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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Is Iraq Next Target of War on Terror?; Should Ridge Testify Before Congress?; Will Texas Voters Elect a Hispanic Governor?

Aired March 16, 2002 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is assistant Senate Republican leader Don Nickles of Oklahoma. Good to have you back, Don.

SEN. DON NICKLES, (R), OKLAHOMA: Thank you.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

President Bush was asked whether the next target in the war against terrorism are Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All options are on the table, and but one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction. We're going to deal with him and but the first stage is to consult with our allies and friends, and that's exactly what we're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Vice President Dick Cheney was consulting Middle East allies on a 10-day, 11-nation mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will not permit the forces of terror to gain the tools of genocide.

HOSNI MUBARAK, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: Egypt believes that every possible effort should be exerted to implement the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Security Council resolution without conflicting more suffering on the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: President Mubarak and other Arab leaders express concern after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent 20,000 troops into Palestinian refugee camps. President Bush was unusually critical of Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I understand someone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror, but the recent actions aren't helpful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is Dick Cheney preparing the way for military action against Iraq?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I don't -- there's any question about it. I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. But the president was really remarkable in this -- in this press conference on Wednesday in saying there was -- in saying virtually promising there was going to be an attack and in seeming -- when he said everything was on the table, to nuclear -- to brandish the nuclear weapon.

Mark, you and I earlier today interviewed Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. He denied that the nuclear weapon was being threatened, but that's the way it was interpreted by a lot of people in the Senate who are strong supporters of the -- of the president and were really concerned about the fierceness of his -- of his rhetoric. Some people talk about it as reckless rhetoric, but I don't think there's any doubt that the signal was given we're moving into Iraq whether our allies like it or not.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, certainly the public evidence of the reception that the vice president has gotten has got a cold shoulder. He's been rebuffed by Arab allies toward that and certainly immediate action against Iraq.

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, but I don't think that's any surprise Mark, and I don't really -- I really don't think the president was reckless. I think they've actually been kind of -- kind of temperate in his approach because I think it's going to be in stages, and I think they're going to try some other things first, and it'll probably ultimately lead to force (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but that is, as Bob said, down the road.

You can't separate it, however, from the Middle East, and I think the one thing that this -- that this government -- this country does not want is to be taking action against Iraq while there is warfare between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I mean you think of the ramifications, the Iraqis launch a scud at Israel and Israel somehow retaliates back, and it's a horrific scenario. So I think this is all connected, and I think that General Zinni's mission and what the president said about Sharon are very much part of all this.

SHIELDS: Don Nickles, you've been in the United States Senate since 1980, and at every juncture when there's been a chance of going into warfare. The Senate has advocated its responsibility to declare war. Do you think it'll be different this time?

NICKLES: Well, actually the Senate has spoken this time, and we're -- we've already given the president, frankly, authorization to fight the war on terrorism and that's exactly what he's doing and the ...

SHIELDS: Does that include invasion of Iraq?

NICKLES: Well, I don't -- I don't really think people are talking about invading Iraq. There's already resolutions saying that we will enforce inspections, make sure that Iraq is not building weapons of mass destruction, unfortunately the previous administration quit enforcing that. This administration trying to send the signal to Iraq and I hope that some of our Arab allies instead of just telling the United States don't go against Iraq, I hope they'll tell Iraq make sure you don't support terrorists, quit funding terrorists, don't give terrorists weapons. Things like that, I think, might help diffuse it.

Maybe we'll see a change of behavior in Iraq, but I do think with President Bush, I think he's sending a clear signal, we will go after terrorists wherever they are, and if they're being supported, if they're being financed, if they're receiving arms from Iraq, this president, I think, will take steps to stop it.

SHIELDS: But, Margaret, we have absolutely no evidence that Iraq was involved in any way with September 11, right?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: No, and the way the president phrases it, we don't need to. But if they're developing weapons of mass destruction and if they harbor terrorists of any kind, then we're able to go in. What I wonder about, senator, is did the Senate authorize war on 60 countries, which is what secretary -- Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz ...

NICKLES: I would take issue ...

CARLSON: ... on that other program that Bob Novak is on, the inferior program that he's on. Are we -- does the Senate authorize war on 60 countries without any further say?

NICKLES: The Senate authorized war on terrorism, and it just so happens al Qaeda happens to be in about 60 countries, and if they're -- have terrorist camps, we can go after those terrorist camps wherever they are, and if a country -- some countries may have those terrorist camps in their country without their permission -- I mean, they may not be controlling them. They may not be financing. They may be letting them go, but we're trying to help and actually some countries that in the past have not been too receptive have been helpful ...

