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President Bush Says U.S. Will 'Do What It Takes' to Defend Taiwan

Aired April 25, 2001 - 17:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have said that I will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend themselves, and the Chinese must understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: President Bush gets more blunt about Taiwan policy than his predecessors in a CNN interview marking his first 100 days in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: President Bush, don't gamble with America's last great wilderness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Mr. Bush is the target of an unprecedented assault of issue ads. We'll have the numbers.

And former Senator Bob Kerrey reveals the true story about a deadly raid during his service in Vietnam.

Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Judy Woodruff today.

Well, from Taiwan to taxes to quality of life inside the White House, President Bush covered a great deal of ground today in his interview with CNN.

First Taiwan: The president said as far as he's concerned nothing has changed with regard to U.S. policy toward Taiwan. A delicate policy it is. That's not the way, however, many observers in this country and around the world see it.

As Mr. Bush nears his 100th day in office, he spoke at length about Taiwan and other global and domestic issues in that interview with senior CNN White House correspondent John King.

We begin now with the first segment of the interview, conducted this morning at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're raising eyebrows around town and around the world by your comments recently on Taiwan, saying that the United States is prepared, whatever it takes, whatever it took -- your words -- to defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China.

That's a dramatic break. For about 20 years, U.S. presidents have been deliberately ambiguous on that subject.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that the Chinese must hear that ours is an administration, like other administrations, that is willing to uphold the spirit of the Taiwan relations law, Taiwan Relations Act. And I'll do so.

However, I think it's important for people to also note that mine is an administration that strongly supports the one-China policy, that we expect any dispute to be resolved peacefully. And that's the message I really want people to hear.

But as people have seen, that I'm willing to help Taiwan defend herself, and that nothing has really changed in policy, as far as I'm concerned. This is what other presidents have said, and I will continue to say so.

KING: Other presidents have relayed that message privately, though. There's some consternation around town that you did this in a television interview, not a speech to the American people. We don't have a treaty with Taiwan, certainly.

BUSH: Well, I also said this during the course of the campaign, John. I mean, I've been very clear about my position. And that when pressed further, I said that's what -- the Chinese need to hear the message. And I think it's an important message to send.

I also want to send the message that this can be resolved peacefully. We've got a very important relationship with China. Obviously, it was tested recently. And one of the pieces of good news is that we were able to resolve an incident that could've turned out to be a breach of relations.

I've got some very tough decisions to make coming up about trade. I still think we ought to trade with China, because I think trade will not only help our economy and help people in our economy -- like farmers, for example -- I also know that by spreading trade in the marketplace, it will enhance freedom.

But I've got difficulties with some of the decisions China has made recently, such as the imprisonment of a Catholic bishop and other members of the Catholic faith in China, or how they're dealing with different citizens, and I will make those displeasures very clear. KING: I want to ask you more about that, but I want to follow up a little bit more on the Taiwan issue. You have said publicly the U.S. would commit military forces if China attacked Taiwan. What if Taiwan declared independence first?

BUSH: First, I have said that I will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that. Secondly, I certainly hope Taiwan adheres to the one-China policy. And a declaration of independence is not the one-China policy, and we will work with Taiwan to make sure that that doesn't happen. We need a peaceful resolution of this issue.

KING: But it sounded in your remarks, though, that you were being much more candid, much more open about the idea that the United States was prepared to militarily defend Taiwan. Would you consult with the Japanese or the South Koreans before saying this publicly?

BUSH: I am candid in my support of the Taiwan Relations Act. And I have said this during the course of the campaign appearance and I'll say it right now: That our nation will help Taiwan defend herself, at the same time that we support the one-China policy, where we expect and hope and believe there will be peaceful resolution to any differences of opinion.

KING: Let's get back to the broader relationship. Can we have a productive relationship with China so long as that plane sits on the tarmac on Hainan Island?

BUSH: Yes, we can. And I'm confident we'll get the plane back. I'm concerned about the plane. I was much more concerned about the people, and it was obviously a tense 11 days.

I did take some comfort when I talked to the general, who told me that he said that our people were in navy barracks that were as good as a barrack -- as good as they could find, and that there was some concern on the Hainan Island amongst the Chinese enlisted personnel that the Americans were being treated better than they were.

I was comforted by the fact that he said the folks' spirits were high. In other words, our people were treated well.

But yes, I think we can -- I mean, this is a difficult relationship. It's a complex relationship, but it's one that my administration takes very seriously. We'll find areas where we can agree. And we'll find areas where we don't agree, but we will do so in a respectful way. And there's going to be some times where we're going to have to draw some lines, and I'll be willing to do so.

KING: Some tough talk on this issue, as the Congress returns.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Let me ask you two questions. One, if Congress voted to suspend the trade relationship, to deny what we call permanent normal trading relations or normal trading relations with China, if Congress voted to do that, would you veto that bill? BUSH: Well, you know, listen, I reserve the right to veto or approve anything, but I would hope Congress would not do that. I would hope Congress would realize the benefits of trade with China. It's in our nation's interest, but it's also in our nation's interest to promote an open market so that there's more freedom in China.

We've had this debate in America a long period of time. Remember, during the course of the primaries, for example, there was a lot of people in my party didn't think that logic made sense. I thought it made sense then -- I think it makes sense now -- that open markets create more opportunity for freedom and a more open society, a more transparent society. And that is in our nation's interests, not only economically, but it's in our nation's interest to promote a more free society in China.

KING: One more on this issue. I want to get to your domestic agenda, but in the recent approval of the weapons package to Taiwan, you deferred a decision on the Aegis radar system. Now, many viewers may not know what that is, but it's state-of-the-art, would help -- Taiwan thinks it needs it to track incoming missiles in the case of a Chinese attack -- seem to be a carrot-and-stick approach. You're saying, I'm not going to do this now, but I reserve the right to do it in the future if China continues to build up its missiles across the Taiwan Straits. What is the threshold?

BUSH: I made a decision based upon what I thought was necessary to help Taiwan defend herself. You bring up the missile issue, and it's an issue that my administration is going to take very seriously, and that is the development of anti-ballistic missile systems that will make our world a safer world.

And one of the things you'll see us doing here in the course of -- in due time -- is to begin consultations with others around the world as to what we mean by missile defense. I'm not prepared to do that yet, but we'll do that.

