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Bush Administration Considering Whether to Offer Amnesty or Legal Residency to 3 million Mexicans

Aired July 16, 2001 - 17:00   ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno in Washington. Should millions of illegal Mexican immigrants get a free pass and legal residency in the United States? The Bush administration is considering a plan.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken. Also in Washington, where the Chandra Levy case has investigators searching through the Internet and through a popular D.C. park.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Martin Savidge in Modesto, California, where hometown Congressman Gary Condit is under mounting political pressure.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Major Garrett at the White House with more on the Mexican immigration proposal and the debate it's touched off in the Republican Party.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

SESNO: And thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno sitting in today for Judy.

It is something of a truism these days that the growing Hispanic population in the United States is making enormous changes to the nation's cultural and political landscape. And that's why, as the Bush administration weighs a decision about whether to offer amnesty or legal residency to some 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States at the present time, the political and policy considerations go hand in hand.

And we go hand in hand now to White House correspondent Major Garrett for more on the president's thinking and the matter that's before him, as well as reaction from members of both parties -- Major.

GARRETT: Frank, whatever the president decides, Congress will have to go along. And sources tell CNN the White House in no way warned its Republican congressional allies that the president was considering a change in the legal status of millions of illegal Mexican immigrants working in the United States. And that could make the sales job should Mr. Bush adopt that policy all the more difficult.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARRETT (voice-over): At issue is a proposal from senior U.S. and Mexican officials to grant legal status to an estimated three million illegal Mexican immigrants who work and pay taxes in the U.S. Most are farm workers and service employees. It's only one suggestion of many on immigration issues in a report Mr. Bush received Monday.

But Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, has lobbied Mr. Bush aggressively. Mr. Fox is touring the U.S. and welcomed Monday any movement to liberalize U.S. laws.

VICENTE FOX, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO: What is best for my nation in this consideration, the more and more rights that we obtain for our Mexican nationals in the United States.

GARRETT: Both countries are aiming for a new immigration policy by early September when Mr. Fox arrives for the first state visit of the Bush presidency. Even so, administration officials shied away from the politically charged word "amnesty."

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I would not describe the focus of the program as being some kind of Ollie-Ollie income free amnesty.

GARRETT: Politically, the stakes are high all around. Amnesty or something very much like it might win over some Mexican-American voters. Mr. Bush won only a third of the seven million Mexican- American votes in the last election.


GARRETT: Last year, congressional Republicans killed President Clinton's efforts to liberalize U.S. immigration laws. The question now for Mr. Bush and his congressional Republican allies is whether or not to go to war, and if so, who wins -- Frank.

SESNO: And Major, lots to this political calculus. Let's look back at the 2000 election for just a minute and how Gore and Bush did together with respect to the overall Hispanic vote. Al Gore winning 62 percent; George W. Bush -- well, here you see, I'm sorry, Hispanic voters, 55 percent; and all Hispanics, 27 percent. What I want to do is ask you -- that's the Democratic portrait -- is ask you how much of a calculation are these politics in all of this?

GARRETT: Politics, of course, plays a role in every immigration policy. You do any reading into the making of immigration policy in the United States, you see politics right at the center of it. And, of course, that's no different this time around. Congressional Republican staffers I've talked to today on the Hill say, "Look, we have a history of opposing this, but we cannot ignore the potential upside of gaining favor with Hispanic voters." Of course, conservative Republicans will tell you, law-and-order Republicans they like to call themselves, "Hey, you cannot win votes by allowing people to jump the line," in other words. "People who arrived here illegally should not be pushed to the head of the line where law-and-order conservatives were part of the Bush base. And if he thinks he's going to win more Hispanic voters by giving them amnesty than he will by losing us, he better think again."

SESNO: And there was that graphic just a moment ago that we were talking about at the outset. Major, what about this. We're talking about three million potentially Mexican citizens who are in the United States. I'm not hearing anything about Hondurans, Guatemalans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and others who have come looking for the same jobs.

GARRETT: Frank, it is an iron rule of immigration politics that when you have one class of immigrants or illegal immigrants who believe they have grievances, you have many others with the exact same grievances: Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, almost any country throughout the Americas. You could have a similar grievance as those expressed by Mexican-Americans living here illegally now.

The White House says, "Look, this is at the preliminary stage. It's a joint U.S.-Mexican working group. But we are leaving open the option of considering others if, in fact, the president decides some change in this legal status is required."

SESNO: All right, Major Garrett. Well, we turn to CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He's been taking a closer look at the Hispanic vote and its potential impact. He joins us now from our Los Angeles bureau.

Bill, what can the immigration issue do for Republicans?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, here in California, Frank, the story is what the immigration issue has done to Republicans. It has devastated the GOP. Now this story goes all the way back to 1994 when Republican governor Pete Wilson was facing a tough bid for re-election. Then he discovered a powerful cause: illegal immigration. Wilson ran this inflammatory television ad showing Mexican immigrants darting across the border.


ANNOUNCER: Coming: two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won't stop them at the border yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.


