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Maureen Reagan Dead at 60; Bush Administration Angry Over Senate's Rejection of Nominee to Head Consumer Products Safety Commission

Aired August 8, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve in Washington where Maureen Reagan is being remembered for her personality, her family ties and her love of politics.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Thelma Gutierrez outside Ronald and Nancy Reagan's home in Los Angeles. I'll have the family's reaction to Maureen Reagan's death.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace with the president in Texas where Mr. Bush has been reaching out to everyday Americans.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Eileen O'Connor in Washington with an update on the Clinton pardon flap. Did Senator Hillary Clinton tell all?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week.

Maureen Reagan was best known as the oldest daughter of former President Ronald Reagan, but she was a political figure in her own right, a woman with strong opinions and a strong will. Those who knew her say she displayed her fighting spirit during her five-year battle with the deadliest form of skin cancer. Maureen Reagan died today at her home in California surrounded by loved-ones. She was 60 years old.

CNN's Anne McDermott has more on the former first daughter and her achievements.


ANNE MCDERMOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maureen Reagan spent the final years of her life as a passionate advocate for people with Alzheimer's disease, people like her father.

MAUREEN REAGAN, DAUGHTER OF RONALD REAGAN: It is an equal- opportunity disease, and it doesn't make special arrangements for former presidents or first ladies.

MCDERMOTT: Now Maureen Reagan herself is dead at age 60 while her 90-year-old father lives on in the darkness of his disease. A spokeswoman for the former president said he is doing as well as can be expected for a man who's just been told his daughter is dead but that he is otherwise resting comfortably.

Ronald Reagan married Maureen's mother, Jane Wyman, when both were young actors in Hollywood. Wyman, now 87, is an Oscar winner who later appeared in the long-running "Falcon Crest" TV show. She has not been seen on the screen in years but did make several visits to Northern California to visit her ailing daughter.

Her daughter would grow up to become a political analyst, talk show host and author. For a time, it seemed Maureen Reagan would follow in her father's political footsteps, but she failed in a bid for a U.S. Senate seat, though she did serve a term as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

Veteran political reporter Helen Thomas called her a natural leader.

HELEN THOMAS, JOURNALIST: She really knew how to lift a crowd. She had a tremendous pep rally kind of cheerleader, and I've seen them rise to their feet after she's spoken.

MCDERMOTT: Though close to her father and one of his most effective cheerleaders, they did not agree on everything such as abortion.

REAGAN: I think it's a decision between a woman and her god and doesn't belong in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians.

MCDERMOTT: After her father retired to California, Maureen Reagan was a constant presence during the construction of the presidential library.

REAGAN: I feel him in here.

MCDERMOTT: Later, Reagan, who had a warm relationship with her stepmother, Nancy, was often on hand after the president announced his Alzheimer's disease, commuting to Los Angeles from a central California home she shared with husband, Dennis Revell (ph), and their teenager daughter.

Nancy Reagan released a statement referring to her stepdaughter by the president's nickname for Maureen, which said, "Ronnie and I loved Mermie very much. We will miss her terribly."


MESERVE: Ronald and Nancy Reagan, as you just heard, called Maureen "Mermie." Because of the former president's Alzheimer's, Mrs. Reagan now speaks for both of them. She issued a statement today on Maureen Reagan's death.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is outside Ronald and Nancy Reagan's home in Los Angeles.

Thelma, what did they have to say?

GUTIERREZ: Jeanne, that's' right. We're outside of Ronald and Nancy Reagan's home. In fact, both of them are here in their Belair home. A publicist told us a short time ago that Nancy Reagan will not travel to Sacramento unless, she says, Maureen's husband and 16-year- old daughter need her.

Now a short time ago, Nancy Reagan did leave on errands. Her publicist said that she will not give any interviews today, but she will attend Maureen's funeral alone without her husband. It is scheduled for August 18th at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento at 10:00 a.m. and it will be opened to the public.

