<i>FTN</i> Transcript - Dec. 24

face the nation logo, 2009
Bob Schieffer, CBS
News Chief Washington Correspondent:
Today on Face The Nation, President-elect Bush picks his Cabinet. In a divided nation, will they look for middle ground or try to enact a more conservative agenda? The key to getting anything done may well be the moderates in both parties. We've got four of them here to talk about it. Democratic senators John Breaux of Louisiana and Bob Graham of Florida, and Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Then we'll talk about Bush's Cabinet selections with Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Mike Duffy of Time magazine.

I'll have a final word on gifts of the season, but first, here come the moderates on Face The Nation.

Announcer: Face The Nation, with chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from Washington, Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer: Good morning again. Joining us now from various places, Republican senators Arlen Specter, who is in Philadelphia, and Olympia Snowe, who's back home in Portland, Maine; Democratic senators Bob Graham, who's down in Tallahassee, and John Breaux, who's here in our Washington studio. Good morning to all of you.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.): Good morning, Bob.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.): Good morning, Bob.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.): Good morning.

Schieffer: Well, the hot topic in Washington clearly is the last Cabinet appointment announced by President-elect Bush, and that is John Ashcroft, perhaps the most conservative or social conservative in the United States Senate to be his nominee for attorney general. Senator Specter, you're on the Judiciary Committee. Can John Ashcroft be confirmed?

Sen. Specter: Yes, I think he can be, and will be. I think the president is entitled to great latitude in the selection of his Cabinet officers. And I know John Ashcroft very well. He's a first-rate lawyer. He was attorney general of Missouri. The thing about John's selection is I think that it creates a more pressing need for balance with moderates in the Cabinet. Some pro-life - pro-choice people to provide some diversity to offset some of Senator Ashcroft's more conservative views.

Schieffer: Well, let me just ask Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, said - and these are his words - "Any pretense of unifying the nation ended with this nomination," talking about Ashcroft, who of course blocked the nomination of Ronnie White, an African-American in Missouri, whom President Clinton had appointed to the federal bench. Is this going to go - can you vote for John Ashcroft, first?

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): Oh, certainly I can. I think John Ashcroft has been a man of the highest integrity and honesty. He certainly demonstrated that during his term as a senator, as attorney general, as governor of the state of Missouri. And think the Senate will be looking at his overall record. In fact, you know, even as governor, he supported - as senator, he supported 90 percent of the tradition - non-traditional nominees to judicial appointments. So I think clearly that John Ashcroft will be in - administering the impartial justice that's required of a chief law enforcement officer of this country. And after all, he's not going to be creating the laws; he's going to be implementing the laws on behalf of the president of the United States.

Schieffer: Well, let's see what Senator Graham says down there in Florida. After all, the attorney general will be on the spot in a lot of things. For instance, this is a man who is very anti-abortion. Do you think he can be counted on to enforce the right of people to get in and out of abortion clinics, as it were? The safety of those people?

Sen. Graham: Bob, I couldn't hear the response of Arlen or Olympia, but I would say there is a presumption of correctness for a recommendation by the president to his own Cabinet. There are going to be a lot of questions about Senator Ashcroft. Mainly I think they will focus on the question of whether the instance of Judge White represented a credible basis for his change in position and ultimate rejection of that nomination or whether it raises some troubling questions as to a pattern of dealing with issues of minorities.

There are - also is the issue that the Department of Justice has a number of agencies that are in need of major management overhaul. And I would give as my first candidate the Immigration and Naturalization Service. So there are going to be some questions directed at Senator Ashcroft as to what he would do and what his capabilities...

Schieffer: Do you - do you...

Sen. Graham: ...will be to bring those - those agencies into shape.

Schieffer: Do you think at this point, Senator Graham, that you could vote for him, to confirm him?

Sen. Graham: Well, I would say I have an open mind at this point. As I indicate, I have a presumption to...

Schieffer: Yeah.

Sen. Graham: ... to support the president's nominees. But I'm going to be looking for some answers to the kinds of questions I suggested.

Schieffer: Well, let's talk to Senator Breaux. You are one of the Democrats who's actually been talking to George Bush during this transition period. I know that you've actually made some suggestions on people that you think might be good in his Cabinet. Some suggestions I guess he probably took and maybe some that he didn't. But how about this one? Were you surprised by it, Senator Breaux?

