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Inside Politics

President Proposes Prescription Drug Plan for Medicare Recipients; Bush Focusing on Winning Over Women Voters

Aired April 26, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that our seniors deserve more than supply-side snake oil that was tried and found to be a failure once before.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore prescribes help for senior citizens who cannot afford their high-priced medicine.

Also ahead...


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During a full day in Washington, George Bush never set foot on Capitol Hill, a predominantly men-in-suits kind of place.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Candy Crowley explains why Bush visited a more feminine setting instead.

WOODRUFF: Plus, the spring pickings from the campaign money tree as one party prepares to break a fund-raising record tonight.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us.

We begin with the presidential candidates, both reaching out today to specific groups of voters. While Al Gore focused on older Americans, who traditionally lean Democratic, George W. Bush appealed to a segment of the population that has had problems with the GOP presidential candidates in the recent past.

Our Candy Crowley reports from Washington on Bush and the women's vote.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a beautiful day for a stroll here in the nation's capital.

CROWLEY (voice-over): An interesting stroll, too. During a full day in Washington, George Bush never set foot on Capitol Hill, a predominantly men-in-suits kind of place. Instead, Bush opted for an Oprah-esque setting with his wife, and female lawmakers before a meeting of Republican women.

BUSH: If we're worried about role models in society, which I am, for our girls, I can't think of three better role models.

CROWLEY: You would expect Republican women to support their party's candidate. What's interesting from a general election standpoint is that Bush and Vice President Al Gore poll just about evenly among women. Bush has eliminated the female gender gap Democrats once enjoyed.

LINDA DIVALL, GOP POLLSTER: Talking about issues that are relevant to female voters, that coupled with the fact that he's not afraid to talk one on one to voters about issues such as education that typically are issues that have accrued to the benefit of Democrats.

CROWLEY: Aides credit Bush's approach as well as his agenda. Bush does not talk in dry numbers, said one aide. He talks in human terms. This is part of his tax-cut pitch.

BUSH: That the toughest job in America is being a single mom with two children.

CROWLEY: And when Bush talks free trade or illegal immigration, he talks about the need to help create a middle class in Mexico.

BUSH: Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River, that if you are a mother or dad and you're worried about feeding your children and you can't find work close to home, and you hear of opportunities somewhere else and you're worth your salt, you're coming.

CROWLEY: It's not standard Republican talk, and there is evidence in the polls that women are listening. Facing a big deficit among male voters, Al Gore needs to make some headway among women.

Gore and company seek to show that behind Bush, the compassionate conservative, are familiar Republican policies that will turn off women. Gore says Bush is pro-tobacco, pro-gun and anti-patient protection. The vice president finds new evidence of all that in the guest list for a gala Republican fund raiser Wednesday evening.

GORE: Those are irresponsible positions. Why is Governor Bush taking positions like the ones he's taking? Well, tonight we see one of the possible answers to that question, because he is sitting down at a multi-million dollar fund-raising event co-chaired by the National Rifle Association and Philip Morris and the HMOs.

CROWLEY (on camera): Bush is the centerpiece of tonight's gala expected to raise about $18 million for the Republican Party. His speech will center on a favorite theme, the need to end what he believes has been eight years of partisan bickering in the nation's capital.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: The vice president worked in a number of other slaps at Bush as part of his main focus of the day: senior citizens struggling to pay for their prescription drugs.

As our Jeanne Meserve reports, Gore made his pitch in Connecticut with a little help from his friends.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was one of those totally unspontaneous events political campaigns are famous for, Vice President Al Gore stopped at a pharmacy with a senior citizen for a show-and-tell on the high cost of prescription drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grand total is $506.34 for a month's supply.

GORE: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a month's supply of her medications.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which is more than I get for Medicare.

GORE: That's more than what you told me you got for Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Social Security, yes.

MESERVE: The vice president's stop was part of a coordinated strategy by Democrats from the president on down to promote their plan for prescription drug coverage. Their weapon? A new study from the liberal consumer group Families USA, which shows the prices of the 50 drugs most commonly used by senior citizens rising at nearly double the rate of inflation in 1999.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Seniors living on fixed incomes simply can't cope with these kinds of price increases forever. That's why we should take action to help them and do it now.

