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Inside Politics

Reno Sides with Father of Elian Gonzalez; Gore Works to Sidestep Controversy and Stay On Message; Bush Campaign Shows Kinder, Gentler Side

Aired April 7, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: If we were to start judging parents on the basis of their political beliefs, we would change the concept of family for the rest of time.


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: The attorney general sides with the father of Elian Gonzalez. Will the 6-year-old soon be on his way back to Cuba?



PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the fact that the politically charged issue is by the far the biggest news story here, Gore steered clear, instead focusing on safer ground...


SESNO: Patty Davis on the vice president's efforts to sidestep the Gonzalez controversy and stay on message.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of voters who say, Republican, oh, he doesn't have a heart. Or, he can't have a heart if he's a Republican.


SESNO: Is George W. Bush showing a kinder, gentler side out on the campaign trail?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SESNO: And thank you for joining us this day. I'm Frank Sesno. Bernie and Judy are off today.

Over the passionate objections of Miami's Cuban exile community, Attorney General Janet Reno said today she will return Elian Gonzalez to his father next week.


RENO: Yesterday, Mr. Gonzalez came to our country to be reunited with his son. Today, we move forward with that reunification. Early next week, we will give the relatives instructions on when and where Elian is to be turned over to his father. And at that time, the INS will formally transfer parole and care to the father.

SESNO (voice-over): Janet Reno made the announcement following an emotional meeting with Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at the Justice Department. She said that once Mr. Gonzalez gets his child, he'll be free to return to Cuba immediately. And Reno said he showed no inclination to do anything but go home.

RENO: Mr. Gonzalez and I do not share the same political beliefs, but it is not our place to punish a father for his political beliefs or where is wants to raise his child. Indeed, if we were to start judging parents on the basis of their political beliefs, we would change the concept of family for the rest of time.

SESNO: Reno said she expects a peaceful transfer, adding that should Gonzalez chose to stay in the U.S. during a court appeal, that can be arranged. The family would have to work out some significant differences first. And relations between the two branches of the Gonzalez clan are not good. In a morning statement to reporters, Juan Miguel Gonzalez pointedly omitted the Miami family when he thanked various people for caring for his son.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, FATHER OF ELIAN GONZALEZ (through translator): I want to thank, too, the fishermen that saved my child and the North American people. The majority has been supporting the return of my son the soonest possible with me. Thank you very much.


SESNO: Exactly how and when the child will rejoin his father is still up in the air.

Joining us now, Bob Franken. He's in Bethesda, Maryland, outside the temporary home of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the child's father. And Mark Potter, he's in Miami.

Beginning with Bob Franken.

Bob, the latest there today? Some interesting developments.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting developments, nothing simple about this. Of course, Bethesda, suburban Washington, is where the residences of the Cuban Interest Section leader. And this is where the Gonzalez's are staying. And this is apparently where they will wait for the final chapters in the saga to unfold. We don't know how long, of course.

It was a little bit over an hour ago that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his wife and baby came back after a very successful day at the Justice Department, as we know, where it sounds like they're going to start on getting their wish to be reunited with their other son, Elian Gonzalez, currently in Miami. That was what happened about an hour ago -- little over an hour ago, but nothing is simple about this, as I said.

An uncle of Juan Gonzalez had flown up from Miami, somebody who believes that young Elian should be kept in the United States. Now, what he ran into as he tried to come to the residence here to try to talk to Juan Gonzalez about that, he ran into the incredibly heavy security that surrounds this location. There are barricades several hundred yards away, and when he came to the police area, he was told he had to stop. Then there were some calls that were made inside, and the uncle, who is Delfin Gonzalez, was rebuffed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Mr. Gonzalez has said is that he's made contact with Juan Miguel, and he has asked for Juan Miguel to receive him in his home. And apparently somebody inside the home has said that, no, that they won't allow him to visit with Juan Miguel. So, they're going to go ahead and try to attempt to make telephone contact with him to see if he can speak to him directly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said that, you know, this is his nephew. He's his uncle. He doesn't understand why he won't talk to him. You know, why he won't see him.


FRANKEN: The police offered the -- uncle the chance to come and talk to the press. He said he didn't want to, instead wanted to make a phone call. Then the officers saw to it that as he drove away, they followed him. He left the area -- Frank.

SESNO: Bob, stay right there. We'll come right back to you.

I want to go down to Mark Potter now in Miami, Mark, for the latest developments there.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was swift reaction to the attorney general's announcement here in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, where Elian is staying with his relatives. In a few minutes, we're expecting a news conference that will include the county mayor, Alex Penellas.

