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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview with Condoleezza Rice; Last Chance for Arafat?; How to Best Protect the Cockpit?

Aired May 5, 2002 - 12:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington; 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles; 6:00 p.m. in Paris; and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for Late Edition.

We'll get to our interview with President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, in just a few minutes, but first a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Earlier today I spoke with President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, about the Bush administration's next steps in the Mideast standoff, its expectations for the upcoming international peace conference, and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, welcome back to Late Edition. Thanks for joining us.

As you know, the prime minister of Israel will be here in Washington to meet with the president on Tuesday. Do you want Ariel Sharon to negotiate with Yasser Arafat?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, first of all, we simply want to talk with the prime minister about how he sees the way forward. This is an opportunity with a good friend and ally to sit down in the wake of what has clearly been a difficult period in the Middle East to see if we can seize a new window of opportunity to move forward.

We are not going to try to choose the representation for the Palestinian people in any discussions, but we are very clear that the Palestinian leadership has so far not shown the kind of leadership that the Palestinian people need, that there needs to be reform of Palestinian institutions, that there has to be a new emphasis on transparency and democracy. I'm sure we'll talk with the prime minister about that. But we're not going to try to choose who discusses or negotiates for the Palestinian people, and I don't think the Israelis are trying to do that either.

BLITZER: So at this point, you see Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people?

RICE: Well, clearly Yasser Arafat is the person, out of Oslo, whom the Palestinian people have chosen to lead them, but he's not leading them very well. And we ought to hold him more accountable for his own people and his own failings, and we intend to do that.

BLITZER: As you know, the Israelis say they have hard evidence now, and they've compiled it in a big document, 100 pages, outlining direct connections between Yasser Arafat and organized terrorist suicide bombings against Israeli.

If that is true, and if they show you that evidence and it's compelling, will you still consider Yasser Arafat the leader of the Palestinians?

RICE: Well, we have not seen the document, obviously, that the prime minister is said to be bringing. And I'll say, Wolf, I've very many times seen stories about what people are or not bringing that don't bear out to be true.

But whatever the case, the United States has been very aggressive in dealing with the issue of possible links between the Palestinian Authority and terrorism. That's why we were most aggressive in insisting that the Karine A, the ship that came from Iran with weapons that appeared to be headed for the Palestinian Authority, we were the most aggressive in insisting that that be investigated. We were the most aggressive in publicizing it.

We intend to continue to do the same things, and we've long been worried about potential ties between the Palestinian Authority and terrorists, at least that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to rout out terrorism.

BLITZER: But on the Karine A, the ship, the Iranian ship that brought weapons barred by the Oslo Agreements to the Palestinians, you have no doubt that Yasser Arafat personally signed off on that, do you?

RICE: We do not know, but what we did say to him is, "You have to take responsibility for it," because whether he knew or not, clearly people very high in the Palestinian Authority were involved in that. He did take responsibility, said he would investigate, but he needs to do more.

And it's not just on this issue of terrorism. It's on the issue of the Palestinian Authority's institutions and how they work. It's on the question of money going to the Palestinian Authority.

Transparency and good governance is being demanded of every country in the world by this president, and the Palestinian Authority is going to have to start to meet some of those standards if it is going to be a foundational element for a new Palestinian state moving forward.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Sharon flatly says Yasser Arafat is a terrorist. Do you believe Yasser Arafat is a terrorist? RICE: I don't think that we get anywhere by calling Yasser Arafat a terrorist. I think what we do say is that we expect the same responsible leadership from him that we expect from everybody else. That means don't associate with terrorists. That means rout them out if you find them in your organization. That means cut off their financing, break up their infrastructure. And those are the demands.

And we're bringing new ways to bear on having that discussion with Arafat. We believe that the Arab states, particularly the Saudis who are rather new to this game, but also the Egyptians and the Jordanians, are prepared anew to say to Arafat that he's got to lead in a different way, that the Authority is not going to be supported for corrupt or non-transparent activity. We believe that this is a new focus of our efforts in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Does Yasser Arafat harbor terrorists?

RICE: We've said clearly there are associations that are troubling between the Palestinian Authority and terrorist organizations. That's no secret to anyone.

What the president said on September 20 in his speech to the Congress was that you could not harbor terrorists and talk about fighting the war on terrorism. He did say that those who continue to harbor terrorists would be showing that they were against us.

We're giving Chairman Arafat an opportunity, and he's now free from Ramallah to do so, to lead in a different way, to break up any terrorist organizations around him, and to lead in a transparent and clean way. And that's extremely important in this stage. He has got to respond to that call.

BLITZER: Is this his last chance?

RICE: Well, I don't think, again, we get anywhere by laying down markers of that kind, but it's pretty clear that he's got to get busy about it.

The Palestinian people deserve better than they have been getting from their leadership. We are very concerned about their plight. We're concerned about the fact that they have no hope of prosperity, that they can't really join the modern world.

Some of that we've asked the Israelis to deal with responsibly -- checkpoints and treating the Palestinian people as if they are going to be Israel's neighbors, because they are going to be Israel's neighbors.

But a lot of responsibility also rests with the Palestinian Authority to lead in a modern and transparent way, and we're going to press that agenda very hard.

BLITZER: As you know, there's supposedly a new division of labor out there. The moderate Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, will squeeze Arafat to take the steps you want him to take. But they're relying on you, the United States, the Bush administration, to squeeze Prime Minister Sharon on settlements -- for example, the complete withdrawal from the areas Israel recently reoccupied.

Is the Bush administration prepared to squeeze Sharon when he gets here this week?

RICE: Oh, there's no division of labor here. We also have very good relations with the Arab world, and for instance, Secretary Powell talks frequently to Chairman Arafat. But we do want the Arab states to work harder with the Palestinian Authority to take its responsibilities.

As to Israel, the president made clear in his April 4 speech that Israel also has responsibilities, that eventually a two-state solution is going to make Israel more secure.

Now, when Israel signed on to the Mitchell plan, it signed on to a document that said that they will eventually have to deal with settlements, there ought to be a stop to settlements. But we're not going to get ahead of ourselves. The president has mentioned the need to stop the expansion of settlements. We will look at what the Israeli government is contemplating, when it comes with its new ideas, but we're not going to get ahead of ourselves and talk about pressuring anyone. BLITZER: Secretary of State Powell has spoken about the destructive nature of those settlements. Do you want Sharon to make a commitment to withdraw from at least some of those settlements as soon as possible?

RICE: Well, we're not going to get ahead of ourselves. I think we need to get people back to the table, back into discussions, begin to look at where we are. This is something of a new day, because a lot has happened in the last month in the Middle East, and we do have a new window of opportunity here.

There is no doubt that settlement activity is a problem for peace, and it's certainly a problem for long-term peace. And we will discuss that with the Israelis, but it would be premature to talk about what we might pressure one side or another to do.

The president has laid out very clearly the responsibilities that he sees for the parties, and settlements was a part of that list of responsibilities for the Israelis.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. government playing a direct role in trying to end the standoff in Bethlehem?

RICE: The United States is deeply involved, with others, in trying to...

BLITZER: How are you doing that?

RICE: ... trying to -- Well, we have, actually, people who are working the issue on the ground in Bethlehem.

BLITZER: With the Israelis and the Palestinians?

RICE: That's right.

BLITZER: Which people?

RICE: We've gotten some good movement forward. They're people who are in residence in the embassy there.

BLITZER: From the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem?

RICE: We are working with several U.S. officials who are involved in this. But we did get a little movement forward. It's good that Chairman Arafat has provided a list, at least. He could have done that quite a long time ago, but it's good that he's done that. And we'll see. We are trying to settle Bethlehem, because if you can do that, then we are back, in effect, to the status quo of a little time ago but, I think, in better shape than we were at that time.

BLITZER: Why not do the model that worked to resolve the standoff in Ramallah at Yasser Arafat's headquarters, have British and U.S. wardens, in effect, have some sort of custody over the suspected Palestinian terrorists, why not use that model in Bethlehem? RICE: That is one of the ideas that's on the table, to do something along those lines. But there are rather delicate negotiations going on there, and I don't want to comment too much. But yes, that's one of the ideas that's under consideration.

BLITZER: Over the years, President Bush, when he was a candidate, since he's been president, he's always said, he doesn't want to impose a settlement on the Israelis and the Palestinians. But this international conference, the so-called quartet, the U.S., Russia, UN, EU. There seems to be a momentum generated that in effect will try to do precisely that, impose a settlement on these two parties that can't seem to get together.

RICE: What president Bush has always said is that a settlement that the parties do not agree to and that is imposed on them isn't going last. And that's always been his concern. It's still his concern.

The meeting...

BLITZER: So can you say right that president Bush will not be involved in any effort to impose a settlement?

RICE: Well I don't know what it means to impose a settlement. To walk in and say you must do this or we won't deal with you anymore. It doesn't seem...

BLITZER: That sounds like imposing.

RICE: Right. And it doesn't seem like a very useful way to move forward at this point. What we need to do is, in a series of discussions that really began with president Bush's April 4 speech and secretary Powell's trip to the region, we need to get together, we need to see what ideas are on the table, we need to see where the parties are. This is a window of opportunity.

RICE: And the United States is going push parties to accept the responsibilities as the president has laid them out. But the meeting that Secretary Powell talked about, which will take place at the ministerial level, is one in a series of discussions that have already begun and that will continue. We don't envision a big Madrid peace conference. We envision something in which ideas are exchanged and in which we can chart a way forward.

BLITZER: And when will that conference take place?

RICE: Well, sometime in the summer.

BLITZER: Would it be early June, perhaps?

RICE: Well, I think the secretary and his colleagues have to talk. We want everything to be well prepared.

But it would be good to get the ministers together, because we don't expect breakthroughs at this. This is not simply to sit down and try to launch a major...

BLITZER: Where would it take place? There has been some speculation, Geneva?

RICE: Yes, we haven't gotten there yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When Late Edition continues, Condoleezza Rice talks about Saddam Hussein. Is the Bush administration gearing up for a strike? And will the Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's job change?

Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back Late Edition. And we return now to my conversation with President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There were very, lopsided votes in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives this week -- 352 to 21 in the House, 94 to 2 in the Senate -- supporting Israel, criticizing the Palestinians, in the House version, condemning Palestinian terrorism. You tried not to have those votes.

How much of a restraint will that be on the president, that kind of support for Israel expressed in the U.S. Congress?

RICE: Well, they understand that the Congress in both Houses wanted to express its -- it wanted to express support for our longtime friend and ally Israel. We were comfortable now with the language that was used.

But the fact is that this administration is extremely supportive of Israel, and we're supportive because we share values, because Israel is a democracy, because Israel is a state that has a hard job ahead of making peace with its neighbors.

The administration, at the time of the Powell trip, was concerned that expressions of this sort might be problematic, but, no, we have no problem. We think the Congress has behaved quite responsibly in this regard.

BLITZER: There's some speculation that Yasser Arafat might go to Cairo to meet with Arab leaders as early as next week. But there's no guarantee that the Israeli prime minister will let him back into the West Bank and Gaza if he leaves. What's the U.S. position?

RICE: Well, the U.S. position is that he was set free to lead and to try to do something about the nature of the Palestinian Authority and to rebuild these institutions with his colleagues in a way that is going to help us in moving forward.

We think he ought to be free to do that. If that means going to Cairo, then he should be able to go to Cairo and he should be able to come back. We expect that that's what everybody has in mind.

BLITZER: And you've conveyed that to the Israeli government?

RICE: Well, we've conveyed to the Israeli government that we don't think unnecessary restraint on him helps the situation. That's why we felt that the resolution of Ramallah was important.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied that the U.N. fact-finding commission is not, apparently, going to go into Jenin now and engage in a formal investigation of what happened at that refugee camp?

RICE: Well, we thought that the idea that had been taken together with the U.N. general secretary and with -- the secretary general and with the Israeli government to have a fact-finding mission was a good idea. We regret that it didn't go forward, but the fact is, Israel is a member state.