SCHNEIDER: Wilson's gamble paid off for him. He won re-election that year, and California passed Prop 187, which barred illegal immigrants from receiving some public services like education and health care. But he created a ferocious political backlash that California Republicans are still paying for. Republican handling of the immigration issue in California conveyed a clear message to Mexican-Americans: ethnic insensitivity. Hispanic felt scapegoated.

Stewart Spencer, a veteran California political consultant, wrote a memo warning his fellow Republicans that the GOP risk political suicide if it did not reach out to those Hispanic voters. Interestingly, the then governor of Texas, a man named George W. Bush, got that message. He did not endorse Prop 187. And under Bush, Hispanic support for Republicans in Texas, unlike California, has been going up.

SESNO: So, Bill, can a decision on immigration or an initiative on immigration change that California tie that you were talking about -- see the duplication of what the governor experienced in Texas elsewhere?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, well, I think, Frank, it's a start. The idea of granting legal residency to people who are living and working here anyway communicates the message: Republicans are not ethnically insensitive. They welcome and value immigrants.

You want to know why Republicans see opportunity among Hispanic voters? Take a look at this. Only 27 percent of all Hispanic adults call themselves Democrats, but 55 percent of last year's Hispanic voters were Democrats. Hispanics who are motivated to register and vote are heavily Democratic.

Now among all Hispanics, 41 percent call themselves conservatives, but only 26 percent of Hispanic voters are conservatives. There's a big pool of potential Hispanic voters out there who are conservative but politically uninvolved, and Republicans intend to go after them. But they will never get anywhere unless they demonstrate that the GOP is ethnically sensitive like, for instance, on immigration -- Frank.

SESNO: All right, Bill Schneider in Los Angeles.

And we're going to be back in just a few minutes. We're going to take another look at this whole question of immigration and whether this initiative, what impact it would have on the border area itself in terms of stopping or slowing the waves of illegal immigrants that continue to come into the United States.

And turning the page a bit though, before then, officers investigating the Chandra Levy case brought in police cadets today. They helped search a Washington park. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken has been tracking this story all the way through. He's standing by now to bring us up to date on the latest -- Bob.

FRANKEN: It's Rock Creek Park, Frank, which is a huge urban park around Washington. It's also close to where Chandra Levy had her last apartment. The police came, as you can see, and a couple of times stopped investigation because they found bones, probably animal bones, say the officers. They were in the area because on Chandra Levy's computer on her last day in her apartment, which was May 1st, there was a reference to Klingle Mansion, which is right behind the area where you see those police officers as they found some of the bones. It's also an area where joggers use. Chandra Levy, of course, was somebody who was very much into physical exercise. So police are going back to Rock Creek Park. They're looking in an area that they have looked a lot of times before, but this time, they're using scores of officers from the D.C. police department, mounted officers from the U.S. park police as they search. And as I said, they stopped a couple times when they found bones, but the officers on the scene say that is not remarkable.


SGT. BOB PANIZARI, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: Bones are going to be pretty common when we're out here searching.

QUESTION: Why is this location so important to your investigation?

PANIZARI: This is where they sent us. This is where we're starting. I mean, if you've been following the news, I think they're trying to do a lot of the area down in Rock Creek Park where we started at.


FRANKEN: Of course, police are doing one of the most intense missing person's investigations you will ever see, and that is because of all the publicity concerning the relationship between Congressman Gary Condit and Chandra Levy. But at its core, it is the story of a family that is desperately wanting to find out what happened to their daughter, Chandra Levy.


SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: I have fear. I'm scared, anxiety. I'm a mother. I'm really in pain a lot. I just want my daughter home. I want her home soon alive. We grieve. Sometimes we laugh a little bit, but most of the time, we're in a state of anxiety and deep depression.


FRANKEN: That was Susan Levy, Chandra Levy's. The family waits in Modesto, California, while here in Washington, the police ratchet up the investigation. A search of this park and others in the city could take a couple of weeks -- Frank.

SESNO: Bob, is there any more known about Chandra Levy's last movements, moods or discussions, activities before her disappearance?

FRANKEN: Well, the police say that they came upon this area to search once again because of what she did on her computer. She looked for a map of that area. She also spent several hours in her apartment on May 1st looking -- exploring different travel possibilities to go out -- apparently to go to Modesto, California. What is the problem is they don't know what happened to her after that computer search.

SESNO: And what are police saying today, Bob, and over the last 24 hours about the role or the questioning of Gary Condit and other possible people they're pursuing?

FRANKEN: Well, they're investigating. They've talked to some of the staff members in Condit's office. They were told that that would not be a problem. They've searched the car of one staff member we're told. No results were made known to us. And they also raised the possibility that even though they've interviewed Gary Condit three times, there could be a fourth. SESNO: All right, Bob Franken on the story. And I'm Frank Sesno. You're watching INSIDE POLITICS.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: I think that if that sort of -- if -- if -- if the facts are as they appear they may be, that he should consider resigning.


SESNO: The "R" word and Gary Condit. Is political pressure building on the Hill? The latest still ahead. Plus, a border dispute in the making, why some are bristling at the immigration proposals headed for the president's desk. Also, turning up the heat on a key issue. Can the White House fuel interest in its energy plan? And later...


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Why is it so tough for senators to move down Pennsylvania Avenue?