MESERVE: The president proposes spending nearly $200 billion over 10 years. For a monthly premium, all Medicare recipients would have half of their drug expenses paid up to $5,000.

Speaking at a senior citizens center, Gore ripped into George W. Bush, saying Bush's tax plan would make it impossible to address problems like prescription drug costs.

GORE: He calls it compassionate conservatism, but it's really casino economics. He wants us to roll the dice on an unaffordable tax scheme that gives the most to those who need it the least.

MESERVE: Gore said Bush would not put a penny into Medicare and would put Social Security in jeopardy.

GORE: I believe that our seniors deserve more than supply-side snake oil that was tried and found to be a failure once before. I believe that our seniors deserve a secure retirement, quality health care and a comprehensive prescription drug benefit.

MESERVE: Bush and House Republicans do have a prescription drug proposal. They would provide coverage to the poorest Americans and give Medicare recipients access to more private health plans that provide prescription drug coverage.

(on camera): With prescription drug costs a top concern of elderly Americans, and senior citizens traditionally voting in large numbers, Al Gore and the rest of his party believe this is an issue that works for them.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, east Hartford, Connecticut.


WOODRUFF: We're joined now by Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, some pretty strong words from the vice president today and yesterday, today it's prescription drugs, yesterday and the day before, education, other issues. Is this necessary to draw a distinction between the two candidates on these issues?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": I think very much so, Judy. I think this week we are seeing a fascinating tug-of-war between Gore and Bush that in many ways is a microcosm for what we're going to see all fall. Al Gore has begun this series of speeches, yesterday on the economy, education coming, crime, foreign policy, others in which he is trying to sharpen issue differences with Bush and in effect try to make the case to centrist swing voters that Bush is more conservative than he appears, he is more of a conventional Republican despite his compassionate rhetoric.

Now what is Bush doing this week? On the other hand, Bush is out there talking about traditional Democratic issues, he's talking about expanding opportunity for the poor yesterday, talking about education today and tomorrow, and at the same time stressing his commitment to bipartisanship, had Democrats campaigning with him yesterday. He's going to be talking about changing the tone in Washington tonight at the Republican fund-raiser: in essence, trying to anchor himself more firmly in the center.

Clearly, Gore feels that he has to create some sort of ideological separation here to try to win back some of those swing voters who supported Clinton in '96 but who now clearly are taking a look at Bush.

WOODRUFF: For this to work, is Gore going to have to get Bush to respond to him? Or can it work just because he's making these charges? BROWNSTEIN: Well, Bush is making it hard. Bush is not going to be as easy a target for this sort of line of argument as Bob Dole was in '96 or as Bush's father was in '92, both on personal and policy grounds.

The way that Bush approaches the campaign, the way he campaigns, the way he looks on television, the kind of language he used -- talking about illegal immigrants as moms and dads -- it is hard to demonize someone in that way.

He's also making it harder by reaching to the center on a variety of issues, like health care and education, which is not to say that Gore still does not have some ammunition, particularly the tax cut, guns, abortion, other areas where Bush is in a more conventionally conservative position.

WOODRUFF: Can Bush be successful going for the middle ground, or at least getting a big chunk of these voters in the center?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the challenge or the onus is really on Gore, because the early indications are that in the last month or so, six weeks, since the primaries, Bush really shown a very concerted and quite effective dedication to getting himself in the center. And what Gore, I think, has to do is find issues, and there may be some out there: entitlement reform, taxes, guns, as I mentioned, in which he can try to create some more ideological separation.

WOODRUFF: You were saying before the program that it's important for these candidates, or at least one of them, to talk issues, because if they don't, voters make decisions based on personality and other things, which are not so much under their control.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And I think that, you know, right now Al Gore is going to have a hard time winning a pure personality race with Bush. You have enough of a sense, after eight years of any administration, naturally that it's time for a change. The impeachment has added to that.

I think what Gore clearly wants to do is make this more of a policy contest in which Bush looks risky because he is threatening to change the direction that seems to be working.

As we said before on the show, the country basically feels that America is working. They have doubts about whether Washington is working, but there isn't really a great demand for a radical change in direction on the point of view of economic policy, for instance. And what Gore has got to do is make Bush appear risky, that he will upset or threaten the prosperity that we're enjoying.

