April 21, 2005 | Broadcast


Our guests today, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, a former adviser to the Democratic National Adviser Howard Dean and Cliff May, former Republican National Committee communications direct, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies — Donna.

BRAZILE: Thank you. Hey, Cliff. Good to see you.

This poll, once again, demonstrate what Democrats have been saying all year long, that the Republican majority is out of sync, out of touch and basically not focusing on the real concerns of middle class, ordinary Americans. What can they do to get their House back in order?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I think it’s going to be very important for Republicans to show some leadership on the economy, because I think when House members goes back home they’ll hear it about gas prices, for example.

But at the same time, this is a bipartisan problem, because you don’t hear Democrats saying we have a good idea. You hear Democrats saying Tom DeLay. A few years ago he went to Moscow probably to play golf. Tom DeLay, I think he had somebody from his family working on his campaign. This Democrats do.

Neither party in congress is focused on the economy. I think it’s an issue that can burn or can build either party when they get focused on it and neither one is yet.

BRAZILE: But it is true that Republicans control the agenda. And of course we’re talking about Tom DeLay, because the Republicans who set the agenda have not given us anything to fight about.

MAY: And we’ve got Democrats, unfortunately, blocking the agenda. By Democrats who think their job is to obstruct Republicans from doing anything.

Look, on things like energy, wouldn’t it be good if Democrats and Republicans can come together and say let’s actually figure out some ways so we don’t have to depend on Middle Eastern oil forever, and so that the price of energy doesn’t continue to go up.

BRAZILE: So you’re saying that the Democratic Party will be able to offer amendments and offer alternatives on the House and Senate floor so that we can have…


MAY: If they want to work with Republicans, I say give it a try, just once, see what happens.


NOVAK: Steve, if I were to be critical of the Democrats…

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Far be it from you to be critical, Bob, come on!

NOVAK: But I just want to quote to you what some tried and true, loyal Democrats say. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, really a dynamic guy, I think you will agree, possible presidential candidate. He said this week, “we just can’t be negative. We just can’t just attack the president at every turn. We have got to stand for something.”


NOVAK: Then I want to quote to you two guys who often sit here, I wouldn’t ordinarily quote them, but they’re not here. Paul Begala and James Carville. And they wrote a column yesterday in “USA Today” And they said, “the biggest problem the Democrats face is not that they’re seen as standing for too many liberal issues or standing for too many conservative positions, it’s that Democrats aren’t seen as standing for anything.”


NOVAK: Do you agree with that?

MCMAHON: Well, listen, when the Republicans keep coming with ideas like let’s privatize Social Security, it’s only the Democrats who can stop them because the Republicans won’t stop them.

So when the Republicans control the agenda, when they get to decide what we’re going to be debating, what we’re going to be voting on, the Democrats can offer alternatives and they can oppose bad ideas. But you know, when the Democrats try to move an energy bill, the Republicans shut it down, when the Democrats ask for an investigation of Tom DeLay to find out if he violated any laws or House rules, the Republicans won’t go forward.

So at any single instance, when the Democrats have tried to get action on any individual item, whether it’s energy policy, whether it’s minimum wage, whether it’s healthcare for every American, the Republicans are blocked.

NOVAK: Steve, there you go again, as Ronald Reagan would say. See, just all you can do is attack. And I want you to tell me, name me one Republican, member of Congress, governor, member of the national committee let’s privatize Social Security. You said the Republicans say let’s privatize Social Security. Name me one who has ever said that.

MCMAHON: The president’s one.

NOVAK: He’s never said that.

MCMAHON: He said let’s privatize Social Security.


NOVAK That’s a lie! I’ll tell you what. I’ll buy you anything you want if you can tell me…

MCMAHON: You’ve got guys stacked up in Congress wanting to move Social Security money into private accounts.

NOVAK: No one ever said let’s privatize Social Security, did they? Never!


