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Inside Politics

President Bush Courts Democrats; DNC Prepares to Pick New Chairman

Aired February 2, 2001 - 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)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those who have been to our office, thanks for coming. For those of you who have not been to our office yet, you're coming.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Just don't take any silverware.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: The commander in chief of congressional outreach goes where no president has gone before. Clinton fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe works to seal the deal and become DNC chairman. Plus, we'll discuss an independent review of CNN's election-night coverage: the mistakes made and the changes ahead.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JESSE VENTURA, MINNESOTA: I wasn't hired because I'm the governor. I'm hired because I'm Jesse "The Body."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Jesse Ventura begins his new XFL venture tomorrow. Is it out of bounds?

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

SESNO: Thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Bernie and Judy.

At first glance, this would seem to be a day for drawing bipartisan -- or, rather, partisan battle lines. The Democratic National Committee is meeting here in Washington to choose a new chairman and regroup after losing the White House. And congressional Republicans and Democrats held separate retreats to plot their strategies.

But as John King explains, President Bush apparently saw this politically charged day as another opportunity to court the opposing party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The early days are full of firsts, like the inaugural ride as president on Marine One. But this is one worth noting: the first visit in memory by a president of one party to an issues retreat of the other party.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: When they said, "The president has arrived," I think many people expected Bill Clinton to walk in the door. And then they realized we're talking about a different president now. And it was George Bush.

KING: Mr. Bush spent about 30 minutes with Senate Democrats and will visit House Democrats at their retreat Sunday as his early charm offensive continues.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: It's been around and around- the-clock meetings: breakfast, lunch and dinner. And if there was another meal, I guess he would add it to their agenda as well. But I mean, he's been really reaching out, I think, to members of Congress in both parties and also to Democrats, which is encouraging.

KING: After visiting the Democrats, Mr. Bush traveled to the Republican congressional retreat. Cameras were allowed into that meeting: bipartisanship again the message.

BUSH: And I know you will join me. You're not going to agree with everything I say. I probably won't agree with everything you say. But I will listen. And I'll respect your opinion.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Do you swear or affirm that the testimony...

KING: But there are some strains already. Many Democrats are: angry at the choice of conservative John Ashcroft for attorney general; upset at the quick Bush decision to block federal funds for international family-planning groups that provide abortion counseling; opposed to the private-school-voucher provision of the Bush education plan; and warning the new president's tax cut is tilted to the rich and spends too much of the federal surplus. Mr. Bush is dedicating next week to his tax plan and is clearly warming to the debate.

BUSH: It's important for us not to let the tax-relief debate fall into a class-warfare debate. It seems like, to me, the fair way to do things is if people pay taxes, they ought to get tax relief.

KING: So a commitment to a bipartisan tone doesn't mean there won't be partisan fights. But the president says he's happy with his early outreach to both parties.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: True, as Bush aides say, that this is the way the new president likes to operate: taking the time to build personal relations with members in both parties. But it is also true, after an election so close, and with the Congress so evenly divided, a bipartisan approach is as much a necessity as a choice -- Frank.

SESNO: And, John, are the Democrats charmed?

KING: They're charmed. They say they appreciate the outreach and that they say this is a president who's quite affable, and they say, contrary to what some of them thought during the campaign, quite informed and quite on much to the issues.

Still, they say, there will be fights ahead. The Ashcroft vote obviously the first shot by the Democrats to say, if necessary, they can rally the troops against this president. We'll see in the tax debate next week -- that's the first big policy test -- of how the Democrats react to the new president.

SESNO: But, John, even before the first big policy test, as you call it, there are some markers that are being thrown down, one coming from none other than that Democrat himself, Richard Gephardt.

KING: That's right, Frank. One legacy of the Ashcroft debate: the continuing fight over whether Ronnie White, a Missouri Supreme Court justice, should have been confirmed to a federal judgeship. Mr. Ashcroft led the fight against him, leading many blacks and many Democrats to believe he's insensitive on racial issues -- Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House, sending a letter here to the White House today, joining the Congressional Black Caucus in saying President Bush should renominate Ronnie White.

That, Mr. Gephardt says, would show that he understands the anger on the Democratic side. Senior Bush aides say the president is studying the issue. They say he is very unlikely to do that: to renominate Ronnie White. To do so, they say, would be a slap at his new attorney general, who led the fight against him, and a slap at all the Senate Republicans who voted against him. But they do say the president is looking for ways to answer some of the concerns.

One of them could be -- in his final days in office, Bill Clinton nominated a man named Roger Gregory, an African-American judge in Virginia, for federal judgeship. The Republicans senators from that state support that nomination. President Bush might offer his support for that as one way of saying: Hey, I'm listening.

SESNO: So a little early horse trading.

KING: Perhaps.

SESNO: All right. We'll watch -- John King at the White House.

Now, to the Democratic National Committee meeting and tomorrow's vote for a new party chairman.

CNN's Bob Franken watched the 11th-hour campaigning by the expected victor and his long-shot challenger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: How are you today? Terry McAuliffe.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's running for Democratic chairman in his usual highest-energy style. Terry McAuliffe hasn't raised millions upon millions of dollars for the party by forgetting to touch any of the bases.

MCAULIFFE: I'm here to ask you for your vote because I don't take anything for granted.

FRANKEN: After locking up the vast majority of the party's voting members, McAuliffe is expected to cruise to victory in Saturday's election. But there's grumbling that he got here by pulling a fast one: that with the help of his close friend, former President Bill Clinton, McAuliffe jumped into the race in December, before anyone else could catch his breath.

MAYNARD JACKSON, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: Good morning. How you doing?

FRANKEN: His only opponent: former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, criticizes what he calls McAuliffe's unfair advantage in the race.

JACKSON: I want you to know that that argument has been particularly unsuccessful.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: Jackson has been working the very same rooms, the same party constituency groups as McAuliffe, running what he calls himself an uphill battle. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is still looming just barely in the background. McAuliffe's campaign is tightly organized by Harold Ickes, a longtime operative for both the former president and for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the newly-elected senator from New York.

That's led to charges that McAuliffe would run the party as a surrogate for both Clintons.

HAROLD ICKES, MCAULIFFE SUPPORTER: This is Terry McAuliffe. He's running on his own. He's his own person. He's called everybody. I don't think the president has made one telephone call.

FRANKEN: And, in fact, Clinton will not appear at this meeting on behalf of his longtime friend. Aides felt the negative press he's getting right now concerning the questionable pardons and his pricey New York office would be a distraction to McAuliffe's victory.

The election comes on the heels of Republicans taking control of the White House and both the House and Senate for the first time in 45 years. That's left Democratic leaders around the country pondering their next moves.

JOE CARMICHAEL, MISSOURI DEMOCRATIC CHMN.: This party needs to move away from the Beltway and out to where the votes are cast and counted.

