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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

President to Prepare New Speech on War Against Terror; Colin Powell Winds Up Middle East Mission

Aired April 16, 2002 - 16:00   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, GUEST HOST: I'm John King in Washington. President Bush is preparing a new speech about the war on terror amid questions about his leadership in the Middle East and pressure for tougher posturing with Yasser Arafat.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem, where U.S. officials are attempting to get something from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before Secretary of State Colin Powell winds up his mission to the Middle East.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. I'll look at some of the political implications of the Catholic Church crisis and the meeting of the U.S. cardinals next week in Rome.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl at the Capitol subway, where Democrat Mary Landrieu told me why her party is wrong about drilling for oil in Alaska.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS WITH JUDY WOODRUFF.

KING: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

We begin in the Middle East, with the latest obstacles in the search for peace. Heavy gunfire was reported just a few hours ago outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Israeli soldiers have been locked in a two-week standoff with Palestinian gunmen holed up inside. The incident lasted only about a half an hour, with no apparent change in the standoff.

Secretary of State Colin Powell met again today with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, amid diminishing expectations that Secretary Powell will leave the Middle East with much to show for his diplomatic efforts.

And before Secretary Powell meets again with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tomorrow, U.S. officials are trying to get Mr. Arafat to issue a clear denunciation of terrorism.

Now for the latest on another busy and, from the U.S. standpoint, frustrating, day in the Middle East, we're joined by my colleague Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem -- Wolf. BLITZER: John, U.S. officials are playing down lowering expectations. They were never very high to begin with. But the secretary of state right now in Jerusalem, having met for a third time earlier today with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He's preparing to return tomorrow morning to Ramallah, the West Bank town where Arafat and his key lieutenants remain holed up in that besieged compound area.

U.S. officials are hoping to get a strong statement from Yasser Arafat, a statement renouncing terrorism. But they're not sure what, if anything, that's going to mean in practical terms. They're not even suggesting they're going to be able to get a cease-fire, which is one of the original goals of the secretary's mission to this part of the world. That mission began, as you know, some nine days ago.

At the same time, they want a hard timetable from the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Sharon, about when all of those Israeli troops will be out of the areas in the West Bank, which is recently reoccupied. Yesterday Mr. Sharon said they'll be out of all of those areas, with two exceptions, within a week.

But there are still a lot of problems in terms of the withdrawal. Will that be a complete withdrawal, or will Israel go forward and build some buffer zones along some borders? So it doesn't look like the secretary of state is necessarily going to be leaving here, John, a very happy man.

KING: And, Wolf, to what importance do U.S. officials put on this statement they are trying to get from the Palestinian leader, Mr. Arafat has denounced in writing terrorism before, back in the Oslo Accords under pressure from the United States on several occasions since, including just after the most recent attack last week. Why do they think a statement from Mr. Arafat now is so important?

BLITZER: I think they're hoping that this kind of statement, once reported widely, reported in the Arab world in Arabic, if they can get him to specifically tell those young kids who want to become suicide bombers, this is not helping the Palestinian cause, this is something that the Palestinians should not be doing, it's not a legitimate act of resistance to the Israeli military occupation, perhaps that might help.

But given the poisonous atmosphere here on both sides, the lack of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it's anyone's guess what that statement might mean. Remember, there was a George Tenet plan. Excuse me -- there was a Tenet plan, there was a Mitchell plan. Now there might be a Powell plan.

So far none of these plans have led to much in practical terms, of easing the tensions. If anything, they're getting, as you know, a lot worse.

KING: And, Wolf, I'm interested in knowing whether you pick up from any sources in the Israeli government, any concerns that, even as they defend their short-term interest here and tell the president of the United States, sorry, sir, but no, we will not meet your request for a full withdrawal without delay -- that request now more than a week old.

Any concerns that even as the Israelis make their case, they must do what they are doing? That they are, in the long-term, perhaps. undermining the credibility, the prestige, the influence, if you will, of this administration and the United States in the region?

BLITZER: There is deep concern about that. One of the negative side effects that Israeli officials privately acknowledge is that this whole flare-up here between the Israelis and Palestinians, potentially between the Israelis and the Lebanese and the Syrians in the north, is undermining the Bush administration's ability to take on Saddam Hussein, one of Israel's most virulent enemies. So they recognize that's a negative part of all of this.

But at the same time, they say they simply can't allow these suicide bombings to continue. For life to go on in Israel they have do something about it. So they're willing to take the chance of straining the relationship with Washington and with the Bush administration, that they basically regard as very friendly toward Israel in the face of their own national security priorities.

KING: Wolf Blitzer joining us live tonight from Jerusalem. Thank you very much. Wolf will be back at the top of the hour with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

I want to turn now to Ron Brownstein with the "Los Angeles Times." About an hour from now the president's top communications adviser, Karen Hughes, will sit down with him to look over the final draft of a speech the president is to give tomorrow -- an update on the war on terrorism.

But CNN is told by senior administration sources there has been a debate about how to deal with the questions. About how can the president say, on the one hand, this is an issue in Afghanistan of moral clarity, you do not deal with terrorists.

