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New Bush's Performance Poll Results Are Out; Congress Votes on Pro-Israeli Resolutions; Byrd, Ridge Clash Again

Aired May 2, 2002 - 16:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. We're rolling out new poll numbers on President Bush's job performance. I'll tell you if there's anything for Democrats to hang their hopes on.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill where voting just began on the first of two pro- Israel resolutions, despite the misgivings of the White House.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve on the Hill with the "Inside Buzz" on the another clash between Senator Robert Byrd and homeland security chief, Tom Ridge.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bruce Morton in Washington. Is Bill Clinton finally ready to answer his true calling?


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

At a time when every word and every gesture from the U.S. government might influence the conflict in the Middle East, both chambers of the U.S. Congress seem ready to make their sympathies very clear. Our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, has the latest from the Hill -- Jonathan.

KARL: Well, Candy, the Senate just began voting and the House will begin voting in about 15 minutes on resolutions that would put the U.S. Congress firmly on the Israeli side of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.


(voice-over): The administration didn't want any pro-Israel resolution right now. But the primary author of the Senate measure used the president's own words to make the case for going forward.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you are a terrorist. And you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends. KARL: In a direct contradiction of the president's call for Israel to withdraw from the recently occupied territories, the resolution praises Israel for -- quote -- "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas."

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: I'm proud as a Republican to be here to do this and upset the apple cart a bit for the Bush administration. Not with any malignancy, but because of a principle that I feel very, very personally and deeply, that we, as elected members of this body, have a right and an obligation to stand up and be counted right now at this critical hour, no matter what apple carts are overturned in the process.

KARL: Despite the concerns the resolution could complicate diplomatic efforts in the Mideast, the administration reluctantly dropped its opposition to the Senate resolution. Of far more concern was the more strongly-worded measure written by Tom DeLay in the House, that both praises Israel and condemns Yasser Arafat.

After DeLay insisted on going forward, the White House tried to quickly negotiate changes with only modest success. An earlier draft of DeLay's resolution condemned Arafat's -- quote -- "support and coordination of terror." The final version drops the word "coordination."

The final version also minced language that accused -- quote -- "forces directly under Yasser Arafat's control" of murdering innocent Israelis. Instead, the resolution only refers to forces that are -- quote -- "part of Arafat's Fatah organization."


Those changes are important to the White House because the president doesn't want to see the Congress go on record saying that Arafat is directly responsible for terrorism at a time when the administration is trying to negotiate with him. But the White House did succeed in putting something in the resolution in the House that makes it a little bit less one-sided.

The very final clause in the resolution calls on the international community to take steps to -- quote -- "alleviate the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people." That was a request from the White House that Tom DeLay agreed to add into his resolution late last night -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks. Jon Karl on Capitol Hill.

In the Middle East at least 10 peace activists are reportedly planning to stay inside the Church of the Nativity in the Bethlehem as long as the standoff there continues. The activists managed to slip past Israeli troops stationed outside the church today. So did two photographers. Fifteen other peace activists were detained.

Meantime, the Israeli military is accusing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of orchestrating a firing gun battle at the Church of the Nativity overnight. Palestinians blame Israel. Arafat toured damage in Ramallah today hours after Israel lifted a month-long siege around his compound in the West Bank city.


YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER: The whole community has to come and see the crimes which have been done to replace of our Palestine. Especially the Nativity church.


CROWLEY: Here in Washington, President Bush sent Yasser Arafat a familiar message.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's very important for Chairman Arafat to show the world that he is capable of leading. He has disappointed. He has had the chance to grab the peace and hasn't done so in the past. Therefore, he has let down the Palestinian people. Now is a chance to show he can lead.


CROWLEY: Mr. Bush also said Israel must negotiate an end to its occupation of Palestinian areas. But he contended that important progress has been made in the Middle East. Our senior White House correspondent John King is here.

The president says he sees the glass as half-full in the Middle East. John, we all know the president is an optimistic guy. Do the people around him see it that way?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, it's fair to say there is no great sense of optimism here. But I asked a senior official involved in the policy why did he put it that way. And this official said, what do you want him to say, "all is doomed"?

Psychology is a very important part of the strategy here. The president wants to win concessions from Prime Minister Sharon next week. Secretary Powell talked to Mr. Arafat last night and said, watch your tongue. The White House does not like the fact that Arafat came out and called the Israelis barbarians and racists and Nazis.