Earlier, Nancy Reagan released this written statement. She had this to say: "Maureen Reagan has been a special part of my life since I met Ronnie over 50 years ago. Like all fathers and daughters, there was a unique bond between them. Maureen had this gift -- had his gift of communication and his love of politics. And when she believed in the cause, she was not afraid to fight hard for it."

Now Nancy Reagan, as we had mentioned, will remain here in their Belair home until Maureen Reagan's funeral on August 18th. Jeanne, back to you.

MESERVE: Thelma, thank you.

Many people from the political world last saw Maureen Reagan at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. She and her stepmother were on hand to watch and applaud a video tribute to former president Reagan. After that tribute, my colleagues Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw interviewed Maureen Reagan.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are joined now here by his daughter, Maureen Reagan -- Maureen.

REAGAN: Hi, guys.


WOODRUFF: What you are feeling?

REAGAN: Well, I thought it was a lovely tribute to all of the presidents. And certainly, it was a wonderful tribute to my president that our delegations down there remembered who he was and what he gave us.

SHAW: When you hear this talk of a new Republican Party, do you ever wonder what happened to the old Republican Party?

REAGAN: Well, we brought in a new Republican Party, so I guess this is the new, new Republican Party. I'm not really sure. I've been a Republican more than half of my life, and I still think it stands for the same things it stood for back when I started.

WOODRUFF: What does it stand for to you?

REAGAN: It stands for individual liberty and responsibility, the fact that we have the chance to be anything we want to be. But we have to take control of our communities and make them what we want them to be.

WOODRUFF: Do you think your father would approve of the kinds of things that are being emphasized at this convention?

REAGAN: Oh, I think that he would, he would. I want to see when the whole thing is kind of closed up at the end. We've now identified many of the problems. Now we need the solutions. Now we need to hear from the candidates and we need to hear them tell us how are we going to make these things better and what are they going to do to inspire us to do it.

SHAW: What about gays, lesbians and a woman's right or choice to choose...


SHAW: ... and the platform and...

REAGAN: Is there a problem here? Well, you have to understand, I represented Ronald Reagan in front of the Log Cabin Club back in 1980. So we were much more accepting than anybody gave us credit for.

WOODRUFF: And the party's still not onboard with you.

REAGAN: And I understand that but I keep trying.

SHAW: I know that you want to get down to the floor to hear the John McCain speech.

REAGAN: I do, I do. I hope you guys will forgive me, but I'll come back and talk to you again sometime. I promise.

SHAW: You promise?

REAGAN: I promise.


MESERVE: That was Maureen Reagan at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia.

The White House has issued a statement from President Bush. It says: "Laura and I are deeply saddened to learn of Maureen Reagan's death. Maureen was a devoted, caring daughter and mother. She fought tirelessly to increase funding for Alzheimer's research and raise public awareness of the disease. Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen's husband, Dennis, and their daughter Rita and the entire family.

Joining us now, Sheila Tate, former press secretary for Nancy Reagan, and Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine. Also, former California governor Pete Wilson joins us on the phone from Los Angeles.

Thank you, all, for coming in.

Margaret, she had a tart tongue, she had strong opinions. She made our jobs as journalists more fun, didn't she?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: She sure did. I followed her around for a couple of weeks when she was at the RNC. And at the end of it, I was completely exhausted because she was tireless and had a wonderful way about her. She was like the happy warrior. She was the happy face of the Republican Party. If there were cloning, she would be the clone of Ronald Reagan. She was so much like him in temperament and outlook and what she wanted to make of the Republican Party.

MESERVE: Sheila Tate, what was their relationship like on a personal level?

SHEILA TATE, FORMER NANCY REAGAN PRESS SECRETARY: Very close. And I think it was because they were kindred spirits. Margaret's right. They were -- she was such a politician and she loved it. I mean, she loved nothing more than a great argument on an issue the way good politicians do, you know. No bad feelings at the end, just a great argument. And she did so much beyond that in at least -- I mean, she died so young and it's sad, but she accomplished an enormous amount, I think.

MESERVE: Governor Wilson, explain to us what your relationship was on a political basis with Maureen Reagan.

