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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Congressman Gary Condit Issues State About the Chandra Levy Mystery; President Bush Reviewing Government's Policy on Stem Cell Research

Aired June 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: In the Chandra Levy mystery, new comments from Congressman Gary Condit.

The Bush administration is under the microscope on an issue that involves science, politics, religion and abortion. And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: God bless America, you dumb Polack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: ... we remember Carroll O'Connor, Archie Bunker, and how they captured the politics of the times.

Now Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. I'm Jeanne Meserve sitting in for Judy today.

Congressman Gary Condit has tried to keep his public statements about Chandra Levy to a minimum ever since the government intern disappeared more than seven weeks ago. But for the second time in as many days, the California Democrat has issued a statement in connection with the case following a meeting with Levy's mother last night. Let's get more from our correspondent on this story, Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only his mother but his lawyer, and the lawyer for the Levys, both of whom have just been retained, both Washington lawyers. Congressman Condit did, in fact, have this meeting. He had said he wanted it. The family, when they came to town, said they wanted it. And so that meeting occurred in private last night.

And then today we had dueling statements. We did have one from Congressman Condit where he acknowledged that, in fact, that meeting had occurred and then he went on to say that he has been contact with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to say that he wants to provide whatever information he can provide. They've been trying to seek a second interview, but he said, "I called them today to schedule the interview and hopefully will occur sooner rather than later." And of course, all of this is about the Chandra Levy matter, and this is the intern, former intern who left Washington, of was about to leave Washington when she disappeared on April 30th. And there have been persistent accusations that Congressman Condit had a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy. The Congressman has consistently denied it.

His statement was countered by one from the attorney for the Levys, who put out a statement saying: "We would ask that the Congressman meet immediately with the D.C. Police today for as long as necessary to answer any and all questions related to this investigation. In addition, we would hope that the congressman would commit to meet with all others working on this case, including the FBI and our own investigators."

Now, the attorney for the Levys is Billy Martin. He is long experienced as an investigator. He has put together an investigative team. No response whatsoever from the Condit side, that he would, in fact, meet with the attorneys and the investigators for Chandra Levy. As a matter of fact, there has not been the actual interview by the D.C. Police Department set up. It's quite possible that that would happen this weekend.

MESERVE: Why hadn't it taken place before now?

FRANKEN: Well, both sides say that there has been a scheduling problem. Neither has been able to get together and say, OK, I can put out a chunk of time to do this interview.

MESERVE: Nothing new in the whereabouts of Chandra Levy?

FRANKEN: Nothing that we are aware of, in any case.

MESERVE: OK, Bob Franken, thanks so much for joining us.

From the Justice Department today, a denial of Senator Robert Torricelli's request for a special counsel to investigate his 1996 campaign fund raising. The New Jersey Democrat had complained of rampant leaks to the media and he questioned whether the investigation is politically motivated by Republicans hoping to tilt the Senate back to G.O.P. control.

But the Justice Department says Torricelli's concerns do not rise to the most extraordinary circumstances that would warrant a special counsel. Torricelli and his lawyers say they strongly disagree with that decision. Torricelli has denied any wrongdoing involving his campaign and personal finances.

Now, we turn to a very different kind of controversy that has the White House divided. The president is considering whether to allow federal funding for stem cell research. His decision could have major implications for scientists searching for new medical treatments. It could have considerable political implications for Mr. Bush, as well. CNN's Kelly Wallace has more on the stem cell debate and what is at stake.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a thorny issue for President Bush, one that divides the White House, even the Republican party: Whether federal tax dollars should pay research for human embryos. During the campaign, the president said he did not believe tax dollars should be used. And in this letter last month to an antiabortion rights group, he repeated that sentiment, saying, quote. "I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying living human embryos," but said he supported research on stem cells from adult tissue.

His administration is in the midst of a review of Clinton Administration guidelines which had not yet been implemented, allowing federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells only after the cell have been removed from embryos with private funds.

Scientists believe such research could lead to revolutionary new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and some types of cancer. The administration is split, though, with Health And Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, a strong advocate of federally funded research and the president's top political adviser Karl Rove said to be concerned about angering conservatives, especially catholic voters whom this president has been trying to woo, and who believe an embryo represents a human life.

RICHARD DOERFLINGER, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: No administration in U.S. history has ever funded research that relies on researchers killing human beings at any stage, even embryos. He does not want to be the first president, I hope, in U.S. history to fund that.

WALLACE: The debate has led to some strange bedfellows. With antiabortion rights supporters such as Thompson and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah in the same camp with abortion rights activists, believing such research is necessary and moral.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: These cells are going to be thrown away. They're going to be discarded, they're going to be killed, if you will. Why can't we take the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) potent cells from them and utilize them for the best benefits of mankind?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: The president's decision is expected sometime in July, and despite Mr. Bush's comments, one senior aide said nobody knows which way he will go. But the administration certainly knows the president runs the risk of alienating conservatives and Catholics or being viewed as standing in the way of science -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Kelly, is the White House considering any compromise proposal on research?

WALLACE: Well, there appear to be some compromises floating around, such as only allowing federal funding of research on embryos from fertility clinics that were going to be discarded, or just allowing research on embryos that are just a few days to a couple of weeks old. Still, though, Jeanne, Catholics would not find either of these compromises acceptable or any other compromise acceptable.

And so if the president does side with some compromised approach when it comes to research, he could anger Catholics and conservatives and this could have implications for next year's elections and also for 2004 -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Kelly Wallace at the White House. Thank you.

Meanwhile, in the Senate today, Democrats are fighting to keep their patients' rights bill alive. They beat back an amendment which they called a Republican ploy to sink the measure. And they denounced President Bush's threat of a veto with help from a G.O.P. ally. CNN's Patty Davis has the latest from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Leaders of the major HMO reform bill in the Senate are vowing to fight on after President Bush's veto threat.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that there's either a misunderstanding or a failure to comprehend what this legislation is all about in the message that was sent over in a threat veto.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I thought that veto letter sounded like it was written by the HMOs.

DAVIS: Those who are fighting the bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, say the president won't sign it because it encourages frivolous lawsuits.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: There is no question in my mind this president, if that Kennedy bill passes unamended, will veto it. He's told me that personally, he's told me that in writing, he's told it to the American people.

DAVIS: On the Senate floor both sides are digging in. Republicans in the first big push to change the bill are working to prohibit lawsuits against employers.

SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: And if we make it possible in any shape, form, or fashion to sue employers who are helping people buy health insurance, all over America, small and large health -- small and large employers are going to cancel their health insurance.

DAVIS: Other changes Republicans will be seeking include building in a more exhaustive appeals process before a patient can head to court, limiting lawsuits that can be heard in state court, and lower limits on damages that patients can seek from HMOs.