So psychology is very important, in the sense that if you are to win concessions, both parties must believe that progress can and will be made and that Mr. Bush will stay personally involved. So he says he sees the glass as half full. Perhaps a better test, ask him that question next week. The key, the White House says, is let's see what happens over the next several days. Hopefully Mr. Arafat talks responsibly.

Then you have the key meeting here at the White House on Tuesday with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

John, let me move on to a related, but slightly different question, that is that Mr. Bush spoke after a meeting with European leaders. They spoke of cooperation, but do disagreements still linger?

KING: Huge disagreements linger. This could have been a major issue, internationally. Also domestically, in the middle of a congressional election year. Remember, the president imposes those tariffs on U.S. steel products. The Europeans among those around the world outraged. They had been threatening unilateral sanctions, some European countries.

The European Union as a whole had been threatening to come here and impose sanctions of their own. What you have then is the risk of a trade war. The Europeans also don't like that new farm bill. It has new subsidies in it as well.

What they decided, though, was at least for now, to keep negotiating, to try to work within the rules of the World Trade Organization -- I won't try to explain those here. But they have agreed for now to put aside the threat of sanctions and more sanctions and negotiate.

So for at least a few more months, they have put this aside. From the White House perspective that is good news, again, especially in an election year because of how that could play out in the States.

CROWLEY: John King, senior White House correspondent. Thanks very much, John.

Now let's get an update on the way Americans view President Bush's handling of the Mideast crisis. For that, fortunately, I'm sitting next to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, President Bush was widely acclaimed for his handling of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Lately however, he's taken a lot of heat for his Middle East policy.


(voice-over): What about the American people? Do they approve of the way President Bush is handling the situation in the Middle East? You bet, 72 percent. Even the majority of Democrats approves.

And conservatives? No problem there, 83 percent. Critics say President Bush's Middle East policy has been confusing. One day he criticizes Israel...

BUSH: Israel should halt incursions in the Palestinian- controlled areas and begin to withdraw without delay from those cities it has recently occupied.

SCHNEIDER: And a few days later, he's staunchly pro-Israel.

BUSH: I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace.

SCHNEIDER: Do the American people think the Bush administration has a clear, well thought-out policy in the Middle East? Not particularly. That's not why they like it. They like it for two reasons. His sympathies are pro-Israel and his policies are even- handed.

Look at who gives President Bush his highest ratings on the Middle East: people who say the U.S. should support Israel and people who believe President Bush is being even-handed -- about 80 percent approval in both cases.


That's the role Americans want to play: cheer for Israel and stay out of the conflict. Exactly what they think President Bush is doing.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Bill.

I'm going to have more from our new poll next on INSIDE POLITICS. Find out if Americans still are giving the president top marks for leadership and how partisans Joe Lockhart and Scott Reed are spinning the numbers.

You don't have to be a Hollywood star to be one of the beautiful people. We'll tell you which politician has been inducted into their ranks.

And later, her talk show days are numbered, so move over, Oprah. Is Bill Clinton angling for a similar job?


CROWLEY: The surge in public support for President Bush last September appears to have some staying power. In a moment I'll discuss Mr. Bush's political standing with Scott Reed and Joe Lockhart. But first, new poll numbers on the president, his party and the challenges facing Democrats.


(voice-over): He is riding high and he is riding steady. Almost eight months after the attacks in New York and Washington, 77 percent of Americans approve of the job President Bush is doing. In a CNN- "USA Today"-Gallup poll, 70 percent also said he deserves to be reelected. Fifty-six percent said in 2004 they are more likely to vote for him than a Democrat.

The numbers have been so strong for so long, Republicans feel the need to put the brakes on.

JACK OLIVER, REPUBLICAN NAT'L CMTE.: They're at astronomical highs. We understand that they're going to probably come down. I expect them to come down. But we continue to be pleased at the American people's continued confidence in his leadership.

CROWLEY: And even Democrats concede this goes beyond a war-rally effect. STAN GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: The president was in deep trouble, Labor Day 2001. He was clearly sliding, there were lots of questions about his leadership, his ability to do the job. And we were attacked. He responded, rallied the country and did an exceptional job. And I do think there is an enduring change in the way people view this president.

CROWLEY: Bush pollsters agree that the president's post 9-11 performance has settled doubts some Americans had about his ability do the job. And the numbers seem to bolster the argument. Sixty-eight percent of those polled said the president understands complex issues. Seventy-five percent said he can manage the government effectively. Seventy-seven percent believe he is a strong, decisive leader.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: This administration has probably been as bad for the environment as any administration we've ever had.

