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Republican Senator Jeffords Considering Switching Parties; Democrats Delay Tax Cut

Aired May 22, 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)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: This is not about obstruction, this is not about delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Senate Democrats make no excuses for slowing down a vote on the Bush tax cut and the White House makes no excuses for courting big donors in a way some are comparing to the Clinton era.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The difference is day and night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Also ahead, members of Congress join the drive to ban cell-phone use while driving.

And Congress clears the way to honor World War II veterans: not at the movies, but on the Washington Mall.

Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

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

We will have in just a few moments a news conference from Ford Motor Company, where we are expecting the head of that company to complete the divorce that has been widely discussed between Ford Motor Company and Firestone tires. Among the items, we're expecting to hear is a further replacement effort and recall of Ford by 13 million Firestone Wilderness tires.

When we get the head of the company coming to the podium and the microphone shortly, we will bring this news conference to you directly and live, just in a matter of minutes. But back to politics now and the possibility of a power shift, a big one in Washington and in the evenly divided U.S. Senate, perhaps with far-reaching implications. At issue: Will Republican moderate Jim Jeffords of Vermont switch to the Democratic Party?

After days of speculation, there are new developments to report. And for that, we start with our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl.

Jonathan, this will be a stunning story if it unfolds.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, Frank.

Jim Jeffords was just re-elected to a third Senate term last year campaigning as a Republican who can get things done, and today it looks increasingly uncertain whether or not he will remain a Republican.

What we have learned is Jeffords, who has been openly flirting with the idea of either switching to the Democratic Party or becoming an independent, met this morning with Vice President Cheney up here on Capitol Hill. The subject, his possibly switching parties. And then at 3:30, Jeffords skipped a vote up here in the Senate and traveled down to Pennsylvania Avenue.

This was just -- just about an hour and a half ago and met with President Bush discussing this possible party shift.

What we are told from Republicans up here on Capitol Hill is that the expectation is that Jeffords has not made up his mind yet. And I just spoke with Jeffords' office. Their -- their official response right now is that Jeffords has not made a decision about whether or not he will leave the Republican Party.

But I also spoke with an aide to Jeffords who said Jeffords is a Republican today, he'll be a Republican tonight, but I don't know if he'll be a Republican tomorrow -- Frank.

SESNO: Over to the White House, or we're going to go to the White House in just a moment, but I understand this news conference with Ford Motor Company is about to begin. So let's listen in.

(INTERRUPTED FOR BREAKING NEWS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Judy Woodruff today. Just to recap the story we've been tracking that is: Ford Motor Company recalling all 13 million Firestone Wilderness tires on its Ford vehicles. Ford will replace them. They call it a precautionary step. They say there have been early warning signs. We'll be staying with this story throughout the evening, and as I mentioned earlier, if you want additional information, cnn.com, our Web site, has more particular information you may want to take a look at. Now to our lead political story at this hour, and that is a development that, if carried through, could fundamentally change the way Washington does business, perhaps the balance the power in the nation's capital as well. And that is one iconoclastic senator, James Jeffords, a Republican from Vermont -- will he switch parties? Go from Republican to Democrat, and change the balance of United States Senate in the process? A few moments ago, we were talking with our with congressional correspondent, Jon Karl. He's still with us. We're also joined by our White House correspondent, Major Garrett.

Jon, back to you for a quick recap.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's happened here is there has been intense speculation that Senator Jeffords, who has long been one of the most liberal members of the Republican Party here serving in the Senate, would switch parties, either to become a Democrat or to become an independent. Obviously, either move would upset balance of power here in the Senate and turn power over to the control of the Democrats.

Well, Jeffords has been flirting with this idea, has had some serious overtures from the Democrats. Today, we learned that the White House has gotten into the act, trying to keep him into the Republican fold. He met this morning with Vice President Cheney here on Capitol Hill, had a private meeting about the potential party switch. And then, at 3:30 this afternoon, Jeffords went down to the White House to have a face-to-face meeting with President Bush, that I'm told lasted about 25 minutes.

Republicans come away from that meeting thinking that Senator Jeffords has simply not made up his mind about whether or not he will ultimately switch parties. And that is exactly the line that we get from Senator Jeffords' office. His spokesperson saying, "As far as I know," -- and those are important words -- saying, "As far as I know, Senator Jeffords has not made up his mind whether or not he will ultimately switch parties." That's where things stand now.

SESNO: Well, as far as I know, Jonathan, we will come back to you in just a minute, but don't move.

Let's go down the street to the White House -- Major, what are you hearing about this over there and how much concern is there?.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the concern is great, Frank, but officially, the White House is on lockdown: no comment about this situation. As Jonathan said, it is very fluid. But I can share with you three pieces of information I have developed that suggest that this situation, though fluid, may be moving in a particular direction. Recently, I got off the phone with a very senior Republican on the Senate side, a Republican staffer intimately involved in this, and he said, "My fear is that he's going to switch parties. We're are getting down to the nub of the matter."

Senior aides to minority -- Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told one of the top Democratic Party officials in this city that all of this will not come to naught. And I talked to that senior party official, he wasn't exactly sure what Daschle's staff was meaning by it, but he thought it was a very good sign.

Lastly, third piece of information: a moderate Republican senator who has spent a good deal of time today trying to talk Jim Jeffords out of switching parties notified a Republic operative who works on K street this afternoon that the president asked him not to switch parties. Mr. Jeffords, according to the senator, who talked to the Republican operative, -- said no. All of this very fluid, Frank, but taken together, they indicate this may be moving in a particular direction.

SESNO: Just to be clear, Major, Jeffords said no to what?

GARRETT: No, that he would not agree to the president's call to stay in the Republican Party, but would in fact switch parties.

SESNO: OK, got it. Jonathan, back to you. What's the -- what's the -- very, very quickly here because we want to move on and bring in Bob Novak here and get some more analysis -- but, quickly, what is the genesis of this and what would it mean for the very important balance of power in the Senate, in terms of actual committee assignments and that kind of thing?

KARL: Well, first let me tell you that our Dana Bash, Capitol Hill producer, chased Senator Jeffords down a short while ago after that White House meeting and asked him how the meeting went, what his plans were. Jeffords offered the ultimate no comment, said absolutely nothing, not even offering a "no comment."

Now as far as what this mean, this would instantly turn control of the Senate over to the Democrats. Meaning, Tom Daschle would become the majority leader and all of those powerful Senate committees would now be chaired by Democratic chairman instead of Republican chairman.