NOVAK: But, Don ...

NICKLES: ... in Yemen, in Philippines and Sudan and other areas are helping us get rid of those terrorists and so we're having cooperative effort probably far in excess of success than what many people would envision in trying to stop terrorists worldwide.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, right after September 11, all the talk was about the people who wanted to go after Saddam Hussein ...

NICKLES: Yes.

NOVAK: ... that there was a connection with the September 11 attacks. That really is -- nobody is saying that now. Now they're talking about weapons of mass destruction, and, Don, the people I talk to in the Senate who get the -- who get the briefings say there has been no reports of any substantial evidence of increased capability or intentions on the part of Iraq with weapons of mass destruction.

I just think there's a lot of people in this administration -- I know there's people in this administration who want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and certainly nobody has said anything good about him, but the idea the United States is going to take unilateral action to get rid of him has consequences in the world.

NICKLES: Well, absolutely it does, but I don't think the United States is going to take unilateral action. I think -- you've seen the president say that he's always be consulting with the allies. You've seen Vice President Cheney in the neighborhood talking to people, and I think this is a concerted effort to try to give a change of behavior to make sure that Iraq is not supporting terrorists, and if they continue, if they do support terrorists, if they harbor camps, if they have terrorist camps and those terrorists are leaving those camps to attack the United States or allies, I think we'll take preventive measures.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: One could argue that it may be working. I mean if, in fact, Iraq is not doing anything bad, or they haven't been building up, it may be because they're scared.

CARLSON: But as far as we know, Vice President Cheney drummed up no support on this trip among those countries for us going into Iraq.

NICKLES: Well, I would think that maybe that's -- I think Vice President Cheney is well respected in the Middle East and I think he's doing an outstanding job.

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Vice President Cheney for Don Nickles, "The Gang" will be back with a standoff between the president and Congress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush refused to permit Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, to testify before Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: He doesn't have to testify. He's a part of my staff, and that's part of the prerogative of the executive branch of government, and we hold that very dear.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm still wondering what it is about Mr. Ridge's job that would keep the administration from wanting him to come to the Capitol to talk about the many responsibilities he has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Governor Ridge's appearance was demanded by members of Senate and House Appropriation Committees, including conservative Republican Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma -- quote -- "to deny the testimony of the office of Homeland Security is to deny this Congress its constitutional role of coordinating intelligence and responses to terrorist threats" -- end quote.

Margaret Carlson, why are both sides so exercised and so dug in, in this dispute?

CARLSON: Well, this is turning out to be such a secretive administration, and this is just the latest demonstration of it. You know Donald Rumsfeld gets to be secretive and not give out much information because he's got troop movements and national security and because he's so good at it.

But this is homeland security. Tom Ridge is not staff. He's really -- operates much more like a Cabinet officer, and then on top of it, he monkeyed with our color system. And you know, we -- high alert was confusing enough to be on that all the time, now we are all currently in code yellow. So yellow is no longer mellow. It's now significant risk and no one is ever going to understand this. Color us all confused, he's going to be called to account.

NOVAK: Now I understand.

SHIELDS: Don Nickles, quite frankly, the fact that he isn't a Cabinet officer, was never Cabinet staff, does kind of put him in this sort of gray area, but why is the administration so reluctant to have him testify?

NICKLES: I think the administration is very concerned about preserving constitutional prerogatives. They're an equal branch of government, and Mr. Ridge is an adviser to the president. He's not Cabinet secretary. Every Cabinet secretary has been to the Hill many times. Actually, Mr. Ridge has been to the Hill many times. He's met with appropriators. He met with Democrats and Republicans. He's happy to do that.

But to march him down and say, oh, you have to testify and give us all this -- that's why we have Cabinet-level agencies. I think the president is trying to say, wait a minute, there's a level you shouldn't be going here. This is my trusted adviser. He didn't make him the Cabinet officer. He's not subject to Senate confirmation. I happen to think the president's right.

SHIELDS: Doesn't this diminish, though, Tom Ridge's own leverage and sort of weight and heft within the government?

NOVAK: Well, this goes back to the question of whether he should have been a Cabinet officer or a staff person. That might have been a mistake. But let me tell you what's going on here -- Senator Bob Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, president pro team to the Senate, a senior Democrat, he wants to get -- he's the guy who's causing all the pressure.