CROWLEY: Despite months-long Democratic efforts to divide the Bush presidency into domestic policy and war policy, the numbers suggest the president's war support spills over into the domestic perception. More than 60 percent said the president agrees with them on issues they care about. Two-thirds said George Bush shares their values and cares about people. And 7 of 8 polled said he provides good moral leadership.

And in a number not seen in recent presidential history, 54 percent polled said George Bush is not a typical politician. Yikes! Anything here a Democrat can hang his hat on?

STAN GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: For his numbers to be in mid-70s, and yet when you get to the question of who are you going to vote for Congress, the Democrats move into the lead. That says to me the coattails aren't there.

CROWLEY: True enough, registered voters said they prefer a Democratic congressional candidate to a Republican, 48 to 44 percent. Still, 67 percent said their own representative deserves to be reelected. Translation: incumbents look good going into the fall and Congress may not look much different after the 2002 elections.

Now, as for 2004.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Where did all that surplus go to?

CROWLEY: Al Gore has his work cut out for him. Despite a stepped-up presence on the national scene, the former vice president's favorables are under 50 percent. And only 46 percent of Democrats even want him to run again.


For more on the poll, the president and the Democrats, I'm joined "On the Record" by Bill Clinton's former press secretary, Joe Lockhart and Republican strategist, Scott Reed. Joe, what does a Democrat do in this case? I mean, it seems to me they have tried so many things. And nothing sticks, according to these polls.

JOE LOCKHART, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Democrats are glad the election cycle is the way it is and we're not contesting the presidential election of 2002. What we're contesting is Congress.

And what Stan Greenberg said there makes a lot of sense. It's a real problem when the leader of your party is polling at 75 percent and then the generic for your party in Congress is 4, 5 points below where the Democrats are, having lost -- it's been about a 15-point swing here.

And that's because we're going to decide these things on elections that don't have to do with what you asked about there. This isn't going to be about his ability to understand complex issues or his moral vision. It's going to be about bread and butter issues out in the country.

And on every single one of those, prescription drugs, Social Security, Democrats have the advantage. And it's going to make for a big change in 2003, when we have House and the Senate.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you if they do have the advantage. But let me have Scott jump in here. It is hard to believe that somehow that kind of stratospheric poll number doesn't translate into who you put on Capitol Hill.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Nobody believes these numbers are going to stand up as strong as they are. But I'll tell you, they're very happy with the White House political team today and the Republican National committee, because these are phenomenal numbers -- numbers any politician anywhere in the country would love to have.

CROWLEY: Sure, but wouldn't you like to have something to do with them? I mean, to make them useful.

REED: Sure, it is. But it's a real testament to the fact that in the last five weeks when all this craziness has been going on in the Middle East, people that have talked to pollsters still believe in this president and believe what he's doing. So it's very positive.

I think a big part of it is, people look back at his agenda of cutting taxes to grow the economy and reforming education. These things have started to stick. And every one of the weaknesses a year ago, that all the Democrats threw at Bush are now put to the side. And he's got very positive numbers, as you just showed.

CROWLEY: But the issues, when you say, OK, look, we're going to go on the issues here. The problem, it seems to me, that Democrats have is that you do have people, you know, 64 percent of the people going, well, he agrees with me on the issues.

LOCKHART: You asked the question, do you share something or agree on the issues? When you start asking about his approach versus the Democrats' approach on specific issues -- Social Security, the environment, energy policy, prescription drugs, and even on education, where he made some gains and then I think threw a lot of it away with a disastrous decision earlier this week to try to cut the student loan program.

But if you start asking those questions, the Republicans in Congress give up the sort of glow that George Bush has around them, and have to run on just the issues. And that's why they're behind.

You know, the number that was singled out there was, you know, 54 percent don't think of him as a typical politician. These aren't typical times. And I think Stan Greenberg -- every Democratic has stood up and given him the credit. But as we move forward, the bad news I think is all ahead of him.

Because all of the things and all of the good part about the tax cut, politically, is done. Now the question is who is going to pay for it and how often we're going to pay for it. And that's just starting to come.

CROWLEY: There is political gravity, right? I mean, there is a law there. And what goes up must come down. And we're already -- I mean, you heard, you know, the Republicans say, we know these are going to come down. That is sort of a perception problem, isn't it? I mean, once he starts to fall, don't the Democrats almost automatically get some traction?