Sen. Breaux: Not really surprised, Bob. I think that while John Ashcroft is probably more conservative than over 95 percent of his fellow colleagues in the Senate, I think he still will be confirmed. I think he's a man of integrity. He handled himself very well, by the way, when he lot his Senate race. I think that's going to do him well when he comes up for confirmation. In addition, I think we have to recognize that he's not going to enforce the laws that he wants to enforce. He has to enforce the laws of the United States even if he doesn't agree with those laws. And I think there's no indication in his background that he is unwilling to do that. I think he'll be confirmed by a fairly large margin.

Schieffer: But - well, let's just talk about these Cabinet picks overall. I mean, I think there's been general agreement across the political spectrum that some of these picks have been quite good. Colin Powell, for example, Paul O'Neill to be secretary of the Treasury seems to have gone over well. But I must say that I - the governor said he was going to reach out in this campaign. I'm not sure I've seen these - any of these selections as being a kind of a reach out to bring Democrats on board. We've have no Democrat picked as yet and I'm not sure that any of these candidates were picked because it was an effort to reach out. What's your reaction to that, Senator?

Sen. Breaux: Well, Bob, he has reached out. I do know that he's actually talked to Democrats. He's talked to - to - to me about being part of his - his Cabinet. He - he talked to other Democrats. Senator Bennett Johnston, former senator. I think that he has not finished the Cabinet. I would hope very much he'd find a place, perhaps, for an African-American somewhere that's visible. I think that would be a very important step. I would like to see a Democrat in - in part of his Cabinet like President Clinton had in his Cabinet. I think that's very important when you talk about bipartisanship and forming a coalition-type of government.

Schieffer: Well - well, of course, Colin Powell is an African-American and he's in a very visible place. But are you suggesting that maybe he can't get any Democrats?

Sen. Breaux: Oh, I don't think so. I think that he can. I think that - hopefully that he will. I think that so far he's been talking about working together in a bipartisan fashion. And I think that there are many Democrats who'd be willing to - to work in that type of a Cabinet for the good of this country.

Schieffer: Well, you brought this up just now, Senator Specter. What does he have to do from here on in? Do you think this is, at this point, a balanced Cabinet?

Sen. Specter: Well, I think it lacks something, candidly, Bob. I was very disappointed to see that the same people who opposed Governor Tom Ridge of my state, Pennsylvania, opposed him for the vice presidential nomination and then really spoke out very strongly against him as a potential nominee for secretary of defense. I think that in addition to reaching out to Democrats and diversity with minorities, there has to be more of an inclusion of the moderates and pro-choice Republicans. Governor Christie Whitman is a - goig to be in EPA, but that's not a position where - where the moderate views are really articulated. So I think that President-elect Bush has to be more inclusive of the moderates.

Schieffer: Well, let's talk about that, Senator Snowe...

Sen. Snowe: Mm-hmm.

Schieffer: ...because Senator Specter brings up a very interesting point. There's no question that the most conservative Republicans nixed Tom Ridge as secretary of defense. They apparently also nixed Marc Racicot, the governor of Montana, to be attorney general. Are we seeing someone who's talking in a moderate way here, but maybe assembling a - a - a - a - a very conservative Cabinet?

Sen. Snowe: No, I don't, Bob. Obviously, they would have been outstanding choices, as - as well. But I think President...

Schieffer: But you don't disagree with what I've just said, do you? I mean...

Sen. Snowe: No. Well, I - you know, I...

Schieffer: I mean, those are the people who blocked those appointments, or urged the governor not to pick those people.

Sen. Snowe: Well, I think it's - you know, it's not surprising on - on either side. I think that we out - obviously, have to give President-elect Bush some latitude in - in the types of choices he makes. And he is striving to do that across the ideological spectrum.

Certainly, I understand what Senator Specter is indicating. Obviously, we would like to see more pro-choice moderates within the Cabinet. But he has made - I think he has made a good start. It's a promising start. And I think it does underscore his commitment to be a president for all the people, given the African-Americans, the Hispanics, the women. And he does have additional appointments to make, and I expect he will continue to move in that direction. But he is trying to be a consensus builder at - at this point. And I think unity has been the cornerstone of his campaign, and I think he will use that as a blueprint for governing - for president of the United States as he has done so successfully as governor of Texas. And, clearly, I - he...

Schieffer: Senator Snowe, let - let me also just ask you this. Why do you think he's having such a hard time finding someone to be secretary of defense? What happened - I know Dan Coats' name - a former senator prominently mentioned - Paul Wolfowitz, a - a leading strategist.