Democrats meanwhile are working to keep supporters onboard and hold off any changes to the bill, which would allow patients to sue in state and federal court and include higher damages. Meanwhile, Senate leaders from both parties say they may be open to a compromise being drafted in the House by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, allowing limited lawsuits in state courts. But Republican Congressman Charlie Norwood, who is backing an expansive patient rights bill in the House, attacked the possible compromise as not going far enough. In a statement, Norwood said, "It is distressing that this proposed compromise actually seeks to further erode patients' rights and offers additional legal protections for HMOs that improperly deny care."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Now, Senate moderates who are key to passing any reform are working on compromised proposals of their own on two key issues: The scope of any lawsuits, as well as lawsuits against employers. Now the Senate is expected to possibly come to final passage of this next week -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Debate does resume next week, Patty. What should we look for?

DAVIS: Well, Senator Gramm has an amendment that is being debated right now, that is preventing employers from being sued. that comes up for a vote as early as Tuesday. Democrats say that if Republicans lose that vote on that crucial amendment, that that will weaken the Republicans' hand. And they are certainly hoping that will happen when that comes up for a vote on Tuesday -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Patty Davis on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much.

And we have more now on patient's rights and other possible headaches for the president. Mr. Bush is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Our White House correspondent, Major Garrett, joins us from Crawford. Major, does the White House believe it's going to get a patients' bill of rights the president can sign, and if so, when?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, it is optimistic that it will get a bill that it can sign. But there is a lot that they are going to have to go through, a lot of victories they are going to have to achieve to get there. As Patty Davis just outlined, there is a crucial Senate vote next week on this Republican amendment to protect businesses from being sued.

If Republicans can attract enough moderate Democratic senators to support that amendment, they believe their hand is incredibly strengthened, because that will make that Senate bill, when it finally passes, look more like the compromised House bill that Speaker Hastert is pushing, which Patty Davis also referred to.

The whole key for the White House strategy right now is to get reasonable bills into conference and then White House wants to exert its maximum influence in a conference committee between the House and the Senate to limit the exposure of HMOs to lawsuits from patients, limit the amount of money that can be achieved in each of those lawsuits, because that, they believe, will protect many Americans who have health insurance coverage from losing it.

If businesses fear big lawsuits, big damage awards, they will eliminate coverage entirely. The White House believes that's too high a price to pay for an HMO bill of rights. That's where they're going to exert the maximum influence, in that conference committee. If they lose that vote in the Senate next week, then their hand is significantly weakened and they'll have to try a brand-new strategy -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Major, the president's energy and environmental policies have taken a few hits in recent days. How is the White House responding?

GARRETT: Well, the White House is basically just trying to tough it out right now. It is clear in the House of Representatives and clearer still, in the Senate, that the president's energy and environmental policies have absolutely -- well, not no support, but very little support among Republicans.

There was a vote last night in the House of Representatives. It was on an amendment to the interior appropriations bill. What did that amendment call for? It called for extending a moratorium on offshore drilling off the coast of Florida, something the Interior Department has said it is interested in doing and is studying. That vote went decidedly against the administration. Seventy House Republicans voted against the White House to extend that ban for 6 months.

The White House didn't even see the defeat coming. Some of its top allies within House Republican leadership didn't see it coming. House Republicans said, look, when it comes to the environment and energy, any House Republican who fears that his constituents don't agree with the president, and polls reflect more and more constituents don't agree with the president, they're not going to side with him.

So the White House is basically trying to push whatever it can, but understanding it's going to encounter substantial opposition, not just from Democrats but from members of its own party.

MESERVE: Major, let me ask you about something that seems to have fallen off the radar to some agree, that is the president's faith-based initiative. What is its status now?

GARRETT: The president is trying to elevate the status of the faith-based initiative. There's really two tracks. There's the rhetorical track: The president will make another speech about faith- based initiatives Monday when he appears before the U.S. Conference of Mayors. On July 4 he's going to give yet another speech touting faith-based initiatives. But the reality is, on the legislative track it's running into all sorts of problems.

The White House had hoped and had asked Republican leaders to get that bill to the floor next week, but that's not going to happen -- why? Well, because the Judiciary Committee who has to write a significant part of that legislation couldn't get its work done this week. There are all sorts of Constitutional problems that House Republican leaders see with the legislation. They haven't been able to resolve them. They don't see the political weight behind them to resolve them. So that bill is stalled. The White House is going to try to reevaluate it, but senior White House advisers have conceded that when it comes to faith-based initiatives the president is very much for it, but his legislative team has been so focused on passing the education reform bill and the president's huge tax cut, that faith-based initiatives has fallen off the radar screen, suffers, as one White House adviser said, from "back burner syndrome."

MESERVE: Major Garrett from a bucolic setting in Crawford, Texas. Thanks so much.

And from energy to the environment, how did the president fare this week? We'll ask our roundtable guests for their assessment of the politics and the president's performance. Plus, a key caucus state is becoming a hot summer destination. A look at the very early presidential hopefuls and their overtures in Iowa.

But first:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANDY CROWLEY (voice-over): It was the role of a lifetime. In a sitcom that captured a political time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Candy Crowley on a television icon of a turbulent era, and the actor who brought him into American homes, when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: If God had meant us to be together, he'd have put us together. But look what he done, he put you over in Africa, he put the rest of us in all the white countries.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMMY DAVIS JR., ACTOR: Well, you must have told him where we were, because somebody came and got us.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: A reminder in that clip from "All In The Family" of Carroll O'Connor's talent and the politically incorrect views of his legendary TV character Archie Bunker. O'Connor's death yesterday of a heart attack at age 76 has triggered a flood of memories for many Americans.

CNN's Candy Crowley has been thinking about O'Connor and the mark he left on our culture, and on our political dialogue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: With this, I call this representative government. Salvatori, Feldman, O'Riley, Nelson -- it's and Italian, a Jew, an Irishman and a regular American there. That is what I call a balanced ticket.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It was the role of a lifetime in a sitcom that captured a political time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warning: The program you are about to see is "All In The Family." It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It was 1971: hard hats against hippies. My country, love it or leave it, versus the peace movement. War was raging in Vietnam and on U.S. streets. And into American living rooms came what's been called the most indelible character in television history: Archie Bunker, played by Shakespearean actor, Carroll O'Connor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: This is America -- land that I love...

ROB REINER, ACTOR: I love it too, Mr. Bunker. It's because I do that I protest when I think things are wrong.

O'CONNOR: ... and stand beside her, and guide her.