FRANKEN: The chairman of the Democratic Party in the last election's most contested state, Florida, says his organization has a special priority.

BOB POE, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CHMN.: We've got the governor's race. Jeb Bush is up for election in 2002. And our people are keenly focused on that race and look to replacing Jeb in the next election.

FRANKEN (on camera): First, the race for Democratic chairman: Sources on both sides say there have been sporadic meetings between McAuliffe and Jackson, trying to find some way for Jackson to give into McAuliffe in return for some prominent role in the party -- no deal yet.

Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And we're joined now by Terry McAuliffe supporter and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. We want you to note this fact: Maynard Jackson and one of his top supporters, Bill Bradley, already have appeared on INSIDE POLITICS.

Good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

ALEXIS HERMAN, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Always good to be with you, Frank.

SESNO: Well, we enjoy seeing you, too, especially in this role and this opportunity for us to say: If Terry McAuliffe is in charge of the DNC, what does he bring besides a lot of fund-raising muscle?

HERMAN: He brings organizational skills. He brings a real ability to sell a Democratic message and to treat and to teach and to reach ordinary everyday Americans about what's at stake for the future in our country.

SESNO: Are the Clintons pulling the strings behind the scenes?

HERMAN: Absolutely not. Terry McAuliffe is his own man. He did an outstanding job of running the Democratic Convention in 2000 in Los Angeles. And he's always been a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy to get the job done.

SESNO: A lot of connections, too, to Al Gore: What does that suggest about that formula?

HERMAN: I think it says that Terry McAuliffe is someone who knows the party leadership, has worked with the party leadership: our president, Vice President Gore, state party chair. He'll be a good chairman for our party. SESNO: I want to quote from Maynard Jackson for just a moment: Here's what he said: "There is a strong feeling out there right now there ought to be an open election process. We just had a presidential election," Jackson says, "where that wasn't the case. And now the DNC is doing the same thing." Your response?

HERMAN: I have personally never seen a process that has been more open. I've been involved with Democratic Party politics going on 30 years. Terry McAuliffe has literally taken his case to every single member of the Democratic Party, of the Democratic Committee. And he's done it the old-fashioned way. He's calling them up. He's talking to them on an individual basis.

SESNO: All right, honest, now: If Bill Clinton isn't pulling the string -- and that's fine -- he is close to Terry McAuliffe. They have a longstanding relationship. We know that the former president himself would like to have some kind of ongoing role. What would it be?

HERMAN: You know, he is the former president of our party. So he'll obviously have a role, hopefully, of continuing to talk about the issues that matter most to Democrats in our country. Bill Clinton is someone who is going to continue to speak his mind. And I think that he will continue to be a part of the national debate in our country.

SESNO: Is he the leading national Democrat?

HERMAN: I don't think it's a question of the leading national Democrat. You have Al Gore, who won the popular vote in this country for the president. You have President Clinton, who is an ex- president. You have Jimmy Carter, who is an ex-president. So we are fortunate.

SESNO: But nobody would suggest that Jimmy Carter is helping to shape the agenda this day...

HERMAN: No, and I'm not suggesting that.

SESNO: ... or these days of the Democratic Party. But Bill Clinton might have a role.

HERMAN: Bill Clinton might have a role.

SESNO: Is that appropriate?

HERMAN: I think it's appropriate to use your party leadership wherever they are. And to the extent that we've got two great ex- presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, I hope that they will be involved on continuing to speak out on issues that matter most to Democrats.

SESNO: It is a question that we get a lot: Who are the prominent Democrats? Who are the contenders for '04? Beyond Al Gore, who would they be. HERMAN: Frank, I think that's not a debate that we ought to have 12 days after we have just inaugurated a new president. What we've got to do is elect Terry McAuliffe tomorrow as the party chair and get on with winning races at the state level, at mayoral races, making sure we try to take the House and the Senate back in 2002 and concentrate on 2004. And we have got a lot of time to do that and a lot of energy to bring to that task.

SESNO: And the charge that Mr. McAuliffe does not represent the minority, African-American and other base of the party?

HERMAN: Terry McAuliffe is supported by over two-thirds of African-Americans on the Democratic National Committee. He is supported by Latino leadership, by -- of the diverse leadership in our party. I think Terry McAuliffe will bring to the party the unity and the leadership that we need at the top.

(CROSSTALK)

SESNO: I want to shift gears on you here very quickly. We are going to hear a bit later on INSIDE POLITICS what your former boss, Bill Clinton, had to say today in defense of his pardon of Marc Rich and the office space that he's gotten in New York, and all that kind of business. But how much has this marred, in your view, his early exit from politics, and perhaps his legacy?

HERMAN: I don't think it's marred it at all. I think this is the politics of the moment, the chatter of the moment around the party.

SESNO: So you endorse the pardon of Marc Rich? That was a good thing to do?

HERMAN: I think we will get past that issue. The president, as I heard him say a few moments ago, has taken full responsibility for his action. He wished he had more time to talk about it. But I think we will move on. And the country is going to remember Bill Clinton for what he did to turn this economy around and to give us the longest economic boom and expansion in all of America's history.

SESNO: Alexis Herman, you give as good as you get. Thanks very much.

HERMAN: Thank you.

SESNO: Appreciate your time as always.

And the new attorney general reports to work -- up next on INSIDE POLITICS: day one for John Ashcroft at the Department of Justice. And Bill Clinton's choice of office space: As we said, is it the high price of New York real estate or a case of excess on the part of the former president?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: The new attorney general, John Ashcroft, settled into a new job today, including this meeting just a little while ago with Eric Holder, who's been acting attorney general since Bill Clinton left office. Earlier today, Ashcroft sent an e-mail to all Justice Department employees, which included his vow to guarantee, in his words, rights for the advancement of all Americans. Ashcroft also got a tour of the department's seven-story headquarters. And like all new department employees, he took a required drug test.

The role the Justice Department may or may not have played in President Clinton's controversial pardon of fugitive Marc Rich remains unclear. Early reports say Rich's lawyer, Jack Quinn, avoided usual procedures and took the case straight to President Clinton. A Justice official said last week that Quinn had only minor contact on the issue with the Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

However, Quinn has released personal notes that document several contacts with Holder, including a phone call two days after the pardon was issued in which Quinn said holder congratulated him on the pardon. Holder had no comment on the release. Today, former President Clinton again defended the pardon in his most extensive comments yet on the matter. We'll have more on what he had to say later in this program.

But more news on the former president now: The expected rent of Bill Clinton's new offices in New York is giving taxpayer and watchdog groups a case of sticker shock.