And I mean, it isn't Tom Daschle cares much about, this is Bob Byrd special. He wants to get Ridge up there and like -- as he does with many people, brow beat them. What's he going to brow beat him on? Well, he doesn't want that much money spent on defense.

He wants the money spent on homeland security, and it's not for nothing, as Bob Byrd the king of pork. What he wants to do is make Camp Dawson, West Virginia the national center for the homeland security operation in the country, pour more money into West Virginia. Part of his general plan of transplanting the government of the United States from Washington, D.C. to the hills of West Virginia.

SHIELDS: I don't think Ernest Istook of Oklahoma is a plan of Bob Byrd's ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Or when Republican Senator Ted Stevens ...

SHIELDS: Ted Stevens ...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He's an appropriator -- they're all appropriators.

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: I hope that there's a solution. I think it can be. I think Governor Ridge has indicated a willingness to meet with members. Maybe he should meet with caucus, maybe all senators, all the House ...

NOVAK: But that isn't good enough for Byrd, he's turned that down.

HUNT: That's not good enough for me and it's not good enough for the country. Look, to pretend that Tom Ridge is the assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations or the secretary of the Cabinet is just nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: This is -- he's far more important than most Cabinet members, far more important than Elaine Chao, far more important than veteran affairs, who I suspect other than Don Nickles, no one on this panel could even say who it is. This is a guy who's in charge of homeland security. Congress is an equal branch. He should have been made a member of the Cabinet, but no matter what, he should up there to testify.

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: During the Clinton administration, the Republicans rightfully asked for several aides to the president, John Podesta, Charles Rupp to testify before Congress. Republicans demanded ...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Why browbeat them?

HUNT: They were actual -- well. they were right in those cases, and I don't think they want to brow beat Tom Ridge.

NOVAK: Oh, sure they do.

HUNT: I want to find out about homeland security.

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: We never call the president's chief of staff. We don't call ...

HUNT: But John Podesta testified.

NICKLES: ... we don't -- we -- well, that was because there was some ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: He was the chief of staff.

NICKLES: Yes, but usually when people have been called to testify in the past, it's been because there's allegations of real problems. But we don't call the president's national security adviser or you don't call the president's chief of staff by and large, and there has to be some point -- do you want to the national security adviser or the head of homeland defense, do you want them to testify before dozens of committees or do you want ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: ... to help them -- have them do the job?

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Let's be reasonable.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Let's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) got to be serious. We're talking about homeland security. This is a country that has been devastated. This is a country that's on alert. This is a country that's concerned. There's natural interest. We're talking about huge appropriations as a legitimate ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: In every single ... SHIELDS: ... and dialogue.

NICKLES: ... in every single appropriation, you have General Ashcroft, that testifies before Congress. You have the head of FBI that testified before Congress. You have the head of CIA that testified before Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: But Bill Young, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has sat down informally with Governor Ridge who was a presidential aide -- that's good enough for him. But you can't -- he can't get the public whipping that Senator Byrd wants to give him.

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: And ...

CARLSON: And he tells those people what to do.

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: It should be diffused. It can be diffused. We ought to have some ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: ... meetings and that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: He's a Cabinet czar.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak's world, there are good appropriators and bad appropriators.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, a judge rejected.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush made a final appeal to the Senate to confirm Federal District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: A handful of United States senators on one committee have made it clear that they will block nominees, even highly-qualified, well-respected nominees who do not share the senator's view of the -- of the bench, of the federal courts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The Judiciary Committee voted 10 to nine against sending the Pickering nomination to the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D), NEW YORK: The administration is willing to take some casualties in this fight. They're sending up waves of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Thomas's. They still staff the courts. It's a bad strategy, both for the courts and for the American people.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: It's really aimed at the Supreme Court. This is a message, you know, you send us a pro life, conservative, man of faith for the Supreme Court, and we will take care of him or her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is Senator Lott correct that this is really about the Supreme Court?

HUNT: Mark, I'll get to that in just a second. One of the truly impressive moments, though, was to watch Congressman Chip Pickering sit there while the committee voted on his dad for hours. We all should hope our children would be so devoted.

But Trent Lott is right. It's about the Supreme Court and it's about politics, just as it was during the Clinton years when the Republican-controlled Senate rejected 53 judges that Clinton -- excuse me, they didn't reject them, they wouldn't even hold hearings on 53 judges. Forty percent of those were there for three years or more.