On the other hand, he's been criticized here at home. People say there's evidence that Yasser Arafat supports terrorism. Why are you do dealing with him? Why is Secretary Powell sitting down with him? How important is it for the president, in terms of domestic politics here, to answer that question?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I think it is important, certainly within its own base. There has been a lot of criticism in the last couple weeks from two different distinct wings inside the Republican Party. The Christian conservatives and the neoconservatives, each of which have made the same argument: that he is undermining the clarity of the Bush doctrine, which says, if you recall, if you harbor a terrorist, we will treat you as if you are a terrorist. He is in effect undermining that by agreeing to talk with Arafat, or including Arafat in the peace process.

What the administration argues, of course, is -- and with a good deal of justification -- is that it's easy to have the demand for that level of absolute purity from the outside. But statesmen and diplomacy has to deal with the real world. And in the real world, it is not up to us to choose who the Palestinian people choose as their leader. And at the moment, that is Arafat and we have to deal with him.

But they are -- I talked to someone at the White House today who said, look, this criticism does resonate here. People are sensitive to it. They obviously want to find a way to be -- to reflect that they are concerned about it, without abandoning the real world need to move forward with Arafat, in at least some respect.

KING: You mention concerns from conservatives in the Republican Party. He has come under criticism, the president has, from the Democrats. Coherent criticism, in your view?

BROWNSTEIN: Not entirely coherent criticism. Opposite party criticism of foreign policy is rarely entirely coherent. But one of the important things that's happened here, as you mentioned, we've gone more than a week with Sharon effectively defying the Bush call for him to withdraw forces.

There really has been no seconding in American politics for what Bush said. If anything, the overwhelming voices from right and left have been to criticize. The president mentioned the neoconservatives, the Christian conservatives, on the one hand. This weekend, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, at this Democratic convention in Orlando, were criticizing Bush for leaning on Sharon too hard.

We had a letter last week from a number of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, making an argument not very different than Bill Kristol and the conservatives. So all the pressure so far has been in that one direction.

Where the Democrats run into some trouble is on the one hand, Lieberman, for instance, is saying Bush should work harder to convene an international conference with the Arab states. On the other hand he should be giving Sharon a freer hand to move militarily.

It's hard to imagine, I think, that the Arabs would come to a conference call by an American president who is giving Sharon a green light to do whatever he wants. So they're trying to get him from both sides. And a little bit, they run into themselves at times.

KING: And quickly, any evidence at all in dealing with this very crisis -- a very big crisis in the Middle East. Can this have a domestic political influence on the president's standing?

BROWNSTEIN: I suspect it has something to do with the decline (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But look, the real signal here, John, is that there are a lot of forces in his own coalition and certainly the Democratic Party, that are going to do any effort to restrain Sharon or to legitimize Arafat for a peace process negatively.

And as he goes forward, they have to make a lot of choices. The pressure at the margin is going to be, it seems, predominantly away from going in that direction. There is something of a sign of a center reasserting itself. Joe Biden (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying there can't be a political solution. Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, gave a speech Friday saying there is no military solution. Those voices are just starting to be heard. Right now the dominant voices on both Democratic and Republican sides are the hawks urging Bush to give Sharon more freedom and less legitimacy to Arafat. That's what he's got to contend with as he moves forward.

KING: Ron Brownstein of the "LA Times," thank you very much. You mentioned the voices in Congress. We're joined now on Capitol Hill by two members of the Senate foreign relations committee. The chairman, Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us. And let's pick up where we began the discussion with Ron Brownstein. The president is to give a speech tomorrow. We are told he is debating language on how to deal with criticisms that he hasn't had moral clarity, if you will, in dealings with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Senator Biden, to you first. You are the chairman. There are some in the White House saying the president must say to Mr. Arafat, much like what he said to the Taliban after September 11th, that you have a choice to make: act now, or you will be viewed as against us. Are we at that moment? Does the president have to do that, sir?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, that's the president's decision. But I think the moment we're at is we have to move beyond personalities, here. We have to stop being tactical here. We have to have a strategic notion about how we get out of this. And that's why I've been proposing that we have to have an international conference, like Madrid, where we have all the parties.

And, look, if in fact it's true -- and I believe it is -- that Arafat can't be trusted and Arafat can't speak for the Palestinian people but yet he's been chosen by the Palestinian people, how do we get any settlement in a circumstance where 65 percent of the Palestinian people want a two-state solution?

It seems to me the way you do that is you move beyond Arafat and you bring in the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and say, look, you must speak up. You must be at this conference. You must make it clear that there is going to be a settlement. And you must be the voice along with pushing Arab -- these the guys that fund Arafat. These are the guy with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Look, these are the guys that fund Arafat. These are the guys in support of Arafat. These are the guys -- not all of them -- but the Arab world is the place from which he gets his ability to sustain himself, financially and otherwise. And so we have to stop thinking tactically. Because the president, in my view, can't continue to expend his political capital in a situation where he is judged as a failure if the Israelis pull out a day later than he says, or if Arafat waits two hours after he responds, and so on. That is a losing hand.