CNN's Frank Buckley checks the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every New Yorker knows the answer to this: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Now, look up. How do you get to former President Clinton's new place? Take an elevator to the 56th floor of Carnegie Hall Tower: the entire 56th floor to be former president's new office. It's lovely at the top, according to the ad, and a full 8,300 square feet.

SCOTT DURKIN, REAL ESTATE AGENT: They're up almost at the top.

BUCKLEY: New York real estate man Scott Durkin says there's enough space there for 65 to 85 people to work comfortably side by side.

DURKIN: You can put a lot of folks or you can put very few and have really big desks.

BUCKLEY: The price tag for the former president's new digs? Close to $85 per square foot, according to one source familiar with the lease, which, at 8,300 square feet, comes to more than $700,000 in rent per year.

GARY RUSKIN, CONG. ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: There's no question that it's arrogant. It's a slap at the taxpayers. It shows tremendous disrespect for the taxpayers. And we hope that he'll change his mind, pick office space that's cheaper and show more respect for us taxpayers. BUCKLEY: Clinton's anticipated annual rent is significantly higher than that of other living past presidents, from Ford and Carter in the low $100,000s, to Reagan in the mid $300,000s, to former President Bush at $180,000. The General Services Administration, or GSA: responsible for identifying suitable space and negotiating the lease.

(on camera): The real estate agent representing the former president says the price being paid for this space above Carnegie Hall is well within the range set by the GSA and is at or below the market rate for similar such properties in New York City.

(voice-over): But some Republicans are critical: Congressman Ernest Istook, chairman of the Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government warning the GSA in this letter not to exceed an annual rent of $228,000. President Clinton finally weighed in on the growing controversy, saying he'll keep the taxpayer contribution to the lease to about what President Reagan pays, Clinton's foundation making up the difference.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the tax -- I'm not going to let the taxpayers get gigged on this. But, I mean, it's New York! If you're going to -- I also pay higher taxes in New York. It's part of being in New York. And I'm glad to be here. But I don't want the taxpayers to get taken for a ride on the lease. So you don't have to worry about that. My foundation will pay for part of it.

BUCKLEY: For an office from which, even on a clear day, you can't see Capitol Hill.

Frank Buckley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And there's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Stand by. Stand by. CNN, right now is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the too-close-to- call column.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: The longest night of election 2000, an independent study of CNN's coverage, and the proposed changes for future election nights.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, how you doing?

VENTURA: Thank you. My pleasure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say you are here to steal Denver's rail money. Is that true?

VENTURA: To steal your rail money? There's no stealing of money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you here?

VENTURA: We're here to catch up with you. That's what we're here to do. We've seen the success you are having and we're here to duplicate it. We might steal a Bronco or two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: The modern views of historic symbols in the "Political Play of the Week." And later: The Minnesota governor returns to television. Meet Jesse Ventura, football commentator.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Firestone says independent testing shows no single factor caused the tire failures blamed on at least 148 traffic deaths. The company recalled millions of its tires after claims that the treads were separating at a high rate. The report says the failure rates of the tires are fractions of a percent, so it would be unreasonable to determine a single cause. Most of the recalled tires were manufactured at a Decatur, Illinois plant and involved Ford Explorers.

Today brought two new arrests in the case of seven inmates who escaped from a Texas prison in December. The father of one inmate and a woman were charged today, accused of providing the escapees with a getaway car. Authorities says a break in the case came last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During the investigation, all we had was a name. It was basically is just some good police work that tracked it back. We had her name. We came up with a vehicle, a 10-year-old vehicle that was co-signed by the father. And that gave us the link. And so we were looking at it pretty heavy the past few days. And then we had the break last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: The inmates are charged with capital murder of a police officer and could face the death penalty.

A man carrying a machete and baseball bat was arrested after attacking four people inside a school. The attack happened at an elementary school in York, Pennsylvania. The school principal was seriously injured, suffering numerous cuts. Two other adults and five kindergartners were also hurt. Officials say none of the injures are life-threatening. There is no word yet as to what sparked the attack.

The latest report on the economy shows a bump-up in unemployment. The unemployment rate for January stands at 4.2 percent and is the highest unemployment rate in 16 months. Coming up right after INSIDE POLITICS, the "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" will look at the unemployment numbers and what impact this will have on the economy. That's coming your way at 6:30 Eastern Time.

When INSIDE POLITICS continues: examining election 2000 inside and out. We'll talk with CNN executive Eason Jordan, two members of an independent panel that reviewed CNN's election night coverage, and our own Jeff Greenfield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: CNN released the results today of an independent study of the network's election night coverage. A three-member panel spent two months looking into mistakes that were made in calling the presidential race in Florida and came up with a series of recommendations. In response, CNN is announcing changes that will be made in future elections to prevent a repeat of the problems seen on November 7.

Our Patty Davis reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Election night 2000: The networks embarrassingly got it wrong, not once...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A big call to make: CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column.

SHAW: Stand by. Stand by. CNN right now is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the too-close-to-call column.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: ... but twice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS)

DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: Bush wins. Florida goes Bush. The presidency is Bush.

The CBS News has now, for the second time tonight, pulled back Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DAVIS: An independent study commissioned by CNN finds the election night calls and retractions by the five television networks were -- quote -- "a news disaster."

BEN WATTENBERG, REPORT CO-AUTHOR: America was damaged here. Journalistic credibility was damaged here. The Democratic process was damaged here.

DAVIS: Wattenberg was one of three academics and journalists who blame the mistakes on "hypercompetition" stemming "from a foolish attempt to beat their rivals to the finish line." The report says that networks relied too heavily on one source: the Voter News Service, a consortium they fund which provided flawed exit-polling data. Both factors prompted calling a winner in Florida before polls in the state's Panhandle closed.

The study recommends the networks stop using exit polling in sample precincts to project winners, withhold calling winners until polls in a state are closed, fix Voter News Service, and fund parallel exit polling.

In response, CNN announced a major reform of its election coverage, announcing it will only continue using Voter News Service if it makes a major overhaul. CNN also said it will no longer use exit polls for projections in close races and will fund a second source of data from sample precincts in close races. Even if all the votes are in, CNN says it will not call a race when the margin is less than 1 percent. The network said the changes will slow down its projections of winners, but wants to make sure mistakes aren't repeated. "We at CNN do not intend to let that happen again," the network said.

(on camera): Several other networks have also said they'll make changes after the election night fiasco. Executives will find out if their fixes go far enough to satisfy an initially angry Congress when they testify at a hearing later this month.

Patty Davis, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And for more on the review of CNN's election night coverage, I talked with Eason Jordan -- he's president of CNN Newsgathering -- and with two members of the panel that conducted the review Patty Davis just reported on: Ben Wattenberg of the American Enterprise Institute, and James Risser. He's a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and professor emeritus at Stanford University.

The report criticizes the networks for -- quote -- "recklessly endangering process, the political life of the country and their own credibility."

