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2016: Who's in Trouble?

Aired January 16, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the battle lines for 2016 and front- runners already facing problems. From scandal and recovering from a superstorm...

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: And nothing will distract me from getting that job done. Nothing.

ANNOUNCER: ... to Benghazi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She couldn't be on TV to talk about what happened in the State Department because she was distraught?

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist; and Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader. The upcoming fights to control Congress and the White House tonight on CROSSFIRE.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two of the most successful and most feared political minds in the business. And we're going to talk Clinton and Christie, the two presidential front-runners, who are both having a pretty bad week.

Let's start with Hillary Clinton and national security. There's a new Senate report on Benghazi, which left four Americans, including the United States ambassador, dead.

This report is a lot bigger than just Hillary Clinton. It not only concludes the attack was preventable, it says both the U.S. State Department and the intelligence community made major mistakes.

While Clinton isn't mentioned by name in the report, she clearly is the person most at risk and who has the most to lose, which undoubtedly is why she continues to behave as if she was never the secretary of state, doesn't know what you're talking about, and can't imagine why we keep discussing it.

CUTTER: Or maybe it's that Republicans are absolutely obsessed with using Benghazi to try to take down a candidacy that hasn't even launched yet. GINGRICH: Although that was a bipartisan report.

CUTTER: Well, it was a bipartisan report that Dianne Feinstein, the Senate chairman of the intelligence committee, who put out a statement today to push back on Republicans who were trying to say that this established culpability for Secretary Clinton. I mean, when the Senate intelligence chairwoman has to put out a statement to push back on some rogue Republicans, you know that it's a problem.

GINGRICH: But wasn't that because yesterday she said it was culpable, and in between the calls from the White House and...

CUTTER: Well, if we had time to read this, I would, but I'll submit it for the record.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican former House majority leader, Tom DeLay.

Tom, I want to go to you for the first question. Back to this pathology that Republicans are trapped in. It's almost a sickness of trying to -- or of obsessing over -- put aside President Obama, because they're absolutely obsessed with him. Obsessing over Hillary Clinton and trying to use the Benghazi attack, which is a tragedy -- four lives were lost, we need to get to the bottom of it -- but trying to use that to bring down her candidacy. She hasn't even announced for president yet.

And at the same time, Republicans are putting themselves in a corner. So they're talking about Benghazi but not about closing the minimum -- raising the minimum wage, closing the income gap, strengthening the middle class. No agenda.


CUTTER: That's actually America's agenda.

DELAY: Well, it's great to see you, too. You're -- you're criticizing the Republicans for not talking about the Obama agenda. You know, it's pretty amazing to me that you would even question me about the Republicans trying to get to the truth of what's going on in Benghazi. It's only been what, now, almost two years, and we can't get to the bottom of what's going on in Benghazi?

CUTTER: Well, there's been three or four reports, beginning with the Obama report, same conclusions.

DELAY: The FBI shows up 30 days later. They can't even find the guy who's sitting in a downtown coffee shop in Benghazi? I mean, we know what's going on here.

But -- but you're talking to me about trying to get to the truth of what's going on when, you know, the left, quite frankly, it's main strategy is criminalization of politics. They want to bury Christie, bankrupt him, destroy his political career. You know, put him in prison. GINGRICH: Let me -- let me ask you this, Paul, from this standpoint. I know Democrats from the last couple weeks have loved the idea of the George Washington Bridge and the whole process of Christie's problems.

But in fact in Benghazi, apparently, 15 people who've tried to cooperate with us have been killed during this process of the last few weeks. Apparently, our rules are so totally screwed up that the chairman of the joint chiefs yesterday said they hadn't gone after certain people, because they weren't sure under the way the Congress wrote the law that they could actually prove these guys belonged to al Qaeda, and therefore, they're semi-safe even if they're clearly terrorists. Clearly on the Sunday after Benghazi...

DELAY: Well, let me just interrupt you if I could, just very quickly. Don't forget that, for the last year and a half, those Americans that were on the ground in Benghazi have been intimidated by this administration through lie detector tests, having to sign other confidentiality agreements and all that.

GINGRICH: So the question I have is, when you look at Chris Christie taking a two-hour press conference over something relatively small compared to Benghazi, when do we get the Hillary Clinton clear the air, tell the truth about what actually happened, both -- both in the cover-up phase during the campaign and in the actual on-the-ground events? I mean, doesn't she owe the nation some kind of clear, decisive report?

BEGALA: Well, I'm sure you've paid your cable bill, because it was on CNN. She testified under oath something Governor Christie we hope will do about whether or not he was involved. And it's important to note, there's no smoking gun or no evidence that he knew about this, but he is a bully. I never thought he was going to be your party's nominee anyway. We've talked about that off camera.