(LAUGHTER)

O'CONNOR: Through the night with the light from above.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Weekly for 50 million viewers, life at the Bunker household in Queens, New York, played out the tempers of the time, taking on the taboo, and the touchy, from the war to Watergate to women's liberation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: Pull that skirt down. Every time you sit down in one of them things the mystery's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: In 1971, racial tensions were raw, smoldering still from the urban riots of the late 60's. Archie Bunker was a middle aged, working-class, white male whose fear of the changing world around him laid bare his bigotry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: You don't know nothing about Lady Liberty standing there in the harbor with her torch on high screaming out to all the nations in the world: Send me your poor, your deadbeats, your filthy. And all the nations sent them in here! They come swarming in like ants! The Spanish (UNINTELLIGIBLE), your Japs, your Chinamen, your Krauts and your Hebes.

(LAUGHTER)

O'CONNOR: All of them come in here and they're all free to live in their own separate sections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Portrayed as more ignorant than venal, alternately appalling and appealing, Archie embodied a major shift in America's political landscape. The exodus of socially conservative, white, working-class males from the Democratic Party to the Republican.

They elected Richard Nixon in '68. They reelected him in '72.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: This country was ruined by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You're fat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Carroll O'Connor was not Archie Bunker, of course. He was, in fact, a liberal activist described by friends as an intellect and profound thinker.

Still, decades after the show ended, people still called him Archie, and there were parts of Archie that O'Connor understood. In particular, his nostalgia for a simpler past, the way things were.

O'CONNOR AND STAPLETON (singing): Guys like us we had it made. Those were the days.

CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: And Carroll O'Connor's funeral will be Tuesday in Los Angeles. The actor will be the subject of a special "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Joining the tribute will be O'Connor's friends and costars, including Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, Denise Nicholas, Bonnie Hunt and Angie Dickenson.

And now let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, was there a real political significance to Archie Bunker's character?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Jeanne, there was an enormous irony about the character of Archie Bunker. Archie Bunker was supposed to be a kind of ridiculous figure that you laughed at. He had a lot of foolish prejudices.

But instead he became an icon, kind of a beloved figure. He expressed the resentments of a lot of Americans. You know, we used to talk about the Archie Bunker vote back in the '70s. Those were the urban ethnic whites in northern cities who felt a lot of resentment at African-Americans and who started voting for cop candidates like Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia.

And like Rizzo, a lot of them ended up becoming Republicans. And there's another irony: Archie Bunker was not a white ethnic, he was a WASP. His liberal son-in-law was a white ethnic.

MESERVE: Race, often the topic of conversation on the show. With the country becoming more diverse, are tensions between races becoming more intense, or less so?

SCHNEIDER: Well Jeanne, I'd say they're becoming more complex. Here's some evidence from a new Gallup Poll: Most whites believe racial minorities in this country have equal job opportunities with whites. Very few African-Americans believe that. What's interesting is, Hispanics side with whites. Nearly half of Hispanics say minorities have the same job opportunities as whites do, even though, according to this morning's "Washington Post," almost as many Hispanics as blacks report that they've experienced discrimination.

MESERVE: And are they angry?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that may be the key to the differences we just saw. Most blacks are angry, most Hispanics are not. Here's the evidence: Most whites and Hispanics report they're satisfied with the way things are going in the country right now. A lot fewer blacks feel that way.

MESERVE: How do these differences show up, or do they show up in politics?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they really do. And there's some good news here for President Bush, who has made a real effort to reach out to Hispanic voters; and it's working. Here's the evidence: A solid majority of both whites and Hispanics approve of the job Bush is doing as president. Bush's approval rating among blacks is much, much lower. Blacks remain an angry minority. Hispanics have experienced a lot of discrimination, but they seem less angry; and anger does not drive their politics nearly as much.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, thanks so much.

And a father prepares to bury his children as his wife faces capital murder charges: The latest from Houston as we check the day's other top stories when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The mother accused of killing her five children appeared briefly before a judge in Houston today. There's still no word on what her defense will be. Afterwards, 36-year-old Andrea Yates met with court- appointed attorney. She's been charged with capital murder. Police say Yates admitted drowning her children in a bathtub Wednesday. The father, Russell Yates, says his wife was suffering from depression and wasn't herself. Prosecutors could seek the death penalty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE OWMBY, PROSECUTOR: The death penalty, and the way it's applied in Texas, depends on the crime, the individual, and the combination of all that, and justice. And I can't say that the crime alone is the determining factor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: A parole decision in Britain has sparked outrage today as word comes that two killers will be set free after serving eight years in jail. Robert Thompson and John Venables were only 10 when they tortured and killed 2-year-old James Bulger in 1993. Today Britain's national parole board decided the young men, now 18, will be on probation the rest of their lives. They will also receive new identities.

Victims' advocates are angry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORMAN BRENNAN, VICTIMS OF CRIME TRUST: Some of the children in this country as young as 10, 11 and 12, are committing the most heinous crimes. Now, if we keep making excuses and giving them weak sentences and not sending out the message of punishment, then what message does that send out to the next generation that this generation has to do the best for? There has to be a punishment element as well as rehabilitation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: In India at least 34 people are dead and hundreds are injured after a train derailed today. It was crossing a bridge in the southern part of the country when three cars plunged into the water. Another car was dangling from the bridge. Rescue and recovery crews say they don't expect to find many more bodies. Authorities have set up a phone line for families of the passengers.

There was more bloodshed in the Middle East today. The military wing of the Islamic group Hamas claims responsibility for a suicide bombing in Gaza. Two Israeli soldiers were killed, a third slightly wounded. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, Israeli troops responded with tank and machine gun fire; two Palestinians were wounded.

A funeral was held today for the third New York firefighter killed in a fire explosion on Father's Day. John Downing was killed Sunday fighting a hardware store fire in Queens. Thousands of firefighters from around the country were on hand. Downing is survived by his wife and two young children. Funerals for the other two firefighters, Brian Fahey and Harry Ford, were held yesterday.

The man who could sing the blues: John Lee Hooker is being remembered as the bluesman who inspired generations of musicians. Bonnie Raitt says Hooker's legacy will never die. Born in the Mississippi Delta in 1917, Hooker recorded his first hit, "Boogie Chillen'" in 1948. From that point his career soared. John Lee Hooker died yesterday at his home in California. He was 83.

Looking to 2004; when INSIDE POLITICS continues: White House hopefuls making some important visits from Iowa to Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Checking our political calendar, which finds several 2004 presidential possibilities on the road this weekend. Senator Joe Lieberman will be in Florida tomorrow, speaking to a Democratic dinner. Meanwhile, Bill Bradley will be in Iowa for a Democratic fund-raiser. On Sunday, the Teamsters Union convenes its annual gathering this year in Las Vegas. And Senator John Kerry will join those who have made the trek to Iowa. He'll be attending a fund- raiser for Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack.

Iowa, of course, kicks off the race for the White House with its February caucuses, the first real test of how the candidates are doing. And according to our next guest, the courting of Iowa has already begun for 2004.

Mike Glover of The Associated Press joins us from west Des Moines.

Mike, hi; it's sort of like the swallows returning to Capistrano, isn't it?