I think you have to raise it above that. Broaden the table. And you've got to also enunciate the broad outlines. The president, in my view, would be better served -- instead of getting that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) within my party about what to say about Arafat, what to say about the future.

What do you envision, Mr. President? What is the broad outline for the contours of peace in the region? What does it look like? Does it look like the right of no return to Israel, but only the right of return to a Palestinian state, which is what I think it should be? Does it look like you have to do away with most of the settlements, and make agreements on the settlements around Jerusalem, which I think most Israelis have already agreed upon? What's it look like? Give us a vision, Mr. President.

KING: Let me stop you there, Senator Biden. Senator Brownback, what is your take on this? The conference that Senator Biden is talking about, that would be a tactic, too. Do you think we're at the point where such a conference could be successful?

And do you worry, Senator, that as Secretary Powell prepares to head home, that people will ask more questions about this president's leadership and credibility in the region, given that Mr. Arafat, for months has not done what this president has asked. And now Prime Minister Sharon has done much the same thing and said, sorry, sir, I can't do what you want?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Well, the two questions you have, the first one, I'm always for people talking. I think we might find some ways to at least stop some of the killings, stop some of the shooting and stop some of the terrorism that's taking place in the region.

So to me, it's a first step. If there are ways to getting people to start talking and stop shooting, that's a plus. Whether it's Senator Biden's way, in the proposal that he's put forward, or of it's another way, fine, let's try to discover it. It's good to have different voices out there doing this.

Regarding this issue of the president's credibility, and whether or not he can cause things to happen in the Middle East, this is an area that has vexed and occupied presidents of our country for years. It's extraordinarily difficult. It's extraordinarily difficult at this particular point in time.

So I don't know that the president, risk is so much on his credibility. I think it's wise that he get involved in the region for a long period of time. I think it's wise that he's involved in the region.

I think now we're seeing the difficulties of trying to get it to some sort of a holding phase, where you can just get people to stop and move apart from each other. And I think clearly, we have to get a renouncement of terrorism and the use of terrorism. Terrorism is not used by civilization.

KING: On that point, Senator...

BROWNBACK: We have to press that.

KING: Let me jump in on that. The president gives a speech tomorrow in Virginia about future phases in the war on terrorism. Must he make a "now or never" ultimatum to Yasser Arafat, in your view?

BROWNBACK: I don't know that he needs to tomorrow. If you'll note that his war on terrorism has been in a phased approach. It was first Afghanistan. But he didn't address it in a number of other countries. And after Afghanistan, we've got troops now in position in Georgia helping to advise, in the Philippines helping to advise. Second stage.

There can be third, fourth stage. And I don't think you can jump to the fifth step before you've completed the first two or three. I don't think tomorrow he has to enunciate that. But at some point in time you're going to have to have the clear enunciation regarding terrorism everywhere.

KING: Senator Biden, I want to ask you a question about another subject. Reports today that, over a course of several months, senior Bush administration officials met with many of those responsible for what we will call an attempted coup or an attempted change of the government in Venezuela. Obviously, whatever you want to call it, it fell short and Mr. Chavez is back in power.

At the White House today, the press secretary, Ari Fleischer, was saying the administration in no way suggested when it had those meetings that there should be a coup. I want you to listen to the president's spokesman and get your reaction to the situation. First Ari Fleischer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States policy is to support democracy and democratic solutions to any type of problems in nations around the world. Particularly though, in our own hemisphere. We explicitly told opposition leaders that the United States would not support a coup.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Right after what happened in Venezuela, Senator Biden, this administration did not come out and condemn the removal of a democratically-elected government. What's your take on the situation and the administration's handling of it?

BIDEN: Let me choose my words here. Not particularly -- somewhat inept, maybe premature. And beyond that, I'd rather not comment.

KING: Senator Brownback?

BROWNBACK: You got a domestic situation happening in Venezuela. It seems to be coming around at this point in time -- we don't know for sure -- but that the president is back in authority. Hopefully this is going to work itself on out and in that case, I think we can look at a positive solution there and for the administration.

But it's still a great deal in flux.

KING: All right, I want to thank you both. Senator Joe Biden. chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, thank you both for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you.

Now, Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to hold a news conference shortly with his reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today on child pornography. We'll carry his remarks live.

Also ahead, we'll discuss President Bush's relationship with Congress at this point on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'll go "On the Record" now with Nick Calio, President Bush's liaison for the Congress.

First, though, in the last hour Mr. Bush expressed his frustration with Senate Democrats and he called on them to quickly pass his appropriations bills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge Congress to get moving on the appropriations process, particularly when it comes to the defense bill. Generally, here in Washington, they wait and put the defense bill out last. I'm not going to read any reasons why into that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nick Calio, the president's reasons why, the vice president a while ago called Tom Daschle an obstructionist. You have this stretch now, in an election year between now and Memorial Day, fast approaching -- the stretch in which Congress will get most of what it does before it's an election year. And you can't hope for much after that.

