Recap of Saturday, October 25

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, October 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: We're continuing to look at rising stars on Capitol Hill. And this week, my choice among Democrats is freshman Democratic congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, whose district is half Birmingham, half rural Alabama. And Congressman Davis is a graduate of both Harvard and Harvard Law School.

Thanks for coming in, congressman.

REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA: Fred, glad to be here today.

BARNES: Now, congressman, I know you are, have been a supporter of regime change in Iraq, and, of course, Saddam Hussein (search) was driven out, and yet you voted against the $87 billion in further appropriations for postwar Iraq. How do you square those two things?

DAVIS: Fred, we are a lot safer and better off without Saddam Hussein than we were with Saddam Hussein. But the challenges there, with a $400 billion-plus deficit, and with the mounting occupation and commitment in Iraq, frankly, we're going to have to make some sacrifices.

I would have voted for the $87 billion if the president had been willing to suspend the tax cut for the top 1 percent of Americans. So many people are being asked to sacrifice in this country; it's only reasonable to ask the wealthiest Americans to sacrifice as well.

BARNES: Congressman, here's my question about your career. How does a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School wind up representing rural Alabama (search)?

DAVIS: Well, a lot of people in rural Alabama were certainly happy to vote for someone who speaks for their interests, regardless of where he went to law school or where he went to college.

We spent a lot of time in our campaign talking about how to repair the conditions of an area that's been neglected and left behind. I happen to represent the sixth-poorest congressional district in America, and we have an enormous set of challenges. But we've always spoken to those issues, education, health care, economic development. That's why we were successful a year ago.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Congressman, let me just go back to the $87 billion for a, for a second. Sixty-six billion dollars of that was to support our troops in, who are fighting for their lives over there. If your, if your final vote had been policy, we would not be supporting those troops. They'd be left high and dry. How can you defend that?

DAVIS: Mort, the reason I voted as I did is, I don't want to validate a policy that I don't think is working as well for this country as it should. President Bush has not consulted with Congress. He's not sufficiently consulted with our allies until very recently.

To vote for the $87 billion is not only to reward that strategy and that policy of nonconsultation, but it's to reward a strategy that says that we're going to continue to run up costs in this country and to continue to ask vulnerable Americans and working-class Americans to sacrifice, without spreading that sacrifice to the top.

I would have voted for the $87 billion if the president had been bold enough to tell us how he was going to pay for it.

KONDRACKE: OK, you are generally considered a, a moderate on issues like guns and, and abortion. But let me ask you on a couple of other kind of hot-button issues. What about affirmative action? How -- do, do you think we're going to have to have affirmative action forever, or is there a limit to it?

DAVIS: Mort, we're going to need affirmative action as long as we have significant gaps in K through 12 education in some parts of our country. It's a fact that in major parts of our school systems, particularly in rural places, like my district, school systems are not well funded. They don't have the resources other systems need.

There is a racial disparity that exists as well, because a lot of black Americans are living in some of these poor rural areas, like the black belt of Alabama.

The Supreme Court won't allow us and shouldn't allow us to have rigid numerical quotas, but diversity is a very important goal. And I think the Supreme Court got it right earlier in the year. We need diversity, and we need to find a way as to expand the pool of talent in our campuses, and I support affirmative action.

KONDRACKE: But, but don't you think that, that plucking people out because of race and fashioning a diverse student body, say, at a university, basically lets the establishment and state governments off the hook, when they ought to be pouring resources and effort into bringing those elementary and secondary schools up to snuff?

DAVIS: In an ideal world, but here's the problem. The communities, our cities, and our states don't have the resources to make the kind of investment. When we look at the economic troubles in our countries, the fact that 43 states, like Alabama, are struggling to balance their budgets, they can't make that kind of commitment. They've never made it.

So I think we have to look at addressing the remnants of inequality that we have, and I'm comfortable with a system that doesn't have rigid quotas but that says that we can look at diversity, we can look at race, we can look at class as several factors among many.

KONDRACKE: Well, how about, how about school vouchers, say, in the District of Columbia, in order to rescue those inner-city kids who otherwise would be have their educational futures destroyed by the -- an inferior school system?

DAVIS: Mort, I'm against vouchers in D.C. and elsewhere for a very simple reason. If we have vouchers, we're giving up on our public school system, and we're giving people an excuse not to pour in resources. We're draining off some of the civic commitment that we made to schools in our country.

I do think that we have to make an incredibly expensive effort to improve our schools as a matter of national security and international competitiveness. But all vouchers do is drain civic commitment and drain resources. And frankly, the amount of money provided by most vouchers won't be enough to allow most people to attend private schools in this country.

Vouchers are symbolic and nothing else.

BARNES: Congressman, I have a couple questions. One of them deals with Alabama, and that's Judge Roy Moore (search), who, in the Alabama Supreme Court, installed a -- the Ten Commandments written on a monument there, and they've later been removed. What was your position on the Ten Commandments in that court? Do they belong there?

DAVIS: I certainly believe in the tenets of the Ten Commandments (search), but I'm very concerned whenever a sitting judge wants to put a clearly religious symbol in the middle of an institution, a court, that has to be open to people in every aspect of our society.

The question became not so much whether you favor the Ten Commandments, but whether you think a court order ought to be followed. Chief Justice Moore stated that he was going to refuse to remove the 10 Commandments even after a federal judge, even after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, ordered him to do it.

Alabama has too long a history of politicians ignoring court orders for us to sanction that kind of conduct. And I think it's fortunate that Justice Moore's colleagues removed him from office and went ahead and removed the plaque and complied with the court order.

BARNES: Congressman Davis, the man you removed from Congress, incumbent congressman Earl Hilliard, was famously anti-Israel. Are you happy with President Bush's current position on the Middle East?

DAVIS: Well, I think that President Bush has been a supporter of Israel (search). But frankly, he's sent some inconsistent signals. Earlier in the year, President Bush was criticizing the targeting of the radical Hamas (search) leadership at the same time that we were openly targeting the Iraqi leadership.

President Bush has talked very eloquently about a road map for peace, but the road map for peace hasn't had a lot of dictates in it. It's not strong enough or good enough. So I have some serious questions about the direction of present policy.

KONDRACKE: Congressman, thanks so much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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