Judge Pickering had two hearings, had an up and down vote, was given far more courtesy than most nominees were given, and as for the president's claim about the Judiciary Committee bottling it up, I don't think ever in the history of the Republic has a nominee gone to the Senate floor that was -- that was -- that was -- that was voted negatively by a majority of the -- of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Can I correct you on that, please? Do you mind?

HUNT: Yes, and then I'll come right back, yes.

NOVAK: I correct you. Bork was voted negatively by the Judiciary Committee and was sent to the Senate Floor.

HUNT: Well they went and they voted to send him out, but this is -- this is -- they're trying to change the rules, and you can't change the rules, and they're -- and they're taking shots to Pat Leahy -- they're highly unfair, and so I think ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... this is about politics, but it's been about politics for a long time -- nothing new Mark.

NICKLES: Well, I think ...

SHIELDS: Don Nickles. NICKLES: ... take big issue with that. This is a very sad day in the Senate. The Senate is not working very well as we speak. For example, we have an energy bill on the floor, it wasn't even marked up by the Energy Committee. You have tax committee, Finance Committee, it's become very partisan -- Ag, we've never had a partisan Ag bill.

We finally do, and it's just not working. And now we have a straight partisan attack, and Senator Schumer said something about trying to stack the courts, well what happens, we now have a Judiciary Committee that's stacked with liberal Democrats that have now have litmus tests. It used to we throw -- we don't want to have litmus tests on judges.

We didn't have litmus tests on past judges, but all of a sudden the Democrats do. And they're trying to kill, and did, in this case, stop the elevation from a district court of an individual that was confirmed unanimously 10 years ago in 1990 -- 12 years ago, and now gets no votes from the Democrats. We had the votes on the floor of the Senate. The Constitution says the Senate shall confirm -- you had the Judiciary Committee that I think treated Judge Pickering and frankly Senator Lott very unfairly.

CARLSON: During those 12 years, he was reversed 26 times since his last confirmation. He intervened in a cross burning case to try to get the mandatory sentence reduced and there were good reasons to reject this nominee. It doesn't mean that it wasn't revenge for what happened during the Clinton administration and it doesn't mean that the Senate is not involved in this tit for tat, that, you know is making it so ugly and partisan that people like Senator Fred Thompson are leaving the Senate ...

NOVAK: Let me ...

CARLSON: ... because it's so bad and Senator Daschle is having his nominee -- Senator Lott came right back out and said I'm going to stop your nominee to head up the Federal Communications Committee ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... and put tops (ph) in the Senate because we're staying here all night.

NOVAK: Because the only resource Republicans have is retaliation. Let me tell you what this is -- this is all about. This is Chuck Schumer of New York. He's the one guy who's very honest. He says there is an ideological test. We don't want Scalias and we don't -- we don't want Clarence Thomas's on the appellate -- on the appellate bench, and the -- and they took Judge Pickering because he is a distinguished judge.

He has a lot of Democratic friends in Mississippi. His son is a congressman, and they said, this is the test case. If you name anybody as conservative as Pickering, he is going to -- he is going to get the same treatment and the question is not how many times he was reversed, Margaret, it's abortion, because he's pro life. The women's activists have said we've got to stop him, and they have stopped him. (CROSSTALK)

HUNT: The problem with that is ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I don't think ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... we've already confirmed the number of judges who are -- who are pro life. There have been -- of those 40 judges, they've confirmed a number of judges are pro life, so that has not been a litmus test and but, Bob, I agree with the overall point, but that was the same exact test that the Republicans had to Clinton. And why Allen Snyder ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... who was a law clerk to Judge Rehnquist nominated in September 1999 and Trent Lott and Don Nickles wouldn't let him come up for a vote. Why? I don't know, but to ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... pretend there's some kind of new litmus test -- why wouldn't you let Allen Snyder come up for a vote?

NICKLES: I'm not familiar with the Snyder case. But let me ...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Judge Rehnquist nominated ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: Well, let me give you ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: ... the real stats. The real stats are that Bill Clinton and George Bush and Ronald Reagan got 97 percent of their judges in the first two years -- 97 percent.

HUNT: When the Democrats controlled the Senate, yes.

NICKLES: Well, Democrats and Republicans, if you add all three administrations. In other words, the past three presidents got 97 percent of their judges the first two years and we only have 24 percent of the circuit court nominees this time, and they've held up 22.

