd, "you owe your fellow senators and congress people, including yourself, a big apology" and your constituents, because they did essentially nothing.

Now, who is right? Is Grover Norquist right, and should you take his lessons? Or is Rush Limbaugh right? Who's right?

MESSER: What I would tell you is this. Now is not a time for finger pointing, and it is not a time for punditry on finger pointing, at least for me.

You know, I would tell you this. In these, I try to learn in life. I haven't lived a perfect life. I've made my mistakes. When things haven't worked out the way I wanted them to, I've tried to learn.

And I can tell you, I have no regrets on our policy or principle here. But even myself, as I look at it the last nine, ten months, I don't think my tone has been perfect everywhere we've gone. If you're going to work together as leaders, you've got to be able to talk to each other. And so I think we've got to work through that.

You know, frankly, I think the key to the future in the Republican Party is the focus on the things where we agree.

CUPP: Yes. MESSER: We all agree that government ought to be smaller. We all agree taxes ought to be lower. None of us like Obama care. You know, we need to focus on those things instead of the things that divide us.

I could not agree more. This fetishizing of tactics and who's conservative enough and who's too conservative is killing us. But if you're not going to choose between Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist -- and wise decision, by the way -- let me get you -- let me get you to weigh in on two other things.

I think that what we've seen over the past few weeks and months has been two camps' interpretations of what happened in 2012. So to the Ted Cruz win, they think, "Well, we lost because we weren't conservative enough. Mitt Romney lost and I, Ted Cruz, won. Proof -- proof is in the pudding."

Then you have the Paul Ryan camp, I think, that says, "I'm plenty conservative. I think we lost because our message was inartful and negative." And I think that's where you're seeing this divergence.

Now, I like to think that I can be a Republican who sees value in both a Ted Cruz and a Paul Ryan. It doesn't seem like that's the case anymore. There's a dividing line. What's your take on that?

MESSER: You know, again, things didn't turn out yesterday like we'd like. And there -- it's the land of geniuses, right? Everybody has got their idea about what we ought to do. Here's what I think.

Nobody lit their hair on fire to stop the events of the last 14 days. I mean, almost all of these -- these bills that passed were passed with virtually all Republican support, and here's the reason why. Because in our party, universally, people wanted to try to stop Obama care.

CUPP: Right.

MESSER: And the people that elected us expected us to do everything we could...

CUPP: Right.

MESSER: ... to try to stop it. We did. We've done everything we can. It didn't happen. And now as a party, we need to focus on the rest of the things that...

CUPP: Are you worried we're going to cannibalize a little?


CUPP: Because it seems like we are.

MESSER: We better not.

HORSFORD: And here's my question, the question I think a lot of American people have, which is why is it that Obama care had to be used to prevent our budget from being funded, or to risk defaulting for the first time in U.S. history?

MESSER: Again, Steven, I reject the premise. I mean, the president may well have to delay the individual mandate any way if his Web site hadn't worked in just a few months. Had he accepted that, why did it have to...

HORSFORD: ... on September 30, we wouldn't -- we wouldn't be here. I serve on the oversight committee. We try -- they voted 40- some times now to defund or delay or obstruct the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Not one hearing have we had on trying to make it work right.

Don't you have uninsured people in Indiana like I have in Nevada?


HORSFORD: Thirty percent of my constituents in Nevada are insured. They're children. They're mothers. They're veterans. All of them deserve a quality of health care. Why is this such a burning issue for the Republican Party?

MESSER: I also have folks that have lost their health care. I also have folks who are having their hours cut back because of the flawed 30-hour mandate. I have folks that are worried about their rates that are spiking.

HORSFORD: So why not work with those of us who want to make the bill better? To make...

MESSER: The president has promised -- sorry. I don't want to talk over you. But the president has promised that, when the government is open, he's now going to negotiate. He's going to have several months here to prove that he's willing to work to improve Obama care.

CUPP: OK. Well, both of you stay here. Next we're going to "Ceasefire" and see if there's anything you guys can agree on.

We also want to you weigh in on today's "Fireback" question at home: "Do you think President Obama will be able to accomplish his agenda going forward?" Tweet us yes or no using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


CUPP: We're back with our two freshman congressmen. It's time to call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything you two can agree on? Congressman Horsford, we'll start with you.

HORSFORD: Well, I think Luke and I both agree that this shutdown was unnecessary, and we need to avoid it happening again. And both sides need to work together between now and January to avoid another shutdown from happening. Ever again. Because it caused way too much havoc. It was unnecessary.

You know, both of us came here to govern. We're former state legislators, and we're used to compromising. We understand that neither side is always going to get our way, but we've got to work together, open the lines of communications and help...

JONES: Do you agree with that?

MESSER: Yes, I do. I mean, one thing I agree on is we both overachieved in marriage.

CUPP: Aww.

MESSER: I know that. I met his wife, and he's met mine. So you know, beyond that, there are certainly policy challenges we face as a country. We need an economy that continues to improve. We've got to deal with spending. We've got big challenges in the immigration system that's broken.

I think the biggest thing we agree on, though, is that in many ways, Washington is broken. I mean, this is a town that doesn't work. And it's never been perfect here. The jokes about Washington have gone on for hundreds of years. But -- but we've got to be a place where people can at least talk to each other to find solutions.

CUPP: I just can't imagine myself in their position, though, coming in at a time like this. I mean, is this what you guys signed up for? Is this what you thought it would be? Public service in D.C.?

MESSER: I say we didn't get drafted. We put out yard signs for this job. Right?

HORSFORD: Yes, we did. We asked for it.

JONES: Well, I'll tell you what. One of the thing that I've been surprised about -- I think you and I may agree on this. I expected Boehner to just get obliterated throughout this whole thing, and I think he has actually somehow managed to come out stronger than ever. Do you agree with that?

CUPP: It's pretty smart.


CUPP: They really did. I mean, he's got even some...

JONES: I hate it, but...

CUPP: ... Tea Party conservatives who wanted to oust him last year saying, "Thanks for helping us out, Speaker Boehner."

MESSER: I think the speaker did a good job in tough circumstances.

CUPP: Yes.

HORSFORD: He ultimately got to the right place. He could have got there a lot sooner. JONES: Fair enough.

CUPP: I don't know.

JONES: I want to thank both of you for being here. We've got to have you back. These young congress folks, these new ones, are amazing to have.

Listen, if you want to be a part of this conversation going forward, go to Facebook or Twitter. You can weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Do you think President Obama will be able to accomplish his agenda going forward?" Right now, 44 percent of you say yes; 56 percent say no.

The debate is going to continue online at as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Proudly from the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: Proudly from the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of "CROSSFIRE."

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.