We worked very hard, Secretary Powell, I personally, to try to get the two to terms, but it didn't work. And Israel's a member state to the U.N. and decided not to do this.

We think that Jenin, the facts are beginning to come clear. There appears not to have been a kind of major set of issues there in the way that people were talking about it early on. But the facts will -- the facts will come out. And the key now is to rebuild, in a humanitarian way, the lives of the Palestinian people who were caught up in what happened in Jenin.

BLITZER: You're satisfied that there was no Israeli massacre of Palestinians?

RICE: I think that even the Palestinians themselves have lowered considerably their numbers in terms of what the death toll was. It was obviously a terrible and tragic situation there. I think we ought to try to look forward and see what we can do to make life better for the residents of Jenin.

BLITZER: One of the down sides of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is that it apparently has prevented the Bush administration from moving along with its plan against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. How much of a problem is this for you?

RICE: Well, first of all, the president hasn't made any decision about Iraq in any case. We believe, and he believes very strongly, that we've made a case that the status quo is not acceptable with Iraq. What we're doing is we're discussing and consulting with friends and allies about how to move forward.

But Saddam Hussein was a problem before September 11 and before the war on terrorism began. Saddam Hussein has been a problem whether or whether or not there is an acute crisis in the Middle East. And he's going to be a problem until we figure a way to deal with a brutal, repressive leader who does terrible things to his own people, who's used weapons of mass destruction, and who is flaunting his international responsibilities to show the world that he does not have weapons of mass destruction.

We're going to have to deal with that. I don't care what's going on in the Middle East. We're going to have to deal with that problem.

BLITZER: And your position is that there should be so-called regime change in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein should go away.

RICE: It is the American position that Saddam Hussein is not likely to ever convince the world, in a reliable way, that he is going to live at peace with his neighbors, that he will not seek weapons of mass destruction, and that he will not repress his own people. And so we do believe regime change is necessary.

BLITZER: A couple of little points before I let you go.

Newsweek, in the new issue, has an item suggesting that the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, is undergoing a new study on the whole Homeland Security Office run by former governor Tom Ridge. I'll read to you what it says.

"White House chief of staff Andrew Card has assigned a small team to study possible alternatives, ranging from eliminating the post altogether to transforming it into a separate Cabinet-level department with Ridge in charge. `Everything is on the table,' said one Bush staffer."

RICE: Well, I don't know what Bush staffer is talking about such things. I will tell you that the president has tremendous confidence in Tom Ridge.

And I work with Tom Ridge very, very closely because, as you might imagine, there are a lot of links between what the National Security Council does and what the Homeland Security Council does. He has taken on this monumental task, and he's being very, very successful at it. He's continually looking for ways, with a new organization, to arrange it so that he can carry out his tasks. But he has tremendous confidence of everybody in the administration. He's doing a really fine job.

BLITZER: And these series of pipe bombings in the rural Midwest in the United States over the past few days, domestic terrorism?

RICE: Well, I think that that is what is being said, but obviously it has to be investigated and investigated fully.

We all know that there are both domestic and foreign sources of terrorism. We know that there are certain vulnerabilities, and that's why Tom Ridge's job is so important.

BLITZER: OK, Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, we'll be watching you all week this week.

RICE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, the United States Senate sent a message to Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat, as well as to the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, by approving a resolution backing Israel's military actions.

We'll get the view from Capitol Hill on the Middle East conflict and the war against terrorism from two influential members of the Senate Intelligence Committee: Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT): We are tied together, these two nations, by common values, by a common political system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the cosponsor of a resolution expressing support for Israel which passed easily in the U.S. Senate this week. The House of Representatives passed an even strongly worded pro-Israeli measure.

Joining us now are two United States senators: in New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as the Governmental Affairs Committee. And with me here in Washington, Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He's the top Republican on the Governmental Affairs Committee, and he also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senators, welcome back to Late Edition.

And, Senator Thompson, let me begin with you. Is this -- this is a question I asked Condoleezza Rice. Is this Arafat's last chance right now, as far as you're concerned?

SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), TENNESSEE: Well, he's had a lot of last chances. And he had his last chance with me some time ago, quite frankly. I'm hopeful that he'll step up to the plate and do something he's never done before, but I'm doubtful it's going to happen.

BLITZER: When you say you gave him a last chance quite a while ago, have you written him off basically?

THOMPSON: Well, yes, personally. I can see why the president doesn't have that luxury. But if you're just talking about my opinion and my sense of history about it.

When Barak lays 98 percent of the West Bank on the table and the results back from Arafat is not a counterproposal but a new intifada and the killing of innocent women, men and children because he thinks strategically that a terrorist bombing a day is the way to get the international community on your side, I'm not very optimistic about that kind of a situation.

Now, he is there. He is increasing in his popularity, although I think it'll probably be somewhat short-lived, and he's a factor.

BLITZER: His popularity will be short-lived?

THOMPSON: Yes. Elevating him up to the point where he is a legitimate leader, interlocutor with regard to the Palestinian people, I don't see very much good coming out of that. I hope I'm wrong.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Durbin? Is Senator Thompson wrong?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: He's right. I agree with every word he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell came to Capitol Hill, I guess a week or so ago, and really sat down with us and explained the predicament he faced in the Middle East. When it came to the Palestinian side, there was no place to turn.

I've given up on Yasser Arafat. I gave up on him when the Karine A shipment was intercepted, 50 tons of military equipment headed for the Palestine Authority, including 5,000 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, the weapon of choice of suicide and homicide bombers. And now this morning's disclosures out of Israel about the complicity between the Palestinian Authority and overt acts of terrorism that have occurred in the Middle East. All of these things raise a question in my mind as to whether he is a credible factor at the peace table, and certainly I have to say the Palestinian people deserve better. BLITZER: Well, Senator Thompson, President Bush and Secretary of State Powell seem to be saying that there's no alternative to the leadership of the Palestinian people right now, that Yasser Arafat is the leader of the Palestinians, and whether the United States likes him or not, there is nothing else -- there's no one else out there. As a result, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should negotiate with Arafat.

THOMPSON: Well, they've gotten nowhere negotiating, regardless who the leaders of the two factions have been in the past. They've gotten really nowhere basically negotiating with each other. They don't necessarily have to negotiate with each other. And that's where we might could be helpful when both sides decide that it's in their interest to work out a long-term peace settlement.

I think what the administration is doing now is backing away from the two of them, in terms of looking at them to work out a peace settlement, and trying to turn to the international community. There's a lot of people. I don't know whether the administration really subscribes to this yet or not, but there's a growing sentiment that this incremental approach, this confidence-building approach, one step at a time, back and forth, has not worked at all, and that the thing to do is to try to fashion something that's fair to both sides and try to talk both sides into accepting it.

That's where I think the Saudis could come in. Instead of going down to Texas and trying to lean on our president, who's doing the best that he can to be fair, he needs to be leaning on Arafat and the Palestinians to try to get them to at least tell us what they want as opposed to the terrorist bombing that they've been engaged in.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Durbin, this whole international conference at the ministerial level, the foreign-ministers level, that Secretary Powell announced with the U.N., the Russians, the EU, the European Union earlier in the week, is this the right way to go to try to get this peace process off dead center?

DURBIN: I think we're desperate, to be honest with you. Fred Thompson said earlier, and I agree, when President Clinton brought Arafat, Barak together and they had agreed on 98 percent of the disputed territory and Arafat rejected it, it's pretty clear that you need some muscle in this negotiation.

Now, if the rest of the world, including the Arab world, doesn't understand that there's an expediency here to move this forward and put some pressure on Arafat to accept a reasonable peace settlement that gives safety and security to the Palestinians but not at the expense of the safety and security of Israel, then, frankly, I don't know where we would turn.

BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Senator Durbin, Ari Fleischer, earlier in the week, when you were debating the Lieberman resolution that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and the similar resolution in the House, even stronger, that Congressman Tom DeLay was advancing, he seemed to express some irritation with the congressional involvement in this delicate moment of diplomacy. Listen to what Ari Fleischer had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president thinks that Congress also understands that no foreign policy can survive 535 different secretaries of state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it the right time now for you, the Senate and the House, to be intervening, be getting involved, passing these kinds of resolutions, when the secretary of state and the president are so anxiously, desperately if you will, trying to get peace talks going?

DURBIN: Wolf, I think if you review history, you'll find that most presidents, when it comes to foreign policy, wish that Congress would go away. They just want to have a free hand. But the fact is that members of Congress, Senate and the House, represent America.

I listened in to the debate, and I read the Lieberman resolution very carefully. It was a sensible and sensitive resolution that expressed our support of Israel, without inflammatory language, said we were opposed to terrorism. And I think all Americans agree with that. I think the overwhelming vote is an indication of the sentiment of members in the Senate and the House.

THOMPSON: Wolf, could I comment on that?

BLITZER: Yes. Please, go ahead.

THOMPSON: I think we're walking kind of a fine line. There's no question about it. The president has to take the lead in this. But we've been sitting back and holding our comments, many of us, while we've been very concerned about a lot of developments. Some of our European friends, the United Nations, quite frankly, who, historically, has been very tough on the Israelis, and they choose, of all things, to go to Jenin and look at a war site to concentrate on, instead of the atrocities that have been committed in Israel and other places in the West Bank.

The friendly Arabs who have, you know, been here trying to lobby us and our president and so forth, it seemed to us like there were an awful lot of people in the international world ganging up on Israel and trying to pressure us to do things like withdraw our support.

I think it's important for them to understand that is a hopeless dream on their part. And that's simply what we were doing. That money has to be appropriated by the Congress of the United States and is going to continue to be, and they need to understand that.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

A lot more to talk about, including your phone calls for Senators Thompson and Durbin. Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're talking with two key members of the United State Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson.

Senators, we have a caller from Canada.

Go ahead, please.

CALLER: Yes, hi. Just wanted to ask, if, for the 4,000th time, Arafat again does not succeed in putting a stop to terrorism now that he has some sort of chance that he's free to roam around, is there any thought given not to cutting off relations with the Palestinian people but obviously with the Palestinian Authority as a government?

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Durbin?

DURBIN: In fact, there have been resolutions that have been introduced, I think, several of them, if I'm not mistaken, Fred, which have really raised that spector and suggested that if Arafat is not going to really make an overt effort to end terrorism, the United States is put to the test.

I'm here in New York. I just walked by Ground Zero this morning. We made it clear after September 11 what our views were on terrorism in the United States. We said if you are sponsoring it or harboring terrorists, you are enemies.

Here we're dealing with the leader of the Palestinian authority who appears to be perhaps sponsoring, at least condoning terrorism and certainly not condemning it. Now, that puts us on the spot. We can't have business as usual with a person who is a sponsor of terrorism.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, are you saying that the Congress should stop funding for the Palestinian Authority?

DURBIN: We tried to withhold that activity, that commitment in the hopes, as was stated earlier, that we're going to finally see a change in Arafat's position when it comes to terrorism. But there hasn't been much encouraging evidence.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator?

THOMPSON: Well, I agree with what Dick is saying, although sometimes I wonder if we're not placing too much importance on the personality of Arafat. That's not a situation there where it's controlled by one person. You've got Hamas, the Hezbollah, Arafat's own organizations. Some of all of that he has influence with. Some of it he controls. A lot of it he does not.

I think now that it's the driving force. I think Arafat's doing what he feels like to survive himself. That's his primary interest. And if there was no Arafat, I think, as long as the driving force among the PLO and the other entities that I mentioned there believes that they're making progress by suicide bombing and they're getting the United Nations on their side and the French and moderate Arabs and all the others, that it doesn't matter whether Arafat is there or not or perhaps even what he tries to do. I think it's much more serious than him.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, how is all of this stalemate in the Middle East, this crisis that's continuing, affecting, as far as you're concerned, any U.S. efforts to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad?

DURBIN: Listen, I think that's an important point, because before the United States starts opening a new front of activity and interest when it comes to our future relationship with Iraq, we have two items on the international agenda to be resolved: the future of Afghanistan and some sort of stability, if not peace, in the Middle East.