But yes, and the secretary testified about this under oath with some pretty fire-breathing Republicans coming after her. You raised some -- before Tom got off on a paranoid rant, you raised some really important policy changes that have to be made.

You're right. And Secretary Clinton, she put together an independent investigation that came back with dozens of reforms, important ones. She adopted them all. President Obama, same thing. He's trying to make these changes.

When our embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi were attacked in 1998, President Clinton came to Congress, controlled by you guys, and asked for more money for embassy security, and you provided it. You worked across the partisan line. It wasn't everything we want, but we -- we made our embassy safer.

Guess what? Since then your successors have cut and cut and cut embassy security 13 times under George W. Bush when he was our president. Thirteen times our embassies and consulates were attacked; 60 Americans were killed. The same thing that happened in Benghazi. I never saw the Republicans give a rip snort about it.

DELAY: There was enough money to provide the security in Benghazi, if they wanted to.

BEGALA: There should have been more. There's no doubt. This is...

CUTTER: And I want to talk about...

BEGALA: This is worthy of looking into. It is. But it's not a Rosetta stone scandal that you all think. It's just not.

CUTTER: Absolutely. I do want to talk about the whole idea of working across party lines to do what's best for the country. Now Tom, you were an effective leader of Congress.

DELAY: Thank you.

CUTTER: Especially for Republicans.

DELAY: Appreciate that.

CUTTER: You worked with Newt as speaker and Speaker Hastert also. You worked across party lines to also get things done.


CUTTER: But we're seeing some -- a wave of senior Republicans retiring, because they're tired of the way their caucus is being run.

Bud McKeon, who you served with, just announced his retirement today. He said something interesting. He said, "I think every member of our conference ought to look at themselves and evaluate what they were sent here to do. And if they can't support the leadership, then let them run for leadership. But once you've made that decision, I think it's important to follow."

No one's following John Boehner. No one's following Kevin McCarthy or Eric Cantor. Isn't the problem here that your party is fractured? You're having a civil war within your party which has ground the House to a halt. We can't get anything done.

DELAY: Well, I think it's ground the -- it hasn't ground the House to a halt. When you've got a Senate controlled by the Democrats and President Obama, who won't even negotiate with the -- with the Republicans, yes, we're having a big -- and during this primary season, a down and bloody fight within our party. Frankly, I don't want it. I don't want to go through it. But I think also -- I think it's very cleansing.

And this happened in 1980. Newt will tell you. It's what brought me to politics. The Bush and Reagan fights, the conservatives rose up from the grassroots. We took over the party. The primaries were strong and vibrant and nasty, but we emerged an incredibly stronger party. And that's going to -- and that's going to happen right now in the next year.

BEGALA: But even while -- I was working for President Clinton in the White House. And you two led an impeachment, which I'm still upset about. Even while you were doing that, you worked with him to double funding, for example, for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. There are Americans who are alive today because of the work you did with President Clinton even while you were impeaching him. These folks make you all look reasonable.

GINGRICH: Let me ask Paul about that. I agree: Tom -- Tom and I were part of an effort that said, on the one hand, we're going to fight over principles and we're going to find a way to get something done.

BEGALA: Right.

GINGRICH: And you and the president fit that same platter. So I watched yesterday's coverage of the president -- of President Obama, who's now reaching out to Democrats.

I just want to suggest to you for a second and then I want to ask your opinion. I want to ask your advice to the president. I think having a martini with the Democrats is a start, but it strikes me: if he wants to become bipartisan, he has to somehow have at least a beer with the Republicans. What advice would you give...

CUTTER: Or it's a merlot.

GINGRICH: Because you have been successful. What advice would you give the president about how do you -- how do you create a bipartisan moment?

BEGALA: It does take two to tango. You have to keep coming back. They'll never grow weary in doing good. Because in due course as you keep faith, you shall reap, right? So I believe in that.

But if you look at what he is doing that Republicans now think is socialism, it's -- his health-care plan with an individual mandate, which he adopted from you, Newt, it's a cap and trade plan that he adopted from John McCain. It's an immigration plan he adopted from George W. Bush. These -- his three biggest issues are actually Republican ideas. It would be nice for -- it would be nice for Republicans to support their own ideas. Work with the president on things that he...

DELAY: It would be nice for him to call up John Boehner and tell him that.

CUTTER: I think he has, and I think it's not a surprise to John Boehner.

DELAY: I don't think so.

CUTTER: It's time to take a break. We're going to -- it's -- we're going to take a bridge, the George Washington Bridge, to the Republican side of 2016. Next, the scariest thing facing Governor Chris Christie.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight Paul Begala and Tom Belay -- DeLay. Sorry. DELAY: Thank you.

CUTTER: More bad news for Chris Christie. Late this afternoon 17 people and three organizations were subpoenaed in the bridge scandal. So much for the governor's two-hour news conference putting this issue to rest.

