November 11, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

From Washington to talk about it, Democratic consultant Victor Kamber.

Nice to see you, Victor. Good morning.

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Good morning. How are you, Bill?

HEMMER: I’m doing just fine.

Cliff May, former RNC communications director, back with us as well.

Cliff, good morning.


HEMMER: I’m going to frame this debate based on two statements over the past two days. Tom Daschle on “The Today Show” this week says — I’m quoting now regarding the Patriot Act: “The Bush administration created this campaign to bolster their standing in the polls, to bolster their political support around the country. They used these devices, to a certain extent, to intimidate people.”

Mesh that now with what Al Gore said on Sunday. In part, he said, in my opinion, it makes no sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get a terrorist than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get to at Osama bin Laden.

There is the argument. It sounds like a developing theme. Victor, what do you say?

KAMBER: Well, I agree it is. I think the one context that we — and I love my party leaders and I support them, but I take a step back. When the Patriot Act was passed, we were in the midst of a crisis in this country, and we didn’t know all of the things that we needed to do. And all too often what happens when you pass legislation is there are the unintended consequences of that legislation. And I think in this case it was overreach, overkill, plus you have probably the worst civil libertarian enforcing it in John Ashcroft, the secretary of the — the attorney general, rather.

So, I think that the legislation needs to be repealed. It is clearly an infringement on civil liberties in this country. It’s wrong. What Bush’s motives were when he passed it, I won’t subscribe to that. I just know that at the time there was a need or a belief of a need today. We see it’s gone too far.

HEMMER: In terms of a political argument, Cliff, what do you make of it?

MAY: Well, I think you put your finger on it. Al Gore is a serious guy, but this was not a serious speech. It was a political speech in terms of repealing the Patriot Act. He really shouldn’t call for that unless he has something to replace it with.

Keep in mind, the Patriot Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support — 98-1 in the U.S. Senate. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is a very liberal member of the Democratic Party, said she has seen no abuses whatsoever under the Patriot Act. And by the way, Vick hasn’t mentioned any such abuses.

KAMBER: Well, I’ll be happy to mention it.

MAY: Well, let’s go over that next. Let’s point out that since 9/11, we haven’t had any attacks successfully launched against Americans on American soil.

KAMBER: That’s not the Patriot Act, Cliff.

MAY: I’m going to say that the Patriot Act is a big part. What the Patriot Act allows us to do is it allows the FBI and the CIA to communicate. It also gives law enforcement the same powers when dealing with terrorists that they already enjoy when dealing with mafia lords and drug dealers.

KAMBER: And to inter people that probably shouldn’t be interred, because they look a certain way, because they walk a certain way, talk a certain way. I mean, we have infringed on American liberties in this country.

MAY: Tell me who has been interred that shouldn’t be interred.

KAMBER: Well, a number…

MAY: Name one.

KAMBER: I don’t know the names of these people.

MAY: I know you don’t.

KAMBER: But a number of Arab-Americans have been held back. A number of…

MAY: No. They’ve been held — what happened was that after 9/11 a lot of people who were here illegally were, in fact, picked up, as they can be.

KAMBER: No, no, not the illegal ones.

MAY: Only illegal people were picked up after 9/11, and a lot of them were shipped back to the country that they came from, because they were…

HEMMER: Gentlemen, let me just interject here. I think this is what we’re starting to see develop anyway. You have a White House right now that says it’s defending the liberties of Americans and people around the world right now locked up in the second war in the past three years, while Democrats are saying they’re the true defenders of American liberty because they are standing up to fight this patriotic as we see — Patriot Act, rather. Do you see that argument and the way it’s being framed right now, Victor? And if you do, does that sell over the next 12 months?

KAMBER: I do not see an election over that issue. I see — I mean, I think a lot of Americans, a lot of Democrats, truly believe that this administration does want to take away your freedoms and your rights. I mean, we know when you question George Bush about anything you are no longer a patriot. You’re no longer a good American. We’ve had attacks on wonderful Americans of this past couple of years since the war just because you’ve questioned the president’s motive.

So, we know that this administration has a desire to change the way we think, the way we act and to control us. That’s not what America’s all about, or should be about.

MAY: Bill, let me just say that no one is questioning the patriotism of Senator Daschle or Vice President Gore or Victor Kamber here. What we’re saying is that the Patriot Act, for example, allows you to execute a search warrant on a terror suspect without warning the suspect in advance, which you can already do for a mafia-type. Do we really think that terror suspects should be warned in advance?

Look, during the 1990s, we didn’t really fight terrorism. We were attacked at the World Trade Center in ’93, at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, our embassy in Tanzania, also in Kenya, the USS Cole. Tens of thousands of terrorists were trained in Afghanistan.

I’m not finding fault here. We didn’t recognize the threat. Now we do. If Vice President Al Gore wants to criticize the administration, go to it, but offer constructive criticism, things we can do better. Don’t just say repeal the Patriot Act, do less.

HEMMER: We’ve got to run. Thank you, gentlemen. Let’s do it again later in the week if you have the time.

MAY: Thanks, Bill.

HEMMER: Appreciate it, Victor and Cliff.

MAY: Anytime.