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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Rice Discusses Role of U.S. Military Overseas; Gephardt, Watts Address Bush Agenda; Is Embryonic Stem Cell Research Ethical?

Aired July 29, 2001 - 12:00   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.
JOHN KING, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 10:00 a.m. in Aspen, Colorado, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow and midnight in Beijing. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this two-hour LATE EDITION.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm John King.

We'll get to our interview with the U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice shortly but, first, the hour's top story.

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Now as the president struggles to get his domestic agenda through the Congress, he's also dealing with a number of pressing international concerns, from new tensions with Iraq, to a changing role for those U.S. peacekeeping troops in the Balkans.

Earlier today I spoke with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thank you.

KING: A lot of ground to cover, so let's get right to it.

Iraq twice in the past week fired missiles at U.S. war planes patrolling the no-fly zones. The administration said it reserves the right to respond in an appropriate fashion at an appropriate time. Obviously you wouldn't say something like that if you didn't plan to do something about it or else it would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

Can you tell us what the administration is considering now to respond to this?

RICE: Well, the president has made very clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to be a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact a threat to international security more broadly. And he has reserved the right to respond when that threat becomes one that he wishes no longer to tolerate. I think it's always best not to speculate about the grounds or the circumstances under which one would do that.

But I can be certain of this, and the world can be certain of this: Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration. The administration is working hard with a number of our friends and allies to have a policy that is broad; that does look at the sanctions as something that should be restructured so that we have smart sanctions that go after the regime, not after the Iraqi people; that does look at the role of opposition in creating an environment and a regime in Baghdad that the people of Iraq deserve, rather than the one that they have; and one that looks at use of military force in a more resolute manner, and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with him every day.

KING: Well, this latest standoff is a reminder that the United States and its allies, principally Great Britain, have been at this for 10 years now, still patrolling the no-fly zone. The president himself addressed that earlier in the week. Let's listen to what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to keep the pressure on Iraq, the no-fly zone strategy is still in place. There's no question that Saddam Hussein is still a menace and a problem, and the United States and our allies must put the pressure on him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Still a menace, still a problem. But the administration failed, principally because of objections from Russia and China, to get the new sanctions policy through the United Nations Security Council. Now what? Do we do this for another 10 years?

RICE: Well, in fact, John, we have made progress on the sanctions. We, in fact, had four of the five, of the permanent five, ready to go along with smart sanctions.

We'll work with the Russians. I'm sure that we'll come to some resolution there, because it is important to restructure these sanctions to something that work.

But in terms of Saddam Hussein being there, let's remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.

This has been a successful period, but obviously we would like to increase pressure on him, and we're going to go about doing that.

KING: Let's move on to U.S.-Russia relations. You are just back from Moscow, trying to negotiate the timetable, the framework for these negotiations, what you promise to very be intensive negotiations on two critical issues: one, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, key to your president's plans for missile defense, two, strategic nuclear warhead reductions, key to Mr. Putin's goal of saving some money for the Russian defense budget.

He is due to come here, President Putin is, in November. Is that your timetable for finishing at least the ABM missile-defense part of this equation?

RICE: Well, John, we don't believe in having a firm timetable, but we believe in aggressive discussions and consultations with the Russians on how we move beyond the ABM Treaty to something that is more appropriate for the post-Cold War era.

And indeed, as you said, we believe that such a framework should include both offensive and defensive forces. The president made this point at his Fort McNair speech in May, in fact made this point well before he was elected president; that the new framework ought to bring down the number of strategic nuclear warheads, that it ought to permit the development of defenses, so that we can account for the new threats in the environment.

And we believe that we have now with the Russians an aggressive timetable of meetings and consultations. I'm sure that there will be more at it, so that we can get about looking at how to move forward.

KING: But hold out, on the one hand, the November meeting with President Putin. Now fill in the blank for me. You know the plan for testing, research, development of the missile-defense program. When is the president going to get a memo that says, when we do this, we break the ABM Treaty?

RICE: John, the reason that that question is difficult to answer is that the ABM Treaty is so restrictive that any five lawyers will give you an answer about when there's a violation, and it will be different.

KING: What would your answer be?

RICE: Well, the fact is that this is a treaty that is so restrictive that in every few lines it says, unless you test in an ABM mode, and it was made, it was created to prevent the deployment of missile defenses.

So we've not been really willing to play this game. What we want to do is to get maximum freedom from the constraints of this treaty, so that we can have a research, testing and evaluation program that makes sense.

It's important to have a realistic testing and evaluation program. It's important to test at sea. It's important to test components together. It's important to test mobility. You cannot do those things under the ABM Treaty.

So our view is, the treaty is a problem. We need to find ways to get beyond that treaty. It is not appropriate for the current environment, and that's what we're talking with the Russians about.

But lining in, lining out the ABM Treaty to get a little bit more flexibility for this or that test is really not appropriate.

KING: Let's speak more broadly about U.S.-Russia relations.

As a candidate, then-Governor Bush criticized President Clinton, thought he had over-romanticized the relationship, overly personal in his relationship with Boris Yeltsin. Some critics, including Republicans, say this president might be making the same mistake, that he comes out of a meeting with President Putin and says he's looked into his soul and finds him to be trustworthy.

KING: They say where was the public criticism of Chechnya, where was the public criticism of the crack down on press freedoms in Russia? How would you answer that?

RICE: This president is very good at going into a meeting with President Putin and talking about very difficult issues. There was no effort in this meeting to cover and make the other guy feel good. And I must say, President Putin didn't pull any punches either. It's a very direct and candid relationship, and that's good.

No one has ever said that it isn't good to have a good relationship with the Russian president. But a good relationship cannot get in the way of expressing one's interest, and President Bush has not allowed that to happen.

It's also the case that the president has talked about Chechnyna, has talked about press freedom. He's talked about it privately and he's talked about it publicly. And indeed, when I was in Moscow just this past few days, I met with members of the independent media, talked about press freedom. I talked with my counterpart about Chechnya. And I mentioned this in the Kremlin, in a press conference in the Kremlin. We're not sweeping these issues under the rug.

We believe that a Russia which joins Europe, which has a future with Europe, is going to have to learn to resolve its differences inside the country with Chechnya and with its neighbors in a 21st- century way, not a 19th-century way with the use of force. And we believe that a country that wants to make progress on economic reform, as Putin clearly wants to do that, is going to have to do it in a context in which the people are treated well, in which they're free to say and do what they think.

KING: Let's move on to U.S.-China, another difficult relationship. Secretary Powell just left talks in Beijing. He struck a relatively upbeat note. But again, a great deal of criticism, and not just from the Democrats, also from some conservatives.

I want to quote to you from an editorial in this week's "Weekly Standard," a conservative publication. Quote, "When they release American planes they knock down, when they deport the American citizens they lock up, they will be rewarded with American gratitude. Thanks for pulling that knife out of my side."

Is that a fair criticism of how this administration deals with China? RICE: Of course not. This administration dealt very toughly with China in the EP-3 incident. The president laid two fundamental views out front. He said he wanted to be able to keep the plausibility of a good productive relationship with China, but he wanted his people back without conditions. We achieved both.

China is a big and important country. And we have a lot of differences with China, but we have every reason to want to press forward and to push forward the tremendous transformation that is going on in China itself. And so, trade with China, giving to the Chinese people the ability to be entrepreneurs, to not have their livelihood completely tied up with the whims of the Chinese government, this can only be in America's interest.

And I just might note that when Secretary Powell was there, he raised quite forthrightly the issue of human rights in an institutional sense for China. He also raised the problems that we have with Chinese proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. And we do have now the start of expert talks with the Chinese, which had been stalled for some time.

KING: Let's move on to Kosovo. The president visited the troops at Camp Bondsteel this past week. As a candidate, he said the Europeans should pick up the burden, that he wanted to bring U.S. peacekeeping troops home from Bosnia and Kosovo as soon as possible. And as you'll hear right here, he wasn't the only one making that case.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BUSH: America has a vital interest in European stability and therefore peace in the region. That's why we need to you keep patrolling the border in cutting off the arms flow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A reflection there of a changed mission. These troops sent over for a peacekeeping operation. Now increasingly they find themselves on border patrol, keeping arms from going into Macedonia. Look ahead, are more U.S. troops headed into Macedonia for a third peacekeeping mission in the Balkans?

