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Inside Politics

Bush Nominates Elaine Chao as Labor Secretary, Defends Ashcroft

Aired January 11, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens in this town is the voices of the special interests like to tear people down; that's just part of the process -- I understand that.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Hoping to avoid more Cabinet controversy, President-elect Bush names his second choice for labor secretary.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: The Civil War has become an issue for one Bush nominee. We'll have the inside story on how the flap emerged. Plus:

WOODRUFF: President Clinton plays a familiar tune in his farewell to the state where he became the "comeback kid."


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even though I won't be president, I'll always be with you until the last dog dies.


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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us.

George W. Bush says he always expected at least one of his Cabinet choices would get a tough hearing. But right now, two remain under fire after a third controversial nominee, Linda Chavez, bowed out. Today Mr. Bush named a replacement for Chavez as his choice for labor secretary.

And as CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports, Bush is hoping Elaine Chao will get through the confirmation process more easily.



EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not quite, but Elaine Chao is seen by GOP Senators as a safe bet as labor secretary.

First, she has a rags-to-riches story, as an 8-year-old immigrant from Taiwan.

G. BUSH: Elaine Chao believes deeply in the American dream because she has lived it. She came to America at the age of eight not knowing a word of English.

O'CONNOR: Another plus: She'll be the first Asian American woman to hold a Cabinet post. She's the wife of a senator, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. And, as deputy secretary of transportation in the administration of the president-elect's father, she's been through this process before. As head of the Peace Corps and, later, United Way, she has a charitable image, saying all the right things.

CHAO: We must ensure that a disability never bars a qualified person from the workplace, and that parents have an easier time balancing the responsibilities of home and work.

O'CONNOR: One drawback: She's admittedly short on labor credentials. Despite that, her supporters and the president-elect say she's up to it.

BUSH: She brings to this post the qualities for which she is known and admired: strong executive talent, great compassion and a commitment to helping people build better lives.

O'CONNOR: Her supporters say she also has the necessary conservative credentials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody who cherishes our great heritage, who appreciates our work force today and will carry that responsibility out with the skill set she's developed in the past: an appreciation of others carried out with compassion, with integrity, and with character.

O'CONNOR: Further proof that Chao is noncontroversial, John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, who's worked with Chao on the United Way campaign, issued a statement, saying the AFL-CIO believes strongly that the continued strength of America's economy and the security of America's working families depends upon government, labor and management working together on important common issue. We will certainly support any nominee who shares this perspective.


O'CONNOR: Now, some Democrats do see Chao, certainly, as a bow to the right. But it's clear to them, with safe picks like Chao, that George W. Bush is preserving his political capital for the tougher political battles looming over his nominees like John Ashcroft for attorney general and Gale Norton at interior -- Bernie.

SHAW: Eileen, President-elect Bush with a name for U.S. Trade Representative?

O'CONNOR: Yes, he named Robert Zoellick, a man he has a lot of experience with. Zoellick, you know, served under the Reagan administration in several posts at treasury under James Baker. He also served under George Bush Sr. as the undersecretary of state for economics; and, also he was -- he has been at the Fannie Mae Institute. And so he has definitely got a lot of conservative credentials, a lot of history with the Bush family.

Interestingly, Bernie -- excuse me -- George W. Bush made this post Cabinet-level, which is important.

SHAW: Eileen O'Connor, thank you -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right, Eileen, take care of that cough.

Well, under questioning by reporters today, the President-elect repeatedly defended his nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft. And on Capitol Hill, GOP allies of Bush and Ashcroft are preparing to draw a line in the sand.

Here is CNN congressional correspondent Chris Black.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans are saying enough is enough in rallying behind Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft.

Women who share his conservative views are coming to his defense.

BEVERLY LAHAYE, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Senator John Ashcroft has a bull's-eye drawn on him by liberal political groups whose heat-seeking missiles are not only directed at him, but at others who hold beliefs different than their own.

BLACK: Supporters of rights of crimes victims join Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona in praising the former Missouri senator.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: I know he'll enforce the law; but I know that he will also fight for changes in the law to help those in our society who need help, and crime victims are among that group.

BLACK: Ashcroft showed up to thank the group. But, keeping with tradition, he is not speaking in public until his confirmation hearing.

In private, GOP leaders say they do not have firm assurances from a couple of their members. The five Senate Republican moderates tell CNN they plan to vote for Ashcroft, barring dramatic new developments. That is because Ashcroft has personally assured them he will enforce all laws, including those on abortion.

President-elect Bush says Ashcroft will persuade the senator he is the man for the job. G. BUSH: I can't wait for John to have a fair hearing so people get to see what he's made out of. And he's going to do a good job; I'm confident he'll be confirmed.

BLACK: Only one democratic senator, Barbara Boxer of California, has come out publicly against the nomination. Democratic sources say as many as 25 to 30 may join Boxer, but most Senate Democrats are waiting until after the Judiciary Committee hearing, including the woman who now holds his Senate seat.

JEAN CARNAHAN (D), MISSOURI: We're going to wait until he has a full and fair hearing and then we'll make a determination. That's what he deserves and that's what we intend to give him.

BLACK: But some senators are edgy, wanting to be sure they know everything. In a letter to Vice President-elect Cheney, the man who will run the hearing is insisting on copies of all writings, including Ashcroft's speech at Bob Jones University saying: "Dick, I'm trying to move this process along, but do need the material."


BLACK: At this point, Ashcroft appears assured of getting the votes he needs to win Senate confirmation. Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott says he is confident that all 50 Republican senators will vote for him.

With the vote of Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, that gives him 51. But his supporters say they want him to get a significant number of democratic votes. They say they're very concerned that a narrow majority would hurt his credibility as the nation's chief law enforcement officer -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Chris, does the fact that the Democrats have this very temporary majority in the Senate -- does that make any difference in terms of how Ashcroft's confirmation hearing will go?

BLACK: Absolutely, Judy. There's no question at all about that. In fact, Senator Leahy, who is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, at least for one more week, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on that committee, spent all day negotiating on the number of witnesses, how long this hearing would be.

Democrats have an equal hand in this; so they definitely have much more say than they would have just a few months ago.

WOODRUFF: But, just quickly, Chris: The president-elect and his team didn't have to push to have this confirmation next week -- or did they?

BLACK: Oh, not at all. The Democrats were very eager to begin the confirmation process when -- so long as they held the gavels.