The impetus for all of this is that Jeffords has long been one of most liberal members of the Senate. But he also was the person Republicans think single-handedly caused the Republicans to force to scale down their tax cut from the $1.6 trillion that the Republicans wanted to the $1.35 trillion their debating now. So Republicans, over the last few weeks, have been whispering about getting revenge against Jeffords. That has prompted Democrats to see an opening and go to Jeffords and say: "Hey, come to us. We will treat you a lot better than the Republicans."

SESNO: Jeffords demonstrating that he's got some leverage in all of this, too. Jon Karl and Major Garrett, thanks very much.

Over to Robert Novak now, political analyst and from the "Chicago Sun-Times." Bob, what are you hearing, what do you make of it all?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN HOST: Early today, Frank, a Republican senator in the men's room at the Senate cloakroom -- a lot of things in politics are often heard in the men's room -- heard Jeffords tell a Democratic senator that he was, from this -- this is at least what the Republican thought he heard -- that when the tax bill was passed, that Jeffords was going to go to the White House and tell President Bush he was switching parties. This was then -- this went around the Senate Republican cloakroom like wildfire. Then, much earlier than the passage of the party, Jeffords did go to the White House. What was said there, nobody knows.

Now, let me just tell you a couple background things on this. The Republicans, both in the Senate and in the White House, angry at Jeffords' votes on the tax bill, wanted to get even. So, they were -- a lot of talk about taking away some milk provisions, subsidy provisions from the state of Vermont. And even more immediately, Jeffords was not invited to the Teacher of the Year ceremonies at the White house. Now, that is very tough on Jeffords because he is an education specialist. He's chairman of Senate Education Committee. I am told he was really distraught by that.

He's been upset with the Republicans, and that was the tipping thing, being not invited to the ceremonial question -- the ceremonial event, which made him want to switch parties. He has been promised he can keep the Senate education chairmanship as a Democrat. His staffers are not answering calls by other Republican staffers who have been close to him over the years.

There is one person close to Jeffords who has been trying to talk to him for several days into not switching. He reports back that Jeffords is determined to switch parties. Unless Vice President Cheney and President Bush are a lot more convincing than they seem to have been, Jeffords becomes a Democrat, and the power -- balance of power changes in Washington. The Senate becomes Democratic, and the -- Tom Daschle has the whip-hand on all those judicial nominations.

SESNO: Fasten your seatbelt. You know, Bob, you know, yours truly, anyway, started in this business in a state called Vermont, started by covering a guy by the name of James Jeffords in the '70s when he was recently elected to the House. He was independent then, and that independent streak, very popular in Vermont, still is. He can do just anything he wants.

Many analysts in the state say that his people and his voters will support him. We will watch and see what this does, but it would certainly turn Washington on its end. Thanks a lot, Bob Novak.

NOVAK: You're welcome.

SESNO: Now for an update from the Senate on something else. Major piece of work and legislation moving ahead, and that is the tax cut plan sponsored by the president of the United States and the Republican Party. Democrats have been slowing the march toward final passage today by keeping the amendments and the sound bytes coming.

Now for more on their tactics and the Republican reaction, here once again is CNN's Jonathan Karl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL (voice-over): A newly-energized Democratic minority knows it is going to lose the battle over tax cuts, but is doing everything it can to inflict as much pain as possible on the Republicans in the process.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: This is not about obstruction. This is not about delay. This is about making sure that the message is as clear as it can be about the important choices that the American people must face through us, as we debate this critical bill.

KARL: Republicans hoped to pass the tax cut Monday night, but the Senate can't vote on it until all proposed amendments are considered. Democrats have already offered more than 20 amendments, most of them to scale back the tax cuts for the wealthy. They've all failed, but Democrats show no signs of stopping.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: If it takes six hours, if it takes 16 hours or six days, and if that's inconvenient to the people that think they run this place, that's too bad.

KARL: Republicans are accusing the Democrats of tying the Senate up in knots, because they know they've already lost. In order to facilitate the non-stop voting, the Senate canceled all committee hearings, effectively making taxes the only item on the agenda.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Clearly, the Senate has shown throughout yesterday and today and throughout the last three months that it wants a significant tax relief for working Americans, and we're going to vote that way.

KARL: The partisan divide is so deep on the Senate floor that Republicans are privately accusing the Democratic leadership of undermining an effort to allow 98-year-old Strom Thurmond to go home as the clock approached midnight Monday night. Democrat Joe Biden had offered to sit out the remaining votes so that Senator Thurmond could leave.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: One of the leaders, Senator Reid, said: "Joe, you're going to mess up the 30 votes. You're up for re-election. How are you going to explain this at home? Isn't that Trent Lott's responsibility to take care of Strom?"

KARL: But Biden says Thurmond didn't want to go home anyway.

BIDEN: "It's 10 after 12:00, Joe. I've been here this long, I can stay another six hours."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Strom Thurmond and the rest of them may be in for another long night tonight. Both sides have been threatening to carry this on as long as it takes, Democrats saying they've got many, many, many more amendments to go through, Republicans saying they will stay here until this thing gets passed.

Now, Frank, that said, there are very furious negotiations going on right now. In fact, you can probably see them on the Senate floor right now, senators coming together trying to figure out can they come to an agreement to actually bring an up or down vote on this tax cut. So will keep you posted on that. If they do come to an agreement, they could have a vote on this in a matter of 10 minutes, and this could be over, going on to the next step of reconciling the Senate tax cut with that already passed by the House, passing that and sending it down to the president for his signature.

SESNO: Jonathan Karl reporting, thanks very much.

For more context now on the tax cut debate, here is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill, where is support for the tax cut coming from at this point?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Frank, the simple answer is, everybody. You know how critics complained that the tax cut is only for the rich? Well, the rich certainly support it, 70 percent in our poll, but so do 60 percent of the poor. Even though the tax cut is President Bush's signature issue, support cuts right across party lines.

Look at this: Republican support is virtually unanimous. Over 60 percent of independents support a big tax cut. But look at that: 55 percent of Democrats. It just knocks your socks off! No wonder Democratic leaders are having trouble keeping their troops in line. Rank-and-file Democrats favor the tax cut.

SESNO: Bill, while we have got you here, on a separate subject, OK, and coming back to our lead story coming out of Washington -- political story -- the possible party switch to independent or Democrat of James Jeffords.