RICE: The president has OK'ed the use of American forces on the Kosovo side of the border to interdict arms that were going into Macedonia and destabilizing the region. The troops are there to help provide stability in the region. So this is very much in accordance with that mission. But he has not authorized a change of mission for Macedonia.

I might note that when American forces first went to Macedonia in December of 1992, it was actually to help provide stability on that border. So, this is a long mission now for a U.S. force. I think they're doing it very well.

We are on a political track in Macedonia. The Macedonian government, both its Albanian and Slav sides, are negotiating with the help of an EU negotiator and American negotiator. And it's our hope that they can come to a political solution, because it has been our view, and we've communicated that very strongly to the Macedonia government, that there really isn't a military solution to the problem that they face. They have to take account of the legitimate aspirations of the Albanian people.

But we also have to isolate the extremists who are using violence to try and achieve their aims. And the president has done several things, including cutting off visas for extremists, cutting off the ability to raise funding in the United States.

So we think we're on a good course. And with enough good will and enough hard work, we think that the political solution can be achieved.

KING: We're running short on time. I want to ask you one more question. Mixed signals from the administration on the issue of global warming. Secretary Powell, when meeting with his G-8 counterparts last week, said the United States would table specific proposals at a U.N. meeting later this year in the fall. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman back in the United States quoted this past week as saying, we're going to go it alone for a while. No indication of anything specific on the table soon.

RICE: I think that there really is here exactly what the administration is intending to do, which is that we intend to develop a national plan. It's not a matter of going it alone. It is that the United States is a unique country in terms of our energy usage, our size, the proportion of the world's GDP for which we account -- 25 percent of the world's GDP. So we do need a national plan that unites our energy, economic and environmental policies, and that's what the administration is trying to do.

Now, we will happily discuss those plans with our allies. We believe that some of the elements of those plans, like for instance technology development, will be very attractive to other countries. We're also engaged in putting together partnerships around the world with the Italians, the Japanese and with a number of other countries that have expressed interest.

So we will have some very positive things to say about how to address this very important problem of global climate change during the next several months. I don't think we want to set a deadline of a specific meeting. But there's no doubt that the United States is working very hard on this problem, that we believe that we can contribute and indeed lead on the problem of global climate change. And that's what we're going to do.

KING: All right, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor to the president, wish we could cover a lot more ground, but we're out of time today. Thank you very much for joining us on LATE EDITION.

RICE: Thank you, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Up next, the political stalemate over a patients' bill of rights. Can the White House and Congress reach a compromise? We'll talk about that and much more with U.S. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. LATE EDITION continues after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from his home town, St. Louis, Missouri, is the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.

Congressman Gephardt, good to have you back on LATE EDITION.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Thanks, John.

KING: Let me start with a quick follow-up on international affairs. You heard the interview with Dr. Rice. I want to ask you first and foremost on the issue of Iraq, the administration signaling it is likely to respond in some form militarily in the near future to what it views as provocative action by Saddam Hussein's government this past week.

Is that appropriate in your view? Should the United States respond?

GEPHARDT: I think we should. I think this no-fly zone has been a productive policy. It's dangerous for us, but we don't want our fliers in risk. And we have repeatedly warned Iraq that we're not going to put up with them attacking our planes or putting them in harm's way. So, I fully back the administration in sending further messages to Saddam Hussein that we intend to keep this policy in place.

KING: I understand you yourself will give a speech, a major speech your aides say, on international policy in the week ahead. Democrats increasingly critical of this Republican president on the issue of missile defense, on the issue of global warming.

I want to read to you, before hearing your views, the quote from the former Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Commenting on President Bush, he says, quote, "I thought he would be a moderate leader, but he has been very strictly conforming to some of the more conservative members of his administration, his vice president and his secretary of defense in particular."

Is that criticism from President Carter fair, in your view? And give us your thoughts. You're the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. How would you grade this president on international policy?

GEPHARDT: Well, it's still early, John, and I'm still hopeful that the president will go back into a policy of working with our allies, working with the Russians, working with other countries to solve important challenges that we face together. Look, we live in a little bitty, interdependent world today. If we have a global warming problem, we got to solve it together. Our security really must be solved with our NATO allies and ultimately in cooperation with other countries.

So my hope is that on all of these issues, that we will go back to the negotiating table and work with other countries to solve these problems together. It's the only way it can really be done.

KING: Back to the domestic front now. The big issue in the week ahead will be the patients' bill of rights. The president says he's been trying to work with members of the Congress. Obviously this has been difficult sledding. He's been unable to reach agreement with the Democrats, unable to reach agreement with many Republicans as well.

Let's listen for a second. The president was asked about these negotiations earlier in the week. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it.

(LAUGHTER)

But dealing with Congress is a matter of give and take. The president doesn't get everything he wants; the Congress doesn't get everything they want. But we're finding good common ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Where are we in this debate, and where is the common ground? The president says he would support a bill that would put a $500,000 cap on pain-and-suffering damages, include a limited right to sue in state court if an insurer did not go along with the decision reached by an independent review board.

Is that not good enough for the Democrats? And if not, why?

GEPHARDT: Well, John, the big issue here -- and we've really been arguing about the same thing for four or five years -- and that is whether or not patients are going to have the ability to enforce their rights. In order to do that, you've got to have the right to sue under state law, in state courts, in order to make sure your rights are observed.

The administration has really sided and many Republicans have sided with the health insurance industry and the HMO industry and have really done their bidding in this process.

We're in a negotiation now. I wish it was directly between the president's people and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle that are for an enforceable bill. Thus far, we haven't had that kind of negotiation. Maybe that will happen this week. I hope it does.

We want a bill. We want to get this done. If you're ill out there and you're not getting from your health insurance company what you want, you need these rights now and they need to be fully enforceable.

KING: Well, maybe the president's watching, or at least he'll be told about this show. What could you offer right now? Mr. President, do this and we will have a bill by the end of this week before we go on recess.

GEPHARDT: Well, John, we've had this Norwood-Dingell-Ganske bill in the House. We've had another bill with John McCain and Senator Kennedy and others in the Senate. And we think this bill is the minimum that you need in order to enforce these rights.

The analogy I'd use is, what if people who were harmed in these Firestone cases didn't have the right to go into court to enforce their rights under our tort law in this country? They would be in pretty bad shape.

GEPHARDT: The other thing is, the Republicans say that we'll have all this litigation. Well, in Texas, the president's state, this bill, a bill like the bill we're trying to pass in Congress, has been in place for four years. There have only been 17 lawsuits.

The big thing about keeping this right to enforce your rights is that it prevents problems from happening. It puts pressure, proper pressure on the health insurance companies to make good decisions for quality in health care.

KING: Let's move on to another perhaps even more difficult domestic issue, Social Security. The president has a commission. He wants Congress to pass a plan that includes at least a modest private investment account as part of the Social Security system. Many Democrats have been critical of that.

Reports this morning that another proposal will soon be forthcoming from two influential members of the Congress: Charlie Stenholm of Texas, a Democrat, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, a Republican.

Let's look at some of the details of that plan. It would reduce guaranteed benefits in the Social Security system. It would increase the earnings subjected to taxes under the Social Security system, reduce the cost-of-living adjustments, and accelerate the timetable for raising the retirement age, the eligibility age for Social Security.

Is that a proposal that you as the leader of the Democrats could support? And if not, why not?

GEPHARDT: Well, it's not a proposal that I would support. I welcome anyone bringing forward proposals. There will be lots of proposals in front of us.

I guess what concerns me most is that the president has put together a commission which has already released a report that we think is not factually correct and that we think really shows that this commission has already concluded what they want to have happen to Social Security, which is essentially the president's plan, which is a plan for privatizing Social Security. We think it will cause a reduction in benefits of between 20 and 40 percent, because we'll be giving 2 percent of what people are paying back to them to put into private accounts.