REED: These polls have done one thing for the Republican Party, they've kept discipline in the party, both in the congressional wing of the party and throughout the party across the country. You don't hear criticism like you normally do about an incumbent president.

But I'll tell you, as we move forward here, no one is sitting around thinking we're just going to ride Bush's coattails into the fall. We all know the election isn't May 2, it's not October 1. It's in November.

And this party is prepared with good candidates, with a lot of money in the bank. We're outraising the Democrats. The president has been very helpful on that. That's going to maintain discipline and give focus as we go into the fall.

LOCKHART: I think that's right. And I think that's something to watch. And I think you're beginning to see discipline fall away. You have the Tom DeLay Middle East resolution that's giving them headaches at the White House. You have some supplemental legislation where the White House is trying very hard to hold the line. And House Republicans are throwing more money in.


CROWLEY: People have been hitting him pretty hard for a month now, and it hasn't really had an effect.

LOCKHART: Not people within his own party. CROWLEY: But the conservatives have been going nuts, haven't they?

LOCKHART: That's not serious.

REED: The last two weeks, the Democrats have been putting out this fog machine that the sky is falling on Bush and the conservatives are upset. These polls don't show that at all. They show unity in the party behind this president across the board.

LOCKHART: I don't think conservatives are upset with this president. I don't think he needs to worry about conservatives. He needs to worry about people in the middle. That's why he gave his compassionate conservatism speech this week. He had to remind people...

REED: It was a big hit in California, by the way.

LOCKHART: Well, we'll see what happens on election day in California, since his candidate isn't on the ballot.

CROWLEY: Let me move you just to one other subject, because I don't want the subject of Al Gore to go away. And that is, he falls below 50 percent in his favorable ratings. And you have more people in the Democratic Party, registered Democrats or people who lean Democrat, going we really don't want him to run. Is there a message here or is it just too early?

LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think it's way too early. I think you saw a very public sort of activist reaction to him, very positive reaction to him when he spoke in Florida. He's got to decide what he wants to do. And until he decides and starts making the case for why he should be president, people are going to sit and hold back and say, we're waiting.

CROWLEY: But isn't he already making the case?


REED: I think he's made that decision. It's very clear he's running. Everybody knows he's running on the Democratic side and I think these numbers are worrisome. But Joe is right. It's way too early. It doesn't really matter.

I think you're going to see him run out here as time builds up to the midterms, get more active and play a role in some of these early states. But he still has some fundamental problems. You saw it down in Florida, where he was talking to that narrow band of activists in the room. But it didn't play out around the country very well.

It did seduce some of the national press corps, that said he's OK now, he's back. He's sweating a little, but he's back. But it hasn't broken outside of that.

CROWLEY: But does it not embolden, at least, those who are running against him? (CROSSTALK)

LOCKHART: Those numbers aren't the ones at this point in a campaign you have to worry about. All those people have the disadvantage of not really being known. If Gore gets in, it's harder for them to get known.

Because if you looked at the Florida convention, you would have thought only one person spoke. In fact, there were several really good speeches. Senator Edwards, Senator Lieberman, I think Senator Kerry was there, who gave very good speeches. But the press just focused on one.

So there are a lot of advantages that the former vice president will have. But I disagree with, I guess, everyone, that I don't think he's made up his mind. I think he's still out there trying to figure out whether this is doable, whether this is what he wants to do.

And when he does, if he decides he's going for it, I think you're going to see a very aggressive candidate who will start from a position of strength.

CROWLEY: More later. I got to go. Scott Reed, thank you so much. Joe Lockhart, really appreciate it.

A new angle in the debate over reparations for slavery just ahead in our "Taking Issue" segment. Next in the "Newscycle," coalition forces begin a new operation in search of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.


CROWLEY: Among the stories we are following this hour in the "Newscycle": about 10 activists slipped by Israeli troops today and entered Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. As the standoff there continued, the U.S. House and Senate considered resolutions expressing support for Israel's West Bank military actions.

In the mountains of southeast Afghanistan, British marines are leading a coalition force of al Qaeda fighters. The marines are carrying out Operation Snipe with support from American troops and helicopters.

In California retired Catholic priest Paul Shanley has been arrested on a Massachusetts warrant and charged with raping a child by force. Shanley spent most of his time as a religious leader in the Boston area. Internal documents recently made public show church officials knew for years Shanley had been accused of sexual abuse.