By holding the chairmanships, just for this next week, they get to shape the nature of these hearings; they get to ask the questions they want to ask; they get to decide, to a large degree, who the witnesses will be. So it's very important for the Democrats that they get as many of these hearings on the record and done before they have to hand the majority back over to the Republicans.

WOODRUFF: All right; Chris Black at the capitol, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now we turn to a new political dust-up involving interior secretary-nominee Gale Norton. At issue: a speech Norton gave on states' rights, which touched on a still-divisive page in United States history, the Civil War.

Our Jonathan Karl takes a closer look at the speech and how it made its way into the headlines.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing an uphill battle to defeat George W. Bush's choice for interior secretary, environmental groups felt they struck political gold when they discovered, on the Internet, a speech she gave back in 1996.

DOUG KENDALL, COMMUNITY RIGHTS COUNSEL: We tried to figure out how to get this out in the best way possible. And we agreed that the best way would be to have one media organization get it so they could do a full treatment of the issue.

KARL: The now-famous speech by Gale Norton includes a passage where she invokes the Civil War in a discussion of states' rights -- potentially explosive stuff.

The Environmental Working Group gave the speech exclusively to "The Washington Post," earning front-page coverage for a story that otherwise might have fallen through the cracks. The group says it also gave it to National Public Radio on the condition NPR wouldn't air the story until it first appeared in "The Post."

KENNETH COOK, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: These are tactical matters. I'm sure the Bush administration is -- incoming administration is actively working on exclusives and with newspapers and TV stations all around town right now. So this is just one of the tools in the tool kit of trying to get the word out.

KARL: The front-page article got plenty of attention, even catching Bush's eye.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: The president-elect saw the story this morning. He thought this was, just as I indicated, the usual Washington distortions.

KARL: The article zeroed in on Norton's comments about the Civil War; but her defenders say she wasn't defending the Confederacy, just making the case for limited federal government.

G. BUSH: She in no way, shape, or form was talking about the value -- any value to slavery. And, you know, what happens in this town is the voices of the special interests like to tear people down, that's just part of the process, I understand that.

But this is a good, strong woman who's going to do a very good job as the interior secretary.

KARL: On Friday, a coalition of the largest environmental groups in the nation will announce a campaign against Norton. But even the opposition acknowledges, she's unlikely to be defeated.

COOK: I don't think people are counting on defeating her nomination, but I do think they're counting on raising these important questions and having them fully debated.


KARL: The groups opposing Norton highlighted her comments on the Civil War in the hopes that civil rights groups would join their opposition. But as of this afternoon, the NAACP, which already has its hands full waging a battle against the John Ashcroft nomination, says it is undecided about whether or not to join the campaign against Gale Norton -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan, what's the latest -- on another subject, what's the latest on Senator John McCain?

KARL: Well, as you know, John McCain has been threatening to bring up campaign finance reform as soon as the Senate gets to work on legislation here, something that George W. Bush is opposed to.

Well, McCain met with Trent Lott today. Obviously McCain and Lott have locked horns repeatedly over this issue. This was a meeting that lasted about half an hour, a private meeting that one of the people in the room said was about the most cordial a meeting as they had ever seen between Lott and McCain. That may not be saying much; these two have battled pretty viciously on this issue.

They're working on some sort of a compromise; McCain wants to get this issue brought up -- campaign finance reform -- has said that he would bring it up, attaching it to the very first piece of legislation the Senate will consider. But now he's discussing with Lott a possible compromise of bringing it up somewhat later in its own right, debating this issue -- McCain wants it fully debated; he said he wants to have it happen within a matter of weeks, not months.

That's a possibility now that he's debating with Trent Lott on this issue because Lott knows that McCain now has a lot more support in this Senate for campaign finance reform than he had in the last Senate.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl, thank you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, elsewhere on the Hill today, the nominee for secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, appeared to be on a fast track to confirmation. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination praised the former Pentagon chief in the Ford administration as a man of great experience and ability. On somewhat controversial notes, Rumsfeld pledged that he would press for a missile defense system, despite concerns among some Democrats. And he denied agreeing with racially-charged remarks by President Nixon during a White House meeting nearly 29 years ago.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I did not then, and I do not now, agree with the offensive and wrong characterizations. And I think it's unfortunate that it comes up because it can -- it's not fair and it can cause pain to people, to read that type of thing.


WOODRUFF: A "Chicago Tribune" report based on an audio tape of that 1971 meeting suggested that Rumsfeld had agreed with Nixon's disparaging remarks.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: A political touchstone for the outgoing president as Mr. Clinton revisits New Hampshire and 1992.

Plus, our roundtable considers the Clinton legacy.


SHAW: As George W. Bush prepares to take over the nation's highest office, President Clinton is spending his final days taking a trip down memory lane. Today Mr. Clinton took his farewell tour to New Hampshire and, as John King reports, the outgoing president thanked the state for its significant role in his political success.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was here he dubbed himself "The Comeback Kid"; here the nation first got a glimpse of now legendary survival skills. So there could be no Clinton farewell tour without some New Hampshire nostalgia.


CLINTON: Thank you for lifting me up in 1992. Thank you...


CLINTON: ... thank you -- thank you for voting for me and Al Gore in 1992 and in 1996. Thank you. And don't forget, even though I won't be president, I'll always be with you until the last dog dies.

KING: It was a reminder of a cold Dover night nine years ago, just before the 1992 New Hampshire presidential primary. Mr. Clinton was Arkansas governor then, reeling from allegations of draft-dodging and marital infidelity, falling fast in the polls.

CLINTON: If you'll give it to me, I won't be like George Bush; I'll never forget who gave me a second chance and I'll be there for you until the last dog dies. KING: He campaigned frantically in those final days and wanted to revisit some old haunts before leaving office. New Hampshire was mired in a punishing recession back in 1992, but is thriving now. This trip, another effort by the president to blow his own horn a little in an effort to shape history's judgment.

CLINTON: The stuff that was in this little book people made fun of me about is now real in the lives of the American people. The ideas...


CLINTON: ... the ideas have taken hold and America is at the top of its game, and I just hope that we will continue the progress and prosperity of the last eight years.

KING: The final stop of the farewell tour is next week, back home in Arkansas.

(on camera): It is worth remembering that Mr. Clinton didn't win the 1992 New Hampshire primary, but his second-place finish was enough to survive. And, like him or not, the resilience demonstrated here would become a trademark of the Clinton presidency.

John King, CNN, Dover, New Hampshire.