If the president is so mad at the Democrats in the Senate for holding it up, why is he not a little bit more excited when he makes that pitch?

NICK CALIO, W.H. DIRECTOR FOR LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: I think that he has been. And first of all, John, I'd say that we hope to get things done throughout the year. But I think you have to look at where we are right now in the process. There is some frustration.

There's over 50 bills that have been passed by the House that are sitting in the Senate. And we need to really get moving, get things done. The president came to Washington. His goal was to get things done. In the next five weeks, that's what we want to do.

We think there are tremendous opportunities out there to get some accomplishments under Congress' belt, under our belt, that will be good for the American people. If you remember the State of the Union, the president outlined three things he wanted to do: improve national defense, improve homeland security and improve the economic security of all Americans.

If you look what Congress and what the Senate can get done, so we can get these bills signed into law over the next five weeks, you can start with the bioterrorism bill, with the security bill that's on the Senate calendar right now, that would make tremendous improvements in homeland security.

Maybe the Senate can finally finish the energy bill and get the conference with the House, so that the United States, after a long, long period of time can have a coherent energy policy again, that will even out our energy needs and our ability to produce oil.

KING: The president, on recent days, has told the Senate to move more quickly on energy. Yet the Democrats say it's the Republicans who have held up that bill because they've been trying to scrape together more votes for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A, fair point by the Democrats? And B, do you have the votes, and would the president consider it a successful piece of legislation if it does not include drilling in ANWR?

CALIO: Let me say this. We can always play who struck John. And I think we'll avoid that here. The fact of the matter is, that bill has been on the Senate calendar for a long time. It needs to move forward and it needs to get done.

In terms of ANWR, it's an unfortunate situation. The president has been looking for a solution for some time. And in talking to one senator, he told me: Look, I understand the caribou are safe, I understand you can drill in an environmentally sound manner. I understand that we can replace the oil we get from Iraq, but I have to tell you. This is like a religion with people in our party and I simply can't vote for it.

There is an ANWR provision, a good one, in the House-passed bill. We think we can get one out of conference that's acceptable to the American people, and will allow us, both as a matter of national security, foreign policy and economic security, to have a better energy policy.

Another thing that really has to get done over the next five weeks comes in the area of trade. There is a number of disparate bills out there that need to be -- whether they're drawn together or handled one by one, my guess is they have to be drawn together. But they are important.

Trade promotion authority. We are losing jobs to our competitors overseas because they can enter trade agreements. We can't. The president needs that authority.

KING: He asked for it by April 22. He set that specific deadline for the Senate. Will it be met? CALIO: It quite clearly will not be met. The majority leader, Senator Daschle, has indicated that he would like to complete it by Memorial Day. At this point, we would like to see it happen more quickly. And the reason we would is because there's the Andean trade preference bill out there as well. Our neighbors to the south need this bill to get done.

May 16, the deferral of duties that we instituted to cover the fact that the Senate had not acted on the bill yet, runs out. It can't be extended. For those countries who are our allies, it's a matter not only of their national security, it's a matter of our national security. It's a matter of foreign policy, not just a trade matter.

In addition, we'd like to see the so-called Jackson-Vanik designation for Russia become permanent normal trade relations with Russia. The president believes that that designation, which has to be renewed every year, is a relic of the past and we need to move past that.

KING: Is part of the problem in selling these things -- you're mentioning things that people out in the country, are probably saying, what is Jackson-Vanik? Is that you're pushing these things on Capitol Hill right now when some of your own friends in the Republican Party say one of the problems -- they don't mean as a criticism. But that the president is preoccupied many days, whether it's with Secretary Powell's mission or the war on terrorism. Do you need more of the president's time, if you will?

CALIO: No, frankly, we don't. And we hear that criticism all the time. It's almost funny. I call it the "you-should you-should" caucus. There are a whole bunch of people on Capitol Hill who would like the president to be micromanaging every single issue every single day of the year, and he just can't do that.

The president commits a tremendous amount of time to the issues we're talking about. On the phone, in meetings with members of Congress. In the time we've been in office, we've had 130 meetings with members of Congress at the White House.

The president has gone to Capitol Hill another seven or eight times. He's made hundreds of phone calls. So he does what he needs to do. He understands the details. He's engaged. But he shouldn't be looking at every single issue every day.

KING: Another of the things that you are very frustrated about, that perhaps is a tough sell out in the country, is the logjam on judicial nominations. How do you, A, convince the Democrats to act on more of your nominees? They say on the one hand, they need more time.

And on the other hand, too bad. The Republican Senate did it to Bill Clinton, and now here's a dose of your own medicine. How do you try to sell that in an environment where certainly the Democrats are looking to win seats in Congressional elections, and it's not an issue that would get much juice, if you will, out in the country? CALIO: Actually, it is getting a lot of juice. A lot of Republicans, the so-called Republican base, are getting very energized because it's important. And in fact, whatever the Republicans did to Bill Clinton, they didn't do what the current Democrats are doing to George W. Bush.