Look, Social Security has been the most successful program our government's ever had. It is a safety-net program. We encourage savings above and beyond Social Security for pensions. We think that's important. But we think the solid-rock safety net of Social Security has got to be kept in place, and we hope that we can have a real bipartisan commission that will work together to find the right answers for this very successful program.

KING: Well, very quickly, to follow, then, you want another commission, a bipartisan commission. Given that and given the acrimony over other issues, whether they be education, the patients' bill of rights, do you see any prospect that this issue will be dealt with before the 2002 congressional elections?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think it could be, John. But the problem again is that the commission the president has set up, he didn't ask Democratic leaders or senior group leaders or labor or business for recommendations of who to put on the commission, as President Reagan did in 1983. He just put people on who were predisposed, in our view, to be for his plan. That's not bipartisanship. That's not working together. That's not collaborating to get a consensus.

Look, we live in a very diverse democracy. We have lots of different viewpoints. The only way you get something done is by bringing differing views together, pounding out a compromise, as difficult as that is to do, and then trying to get it through the Congress. That's why we need a different commission that is put together in a different way.

KING: OK, let me stop you there. We have to take a quick break.

But when we return, we'll talk with Congressman Gephardt about his party's plans for regaining control of the House next year and whether his future will include a run for higher office.

LATE EDITION continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our discussion with the House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

Congressman Gephardt, Republicans having a field day with a quote attributed to you in the Des Moines Register last week on the issue of taxes and spending. Republicans rushing this around town, thinking perhaps you might run for president down the road a little bit.

Let me read the quote in the newspaper. Quote, "I'm glad we did what was right in 1993" -- that, of course, meaning passing a Clinton budget that had a tax increase in it. "I'm glad we did what was right in 1993, and I'll do it again, because I believe in being fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' money."

Now, your staff says you were misquoted. Can you explain this to us?

GEPHARDT: What I said was I would do it again if the circumstances were the same as they were in '93. We're not in 1993. I am not for tax increases; I am for tax cuts. That's what we proposed in this latest tax bill. I was for tax cuts that were more focused on the middle class. I was for tax cuts that wouldn't cause us to lose our surplus and require us to potentially go back into spending Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

But this was just a misquote and inaccurate reporting, if you will. And the Republicans were completely wrong in what they said, and they know it.

KING: Well, let's follow up, though. Democrats, including yourself, have said the Bush tax cut was way too big. And then already we see, as the military brass asks for more money for defense spending, as Democrats say you need more money for things like education and health care, that too much money -- the tax cut was too big.

Let's say Tom Daschle keeps control of the Senate for Democrats, and in the 2002 elections Dick Gephardt takes over as speaker of the House. Would the Democrats come to the table in 2003 and say we need more money in Washington? And wouldn't that invariably mean a tax increase? You might call it scaling back the Bush tax cut, but Republicans would certainly call that a tax increase.

GEPHARDT: Again, we're for tax cuts, not tax increases. I think we have a budget that we can find room in for the priorities that we all want.

I do think that you're going to find that we're going to have a tougher time doing that because the tax cut was large and it was, again, directed at the very wealthiest people in the country. That, in our view, was a mistake.

But that's a decision the Congress made. The president signed the bill. The bill is being implemented, and now we're going to have to deal with the budget that we have in front of us. And that means if we're going to reach some other priorities, we're going to have do to do some careful budgeting and finding room within that budget to do the things that I think the American people want us to do.

Prescription drug program at the top of the list. A good education bill and trying to do a patients' bill of rights and campaign finance reform are all things I think people want us to do.

KING: Now you are a supporter of a campaign finance bill that would outlaw so-called soft money, those large unregulated contributions from the rich, from labor unions, from corporations. Yet, Republicans say, as you prepare for the 2002 and perhaps the 2004 elections, you yourself have set up a new political action committee that raises soft money. How can you explain that? Is there not a contradiction there?

GEPHARDT: Well, John, you have to comply with the rules that exist. Our competition has many of those such funds. But I am for getting rid of those funds, and I'm going to try to do that as quickly as we can. We're going to start signing a discharge petition in the House this week. I hope we get up near 200 signatures on it. We're sure going to try. I hope this bill will come up in September.

For the sake of the future of our political system and people's view of their government and stopping the cynicism that's out there, we need to get rid of these large contributions. The Shays-Meehan- McCain-Feingold bill -- and a bipartisan bill, I might add -- needs to pass the House and the Senate and go to the president.

KING: You mentioned cynicism there. A great deal of attention in recent weeks focused on one member of your caucus, Congressman Gary Condit of California, because of the Chandra Levy investigation. Some Democrats saying this is a distraction. One Republican saying the House Ethics Committee should pass a new regulation prohibiting members of Congress from having relations with interns. A, is at distraction? And, B, does the Ethics Committee need to get involved here?

GEPHARDT: Well first we ought to keep the focus, I think, on finding this young woman. I'm a father of three. If one of my children were missing, I'd be as upset and deeply concerned as these parents are. So we need to do that.

Second, Representative Condit needs to continue to fully cooperate with the police in that effort. As to what he did and what rules were broken and what ought to happen to him with his constituents, that really is something that lies in the future. Obviously if these reports that are not corroborated now are true, then some things were done wrong.

GEPHARDT: And I think anybody would say that.

But I don't think we ought to rush to judgment. Look, we have an ethics process in the House. That will go through its normal process at the right time. The criminal process is going on. The chief of police in D.C. has said that Representative Condit is not a suspect.

But I'm sure this process will continue, and it should. So let's do the right things at the right times.

KING: Very quickly, you're home in St. Louis this weekend, but you have been to Iowa, been to New Hampshire, clearly testing the waters just a bit, thinking perhaps about a run for president in 2004.

How does it feel out there? And as you travel, do you sense any clamoring out there for Al Gore to run again, or are you prepared?

GEPHARDT: Well, John, I think we've got to stay concentrated, as I'm trying to, on the 2002 election. My focus is on winning the House back. We need to just pick up six seats now to do that. It's important to me because I think we will bring an agenda that is the agenda of the American people. And I don't think that's going to happen until we're able to win that majority back. Prescription drugs, patients' bill of rights, education legislation, campaign finance reform.

The analogy I'd use is that, if I were the quarterback of a team on the one-yard line, which is about where I think we are in the House, I better be thinking about getting across the one-yard line and not worrying about the next game. So that's what I'm trying to do. We'll make decisions after 2002, after 2002.

KING: Some of us suspect you might have an audible. But we'll leave it there for now. Thank you, Congressman Dick Gephardt, joining us today from St. Louis.

And just ahead, the Republican response. We'll talk with Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts about a fight over the patients' bill of rights, stem cell research and more, when LATE EDITION returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from Norman, Oklahoma, is Congressman J.C. Watts, the chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Congressman Watts, welcome to LATE EDITION.

REP. J.C. WATTS (R-OK), HRC CHAIRMAN: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me on.

KING: It is our pleasure.

I want to speak first broadly about the status of the Bush agenda. The president was successful in getting his tax cut through, but many in both parties think things have stalled a bit. In recent days, a setback on the question of drilling for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico; a setback for the president on the issue of safety standards for Mexican trucks entering this country, something that he has pledged to the president of Mexico to work out; a setback -- you're the lead sponsor of the faith-based initiative in the House. It squeaked through the House after it was changed a bit. But the Democrats in the Senate say it is unlikely they will act on it, at least any time soon.

Has the president's agenda stalled? And, if so, what should he do about it? And if not, why do people say so?

WATTS: John, not at all. Look at what the president campaigned on. And I think what you hear people saying when you hear people saying that it is stalled, I mean, that's just kind of Washington speak.

But again, let's look at what the president campaigned on. He campaigned on education. He's passed an education, a bipartisan education bill through the House and through the Senate. It is now in conference. And I hope that Republicans and Democrats won't keep the American people's school kids tied up in politics, they will get that bill out.

He passed a tax relief package that eliminated the death tax, the unfair marriage tax, reduced tax rates, giving people more money to buy their kids school clothes, appliances, help pay the car insurance. Those things have happened.