SESNO: Ron Brownstein on the many obstacles to that coveted Oval Office job.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, Judy Woodruff brings you more of INSIDE POLITICS straight ahead.


SESNO: And I'm Frank Sesno in Washington. We take you back now to what is our lead story on INSIDE POLITICS today.

A few moments ago, we told you that the Bush administration is considering a plan which would let millions of illegal Mexican immigrants stay in the United States. Lots of reasons, the administration says. Just as you would expect, the proposals have touched off a very lively debate.

Earlier, I spoke with Cecilia Munoz. She's the vice president of the National Council of La Raza. That's a nonprofit organization which represents Hispanic Americans. Now I started by asking her what she thought of the proposal?

CECILIA MUNOZ, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA: I think the response is likely to be very positive from the Latino community if we're talking about a legalization program for people working here, paying taxes, who are contributing to our communities. Latinos are very much for that and we're not alone.

SESNO: And you also connect this to guest workers, those who are not here permanently. What's your connection? MUNOZ: Well, we understand that the U.S. and Mexico are talking about creating a new guest worker program. And we have one in existing law in agriculture that's awful, under which people are treated really terribly.

SESNO: But that covers people who come here, say, to pick apples for a season, but just that season and then go home, right?

MUNOZ: Right. But they're talking about something which we think is going to be much bigger and much broader. And what we've been saying is we prefer that you not go down that road, but if you do, it better be very different from what we've got now, because we're not prepared to see lots of people being treated as if they were indentured servants.

SESNO: You want them to have the rights to unionize and do other things like other workers in America?

MUNOZ: Absolutely. If we need their work, if we need their labor and their hard work, it seems to me that we ought to be prepared to treat them decently and give them the same rights as other workers in the United States.

SESNO: I want you to respond to the critics for just a minute, critics who say that by granting some kind of permanent and ongoing residency to people who have been here illegally, you just encourage more illegal immigration, that there will be millions more a few years down the line who have come into the United States illegally.

MUNOZ: Sure. We had a legalization program in the late 1980s. It didn't encourage millions more to come. We had a steady stream of migrants before then. We've had a steady stream since then. What we're really talking about is acknowledging that there's millions of people here who are working, paying taxes, making an extraordinary contribution. They share our values. It's kind of time to bring our system in line with reality. Their employers are telling us that they want them to legalize to be a permanent and stable work force. Labor unions are saying the same thing. So it's really time to bring our system in line with reality.

SESNO: But what here would stop millions more from coming illegally into the United States?

MUNOZ: Well, the idea, I think, behind the temporary worker program is that we legalize the folks that are already here and we create a different kind of migrant stream for folks that we may still need in our labor force if we, in fact, do need more folks in our labor force. But what really drives migration is jobs. That's the bottom line here. And so it's really -- that's going to determine whether or not we have more people.

SESNO: Senator Phil Gramm from Texas is opposed to granting this permanent status. He says if people are here illegally, give them temporary residency, and the U.S. should not be afraid to ask people to leave if they're here legally. Your response to that? MUNOZ: Well, our response is if people are here and they're working and they're paying taxes, and their employers and their labor unions and their churches and they community want them to stay, then we ought to be thinking about doing that.

SESNO: Whether they're legal or not?

MUNOZ: Sure. If they're working, if we clearly need their labor, which the industries where they work tell us that we do -- they've been paying payroll taxes like everybody else even though they're working perhaps on false Social Security numbers, then sure, if we need them here, we benefit from their labor, we should be treating them like other workers in the United States and letting them come out of the shadows.

SESNO: We call the program INSIDE POLITICS for a reason. So take us inside your political calculation here. What's the benefit for the administration or the downfall, really, for those who favor or oppose this?

MUNOZ: If the administration gets the details of all of this proposal right, it seems to me they can make major inroads not just in the Latino community, but the Catholic Church supports this, the business community supports this, the labor movement supports this. That's a pretty broad coalition.

SESNO: And its prospects in Congress?

MUNOZ: I think those prospects are pretty good. Again, we think In a time of economic prosperity where there's a very clear need for these workers and we can establish that these are folks who are here, working, participating, paying taxes, they're people who share our values, I think the support is going to be strong.

SESNO: Cecilia Munoz, thank you very much. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time today.

MUNOZ: Thanks.

SESNO: But that is by no means the whole story. Many are opposed to legal residency for illegal immigrants. We're joined now by conservative commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan high over Washington.

Good to see you.


SESNO: We'll try to keep your feet on the ground here. All right, first, your reaction to what you just heard and your response to this plan that's being considered.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think what they're talking about basically is an amnesty for law breakers, people who have broken the law, broken in line, broken into our country in the millions. I think that would be unjust to the people who have wanted to come here legally. But moreover Frank, the point of your question, this would lead to really a massive invasion of this country by illegal immigrants who know we have given two amnesties and a third will be on the way. Every year now, we apprehend 1.6 million illegals on our border. You want to double that number, go ahead and give the amnesty.

SESNO: You supported the amnesty, the immigration initiative back in 1986. Why do you change your position?

