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Capital Gang

Federal Agents Seize Elian Gonzalez from Miami Home, Reuniting Him with His Father

Aired April 22, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to a special one-hour edition of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is former Democratic Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas.

It's great to have you back.

DALE BUMPERS (D), FORMER SENATOR: Thank you. I'm honored to be with you.

SHIELDS: Thank you. Good to have you. In the early morning hours today, federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives and took him to Washington, there for a reunion with his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Unfortunately, the Miami relatives rejected our efforts, leaving us no other option. After negotiating through the night, I informed the parties that time had run out. At that moment, I gave the go-ahead for the operation.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that it was right thing to do. She made the decision, she managed this, but I fully support what she did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: This followed federal appellate court injunction which barred the boy's return to Cuba, at least until a May 9 custody hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RENO: When the two are reunited, they will remain in the United States during the appellate process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, since the Miami family refused to bargain, what realistic option did the attorney general have? KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, Mark, she could have abided by what the 11th Circuit said this week. They strongly criticized the INS for how they've handled this, pointing out the has INS ignored its own procedures. They recognized that Janet Reno has failed to, has refused to -- the child has rights separately distinct from his father.

So what she could have done was take care of the factual disputes, and there were factual disputes here. In a custody hearing in family state court, the original INS position was it was a family/state court matter, or in a full-blown hearing, which the 11th Circuit anticipates might happen. Instead, she relied on a "I looked in his eyes law." She's not only winging it on the law, according to 11th Circuit, she's winging on the facts. She's just decided on her own that I looked Juan Miguel in the eye and I decided this is what's best. That's not how we resolve these disputes.

SHIELDS: Dale Bumpers, did she have an option?

BUMPERS: I don't think she did, and I don't think the American people thought she had option. At Waco, she was charged with being impetuous and impatient. In this case, she was the personification of patience. She waited, and waited and waited. And after all, the great uncle, in whose custody Elian had been placed or was placed, said I'm not going to turn him over, if they want him, they're going to have to come and get him, and that's what they did.

SHIELDS: That is what they did, Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": You know, it's deja vu all over again, Janet Reno saying "Time has run out." What is this we can't wait any longer? Why couldn't they wait longer? The president, as in Waco, saying I didn't make that decision, good decision, but I didn't make that decision. The interesting thing is that she couldn't wait, because at the time of the hearing, if they brought the boy in, and he said, I want to stay here, I don't want to go walk to Cuba, they'd be finished under the terms of the 11th Circuit Court opinion. So they have got now, in the -- behind -- no American can get in to the air force base, no reporter can get in. What kind of brainwashing their doing with that little boy, whether there are Cuban Interest people there. Their lawyers says he saw them there. So I think it's a deplorable situation.

SHIELDS: Al, do you think brainwashing going on and this is all part of a major scheme?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": This is such a distortion also of the law. The Supreme Court has said that these are decisions that ought to be made by the attorney general, not by courts, to begin with. They ruled that in Guatemala case last year. This little boy hadn't been there for 15 hours or 15 days, he'd been there for almost 150 day, and there was a very easy way for this incident not to have occurred: If Lazaro Gonzalez had been willing to obey the law -- we are a nation of laws -- and turn that child over, then there would have been none of this problem at all. Mark, just one more point if I may, Cardinal Bernard Law, the very conservative archbishop of Boston wrote this week that "The natural bond" -- I'm quoting this column in the "Boston Globe" -- "between a father and a son is of far greater value than a visit with Mickey Mouse, or a glass of chocolate milk, or even the superiority of a system of government." That's what was in play here.

O'BEIRNE: Well, the archbishop in Miami has said no such thing, and he's a lot closer to the situation and to the kind of life this child will have when he goes back.

The attorney general is not allowed to make these decisions without any overview. And what 11th Circuit says is that the INS abused their discretion, and that's obviously what the role of the court is. You know, the first time, the INS had any contact with this child was when the INS agent poked a submachine gun in his chest. That was the very first time the INS had any contact with him, and the 11th Circuit said, you should have talked to the child. If there are questions about the fitness of this father or how free he is to speak his mind -- and I think there are huge questions about that -- that can only be determined in a factual hearing in a court, and that's the one thing Janet Reno is determined to avoid.

SHIELDS: Was it, though, your own judgment, Dale, holy Saturday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, I mean, you know, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic community. I mean, should there have been greater sensitivity to that, I mean, waiting until Monday or...

BUMPERS: No, Absolutely not.