MIKE GLOVER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: After a very brief disappearance. They don't go away for long, and they come back early and often. And that's already started, as you said.

MESERVE: OK, and who's in this weekend? Bill Bradley?

GLOVER: We have Bill Bradley paying his second visit to Iowa since the election, and John Kerry coming in on Sunday for his first visit. He's already done a conference call with Iowa reporters to set the stage and make it clear that he's very interested in 2004. In fact, the word he used was: "The door is open."

MESERVE: No matter what Al Gore decides to do?

GLOVER: He has said, and he was asked that question, what will your decision be if -- should Al Gore decide to run again? And his answer was, there is no incumbent, it's a wide-open field, I make my decision independent of what everybody else has to say or has to do.

And it's a message a lot of Iowans, I think, are trying to get through to the former vice president: He needs to send a signal at some point fairly quickly of whatever his intentions are, or his intentions aren't, or people are going to start looking elsewhere.

MESERVE: Have there been any stirrings from the former vice president's camp?

GLOVER: Absolutely none. And some of the people who were closest to him during the last campaign have raised this issue with him and have told me they've gotten no indication at all that he wants to send the sort of signals that a lot of people are telling him he needs to send right now. I think he genuinely wants to stay out of it for right now.

MESERVE: Tell me about Bill Bradley. He got thwacked in the Iowa caucuses last time around. What did he get, 35 percent of the vote? What's the outlook for him in 2004 if he decides to make a run?

GLOVER: A much better outlook, I think, in 2004, should he decide to run again. And, of course, he's spending a lot of his time assisting, and he's not thinking about running again -- but while he's doing all of the things he need to do to run again.

He would be a very attractive candidate. The problem he had last time was that the major elements that make up the power base of the Democratic Party, let's face it, were locked up by the White House. There was an incumbent vice president running, and major elements of power within the Democratic Party were not going to bolt from him.

It is a more wide-open field this time, and Bill Bradley brings some attractiveness to the race. He's a seasoned politician,he's an attractive politician. He's got a message that resonates with many Democrats. So I think his chances are a lot better this time.

There were a lot of Iowans in the last campaign who told me they liked Bill Bradley, they just couldn't bolt from a sitting vice president.

MESERVE: And you've had some other, perhaps, wannabes come to Iowa, too, haven't you -- John Edwards, Dick Gephardt.

GLOVER: John Edwards was out here; Dick Gephardt has had the Democratic National Committee members from both Iowa and New Hampshire in for receptions in Washington.

And Jeanne, we can't forget there's also been a lot of activity on the other side of the aisle. President Bush has been here three times since he took office. He's had three Cabinet secretaries out here in that brief time, and the attorney general's coming out next weekend.

He clearly is trying to build a firewall against some kind of upstart challenge in four years. Remember, his father was damaged by a challenge from the right by Pat Buchanan. He's clearly taking a lot of steps to make sure that doesn't happen.

MESERVE: Gee, who might that upstart challenge come from?

(CROSSTALK)

MESERVE: Go ahead.

GLOVER: Senator John McCain skipped this state last time.

MESERVE: That's right, he did.

Are there any big, important issues dominating the agenda this time around?

GLOVER: Sure. The economy out here is not that great. In fact, it's slowing down pretty fast. The farm economy is in big trouble. The farm bill is not all that popular out here, so there's a lot of talk about that.

This is also an old state, so issues like prescription drugs and Medicare and Social Security always resonate pretty well with voters out here.

MESERVE: OK, Mike Glover of The Associated Press, thanks a lot for joining us from west Des Moines.

GLOVER: Thank you, Jeanne.

MESERVE: And now on to Florida. It's always a critical state in the race for the White House and, lest we forget, the deciding factor in the 2000 election. The buzz right now: the upcoming governor's race, which could pit incumbent Jeb Bush against former Attorney General Janet Reno.

Joining us from the Sunshine State, reporter Steve Bousquet of "The St. Petersburg Times."

Steve, thanks a lot for joining us.

STEVE BOUSQUET, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Hi, Jeanne.

MESERVE: A vote yesterday in the House that indicates there's not going to be oil drilling off the coast of Florida. What's the impact on that going to be on Jeb Bush?

BOUSQUET: Well, Jeb Bush has taken the position opposite his own brother, the president, that we shouldn't have offshore drilling anywhere within 100 miles of the state, including those areas off Louisiana, Mississippi and so forth that are close to the -- close to the Florida border.

So -- you know, Social Security used to be the so-called third rail of politics in Florida -- touch it and you die. I think off- shore oil drilling has replaced Social Security. Overwhelmingly it's off the charts -- the opposition to off-shore drilling. And most Floridians like Jeb Bush's position a lot more than his brother's on that issue.

MESERVE: So how vulnerable, at this point, is Jeb Bush?

BOUSQUET: I think his vulnerability is overstated. His popularity has remained solid in the polls. He's an incumbent; he'll have all the money he needs. I think Floridians need an overwhelming reason to throw out an incumbent.

Now, the thing is, though, is that there's a buzz going on. People are talking about the Democrats. At this point, 18 months before the next election, I think the talk -- you would have expected the talk to be about Jeb Bush's invincibility, but the Democrats, largely because of Janet Reno, are created a buzz out there, and so the Democrats are happy with the way things look at the moment.

MESERVE: Now, Reno certainly has named recognition, but was she mortally wounded politically in Florida with the Elian Gonzalez case?

BOUSQUET: No. She was with Hispanic voters, of course; but many Hispanics are going to vote for the Republican candidate anyway. A recent poll conducted -- a head-to-head poll between Janet Reno and Jeb Bush done by "The Miami Herald" showed that the Elian Gonzalez issue was really only an important issue among Hispanic voters. And I think as you go further north in Florida, many Floridians will agree that Janet Reno's position, and that of the Justice Department, was the right one in reuniting Elian with his father.

MESERVE: Let's talk for a minute about race, which, you know, the after-effects of the presidential election. Is race going to be an important dynamic, and the after-effect of the election going to be an important part of the dynamic in the gubernatorial race?

BOUSQUET: Very important issue. It's going to be an important, overriding issue for the next 18 months. It's going to always be there in the background, if not in the foreground.

There is the whole issue of the perceived disenfranchisement of a lot of black voters in places like Jacksonville in the presidential election. There is Jeb Bush's decision to replace affirmative action programs with his own initiative on hiring and contracting. There's the fact that we had an unprecedented turnout by African-American voters in the presidential election in 2000.

So Democrats feel that they can build on what happened in 2000. You also have an African-American candidate beginning to test the waters for governor. He's state senator of Daryl Jones from Miami. He'll be one of those six Democrats speaking at that dinner in Miami Beach tomorrow night.

MESERVE: And Joe Lieberman is also going to be speaking. Let's talk a little about him, and his forays down into Florida.