I began by asking James Risser about the language of the report and why such a harsh judgment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PROF. JAMES RISSER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Our committee felt that there is something special about presidential elections. And we found that the CNN, and by implication, the other networks had engaged in a real speed race to try to get out the results out as fast as they could. And it led them into using results which turned out to be erroneous, questionable and so on in making calls which they then had to retract.

It's hard to prove exactly what impact that did have or could have on the voting process. But we were very worried that the systems being used right now to project election results before the winners really are known is a rather dangerous situation.

SESNO: Ben Wattenberg, you had an almost unprecedented -- really unprecedented look into the working of this system. Briefly, what went wrong?

WATTENBERG: Well, what went wrong is that the networks had been warned 20 years ago in the 1980 elections that they were playing loose with a very fragile and delicate moment in the cycle of democracy, and they basically chose to ignore it, and they hit the iceberg, which was due to happen sooner or later, in my judgment. And they -- and there for no -- at least as far as I'm concerned -- for very little apparent gain.

And they were -- there was one system that everybody was funding each other's competitors to get into a, what we called in the report, "a drag race on the highway of democracy," and I don't get toward what end.

SESNO: Eason Jordan, we heard a moment ago in Patty Davis' piece some of the steps that CNN is going to be taking to project races differently, to handle election night differently. As far as the viewing public is concerned and the practice of journalism is concerned, what's the significant step or steps in here?

EASON JORDAN, PRESIDENT, CNN NEWS GATHERING: Well, I think as far as CNN is concerned the biggest improvement is, first, we're taking our foot off the gas pedal and putting it on the brake pedal so we can make doubly sure that we get it right. We're putting a second system into place so there's a second data source so that we can be doubly sure that we get it right. We're insisting that VNS be significantly upgraded or we're going to insist that there be another VNS by another name with the standards that do meet the requirements of CNN. And then within CNN we're going to make significant improvements in our decision-making process.

So in the end, you may see CNN slow down a little bit -- in fact, in some cases quite a lot. But we will get it right and not make this kind of mistake again.

SESNO: And Ben Wattenberg, some of the other steps that CNN announced is more reporting on the process itself, more precise language on election night, no projection of states where the race is very, very close. Are you satisfied from what you see in terms of your reaction to all this? WATTENBERG: I am satisfied in a moderate sort of way. First, I think CNN showed enormous corporate guts in commissioning three outside independent people to open their books, and I think that was -- that was courageous. The steps that Eason just outlined make a lot of sense.

What the report does not really deal with, in my judgment, is a related problem, which is what might happen on the national system. They're saying they won't call within a state. The Panhandle wouldn't be called while Florida is still open. But they're still going to call Florida and Pennsylvania while California is still open, and that in my judgment there's another iceberg out there, and people are saying, well, let's, you know, let's change the deck chairs and reupholster the captain's chair. But it does not go -- it's a very positive first step.

SESNO: Eason Jordan, what about that other iceberg that Ben just talked about?

JORDAN: Well, fair enough. I don't think the iceberg is going to sink CNN and it's not going to lead CNN to make erroneous calls. You can certainly make an argument that calls should not be made in states until all states polls have closed. We're not going to call elections in any state before all the polls are closed in that state. And if we have a race that is tight, we're simply not going to call it at all based on exit poll projections.

So if we report it all accurately and if you apply all of the new standards that CNN is putting into place, if you apply that to November 7, 2000, not a single one of the mistakes we made would have been made under these new circumstances. I think that's a big step forward.

SESNO: Jim Risser, important, correct?

RISSER: I think the report, CNN's reaction to it is quite admirable and quite strong, because it would seem to end the use of exit polling to project the winners in the close states, and that, after all, are the ones that really caused the problem, as Florida did this time.

In terms of the whole national situation, CNN has said in its reaction that it favors a uniform poll-closing law, and that if Congress enacted such a law, then CNN would pledge not to report any results until all the polls are closed everywhere.

Our committee didn't get into recommending what Congress should do, so we didn't get into that expect to mention it. But CNN has said that they support that.

SESNO: Jim Risser, I want to ask you this question: As a student of journalism, an academic, as a former practitioner of journalism, how much damage did this process do to the credibility of this network and others on election night?

RISSER: I think it did a lot of damage to the credibility of CNN, and when I say CNN, I really mean CNN and all the networks, because the mistake was reasonably uniform. And there's been some polls since then showing something like close to 90 percent of the American people would rather that the networks wait until the polls are closed before they announced who won states and quit using projections.

So I think there was a lot of damage in the public eye about what they could believe on television, which I think is unfortunate.

SESNO: Eason Jordan, this next one to you: The report states that getting the news accurately, getting it first and reporting it when it is known is essentially a journalistic creed that does not fit presidential election night. As a representative of CNN, do you buy that? Do you agree with that?

JORDAN: Well, it's certainly more important to get it right than to get it first. We thought that we were abiding by those principles when we went into this election on November 7. Previously in 1992 and 1996, VNS did not make mistakes in the presidential contest. Terrible mistakes were made on November 7, and we want to address those problems.

We set out in an effort to determine, No. 1, what went wrong? NO. 2, Why? And No. 3, what can we do to ensure that we don't have these problems again? And I think we've addressed that very successfully.

SESNO: Ben Wattenberg, these congressional hearings that we mentioned, that Patty Davis mentioned a few moments ago, what can, what should be expected from them? Is it any business of the Congress to look into how the news media does it job?

WATTENBERG: Well, there are conflicting constitutional dictates involved here. There's a free press, and there's also the fact that the states and the federal government have to deal with the conduct of a presidential election.

I think the answer is not a uniform poll closing, but the Congress is going to be giving tens of millions, if not more, dollars to the states for better voting machines and everything else. What they ought to do, in my judgment -- this is not the commissioned report -- but is condition that aid to the states, to tell the non- Western states, here's your $10 million, here's your $100 million for voting machines, but please, don't release your vote until the whole country votes.

This is a -- this is an analog to the Florida situation. People say don't report until the Panhandle closes. So they should be saying, there is one election every four years that is federal, national, continental, and we shouldn't be reporting on that election. For a couple of hours is all you're asking. Every four years, you're saying take a deep breath, hit the pause button for two hours every four years so that people can't say the fix is in, the networks are too liberal, the owners are too conservative, you're hurting the congressional race.

It is -- it is just -- it does not -- it doesn't even help the networks.

SESNO: Eason Jordan, last brief word to you: What is CNN going to be doing, saying and out to demonstrate in those congressional hearings?

JORDAN: Well, Tom Johnson will represent CNN in those hearings, and I think Tom will explain the very significant steps CNN is taking to ensure never again do we have mistakes that were made like on November 7 in the year 2000. We must get it right. If we're not first, we're prepared to live with that. If it takes us an hour, two hours, three hours to make sure we get it right, if we're a little bit behind, but if we get them all right, which is our goal, then that's what we're going to do.