BUCHANAN: Well, I am because now we've gotten this country basically according to Northeastern University, not three million illegal aliens in the country but 11 million illegal aliens in the United States, equal to the entire population of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. If this happens, you will unleash a massive immigration flood across our southern border, twice what it is right now. And as I said, they're already apprehending a million and a half a year. Frank, it gets down to the point: What is a country anymore? Ronald Reagan said that a nation that cannot control its borders isn't really a nation.

SESNO: How do you respond to Cecilia Munoz then who says what this idea is all about is bringing reality in line with what policy should be, that employers want these people, that labor needs this extra help?

BUCHANAN: Well, there's no doubt -- well, first if you got full employment as we had up until a couple months ago, four percent unemployment, you don't really need new workers. Secondly, what is taking place is the policy of the Mexican government to dump its poor and its unemployed upon the United States where they not only get jobs, but American taxpayers educate their children, provide welfare, provide Medicaid and all the benefits of that. They send money back to Mexico. Mexico has a dual citizenship program where they become Americans and citizens of this country, vote for Mexico's interests in the United States and vote for Mr. Fox in Mexico. The United States as a country has got to control its border. Do we believe in our laws or don't we? If we believe in them, enforce them.

SESNO: If you have a program like, this why can you not also enforce your borders?

BUCHANAN: Look, the borders right now are being violated because Mexico does not basically cover its own side of the border. As long as you let poor folks in Mexico who make two bucks a day at most come to the United States where the minimum wage is up around $5 a day, Frank, they're going to be coming. But let me tell you, this is pandering by the Bush White House and the Bush administration to the Hispanic community. They think it's going to be a big winner. It's going to backfire on them. Look, of the first time Hispanic voters in 1996, 15 to one they voted for Clinton over Dole.

SESNO: You've invoked the White House a couple of times, so let's go there now. Earlier today, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer briefing the press had a comment and an explanation for what this proposal at least has in mind. Let's listen.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is very important that we work with our Mexican friends to say that the United States is a nation that has welcomed immigrants and that we have immigration issues with Mexico, and that those issues should be handled in a way that recognizes humanity, that recognizes safety, that recognizes law, and that focuses on ways to have legal and safe migration into this country.


SESNO: The White House says this is a way to manage the border.

BUCHANAN: Look, that first was mush. Secondly, he says recognizes law. The laws of the United States of America are being broken every day. I was in Douglas, Arizona, town of 18,000, back about two years ago. One month, March, 27,000 illegals crossed that border, crossed those ranches heading north. The laws of the United States are being trampled all over, Frank. The United States government should get these troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo where they don't belong, put them on the American border and tell Mexico we expect them to honor the laws of the United States and defend their side of the boarder.

SESNO: In 1986, when you worked in the Reagan White House...


SESNO: ... when Ronald Reagan supported the Simpson (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bill, which gave amnesty to people who had been here prior to 1972, one of the arguments was they've been here a long time, they've been working and they've been paying taxes. Is that different than this concept?

BUCHANAN: It is. We did the amnesty once. They thought it would stop the illegal immigration. It didn't. You've had a huge flood of illegal immigration into this country since then. Frank, you give another amnesty, and that border will be wide open. They're coming there from all over the world into Mexico and into the United States. Again, the question is: Is America a country or is it just nothing but an economy?

SESNO: Finally, your view. And speaking practically, what should be done along that long border with Mexico?

BUCHANAN: What the United States should do is if necessary, put the armed forces of this country along that border. Tell the Mexican government, "You've got an obligation to defend that just as you defend the border with Guatemala. All the illegal aliens in the United States, beginning with those in prisons and those who violate the laws ought to be repatriated in a proper fashion, and the United States should ensure that when it passes a law, the laws enforced...

SESNO: The Bush administration clearly has a different point of view, but we thank you for yours.

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

SESNO: Pat Buchanan, appreciate it.

And we're going to take a break, but feeling the push in California and the here in the nation's Capitol, ahead, the mounting sentiment in Congressman Condit's home district and the pressure building on the Hill. Is Condit's support waning at work and at home? INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


SESNO: It remains the number one mystery here in the nation's Capitol. What became of Chandra Levy? And what, if anything, did Gary Condit know about it? In Modesto, California, Chandra Levy's hometown, the political backlash of the young woman's disappearance is forcing a key change in plans for her friend, Congressman Gary Condit.

CNN national correspondent Martin Savidge joins us now from the Levy home in Modesto with the latest.

Marty, is there any indication that his constituents want him to resign or support his weakening more?

SAVIDGE: Well, it's safe to say, Frank, that there hasn't been an overwhelming groundswell. There aren't people shouting from the rooftops here in Modesto that the congressman should resign, although we may get a better verbal indicator tomorrow. We've just been told that there is demonstration that is planned in front of Congressman Condit's office set for noon. We also understand that's being in part put together by the Republicans. They do have a sense of political blood in the water here.

But "The Modesto Bee," the local newspaper, has been doing a tracking poll, not really that scientific, but it does give you an indication of just how dramatically the popularity of Congressman Condit has fallen. He got 67 percent of the vote the last time around in the election. Now a majority of people say that they do not believe he is fit to represent them in Congress. And the last time they asked them -- Would they support his re-election? -- 59 percent of those who responded to that poll said, no, they would not. The Condit people know they have a problem here.

