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Inside Politics

George W. Bush Sides With Clinton Administration in Calling for Permanent Normal Trade Relations With China

Aired May 17, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to urge all members of the United States Congress...

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... to normalize trade relations with China.

BUSH: This is not a Republican or Democrat concern. This is an American concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush gets on board with the White House in pushing for the China trade bill.

Al Gore presses his attack on the Bush Social Security plan before a receptive audience.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The made-for-TV moment quite a contrast to the Republican side of the race, with candidate Rudy Giuliani still undecided about whether he'll even stay in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Frank Buckley on one Senate hopeful's nomination and the other's uncertainty.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

George W. Bush is more accustomed to criticizing the Clinton White House than agreeing with it. But today, Bush publicly took up a cause favored by both the president and vice president: normalizing trade ties with China permanently.

CNN's Jennifer Auther reports on Bush's remarks and the dig he managed to work in against Al Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER AUTHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a rare move, George W. Bush is siding with the Clinton administration by urging Congress to grant China permanent normal trade status. He used Washington State's Boeing aircraft company to illustrate why he is trying to sway an upcoming vote in Congress.

BUSH: The stakes are high, they're high on all sides. For businesses and workers and farmers across our country, it will mean much lower trade barriers, important opportunities for U.S. exports.

AUTHER: Boeing aircraft is the nation's largest exporter. The company projects China will be its most profitable market for airplanes over the next two decades. The Texas governor's visit comes a week before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill that would end the yearly task of reviewing China's trade status.

BUSH: Defeat of this bill in the Congress will not keep China out of the WTO, since President Clinton has already agreed to its entry.

AUTHER: And debate on free trade with China offered Bush a chance to take a thinly-veiled swipe at Vice President Al Gore.

BUSH: This will be amongst the most serious decisions our government will make this year, and no one who is serious about shouldering the responsibilities of the presidency should be silent on the issue.

TOM DONAHUE, BOEING ENGINEER: It would be a bonus to us here at the Boeing company and it will be interesting, hopefully, to see how they can accomplish some of the normalization of trade relations with Taiwan.

SEAN PETERS, BOEING ENGINEER: I had a lot of issues with the other things going on in China and the China-Taiwan relations. So, I guess it was kind of interesting for Bush to pick this up and come out during a campaign season.

AUTHER (on camera): President Clinton has long pushed for normalizing China's free-trade status, but Vice President Al Gore, careful not to offend big labor, has been relatively quiet on this one.

(voice-over): For his part, Bush pointed out some of the differences between him and the current administration.

BUSH: They place their confidence in the Chinese regime as a strategic partner. I know China as a competitor. They have been inconsistent on Taiwan. I will be clear in our resolve to enforce the Taiwan relations law.

AUTHER: Bush warned that even if Congress grants China permanent normal trade status, there are no guarantees except that by failing to open trade with China, the U.S. stands to lose.

Jennifer Auther, CNN, Everett, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Now we turn to the Clinton-Gore administration's pitch for that China trade bill and how Governor Bush figures into it.

Here is White House correspondent Major Garrett.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as George W. Bush made his comments on the China trade issue, President Clinton continued his relentless appeal to Congress. In a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy, Mr. Clinton warned that failure to extend free trade to China would harm America's security and economic future.

CLINTON: I believe that a no-vote invites a future of dangerous confrontation and constant insecurity. It also, by the way, forfeits the largest market in the world for our goods and services, and gives Europe and Japan all those benefits we negotiated to bring American jobs here at home.

GARRETT: Bush joins a long list of unusual Republicans siding with the administration on the China vote: House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, along with House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Senior congressional Republican sources say that if Congress approves permanent free trade with China, they plan to take the credit for delivering a majority of the votes the president needed.

Senior GOP sources say Bush decided Tuesday to elevate his public support on the China trade issue. However, GOP leaders declined Bush's offer to lobby wavering Republicans and Democrats, saying they feel increasingly confident about next week's vote.

(on camera): White House officials say they are happy to have Bush's support, but since Mr. Clinton has taken most of the political risks and heat, departing from his congressional leadership on the issue, they believe he deserves most of the credit if they win.