SHIELDS: I'll just point out that the first two years of each of those president's terms, the Democrats did control the Senate in each case.

NICKLES: Well, there's 22 out of 29 ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The last two years it points ...

(CROSSTALK)

NICKLES: Twenty-two out of 29 circuit court judges haven't had a hearing. Twenty haven't even had a hearing.

SHIELDS: Don Nickles, we'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG classic to mark another Clinton anniversary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Four years ago this week, lawyers for Paula Jones released 700 pages of documents intended to show a pattern of sexual indiscretions by President Bill Clinton. On March 14, 1998 your CAPITAL GANG discussed with conservative William J. Bennett.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt -- Al, President Clinton's pursue is now closing in on him.

HUNT: Mark, legally, no, and they're quite damaging, particularly the devastating and I think frankly, quite credible account of Kathleen Willey.

NOVAK: I still think the American people are -- they may have pure (ph) interests in these revelations, but I don't think it's really going to hurt the president.

WILLIAM J. BENNETT: You just, I think really have to suspend most of what you know about life, about common sense, and about Bill Clinton in order to believe him. I think it's a very bad week. I think this is the beginning of Bill Clinton's winding down and I think public opinion will start to shift.

CARLSON: I think the 700 pages that were filed yesterday really -- they don't help Paula Corbin Jones, they hurt the president grievously. But Kathleen Willey is, if true, as it's out there, that is damaging to the president without really helping Paula Jones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, did you and Bill Bennett somehow overestimate how much these revelations would hurt President Clinton?

CARLSON: Well, as I recall, he got into a heap of trouble eventually, so I don't think so. What I didn't -- what I underestimated was what Paula Jones would do for money, which now includes boxing Tonya Harding on Fox.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak. NOVAK: In all modesty, I'm just stunned how right I was again, that I said -- I said the American people will -- they like the sex, but they weren't going to turn against President Clinton -- they never did. Shame on them.

SHIELDS: Don Nickles.

NICKLES: I wouldn't touch that. I didn't even see the big fight.

SHIELDS: Did you miss the fight?

NICKLES: No, I'm glad I missed it.

SHIELDS: Al.

HUNT: You know I still think that Kathleen Willey was far more credible than Paula Jones or Juanita Broderick or any of those other people. And it was about sex -- Bob, you're right, and that's why the American people said don't impeach him.

SHIELDS: And as we look back on it, Bill Clinton, Bill Bennett was wrong. I mean, we did not see the unraveling of Bill Clinton.

NOVAK: We should have.

CARLSON: We saw the impeachment ...

SHIELDS: We saw the impeachment ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... but not the unraveling.

SHIELDS: Don Nickles, thank you for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Come back when you can chat a little better. We'll be back with the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our March madness "Newsmaker" interview with sportswriter John Feinstein, "Beyond the Beltway," where we look at the Texas governor's race with Wayne Slater of the "Dallas Morning News" and our "Outrage of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these urgent messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Margaret Carlson.

In the first week of college basketball's "March Madness", our newsmaker of the week is celebrated basketball writer John Feinstein. John Feinstein, age 45, resident Bethesda, Maryland and Shelter Island, New York; religion, Jewish; graduate, Duke University 1977; sportswriter for "The Washington Post" 1977 to 1988; "Sports Illustrated" 1988 to 1992; contributor to "The Washington Post" 1992 to present; commentator for National Public Radio, ESPN, and CBS Sports. His first book, the best-selling, "A Season on the Brink", 1986; his 13th book, "The Punch" will be published in October.

Our Al Hunt sat down with John Feinstein earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: John, "March Madness", all over the media everyone, it seems, is in a office pool or a school pool, racketology is a new academic discipline. Why is college basketball so hot?

JOHN FEINSTEIN, SPORTS WRITER: Well I think it has to do with the fact that the NCAA Tournament combines things that we as Americans enjoy. It has the underdog versus the favorite -- David versus Goliath in those first round games, sometimes second round games where a school you've never heard of, Hampton beats an Iowa State last year, Holy Cross almost beat Kentucky last year. Everybody wants to pick that upset in the first round, plus it's one and out. So there's no guarantees.

HUNT: You've written so many great so many great basketball books about Bobby Knight, the ACC, the Patriot League, assess this college basketball today. Is it fundamentally healthy and good for society or is it trouble?