WOODRUFF: Joining us now to discuss about the Clinton presidency and the Clinton legacy -- it's time to do that -- Jodi Allen of "U.S. News & World Report"; Democratic strategist Peter Fenn; Republican strategist Eddie Mahe; and in New York, Robert George of "The New York Post."

Let's talk, first, the four of you, about the political and the personal legacy of this man.

To you first, Eddie Mahe: can you separate it out? Can you talk about Clinton's personal legacy apart from everything else?

EDDIE MAHE, GOP STRATEGIST: I think you almost have to. The American people obviously have been able to do that. About 65 percent do not approve of his personal lifestyle, versus around 58 percent, I believe, was the most recent numbers, saying they have -- they approve of the job he's done.

So the American people have separated. I think history, ultimately, will come down more on the side of the personal scandals than what -- the job he's done as president. But they are separable. The American people have said they are, and so those of us in the business have to accept that judgment.

WOODRUFF: Peter Fenn, will it be the scandals that dominate years from now?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not at all. I think you have eight years of, really, an extraordinary record here. You have someone who's taken a recession and record deficits and turned it into a booming economy and record surpluses.

I think what you're going to see is substance, here, triumphing scandal. And I think also you're going to see people look at Clinton for what he really is; and that is probably the most skillful, charismatic politician of our generation.

WOODRUFF: Do you see it that way, Robert George -- substance will triumph over personal?

ROBERT GEORGE, "THE NEW YORK POST": Well, I think it's going to be -- it's a mixture, quite frankly. I think what the -- what you may actually find is that his political legacy is his personal charisma.

I mean, he was able to, in a sense, spin around when the Republicans came in in 1994 and recalibrate himself. And that's really when the economy and the stock market and so forth kind of took off -- when he took more of a centrist route because he had to deal with a Republican Congress.

But I think the key issue is that that was not really able to translate to, say, Al Gore. I mean, it was fascinating that he's up there in New Hampshire, which he did win in '92 and '96, but Al Gore wasn't able to win New Hampshire this time around. And so it may be that that political legacy is more of a tribute to Clinton's personal political skills and not something that he has actually been able to extend to either his successor or to the broad Democratic Party.

WOODRUFF: Jodi Allen, is the failure of Al Gore to win the presidency a statement about Clinton's legacy?

JODI ALLEN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Judy, it is, in the sense that one missing part of Clinton's legacy is building strength for the Democratic Party and for his successor. He came into office with a Democratic Congress, he leaves with a Republican one, although a somewhat less Republican one than he had four years ago.

So he has not, in the sense of having large coattails, left much of a legacy. On the other hand, it depends so much on what the Democratic Party does now. If he -- if the party continues to -- or perhaps begins to chart out a centrist route, which Clinton certainly show sells large. Then you might say that he did leave that political legacy.

On the other hand, if we see, as we may very well, a return to sharp polarization -- and, in fact, he never did bring the two parties together in Congress -- then his political legacy may be rather short.

WOODRUFF: Eddie Mahe, is what happens to Al Gore in the future going to determine to what extent Bill Clinton was successful?

MAHE: No, I really don't think so. Obviously, to some extent in this election, you have to equate the two. But Al Gore is now much more firmly in the history books than Bill Clinton is. I would agree with the assessment made by some of the other folks here, that it is Clinton, personally, that leaves a legacy; but when the history is written and people no longer have him in mind and in sight, that personal legacy dissipates rather rapidly. And I think, when the books are written, the thing that will be more understandable is the scandal and not the economic boom, since much of that came about because of what President Reagan did and what the Republican Congress did.

WOODRUFF: All right; we'll talk about that economic boom and to what extent the president deserves any credit for it in just a moment.

More from our roundtable on President Clinton's effect, his legacy as he prepares to leave office. We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Now, continuing our discussion of the Clinton years, Jodi Allen, Peter Fenn, Eddie Mahe and, in New York, Robert George.

Peter Fenn, let me pick up with you: there is forever going to be a debate about to what extent Bill Clinton deserves any credit at all for the economy. What about that, and what about any other substantive legacy of his presidency?

FENN: I think he's going to get tremendous credit for the economy.

You know, the Republicans like to talk about it being a spillover from Reagan-Bush; look, the fact of the matter was, that in 1993, the Congress of the United States passed a budget bill that set in motion this recovery. It did not pass with a single Republican vote. It was one of the key elements of the interest rates that went down, of confidence on Wall Street, of going from deficits to substantial increases in budget surpluses.

The other thing, I think, that you're going to look at -- and this is more of a cooperative venture -- was the welfare reform legislation that the president put through. This was terribly helpful, again, in getting taxpayers -- paying taxes -- to bring down that deficit and getting people back to work.

The other thing I think that you're going to at look when you -- in the future when you look at his legacy is this whole effort to improve health care for Americans; to get things back on track. Even though the first lady's health care plan didn't go through, the fact is that, you know, they're looking at prescription drugs, Social Security, Medicare, those kinds of things.

WOODRUFF: Let me pick up on welfare reform. Robert George, what about that? Do you give the president credit for that, and what about the economy?

GEORGE: Well, I would give -- I might give Dick Morris some credit on welfare reform. I mean, the president campaigned on it in '92, but he vetoed -- he vetoed it twice and it was really only going into the '96 elections when his then-adviser Dick Morris said, you need to sign this, otherwise you may not win the election. Then he finally signed it.

He signed it on the third time, and I think -- I mean, it's a good thing. It was -- I think it will stand up as a major -- as a major achievement. But he was really pushed to do it by the Republican Congress.

And on the economy, I mean, as Peter knows, the economy actually started to recover in the middle of 1992, well before -- well before Clinton and the Democrats passed the huge tax increase in 1993. The stock market, though, actually really started to take off following -- following when the Republicans came in in 1994. And finally, though, something that Bill Clinton can be credited for was reappointing Alan Greenspan to head up the Fed. So, in that case, to the extent that he did no harm to the economy, he can be credited.

WOODRUFF: Is that about all you can give him credit for, Jodi Allen?

ALLEN: No, I think that this is one area in which one can give Clinton a good bit of credit. A president gets a lot of credit for simply not messing up. We've had plenty of examples of presidents weighing in to upset the apple cart, and Clinton gets credit both for reappointing Alan Greenspan but also for taking the good advice of Robert Rubin and for pursuing what were disciplined fiscal policies.

He didn't start off that way, but he did end up that way, and he did -- in any case, he presided over the longest continuous expansion in American history and he will certainly be remembered for that, especially if those good times now slack off or even come to an end.

WOODRUFF: We've only got a little...