Let me ask all you have this question. What if Janet Reno had said, Monday afternoon, at 2:00 p.m., we're coming to get Elian? What do you think would have happened? Everybody knows what would happened.

SHIELDS: Ten-thousand people.

BUMPERS: Absolutely.

You've got to face up to one thing, Mark, which I think is very important: Elian has been placed with his father where should have been placed a long time ago. Number two, nobody got hurt. Number three, he's going to get chance to bond with his father. Number four, I disagree with the court decision which was rendered last week, I disagree strongly with it, but that court decision will be honored. He will have opportunity...

O'BEIRNE: The Miami relatives broke no laws here. I don't know where people keep saying that. Nobody can name single law the Miami relatives broke/

NOVAK: There's two kinds of Americans, and I'm afraid you're in the majority, I hate to think of it, but I think you are in the majority. First time I have said that to you. But I really believe that the majority of Americans think that as poor Archbishop Law says -- Cardinal Law says, that it is just a difference in a preferable form of government, another form -- it isn't. One is a Godless, totalitarian, brutal dictatorship accused of drug running, and the other is freedom. I'd pick freedom any day.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I've have been very patient on this. Cardinal Law has been to Cuba, and he does not defend Cuban system. He's a strong critic of it, and he is not following the ranks of Godless, by any means, but this is more than Cardinal Law. I want to say a word about Janet Reno. Janet Reno does -- she steps up to plate and takes the tough ones of this administration.

NOVAK: She makes mistakes.

SHIELDS: I'll tell you, I think she does right thing. You can argue how she does the right thing, but this was the right decision to make, by every definition. She does it, she sometimes doesn't do it well, and this will be an awful picture in that house, it well a vivid photo, it will be the most remembered photo, of the armed INS agent with the gun in the house, and that will be lasting. It's not like the schoolhouse door of desegregation, George Wallace in Alabama, which was a different...

HUNT: And of course it's whether you believe in law, which is what they did today. It's precisely what they did.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Wait, let me finish. And what happened, it took three minutes, that's all it took, no one was hurt, no one was killed. That child got out safely. And I'm sorry, Bob, those are facts, and that was very successful mission. You're right she deserves credit.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt. Dale Bumpers and the GANG will be back with the political fallout.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

CNN has learned that the Gonzalez family, including the father, stepmother, infant and the child, will -- Elian -- will go from Andrews Air Force Base in a few days to the Wye Plantation on the Eastern shore of Maryland, where Mideast peace talks have been held. In the meanwhile, the Cuban community in Florida reacted in anger to the seizure of Elian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI: What you saw here tonight was one of the most shameful, shameful acts that I have ever seen a federal government become involved in. There was no need to send armed men with machine guns to go inside the house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The day before the government acted, Vice President Gore kept his distance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally believe that any decision on custody should be made on the basis of what's in the best interests of the child, and a valuation of the child, by people who actually meet with the child and make a psychological evaluation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Today, the vice president issued this statement -- quote -- "As I have said, I believe this issue should have been handled through a family court and with the family coming together."

As Republican opponent Texas Governor George W. Bush issued this statement -- quote -- "The chilling picture of a little boy being removed from his home at gunpoint defies the values of America and is not an image a freedom-loving nation wants to show the world" -- end quote.

Republicans in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, attacked the federal government's action as resembling the Castro dictatorship.

Al Hunt, who are the political winners and the losers here?

HUNT: I think Al Gore is a loser, not for his position, but because there is a sense that he was opportunistic in this issue. But I think the hopes of George Bush and Tom DeLay, and Trent Lott, and the mayor of Miami, who I think demagogued and distorted some of what happened on this, that they're going to get great political mileage out of this. It's not going to be realized, Mark. The American people -- it's been saturation coverage. The American people are fully informed about this. And by an overwhelming majority, to Bob Novak's great dismay, they say a son belongs with his father.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, whose name was mentioned here just seconds ago, seconds ago, you really get the sense that for 41 years, Bob, there has been this Castro-U.S. thing, and now it's down to Castro and Dade County, Florida.

]NOVAK: As I said, Dale is in the majority, and I regret it. But I think that may have been another change in the tide today. As you said, that image of these military uniformed marshals going in there, smashing in the door, wielding their guns, smashing up the bedroom, and this is something that is not acceptable. This is the way our federal law enforcement agencies work, and anybody criticizing, saying you're with vigilantes or the militia or something. That's baloney. This is a problem for this country, and this was another despicable example of excess.

And I will tell you, this could change the political equation. I think Gore is smart to get off the bandwagon on this.