FEINSTEIN: It is both. It's fundamentally healthy in the sense of the competition. And the players who have gone to the pros early does not hurt college basketball because it's still very -- the games are still close. The games are still suspenseful. The athletic ability is probably down a little bit, but nobody cares. It's certain trouble, though, in a sense that it remains very hypocritical. And you know every time I hear a NCAA official refer to these student athletes, I want to burst out laughing.

The Ivy League, yes; the Patriot League, yes; the rest of Division One college basketball, they are athletes who want to be professional athletes, who occasionally are students, and that's why the graduation rate is barely over 40 percent.

HUNT: How about cheating? Payoffs? Favors? Academic fudging? Is it getting better or is it still very widespread?

FEINSTEIN: I -- oh it's widespread, and but it's not new. It's gone on forever. Is it getting better? No. Is it getting worse? Probably not. It's about the same, which isn't good.

HUNT: Last week ESPN ran a movie, "Season on the Brink" about Bobby Knight, it was taken from your book. You didn't like it. Why was it not an accurate representation of either the book or the man?

FEINSTEIN: Well because it was a cartoon. It should have aired on Saturday morning with the other cartoons. I know when you -- when you take a book and make it into a movie often times you fictionalize things. But they fictionalized where they didn't need to. They created scenes between Knight and his son that never occurred to show the -- quote -- unquote -- "other side of Knight" when there were plenty of scenes in the book that showed the other side of Knight, and they simply opted not to use them. The script was very wooden.

HUNT: You have always said that Bobby Knight is a great basketball coach. He proved it again this year in taking more of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Texas Tech program into the NCAA.

FEINSTEIN: Right.

HUNT: Has he changed, or is he an accident waiting to happen?

FEINSTEIN: Oh Bob Knight will always be an accident waiting to happen, and the fact that he -- he still doesn't think he did anything wrong to get himself fired in Indiana. It was the president's fault. It was the athletic director's fault. It was the media's fault. I think it was the people who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby's fault. Everybody was at fault but Bob, and that's always been his biggest weakness.

HUNT: I think one of the really disturbing elements that was captured in your book is it when he was in his hay day at Indiana, he was more powerful than the University (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the president, there was no sense of accountability perhaps. The great college basketball coaches of today, the highly-acclaimed ones, the Mike Krzyzewskis at Duke, the Roy Williams' at Kansas, are they accountable to the University presidents?

FEINSTEIN: Probably not in the grand sense in that if a university president ever made a move on someone that powerful, for any reason, that the -- most of the alumni would rally behind the coach because the coach is winning games and bringing money into the school. But I think the two names you mentioned, for example, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, they don't want that kind of power. They understand what their role is at their universities, that they are basketball coaches, and they're not going to try to bully their presidents, and that's a fortunate thing.

HUNT: John Feinstein, you can make one reform or change in college basketball, what would it be?

FEINSTEIN: I'd pay the players. But I would tie paying them to graduation. You put 40 or $50,000 out there as a carrot, maybe they'd graduate a little more than they do right now.

HUNT: Who gets to the final four in Atlanta and who wins?

FEINSTEIN: I think this is Kansas' year. I just think Roy's got the best team.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what about office pools building the popularity of "March Madness"?

HUNT: Mark, it's become the greatest fan participation in all of sports. I was in two. My 15-year old was in seven. He's doing a lot better than I'm doing so far.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: You know I wish that John and other people would get off this graduation business. In this last 30 years, I've known a lot of college basketball players, many of them didn't graduate, but they almost all of them, 98 percent of them have very good jobs. They are good citizens, and I don't think they would have been in this place in society if it hadn't been for the fact they were playing college basketball.

SHIELDS: Bob, who's going to win the final four?

NOVAK: I think Maryland is.

SHIELDS: Maryland is going to win the final four. Margaret Carlson, who do you think will win?

CARLSON: Bob, I'm so disappointed that you said that. Here you are, my alma mater is not in the tournament, but you're a graduate of the University of Illinois, they made you ...

NOVAK: They may be runner-up.

CARLSON: ... the millionaire journalist you are today and now you're an "Inside the Beltway" guy, putting your hopes on the Terps.

SHIELDS: You pick Illinois?

CARLSON: Yes I'm going to pick Illinois.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I would go with my alma mater, but they unfortunately, they lost today, Wake Forest. So I have to go with the breadwinner of my family, alma mater Duke University.

NOVAK: This is a -- I think a little ...

SHIELDS: John Feinstein ...

NOVAK: ... unbiased here.