Forget Jeffords for a minute, but let's -- and forget the political talk of balance of power, or this or that. This would actually change the situation on the ground in a very profound way that will ripple right through everything virtually that the United States Senate and Congress do.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. It would make Democrats the majority party in the United States Senate. Instantly, Tom Daschle would become the leading Democratic figure, and there has been some talk about possibly he might run for president. Well, that's far down the road, but he would become the spokesman for the Democratic Party, which has found itself in a difficult situation, because nobody speaks for the Democrats.

That's one of the reasons why they have had difficulty opposing the tax cut, and every judicial nomination that the president proposes would instantly be in trouble, because the Democrats would control the agenda in the Senate.

SESNO: And other such nominations, nominations for top government jobs as well now have to run the gauntlet of the Democratic Senate to advise and consent.

SCHNEIDER: It would be a Democratic Senate. Now, the majority in the Senate is not as powerful as the majority in the House, but they do have control over the agenda. They do have rule-setting ability, not as powerful as in the House, but it would mean a big shift and very bad news for the White House. So this would be something of a seismic change in Washington.

SESNO: And we should point out that if Jeffords switches, if this all happens, clearly he's coming under, as we heard a moment ago, tremendous pressure from those within the Republican Party urging him to stay put.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHNEIDER: They lose their committee chairmanships. This is big! And that's a lot of money that they can collect as committee chairs.

SESNO: Bill Schneider, thanks.

Speaking of money, the big money behind the first big fund-raiser of the Bush presidency, when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

Also ahead: public money for private tutors. As the president's education bill heads toward a vote, we go inside an after-school tutoring program.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just big and bold and triumphant and it's just kind of in your face monumentalism, and I don't like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: The debate that lasted longer than the war: Congress clears the way for construction for the World War II memorial. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: As President Bush prepares to attend the gala Republican fund-raiser this evening, the White House is continuing to defend the way it is reaching out to big donors and dismissing comparisons to the Clinton era.

Let's go back to the White House now and CNN's Major Garrett.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRETT (voice-over): The plates and glasses, lights and banners are set just so for the new president's first big fund-raiser. Hundreds of lobbyists, industry executives and loyal Republicans will pack this old arena to celebrate Mr. Bush and the first lady.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Testing, testing, testing.

GARRETT: The price of admission can be steep if you want a fancy title. Being a chairman costs $500,000 in donations or a pledge to raise at least that much. Co-chairman, $250,000. Vice chairman, $100,000. And even the lowly title of deputy chairman requires at least $50,000. The projected haul: more than 15 million.

Key organizers of the dinner include four representatives of the energy industry, two from the tobacco industry, a former Republican Party chairman, two from the tobacco industry, a former Republican Party chairman and one airline executive.

But big donors were also treated to a reception Monday night at the vice president's residence, and they attended special meetings with cabinet secretaries and senior White House aides. But this, the White House says, is nothing like the Clinton-era fund-raising coffees or Lincoln Bedroom sleep-overs.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The difference is day an night. And I don't think there's any comparison that is fair.

GARRETT: The Clinton White House, Fleischer said, sold access to attract donations. The vice president was merely thanking loyalists. And what about providing access to cabinet secretaries?

FLEISCHER: I think there's a long-standing tradition where cabinet officials meet with supporters.

GARRETT: Kent Cooper, an expert on campaign finance, says thank you receptions can be proper, especially so soon after an election. But in the future, scrutiny will increase.

KENT COOPER, PUBLIC DISCLOSURE INC.: From now on, you're really on the record. Who goes on Commerce Department trips? Who meets in groups with the presidents and key advisers? Are there fund-raising people from the RNC in the meeting? These are the kinds of clues to look for from now on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GARRETT: As for ways to thank big donors in the future, the White House will not rule out using government property or providing more access to high government officials. What's more, President Bush will attend yet another multimillion dollar fund-raiser next month to help expand Republican majorities in the House and the Senate -- Frank.

SESNO: Major Garrett from the White House.

In a moment, we will ask Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California about the Bush administrations dealings with donors. He has called for a Congressional investigation.

But first, we are joined with GOP strategist Ed Gillespie. We will hear the congressman; he will say that this needs to be looked into with the same vigor that the Clinton administration fund-raisers were investigated. Why not?

ED GILLESPIE, GOP STRATEGIST: Because it's nothing like what the Clinton administration did. The fact is, Frank, the Clinton administration promised that if you gave $100,000, you could sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. If you gave $50,000, you could attend a coffee in the White House. If you gave $75,000 to $150,000, you could you fly on Air Force One.

Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House, had a big flow chart and had a big organizational chart that matched the names to the contributions and the government response would you get in return for that.

The fact is, what we have here is the president, in this instance, also acting as the head of the party, raising money for the party, which is nothing out of the ordinary. And that is the difference here. There is no quid pro quo. In fact, the reception at the vice president's house that you mentioned was not even mentioned in the solicitation of funds. No one who went there last night gave any money, expecting that that would happen...

SESNO: As you know, critics will say that's a distinction without a difference, Ed Gillespie, that the fact of the matter is, those donors were on government property at the vice president's house. They had access.

And here's the point that they make: even if it's not legally or technically a problem, perceptually for a president who has called for a change in tone, for things to be done differently, and who criticized President Clinton's fund-raising, perceptually, there is a problem.

GILLESPIE: There's not, Frank. The fact is that the president has indeed changed the tone in this town. The bitter partisanship that marred Washington public policy debates over the past eight years has been gone. You can even see it in the tax debate. While it is spirited, it is not as bitter as it is in the past.

SESNO: $15 million tonight, Ed Gillespie. Money talks.

GILLESPIE: $15 million to help elect people who agree with lowering your taxes, who agree that we need to save Social Security for the next generation, and reform Medicare, who agree we need to strengthen national defense -- that is money well spent, Frank.

SESNO: And what about this notion of the vice president having them to his home, taxpayer-funded money, yes. You say, Ari Fleischer from the White House may say, it's just a thank you. But to those again on the outside and to the critics, and we will hear from Congressman Waxman in a moment, it does look -- they say -- like a quid pro quo.

GILLESPIE: Again, there's no quid, no pro and there's no quo. The fact is that there was no intention when people donated money to the party for this event -- they had no idea that the vice president would invite them to a reception to thank them for doing that.

That is a sharp, sharp contrast to what the Clinton administration did, which was to say, and to have someone that worked in the White House keep a chart and tally it up -- if you give and raise $100,000, you get to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. If you raise $50,000, you can come in and have coffee with the president. If you do $75 to $150,000, you can fly on Air Force One.

SESNO: If campaign...