Sen. Snowe: Mm-hmm.

Schieffer: But somehow neither of them seems to have met the qualifications that he's looking for. What do you think he's looking for there?

Sen. Snowe: Well, obviously, you know, he's doing the in - he's conducting the interviews, and he wants to be comfortable with the next secretary of defense. And I think it's admirable that he has decided to continue to explore and to evaluate his potential appointments before he actually makes that appointment. So I think that that is very - I think that's very good, tht it's important for him to make sure that he is going to be comfortable with the kind of person who's going to be his head of secretary of defense.

Schieffer: Senator Graham, a lot of talk this week about the Bush people talking about the economy, maybe being in worse shape than some folks at the Clinton White House thinks it's in. What's - what's going on there? Do you think that's a healthy thing?

Sen. Graham: Well, I think what's going on there is they're trying to fire a peremptory shot, that if the economy does go into a down spiral that somebody else will take the blame for it, and also to build support for their tax cut. I think they've got to re-examine their tax cut, Bob. It was originally predicated on the fact that we were gonna - going to have an enormous, unending surplus over the next 10 years. In light of the economic slowdown that we're now experiencing, I think there'll be a re-evaluation of that surplus. That should also lead to a re-evaluation of the type of tax cut that we need. And I would suggest that the characteristics of that tax cut are, first, that they leave plenty of revenue to deal with our more fundamental issues which are strengthening Social Security and Medicare for the tremendous baby boom retirement that we're going to experience in about 15 years...

Schieffer: Well, let's ask...

Sen. Graham: ...and that the tax cut needs to be targeted to those Americans who are going to spend it, and therefore stimulate the economy. And third, it needs to be a now tax cut, that is, one that goes into effect as quickly as possible, not one five or 10 years into the future as much of President Bush's proposal would do.

Schieffer: All right. Let's - Senator Breaux, you're on the Senate Finance Committee. You'll have a lot to do with what kind of tax cut finally goes to the president, if any, for signature. Do you think it is realistic that he can pass the kind of tax cut he's talking about or is it going to be a step-by-step tax cut?

Sen. Breaux: Bob, I think it'd be a serious mistake for him to - to propose initially the large $ 1.3 trillion tax cut. There's not unified support for that. There's a lot of disagreement. I would like to see him come with something that's more in the middle, in - in the range of somewhere between $500 billion and $ 1.3 trillion. There's a lot of area there for compromise. I think he desperately needs to get something passed and I think that he shouldn't start with the most difficult first. Get something that we can get a consensus on, an agreement on and get that accomplished so that he can show that he can govern from the center and not from - from the extreme side of the political spectrum.

Schieffer: Can I ask each of you and - just for a quick answer - starting with Senator Snowe, do you agree generally with what Senator Breaux has just said?

Sen. Snowe: Well, obviously I think that we hav to be - we have to start off with what we can pass. And I would like to see us take up with the estate tax and marriage penalty. And that would build a platform of momentum for a wider tax cut down the road. I think that having a tax cut is essential to rejuvenating the - the declining economy.

Schieffer: And let me just quickly get Senator Specter on that.

Sen. Specter: I believe we have to give President-elect Bush a chance to specify exactly what he wants. We've heard the campaign talk. Now we want to hear exactly what he wants. And I think we ought to hear from the economists and draw a real appraisal as to what the economy is going to be in the future before we make a judgment on it. This is too big a subject to do on a sound bite on Sunday morning, Bob.

Schieffer: All right. Well, I want to thank all of you. This has been a very lively discussion. Obviously, next year we're going to have a whole lot to talk about. Hope to see all of you back here next year.

Unidentified Guest: Thanks, Bob.

Schieffer: When we come back, we're going to talk to two reports about the events of the last few weeks.


Schieffer: And with us now, two of my favorite reporters: Michael Duffy of Time magazine and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. Well, gentlemen, all this talk about bipartisanship. Are you two going to work together?

Bill Kristol with The Weekly Standard: I draw the limit somewhere, Bob.

Schieffer: Well, what about this? Is this for real? I - is there going to be a bipartisanship here? I mean, I must say as I watch this Cabinet being assembled, I'm not sure, as I said to the senators, I see a reaching out here. I see some very good choices in my mind, but I'm not sure I see choices that were made to reach out to Democrats.