Major Garrett, CNN, New London, Connecticut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: The China trade bill cleared a hurdle in the House today. The Ways and Means Committee approved it by a vote of 34-4.

This afternoon, I spoke with two House leaders at odds over China's trade status: Democratic Whip David Bonior of Michigan and Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. I began by asking them to explain their stands on this issue which President Clinton and Governor Bush agree.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), MICHIGAN: Well, my reaction is that today, the American Legion, the VFW, the AMVETS and several other veterans' organizations came out against this agreement. Taiwan was threatened today by the China News Agency, threatened with war.

In addition to that, we have a coalition of people, including the Catholic bishops, various human rights organizations, labor organizations, environmental organizations who are opposed to this agreement because it violates the basic principles and tenets of our country: the right and freedom to associate, the right to form political organizations, labor organizations, and the right to basically have a say on what these trade agreements are about for the future. This trade agreement is the past masquerading for the future and I think that's why it's in trouble here on the Hill.

SHAW (on camera): So it's clear that you are not backing down and you're also fighting your party leader.

Congressman Watts, what will the words of the president and Texas Governor George Bush do to this trade bill?

REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, Bernie, I hope members, Republicans and Democrats, will take note of what the Republican nominee and what the president and the vice president of the United States have said about this trade agreement. You know, Taiwan supports permanent normal trade relations with China in spite of some of the foolishness that we've seen from China.

We've got people that I've talked to from the missionary community, from the Christian community, to agriculture, to the business community that believe that this is good for business. It's good for bringing about human rights changes and changing the religious persecution issues that we all are concerned about over in China.

SHAW: Congressman Bonior, you come from a key battleground state, Michigan. The argument is that passage of this bill will mean more jobs. They also have provisions in it to block a surge of China's imports coming into this country, as well as a commission to oversee human rights activity in China. None of that persuades you?

BONIOR: Not at all. We have already commissions, we have a religious commission that was appointed by the proponents of NPR headed by Rabbi Sapperstein (ph), who came out against this agreement because of the egregious religious violations of Muslims, of Catholic bishops, of Protestant leaders, of Buddhists.

With respect to the job issue, there was just a report issued the other day by the Economic Policy Institute that said that we will lose 840,000 good paying jobs in this country as a result of this, because what will happen is that China will become an export platform. People will locate there, lose good jobs here, and then those products are being made while slave labor and low-wage workers will be sent right back here. So, no, it doesn't persuade me at all. The humans rights issue is, Bernie, is so compelling to me that what we have here -- this China trade deal is basically like the Bobby Knight of trade deals, you know, you abuse, you abuse, you abuse, and they say, well, OK, we'll let you try one more time, you abuse, you abuse, well, you can do it one more time. That's what's going on here, and we have to say no until they open up their society to democracy, to trade unionism and to all of the things that are basically inherently important in a free and a democratic society.

SHAW: Congressman Watts, Congressman Bonior has said regardless of the arm-twisting, what matters is what happens on the floor. Both of you, let's count noses, what do you see as the count?

WATTS: Bernie, I don't know what the count is going to be at this time, but I see momentum shifting or momentum going in the direction of favoring permanent normal trade relations with China. We just announced today that three more Republicans joined our team. The president and the vice president are out there, they're plugging away with us, the nominee of the Republican Party is fighting with us, or fighting for us on our behalf. Had Charlie Rangel, the Democrat ranking member on Ways and Means, he's with us, he came out in support yesterday.

You know, retreat is not the way to go. Protectionism, Bernie, is a lot like steroids. It makes you look good in the short run but it kills you in the long run.

I think we're proud of American workers and what they can accomplish, American farmers. They're the most productive in the world.

We need to open up markets for our agricultural products, for our business products around the world, our services around the world. We need to be concerned about exporting America's values: our religious values, our capitalism, democracy around the world. And we should not retreat. We should -- if we were to have retreated, Bernie, communism never would have come to its knees in communist -- in Russia.

SHAW: OK, Congressman Bonior, Mr. Watts says momentum is shifting away from your side and to his side?