GILLESPIE: No-one has suggested anything like that.

SESNO: If campaign finance reform is passed, and if there is no soft money, or at least a great limitation of it, do these events disappear?

GILLESPIE: These events probably don't disappear. The fact is that there is nothing that stops people from voluntarily contributing money. The average contributor by the way to the Republican National Committee contributes less than $60.

And if people in party -- or elected officials want to thank people for the support of the party, there should be and there will not be anything that stops that.

The question here is what -- it seems that Mr. Waxman and others are suggesting -- is that if you give money to a political party, then indeed there should be such an extreme that a member of Congress or of the administration cannot even thank you. You can't have contact after that. That's an absurd suggestion.

SESNO: OK, we're going to get a response on this from Congressman Waxman in just a moment. But before we do it says "G.O.P. strategist" under your name. You used to work on Capitol Hill. I want to ask you about the story that we're hearing that Senator Jeffords may, may abandon his Republican roots and his Republican label and thereby through the United States Senate on its end and into Democratic hands. What are you hearing, what do you think?

GILLISPIE: Well, obviously I hope that's not the case. I think we would then see a return to some of the bitter partisanship that marred the past eight years. I think that many of the Democrats in the House and Senate have become nothing but "againers." They're "again" reforming and saving social security, they're "again" tax cuts for working Americans. I hope that Senator Jeffords does not pack to decision.

I will tell you, Frank, having worked up there, having talked to many Democratic members of the House who,at the time when I was there working for the Republican leadership, we thought they were about to change parties, when they get right down to the decision more often than not they decide against it.

SESNO: What do you predict?

GILLESPIE: I would not predict. I don't know -- I do know Senator Jeffords, I haven't talked to him about this matter, so I would be hesitant to predict any one man's personal decisions.

SESNO: All right, one way or the other, we will get you back after the fact, see how you did. Thanks, Ed Gillespie. Over to Congressman Waxman now as promised to talk about the campaign fund- raising activities of the president and some of his criticism. You heard what Ed Gillespie said. This is nothing like Bill Clinton. It is not necessary to have a Congressional investigation and the kind of investigation you are calling for. What is your response?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, first of all, I'm not calling for a Congressional investigation.

SESNO: Hearings.

WAXMAN: ... or even hearings. What I'm pointing out is that the Republicans have spent $8 million in the last six years investigating everything the Democrats did, everything the Clinton Administration did. I was for an investigation on campaign finance in order to move some reform legislation forward but the Republicans didn't want to look at it in a balanced way. They only wanted to use it to beat up Democrats. But this idea of saying this is a thank you, and doesn't have any impact on policy is ridiculous.

That's why people these people are giving the money. The big tobacco industry, the big insurance companies, the big oil and gas people: they're there because they want access to this administration. They are there maybe to say thank you, we've got all the access and we are getting the policy we want.

It's the same thing. It's big money talking and that's why we need the McCain-Feingold bill. We have got to get rid of this soft money business. If the average Republican contributor gives $60, how many of those $60 contributors are going to be at the White House?

How many were at the vice president's house? They had give a quarter of a million dollars to get in there and that seems to me obscene and it's hypocritical for the Republicans to say oh, we are against it when Clinton does it but it's OK when our guys do it, we're just not going to even...

SESNO: Just to clarify, you say you are not calling for an investigation, but you have written to Congressman Dan Burton, who's head of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and you've asked him whether he's planning hearings. And you've all but suggested, or you have basically, called on him to do so.

WAXMAN: Well, that's not accurate. I wrote to him and said, since you've held all these hearings on the Democrats when Democrats did things like this, but not really quite the scale, and not with some of the same interest groups that want such access to policy, you did these hearings, are you going to hold hearings on what is going on with the Republican administration?

I want to point out the hypocrisy of the standard they use for Democrats and then it's all perfectly fine if it's Republicans.

SESNO: So, let me see if I got this right. You are saying that the visit by these donors to the vice president's residence, which is taxpayer funded, is inappropriate and is in some form, not merely a thank you, but is part of the access that their donations infer, correct?

WAXMAN: Absolutely. And that's what I said when the Clinton Administration did the same thing. And that's why I argued then and I argue now that we need the McCain-Feingold bill to stop this soft money flowing into politics where these big fat cat interest groups get so much influence over what goes on.

SESNO: But here's a question for you, I mean, can you tell the viewers right here and now that you have never had in your office either in your district or on Capitol Hill, someone who's made a donation to your campaign or party?

WAXMAN: Of course I have had people that made donations.

SESNO: Well, what's the difference? Isn't it the same thing?

WAXMAN: No, I haven't opened up my house or my office.

SESNO: But if it's an office, and your office is paid for with taxpayer money, isn't it the same thing?

WAXMAN: This is very much of a different thing. I've had people who've come in that have contributed to me, but I didn't say, all those who've contributed to me who are attending this big party where I'm going to raise $20 million, can come in to my public office and they can sit down with the staff, and they go over all the legislation and give me their points of view.

You know, we even have the situation where Vice President Cheney has been meeting in secret with big oil, big gas, nuclear power people. He didn't bring in the environmentalist. He didn't bring in the consumers. They don't -- they didn't even want to talk about this secret task force.

Republicans criticized Clinton when he had a health care task force that met in secret -- appropriately. Now they ignore the fact, and they hypocritically do it -- that the Republicans are giving special interests too much say.

SESNO: All right. Congressman Henry Waxman, appreciate it, and appreciate the explanation in terms of your letter to Congressman Burton in the investigation you're asking whether he's going to conduct.

WAXMAN: That's right.

SESNO: Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.

Well, the president's education bill survives another Congressional challenge. We will update that progress, ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

Also, are private tutoring programs the answer for struggling students? We go inside an after-school learning center to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SESNO: Turning to your schools now: education, and how that's making way through the nation's capital. The House of Representatives has narrowly approved an amendment to President Bush's big education reform plan. The amendment would allow block grants to two school districts in every state.

Democrats have called the amendment a poison pill, killing the whole legislation. But the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee tells CNN he is not sure if passage of the amendment will wind up killing the bipartisan bill or not. Earlier, the House beat back a major challenge to Mr. Bush's education package. It rejected an amendment that would have stricken annual student testing from a bipartisan bill aimed at holding schools accountable for student performance. The vote on that one, 255 to 173.

And as the House moves toward a final vote on the big education bill tomorrow, President Bush was due to meet this hour with about 20 GOP conservatives in an attempt to ease their opposition to the legislation and move forward on what he's called his top domestic priority: education reform. The voice -- rather, the House is expected to pass the education bill tomorrow, as we said, but without an element favored by those conservatives: private school vouchers.