WOODRUFF: One last question, changing the subject a little bit, Ron, this huge amount of money that Bush is apparently going to raise at this fund-raiser tonight.

Is it significant that he is able to pull in this much money at this stage of the campaign? BROWNSTEIN: Well, for the parties. I mean, both parties are raising astounding amounts of soft money, as I know you're going to talk about later on the show. I mean, we are in a, as you said, a period of prosperity. Bill Bradley was able to go out as challenger to a vice president and raise more money than anybody thought.

There was a lot of money out there to be raised, and I suspect we are going to be awash in political money in this season and see an enormous amount of advertising from the parties, generic advertising, maybe negative advertising as a result.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, "Los Angeles Times," thanks very much.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the political parties' White House bids and those cash contributions. We'll continue to look at this year's record fund raising and the ever-present finger-pointing.


SHAW: As Candy Crowley reported moments ago here on INSIDE POLITICS, George W. Bush will take part in a multimillion-dollar GOP fund-raiser tonight here in Washington. The high-dollar event is just one of many happening around the country to the benefit of both parties. Media attention has largely focused on how much the candidates have collected for their own White House bids while the parties raise record-breaking amounts of soft money.


SHAW (voice-over): Springtime in Washington and the political parties are busy shaking fruit from the money tree. The accelerating race for campaign cash is shattering all the old records.

Tonight, the Republican Party expects to set a new benchmark: $18 million for a single event at a $1,500-a-plate Washington gala in honor of George W. Bush, topping last spring's $14 million bash. A month from now, the Democrats hope to recapture the record at a tribute for the president at Washington's MCI Center. They're selling dinner and a concert tickets for $50 apiece and billing it as a "blue jeans and barbecue" event.

The glamour comes in the night before when 500 and 200 $50,000 donors get to dine with the president.

Most Americans think elections are for sale, so while the parties raise money, each is trying to deflect criticism to the other. Today, a group of Democrats held a news conference outside the GOP site criticizing the gala's co-chair, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

JOE ANDREW, DNC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: George W. Bush could have told the NRA that they are out of step with most Americans on the issue of gun safety. Instead, he's clinking champagne flutes over here with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA leader. SHAW: The NRA may be a lightning rod, but its $411,000 soft money contribution doesn't even make the top-five Republican donor list put out the Nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

At the top, AT&T at $677,000. Next, American Financial Group at 525,000. Philip Morris, another sponsor of tonight's GOP event, was No. 3 at 482,000 followed by the United Parcel Service and the Cintos Corporation.

But for megamoney contributions, no one beats big labor. Four of the Democrats' top-five donors are unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave 1.37 million. The Communications Workers of America gave 1.18 million. Next, AT&T at 555,000. The New York-based Hospital Health Care Employees Local 1199 at 500,000, and the Sheet Metal Workers Union at 470,000.

Union muscle is one reason the Democrats have more in the bank than the GOP. According to the March 31st Federal Election Commission reports, the various Democratic Party and congressional committees had nearly $70 million cash on hand. The Republicans, 45 million, with tonight's gala set to give a big boost to their bottom line.


SHAW: Joining us now, RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson, DNC National Chairman Joe Andrew, and Larry Makinson of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Larry Makinson, why is so much money flooding into both parties' war chests?

LARRY MAKINSON, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: Well, the demand for money has never been as great as it is. We have unpredictability at both the White House, who's going to control that, and at the House of Representatives, who's going to control that. Nobody knows.

A lot of business groups feel they can't say no to either party and a lot of them are giving money to both sides, in fact. That's one of the phenomena we see.

Certainly, the unions are strongly on the side of the Democrats, as they always have. A number of business groups -- tobacco, National Rifle Association, for example -- very heavily with Republicans. But a lot of the big money in here is pragmatic money, and they're giving probably a little more to the Republicans than the Democrats but they're playing both fields and they're giving a lot.

SHAW: Let's go to the Republican. Chairman Jim Nicholson, Vice President Gore in Candy Crowley's piece aired a few moments ago here in effect said that Governor Bush does the bidding of certain contributors.