BOUSQUET: Well, Joe Lieberman is incredibly popular, especially along the Gulf Coast, where you have, No. 1, a lot of the transplanted Northeasterners, and you have a high -- the highest proportion of Jewish voters -- among the highest in the United States. As a matter of fact, Jeanne, the Democrats tell me that Joe Lieberman is the key-note speaker. He'll go on a little late tomorrow night at the Fountain Blue Hotel. Tomorrow, being the Jewish Sabbath, he will not speak until after dark, somewhere between 9:00 and 9:30. It turns out tomorrow's one of the longest days of the year, in terms of sunlight.

Joe Lieberman still has a tremendous following in Florida. No question about it.

MESERVE: Steve Bousquet of the "St. Petersburg Times." We've got to leave it there, but thanks so much for joining us today.

BOUSQUET: Thanks.

MESERVE: A mystery and the media. Ahead, our roundtable considers the disappearance of Chandra Levy and the media interest in her connection to a congressman.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: And now, to our Friday roundtable. This week's guests: Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times," our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and in New York, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Welcome, all.

Ron, let me start with you in the case of Chandra Levy. Does this story and this coverage give you, as a journalist, a bit of a queasy stomach?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, yes. I mean, it really feels like the beginning of the Monica Lewinsky story, where you had kind of aggressions' law of information in effect -- bad -- bad information driving out good. I think it's very difficult for average viewers and readers to have a sense of what is confirmed and what is not. We've had stories come out, be modified, adjusted, what do the parents think about the relationship, and so forth. So we're in a little bit of that frenzy at the beginning of one of these stories, and you get the sense at the end of the day that people can be as -- more confused than they were when the day began, often.

MESERVE: Jeff, what do you make of Condit's behavior in this?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: You know, I don't know, because he hasn't told us. But what I do make of our behavior is that this a story that is composed of two parts: one, the worst thing that two parents can face, not knowing whether their kid is alive or dead; and then the story that assumes a sexual relationship between a Congressman and an intern, in no small measure because the behavior of Bill Clinton helped make "intern" a salacious punchline of a joke.

Anybody who claims there's anything else to this story, other than this kind of, "gee, did he or didn't he," I think, is kidding himself. And the idea that there is anything of real significance to this story, in terms of public policy, or this sheds light on what, is in my view, absolute press hypocrisy. It's a juicy, repellantly attractive story for people, and in my view, that's all it is.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I agree with Jeff, but only so far. And that is, look, we cannot ignore the fact that this man, who is a sitting Congressman of the United States, has been questioned for information, which is always made clear, at least in the reports I've seen, and I'm not going to defend every report that's out there, because clearly there's some over-the- top reporting going on, just in terms of sheer volume.

I don't think that we can ignore the fact that he has been, that he did know this young woman, that in fact, he has talked to police about her. Now, any further than that is out of bounds, because we don't know anything more than that. So I'm more upset about the volume of the story than the actual reporting of it, at least so far as what I've seen.

BROWNSTEIN: And, Candy, I mean, with all the focus on whether or not there was a relationship there, there's been really, I think, much less focus on what would be the much more important question, which is, even if there is a relationship there, is there a relationship between the relationship and the disappearance? And, you know, even if they did establish a relationship between the two of them, I'm not sure -- absent other evidence, that doesn't necessarily take you any further toward answering the question, the most important, of what happened to the young woman.

CROWLEY: But the problem is that you can't not -- you can't -- believe me, if we were not reporting that Congressman Condit put out a statement, said that she was a friend, that Congressman Condit has talked to the police, we would be accused of covering up for a lawmaker. So it's got to be out there, and the conclusions that are drawn are regrettable. And insofar as they are led on by bad reporting, you're absolutely right. But to not report it is -- I think, a huge problem, would be wrong.

MESERVE: Jeff, did you want to chime in? I thought I heard you.

GREENFIELD: No, I just think that, you know, all you have to do is say the words and you know what the story's about. "The congressman and the intern." It sounds like the headline of a bad paperback novel, "The Minister and the Choir Girl." That's -- look, you can't -- I understand it's like the formula for turning lead into gold -- go into a room and don't think of the world "elephant." It's almost impossible not to.

But I think this -- we can't kid ourselves. This story is about the notion, and I think, I'll bet, at this one, it's sort of assumed by most of the people who've heard about this case that something must have going on between the congressman and the intern. And everything else is speculation, and rumor, and gee, did you hear?

And, look, trying to not do the story is like King Canut standing on the beach and holding back the tide. I'm sure there will be seminars on "did we overcover the story?" but this is beyond an instinct for the press. It is a tropism. It's like the moth to the flame, or rather, a plant to the light. It is what happens in a story like this, and I actually believe, it may be deplorable, it's almost inevitable.

I mean, just sit back and hope it goes away, and for God's sakes, hope that this woman turns up OK.

MESERVE: And did the wins outnumber the losses? That's what we're going to look at, the president's "Week in Review" when our roundtable discussion continues. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: And now, back to our roundtable: Ron Brownstein, Candy Crowley and Jeff Greenfield. Candy, let me start with you and ask you about the patients' bill of rights. Threat of the veto from the president yesterday, what is the White House game plan on this?

CROWLEY: I suspect the game plan is very much like the game plan usually was in Texas, and that is you start out tough with what you want and then you take what you can get. They can't stop a patients' bill of rights even if they wanted to. They looked at the polls, they clearly don't want to.

I am assuming -- and I believe House Republicans when they tell you, look, he issued the veto threat because it's the beginning point of the negotiations. This will push Republicans in the House to try to find some way to give him something on caps, on liability, or you know, under what circumstances you can take a suit to the state court, that kind of thing.

I am assuming it's an opening volley. I believe in the end they will take what comes to them.

MESERVE: Jeff, let me ask you about oil drilling off Florida. Yesterday, the House said, not going to happen. Big defeat for Bush, and what does it say about the future of his energy plan?

GREENFIELD: I think what it tells you is that the disciplined Republican Party that we saw in the first few months of the Bush administration, near totally unanimity on everything from the Ashcroft nomination to the tax bill, is not so united when Republicans feel they are not on solid ground. In other words, unlike the tax program, which is a core Republican belief, it's part of the canon, there are a lot of Republicans who are environmentalists and certainly who want to be on the right side of it.

I also think it didn't -- it didn't hurt that, A, that vote was taken in the shadow of a widely, enormously discussed "New York Times" poll that suggested that the president may be losing support; and B, that those Republicans were voting with the Bush, it's just that it was Jeb, not George.

I think long-term, clearly where they're putting the president, the fact that he seems to be making every energy speech in front of either an endangered species or a tree, suggests that they feel that on this issue, they need to shore the president up.

MESERVE: Ron, that polling couldn't be having an effect, could it?