And I think we've come to learn -- the vice president's trip, the secretary of state's trip -- that unless and until those two items are resolved or at least under control, that we cannot raise the question of Iraq and trying to bring that thug under control as well.

BLITZER: Senator Thompson, you disagree with Senator Durbin on that point, don't you?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that we can't tie the Middle East policy to Iraq. I think that the underlying fact there is that Iraq poses a threat to us and our allies, and that threat is growing every day. There's not question about his ability with regard to chemical and biological weapons, and there's no question that he's trying as hard as he can to develop nuclear weapons.

I attended a public hearing the other day where a former Iraqi official in the nuclear program down there says Saddam now has three bombs -- enough enriched uranium for three bombs. Which is not enough to make him a credible threat. He'll have to proceed along, enrich more uranium. Have a test, the way they did in India and Pakistan, to get the world's attention. And then he's got us. He'll try to use that for blackmail.

So that's proceeding right along. Tremendous threat there. And we have the ability to do two things at once or perhaps even three. And when the threat is that grave, we've got to do it as difficult as it may be.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by once again, Senators. We're going to take another quick break. We're going to continue this conversation with Senators Durbin and Thompson, and they'll be taking more of your phone calls when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

Senator Durbin, in Illinois there were some pipe-bombing incidents in rural mailboxes, in Iowa, elsewhere in the Midwest part of the United States.

First of all, do you have any inside information on this investigation? What's going on?

DURBIN: No, we don't. At this point, the investigation is under way, and clearly it appears to be domestic-inspired terrorism, not unlike the anthrax threat on Capitol Hill. There's no connection between the two, to my knowledge, so I don't want to create that impression. But we have to be mindful of this and our continuing vulnerability.

BLITZER: Senator Thompson, it does raise, though, other questions about homeland security. And there seems to be a lot of questions about Governor Tom Ridge's handling of homeland security, whether he has the authority, the clout, the wherewithal to get this job done. People are nervous about that.

THOMPSON: Well, Tom Ridge has done an excellent job. He's got -- outside the president, he's got the toughest job in America right now.

After having gone a long time and us not doing enough as a nation, as a Congress, now we want to do everything at once.

And in a relatively short period of time he's put together an excellent staff, he's put together a comprehensive budget. He has developed an interagency process to make this thing work. He's negotiated new deals with Canadians and the Mexicans, in terms of border security and so forth. And he's done a lot in a short period of time.

We're now getting to the point, though, where we've got to address seriously the organizational issues.

BLITZER: Well, I want you to listen to what Senator Robert Byrd, your colleague from West Virginia, very angry that Tom Ridge is not testifying before his committee and other committees before Congress, explaining where the money's going, what's going on. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Governor Ridge did have a response. I want you to listen to what his explanation is about why he's not testifying before the Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I am answerable to the president of the United States, accountable to the president of the United States, and therefore, in that fashion, answerable and accountable to the people of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that a good explanation?

THOMPSON: That little debate that's been going on in Washington has gone on about long enough, I think. I think that it is legitimate to expect that the person in charge of that operation come up and testify every once in a while.

I think the administration has always had in mind -- and they've always said, actually -- that they're not wed to the current situation, that they're willing, as they go along and learn what the needs are. And developing a comprehensive national strategy is really the first thing we ought to be doing. And that'll be -- it's not there yet. It'll be there by July 1. When we do that, we can really address some of these problems.

And I think we need to have a statutory framework. I've come slowly to that conclusion. We've had 10 hearings of the Governmental Affairs Committee alone.

I do think that we don't need a new superagency, and we can talk about that if you want to. I think his coordination function is right on.

BLITZER: All right.

THOMPSON: But in terms of the statutory framework and having someone for Congress to be able to pinpoint their oversight to, I think that makes sense. And I think that the administration will ultimately come to that conclusion.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, I know you're frustrated that Governor Ridge is not testifying before Congress. But do you see some progress, moving forward, the administration working with you on this issue?

DURBIN: No.

Governor Ridge is an excellent choice. He's an old friend, he's a solid public servant. He's the right man for the job. But before he can help America win the war against terrorism, he has to win his own war in the White House.

To think that this gentleman is responsible for $28 billion in new spending in innovative approaches and cannot testify before Congress really tells the story.

If you take a look at the organization map put out by Governor Ridge for his agency, it looks like the New York subway system. And he is trying to break through this red tape and all of this tangled mess and all of these bureaucrats and put together an agency to protect America.

Give him the authority, give him the tools. Make certain that he wins this debate in the White House.

BLITZER: So what's your bottom line, Senator Durbin? What do you want this structure to be?

DURBIN: I think there are suggestions by Senator Lieberman, Senator Kennedy along the lines of a Cabinet-level position for Governor Ridge, and someone in the White House for coordination of homeland security activities.

You really need some command here. You know, if you said to the president of the United States, "You alone are responsible for bringing all of these agencies together, cutting through the bureaucratic mess," it would be a full-time job.

Give Governor Ridge the authority and power he needs to be successful to protect this nation.

BLITZER: Ten seconds.

THOMPSON: We've got to be careful not to create another bureaucracy. We have a dysfunctional government in a lot of respects. We can't expect this to work perfectly in the middle of it. We ought to organize the entire executive branch.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Thompson, always good to have you on the show.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, always good to have you on the show as well.

Thanks to both of you.

And coming up in our next hour of Late Edition, a debate over air safety. Is arming pilots the answer? Also, anti-Arab sentiment. Are the United States and other countries doing enough to stem the tide?

Plus, Bruce Morton's essay and your phone calls and letters, when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

We'll debate a controversial proposal to improve air safety in just a moment. We'll also have the latest from Israel on the Middle East peace initiative.

Israel has just released documents this morning that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says will show conclusively that Yasser Arafat is involved in terror activity. We'll speak with an Israeli and Palestinian official.

But first, here's CNN's Jonathan Karl with a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. pilots are asking Congress to approve legislation that would allow them to carry firearms in the cockpit. The proposal is one of several in response to last September 11 terrorist attacks.

We turn now to two guests with very different points of view. Joining us from Minneapolis is Douglas Laird. He's a former security director for Northwest Airlines. And here in Washington, Captain Tracy Price. He's the chairman of the Airline Pilot Security Alliance.

Gentlemen, welcome to Late Edition.

Captain Price, let me begin with you. Why should pilots be able to carry arms in the cockpit?

TRACY PRICE, CHAIRMAN OF THE AIRLINE PILOT SECURITY ALLIANCE: I think the most compelling reason is that all of the other layers won't offer a significant enough deterrence to future terrorist organizations that may not even be born yet, that have tremendous motivation to repeat 9/11-style attacks. If they judge that the deterrent that the odds of failure are great enough, they won't attempt future attacks.

And the deterrence, I think, is the best reason. And armed cockpit crew would make it nearly impossible to take control of a commercial airliner, because the cockpit is such an excellent place to have to defend from within.

BLITZER: What about that, Douglas Laird?

DOUGLAS LAIRD, FMR. SEC. DIRECTOR, NORTHWEST AIRLINES: Oh, I think people are fighting the wrong issue. The real issue is, I would like to see the organizations, such as ALPHA (ph) and Allied Pilots, putting a lot more pressure on the airlines and the government to reinforce the cockpit door and the bulkhead to make them impenetrable to small-arms fire and small blasts.

PRICE: Well, we are working to make that cockpit door improve significantly. And we support, and all pilot groups do support, an improvement in the strength of the cockpit door and the bulkhead.

But we know, from talking to the FBI and other law enforcement officials and from testing we're currently doing on the improved door that is on way, that that door will never, ever be impenetrable. The FBI has told us the law of doors is that there is no such thing as a door that cannot be penetrated, that anyone that has enough time and determination can penetrate any door, including a bank vault.

BLITZER: Mr. Laird, what's the downside of letting these pilots have a gun?

LAIRD: Well, the real issue, I think, to be considered, is that is flying an airplane is very complex. It involves great concentration. And there have been too many occasions, although very few, where when pilots lost concentration, the results have been catastrophic to the airliner.

To have a pilot or pilots, particularly in a two-man cockpit, be concerned with landing an aircraft in a crisis situation and also possibly being involved in a gun battle at altitude, I think is really rather ridiculous.

LAIRD: There's just too many cases with firearms where the wrong people get killed. Even in the case of sky marshals. If you look at the history of that series of events, many times they've caused more harm than the events they prevented.

PRICE: The idea that we're going to lose our concentration because we're carrying the guns is ridiculous.

The fact of the matter is that if there are terrorists on board the airplane and all security layers behind me as a captain have broken down, and they're banging on the door, my concentration is not going to be deterred by the fact that I have a firearm and I'm able to offer a final line of defense. If I don't have that final line of defense, it's going to be very difficult to concentrate. And if they do break through the cockpit door and murder me, of course my concentration will be zero and everyone on the airplane will die when the airplane flies into a building or is shot down by a U.S. Air Force F-16.

BLITZER: What about that, Mr. Laird?

LAIRD: Again, I think that I would disagree with the captain. It is possible to build the bulkhead and the door of such material that it's impenetrable to small arms and a small blast. If you get a big enough blast, you bring down the airplane anyway, so the point is rather moot.

BLITZER: The sky marshals, Mr. Laird, you do support that these sky marshals should have arms, don't you?

LAIRD: Yes, I do. But again, the problem with the sky marshall issue is I think it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem, and that is you have to reinforce the bulkhead again in the cockpit door.

BLITZER: Captain Price, if the sky marshals have arms, why do the pilots, why not just let the pilots fly the planes and let the sky marshals deal with the issue of potential hijackers?

PRICE: Excellent question. We support the sky marshal program if the sky marshals are on board -- or the federal air marshals, more accurately -- which is very, very unlikely. They'll never be on anything more than about a percent or maybe 2 percent of the flights, if that.

But if they're there and if they're able to contain the problem, great. We will never draw the guns, they will never become an issue. We'll focus all of our attention on landing the airplane. It's only when the sky marshals are either not there, which is likely, or have been compromised and they break through the cockpit door, that it's clear then that we're better off if the pilots are able to offer a final line of defense.

And I would again say respectfully, I disagree with Mr. Laird and so do federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. And our testing is showing, and we'll have that data very soon, that that door will not be impenetrable. There's no such thing.

BLITZER: But you know a lot of leaders here in Washington disagree with you. Governor Ridge, the homeland security director, for example, said this: "Where do you stop? If pilots carry guns, then railroad engineers and bus drivers could ask to do the same."

PRICE: Exactly. Well, railroads can't be taken off the tracks and flown into the side of a building or into the Pentagon or into the Capitol or the White House. The buses are nowhere near the threat.

But clearly we have a 150,000 pound and up guided bombs that are all out there that need to be defended. They have to be flown from the nerve center, the control room where I sit, and that's the cockpit, and that cockpit has to be defended.

BLITZER: Mr. Laird, is there a problem, though, that if a gun goes off in a plane that's at high altitude, that potentially that could penetrate the walls and bring that plane down? How serious of a concern is that, as far as you're concerned?

LAIRD: It's really not a threat. That's one of those urban myths.

The real issue is that if we in fact decide to arm pilots, we have to provide them with ample training so that they can respond appropriately. You can't take a three- or five- or eight-hour class and be proficient.

You know, from the days in the Secret Service, we trained literally hundreds of hours a year, being proficient with firearms. It's not something you do every, you know, twice a year and expect to be proficient.

BLITZER: That's a fair point, isn't it?

PRICE: Yes, it is a fair point, and we insist upon we would not want this program unless we were able to get a thorough, thorough training on weapons retention, on firearms training, on all the applicable laws and policies.

The FBI has in place a 48-hour course that they have tested on airline pilots and found that they are incredibly trainable. And you have to remember what we're asking to be trained to do is a fairly simple thing. It's defend the cockpit and only the cockpit. We're talking about people having to come through a very narrow passageway, one at a time, at a very short-range shot, possibly as close as you and I are right now, Mr. Blitzer. And we think that that's a -- that we're eminently trainable for it.