Dale Bumpers, political loser? BUMPERS: I don't know who political loser out of it is. I think, incidentally, I think Bill Clinton has been very -- I think has been very measured in his comments, and I think he comes off very well. He's not running for anything. I don't know how this will affect -- I was rather surprised by strident remarks of George W. Bush. Because I can tell you, the American people are going to get a good night's sleep tonight for first time in a very long time. The American people are glad this over.

And while I'm at it, Robert, let me ask you this question: You know, Republicans have been lecturing us for 20 years now about family values, that includes a father being bonded with his son. What ever happened to the family value part? Castro has nothing to do with this. Castro has nothing to do with this.

NOVAK: What about family values of the little kids they are pulling out of their families and are going to put them in this government house with Elian? How about their family values?

O'BEIRNE: Today, he was returned to the custody of Castro. This child was returned to the custody of Castro. You know, I assume, though the senator could be right here -- it might not bother the American public. What a shame that will be, that they are willing to sit back and let a special forces-type operation, with loaded submachine guns, move in on family that is law abiding -- there was no court order or anything else these people were abusing -- to take, point a gun at a 6-year-old. This not how we settle custody disputes in America. But you might be right, maybe the public so is tired of story they're just as happy.

But let's not kid ourselves, Castro now has custody of this child. The one thing the public was not very well informed about, they were all worried about whether or not the child looked as though he'd been prepped on that video last week. What about the fact that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has not been out of the company of Castro's agents and allies since he's been here? How many of the public do you suppose realize that the mother of his other baby has 6-year-old back home in Cuba? Why isn't that 6-year-old with her?

BUMPERS: Kate, let me ask you a simple question. You were talking about these people coming in there, armed with machine guns.

O'BEIRNE: Right.

BUMPERS: Let me ask you this question. They -- Janet Reno said they had intelligence that they thought they were weapons inside.

O'BEIRNE: She was wrong, wasn't she? She was wrong.

BUMPERS: Let me ask you this. Your son, if your brother, or your son, or your father or anybody else was in that group, would you want them to have walked in that house unarmed?

O'BEIRNE: We don't do that to law-abiding Americans. They raided that place as though all...

BUMPERS: Well, there's a question about how law abiding.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: I thought armed-to-the-teeth drug agents were there.

NOVAK: How'd you like the way they handled themselves?

BUMPERS: I thought they handled themselves very well, and I don't believe that this is about a submachine gun being pointed at this child.

O'BEIRNE: There's a photograph of it.

HUNT: But photographer said it wasn't, Kate. The photographer said when he looked at it, the person who took the picture...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: Look at the picture. A picture is worth a thousand words, Al.

HUNT: Kate can tell, but the photographer can't. That's really quite interesting. Mark, listen, this is just as exactly what this is all about. I mean, among other things, what's the best interests of child?

O'BEIRNE: Right. Right.

HUNT: Look at "The New York Times," "The Miami Herald" reports that family, that he was in a two-bedroom house, couldn't go to school, that great uncle had all kinds of brushes with the law before, and I'll tell you something, I don't like the system of government in Cuba, but I have seen nothing that tells me that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is an unfit father, absolutely nothing.

O'BEIRNE: Well, the court decides. You and I don't get to decide, neither does Janet Reno, a court decides.

HUNT: The Supreme Court says the attorney general should decide. That's the Supreme Court ruling in the Guatemalan case last year.

O'BEIRNE: Let's look her shoulder. She's not God.

SHIELDS: Last word, Kate and Al.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, what does it mean for Castro?

Bob, what's it mean for Castro?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In Havana, Castro's government called for calm and did not declare victory, but the Cuban leader's enemies in Miami called him the victor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI: It's not young Elian, it's not Miami, it's not America; the only winner will be Fidel Castro, because he would accomplish the ultimate goal that he wanted, to create disturbances in Miami.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob, is the mayor right in calling Fidel Castro the winner?

NOVAK: Absolutely. He is this international criminal, hated by his own people and troubled with military, has had a new birth by this incident, and he has played it beautifully, but he couldn't have played it this well unless President Clinton wanted him to, and that's the outrage.

SHIELDS: That this was part of a deal?

NOVAK: Absolutely, The day he got in, President Clinton has wanted to make a deal with Castro. He couldn't, because he shot down the civilian planes.

BUMPERS: Now, Bob, that's really stretching it. You know, I don't know how you reach conclusions as that. The truth of the matter is, decency and human bondage have prevailed.

NOVAK: Bondage is the word.