BONIOR: Well, just the contrary. When you have the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign War, all the human rights organizations, all the environmental organizations, all the grassroots organizations, organized labor coming out and saying: Listen, China is a brutal dictatorship; it's a closed authoritarian society; and we need to send them a message.

This doesn't mean we're not going to trade with them. We're going to continue to have a trading relationship. But it will mean that we will continue to have some of our leverage to raise these issues.

We picked up three votes today as well, Bernie, of undecided people. We picked up a gentleman from New Jersey, Rush Holt, a congressman. We picked up Clement. We picked up a guy from Tennessee, Bob Gordon. And we picked up another individual -- I can't remember offhand. But my message is, is that we've got momentum as well, and it's going to be a very tight vote.

SHAW: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

BONIOR: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And still ahead, New York Democrats make their choice official, but who will Hillary Rodham Clinton face? Our Frank Buckley on waiting for the mayor's decision.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Now that first lady Hillary Clinton is officially the Democratic nominee in that New York Senate race, all eyes are on New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for some sign of what he's planning to do.

Frank Buckley reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the picture of party unity: first lady Hillary Clinton and 11,000 Democrats crowded into an Albany arena, there to formalize the party's support for her U.S. Senate candidacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor of our candidate for United States Senate being Hillary Rodham Clinton please say aye.

AUDIENCE: Aye!

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I am deeply honored and humbled to accept the nomination of the New York Democratic Party for the United States Senate.

BUCKLEY: The made-for-TV moment quite a contrast to the Republican side of the race, with candidate Rudy Giuliani still undecided about whether he'll even stay in it.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: I'm just going to think about it, and do the things that I have to do medically and everything else. And then when I have had a chance to consider everything, I'll make a decision.

BUCKLEY: Among the things the mayor is considering: his diagnosis of prostate cancer and how treatment could affect his campaign...

DONNA HANOVER, WIFE OF RUDY GIULIANI: Kids off to school this morning and it's nice to be back...

BUCKLEY: ... his intention to seek a separation agreement with his wife of 16 years, and his dwindling privacy. Photographers, now intent on monitoring his outings with his acknowledged female friend, who isn't his wife. A Giuliani campaign spokeswoman says, however, that his decision on the Senate race will be based on the cancer concern.

JULEANNA GLOVER WEISS, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: He's talking with physicians, with his friends, with his senior advisers, and he's trying to determine what cancer treatment would best help him to live into a ripe old age. And that will be the primary decision he makes. From then, all other decisions follow.

BUCKLEY: Giuliani's decision could have a major impact on New York's Republican Party, which is preparing to hold its own nominating convention May 30th.

BOB DAVIS, ERIE COUNTY GOP CHAIRMAN: As every day goes by, it's going to become a, you know, a concern of ours in terms of some of the events that surround the convention that are designed specifically for a Rudy Giuliani candidacy.

BUCKLEY: Bob Davis is chairman of the Erie County Republicans, home to the city of Buffalo, where the Republican state convention will be held. Davis says planning for the GOP event continues, down to the signs being printed that say, "Rudy," not Lazio, Pataki, Quinn, or any other possible replacement candidate name.

DAVIS: The mayor's people were here today and last night working with us. It's -- you know, again, it's just my feeling is it's full throttle for Rudy Giuliani. And frankly, as we look at the convention, now less than 13 days away, or -- it's just -- it's going to be awful tough for us to change gears.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY: Late this afternoon, a former New York congressman, Joseph DioGuardi, said he would like to be considered for the Republican Party nomination for the U.S. Senate. DioGuardi has previously announced that he is after the Conservative Party and Independence Party lines. He told CNN that he would like to be considered for the Republican Party nomination as well. But at the moment, he is not directly challenging Giuliani. DioGuardi said he may do so in a Republican primary if Giuliani stays in the race.

A Giuliani's spokeswoman says, if the mayor runs, the campaign is expecting 100 percent of the Republican Party to support his candidacy -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Frank.

Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine, Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard," in Frank's piece, Giuliani said, "When I've had a chance to consider everything, I'll make a decision."

Tucker, is that decision long overdue?

TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I don't know about that. It's going to be short in the coming. It sounds like Giuliani's opting for, leaning toward a surgical solution, which would mean that he'd be out of commission for a while, and that seems to me like that -- that would require him to drop out of the race.