With us now, Betsy Hart of Scripps Howard news service and CNN contributor, Tavis Smiley. Let me start here with the Israeli resolution that's up on the Hill. We expect it to pass both in the House and in the Senate. I guess my first question, Betsy, is what is the point here?

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SVC.: Well, actually, Candy, I think it was mischaracterized in the lead-in. It's not to support what the Israelis are doing in the West Bank, but to say we stand with Israel against terrorism.

In fact, the whole resolution simply says we stand with Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism. We call on the Palestinians to denounce it. Our Arab supposed allies have denounced terrorism. It's not particularly scandalous or hard hitting.

And I think the point is the American people seem to be saying overwhelmingly in these public opinion polls, we see what's going on in Israel as part of the moral struggle we face against terrorism. We want to express that, particularly as the rest of the world seems to be siding so one-sidedly with the Palestinians.


TAVIS SMILEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it might not be scandalous, but it certainly is scurrilous, it seems to me. Given that...

HART: Oh, Tavis, what is scurrilous about it? Tell me.

SMILEY: Betsy, give me three seconds. I listened to you. You won't even let me get started. Jesus! I was about to say that I think it is scurrilous at best, given that we ought not to be doing anything right now that is going to prohibit us or stop us in any way from trying to make peace around the world.

It seems to me that we can't have 535 secretaries of state -- and that's what members of Congress seem to be wanting to do, to the extent that the Bush White House is bothered by this. Tom DeLay is out of control and I think Joe Lockhart is right, that these Republicans on the Hill are giving the White House fits about this issue.

HART: Tavis, the White House has said they are going to sign off on this. And the reason is, because we can't have a show of weakness. If we really want to fight terrorism, strength is what the terrorists understand.

Weakness, any kind of vacillation, any kind of equivocation between right and wrong is when they pounce and they strike. When they see the United States stand up and say, "We're going to go after terrorists and we mean it," all of a sudden, they back down or they back the United States. And I think that's what we're trying to get through here via this resolution of support, not for Israel per se, just Israel, but against terrorism.

CROWLEY: Tavis, don't you think that there is at least some substance and some feeling that, if the U.S. Congress goes and says this in support, it actually enhances President Bush's position as he tries to deal with this problem, in so far as that he can say: "Look, remember, I've got Congress here and they're very strongly in what seems to most people to be a pro-Israeli resolution"?

SMILEY: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with suggesting that we are on the side of right in this case. There's nothing wrong with saying we stand and we support Israel's right to self-determination.

The question is whether or not we are going to have a Congress that is out of step with the White House. I mean, let's face it. These folks read "The New York Times" as well. They read "The Washington Post" as well. And they understand very clearly that this is a Congress, led in part by Tom DeLay -- at least on the House side -- that's out of control, that is out of step with the White House, and that the White House is having a very difficult time reeling these mavericks in.


CROWLEY: Hang on one second, Betsy. Let me just interrupt both of you, because I actually want to get on to a subject that I know Tavis was interested in talking about.

And I need you first, Tavis, to explain that the California Department of Insurance has released the names of insurance companies that insured slaves for slave owners. How does this move the reparations issue forward? Is this a good thing, a bad thing? What was the point of this?

SMILEY: That's a good question. And the answer remains to be seen.

I think it is significant. I think that we're going to find in the coming months and certainly years, as this debate about reparations for slavery continues to rage in this country, now it is not just a matter of saying: Who is responsible? It is not just the government. Now we have corporations. We have companies, among them New York Life and AIG and Aetna and other companies who insured slave holders against the loss of life of their slaves.

And so now there's actually a hat, so to speak, if you will, to hang this argument on that so many African-Americans have been talking about for years, that somebody has to be responsible for this institution and the ongoing legacy of slavery.

HART: The debate about reparations is not raging.

And, in fact, I think the fact that now some black leaders are going after these insurance companies and their stockholders, like Tavis and me and so many other people who had nothing to do with the issue of slavery -- and let's be clear, of course. This is about lining the pockets of lawyers, not helping black Americans.

But, in any event, I think this suggests that the issue of reparations at the federal government level is dead. So, now they're trying to go and do a squeeze play on some of these corporations, which is really an outrage, because you're going to victimize innocent people. Those who were responsible for the terrors of slavery are dead and gone.

