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Elian's Father Arrives in U.S.; Gonzalez Case Turns into Political Quagmire for Gore; 'Sunshine Factor' Could Decide Campaign 2000Aired April 6, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, ELIAN GONZALEZ'S FATHER: Elian's been paraded and exhibited in public rallies and by the media with the clear intent to obtain political advantage from his tragedy.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A father, a child and the political protests that keep them apart -- a look at the latest in the case of Elian Gonzalez.
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PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al Gore has had a tough week. But no matter how he tries, Gore's comments and apparent contradictions in the Elian Gonzalez case have continually topped the news.
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WOODRUFF: Patty Davis on how the Gonzalez case has turned into a political quagmire for the vice president.
Also, the "Sunshine Factor." Bill Schneider on the reasons Florida and California are suddenly campaign hotspots.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.
After weeks of legal wrangling and political twisting, the sad odyssey of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez appears close to resolution. This morning, Elian's father arrived in Washington to reclaim his boy, and the U.S. government wants father and son reunited. Just a few minutes ago lawyers, though, for Elian's Miami relatives indicated that talks with the government over a possible handover had broken down.
We begin our coverage in Miami with CNN's Mark Potter -- Mark.
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Judy, a very dramatic announcement just a few minutes ago here in Miami at the U.S. attorney's office here in downtown Miami. In fact, the news conference is still under way. One of the lawyers, Manny Diaz, is announcing the results of the conversation in Spanish.
In English, we heard from Jose Garcia Pedrosa, one of the family lawyers who said that after five days of negotiations, the conversation has ended, the talks have broken down. He said it should have never gotten to this point. He said there are a number of problems, a number of disagreements between the government and lawyers that could never be settled. He said that the government would not guarantee to the family that if the father came here and took custody of Elian that he would not go back to Cuba. They wanted an ironclad guarantee. They could not get it. In his words, the government rejected the standard of what is in the best interests of the child. He also said that the government refused to accept the idea of a psychological team evaluating the boy to determine whether he should be joined with his father.
The attorneys have always argued that the boy joining his father at this stage would be psychologically damaging to the child, and they oppose it. They said that the government would not agree to giving the psychologists the power to decide what to do with the boy. They said that the government did agree to have psychologists decide how best to transfer the boy, but the government insisted, in the words of the attorney here, that it would be nonbinding. It would not be bound by the psychologist's position. He said, that most importantly, the government has now made the decision that it will revoke Elian's parole to stay with his relatives and begin the transfer to the father, even though no one from the government, in the words of Jose Garcia Pedrosa, ever met with the boy, spoke with the boy or had him evaluated by a psychologist.
His closing words were, "This is a sad day in the history of jurisprudence."
Judy, back to you.
WOODRUFF: So, Mark, how does the transfer take place if the talks have broken down?
POTTER: The government -- well, we don't exactly know, but I can tell you what the government has said in the past. It will first notify the family that it intends to transfer custody from the family in Miami to the father. It will then send a second letter, telling them exactly how it expects to do that, the wheres and the wherefores of that transfer, the time and the place. If the family still refuses to cooperate, then the government could go to court to ask a federal judge for an order compelling the family to turn over the boy. So this is certainly not settled yet. There's quite a bit of litigation still ahead of us. The family also, by the way, could go to court, asking for a stay, asking that the government be prevented from getting the child. So we'll have to see what happens. Back to you.
WOODRUFF: All right, Mark Potter, at the courthouse there in Miami, thanks.
Well, meanwhile, many Cuban Americans may be hoping that Juan Gonzalez will attempt to defect now that he's in this country. But there's no indication that Elian's father wants anything other than to get his son and go back home to Cuba. He is staying at the home of a Cuban diplomat in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington.
CNN's Kate Snow has more on his arrival.
KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Juan Miguel Gonzalez emerged from a Lear jet with his second wife, Nercy, and his 6-month- old boy, Hianny, by his side. It was a strange welcome for someone who's never set foot on U.S. soil before.
GONZALEZ (through translator): I've just arrived in Washington, where I'll be soon able to embrace my son Elian Gonzalez Braton (ph) for the first time in over four months.