A lot of people want to take his place. I mean, it's like I feel I should run. I mean, everyone else is. But I think Lazio will be the one who will wind up -- who will wind up running for Senate.

SHAW: Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": He needs to do it very quickly. I mean, May 30th, it's around the corner. And Tucker's right: It's a crowd now.

It's interesting that if Giuliani runs, there might be a primary. I mean, that would be the worst thing imaginable, even -- even from a weak candidate, because Giuliani just doesn't need anything else at the moment.

You know, I suspect he's not going to run, and that he's not just basing it on the decision about his health, but what's happened with his marriage and how public that breakdown has become.

SHAW: Well, given the marital situation, he's still in a dead heat, according to the polls, with Mrs. Clinton. And the question is: Is the mayor emerging from all this politically unscathed? -- Tucker.

T. CARLSON: Hard to imagine that. I think he may be getting an illness exemption at the moment.

SHAW: A what?

T. CARLSON: An illness exemption. I mean, you know, people find it difficult to loathe a politician who's sick and filmed every day going into the cancer center. But I do think he's going to drop out, and I think that Lazio is probably situated better than people realize. He has about $4 million on-hand. The Lazio people are saying that he may need to raise maybe only 12 to compete against Mrs. Clinton's 20, because the idea is that once Rudy Giuliani's out the race becomes essentially a referendum on Mrs. Clinton. And so in fact, you don't need to make so much a positive case as you need to point to your opponent and say, Do you really want her to be senator?

The Lazio people have -- are hiring staff. They've got a couple of people from the McCain campaign -- Mike Murphy, the world's amusing political consultant, apparently is going to be working for Lazio. Dan McClaghan (ph), a McCain spokesman has gone over there. These people will make the campaign funny, if nothing else, and they're good.

SHAW: What do you think, Margaret?

M. CARLSON: Well, I saw Lazio last night, and he said, you know, there's no telling what Rudy will do, that he keeps his own counsel and he's, you know, he's a mercurial fellow, but he is getting what Tucker calls the illness exemption. People don't want to tell pollsters that they're down on a guy when he's down, whether it's because of the marriage or the cancer. You know, people wouldn't -- just wouldn't want to kick the guy. And the anti-Hillary factor, which is huge, now coalesces. It was divide before. There were some people I know that, you know, when they went into the voting booth, no matter how vociferous they were in saying, oh, I'm just sick of the Clintons, I don't think Hillary should run, they weren't going to vote for Rudy. But that's gone, that may be gone, and they'll will unite behind whomever it is, and I think it will be Rick Lazio.

SHAW: Well, she was in -- Mrs. Clinton in the spotlight last night. But is she fighting for media coverage, given the blanket coverage of the mayor's situation?

T. CARLSON: No, and I think this is the most ominous sign actually for Giuliani. When your opponent stops attacking you, and you know, doesn't point out that you're a bad person that you know that she believes that he's already hung himself. You know, stand back and let your opponent set himself fire is the axiom that she seems to be following.

M. CARLSON: And she had great pictures -- you know, the confetti, you know, the whole Americana thing, and she's become a much better candidate. Leaving aside everything that's going against her opponent, she has become a better candidate. She made every mistake possible it seemed in the early stages, then she calmed down and spent so much time in upstate people probably think she's been there for decades and wish she would leave.

The carpetbagging issue is receding somewhat. She gave a speech that she sounds like any other politician, which I don't mean as an insult.

T. CARLSON: On the other hand, I mean, it's harder to make gaffes when you say the same thing at every appearance, so she may have learned to stay on message and not give real opinions or say something interesting.

M. CARLSON: That's what I mean by becoming a politician.

SHAW: Let's go to the messages we're hearing about Social Security, Bush and Gore going at it this week. Who is going to win this battle?

T. CARLSON: Great question. I mean, it's a tough one, Social Security, because you have to simultaneously make two cases. One, you're, you know, taking the hard steps to reform Social Security radically and change it so future generations have something, while at the same time saying actually nothing at all will change. And that is pretty much what Bush did in his speech. He promised explicitly nothing will change for people receiving it or about to receive it. I think Bush's campaign case is, look, the federal government gives its workers the opportunity to invest in the stock market, why don't you have the same opportunity with your Social Security money? You know, it's a pretty hard argument to fight against, I think.