And, further, the issue of slavery is not what is plaguing the black community today. Where it has problems, it is not any longer solely the issue of slavery that is responsible. And, in fact, on the upside, black Americans are enjoying higher levels of income and education than ever before, record levels. So I think you have to say: What are the problems?


HART: But, Candy, this is important.

If the black community really wants to help its people, let's get into those awful black schools in the inner cities. Let's break up the teacher monopolies. Let's get choice in education. That's where it starts. Let's put our energies there, not going after some defunct companies and penalizing innocent people.

CROWLEY: OK, Betsy, we're pretty far afield here. I think we sort of get the point from both of you, because I want to move you on to a subject I love.

And that is the notion that Bill Clinton might be interested in having a talk show, sort of be the next Oprah, certainly that his office did not shoot it down.

Tavis, is this a good idea new?

SMILEY: I think it is a bad idea. I think, long term, in trying to establish a new legacy, if you will, that becoming a daytime talk show host -- and with all due respect to Oprah Winfrey -- doesn't bode well for Bill Clinton. I think that the president ought to remain the statesman. I think he ought to talk about issues. I think becoming a daytime talk show host -- never mind $50 million a year, which is what he's asking for -- I think it is the wrong thing for him to do, quite frankly.

HART: I think that his pretty co-host ought to get a couple of bodyguards lined up right now just to thwart any potential attacks.

The larger issue: Bill Clinton isn't a statesman. He wasn't a statesman. In many ways, this fits. The media thing, it's vacuous. It kind of fits the former president.

CROWLEY: We have to stop you all right now.

And, Tavis Smiley, thanks so much, Betsy Hart. We will see you all later.

HART: You bet.

CROWLEY: We also want to tell you that the Senate, by a vote of 94-2, has just passed its resolution expressing support for Israel's fight against terrorism.

The "Inside Buzz" is next, with Byrd vs. Ridge revisited. Also ahead, farm politics: Bob Novak tells us why some Republicans seem to be having a cow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Senator Robert Byrd is practically a regular in our "Inside Buzz" segment these days. He's back today with another installment in his running feud with the Bush administration over Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge's failure to formally testify.

Our Jeanne Meserve is on Capitol Hill with details -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, Senator Robert Byrd held a hearing today on homeland security, but without the director of the Office of Homeland Security.

Governor Ridge was instead, at the very same time, answering senators' questions at a briefing sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch. Now, a hearing, a briefing, it may sound like a distinction without a difference, but not to Senator Byrd, who called Hatch's and Ridge's briefing a sophomoric political antic.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Instead of allowing Director Ridge to testify before this Senate Appropriations Committee, the administration would rather trivialize homeland security with these made-for-television stunts.



QUESTION: Why did you schedule it at the same time as Byrd's hearing?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I didn't know that Senator Byrd was having a hearing. All I can say is...

QUESTION: He has had it scheduled for...

HATCH: I don't look at Senator Byrd's hearings. I'm not on his committee. All I can say is, I totally respect him. He's one of my dear friends here in this body. But if he used that language, I thought it was inappropriate.


MESERVE: An official in Ridge's office says his declining Byrd's invitation was not an effort to poke him in the eye, that it reflects a genuine difference of opinion over separation of powers.

Ridge says that he is a presidential adviser and, as such, should not have to testify before Congress. He says Congress is getting all the answers that it needs. He claims that he and members of his staff have met something like 150 times with members of the House and Senate. And an administration official pointed out today that, if senators have pressing, unanswered questions about homeland security, more than 10 of them might have showed up at the briefing today held by Senator Hatch and Governor Ridge. Now, a staffer for Senator Byrd sees it another way. He says that, in days of hearing with eight Cabinet-level officials, they have gotten only peeks at pieces of homeland security, that they need the big, overall picture. They can only get that, they say, from Governor Ridge. A possible long-term solution: legislation introduced today that would create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The administration now says it is open to that idea -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much for the latest installment of Byrd buzz. We know there will be another.

Imagine what Democratic pollster Mark Mellman must have thought when he received an invitation to become a member of the Republican Presidential Roundtable if he donated $2,500 to GOP. We don't have to imagine, because Mellman responded to the invitation from Republican National Senatorial Committee Bill Frist.

In a tongue-in-cheek letter obtained by our Capitol Hill Producer Dana Bash, Mellman wrote: "Your willingness to open the doors of the Republican Party to a proud Daschle Democrat like me is truly heartwarming. I am disappointed, however, that you are not selling national security briefings, as did your House colleagues. That would have been sexier."