Right after the announcement, Ramon Saul Sanchez, who heads a political activist group here called the Democracy Movement, called off the civil disobedience campaign that was to have included a traffic slowdown at Miami International Airport today at the height of rush hour. In fact, about an hour ago, he went running out of here to go to the airport to tell people, who had not gotten the word, that the slowdown had been called off. He said he just doesn't want to interfere with the family's plans, its efforts to settle this issue amicably.


RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: But this moment we don't want to put any undue pressure. There are many people attempting to work for the family meeting. And to us, that is the most desirable outcome at this point.


POTTER: Now, another reaction came from Manny Diaz, one of the family attorneys. He's quite upset with the attorney general's announcement. He's particularly unhappy with the attorney general's plan to have three health care professionals decide how best to transfer Elian to his father, not whether that should be done. The Justice Department has already determined that. The family's position has always been that a custody transfer would be emotionally harmful to the boy.


MANNY DIAZ, GONZALEZ FAMILY ATORNEY: These psychiatrists and these psychologists have already made up their minds. They're simply coming here to tell us how to implement a procedure they have determined, without meeting the child. And by the way, as I understood her to say today, they don't even plan to meet with the child.


POTTER: The lawyers argue that Elian still has not had his day in court. They want his case heard in a family court, a state family court, and they will be filing papers to try to get a hearing date.

Back to you, Frank.

SESNO: Mark, thanks very much, to both you and Bob.

Now one of the things that Janet Reno said, four months is no substitute for six years in her statement, making it clear she sides with Juan Miguel, the father here. How have her comments and this meeting changed this equation today?

Bob, to you first.

FRANKEN: Well, I think that what we've seen now that it's no longer a question as it has been over the last four months of "if." It's now absolutely a question of "when" and "how." The decision apparently has been made. And what Janet Reno also said in her news conference in effect was we can make this easy or we can make it tough. She was giving the family in Miami a chance to end this on a dignified note, but it is going to end, she said.

SESNO: Mark.

POTTER: Well, it's clear that the Justice Department is very serious, and what really changed the equation was when the father came to this country. The lawyers knew that everything had changed seriously when that occurred.

There is no indication from the lawyers, however, that they're going to just agree with what the attorney general said. The indications yesterday when the talks broke down were that the lawyers would still consider using the courts. There's no agreement announced today that they're going to go along with the attorney general's plans. There is talk of filing in state court. They're still planning the appeal. I think it's quite probable that litigation is still in the future of this case.

SESNO: All right, Mark Potter, thanks very much. Bob Franken, we'll be back to you throughout the day and evening, thanks.

Well, just a few miles north of Miami, Vice President Al Gore was out campaigning today. Now, his involvement in the Elian case has, of course, been controversial. Today, there was no mention of the matter.

As CNN's Patty Davis reports, the vice president was back on message.



DAVIS (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore campaigned in South Florida, ground zero for the Elian Gonzalez custody case. Despite the fact that the politically charged issue is by far the biggest news story here, Gore steered clear, instead focusing on safer ground -- Medicare and Social Security.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My plan will guarantee that the Social Security benefit that you have earned will not be cut or taken away, ever.

DAVIS: In the first public discussion on what to include in the Democratic Party platform, Gore pushed his plan on shoring up Social Security and extending prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients. He charged the tax plan of his GOP rival, Texas Governor George W. Bush, would drain away money from Social Security and devastate the economy.

GORE: He would squander not only the entire surplus projected over the next 10 years, but he would squander a trillion dollars over and above that. And, by the way, the United States Senate rejected that plan on a formal vote yesterday, when it was called up and asked for a vote, 99 to nothing.

DAVIS: Gore's grab for Florida's important senior vote highlighted his battle in the state with Bush. A majority of Florida's elderly voted Democratic in the last presidential election. But Gore has been dogged by criticism that he is pandering to another powerful voter bloc, Cuban-Americans, with his break from the Clinton administration to support permanent resident status for Elian Gonzalez and his family. Gore denies political motivation, but aides were so eager to help Gore avoid the press and the Elian Gonzalez minefield that they kept reporters and cameras at bay.

(on camera): A Gore spokesman said the vice president has made his position clear. What remains unclear, though, are the political calculations, since polls show that like the most of the country, most voters in Florida, believe that Elian should be allowed to return to Cuba with his father.

Patty Davis, CNN, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


SESNO: And up next on INSIDE POLITICS, all dressed up and ready for the presidential prom. George W. Bush's courtship of California begins in earnest.

And we'll talk with Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge about his chances of landing the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.