SHAW: Margaret? M. CARLSON: Well, doesn't -- it may not be the third rail anymore, and Senator Moynihan and Kerrey may have made that possible by coming out with their own Social Security reform plan, which considered investing in the stock market. So it doesn't seem quite as radical, and it doesn't seem quite as dangerous to touch for a politician. I think it comes down to whether the market -- what happens with the market. If we have a big market crash, suddenly it does seem risky to have Social Security money invested in the stock market, because what if you happen to retire at that moment? And people are guaranteed that they get back at least what they put in, then you have a savings & loan bailout situation.

SHAW: Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine, you really get around, out there in our Los Angeles bureau, and Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard," thanks so much.

M. CARLSON: Thanks, Bernie.

SHAW: Quite welcome.

T. CARLSON: Hurry home.

SHAW: Thanks, Bernie.

There is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Gore took his attack on George W. Bush's Social Security proposal directly to the group that cares most about the issue -- senior citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Jonathan Karl, on Al Gore's latest effort to undermine the policies of his rival. Plus, dissent in the Grand Old Party -- how troops in Kosovo have George W. Bush at odds with his some Republican senators.

Also, China's trade status and re-election -- will members of Congress pay a price back home for their votes on the Hill?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: We're going to have more of this day's political news coming up, but now this look at some other top stories.

Prosecutors in Alabama are saying little about today's arrest of two men in connection with the bombing attack on a Birmingham, Alabama church nearly four decades ago. The two former Ku Klux Klan members were longtime suspects in the bombing, which killed four African American schoolgirls.

CNN's Eric Horng reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIC HORNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosion ripped through the walls of the 16th Street Baptist Church, just as parishioners arrived for Sunday morning worship. Eleven-year-old Denice McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were killed in the bombing, the image of their bodies pulled from the debris came to symbolize the civil rights struggle.

Eight thousand mourners attended the funeral. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HORNG: In the days after the bombing, President Kennedy dispatched hundreds of federal agents to Alabama. During the next two years, they compiled 200 files on the case. The initial federal investigation resulted in no charges. But the FBI did name four Ku Klux Klan members as suspects.

In 1977, one of those men, Robert Chambliss, was convict by the state of Alabama of murder in connection with the attack. He died in prison in 1985.

The FBI's second suspect Herman Cash is also dead.

But in 1997, three decades after the federal government closed its investigation, county authorities in Birmingham reopened the case, assembling a grand jury to examine charges against the FBI's last two living suspects: Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Cherry.

Today, the 16th Street Baptist Church is rebuilt, a stained glass window where the face of Jesus was blown off in the explosion, now whole again.

Eric Horng, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Domestic violence is on the decline. The Justice Department says attacks and violent threats against women dropped 21 percent since 1993 from 1.1 million to 876,000. The number of men murdered by their wives or girlfriends has plunged 60 percent since 1976.

Crews appear to be gaining ground against that massive wildfire in New Mexico. Shifting winds and cooler temperatures helped turn flames back on already charred land. Officials say about 45 percent of the blaze is contained. Thursday, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will release a report on how the brush-clearing fire flared out of control.

The EPA is announcing new rules it says will eliminate much of the air pollution caused by trucks and buses. The regulations call for removing 97 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel. And the oil industry is warning that plan could lead to higher fuel prices.

Everyone seems to want to get a peek at Sue. Sue is the Chicago Field Museum's newest exhibit. The world's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil attracted 10,000 viewers in the first few hours. Its ballyhooed unveiling was carried live on the Web.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, a pre-emptive strike by Florida Republicans against Al Gore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: When Democratic presidential candidates are engaged in a battle over Social Security, often they turn to the American Association of Retired Persons for support and for a forum to make their case. That is exactly what Al Gore did in Florida today.

CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on Gore's latest salvo against Bush and his strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Gore took his attack on George W. Bush's Social Security proposal directly to the group that cares most about the issue: senior citizens.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You shouldn't be asked to play stock market roulette with your retirement savings in the Social Security program.