SNOW: A crowd of cameras followed his every move, as a handful of protesters shouted at the father. They held signs, written in Spanish, "Welcome to freedom." Gonzalez said he'd endured an unfair and ruthless separation from his son, but Elian, he said, had endured even more.
GONZALEZ (through translator): As if his mother's disappearance before his eyes and the miracle of his arrival had not inflicted enough damage on a 5-year-old boy, he has had to spend time under the temporary custody of some distant relatives who had never seen him before or only seen once.
SNOW: Gonzalez criticized his Miami relatives, saying they had paraded Elian around and said he was fearful for his son's safety. Gonzalez did not say whether he intended to visit Miami himself, but U.S. officials hope his arrival will help break the four-month-old standoff.
ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The father and the son need to be together, and in the coming days, we will do all that we can to ensure that that happens.
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SNOW: Now, behind me, the home where Elian's father is staying. In fact, just a moment ago, we saw this black car pull up behind me. In that car, his attorney Greg Craig coming for some sort of meeting, some sort of consultations with his client. That's the gentleman who traveled to Cuba yesterday to convince Mr. Gonzalez to make the trip here to the United States.
This is the home of one of Cuba's most senior delegates, sort of an ambassador-type role here in the United States, and that diplomat has actually left the home. U.S. officials say that is in part to counter claims perhaps that Mr. Gonzalez is under the finger -- under the thumb of the Cuban government. They wanted to dispel that kind of criticism perhaps, and that's why the Cuban diplomat is no longer living here at this home.
We haven't seen much of Juan Miguel Gonzalez today. He came out once for a breath of air. We do expect him to meet tomorrow morning at some point with Attorney General Janet Reno -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Kate Snow reporting from Bethesda, Maryland, thanks.
Well, there is a great deal at stake in this matter: Elian's well-being, his father's parental rights, the feelings of Miami's Cuban community, and, of course, politics. Al Gore's decision to endorse permanent U.S. residency for Elian and his father in order to resolve the matter in family court was a dramatic break from the administration and applauded in Little Havana. But with that comes the inevitable criticism from Gore detractors who see the move as sheer political opportunism.
CNN's Patty Davis takes a closer look.
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to fight to save Social Security and to protect Social Security.
DAVIS (voice-over): Al Gore has had a tough week, talking up Social Security at this event in Philadelphia on Tuesday and in Florida on Friday. But no matter how he tried, Gore's comments and apparent contradictions in the Elian Gonzalez case have continually topped the news.
GORE: If the father says on free soil that he believes the son should go back to Cuba with him, that of course is likely to be determinative and will be determinative.
DAVIS: It reflects his earlier break with his own administration who believes the boy should be immediately returned to his father, but it's slightly different than another Gore statement endorsing legislation to give permanent residency status to Elian, his dad and other Cuban relatives.
Critics have used Gore's apparent contradictions on the Elian case to pounce on Gore, criticisms that his rival George W. Bush has made many times that he will say or do almost anything to be re- elected.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice president seems to have had several positions on this issue. I believe and have said all along that if the Congress were to pass a citizenship, I would support that citizenship for Elian.
DAVIS: Gore's defenders dispute that characterization. They say his views on Elian are a matter of conscience not a flat-out play for votes in the Cuban-American community as many have claimed.
REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: If he would be pandering for votes in January he would be on the bandwagon that everybody else was, mostly Republicans, saying, let's make him a citizen. Al Gore didn't jump on that. He made a reasoned, principled decision.
DAVIS: But analysts say the perception could still hurt Gore in the fall.
CHARLES COOK, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": I think very few people really believe he was sincere about it. So I think this hurt, because one of the biggest questions that people have -- reservations that people have about Vice President Gore is, is he is too much like Clinton? Is he too slick, too smooth, you know, will say whatever it takes to get elected? And I think this exacerbated a problem that he already had. I think it was a political mistake.
DAVIS: Gore heads back to the eye of the Elian storm to Florida, where he has events all day Friday, but aides say his visit will focus on key Democratic issues and not on the little boy who has captured the nation's attention.