SESNO: George W. Bush says he's out to prove the pollster all wrong about California. The Texas governor says he can win the state just like his father in 1988.

Candy Crowley says Bush's message is, this is not your father's GOP.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fighting his party's hard-edged image in the after taste of a brutal primary, George Bush is showing his softer side.

BUSH: There's a lot of voters who say, Republican? Oh, he doesn't have a heart. Or, he can't have a heart if he's a Republican.

CROWLEY: Bush spoke as he wound up a two-day California trip, which included the courtship of state's sizable Latino vote. Many California Latinos turned away from the GOP after a divisive battle over immigration led by former Republican Governor Pete Wilson.

Bush's image adjustment will also include a session next week with Log Cabin Republicans, a gay voter group Bush refused to meet with during the primary for fear, he said, it would be politicized.

BUSH: This is a different time. The campaign is over. It's important for me to unify our party. And I welcome the gay Americans who support me, some of whom are members of the Log Cabin Republican club.

CROWLEY: Depending on how far he goes in courting new voters, Bush runs the risk of pushing away the more conservative members of his party. But as he targets the middle of the road, where general elections are won, that risk may seem more like an opportunity.

BUSH: Sometimes in politics, you just have to alienate people in order to expand. And if people get alienated by the fact that I am reaching out to new voters and new faces, so be it.

CROWLEY: Bush has seven months to piece together this compassionate conservative coalition. It will be tough, as evidenced in the sudden surfacing of a 1998 deposition in a Texas racial discrimination lawsuit.

The deposition was given by a defendant, Charles Williams, a Texas police chief and a Bush appointee to a law enforcement commission. In the deposition, William is quoted as saying that 50 years ago, African-Americans didn't mind being called the "n" word. Quote, "it wasn't any big deal then." William also is said to have testified that he did not consider a term like "porch monkey" to be a racial slur.

Bush appointed Williams to the commissions a year before the lawsuit was filed.

BUSH: I don't accept racism in any shape or form. And at the very minimum, he ought to apologize. I'm going to go back to Texas find out exactly what's in the deposition, find out what this man is, you know, really like.

CROWLEY: Bush promoted Williams to chairman last year after the lawsuit, now on appeal, was dismissed. The governor says he did not learn of the deposition until this week.

(on camera): To a large extent, the success of Bush's outreach depends on whether voters think he's sincere. Bush believes his record of attracting minority support in Texas speaks to the reality of his rhetoric.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Los Angeles.


SESNO: And, of course, Governor Bush has not yet named a running mate, but one person he said he will consider is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

Governor Ridge joins us now from Harrisburg. No, this is not a job interview...


SESNO: ... just some interesting questions.

RIDGE: Good.

SESNO: Thank you for joining us.

RIDGE: Thank you, Frank.

SESNO: Great to have you.

Has Governor Bush talked to you about this potential No. 2 job?

RIDGE: You know, I think Governor Bush both respects the process and the number of qualified candidates that somewhere down the road that he'll be able to select from. Right now, I think he's focused on taking a national primary campaign, restructuring it internally and preparing for a very difficult, tough general election campaign in the fall.

SESNO: Governor, you have a pro-choice position. How does that play in the Republican Party?

RIDGE Well, I think it is -- probably cross pressures the party in different parts of the country. I think, obviously, in the Northeast, the Midwest, some may view it as an asset, perhaps, even out west in California, down south and in other states it may be viewed by those who make that kind of assessment as a liability. But that's for somebody else to determine, not for me.

SESNO: What would Tom Ridge bring to a Bush-Ridge ticket?

RIDGE: Well, I think Governor Bush has to make that assessment. I mean, there has been always a lot of talk about geography and the importance of Pennsylvania, but I remind those who would -- who think geography is important we have a president from Arkansas and a vice president from Tennessee. So in the scheme of things, I think the message and the messengers are as important as the candidates.

SESNO: Let's come back to the abortion issue for just a moment because clearly that is a very difficult issue nationally. It has been a lightning rod issue within the Republican Party. Some say by naming or bringing on board a pro-choice running mate, George Bush would put that to rest within the Republican Party. You buy into that?

RIDGE: Well, I think a lot of us feel that it is a -- those of us who share the point of view that it does not belong in politics or in government. Obviously, it's reflected in my point of view that the Pennsylvania statute is where I am both intellectually and where Pennsylvanians are generally. That is, that the right of the woman to make this very difficult decision is preserved for her, and yet around that government has circumscribed that by saying there will be no funding. There's a waiting period, you need parental consent when there's minors. And so again, when it comes to assessing the impact of that within the party, I think others will have to make that determination.