And I had said during the course of the campaign, and I'm going to say it in the administration, it is important for us to use our resources and technologies to develop such a system so as to make threats to people around the world that, you know, as obsolete as possible, as irrelevant as possible. And that threat's not only in the Far East, but in the Middle East, as well, and to our own homeland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: Now we're going to hear the rest of the interview in just a moment where the president turns to domestic issues.

John King joining us now from the White House.

John, let's get a little bit more detailed as to what the president was getting into on this Taiwan and China policy. John, before I come to you, let's put up a graphic of what the president said yesterday in an interview with ABC. He was asked about whether the U.S. has an obligation to defend Taiwan, the Taiwanese. "Yes, we do," he says. "And you would?" he was asked. "And the Chinese must understand that." He said, "Yes, I would."

Here's the key, John. "Would the full force of the American military?" And the president replied, "Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself."

John, how does that differ from, if at all, from what the president was saying today?

KING: Well, the president today gave that same answer. He said he would help Taiwan defend itself. But he also was careful to add those other caveats. He said he did not want to give the green light to pro-independence forces in Taiwan. You heard him say that he believes in the one-China policy and Taiwan declaring its independence would be against the one-China policy.

So the president giving a fuller answer here today, but a controversy about this: not just around Washington but around the world. The administration insisting the president has broken no new policy ground, but they concede that this policy has been in place for 21 years and no other U.S. president, including this president's father, has ever publicly said explicitly the United States would come to Taiwan's defense.

That has been deliberate ambiguity, this president deciding he wants to be much more candid and open about it. He opened a can of worms by saying so.

SESNO: John, it's almost impossible to overstate the Chinese sensitivity on this issue, the Taiwanese sensitivities as well. And that's largely what surrounds this, as well as domestic politics.

Talk some more about that.

KING: Well, the Chinese of course don't even want the United States to sell any weapons to Taiwan. They view it as a renegade province. They believe it is part of China. Even selling arms upsets the Chinese.

For a U.S. president to say that the United States military would come to the defense of Taiwan is something that China will certainly object to.

Now, as for domestic politics, there are some in the Congress upset that the president is so bent in favor of trade toward China at this very delicate moment. To hear the president come out and publicly say this, I've talked to officials from past administrations, again including the first Bush administration, and they're frankly aghast at this.

They say if the president wanted to publicly commit the U.S. military, that he should have given a speech, a big foreign policy speech. He should have consulted the allies, especially Japan and South Korea, and he should have consulted the Congress.

Inside, the White House here senior officials say everyone is making too big a deal about this, that this president is just being candid in saying publicly what other presidents relay to the Chinese privately.

SESNO: OK, big deal or otherwise, though, a more balanced and certainly nuanced approach by the president today in summing up the U.S.-China policy.

John, we're going to take a quick break here. Coming up next here, President Bush's views on some key issues close to home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think it is necessary to have a tax relief package that not only sends a clear signal that tax relief is real, it's substantive, it exists for a while, but also to get money in people's pockets as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: The president's thoughts on taxes, education and other domestic issues. Plus: Medal of Honor winner and former Senator Bob Kerrey comes forward with new revelations about his service in Vietnam. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: As President Bush prepares to mark his 100-day milestone, his two top legislative priorities, tax cuts and education, still are the subject of negotiation and dispute on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

So CNN senior White House correspondent John King asked Mr. Bush about those domestic issues and more today. Here's the second part of the interview, beginning with a concern for many Americans: rising gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You were very critical of the prior administration when gasoline prices were going up. You said the administration should do more to help consumers. You said the administration didn't have a long-term energy policy. Twenty-four cents -- the average price of gasoline has gone up 24 cents in the last four weeks. And yet, if you pick up the business pages, Mobil Exxon, Conoco, reporting record profits, increasing their profits both by more than 50 percent.

Is something awry here?

BUSH: Well, we don't want price gouging, and I think we need to make sure that that doesn't occur. But I haven't changed my opinion about the need for an energy policy in America. We need one. And we need to do two things. We need to increase supply of product and we need to do a better job of conservation. Let me talk about supply. There have been no refineries built in America in the last 10 years. And therefore, when you have increasing demand and limited supply, price is going to go up. We've got to figure out how to bring more product into the marketplace.

Secondly, in terms of power plants and the California issue, much of it is driven by the fact that we're running out of energy supplies. We need more energy supplies, that's why we need to have an environmentally-friendly exploration program around the country.

And we also need to conserve more, and conservation comes as a result of new technologies. And we've got to do a better job of developing new technologies, you know, more mileage for cars, etcetera. But this is an issue that's going to require a long-term solution, just like I said in the course of the campaign.

KING: But not much hope then for anybody thinking about spring and summer vacations this year?

BUSH: Well, I think people who are thinking about spring and summer, hopefully, the price of product will decrease. And to the extent -- if anybody is gouging anybody, we'll find out about it. But the solution is going to require more refined product.

KING: Let's move on to taxes and spending. The second 100 days will probably be much more instructive than the first 100 days as to the fate of your agenda. And of course, the signature issue: tax cuts. You had dinner last night with Senator Breaux.

BUSH: I did.

KING: Many Democrats -- I saw Max Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee coming in here this morning. You are in the middle of negotiations. The House says 1.6 trillion over 10 years. The Senate says 1.2 trillion over 10 years.

Where are we going to end up? Will you accept 1.4? And I think more importantly, where will you end up on spending? You have said the growth in discretionary spending should be no more than 4 percent. The Senate says, 8 percent.

BUSH: Eight, yes.

KING: Are you willing to split the difference there, like you are on taxes?

BUSH: Well, John, let me first say, I think the first 100 days have been pretty instructive. I want to take you back to when you covered me in the campaign. A lot of folks were saying, there's never going to be tax relief. He's just talking. He has no intention of getting anything done. The people don't want tax relief.

In the first 100 days, we got one bill out of the House at 1.6 trillion and one out of the Senate at 1.2, so at least the parameters have been defined. And I think we're going to get meaningful tax relief. My answer is, let's get as much as possible for the American people. I think it is necessary to have a tax relief package that not only sends a clear signal that the tax relief is real, it's substantive, it exists for a while, but also get money in people's pockets as quickly as possible.

In terms of spending, you bet I'm concerned about the increase of discretionary spending, and the idea of an 8 percent increase that came out of the Senate is just not acceptable. It's too high a number.

I think many senators realize that now. They went home and took a look and heard from their constituents and realized 8 percent is too significant.

And we'll work with the Senate and the House to bring a responsible budget to the floor and one that provides meaningful tax relief.