The pilots are willing to do it at no extra cost. We're not asking for compensation for this. We just want the opportunity to defend our passengers, our crew and the innocent people on the ground.

BLITZER: But you know that Transportation Secretary Mineta disagrees with you, Governor Ridge disagrees with you. Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, I want you to listen to what he said on this specific issue as well. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): I know that loaded guns go off on occasion, accidentally. I think we may be compounding the difficulty of our safety sensitivity with loaded guns in a cockpit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRICE: I think Senator Daschle might be misinformed about the program, and we'd love to talk to him about it. We're not talking about -- these guns will never be touched, and loaded guns just don't go off unless they're being handled. That's when you have accidental discharge, and I think Mr. Laird would agree with that. We're not -- these guns will never be handled until there is a team of suicidal armed terrorists, breaking through our cockpit door. That's the only time we'll touch them.

I want to also point out that pilots carried guns before 1987, for decades, without incident -- airline pilots, without incident. We talk a lot about unintended consequence of arming pilots. The September 11 was the unintended consequence of disarming pilots in 1987.

BLITZER: On this -- at the same time, I want you to listen, Mr. Laird, to what Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat of Georgia, said on this specific issue involving pilots and guns. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR ZELL MILLER (D-GA): We trust the pilots with our lives. It's time to trust them with firearms. Our pilots want that, and I think most of the people in this country support them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What about that, Mr. Laird?

LAIRD: Oh, I have utmost respect for pilots and I put my life in their hands several times a week. But that's not the issue. The real issue is if we arm pilots we have to go provide them, as I said before, with ample training, to be proficient. But that's just the beginning. We also then have to have them qualify multiple times per year. You can't go to the range once a year and expect to be proficient with a firearm.

BLITZER: Are you ready to did all that training plus qualifying multiple times a year?

PRICE: Absolutely. Airline pilots overwhelmingly, in the range of 75 to 85 percent, every time they're surveyed have said they're willing do this, they're willing to take initial training, they're willing to take the recurrent training, and they're willing to do it for free.

BLITZER: Mr. Laird, United Airlines wants pilots to have so- called stun guns, which could stop someone presumably but not necessarily kill them or really harm them physically. Are stun guns a reasonable compromise, as far as you are concerned?

LAIRD: Not at all. They're very -- they're ineffective, and it's just adding a false sense of security.

BLITZER: You agree with Mr. Laird on that part?

PRICE: Completely. He's absolutely right on target. The stun gun is only effective against a single attacker. The stun gun addresses the old problem of air rage, where a single, probably unbalanced and maybe drunk or on drugs attacker is attempting to breach the cockpit or is causing a problem in the passenger cabin. It does not address and never will address a team of very well- coordinated, very well-trained highly, motivated, motivated to point of suicide terrorists that want to use airplane as a weapon.

BLITZER: All right. We have a caller from Ohio. Go ahead with your question, please.

CALLER: Yes, I was wondering why they don't use sleeping gas back in the cabin, instead of using guns.

BLITZER: All right, what about that?

PRICE: Well, the problem is when you're putting on board the aircraft, a canister of gas, that if it were to leak into the passenger cabin would put everyone to sleep including the pilots and cause the airplane to crash. You're going to put to sleep potential people -- people that could potentially help you, as in, if they happen to be on board, federal air marshals, passengers that may help. And finally, it won't stop someone who is able to locate an oxygen mask in the passenger cabin and they're there. So if the terrorists know where the oxygen masks are, all they have to do is put it on, everybody goes to sleep, and now its them against the pilots, who are completely defenseless.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. Laird. I gave Captain Price the first word. I'm going to give you the last word. Go ahead and wrap up this debate.

LAIRD: I believe, again, the core issue is let's reinforce the cockpit door and bulkhead. I disagree with the captain as to the studies. I would say let the appropriate agencies evaluate the technology, because it is in fact here now.

PRICE: Well, if you're right -- if Mr. Laird is right and they're impenetrable, great. We have lost nothing by arming the pilots. The guns will never become an issue. The pilots will sit behind the reinforced cockpit door that he thinks is impenetrable, and they'll never be an issue. If he's wrong, however, we need a gun to shoot the terrorists so that they don't use our airplanes as weapons against our country.

BLITZER: Mr. Laird?

LAIRD: I believe, again, that you build those doors and bulkheads. If you have firearms powerful to blast through the door, you've killed the pilots anyway. And if you use a blast to blow the door open to get to the pilots, the doors are of such strength a blast of sufficient strength to blow down the door brings down the entire airplane. So you've lost both counts. Again, the gun would be worthless.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there. A good debate between two men who know a lot about aviation security. Captain Price, Mr. Laird, thanks so much for joining us.

LAIRD: Thank you.

PRICE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we return, we have some breaking news to update you on from Israel. The Israeli government of Prime Minister Sharon has just released documents it says proves conclusively that the Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat is involved in terror.

We'll be talking live to an Israeli and a Palestinian official when Late Edition returns. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

We're following a breaking news story. The Israeli government of Prime Minister Sharon has just released a 100-page document outlining what it says is conclusive evidence that the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has direct links, is deeply involved in acts of terrorism, including suicide bombings.

Joining us now is a representative of the Israeli government, Dani Naveh. He joins us from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Naveh, thanks for joining us. What is the main so-called smoking-gun piece of evidence that you have?

DANI NAVEH, ISRAELI SPOKESMAN: We have clearcut, hard evidence that Arafat and his close aides were involved directly in terrorist activities. They authorized the activities, they financed the activities, and they were involved directly in planning them.

We have found, during our last military operation, lots of documents that really are hard evidence that prove that Arafat directly was involved. Arafat served, in many ways, as the high commander of the al-Aqsa Brigades. And all the terrorist activities of the Fatah, of the al-Aqsa Brigades, killing so many innocent Israelis, were under the instructions and the authority of Yasser Arafat himself.

BLITZER: Give us one hard piece of evidence, one example that makes this point.

NAVEH: Here, for example, we have found documents signed by Arafat himself, authorizing the payment to Fatah terrorists. He was asked by Marwan Barghouti, the commander of the Fatah, and by other terrorists of the Fatah, to allocate, on a regular basis, sums of money to terrorists of the Fatah. And we have found documents, signed by Arafat himself, authorizing them to move ahead with these kind of activities.

And even more so, Arafat's closest aide, Tawfiq Tirawi, the commander of what they call general intelligence, was the one that, with Arafat authorization, coordinated between all the terrorist groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, and was directly involved in their, you know, planning of terrorist activities. BLITZER: This document, I take it, has not yet been formally provided to the U.S. government. I just spoke with Condoleezza Rice; she says she hasn't seen it yet.

Will you be making it available to the Bush administration, directly?

NAVEH: Of course. Our prime minister, Mr. Sharon, as you know, is on the way to Washington right now, and he has the report with him. He has the representatives of our intelligence on board as well.

And I'm sure that it is highly important, from our point of view, of course, to brief the U.S. administration, to brief members of Congress, and other officials on the intelligence that we have. Because all these, you know, pieces of information are based on intelligence that we allocated through the Israeli operation.

And unfortunately, with your permission, Wolf, we also have found and allocated documents that prove that there are a few of the Arab countries, like the Saudis, Syria, Iraq, and other elements in the Arab world that also assisted the Palestinian Authority in moving ahead with this terror campaign.

BLITZER: So what is your bottom line, when you meet -- when the prime minister meets with the president, based on this information, this evidence that you say you have, will you ask the Bush administration to stop its dealings with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority?

NAVEH: Whoever read this report, whoever see these hard evidence, you know, crystal-clear evidence about Arafat's involvement in terrorism, should come to the conclusion that there is no way to achieve peace as long as Arafat is in town. There is no way to move ahead as long as Arafat is trying to lead the Palestinians for further, you know, talks with Israel. Because, you know, if we look for a reality of peace, we can't achieve it with Arafat. If we look for virtual reality, this is a different story.

NAVEH: The bottom line is, Wolf, that Arafat can't...

BLITZER: I was going say what is the alternative?

(CROSSTALK)

NAVEH: First of all, we have to acknowledge the fact that Arafat can't be part of peace again. And it's up for the Palestinian to decide, if they really want peace, if they are really interested in putting an end to terror campaign, and if they are interested in reconciliation with the state of Israel, they have to decide. Because under Arafat, it's crystal clear that we can't achieve peace.

BLITZER: So what is the alternative, though, to Yasser Arafat? Condoleezza Rice and the Secretary of State Colin Powell say that, irrespective of what may have happened if the past, he is still the leader of the Palestinians and probably more popular today than he's ever been. Who do you want to negotiate with?

NAVEH: First of all, this not up to us, for the Israelis, to decide who is going lead the Palestinians. What we can do and what -- is to show, you know, and to present the facts of those hard evidence that connect Arafat to terrorist activities, and it is up for the Palestinian to decide.

We are really looking for partner for peace. We really wish that we will find one day -- sooner the better -- the partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Unfortunately it is crystal clear that it can't be Arafat. Who is it going to be, if it is not Arafat it? Is up for the Palestinians to decide.

BLITZER: Finally, before I let you go, Mr. Naveh, the Palestinians already are suggesting these documents are forgeries, that the Israeli intelligence services are excellent in creating these kinds of forgeries and they're not authentic. What do you say about that?

NAVEH: Well, I can only say, Wolf, that these documents are authentic. The Palestinians are really embarrassed by these kind of documents. For example, we have a document that they allocated, you know, vast sums of money every month from their budget to pay terrorists. Nine million dollars out their monthly budget that comes from the EU went to terrorist activities. So it not a surprise for me that they would try to say that this is a fraud.

But I invite everyone, I invite, you know, the CIA or the MI-5 (ph) or whoever would like to take a look at those documents on this intelligence to examine the facts and to come to the same conclusion that our intelligence services came to, which is that they are crystal-clear evidence that connect Arafat to terrorist activities.

BLITZER: Dani Naveh, representative of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Sharon, thanks for joining us from Tel Aviv.

And let's get the Palestinian perspective right now. Joining us is the chief Palestinian negotiator in the peace negotiations with Israel that obviously don't exist right now. Saeb Erakat joins us once again.

Mr. Erakat, you've heard the Israelis. I don't know if you've had a chance to see this 100-page document, but what is your reaction to this?

SAEB EREKAT, PALESTINIAN SPOKESMAN: Well, Wolf, my reaction to this is that yesterday the Israelis spoke about story of a funeral in Jenin, which the body fell down, and turned out to be that somebody was shooting a film in Jenin.

Today, in preparation for Sharon's visit to Washington and meeting with Bush, we began to see the forgeries, lies and shams and stunts, documents.

Today, I tell you about what's not documents. I will tell you about Fatma Zakerna (ph), a 30-year-old mother, with her 4-year-old son Basil (ph) and her 2-year-old daughter Abir, who were murdered by the Israel army. And we have not even heard that these soldiers were arrested. Tamid Abusaria (ph), a child who was 7 years old in Tulkarem, was also murdered today.

I believe the endgame of the Israeli government from such stunts and shams is to destroy the Palestinian Authority, to discourage the Palestinian Authority, in order to say, we want to make peace, but we don't have partners. That's the reason why...

BLITZER: But are you -- Mr. Erakat, are you saying that the Israelis forged these documents that they're going to be presenting, that they've made public in Israel today but they're going to be presenting to the Bush administration in the coming days?

ERAKAT: Well, look, Wolf, if it's very obvious that these are forgeries. Israel now is my (inaudible), my judge, my jury. Distributing these -- I don't think anybody will hear about them, because they have a Congress in the United States that will adopt this paper without even reading them. They want to have -- the Congress and the Senate is usually ganging up against us.

I believe that the real focus should be on the Palestinian people disastrous living conditions now and the Israeli military occupation. I believe the focus now should be the continuing (inaudible) free as (ph) those Palestinians out there. What will they try to do with these things, with these documents, with these forgeries? What is their next -- what are they preparing for? What is their next homicide? What's their killing fields? Who will they attack more?