But I do think there are a lot of people that are exasperated with the notion that this has been, unfortunately -- and I think unfairly -- used as a litmus test. And ironically, Frank, one of the interesting things about it is those of us who have been elected who differ on this issue are mutually supportive every possible way we can, because there's still fundamental agreement on about 80 or 90 percent of the other issues that unite us as Republicans. SESNO: Let's move on to one of those, and that is exactly what's needed to win the key in what will be a very important battleground state, your state of Pennsylvania's 23 electoral votes.

What does George W. Bush have to do to bring Pennsylvania into his column?

RIDGE: I think he needs to go back and take a look at his ability to attract Democrats and independents twice. In Texas, he has a very good record of doing that. But I also like to think that by elevating and raising the issue and talking about education as passionately as he does and talking about a different kind of partnership between the states and the federal government -- I think talking about the environment in Pennsylvania is very important. He did that. We have got a lot of miles of waterways, and hard wood forests, and parks and streams we want to help preserve and protect. We have abandoned industrial sites we want to put back into productive use. He's already addressed that in a very strong and, I think, important way. And in Pennsylvania, we like presidential candidates who want to cut taxes.

So I think if he stays on message here and elevates education and environment nationwide, it'll play very well in Pennsylvania.

SESNO: You may remember a fellow named John McCain. He's doing some campaigning for Republicans now. How crucial is his work out on the campaign trail?

RIDGE: Well, I remember John very well. He has been and is a very close personal friend of mine, and I think at the end of the day, you're going to see that John McCain will enthusiastically support Governor Bush. I happened to know how they think about certain issues. They are more like-minded than perhaps their public perceptions project right now, but I think at the end of the day, they will be united enthusiastically in their effort to defeat Vice President Al Gore.

SESNO: Governor Tom Ridge, thanks very much. Appreciate your time today.

RIDGE: Nice to join you. Thanks, Frank.

SESNO: Thanks.

And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come: Do the economic indicators point toward an Al Gore presidency? Our Brooks Jackson checks the numbers and the history. Plus: political ads, but not from the candidates. David Peeler looks at the latest in issue ads.

And later:


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What do you get when the king of the world meets the leader of the free world? (END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Bill Schneider on the mysterious White House meeting that turned into a political "Play of the Week."


SESNO: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other of our top stories making news this day.

More trouble for the tobacco industry. A Florida jury has awarded almost $13 million to three smokers, saying cigarette companies willfully misled customers about the risks of tobacco. Two of the smokers have cancer. The other already died from it. The same jury ruled last year that tobacco companies conspired to make a dangerous, addictive product. The next step of the trial could begin in two weeks. That phase involves a half million Florida smokers seeking punitive damages of up to $300 billion.

Most seniors can now work without fear of losing some of their Social Security benefits. The bipartisan Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act was signed into law today. It eliminates the earnings limit for people aged 70 and older. The law takes effect for income earned as of January 1 of this year. The Social Security Administration will rebate any money due workers. It should show up in June checks.

House speaker Dennis Hastert, says Congress, this year, will vote on repealing the telephone tax and will decide whether to tax Internet access and sales. A congressional advisory commission on electronic commerce is expected to recommend extending the moratorium on Internet taxes for five years.

Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed Mideast peace talks today here in Washington. The mid-level negotiating teams hope to meet next month's target for a framework agreement, but diplomats say a deal is unlikely without more talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Disagreements remain on issues, including Jerusalem's future, borders and refugees. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin says those disagreements could be difficult to surmount.


JAMES RUBIN, U.S. STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: These are tough issues. It's not possible to make predictions. It's the first day of talks. So other than saying that people felt the last round were -- was a productive round, it's a fact that the issues haven't changed. The gaps still remain, and there's an enormous amount of work to be done to overcome those gaps.


SESNO: Egypt is adding pressure by warning Israel it must agree to a Palestinian state to achieve a real peace.

A solar storm could create quite a light show in parts of the night sky. Scientists say the storm sent a cloud of electrically charged particles into Earth's magnetic field. As a result, Ireland is enjoying a spectacular display of the aurora borealis. Those lights will be visible at even lower latitudes over the next couple of nights.

And lots more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, including some expert opinion and assessment of the effect the Elian Gonzalez matter, what it's having on the presidential race, so stay with us.


SESNO: And welcome back. We're joined now "The Washington Post's" E.J. Dionne and "The Weekly Standard's" Bill Kristol.

Good to see you both on this Friday.

Bill Kristol, you've been kicking around, found out a little something about one of John McCain's erstwhile friends.