SESNO: And how are the Condit people reacting under this barrage of questioning and these headlines and everything else, Marty?

SAVIDGE: Well, the local offices are not reacting. Essentially, when you call or try to speak to any of them, they refer your calls to Washington, D.C. and the public relations people there. We also had another indicator. There was about two weeks ago that they canceled what is referred to as the Condit country fund-raiser. That is a big annual event that's held in his home district here. It's a gathering of about 500 to 600 supporters paying about $10 a head for the opportunity to meet with their Gary as they like to refer to him. That, apparently, is not going to take place.

You shouldn't read too much dark into it. That doesn't necessarily mean he's going to run for re-election. What it seems to indicate is that the Condit people believe this is just not the right time to have the congressman out there glad handing with his constituents.

SESNO: And Marty, we know that here in Washington we've had a few calls for Condit's resignation from Republicans. What's the Democratic strategy in all of this, and how is it playing out where you are and beyond?

SAVIDGE: Well, the Democratic strategy is more a Democratic hope, and I suppose, actually, it's bipartisan. And that is Chandra Levy is found alive and well and reunited with her family and all of this goes to the back pages.

However, they know that right now the damage may already have been done politically, that people are upset with the information that they have learned about the extramarital affairs that the congressman reportedly has had. And so the long-term strategy is that the Democrats hope that the congressman will be able to withstand this barrage and continue on, and that the Congress -- or, rather, the Democrats controlling redistricting here in California would like to try to push the 18th Congressional District a little farther north, where they think they can pick up Democratic voters.

In the short-term though, they believe that the congressman would hold on at least until September 12th. That's a significant date because that would be when he reaches 12 years of working in Congress, and eligible fully for the retirement plan. But if he steps down, the Democrats have a problem. The know it. They never planned to have a successor waiting in the wings right about now. They have Dennis Cardozo, who's a California assemblyman, but it's not clear if he really wants to run for that office. And if he does he's going to be pulled from another race, which means the Democrats would have to reshuffle their strategy all over the San Joaquin Valley. It's like the pebble going into the pool. The ripple effect is going to be tremendous and folks say it will be like a hurricane blowing through town, caused by the political vacuum of Congressman Gary Condit resigning, if that were to be the case.

SESNO: Martin Savidge in California, thanks.

Well, here in Washington, as we mentioned, there have been a few calls for the congressman's resignation. One of them came from no other than Senate minority leader, Republican Trent Lott yesterday. Our Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl has been tracking the political fallout here.

Jonathan, what exactly is the significance of Lott's position and where are the other members of Congress on this subject?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first with Trent Lott. Trent Lott came out today and tried to clarify his position. He wanted to be very clear that he was not calling on Gary Condit to resign. What he was saying was if these allegations that he had an affair with Chandra Levy are true, that Condit should resign. Here's what he said by way of clarifying his remarks yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOTT: I think that my statement speaks for itself. I think that if that -- if -- if -- if -- the facts are as they appear they may be, then he should consider resigning.


KARL: Now, what's interesting here, is you've had Bob Barr come out and call for Gary Condit's resignation because Gary Condit, Bob Barr, says has been interfering and not cooperating with the police investigation. But Trent Lott's reason is much different. He said that he should resign if these allegations of an affair with a 24- year-old woman turn out to be true. And what he said was he was not setting a litmus test. He was not saying that any member of Congress who has an adulterous affair should resign.

Here's what he said by way of clarifying that remark.


LOTT: I don't know that infidelity should be a litmus test, but it certainly is not the kind of thing you should ever condone. And certainly, it takes on additional meaning when it is with a young woman, an intern. I mean, we're here in a position of trust, you know, trust by our families, trust by our constituents and trust by the people that we will honor the office and we will not take advantage of a young woman or young men, for that matter.


KARL: Now, I should point out of course, Chandra Levy was not an intern in Gary Condit's office. The 24-year-old was working in a $27,000 a year internship over at the Bureau of Prisons. And that said, there's been only one other member who has suggested that Gary Condit should resign, and that's Dave Weldon, a conservative from Florida, Republican. He made that comment in response to a question on a radio program.

SESNO: All right. So that raises the question, where are the Democrats on all of this? And there are plenty of Democrats who called for resignation, for example, or certainly sanctioned when Senator Bob Packwood, a Republican, was tied to improper behavior. Where are they?

KARL: Well, good point. They are nowhere near calling for his resignation at this point. You have had a few Democrats from California come out and suggest that he should be doing more, Condit should be doing more to cooperate with the investigation, should come out more publicly and say what the nature of the relationship was. As a matter of fact, both the Democratic senators from the state of California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have said that. But neither of them, nor anybody else on the Democratic side up on Capitol Hill, has suggested that Condit should consider resigning.

SESNO: Once again, we should point out that the police are saying Gary Condit is not a suspect. They're still treating this as a missing person's case and the investigation proceeds. Jon Karl, thanks.

KARL: Thanks.

SESNO: Well, tomorrow the congressman's conduct and the clash of personal lives and politics. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett will give us his perspective right here on INSIDE POLITICS.