BROWNSTEIN: No, it could, actually. As you look back, the evidence of the last week I think is really dramatic on a whole series of fronts. We had a tied election last fall, we have a tied Congress, and the reality is, no matter how hard Bush tries to assert sort of a landslide mandate, we kept getting pulled back to that mean. Not only did he lose the vote on off-shore oil drilling in the House, he lost the vote on endangered species listing, he lost the vote on access to national monuments for drilling, he lost the vote on hard-rock mining regulation.

Earlier in the weak, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission essentially had to reverse itself and order more stringent price controls in California. At the end of the week, administration officials were talking about moving much more slowly than the president had suggested earlier in his administration to abrogate the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

I mean, the reality is that we have only so much room for the president to push out of the mean, out of the midpoint, out of the center. Three polls came out this week, Jeanne. His approval rating in the three of them were between 50 and 55 percent. Those are not robust numbers. I mean, they are not terrible numbers, but they are not overwhelming numbers, and I think everything suggests that not much has changed since the election. The country is still about as divided as it was then, and that gives him a relatively short tether in how far he can move some of these debates.

MESERVE: Go ahead, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: I just think that absolutely needs to be underscored. In the first couple of months, a lot of us -- I mean, I -- let's say me, was thinking: "Oh, how clever, they are governing as if they had a mandate, because they need to exert executive strength."

But you know, sometimes we in the media forget that the world does not reinvent itself every week. That November result is the key reason why, unlike say Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, this president cannot bring reluctant Republicans along with him. He cannot go to them and say, look, the people asked me to do this -- because that election was a coin flip.

MESERVE: Let Candy jump in here.

CROWLEY: You know, I was just going to say that not only is he on the short tether because of the politics of it and because of last November, but the calendar, you know, believe it or not, is beginning to crunch in on him, and I would say that this probably has less to do with Republicans looking at president's polls numbers than Republicans looking at their own chances in their own districts.

It only gets more and more difficult for George Bush from here on out, because you have an entire House that is going to be up for an election a year from November. I know Jeff hates to talk about things this early, but it begins to come to play, and I think that's what you are seeing.

MESERVE: Ron, your turn.

BROWNSTEIN: Two quick points: one is that historically, the environment, even before Bush, has been the toughest issue for House Republicans. There simply are more Republicans from moderate seats in the Northeast and Midwest who vote with environmentalists than there are Democrats from energy-producing states who vote with the energy industry. So, these votes have always been hard, even before Bush.

Secondly, one poll number really jumped out at me this month. It was a CNN/Gallup/"USA Today" poll a couple of weeks ago. It said: "Do you agree with George Bush most of the time on the issues that are most important to you?" 49 percent yes, 47 percent no. It was as if we were still in November.

Again, the basic division in the country is there, and that is going to reinsert itself eventually in Congress, as we saw this last week.

MESERVE: Ron Brownstein, Candy Crowley and Jeff Greenfield. Thank you all for participating in our roundtable today.

And coming up: the senator versus the doctor. Why one Florida lawmaker wants to put a stop to medical care with a membership fee. The issue and the possible political action ahead in the next 30 minutes of INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Accused terrorist Osama bin Laden is linked to a new threat against U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Also ahead: Roger Clinton speaks out about allegations he promised presidential pardons in exchange for cash.

And later: we'll shed some light on "The Political Play of the Week."

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

MESERVE: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Judy is off today. I'm Jeanne Meserve.

A perceived terrorist threat against American targets by the organization of Osama bin Laden has prompted the U.S. military to place some forces on the highest state of alert. Sources tell CNN that yesterday's indictment of 14 alleged terrorists in the 1996 bombing of a military housing complex in Saudi Arabia may be the major catalyst for the new threat. Additionally, the U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide caution for Americans, warning they may be at increased risk of terrorist attack since the indictments.

CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins us now with the very latest -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, that highest state of alert is called "Threatcon Delta." And Pentagon sources say it applies now to all of the countries along the Persian Gulf, where the U.S. has military forces, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and also includes the country of Jordan, where a U.S. Marine exercise was under way and has been cut short. Those Marines have been ordered to get back on their three ships while this threat of a terrorist attack is under way.

Now, the Pentagon sources, or U.S. officials rather tell us that this latest reaction is based on U.S. intelligence from two separate sources indicating that associates or people associated with Osama bin Laden were apparently planning a specific attack, although they did not get a specific target or location. So, that threat is in effect for the Persian Gulf area and the Middle East region, and in addition, the State Department is warning Americans traveling anywhere overseas to be on a heightened state of alert.

This, of course, comes as the United States just this week indicted 14 individuals as suspects in the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, the U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Although Pentagon sources indicate that because of the complex nature of the plan, it's unlikely that it was tied directly to those indictments, but of course, Monday is the anniversary of that bombing of Khobar Towers, in which 19 airmen were killed. That was coming up, so that was another possible key date that might have been in the mind of people who want to attack U.S. interests.

But again, the threat, a credible threat, but not a specific target, against U.S. interests, puts the U.S. military on the highest state of alert in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Jamie, let me jump to a different topic here, that of military ballots. They were an issue in the last election. An audit's been completed. What were the results?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon released that audit today, but curiously it did not address the key question of whether U.S. military ballots were postmarked properly, as is required by military regulations, and what the Pentagon would do about the postmark controversy. As you may recall, in Florida this became a big issue, because Florida has a grace period for absentee ballots but they have to be postmarked by a certain date. And the -- asked about this, this afternoon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he inherited the scope of this audit from the previous administration, and that if it needed to be expanded to look at the postmark question, he might consider doing that.

MESERVE: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson arrived in Puerto Rico today to protest the Navy's continued use of a bombing range on Vieques Island and to visit his jailed wife. Jacqueline Jackson was arrested Monday for trespassing while protesting the bombing and has refused to post $3,000 bond. Michigan Congressman John Conyers today asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to explain the treatment of Mrs. Jackson, saying she had been strip searched and denied a change of clothing at the federal jail.

Last week, President Bush announced the Navy would end the bombing exercises in 2003. On Vieques, the Bush decision has brought new questions. For instance, what will happen once the Navy pulls out.

CNN's Bill Delaney reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few years from now, Maribel Molina doesn't much think she'll be still raising a pair of sons where she grew up, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Her husband's a fireman at the U.S. Navy's embattled Camp Garcia the Bush administration now plans to pull out of.

MARIBEL MOLINA, VIEQUES RESIDENT: I don't like it, but if they have to go, we're going to leave too.

DELANEY (on camera): If the Navy leaves...

MOLINA: Yeah.

DELANEY: ... what do you think will happen here?

MOLINA: I don't even want to imagine what's going to happen.

What they going to do, they say, oh, we're going to do this when the Navy leaves. With what? With what money?

DELANEY (voice-over): More than 200 jobs will be lost on Vieques if the Navy leaves -- salaries supporting hundreds more people on the island of 9,000. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico's new governor rejected a Clinton administration plan that could have poured $90 million into Vieques if the Navy stayed.