Today we also learned that the governor's office is lawyering up. The taxpayers of New Jersey, not Chris Christie himself, will be paying those legal bills. So after infuriating voters by forcing them to sit in traffic, he's now sticking them with the bill.

So let's dive into this issue. Tom DeLay, not Belay -- sorry about that -- I -- you know personally how these things can spin out of control. These investigations can be very difficult.

This is a guy who is trying to put together a presidential campaign. He's trying to run the Republican Governors Association. And hopefully, he's still trying to govern in New Jersey, but he's got this investigation hanging over him. How in the world is he going to get out of this? This is going to be a drip, drip for the next two, three years. It's going to be hanging over him.

How in the world is he going to get out of this? This is going to be a drip, drip for the next two, three years. It's going to be hanging over him.

DELAY: Well, I could tell you if Hillary can stand Whitewater, travelgate, Benghazi, then Chris Christie can get through a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge.

CUTTER: You think it's going to stop at a traffic jam?

DELAY: Yes. I don't know what's there, but what I've seen in the last few days since all this broke and he had his two-hour press conference is his political enemies are going for the throat. Now, I don't know -- I've never met Chris Christie. But my impression of him is he's one tough hombre.

And what the Democrats don't understand --

CUTTER: That's you wearing your New Jersey hat?

DELAY: Yes, I'll tell you -- what the Democrats don't understand is this could potentially make him even stronger, a stronger figure on the national stage, as well as New Jersey.

CUTTER: Let's say he gets through the investigation.

DELAY: They better be right.

CUTTER: Do you think he gets through the Republican Party? I mean, this is a guy that didn't stop gay marriage --

DELAY: I think he has --

CUTTER: He's been on both sides of the abortion issue.

DELAY: -- a chance as anybody else.

CUTTER: He's got very similar problems.

DELAY: But if you guys aren't careful about the next few weeks and he comes out of this clean, he's going to be much, much stronger.

GINGRICH: And let me ask you because you served a president who as a candidate, and then as an incumbent probably set the all-time record for real scandals, phony scandals, would-be scandals, you name it. What would your advice to Chris Christie be?

BEGALA: Honestly, first, he made an enormous mistake in trashing this deputy chief of staff who he fired. He maybe had to fire her. He called her an idiot, said she lied to him.

Well, just as a practical matter, as a political scandal guy, she can control his fate. She's going to have to testify about this. And now, frankly, he's very angry at her.

The bullying tactics that he's using in his own defense I think also are part of his political problem. He really does need to come clean. The press conference was fine. He really needs to put out documents.

And as you know, we did that to a fairly -- millions of documents that we put forward to the House members.

DELAY: In a very timely manner.

BEGALA: Including an investigation of Clinton Christmas card list last time, seriously, which the House actually had investigated -- when you guys were running, an investigation of our Christmas card list. We cooperated with all of it.


GINGRICH: -- really well.

BEGALA: Right.

CUTTER: And you weren't angry that you weren't on the list.

BEGALA: The key to it for me is that Chris Christie allegedly -- again, there's no real evidence that he did, I should say that. People are concerned about whether he used government power to hurt citizens. That was never a charge against President Clinton. That was never a charge against President Bush or Tom or -- seriously, we never -- this is really rare.

Republicans especially, they hate the government, they're worried about the government's power. I never thought he was gong to fly in a Tea Party dominant Republican Party. I never really thought he's a plausible nominee. That's not my party. I'm often wrong about that.

But this now really seals his fate. GINGRICH: But one other question. Do you encourage or discouraged a two hour and two-minute press conference?

BEGALA: That's fine with me. He didn't get to anything is the problem.

The press loves it, because he gave the press what they wanted, which is lots of time and lots of questions. He didn't give folks what they wanted, which is a real answer to the me -- to the why me, why did you hurt me, why did you target?

Again, he -- there's no evidence he did. I have to stop saying that. Why did your administration -- I want to be fair, honestly -- why did your administration target us? He never got to that. Maybe because he doesn't know.

But then you put out all the documents. This guy was a federal prosecutor and a good one. He put 130 corrupt politicians of both parties in jail when he was U.S. attorney. And I'm supposed to believe that when the biggest bridge in his state in our country was tied up for four days, he didn't look into it?


BEGALA: Seriously? It's implausible.

CUTTER: What I don't get is this investigation could very well be the end of him. But it could very well not show anything. We don't know that yet.

However, question for both of you. I don't understand what everybody is so impressed with, with this guy. I mean, the state is 41st in job creation. Property taxes are out of control. Wages are going down. He's cut taxes for those at the top while raising costs for everybody else.

You know, this does remind me of another candidate who became the Republican Party's nominee. I just don't understand what the magic is.