GEORGE: Judy, I -- I will actually give him legitimate credit. One area where he did take a leading role was in his trade policies and he pushed his -- the left part of the Democrats away on that and that's a legitimate achievement.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask all of you. We've got only about a minute left. What are the few words that are going to come after Bill Clinton's name in the history books 50 years from now -- Eddie Mahe.

MAHE: I think impeachment in some part of the sentence.

WOODRUFF: All right -- Peter Fenn.

FENN: I mean, I think as I said earlier, the most capable politician of our generation.

WOODRUFF: Robert George?

GEORGE: A highly charismatic politician who was the first elected president impeached. WOODRUFF: And Jodi Allen?

ALLEN: Politically adroit; personally, not so adroit.

WOODRUFF: A delicate way of putting it. Jodi Allen, Robert George, Peter Fenn and Eddie Mahe. Thank you all. We appreciate your being with us today.

FENN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, good to see all of you -- Bernie.

SHAW: And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raise your right hand while you take the oath. Do you swear or affirm you will testify truthfully to the best of your abilities?



SHAW: Gathering testimony in Florida as a federal panel asks what went wrong. Plus, the issue that may not have Cabinet level importance in a Bush administration; Bob Novak on concerns over the future of the drug policy post.

And later:


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: The objection is in writing, and I don't care that it is not signed by a member of the Senate.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The chair will advise that the rules do care.


GORE: And the signature...


SHAW: Is laughter the best political medicine? Our Bruce Morton finds out.


SHAW: We'll have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories. Top Israeli and Palestinian officials are meeting this evening in Gaza. A senior Israeli official tells CNN they are discussing ways to reduce the violence in the Middle East. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak are not expected to attend. Both sides say they hope to reach an agreement on President Clinton's peace plan by January 20th.

The official report is out on how seven Texas inmates were able to subdue a dozen guards and escape. Prison officials say the so- called "Texas seven" used handmade weapons in the break out December 13th. The men are accused of killing a police officer following the escape. His mother says the blame should be shared by top officials.


JAYNE HAWKINS, MOTHER OF SLAIN TEXAS POLICE OFFICER: Other people will most likely get hurt in capturing these people. It's going to break -- my heart is already broken. Said things in the newspaper such as we're not certain we have anything to learn from this escape. That is so ludicrous. I can scarcely believe you said those words. And when you said I'm not sure we have anything to question about how this detention system functions, that is so ludicrous I should see the embarrassment on all of your faces.


SHAW: Despite one of the largest manhunts in Texas history, the prisoners remain at-large. In less than five hours from now, a female prisoner in Oklahoma is scheduled to be executed. Wanda Allen is sentenced to die for the killing of her lesbian lover in 1988. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson says the execution should be stayed.


REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: One cannot justify Wanda Jean Allen killing anybody nor the state killing Wanda Jean Allen. We must kill the idea of killing and break the cycle of violence. If she is killed tonight, Oklahoma will not be a safer state on tomorrow morning.

The fact is this fight took place at the police headquarters where she had been fought with a rake and she fought back eventually with a gun. It was an ugly situation.


SHAW: Yesterday, Jackson was arrested while protesting the scheduled execution. He was released today and meet with Governor Frank Keating to urge him to intervene.

WOODRUFF: U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said farewell today to the Justice Department employee she had led for nearly eight years. Sharing a stage with FBI Director Louis Freeh, Reno spoke of the ups and downs of a tumultuous tenure.


JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have been through some of the darkest times. We have been through times of joy. We have been to lonely hillside cemeteries and mourned for those that gave their lives in the service of our country.


WOODRUFF: Reno said she has been quote, "cussed at and fussed at, but has come away feeling better than ever about America's future."

A major storm in California today forced electricity officials to declare a so-called "stage three emergency" for only the second time in that state's history. Rolling blackouts were possible across the state. Heavy surf pounded beachfront homes and coastal roads in the Malibu area. Drenching rain triggered widespread flooding and high winds also downed power lines and trees.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, a federal panel looks into claims of racism in Florida's razor-thin presidential election.


WOODRUFF: The brother of President-Elect George W. Bush testified today in a federal hearing looking into voting problems in Florida. Governor Jeb Bush said he welcomes the investigation into claims that thousands of African-Americans were denied the right to vote on November 7th.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Tallahassee.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is the brother of the president to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you swear or affirm that you will testify truthfully to the best of your ability.

J. BUSH: Yes, I do.

TUCHMAN: As well as the governor of Florida. So, that's why Jeb Bush was a key witness in the effort by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to find out if any voters' civil rights were violated on Election Day.

J. BUSH: I had no conversations with any officials about alleged wrongdoings that I can recall.

TUCHMAN: Governor Bush told the fact-finding body he was delighted they were in Florida. He said he was not aware of any deliberate action to violate voters rights, but was not involved in the nuts and bolts of preparing for Election Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As it relates to the November 7th election, you had no authority, no responsibilities, and took no actions with regard to...

J. BUSH: With the preparation of the election?


J. BUSH: No, the -- again, the secretary of state and the 67 election supervisors of election were responsible for that, and they carried out their duties.

TUCHMAN: Some voters were called as witnesses to testify about what they said were civil rights violations. This pastor says he went into the precinct and was told he wasn't registered. William Whiting told the poll worker he always votes. The poll worker's response:

WILLIAM WHITING JR., HOUSE OF PRAYER CHURCH: We have you listed as a convicted felon. You have been purged from our system. You have lost all your civil rights.

TUCHMAN: Roberta Tucker says five police cars lined a road near her precinct.

ROBERTA TUCKER, WITNESS: I didn't feel that it warranted a roadblock there and I was intimidated by it, and I was suspicious of it.

TUCHMAN: Mrs. Tucker did end up voting, as did Pastor Whiting, but he said only after threatening legal action.

WHITING: I was sling-shotted into slavery. That's how I felt.

TUCHMAN: The commission has received hundreds of complaints statewide. It has no power to pass laws, only to pass on recommendations for remedies to Congress and the president, as well as state and federal law enforcement.


TUCHMAN: Governor Bush's declaration that he wasn't involved in the mechanics of the election only heightens the anticipation for the testimony of the woman who was in charge. The secretary of state of Florida Katherine Harris will testify before this body tomorrow afternoon.

Now, one interesting aside, two people testified together, technology experts -- people who talked about voting -- by the names of John Oman and Kimball Brace. Now, they may not be household names to you, but if you watched the Gore versus Bush, the contest trial here in Tallahassee, you may recall that Kimball Brace was the technology expert called by Gore attorneys and John Oman was the technology expert called by Bush attorneys. They were against each other in court, but today they worked together to inform and educate this commission.