Patty Davis, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Well, Al Gore's involvement in the Elian Gonzalez case carries some considerable political risks, but could there be a payoff?
Joining us now, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."
Ron, first of all, did Gore's many different statements on Elian Gonzalez hold together rationally?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, there was clearly a different tone and emphasis in what he said on the "Today" show this week than what he said last week when he endorsed the legislation to move the case, in effect, out of the INS hands into family court.
On the "Today" show he was much more talking about the parental rights and how having the father come here and speak his mind on free soil and once that was done, if that was done, the assumption would be that the boy would be reunited. That was a very different emphasis than when he talked about in effect short circuiting the process and trying to prevent a rapid removal of the boy from the United States.
So, there was a very different tone. They immediately put out a statement saying nothing in fact had changed, but it did leave the impression that he is a bit struggling with this. And, you know, Judy, of course, the overall question of legislation and whether we're really going to move on this that way may be overrun by events very quickly.
WOODRUFF: Is Gore boxing himself in, or is he all over the map on this?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that -- I think I pretty much agree with Charlie, Charlie Cook in the previous spot, that I think that there has been pretty much only downside for Al Gore in the way he has handled this. Obviously, if he feels he is doing the right thing, that is and should be its own reward. But in political terms, I think he's hurt himself on two distinct levels. First, the fact is that most people in the country -- if you look at it just at the basic level, believe the boy should be reunited with his father and that has been true even in Florida.
In fact, in other ethnic communities in Florida there is a certain amount of backlash that has developed, a sense that we are tying ourselves in knots over the fate of this one Cuban boy when there are other children of immigrants who have faced comparable situations -- a Democratic and African-American Democratic legislator, congressman from California introduced legislation this week providing permanent residency status for a 6-year-old Haitian girl who is in a similar situation.
So there's a sense of -- you know, not everyone, even in Florida, agrees with this. And second is the broader point of whether this comes across as pandering for one set of votes, whether in fact he is doing this out of conviction, principle, or political expediency.
WOODRUFF: But does he help himself at all, Ron, in terms of -- if he thought that by doing this he would help himself in terms of appealing to Florida voters, maybe winning Florida in November, has he done that?
BROWNSTEIN: No, I don't think so. I actually think -- again, I think that even in Florida most people believe that the boy should be reunited. The Cuban-American community is very passionate -- there was a poll earlier this year in Dade County. About 90 percent of Cubans in Dade County thought that the boy should remain here. Seventy percent of whites and 80 percent of African-Americans thought he should go back.
It's a very polarized environment. I talked to one senior Democratic operative in Florida today who said, Al Gore pulled the trigger pretty damn quick on this and if he had come down and talked to more people in Florida he would have seen that the issue wasn't as simple as he thought.
In fact, Judy, most of the Democratic representatives from Florida in the House of Representatives oppose the legislation that the vice president endorsed and that Senator Bob Graham is pushing. So it is clearly a complex issue, even for Democrats in the state.
WOODRUFF: Are you saying in so many words that Gore really doesn't have a prayer of Florida in November?
BROWNSTEIN: No. Actually...
WOODRUFF: You're not going that...
BROWNSTEIN: No, because I think that the role of the Cuban- American community in Bill Clinton's win in '96 is vastly overrated.
Clinton did improve his performance among Cuban-Americans, but all Hispanics in the state are only 12 percent of the vote and the fact is that the big thing that happened in Florida for Clinton in '96 is what happened in New Jersey, and Illinois, and Michigan: big movements among middle class, largely middle aged parents, especially women. He had a big increase in his vote among women and as a result, he carried a lot of the suburban votes, especially in the northern part of the state along the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. That in the end is more critical for Al Gore, whether he can replicate that than whether he can hold 40 percent of the Cuban vote as opposed to the 30 percent that Clinton got the first time in '92.
WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, thank you very much.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.
And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS...
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BUSH: I'm looking forward to the contest in California. I intend to win.
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WOODRUFF: Can George W. Bush make California a battleground? And will he have to fight for Florida?
Bill Schneider on how the battle for these Sun Belt states is shaping up.