SESNO: Competition not withstanding?

JORDAN: Absolutely. Listen, I mean, the news organization that emerges from this with its credibility intact is the news organization that wins. It's not the news organization that calls the race first.

SESNO: To Eason Jordan, Ben Wattenberg and James Risser, the latter two co-authors among the three of the independent report, thanks for your time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And joining us now, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, you were on that set that long and often uncomfortable night. You've read these reports and these recommendations. Your thoughts?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think that almost everything's that's been said is something that we can and ought to live with. Most importantly, the need to build in second sources of information and restraint, and put aside the kind of confidence bordering on arrogance that led us into what I consider a kind of a Challenger-type situation. Obviously, nobody died.

The system had worked in the past, with only one small glitch for years. We went into this election night assuming that what those numbers were being thrown up on the screen saying was true. And we learned not once, but twice that it was wrong.

So I think -- you know, I'm fairly skeptical about how many votes in Florida, for instance, were affected by the fact that we called the race with the Panhandle open. But the way it worked out, it wouldn't have mattered if it were nine guys and his cocker spaniel. That's too many.

So the idea of not calling a race in a state until all the polls in that state are closed, absolutely right.

The need to build in restraint, the need to be careful, very much particularly, the need to change our language. If I can just take one second, Frank: I was a principle perpetrator because I didn't understand. When we were reporting that Virginia couldn't be called yet, I remember on election night saying: Well, that's a stunner; if Bush is running close in Virginia, a Republican state, he must be in trouble. The fact was the numbers were wrong.

SESNO: Jeff, with all that being said, you and I are also both realists, and we've lived in this business a long time, and we know what happens in the newsroom and the competitive pressures that are out there. Play devil's advocate for just have a minute. Go ahead four years from now. Let's fast-forward. You're sitting on that set or you're in the control room or wherever, and you're seeing other networks call races that CNN is not calling, what goes through your head?

GREENFIELD: Well, I mean, we know went through the heads of every network decision-maker. As soon as one state was called by network a, networks b and c, the control rooms were buzzing. What's going on? What's going on? Why can't we call?

I do think that is something where we may have to be retrained. Maybe we need to borrow not too much from Mao Tse-tung, but maybe we should all be sent to re-education centers, and guys like Ben Wattenberg can explain to us patiently but firmly that if you make a wrong call, you're not helping your network or its credibility just because somebody else has.

I do think -- I'd like to believe that the fact that we all went through this terrible, what I called on the air election night, menu of eating crow may damp down the need to rush to judgment because we see somebody else doing it. And I would also guess, by the way, given what we saw from last November that you may actually find a different situation. It may be like those bicycle races in the Olympics where everybody has to go slow, where the first guy who's tempted to make a call may say, "Do I want to be first out with my neck on the line given what happened?"

I hope this has built in some humility.

SESNO: Jeff...

GREENFIELD: I'm not confident, but I hope.

SESNO: Hope springs eternal, Jeff.

We heard Ben Wattenberg speaking a few moments ago about that other iceberg that's out there, and the part of this that still bothers him tremendously, which is that even with these recommendations and commitments that CNN has made, you still a situation under the current system anyway where states in the East would close, where there could be calls made there and out west people still voting.

It raises the question of uniform poll closing and where the Congress may go with all of this, and the states for that matter. GREENFIELD: Well, let's take a look at a couple of things. On the uniform poll closing, while I think in theory it's a good idea, it has one huge problem, which in terms of a democracy, I think, may be a lot worse than media calls about Eastern states. If you close the polls in the East, say, hypothetically at 9 o'clock and you close the polls in the West, you are depriving West Coast voters who work late of the chance to go vote on their way home. And I suppose the alternative is a 24-hour opening and closing, which raises enormous questions of money and logistics.

I mean, I don't know where you vote, Frank, but in New York, you know, without being too cruel about it, the folks who man the election booths, while they're very nice and well-meaning people, the idea of having them working 24 hours raises some real questions about, you know, energy -- I mean, I'd know there'd be shifts -- money and competence.

Here's the other question: If we knew -- let's say that we didn't call anything off any projections. And let's say at 10:30 at night 98 percent of the votes were in from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other big Eastern states -- it does raise a question of whether or not it's ever appropriate to withhold information. And I don't mean to suggest that I think there's an easy answer. I mean, I don't know if they still do it, but in Canada, the CBS, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, used to only come on the air in time zones where the polls had closed to keep viewers in the west of Canada from even knowing what was going on in the east.

Now, we've got First Amendment problems in this country with that, and I just have some questions. I also have some skepticism about just how much those calls in the East really affect voters in the West. I mean, I think it's largely anecdotal. I've never understood whether the voters whose candidate won goes home, whether the voters whose candidate lost go home.

But I think it's a serious enough issue that we shouldn't just dismiss it out of hand. If we have to wait a couple of hours, it does clash with some basic journalistic instincts and with our notion that we should get our information out to the public when we know it.

But I think what we saw last November is serious enough that we need to give that some real consideration and not dismiss it out of hand.

SESNO: OK, Jeff Greenfield, and we should tell our viewers, of course, that these hearings we've talked about, they're coming up in a number of electoral reform procedures. Among them, that 24 voting -- 24-hour voting, where everybody votes in the same 24 hours among the electoral ideas that are being bandied on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

Jeff, thanks a lot.

GREENFIELD: Good to see you.

SESNO: See you.

And still ahead, a symbolic compromise worthy of "The Political Play of the Week," when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: To politics now in the Middle East, where peace negotiations are on-hold until Israel elects its next prime minister, a decision with great impact on the future of that peace process.

Our Bill Schneider is in Journalism covering the Israeli elections, but he points out that there -- that here in the U.S. rather, the forces of compromise and negotiation won a much smaller victory, still one worthy of "The Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: People fight and die over symbols. When Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Journalism last September to o demonstrate Israeli sovereignty, it touched off four months of violence.

Here's another provocative symbol: the Confederate battle flag.

JOEY BRUSH (R), GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: Good people can look at the same thing and see different things.

SCHNEIDER: Many Southern whites see their Confederate heritage. Blacks see slavery and hatred.

The flag issue caused the NAACP to boycott South Carolina and threatened the same thing in Georgia.

TYRONE BROOKS (G), GEORGIA STATEHOUSE: Georgia will be hurt 100 times worse than South Carolina.

SCHNEIDER: Georgia Governor Roy Barnes saw trouble.

GOV. ROY BARNES (D), GEORGIA: And I also saw and began to see in economic development and recruiting for economic development this was a problem with this. I mean, companies were saying, you know, you need to resolve this.