Bernie, back to you.

SHAW: OK, thank you, Mr. Tuchman. And joining us now from Tallahassee, Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, which is holding the hearing.

Madam Chairwoman, our first question to you, what are your first impressions from this hearing?

MARY FRANCES BERRY, U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: Well, first of all, I was surprised at the testimony from Governor Bush about how uninvolved he was with the whole process simply because the constitution of Florida makes him responsible for seeing that the laws are faithfully executed, and there are specific statutes; one, for example, that gives him the power to appoint someone to look into allegations that the election laws have been violated, and also, when he said he had no conversations with the secretary of state or anyone else when another secretary of state who served previously told us in later testimony that he on a routine basis had discussions with governors about preparations for elections.

All of that will be sorted out as we go through the documents that we've subpoenaed, but this was something of a surprise to me. We have been very much educated by what happened today. We very much appreciated the testimony of those who gave sworn testimony that they had been victimized as well as the experts and the advocates and so we know that something happened here, something very wrong happened to some people. We still aren't sure of its dimensions or who was responsible or what should be done about it.

SHAW: You say you were you surprised that Governor Bush was uninvolved to certain extent. Was this laxity on the governor's part?

BERRY: I have no idea. First, we were told that he had no responsibility in this area because of the secretary of state, who we will have before us tomorrow. Then it was pointed out that he in fact has asked for a briefing on the felony purge issue and has set up a task force on the issues. So, we are puzzled and confused and do not know the reason for it, but we had come here believing that the governor of the state had some responsibility for these matters.

SHAW: If you find irregularities, what will the commission do?

BERRY: If we find irregularities, and under our statute we are to look into fraud or discrimination or any kind of irregularity whether based on discrimination or not, we will make recommendations for remedies where it makes sense.

If we find matters that need to be turned over to prosecutors, we will do so. We will then ask our state advisory committee to monitor whether there are reforms that that take place and we will continue to monitor what goes on here and come back, if we need to, time and time again to see that some change takes place before the next election.

SHAW: Are these problems exclusive to Florida? What about the other 49 states?

BERRY: The testimony we had from an internationally recognized expert today who knows about these matters and from other witnesses was that there are several different categories of problems. Almost every state will have a problem with somebody who's dead who's on the voter rolls or some issue like that.

But this category of problems about people who've claimed that there were checkpoints that intimidated them; people who say that they were asked for two or three kinds of ID when the law only require one; that this category of problems raised by people who are concerned about issues of discrimination and the like are unique in their view enough here and the number of complaints to have warranted this investigation.

SHAW: In your judgment, is it possible -- is it possible that the 1965 Voting Rights Law was violated in Florida?

BERRY: It is possible. I am religiously and studiously avoiding reaching definitive conclusions until the end of this investigation, but it is very possible still. The jury is out and we are still collecting information.

SHAW: Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Thank you very much for joining us.

BERRY: Thank you very much.

SHAW: You're quite welcome. And coming up, Bob Novak sounds off on the day's political doings here in Washington.


WOODRUFF: Joining us now with his reporter's notebook, Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times." All right, Bob, let's start off. Today Senator John McCain has a meeting with the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott, to talk about the timing of campaign finance reform. What do we know about this?

ROBERT NOVAK, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, nobody is saying anything except they had a constructive meeting. They didn't decide anything. They will meet again. I think it's important that they're not shouting; they're not issuing press releases. McCain isn't talking about tearing up the Senate. Lott is not saying never.

The problem they have is that Senator Lott wants to open a little window for anything that President-elect Bush wants to put in right away. McCain says, hey, he hasn't got anything ready. We've got to go with campaign reform. They haven't settled that yet, but they're talking friendly, which they weren't last year.

WOODRUFF: And you say that's a good sign?

NOVAK: Well, for the Republicans it's a good sign, yes.

WOODRUFF: All right, Linda Chavez, the fallout -- she decided mostly on her own to pull her name out. What are you hearing?

NOVAK: I'm hearing from a lot of conservatives that they don't like the way this was handled. They think that even though she wanted to get out be and she did want to get out, that they should have -- that the president -- the Bush transition should have stuck with her, they should have fought this a little more because they look like an easy mark right now, like you can push them and they go over. I think it hurt rather than helped in getting Senator Ashcroft confirmed as attorney general. Now, today they named Elaine Chao, who is a very capable woman, to secretary of labor. But the problem is that when she was being pushed by her friends, they said that she was good because she had a good relationship with John Sweeney. The first thing she said she was a friend of John Sweeney, the president of AFL- CIO, who was a person who did his best to defeat George W. Bush and did his best to get rid of Linda Chavez. Now, it looks like they are appeasing Sweeney. That's not a good sign for strength.

WOODRUFF: Another announcement today, Bob Zoellick -- Robert Zoellick to be U.S. trade representative. Some thoughts.

NOVAK: There's been an interesting back stage struggle been going on. The whole Washington establishment, the lobbyists, businessmen, a lot of senators wanted a guy named Richard Fisher for that job. Richard Fisher is a deputy U.S. trade representative in the Clinton administration. They wanted a Clinton holdover in there. They really liked him, but I think Zoellick just had too many cards. He had worked very hard for the Bush campaign. He is a capable veteran. He is a protege of James A. Baker III, who did a very good job for Bush on the Florida recounts. So, politics won out.

WOODRUFF: All right, and last, Bob, Bush proposal to downgrade the position -- the so-called drug czar but it's drug policy chief -- from Cabinet level to less than that.


NOVAK: I just love this story, because the hardest thing to do in Washington is to make anything smaller. Bush comes in and he says, this Cabinet has gotten to big, it's like topsy. It's growing and growing and growing. We've got to get it back to where it was, get rid of all these non-department heads.

First thing they try to get is U.S. trade representatives. All these lobby groups say you can't take the U.S. trade representative. OK, we'll keep it. Now today, the anti-drug lobby in the House of Representatives, headed by Dan Burton of Indiana and Gilman of New York, send a letter to Bush saying, you can't take the drug czar out of the Cabinet. It makes it look like you're appeasing people. You're soft on drugs. It is so hard a duty to make anything smaller in Washington. Now, we'll see whether Bush is rolled on this one as he was rolled on the trade representative.