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: Governor Bush has a tremendous appeal out there, Bernie. We're going to have a great fund-raiser tonight. People from all over the country have come here, have paid for it, big contributors and small contributors, by the way. There's an excitement out there around Governor Bush, and there is this will and desire to win on our part. I point out to you that the average contribution in our party, all in, even with the 70,000 new donors we have just this year, is $55 -- 55$ is our contribution.

I'd like to ask Jo Andrew what it is in the Democratic Party?

SHAW: Well, ask him.

ANDREW: Well, I'm happy to answer that question, Jim, because you keep brining it up. I mean, the fact of the matter is, what's the average contribution of Philip Morris and the NRA here?

NICHOSLON: That's not the answer.

ANDREW: Here's the reality. You won't answer that question. In fact, you wouldn't report what the NRA contributes.

NICHOLSON: What is the average contribution to the Democratic Party?

ANDREW: Let me tell you, less than 1 percent of the contributions to the Democratic National Committee are less than $1,000. That means 99 percent of them are less than a thousand dollars, 1 percent more.

NICHOLSON: Most of ours...


ANDREW: Well, the fact of the matter is, 7 percent of your donors, as opposed to 1 percent of ours, are higher than that. Now you pick one little thing about average donor because you know ours is a couple higher than yours.

Here's the bottom line here, the question is, is that George W. Bush is doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association.

SHAW: Is that true, Jim Nicholson?

ANDREW: He signed a concealed weapon law with the NRA standing shoulder to shoulder with him, right there in the state of Texas, I mean, the NRA representative standing next to him when he signed the bill.

SHAW: Let's have some order now. You've made an accusation -- you respond?

NICHOLSON: Governor Bush supports sportsmen in the United States, so does the Republican Party. We support people who believe in the Constitution, including the Second Amendment. We support people who do legal businesses in the United States. You get most of your money from the labor unions, who get their money, the bosses of the unions, take the money out of the workers' paychecks, every pay period, without their consent. Forty percent of the rank-and-file union members, Joe, in this country vote Republican in presidential elections, yet they have nothing to say about where a portion of their wages go when it comes to supporting political candidates, and you know that's an unconscionable thing to be going on in America, and you should stop it.

ANDREW: Well, what you just said simply isn't true. The majority of the money we just saw reported was actually PAC contributions, which are voluntary contributions given to political action committees by working men and women.

But the bottom line is, we support sportsmen, too. A concealed weapons law has nothing to do with sportsmen. George W. Bush allowing people to have guns in churches or amusement parks has absolutely nothing to do with sportsmen in America.

NICHOLSON: What the people really want -- while we're on guns -- what the people really want in this country is for the gun laws to be enforced. We have over 20,000 gun laws in the books, and in the last two years, there have been 6,000 incidents of people bringing guns on the schoolyards, That's against the federal law, yet there's only been 13 prosecutions, and that's the responsibility of the Justice Department.

SHAW: Quickly, let me turn back to other guests, because I've got one question I've got to ask you: What concerns you most about these huge volumes of money going into each of these gentlemen's national party war chests.

MAKINSON: I think the IOUs that are implied...


MAKINSON: Well, you don't give a check with six zeros or five zeros, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars, without feeling that if you've got a problem, you can call someone, a high public official at either party.

The real party here, interestingly enough, it's interesting to listen to talk to you guys go back and forth about the labor bosses, about the NRA -- those groups that have given enough money, most of the money to one party or another, are going to be attacked by the other party, because they feel they don't have much to lose. Probably the biggest danger is with the many groups that give a little bit to the Democrats, a little bit to the Republican, AT&T, some of those other companies on there, the communications industry, the pharmaceutical industry, banks. These are the ones that both parties are going to take care of. And no matter who wins, they're going to have friends.

SHAW: They expect something in return.

MAKINSON: They wouldn't be giving the money if they were just interested in good Democracy.

SHAW: What about what he just said?

ANDREW: Well, I think Larry will tell you that -- and I think the question ought to be asked, which presidential candidate, Al Gore or George W. Bush has the most responsible campaign finance reform legislation? Who is actually pushing for campaign finance reform? And he's right.

SHAW: What about Larry Makinson's point. These people giving money to both your parties expect something in return, regardless of who wins the White House? What are they going to get?