If vouchers fail, as expected, there will still be help for kids in underperforming schools in another form: private after-school tutoring. For parents and students, this could be the most tangible benefit of Mr. Bush's bill.

How does tutoring work? CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" has a ground-zero look from a school in suburban Baltimore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): From the schoolhouse to the White House, the numbers hit with the force of a meteor. The results of the latest national reading test for 4th graders found no improvement for American students overall since 1992, with minority and low-income students still trapped far behind their classmates. Dismal results like those have prompted the sweeping rewrite of federal education law that Congress and President Bush are now negotiating.

One of the boldest ideas on the table: a new plan that says when schools persistently fail to improve student performance, Washington will provide parents public money to buy extra after-school tutoring, even from private companies like Sylvan Learning Systems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good topic sentence, good details, and your concluding sentence -- very good.

BROWNSTEIN: It's an idea already being road-tested at Grange Elementary School, outside of Baltimore. And that puts Principal Harry Belsinger at ground zero of the struggle to raise the grade for America's schools. HARRY BELSINGER, PRINCIPAL, GRANGE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: When we came here and I took a look at the assessment results with the staff and with the parents and everything, reading achievement was down. We were below the satisfactory level. The two previous years, you could see a decline. And we knew we needed to do something about it.

BROWNSTEIN (on camera): And now you've been doing this for what, six years?

BELSINGER: For six years.

BROWNSTEIN: What's the bottom line? Are you seeing results improve?

BELSINGER: The bottom line has been great. We've seen very positive results on all kinds of tests. We have 80 students in third grade. All but six of those students are on grade level in reading.

BROWNSTEIN: And that's higher than it would have been when you started this six years ago?

BELSINGER: It's much higher than it was six years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The object is words that help the sentence make sense.

BROWNSTEIN (voice-over): It's the hope of similar results that has Congress considering a greatly expanded role for private tutors in the public schools.

(on camera): There are a lot of educational groups, starting with the teachers unions, who worry about the precedent of bringing in private companies to provide services in the public schools. Was that an issue when you brought Sylvan in here, and how has it worked out over time?

BELSINGER: That was an initial issue. Any time you bring in an independent -- Sylvan, basically, is an independent contractor -- any time you bring in an independent contractor, that is a concern. But I think the success is if you can weave those services into your total school program, make them an integral part of your program, it will work.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, we're seeing in different parts of the country kind of a backlash against the testing, the increased use of testing, the very heavy focus on basics. Some parents saying: Look, the more creative aspects of school are being slighted in this desire to get test scores up. Do you worry that we're pushing too far in this direction?

BELSINGER: Well, I think we have to have some way to assess what we're doing. And you definitely have to have assessments. I know, I hear those things, too, that our boys and girls are being tested with a lot of different tests. But I think all of that goes together to help you determine that you are being successful, or what you need to improve in. BROWNSTEIN: So when the president says in these bills proposed: I'm going to test every kid in reading and math, every grade, three through eight, reward schools that do well, penalize schools that don't do well, and give parents these supplemental services when the results aren't going up -- is that an integrated program, in your mind, that makes sense?

BELSINGER: I think basically that's what we're doing in Baltimore County, except penalizing schools that aren't doing well. I think what you need to do is take a look and see what it is that those schools aren't doing well, and in many cases, they need extra support services.

The biggest challenges are, of course, is change in our own society -- the change with families, with both parents, if you have a two-parent family, with both parents having to work. Not being able to provide the supervision, the support that they used to provide, because they're being pulled in so many different directions. So the biggest advantage of having programs like this is that you can have that small-group, individualized help that children need.

BROWNSTEIN: Could you get the same effects in the regular public school if you had a smaller class size?

BELSINGER: Well, probably Sylvan wouldn't want to hear this, but yes, we could. We certainly could. I mean, common sense tells us that if you have one teacher working with four children, one teacher working with six children, you can get much more concentrated, differentiated instruction than if you have 24 children to deal with, or whatever your class size is.

BROWNSTEIN: So if you want results and test scores to go up, you're saying you have to put more teachers in the classroom, and that costs money?

BELSINGER: It costs a lot of money. And you also have to be very focused. You have to know exactly what you need to do to improve your instruction. My superintendent tells me that, at times, we have to work harder. And we do have to work harder to do that. But we also need the funding to do that, to have programs such as Sylvan and other things -- other support services.

BROWNSTEIN: I'm Ron Brownstein for INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And will Washington soon have another memorial for you to visit when you're here -- and to commemorate the past? Just ahead, Bruce Morton, on moving one step closer to the latest addition to the National Mall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: On Capitol Hill, the House gave its approval today to a bill expediting construction of a World War II memorial. The measure, now awaiting the president's signature is designed to speed up a process which had become mired in controversy and debate. Bruce Morton looks at the drawn-out effort to honor American's World War II veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They had a bald eagle at the groundbreaking last fall. They had the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This memorial is built not only for the children whose grandparents served in the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: Trouble is, it wasn't built. They never actually broke any ground. Congress approved a World War II memorial back in 1993. Everyone is for the idea. Critics say the one planned is too big, and will mar the sweep of the Mall between the Washington and Lincoln monuments.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: Anyone who loves the city and admires the uniqueness of Washington and the Mall could not possibly want the particular memorial that will go up.

MORTON: Maybe. But Monday night, the Senate unanimously approved construction, waiving more hearings and nullifying a lawsuit critics have brought.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Indeed, it is a symbol of the sacrifices of the entire generation, not only those who went abroad to the battlefields, but those here at home and their families.

MORTON: And Tuesday, the House, noting that the controversy over the memorial has lasted longer than the war, agreed.

REP. IKE SKELTON (D), MISSOURI: This bill puts an end to the discussion, the disagreements, and after 22 public hearings on its site and design, something needs to be done.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: The only reason it is not being constructed is, in fact, a technicality.

MORTON: And the veterans, of course, are getting older.

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: Let us build this memorial in a timely way.

MORTON: Approval came quickly.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: So many as are in favor, say "aye."

MORTON: Critics, including some veterans, still object. GEORGE IDELSON, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Personally, I don't think that America owes me a memorial. What I do think that Congress owes me is respect for the democracy for which I fought. And I am deeply offended by this riding roughshod over due process.

MORTON: Critics say they'll fight on.