WILLIAM KRISTOL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Right, well, I have been talking to some people in the Bush campaign and the McCain campaign in the last couple of days. The Bush campaign has been trying to get Senator McCain to come to Austin to smoke the peace pipe with Governor Bush, so we can read that all is forgiven, all is forgotten, all is well, He's in no rush to go there. In fact this weekend -- he campaigned with Giuliani in New York this week, and this weekend, he's in New England campaigning for other Republican candidates.

Meanwhile Doug Freedline, who was Jesse Ventura's campaign manager in '98 and really his top political guy, a very capable guy from Minnesota, is coming to Washington on Tuesday to address the formation of a "Draft McCain for President Effort," and he's going to say that they have serious money behind an effort to get McCain on the ballot, not on the Reform Party ballot, which Pat Buchanan presumably will have, but under a new Independence Party line.

SESNO: Fourth party.

KRISTOL: Fourth party, McCain.

SESNO: What's this all about?

KRISTOL: Well, if you ask the McCain people about this, they say they haven't been in touch with Freedline, and of course they're loyal Republicans, and they expect to support the Republican nominee. On the other hand, they don't seem heartbroken about the fact that Freedline is showing up here on Tuesday.

SESNO: E.J., you making anything out of this?

E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I suppose the Bush campaign is watching this and saying the press will do anything to talk about John McCain some more. But I think it's a real problem for Bush to have McCain in the news like this, and the fact that McCain really hasn't embraced Bush, and that you've had a series of events such as that "New York Times" interview, all kinds of news that suggest some distance between Bush and McCain. McCain hasn't said anything really warm about George Bush, and Bush really needs those votes, and he doesn't have them yet, so.

SESNO: At some point, does it hurt John McCain?

DIONNE: As long as John McCain has nothing to do with this and says he is still supporting the Republican nominee. He doesn't say Bush's name, but says he'll support the Republican nominee, I don't think it hurts him at all.

KRISTOL: It's a month exactly since Super Tuesday, since Bush won the nomination, and I think if you talk to people on the Hill, including Bush supporters, some senior Republican senators I spoke with this weekend, they are worried, what has the Bush campaign done in the last month, in this month when people were paying attention, where the McCain experience was fresh, to tell those McCain voters, those five million McCain voters, you should be for me, George W. Bush, don't get seduced by Gore, don't stay home.

DIONNE: And Gore can't do anything except talk about McCain, or at least for the last several weeks. One thing that George W. Bush is doing, he says, he's reaching out to new faces, new people, among them, the Log Cabin Republicans, gay Republicans. He says it's time to include more folks in this party.

DIONNE: I was struck watching the clip of Bush talking in his own defense about doing this. He sounded like a spokesman for McCain two months ago defending McCain for Bush's attacks for going to see the Log Cabin Republicans. I think you're seeing a huge swerve in the Bush campaign. Especially in the South Carolina phase, in the words compassionate conservatism, "compassionate" was in very, very small type. Now that word is very, very big. Bush wants to move back to being the centrist he was trying to be before he had to go South Carolina.

KRISTOL: He's moving to the center. He's trying to be inclusive. And that's fine. Most Republicans would probably say that's a good idea. That's different, though, from having a message. That's different from having a reform message and the excitement that McCain was able to generate. I think that's the question. It's nice to talk about the environment, talk education, to meet with gay Republicans. At the end of the day, what does it amount to? I think that's what we'll have to see.

SESNO: Candy Crowley reported a few minutes ago also about Charles Williams, a name that has come up in connection with one of Bush's appointees, who is connected with what some would consider to be racist comments. George W. Bush says he's going to go back, take a look at the documentation, what's being said.

KRISTOL: Well look, I think he's appointed and awful lot of people to commissions in Texas, and if you're going to go through every deposition any of these people ever gave, you're going to find some unpleasant things, I suppose. This is the trouble of being a sitting governor. This is what good opposition research does. This is what then-Vice President Bush's campaign did to Governor Dukakis in 1988. When you're governor of a big state, you have a lot of potential vulnerable out of there. And again, what does this suggest? This story didn't come out of nowhere. I believe it probably came from smart Democratic operatives, legitimately tipping off these organizations, that hey, there's something interesting in this deposition. The Gore campaign is moving full speed ahead. They are fighting this general election campaign every day, and a lot of Republicans are worried that the Bush campaign isn't.

SESNO: E.J., another thing that's moving full-speed ahead is Elian Gonzalez and the question of what the attorney general is saying today, which is that this child needs to go home. Now that is very much at odds with what Al Gore Democrat was saying when he broke with the administration, last we checked.