Alicia (ph), in the capital city Isabel II, though, says when the "arrogant," as she puts it, U.S. Navy goes, everything will just be better, especially, she says, cancer rates she and much of Vieques blame on U.S. Navy environmental damage.

As for just how exactly things will get better, some speak of a national park. Others, of tourism should the U.S. Navy's two-thirds of Vieques be turned over.

Billy Knight, though, co-owner of an island inn, expects environmental cleanup to take decades. He fears business interests trying to clean up.

BILLY KNIGHT, INN CO-OWNER: The Navy, if it did one good thing, it kept the island quiet. It kept the island undeveloped.

DELANEY: An island already part of an island long struggling with what to become.

(on camera): When Puerto Rico last held a referendum in 1998 on its relationship with the United States, a mere 2 percent wanted independence, 46 percent statehood, and more than 50 percent said they just weren't sure.

(voice-over): Most now believe Vieques will become free of the U.S. Navy. The question: What it will become without it?

Bill Delaney, CNN, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Peru's newly elected president, Alejandro Toledo, will visit the U.S. beginning Sunday, and later next week, he'll travel to Europe. The aim? Secure foreign investment and emergency aid, and assure Western leaders political stability has returned to his nation since the fall of President Alberto Fujimori.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alejandro Toledo prepares for his first trip abroad as Peruvian president-elect, knowing it won't be easy. On his first stop, the United States, he will be faced with the Lori Berenson issue. The parents of the U.S. citizen convicted of terrorism want him to pardon their daughter, and U.S. officials have warned they want to talk about the case as well.

Toledo says he will meet with the Berensons, but does not seem willing to go out on a very long limb for them.

ALEJANDRO TOLEDO, PERUVIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT: I share the sorrow with the parents not only of her parents, but of other people. I'm very respectful of the independence of the powers of the judicial system about which we have fought to be independent -- needs to continue its path. The executive branch cannot interfere with that.

WHITBECK: And then there is the Peruvian economy. Toledo will visit financiers and government officials in the United States and Europe hoping to attract much-needed investment and cash. As a guarantee, he offers...

TOLEDO: Clear rules of the game.

WHITBECK: Toledo won the presidential election promising a better economy and more jobs for the poor.

(on camera): But putting people to work will be a difficult challenge. Peru has an unemployment rate of 7 percent, but over two- thirds of the population are considered to be underemployed.

(voice-over): And analysts say the incoming administration won't be able to provide immediate relief.

OSCAR JASAUI, ANALYST: He's inheriting a four-year recession, and that means that the economy is in really bad shape.

WHITBECK: Which brings us back to the international economic aid Peru needs to return to stability: international aid, at least part of which would come from the United States, where some in the Congress are concerned about the future of one U.S. citizen being held in a Peruvian prison.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Lima, Peru.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Scenes from California's energy crisis. Still to come, why for one TV talkmeister it was lights out last night.

Plus our "Political Play of the Week." Washington lends a helping hand when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: The viewer nominations for "The Political Play of the Week" spanned the political spectrum. Among the runners-up: a play for the Senate majority leader for forcing a compromise on the Patients' Bill of Rights debate; or for Russian President Vladimir Putin, for standing his ground on the ABM Treaty; or for the former king of Bulgaria, who was swept to power on the election ouster of the nation's prime minister.

But our Bill Schneider has opted to highlight something else entirely.

Take it away, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I sort of like the king of Bulgaria, but I think we will stay home this week, where things are looking up, at least in California. They're coming out of the dark. Now, who turned the lights on? One word: FERC. No, it's not an obscure Irish swear word. What it is, is "The Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: FERC -- that's the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- has been a source of exasperation for California Governor Gray Davis for months.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Then made a finding last October that our market was dysfunctional, and we were entitled to relief. Yet they turned a deaf ear every time we asked for that relief.

SCHNEIDER: What relief? Price controls! Most Californians, in fact, most Americans, support price controls. But there's at least one who doesn't.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Price controls will not solve the problem. SCHNEIDER: Tensions escalated this week as Governor Davis came to Washington to testify before a Senate committee. Could anyone get a peace process going between California and the federal government?

Yes! On Monday, FERC stepped into the breach, voting 5 to 0 to impose energy price ceilings on California and 10 other western states. What broke the logjam? Could it have been politics? Well, there are two parties that have a lot at stake, politically, in stabilizing the California energy situation, because they both have to face the voters next year. One is Governor Davis, a Democrat. The other is House Republicans. California will have 53 House members in the next Congress, one in eight.

Right now, Republicans have a slim majority in the House nationwide, but they're outnumbered 32 to 20 in California. With Democrats in full control of redistricting in California, things could get worse for Republicans, especially if Davis succeeds in his campaign to blame the federal government.

DAVIS: I certainly can point the finger at Washington. They took over a year to do what, by law, they should have done last November.

SCHNEIDER: Nervous House Republicans saw California going down the drain, and with it, their majority. They put pressure on the White House, but President Bush couldn't flip-flop on the issue. FERC to the rescue!

CURTIS HEBERT, FERC CHAIRMAN: Now we have price mitigation, not only for California, but also for the West.

SCHNEIDER: Price mitigation? Is that something like price controls? No, says the president.

BUSH: They're not talking about firm price controls. They're talking about a mechanism to -- as I understand, a mechanism to mitigate any severe price spike that may occur, which is completely different from price controls.

SCHNEIDER: Whatever. At least energy prices have been dropping. Is everybody happy? Not quite.

DAVIS: FERC must move quickly to enforce the law. FERC must order these energy companies to give us back our money.

SCHNEIDER: "So what," says the FERC chairman.

HEBERT: And I am quite certain that no single U.S. senator, or no single U.S. congressperson, or no single governor will be pleased and fully behind everything in this order. But the bottom line is this: it wasn't drafted for them. It was drafted for the people of California and for the people of the West, and for those Americans that are paying attention.

SCHNEIDER: Like us, who are happy to call FERC's action "The Political Play of the Week." (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The reality is, if the energy situation in California turns into a disaster, voters are not going to blame just the Democrats or the Republicans, they're going to blame everybody. And everybody will suffer. For politicians playing the blame game, that light is just coming on.

MESERVE: Which leads me to ask, how many politician does it take to screw in a light bulb?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHNEIDER: Well, apparently, it takes thousands, and they have to spend eight months debating how to do it.

MESERVE: But they've done it at last. Thanks so much.

FERC decision or not, the lights were out at NBC's Burbank Studios last night, as late-night comedian Jay Leno hosted his energy conservation show in the dark, with the help of a certain governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: If he can find his way out here, Jay Leno!

(APPLAUSE)

JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": First of all, I want to assure everybody, this dark show is not some cheap ratings ploy, all right?