PETE WILSON (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: Well, as you heard from both Sheila and Margaret, this was a woman of boundless energy. She had enormous political talents. She was every bit the communicator that her father was. She was I think one of the most eloquent speakers I've ever heard. And she did have a natural grace about her and a great joie de vivre and a great passion. She was a real fighter for people and her causes that she believed in. And of course first and foremost among those, her favorite cause was Ronald Reagan. But she has become an ardent and an eloquent spokesperson on behalf of increased funding for the fight against Alzheimer's, to find a cure for Alzheimer's and for the melanoma that took her life.

But those were latter-day causes. She was outspoken. When you wanted an opinion of Maureen Reagan, you didn't have to wait long and you certainly didn't have to ask her to clarify things because she was very clear. Whether it was in casual conversation or whether she was heading up the delegation to the conference on the status of women in Nairobi. And she had great gifts. She represented a different view than many within the party, but she articulated her view with great passion and with great fun. She was great fun to be around. When I think of Maureen, I think of a big smile, a big heart and a lot of courage, the courage with which she fought against her own disease and the courage and the loyalty, the fierce loyalty with which she defended her reviews, and the father and the president that she so dearly loved and to whom she was so devoted. MESERVE: Margaret, every single one of you has described Maureen Reagan as outspoken and she certainly was. Didn't that get her into some trouble?

CARLSON: Well, she was actually a feminist and within the Republican Party, that made her bossy. I remember when I was interviewing people about her, the guys -- I mean, if she'd been, you know, Bob Dole or Craig Fuller or somebody there, she would have been a decisive executive. But she wasn't a guy so she was very bossy. You can see where they might come up with that, but I think bossy is a good thing in a woman. And she was trying to organize women. And one of the things I remember she said, which I thought was very funny, she said, "Trying to extract money from women is so hard in politics." She said, "They're still saying thank you for their pay checks as if it's a gift so you can't wheedle the money out of them." She was trying to tell them that the only way they were going to get women in there was to open their wallets.

MESERVE: Sheila Tate, what was the view from the inside? How did official Washington view her?

TATE: Well, now, first of all, I want to take exception to Margaret. If Maureen were here, she would say, so, an aggressive, assertive women in the Democratic Party. She wouldn't be bossy, right?

CARLSON: By the way, she would be. But we just happen to be talking about the Republican Party, agreed.

TATE: And so I forget your question.

MESERVE: I was asking how she was viewed by the mainstream, by the official Republican Party.

TATE: Well, well, she got stuff done.

MESERVE: Was she a gadfly.

TATE: No, no, no, no, she was very focused.

MESERVE: Was she a troublemaker?

TATE: She corralled about 50,000 volunteers to work on behalf of her father's successor, George Bush, in the '88 campaign. I mean, for two years, she worked -- well, beyond two years, but officially for two years in the RNC, she worked really hard to get more women to run for office as Republicans and to win. I mean, she cared about those issues and she did focus on them. She wasn't a gadfly by any means.

MESERVE: Governor Wilson, you mentioned her tremendous political skills, yet she wasn't successful herself running for office. Why?

WILSON: And I think that's a shame because I think she would have been as outspoken in office as she was out of it. She almost won in her second bid. She came in second in a field of 11 seeking a congressional seat. MESERVE: Sheila Tate, I'm wondering, she certainly was an advocate for her father, a defender for her father. She didn't always agree with him. Did he listen to her in a policy sense?

TATE: They had great respect for each other and they talked issues and they respected each other's positions. Ronald Reagan had a pretty clear sense of what his positions were, and so, I mean, I don't remember a time when Maureen changed his position.

I think the other story here is how close Maureen and Nancy Reagan were over the years. That relationship -- I think probably the last two or three years at the White House when she was spending a lot of time there, it really did bloom into a close friendship because they cared about the same person: Ronald Reagan.

MESERVE: Margaret, I want to ask you the same question I did Governor Wilson. Why wasn't she successful as a politician since she was so active in the political sphere?

CARLSON: Maureen Reagan may have gotten a leg up because her father was president, but then some people seemed to think that she was a gadfly or she didn't deserve it, when, in fact, she did. She was tireless as we said before.