DIONNE: Well, I think the problem for Gore is going to be if the administration cannot broker any deal at all with the family in Miami in the Cuban community, if this really gets nasty, he's going to be repeatedly asked, how does what the administration, how is what it's doing square with the things you said about what should be done. Is he going to have to speak out? Is he going to have to criticize the administration? In other words, the position he's taken is at least defensible, since he can say, well, I said the same thing back in January in Iowa, although he didn't seem to talk about it very much during those Democratic primaries.

But I think because he's chosen a break with the administration, the story won't end, and that's why I think the administration is still going to look for some kind of a deal with the family in Miami so this doesn't become an ugly kind of snatching of the boy out of their hands.

SESNO: Bill, does it become much more difficult politically for both candidates, for all parties, for that matter, the longer this father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, is here, carrying around that new baby of his with his wife, saying "I want my son?"

KRISTOL: Well, I'd like to see him say, I want my son, in a public forum, free of Cuban government supervision or his lawyers -- the Cuban government's lawyers, in a sense, supervision with his own family back in Havana. We haven't seen much of him at all. I think it would be reasonable to ask he meet with his family members who have been taking care of his son and the son himself and make the case in family court or at least in public, in that respect.

But I agree with E.J. Look, I have defended Vice President Gore right here one week ago, and got a lot of grief for it, let me say, and now I'm reconsidering it for this reason: He's in South Florida today. He said this was important. He said this was something he felt was a moral matter, that it should go to family court, to custody court, that we shouldn't just send this young boy back to Castro's tyranny. He's in South Florida. He can't say a word about it? I just think that really, today actually, not just what will happen next week, but the week after, if the boy is taken away, but today will hurt Gore, because he really does seem like he may have took his one shot at political grandstanding, and that he's there in that area and doesn't have the nerve to repeat what said.

SHAW: Finally on the economy -- 4.1 percent unemployment rate, pretty strong stuff. Under normal circumstances, that would amount to a shoo-in for the incumbent party. Not happening this time -- why?

DIONNE: The -- well, I think first of all, it never transfers directly. George Bush the father didn't have all the strength that Ronald Reagan had. I think there is clearly some drag on Gore still perhaps from a little bit from Clinton, a little bit from himself. But I was talking to a senior Gore official earlier this week who said, look, this is a very evenly divided country politically. It's about 50-50, if you look, at say the congressional, the House vote in the last two elections, and he was saying it's going to stay like that pretty much until the end. I think it's party election. Gore should have a small edge in that party election. He should probably be doing a little better than he's doing, given the numbers.

SHAW: Last word, quickly.

KRISTOL: Any political scientist will tell you that with these current economic numbers, the current party should hold the White House, but then you look at poll results now, and you see there's something holding Gore back. It's presumably Bill Clinton.

SESNO: Bill Kristol, E.J. Dionne, great to see you. Have a good weekend.

Well, we decided to look into that issue of the economy and its impact on the campaign a little bit more, so we tried to handicap the White House race. Try the "misery index." This economic barometer has often called the winner.

But beware, as CNN's Brooks Jackson reports, it's not foolproof.


BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 1976, candidate Jimmy Carter called it the "misery index": the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate. In President Gerald Ford's term, the misery index had been as high as 20 percent. Misery indeed.


JIMMY CARTER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says he's learned how to match unemployment with inflation. That's right.


SESNO: On Election Day, the misery index was still 12.7 percent, nearly four points higher than it had been four years earlier. The incumbent lost; Carter won. But four years later, candidate Ronald Reagan urged voters do this:


RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?

(END VIDEO CLIP) JACKSON: Because Carter's own misery index showed Americans were much worse off. By Election Day, it had risen by seven-and-a-half points to just over 20 percent. The incumbent lost; Reagan won.

(on camera): And in every presidential race since then, the misery index has predicted the winner. When there's less misery than four years earlier, the incumbent party wins, and vice versa.

(voice-over): In Reagan's first four years, misery melted away and he won in a landslide. The index dropped nearly nine points, to 11.3 percent. And in '88, George Bush kept the White House in Republican hands after misery eased some more -- the index dropped to 9.5 percent.

Eight years ago, the Clinton-Gore slogan was, "It's the economy, stupid," because misery was rising back to double-digits, 10.4 percent, up nearly a full point. And the economy helped Clinton crush Republican hopes for a comeback in '96. The misery index was down to 8.7 percent, nearly a two-point drop in four years.

(on camera): But looking at presidential elections before 1976, it turns out the misery index only predicts the winner some of the time.