WOODRUFF: This evening, Vice President Gore is scheduled to begin a campaign swing through Florida, a state governed by the brother of his Republican rival. Tomorrow, George W. Bush will wrap up a two-day trip on the trail in California, a Democrat-friendly state.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
Bill, Bush in California, Gore in Florida -- what are strategies here?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, conventional wisdom says they're both crazy. Neither is supposed to be a swing state. Florida is solidly Republican. California is safely Democratic. End of story? Maybe not. Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election nationwide by a 10-point margin. He carried both California and Florida by 17 points. Now that means Reagan's electoral edge in California and Florida was seven points larger than in the country as a whole.
Remember the GOP's Sun Belt majority? California and Florida voted Republican with every presidential election in the 1980s. Underneath, something interesting was going on. In 1984, Reagan still carried California, but his margin was smaller than in the rest of the country. California was two points more Democratic than the country as a whole. Meanwhile, Florida was trending more Republican. The GOP margin was 12 points bigger in Florida than in the rest of the country. Now this trend continued in 1988. Even though California voted for Bush, the Democrats did this time four points better in California than in the country as a whole. Florida continued to move in the opposite direction: 15 points more Republican than the country.
Now in the 1990s, the trend stabilized. In 1992, Bill Clinton's margin in California was eight points greater than the rest of the country, enough for Clinton to carry the state. Florida, just the opposite -- Florida gave President Bush an eight-point bigger margin than the rest of the country did. In 1996, the Democrats' margin was still greater in California than in the rest of the country, but only by four points. Florida was still more Republican than the rest of the country, but only by three points.
Now what we find is that Republicans still had the advantage in Florida, and California still gives Democrats the edge, but neither state is hopeless for the other party. Take California. Democrats have the governor, both senators, the legislature and most house members, and Clinton carried the state -- twice. Hopeless for Bush? Well, last time, California was just four points less Republican than the rest of the country. That is not impossible to overcome. It's not New York.
Florida has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature and a strongly Republican congressional delegation, but Clinton carried Florida last time. You can't say Florida is unwinnable for Gore. It's not Texas. The GOP Sun Belt has been unbuckled. It's been replaced by a pair of flimsy suspenders, and both parties have to worry about keeping their pants on.
WOODRUFF: And you've just given a lot of hope to some Republicans in California, some Democrats in Florida.
SCHNEIDER: I intended to.
WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks.
SCHNEIDER: Well, campaigning today, Bush acknowledged the uphill battle he faces in California. As the Texas governor fielded questions on his education proposals, he also reassured California voters that he would fight for their votes.
Our Candy Crowley reports.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The political promise of California is almost blinding, 54 electoral votes, as hard to ignore as they will be to get for George Bush, who arrived in Sacramento to talk education and intention.
BUSH: I am looking forward to the contest in California. I intend to win. I intend to run a campaign based on positive issues. One of the issues I am going to spend a lot of time talking about is education. CROWLEY: Bush says suggestions the odds are so long that he might not compete in California are wishful thinking by Al Gore. But Democrats would love to see Bush spend a lot of time and money, especially money here, because they believe California is a Gore lock. Bush, Democrats say, has a fatal policy flaw.
ART TORRES, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: For women, and moderate, Republican and independent women, a woman's right to choose is a paramount issue here. You cannot win a statewide race in this state and be pro-life.
CROWLEY: Likewise, critics say Bush's positions on gun control and the environment are not tough enough for California. With just over a third of voters in California registered as Republicans, Bush will need a heavy influx of moderate and swing voters -- many of them women. He believes he can attract that bloc without glossing over his positions.
BUSH: I will say loud and clear, good people can disagree on the issue, that my job as president is to promote the value of life, the life of the unborn and the life of those who live.
CROWLEY: Bush trails here as well among the state's considerable Latino population. State Republicans believe Bush's emphasis on education and his record with minorities in Texas, once known, will help, and he does, too.
BUSH: It is going to be tough just because I've got "Republican" by my name, and I know that, but that's the experience I learned in Texas, but that is not going to stop me. I've got a pretty good reputation in Texas.