NICHOLSON: I'll tell you, Bernie, I've been chairman of the Republican Party now for over three years and raised a lot of money, because we have no commerce, we have no printing press, we need the support of citizens out there get our word out and educate people about our issues and try to get them to go out and vote. But I can tell you, I have never once had anyone who has given me any money ask for anything in return, ask for any quid pro quo in return.

SHAW: What about their expectations?

NICHOLSON: I suspect that most businesses would like to be able to address their government. I think any citizen ought to be able to address their government on any issue.

SHAW: And quickly to you.

ANDREW: Well, the fact of the matter is, there's going to be no credibility in this process until there's campaign finance reform. That's why Democrats are advocating giving up soft money, and we do it today.

SHAW: You heard what they just said.

NICHOLSON: Tell us what average contribution is today?

SHAW: You heard what they just said. Are you convinced?

MAKINSON: Well, I don't think too many people are convinced. The reality is that both of the reform candidates that got eliminated in the process, those were being Bill Bradley and John McCain, were the ones most outspoken on the issue. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush have said they're in favor of campaign finance reform. I should say we're saying this as an observer. The center observes this stuff. We're not a participant in it. I think it's going to be a hard job of getting any kind of campaign finance reform through Congress, because however they must criticize the current system, that's how they got elected, and it's Congress that has to change the laws.

SHAW: We're going to visit this subject again and again and again.

Gentlemen, thank you.

NICHOLSON: Thank you.

SHAW: Quite welcome.

Well, there is much more ahead here on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come: the Boy Scouts and an often politicized issue. A look at the latest arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.



NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most mainstream environmental groups give the vice president high marks for balancing his green agenda with political realities, but there are voices of criticism as well.


SHAW: Natalie Pawelski on the vice president's record and the reasons some voters don't see him as the green candidate. And later, the first lady goes face-to-face with the people of the empire state. We're going to talk with our Wolf Blitzer about tonight's town meeting in Buffalo.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories. Bad weather has forced yet another launch delay for the space shuttle Atlantis. High winds and rain at all three overseas emergency landing sites prevented the scheduled afternoon liftoff. That means the repair mission to the International Space Station probably will not take place until next month. The space station's orbit is slipping at the rate of two miles per week and the station's batteries are failing.

Updating news that we told you about at the top of the hour, two new legal developments in the Elian Gonzalez case. Juan Miguel Gonzalez jumps into the legal fight over who speaks for his son. Elian's father is asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that he be allowed to replace the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, as the person who speaks for the boy in all legal matters, including any request for asylum.

Also today, the government is asking that same court to deny a request by Elian's Miami relatives that they be allowed access to the boy and that a guardian be appointed for the child.

Meanwhile, 6-year-old Elian won't be alone while waiting for the courts to resolve his situation. His 10-year-old cousin and a kindergarten teacher will soon join Elian and his family in Maryland. The two have been traveling from Havana.

The State Department is also speeding up visas for four of Elian's playmates from Cuba and their parents.

Congress could begin hearings on legal questions surrounding the government's seizures of Elian Gonzalez as early as next Tuesday.

Some major players in the gun industry take aim at government officials. Seven firearms manufacturers and a sports shooting foundation file a lawsuit against HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut, and several city officials who are already suing the gun makers. The group alleges a conspiracy to cripple gunmakers who refuse to go along with government gun control initiatives, like trigger locks.


BOB DELFAY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION: Using law enforcement contracts as their weapon, Secretary Cuomo and the other defendants have placed their personal political agenda before the interest of men and women who each day rely on firearms to keep us safe.


WOODRUFF: No word yet from those who are being sued.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, two very different milestones in the battle for gay rights.


WOODRUFF: At the U.S. Supreme Court today, a case that might have been dubbed the Boy Scouts of America versus the gay rights movement. Those two groups are at odds in the Scouts' appeal for the right to bar homosexuals from serving as troop leaders.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer reports.


JAMES DALE, FORMER BOY SCOUT LEADER: And that's me when I was 18 years old.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): James Dale reached Eagle Scout, scouting's highest rank. He earned dozens of merit badges, and as a young adult, became a leader in his New Jersey troop.

DALE: For 12 years, you are perfect, you are perfect, you are just what we want, you know, get involved, get more involved, we're happy to have you, it's a family, you're part of the family. And then they found out one small thing about who you are and they kicked me out.