At this point in this presidency, 57 percent of Bill Clinton's nominees have been confirmed. So far only 42 percent of ours have, and the president's have. A number of those are Democrats. At the appellate court level, only eight of 29 judges. And a number of those are Democrats.

So we have a real logjam and it's causing a crisis in the judiciary. It's a problem. There are 98 or 95 vacancies in the federal judiciary. That's about 10 percent of the judiciary. What if 10 percent of the CNN staff disappeared on any given day? Could you get the job done? You might, but that's not the way the courts operate.

There is a great deal of frustration with that. We don't believe there should be a litmus test on judges. And we don't believe that the president should have to nominate. And he will not nominate judges who want to pretend like they were elected to the Senate or House and set law, rather than interpret the law.

KING: The answer is no, we don't want to give the management any bad ideas around here. Nick Calio, the president's appointment on Capitol Hill, thank you for joining us. Maybe we'll get you back around Memorial Day with a little report card to see how it all worked out.

CALIO: I'd love to.

KING: Thank you very much.

Now, the Supreme Court strikes down key provisions of the child pornography law. We await a conference from Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Plus, the latest from the Middle East. Colin Powell's efforts to bring an end to the violence, on our "Newscycle."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time for an update now on the INSIDE POLITICS "Newscycle." Secretary of State Colin Powell met for about an hour today with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but neither man made a public statement after the meeting. Powell plans to meet tomorrow with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. A U.S. official tells CNN Powell wants Mr. Arafat to issue a clear denunciation of terrorism.

As Secretary Powell continues his efforts, there was more gunfire tonight outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Palestinian sources say Israeli troops opened fire near the church, where some 200 Palestinians are holed up inside. Israel has only confirmed that its troops are operating in the area. Here in the United States, the Supreme Court today struck down key portions of a six-year-old law covering so-called virtual child pornography. The justices voted 6-3 that the law violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

With me now to discuss some of the day's top stories in our "Taking Issue" segment: former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart -- he joins us today from Pittsburgh -- and Republican strategist Scott Reed. He is here in Washington.

And, gentlemen, before we get going, I just want to quickly remind our viewers we are waiting for a news conference from the attorney general, John Ashcroft, on that child pornography ruling. So we may have to interrupt at any time.

First, let's start, gentlemen, with a subject I know you both of you want to talk about. I was going to do it last. Let's move to it first, but quickly. Vice President Al Gore reemerges over the weekend, gives a speech to the Florida Democratic Convention.

Joe Lockhart, to you first, did Al Gore get what he wanted out of this speech?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, I think he did.

I think he demonstrated to the party that he has got a voice, an alternative agenda to one that the president is pursuing. I think he very deftly dealt with the thorny Clinton problem by dealing with it in a very affirmative way. And he spoke to a group of activists and got them charged up. I also think he did a lot of good for the Democratic Party, because I think when you are out, when you don't have the White House, you need as many big megaphones as you can get. And this is a big megaphone in the Democratic Party.

KING: Scott Reed?

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I watched a lot of the speech. And, look, he needed to go down and arouse the crowd, get some excitement. There was a lot of remorse in the group. I think a lot of them felt: "Wow, we wish we had just tried a little harder last year. Maybe he would have become president."

But the fact of the matter is, the American people care about things like fighting the war on terrorism and homeland security and what's going on in the Middle East. And he didn't talk about any of those things. So, in a way, he was irrelevant. The big news, I think, though, out of Florida was Terry McAuliffe. The national chairman announced that he believes that Al Gore is going to run for president.

Remember, Mr. McAuliffe is the one that changed the schedule and front-loaded a lot of these primaries, which is going to be a huge advantage for Al Gore if he does choose to run. So the schedule is a little different. And the big surprise, I think, is that the unions -- the unions that were a major part of his support when he ran for president -- are now split between two other politicians: Dick Gephardt, if he chooses to run, and George W. Bush, the president, the Republican president.

It is quite surprising.

KING: I'm going to stop Joe Lockhart from interjecting. I bet he would take issue with the fact that there's great union support for President Bush right now.

Let's move on, though, to the current president and look at some polling numbers. First, the president's approval rating over the past seven months, if you look just before the attacks of September 11, the president's approval rating was at 51 percent, not too surprising given the facts of the 2002 election. Then, after, of course, the president shot up to 90 percent right after the wake of the September 11 attacks. He was down in January to about 84 percent. Now we see him down, still good numbers, but certainly the beginning of what some say is a drop to about 75 percent.

Joe Lockhart, is this president starting to lose a little bit of the edge, if you will, a little bit of bounce he received from the crisis?

LOCKHART: Well, I think it is a good problem to have, but it is a problem, because political reporters like yourself tend to focus on the trends rather than the numbers. But it's still not bad to be at 75 percent.

Listen, I think we've got to look at this. Scott said that Al Gore was irrelevant. I think it wasn't a particularly relevant speech for 2004, but it was a very relevant speech for 2002. And that happens to be the election we're going to prosecute first. And that election is not going to be about, I think, the war on terrorism.