CROWLEY: Four years ago, Bob Dole told California Republicans he would compete here, and then he left. Eight years ago, President George Bush said he would compete in California, and then he left. This George Bush says he gets it.
BUSH: Well, his decision was, as you know, he kind of made a head fake and didn't run, and you can't win a state unless you compete, and it affected the Republican Party here, in the '92 election and the '96 election, and it didn't offer a lot of hope for candidates, and I am not going to let that happen in this campaign.
CROWLEY: Still, for George Bush on April 6 to say anything other than he will compete in California would have been deadly not just in this state, but in other states as well. The real test of his commitment will come in the early fall when the race closes in and money is tight -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Candy, tell us again, how much time does he plan to spend in California between now and then?
CROWLEY: Well as state Republican leaders tell you, that he has promised to come at least once a month between now and August. I imagine that he will come more than that. There's plenty of time to do it. But they have been given that promise, and they're quite delighted by it.
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley, on the trail with George W. Bush in Sacramento, thanks.
And coming up next, more on Bush's chances in California and much more. We'll talk with Mike McCurry and Tony Blankley.
We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: Joining us now, former Clinton White House Secretary Mike McCurry and former press secretary for Speaker Newt Gingrich, Tony Blankley.
Gentlemen, 22 out of the last 25 presidents have won with California. What are the odds that Al Gore or George W. Bush can win the presidency this year without California?
TONY BLANKLEY, FORMER GINGRICH PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I mean, the basic historical statistic is relevant. Obviously California is a bigger state. It's hard to win without it. I think on balance it's a little easier for Bush if he were to sweep the South, get the Plains states and then do very well in the Midwest crescent from sort of Wisconsin all the way to New Jersey, to do it without California than Gore. But either candidate is going to have a difficult road to hoe without carrying California.
WOODRUFF: It's much harder for Gore, isn't it?
MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think California is part of the electoral equation for Democrats. Without it, there is no way in which you can win a national election, I think. That's why I think a lot of this is a bit artificial. I think Governor Bush is out in California testing things to see if he can create enough momentum to get Vice President Gore to go there and defend a state that's absolutely critical to the vice president's electoral stakes. If he can create a little momentum there and cause the vice president to divert resources to have to defend that state, that probably helps Governor Bush elsewhere in other critical states.
One other point I think is critical. Both -- probably partly behind the reason why we're talking about Florida today with respect to...
WOODRUFF: Gonzalez, Elian.
MCCURRY: ... that case and why the vice president may be contesting Florida, there are really close House races down-ballot in both California and in Florida. In both cases, if you can create a top of the ticket that's got momentum, provide air cover in those close House races, that helps people down the ballot. We're at that stage in the campaign where national candidates are thinking about things like that.
BLANKLEY: Yes, I mean, there's pressure on a presidential candidate from the party to maintain a presence in states even when they don't think they can carry that state. And I've been in rooms where that argument has been very strongly made in the past. So both Gore and Bush are going to be under that pressure.
Interestingly, I think, although we don't know for sure what Gore's motives were, that one of the reasons for taking the position he did on Elian was to create some anxiety in the Bush camp and force the Bush campaign to raise money and campaign harder in Florida, which should be a safe state for him.
WOODRUFF: But right now these candidates have got to be most concerned about themselves...
BLANKLEY: They always are, right to the end.
WOODRUFF: ... and not about these other races.
MCCURRY: They are, but we're in that period, that lull before the conventions, where they can test things out. They can try new strategies. You know, in the case of Governor Bush, it's awfully tough to say that you can be president of the United States if you write off a state as significant, as big, as much of our national population as California. So of course he has to go and try to contest.
BLANKLEY: Well, particularly, since he's probably going to lose New York. I mean, to write off number one and number two states is a big write-off...
MCCURRY: What are you...
BLANKLEY: ... before you start campaigning.
MCCURRY: Yes, what are you the president of in that case?
BLANKLEY: Yes, I mean...
WOODRUFF: Let me -- Tony, let me ask you both about Elian Gonzalez. What Al Gore, I mean, a lot of dissecting of what he said and what he hasn't said, putting it all together. Bottom line, has he helped himself or has he hurt himself?