In keeping with the spirit of Mellman's notes, NRSC's Press Secretary Dan Allen had this response: "I guess he's upset we didn't invited him to a White House coffee." Those guys.

Here now: a little more "Inside Buzz" from Bob Novak.

Bob, so, House leaders are upset with the White House?


All of the House leaders voted no on the farm bill, except J.C. Watts, who was the only one who voted yes. They think it is a really terrible bill. And the administration, the president not only said he would sign any farm bill that passed, but they sent up people to make sure to try to get Republicans to vote for it. They didn't want this bill defeated.

There's a growing feeling, I think on the House Republican leaders, that President Bush is not playing to his conservative base, which hurts the congressional candidates in 2002.

CROWLEY: They have to be careful, though, because we know he has high poll numbers at this point.

Let me move you on to ANWR. So, I thought that debate was over, right?

NOVAK: This is a complicated story. House passed ANWR drilling. Senate rejected it. Two energy bills go to conference.

The Senate majority whip, Harry Reid, wanted to get certain people on the conference committee quick. And the Republicans made a deal. They said, if you only have a one-vote margin of the Senate conferees, Democrats over Republicans, we'll go along with you. He agreed. The problem is, that with this one-vote margin, one of the Democrats, Senator John of Louisiana, voted for ANWR on the Senate floor. So, if he keeps that vote -- nobody knows if he will or not -- in the committee, you could have the bill coming back to the Senate from the conference committee with ANWR drilling in it.

CROWLEY: It's like the glob that keeps coming back, right?

Look, Ralph Hall, Denny Hastert and James Traficant: Connect all these dots for me on this next one.

NOVAK: Well, Ralph Hall has been, for the last two decades, usually the most conservative Democrat in Congress. He's from Texas. And he has been saying that, if his vote is needed to elect Republican Ralph Hastert after the 2002 election -- Denny Hastert, I mean, as speaker -- he certainly will vote for Denny Hastert, which takes care of Traficant's vote. You know that Traficant had crossed party lines to vote for Hastert. Traficant probably won't be around.

But the interesting this is, people tell me that Hall probably will vote for Hastert even if his vote is not needed. So, I think Ralph Hall may be slowly easing out of the Democratic Party. What's one man in one Congress make a difference? It's so close, Candy, who is elected, who controls the House of Representatives, that one vote could make the difference in picking the speaker. Every vote counts, anyway.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. It's America.


CROWLEY: Bob Novak, thanks very much.

Checking the latest headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Abortion rights activists are stepping in to assist Ed Rendell in his run for Pennsylvania governor. The National Abortion Rights Action League is running TV ads for Rendell in his primary battle against fellow Democrat Bob Casey Jr. The ads are scheduled to run in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia until the primary May 21.

Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney has made "People" magazine's list of the 50 most beautiful people. Romney, the GOP candidate for governor, is the lone representative from the world of politics to make the list.

Rival Democrats Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo make a joint appearance today in New York. The two candidates for governor discussed the state minimum wage at a news conference for the Working Families Party. Cuomo and McCall used the event to take aim at incumbent Republican George Pataki. Cuomo also refused to back away from his recent criticism of Pataki's leadership following September 11.

We'll return to Mideast politics. Up next: Jeff Greenfield will weigh in on the president, the Saudis, and pressure points that are very sensitive.


CROWLEY: In domestic politics, arm-twisting is standard procedure. But do pressure tactics work in the Mideast crisis?

Let's go to Jeff Greenfield for today's "Bite of the Apple."

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: So, the siege of Ramallah is over and now yet another peace process begins.

And here is the latest idea, if press reports have it right. The U.S. pressures Sharon to move toward a Palestinian state that includes parts of Jerusalem and an end to most settlements. The Saudis pressure the Palestinians to abandon terror, accept Israel as a Jewish state, and stop pretending that millions of Palestinians can somehow return to the land they or their families left some 50 years ago. Pretty simple, right?

Well, let's see.


(voice-over): Let's assume that the United States could convince Sharon to walk away from the settlements. Of course, he has said that not one will be dismantled as long as he's in power. But never mind.

Are there other pressure points here? You bet. And here is one of them: former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He makes no secret of his intention to challenge Sharon for prime minister next year and to challenge him from the right. If Sharon moves too far toward conciliation, his own party might desert him.