SCHNEIDER: So he did, quickly, with a new flag design that reduced the Confederate symbol to a small emblem: one of five historic flags that have flown over Georgia. The message? Ask the man who designed it.

CECIL ALEXANDER, FLAG DESIGNER: Maybe if the flags, the controversial flags, could be presented as a part of history rather than something that was being used by the hate groups.

SCHNEIDER: History weighed heavily on the debate in the Georgia legislature.

MIKE CROTTS (R), GEORGIA STATE SENATE: Native white Southerners have heard stories, the true story of how within the shadow of this building a conquering army didn't leave a stone standing and scorched the Earth from here to Savannah. Such things are not easily forgotten.

SCHNEIDER: Resentment ran high.

DAN COLEMAN, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS: The only politically correct people in this country that you can attack are Southern white people.

SCHNEIDER: Religion even entered into the debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would Jesus do it this way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe Jesus would change the flag.

SCHNEIDER: This week, the Georgia State Senate did it for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeas are 34, nays are 22.

SCHNEIDER: Georgia's African-American leaders declared a truce.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., PRESIDENT, SCLC: I am -- I am satisfied. It was certainly not what we hoped to get, but I think it's a major step in the right direction.

SCHNEIDER: Georgia's governor declared a victory.

BARNES: It is time to end it, to end it before it divides us into warring camps, before it reverses four decades of economic growth and progress.

SCHNEIDER: What do you call an honorable compromise that shuts down a bitter conflict? "The Political Play of the Week."

(on camera): It's difficult to get people to compromise over deeply emotional symbols. In Georgia, they did. Here in the Middle East, they haven't so far, with tragic consequences.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: Well, to hear the Minnesota governor tell it, "The Political Play of the Week" won't happen until tomorrow night. At least, not the play of the week. A look at Jesse Ventura's new job as football commentator and the mixed reception among Minnesota lawmakers -- after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: It will not affect Governor Ventura at all, because it will be the re-emergence of Jesse the Body, and I can separate the two.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SESNO: Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has a way of saying just the right thing to make headlines, and that's probably a big reason why he's been hired as a commentator for the games in the new XFL, a football league run by the same people who bring you professional wrestling.

Well, the XFL season kicks off tomorrow, promising more action and excitement than the NFL, or as Jesse Ventura calls it, the "no fun league." But not everyone in Minnesota is pleased by the governor's latest second job.

Joining me from Minnesota now to talk about Ventura's return to show business is Susan Albright. She's the editorial page editor of "The Minneapolis Star Tribune."

Good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

What's the take on Governor Ventura's new venture?

SUSAN ALBRIGHT, "MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE": Well, the take has heated up in the last week or so. I would say we were hearing a lot of input from readers all over the state from the last couple of months, but last week, the governor did what he said in your intro that he would not do, which is to combine XFL with his governor's role.

He went to the University of Minnesota at Duluth to tell the students why he wasn't going to give the university as much money as it wanted, and then he used the time, while he was flanked by his commissioners and so forth, to promote XFL. And that really set off a lot of our readers around the state.

SESNO: Did your editorial page pound on him?

ALBRIGHT: We haven't pounded on him for that, but we pounded on him for the budget. I believe we will be saying more about the XFL.

SESNO: And what will your -- what will your position be on what your governor's doing? I mean, he says, look, it's a second job, it's kind of fun, Jesse the Body's back. And to some extent, the point he makes is this has all been discounted by the voters and the people, they know who I am.

ALBRIGHT: Well, that is a position that we've heard quite a bit. People say, well, what did you expect? He was a wrestler. He's the governor.

The other side of that -- and I believe that our group feels quite a bit toward this way -- is that he is a celebrity in part because he is a governor. He's an ex-wrestler governor. He didn't have this kind of celebrity before he became governor.

And so the concern that a lot of people have in the legislature and that I share is that he might be using the governorship in a way to enrich himself personally. Now, you're right: He counters that he isn't doing that, that he had these contacts all along, and he's an entertainer. But when you use the office of governor to promote a commercial product and a coarse one, a violent one at that, you start getting into areas that make people feel uncomfortable.

SESNO: I think it's safe to safe, and probably something of an understatement to say that he is a very public figure.

ALBRIGHT: He's a very public figure.

SESNO: In your public opinion polls and the ones you've seen and studied, how's he doing?

ALBRIGHT: He's doing very well. The Minnesota poll, which our newspaper does and has done for many, many years, showed earlier this month that he has a 71 percent approval rating.

SESNO: Well, so how can you argue with that? If he's got a 71 percent approval rating and people figure out he is what he is and shrug it off, so be it?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think you can argue with it if it affects his governorship.

There are a couple of other issues that people bring up. One is that this 12-week period coincides roughly with the legislative session. The governor has not been noted as a hands-on governor, and a lot of people who care about the issues that he is putting forward would like him to be one. And...

SESNO: All right. So yes or no -- yes or no question-and-answer before we go away.

ALBRIGHT: Yes.

SESNO: Are you going to be watching Governor Ventura as commentator in the XFL games?

ALBRIGHT: I probably will. I think it's my duty to.

SESNO: I think that was a yes. Thanks very much. Appreciate your time. We'll be looking forward to see how your paper and your editorial cover the whole thing.

ALBRIGHT: OK.

SESNO: And there -- there is much more on INSIDE POLITICS ahead. In the next 30 minutes, the current president reaches out as the former president plays defense. Plus, only days to go before the vote that could change the future of the peace process -- Bill Schneider will return with the latest on the Israeli election. Those stories and much more as INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: Then he said, hello, and he said, Pablo, I like anybody who calls me Pablo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Pet names and bipartisanship -- how far are they getting president -- are the Democrats getting with President Bush? Bill Clinton defends his most controversial presidential pardon. What did the Justice Department know about it and when? Plus, on this Groundhog Day, it's political deja vu all over again.

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

SESNO: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Bernie and Judy today.

President Bush is not a member of any congressional caucus, but he's spending so much time with lawmakers these days he just may feel like one. Today Mr. Bush rubbed elbows with fellow Republicans at a GOP congressional retreat and he reached to the party faithful about preached to them about his tax-cut plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: For a family of four making four -- $50,000 a year, under my plan your taxes go from $4,000 to $2,000. That's $2,000 extra dollars; that's a lots for somebody struggling; that's a lot for somebody who's on the margin. And we must hear those voices on the margin. So tax relief is not only good economic policy, it's good people policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: A more remarkable outreach effort by Mr. Bush happened earlier in the day. He stopped in at a retreat for democratic senators -- a visit that's believed to be the first of its kind. No cameras were allowed in.

But, as CNN's Jonathan Karl reports, some Democrats talked about the gathering afterward.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush took his charm offensive into the heart of enemy territory, addressing most of the Senate's 50 Democrats at their annual retreat in Washington.