BUMPERS: This father has a right to his son. He has a right to son. I used to try a lot of cases where there were custody disputes, and thousands of cases like this are decided every day. They always go to -- the child goes to the mother or the father, but it's very rare they go to anybody else. The mother is not around.

O'BEIRNE: Back in Cuba, he has no rights to son, just like the 12 -- his schoolmates who are being moved into this re-education camp, his parents have no rights, with respect to whether or not they move there.

SHIELDS: Al, who is the winner?

HUNT: I don't know winner is. But I'll tell you, Castro needs Bob Novaks of the world; they make him. He needs a bogeyman like that. He needs the right wing politicians that are always criticizing.

If you normalize relations with Cuba, it would do a couple of things. Number one, it would modestly help Cuban people. Number two, it modestly helps in American businesses. It would hurt Castro. He absolutely needs this issue. But I'll tell you, Mark, I think this actually sets back any prospects for normalization, because I think makes it a hotter issue.

SHIELDS: I'll say two things. It sets it back if for any reason, during the period that court has decided that Elian gets back to Cuba, goes through Mexico or anything of that sort. That's the first thing. Second thing, though, I think, I will make a prediction about winners and losers, and that is that Elian Gonzalez in this case, and anything about it, will not be mentioned at the Philadelphia Convention in the acceptance speech, even by the Republican's vice presidential nominee or presidential nominee. There will be some people making shots, you know, in early words, but it is not going to be...

NOVAK: I'll make you a bet. I'll bet a hot dog on that.

SHIELDS: OK.

NOVAK: But I'll ask you this: Do you think Elian Gonzalez is going to have any kind of decent life rest of his life now?

SHIELDS: I hope he does, Bob, and I hope it's in a free Cuba.

NOVAK: I'm afraid not.

HUNT: He's got a better shot with his father.

SHIELDS: And the GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

ANNOUNCER: Our "Viewer Outrage of the Week is from Gladys Perez. She writes, "It's undeniable that the new millennium is not showing any signs of improvement. While 90 million children are living in poverty, newspapers in the United States are focusing on one child and the stock market. How many children must die to create a human rights conscience in this world?"

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Thirty years after the leadership of Wisconsin, Senator Gaylord Nelson gave us our first Earth Day, the nation's environment has been dramatically improved. Why? Because of the bold leadership of the United States government. The conservative chorus of gloom and doom, which predicted we could not have clean air, and water and economic prosperity, were never more wrong. Ninety-eight percent of the lead and two-thirds of carbon monoxide have been removed from air we breathe and the water quality of 98 percent of rivers, streams and lakes, have either been improved or remain the same. What a success story -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Dr. Irwin Redliner, a pediatrician advising the Immigration service about Elian Gonzalez, made a startling accusation. In Miami, he said the boy was so disturbed, he beat a therapist. I asked him:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You're just reporting rumors, and you know, that is really... (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: The doctor wavered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. IRWIN REDLINER, PEDIATRICIAN ADVISING THE INS: It's been reported in two sources that I can get for you, but it was verified by one of the psychologists that's treating him, and I don't remember her name. I read it in a newspaper report. I'll be happy to get that for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: But he didn't send me anything, even after I called his office. Shame on you, doctor.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: We know that religious celebrations don't interfere with President Clinton's aggression. To distract attention from his impeachment problems, he bombed Iraq during Ramadan, so there was no surprise he was willing to launch an assault on Easter weekend, but today, Bill Clinton also violated Al Gore's highest holy day. Where was history's most influential vice president during today's outrageous government action? Celebrating Earth Day with Leonardo DiCaprio.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, we've heard a lot today about American family values from conservatives outraged about the Elian Gonzalez case. Strangely, we haven't heard much from pious right-wingers about the janitors in Los Angeles who are on strike because they can't get a dollar an hour contract raise. These janitors currently make between $12,000 and $14,000 a year, below the poverty line, and obviously, not nearly enough to raise a family. Apparently to some, family values matter in Cuba, but not in Los Angeles.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields. The GANG back will be back with what's going on in the world besides the Elian Gonzalez case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: welcome back to the CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and former Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas.

We'll look at other political developments this week, including the confederate flag in South Carolina and trade in China, but first the news, from Brian Nelson.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Mark.