KARL: Speaking before about 10,000 people at the senior advocacy group AARP's convention in Orlando, Gore ratcheted up his criticism of Bush's call to allow young workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market. Gore said Bush's real agenda is full-scale privatization of Social Security.

GORE: The Bush privatization plan would take the security out of Social Security. In his completely different world, in his phrase, we could see the end of Social Security as we know it.

KARL: In a response so rapid it came before Gore spoke, Florida Republicans held a press conference outside the AARP conference to denounce the vice president for using scare tactics.

YVONNE OPFELL, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN: Just a short message -- just that Al Gore, stop scaring the seniors. We old gals -- we don't need all this scare tactics. Our Social Security is secure.

KARL: But the audience here was clearly receptive to Gore's message. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am totally against privatization, I'm totally against anybody who is going to fool around with the Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see how the market goes up and down, around and about, and for more mature people and the younger ones to come, it wouldn't work.

KARL: Bush has declined to offer details about his plan, saying that would be done after the election as part of a bipartisan effort between Congress and the new president.

GORE: This is serious business. It is a huge portion of the federal budget, a large part of our economy, it is the lifeline for millions of seniors. I don't think it is responsible to say, let's make a dramatic change and we'll worry about how to pay for it or whether we can pay for it some other time later.

KARL: Gore senior advisers say the vice president will seize upon Bush's reluctance to provide specifics as a way to portray him as a lightweight on policy issues.

(on camera): Gore's aides say attacking Bush on Social Security will be a campaign mainstay from now until Election Day. They believe Bush is especially vulnerable on the issue here in Florida, where in the last presidential election nearly one out of every three voters was over 60.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Orlando.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And here now, Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report" and Charlie Cook of "The National Journal."

Is this a make or break issue for these two candidates?

CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": I don't know if it's make or break, but it's the first important issue. This is really the first aspect of the fight for the general election, the first big issue to come along. Voters had not been paying attention. For Governor Bush, it's a chance to show sort of bold leadership, aggressive move in one of the few policy areas where I think the Clinton-Gore administration is vulnerable, that they haven't done anything on Social Security to shore up the Social Security system.

But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it's going to test all of George Bush's abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Absolutely. I -- Bernie, I think it is a risk. You know, we heard all about this risky tax cut for George Bush, now we're going to hear about the risky Social Security program. The thing for Bush is if he can portray this as part of the reformer versus status quo message that he -- Bush -- is the reformer, then he is going to get a plus out of this in addition to the questions of leadership and strength. But if the focus is on changing Social Security, it is damaging and it gives the Democrats ammunition.

SHAW: Well, tactically, let's discuss the trench warfare over this issue. We heard the vice president use the phrase, "this is Russian roulette," referring to Bush's idea. Yesterday, on INSIDE POLITICS, we had George Bush pointing out that, "You, Mr. Vice President Gore, actually liked this idea, discussed it with President Clinton." Gore now saying it was just an idea he wanted to look at.

What about the rhetoric in this battle?

COOK: Well, without getting into the specifics of Governor Bush's proposal, you know, the vast majority of the American people who have incomes over, say, 50,000 bucks a year have some money in the market, have some retirement funds. This is -- you know, the idea of, let's just put the money in our mattresses or in pass books is -- pass books are ridiculous.

But at the same time, Governor Bush better do a heck of a selling job, because Al Gore is awfully good at this and it's going to be a problem for Bush if he does not get a heck of a lot more persuasive than he has been the last 24 hours.

ROTHENBERG: I'd agree, but I think there's some danger for Gore, the fact that he maybe goes over the top on these attacks, too often seems like a traditional politician, too negative.

SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?

ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there's been a lot of criticism that he's been overly negative. Once again, here, attack, attack. I think people see him as a -- kind of a trite politician, that's not a good thing to be.

SHAW: Well, Gore has been throwing a lot of stuff at the wall. Is any of it sticking?

COOK: Not yet, but I would argue that Al Gore is best on the attack and he's probably weakest when he's talking about himself. And when he's -- when he's -- I mean, he's very good at doing the thrust and parry, but people don't particularly like him.