Kristol: Well, maybe not in the Cabinet, but no, it - there will be bipartisanship. And I think the interesting choice for Governor Bush is what kind of bipartisanship. He has two models in front of him. His father worked with the Democratic leadership in 1989 and 1990 with Tom Foley and George Mitchell. They passed the Clean Air Act. They pla - passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. They arrived at a budget deal and raised taxes. It politically did not work out well for President Bush.

Ronald Reagan had a different idea of how to be bipartisan, which was to go pick off moderate and conservative Democratic congressmen and senators. He passed a huge tax cut and budget cuts in his first year against Tip O'Neill, the speaker of the House, but with the support of a lot House Democrats.

What strikes me is that Bush is looking, I think, to imitate Reagan more than his father. That meeting with John Breaux, the reaching out to some of the moderate Democrats on the Hill, I think he w - he's - he will work with Gephardt, when he has to and Daschle when e has to, but I think he also is willing to go around them when he has to.

Schieffer: What do you think, Mike? Is this going to be a conservative agenda he's going to try to push here? Or will he really steer to the middle ground?

Michael Duffy with Time: Well, that's what's so interesting about his Cabinet so far. For the most part, until Ashcroft was named this week, it has been a bunch of sturdy, experienced Republican pragmatists. There are not a lot of fire-breathing conservatives until we came to Ashcroft this week. If he wants to get something done, he's going to have to move right to the middle. The - but the Cabinet so far - you know, he's hit every station of the Republican cross. He's - you know, I guess there are three women, a Hispanic, two blacks, Christie Todd Whitman on the left, now Ashcroft on the right. It's a - it's a - hi - so far he's managed his own party's politics. He hasn't really moved and picked a Democrat yet. Remember - and a week ag - ago we were talking a lot about him, "When's he going to put a Democrat in there?" That's kind of s - that - that talk's over. I -I haven't heard much about that yet.

Schieffer: Well, Dick Cheney said last week on this broadcast there will be a Democrat.

Duffy: One.

Schieffer: But we said, "A Democrat?" and he said, "There will be a Democrat." Well, that - that's looking more and more like he knew what he was talking about.

Duffy: Yeah, probably - probably looks like, you know, maybe Labor, maybe Education - probably not Education, but some department they'll find to give to a Democrat. But that does not mean that they're going to govern and start out, you know, proposing Democratic proposals. It'll - it'll be good standard Republican stuff and they'll look for enough votes from the people you just talked to to get s - things passed.

Schieffer: What about this business of picking John Ashcroft? Is that going to hurt, help? Will that be a bruising fight? How do you see that?

Duffy: Well, you know, he pi - you know, he picked Ashcroft - and he started thinking about him almost a month ago and he started trying it out on conservatives around the country. And he - and he had an image in mind that - that when Ashcroft was named before the Judiciary Committee that Mel Carna - Carnahan's wife, Jean Carnahan, who replaced him in the Senate, would actually be the one who proposed him. He saw it as a kind of healing moment. It looks like there are plenty of votes to get him confirmed.

Schieffer: What do you think, Bill?

Kristol: Oh, I think it was a smart pick. He - he had a danger, he was running a risk of a bit of a rebellion among conservatives. Conservatives care a lot about the Justice Department. I think the Ashcroft pick basically takes care of conservatives, gives him a lot of leeway for these other picks. Bush has been pretty shrewd. At least witin the Republican Party he's balanced things, he's - he has Christie Whitman and John Ashcroft on the same day. He's got Ford Republicans, but he's got Mitch Daniels to run the Office of Management and Budget, an awfully important pick. He's more of a Reagan Republican, very good contacts here in Washington, very well-respected. I - I think Bush has been pretty shrewd over the last nine, 10 days.

Duffy: It'll be interesting to see how much of a leash he gives John Ashcroft. He's much more conservative than Bush on a lot of issues like abortion and gay rights and federal judges, and not to mention all kinds of other things that an attorney general deals with every day. The question is whether he will let him, you know, sort of execute his own priorities as attorney general or follow the president's. That's really the question.

Schieffer: Now - now this whole business of a tax cut - Bush comes to town and - and says, "I'm going to push that tax program. That's what I campaigned on." What is that, Bill? Is that a starting point or does - does he really think he's going to be able to do that? Because clearly the senators you heard this morning don't think it's going to work that way.