The latest now on today's dramatic developments in the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez. At this hour, the boy is getting reacquainted with his father, who greeted him at Andrews Air Force Base earlier this morning. That reunion took place just hours after U.S. agents burst into home of Elian's Miami relatives and pried him from the arms of one of the fisherman who rescued him. A female agents then took Elian out of the house, telling him in Spanish that he was going to see his father and would not be sent anywhere in a boat. Those Miami relatives flew later in the day to Washington D.C., hoping to meet with Elian and his father, stepmother and baby half brother.

CNN's Patty Davis is outside of Andrews Air Force Base right now with the families in seclusion.

Patty, what's latest from there?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brian. The Miami relatives, the entourage led by Senator Bob Smith, was turned away a little while ago by security at Andrews Air Force Base. The public information officer,here said that they did not have permission to enter. In fact, Senator Bob Smith could have conceivably come onboard the base, but he insisted on bringing people with him, and they would not allow, so they were all turned away.

Those Miami relatives flew to Washington's Reagan National Airport this afternoon to meet with Elian and his father. Senator Smith said he'd spoken with the father's attorney, Greg Craig, requested such a meeting, and the attorney had said no. After they were turned away, the family and Senator Smith crossed the street, went over to the Holiday Inn; a huge crush of media, as you saw there, cameras running toward the family. They pulled into this Holiday Inn parking lot. They attempted to get out and walk. They attempted even to come to microphones to hold a conference, our producers says, but they decided not to. They were a little worried about the huge amount of camera crews and onlookers who were there. There are something like 40 camera crews there on scene, right at those gates, across the street from the visitors gates, where the family tried to enter, as well as something on the order of 40 protesters.

Senator Smith later, though, did make a statement for the cameras, saying that before he left Capitol Hill -- I'm sorry, he made a statement for cameras, saying he was disappointed that he wasn't able to get in. Here's what he said to say, though, before he left Capitol Hill for Andrews Air Force Base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: They're beside themselves with grief. I can't tell you what a horrendous meeting it was up there, to be in that room, and to the see agony on the faces of these people and in hearts; it's horrible. I mean, I've never seen anything like it, never thought I'd see this in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: Juan Miguel Gonzalez met here today, as his son Elian arrived around 9:20 Eastern Time this morning, here at Andrews Air Force Base. A reunion here captured on pictures by the U.S. Marshals, still photos released of a father and son, very happy to be together, smiles, you can see Juan Miguel Gonzalez' new wife and their baby also took part in that reunion. Obviously, everyone very happy to be together.

We're told that Juan Miguel and Elian hope to go to the Wye River Plantation nearby in a couple days to, perhaps, spend more time, after they have a couple days at Andrews Air Force Base, reuniting, getting to know one another after five long months apart.

I'm Patty Davis, CNN, live at Andrews Air Force Base.

WILLIAMS: Patty, thank you. For the Cuban community in Miami, this morning's raid on the Gonzalez house was a biter pill. All day, they've been expressing their displeasure with protests.

And CNN's Mark Potter joins us live from Miami with the latest there -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a lot quieter now than it was earlier today. As you can see behind me, there are officers standing by in their vehicles, but we're now at a situation where cleanup crews have actually come in from the city to clean up areas where fires have been set. It's a much quieter time now than it was earlier today, when police were battling the crowds with tear gas, and pepper gas and making a number of arrests.

The police department spokesman estimates that between 125 and 150 people were arrested today. They haven't calculate the exact number. We're also told that four officers were hurt, three of them struck by a man wielding a baseball bat, who drove his car first through a barricade. Another officer by the Gonzalez home, where Elian had been kept, just five blocks from here, was hit in head with a rock. We're told that none of those injuries was serious.

At the Gonzalez home a short while ago, a CNN crew was threatened by some members of the crowd. There is a very strong anti-Castro sentiment in this community, and CNN has been covering the situation in Cuba, as well as it has been covering situation here.

Community leaders in this community are expressing their disappointment over the Clinton administration's and the Justice Department's handling of the Elian Gonzalez situation. But at news conference a short while ago, they also urged that community to be -- to calm down and to express their feelings within the confines of the law.

A much quieter situation tonight than it was earlier today. Police are still on standby and in force, watching for any other incidents that may crop up later tonight.

This is Mark Potter, CNN, reporting live from Miami.

WILLIAMS: All right, Mark, thanks.

A mass rally continues this evening for Elian Gonzalez in his native Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have gathered at a sugar mill for speeches and song. Cuban Television began broadcasting news of the reunion of Elian and his father around noon local time. The government urged Cubans to remain calm and not to take to the streets.