EREKAT: Where will there be their tanks incursions next? Today, this morning, we saw tanks in the city of Tulkarem, in the refugee camp of Tulkarem.

I believe the innocent Palestinians who are dying on the hour, every hour, by the Israeli army are asking this question. These are not documents and papers, these are human bodies, flesh and blood, mothers and children that are being slaughtered.

And then if the Israelis care so much about the truth -- and they call us everything -- liars, blood liable (ph), they said about us about the Jenin refugee camp -- why did they refuse to receive the international commission of inquiry? What do they have to hide? And now, we see the endgame today of preparing the ground for Sharon's visit, another set of lies and forgeries. We challenge them. I really wanted to be with Dani Naveh face to face so he can hear me and speak to me, and I could not even look him in the eyes because I'm confined to my hometown, Jericho.

But today, what we heard, the Saudis also stand accused. The European Union stand accused. Everybody who doesn't see it eye to eye with Israel is going to be standing accused. And Israel -- this government is continuing with its settlement activities, reoccupation, destruction of the peace process, destructing with the Palestinian Authority.

And I believe these documents are not authentic, are forgeries, are lies. They are out there to discourage the Palestinian Authority, and I think their endgame is to prepare for either deporting President Arafat or killing him.

And then now they're saying that they need partners to make peace with but not Arafat. I think they just say (ph) the truth about the endgame of destroying the Palestinian Authority and destroying President Arafat.

BLITZER: Mr. Erakat, you probably know that you've come under some widespread criticism here in the United States for initially charging that the Israelis were engaged in a massacre in Jenin. Perhaps 500 Palestinians murdered in that massacre, you suggested. But now all of the evidence suggests that perhaps 53 or 56 Palestinians died in that fighting in Jenin.

Do you want to use this opportunity to give us your assessment now, based on what you know, how many Palestinians were killed? Condoleezza Rice, only a few minutes ago on this program, said she didn't see any evidence of a so-called massacre.

ERAKAT: It depends -- first of all, on the number 500, I said 500 but I said at the same time I cannot confirm them because I didn't have the chance to go and pull the rubble out and to clean the rubble out, and I don't know exactly, and I said I cannot confirm it.

But what defines a massacre? Israel called, when they had this bombing in the Netanya restaurant, 26 people, they called it a massacre. So what's a massacre?

Anyway, the international community called what happened in Jenin refugee camp war crimes. There are war criminals. And we want this international commission to come not because we want to charge people or anything, because we want to ensure that such things will not reoccur because we continue to be, Wolf, a people with no army, no navy, no air force. This disproportionate use of force against us and with a Congress and Senate ganging on us to adopt everything that Israel says.

And at the end of the day I believe the highest form of terrorism and war crimes are being committed by the continuance of Israeli occupation. BLITZER: Saeb Erakat, we have to leave it right there. Thanks so much for joining us as usual.

And up next, the backlash against Arabs. Is the Middle East conflict and the war against terrorism stoking a negative view? We'll hear from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California, Arab- American activist Hussein Ibish, and Time magazine's Tom Weisskopf.

Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

President Bush insists the war against terrorism not directed at Islam or Arabs in general, but many American Muslims and Arabs aren't convinced, and they're concerned about discrimination and a growing number of hate crimes against them.

Joining us now, from New Orleans, California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, he's a member of the House International Relations Committee; in Los Angeles, Hussein Ibish of the American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; and here in Washington, Michael Weisskopf, senior correspondent for Time magazine who's reported extensively on this issue.

Gentlemen, welcome to Late Edition.

And, Hussein Ibish, let me begin with you. How serious of a problem is this discrimination, hate crimes against American Arabs and American Muslims?

HUSSEIN IBISH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, AMERICAN-ARAB ANTI- DISCRIMINATION CMTE: Well, I think it's pretty serious. I think, in terms of ethnic hatred and a community, an ethnic community, which is under suspicion and which is, you know, treated differently in the United States, I think the Arab-American and American Muslim communities are clearly the most egregious case of that right now.

Following September the 11th, we confirmed over 700 violent incidents involving a backlash against Arab-Americans. And that number has declined, but we still face a major problem with employment discrimination, a major problem with the kind of discourse in our society. The way in which Arabs, Arab culture and Islam is discussed in our media, in our society, I think, often does sort of promote fear, suspicion, sometimes even hatred.

And I think, also, the government has sent a mixed message. I mean, on the one hand, the government's been very good about fighting hate crimes and discrimination when committed by private individuals or by corporations. But some of the government's own policies, particularly immigration-related policies, have sent a mixed message, because some of these policies are clearly discriminatory. And so I think that that's another element of the problem that's making life very, very difficult for people.

BLITZER: Congressman Issa, you are an American, of course, of Arab ancestry, of Lebanese ancestry. You were profiled and prevented from getting on a plane shortly after September 11. There was an FBI investigation of a JDL, a Jewish Defense League, plot personally against you; arrests were made.

How serious is this problem, from your vantage point?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, first of all, I think the one thing that we are seeing, Wolf, is that the incidence of behavior which is very inappropriate are going down. They peaked in September, they've been going down steadily. So, from 10 a day, they're now less than 10 a month in California. And I think that's a sign of the leadership President Bush applied to saying this is not about Islam, this is not about residents of the United States, this about a small group of zealots that committed an atrocity against America.

I think that we have to separate, though, most importantly, the difference between prejudice and discrimination. The president is fighting prejudice, by helping people to understand that this is a group of ideologues and not, in fact, a religion. Discrimination is a law-enforcement job, and I believe the attorney general and all law enforcement are being applied pretty fairly to go after discrimination, when it crosses the line from free speech of being upset about September 11, to actions which are illegal or inappropriate.

BLITZER: Michael Weisskopf, you've done a lot of reporting on this. Now where does it stand? Has there been a significant decline in these hate crimes against Americans who are Muslims or Arabs since September 11?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: That's true, and the records reflect that.

We need a little historical perspective here, though, Wolf. Of course, every hate crime, every act of prejudice is intolerable. But historically this is a very different period than other times in this country when we have felt under attack. We don't see internment camps, as the Japanese suffered in World War II. As far back as the '20s, after World War I, we had an attorney general who was leading the campaign against people of Asian descent, called the "yellow peril" at the time. We have now on the books strong laws, hate crime laws. And we have in office people making unprecedented remarks about the need for tolerance and no hate crimes.

These are all benchmarks of a society that needs to be credited with a little bit more elasticity and tolerance.

(CROSSTALK)

IBISH: I'd like to agree with Michael on that. I mean, I think one of the lessons that we can draw from the post-September 11 experience is that the vast majority of the American people have proven once again that their basic decency, their commitment to tolerance and essentially living together as one people, regardless of race and ethnicity and religion et cetera.

But there is still a minority that does indulge in hate crimes, that does express discrimination through employment discrimination and other forms of discrimination.

IBISH: And there is a problem, there really is a problem with our discourse about the Middle East, about Arabs, about Islam. The kind of hostility that is permissible as legitimate commentary in the mainstream media, in some of our major newspapers, on some of your cable news competitors, Wolf, is really extraordinary. There seems to be a license in American media, for example, to say hostile and abusive things and to express not just prejudice, but even hostility, toward Arab-Americans, especially when it comes to issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that is quite extraordinary.

I think it was a remarkable moment when the House Republican leader, Dick Armey, called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. I can't see that as separated from an overall climate that allows a certain high level of negativity about Arabs and Muslims that isn't usually applied to other groups.

ISSA: Wolf?

BLITZER: Congressman, go ahead.

ISSA: Well, Dick Armey personally sought me out on the floor to express his regret for those statements and to express how he shouldn't have done it, and he regrets it. He has apologized repeatedly. I think human failures that occur, when we're talking as we're doing here today, need to be understood in context.

I think I'd like to comment, though, on this constant perception we have that somehow the media is being biased. The media is exercising the First Amendment rights we are all given. And I think that if we try to go too far in saying, well, one station is doing one extreme and the other is being biased the other way, if we don't encourage both sides to be expressed, then what happens is we say, well, we have to have what we think is right.

There are people on television and radio today who are saying things I object to, and there are people on television and radio saying things that the other side objects to. And that's what America is about. That part of the First Amendment we have to hold on to, while in fact making sure that beyond free speech, actions are limited to those allowed under the law.

BLITZER: Hussein, do you want to respond to that?

IBISH: Yes, I agree with that. I'm certainly not calling for censorship. I think, you know, everyone is free to express their views, and commentators are paid to do so. What I'm saying is that we hold different standards for different groups of people. And there are standards that editors and people who run various different television companies and different magazines and different newspapers are using that are really being differently applied in the case of Arabs and Muslims. Things can be said about Arabs and Islam and considered legitimate commentary in mainstream publications that purport to be responsible and that usually are responsible that wouldn't be allowed in other cases.

So what I'm -- I'm not asking for, you know, censorship, but I am saying that there is a problem with our discourse in this country that we need to be self-critical about, I think.

BLITZER: Michael, there's no denying that the 19 hijackers, all of them were Arabs, all of them were Muslims, all of them fit a profile, if you will -- young, men, single, here in the United States on visas, maybe here illegally.

What's wrong, as, for example, Congressman Scott McInnis, a Republican of Colorado, saying what he said to me late last year? He said, "These hijackers, we knew that they were all in a certain age group. We knew that they were all male. We knew that they were all Arab. We knew that they were of the Islamic faith. When you put all those factors together, you are darn right, you better pull those people aside and start asking some questions," in defense of profiling, if you will.

WEISSKOPF: Those kind of comments lead to stereotyping, and that's what we want to avoid. All those facts may be accurate, but they have to be enforced with a certain amount of discretion. When Attorney General Ashcroft seeks to interview all visa holders from that part of the world, as he did months ago, this further leads to the stereotype.

Unfortunately, we have to, in a war footing, as we're now on, have to exercise a certain amount of enforcement, and it's a question of how -- to what extend it's enforced, the degree of it.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to continue our conversation with the congressman also. Please stand by.

For our international viewers, special coverage of the French elections is just after the break.

For our North American viewers, we'll continue our conversation with our panel, take your phone calls.

Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

We're continuing our conversation about anti-Arab sentiment in the United States with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Michael Weisskopf of Time magazine.

We have a caller from Texas. Go ahead with your question, please.

CALLER: Hello.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, this is for Mr. Issa and Mr. Ibish. I lived in California for a while, and I was familiar with the media, lived in Malibu for 30 years. And the media, as far as I can see, definitely has a pro- Israel tilt. Like Wolf Blitzer, for instance. He's not elected like Darrell Issa. Darrell Issa is a...

BLITZER: All right. I guess, he just -- we either cut him off or we lost him. But I have to confess, I have not been elected to any job.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me start off with you, Congressman. What do you think about the pro-Israel tilt, supposedly, in the mainstream news media?

ISSA: Well, first of all, I think America -- there have been polls, Gallup polls just out today -- America has a tendency to be pro-Israel. So if the media somewhat reflects what's going on with its constituency, there's nothing unusual about that.

Second of all, please, Wolf, do not come to my district and run against me. It could be quite a challenge.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: There's no such threat.

Let me ask Michael Weisskopf. He's a respected member of the national news media. Time magazine a critically important publication in the United States. How much of an anti-Arab, if there is an anti- Arab, bias is there?

And I got to tell you -- and I'm sure you get the same kind of e- mail I get -- we're hammered all the time that we're either pro- Israeli or anti-Israeli or pro-Arab, anti-Arab. We get hit from all sides.

WEISSKOPF: American reporters, like rest of society, are somewhat culture bound, and we reflect, often, popular views. Often, those views are wrong. And this -- we are learning the rules engagement as we go along, about the Arab and Muslim community, just as we did about the evangelical community or, years ago, about the Jewish community. There's certain sensitivities that come up, and we learn about them and check them.