MAY: No, No. We’re talking about…


MCMAHON: And by the way they want to cut benefits too. They want to plunge us $2 trillion further into debt for the pleasure of doing it.

NOVAK: There you go again.


BRAZILE: We’ll change the words when the game no longer fits they’re needs.

You know, Bob quoted two — three fine Democrats. Let me quote a Republican who’s in the “Washington Post” today, Representative Vernon Ehlers from the great state of Michigan. He said — he went back home during the recent break and he said, he heard a lot of frustration from his constituents. And he said, we need to, you know, tell the Congress to really — let’s get our act together. He said, if we continue at the rate we’re going, we may well lose a few seats.

Now, Cliff this is coming from inside the Republican house. This is not Democrats frustrated, this is a Republican who’s telling his colleagues he can’t get anything done.

MAY: He’s saying exactly what I said to you after your first question, Donna, that I think Republicans, and Democrats too, need to start focusing on real economic issues. And not disporting economic issues. When we talk about…

BRAZILE: Let’s talk about the energy bill.

MAY: This privatization — people need to understand what we’re really talking about here is whether people should have the choice, would haven’t to do it, the choice…

NOVAK: And only young people.

MAY: And only young people, not anybody over 50, to have a personal account. Everybody at this table, I guarantee you, owns some stocks. Why can’t poor people own stocks too? Why can’t poor people?

MCMAHON: We gave Bill first the choice and he just lost $16,000.

MAY: That’s his choice.

MCMAHON: What are we going to tell people when they are ready retire and the money is not there?

MAY: You’ll tell them what you’re telling them they’re too stupid to make a choice on their own, you will make it for them.

MCMAHON: Go tell it to Senator Frist.

NOVAK: Let me — let me…

MAY: He can get out of the market if he wants to.

I bet he’s made money over the years.

BRAZILE: He can cannot afford to lose $16,000, most Americans can not afford to lose $16,000.

MAY: Give people choice. No one would be forced to, give them a choice.

BRAZILE: That’s a lot of money.

MAY: I’m telling you, personal accounts an idea that time is coming, eventually…

BRAZILE: Especially if Congress won’t raise they’re pay, but raise they’re own pay.

NOVAK: You may not admit it on this program, but I want you to think where the Democrats are right now. Three of the issues that have been — there are a lot of things going on in Congress. It’s not that nothing’s being passed — there was a bankruptcy reform bill, permanent repeal of the estate tax and tort reform.

MCMAHON: The middle class has been clamoring for those three things, Bob, clamoring.

NOVAK: Look at the Democrats’ voting record — 73 Democrats voted for bankruptcy reform, 42 voted for the permanent repeal of the estate tax, 50 voted for tort reform, those are massive defections by a party which no longer has a southern conservative democratic base.

MCMAHON: But, Bob, look at who…

NOVAK: Your party can’t even decide what it wants to do on these issues.

MCMAHON: Look at profits from every sing will one of these things — big business and insurance companies, not regular folks.

NOVAK: Why don’t you respond to what I said about the Democrats?

MCMAHON: We’re talking about these three bills.

NOVAK: But what about those Democrats up there?

MCMAHON: The Democrats are standing up for middle class families.

MAY: Those are the ones who voted for those bills.

NOVAK: Those are the ones that voted for it.

MCMAHON: But the Democratic party as a whole didn’t vote for them.


MCMAHON: There are always a few people you pull off, Bob.

MAY: Here’s what’s going on here.

MCMAHON: But — look who benefits from those bills, it’s the big financial interests in this country.

NOVAK: All America benefits…


NOVAK: When we come back, the politics of personal destruction. Is that all the Democrats care about anymore?

And having insurgents in Iraq on a vulnerable new target. Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after this break.

BLITZER: I’m Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, 11 people, including six American civilians, are dead after a helicopter crashes in Iraq. Authorities believe it was shot down by insurgents.

Teens and drug abuse: it’s not just about illegal drugs. What you may want to check in your own medicine cabinet.