SESNO: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up. But now, here's Bill Hemmer with a look at some other top stories this hour -- Bill?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Frank, good afternoon to you and thank you. Here in Atlanta now, overseas in the news, in the wake of another suicide bombing, an Israeli official hints of potential reprisal. Two Israelis were killed today at a railway station by explosives strapped to a 20-year-old Palestinian. The Palestinian there died as well. Islamic Jihad claims responsibility for the attack. Israel and the Palestinians have clung to an oft-broken cease-fire, but now an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel will respond immediately to such incidents.

Back in this country, there've been more shark attacks off the state of Florida. Both happened yesterday, one in the Gulf near Pensacola, the other not too far from Jacksonville. Michael Waters was surfing when he was bitten on the leg. Later he was released from a hospital today after undergoing surgery yesterday. The attack occurred just a few miles from where 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast was seriously injured in a shark attack back on the 6th of July.

In yesterday's other attack, 18-year-old Tim Flanigan from Cincinnati was bitten on the foot while riding a boogie board north of Jacksonville, Florida. He was treated at a hospital and later released from there.

From California, a judge says Robert Downey Jr. is in for some hard work ahead of him. The actor reached a plea agreement today that will spare him jail time if he stays off drugs and in rehab. The judge ordered Downey to remain in treatment for at least another year and gave him three years of probation. Some people felt Downey should have received a harsher sentence, but the prosecutor in that case said Downey is not getting any special kind of treatment.


TAMARA CAPONE, DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We didn't give him a break. As I said, he is probably the 25th person that has been sentenced under this proposition in our county. It's something new, it's something, as a prosecutor, I've had to change my way of thinking, because a year ago he would have gone to prison for something like this. But because of the new law, his background doesn't disqualify from it, his acts don't disqualify him from it. So there's nothing else I could have done, no matter who he was. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: That new law stems from Proposition 36, approved by voters last November. That allows non-violent drug offenders to qualify for treatment instead of prison time. Supporters of that proposition say it could save the state as much as $250 million every year.

On the baseball diamond, major league umpires have filed a grievance. They say the owners are trying to pressure the umps to call more strikes and make the game faster. The umpires say the pressure they're getting violates their contract, while the owners say it's just a misunderstanding. Despite efforts to speed things up this year, the average baseball game is just two minutes faster than last year's average length of a ball game.

How are the Washington septuplets doing? We'll have the latest coming up at 6:00 Eastern time on the "FIRST EVENING NEWS" here. That's about 21 minutes away. Plus. we'll see how that patient in Kentucky is doing, two weeks after a remarkable and revolutionary heart surgery. See you again at about 6:00 Eastern time.

Right now back to Washington, and more with Mr. Sesno -- Frank?

SESNO: OK, Bill, we'll see you then. Twenty-one minutes.

Well, the White House energy push is back on the road. Ahead, a new strategy that has the vice president traveling to Pennsylvania, and other cabinet members fanning out.

Plus the Republican turned independent who rocked the United States Senate. He's back in the limelight. What Senator Jim Jeffords is doing now.

And later: Will these senators find out you can't get there from here? White House hopefuls and the lessons of history when INSIDE POLITICS continues.


SESNO: Lots of members of the Bush administration are on the move today. Their mission: to put the issue of energy and the president's plan right back on the front burner. The vice president and five other top administration officials are headed to cities around the country. Vice President Cheney will be hosting a town hall tonight in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, while Interior Secretary Gale Norton heads to South Dakota, Commerce Secretary Don Evans visits North Carolina, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham hosts a meeting in Illinois, EPA head Christie Todd Whitman goes to Connecticut, and Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta heads to Ohio.

So we'll head to Major Garrett at the White House. Major, what's the strategy here besides a lot of frequent flier miles?

GARRETT: A lot of frequent flier miles and a lot of small media markets, Frank. If you noticed, all of those cities are small cities. The White House expects lighter-than-usual -- well, heavy press coverage, but not the intense kind of media scrutiny that they would get in bigger cities. That's point No. 1. Point No. 2 is to emphasize, if ever so subtly, the conservation angle to the Bush energy plan.

How is that going to be conveyed? Well, each and every Cabinet secretary -- and there are also about 20 other House Republican who are doing the exact same thing -- they all took them something the White House provided. What was it? A big green backdrop, all green. What does it say? "Energy for the 21st Century."

Well, you don't need to be a brilliant sort of political strategist to figure out the green backdrop is supposed to tell people, well, conservation is very much important.

What the Bush White House is trying to do is adapt to the political realities it now encounters. The energy plan that was passed a key House subcommittee last week is heavy on conservation. It's pretty lean on production. The White House knows that's where the political winds are blowing, trying to get out in front of them and say to all voters: Look, we had a plan when there looked to be a crisis. Maybe there's not a crisis now, but we still have a plan. Give us credit for that.

SESNO: And the administration, of course, pointing out all along here, Major, that this is a long-range plan to look down the line not just 10 days but 10 years. Major, the price -- the average price of regular gas in mid-May when the plan was announced was $1.71 a gallon, a buck-71. Now it's about $1.44.