JUDY SCOTT FELDMAN, NATIONAL COALITION TO SAVE OUR MALL: We go back to the courts. We don't believe that in our American system of government, where we have a legislative, executive and a judiciary, that the Congress can simply usurp the authority of the judiciary.

MORTON: Still, the legislation has now passed both House and Senate, and President Bush says he supports it. Construction could begin within two months.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And 42 years and thousands of votes. Up next, a high mark in one senator's service to his state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: On the Senate floor today, a bit of decorum. Minority Leader Tom Daschle taking a moment during the Senate tax debate to highlight a remarkable milestone in the career of a colleague.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: It was approximately 42 years ago that our colleague, the senior senator from West Virginia, cast his first vote. It was in January of 1959. He has cast votes consistently, virtually without missing a vote for now more than four decades. Robert C. Byrd just cast his 16,000th vote, and I want to congratulate our senior colleague on his accomplishment this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Daschle also noted that Senator Byrd would be celebrating another important occasion next week, his 64th wedding anniversary. Senator Byrd is 83.

The popular bumper stickers read "Hang up and drive!" And some members of Congress agree. Straight ahead: efforts under way in the House and Senate designed to get cell phones out of maybe your hands when you drive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... common sense, somebody on the telephone driving a car being distracted, and the answer is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: But should the United States Congress do something about that? We'll discuss a new bill designed to make cell-phone use safer.

Also ahead: Is the Bush administration's more active approach toward easing violence in the Middle East paying off?

And later: Washington prepares to open its doors to the Dalai Lama and the controversy that comes with him.

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

SESNO: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Judy is off today. I'm Frank Sesno.

It is an issue that's been gaining headway politically speaking and now the United States Congress will consider measures designed to crack down potentially on cell-phone use on the road.

As CNN's Jeanne Meserve explains, the lawmakers behind the proposal say they were fueled by their personal experience.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dialing and driving, a bad mix, Congressman Gary Ackerman decided one day, while he talked from his car on his cell phone.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: And my wife said, "You know, you're not really in your lane, you're all over the road." And it suddenly dawned on me that it's not just the other jerks that you see driving around.

MESERVE: Ackerman and Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey are proposing legislation that would withhold federal highway funds from states that do not ban cell-phone use in cars, though Corzine's bill would give states the option of allowing hands-free devices like ear pieces and headsets.

The accident that critically injured supermodel Niki Taylor was caused, the driver says, when he reached for a cell phone. And there also was the case of Jack E. Robinson, the U.S. Senate candidate from Massachusetts who was participating in a radio call-in show while driving his car.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK E. ROBINSON, MASSACHUSETTS SENATE CANDIDATE: Just because the governor doesn't think that there could be...

(CRASH)

I just got into an accident.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MESERVE: The driver of another car was to blame, but the perception exists that cell phones distract drivers and cause significant numbers of accidents.

MANTILL WILLIAMS, AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION: There is absolutely no evidence that suggests that cell phones alone are a major cause of accidents.

MESERVE: Even the head of the National Highway Safety Administration says banning cell phones in cars is premature, though 40 states are considering legislation and at least 10 localities have passed restrictions.

The cellular industry says, "Common sense can't be legislated," and the American Automobile Association points out that by facilitating the prompt reporting of accidents cell phones have actually saved lives, like another, once maligned, piece of equipment.

WILLIAMS: And as early as 1913, we were looking at banning windshield wipers because people believed that they were very distracting to drivers.

MESERVE (on camera): A couple of recent polls highlights a dilemma. In one, 67 percent said they would like to see a ban on using cell phones while driving, but when another poll asked, "Would you obey such a ban?" 61 percent said no.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And we're joined now by Representative Gary Ackerman of New York, who, as you heard, introduced that cell-phone legislation in the House.

Congressman, thanks for coming.

ACKERMAN: Thank you, Frank.

SESNO: All right. Truth in advertising, you use a phone in your car, I use a phone in the car. But eating, and you know, trying to get the kids to behave could be seen as just as distracting. Are you going to ban that, too?

ACKERMAN: Well, no, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I've seen people have a coke in one hand and a slice of pizza with the other and driving with their knee.

SESNO: So why pick on the cell phone?

ACKERMAN: Because with the cell phone we could -- we have the technology that says you don't have to hold the phone in order to talk.

You know, everything you do that distracts you from driving lends to the possibility that you could be in an accident, and to the probability. So if you're not -- if you're not watching because half the time you're on the phone, you're looking at the phone or trying to dial and see a number, if you're not listening to the sounds of the road because you're in a conversation and you're not concentrating, and then on top of that you're doing this all with one hand tied behind your back because you're holding up the phone, it really lends to it.

And with the technology that exists today, rather inexpensively we can talk hands-free.

SESNO: Now, you think that talking hands-free is somehow less distracting?

ACKERMAN: Oh, sure, it's less distracting. As a matter of fact, when they teach us how to drive, they make sure to tell us to keep both hands on the wheel and they tell us the positions to hold them. You know, it's...

SESNO: But if you're involved in a conversation, and maybe, you know, it can be hands-free and you still have to look down, you have to dial the thing -- that takes your eyes off the road. That could be dangerous, too.

ACKERMAN: Well, we don't want people to dial while they're driving either. You know, we're hoping...

SESNO: Well, then you're -- so then you're effectively banning cell phones in cars.

ACKERMAN: Well, no, we would -- we would like the states to do the interpretation of that and to fine tune these things as they're going have to deal with whatever the penalties would be.

SESNO: What would constitute safe use of a cell phone then, in your view, and what studies or statistics do you point to document or back up, you know, where you're coming from on it?

ACKERMAN: Well, there are several studies that have been done. Some of them -- some of them are older than other people point to. But the truth of the matter is it's very, very hard to document some of this because people don't like to admit they were on the cell phone when they were in accidents. Very few people do. All they have to do is take the phone, close it up and put it down or just put the phone down as a matter of fact. So it's hard to document.

But the studies indicate that 20 to 30 percent of all accidents are caused by people who are distracted in any number of ways. That's 4,600 per year. A growing number of that is because of cell-phone use. You're four times more likely to be in an accident if you're on the cell phone than not on the cell phone. And these numbers seem to hold up.

And as more and more people -- I mean, we have over hundred million people using cell phones now. So studies that were done two years ago, you know, are way out of date by at least -- at least 100 percent. SESNO: This would add -- this would add considerable cost to someone who wants to use a cell phone in a car. To get a hands-free device could be $75 to $100 if you have it installed and all of that. Is that fair or does that not then in a sense make cell-phone usage something that's going to be easier if you've got a lot of money? I mean, you can get the cell phone for almost nothing now when you sign up for service.