KING: Is a 6 percent increase responsible? Would you accept that?

BUSH: I am keeping all options open.

KING: But people are leaving these meetings that you appear ready to embrace a compromise?

BUSH: I appear ready to get something done. It's time now we -- the House has made a statement. The Senate has made its statement. And now it's time for the White House to help bring the parties together to get real, meaningful, substantive tax relief done.

KING: We have the same debate on education. You've been working closely with the Democrats on this one.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Senator Kennedy is saying very favorable things about you. He's not known as a compassionate conservative around the country.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: He's a compassionate man, however, and very open-minded, for which I'm grateful.

KING: Yet he has said that he's prepared to move your way on the issues like accountability, teacher testing, the standards, but he says you are woefully short in terms of money, and they want as much as $10 billion more in the budget for education.

BUSH: I think we're making good progress on the budget negotiations as well. I appreciate so very much the spirit that Senator Kennedy has approached this issue.

We are making great progress on the education reform issue, and I believe we're going to get a good bill. And I believe we're going to come up with a budget number. I truly do, John. This is an issue where people have realized that the kind of finger pointing and name calling has really created a spirit that's just not right for America.

And Senator Kennedy and others have bent over backwards to work with us, and I'm very grateful, and I believe we're going to get a very good bill.

KING: You've offered about $2 billion more, we're told. Is that your bottom line, are you willing to go...

BUSH: John, we're going to get a good bill. I mean, one of the things I've learned is not to try to negotiate with you or me on national TV.

KING: We asked the senator to watch.

BUSH: Well, thank you, Senator, for all your hard work.

KING: I want to talk a little bit about your style as president. Very marked contrast with your predecessor. I covered this White House in the Clinton days, and it is impossible to imagine that when we had the unrest in Cincinnati, racial tensions in the streets, that he would not have spoken out. Very hard to imagine when those 24 crew members came home that we all not would have traveled to Washington state to welcome them back at the base. Why do you take a different approach?

BUSH: Well, those are two incidents that, I mean, I made my mind not to go to Washington, because I wanted their mothers and dads and loved ones to be with their family members who just came off Hainan Island without the president creating a scene.

And in terms of Cincinnati, I felt like the mayor was doing a fine job. I had talked to John Ashcroft to make sure that our administration was engaged in helping calm the situation. He assured me we were.

And secondly, there are some times when a president shows up that can make a situation worse. And I just got to make the judgment call on each incident or each moment as to whether or not I'm going to show up or not. And, you know, I'm adverse to a camera. On the other hand, I think the president can either help or not help a situation, and I'll just have to make a judgment call each time.

KING: On the broader issue of race relations and the politics of race, if you will. I know you were very disappointed that you were beat 9-to-1 among African-Americans in the election.

BUSH: That's an understatement.

KING: That's a political question. On a policy question, you've instructed your attorney general to move to end the practice of racial profiling. Some in the Black Caucus in the Congress say, you know, "Where are you, Mr. President? We're here if you really want to talk to us." What's the status of your political outreach? And on the policy front, given the tensions in Cincinnati, is that reminder to a president to say, "Mr. Ashcroft, let's hustle up and get this racial profiling...?"

BUSH: Well, I think we got to address racial profiling, and John Ashcroft will. And I think he's making good progress along those lines.

Secondly, good policy makes good politics, John. I'm not the kind of person that sits around here in the White House saying, "Well, gosh, I wonder how I can enhance my political standing?"

I believe tax relief is good for all Americans. I know that good education policy is good for all Americans. Listen, I am working as hard as I can to explain to Americans that if you didn't vote for me, I'm still your president and I care about you.

And a peaceful world is good for all Americans. And there are some people I'm just not going to be able to persuade that I'm, you know, the kind of person they ought to support, like the people you mentioned, some of the Congress, they're just totally dug in, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to listen to them or bring them over to the White House, like I've done. And we'll find areas where we can work together, and I look forward to doing so.

KING: Couple of more quick questions. One is, I saw you used the term, "pretty darn good." That's how you think you're doing as you approach the 100-day mark. Expand on that a little bit. And if you would, as you do so, one lesson you appear to have learned from your father's administration, is that he had a lot of tensions from the beginning with the Republican Party base. The conservatives thought that after he was elected, he forgot that they had worked so hard for him.

BUSH: Well, I'd say pretty darn good. I mean, I'm enthusiastic about the job. I really love what I'm doing. I put together a great team of fine Americans that are working together on behalf of the American people. Some of the agenda that I talked about in the campaign that people thought would be dead on arrival seems to be doing quite well, one of which is tax relief, another is education reform.

The faith-based initiative, I'm proud to report, has gotten bipartisan support. For example, Senator Lieberman has worked closely with my office to make sure that the faith-based initiative achieves its objectives, so we're making good progress. But pretty darn good is kind of a Texas phrase. I mean, I really like what I'm doing.

And you know, the American people will make the decisions as to how a president does or doesn't do. The only thing I know to do is just to give it my all, put my whole heart and soul into the job, make decisions based upon what's best for all Americans, not based upon what's best for a political party or me, personally, and to ask people to judge me, based upon results and my administration, based upon results. And so, I really like what I'm doing and so I'm feeling pretty darn good. KING: One more policy question and then I want your personal thoughts about the first 100 days. I'm not saying the tax cut debate is easy or the education and the budget debate is easy, but most would agree that the ticking time bombs, the much more difficult issues out there, because of the budget constraints, because of the aging of America, are the structural reforms to Medicare and Social Security. You're learning about what it's like to govern in this 50-50 environment. The House pretty evenly divided...

BUSH: Right.

KING: ... the Senate 50-50. What can you say about your level of optimism or pessimism that you can actually get those issues dealt with in a reasonable way with the 2002 elections?

BUSH: You know what this sounds like? It sounds like the guys that used to ask me about the tax relief plan six months ago. Seriously.

They said, you're going to go to Washington -- nobody wants tax relief. And all of a sudden looks like we're going to have a tax relief plan that makes sense for the American people.

My answer to the skeptics is, let's work together. We've got to. We don't have any choice on Social Security. Now is the time for people to come together to figure out how to make the system secure for young workers.

We made it secure for older workers, because we've set aside all the Social Security surplus for only one thing, and that's Social Security. We've got to figure out how to make it secure for younger workers.

And there's some really interesting ideas on the table. I put a commission together that's going to forward those ideas.