TATE: Don't you think it's a little bit because her father was president and it's hard for a child of a president to run while -- especially while their father is in office?

CARLSON: I think it's very hard. It's a curse and a blessing. And so she didn't quite get all the credit she should have gotten for what she did.

MESERVE: Governor Wilson, you knew Maureen Reagan for years. Do you have a favorite anecdote about her you can share with us?

WILSON: Well, I've got many that I can't share.

MESERVE: Those are the best.

CARLSON: Well, we want to hear those, too.

MESERVE: There isn't one you're willing to...

WILSON: The reason I said that is that she had a wonderful sense of humor and she was very funny. And she was, as we have all observed, she was remarkably energetic. I remember her best I think at the Detroit convention where her husband -- or rather her father was nominated and she was all over the place and having a wonderful time. But there was the focus that Sheila and Margaret have described. She was having a wonderful time, but she was also cementing the relationship with a lot of delegates. And I think that what I remember best is we took some kind of a water taxi back from some place where we had gone, and she was just thoroughly enjoying the moment and she said, "You know, it just doesn't get much better than this. His time has come. He's going to win, and the world is going to be better for it. And it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun." That was not exactly a verbatim quote but pretty close. That was certainly the spirit.

MESERVE: I imagine the real one was a little spicier perhaps. Margaret Carlson says she has one story to tell.

CARLSON: Oh, well, she had this dog that she kept in the office with her at times, and the dog snagged her panty hose. The dog snagged everything. The dog was very badly behaved. So we ducked out and went and got new panty hose. And she ran and put them on in the back of the store. And we come out, we're walking along, and the dog does it again. And she says, "Oh, what the hell. We'll just go this way." And she just put a piece of scotch tape and went on.

MESERVE: Soldiered on.


MESERVE: Thank you all, Margaret Carlson, Sheila Tate.

And Governor Wilson, thank you for joining us on the phone.

WILSON: Happy to be with you.

MESERVE: And some other memories of Maureen Reagan, former attorney general Edwin Meese issued a statement calling her, "A friend and an outstanding lady who mirrored many of the best attributes of her father, President Ronald Reagan." Meese adds, "She was an outstanding communicator and demonstrated her own unique leadership on behalf of many good causes."

Ronald Reagan's longtime aide, Michael Deaver, noted Maureen's work for an advocate for Alzheimer's patients and her loyalty for her father saying, "She was so dedicated to finding a cure for this terrible disease that had stricken her father."

There will be more on the death of Maureen Reagan and the legacy she leaves behind tonight on "Wolf Blitzer Reports." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Roughed it up against the board. Spilled a little blood behalf of the family.


ANNOUNCER: Volunteer work proves a bit hazardous for the president as he tries to put a bandage on his public image. Also ahead...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Survivors," big on TV, but we've had them in the White House, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: Bruce Morton on Nixon, Clinton and the ability to make a political comeback. And Senator Hillary Clinton being asked today: What did she know and when did she know it? Live from Washington, there's more of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff straight ahead.


MESERVE: President Bush today emphasized the work part of what the White House is calling his working vacation. He chipped in at a Habitat for Humanity home under construction, and he used his visit as a chance to praise what he likes to call "heartland values." CNN's Kelly Wallace joins me now from Crawford, Texas with more on the president's day.

Hi, Kelly.

WALLACE: Hi, there, Jeanne. Well, Jeanne, aides say this visit to nearby Waco and seven other similar trips this month will give the president a chance to get out of Washington and hear what is in the minds of everyday Americans. But these events also appear to be designed to possibly change some perceptions along the way.


WALLACE (voice-over): A vacationing President Bush got to work...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, all the way up.

WALLACE: ... building a new home near his Texas ranch for a single mom and her two teenage kids. The president showing his casual side with a walk through the streets of Waco and informal remarks on the importance of home ownership.

BUSH: Owning something is what America is all about.

WALLACE: This, the first of a series of visits this month to communities around the country to interact with everyday Americans. The reason?

BUSH: It's the real world. It's part of keeping one's perspective. Washington is a wonderful place but it's not exactly the real world, if you know what I mean.