ACKERMAN: You can get a hands-free kit for $20. Is it fair? I think it's probably a lot less fair to try to go to that person's home and explain to his children that their father is never coming home again or paying for the cost of the funeral is probably a little bit more than a hands-free kit.

SESNO: How much support is there in the Congress and elsewhere for this?

ACKERMAN: How much support? I mean, this is early. We just introduced the legislation. I did a CNN chat today and the calls were pretty overwhelming in favor of the legislation. I saw a CNN poll that's going on right now that says, you know, we're well over 65 and closer to 70 percent of the public understands this. And it's really common sense.

Nobody wants to do it. Everybody understands that the more things that distract you while you're driving, the poorer, you know, your driving capability.

SESNO: We have a little headline under you now that says that states that don't comply would lose highway funds. It's something like the old 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. That was ultimately abandoned, and the states are allowed to set their own speed limits and make some of these determinations for their people, their drivers themselves. Why not the same with cell phones? Why should this be a federal government concern?

ACKERMAN: Well, it's a federal government concern because it's the -- it's the lives of the citizens of our country. It's the same reason that we require cars to have lights. Why should that be a federal government concern? Federal emissions standards -- all of those kinds of things are federal concerns.

And the highway 55 mile an hour, we put that in -- that worked and it did the job. The nation cut back on its consumption of petroleum by hundreds of billions of gallons while that was in effect, and thousands and thousands of lives were saved. Almost immediately, the statistics indicated that people were not dying at -- at the rate that they were when the speed limits were higher. And then when people were much more aware, we eased off.

And this will happen with this also: As technology advances, we won't need this, because all the phones will be voice-activated, you won't have to look down at them. All you'll have to do is say is, call home, call the office, and you could drive straight ahead without dialing.

SESNO: Or call mother.

ACKERMAN: Or call mother. Yeah, always call mother.

SESNO: Representative Gary Ackerman, thanks very much. I won't call you on your cell phone, but we appreciate your time here today in person.

ACKERMAN: Thank you.

SESNO: Appreciate it.

Well, for an opposing view on all of this, we're joined now by Adam Thierer of the Cato Institute. Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Thierer.

Now, your take on all of this.

ADAM THIERER, CATO INSTITUTE: Well, frankly, I don't understand why the congressman wants to create the equivalent of a federal cellular police force for this issue. And this is distinctly state and very much local in character.

The fact of the matter is, is we already have a fine public policy solution to this issue, which is enforce existing state and local reckless or negligent driving standards.

SESNO: Yeah, but that's going to be after-the-fact, isn't it? I mean, it's fine to call someone negligent, but if they've already cashed into you, it's kind of -- it's kind of a moot issue.

THIERER: But even if you support the restrictions on cell-phone use, we should at least make the distinction between what is a state or a local or parochial activity, and those which are national in character.

Why do we want to nationalize something like this when we're dealing with local traffic safety, which is a distinctly local matter?

SESNO: Which, of course, is a question that I put to Congressman Ackerman. But let me ask you this question: The federal government requires seat belts, that they be installed. The federal government requires passive restraint, or air bags. Why shouldn't the federal government say there's technology to put a cell phone in its cradle so you don't have to be holding it in one hand, dialing with another and steering with your knee?

THIERER: Well, that's basically an argument for nationalizing almost any safety matter under the sun. The fact of the matter is, is that under our federalist constitution we're supposed to have state and local powers for some things. One would think that policing the roads would be one of them.

But the fact of the matter is, as the congressman pointed out, technology is solving a problem it's already created here. These hands-free devices are available, people are using them. We're seeing integrated on-board communication systems built into cars today. In the future, you'll be able to talk to your car and say, call home, call mom, like you said, and the problem will be solved. I don't understand why we're having this federalization of this issue at this time.

SESNO: Is it safer on the roads, in your view, if people are not holding their cell phones in their hands, in one hand, and driving with another?

THIERER: Yes, I think obviously. There's no substitute for the good old-fashioned common horse sense that our high school driving instructors taught us, 10 and 2, keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes pointed straight ahead. And frankly, technology is allowing us to do that. I don't we need to mandate it be in existence.

SESNO: Do you do ever see somebody driving out there, though, they're right next to you, they are passing you, you know, what have you, and you're seeing them on the phone and wondering whether they're really paying attention to whether you're there?

THIERER: And I also see people tinkering with their car stereos, putting on make-up, or reading the newspaper.

SESNO: But I'm asking about the phone. That's what's at issue?

THIERER: Right, and frankly, cell phones can be a distracting activity. And if someone is veering into lanes and causing trouble or harm to others they should be pulled over and ticketed for that infraction.

But let's not start banning specific activities or technologies within the cabin of our cars. That really intrudes on our personal liberties, and creates a serious enforcement problem for police officers.

SESNO: Is it any more of an intrusion on personal liberties if it's done at a state level, as opposed to a federal level?

THIERER: No, it is very intrusive at both levels and I would disagree with a ban at either level because again, technology is solving the problem.

SESNO: Philosophically then, what does government do when it's an issue of safety? I mean, yes, I understand the CATO Institute and your position on this is Libertarian and that is that most people are grown-up and can look out for themselves.

THIERER: That's right.

SESNO: But in terms of a community and responsibility of one to the other, where is government's role then?

THIERER: Well, again, there is no substitute for personal responsibility. I mean, obviously, there is going be some standards having to do with how you drive on the road, but they should obviously be reasonable. And the fact of the matter is, we don't want to create the equivalent of a cellular Key Stone Cops to try to police all of this activity.

Existing standards dealing with reckless and negligent driving can handle these problems.

SESNO: How about some kind of regulations that lean on auto manufacturers to incorporate and accelerate the kind of technology that puts this in the dashboard of in the rear view mirror. We've seen some of that, it's voice activated. Your hand doesn't get anywhere near a cell phone.

THIERER: Well, again, I'm happy that automobile makers are doing this. I'm not sure why we'd want to mandated it. Some people might be annoyed by those features in their cars and want them disactivated or removed. But again, that's something that's going to happen with time. I don't want to see a mandate in place forcing automobile makers to install that when they don't think they want to.

SESNO: Adam Thierer of the CATO Institute. Thanks very much for your opposing viewpoint on this. We'll see where this one goes. Appreciate it. Be in touch as they say.