It's going to take political will for people to move forward, but I'm a living example of a person that took on the issue and benefited from it. I think the candidates, the congressmen and senators who are willing to tackle this tough issue, and to be willing to think differently for the future, are going to benefit. I think the American people are going to say, thanks for willing to think differently on such an important issue.

So I'm very optimistic we can get some things done.

KING: Two quick questions, personal reflections. You're from Texas. You have a ranch. You like open space.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: You like to run. You like to get out and run. And you like to get out and meet and greet people.

You now live in a building surrounded by armed security forces and cast-iron gates. Are you talking to the portraits yet? I mean, what it is like? Do...

BUSH: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... you feel isolated?

BUSH: No ghosts.

No, I really don't feel isolated. I work so hard all day long that when I finally get to -- get upstairs, I'm ready to hit the sack or just settle in and read.

But -- Well, you just described the reason why Laura and I like to go to Camp David or go to our ranch, because I do like to get outside.

And I like to be around my friends, and there's no place better to visit with friends and family than either Camp David or the ranch.

People have said, "Well, you don't seem to like it here in Washington, because you tend to leave on the weekends when you can."

And the answer is, I like both. I like to be here in the White House. I like to go to the Oval Office. It is such an honor, John, to come down, walk through the Rose Garden and go in the Oval Office every morning. Early in the morning when I get there, it is just inspiring. And it will be inspiring on the last day that I'm here, by the way.

But you bet, and nor do I feel burdened or captured or any of the words that people like to use for the president. I feel free. I'm relaxed. I feel comfortable.

Perhaps, that's because, you know, I'm on bended knee every morning, asking for guidance and for comfort. Whatever the reasons, I'm enjoying myself.

KING: One last one, and as we approach the 100-day mark, I'd like to ask you about a moment on day one. You came into the Oval Office. You sit at the desk for the first time. There's a picture outside your press secretary's office. Apparently, after you were in there for a few minutes, your father came in.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Quite a scene, the 41st and the 43rd presidents of the United States.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: What was that moment like?

BUSH: Well, he's going to have to speak for himself. But I was, obviously, a proud son and very emotional. As you know, I'm not very poetic as I try to describe things to people. But I was -- it was just -- suffice it to say, it was a meaningful moment, when a son and dad were able to bond in the most unique way.

And it's hard to describe to people who haven't been in the Oval Office, what it's like. It's a shrine. It is a powerful feeling. And it's not a feeling of power, it's a powerful feeling. It's such a wonderful example of the best of America.

And to have my dad there the day I was sworn into the presidency is a moment I'll never forget, enhanced, by the way, by walking by the press secretary's office, looking at the picture -- when I look at the picture.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: George W. Bush talking to John King in the Map Room at the White House just a few hours ago. John, we heard substance, we heard about style, we heard some reflections from this president. Perhaps not to bury the lead, the most encouraging thing we heard is that he's not talking to the portraits.

KING: He's not talking to the portraits, Frank. He is a man who despite the challenges ahead of him, whether it be the controversy over the Taiwan remarks or the still very difficult negotiations over taxes and education spending in the overall budget, he's a man who is obviously, as he appears in the interview, very comfortable with himself, very happy to be here, full of energy and enthusiasm. At this point, many difficult challenges still ahead, though. I think the next 100 days will be much more instructive, much more instrumental in seeing how he can govern in this environment than the first 100 days.

SESNO: John, we call this program INSIDE POLITICS for reasons. So let's do that for just a moment and come back to his discussion about how he is dealing with conservatives and the lesson that he may have learned from his father.

Conservatives walked away very quickly from George Bush, (a) because they didn't think he cared much about them to begin with, the first George Bush, and (b) there was always that business about taxes.

KING: You'll notice he didn't answer that part of the question when I asked him, because he doesn't like to discuss political strategy like that publicly. But this administration doing all it can to reach out to conservatives, and even when the conservatives are upset by what the administration does, the reversal on carbon dioxide emissions -- that pleased some conservatives. Some of the other environmental policies have disappointed conservatives.

But when conservatives look at this administration, (a) this president has reached out to them and they like that. They didn't believe his father did. But they also see Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft. There are conservatives throughout the ranks of senior positions.

Right now, this base standing by this president.

SESNO: Back to the beginning of this portion when you were talking about domestic policy, you were asking him about energy and energy policy. And the president said, "Hopefully the price of product will decrease." That doesn't sound like a very aggressive plan or policy to actually do something about it. Obviously, it's the marketplace, but the president is waiting for this to happen.

KING: And this is a very corporate-minded president and administration. He raised concerns about price gouging. He said he didn't believe it was going on. But this is not a president who's inclination is to lecture the corporate community or the business community.

You're right there, he was pretty clear: no short-term solution. Another controversy awaiting this administration is when they release that energy report. They're going to call for natural gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, more exploration. This president may even have a fight with his brother, the governor of Florida, about drilling off the coast of Florida. So more controversies ahead.

And the president -- he was very critical of the Clinton administration about energy prices. It's clear he will make the case there are no short-term solutions now. He'll also make the case that he shouldn't be blamed as prices go up this summer. Consumers don't always think that way.

SESNO: John, thank you very much, fascinating interview. And, of course, a signal from the president as well on another topic that compromise on spending and taxes, as far as he is concerned, is within reach. Very important point and one we will be returning to.

John King at the White House after interviewing George W. Bush today.

Well, we'll continue and look at this some more. Straight ahead: reaction to the president's comment from two veteran analysts, Republican Scott Reed, and Democrat Joe Lockhart. Also:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen an administration so hostile to women and children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Is the honeymoon over, or did it ever begin? The Democrats unveil their own version of events during the first 100 days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I've never seen an administration so hostile to women and children. It has come at us like a barrage of things and these are just a few that I have shown you. I haven't even gone into the budget itself and the tax cut, which is so terrible for women. Well, you have 43 percent of the tax cut going to the people who earn over $315,000 a year who don't need it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Senator Barbara Boxer taking part there in one of several events the Democrats are putting together to publicize their version of the first 100 days, focusing on the shortcoming of President Bush's strategy. The public relations efforts included reports from leading environmental and feminist groups, which criticize the early Bush record, along with a cable TV ad campaign purchased by the Democratic National Committee.