The charm seems to be working.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: President Bush wants every member of the Senate and House to know him personally; he wants to dispel any myths that some of them may have about him. KARL: In politics, it's not hard to make friends when you avoid specifics, as Bush did at this closed-door meeting at the Library of Congress.

But the president won points for style, including his sense of humor and penchant for coming up with nicknames.

SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: I just said hello, and he said, "Pablo," I like anybody who calls me "Pablo."

KARL: And senators of all stripes are praising Bush's reputation for being punctual, unlike his chronically late predecessor.

BAUCUS: He's not on Clinton time; he's on Bush time. It's important; that's very important. It shows respect; it shows that you're serious.

KARL: But as the Ashcroft battle showed, Bush's charm offensive doesn't necessarily translate into democratic cooperation.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: The welcome wagon's out and soon we'll get down to the tough issues and we'll fight out whether the rhetoric matches the action.

WELLSTONE: I think it's very important to like people, even when you disagree; but no one should believe that there is consensus or agreement. There isn't.

KARL: And the big fight looming is over Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut, a proposal Democrats are virtually unanimous in saying is too big.

After Bush's speech, the Democrats were told by one pollster they've got to out-charm Bush when it comes to bipartisanship.

JOHN ZOGBY, POLLSTER: Voters are telling us they're very, very tired of the bickering and the partisanship. What the voters are saying is, now that we've denied either of you the majority that you need to win, now tell us what you're going to do for us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Democrats are saying they hope Bush's charm offensive is a sign that his frequent meetings with the opposition will translate into a willingness to compromise on such tough issues -- especially taxes and health care. If it doesn't, Democrats are saying, all bets are off -- Frank.

SESNO: Jon, the president's charm offensive, as we call it, is very public, and it's very easy to do when there's one person doing it and he owns the bully pulpit.

Do the Democrats got a response?

KARL: Well they're, you know, trying to out-bipartisan him. It was interesting; I met with Max Baucus earlier today, Democrat from Montana; a very key player in all this because he's the senior on the Finance Committee that will deal with that tax cut. And Baucus said to me that, based on what he's seeing with Bush, he believes he has the potential to be a great president -- this after he's just been in office, what, a couple of weeks?

So, clearly Democrats are also out there trying to show that they're also willing to reach out to the President Bush and to work with him. Everybody, it seems, is trying to out-bipartisan the other side here.

SESNO: Hey, it's become a charming city, Jon; thanks very much.

And now to former President Clinton. He's on the defensive; today he offered his most extensive comments yet about a controversial pardon he granted during his final hours in office.

But, as CNN's Kate Snow reports, questions remain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton told reporters his controversial decision to pardon billionaire businessman Marc Rich was his, and his alone.

CLINTON: But I take full responsibility for it. It was my decision. Nobody else made the decision. But I handled it in what I thought was the most appropriate way, given all the interests that were in play here. And I think if you look at it, it makes sense.

SNOW: For the first time, Mr. Clinton said he talked with officials at the Justice Department before acting.

CLINTON: I think that, if the American people just look at the facts they may disagree with what I did, but I consulted with the Justice Department about this.

SNOW: Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, on the defensive since the pardon was announced, says he, too, contacted the Justice Department both before and after the pardon was granted.

On Thursday, Quinn sent documents to a congressional committee investigating the pardon. Among those documents: Quinn's notes of a phone conversation he had with acting Attorney General Eric Holder on January 22, two days after the pardon.

Quinn wrote in an e-mail to his legal team: "Spoke to Holder. Said I did a very good job. Thinks we should be better about getting the legal merits of the case out publicly."

The chairman of the investigating committee, Representative Dan Burton, says the documents raise even more questions.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: If we want to find out how involved Eric Holder was and how involved Mr. Quinn was -- obviously Mr. Quinn went directly to the president and was able to get the pardon. And it's our belief, and the information we have indicates that they didn't go through the proper procedure.

SNOW: Holder says he'll testify about his role in the Rich pardon at hearings with Burton's committee next week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: But the former president's comments may have short- circuited Burton's investigation. Clinton says he doesn't think there's much more to say on the subject, and insists that none of the facts supporting Rich's pardon have changed -- Frank.

SESNO: Kate Snow.

A bit earlier, I talked about the pardon controversy and Bill Clinton with David Broder of "The Washington Post." I began by asking him what he thought of the former president's comments today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID BRODER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is not the first time that he has told us that he has learned the wisdom of Nancy Reagan saying, just say no. But, of course, with Bill Clinton, he never just says no. He says yes and then he finds himself in a position of constructing an extraordinarily elaborate explanation-justification here, which managed, still, to slide past some rather difficult points.

The crucial thing about the Marc Rich pardon, of course, is that this was not something that was processed through the pardon office at the Justice Department. This was a direct shot into the Oval Office of the White House in the final days of the Clinton presidency to take care of a fellow whose lawyer was the president's own lawyer. So I don't know how you can make this look anything but a very suspect deal.

SESNO: And again, the language from Bill Clinton that some more astute political observers say is fairly common. So far as I know it, he says, the evidence presented to me by Jack Quinn has not been contradicted on the question of, was this sort of a payoff for Denise Rich, his ex-wife, and her many contributions. He says, there's no evidence of it.

BRODER: Right; and there was nothing political about this at all.

And on the lease thing -- I mean, I loved where we are now on the lease thing. The lease is going to be for an office that will be partly used for his work as the former president, partly used by the Clinton Foundation, and all I can see ahead of us for as long as this goes on are more and more audits and disputes about whether the costs are being allocated fairly or not.

SESNO: David, one of the most common questions that I encounter in talking to people outside the beltway and beyond is how all of this might affect his legacy, how he's regarded by historians, fellow political travelers and the likes of guys like you, political columnists.

BRODER: Well, he's been beaten up unmercifully in the press and the editorial pages and the columns for both the pardons, and now the lease arrangement, and for all the $190,000 dollars worth of gifts that they took with them as they left -- the president and Mrs. Clinton left the White House. So when the historians go to look at contemporary views of Bill Clinton, they're going to find a lot of derogatory information about his final days.

SESNO: Now, meanwhile, his fund-raiser in chief, Terry McAuliffe is destined, it would seem, to be the head of the Democratic National Committee. What does that mean for Bill Clinton's influence in the direction of the party itself?

BRODER: Well, he will have a powerful voice in the Democratic Party; as you know, he arranged for Terry McAuliffe, the fund-raiser, to become the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The election is on Saturday, and that means that he will have a straight pipeline, not just into what happens in the Democratic Party over the next few years, but also into the fellow who will have a very large influence on the arrangements by which the Democrats will choose their next presidential nominee.

There is going to be a heavy Clinton imprint on the Democratic Party for at least the next four years.