(voice-over): The index doesn't work in wartime, for example. 1952, the Korean War raging -- Dwight Eisenhower took the White House away from Democrats, despite a misery index of only 3.9 percent, much lower than today and down a full 4.6 points from four years earlier.

And even an increase in misery doesn't always spell defeat for incumbents. Ike won in '56, despite the index going up to 6.5 percent. And the misery index again failed to predict the winner in 1972. Richard Nixon won in a landslide, despite a rise to 9 percent, to that time, the highest of any presidential election year since World War II.

(on camera): As of right now, the misery index has dropped nearly another full point since the Clinton/Gore re-election. You could almost call it the "bliss index." And history proves that means a victory for Al Gore, unless it doesn't.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


SESNO: OK. Up next, the shifting tides of the New York Senate race, a look at who's up and who's down, when we come back.


SESNO: More evidence of Hillary Clinton's reversal of fortune in the New York Senate race. A "New York Times" poll gives her a solid eight-point lead over her likely GOP rival, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Behind Mrs. Clinton's surge, a 42-point lead among New York City residents, more than offsetting Giuliani's edge in the suburbs and upstate. The mayor's tough-edged handling of the Patrick Dorismond shooting is the most obvious reason for his slide. Today, the first lady was pressing her advantage in the city by pressing the flesh at Grand Central Station. Many commuters were sympathetic. One called Giuliani a bum -- rather a bully.

For his part, the mayor is trying to soften that image in a new ad featuring former presidential candidate John McCain.


ANNOUNCER: Together they rode a bus to spread a message of hope and humanity to the people of New York, one an authentic American hero dedicated to integrity and reform, the other an authentic New York leader, ready to make the difference for an entire state and a nation, both dedicated to replacing fear with optimism, intolerance with understanding.


SESNO: Another ad on the air in New York draws attention to Mrs. Clinton's short New York residency. The ad is funded by a Utah-based political action committee run by Howard Ruff, a man who has helped finance conservative political causes at all levels. The ad ends saying Hillary Clinton is wrong for New York.

Joining us now from New York to talk more about this ad and some issue ads running across the country now, David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.

David, let's start with the Ruff-PAC ad there. How much money is this group spending?

DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well, what we've seen is this ad kicked off about four days ago. They haven't spent much money yet. They've spent about $600 so far. It's run only in the Syracuse market, that we've picked up. We expect if they spend according to their plans, they'll spend about $15, 000. It kind of coincides in the drop amid Mayor Giuliani's drop in the polls. So there is an issue here that you're going to see in New York between now and Election Day, is you're going to have people weighing in from the left and right that are not part of the campaign that are going to try and shift the message. It's a new tactic that I think we're going to see a lot of this campaign season.

SESNO: Another organization well known for its use of issue ads is the AFL-CIO. The labor organization's latest ad features an exiled Chinese human activist and argues against permanent trade status for China.


ANNOUNCER: Jea-Jing Sheng (ph) endured years of torture for challenging a brutal system of slave wages and sweatshops, to which Chinese workers are exploited and Americans lose jobs. But instead of pressuring China to stop these practices, Congress is set to scrap its annual review of China record and reward Beijing with a permanent trade deal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: David, how much is AFL-CIO spending on that ad?

PEELER: Frank, we all know that the AFL-CIO is very well skilled at the media part of the campaign. We've seen them spend $74,000 to date, all of it focused in the Washington D.C. market and some national cable. Also they've spent a small amount in New York City to hit both the Washington public opinion leaders as well as the media public opinion leaders. If they keep to the playbook, I'd suspect that as Congress goes into recess for the Easter break, you may see this ad popping up in some of the congressional districts.

SESNO: Now there are also a number of health care related ads on the air these days. These ads use a variety of approaches to urge voters to call Congress or presidential hopefuls on Medicare, patient's rights and other health care reform legislation.


ANNOUNCER: Tell Al Gore to fight to restore the Medicare cuts. Keep the promise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Help me help those who need it most.

ANNOUNCER: Canadians say their government-controlled health system is in crisis. They wait longer for new cures. Seniors often switch to cheaper, less effective medicines. Yet some politicians want to import Canada's government controls to America.


SESNO: David, how much are these groups spending on those ads?

PEELER: Well, all these groups weighed in very heavily during last summer and fall, when the Patients' Bill of Rights was a topic in Washington. We've seen that the American Association of Health Care Plans has a tactic of spending, again, mostly in Washington, a public opinion leader type of campaign, a little national cable, $69,000 to date.