Well, joining us now for some perspective on this, Republican strategist Scott Reed and Democratic strategist and former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

First to Barbara Boxer and what the Democrats are doing, Joe. Is that fair to come out and trot and say that the sky is falling? You heard the president say, judge me by my results. If you read the polls, people are judging him fairly favorably.

JOE LOCKHART, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think they are looking at very specific policy decisions the president has made, and if you look at things like food safety, worker safety, the environment, he should be judged be his record, and his record on those things is very poor. He seems to have put the interest of the business community and his contributors in front of the interest of average working class Americans.

On the bigger issues, only time will tell. We don't know where he will be on the economy, fiscal policy, whether he will be able to continue to pay down the debt. And I think there's still a number of questions there.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's always a role for the loyal opposition to be out there in their sunglasses in front of the Capitol talking about the president. Let's be honest, the polls show Bush is off to a very strong start; he has over a 60 percent approval rating, he has a two to one favorable over his unfavorable.

American people like the job he's doing. He's been tested with some international incidents; he's had his first summit, and overall, Republicans across the country are very excited about the start this administration is off to.

SESNO: Let's look at, going back to this interview, and comments we've heard in various interviews over the last several days, the comments on China. There are people, Joe Lockhart, in the administration that you served in, this Democratic administration that worked hard on China for a long time, that are outraged to say the president was way off the reservation on this. Is this a mountain being made out of a mole hill? LOCKHART: Well, I don't think so. And there's a reason, since the late 1960s and through the '70s and '80s and '90s, the administrations have been deliberately ambiguous on China and Taiwan.

SESNO: Were you...

LOCKHART: Absolutely.

SESNO: Were you under orders to be ambiguous.

LOCKHART: Because -- probably the most delicate relationship we have in our foreign policy, and the stakes couldn't be higher. So I don't think the president...

SESNO: Joe Lockhart, how were you deliberately ambiguous in ways the president was not? I mean, certainly what we heard in the interview today was one China policy on the one hand, a warning to Taiwan not to declare unilateral independence on the other.

LOCKHART: There is very formulaic language that the Chinese and the Taiwanese except and it doesn't upset the apple cart. He went far beyond that yesterday; I think it was just verbal clumsiness. But I think he'll have to understand that this words carry very particular meaning and it may be fun to poke fun at your own inability to speak the language, but there are some areas where you have to be more careful.

REED: What you saw was Bush, who's a very plain-spoken man, who says what he believes. He doesn't have a lot of gray area in what he talks about. And I think what you have seen here is the impact of Secretary Don Rumsfeld, who's probably the smartest GO political adviser the president has in his Cabinet and on his team, giving him some very good advice on how to deal with Taiwan, how to move forward with the sales of these armaments, the ships, the submarines, the airplanes, in a very strategic way, that allows him to be assimilated into what the Taiwanese army can deal with right now.

Not give them Aegis, not give them what they can't deal with. It was a very logical step and it was a good step. Remember, the Congress cares about Taiwan, too.

LOCKHART: But, I think there are two separate things here. One is, the decision on arms, and in fact, I think there's many in Congress that will criticize that on the right. And if this was Bill Clinton making that decision, there would be congressional hearings investigating whether there was money involved. Thankfully, we are beyond that now.

But the difference is on the language. I think Don Rumsfeld is a very smart gentleman, but if you look at our foreign policy now, I think there are some dark clouds out there. Tension has risen between U.S. and China. Tension has risen between U.S. and Russia. We have strained relations with Europe on a number of issues. Tension is rising in the Middle East.

SESNO: You are saying George W. Bush is responsible for this? LOCKHART: I'm saying that his foreign policy -- the unilateral approach -- the sort of my way or the highway, whether it's Kyoto or national missile defense, these take great care. And what you want to do, you want to reduce tension, and that hasn't happened.

REED: I think it's refreshing that we have a president that uses the Oval Office as a bully pulpit to send a message to the world and the country about what he believes.

SESNO: You're both communicators, you both helped presidents or presidential candidates on something. Another thing we are talking about is the remarkable degree to which the temperature has been turned down in this town in the nearly 100 days since this man has come to office.

Joe Lockhart, your president was constantly under investigation, there was constantly triangulation and political maneuvering; maybe, is this a welcome change?

LOCKHART: I think any president should have the right to try to govern without the constant harassment of Congress, in the name of oversight and George Bush, as president, didn't deserve that, and I think most Americans are glad he is not getting that.

SESNO: Do you give him credit for that?

LOCKHART: No, I think it's a political decision. But let me make a broader point. I think that the first 100 days reflects, to me, a remarkably unambitious presidency. And one that -- this should be the time where the president is out there, and grabbing the country and grabbing Congress.

I mean, Ronald Reagan had got his talk cut through; Franklin Roosevelt had got most of his legislative agenda through; Bill Clinton had basically turned the apple cart upside down, which caused a lot of controversy.

This president has said, well, I want my tax cut, I'm not sure what else. I think he's lost a big opportunity here in the first 100 days because he is not on the front page. He is governing from Page A-11.

REED: I think what you're going to see is this White House now pivot to a new way that they deal with things. They got the president's numbers very strong, now they've got to go out and sell the agenda and get the American people to get behind some of his ideas, like moving towards a new Social Security system; like cutting taxes; like coming forward with ideas for the uninsured, giving them a tax credit so -- which, by the way, is very popular with the Hispanic and Latino voters -- some of these innovative ideas.

He has to go out and sell these ideas and get the American people to follow his ideas. But it was important to go out and lay down this foundation first, and that's why his personal numbers are high.

SESNO: And Scott Reed, just to wrap this up, because we're going to have to move on, based on what Joe was saying, he's governing from Page 11, we heard the president, say judge me on my results.

REED: The most important thing for Bush and this White House is to show they can govern. They have a Republican Congress. It's important that there are results. That's good for the Republican Party, it's good for the country and I think this president understands that, and I think it's healthy that's not all Bush all day every day.

SESNO: Politically, it may be designed a little anti-Clinton.

REED: A little.

LOCKHART: I think the problems, the hard problems, the longer you're in office get harder to solve. The best time to solve the hard ones and take them on is at the beginning, and I think historically, that's proven and I think he has squandered the political capital of the first 100 days.

SESNO: He was supposed to get the last word.

LOCKHART: There you go.

REED: No squandering.

SESNO: All right, you got it then. Thank you very much, Scott Reed, Joe Lockhart.