SESNO: To the new guy for just a minute -- George W. Bush, I think his name is.

BRODER: Yes.

SESNO: Prospects of that tax bill -- it's going to be submitted next week and it already seems to be gathering a head of steam?

BRODER: Well, he's found some democratic support for the concept, and some democratic support for the specific legislation. But I still think we're going to have a major debate about tax policy; the size and shape of it, both, because Democrats are now beginning to say, if we can afford a big tax cut, why don't we look at the Social Security, FICA taxes, which working people pay from the first dollar of their earnings and also this notion that I wrote about the other day of, if we're going to have a surplus, why don't we rebate some of the real surplus rather than pass a tax bill based on imaginary and projected surpluses?

SESNO: David, before we let you go today, a personal note, if we can; for those who watch this program, read your columns and follow politics and political journalism very closely, a giant -- a man that -- who's name people should know, Walter Mears is retiring, and I thought we'd let you have a moment of personal tribute.

BRODER: Well, Walter has been the lead political reporter for the Associated Press, which means that it's his coverage that most Americans read in their newspaper. He's a superb reporter; he won a Pulitzer Prize many years ago for the quality of his work. He's also just about the fastest gun in the West. Many is the night that I've still been laboring over my story and Walter had finished his many hours earlier and is in the bar enjoying a good life. He'll have an even better life now on the golf course.

SESNO: And he has a nice turn the phrase and a good stroke of the pen, doesn't he?

BRODER: He sure does.

SESNO: Well, all the best to Walter Mears, someone we've known and followed very closely, as he moves on to the next chapter of his life.

And David, thanks to you; we'll talk to you soon.

BRODER: Good to be with you, Frank.

SESNO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And still ahead: Israel selects a prime minister just four days from now; the polls show Ehud Barak has an uphill battle to remain in office. We'll have the very latest on that campaign, and talk live with Bill Schneider, who's covering it all in Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: INSIDE POLITICS in Israel now: with Tuesday's Israeli elections fast approaching, both candidates are staying on message with their respective campaigns. The strategy would seem to favor Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon, who enjoys a wide lead in most opinion polls.

The latest on the vote and fallout from the latest violence from CNN's Christine Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Israel buries its dead -- two men killed in drive-by shootings on Thursday; and the Palestinians lay to rest one of their young men shot and killed the same day. In response, Israel has again blocked off Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank.

And against this backdrop, the Israeli election campaign continues. Prime Minister Ehud Barak continues to pay the price at the polls. Although he's trailing badly, he tells CNN that Israelis must be prepared for the pain that comes with making difficult concessions.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: However tough, we are suggesting the right solutions for the country, and that we should be ready for it, and even take certain price of pain in order to have them. But they're the real solutions for our problems.

AMANPOUR: On the campaign trail, Barak met enthusiastic crowds: young people and others holding rallies for the prime minister on this day. He even got a much-needed boost from former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Hugely popular here and eager to keep the peace process on track, Clinton gave an interview to Israeli television.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't say enough about how much I respect the risks that Prime Minister Barak has taken. I do not believe that they have caused this Intifada.

AMANPOUR: Barak's opponent, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon, has declined all requests for interviews ahead of the elections, but on the campaign trail he had this to say:

ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER CANDIDATE: Look, I think that President Clinton is admired here in Israel, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the Israeli citizens to elect the prime minister that they will decide upon.

AMANPOUR: And with just a few days until Israel's vote, Sharon maintains a 20-point lead in the opinion polls.

Still, Barak says that he is the man who will walk the extra mile and take the risks for peace.

(on camera): Is the risk worth, perhaps, the sinking of your political career?

BARAK: Let me tell you, I don't take myself so seriously as to pretend that I'm more important than the future of this country.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): A future that he believes he can secure.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Tel Aviv.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider is on the scene in Israel; he's covering Tuesday's election, observing what is going on there and what may come out of it. We join him now in Jerusalem, where it's very early Saturday morning.

Bill, have there been any changes in the polls?

SCHNEIDER: No, and that's bad news for Ehud Barak. He expected, in the final days of the campaign, as the undecided voters had to make up their minds they would tilt towards him and the race would close up, but that's not happening. Sharon is maintaining his lead.

We had an important deadline last night. That was the last minute when Barak could have gotten out of the race and been replaced by Shimon Peres who, the polls showed, would have been a stronger candidate and might have beaten Sharon. But Barak did not pull out. Now Barak has a whole new argument. He's saying the campaign begins today, four days before the election, and he expects all the anti- Sharon voters to rally to his support. We'll see.

SESNO: Bill, any good news at all for Barak out there, then?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we just saw, Frank, in Christiane Amanpour's piece, that he got a lot of praise today from the most popular political figure in Israel, and that's Bill Clinton.

If you ask the Israelis, as I've done many times, they'll tell you Bill Clinton could be elected prime minister in a minute. But Clinton's praise could backfire because, you know, Clinton's image here in Israel is exactly the reverse of the United States. In Israel, he's personally very popular, but his policies are not popular. He pressured Israelis to make some controversial compromises; but when you ask Israelis about Bill Clinton, all they remember -- the most important thing they remember is "shalom haver," his very touching statement at the death of Yitzhak Rabin.

But Israelis, in the end, do not like foreigners interfering in their politics, just like Americans would resent it.

SESNO: Bill, you said a moment ago that, as far as Ehud Barak is concerned, the campaign, the election begins now, four days to go. Does he have a strategy to win this thing in four days?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, he's running -- it's interesting for an American audience -- he's running the same kind of campaign that Jimmy Carter ran when he was discredited and unpopular in 1980 when he was running for reelection.

Carter said, you may be dissatisfied with me, but consider the alternative. He called Reagan an extremist. Well, if you listen to the interviews and look at Ehud Barak, he says over and over again, Sharon is too extreme, he'll get the country into a war. He's running the same basic argument; you may not be too happy with me, Carter said in 1980, but do you really want to take a chance on a man like Ronald Reagan, who could get the country into war?

You know what? In 1980, Americans said, yes, we've had enough of you; and Israelis appear to be about to make the same judgment of Ehud Barak Frank.

SESNO: With very significant implications. Bill Schneider in Jerusalem, thanks.

And just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: six more weeks of winter? Our Bruce Morton on Groundhog Day and the never-ending cycle of politics.

But first, Stuart Varney has a preview of what's ahead on "MONEYLINE" -- Stuart.

STUART VARNEY, CNN ANCHOR: Stocks tumble in a widespread sell- off. We'll look at what unnerved investors. The January jobs report: not as dire as some expected. Question: Is the economy in better shape than we think it is? That could be bad news for Wall Street. XFL hits the airwaves; will this big bet on extreme football pay off?

We'll have all that and more ahead on "MONEYLINE."

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

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