The faith-based initiative, you know, we heard every week that that bill was dead, it wasn't going anywhere. We passed it about two weeks ago. It's going allow faith-based organizations to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless.

Those things we have worked through the process. And that's all happened over the last six months.

Now, the faith-based initiative in the Senate, we've got some challenges over there. But I think Rick Santorum is the right guy to lead that charge, and I feel confident that we can get that done.

But I think, using any fair and reasonable standard, the American people would agree that the president has done what he said he would do and is moving his agenda.

KING: I want to come back to the education issue in just a second, but first a quick question on energy policy.

The president in his energy plan wants to drill, on a limited basis, for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But there were reports this past week that the Republican leadership in the Congress is prepared to give that up to get the broader energy plan through because they don't believe the votes are there to drill in ANWR. Is that correct?

WATTS: Well, John, I think you could see an amendment next week concerning drilling in ANWR. I don't know if we've got the votes or not.

But the bottom line is this, we are dependent -- we get about 58 percent of our oil from foreign sources. Back in the early '90s, we went to the Middle East and we fought for oil. If it's worth fighting for in the Middle East, it should be worth exploring for in the United States. We should not be as dependent as we are on foreign sources of oil, on OPEC.

So therefore, we have to create ways, encourage ways to explore for oil here in the United States, domestically, at home. We have to create ways to conserve energy. We have to create ways to take advantage of the technology that's out there today that was not available to us 10, 15 years ago. We have to do things to make sure we protect the environment. That's called a comprehensive energy package, which is what the president has passed. And so, we're going to have an opportunity to vote on many of those things later in the week.

KING: In this memo that you sent to fellow house Republicans earlier in the week, you say, quote, "We need a sustained focus on education. This is the issue that helped propel President Bush into office and maintain Republican control of the House of Representatives."

Yet, even as you urge Republicans to focus on education, in another publication, Rush Limbaugh's newsletter, a fellow member of the Republican leadership, the House Whip Tom DeLay, says, quote, "I came here to eliminate the Department of Education." And as for his vote in support of the president's education plan earlier this year, he says, quote, "I'm ashamed to say it was just blatant politics."

Are those comments from Congressman DeLay helpful to you and to the Republican Party as you try, as you say in your memo, to have a sustained focus on the positive Republican education message?

WATTS: Well, John, the bottom line is this. Over the last two and a half years that I have been talking to the American people as conference chairman, trying to get a sense of what's important to them, over the last two and a half years that I've been conference chairman, education has been the number one issue -- education and the economy.

I think it is a mistake for Republicans not to be out there talking about education. I think moms and dads and the American people, I as a dad, my wife as a mom, we're concerned about our children getting a strong education, putting them in a system of education that will teach them how to read and write and do the arithmetic; allowing schools to have more authority on how they spend federal education dollars.

I think it is a mistake for us not to be talking about education. That is very important to the American people.

I think Republicans have performed well in the area of education over the last two and a half years. Two and a half years ago, John, we were down 23 points in the area of education to the Democrats. Today we're down 4 points in the area of education, because the American people, they have agreed with the things that we've done, in terms of trying to make sure that their kids can read and write and do the arithmetic and go to safe schools on a daily basis.

KING: Let's move on to the very controversial debate over whether the federal government should be involved in funding medical research involving embryonic stem cell research.

You oppose federal funding for that research, as do the fellow members of the Republican leadership, Majority Leader Armey, Whip DeLay. Speaker Hastert today said he personally opposes it, but he's not quite sure yet whether he's locked into that position.

Yet many other members of Congress, more than 200 members of Congress, have written a letter to the president acknowledging the fact that this research goes on, not only in other countries, but private sector companies here in the United States as well. And they say, quote, "The only way to ensure that embryonic stem cell research is conducted with strict ethical and legal guidelines is to provide federal funding and oversight."

How would you answer that?

WATTS: Well, John, you say that 200 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have signed the letter supporting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Back in 1996, over 250 Democrats and Republicans voted to say, let's allow federal policy or current federal policies to stay in place, which did not allow for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

I think we're getting on a very slippery slope. We all have our personal opinions, our convictions, our heart-felt ideas and convictions on embryonic stem cell research. I believe that the policy, the current policy prior to August of 2000, when President Clinton asked NIH to intervene and to disallow what was currently in place, was pretty good policy.

Embryonic stem cell research is very inconclusive. Researchers will say that adult stem cell research is much more conclusive than embryonic stem cell research.

So, again, it's a tough issue that the president has to deal with, that he is dealing with. I hope that he will follow his heart, which is what he said. And you can't argue with what the president is doing in trying to, you know, wrestle with this and pray about it and try to come to the right conclusion. And if he's going to follow his heart, that's all we can ask the president to do.

KING: Well, if he says he's followed his heart, and then he comes out and reverses the campaign promise and says he will support this research, support federal funding for this embryonic stem cell research, would you then oppose your president and work in the Congress to deny him that through legislative means?

WATTS: Well, John, as I said, we all come to this, you know, with our own convictions, our own heart-felt convictions on this thing. I believe that embryonic stem cell research, using human embryos for what we're proposing to do, I have problems with that.

And anybody that would come out differently than me, I don't think they're bad, I don't think they're, you know, they're evil people for doing that. We just come to the table with different points of view on this.

I had a mother, as I've said before, I had a mother that passed away from diabetes. I had a father just last October that passed away from -- with cancer. You know, stem cell research can possibly benefit these things.

But I don't believe that embryonic stem cell research is the route to take. I believe adult stem cell research is much more conclusive; the benefits seem to be much better. And before we start creating a process that we take human life for research, again, I'm not very comfortable with that. But again, not everybody agrees with J.C. Watts on that, and I can respect that.

KING: All right, Congressman J.C. Watts, chairman of the House Republican conference, joining us from back home in Norman, Oklahoma, we thank you, sir, for joining us. And we'll keep in touch as these debates continue.

WATTS: Thank you for having me on, John.

KING: Our pleasure.

Now, coming up next on LATE EDITION, more on the debate between morality and medicine in stem cell research. We'll be joined by actor and activist Christopher Reeve, when LATE EDITION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Joining us from our New York bureau is someone who has a very personal interest in the funding of stem cell research, actor and activist Christopher Reeve. He was paralyzed from the neck down when he was thrown from a horse back in 1995.

Mr. Reeve, welcome to LATE EDITION.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTIVIST, ACTOR: Thanks very much.

KING: You just heard Congressman J.C. Watts, a firm opponent of embryonic stem cell research. He's one of the many voices President Bush is hearing from as he nears what the president himself has called a very agonizing decision, the toughest decision, he says, of his young presidency.

Before I talk to you about it, I want you to listen first to some more advice the president received six days ago in Rome from Pope John Paul II. The president seated just a few steps away from the pontiff when he spoke out against such research. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE JOHN PAUL II: A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at the very stage of conception until natural death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The pope obviously, sir, a quite powerful voice in this debate. How would you counter that argument?

REEVE: Well, what the pope actually said was that he was against the creation of embryos that would be destroyed for research, and then the Vatican quickly issued a disclaimer the next day saying that all forms of embryonic research are against Catholic principles. But what I would say is that there is a big discrepancy between the point of view of the Catholic hierarchy and the rank-and-file members of the Catholic Church around the world.

The only religion that I can think of where many people believe in the higher principles of faith, the forgiveness of sins and the other higher, lofty principles, but day-to-day, for example they don't agree with the idea that priests should not be allowed to marry; they want to plan their own families.

So the latest polls done by the Harris poll and done by ABC show in this country, 72 percent of white Catholics are pro-embryonic stem cell research, and when you ask all Catholics, 53 percent support it. So the president really does have a very good safety net.

KING: Are you yourself or any like-minded individuals in direct contact still with any leading members of the Bush administration? Or are you focusing your efforts instead on the Congress, hoping to reverse the president if he comes out against this embryonic stem cell research? Where is the political campaign right now?

REEVE: It's working on both fronts, because any way you look at it, it's sort of like prohibition, people will drink anyway. There will be speakeasies or whatever. A really tragic thing that might happen in order to save the Catholic vote, if the president comes down against federal funding for the embryonic stem cell research, what will happen is there will be a black market created in the face of that. And women literally will be paid to donate eggs that will later be destroyed. And that is something we really would not want to see, and that's why we need the federal oversight.