But I thought -- you know, we got up this morning; in the newspapers it was saying that Al Gore hasn't owned stocks in 15 years. I mean, I was stunned. I mean, I don't think I know anybody that doesn't -- I mean, any adults.

ROTHENBERG: You wouldn't choose him as your investment adviser.

COOK: No, no, but...

SHAW: But George W. is leading in the polls. Can he consistently do that through the general? ROTHENBERG: I think it's possible as long as he stays reasonable, as long as he seems thoughtful and serious. And that's why you're seeing these kinds of attacks, both in terms of substance and extremism. And you'll see them from now on until Gore moves ahead, if he does.

I think it's remarkable, Bernie, that Al Gore, the sitting vice president, has to attack as most challengers attack, and he's attacking the front-runner.

COOK: Karl Rove, Bush's top strategist, likes to point the number that Al Gore has left -- led in five, only five of the 173 polls taken since January 1st of last year, and there have been a handful of ties.

The thing about it is Gore's got to throw Bush off his stride. I mean, this is not Bush's election to lose by any stretch. But at the same time, though, Bush's margins haven't been huge. They've been very steady, and Al Gore's got to change the chemistry of this race. He's hoping this issue will do it.

SHAW: Before we move to China, Stu, there are some Democrats who are starting to squirm over the way Gore is running his campaign.

ROTHENBERG: Oh, absolutely. I think there is concern that at this point he's trailing, that Bush is not only leading in Republican states but also in marginal states and even some Democratic states, that Bush has co-opted the center, that Gore seems overly negative. All of these things that I think have to cause Democrats some concern.

The good news for them is that the public will refocus on this race at the conventions, and after, then they'll start to look at taxes and Social Security, and maybe then the dynamics will change.

SHAW: We led this program today with normalizing trade with China. The tightness of the vote in the House: Is this going to be pivotal in House seats given organized labor's position?

COOK: I don't think so. I think labor has been very careful, except labor with the notable exception of the Teamsters, has been very careful not to personalize this.

In 1994, they personalized, they motivated troops to the nth degree on NAFTA, and then they had a hard time after the vote was over, after they lost the vote and a lot of Democrats defected, they had a very hard time getting their troops back in line to vote Democratic in the fall.

They're working very hard not to let that happen and to keep from personalizing it too much.

But you know, the Teamsters have been pushing awfully, awfully hard. I don't think it's going to be a huge issue, though.

ROTHENBERG: Bernie, I think there's a difference between important public policy issues which may be very significant in making decisions about where the country is going, and campaign issues.

I have a hard time believing that there are a lot of voters are going to change their positions on who they're going to vote for simply on permanent trade relations with China.

When you look at the number of races that are in play -- they're only five congressional seats that are really in play, wouldn't you agree, Charlie? Something like that. That's one-tenth of the total number of congressional districts in the country.

Then if you look at those, do you have one candidates on one side of the issue and one on the other side of the issue? Are there other issues that are intervening?

It's hard for me to believe that labor and business are really going to do what they say they're going to do: that is punish people in this area.

SHAW: OK. Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, thanks so very much.

And just ahead, George Bush finds himself at odds with some members of the GOP and in agreement with the White House.

Chris Black and Bill Schneider will explain why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: On the Hill, Senate Republicans are pushing a bill that would set a deadline for the pullout of United States troops in Kosovo. But there's one snag: George W. Bush, who hopes to be the next commander in chief,, opposes the measure.

Our Chris Black joins us from the Hill with the latest -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, the Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a measure that requires all U.S. troops to be taken out of Kosovo by July 2001 unless specifically authorized by Congress.

The White House is strongly opposed to this language, and President Clinton has threatened to veto the multibillion-dollar military construction spending bill if the language stays in the bill.

But now, it looks as though there may be enough votes to kill the provision on the Senate floor tomorrow, and that's because of an unexpected White House supporter, George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate.

George Bush's campaign issued a statement. His campaign spokesman says, "Governor Bush views the language as a legislative over-reach of the powers of the presidency."