As the price of gasoline has come down, apparently so has the sense of urgency among Americans. A poll that we've got here that we want to show you shows that in May 58 percent thought that the energy situation was very serious. In July, 47 percent. How does that waning sense of urgency or crisis affect the prospects of what the president wants to accomplish?

GARRETT: Well, it makes the energy production thing all the less attractive on Capitol Hill and conservation all the more attractive. But I was talking to several White House officials and they know, they said: Look, when we were saying when we were first came to office that the economy was bad, all sorts of people accused us of talking down the economy. And one said to me: Why doesn't anyone give us any credit for talking down energy prices?

It was sort of a joke, but there is something that the administration would at least like to get some credit for, saying, look, when we put this package out, there was a lot of criticism that it was all long term, no short term, and we've said from the beginning short-term solutions aren't going to be found from this White House or on Capitol Hill or anywhere within the federal government. We have to look at the longer-term needs of energy of this country. And what Congress wants to do first and foremost is address those needs through conservation.

Billy Tauzin, who is a key player on this -- the House Republican from Louisiana said -- once we have the conservation measures in place, then in a year or two we'll have a much better idea of how much we can achieve through conservation. Then we'll hit the production issue -- Frank.

SESNO: Major Garrett at the White House.

Well, to Capitol Hill now, and the furor over his party switch subsiding, the senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords, has taken his seat as chairman of the Environment Committee. Well, Jonathan Karl, back with us once again.

Jon, and I understand that tomorrow the independent senator, Senator Jeffords, will debut in this new and powerful role.

KARL: Well, what he's going to do tomorrow is he's going to hold a press conference outlining his agenda as the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. You may remember, he switched to become an independent, but as part of that deal, the Democrats gave him this powerful committee chairmanship.

What's significant tomorrow and what you want to look for is he is expected to come out and take some very tough shots at the White House, especially...

SESNO: A former Republican senator taking shots...

KARL: Former Republican.

SESNO: ... at a currently Republican White House.

KARL: Absolutely, especially front and foremost he's going to be talking about the issue of global warming and about the Kyoto treaty, and hitting the White House for essentially abandoning this treaty, disowning this treaty and not doing enough to solve global warming.

It's not the only thing he's going to be doing. They're also making plans for their first hearings in that committee, and what Jeffords is planning to do, I'm told by one of his aides, is to have a hearing on the issue of air quality and CO2 pollution, and bring in Christie Todd Whitman to -- for some very tough questioning.

If you remember, Whitman first came out and said that CO2 should be classified as a pollutant and later backtracked when the White House disowned that position.

SESNO: What is the senator from Vermont trying to prove here?

KARL: Well, he's certainly trying to prove his independence, but he's also proving that he's going to be a thorn in the side of this White House. As a matter of fact, if you look at this committee, under Republican leadership it was chaired by Bob Smith.

Now, we have a graphic here. If you look, Jim Jeffords has an 81 percent approval rating, rating on his voting record by the League of Conservation Voters. Bob Smith had only a 6 percent approval rating by that group. So what you're looking at here is you've got somebody who has a much stronger environmental record as far as the environmental groups are concerned, which is going to put him at odds with the White House time and time again.

SESNO: At odds is fine. Holding hearings is fine. But what can he actually do?

KARL: Well, take the energy issue he's got right before him. I mean, one of the things you can expect coming out of that committee is to throw a few monkey wrenches in the administration's plans for -- for an energy policy, looking at the environmental impact. Time and time again Jeffords is in a position where he can do some damage to the White House or at least try to do some damage to the White House on this issue.

SESNO: John, thanks. Interesting.

KARL: Sure.

SESNO: We'll be watching, of course.

And now with a look ahead at what's coming up later on "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE," here's Jan Hopkins.

Jan, a downtrend on Wall Street today. Did it have anything to do with the earnings reports due out this week?

JAN HOPKINS, CNN ANCHOR: You know, what's interesting, Frank, actually some banks reported earnings. They were good and their stocks ended higher, but the market overall sold off. The first slide in prices in nearly a week. It was the first day of a busy week of earnings. So we'll get a lot more tomorrow and the rest of the week.

The Dow closed the day off 66 points at 6/10 of a percent, closing level 10,472. The Nasdaq off a sharp 55 points. That's 2.6 percent for the Nasdaq. It closed at 2,029.

Our guests on "MONEYLINE" include former Fed Vice Chairman Alan Blinder, talking about the consumer and the economy. Will the consumer keep spending? Joe Battipaglia, top strategist at Gruntal, will talk about the markets. And Gordon Bethune, chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, that airline reported earnings today. Still has a profit.

Back to you, Frank.

SESNO: Jan, thanks a lot. See you soon.

Well, the White House is only a few blocks away from Capitol Hill on Pennsylvania Avenue just behind us. But don't measure the distance as the crow flies. For senators with presidential aspirations, it's a long way, hard to take the direct route. Ron Brownstein explains why as INSIDE POLITICS continues.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: They showed in the White House what it would take not only to govern from the vital center, but to raise vital voices on behalf of the values that we share and the vision we hold for our future, because let's not forget that there's more at stake than just the DLC or the Democratic Party.