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: Because NBC lost so much money on XFL football, we can't afford to pay the electric bill. That's the problem, that's why we're here.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: Your own governor, Gray Davis, testified yesterday in the Senate about the energy crisis here in California. Of course, he was in Washington, D.C. As all Californians know, D.C. stands for "don't care"!

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: In fact, even President Bush told our governor, you know, I've been operating in the dark for years. Now you can, too.

(APPLAUSE)

LENO: Ladies and gentlemen, governor of the great state of California, Gray Davis!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: You know, this electricity crisis has done wonders for my charisma problem.

LENO: Really?

DAVIS: This is the first time the words "Gray Davis" and "electricity" have ever appeared in the same sentence.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

DAVIS: I wanted to share a couple of things I'm doing to save electricity.

LENO: These are tips you're going to give us now to save?

DAVIS: This is stuff I do myself.

LENO: Wow. OK, well, go ahead.

DAVIS: First, I get a really long extension cord and I plug it into a socket in Texas.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: Go on.

DAVIS: No. 2, at all my speeches we turn the lights down really low, because we don't want to wake anyone up.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: And back here in "Don't Care," the politics of health care up next, when Florida positions prescription for bureaucratic red tape: cut out the middle man. That story, when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Fighting new allegations of wrongdoing in connection with White House pardons, Roger Clinton is speaking out in his own defense. The brother of Former President Bill Clinton appeared last night on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" to deny he had arranged a cash-for- pardon scheme for a convicted felon.

But as CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor reports, the charges have placed Roger Clinton under the continued scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Roger Clinton told CNN's Larry King he is not guilty of taking money in exchange for promising a presidential pardon to Garland Lincecum, a two-time felon serving seven years for fraud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

CLINTON: I can tell you that there is no truth to money for pardons. There is zero truth to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: But he does not deny that Lincecum may have been promised a pardon for money he paid to two of Roger Clinton's business associates, Richard "Dickey" Morton and George Locke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

CLINTON: Let me clarify, there was no money exchanged with me.

LARRY KING, HOST: You never got a penny?

CLINTON: And I never heard one word about a pardon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: Sources say Lincecum has already testified to a grand jury convened by U.S. attorney Mary Jo White in New York who is investigating whether pardons granted by then-President Bill Clinton were given in exchange for money. Lincecum claims he met at this Embassy Suites in Dallas, Texas, with Roger Clinton's two friends and had his family pay them cash, in addition to two checks of $100,000 each. In exchange, he alleges, he was promised a pardon.

Lincecum's attorney Edward Hayes.

EDWARD HAYES, ATTORNEY FOR GARLAND LINCECUM: Morton and Locke told him that if he gave them $300,000, that Bill Clinton could get him a pardon.

O'CONNOR: Morton and Locke's attorneys deny the allegations, saying the money was paid to have Roger Clinton serve as a spokesman for a charity run by Lincecum's friend, Richard Cayce, an explanation Lincecum's attorney finds ludicrous.

HAYES: Mr. Lincecum at this time was about 63 or 64 years old, he was going to go to jail for seven years, and I think charity was probably the last thing on his mind.

O'CONNOR: Lincecum told "The Los Angeles Times" from a jail in New York: "I wanted a pardon because I didn't want to go to prison, but I was snookered. As things began to settle in," he said, "I realized I've been took, and I don't like it one bit." Roger Clinton says he did ask his brother to pardon a few of his friends and was deeply disappointed his requests were not granted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

CLINTON: I went three or four weeks where I didn't talk to him. Yeah, I was very hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: But Roger Clinton did get a pardon of his own, and has now received another subpoena from U.S. attorney Mary Jo White.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: A Florida doctor frustrated with his workload and fed up with managed care companies thinks he has a solution: charge patients a yearly membership fee. The Boca Raton physician and four other doctors plan to take their model nationwide. But one U.S. senator is crying foul, and is looking into whether the fee is actually legal.

CNN's Mark Potter reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT COLTON, PHYSICIAN: So let me ask you, are you still doing your same exercise regimen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

COLTON: How are you doing with your weight?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Robert Colton of Boca Raton, Florida says he has a lot more time for his patients now and can provide better care. Patients used to wait weeks for an appointment and spent only a few minutes with the doctor. Lots of time wasted, he says, trying to collect payments from HMOs and insurance companies.

COLTON: Our business did not work. You know, everything was a mess. We got taken advantage of by the insurance companies, and it was a wakeup call to me that I couldn't work that way.

POTTER: So Dr. Colton came up with a plan. In exchange for more personalized service, he charged each patient an annual fee of $1,500, and reduced his patient load from 3,000 to less than 600. Patients still pay for each visit. The doctor does accept Medicare and insurance, no HMOs.

SHARON JANOWSKI, PATIENT: Obviously, this is not an inexpensive proposition, but it's almost like insurance. You know, he's there when you need him to be, and that's I guess that's what you're paying for. You're paying for that level of care. POTTER: The annual fee plan is controversial. Kenneth Goodman, an ethicist with the University of Miami, sympathizes with the doctor's insurance concerns, but he opposes what he calls "platinum card health care" for those who can pay.

KENNETH GOODMAN, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Society needs to do a better job making sure physicians are adequately compensated and they have adequate time to take high-quality care of their patients. Creating members-only clubs is not the way to go.

POTTER: Florida Senator Bill Nelson also has ethical concerns, and has asked his staff to determine if the membership plan is legal. He has also proposed legislation.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: If you are going to charge an annual membership fee, and you also want to receive reimbursement from the federal government through Medicare, that you can't do it, if in fact, you are going to be driving out the door existing patients.

COLTON: It's now become a recommended screening for...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

POTTER: Dr. Colton says he made arrangements with another doctor for the patients he didn't keep, and says he has found a way to provide quality care in a health care system that doesn't work.

Mark Potter, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Remembering Checkers: plans to dig up a bit player from American politics, when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Finally, Checkers apparently soon will be going home. Plans are under way to exhume former President Richard Nixon's pet pooch from a Long Island, New York pet cemetery and rebury him on the grounds of the Nixon library in California, near the graves of the late president and his wife Pat. Julie Nixon Eisenhower spoke of the transfer earlier this week on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."

The cocker spaniel made news during a 1952 television speech by his owner, then a senator and vice presidential candidate. Nixon used the speech to address charges he received more than $18,000 from supporters. He confessed to accepting just one gift, Checkers. He said he wasn't giving him back. The speech is seen as having saved Nixon's political career.

A Nixon library spokesman told CNN today the family is currently "looking into the logistics of the move."

And that's 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. Our e-mail address is insidepolitics@cnn.com. And these weekend programming notes: Senator John McCain will be a guest Sunday on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." Also among Wolf's guests: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and committee member Arlen Specter. That's all at noon Eastern.

I'm Jeanne Meserve. "MONEYLINE" is up 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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