WALLACE: Many Americans outside the Beltway, however, don't believe the president is on their side. In a poll last month, while 70 percent found Mr. Bush likable, only 47 percent said he agreed with them on the issues they care about; 48 percent said he disagreed.

MARSHALL WITTMAN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The administration has to be concerned about those numbers. Yes, he has high approval numbers, but beneath the surface, the American people are a little uncomfortable that he may be too friendly to money and to power.

WALLACE: Analysts say those perceptions stem from the administration's emphasis in its first six months on policies viewed as too generous to big business. And so the focus now is on issues with wide appeal such as helping the needy and improving public schools and getting the president out from behind the podium where he often seems ill at ease, and putting him in front of small groups where supporters say he is most at home.

REP. PETER KING (R), CALIFORNIA: I get the impression that he looks upon the speeches to large crowds as being part of the job, but the smaller sessions he looks upon as where he can really perform well.


WALLACE: Earlier today, I had a chance to talk to the president's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez, and I started off asking the secretary if there were any concerns inside the White House that many Americans feel the president is out of sync with issues important to them.


MEL MARTINEZ, HUD: Well, I think today he was quite in sync with this particular person. The Evans family and their dream of home ownership, he was very much in sync with them. And, you know, when you see him walk down the street and shake hands with everybody as he comes down the street, I find it hard to understand that. I think a lot of it is perception. And I frankly think it's completely inconsistent with the kind of person that he is.

WALLACE: And so events like these, this one today, he's going to travel to New Mexico and Colorado, informal settings, is that an opportunity to change those perceptions?

MARTINEZ: Well, I think it's certainly where he's at his best, because the real person comes through. And I think in that sense, I think people will get to know the real person that is behind that microphone and that suit, and so I think it's a great way for him to present himself to the American people. I think that, you know, he is such a real individual. There's no facade. What you see is what you get. And I think the more that that comes across the TV cameras, the better off he'll be.

WALLACE: Now your Democratic colleagues were criticizing this saying this is all a photo-op, an image for the media, that this administration is really cutting back on funding for the need-based programs.

MARTINEZ: Oh, well, absolutely not. I mean, in fact, in next year's budget, the president is proposing tripling the funds that would go to organization like Habitat for Humanity. The fact of the matter is that our budget pretty much holds the line but is certainly following budgets that were incredibly large. And so, you know, we have to bring some rationality into the whole budget process. The fact is that HUD is quite happy with the budget that we're getting and we're going to be able to meet the needs of American families and American people. But what we're doing that is emphasizing home ownership, events like this really help us to crystallize our message about the need for people to understand that homeownership is more than transforming a family, is transforming communities, is helping a family become not just a homeowner but really a stake holder in the community.

WALLACE: How do you point to this, Habitat for Humanity, as an example or as a way to demonstrate why you think the president's faith-based agenda is the right way to go?

MARTINEZ: You know, it's a perfect example. This is an organization that has been doing business with government for a long, long time. It's an organization that really works. It is getting it done. It's really helping more American families achieve the dream of home ownership in a partnership with government, the private sector and the non-for-profit or faith-based world. It's a great partnership. It really has worked. Twenty-five years in existence and they're getting it done.

What the president wants to do through his faith-based initiatives is to get more and more organizations like this to have that opportunity to access government, to work with government in partnership. And there's nothing, you know, about that that should frighten anyone. In fact, it's really good. This is what America is all about: volunteerism. He said today he bled for volunteerism. He pinched his finger and bled a little. And that's volunteering, helping in a community. That's what makes America great.

WALLACE: And finally, when it comes to a big hurdle, I guess, overcoming in terms of the Congress, this faith-based agenda, would this administration support allowing -- removing the requirement for having charities at adhere to state and local anti-discrimination laws?

MARTINEZ: You know, I'm not going to get into the legislative strategy of the White House on this. What I'm going to do is tell you that I believe at the end of the day the president's program will get through the Congress. I think it's something that has a lot of support out there in the heartland of America, and I really look for the Congress to approve it and to pass it. But even if the Congress doesn't act, which I hope they will do and they should do, regulatorily, administratively, there's an awful lot we can do to help the faith world participate with us in building more houses for American families.