Up next, a difficult admission from a Vietnam veteran. Former Senator Bob Kerrey on the event that has haunted him since 1969.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: Former Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska is revealing new details about his service in the Vietnam War. Kerrey, a decorated war hero with possible presidential ambitions, is telling a story he says he is not proud of.

Jonathan Karl reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Kerrey's wartime heroics have been central to his political biography, but the former senator now says one incident that earned him a Bronze Star for heroic achievement was actually a tragic mistake that has haunted him for 32 years.

BOB KERREY, FRM. U.S. SENATOR: What matters to me more than anything is to be able to talk publicly about something that produced a great deal of shame and a great deal of guilt.

KARL: Kerrey, in that interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, was talking about an incident that happened in Vietnam in 1969, when a squad of Navy SEALS he commanded came under fire on a moonless night and returned fire into the darkness.

KERREY: When the firing was all over, all we had was women and children that are dead.

KARL: The Bronze Star citation he was awarded says, quote: "The net result of his patrol was 21 Viet Cong killed, two hooches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured." The citation goes on to credit Kerrey for showing "courage under fire in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Kerrey, who also won a Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam, now says the bronze star citation was wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Now, Kerrey decided to speak after one of his fellow Navy SEALS, in a joint interview with CBS News and "The New York Times," said that Kerrey's squad had intentionally killed civilians, acting on Kerrey's orders.

Now, Kerrey says that account is incorrect, but he very much regrets what happened and in that interview with "The New York Times," which has just hit that newspaper's Web site, he says, quote: "It's going to be very interesting to see the reactions to the story. I mean, because basically, you're talking about a man who killed innocent civilians."

Well, on Capitol Hill, the only reaction have come is among Kerrey's fellow former senators; senators up here now who are also Vietnam veterans. One of those, John Kerry, came to the floor of the Senate earlier today. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Bob Kerrey served with distinction. He feels, obviously, anguish and pain about those events, but I don't believe they should diminish for one moment the full measure of what he has given to his country and of what he represents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Bad things happens in wars, and that's why we try to avoid wars because there are terrible tragedies that are a part of it, and, frankly, my heart goes out to Bob Kerrey at this moment, and all of us who are involved in wars do things that we're proud of and sometimes that we're not so proud of. I can't guarantee you that every bomb that I dropped in North Vietnam only hit North Vietnamese military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: The Medal of Honor that Kerry won has always been central to his political biography, something he has talked about a lot, something his political allies have talked about. But Kerrey has never mentioned that Bronze Star he won. In fact, in his official biography that had been on his Senate Web site or is on the Web site now of the New School, which he is president of in New York, doesn't even mention the fact that he had won a bronze star -- Frank.

SESNO: Jonathan Karl, Capitol Hill.

And this programming note: You can see more of an interview with former Senator Bob Kerrey, Wolf Blitzer conducting it, on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Next on INSIDE POLITICS, a crime bill some say has implications beyond criminal law. We will hear one woman's personal story and find out why the legislation she favors has been caught up in the debate over abortion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: We want to take you to a story now we're tracking at this time, an explosion out in Santa Fe, New Mexico. These pictures courtesy of KOAT-TV, one of CNN's affiliates out there. Rescuers there digging through the rubble of a building, searching for at least one person trapped, based on out lasted information about his explosion at an insurance company.

According to Santa Fe Police Sergeant Alex Montoya (ph), it was apparently a gas explosion, several injured in that blast. The blast blew out windows and heavily damaged the Northern New Mexico Insurance Company building. Again, one person believed trapped. No one, we're told at this time, killed in that explosion, nor we don't know whether more people are trapped.

Right now, again, we're told that rescue workers are searching for one person who is said to be missing. We will follow it for you and bring you more on the story as it comes to us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: In my view, it is a policy change that serves neither our interest, nor Taiwan's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: As President Bush nears his 100th day in office, his remarks today on Taiwan policy are making waves on Capitol Hill and around the world.

Bill Schneider will bring us the British view of the Bush presidency along with the latest poll numbers here in the U.S.

And, painful memories of Vietnam after former Senator Bob Kerrey's new disclosure. Our Bruce Morton reflects on the war and the wounds that have yet to heal.

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

SESNO: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm not Judy Woodruff. She's off today. I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for her. Well, whether he intended to or not, President Bush turned his round of interviews marking his first 100 days in office into an international news story of sorts. His comments about what the United States would do to defend Taiwan, how far it would go, have also raised some concerns on Capitol Hill.

CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace is traveling with the president in New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an interview with CNN's John King, President Bush states what no other U.S. president has ever said publicly, that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China.

BUSH: I have said I will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that.

WALLACE: Those comments drew a sharp rebuke from Democratic lawmakers, who said Mr. Bush's words represent a dangerous shift away from the United States' long-held ambiguity about whether it would defend Taiwan; an ambiguity which Democrats say helped to prevent antagonizing Beijing or encouraging Taipei to move towards independence.

KERRY: The new policy has the automatic impact, if it is in place and if it is the declaration that was made, of emboldening Taiwan and frankly reducing our control over events.

WALLACE: But in the interview, Mr. Bush sought to clarify his support of the one-China policy, the U.S. view that there is one China is that Taiwan is part of it. The president stressing the need for a peaceful resolution of cross-strait tensions, signaling he would not endorse any independence movements by Taipei.

BUSH: I certainly hope Taiwan adheres to the one-China policy, and a declaration of independence is not the one-China policy.

WALLACE: For two decades now, the United States has implied, but not publicly stated, it would help Taiwan, leaving vague just what the U.S. would do in the event of a Chinese attack or blockade. But some China observers saying that the so-called strategic ambiguity has not deterred Beijing from threatening Taipei.

JAMES LILLEY, FRM. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: When you start to play with ambiguity where you have a military, a potential military confrontation, it can lead to real problems. I think that it's much better you get it on the table and then move on.

WALLACE: The president, in New Orleans to build support for his tax cut plan, also told CNN his comments do not represent a change in policy, and match what he said during the presidential campaign.

(on camera): Aides say President Bush's words were not part of any orchestrated move to send Beijing a message now. They insist he was asked about the issue and simply communicated his feelings. Still, the open question is just what this new public posture will mean for already tense relations between Washington and Beijing.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And in Mr. Bush's interview with CNN, he contended that great progress is being made on Capitol Hill on one of his top priorities, education reform. But Senate Democrats say a debate on Mr. Bush's education plan is likely to be delayed until next week. Democratic negotiators and the White House remain about $6 billion apart in their proposals for spending on America's schools.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If the administration says that education is the most important priority for the nation, we don't think it ought to have a third- or fourth-rate priority in terms of investment in the future. We do not believe that you can nickel and dime children's education. We think educating children in the United States cannot be done on the cheap.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Some Republicans are accusing the Democrats of trying to use school spending as a political weapon. They cite studies which suggest that additional education funding does not necessarily produce results.