The country expects the president to do that. They're happy with the why way he's doing it. Democrats and Republicans are not apart on it. That election is going to be about things like whether Social Security is going to get raided, Medicare, health care, energy and the environment. Those are all issues that favor the Democrats. And I think Al Gore and John Edwards and others who have been out there, if only to make a case for 2004, are doing a very good job of starting to frame those issues for Democrats.

And that's why we are seeing in other polls, in the generic House races, the Democrats beginning to open up a pretty significant lead.

KING: Scott Reed, I want you to jump in, but first I want to look at this, to follow up on Joe Lockhart's point.

If you look at our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup polling, the president's best issues: the war on terrorism, national defense, the Middle East, and foreign affairs; the president's worst issues: health care, budget, abortion and Social Security. Heading into a congressional election year, Scott Reed, as a Republican consultant and loyalist, does that worry you?

REED: No, it doesn't.

I think Matthew Dowd, the chief pollster over the Republican National Committee, who put out this report last week, hit it right. These numbers are astronomically high. They are going to come down. Everybody knows they are going to come down.

When you look at these upcoming elections, look, no Republicans at any of these campaign committees are sitting around high-fiving each other with their feet up on the desk. Everybody knows these are going to be local elections that are run. The president is committed. He is out there raising money. He is helping recruit candidates. And I think he is doing a good job. No one thinks these poll numbers are going to drive next fall. Everybody is running like they're 10 points behind.

KING: Scott Reed, I need to stop you there.

We're going to go over to the Justice Department, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, reacting to today's Supreme Court decision on child pornography.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... protect our youngest from those who would abuse and exploit them. Children may be only 25 percent of our population, but they are 100 percent of our future.

This morning, the United States Supreme Court made our ability to prosecute those who produce and possess child pornography immeasurably more difficult. The court struck down two important provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act, a law passed with bipartisan support that attempted to curb child pornography.

I supported laws to prevent child pornography when I served in the United States Senate, and in my current role as attorney general I have the important obligation and responsibility to enforce laws that protect our children.

I'm disappointed that the court chose to make that obligation to prosecute child pornography more difficult. However, I am undeterred in my resolve to do all that I can to protect our children from the pornographers and other predators who would prey on their innocence.

In light of today's decision, I have directed the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to work with United States attorneys offices around the country to ensure that today's ruling affects as few of our pending child pornography cases as possible.

To avoid the dismissal of cases brought under the two provisions that the Supreme Court has struck, we will amend, where possible, and pursue general obscenity charges against those who have victimized children by producing or procuring child pornography.

We will continue to pursue national initiatives against child pornography, like Operation Avalanche and Operation Candyman, the successes of which I have had the privilege of announcing here in recent months.

These initiatives, together, involving virtually all of our FBI field offices and U.S. Attorneys Offices have led to almost 200 arrests nationwide for online child exploitation and pornography.

We will dedicate new resources to this fight. The Criminal Division had dedicated nearly $1 million of additional resources to Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section endeavors. This commitment will authorize the creation of a new expert team of online specialists and prosecutors to pursue child pornography on the Internet. Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section individuals will add five additional investigators and two additional prosecutors to further our effort to curtail child pornography.

To bring the full weight of the Department of Justice to this fight, today I am revising the United States Attorneys Manual to improve coordination and effectiveness in child pornography prosecutions.

Since 1998, the manual has required that Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section seek the prior approval of the local U.S. attorney before commencing any investigation in any specific district. The Attorney General's Advisory Committee of the United States Attorneys has indicated that this lockout provision has impeded the department's efforts to prosecute child pornography cases and recommended that it be changed. Today I am authorizing the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to pursue cases simply after notifying the U.S. attorney for the affected district; it is no longer a requirement that the U.S. attorney approve or otherwise provide sanction for the investigation.

Therefore, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section will no longer be required to obtain approval from the U.S. attorney for investigations in cases.

Finally, I am committed to working with the Congress to develop strong measures to fight child pornography that will survive judicial scrutiny. I believe today's opinion and the Constitution leave open legislative avenues to protect our children from harm, and we will seek to develop the means to do so with legislative endeavor.

As I said at the beginning, the protection of America's children is one of the most important missions of this Department of Justice. I would warn the child pornographers and others who exploit our children that they will find little refuge in today's decision. We will continue to use every available resource to identify, investigate and prosecute child pornography cases to the fullest extent of the law.

Thank you very much.

KING: No questions there -- Attorney General John Ashcroft promising to take some steps administratively and to work with the Congress as well, all that, that statement in reaction today to a Supreme Court decision, the 6-3 ruling striking down key provisions of the child pornography law. The attorney general, again, said the administration will take steps to try to strengthen prosecution steps in reaction to today's Supreme Court decision.

I want to apologize to our guests, Joe Lockhart and Scott Reed, for having to cut their segment short because of the attorney general's news conference.