So what we're doing is groups are talking to the president. He's being very receptive, but we're also gathering strength in the House and Senate. And right now there are 60 senators in support, including a lot of people who consider themselves anti-abortion. So, the point is, you can be pro-life and pro-human embryonic stem cell research at the same time.

KING: OK, we'll follow up and continue this conversation in just a second. But first, we need to work in a break.

For our international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next.

For our North American audience, stay tuned for the second hour of LATE EDITION. We'll continue our discussion with actor and activist Christopher Reeve.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REEVE: If you had the FDA involved and you had everybody working together, I am positive that in 10 years I would be on my feet. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Morals in medicine, the politics of stem cell research hit close to home for actor Christopher Reeve. We'll debate the issue with Reeve and Oklahoma minister and Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has crossed the line, and we've got to have enough and gumption to stand up and say enough's enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Will conduct unbecoming a congressman force Condit from office?

Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Christopher Caldwell. And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on a bipartisan act of condemnation.

Welcome back. We'll hear more from actor Christopher Reeve in just a moment, but first here's Donna Kelley in Atlanta with the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Now, let's continue our discussion with actor, producer and activist Christopher Reeve.

We were discussing stem cell research before the break, sir. One of the ways to get the politics out of this, many would say, is put aside, at least for now, the issue of embryonic stem cell research because of the great debate that we've been discussing, and focus just for now on adult stem cell research, research using stem cells from adults. Why not?

REEVE: Well, that would be a big mistake because you could spend the next five years doing research on the adult stem cells and find that they are not capable of doing what we know that embryonic cells can do now. And five years of unnecessary research to try to create something that we already have would cause -- well, a lot of people are going to die while we wait.

KING: One of the debates within this debate over embryonic stem cell research is whether, if you do go ahead with this research, to use only existing embryonic stem cells that have been donated to fertility clinics and the like, or whether to create embryos for the purpose of embryonic stem cell research.

Where do you stand on that issue? Would you support creating embryos solely for the purpose of medical stem cell research?

REEVE: Absolutely not. That's a very black market industry that we're trying to avoid, but it will spring up if the federal funding is not allowed. And one thing it's important to remember is that every state in the union must license fertility clinics. And in these fertility clinics, every day of the week, fertilized embryos that will not be implanted in the womb are headed for the garbage. Now, if you believe that life begins the moment that an egg is fertilized, then it would seem to me that there would be an outrage that these unwanted fertilized embryos are being thrown in the garbage.

And yet I do not see, or I'm not aware, that there's ever been legislation introduced to shut down fertility clinics. And that is a contradiction which really puzzles me, because you know, you're really saying that the state is sanctioning murder if that's what you think, that life begins at the moment of fertilization.

We don't see that happening. And what we want to do, scientists want to do is rescue cells that are headed for the garbage and use them to treat 100 million Americans who are suffering right now.

KING: You mention 100 million Americans. This is a debate in which just in this program we've heard the voice of the Pope, voice of many of the politicians in Congress. It's also a debate, though, with many personal stories, including yours, and from the world of Hollywood and celebrities. Michael J. Fox has testified before Congress saying he believes this research could help cure a disease he has, Parkinson's. Mary Tyler Moore has gone before the Congress and said perhaps in stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research, is the cure for diabetes.

KING: Tell us in your case, sir, how do you believe that this research could specifically perhaps help you?

REEVE: Well, in my case, I suffer from something called the demyelination. And that means that, in one very small segment of my spinal cord, about the width of your pinky, the coating, myelin, which is like the rubber coating around a wire, has come off. And that keeps signals from the brain from getting down into the body.

So the human embryonic stem cells could be cultured and then sent right to the site, and they would know that their job is to remyelinate. And then the signals from the brain would go down properly, and I would get recovery of function.

But let me say that I think this research is important not just for people with spinal-cord injuries, but let's just take the case of people that have ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. There's no cure for it whatsoever. And it is always fatal within two to six years. The body just degeneratively falls apart.

Now, what a couple of researchers did recently is proof of principle, which is very, very important. It was Dr. Gerhard (ph) and Dr. Kerr (ph) at Johns Hopkins, and they were able to inject mice or rats with a virus which simulates ALS. They then injected human embryonic stem cells. Then, over a period of time, the progression of deterioration was stopped, and all the rats showed recovery of function. Now, that is proof, because some people say, well, we don't know what embryonic stem cells can do; it's never been proven. Well, that's a huge first step. And of course we won't know what they can do until we go and do the work. But the work must not be stopped, absolutely.

KING: All right. Christopher Reeve, we thank you for joining us from New York today to share your thoughts and your personal story on this very controversial issue of embryonic stem cell research.

And just ahead, Congressman Gary Condit's conduct involving Chandra Levy prompts calls for changes on Capitol Hill. We'll get some legal perspective from top criminal defense attorney Roy Black and political perspective from former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush attorney general Dick Thornburgh.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This past Thursday, Congressman Gary Condit had a fourth interview with D.C. police regarding Chandra Levy. While investigators say the congressman is not a suspect in the missing intern's disappearance, his troubles are growing on Capitol Hill.

Joining us with some insight on where the case stands are three guests: In Miami, criminal distance attorney Roy Black. And here in Washington, former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis, and former Bush attorney general Dick Thornburgh.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

Let me start with the former attorney general of the United States. The D.C. Police Chief Ramsey, on television programs this morning, said that he could not rule Gary Condit out as a suspect.

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER BUSH ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the question's growing as to whether being free of the label of a suspect is enough. It's clear that the congressman's conduct has obstructed the investigation. There's no question about that. He was slow in coming forward. He's surrounded himself with lawyers and public relations experts. He has refused to take a police lie detector test.

I'm not suggesting these rise to the level of being a criminal obstruction of investigation, but one would think, in a missing person case, that people would be eager to come forward with all the information they have. And he hasn't, and, as suggested, he's beginning to pay a price on Capitol Hill, with at least five congressmen calling for his resignation. And Senator Leahy, head of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, noting that his -- I think I use his quote, "his political career is over." So that's pretty serious business for Congressman Condit.

KING: Let's get to the politics a minute. But that's the prosecutor's view. Roy Black in Miami, if you were the criminal defense attorney hired by Gary Condit right now, what would you say? And what would you be saying privately to the police about statements such as that? A week ago they were saying he was not a suspect, or certainly intimating that. Now they're saying they can't rule anybody in or out.

ROY BLACK, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, it's a matter of semantics. Let's face it, ever since she disappeared, the number-one suspects are always going to be the people closest to her. And in a case like this, with a young girl and an older man, he's always going to be the chief suspect. It's like in a -- when a child disappears, the number-one suspects are always the parents.

So the police can say whatever they want. Everybody else can talk around it. But everybody who understands an investigation like this knows that Condit has always been the number-one suspect, and he's going to have to prove his innocence to the police before they clear him. And that's just a fact of life.

KING: All this plays out, Lanny Davis, in a political atmosphere, because Gary Condit is a member of Congress. Your experience includes working in the Clinton White House during the whole Monica Lewinsky investigation.

Politically, still 535 members of Congress, we can still, I think, count on one hand the number who have said he should resign. But politically where is this case?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL: I think it's becoming politically dangerous for the Democrats. And somebody that I have the greatest esteem for, Dick Gephardt, continues to describe Gary Condit's conduct as cooperating with the police. Even in, on the show, he says, "continue to cooperate."

We all know that for two months he was not cooperating. And the message that Democrats, I think, have uniformly been saying, is, let's focus on finding Chandra Levy before we comment on Gary Condit's conduct.

But what misses the point, and why I think Democrats need to say his conduct is impeding the investigation -- I agree with Dick -- he needs to be completely, publicly forthcoming, not just with the police. Because his public commentary on what he did with this young woman can probably help trigger associations among other members of the public that might help find her.

KING: Some news relating to the future of the investigation today.