WOODRUFF: Well, we certainly never want to diminish your role on INSIDE POLITICS.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, thanks very much. Well, there's still much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS; from the latest choice for the Bush Cabinet to the confirmation battle ahead for his attorney general nominee.

Plus, the president-elect's plan for education: Ron Brownstein on what's at issue.


SHAW: President-Elect Bush hopes his second labor secretary choice will be the charm.

WOODRUFF: The next commander in chief has promised to cut back on troop commitments overseas. But is he having second thoughts?

And later...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Always leave them laughing is a good rule, as long as the joke's not on you.


SHAW: Bruce Morton on the importance of humor in politics.

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

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Just two days after Linda Chavez bowed out as the labor secretary nominee, George W. Bush filled the empty place in his Cabinet and tried to stem any new controversy.

For the labor post, Bush tapped Elaine Chao, a former Peace Corps director and wife of GOP Senator Mitch McConnell. He also tapped Robert Zoellick to become U.S. trade representative with Cabinet rank. But, Chao was the headliner; an immigrant from Taiwan who promised to defend American workers.


LINDA CHAO, LABOR SECRETARY NOMINEE: I'm very honored to have the opportunity to work with President-Elect Bush to ensure that we protect, nurture and develop our nation's most precious resource, and that's America's working men and women. And I look forward to ensuring that America's work force continues to compete successfully in the global economy in this new century.


WOODRUFF: President-elect Bush praised Chao and Zoellick; and he defended his attorney general nominee, John Ashcroft. Despite opposition, Bush says he still expects that Ashcroft will be confirmed, although he says he knows the Senate questioning will be tough.


G. BUSH: Well, I do think there's going to be some interesting discussions about the law and his willingness to enforce civil rights laws, for example, and he will. I had a good, long talk with John about civil rights laws; this is a good man, he's got a good heart.

And when people hear his record and see what he's done in public life, and having been elected twice -- or three different times -- three different offices statewide in Missouri, they'll find him to be an accomplished, good American, and I'm confident he'll win the votes.


WOODRUFF: Well, our Chris Black is covering the Ashcroft story and Eileen O'Connor is on the Bush transition beat.

Eileen, let me start with you. Tell us a little about Elaine Chao's credentials and why she was chosen.

O'CONNOR: Well, some Democrats see the pick of Chao as a bow to the conservative right; she certainly has conservative credentials. But they also see it as a clear indication that George W. Bush is trying to preserve his political capital for those battles brewing over -- not only John Ashcroft, but Gale Norton at interior.

And why? It's because Elaine Chao is pretty much a non- controversial pick. She's not as controversial as Linda Chavez. She's a former deputy secretary of transportation under George Bush Sr. and his administration. Then she was tapped as director of the Peace Corps, worked on the United Way campaign -- headed that up.

And in that capacity, Judy, she worked with John Sweeney, who was the president of the AFL-CIO. And he said in a statement that he knows her, he's worked with her, that she's a good person, she has executive experience, and she's worked with the labor unions on charitable causes. And so he says that, as long as she shares his views -- protecting workers' rights -- then he's ready to work with her.

Another important point is that she is the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and, you know, it's always good to have an in with the club -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, and one other question, Eileen, about the trade representative pick, Robert Zoellick; what about him?

O'CONNOR: Well, again, a longstanding history with the Bush family, and with close allies of George W. Bush. He's served in various posts under James Baker at Treasury and -- you know James Baker was very helpful in the Florida recount. So that was a big -- he's his protege, so that was a big lobbyist on his behalf.

Robert Zoellick also served under George Bush Sr, undersecretary of state for economics; he also served at Fannie Mae. He has all of the economic credentials, as well as the personal one. Important, though, that they did raise that Cabinet post to -- that post to Cabinet level, I should say because, as George W. Bush said, he wanted to highlight the importance he sees in trade relations -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, now over to Chris Black at the Capitol.

Chris, you've been following the Ashcroft story. Tell us about Republican efforts today to pull together some support behind him.

BLACK: Well, in really sharp contrast to what happened when Linda Chavez got into trouble, the Republicans are really rallying their supporters -- rallying supporters of John Ashcroft. There were several groups that came out today -- conservative women, who had a press conference, and then Senator Kyl put together a group of supporters of victim rights -- people who were -- victims' rights.

Senator Ashcroft has been co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment on victims' rights, and this is a group that he has a lot of support from. And also, the transition committee itself has been faxing out materials to reporters supporting John Ashcroft; testimonials from people like Cardinal Madderos, the archbishop in Boston, saying he's not anti-Catholic at all, because he was, somewhat, accused of that by some people because he did make a speech down at Bob Jones University.

WOODRUFF: We are going to be talking -- Bernie's going to be talking in just a moment now, Chris, with two members of the Senate. But from your perspective, where does the Senate line up now on the Ashcroft nomination?

BLACK: If the vote was held today, he'd definitely win. Trent Lott, the Senate Republican leader, says he's confident that all 50 Republican Senators would vote for him. We've been tracking most of the Senators, particularly the moderate Republicans who might be inclined to vote against him. So far they're saying they will vote for him, barring some extraordinary development. A few Democrats have come out, saying they're going to support him.

Democrats are really reluctant to go nuclear against a president's selection for his Cabinet unless there's a really good reason. There are a lot of repercussions from that sort of thing. I think a lot of people are pleased that -- Democrats, at least -- that Linda Chavez is off the table. They didn't think she was a good pick at all. A lot of them have reservations about John Ashcroft and his positions on issues.

But at the end of the day, some of them will be reassured if he says publicly what he is saying privately, which is that he will support enforcement of all laws, including those he disagrees with.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Black at the Capitol; Eileen O'Connor at the White House. Thank you both -- Bernie.

SHAW: And as Judy promised, joining us now: Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider John Ashcroft's nomination. Also with us: Senator Peter Fitzgerald, an Illinois Republican.

Senator Fitzgerald, first to you. Are liberals waging a smear campaign against John Ashcroft?

SEN. PETER FITZGERALD (R), ILLINOIS: Well, I wouldn't characterize it as a smear campaign, but I would say that they're running a campaign against John Ashcroft, as though he were running for a legislative spot in the U.S. Congress. They're running a Senate campaign, essentially, against him. They're saying that they disagree with him on this public policy issue, or that public policy issue. And what's missing in their campaign against John Ashcroft is any evidence that he would not be one who would be able to uphold laws, even ones that he wouldn't have necessarily supported when he was in the U.S. Senate.