BEGALA: He's done some good things. Like he took the Obama Medicaid money under Obamacare, probably not going to make him a favorite, right? He took a pass on anti-gay stuff. He was against it for a while but then he stood down. He's been squishy on trying to outlaw abortion rights. So from my point of view --

DELAY: Hey, look at that picture. Look at that picture. He's not well coiffed. He's a refreshing change for many people who are sick of the image of politicians.

CUTTER: You're right.

DELAY: They want straight talk. They want truth. They want you to be honest with them. They want you to tell them the truth, even if it hurts.

And that's why he's so popular.

CUTTER: I think he also --

DELAY: Not only in his state but across the nation.

CUTTER: I think people want to know also that you're on their side. All I'm saying is that the record -- the economic record shows that that's not the case.

DELAY: New Jersey is in much better shape today than it was when he took over.

CUTTER: New Jersey lags behind the national economic recovery. I sit next to this guy every night and listen to how bad that recovery is, every night.

DELAY: It was at zero when he became governor. It was in the toilet.

BEGALA: Tom, what about when that picture there of that un-coiffed man, is replaced with him hugging Barack Obama. He's running now in the Republican Party.

DELAY: We didn't like that.

BEGALA: No kidding. Democrats in Connecticut dumped Joe Lieberman because he hugged George W. Bush. I've seen this movie. He's never going to be the Republican nominee.

CUTTER: I agree with you.


GINGRICH: Let me ask you a more immediate question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

DELAY: You just -- you just raised his polling (ph), Newt.


GINGRICH: You've been a great consultant. You understand this business as well as anybody in the country. Kay Hagan decided that she wouldn't go to North Carolina, which is interesting -- Mary Landrieu flew Air Force One down there and hid in North --

BEGALA: It's a cool plane. You know that.

GINGRICH: It's a very cool plane, but let me say -- but Kay Hagan decided not to take the plane trip. You're going to have candidate after candidate in tough races who have to decide -- am I next to Obama or do I not remember who he is? And they're all going to have to make these kind of decisions.

How would you advise red state Democrats in those kind of settings? Did she make a mistake not going down to North Carolina with the president? BEGALA: You have to be your own person. At the same time, as Sonny Austin (ph) said to Bill Kahn (ph), you can run but you can't hide, right?

The agenda -- you watch his State of the Union. It is going to be an agenda that Democrats can stand on.

DELAY: Oh, I can't agree (ph).

BEGALA: It's going to be the things Stephanie was talking about earlier, talking about trying to raise the minimum wage so that a decent day's work has a decent day's pay.

DELAY: That's a big one.

GINGRICH: I hate you cut you off at the beginning of the Democratic platform, but I'm going to ask everybody to stay here.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Whose 2016 chances are more in jeopardy? Tweet Clinton or Christie using #crossfire.

We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Paul Begala and Tom DeLay.

Now, it's time for the final question.


CUTTER: Thank you, Newt.

Tom, all the gridlock in Washington made me think of a very important speech that you once gave on the House floor. Let's take a quick look.


DELAY: Now, politics demands compromise, and, Mr. Speaker, and even the most partisan among us have to understand that. But we must never forget that compromise and by bipartisanship are means and not ends, and are employed properly in the service of higher principles.


CUTTER: It really was a great speech.

DELAY: Well, thank you.

CUTTER: I just wish --

DELAY: That was my farewell speech. CUTTER: I know. But I watched the speech today. It was a very impassioned speech.

I just wish that Republicans today were following your advice. Should we go to the House floor and play this for everybody and see if they'll pay attention?

DELAY: Frankly, I'd like to be a politician and answer the question with my answer. I want to talk about the upcoming election. I think it's set in stone that Obamacare and the president has set it and if the Republicans don't mess it up, it's going to happen.

And I really loved Obama coming with the new agenda for the Democrats to run on is income inequality. If you want to keep your poverty, you can keep your poverty.

So, I just -- I can't wait for the upcoming election. I think it's going to be wonderful, and I think it's going to be everything for the Republicans way.

GINGRICH: Very quickly. Two questions. Will Hillary run?

BEGALA: I'll tell you in two years.


GINGRICH: If she does run --

BEGALA: I hope so. If God answers prayers, because I'm wearing my knees out. Where's the camera? Run, Hillary, run.

GINGRICH: If she does run, will it matter if anybody else runs? Or is she the nominee?

BEGALA: It will. My party does not give things away. She's going to have to earn it. I hope she runs, I want her to run, I'll support her if she does, but it will be a tough fight.

CUTTER: And it's to her benefit for it to be a tough fight.

BEGALA: It is actually. I think we did al gore a disservice in largely clearing the field. Bill Bradley, a serious opponent.

But if he'd have had seven or eight, he'd have been a better candidate.

CUTTER: All right. Thanks to Paul Begala and Tom DeLay.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Whose 2016 chances are more in jeopardy?

Right now, 32 percent of you say Clinton, 68 percent of you say Christie.

The debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.