And speaking of political pressure, just how eager is President Bush to push the government of Israel?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I appreciate your friendship.

GREENFIELD: There has already been some rumbling on the right that he was waffling on Israel. And if this President Bush has learned one thing from the first President Bush, it's: Never lose your base.

Moreover, Democrats would be quick to criticize Bush if he got too tough with Israel. Indeed, they have reason to worry about what would happen if the president comes to be seen as Israel's defender. If Bush could peel any significant percentage of Jewish votes away from Democrats, the next election is as good as over.

Now, what about Saudis pressuring the Palestinians? Considering that the Saudis have just raised millions of dollars for Palestinian martyrs, including families of suicide bombers, and considering that the Saudi ambassador to Great Britain wrote a poem in praise of those bombers, there may be reason for skepticism. But put that aside. How much pressure could the Saudis put on PLO Chairman Arafat? He may not be subject to defeat in an election, as Sharon is, but there are counterpressures. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not part of Arafat's movement. In fact, they have at times acted as rivals to him. If Arafat is seen as moving too close to Israel, his survival, political and otherwise, could be in jeopardy.

And the Saudis could face trouble at home if they come to be seen as moving toward real peace, especially since their own media have for years offered up a portrait of Israel as an implacable enemy.


GREENFIELD: So, yes, a joint effort by the Saudis and the Americans to find a path to peace is a fine idea. But the Middle East is still the strongest proof of that old maxim: "The devil is in the details" -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jeff. And another one maxim, "'Twas ever thus," right?


CROWLEY: Thanks.

The talk about Bill Clinton is next. Does he have the right stuff to host a talk show? Our Bruce Morton will consider the former president's credentials.


CROWLEY: Bill Clinton's spokeswoman confirms that the former president had an informal meeting with NBC executives in Los Angeles yesterday. NBC won't comment on the meeting or whether Clinton has a future with the network.

But our Bruce Morton couldn't help but ponder the possibilities.


SHERYL CROW, SINGER (singing): All I wanna do is have some fun.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe it's just that simple: The ex-president wants to have some fun and thinks a daytime talk show would be a way to do it. He knows how to work an audience. This was an Arkansas town meeting.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want you to be blunt and brief.


MORTON: He can work a crowd with the best of them. Here's Regis interviewing a politician. We know the ex-prez knows how to do that. He has been a big hit on MTV. And advertisers covet those younger viewers. You have to be careful whom you hug, of course. He hasn't been on "Oprah," but his wife the senator has and probably picked up some expertise. And, hey, he can play tenor sax. None of these other daytime talk show hosts can do that.

There is one caution. Mr. President, you may want to stay away from those Jerry Springer-style, roll-in-the-trash-pile confrontations. That stuff makes the Middle East look like a church picnic.

So, is he serious? Well, he did meet with people at NBC. His spokesman said he didn't demand a show, denying reports he was insisting on $50 million a year. He went, his statement says, to listen. He is -- quote -- "gratified by the range of opportunities" presented to him, which is about 8 1/2 miles from saying, "No way." Can't you see it: a crowd buzzing, a hush, and the announcer: "Heeeeeere's Bill!"?

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.



But first, let's check in with Wolf for a preview of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" coming up at the top of the hour.

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

Yasser Arafat is free to roam around the West Bank and Gaza. But will he go abroad amid threats from the Israeli prime minister that he might not be allowed to return? I will ask one of Arafat's key aides. And should pilots be allowed to use stun guns in the cockpit? We will get a live demonstration. You'll want to see this. Plus, Mike Tyson sounds off -- all of it, plus more at the top of the hour right after INSIDE POLITICS.


CROWLEY: Looking ahead to what's in the works for tomorrow's INSIDE POLITICS.


JON STEWART, HOST: Your beat, obviously, INSIDE POLITICS. And I guess, in some respects, do you think politics now takes a backseat to what has happened in the country? Or do you think, in some respects, they're using maybe the war on terrorism even as a smokescreen to be more political?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that's a very good question.



CROWLEY: Judy Woodruff recently paid a visit to "The Daily Show." And tomorrow, Jon Stewart returns the favor. He will be one of Judy's guests right here on INSIDE POLITICS.

And what's your pick for "Political Play of the Week"? Our Bill Schneider will be here with his winner.

CNN's coverage continues now with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Thanks for being here.


Votes on Pro-Israeli Resolutions; Byrd, Ridge Clash Again>



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