In this CNN Crossfire, Paul Begala points out that the Republicans in Congress used their power to force all sorts of Clinton aides to testify before Congress. It became almost a sport for the Republicans to try to trip them up to ruin either their careers or just do some damage to the Clinton Administration. But when Democrats want Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge to tell us precisely what he's going to do with the HSO's $38 BILLION budget, suddenly he is exempt from having to answer questions from the people's representatives. Begala names this phenomenon the Novak Rule.
[Highlights from transcript of CNN's Crossfire, aired April 30, 2002]
BEGALA: Now it's time for a look at those unusual and interesting stories you might not find anywhere but in our CROSSFIRE "News Alert."
Linda Lay, the wife of Enron CEO Kenny Boy Lay, is opening up a second-hand store in Houston called "Just Stuff." Mrs. Lay, who memorably wept on national television at the prospect of selling one of the family's mansions, plans to sell a used lamp, made from antique street lights, a used mahogany bed, a used desk and several used members of the Bush Administration. When reached for comment, Ken Lay said I'm so proud she is continuing the family tradition of ripping off Houstonians.
During the election campaign of 2000, George W. Bush, then governor, attacked a proposal from House Republicans to cut student loans and other programs. At the time, candidate Bush said, "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor." But in a turnabout, President Bush this week asked Congress to slash student loans and other programs by over $5 billion and now it's congressional Republicans who are saying the cuts are unfair to the poor.
When asked what middle class and lower income students are supposed to do if they're kicked off from their student loans, Bush said they can do what I did, call my dad from a bar and ask for more money from the trust fund.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "round 6," where Novak and I go at it. No guests, no gloves, no holds barred. And only one topic tonight, the standoff continues. Both sides making threats, calling names, digging in. No, not in the Middle East, but on Capitol Hill. The issue, whether homeland security director Tom Ridge should testify before the Congress as lawmakers consider the $38 billion dollar budget request for homeland security.
Bob, this is a no brainer. That guy wants to spend $38 billion of our money, he should be accountable to the people who write the checks.
NOVAK: Well, if you knew a little bit about the way American government works, you'd know that we're dating all the way back to Harry Hopkins. With FDR, they refused to testify before Congress, personal aides. Now what we all know is that Senator Byrd, who wants to take all this homeland security money and transfer it to west Virginia, where he lives, that he wants to -- he loves to beat up our government administration officials.
And so, what the administration is doing, they're saying, Senator Byrd, we're going to send the Agriculture Secretary. We're going to send the Treasury secretary. Both of them appeared there today. And they can give you a testimony about their part of homeland security, but Tom Ridge is a personal aide to the president. And he should not, under the American tradition, have to testify.
BEGALA: Well, let me tell you the American tradition. First off, Gerald Ford, a Republican, but a fine president, testified before the Congress of the United States as president. When I worked for Bill Clinton in the White House, not me, but most of his personnel aides were summoned up there. Take a look. This is just the four or five most famous that we saw. John Podesta, the chief of staff to the president of the United States. No more personal aide was there. Hauled up there to testify. George Stephanopoulos, Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff. Maggie Williams, the chief of staff to the First Lady. All of them hauled up there to the Hill by Republicans.
Now all of a sudden they're saying this guy can't explain the $38 billion?
NOVAK: Can I explain to you the difference? They were brought up to testify on criminal charges against the president of the United States.
BEGAL: No, they were not.
NOVAK: Wait. And if I could speak while you're interrupting.
BEGALA: No. While I¹m answering while you are misleading.
NOVAK: And they were called up there, not to talk about policy questions. They were called up to talk about criminal matters. You know, this was a very difficult period for all of us. And naturally, they had to testify. Now if Tom Ridge, if there were a impeachment proceeding against President Bush, I'd say Tom Ridge would have to testify.
BEGALA: Every one of these guys testified long before that right-wing lynch mob tried to impeach Clinton. What this was -- so this is a Novak rule. If you spend $38 billion of our money trying to save our lives, well we won't ask any questions. But if you happen to work for a good president, a great president, we're going to harass you every day of the week.