And I think it's for that reason, and for the reason of John Ashcroft's sterling integrity -- he is a man of utmost character and integrity, as much, if not more so, of anybody I've ever known in public life. And I think that that qualification is, hands down, the most important qualification for our public officials, and particularly for the attorney general of the United States.

SHAW: Patrick Leahy, has Peter Fitzgerald accurately outlined your motivations?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Well, I'm not sure of the campaigns he's talking about. I have not seen a real campaign in the Senate, other than Trent Lott saying that all Republicans have made up their mind before the hearing is held. The fact of the matter is that there's 280 million Americans, all of whom have to be represented by the attorney general whether they're rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, black, white, no matter what. But there are only 100 people who get to vote on his nomination, the 100 members of the Senate.

I intend to conduct a hearing beginning next week on John Ashcroft's nomination; it will be a fair, it will be a complete hearing. I'll make sure that both Democrats, Republicans are heard, it's not going to be one of these things where it turns into a shouting match. At least, not during the time when I'll be chairing it. But there will be very specific questions; it's not just simply a question saying, I'll enforce the law. Any attorney general will say that, and will enforce the law.

But I was a prosecutor, and I know when you're faced with all the laws, you only have so much in the way of resource. You have to pick and choose, you have to make the decision which laws get emphasized and which don't. Those will be the types of questions. Based on his past statements, based on his votes, which laws will he enforce? Which of the civil rights laws? Which of the labor laws? Which of the antitrust laws? Which of the criminal laws or drug laws will get the most emphasis? Which, by necessity, will get the least emphasis?

SHAW: One of the issues from the past: Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, nominated by President Clinton to be a federal judge. At one point Judge White opposed the death sentence for a mass murderer, saying that the man was mentally disturbed and not adequately represented at trial. During the Senate campaign, John Ashcroft accused Ronnie White of being soft on crime.

Senator Fitzgerald, your interpretation?

FITZGERALD: Well, Senator Ashcroft did oppose Ronnie White's confirmation to the bench, and he made a persuasive case that ultimately persuaded me and a majority of my colleagues in the United States Senate not to vote for Ronnie White's confirmation. But John Ashcroft's record with respect to African-Americans on the bench, both when he was governor of his state of Missouri and in the U.S. Senate has been very good.

In fact, when he was governor, he was commended by an African- American bar association for appointing many African-Americans to the bench, and also, in the United States Senate, I'm under the impression that of 28 African-American nominees whose confirmation he was called to pass upon, he voted for 26. And the two that he opposed were not confirmed. One of them was withdrawn.

SHAW: Senator Leahy?

LEAHY: Well, you know, the issue is not whether he is biased against blacks or not. I've never seen him say or do anything to show a bias, just as -- even though he went down and spent time speaking at Bob Jones, a group which takes a very harsh attitude towards Catholics and Mormons both -- Senator Hatch is a Mormon and I a Catholic, have never heard him say anything that would suggest that he shares those views; that's not the issue.

The issue on Justice White was whether he was defeated because Senator Ashcroft disagreed with him on law-enforcement matters -- and it's hard to see where -- how he did, because Justice White voted the same in most cases as then-Governor Ashcroft's choices for the Supreme Court did -- or whether he opposed him because he wanted to use it as a political issue in his campaign against Governor Carnahan.

If that was the case, if he devastated a person's career for a political purpose or to get a couple points up in the polls, that, of course, creates an entirely different issue. But that's something that we'll look at. And that's something we'll ask both Senator Ashcroft and both Judge White. And they should have the chance. They're the ones that are going to have to make that case, not me or Senator Fitzgerald. The two of us will get to vote based on what they say.

Senator Fitzgerald is a very fair man. I believe I'm a very fair person. We will listen to the evidence. And then we'll make up our mind how to vote.

SHAW: Gentleman, on that note, we thank you, Senators Leahy of Vermont and Fitzgerald of Illinois. Thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, as we've been hearing earlier, president-elect Bush's choice for defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, seems well on his way to confirmation after his hearing today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The former Pentagon chief in the Ford administrations said that he would press to transform America's military to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Will that include a diminished presence for U.S. forces around the world, as president-elect Bush has promised?

CNN's military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre explores that issue.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a candidate, George W. Bush promised to review U.S. military commitments around the world with an eye toward cutting back, and to convince America's allies in Europe to assume a greater share of peacekeeping chores in the Balkans.


G. BUSH: We can be peacemakers, but we should not try to be peacekeepers all over the world.


MCINTYRE: Now that the Bush national security team is getting Pentagon briefings on the hard realities of those deployments, they may have second thoughts, say former Pentagon officials.

LAWRENCE KORB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: President-elect Bush should not and will not be able to cut back because A) it is not as dire a situation as he talked about. There's a greater percentage of U.S. forces in the United States now than during the Cold War. If, in fact, you withdraw the troops from any of those areas, you are going to undermine the U.S. ability to control events.

MCINTYRE: United States has more than 265,000 of its 1.4 million troops deployed around the world. Roughly 100,000 are in Asia, including 40,000 in Japan and 37,000 committed to the defense of South Korea. Another 120,000 troops are stationed in Europe, mostly in Germany. Peacekeeping deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo account for roughly 10,000 troops. Another 20,000 U.S. troops are tied up in the Persian Gulf to contain Iraq's Saddam Hussein by enforcing sanctions and no-fly zones. And then there are dozens of smaller commitments, like the handful of troops the U.S. contributes to peacekeeping in the Sinai and military trainers sent to Africa. The problem, argues the Pentagon's former No. 2 man, is that there's no good place to pull back.

JOHN HAMRE, FMR. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: You know, it's hard to think that you would make any major changes in Japan and Korea, especially right now given how volatile the situation is.

MCINTYRE: And Hamre argues pulling peacekeepers out of the Balkans, unless done with the agreement of America's allies, would undermine U.S. Leadership of the NATO alliance.

HAMRE: I think that is one of those really hard issues that -- where there will be very, very strong disagreement on the part of our allies who are there on the ground with us.

MCINTYRE (on camera): George W. Bush was careful during the campaign not to commit to any troop withdrawals, only to a review of current deployments. Pentagon officials say that review could easily conclude there's no place where the U.S. can afford to disengage.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: President-elect George W. Bush and his education reform, including school vouchers.



G. BUSH: If to a school can't teach a child to read, if a school refuses to reform itself, or a district refuses to change, and we find our children mired in -- in a status quo that's unacceptable, something must happen. And I believe that what must happen is the money -- the parent must be given more discretion about how to educate his or her child.