Kristol: I - I want to make a prediction right now that we will get back here in July and August, after the budget reconciliation bill. Bu - Bu - Bush will have passed a tax cut of about the size he's now proposing. The economy is slowing down radically. We may well now be in a recession. Suddenly, all his concerns about tax cuts are going to start to fade away. The kind of tax cut he'll get passed will be slanted more to the middle class. He won't be able to give the wealthy as much of a tax relief as he promised. But I bet that in August President Bush will stand up and say, "I have cut every American's taxes and I've delivered big tax cut to get this economy going again," and I bet he can build a bipartisan support for that on the Hill. I think he's smart not to compromise now. Eventually he's going to have to compromise, but again, this was Reagan's style, "I'm s - my feet are in stone. I - no - no - no shift."

Schieffer: Let me just say, I - I may want to take that bet.

Kristol: You take it.

Schieffer: And we'll talk about the amount later.

Duffy: August, maybe October, maybe.

Schieffer: What do you think, Mike? Because my sense is that it is very important, that the most important thing that George Bush has to do is that the first initiative he takes, the first thing he goes to the Congress with, he has to pass it, because if he loses the first time out, they'll cut him up like nobody's business. Do you think he'll really risk that big tax cut or do you think he'll do it step by step?

Duffy: Not first. He's got to start small. "Incrementalism" will be his watchword for the - for the first couple of months. I think John Breaux was just sayin to a couple of us - a minute ago, he's got to get a few small things done early so he can show that, "Hey, I do this differently. We can make this city work again, we can make these two parties come together." Tax policy is probably not the best place to start. Do something on education, maybe do something on campaign finance or political reform, but don't start with taxes. It's too divisive.

Schieffer: What's the thing he needs to look out for? Where - where is his trouble?

Kristol: I think campaign finance reform, if you asked me what one thing, what's the big boulder in the road that's going to derail the Bush presidency in the first couple of months. John McCain is determined to bring up campaign finance reform right at the beginning of the new Congress. Bush needs to figure out if he is going to try to fight McCain-Feingold, try to modify it and make it acceptable. If I were advising him, which I'm not, I would say, "Go sit down with your opponent from the primaries, John McCain, and see if you can't work out a deal on campaign finance." I think on education policy, on tax policy, on lots of issues, Bush - you can write a scenario where Bush has a lot of successes in his first three or four months. The great problem's going to be campaign finance.

Schieffer: Mike, do you agree?

Duffy: Getting control of his government, his Cabinet and his White House staff. He's created a lot of different power centers, you know, around his White House already. He's going to have to show that he can run this operation and make things happen. That's also something you'd have to do by learning on the job.

Schieffer: OK. Quickly, why do you all think that there's a problem here on secretary of defense? What - what happened? What do you hear?

Duffy: Well, originally Colin Powell wanted Tom Ridge, the Pennsylvania governor to do it. And - but Ridge was considered too liberal by a lot of conservatives in town, and so he basically withdrew. Dick Cheney wa - came up and said, "We'd kind of like to have, you know, Dan Coats, the - the former Indiana senator." But Bush met with Coats, and that meeting didn't go very well. Bush is looking for someone to manage, to run the Pentagon. The problem is - is that with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell- everyone knows who might be up for that job - that Bush is going to look to those guys first.

Schieffer: I got ya. All right. Thanks to both of you and a Merry Christmas to both of you.

Kristol: Thanks, Bob.

Schieffer: We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.


Schieffer: Finally today, have you noticed that most of the gifts Santa left in
Washington this year came with strings attached, complicated instructions and most of the time batteries were not included?

Like Hillary's book deal: Do you think that Republicans will make it easy for her to keep all that mney after the ruckus the Democrats raised about a book deal half the size that Newt Gingrich tried to make?

George W. Bush got what he wanted, of course. But as the old joke goes, he wanted to be president in the worst possible way, and it is hard to think of a worse way to be president than to start with no mandate, a Senate divided 50-50, a House almost as close, and a nation split down the middle on almost everything, including who really won the election. But this is the season when all things seem possible, so we wish him the best.

Al Gore got the lump of coal this year, but sometimes in life what looks like a bad break turns out to be just the opposite. With what George W. Bush faces, that lump of coal may look better and better in time. In any case, we wish him the best, too.

Next year will surely bring a load of problems. Next year always does. And there'll be time enough to talk about them next year.

But because I think I heard a jingle bell, it reminds me to tell you, we have had a wonderful year - maybe the best ever - here at Face The Nation. The hundreds of e-mails and letters we now receive each week, even the ones that tell us when we're wrong, tell me that you really care about the news. Well, so do we.

So from all of us here, thanks for watching and listening. And to paraphrase a famous person, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good morning."

We'll see you next week.