BIERBAUER: The Scouts found Dale is gay. The Boy Scout oath says a scout is morally straight. The Scouts say homosexuality does not fit their definition.

DALE: When I first learned the definition of "morally straight," when I was 11 years old and in the Boy Scouts, it said to respect and defend the rights of all people, to be honest and open in your relationships with other people.

BIERBAUER: Scouting officials say the 5-million-member organization does not seek to identify gays, but cannot keep a leader who is openly gay. The justices questioned that policy.

Justice Ginsburg: "Are you saying the policy is "don't ask, don't tell," or if you are gay, you are not welcome? Which is it?

GEORGE DAVIDSON, BOY SCOUT ATTORNEY: It's a fundamental issue of freedom of association. The society has room for the Boy Scouts and it has room for the gay men's chorus.

BIERBAUER: New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts had violated the state's anti-discrimination law by dismissing Dale.

EVAN WOLFSON, LAMDA LEGAL DEFENSE: The organizations that are covered by civil rights laws are those that extend an invitation to the entire public but then try to segment out a group of people on a discriminatory basis.

BIERBAUER: Justice Scalia challenged Wolfson: "Is there any doubt that one of the purposes of the scouts is moral formation?"

The justices peppered both sides with hypotheticals. Must Boy Scouts admit girls? Would a Jewish organization have to admit Catholics? Would a heterosexual scout leader who believed homosexuality was not immoral be dismissed as James Dale was?


BIERBAUER: And the Boy Scouts' attorney said that such a leader, if advocating homosexual activity, would also have to be dismissed -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Judy, how sweeping in effect will the court ruling on this case have?

BIERBAUER: Well, the court is dealing with a New Jersey anti- discrimination law. But clearly, if the court says, you must admit gays, or on the other hand, exclude them, you have the ripple effect. It would extend presumably across the nation to all Boy Scout organizations, and really it would set a pattern, it would set a standard for any kind of discrimination case along these lines.

WOODRUFF: And if the Boy Scouts win?

BIERBAUER: Well, if the Boy Scouts win, New Jersey law in this instance would create some problems for a lot of organizations, such as police departments, fire departments, schools that sponsor scouts. They could not really be able to continue on that basis. And what the scouts' attorney said, well, if we lose sponsorship, so be it. They've taken a very strong position on this.

WOODRUFF: And Charles, I asked you about this just before we went on the air with this segment: What is the Boy Scout rule with regard to scouts, the young men, and whether they are gay and can still be members of the troop?

BIERBAUER: This address the question of a scout leader, and of course, the concern that the scouts say is, can we have a leader who is gay who might be advocating or imparting his beliefs to young scouts. It does not address the question of a young scout himself in this particular instance, and it really hasn't come to that kind of a question at this point.

WOODRUFF: All right, Charles Bierbauer, thanks very much. Appreciate it -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thanks, Judy. A landmark for the gay rights movement: In Vermont today, as promised, Democratic Governor Howard Dean signed the nation's first law granting homosexual couples nearly all the benefits of marriage. It will allow gay couples to form -- quote -- "civil unions," beginning on July 1st. This measure won final approval by the Vermont legislature yesterday.

Dean says the bill speaks to the heart of the state. But he signed it in private, hoping not to appear triumphant over its opponents.

Up next, the praise and the criticism: an in-depth look at Al Gore's environmental record.


SHAW: Prescription drug coverage was the topic of the day for Vice President Al Gore, but often during his political career leading up to this White House bid, it's been the environment that has occupied his attention.

CNN environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski takes a closer look at Al Gore and his record.


PAWELSKI (voice-over): As a congressman, Al Gore was one of the first to hold hearings on toxic pollution. As an senator, he wrote "Earth in the Balance," recently re-issued with an emphatic new foreword. And as vice president, he is considered the Clinton administration's point man on the environment.

CAROL BROWNER, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The vice president at every single turn has been at the forefront of the tough public health and environment issues that this administration has grappled with successfully.

PAWELSKI: Among those efforts, tightening the rules on air pollution and safe drinking water and protecting millions of acres of public land from development.