However, I have to say, although you weren't elected, you served in the Middle East. And American reporters in the Middle East generally begin to identify with the underdog in this story. Ask the Israelis, for instance, what kind of a pro-Israel tilt there may be in American reporters, or pro-Arab tilt, and you you'll hear, probably, from them that American reporters are, by and large, overly critical, they scrutinize us too much and they hold...

BLITZER: All right.

WEISSKOPF: ... them against our standards.

BLITZER: Hussein Ibish, as you know, the Israelis are always complaining that the mainstream American news media is anti-Israel.

IBISH: Yes, because they're basically professional reporters, who are doing the reporting and are reporting most of the basic facts, and some of those reflect negatively on Israeli policies and people don't want a negative -- any negative news about Israel.

Right now, I think there are a lot of supporters of Israel who regard any criticism of any Israel policies or any facts that reflect negatively on Israel as kind of a sign of a deep abiding anti-Semitism or hostility to Israel. That's not fair.

But on the broader point about anti-Arab sentiment in the American media or, you know, this sort of thing, I'd like to say, I mean, there's -- it's sort of reflective, I think, of a growing alienation between Arab society generally and American society generally. And you see same kind of effect in Arab media, with a lot of irresponsible commentary and reporting about the United States.

And I think we'd really like to appeal to both the American press and the Arab press to be more receptive to each other's point of view and take a more responsible role. I think that they're, in a sense, fueling and growing a very dangerous alienation between the Middle Eastern and American societies that frightens me a great deal.

ISSA: Wolf?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Congressman Issa.

ISSA: Yes, one of the things that -- because I do meet so often with both Arab-American and Lebanese-American groups, and, as you know, about three quarters of America are Lebanese Christians. And more often from all these groups, but maybe more often those who have been here a little longer, what I'm seeing from these groups is almost the same thing that America is asking for, which is, don't unfairly profile people, but hey, just because I'm a Lebanese-American doesn't mean that I'm not concerned on an airplane, looking around, wondering if there's somebody there who means to do us wrong.

And so I get a lot of positive support from within the American community of Lebanese and other Arabic descent that they don't want to be treated wrong, but they don't want to be left unprotected. And I think it's that balance that the administration's trying to achieve.

IBISH: I strongly agree with that. I mean... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I just want to bring in Michael Weisskopf on this other issue that developed this week, but it's part of a continuing pattern. The justice department, U.S. attorneys out there, going after charities, supposed charities, alleging that these are really -- mostly Islamic or Arab charities -- front groups for what the State Department would regard as terrorist organizations, whether Hezbollah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

How much of a problem is this, though, for legitimate Arab and Muslim charities out there, when they have the Justice Department really going in and taking such a close look at all these various groups?

WEISSKOPF: It's pretty simple. All they have to do is open their books and show where the money goes. In these cases, there was a money trail leading to terrorist groups or terrorist supporters, and this justified, in the eyes of the Justice Department, these type of activities.

This goes to the issue of discretion again, and I believe this Justice Department is using a great deal of it before it makes decisions like that. BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Michael Weisskopf, Congressman Darrell Issa, Hussein Ibish, thanks to all three of you. An important discussion on this very important issue this week. Appreciate it very much.

When we return, your letters to Late Edition, plus Bruce Morton's essay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON: What's happened to the detainees reads a lot like Franz Kafka's novel "The Trial," in which the hero is arrested without ever knowing the charges against him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can democracy and security coexist in the U.S. war on terror?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now Bruce Morton's essay on a delicate balance between upholding democratic values and staying safe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: After September 11, the Justice Department started detaining people, not U.S. citizens, more than 1,200 of them.

Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department has resisted saying how many or releasing their names. Most were charged with violating immigration and naturalization service laws. And officials said last week that 104 of these detainees are still in custody, that some 500 have been ordered deported, and that about 350 of those actually have been.

Some other detainees, maybe just a few dozen, were held as material witnesses.

Last week a New York judge, Shira Shiendlin (ph), ruled in the case of them, a student named Abu Dala (ph), that the government had unlawfully detained him.

If the government has cause to believe a person has committed a crime it may arrest that person, Judge Shiendlin (ph) wrote, but since 1789, no Congress has granted the government the authority to imprison an innocent person in order to guarantee that he will testify before a grand jury conducting a criminal investigation.

Imprisoning a witness, not someone who has committed a crime, the judge wrote, raises a serious constitutional question under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable seizures.

The Justice Department disagreed, of course. Abu Dala (ph), out on bail now, spent time in maximum-security units at four prisons in three states.

The legal argument may well end up in the Supreme Court. Ashcroft has already suggested that anyone who questions his methods is helping terrorism, and you can always argue that the U.S. Constitution only protects U.S. citizens.

But what's happened to the detainees reads a lot like Franz Kafka's novel, "The Trial," in which the hero is arrested without ever knowing the charges against him.

The Justice Department has wrapped all these proceedings in secrecy, and critics can argue that the Constitution is a document under which America, the country, is governed. And the government, which talks proudly at its human rights record and which often pointedly criticizes other countries' human rights practices, ought to be open when dealing with these detainees.

In theory they could be held for years, their identities secret, their whereabouts secret, beyond the reach of legal help or family or friends.

And those detained on immigration-law charges, wouldn't they have the right to a speedy trial and prompt deportation if that's how it comes out? Yet some of them are simply watching the days go by.

We Americans are proud of our freedom, but the anonymous people in the prisons poise questions worth considering.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Bruce.

And now your letters to Late Edition. The Mideast crisis continued to dominate your e-mail to us this past week.

Vladimir from Wisconsin writes this: "There should be no Palestinian state at all. The reason is that we do not need another terrorist, totalitarian regime in the region, do we?"

Karen from New Jersey says, "The Palestinians are under Israeli military occupation, and the Americans are under Israeli political occupation."

As always, we welcome your comments. The e-mail address is lateedition@cnn.com.

Coming up next, another hour of Late Edition. The chairmen of the Republican and the Democratic parties square off on election-year politics and the war on terrorism's impact on campaign 2002.

Also, your phone calls and our Final Round. That, plus a check of the hour's top stories when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

We'll hear from the Republican and Democratic Party chairmen in just a moment, but first, there's breaking news.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And switching gears now, it's six months and counting until the mid-term elections. The Republican and Democratic parties are promising aggressive campaigns to woo voters this November.

Joining us now, the Republican Party chairman, Marc Racicot, and the Democratic Party chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

BLITZER: Gentlemen, welcome back to Late Edition.

Let me begin with you, Governor Racicot. Does the president have a political problem with the kind of Middle East policy he's attempting to implement right now? He's getting hammered, as you know, at least by some, especially conservative Republicans, who think he's not being pro-Israel enough?

MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CMTE.: Well, I do not believe so. Obviously, this is an incredibly challenging circumstance and situation. It's a complex -- the entire planet for a long period of time since 1948, there have been 10 presidents that have had to deal with this particular issue, and it's immensely difficult and challenging.

He obviously, with a great deal of intensity, is bringing every effort that he can possibly bring to bear to probe and explore and try to find, in concert with the international community, the right combination of approaches that will allow for peace and stability to be established in the region.

So I think the American people understand that intuitively. And I do not perceive that it will become, throughout the course of an electoral season, a political problem.

BLITZER: Will it be a political problem? Because, as you know, Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats, by and large, seem to be giving the president the benefit of the doubt in his Middle East policy, whereas conservative Republicans, whether Bill Kristol or Bill Bennett, others, are being much more critical of the president's policies right now.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CMTE: Well, Wolf, it's a very difficult situation in the Mideast today. We want to give all the support we can to President Bush, as well as Colin Powell, because we don't want to bring in and inject politics into the situation today. We're focused on these '02 elections, but we're going to primarily talk about the domestic issues, and that's what helps Democrats win elections.

So we're going to stay away from it, going to leave it to the president and the secretary of state to deal with it, and we'll talk about the kitchen-table issues.

BLITZER: One prominent conservative, Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, was pretty blunt in explaining why he supported that very pro-Israeli resolution the Senate enacted lopsided, ninety- something to two, in the Senate earlier in the week, and he explained why he disagreed with the president on this issue. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR GORDON SMITH (R-OR): And 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, indeed an obligation to stand up and be counted right now at this critical hour, no matter what apple carts are overturned in the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's a good Republican, Senator Smith. No one can deny that.

RACICOT: Well, he's not only a good Republican, he's a very good friend as well.

But obviously not every member of the Senate has the same responsibility as the president and the administration. Clearly, there are different imperatives that they need to address. They sometimes feel a great urge to make certain that their record is plain and clear and evident. And as a consequence of that, they entered into a non-binding resolution stating their support for Israel. Quite frankly, I don't think that that's an extraordinary surprise. BLITZER: Are you at all surprised that some conservative Republicans, like Tom DeLay in the House, the majority whip, are taking the lead in supporting Israel right now? And a lot of Democrats, there are plenty who are supportive as well, but you hear more from some of these conservative Republicans.

MCAULIFFE: Well, Wolf, the Democrats have been very strong for the support of Israel. We receive, as you know, 66 percent of the Jewish vote in America, because we're out fighting on the issues that matter.

So it doesn't surprise me. I mean, we're all out there supporting Israel in this tough situation. We want to bring peace to the region. We need people at the table talking to one another. And I think, once we can get everybody working together, we can move forward.

But it doesn't surprise me. I mean, the president has had some tough votes up in the Congress. As you know, his own budget was defeated in the Congress 39-0. It couldn't even get out of committee. So it's just not that, it's many issues the president has a problem with up there.

BLITZER: Is there an opening, Governor, for Republicans, for the Republican Party to woo Jewish support now, as a result of what's been going on these last few weeks?

RACICOT: Well, we don't view a crisis or a tragedy as an opportunistic chance for us to secure and expand in base. So we've been working, from the very beginning, at trying to engage more of our fellow citizens in the political process, because it's the right thing to do. And we believe that we're making progress with our fellow citizens who are also Jewish.

So we'll continue to work at that. But how to gauge whether or not this circumstance, these situations alone have an impact, I think it's very difficult to speculate about.

BLITZER: One thing is clear, Terry McAuliffe. These numbers that I'm about to read, music to Governor Racicot's ears, not necessarily to your ears. Our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup poll, opinion of the president. Look at these numbers. Job approval rating, 77 percent think he's doing a good job. Deserves reelection, 70 percent. Likely to vote for him in 2004, 56 percent.

Is this a done deal already, that George W. Bush is going to be reelected?

MCAULIFFE: Well, first of all, Wolf, as you know, George Bush is not on the ballot in 2002. He had no coattails in 2000. He had none in 2001. Not going to be on the ballot in 2002. We had a spectacular election last November. We're going to have a great election this November. We're going to win a majority of governorships. We're going to pick up at least one Senate seat. We're going to net House seats for the fourth cycle in a row.

MCAULIFFE: So that doesn't bother me at all.

What I'm actually intrigued about is the president has such high approval ratings, and yet in all the polls, including this poll, on the congressional match-ups, the Democrats have a lead anywhere from four to eight points. So it's not translating. You'd be shocked that, with the president at such a high approval rating, that it's not helping his fellow members of Congress.

BLITZER: No coattails?

RACICOT: Well, there is no shock at all because the president would tell you he doesn't believe that he has coattails. That's a phenomena, I think, that is largely illusory.

The fact is that he has an extraordinarily approval rating because of his performance. And when the chairman refers to the leaners heading toward the Democratic Party, I think that that particular circumstance is way too easy to make a final call about -- or way too early to make a final call about.

Obviously, we have a long ways to go till the election of 2002, and quite frankly that particular decision is within the margin of error. And to be very honest with you, in 1994 when we won an extraordinarily large number of new seats, we were in the same position going into the last few week of the campaign.

So, it's a long time till 2002, but we know than we have an obligation, we always do as political parties, to prove ourselves to the people of America so they invest our confidence in us.

BLITZER: And assuming the country is not at war and there's no national security major threat, homeland security, the bread-and- butter domestic economic issues probably will be critical not only in the elections in 2002 in November of this year but in 2004.

And you have to remember the 90 percent job approval rating that the first President Bush had after the Gulf War, which obviously didn't translate into a win in November of the following year.