In a programming note, CNN's coverage of the Elian Gonzalez case continues tonight. Coming up at 8:00 Eastern, a special report anchored by Daryn Kagan and Wolf Blitzer, including an in-depth look at the day's developments. And at 9:00 Eastern, a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." One of the topics, the impact of today's developments on Elian himself. And that's the latest from Atlanta.

CAPITAL GANG will return from Washington after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

A long-awaited peace conference between Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain is scheduled for Pittsburgh, May 9. The governor hinted he had would feel out Senator McCain for a vice presidential run. But Senator McCain made news this week when he returned to South Carolina, the scene of February's fiercely contested Republican presidential primary, there to talk about the confederate flag.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe the flag should be removed from your capitol. I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone: I feared if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is this a profile in courage, or is it self- indulgence?

HUNT: Problem both, Mark. But look, I find it refreshing, that a politician not only says he was wrong, but I did it for politically motivated reasons. And he was wrong. That flag was raised over that South Carolina capitol not in 1862, but in 1962. It's a symbol of racial hatred. It did take John McCain eight weeks. That's too long. But you know, maybe it's a model now for repentance. It's been 80 months, for instance, since Bob Novak wrongly said the budget act of 1993, the tax increase in the rich, would destroy the economy. He has -- this is a model for you now, Bob -- repent.

SHIELDS: Bob, are you ready to repent?

NOVAK: Not hardly. I got four words for our friend Senator McCain: It's too late, John. It's too late, after the election was over, after you have run, after you've been defeated, to go down there in this self-indulgent trip, and what it is, there is an undercurrent, an implication that George W. Bush should do the same. And you know, I tell you, John McCain has been living out on the praise and adulation from liberals, including liberal journalists who sit at this table, and that, I believe...

SHIELDS: I hope it's me.

NOVAK: I really believe that was the most disheartening thing, because that was something, if you're going to do on time, it's OK, but it's too late now.

SHIELDS: Let me just say, I could not disagree more emphatically with Robert Novak. I think any time somebody has the guts to stand up and say I was wrong -- and those of us who covered John McCain, you among them, Bob, know that he knew he was wrong when he was doing it. It was the only scripted answer he had in the whole campaign, he was uncomfortable every time he read it, and he admits that he was wrong, and I'm sorry if he and Governor Bush are going to meet in Pittsburgh, just the two of them and their food tasters, on May 9, and maybe he'll get Governor Bush to realize that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis remain neutral.

O'BEIRNE: You know what else he was wrong about though? He said, I'm probably going to be roundly criticized for this, and of course he's not roundly criticized.

SHIELDS: What do you mean? He's been criticized by you and Bob.

O'BEIRNE: No. he's not, that doesn't matter to him. That doesn't matter to him. "The New York Times" announced it was great display of political courage, belatedly but powerfully, the senator yet, you know, met our expectations. You know, a lot of people don't think he's too late, a lot of people -- Republicans -- think he's looking forward to 2004, that that may have been first speech in that next campaign, but if that is the case, he is again, playing to his base in the media at expense of fellow Republicans, and that remains his problem in the Republican Party.

SHIELDS: Because he's moving his party from a position where they should not be? That's a high service to party, isn't it, Dale?

BUMPERS: That's -- you know, I know John McCain very well, served with him a long time, and I think this was personally therapeutic to him. I think he had to do it. I think it was eating his heart out. Now the question is, you know, what if he had carried South Carolina? Or what if he would had been the nominee by 15 delegates, would he made the same admission? That's a different thing.

NOVAK: You don't think he would, do you?

BUMPERS: No, no, there's -- but let me tell you something, Bob. I've sat in conferences -- and you know about the conferences -- where a politician who's running for president or even for the Senate, he sits around with his advisers, and he says, what should my position on this be? And they tell him what his position ought to be, in his heart of hearts he doesn't agree with it, but that's the way you minimize the damage, that's the way you maximize your votes.

NOVAK: Al, that's why it's not courage -- just a minute, no.

HUNT: It is courage.

NOVAK: No, I say that's why it is not courage for John McCain to say it, because there is absolutely nothing at stake. Courage is when you take risks, when you say, I'm going to do something, I'm going to come out for something that is not popular, like sending -- keeping Elian Gonzalez in this country, that's what takes courage, doesn't take courage.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It might be might be courageous -- so, yes it would. But the problem is, that John McCain, for 18 years, was a ordinary conservative Republican on the Hill, and suddenly, he has found the secret of how to find adulation from people who don't like Republicans and have no use for the Republican Party, and he can do it by doing things like that.

HUNT: Bob, about every two weeks, said John McCain has now done the worst thing he's ever done. I don't know how McCain keeps raising the bar. I think it's going to be very, very tough.