(on camera): Most mainstream environmental groups give the vice president high marks for balancing his green agenda with political realities. But there are voices of criticism, as well, from some who say he promised a lot more than he has ever delivered.

(voice-over): Some are upset that Gore hasn't backed their efforts to breach four dams in Washington State in order to save threatened salmon. Others want action on a toxic incinerator in Ohio and on a dispute between an oil company and indigenous people in Colombia. GORE: I think there is always understandable impatience to go farther and faster. I would like to also. But if we're going to strike the right balance and clean up the environment as quickly and as well as we can. while at the same time creating new jobs in the process, we have to go about it in the right way.

PAWELSKI: One case of doing it the right way, says Gore: a new clean-truck initiative, announced in Detroit, where industry pledged to work with government to cut pollution.

GORE: We're putting to rest at long last the old myth that you have to choose between the economy and the environment.

PAWELSKI: But some say gore is an environmental extremist and far too willing to rely on the heavy hand of government regulation.

MIKE HARDIMAN, AMERICAN LAND RIGHTS ASSN.: On environment, nonpreservationist issues, Al Gore's solution has been more central control, more federal government power taken away have individuals, and taken away from states and localities as well.

FRED SMITH, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE, INST.: They are saying that land is better off locked away behind government bars and fences, that biotechnology is best, at least questioned, that we need to regulate more and more the U.S. economy. I see this administration as a foreshadowing of what could happen if we ever really do get a pure environmental zealot the in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not ready yet let Al Gore come in and impose his values.

PAWELSKI: Some conservatives are especially worried about Gore's vocal position on global warming. He has championed the Kyoto Protocol, a controversial international agreement designed to cut down on the kinds of pollution suspected of changing the climate. Some environmentalists are criticizing him, too, for not pushing the Senate to approve the agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody thinks the Senate is going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol anytime soon, and the country still leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions. Is this a bit of a failure for you?

GORE: No, I don't think so at all. I've said from the beginning that resistance would be fierce until we cross a threshold, when the vast majority of Americans start demanding that something be done about it. Then you're going to see the resistance suddenly crumble, like the Berlin Wall suddenly crumbled after standing for so long.

PAWELSKI: Pundits will tell you no president has ever won the White House by going green. But the vice president insists he will make the environment a major issue in this year's campaign, despite the fact that his environmental positions are drawing fire from both the left and the right. Mr. Gore says that's a sign he's on the right track.

Natalie Pawelski, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Just ahead, meeting the voters and other residents of upstate New York: a look at Hillary Rodham Clinton's day on the trail and a big town meeting tonight, when we return.


SHAW: Joining us now from Buffalo, New York, the host of tonight's town meeting featuring first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, our man, Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, you have some word on the Senate race there?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the Senate race is obviously going to be a huge national story, perhaps even an international story, with the exception of a presidential race. I don't remember ever any Senate race or a statewide race having this kind of national interest.

We are told that the first lady and the New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, have now agreed to what will be their first debate in the fall by fellow Buffalonian, Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet The Press." We're told both sides have agreed to debate in the fall. Mrs. Clinton is now ready to a second debate that will be sponsored by the League of Women Voters. We are told that Rudy Giuliani's campaign has not yet agreed to that. There presumably will be some more debates.

In the meantime, both of these candidates are going to be doing separate town hall meetings beginning tonight right here at the state University of New York at Buffalo with CNN, Mrs. Clinton will be here tonight. We'll be doing a similar town hall meeting with Rudy Giuliani at a date yet to be determined down the road, but the Giuliani campaign has agreed to that as well.

SHAW: We'll all be watching tonight, that goes at 10:00 p.m.

What about the format?

BLITZER: The format is open ended. I'll start off with a few questions of my own, some hopefully newsworthy kinds of questions, then we're opening it it up. There will be about 300, almost 400 people here and they'll ask whatever is on their mind, whether it's issues involving New York state, national issues, or international issues. Remember, a senator from New York -- every senator deals with all these kinds of issues and so I'm sure there will be a wide range of questions and if necessary I will follow up and make sure that the necessary follow up is there as well.

SHAW: Let's localize this for a moment, if you will, my fine friend. You're from Buffalo. What are the big issues, challenges facing Mrs. Clinton and the mayor in the Buffalo area?