WOODRUFF: Well, as you are hearing there, president-elect George W. Bush defended his plan for school vouchers today. He met with education and business leaders in Washington and reiterated his plans to reform the educational system. While the Senate appears ready to give approval to be Rod Paige as Bush's education secretary, pushing Bush's education plan through Congress might prove far more difficult, even among members of his own party.

Ron Brownstein has more.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: George W. Bush spent so much time in schools last year, it sometimes seemed he was running for president of the PTA. Education remains his top political and policy priority. Bush says he'll introduce his plan to reform the federal government's education programs immediately after taking office.

An this week in Washington, he'll convene a summit of top education innovators.

(voice-over): Some elements of Bush's education blueprint offer him the promise of early consensus with Democrats. Others promise heated conflict. Here's a preview. In the consensus column: accountability and flexibility. At the heart of Bush's education agenda is an ambitious trade.

G. BUSH: I will praise success, but shine a spotlight of shame on failure.

BROWNSTEIN: Bush wants to give states more flexibility to spend federal education dollars as they see fit. In return, he would require them to be more accountable by testing students every year in reading and math. States that fail to show progress would lose federal money.

Congressional liberals will resist that trade-off. But it's similar to a reform plan that a group of Democratic Senators introduced last year. And guess who helped write that Bill: Al Gore's old running mate.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: By giving the state and local authorities more flexibility to determine what their priorities are, what they need to do to better educate their children, rather than creating another federal program.

BROWNSTEIN: That gives Bush a good foundation for a deal. Conflict: school funding. There are some big differences between the Bush plan and the Lieberman plan. Democrats would increase federal education spending by $35 billion over the next five years. Bush is constrained by his huge tax-cut proposal, so he's proposed much smaller increases.

If he wants to bring Democrats along on his flexibility proposals, Bush will have to sweeten the pot with more money. Consensus: Head Start reform. In the campaign, Bush called for sweeping reform of Head Start, the government's popular preschool program for low-income children.

G. BUSH: These children deserve the opportunities found in many private preschools with trained teachers and high expectations.

BROWNSTEIN: Many reformers in both parties agree that Head Start has focused too little on providing skills to children. Expect an early agreement. Conflict: vouchers. This promises to be the sharpest dividing line between the parties. If schools fail to improve the performance of low-income students, Bush says Washington should give their parents vouchers to send the children to private schools.

G. BUSH: But when we find children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach, instead of saying, "Oh, this is OK in America, just to shuffle poor kids through schools," there has to be a consequence.

BROWNSTEIN: But Democrats and moderate Republicans fear vouchers would weaken those already struggling public schools. If the idea survives at all, it's likely to be severely scaled back with a pilot program or a plan that lets states opt out of the experiment. Consensus: charter schools. It's been a quiet revolution in American education: the spread of hundreds of charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools. But to encourage innovation, they are freed of most school-district and union rules. The public- school establishment doesn't like charter schools. But they draw high marks from reformers in both parties, and so will Bush's plan for $3 billion to help start more of them.

Conflict: school construction. Almost half of all schools in operation today were built while the baby boomers were still in the classroom. Almost all Democrats and a growing number of moderate Republicans think Washington should help states with the massive cost of renovating and replacing those aging buildings.

RICHARD RILEY, EDUCATION SECRETARY: We can tell our children to learn to high standards. How can we do that when we then ask them to learn in dingy, crowded and worn-out buildings?

BROWNSTEIN: Bush thinks that's too much federal intrusion into local control of education. He's proposed a complex school- construction plan that doesn't offer nearly as much money to local districts as Democrats want. This may prove an argument almost as intractable as the one over school vouchers.

(on camera): But none of these differences are insurmountable. If Bush is flexible, he may be able to build a coalition with centrist Democrats on education reform. That could offer the new president not only a policy victory, but a political coup. After all the bitterness in Florida, could there be a better way to launch the new administration than with a Bush-Lieberman initiative?

This is Ron Brownstein for INSIDE POLITICS.


SHAW: Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."

And up next, politics, laughter and the secretary of agriculture: Bruce Morton on the odd combination.


SHAW: While presidents and other politicians often deal with serious issues, here in Washington, a sense of humor can be a valuable asset.

Our Bruce Morton on political humor of the past and the new focus on the art of laughter.


MORTON (voice-over): Retiring Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a former congressmen, likes political humor, has endowed a fund to study it, and talked at Washington's Press Club about how it works.

DAN GLICKMAN, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I think that self- deprecating humor is a strategic tool of the political trade. It's a means of puncturing pomposity, of defusing tense situations, attracting allies, and even getting people to focus on serious public- policy issues.

MORTON: Glickman has firsthand experienced: dodged a tofu pie an anti-meat protester threw at him, and came back with a good one-liner.

GLICKMAN: You know, it wasn't a very balanced meal she threw at me. That's the only thing.

MORTON: Self-deprecating humor is useful for presidents, maybe because they are so powerful. Asked how he became a hero as a PT boat commander during World War II, John Kennedy answered: "It was involuntary. They sank my boat." Bill Clinton's always been good at self put-downs, as in this home video he made for last year's White House correspondents' dinner. It's about the end of his term and called "The Final Days."

CLINTON: If they send me the bill in its present form, I will sign it. OK, any questions?


MORTON: Sometimes presidents use humor to attack. Abraham Lincoln, talking about one of his more cautious generals during the Civil War, said, "If McClellan is not using the Army, I should like to borrow it for a while."

And when political opponents accused Franklin Roosevelt of wasting taxpayers' money by sending a Navy destroyer to bring his dog back from the Aleutians, FDR attacked:


FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me or on my wife or on my sons. Now, not content with that, they now include my little dog Fala.



MORTON: Sometimes being funny helps when you're sad. Al Gore, presiding over the session of Congress that counted the electoral votes that made George Bush, not Gore, the next president:

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: The objection is in writing. And I don't care that it is not -- it is not signed by a member of the Senate.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The chair will advise that the rules do care. And the signature of a senator...


MORTON: The one thing a politician doesn't want is people laughing at him. But when presidential candidate Michael Dukakis boarded a new model tank in 1988, reporters, and some staffers, whooped with laughter.


MORTON: Always leave them laughing is a good rule, as long as the joke's not on you.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SHAW: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's AOL keyword: CNN.

WOODRUFF: And these programming notes: Ari Fleischer, president-elect Bush's choice to be White House press secretary, will be the guest tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. And at 8:00, James Carville will be talking about the Clinton years on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: And I'm Bernard Shaw. MONEYLINE -- the MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR is next.



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