And, Roy Black, let's start with you on this one. Chief Ramsey says, in the week ahead, the search efforts will be scaled back, that all those police cadets we have seen searching abandoned houses and Rock Creek Park here in Washington, that they need to go back to the academy. So, at least publicly, less manpower, less obvious emphasis on the search here. What does that tell us, if anything? BLACK: Well, you know, I'm beginning to feel sorry for the chief of police. Half the people say he hasn't done enough, and the other half are saying he's doing too much and they're not solving any crimes in D.C.

The problem is, they haven't found a single fact that leads them anywhere. They don't have any tips. They don't have any facts. They haven't found one piece of evidence that would point to somewhere where they can investigate.

So, they're totally frustrated. Looking at it from the outside in, my analysis of it is that they have absolutely nothing. They haven't got the first lead to where this girl might be or what has happened to her. So of course you have a lot of people running around, and, after a while, there's no place left to run around.

THORNBURGH: Look where they might be, John, if the congressman had been cooperative from the outset. He has unique insights, to be sure, into what her state of mind was, what he lifestyle was, what was on her mind, what her mood was; all of those things that could have, very early on in the investigation, provided the leads that have not shown up subsequently were denied to the investigating officials because the congressman clammed up and, for two months, really resisted the notion that he had any obligation to come forward.

BLACK: And I think that's what has handicapped the police. They have not been as diligent as they might be themselves, but when they have someone who's intent upon really obstructing the investigation, it's pretty tough for them.

KING: I remember not so long ago to some, too long ago for others, a gentleman by the name of Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel investigating President Clinton, making much the same argument that be forthcoming, why haven't you been forthcoming, the longer you're not forthcoming the longer it will take to get to the end here. Sound familiar?

DAVIS: It doesn't sound familiar other than we have cases of private relationships that both individuals were embarrassed to be open about.

But to then carry the analogy, Bill Clinton, at the very worst, one could say he impeded a lawsuit against him that turned out to be so frivolous it was thrown out on summary judgment, and he was punished harshly for not being forthcoming in that deposition.

This is not about hiding a private relationship. This is about impeding finding a missing person with whom the congressman was involved. I cannot even come close to defending his decision to put his privacy rights about the private relationship ahead of doing everything to work with the parents and the police, whatever they want, to answer every question privately and publicly to help find that young woman.

KING: We're doing a bit of mind reading here, though, aren't we? We don't really know what Gary Condit knows. Could it be, as many Clinton defenders argued at the time, that we were jumping to conclusions and that we're being unfair to him?

DAVIS: Yes, and let me just jump in. He is completely innocent and presumed to be innocent of any involvement in that disappearance. But if that's the case -- and I stipulate to that -- why has he acted the way he has, why hasn't he been more forthcoming? It must be that he's hiding something.

THORNBURGH: If he's suffering, he's his own worst enemy because he's created a situation where a great number of people think he has something to hide, whether he does or not.

KING: Let me call a quick ceasefire. We have to take a quick break. And when we return, your phone calls for Roy Black, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh. LATE EDITION continues after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: We just want our daughter home alive. We're not sure whether that's possible or not. And we want her home alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Susan Levy, the mother of missing intern Chandra Levy, speaking with reporters on Friday.

We're continuing our LATE EDITION conversation with criminal defense attorney Roy Black, former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

Before we continue with our discussion, let's first bring in one of our viewers in Georgia. Sir, your question?

CALLER: John, great show. My question is for Attorney General Thornburgh.

Attorney General Thornburgh, don't you think you all of Congressman Condit's aides need to be carefully questioned to see what they know about the Levy woman's disappearance?

THORNBURGH: Well, it was a bad week for the congressman and his staff last week because of these allegations that regard their actions, at least on the surface appearing to try to cover up whatever activity the congressman is trying to hide. So, I suspect that the police will be going forward with that kind of investigation.

BLACK: Dick, that's a heck of a understatement to say that the aides had a bad week. Obviously, the FBI and the police are highly focused now on Condit's aides to see if there's any information they can dredge up, from searching cars to questioning to everything you can think of.

THORNBURGH: That's about as bad as it gets, Roy. KING: But we still don't know what happened here. We still don't know what happened. We have a missing person case that in some way involves a member of Congress. But already political fallout.

BLACK: There was one hopeful note last week. There was an item respecting a young woman from Connecticut who had been missing for four weeks and who, lo and behold, turned up alive. So, four weeks and 13 weeks is quite a bit difference, but you're right, we don't know. We really have no notion. There are no clues, there's no crime scene, no evidence. Tough call.

KING: Yet, a political debate here in Washington. Again, a small number -- I believe you can still count them on one hand -- of members of Congress that said Gary Condit should resign. Others have questioned his effectiveness.

One of those who says he should resign is Bob Barr, Republican Congressman from Georgia. But that's not all he says. He says if the congressman refuses to resign, he should at least step aside temporarily from a very important position he holds on the House Intelligence Committee. Let's listen to Congressman Barr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: For a member to be embroiled in these sorts of problems even as he gets access to our nation's most sensitive secrets, I think, raises a very immediate concern that definitely ought to be addressed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Lanny Davis, should he step aside from that committee?

DAVIS: I don't think he should step aside, and I don't think he should resign. I think that's a rush to judgment.

The best thing Gary Condit has going for him -- and there's not much can find that's any good going for him -- is that Bob Barr is taking the lead, who's known to be a partisan Republican, who jumps to conclusions. He uses innuendo. And it's the only way Condit, in my judgment, is going to get any sympathy, if it's politicized by people like Bob Barr.

KING: You're the former attorney general of the United States. You know the information that goes through this committee.

THORNBURGH: Well, I think that's a matter of some concern.

But in terms of this being politicized, I think you have to look as well at the notion that if Representative Condit resigns now, the likelihood is he would be succeeded by a Republican. That district votes Republican normally. If he serves out his term and the reapportionment occurs in California, there's a strong suspicion that that reapportionment would turn this into a Democratic seat. So, you can't get away from politics no matter where you go. BLACK: You know, John, in this country we've always lived by the precept that people ought to be charged with something and found guilty before we punish them. We don't punish them before we find out whether or not they did anything wrong. And, you know, getting on television and demanding people to resign and asking them to confess guilt that they may not have, I think, is very unfair.

DAVIS: Right.

KING: OK. On that point, let's stop one second.

Let's bring in a viewer from Ohio. Your question, sir?

CALLER: You talking to me?

KING: Ma'am, I'm sorry.

CALLER: Yes, I just had a question as far as the congressman's potential rights as far as being Mirandized. Right now everybody's saying he's not a suspect, so I'm assuming he has not been Mirandized. If he does become a suspect, I'm assuming that the information that they gave him cannot be used against him. Then, if they Mirandize him, then I presume, he won't stop talking.

DAVIS: Well, first of all, if he's completely innocent, he's got to act differently than in the normal situation where people take criminal attorney's advice, take the Fifth Amendment, refuse to cooperate or whatever is necessary to protect oneself. He is not just another person under investigation. He's a member of Congress. He was involved with a young woman who is missing. He's got parents who are near grieving.

He has a moral and personal obligation to put aside his privacy rights, maybe even expose himself to entrapment in a lie detector test situation. He has got to come forward and do everything possible those parents want him to do to help find that young woman.

That's where the focus should be, not on political calls for resignation. Democrats and Republicans should say to him, as a human being, you have to speak out and cooperate and forget about your personal risks and do anything you can to find that young woman.

BLACK: You know, to answer that on a technical legal basis, the Miranda rule has more holes in it than the Titanic. I mean, the fact that he shows up with a lawyer, he's not in custody, the police don't have to Mirandize him. Anything he says to them now is admissible against him if he should be charged with a crime.

The only time the police must give a Miranda warning is when they arrest somebody, put them in custody. Then they have to give them the rights, and they have the right to have an attorney. Gary Condit's not in that situation. Everything he's saying now can be used in the police investigation and a subsequent trial if there ever would be one.

THORNBURGH: And like it or not, the rules are different when it comes to the Fifth Amendment when you're in public life. Your constituents don't take very kindly to the fact that you assert your Fifth Amendment rights when you're a representative or other public figure.