WALLACE: And the president today said there's been a lot of debate about the legalities and the process of his faith-based agenda. But he says his administration is focused on the results. Jeanne, that's a message he's going to be taking to Congress this fall where that agenda faces an uphill battle in the Democratically-controlled Senate -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Kelly, a lot of people watching and waiting, curious to see what the president is going to do on the issue of federal funding for stem cell research. Any clarification from the president today on when he might make that decision?

WALLACE: It is really unclear, Jeanne. The president meeting with reporters a little bit today. Of course, reporters asking him when that decision could come. Someone asked that it come next week. He said a possibility. He also said that he would be going to Milwaukee. We understand that will be happening on August 20th. He said after that, he will be going to a city which hasn't been announced yet. And then he said, that's a hint. But not clear if the president is serious or joking with reporters. We're just not certain when that decision is coming.

MESERVE: And he does joke. Kelly, thanks so much.

WALLACE: He does.

MESERVE: Appreciate it.

Here in Washington, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced her resignation today just days after President Bush's nominee to succeed her was rejected by a Senate committee. CNN White House correspondent Major Garrett joins us with more on Ann Brown's resignation and the lingering political anger caused by last week's committee vote.

And Major, anger is the word, isn't it?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anger most definitely is the word, Jeanne. What we have is a situation that you might recall seeing in some sort of sitcom somewhere: "You can't fire me, I quit." "Well, you can't quit, you're fired." Well, that's essentially the situation we find ourselves in now. The White House still debating whether or not it's going to fire Ann Brown before she officially resigns on November 1st or the Senate confirms a new chairman of that Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Two senior White House officials who have talked to CNN today said they are still debating whether or not to actually fire Ann Brown. That was in the works and going to happen on Friday if Mrs. Brown had not announced that she was in fact going to resign.

Now, Senate Democrats have made it very clear to the administration this day, that they would view very dimly any move by the White House to move Ann Brown out of her position any earlier and confirmation of a replacement or that November 1st resignation date and are telling the White House: "Look, cool your heels. Don't make this into a major-league confrontation. Send somebody up. The next person you send up, as long as it's not Mary Sheila Gall, whom we've already rejected, you're likely to get a very favorable hearing."

But the White House is still very angry about the Senate's rejection of Mary Sheila Gall. Some aides are pushing for Ann Brown to be fired immediately, but again, the president has yet to make a determination. But overall, Jeanne, this is the first example we have seen -- it may not be the last -- of a direct confrontation between this White House and Senate Democrats over nominees, not only to this Consumer Products Safety Commission, but other important posts as well.

MESERVE: Major, despite the advice he's received, is there a possibility he would send Gall's nomination back up to the Senate one more time?

GARRETT: It's a possibility. Right now, White House aides are getting back to Mary Sheila Gall, asking her if she wants to make a fight a second time. But Senate Democrats have made it abundantly clear she is a nonstarter. If you send her up, a party-line vote defeating her will greet her again. So the counsel Senate Democrats are giving to the White House is don't make that mistake, send up somebody else, they're likely to get a very favorable hearing and a quick confirmation.

But again, the sense of anger, the sense of, if you will, betrayal, Senate Democrats defeating someone who had been unanimously reappointed to the commission only a year or two ago leaves them very angry and maybe in a mood for a fight -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Major Garrett at the White House, thank you.

And new questions about the commuted sentence for a convicted drug dealer and the role of then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Plus, a close-up view of some of the day's other top stories, including NASA's launch of the new Genesis satellite. Stay with us.


MESERVE: Hillary Clinton on the defensive. Up next: the latest questions for the senator regarding the Clinton pardon flap. Plus: a skill her husband shares with another ex-president who knew quite a bit about facing scandal.


MESERVE: The Clintons may have been hoping they had put the presidential pardon controversy behind them. But today, Senator Hillary Clinton is facing questions about a White House memo and whether it contradicts her earlier statements. At issue: her brother Hugh Rodham's efforts to get a commutation for a convicted drug dealer.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor has more on this story -- Eileen.