SESNO: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking to hundreds of moderate Democrats today as the Democratic Leadership Council began a two-day meeting in Indianapolis. The DLC wants to use its gathering to strengthen the role of centrists in Democratic Party politics. At least two potential presidential candidates are attending that meeting: Senator Joe Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

And while the Senate has provided its share of presidential candidates down through the years, the list of senators who actually become president is a short one.

CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" has some thoughts on that.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Ted Kennedy, the most influential liberal senator of his generation, couldn't do it. Neither could Robert Taft, the most influential conservative senator of his generation. Howard baker, Scoop Jackson, Lloyd Bentsen, even John Calhoun and Daniel Webster -- they all fell short, too.

Only two men have ever been elected president directly from the U.S. Senate: Warren Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy 40 years later. The list of those who tried and failed could fill a legislative all-star team.

That history hasn't discouraged fully half a dozen Democratic senators from at least considering a challenge to George W. Bush in 2004, but these precedents suggest that for Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden, John Kerry and John Edwards, and maybe even Russ Feingold, the road to the White House may be much rockier than they think.

Why is it so tough for senators to move down Pennsylvania Avenue? One key reason is that senators are known best for talking while Americans seem to prefer presidents who act. In the past 100 years, we've elected six governors compared to just the two senators.

Because they control home-state patronage, it's also easier for governors to raise money than senators. And senators who are household names in the capital are often shocked to discover that in New Hampshire and Iowa hardly anyone has been watching their stellar performances on the Sunday talk shows.


BROWNSTEIN: Over the past generation, in fact, the senators who have done best in the presidential race have almost all been mavericks and malcontents in the Senate itself. Think of John McCain or Gary Hart or George McGovern, or even Bobby Kennedy and Barry Goldwater, all of whom ran as outsiders pledging to shake up Washington. It may be that the only way for a senator to run for the White Hoe is to run away from the Senate first.

SESNO: At your own peril. Here's a theory, too, though, and that is when you're governor and the business down the street goes bankrupt, you show up. When the flood happens, you're there with the sandbags. When some big corporation burns down or meets with success, you're there with a check or a ribbon to cut the cord there.

BROWNSTEIN: You show executive responsibility and executive capacity. You know, in the 19th century, Frank, we elected a lot of generals president. In the 20th century, we've elected a lot of governors president. The common theme: someone who can hold an executive job.

There's always a sense, I think, bedeviling senators that when the going really gets tough, they'll give a really good speech.

SESNO: Well, we always like speeches, but how they arrive with the voters is another matter. Let's go to a couple of other issues that are bedeviling us here in the Capitol right now, and that's immigration. What's on the line for the administration with this plan they're talking about?

BROWNSTEIN: I think both politically and substantively this is a very big idea. Substantively, what they're doing here is almost Clintonesque in the sense that they are marrying two ideas that have usually been considered at odds. What they're basically saying is that neither an amnesty plan nor a guest worker plan can fly on its own and. They really need both yoked together to have any political opportunity. And that is something that if they get the details right could really move forward and bring together an odd-couple alliance that could really have a broad span, as one of your guests before said.

Secondly, politically, they need a big bomb here to improve their standing with Hispanics. Look, they didn't do as well as they hoped in 2000. They spent $3 million in Spanish-language media, they only got about a third of the vote, and even that was overstated by the strong showing in Texas and among Cuban-Americans in Florida. In many of the states that they're worried about, they only got in the 20s.

This is something that could cause a very large population that is growing at a rate that could endanger their hold on states like Florida, Nevada, later on Arizona, Colorado, even Texas, to give them a second look. So if they can put this together, it would truly be a political and substantive accomplishment.

SESNO: Another topic before I let you go, energy. The administration fanning out all over the place, but one state they're not in today is California.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, California is a very hard sell for Bush. There was some polling in "The L.A. Times" recently on who do you think was doing a better job of trying to deal with the energy crisis. Davis was something like 4-to-1 over Bush, even though -- even though Davis himself didn't get great marks. I think California they see as a very long shot for them in any scenario in 2004.

SESNO: All right. Ron Brownstein, a pleasure as always.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Frank.

SESNO: Well, problems with ballots, equipment and voter registration resulted in 4 to 6 million lost votes in the 2000 presidential election, according to a study released today. The report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology found vote-counting problems in several states, in addition to Florida -- that one mattered because it was so close of course. But it said, the study did, that up to 2 million votes were lost due to faulty equipment and confusing ballots. Up to 3 million were lost because of registration mix-ups. And up to 1 million more because of problems at polling places with absentee ballots.

How to fix the problem, the study recommended using optical scanners instead of punch cards or lever-operated voting machines. It also recommended centralized voter registration databases and replacing absentee ballots with in-person early voting. The study comes on the heels of a "New York Times" investigation that found Florida officials counted hundreds of absentee ballots that failed to comply with state election laws. "The Times" said election officials were under intense pressure by Republicans to count the ballots, but it concluded George W. Bush still would likely have defeated Al Gore in Florida even if those flawed ballots had been discarded.

Well, INSIDE POLITICS will take a quick breather. We'll be right back.


SESNO: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno. "FIRST EVENING NEWS" is next.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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