O'BEIRNE: John McCain, though, the good senator, probably does miss does that kind of attention he had during the primaries.

HUNT: Sure he does.

O'BEIRNE: And what we're learning is the kind of attention he can expect from the media is in direct proportion to the kind of problem he might be posing for Governor Bush, and this, a lot of people think, is just the latest example of that. The media would be bored silly if he enthusiastically endorsed George Bush, they'd be bored silly.

NOVAK: They'd die.

O'BEIRNE: They'd stop covering him.

SHIELDS: Kate, I mean, John McCain in South Carolina, this -- he came back, he had lunch with Colin Powell. He's been wanting to do this. He's been wanting to do it to set the record straight. I mean, he wants to feel good about this campaign. That's not bad thing to do. Most candidates most candidates on the right side of the equation, you know, I wish they were plagued by some of the problems. The same people, Kate, who went to South Carolina and talked about the bloc vote in 1964 and 1968, which was shorthand, as you and I know, for the black vote, and John McCain refuses to be associated with that kind of politics.

HUNT: The Confederate Flag is a symbol -- in South Carolina, is a symbol of racial hatred. Now that's undeniable, isn't it? We ought to condemn them.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: Does he want to feel better about the Michigan campaign he ran, accusing, smearing George Bush with being an anti- Catholic. Does he still feel good about that? Why hasn't he apologized for that?

NOVAK: Answer the point.

BUMPERS: He doesn't have to say anything.

SHIELDS: That's right.

BUMPERS: I think he should get the benefit of the doubt. Any time a public figure like John McCain goes before the American people and says, I have deceived you and I'm sorry...

NOVAK: I tell you what, I want to be friendly with John McCain...

BUMPERS: You do?

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: It's a hell of a time to start now.

NOVAK: I think he I think he can have one more anguished cry of expiation.

SHIELDS: What would that be?

NOVAK: He can say, I was wrong, and I just I was just pandering to the Al Hunts of the world when I said George Bush's tax cut was a tax cut for the rich, because that was demagoguery, I shouldn't have done it, was not good Republican philosophy. He does that and all is forgiven.

HUNT: Hey, Bob, if Fidel Castro came out for a capital gains tax cut tomorrow, you would forgive all.

NOVAK: No.

HUNT: In a minute you would.

SHIELDS: Now we have found the Rosetta Stone, John McCain saying tax cuts for the rich were for the rich were what made you his number- one enemy. That's the last word, Bob. We found something, and Fidel to follow.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Gephardt takes a stand, and a bold one indeed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt took his position on the proposed permanent normalized trade with China that is backed by President Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: To truly honor our values, we have no choice but to oppose granting this trade status to China. And in so doing, I believe that we will promote America's long-term economic interests as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, does Dick Gephardt stand doom the China trade bill?

O'BEIRNE: No, apparently it won't, Mark. I guess what Dick Gephardt is telling the Democratic Party's labor base is that he will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them as the China trade bill passes. His opposition to it wasn't surprising, but what is surprising, is that despite his opposition to it, he had the nerve to announce two weeks that the Democrats are the party for the new economy. The majority of Democrats in the House oppose this trade bill. But business, what this really points out to me is the stupidity of business that keeps pouring all of this money into Democratic Party for campaigns that put Dick Gephardt in the speaker's chair, at which point, there will be no such thing as China trade bills.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is a China trade bill in some trouble because of Dick Gephardt's position?

NOVAK: No, I think playing a very cute game. It's -- the whole Democrat -- this is the one issue that is really splitting the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is more unified than I've ever seen in my lifetime, mostly on the wrong issues, but it's very unified. But they're split on this issue, and I think there is a lot of nuancing going here. You have Gore's position, Gore is for it, but he says he'll improve the situation when gets to be president. David Bonior, the house Democratic whip, is whipping everybody to vote against it. And Gephardt is right if middle. He's saying I'm against the thing not on economic grounds, but on moral grounds, but it's not a party position. So I think Mr. Gephardt has put himself right in the middle of the Democratic mix.

SHIELDS: Do you think it helps the Democrats win the House?

NOVAK: I don't think so. But I think the thing is going to pass narrowly. I think Billy Daley, the secretary of commerce, is doing a good job on it. I think the Republicans are being responsible rather than partisan. Some of them don't want to give President Clinton the credit, but most don't feel that way.

SHIELDS: Dale, what about Gephardt?