O'CONNOR: Well, Jeanne, a memo obtained by CNN and said by sources to have been included in deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey's files is raising new questions about the role of former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton -- now, of course, Senator Clinton -- in the commutation of the sentence of convicted cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali.

In February, a controversy flared up when we learned that Hugh Rodham, the senator's brother and a lawyer, had received $204,000 for work on the Vignali case. Senator Clinton said at the time she knew nothing of his efforts to get Vignali's 15-year sentence commuted to time served, six years. That commutation was granted. She said she told her brother to return the money, which he agreed to do.

But this note indicates her brother at the very least gave the impression she was involved. The note is on White House stationary and it was taken as a message from Hugh Rodham to Lindsey, and says: "Hugh says this is very important to him and the first lady as well as others."

Senator Clinton's spokesman, Jim Kennedy, says she stands by her earlier statements, which she made at a news conference on February 22nd.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I did not have any involvement in the pardons that were granted or not granted. You know, and I'm just very disappointed about my brother's involvement.


O'CONNOR: The U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White, has an open investigation going on into this and other clemency actions. The House Government Affairs Committee, led by Republican Dan Burton, also continues to look into the matter. Sources say no legal wrongdoing has thus far been found relating to the former president and first lady in any of the grants for applications for pardons or clemency -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Eileen O'Connor, thank you.

Many Clinton watchers note that every time the former president and his wife seem to be on an upswing politically some new flap comes along. But they keep coming back.

Our Bruce Morton has been thinking about political resilience, on a day of significance for another ex-president who knew how to make a comeback.


MORTON (voice-over): Survivors: big on TV, but we've had them in the White House, too. Richard Nixon, who announced he was resigning the presidency on this day in 1974, was one. As a candidate for vice president in 1952, he faced questions about a slush fund, went on TV to defend himself, and talk about a dog someone had given his daughters.


RICHARD NIXON (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this right now that regardless of what they say about it we're going to keep him.


MORTON: The Nixons kept the dog, Dwight Eisenhower kept Nixon on the ticket, and they won. But Nixon lost the presidency to John Kennedy in 1960, lost the governorship of California in 1962, and said, I'm through with politics.


NIXON: Just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.


MORTON: But he came back again, won the presidency in 1968, and then Watergate -- wiretaps, burglaries ordered from the White House. Facing certain impeachment, he resigned.


NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.


MORTON: But he came back again, through his books, burnished his reputation as a statesman. Bob Dole, whom Nixon dumped as Republican chairman, broke down at his funeral.


SEN. BOB DOLE (R), KANSAS: May God bless Richard Nixon and may God bless the United States.


MORTON: What a survivor. But he's not the only one. Remember candidate Bill Clinton. Whitewater? The draft?


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not, I did not do anything illegal or wrong in the draft.


MORTON: The women: Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky. Had he lied? Would he be impeached? Impeach and be damned, he said, and they did. His response? A pep rally at the White House.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens as a result does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.


MORTON: Impeached, acquitted in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST, U.S. SUPREME COURT: ... William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, is not guilty as charged...


MORTON: Left office head high.

CLINTON: We did a lot of good. We did a lot of good.

MORTON: And then the pardon flap and were they walking off with the White House furniture. But then the world's biggest non-fiction book deal and a hero's welcome at his Harlem office, never mind that it wasn't his first choice.

Survivors. Different? Alike?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": The name "Bill Clinton" continues to evoke chuckles and images of Monica Lewinsky.

HUGH SIDEY, "TIME": Good ol' Bill Clinton. He -- he kind of talked his way and smoothed his way around things, and even though he'd done these awful things, people kind of liked him a little bit better than Nixon, I think.

MORTON: Survivors. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


MESERVE: The 2000 election is long over, but the ads keep rolling. We'll have the first look at a new report on the candidates and the interest groups responsible for this year's dramatic surge in political advertising.