RACICOT: Unquestionably true, and of course President Bush understands that very, very plainly.

But I'll tell you, Wolf, the reason that he is so intensely dedicated to the domestic agenda, which he campaigned about and on throughout the course of the campaign, is because it's the right thing to do. He knows that virtually everything that takes place here -- or doesn't take place here, largely in the Democrat-controlled Senate -- impacts the families of America in very, very profound and tragic ways.

BLITZER: The Democratic National Committee has got a new ad out on this specific issue, broken promises. Let's run a little excerpt from that ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And we can precede with tax relief without fear of budget deficits, even if the economy softens.

(UNKNOWN): Tonight we know much more about the federal budget President Bush will propose to Congress on Monday.

NARRATOR: Bush has returned the government to deficit spending until at least 2005.

BUSH: Can't say one thing and do another.

NARRATOR: Count on Republicans to make promises. Count on Democrats to keep them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: In the November Senate and congressional gubernatorial elections that are going to be out there, are you going to make George W. Bush the issue?

MCAULIFFE: We're going to make Republicans the issue. This is about Republicans. This is about Republicans' broken promises. The words that you saw there were President Bush when he was running in 2000.

These are what he said on the campaign and what has actually happened, so they're just facts. And our job is to make sure, and my job specifically as chairman of the Democratic Party, is to make sure that the Republicans don't blur the differences between our parties.

BLITZER: But you can't ignore the fact that September 11 occurred in between and that that's had an enormous impact on domestic spending, on policy, on all sorts of issues.

MCAULIFFE: But most of the issues we talk about, Wolf, on that video that you saw happened before September 11. We were in deficit spending, as you know, in August. We had already gone into the Social Security trust fund in August. So many of these things obviously had happened before September 11.

However, after September 11, the choices are much more difficult. And it's not only about broken promises, it's when the Republicans are confronted with tough issues, they always take the bad choice. And that's what we're going to talk about this fall, and that's what our parties are about, and we have differences.

BLITZER: Is that a winning issue for the Democrats?

RACICOT: Well, I don't know if it's winning or not. I would allege that probably not. But the bottom line is it's not accurate, I can tell you that.

Those are only some of the words of President Bush. Quite obviously the country knows, as he explained early on, that there are sometimes extraordinary circumstances that require us to, for a short period of time, engage in some deficit expenditure, which is what we're doing to protect ourselves against international terrorism and on the basis of homeland security.

So the American people understand that the calamity of September 11 is an unprecedented moment in our history, and as a consequence, we have to address it. It reordered the entire planet in so many different ways. And we have to make certain that we're properly taken care of from a defense perspective.

BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

We have a lot more to talk about with the party chairmen, Terry McAuliffe and Marc Racicot. They'll also be taking your phone calls when Late Edition returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back we're talking election-year politics with Republican Party chairman Marc Racicot and Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe.

We have a caller from Kentucky where they had a derby yesterday. Go ahead, Kentucky.

CALLER: I would like to know what either party, the Democrat or the Republican Party, is going to do this year about Medicaid and Medicare for the older people.

BLITZER: All right, let's let Governor Racicot handle that first.

RACICOT: Well, we obviously recognize it's an extraordinarily a difficult and challenging issue that is very, very serious for seniors all across the United States of America. There is in fact a Medicaid reform plan, a Medicare reform plan as well, that includes a drug prescription benefit that is included within that legislation pending before the House of Representative.

It's an issue that Republicans have seized and tried to address, but quite frankly, it has not moved along throughout the entire process that Congress has before. As a matter of fact, Senator Daschle introduced a bill that deals with a drug prescription benefit portion back in January of 2001, but it has been referred to a committee and hasn't moved anywhere near forward from that day forward.

So, the fact is that the Republicans, in our judgment, are trying to address the issue, recognizing how serious and how difficult it is, but have run into great difficultly with the Senate being willing take up these measures and move them forward.

BLITZER: What about that, Terry McAuliffe?

MCAULIFFE: The Democrats today, tomorrow would take up a vote on a full prescription drug benefit for all seniors. As you know, the president proposed a plan that would only cover 6 percent of the seniors. If the chairman would agree with me, I think we could get the Senate this week to bring up a bill to cover all seniors. The Democrats are for it.

These are one of the issues we talk about in our video. He promised a full prescription drug benefit. There's not one out there.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask the governor, how come there is no legislation or nothing happening on prescription drug front right now, as far as all seniors being eligible for prescription drug benefits?

RACICOT: Well, when you take a look at the statistics -- first of all, you're talking about the president. In his budget, making a proposal for a $190 billion increase to deal with these particular problems that have to do with Medicare. Obviously if it's in the budget, there are a lot of details to be worked out in particular pieces of legislation.

There has been legislation moved through House, but it finds itself in the transom of Senate. And that means that Senator Daschle is not leading the Senate to the point to where they take it up for consideration.

BLITZER: Why is Senator Daschle blocking that?

MCAULIFFE: First, let's be clear. The budget that Chairman Racicot talks about, the president's budget, was defeated 39 to 0 by the Republicans in Congress. So the budget did not come out. They've defeated the president of his own party in the Congress which they actually control.

We would have a full prescription drug benefit today. We're for it. Let's bring one up for it. Tom Daschle would do it tomorrow.

BLITZER: On the presidential...

RACICOT: Wolf, if I could, he could do it tomorrow because he has a bill pending in Senate, but it has not moved for now almost 18 months.

BLITZER: Look at this number. It jumped out at me when I saw it. A California field poll, a presidential election 2004, if the election was were right now in California: Bush, 48 percent; Gore, 41 percent.

MCAULIFFE: Well, first of all, these numbers are meaningless today, Wolf, because the president is not running against anybody. As I say, he's not on the ballot in 2002.

BLITZER: Is Gore going to run?

MCAULIFFE: He hasn't made the decision.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MCAULIFFE: My personal opinion is I do think the vice president will run again, but I know that he has not made a decision nor should he make a decision until after November 5. Let's spend a couple of days celebrating the great victories after November 5, and then I believe there's going to be four or five or six candidates on the Democratic side who are going to run for president. I think it's great have a lot Democrats out there with a positive message talking about the future of the country.

BLITZER: He had more popular votes the last time, didn't have more electoral votes. Our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup poll on the favorable ratings: Bush is still 79 percent favorable; unfavorable, 19. But look at Al Gore: 46 percent favorable; 48 percent unfavorable.

If the chairman, the Democratic chairman, is right and he's going run again, he's got an uphill struggle ahead of him.

RACICOT: Well, I wouldn't speculate either about the elections of 2004.

The one thing I would confirm that Chairman McAuliffe has mentioned is that there are a huge number of Democrats running for president, and most of them are in the United State Senate. And I think that that's one of the reasons why we're having difficulty seeing legislation work its way through Congress.

BLITZER: You get the last word.

MCAULIFFE: No, they want to run because they've seen the broken promises that the Bush administration and the Republicans. I'm excited that so many Democrats are going to step up to the plate and run because they don't have a better vision for American families all across this country.

BLITZER: And both of you are still having fun, right?

RACICOT: Yes, yes.

MCAULIFFE: Loving it.

RACICOT: We're getting to know one another.

MCAULIFFE: Right.

BLITZER: A very civilized discussion between the two of you.

MCAULIFFE: Well, I've tried to elevate the debate as much as I possible can.

BLITZER: I can see you've succeeded.

RACICOT: And I've taken him (ph) ahead of that. And I just got back from the Derby and had a great time down there yesterday.

BLITZER: All right. Gentleman, thank you. Governor, Mr. Chairman, appreciate it very much.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll have the Final Round, a very opinionated discussion of the big stories of the day.

We leave you now with these live pictures. Jacques Chirac, he's addressing the French public. He's been reelected with more than 80 percent, some 82 percent of the vote based on the exist polls. The polls in France now closed. Jacques Chirac, landslide, reelected president of France.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome to Late Edition's Final Round. Joining me, Julianne Malveaux, the syndicated columnist; Peter Beinart of The New Republic; Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online; and Robert George of the New York Post.

We begin with our quote of the week, courtesy of the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. He emerged from his compound for the first time since the Israeli military campaign began insisting his side is not to blame for the crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT OF PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: You have not to ask about my government (ph) now. You have to ask about the tragedy which our people are living and this dirty (ph) crimes of the Israeli forces and Israeli settlers against our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Julianne, does Yasser Arafat have a moral-high-ground right to make these kinds of claims?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There is no moral high ground whatsoever in the Middle East, either for Arafat or for Sharon. But frankly, I mean, with 1,300 -- 1,300-plus Palestinians dead, about 460 Israelis dead, there's enough blame to go around.

But he's right to use a strong language because there has been such loss of life among Palestinians. There's a recent woman and two children killed, "Oh, it was a mistake." And that kind of callousness for human life does give Arafat the right to express every indignation.

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": You know, showing there's no real correlation between -- just the fact that more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, I mean, the fact is, it was the Palestinians that launched the latest intifada.

I certainly don't think Arafat has any moral high ground on which to stand. It's just not there.

PETER BEINART, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": But the thing Arafat does and it's different from saying the Palestinian cause does, the Palestinian cause, if it's defined as a state of their own on all of Gaza, most of the West Bank with the dismantling of many Jewish settlements, is a just cause.

And I think what Americans need to say, as they say that Arafat has provided terrible leadership for the Palestinians, which he's absolutely done, is start talking about the settlements. And you never hear anything from Republicans on the right about settlements at all. And even many people in the Israeli center and center-right recognize the settlements which Sharon has devoted his entire political career to promoting are a terrible problem.

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW": And he's also hinted that they could go. He said he may have to -- the day may come where he has to make painful compromises, and everyone basically interprets that as giving up some of those settlements as well.

BEINART: And he's said -- he's also said the contradictory things.

GOLDBERG: Yes, well, that doesn't surprise me.

GEORGE: He is a politician, after all.

GOLDBERG: But look, the question of moral high ground...

MALVEAUX: And a war monger.

GOLDBERG: He's not a war monger.

The question of moral high ground is sort of a silly one. Yes, the Palestinians have legitimate moral claims, obviously they do. But Arafat, whether he has moral high ground or not, cannot be believed for anything.

First of all, Arafat, in terms of moral high ground, has killed more Arabs than Sharon has over his career. He is responsible for killing, quote, unquote, "collaborators." They died in the hundreds in the last intifada, they died in the hundreds in this intifada. They're summarily executed.

GOLDBERG: And so the idea that somehow Arafat, who just spews nothing but lies -- we've seen this video that came out this week of them staging a fake funeral for propaganda purposes. I don't think I've seen it on CNN, but these guys come out, and it's one bit of propaganda after another, from the Jenin massacre, which has now pretty much been proven to be a hoax -- and so, whether or not he's got the moral high ground or not, he can't be believed whatever...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: ... the front page of the New York Times and not equate a hoax, and you know it.

GOLDBERG: It wasn't a massacre.

BEINART: No, it clearly was not a massacre.

GEORGE: But it's not just the New York Times. I mean, even some of the pro-Palestinian sources realize that it certainly was not a massacre.

MALVEAUX: When you start talking about running tanks through residential areas, when you start talking about 1,300-plus people dead, I mean, false funerals are enough, real funerals and real tragedies and women and children, not just soldiers, being killed...

GEORGE: And the Palestinian terrorists...

MALVEAUX: ... let's just be clear about it.

GEORGE: ... were using -- were basically using Jenin as their own kind of human shields.

BLITZER: Well, let's move on, but what the Human Rights Watch, some of the U.N. observers were saying was, no massacre, but human rights violations...

MALVEAUX: Precisely.

BLITZER: ... perhaps even war crimes. But that's going to be a discussion for another day.

Let's move on and talk about Condoleezza Rice. On this program earlier today, she hinted that the Bush administration is growing increasingly impatient with Yasser Arafat's inability to reign in terrorists, but stopped short of saying that this is his last chance. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: I don't think, again, we get anywhere by laying down markers of that kind. But it's pretty clear that he's got to get busy about it. The Palestinian people deserve better than they have been getting from their leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is this Yasser Arafat's last chance?