Stay with us.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just days after a number of Democrats tested the presidential waters in Florida, we have a new gauge of the early 2004 campaign.

New reports to the Federal Election Commission show Al Gore's leadership PAC raised more than $500,000 in the first quarter of this year. And he has about $181,000 cash on hand. Gore's 2000 running mate, Joe Lieberman, did better with more than $600,000 raised in the first quarter and with $600,000-plus in the bank.

Senator John Edwards of North Carolina has a leadership PAC that also pulled in more than $600,000. And it has the most cash on hand, more than $1 million. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts also has a leadership PAC. It raised $250,000 and reports more than $167,000 cash on hand. And the Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's DASHPAC raised more than $138,000 in the first quarter and reports nearly $1 million cash on hand. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's PAC figures are not due until later this month.

What does all this mean? Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl to help put all these numbers into context -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the first thing is, that when you consider that the best of those numbers are the kind of money that George Bush can raise in an afternoon in Toledo at a single fund-raiser, this was not encouraging for Democrats. They have not raised a lot of money, when you consider the kind of money that George W. Bush can raise in an instant.

And, also, those numbers, actually, in some cases are a little bit worse than they appear. For instance, John Edwards you had at over $600,000 raised this quarter. But John Edwards, most of that money was in soft money, the unregulated money that, by the way, will be illegal as of November because of campaign finance reform. So, Edwards is going to have to deplete most of that money because he won't be able to use it after November.

And, actually, John Kerry's numbers were a little better than they seem there, because he also has his Senate committee. He is up for reelection. He is virtually unopposed in Massachusetts. He raised $1.2 million for a Senate campaign. Much of that money, of course, would be very useful for a future presidential campaign.

There was another interesting thing, though, John, which was not shown there. And that is how these guys spent their money. And if you looked at it, Joe Lieberman was the runaway leader in one category that's very important this time out in a presidential cycle: giving money to other candidates around the country. Joe Lieberman gave nearly $200,000 of his money to other candidates around the country, collecting the kind of chits that you need to have when you want to run for president.

In contrast, John, Al Gore gave zero to other candidates -- a lot of Democrats wondering why Al Gore did not give any of his money out to other Democrats around the country. The Gore people say, hey, he did not get his PAC up and running until mid-February; he'll be giving plenty of money to other candidates around the country. And, by the way, he'll also be raising a lot more money. He got into this much later than the other candidates.

So that's the spin, John, but no matter how you spin it, not a lot of money raised by any of the top presidential contenders when you consider what they're up against.

KING: A reminder, Jon Karl, how often the Republicans complained when Bill Clinton held the White House.

Jon Karl on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Checking the headlines now in "Campaign News Daily": Former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has settled his lawsuit against the Presidential Debates Commission. Nader sued after he was barred from attending the Boston presidential debate in October 2000. The commission has agreed to apologize and pay Nader an undisclosed sum.

Democrat Andrew Cuomo today officially kicked off his campaign for New York governor. The former housing secretary and son of former Governor Mario Cuomo says incumbent George Pataki has no vision for the future. Pataki, of course, unseated Andrew Cuomo's father back in 1994.

Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney has filed his taxes, but says he is going to keep the details private. The GOP's choice for governor hammered Democrat Ted Kennedy for not releasing his tax returns in their Senate race eight years ago. This time around, a spokesman says Romney has decided to keep his tax numbers to himself.

Jeff Greenfield's "Bite of the Apple" is next: his thoughts on the crisis facing the Catholic Church and what gives this story political impact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time now for today's "Bite of the Apple."

Jeff Greenfield joins me now from New York to talk about the Vatican decision to summon America's cardinals to Rome. Earlier today, Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said the sex scandal has affected the church's larger mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON: Now because of this I think people are hesitant. Young priests are hesitant to work with children. And that's such a shame, because that's what so many children need: to be able to have someone in whom they can trust, in whom they can have confidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jeff Greenfield, from a political point of view, anything distinctive about this story?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes, I think so, John.

Normally, when an ethnic group or a religious group or a racial group is involved in some kind of fight, it's with another group. There's a contest or a clash. Go all the way back to the Know- Nothings of the 19th century and their anti-Catholic message. Immigration restrictions traditionally pit people who are already here against newcomers, whether they're Irish or Italian or Jews or Asians.

Affirmative action, a classic case: Asians and Jew on one side of a divide, blacks and Hispanics on the other. This is a major crisis, a scandal which is really all contained within one group. That is, the perpetrators, the victims, the enablers in the form of a hierarchy, if you will, are all Roman Catholics. By definition, non- Catholics don't send their children, usually, to Catholic priests for spiritual guidance.

So, I think it is different from a normal kind of issue or controversy that surrounds one of America's tribes.

KING: Well, because of that, because you say it is different, is it isolated? Is it just a dealing for the Catholic Church? Or is there some broader political lesson at work here?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think so. And, John, you know this better than I.