BUMPERS: First of all, Bob Novak and I have finally found common ground. I happen to strongly favor the PNTR bill, -- Permanent Relations with China on Trade -- and so far as Dick Gephardt is concerned, I've always had a deep admiration for him. I consider him a friend. We both went to the same law school.

SHIELDS: That's right. BUMPERS: And I think that he is an honorable man and I think that is a very difficult decision for him. I think that this is a difficult decision for him intellectually and difficult decision for him because he wants to cooperate with the president. So I give him a lot of credit, and I think that he is also probably going to take a rather low profile in future.

SHIELDS: In the future, you mean on this debate.

BUMPERS: On this legislation.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: You know, Mark, just as a broken clock is right twice day, Bob Novak actually got it right. I agree with virtually everything he said, just a slightly different twist on it. I think this is going to pass. Bob, I'm not sure it's going to be close in the final analysis. I think Gephardt really handled a very divisive issue for Democratic Party with some real skill. He did oppose it, but at same time, he is privately helping Sandy Levin and others work outside agreements that are going make it much easier to pass. He's not working against this.

And I must say also that I think Labor is pretty much of a paper tiger on this. The top priority for labor on this is that the Democrats take back control of the House, and the idea that they are going to go and punish a member who votes for China's permanent status and risk losing the House is just nonsense.

SHIELDS: I think -- I have a dissent. I think Labor is having it both ways here, and what it does is, is reveal the deep divisions within labor between industrial unions, the old, great basis of the CIO and the real labor movement politically in this country, and the service employee and the white collar unions.

I honestly don't think of the state (UNINTELLIGIBLE) municipal employees, public workers, I don't think they care about this bill, because they know that the federal government can't get up and go to China, go anyplace else, take its workforce, and they are giving Al Gore a pass. They are basically saying to Al Gore, you can be for it, and we'll endorse you, and at the same time, leaning on an awful lot of House Democrats, and making life very unpleasant for them on this issue. I happen to think Gephardt is right, and it's interesting, this is an issue where he's with the majority of Americans on it.

I mean, that three out of four Americans believe that globalization drives down wages, that the Chinese are essentially not 1.2 billion customers, but potentially, 1.2 billion reduced slave laborers...

NOVAK: We're really doing terrible, aren't we, in this...

SHIELDS: Well, no, but that's the concern and the anxiety that people do have, and I'll tell you, there's a few very honest conservatives around. Steve Moore of the Cato Institute would one of them, who said -- on a recent trip to China. he said 10 years after he'd been there earlier, the economic freedom was considerably improved, and the political repression, he said, sadly, was worse than it had been 10 years earlier, so your line, Bob, about just, you know, more and more engagement is going to better for the Chinese, hasn't led to human rights in China.

NOVAK: I agree with Steve on economics, I think he's wrong on that.

And I'll tell you, China is not Iowa. You know, you understand what that means? It's just not Iowa.

HUNT: Is Kansas?

NOVAK: It's not Kansas. I mean, it's a different culture.

HUNT: We got that.

NOVAK: And I think it's arrogant on the part of you to say we're going to have our political system. Their life so much better than it was when I first went to China, what 30 years ago, there's just no comparison.

BUMPERS: Mark, I think a waiver is wrong on this, so far as jobs are concerned. It's a win-win situation for the United States. If we pass the PNTR legislative, with that, goes World Trade Organization status for the Chinese. That means we're going to sell the Chinese a lot more goods. Win, lose or draw, the Chinese are going to sell exactly the same amount to us, so we're going to pick up a lot of jobs, and we're going to do a lot more trade with China if this bill passes, and that means a lot more jobs in this country.

O'BEIRNE: So why is Dick Gephardt opposed to it if it's going to bring all of these jobs to us?

BUMPERS: Who Gephardt?

O'BEIRNE: Yes.

BUMPERS: I have no idea, because I think he's just dead wrong on that point.

SHIELDS: Well, I've got to say -- I mean, we had the same argument in 1993 about NAFTA was going to improve the environment, it was going to raise Mexican workers wages. It hasn't, and at same time, it has hurt the environment and it hasn't slowed down immigration.

BUMPERS: Mark, that's not...

SHIELDS: OK, we've got to go right now, but I want to thank you for being with us, Dale Bumpers.

BUMPERS: Thank you.

SHIELDS: And this very extended CAPITAL GANG, and extended it has been.

Next on CNN, Daryn Kagan and Wolf Blitzer host "THE ELIAN GONZALEZ CASE: A SPECIAL REPORT."

I'm Mark Shields, saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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