SHIELDS: ... John Feinstein is right this time. It is going to be Kansas this year. Roy Williams is going to win his first NCAA championship. Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Texas politics and the rise of Hispanics with Wayne Slater of the "Dallas Morning News".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Texas politics after this week's primary elections. Millionaire oilman and banker Tony Sanchez, trying to become the states first Hispanic governor in his first election campaign, easily defeated former State Attorney General Dan Morales. After the primary Sanchez attacked his Republican general election foe, Governor Rick Perry, for neglecting his states Hispanics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY, TEXAS: We saw one of the most negative campaigns on the Democratic primary side in the history of the state of Texas. I expect to see and hear that type of comments through the course of the campaign.

TONY SANCHEZ (D), TEXAS GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: While my opponent was absent, the crisis in our public schools has reached seismic proportions. While my opponent was absent, Texas became a national leader in prison and jail escapes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Schoolteacher Victor Morales seeking his second U.S. Senate Democratic nomination, ran first in the primary, but faces former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, an African-American, in an April 9 runoff. State Attorney General John Cornyn is the Republican nominee. Joining us now from Austin is Wayne Slater, Austin bureau chief of the "Dallas Morning News."

Thank you so much for coming in, Wayne.

WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Good to be with you.

SHIELDS: Wayne, tell us, does Texas, the Lone Star State, likely to elect an Hispanic governor in the year ...

SLATER: Mark ...

SHIELDS: Yes.

SLATER: I was going to say, Mark, Texas is going to elect an Hispanic governor. The only question is whether it's going to be the year 2002 or four years from now. We've got a, politically speaking, a perfect storm brewing here. We have a rising demographic group, which has the power to determine the outcome of elections, if in fact they'll do it. We have the absence of Karl Rove and George Bush, who basically were so important to the Republican Party and the rise of the party in the middle and late '90s, and then we also have a candidate this year, Tony Sanchez, who not only has an Hispanic surname, but has $600 million in the bank and every -- has given every indication he's going to spend a lot of it to win the governor's office.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak

NOVAK: The defeated candidate, Wayne, in the Democratic primary says that Sanchez is coming over as too much of a Hispanic candidate. His press conference, reading your story in the morning news, he gave more than half of it in the Spanish language. Is it just a little bit too much, too excessive, particularly the possibility that you might have Hispanics for both the Senate and the governor's nominations?

SLATER: Yes, the Republicans hope that it's too much. Some Republican operatives I talked to in the last couple of days are delighted that Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales got into a big fight during the primary about whether Sanchez was too Hispanic. That's the kind of thing that plays fine in the Democratic primary and he won easily, but could cost him in the Republican general -- I guess the Republican in the general election. So Republicans hope that's going to be the case.

It was fascinating of me as I watched and the rest of us watched Tony Sanchez, in this post election news conference where really almost half of the news conference was in Spanish, eloquent Spanish, which he can speak. I feel kind of bad because I couldn't follow about half of what's gong on. I'm not sure how Anglo voters in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston and north of Austin are going to take that if that continues.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: It seemed to help him in the first ever bilingual debate, but you're right about the general, but I wonder is governor -- acting Governor Rick Perry, called the accidental governor by some, has he made much of an impact there that gives him a leg up in the general election?

SLATER: Well, it depends on who you talk to. The guy is a popular governor. The indications are in the polls that we've taken, is that people like him, think he's pretty good. He certainly isn't George Bush and that's really part of his problem. He's come in after George Bush. He's being compared to George Bush, and he's been found wanting in many ways. He will have the Republican hierarchy behind him. He'll have a lot of money behind him. He has a wonderful presence on television. And he has some ideas about education and highway construction, which I think will help him in the general election.

The question is whether or not Rick Perry, who's made some enemies along the way, including some Hispanics and others along the border and some doctors with some vetoes that he -- some bills in the first legislative session, whether or not he's made too many enemies and whether or not there's really a reason to vote for him. People wanted for George Bush. People wanted to vote for Ann Richards in her first race and she did fairly well in the second race. Is there a real reason to vote for Rick Perry -- he really hasn't defined it yet to voters in Texas.

SHIELDS: OK. Al Hunt.

HUNT: Wayne, let me ask you about the Senate race. Most Texas Democrats that I know talk about the dream ticket of an Hispanic for governor and Anglo for lieutenant governor, and an African-American for the Senate -- that would be Ron Kirk. First of all, what are Ron Kirk's chances of winning that Senate runoff and could he win a general election?