So far, the education issue seems to be working in President Bush's favor, politically at least. To get a new perspective on Mr. Bush's early tenure in the White House, our Bill Schneider went all the way to London; that's what we might call the scenic route.

As the president nears the 100-day mark, Bill, what do we know about his image at home and overseas, where you are now.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Frank, first of all, let's check out first how Americans rate President Bush on the issues. The president gets his highest ratings on defense, on international affairs and the domestic issue that he put at the top of his agenda, education.

He gets satisfactory ratings, just over 50 percent approval, on economic issues: taxes, the budget, the economy; no serious blunders, but as of yet, no dramatic results.

What are his worst subjects: the environment, abortion and energy; the issues where his conservative positions are most controversial. On all of those, he gets less than 50 percent approval.

This president's strong suit right now, clearly, is world affairs. That's partly due to his resolution of the China standoff, which as report earlier, get a very high approval rating from the American public.

SESNO: Is that positive view in Britain?

SCHNEIDER: No, it is certainly not. I've been at Oxford University this week, talking with a group of political intellectuals, not all of whom are on the left. They are what the British call "the chattering class." Now, the discussion, of course, was entirely in Latin, but I shall endeavor to translate.

I asked them about President Bush's image over here in Europe, and there was a very dramatic moment of silence around the table. Then someone blurted out, "appalling," and they all nodded in agreement. You know, one distinguished gentleman I recorded, he said "a swaggering bully who got in by a cheat." That's loosely translated from the Latin. When I asked them if that view was held widely outside of intellectual circles, they pointed out that President Bush is very often parodied by the entertainment media over here as a ridiculous figure, unqualified for the job; in their words, another Dan Quayle.

SESNO: Bill, based on your observations and your conversations, I suppose we should emphasize it's hardly scientific, chattering class notwithstanding, what is contributed to that image you're talking about?

SCHNEIDER: Well, three things were mentioned: One was Texas; a number of them said he impresses people abroad as a bit of a Texas showoff; his name, he's seen as an inexperienced adolescent, a "daddy's boy" and of course, ideology. He's the most right-wing figure that people overseas are familiar with from the United States. Now, they all agreed that this image of the American president is superficial; they agreed that it's unfair, but there it is.

SESNO: What about his policies? How about discussing his policies?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I did ask people about his resolution of the China standoff was seen overseas. And their answer was, it was seen as relief. He didn't do anything rash. But one issue above all others has had huge repercussions in Europe, in Britain, and around the world, and that is: Kyoto, the global warming treaty.

They called that issue, "a serious disaster for Bush." Global warming is far more important overseas than it is in the United States, because for ordinary citizens here in Europe, they have had their worst winter ever for flooding. Europeans responded with real shock when the Bush administration dismissed the Kyoto agreement of something that was really dead.

What made it worse, was the president said he would never do anything, never take any steps that might damage the U.S. economy, which sounded to Europeans like, Bush to world: drop dead -- Frank.

SESNO: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much. We should say that the president is teeing up another issue that would be very controversial overseas, he talked about it in his interview today, the national missile defense; he's trying to brief allies, his team on that probably in the coming weeks. Bill Schneider in London, thanks.

Back here in the U.S., the president's first 100 days have been marked by a battle of ideas over the nation's airwaves. Joining me now with the hard numbers is David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.

David, I understand you're finding unprecedented barrage of issue ads, mainly opposing the president's agenda. True? .

DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well, Frank, that in fact very true. President Bush has had no honeymoon when it comes to promoting his political ideas. In 1992 and 1996, there was no advertising for or against the president's agenda. This year, alone, we see interest groups lining up to spend over $833,000 opposing the president's policies. And this is just since January.

And we have some of these ads and let's take a look at some of them:

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

ANNOUNCER: Imagine turning America's clock back to the pollution standards, drinking water standards, and logging practices decades ago. Do you think it can't happen?

President Bush has already acted to ignore global warming pollution, weaken arsenic standards in drinking water, and open national forests to new logging, all to help his coal, oil, mining and logging contributors. Send President Bush a message. Let's move forward, not backward, and save our environment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEELER: Those ads are symbolic of the kind that we see running across the country, groups like the Sierra Club, the Auto bonds Society, have led the way. They've spent over 1/2 million dollars; organized labor spent $270,000 million; more than $50,000 was spent opposing Bush trade policies.

SESNO: David, what about the interests group that support the president of the United States? Now, are they running issue ads as well?

PEELER: Yes, they are but in much smaller amount, Frank. Largely in response to the anti-Bush ads, overall, about a little less than half, $415,000 was spent in support of the president's agenda; far being outspent by the opponents.

SESNO: And you have seen ads?

PEELER: We have some ads from the Club For Growth, they favor the tax cut. They've spent about $155,000 promoting their cause. Pro-tax cuts were the largest chunk of issue ads in support of the president. They spent about $225,000 and $130,000 was spent backing White House environmental policies. We even saw the Jewish coalition weigh in a $60,000 ad buy in support of John Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general.

SESNO: David Peeler, I am curious about this dramatic rise in the use of issue ads and at an interesting time. We are not in a campaign right now, or supposedly. What do you make of this?

PEELER: Groups are using this in a different tactic. They are using it to get out in front of legislation; they are seen by interest groups as kind of a new tool to influence the debate throughout the process. And this year so far, we have seen 85 separate interest groups, they've spent a total of $28 million on issue ads in the nation's top 75 markets so far.

The biggest part we have seen is industry image ads, like plastics and biotech industries. They're trying to get out in front of the the environmental issues: 30 percent on abortion-related issues; 9 percent on the environment, 9 percent on school choice, 5 percent on local health care issues.

Less than 1 percent, which is interesting, of this money was spent on issues that were important during last year's campaign, like campaign finance reform, tax cuts, prescription drugs, we haven't seen that. And I think that probably the last thing that is really of interest is that only $6 million has been spent inside the Beltway. The remaining amount of money has been spent outside the Beltway and this is kind a new tactic.

We see the groups going directly to the voter to try to shape the image and shape the debate.