BLANKLEY: You know, I mean, it depends on how short the memory of the American public is. If the public -- I think there are moments when politicians get their image imprinted in the people's minds, and it's not often the moment when the politician is choosing to have that image imprinted. If this is one of those moments for Gore -- and we don't know yet whether it is. It depends on how much reporting goes on on it -- then it could be very damaging to him, because if there's the impression of a cynical politician, that's a bad thing that would happen.
On the other hand, this could just pass by the way, and three weeks from now nobody but people like us will even remember it.
MCCURRY: Yes, my guess is that's probably with the vice president's staff was thinking. They'd say, here is a sneak way to kind of get into Florida, really leave a strong impression on a slice of the Cuban-American vote that might actually make that state contestable. Remember also, this has resonance in New Jersey, which is a critical swing state in which there's a large...
BLANKLEY: But it does...
MCCURRY: ... Cuban-American population.
BLANKLEY: But it does seem like there may have been a miscalculation, because this story has got more legs. You've got people like Mary McGrory, a liberal in "The Washington Post," writing, you've got it leading the stories on the "Today" show. So there's an awful lot of reporting going on. This was not a below-the-radar venture.
MCCURRY: It's a human tragedy that's been screwed up by every adult who's gotten near the case so far, and politicians included, I think.
WOODRUFF: The New York Senate race, Hillary Clinton doing better in the polls. Is Rudy Giuliani in a situation now where he's got to be careful about what he says about everything?
BLANKLEY: Look, I think this has always been seen as a race where the unfortunate public image or personality of the candidates might damage themselves. This has sort of been a damage control, whose personality will be hidden best from the electorate. And this is -- in the last two weeks, obviously Rudy Giuliani's unpleasant public persona was out front and center, and he dropped seven points because of that. But it's only April.
Hillary's numbers didn't go up so much as Giuliani's negatives went up and his positives went down. So neither of them -- both of them are very smart people, but both of them have personalities, at least in public, that don't always connect with the public.
WOODRUFF: You're shaking your head.
MCCURRY: I disagree with my friend.
BLANKLEY: I know she's a wonderful person in private, I'm sure.
MCCURRY: Look, if you're going to bet on personalities and who will wear the best over the next long seven months in which we're going to be watching this race, I think over time Mrs. Clinton is a much more attractive, compassionate, interesting person. And I think the mayor is...
BLANKLEY: Well, you would say that. MCCURRY: Well, I would. I believe it. The mayor is acerbic. I think he kind of rubs some people the wrong way. I think the more he's exposed and the more he's out there, probably the better it is for Mrs. Clinton.
WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen. Mike McCurry, Tony Blankley, thank you both. Great to have you all any time. Come back.
And much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Coming up:
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GOV. JIM HODGES (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Our feet are sore from this long march, but we cannot rest. We can't rest until our legislature gets in step with the people of South Carolina.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: The two sides on the Confederate flag issue meet on the streets of the state capital. Could the sports community tip the political balance?
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SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: Now, should we be debating the presidential campaign on the floor of the Senate?
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Issues from the campaign trail are showing up on Capitol Hill -- but not in the ways you would expect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Chris Black on the unusual effect of election-year politics on Capitol Hill business.
WOODRUFF: A long festering feud over the flying of the Confederate flag came to a head today at the state capitol. Hundreds of demonstrators had marched 120 miles to demand that the flag be lowered from above the statehouse dome. They say it symbolizes racism and slavery. The governor told the group it is time that state lawmakers act.
HODGES: We must, as South Carolinians, move forward and get this issue resolved. And we must move the flag from the dome in South Carolina. Now I don't know about the rest of you, but frankly I am tired of the debate. We've got to move forward.
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WOODRUFF: Not far away, meanwhile, demonstrators rallied to keep the stars and bars flying. They say it is about heritage, and it honors the South's Civil War dead. South Carolina's legislature has the last word, but is split over what to do.
The issue South Carolina millions of dollars. The NAACP is waging a tourism boycott. The organizers say it is having a big effect on sports events in the state. The football and basketball coaches at both the University of South Carolina and Clemson University joined the anti-flag march earlier in the week.