The Senate sponsor of that cell phone bill, by the way, Democrat Jon Corzine of New Jersey. He'll be a guest tonight on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." That's at 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific, right here as always, on CNN.

And reaction to the Mitchell Commission report on the Middle East just ahead. After eight months of violence, new calls for a cease- fire in the Middle East, new signs of a more activist role in the region.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: Turning our attention to international affairs: President Bush will speak by phone tomorrow with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. A State Department official tells CNN the call was requested by Mr. Sharon in the official's words, "to further explain Israel's positions on the Mitchell Report."

Against the backdrop of new, but less intense, street clashes on the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian officials today offered their early reactions to the Mitchell Report. The document, released yesterday, calls for an immediate cease-fire in the region, followed by a cooling off period and a timetable for new negotiations.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Sharon said he supports the idea of a general cease-fire, but he added, "the first thing that has to happen is an end to the terror."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I call upon our Palestinian neighbors that peace will only be attained if we talk, put a stop to the violence, you will find us a serious and responsible partner for the attainment of peace. But through violence, you will achieve nothing. Peace calls for painful compromises on both sides, but it is attainable only at the negotiating table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: A top Palestinian official today praised the Mitchell Report findings. But Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told CNN Mr. Sharon is responsible for the ongoing violence that began last September. And Erakat called on the U.S. to take a more active role in the pursuit of peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: What we need is for the United States, and we appreciate very much what Mr. Powell said yesterday, to convene a summit or working level for all the participants of the Mitchell Report in order for that one, we can put mechanics implementation and time line and monitoring elements in this report. We're really in bad need for such a meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Earlier today, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Indyk is also trying to set up a meeting with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

A three-day U.S. visit by the president of Taiwan is the latest pressure point on U.S. relations with China. The president's New York stopover has included visits to several popular sites and meetings with U.S. politicians. More on the visit, and the larger issues at stake, from CNN'S Richard Roth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Though billed as a transit stopover, the trip by Taiwan's president to New York had all the trappings of a state visit. The motorcade of President Chen Shui- Bian seemed to be everywhere, arriving at some famous addresses. From Wall Street's Stock Exchange to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a high profile schedule on this first ever visit by a Taiwan president to New York City.

PROF. ANDREW NATHAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: It's a marker of the tilt by the Bush administration towards Taiwan that they're allowing him to make a transit in the Big Apple in that while he's here, they're allowing him a little more latitude in his activities by previous Taiwan presidents have been allowed.

ROTH: The government of China is not looking for post cards.

A government spokesman said the visit violates U.S.-Chinese agreements and will harm U.S.-China relations. But the U.S. considers the president's three-day New York visit a mere stop on his way to Latin America.

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: President Chen has done this before. So no, we don't see why there should be any impact on the relationship with the Peoples Republic Of China. ROTH: Disagreement, too, in the street outside the president's hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unification yes, separation no!

ROTH: Inside his hotel, the president received a U.S. congressional delegation.

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: I think it's time that China understand, mainland China understand that we in America are going to speak to world leaders.

ROTH: The mayor of New York, sometimes at odds with world political figures, also went to the president's hotel for a meeting, he said, between old friends.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: It was a visit -- it was a visit and the State Department said it was OK to visit with him. So, you can now go make a big deal out of it in some distorted way if you want. It's your job.

ROTH: In the media capital of the world, it's coverage that counts. The president of Taiwan got it, and hopes it helps build support in the U.S. for Taiwan.

Richard Roth, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: Another visit and more Chinese objections, as Tibet's exiled spiritual leader brings his cause to the nation's capitol. A preview of his visit when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: There is more INSIDE POLITICS coming up. But first, let's go to Lou Dobbs for a preview of what's ahead at the bottom of this hour on "MONEYLINE." Hello, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "MONEYLINE": Hello, Frank. Thank you.

Coming up on "MONEYLINE": Ford launches a public relations lobbying offensive against Firestone. Ford says the Firestone tires had a substantial failure risk, and the company is taking a huge charge to pull those tires off their vehicles.

Tonight, we'll be talking with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the Bush administration's policies. And Senator John McCain will be joining us to talk about some last-minute roadblocks to passing those tax cuts. All of that coming up on "MONEYLINE." Please join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, arrived in the nation's capital today, the eighth stop on his nine-city U.S. tour. Tomorrow, the Dalai Lama will meet with President Bush at the White House. He is expected to ask the president to help him open a dialogue with China, despite the strained relations between Washington and Beijing. CNN's Eileen O'Connor has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A formal meeting between President Bush and the Dalai Lama would be seen as an important step by the people of the Dalai Lama's homeland, Tibet, a small, mountainous enclave in China, where human rights groups and Western governments say the people have been persecuted by Beijing for their Buddhist traditions and culture.

JOHN ACKERLY, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR TIBET: The most important thing, of course, is the follow-up, what Bush is really willing to do and how much he is willing to pursue this issue.

O'CONNOR: Supporters of Tibetan autonomy worry strained relations between China and the United States over the downed EP-3 surveillance flight could mean the U.S. is more reluctant to raise the issue of human rights abuses in Tibet with the Chinese.

Or conversely, it could make Tibet's demands a convenient weapon, highlighting what critics call the oppressiveness of the Chinese regime. Legislation just introduced in Congress gives some humanitarian aid to Tibet and pushes the administration to pressure China into negotiations with the Dalai Lama.

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: What is critical is to line up people who, for a variety of reasons, want to send a message to the Chinese that we want to be their friends, but we cannot deny our values.

O'CONNOR: Supporters say making the case for Tibet nowadays should be easier, given China's desire to gain greater acceptance on the global stage. The Dalai Lama himself has backed away from demands for full independence, saying a form of autonomy, like that given to Hong Kong, will do.

ACKERLY: I think the Dalai Lama believes that the U.S. can really help the two sides get to the table, but necessarily be a broker.

O'CONNOR (on camera): Supporters of Tibet say this official White House meeting and the appointment of a higher-ranking U.S. coordinator for Tibet policy certainly sends the right signals, that the Bush administration takes Tibet's demands seriously, and so should China.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course you go online all the time, at CNN's allpolitics.com, AOL keyword, "CNN." Our e-mail address is insidepolitics@cnn.com. And this programming note: tonight on "CROSSFIRE," political party fund-raising. It's back in the news. Former Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho and former Republican chairman Haley Barbour will be the guests. That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.

I'm Frank Sesno. Lou Dobbs' "MONEYLINE" is up next.

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