And, decades after the Vietnam era, some emotions are still very raw. What one veteran did to Jane Fonda and how she responded.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on “WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.” Now, back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: Is Congress living up to its job description of representing the American people? Our guests today are former RNC Communications Director Cliff May, currently president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, an adviser to Governor Howard Dean, now the chairman of the DNC.

NOVAK: You know, if you listen to Howard Dean and most Democrats, all you hear is attack, but it’s a personal attack. It’s a personal attack on John Bolton, one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Tom DeLay.

MCMAHON: Not one of the nicest guys, however.

NOVAK: He is a nice guy, for people who don’t…

MCMAHON: Don’t work for him.

NOVAK: Who are not — those people didn’t work for him.

BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE)…run around the office.

NOVAK: They were just rude and offensive. And, also Tom DeLay, I think, is one of the great legislative leaders of our time. And isn’t this just the pers — the politics of personal destruction, that you think that the way to get ahead in politics is to attack your enemies?

MCMAHON: Listen, I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all. In the case of both those people, if they’ve got nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about. And all the Democrats are asking for is to find out the facts. And, you know, it’s unfortunate that Congressman DeLay put himself in this position, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Bolton did, through their own actions, but the Democrats are just looking to find out the facts so that people can make a judgment. If they’ve got nothing to worry about, they got no problem.

BRAZILE: Cliff, you know, I think Republicans enjoy pointing fingers when they can’t seem to get things done their way, instead of looking in the mirror. I don’t know why they’re afraid to look in the mirror. But…

MAY: This is why they’re afraid to look in the mirror.

BRAZILE: You’re a little — a little eye candy on that (INAUDIBLE). But, by the way, Mr. Bolton seemed to be damaged goods. I mean, can he be resurrected? I mean, you have many leading Republicans, even the chairman, who is a little lukewarm in supporting him, and of course, some other members — Mr. Voinovich, and Mr. Chafey, and others — Mr. Hagel — they’re not too keen on this guy.

MAY: Boy, I hope he can be — this can be resurrected — because he’s exactly what we need right now at the United Nations. We need…

MCMAHON: Arrogant belligerence?

MAY: No, we need an ambassador who represents America to the United Nations, not the United Nations to America. This is a guy who will be in favor of real reform, and if you don’t think the United Nations needs real reform — I know you know it does. And, I mean, it’s not all Kofi Annan’s fault. The fact of the matter is, this institution is unaccountable to anybody, it’s mired in scandals — the biggest financial scandal in world history, those terrible sexual scandals, as you know. There has got to be reform there and we need some tough love. Bolton is exactly the guy to do it, and to say he yelled at somebody who worked for him who didn’t do a good job — Bill Clinton used to yell at people. John Kerry used to — Howard Dean would yell at people.

BRAZILE: Well, it sounds like…

NOVAK: (INAUDIBLE)…was a Kerry supporter. I yell at Kerry supporters all the time.

BRAZILE: Yelling must be a thing that men do when they don’t get their way.

MAY: They got to forgive us that.

NOVAK: You said something a moment ago, when you said, if it’s okay to attack somebody, and defend yourself — what was all the whining I heard by Hillary about the politics of personal destruction, that were so mean to her husband? Didn’t it — are you saying it’s OK to attack a Republican, but not a Democrat? Is that it?

MCMAHON: No, no, no, I’m not saying that at all. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying — what I’m saying is, if somebody has violated House rules, or perhaps violated the law, or if somebody is being put into a position that is — where they’re representing the United States to the world, we have every right as…

NOVAK: But, you’ve never seen a Democrat who should be attacked, have you?


MCMAHON: Of course. Anybody who breaks the law or violates House rules should be investigated.

NOVAK: We’re out of time. Thank you very much, Steve McMahon…

BRAZILE: Thank you. Thanks, Cliff

MAY: Thank you.

MCMAHON: Thanks.