KING: We have about a minute left, so quickly, each of you, one of the proposals now from a Republican congressman from the state of Colorado is to have the House Ethics Committee adopt a specific rule outlawing relationships, sexual relationships, between members of Congress and congressional interns. Is that the type of thing we should be legislating?

DAVIS: Absolutely not. It's going down that road that's distracting from finding Chandra Levy. And the last thing we need is hypocrisy by politicians talking about outlawing private relationships, which is not going to work.

THORNBURGH: I don't think that's going to be the answer.

KING: Roy Black?

BLACK: Well, you know, setting an ethical standard, I think, is probably a good idea because, you know, lawyers are bound by it, doctors are bound by it, psychiatrists -- we all recognize there are certain people we cannot have relationships with. And let's face it, the last 10 years or so in the nation's capital has shown us that this a problem. And I'll tell you, if there's some rule set on this, I don't think it's a bad idea.

THORNBURGH: I've talked to a number of people from outside Washington who have young women who aspire to be an intern. They've said to me, quite frankly, this caused them to think twice about it. That's a terrible thing, commentary on our system. And the kind of high profile that these cases get is a real disservice to trying to enlist young people into public life.

KING: OK, we need to stop on that note because of time. I'd like to thank all three of you, Roy Black in Miami, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh here in Washington.

And just ahead, President Bush lobbies Republicans in Congress on a patients' bill of rights. Is he doing enough to get a measure he can sign? We'll go around the table with Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Christopher Caldwell, when LATE EDITION returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time now for the LATE EDITION roundtable. Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today"; Steve Roberts, contributing editor for U.S. News and World Report; and sitting in this week for David Brooks, Christopher Caldwell, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard."

Let's get to it. This was a president, when he came to office, said, 100 days is not fair; judge me at 180 days. That is where we should first judge a new president. So let's go around and grade him. Let's start first on foreign affairs, international policy we say at CNN.

(LAUGHTER)

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": You know, I think if you were in elementary school, you might say he doesn't play well with others. There's a series of issues -- global warming, arms control, the national missile defense -- in which Bush has been at odds with some of our allies as well as our adversaries. And, you know, you can succeed as a president with that kind of stance, but it's harder.

You talked to Condoleezza Rice, for instance, about sanctions against Iraq. The administration was unable to get the rest of the world, even our allies, to go along with the new regime, a different kind of sanctions against Iraq, because he hasn't built the kind of relationships that would enable him to force the allies to do what he wanted to do in that case.

So I think that's a risk for the president as he looks down to the next three and a half years of this term.

STEVE ROBERTS, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": Look, I think, also, he underestimated, John, the role of the United States in the world, in a sense. You know, Madeleine Albright used to call the United States the indispensable nation. I think she was right about that. And when he came into office and said, I'm not going to be Bill Clinton, I'm not going to get involved in the Middle East, for instance. We're going to take our troops out of Bosnia. Well, there are imperatives that operate here. He is going to have to get involved in the Middle East. It was absolutely inevitable because there was no option.

CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Without taking the troops out of Bosnia, though, he has managed to shift course on what looked like an inextricable problem, Clinton's biggest foreign policy mistake, which was backing the Albanian radicals, not just in Kosovo but in Macedonia. We now have a policy that is dead-set against greater Albanian nationalism. That's quite an achievement. No one thought he could do that.

ROBERTS: Look, I think the one thing to say positive about his foreign policy, he has continued Clinton's devotion to foreign trade and free trade, which I think was the high point of Clinton's foreign policy in many ways. He stood up to a lot of the Democratic interest groups, and I think it's important that Bush continue to do that.

I think it's a good thing he's made free trade a high priority. We're going to see, however, whether he gets authority to negotiate new trade agreements.

Some, as you say, think he hasn't been very successful persuading allies in Europe to help him out. He's got to persuade some people on the Hill to go along with him. Very important question about foreign policy to come.

KING: You say "doesn't play well with others," but isn't it part of leadership if you disagree with the others, whether it's missile defense or global warming, to perhaps not play so well to bring them along?

PAGE: Well, and that's what he's chosen to do. And of course it takes the test of little more time before we know whether that turns out to be the right thing to do.

President Bush is clearly going to pursue national missile defense, for instance, which is relatively popular with the American people but unpopular with Russia, China. A lot of concern about it in Great Britain and France and other nations. So with the test of time, does that turn out to the right thing to do, is that the right post-Cold War strategy to have pursued? Or does it undo a generation's worth of arms control efforts that succeeded in keeping the peace?

Now, President Bush is betting that he's on the right course, but there are an awful lot of people who disagree with him. And I don't think we're going to know for sure until some years have passed.

CALDWELL: I think Bush plays a very important role in Europe. We're in a funny position now. For the first time, our allies of the Mediterranean countries, Spain and Italy most naturally.

But on Kyoto, everyone needs Bush as a lightning rod. Chirac and Schroeder, for their very different reasons, need to argue for Kyoto, but they can't afford it in their countries. They're very grateful that Bush is there.

ROBERTS: But also, I just came back from Europe. Someone has to do that assignment in the middle of summer.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: And it was interesting to listen to television and commentators in France. There's a real sense that Bush is not devoted to internationalism in the same way his father was. Whatever was true about his father, he was a true internationalist, had served as envoy to China and CIA. There's a sense that this guy is not quite understanding enough or sympathetic enough to the allies' point of view. He's got a lot to convincing to do with European allies.

KING: Let's bring the debate home to the United States. The president got off to a pretty good footing, pretty good start. People thought he was pretty nimble, getting the tax cut through a very narrowly divided Congress. It's been a while, though, since he's had something certainly that he could sign and, some would argue, that he could celebrate.

How would you grade him -- start with you, Chris -- in terms of congressional relations, not just personal relations but actually getting things done?

CALDWELL: I'd give him a B-minus. I don't think that he's as much to blame as some people say for the Jim Jeffords defection. You can say he was asleep at the switch, but ultimately there was not much he could have done about that. But in Congress, he seems to be at kind of a crossroads. He has to decide whether he wants to rule with Congress and somewhat against his party in the Clinton mode, or whether he wants to start throwing down gauntlets.

And we'll see whether he goes Clinton or goes Reagan on this patients' bill of rights.

PAGE: Here's the irony, though. At 100 days, you would have given a A, because he got a tax cut passed, he was well on the way to getting an education bill through, two of his big priorities.

But since then, boy, he's had his own agenda stalled on things like faith-based, and he's also been forced increasingly to deal with other people's agenda. Campaign finance reform and the patients' bill of rights, not one of the fundamental promises that President Bush made when he was a candidate.

So I think he's really had some problems now. And the debate within the White House is, can you risk a veto on a very popular piece of legislation like the patients' bill of rights, if a version passes that is not his version, which is very likely the situation that he'll face.

KING: Can he?

ROBERTS: No, I don't think he can risk a veto. And I think he will sign whatever comes through. He's trying to negotiate now to get as good a deal as possible. But he's going to declare victory and say, I'm going to sign. I can't see him vetoing this bill.

But the other irony, of course, in Capitol Hill is, in many ways, the man who has emerged as, in some ways, even more influential than George Bush on Capitol Hill is John McCain, who is absolutely at the center of all of these debates and who seems to understand the Congress better than George Bush. He is closer to the pivot point, closer to where the governing majority in Congress is right now than George Bush is. And in many ways, he is the pole around which people are coalescing on a number of issues, not George Bush.

KING: Let's pick up on that in just a minute.

For now, a quick break. More from the roundtable when LATE EDITION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to the roundtable. Let's pick up where we left off, grading President Bush at six months plus a few days.

We ended before the break with you saying that John McCain, in your view, is closer to the center of the action now in Congress. Let's explore, why do we think that it is so? A president has a unique weapon at his disposal, the Rose Garden, the bully pulpit. Has this president failed to use it?

CALDWELL: There is a limit to what you can do with the bully pulpit.

The president is a charismatic fellow, but what he has been shown to lack is an overall communications strategy. And they keep getting blindsided on stories like Karl Rove's investments, Paul O'Neill's investments. They have mismanaged a lot of news stories; having Hillary Clinton's first flight on Air Force One be the day they nominated Mel Martinez. So they're making mistakes on this.