Joining us now from Atlanta with some insight on all this is CNN/ "Sports Illustrated's" Fred Hickman.
Fred, why did the coaches get involved?
FRED HICKMAN, CNN/"SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Well, I think, Judy, there are a couple of reasons, but one of them has to be pure economics, as far as athletics are concerned. We have to remember that in South Carolina, there are no professional sports, so the two major universities, as far as sports are concerned, are Clemson University and of course the University of South Carolina. Both their head football coaches and their basketball coaches did show up and march.
Lou Holtz, the head football coach at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said he's already lost a couple of African- American recruits because of this very issue. If you don't have the recruits, you can not win, and if you don't win, you won't have a job long, and of course that drives down your attendance figures, and it also drives down the attendance as far as people coming in and spending those hotel dollars and spending those restaurant dollars as well.
So there's a major, major fulcrum there here that I think that athletics can provide and hopes to provide.
WOODRUFF: So clearly there's a selfish interest there on their part and the part of their universities. At the same time though, Fred, do they he hope to tilt the legislative debate on this?
HICKMAN: Well, I think so, because I think this is an issue -- and I've said it many times before -- sports is a microcosm of society, and I think that it's a language that everybody seems to speak and everybody understands.
When you have a team like the New York Knicks who have held their training camps in Charleston, South Carolina since 1991, and they pulled that training camp issue out. They moved elsewhere because of this issue. When you have Serena Williams, one of the great tennis players in the world, saying she many not play in the tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina because of the flag issue. I think if you bring in a lot of other people who would like to come out and see these athletes play and see these people perform. And it's a form of business that you cannot put a number on, except for the hotel and the attendance numbers, but it's a form of business that's very tangible to those people who are adversely affected by it. WOODRUFF: How comfortable typically are sports figures, athletes, Fred, in getting involved in a political controversy like this one?
HICKMAN: A lot of times you won't see them outwardly get involved. At the professional level, there are leagues to be involved with and there are player unions to be involved with.
For example, in Atlanta, leading up to the Super Bowl just this last January, Reverend Jesse Jackson brought up the flag issue here in the state of Georgia. The stars and bars are incorporated in the Georgia state flag and there was a lot of talk about that, and trying to perhaps have the players from both teams wear the emblem of the American flag on their helmets, something that was kind of poo-poohed by the NFL, and they kind of walked away from that issues all together.
WOODRUFF: As individuals, I think there is a tendency to kind of wait and defer to the teams, wait and defer to the leagues to see what's going to happen, but I think it's something that's going to have to be dealt with, especially in the South and especially in states like Georgia, as far as the professional sports are concerned.
But in South Carolina, in particular, the lightning rod state for issue right now, it's all about the college sports, it's all about their leagues, the ACC, the SEC, and different leagues that may have some involvement within the state.
WOODRUFF: Would you expect, Fred, based on your reporting that we're going to see more statements, either through marching or public speaking from some of these sports figures, coaches and others when it comes to the flag debate?
HICKMAN: Well, I think they're going to have to. The ACC tournament, which was held in North Carolina this year, made a statement at their basketball tournament that they did not want their teams staying in hotels in South Carolina because they didn't want the public to think that they were actually taking a side one way or the other or they were taking a side toward keeping the flag there. When you have issues like that coming up, I think that's an issue that the legislature is going to have to take a look at, and they're going to have to say, well, is it worth us missing out on these dollars? Is it worth us having a real image problem, really, when it comes to the rest of the country and people who don't understand the Southern issues and haven't lived here.
I think it's something that's going to have to go hand in glove here as time goes on, and I think it's going to be sooner rather than later before we have some action on this.
WOODRUFF: All right, Fred Hickman from CNN/"Sports Illustrated," thanks very much.
HICKMAN: You're very welcome.
WOODRUFF: Great to you, Fred. HICKMAN: You too, Judy.
WOODRUFF: And up next, the signs from Capitol Hill that an election is near. Chris Black with the political maneuvers taking place beneath the dome.
WOODRUFF: To the White House now, where there appears to be word of progress between Republicans and Democrats on the controversial question of drug benefits for the elderly, for Medicare recipients.