Now, Republican senators say that a number of their colleagues really sat up and took notice yesterday during the Republican policy lunch when they were told that Bush and his top foreign policy advisers were strongly opposed to this language. This is a measure that is being supported by Majority Leader Trent Lott, and John Warner, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services.

In fact, Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska, who supports Bush, but was one of John McCain's strongest supporters during the primaries, says that Bush doesn't want his hands tied if he becomes president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the age-old constitutional debate in this country, a president's prerogative regarding foreign policy, national security, troop deployment, versus the Congress' constitutional prerogatives and responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: Although Governor Bush has overwhelming support from Republican lawmakers, he has been keeping his distance from the Republican-controlled Congress. He keeps Republican leaders informed of his campaign but does not try to coordinate his campaign activities on message, as Vice President Al Gore does with the Democrats.

But on some issues, particularly China trade and the presidential prerogatives of an executive, he is acting like a wannabe, like someone who is hoping that next November that he will be the one who will be heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Chris Black.

Now, on both the Kosovo deadline and the China trade bill, Bush's positions match those of the Clinton administration.

Here now, our own Bill Schneider. Bill, why is Bush, who wants to be the 43rd president of the United States, casting his lot with President Clinton on these two issues?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, really he's acting as if he were president already. Bush expects to be president next year, and he doesn't want Congress, even a Republican Congress, muscling in on world affairs. No president does. But it also helps him solve a political problem right now.

A lot of voters wonder if Bush knows enough or has the right experience, to be president. On international issues, especially, Bush wants to look presidential, a leader who embodies the national interest rather than those nasty narrow political interests you see in Congress.

Congress is supposed to be the place where labor and Christian conservatives and "America firsters" can complain about the China deal. And it's also the place for partisanship and ideology, where conservatives can call the Kosovo conflict "Clinton's war," and try to undermine it.

A president is supposed to be above all that, at least on world affairs. So by siding with Clinton, Bush looks like a president. SHAW: But shouldn't the Republican candidate want to side with a Republican Congress?

SCHNEIDER: Well, not necessarily. You know, Bush drew the line once before last fall when he accused GOP congressional leaders of trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Now he's doing it again on international policy.

You know, sooner or later, Al Gore is going to figure out some way to warn voters that if they elect Bush, they could end up with Republicans in charge of everything -- the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives -- and that Bush would end up answering to people like Tom DeLay and Trent Lott rather than them answering to him.

Bush has got to make it clear to the voters that if he is the president, his agenda will dominate; Congress is not going to control him.

SHAW: Very bluntly, is George W. Bush at a disadvantage in world affairs?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, you might think so, because 5 1/2 years as governor of Texas have not given him a whole lot of experience in the world, not to mention, of course, that, well, embarrassing pop quiz.

But our polling shows voters consider Bush and Gore about equally capable of handling world affairs. Why? I think it's because Bush is a strong brand name in world affairs.

Back in 1992, it was the only issue where voters preferred President Bush, the hero of the Gulf War, to Bill Clinton. Thanks, dad.

Oh, and one more thing, Bush, like his dad before him, is very much a candidate of the national establishment. The establishment is internationalist. It supports free trade and U.S. leadership of the world. And those values cut right across party lines. That bipartisan consensus is under attack from populists on the right and on the left who feel threatened by trade and who don't like military intervention.

By taking the positions he took, Bush is sending a clear signal on world affairs: He is definitely with the establishment. He ain't no tobacco-chewing, pork-rind-eating populist.

SHAW: No, he's not. I almost said, no, he ain't.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you, Bill Schneider.

And when we return, an unusual candidate throws her hat into the ring.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: A former Miss America is running for a new title: president of the United States of America. Venus Ramey of Lincoln County, Kentucky, who won the Miss America crown in 1944, is launching an independent White House bid.

Ramey, who is now 75 years old, supports giving taxpayers the power to nullify congressional laws, executive orders, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions by checking boxes on income tax forms.

As for presidential hopefuls Bush and Gore, Ramey calls them -- quote -- "rich kids" who can't fathom the plight of common people.

That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's Allpolitics.com. And this programming note: Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska will be talking about the presidential race and his ideas on reforming Social Security tonight on CROSSFIRE. That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

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

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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