SESNO: David Peeler, thank you very much. Shining the spotlight on the issue ads and more. I appreciate it, as always.

PEELER: Thank you.

SESNO: A state and its people confront the past, but is anyone paying attention? Next here: the Alabama trial of a former Klansman accused of taking part in the 1963 church bombing that killed four African-American girls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: Now some news from the gubernatorial campaign trail: Arnold Schwarzenegger is terminating talk of a 2002 bid for California governor. The actor says he wants to put his film career and family first. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, left open the possibility of entering politics in the future.

In New Jersey, acting Governor Donald Difrancesco is dropping out of the governor's race, just three days after formally announcing his candidacy, citing media scrutiny of his business dealings as the reason for his decision, Difrancesco said he would instead support the candidacy of fellow Republican and former Congressman Bob Franks.

The woman who stepped down as New Jersey governor to become EPA administrator faces a lawsuit related to her time as her state's top official. A 21-year-old man is suing Christie Whitman and the New Jersey State Police, claiming he was targeted by state troopers because of his race. He was stopped by police but not arrested back in 1996.

This photo of the incident showing then-Governor Whitman frisking the man made national headlines when it became public last summer. Whitman had accompanied the officers as part of a crime crackdown. The suit seeks unspecified damages. Whitman had no comment on the lawsuit.

One of the most infamous acts of the violence from the civil rights era is being relived in the Alabama courtroom. A former Klansman is on trial for murder of the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that killed four African-American girls. Thomas Blanton is accused of plotting the bombing with three other men. But as CNN's Brian Cabell reports, this well known but unsolved murder case has failed to capture the public's attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a city that honors both its Confederate past and its civil rights heroes, there is a drama playing out in the county courthouse. The lead character? 62-year-old Thomas Blanton, former Ku Klux Klansman and accused church bomber.

LEE NAVES, BIRMINGHAM RESIDENT: I look at this pitiful man who is the center of all this attention and I'm surprising myself because I hate his deed, but I don't hate him.

CABELL: Lee Naves, a motivational speaker, a former journalist and a longtime Alabaman, has found himself drawn to this trial. He sees himself as a witness to his state's past and its present.

(on camera): But if you look inside the courtroom, where cameras aren't allowed, you won't find many others like Mr. Naves. The media are there and some of the families are there. But there are plenty of empty seats. This is not a story that has truly captured the interests of Birmingham.

Oh, the headlines are there at the newsstand, but for people like Sandra Duke and her son John, a story that's almost 38 years old, especially a story that brings back ugly memories, is not all that compelling.

SANDRA DUKE, BIRMINGHAM RESIDENT: I think Birmingham is trying to go ahead, go forward, and try to get -- forget a lot of the past.

JOHN DUKE, FORMER BIRMINGHAM RESIDENT: I don't think it's people don't care. I think, you know, they're busy in their everyday lives.

CABELL: Joe Drake is certainly busy with his: long hours he and his son spend at the downtown cafe that they've owned for the last three years. Joe remembers the church bombing, but he understands why interest has waned.

JOE DRAKE, CAFE OWNER: So many of the people that were involved in it are passed on or so old they don't remember anything.

CABELL: He considers the prosecution of Blanton after all these years a waste of time and money. Eddie Miller, who does landscaping in the city's parks, disagrees. He was 6 years old when the church was bombed and four girls were killed.

EDDIE MILLER, LANDSCAPER: If it was one of my loved ones, I would like to know, you know, what happened, who was responsible for it. I don't think it's a waste of money.

CABELL: Wasteful or not, the drama plays on in the courthouse, with the attorneys, the suspect, and the victims families waiting for a final act after 38 years.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Birmingham, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And we're not done yet. Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS, our Bruce Morton considers the difficult lessons still of the Vietnam War.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: There's more INSIDE POLITICS coming up, but first let's go to Willow Bay with a look ahead at what's at the bottom of the hour on "MONEYLINE."

Hello, Willow.

WILLOW BAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Frank.

Coming up next on "MONEYLINE," stocks on Wall Street soar, snapping a three-day losing streak and helping spur the market. Signs of strength in the economy: Lower mortgage rates continue to bolster the housing market. We will have a full report. And we will take a closer look at CNN's interview with President Bush today. We'll focus on his defense of Taiwan, his tax compromise and his energy policy.

And we're going to show you a little mouse that may make your life a whole lot easier. Those stories and more next on "MONEYLINE."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, the country learned during the war about a place called My Lai, where American troops killed a lot of Vietnamese civilians -- men, women, children, babies -- on purpose, deliberately. American pilots never knew whom they were hitting. What is the relationship, we wondered, between altitude and morality.

(on camera): Americans learned about Operation Phoenix: Agents raid a village with a hit-list of names, kill any Vietnamese they find with those names. Americans learned about tiger cages, and the prisoners who lived in them. Americans learned that their government lied a lot about the war. Reporters, one year, wore badges: "Ambushed at Credibility Gap."

(voice-over): You can tell something about wars by the words they coin. World War II's G.I. Joe: a pretty good guy. In Vietnam, the troops called themselves "grunts," and when they died, they didn't get killed -- they got "wasted."

Politicians in Washington talked about domino theories and communists. Grunts talked about how short they were: how many days they had left in 'Nam before they could go back to "the world."

And it was no surprise when a thousand or so of them came back, came to Washington to protest a war which seemed to kill their friends to little purpose.

It's all a long time ago now. Vietnam veterans, once jeered as baby killers, march in Memorial Day parades: grayer now, paunchier perhaps. And the wounds of that old time have healed some. Some.

But the war changed everyone who went to it, I think, and maybe people who stayed home, too.

I went to My Lai 20 years after the war ended, and one American who'd been a medic in the war had written in the visitors' book they keep there: "We need to realize we are all one. We all carry with us the potential to be the killer and the victim."

Maybe that's the lesson. And now, some of the men who fought the war may run for president: John Kerry, Robert Kerrey, John McCain already has once. What lessons from that long, odd, bitter war do you suppose they'd bring to the White House?

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com. AOL keyword: CNN.

This programming note: former Senator Bob Kerrey discusses his Vietnam experience, the one he says has haunted him now for 32 years, tonight on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Also, you can see John King's entire interview with President Bush on "CNN TONIGHT," starting at 10:00 Eastern. And you can go to cnn.com anytime for the president's remarks, text, in their entirety.

I'm Frank Sesno. "MONEYLINE" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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