They're doing so-so, could do better.

ROBERTS: I think he is. You know, watching President Bush just on CNN in Europe, he seems small. I don't see him filling the screen. I don't see him filling the bully pulpit. He seems to be defining his role as head of state, which is different from head of government, narrowly and modestly. You don't have a sense of him dominating these European meetings. You don't have a sense of him really going out and communicating something strong and clean and visible to the American people. It's a small presidency when it comes to the bully pulpit, I think.

PAGE: You know, it's not for lack of motion. He's gone to 33 states, more than any other president at the time. So, certainly, he is out there a lot, talking to people.

But there's been a reticent, I think, on the president's part to fill big occasions. And I think there will be a real test coming up on this issue of stem cell, because, whatever the president decides, he will need to explain it in a nuanced and sophisticated way. He'll need to convey why he came to wherever he comes out on this very difficult and emotional issue. And it's something that we haven't seen him do, yet. He's going to have to do it on this particular issue.

ROBERTS: And he's going to have to do it on television. And I think that he is not that good on television. His father was never any good on television. He might be marginally better.

His great strength in the political campaign was always in personal settings where his enormous natural charm and comfort could reach out and connect with people.

But I think that Susan's right -- explaining complicated policy and leading through communicating with people, he has not done it. The environment is a very good example of an area where he's just been -- the entire agenda has been taken away from him, where he was clearly out of step and has not been able to communicate his environmental principles.

KING: Christopher, on the issue of stem cell research, as a candidate, he said he opposed embryonic stem cell research. Six days ago he sat next to the pope. A very blunt statement broadcast not only here in the United States but around the world, saying you are the leader of the United States of America. You have a moral duty to say no. Can he say yes now?

CALDWELL: Now it's very tough. Or can he say no now? I mean, would he look like he is just cowtowing to the pope?

He blew it sometime between the campaign and now. Basically, there was an up and running $400 million research program that the Clinton administration had, which he pulled back for review. He should either have left it going or decided that he wanted to kill it in January. But now he has a fresh decision to make, and he has to either go against business or go against the Catholic vote.

ROBERTS: And I think that he has a very difficult decision. And I think that -- part of what you mentioned in your conversation with Christopher Reeve, you pointed out how personal this is. This is not your standard issue even with the involvement of the Catholic Church and the ideology involved, because the calculations are scrambled by the fact that so many people, including me -- and I bet most of us have somebody near to them who could, perhaps their lives could be improved by this.

And J.C. Watts said this was a slippery slope, but people can make distinctions. Orrin Hatch has made a distinction that a fetus in the womb is not the same as a embryo in a petrie dish. And I think if he makes a decision against this, I think it's going to be a political disaster.

CALDWELL: Well, it's very similar to abortion. In fact, the poll numbers break down very similarly to abortion, where you have questions about parental consent. If the parents consent to have these embryos used for experimentation, 72 percent of Americans are in favor of it. I think the closer this gets wrapped up in the abortion question, the more dangerous it gets.

KING: Let's close on another story that's getting a little bit of attention here in Washington, some might say too much: not just the Chandra Levy investigation, but the political fallout in Congress.

We have little more than a minute left. Each of your thoughts on this idea put forward by Congressman McInnis that the House Ethics Committee should somehow regulate relationships between members of Congress and interns.

ROBERTS: I think that's absurd to make if official. But I, as a college professor, send young women to be interns every day, and I feel extremely strongly that Gary Condit or anybody in the position of responsibility has a personal responsibility to conduct themselves well. But I don't think it should not be a rule.

CALDWELL: Yes, this is not about sex. This is about a disappearance and possible, even probable, murder. Let's not mix the two up. For McInnis' rule to pass would be the best thing to take Condit's feet away from the fire.

PAGE: Yes, I agree. I don't think that members of Congress should be having exploitive personal relationships with interns, but I'm not sure this is something you want to regulate in that manner.

KING: Is this story on the way up or on the way down? CALDWELL: It might be on the way down if there's no new leads, but it ought to be on the way up. People say there are no clues about whether Condit was involved. But he has done something incredibly inhumane, which is, use the rhetoric of finding Chandra to obstruct the investigation into covering. And we ought to be all over this like a cheap suit.

ROBERTS: We're about to enter August, traditional time. We're not going to have stem cell research, a lot of other issues to talk about. I think there'll be less information and more talk in the weeks ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: All right, we need to end it there. Thanks to our roundtable, Susan Page of "USA Today," Steve Roberts of U.S. News and Report, Christopher Caldwell of "The Weekly Standard."

Up next, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Representative Bob Barr of Georgia has said Condit should resign, but he's a notoriously partisan Republican. House Democrats can ignore him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As the Chandra Levy case continues to unfold, can Congressman Gary Condit still count on his fellow Democrats?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

And now, Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on the troubles of Congressman Gary Condit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): Congressman Gary Condit, who has been, as the British would say, assisting the police in their investigation of missing intern Chandra Levy, was probably toast anyway in terms of having any political future. Polls showed his constituents unlikely to vote for him again.

But he became officially toast, maybe burnt toast, this past week, when Texas Democratic Congressman Charlie Stenholm said, "Congressman Condit has brought controversy and discredit to his family, his district and the Congress."

It wasn't what Stenholm said, though discredit to the Congress is listed as a violation of House rules in its Ethics Committee's manual -- it wasn't what Stenholm's said; it was that he was the one to say it. Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott has said Condit should resign, but he's a Republican and a senator. House Democrats could ignore him. Representative Bob Barr of Georgia has said Condit should resign, but he's a notoriously partisan Republican. House Democrats can ignore him.

Stenholm, by contrast, is a Democrat like Condit, is, like Condit, a member of the Blue Dogs, a coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats. Stenholm and Condit both sit on the Agriculture Committee. For Stenholm to say that Condit brought discredit to the House, matters in a way that Lott's and Barr's calls for resignation didn't.

It's like a generation ago when the House Judiciary Committee voted articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and some Republicans on the committee voted aye -- Butler of Virginia; Cohen of Maine; Fish of New York and so on.

Republican Congressmen who weren't on the committee listened and thought, "If they can, I can. I can vote for impeachment, and it won't hurt me back home." Nixon's support in the House evaporated. He resigned because impeachment seemed certain.

So Charlie Stenholm, a Texas conservative who voted to impeach Bill Clinton, is a Condit critic who is a Condit friend. He gives cover to other Democrats the way those Judiciary Committee Republicans gave coverage of their colleagues years ago.

It isn't what gets said, it's who says it. And if Gary Condit needed prove of how much trouble's he in, Charlie Stenholm gave it to him last week.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Thank you, Bruce.

Now it's time for you to have the "Last Word." Our coverage of the G-8 summit and President Bush's overseas trip generated a lot of email from you.

Joan writes, "Bravo for covering the G-8 summit. I was beginning to think the only thing you were interested in was Gary Condit's sex life."

Jeff from San Luis Obispo, California, says, "Expanded trade is not the solution to the world's poverty. The industrial modern nations want to increase the incomes of the poor nations' citizens so that banks can issue them credit cards for buying Western goods that they do not need."

And finally about the death of "Washington Post" publisher Katharine Graham. As Corver (ph) of New York City writes, "For many women in publishing and elsewhere, she was an enormous influence as a model of taste, strength, intelligence and integrity." As always we welcome your comments. You can email us at LATEEDITION@CNN.com, and don't forget to sign up for Wolf's weekly e- mail at CNN.com/email.

Just ahead, we'll show you what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. And now, a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

Newsweek examines the battle for the soul of the Boy Scouts. "How a stand against gays is dividing an American institution," on the cover.

Time magazine asks, "Do kids have too much power? Yes, say many parents, and now they're moving to regain control," with a child as king on the cover.

And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, "America from 1900 to 2000: who we were and who we are; how an epic century changed a nation."

That's LATE EDITION for Sunday, July 29. Join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

And if you missed any of today's show, you can tune in tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for a one-hour replay of LATE EDITION.

Thanks for watching. I'm John King in Washington.

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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