For the very latest on that, let's go to White House correspondent, Major Garrett.
Major, bring us up to date.
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Judy, House Republicans, CNN has learned, will next week unveil the outlines, the principles of their plan to address the need of Medicare benefits, Medicare drug benefits. Three key parts of that are exactly the same of that plan put out by President Clinton and being drafted and to be unveiled next week by Senate Democrats.
Here are the key three similarities. The Republican plan on the House side will set aside $40 billion over the next five years for drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. The plan will be universal and voluntary. Those are the three core principles that Mr. Clinton has endorsed and the Senate Democrats have also endorsed.
Now it's also worth pointing out that there are some key differences. The White House would like to provide a 50 percent premium benefit to all Medicare beneficiaries. The House Republican plan is still in development. They haven't decided exactly how they're going to deal with that.
Senior White House officials told CNN they suspect that House Republican plan will probably be not as generous as the White House plan. However, it is worth noting on the White House official who talked to CNN said this, that there has been significant narrowing of differences, that there is something worth talking about and maybe by the end of the year there not only could be progress, but a bill to deal with Medicare benefits -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Major Garrett at the White House, thank you.
And meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats are calling for a vote on an issue that has George W. Bush's support, but it is not an act of bipartisan goodwill.
As Chris Black reports, it is just one of the many partisan actions motivated by election-year politics.
SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: Now, should we be debating the presidential campaign on the floor of the Senate?
BLACK (voice-over): Issues from the campaign trail are showing up on Capitol Hill, but not in the ways you would expect. Senate Democrats called for a vote on George W. Bush's tax cut to embarrass Republicans who had rather not publicly embrace a tax cut more than three times bigger than the one they proposed.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: They run, in the words of our former Senator Dale Bumpers, like the devil runs from holy water when it comes to a vote on the George W. Bush tax cut.
BLACK: But Republicans are trying to embarrass the Democrats and their presidential candidate with a dramatic reading from Vice President Gore's environmental book "Earth in the Balance" and its call for elimination of the internal combustion engine, which one senator said can only be accomplished through a $3 per gallon gas tax.
GRAMM: We ought to get an opportunity for the Senate to go on record here in saying they don't agree with the vice president. They are not quite ready to kiss the internal combustion engine good-bye.
BLACK: In other ways, it's been an uncomfortable budget debate for the majority party. Six Republicans voted in favor of candidate Gore's proposal for a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: The Republican senators are, Abraham, Burns, DeWine, Chafee -- what's common here? I'm not sure.
BLACK: Those four Republicans stand for re-election this year, and another candidate facing a stiff challenge, Senator Bill Roth of Delaware, switched his vote midway through the roll call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mack.
SEN. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: Aye.
BLACK: Twenty-two Republicans went on record against repealing what Republicans call the Gore tax, even after weeks of blaming Vice President Al Gore for the 4.3 cent gas tax increase of 1993. As part of an ongoing effort to deny the vice president the spotlight by casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, Republican leaders had to scramble to avoid a tie vote on protecting an Alaska wildlife refuge.
BLACK: This week, the presidential candidates are shadow boxing through their surrogates on Capitol Hill. As the campaign continues, both sides predict there will be a lot more to come -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Black reporting from the Capitol, thanks
Well, meanwhile, the Gore campaign is hoping that Warren Christopher can make lightning strike twice. Today, the former secretary of state was tapped by the vice president to head up his search for a running mate. Christopher did the same thing in 1992 for then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and you know who he selected.
INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.
WOODRUFF: It turns out that many Americans have the same complaint about the presidential campaign season that they do about the baseball season: they're too long. According to a new poll by Harvard University's Vanishing Voter project, 62 percent say campaigns need to be shortened. Thirty-three percent prefer the long primary season. Fifty-six percent would rather see a single national primary held in May or June. Thirty-two percent say keep the current system. Well, how deep is the discontent? The old idea of letting party bosses pick nominees in smoke-filled rooms was actually favored over the current system, and I wonder if that includes cigars.
That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. You can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com. I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.
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