MESERVE: A new study of the nation's top 100 media markets has uncovered a huge amount of political advertising long after election season ended. The Wisconsin Advertising Project, which is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, reports more than $105 million was spent on more than 131,000 TV ads since the first of the year.

For a first look at where all this money is coming from, I'm joined by David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.

David, who is spending all the money?

DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well, Jeanne, they actually break down into three different types of groups. You look at political spending, policy spending, and what we call industry inoculation spending. If we look first to political spending, you'll see that about $51 million has been spent so far in elections and special off-year elections. Leading that has been Michael Bloomberg.

Here in New York, Michael Bloomberg has already spent $9.2 million. The race isn't for three months -- the election isn't for three months; he's already spent more money than the entire L.A. mayor's race cost the candidates who participated in that race.

Moving on to policy groups, you see that the issue groups have combined to spend about $34 million. It's broken down around policy issues: the abortion issue, the telecommunications issue, $3 million each to school vouchers and energy, and about $15 million is really state-level spending. California, for example, was energy and gambling, but other states weigh in, too.

Moving onto industry inoculation groups -- and what we mean by industry inoculation groups, these are groups that don't want to become the next legislative target a la the tobacco industry, energy issue and the gun issue -- the guns group. You see biotech spending $12 million, and plastics combining to spend $8 million. So there's an awful lot of spending out there and it's around a lot of different groups.

MESERVE: And why are they spending all of this money at this point in time? Why now?

PEELER: Well, here's the game plan. The election is over but the campaign never ends. These groups, like NARAL, Sierra Club, they realize that they've got a Republican president, a Republican Congress, that they need to address their issues directly to the consumer.

Remember that we live in, kind of, a poll-driven society now. Advertising is probably one of the best mechanisms to move those polls very, very quickly. That gets the paid media -- the news media to follow those issues. So, clearly, this is part of a very organized public relations, move-the-poll strategy that all groups have now adopted in the political process.

MESERVE: David, what can you tell us about the tone of these advertisements?

PEELER: Well, you know, I think we left the presidential election with a very, very negative connotation. I don't think there's been much in the political realm that has been positive since then. We had the Jeffords issue, now we've got the Condit issue front page, and so, what's happening is we're in a very, very negative environment.

Even those issue groups and policy groups who used to be more supportive of their issue and less attacking the opposition have taken the political turn, and they've got negative advertising on now. So it's turned very negative early on in the process.

MESERVE: OK, David Peeler, thanks so much for bringing us that analysis.

And an update, now, on campaign finance reform. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's press secretary says the GOP leadership probably will move the Shays-Meehan reform bill to the floor if it's clear a petition drive to revive the measure is close to being successful. The bill's supporters now have 205 of the 218 signatures needed to force the measure to floor over the objections of House leadership. And during the congressional recess, they are stepping up their search for more signatures.

An official with the political interest group Common Cause expressed confidence that the 218 signatures will eventually be obtained, but he says it's good news that GOP leaders might move the bill even before all those signatures are collected.

And a budget battle ends in Tennessee: Will there be political fallout? We will update the battle over a budget veto, and the protests caused by talk of a new state income tax.


MESERVE: And now some political news and notes outside of the Beltway.

In Illinois, Governor George Ryan is expected to announce his future political plans a few minutes from now. Ryan has served one term, but he has said he's not sure if he'll run for reelection, retire from politics or leave the Republican Party to run as an independent. Recent polls show Ryan has a record low approval rating, one consequence of an ethics scandal linked to his term as secretary of state.

In Tennessee, where protesters hit the streets during the standoff over the state budget, Governor Don Sundquist says he probably will not call a special legislative session this fall to revisit tax reform. A possible state income tax was a key issue in the legislative debate that just ended in Nashville. Yesterday lawmakers overroad the governor's budget veto and approved a budget without an income tax.

Every Friday, our Bill Schneider awards a Political Play of the Week, and we want your nominations. E-mail your ideas to:, and tune in on Fridays to see if you picked the Play of the Week.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


MESERVE: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course you can go online all the time at CNN's; AOL keyword: CNN. Our e-mail address is: I'm Jeanne Meserve.




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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