If we look at the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Group, they've got a slightly different tactic. What they're doing is differently -- we call this the "call Al Gore" campaign or the "Call Al Gore" ad. It's really to start to shape the debate on something we're going to hear this fall. They spent $364,000 in a very short period time. They're spreading that message out into some of the congressional districts.

Moving on to the citizens for better Medicare, this group, again, trying to shape the -- it's a campaign designed to shape the debate this fall. It's an issue we're going to hear a lot about. It's all about prescription drugs. You can see that in the ad, that it talks about people going to Canada, and it's funny that a lot of the media spending is up in the northern part of the country. So you know, there's tactics behind all of this spending. SESNO: David Peeler, thanks.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the latest controversy to come out of the White House, but this one is worth a political "Play of the Week."



WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I did find just a few hours to produce a few campaign ads for Al. I'd like you to take a look at them and tell me what you think.

This November, Americans face the future. The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. One candidate has worked for eight years with Bill Clinton. He's considered by Bill Clinton to be a close personal friend, helping make his toughest decisions, a partner in progress as Bill Clinton moves America forward.

The other candidate has never worked a day with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton hardly even knows the guy. And when Bill Clinton first ran for president, he voted against Bill Clinton.

Al Gore, he's Bill Clinton's choice. Shouldn't he be yours?


SESNO: Pretty funny stuff, showing the president of the United States has a sense of humor despite what he's been through all these years. The ads he produced for last night's dinner of course a joke for Clinton's routine at the Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner, an annual black-tie affair. He brought down the house. And the other big laugh lines concerned Mr. Clinton's recent meeting with a very famous movie star.

For more on that, we meet with our Bill Schneider -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Frank, the chattering classes here in Washington are chattering about "Leo-gate." Now what is it exactly movie star Leonardo DiCaprio was doing at the White House last Friday? Inquiring minds want to know. Was ABC news using him as a -- journalist? President Clinton seemed to think so when he addressed the Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner last night.

What do you get when the king of the world meets the leader of the free world? The political "Play of the Week."


CLINTON: Good evening, President Nolan, Senator McCain, members of Congress, members of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association, distinguished journalists, Mr. DiCaprio.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What's that? A serious news interview was conducted by a movie star? Professional journalists were outraged -- well, somewhat.

Former MTV political correspondent Tabitha Soren wrote in today's "New York Times," "Does anyone really think the audience is going to mistake Leonardo DiCaprio for Wolf Blitzer?" Put a beard on Leo and who could tell them apart?

ABC news President David Westin tried to calm down his troops by sending them an e-mail saying, quote, "We did not send him to interview the president. No one is that stupid."

CLINTON: ABC doesn't know whether Leo and I had an interview, a walk-through or a drive-by.

SCHNEIDER: Westin added that "all roles of journalists must be played by journalists" -- duh. But the White House insisted it was -- duh -- an interview.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If there's another term of art for that, I am not aware of it.

SCHNEIDER: Then word got out that DiCaprio came to the White House with printed questions that he had been working on with ABC producers. Uh-oh, sounds like an interview.

CLINTON: Don't you news people ever learn? It isn't the mistake that kills you, it's the cover-up.

SCHNEIDER: Cover-up? Well, ABC is now saying it may not ever broadcast the Clinton-DiCaprio segment, which ratcheted up the tension at the White House.

QUESTION: Back on Leo, Joe, will you be supporting or passing out "Free Leo" buttons at the event tonight?

LOCKHART: That's an interesting idea. I'll get back to you on that.

SCHNEIDER: Well, here's the button. With all the controversy, we felt the need for guidance, so we consulted an expert on DiCaprio.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm deeply concerned that I find my 15-year-old daughter listening to Ricky Martin. I hope no one here does that -- which is probably better than a couple of years ago, when she was in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, that androgynous wimp.

SCHNEIDER: Androgynous wimp or serious newsman.


LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: I'm the king of the world.


SCHNEIDER: The White House caught ABC in a credibility gap. CLINTON: but I just want to say this to David Westin. You know, I've been in a lot of tough spots. Don't let this get you down. You may not be America's news leader, but you're king of the world.

SCHNEIDER: Could it be that the White House is telling the truth and the news media is covering up? That's certainly a first, and it's certainly a political "Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: You know, President Clinton was so good last night there was talk of bringing him back for next year's Radio-TV dinner as the paid entertainment. I mean, really, what else does he have to do?

SESNO: Love the button. Trade it...

SCHNEIDER: Got the button.

SESNO: Trade it for a win button.

Thanks, Bill Schneider, have a great weekend.

And that's it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, I'm Frank Sesno.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.



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