The degree to which institutions that once thought themselves insulated from accountability now find, in the modern era, they are not. The Oval Office itself -- as we all learned a few years ago -- the most, we thought, private place in the world subject to public disclosure. Look at what happened with Enron and Arthur Andersen. Big companies, corporations, a major accounting firm suddenly have all their dirty linens spilled out in public.

And the Catholic Church, by definition a hierarchy, insulated, secrets of the confessional and all that, and now it turns out, in the modern era, there are two weapons that pretty much knock down any wall of insulation. One is the media and the other the legal process through discovery and lawsuits, which is exactly what happened in Boston. The combination of lawsuits and an aggressive press has turned the Boston Archdiocese into an endangered species almost, in terms of public confidence.

KING: So, after stepping back for months and saying this is a problem for the church in America to deal with, the pope summons the cardinals to Rome. Will we just watch the church do damage control, or is there some larger domestic political dimension to this, do you think?

GREENFIELD: You know, there's one political consequence of all this. And I have no idea how it will play out. But, again, you're the guy who sees this firsthand.

The Bush administration has paid particularly close attention to the Catholic communities, learning the lesson that all the way back to the Nixon and the Reagan administration, when Republicans can win over white ethnic Catholics, they do very well. And the tension between Bush's attempt to reach out to the Catholic hierarchy and the current dilemma, I think, is going to be a very tricky political area to look at for some time to come -- John.

KING: Jeff Greenfield, joining us today from New York, thank you very much.

Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: actress Angie Harmon. You may know her from the NBC series "Law & Order." We caught up with her today on Capitol Hill.

But first to Wolf Blitzer with a preview of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Thank you very much, John.

After nine days, Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to wrap up his mission to the Middle East. For Israelis and Palestinians, it is literally do or die. And I'll speak live with the top adviser to Ariel Sharon, as well as one of the founders of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. And wait until you see what happened to me in Jerusalem tonight. It is all coming up on our special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" right after INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But aren't there laws about recording people without their knowledge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That only applies to recording of sound. There's no sound on the tapes in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What difference does sound make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there is a law in the books against wiretapping. There's no law against videotaping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Actress Angie Harmon played a victim of video voyeurism in a TV movie. Now she's taking part in a campaign to crack down on real-life peeping Toms. Harmon appeared today on Capitol Hill, along with the woman she portrayed in that Lifetime Television movie, Susan Wilson. They are supporting legislation that would make video voyeurism a federal crime.

I spoke to Harmon and Wilson on Capitol Hill a bit earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN WILSON, VICTIM OF VIDEO VOYEURISM: Well, about four years ago, I discovered that a man had climbed into my attic and taped bedroom scenes with me and my husband and also some shower scenes in the bathroom.

And it was just horrendous to me to find out that someone had actually done that, but even worse than that, to find out there's no law against what he did. And so, from that moment on, I lobbied for legislation in Louisiana. And we passed a law a year later. And since that time, there have been three prosecutions under the video voyeurism law. And I'm just very determined to make sure that the entire nation is secure with a federal legislation.

It is just so -- it's such a trauma to a marriage to have your bedroom scenes taped. You can't really get over that. I mean, you can do counseling, but it's always there. And the shower scenes, things that you never want to even see yourself, much less someone else see. And it's just devastating. And then the exposure, from that point on, to law enforcement agents -- and many people have, in the same situation, have their tapes on the Internet. And it's just a complete violation.

KING: And how did you get involved in this story when they were making the movie? Why you? And what did you come away from the project with?

ANGIE HARMON, ACTRESS: Well, the story had spoken to me I think just because most celebrities have some sort of fight with the paparazzi and privacy issues and things like that. And I had just got married. And we had had the "Inquirer" pay someone to put a camera in and film our wedding, which is hurtful and turns you into a suspicious mess. But it wasn't, in any way shape or form, what Susan had gone through.

And this project was brought to me at a time where I was still concerned, worrying, trying to figure who had done that to us. And then I figured, wait a minute, this is coming to me probably for a reason. And I thought is was something that I really wanted to do. It is something that, when I did the research for this and realized what had happened to her, it's not -- this isn't an issue that's just solely concentrated on celebrities.

This is something that -- they have live video feeds in public restrooms, where women walk in and they have a video came feed of who is walking in. They see your face. They see who you are. And then there's another camera inside the toilet. And this a live feed on the Internet. And it's not just celebrities. It is every person, every child, every man, every woman. And we're all being victimized.

KING: Do you go on the Internet a lot to see what's on there about you? You can find a lot of pictures of you on the Internet.

HARMON: I try not to. I try not to.

The things, like there will be Angie Harmon Web sites, and buy this picture for $10 or $15. And none of it is authorized by me. These people make money off of someone who wants to buy a picture of me, which I think is disgusting. I would much rather have my own Web site, where I don't sell them. And if I did sell them, it went to a charity instead of into somebody's pocket who is hiding in the bush and trying to take a picture just the fact that you're coming out of Starbucks and they'll make a quick $150.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: For the record, Angie Harmon says she's a Republican.

That's all the time we have today on INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. I'm John King in Washington. CNN's coverage continues right now with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" live from Jerusalem.

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