SLATER: Well, Ron Kirk's chances of winning the runoff, I think, are pretty good. The problem for Ron Kirk is there are a number of races on the April 9th ticket in South Texas, and these are the races that count -- county judge race or legislative races, that will produce a big Hispanic turnout, and that's good for his opponent, Victor Morales. But if you look overall the hierarchy of the Democratic Party is behind Ron Kirk. There others in the party who like Ron Kirk . He's probably going to get, as he did in the primary, a big black turnout in Houston and Dallas.

Moreover, he's got Henry Cisneros trying to block and tackle in some Hispanic areas like in the San Antonio area, so he's expected to win. Whether he can win against John Cornyn, a very popular and distinguished attorney general here, in the general election is anybody's guess. President Bush cares about this race. He's coming down this month to raise money for John Cornyn. Karl Rove has met -- Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, has met on several occasions with Cornyn people. George Bush wants to win this one .

SHIELDS: Wayne, Texas Latino voters are entirely different from those in California where Pete Wilson and short-term policies of 1994 anti-immigrant really alienated Latinos to the point where now it's a three to one almost disadvantage, a two and a half to one for any Republican running in California. That's not the case. Are Texas Latinos -- are they just trim Democratic or are they strongly Democratic or what is their voting preference?

SLATER: Well, their voting preference is Democratic. There are about two-thirds, maybe 60, 65 percent loyal Democratic voters. But the genius of George Bush, and you remember him answering a question during one of the debates in the presidential race, the genius of George Bush was he was able to reach out to Hispanics -- not the rough edges that Pete Wilson and other Republicans were responsible for. And to appeal to Hispanics in a way that a number of Republicans could learn from.

The thing that's interesting here is I see little evidence that Rick Perry, John Cornyn, or the Republican Party in Texas with George Bush's departure has learned the lessons of George Bush in the way they can appeal to Hispanics as people, as families in terms of family values. They'll have to do that if they're going to win in November.

SHIELDS: Wayne Slater, thank you very much for being with us. The "Gang" will be back with "The Outrage Of The Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: And now for "The Outrage Of The Week." To all the cultural wars of the last 40 years, one constant moral beacon has been the Catholic church's unswerving commitment to the poor, the powerless, and the children. That commitment was shattered by a church hierarchy that shuffled from parish to parish, predator priest who raped, physically, emotionally and spiritually, the sons of singe mothers, many of whom were poor and powerless children.

And because of the church hierarchy stonewalling his cover-up, good priests, good men who visit the sick, comfort the lonely, feed the hungry, teach the young, welcome the stranger, and bury the dead, these good men have unjustly become objects of suspicion -- Bob Novak. NOVAK: Can Democrats go too far in exploiting Enron? They may have in North Carolina where Elizabeth Dole is running for the Senate. Her husband, former Senator Bob Dole, recently received the Lyndon Johnson Moral Courage Award from the Houston Holocaust Museum. Turning up at the Houston award dinner was former Enron's CEO Kenneth Lay. The North Carolina Democratic Party declared -- quote -- "while Elizabeth Dole downplays long relationship with Ken Lay, Bob Dole shares a dinner with him in Houston" -- end quote.

That's not only mean, but stupid.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, INS visas for terrorists Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi arrived on March 12 -- that's four days ago, at a Florida flight school. Wouldn't the most clueless clerk recognize Mohamed Atta's name? INS Commissioner James Ziglar was unavailable for comment because he was in San Francisco giving cash bonuses to employees -- quote -- "America should be proud of."

An anonymous official complained -- quote -- "to accuse us of being out of touch, that's not fair." Let's hope he's among the four who've been fired. The INS has no idea who's here and who's getting in this very moment. More heads must roll.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, we need more women in American politics and more groups like EMILY's list, which supports female candidates. But the Democratic primary for Chicago House seat, EMILY's list backing Nancy Casak (ph) is spending a half a million dollars to attack her opponent, Rama Manuel (ph), for among other things, supporting NAFTA while he was a Clinton aide. Now if NAFTA is a women's issue, EMILY's list should oppose House Whip Nancy Pelosi, Campaign Chair Nita Lowey and Senator Hillary Clinton, all pro NAFTA.

This is an insult to the intelligence of Chicago voters.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. If you missed any part of this program, we want a written explanation, but you can catch a replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at 4:00 a.m. Eastern when Bob Novak smiles more.

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Testify Before Congress?; Will Texas Voters Elect a Hispanic Governor?>


 
 
 
 


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