BLITZER: Well, I think throughout New York state as far as Mrs. Clinton is concerned she still has to convince New Yorkers that she is not simply a carpetbagger using the state as a stepping stone for her own personal agenda or political ambitions. She has to convince New Yorkers she is one of them.

The mayor, on the other hand, he has to convince upstaters that he is not just the mayor of New York, that he is interested in what is happening in Buffalo or Rochester or Albany or Schenectady, that he is really concerned about what's happening upstate.

And this upstate vote is going to be critical, 25 percent of the vote in New York state usually comes from New York City, another 25 or 30 percent comes from the suburbs, Long Island, Westchester County, but about 40-45 percent of the vote could come from upstate New York, Buffalo, Rochester, these cities and towns are going to be critical and both of these candidates have a lot of explaining to do to these upstate voters.

SHAW: And before we leave you, until you come up on the air at 10:00 with this town meeting, just to emphasize, tonight it is first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, but also we are trying to get the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: Yes, and we -- and the mayor's campaign has agreed that he will do it down the road -- he's going to do a separate town hall meeting in Rochester next week, but the mayor has committed that he will do it with us and we are looking forward to that one as well. It is a double pleasure for me, Bernie, because not only am I from Buffalo, but I'm a graduate of this university, so it's a good homecoming for me.

SHAW: And besides, you are a fine host to any town meeting. Thank you. Break a leg tonight.

BLITZER: Thank you, Bernie.

SHAW: Judy.

WOODRUFF: They are lucky to have Wolf as one of their alums.

SHAW: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: The fact that Mrs. Clinton is doing that town meeting in Buffalo tonight didn't stop her from logging more miles around the Empire State today.

CNN's Frank Buckley has an update on the first lady's effort to get to know her newly adopted home state.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Clinton caravan was on the road again as the first lady moved to fulfill a campaign promise to visit all of New York's 62 counties.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), N.Y. SENATE CANDIDATE: I've lost track, but I think I've been to 56 counties, and I'm going to get to all 62 as soon as I can.

BUCKLEY: Hillary Clinton often appearing at small-town events like this banquet-room luncheon in Salamanca, New York.

H. CLINTON: But I know that there are many Republicans who live in this county, at least that's what I've been told.

BUCKLEY: Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly visited traditionally Republican upstate areas, campaign aides believing that while she may not carry those counties, her visits might sway some voters.

(on camera): By the end of this campaign swing, Mrs. Clinton will have visited nearly all of New York's 62 counties, many of them rural and sparsely-populated like this one: Wyoming County, where locals like to joke that the cows outnumber the people.

H. CLINTON: I want to be a senator who represents the entire state, and particularly a voice for people in the state who might otherwise not have somebody speaking for them.

BUCKLEY (voice-over): Campaign aides say the visits send notice that Mrs. Clinton cares about the voters, and is, as a new, New York resident, also one of them.

H. CLINTON: You've got $12 milk and it's being sold for so much more, you know, to me when I go to the Grand Union in Chappaqua. I don't get that.

BUCKLEY: Mrs. Clinton's appearance at a dairy farm did win over at least one voter of the kind the campaign hopes it can reach: Republican Virginia Henneberger, who was wowed by the first lady's very visit.

VIRGINIA HENNEBERGER, UPSTATE NEW YORK RESIDENT: This is the biggest thing that's happened to this town in probably history and it's just a wonderful thing. Everyone will remember that she was here.

BUCKLEY: Republican Rudy Giuliani, who has done some campaigning upstate, says as mayor of New York City he doesn't have the luxury to travel and campaign constantly. Giuliani hopes his record as mayor will serve as his strength. But to Clinton campaign aides, the mayor's comparative absence upstate is a perceived weakness they hope to exploit at every turn.

HOWARD WOLFSON, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, we're going to leave some bread crumbs for him, maybe he can find his way up here, he can follow the bread crumbs.

BUCKLEY: A battleground in the race for U.S. Senate that could be crucial in November.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Sheldon, New York.


SHAW: Well, that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course you can go online all the time at CNN's WOODRUFF: And one more reminder: town meeting tonight 10:00 Eastern, the first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a town meeting with the people of Buffalo moderated by our own Wolf Blitzer.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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