GEORGE: I think so. I think so. I mean, Arafat at this point has to realize that he needs the U.S. support to try and broker a relationship between he and Sharon than the U.S. needs him. The fact that Bush this week focused on issues of democracy and corruption and so forth shows that we, that is the United States, is about ready to cut him loose if there's not some real change here on his part.

BLITZER: Those of us who have covered, Peter, the Middle East for many, many years know it's always a mistake to write off Yasser Arafat.

BEINART: Yes. And I think the Bush administration is absolutely right to start talking about corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Now the real question is where have the United States and Israel, for that matter, been on this question for many, many years?

I mean, the dirty truth is that, in many ways, the United States and Israeli governments are complicit in allowing Arafat to set up a corrupt and authoritarian regime on the West Bank, one that actually, one that, in the long term, undermines the cause of peace. Because Israeli and American leaders thought that it would actually be easier to deal with a one-man show, a one-man strong man. And we do in the rest of the Middle East, in the long run, that always comes back to hurt us. BLITZER: Julianne, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, arriving in the United States to meet with the president Tuesday, with this 100-page document that he says shows hard evidence that Yasser Arafat is directly involved in these suicide-bombing attacks, funding it, and other terrorist attacks, as well.

Will that make an impact on the Bush administration?

MALVEAUX: I don't see where it could make even more of an impact than it already has. Indeed, I think the administration, as you saw from your interview with Condi, I mean, the administration has already pretty much taken a hard line against Arafat.

The question for me is, if not Arafat, who? The fact that they've done it, as Peter says, pushed a one-person, rather totalitarian leadership of the PLO means there are not very many people to turn to in the Palestinian area now, so you're stuck pretty much with Arafat.

BLITZER: Is there an alternative to Yasser Arafat as a leader of the Palestinian people?

GOLDBERG: Remains to be seen. One of the reasons there isn't is that Arafat has killed many of the people who would be the alternative leaders to Yasser Arafat.

In terms of these documents that Sharon...

GEORGE: (OFF-MIKE) primary in Palestine.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: In terms of these documents that Sharon is bringing, I mean, I can think of few things that qualify for the "duh" factor...

(LAUGHTER)

... than document proving Yasser Arafat is a terrorist. I mean, the Al Fatah Brigades, which are basically run by Arafat's organization, claim credit for suicide bombings. And somehow we wait for a piece of paper that proves that what these guys are saying is true.

MALVEAUX: I don't think anybody's waiting for the pieces of paper. I don't know that Sharon -- I mean, he cannot really believe that bringing this document changes anything.

GOLDBERG: That's my point. I think there's this collective notion in the media and also in government that somehow we need one more bit of proof for a career of 30 years.

BEINART: It's not for the White House, though. It's for American public opinion, particularly within the conservative movement, to put pressure on the Bush administration not to put pressure on Sharon. That's the game (ph). BLITZER: Let's talk about this story from another angle. Despite the wishes of the Bush administration, both the House and Senate approved resolutions expressing strong support for Israel's military actions in the West Bank.

Earlier today, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, acknowledged that Congress' actions didn't make his job any easier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: My job is difficult in many respects, and I get help from all quarters. Now, we would have preferred not to have a resolution at this time, but the House felt it appropriate, and both bodies felt it appropriate, to go on record with these statements, and that's part of our democratic system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jonah, is Congress muddling up the Middle East?

GOLDBERG: Yes, but I don't think they're muddling it up any more than President Bush and the State Department already have.

Look, the basic problem is this: The United States laid out a very clear war on terrorism, and we didn't qualify it except to say across borders and that kind of thing. And there is absolutely far more evidence that Yasser Arafat is a terrorist than Osama bin Laden is a terrorist.

And if you set up this doctrine that says we're going to fight terrorism, it becomes very difficult to all of a sudden then say, well, Yasser Arafat doesn't qualify, and the Palestinian terrorists don't qualify.

And so it created this giant muddle when Dick Cheney went out there to try and set up the war in Iraq, and he found out, oh geez, none of our allies are going to help us until we solve the problem in the Middle East. And so, then they started backpedaling, and the thing became murky.

BLITZER: Julianne, are you surprised that conservatives like Jonah and many of his colleagues are the most critical of the Bush administration's Middle East policy right now? Liberals, Democrats basically saying to the president, "Do your job."

MALVEAUX: No, I'm not surprised. I think that many conservatives of the Ralph Reed ad -- you know, we stand with Israel -- many conservatives feel strongly, at least in this case, certainly not in the United States, about issues of democracy and other things. They feel strongly allied to Israel. It certainly is the only country we have in that Middle Eastern area. We have their strategic importance in terms of oil, although many people deny it.

So, I'm not surprised to see the conservative vehemence. I think it's interesting from a... GEORGE: But it's also the issue of moral clarity, which is something that conservatives have been wanting in the context of their society and culture in general.

The war on terror the way -- just as Jonah said, the war on terror as Bush outlined it, it was very clear, black and white, good versus evil. But he's completely completely muddled that in the context of the Middle East.

BEINART: To the Bush administration's credit, they did use one phrase that's important: "terrorism of global reach." And there was a reason for that, a pragmatic reason.

The truth is if the conservatives really wanted moral clarity, they would have to support the government of Sri Lanka in doing everything. It wanted to kill -- there are many, many, many terrorist groups in the world.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Stop. We're not going to talk about Sri Lanka.

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to talk about Sri Lanka, it's a very important country, on another occasion. We have to take a quick break.

Your phone calls and e-mail for our panel when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the Final Round.

This was election day in France, and early exit polls are showing that the president, the incumbent, Jacques Chirac, has won another term. He appears to have handily defeated the rightist candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who stunned the French political establishment by advancing to this second and final round of voting.

Peter, can the people in France rest a little bit easier right now? Can Americans rest a little bit easier right now?

BEINART: Well, I think a bit.

Actually, Americans can rest very easy, and I think we have a lesson to teach the French. Because, if you remember, in the mid-'90s there was a tremendous amount of anti-immigrant politics in the United States, and we beat it. I think it's diminished a lot in the United States, mostly because of the economic boom in the 1990s and partly because we cracked down on crime. Those are the two things that I think are really fueling this in France.

They need to get a handle on a really dysfunctional economic system and on law-and-order issues which are out of control. If they do that, I think xenophobia will decline. GEORGE: I think we can rest easily only if CNN does not move this into the too-close-to-call category.

(LAUGHTER)

No, the truth is Chirac actually does have a great opportunity here. You know, as Jonah will attest in a few minutes, France really needs to be kind of brought into the 21st century on a whole range of issues, especially in terms of the economy and so forth. And Chirac, if he can help reduce unemployment and so forth, that is also going to control some of the anti-immigration pressures that are building up.

MALVEAUX: No, there's a bunch of racism there, and I think that's a piece that we're not looking at. You can call it xenophobia. It's plain old people of color coming into France and those people of color are being resisted. It's not just an issue of unemployment. You also have issues of discrimination. You're beginning to see people of color organize in parts of Europe around some discrimination issues. And so I think that we can rest easy as much as we can rest easy here. We have some of the same issues. I think race relations in France are probably where they were in the United States about a generation ago.

BLITZER: What did you learn from the French election?

GOLDBERG: That we actually, Florida notwithstanding, we run them better.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, I...

MALVEAUX: I don't think so.

GOLDBERG: I've loved this whole Le Pen thing from every angle. I think it is hilarious that the French, who lecture us about human rights every other day, elected this guy -- or got this guy into the second round.

You know, it turns out -- I actually agree with Julianne on some of the stuff about race. You know, in France it is illegal to collect racial data. All affirmative action is banned. And yet the left in the United States somehow thinks France is more progressive than we are.

The one thing I will say, though, is that all this anti-Semitism that we've seen over the last few months is not coming from Le Pen supporters. This idea that somehow Le Pen is the culmination of all these synagogue burnings and stuff is a total myth...

BEINART: That's right.

GOLDBERG: ... created in America to make people better about it. The reality is, the people who are the most anti-Semitic are the people taking to the streets protesting Le Pen. They're the ones who are writing the terrible graffiti on the walls. They're the ones who are comparing Jews to Nazis, and it is not Le Pen doing it. GEORGE: We're happy that Le Pen is not mightier than la horde (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: You're only supposed to do those puns off the air.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The rough-and-tumble business of politics gave way to fun here in Washington last night at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Bush wasn't shy about grabbing some laughs at his own expense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: One of the great things about being in the White House is having Laura close by. Whenever she drops by my office...

(APPLAUSE)

... my day is brighter. She helps me in a million ways. Here she is helping me pronounce "Azerbaijanis."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This self-deprecating kind of humor, does that work for this president?

GEORGE: Oh, it does. I mean, I think all presidents have to kind of fall into this kind of game just to show that they don't take themselves too seriously.

But his best line, actually, though, was when he recited a number of Ozzy Osbourne songs, and he says, "My mom loves your stuff."

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That was very funny.

You were there last night. What are your reviews?

BEINART: Well, I actually think Bush was not as self-deprecating as Clinton was. I mean, there was that joke, but most of the jokes were not self-deprecating.

BEINART: I actually think that the presidents are funnier when they are willing to take shots at themselves. And this president is less funny than Bill Clinton, because I think he's a little less confident.

BLITZER: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: I think -- well, Clinton was a master at this stuff, you know. You know, I'm on record thinking that Clinton will spend eternity in hell, next to the cast of "Cats," but he was a master at that. He was really great at it.

GEORGE: That's kind of tough on the cast of "Cats."

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: It is kind of tough on the cast of "Cats."

You know, the last one he did, where he was running out, trying to bring his lunch bag to Hillary, because he was going to be a sort of latch-key husband from now on. Clinton was great at it. Bush is good at it. They all do the self-depcrecating thing, and it works for them.

BLITZER: I'm not going to ask Julianne's opinion, because you were not there last night.

MALVEAUX: I was not there.

BLITZER: Next year you'll have to go.

MALVEAUX: However, I must say that, you know, I always laugh with him, but his policies are no laughing matter.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take another quick break. Our lightning round is just ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for our lightning round.

Congress is considering legislation that would allow armed airline pilots during flights. Would gun-toting pilots make you feel safer? Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. I think this is one of the most no- brainer kind of issues imaginable. It seems silly to have an argument about it.

BLITZER: Julianne?

MALVEAUX: If they have marshals on planes, I don't think the pilots need guns.

GEORGE: I just see no reason why you shouldn't allow the pilots their last line of defense, definitely.

BEINART: I couldn't disagree more. Give them stun guns, you know, these taser things, but don't get them real guns. First of all, they take too long to reload anyway. And the airline stewardesses don't want them, because they're afraid that, you know, they're afraid it'll endanger them.

MALVEAUX: A bullets will fly around and ricochet or something like that, and innocent people are going to be hurt. GOLDBERG: Pilots were armed until the 1970s.

BLITZER: All right. Next issue, unemployment, which is at its highest point now in eight years. Is the White House doing enough?

MALVEAUX: They're cutting employment and training programs, cutting the Department of Labor. Not only is it 6 percent overall, it's 11.2 percent in the African-American community, nearly 30 percent for inner-city teens. No, they're not doing enough at all.

GEORGE: Unemployment is always a lagging indicator in a recession. So many of the other numbers suggest that the economy is improving. I think the Bush administration is handling this fine.

BEINART: Yes, I think he's absolutely right. The last thing we need is an excuse for this horrible, pork-laden, you know, give-away stimulus bill. If things get worse, maybe the Fed does something, but nothing in fiscal policy.

GOLDBERG: For most of economic history, we considered 5 percent full employment. It's one point over that. It's not very high in historical terms.

BLITZER: All right. This weekend the white descendants of Thomas Jefferson are deciding whether to acknowledge the descendants of his slave Sally Hemings as relatives. Can this family feud ever be settled?

GEORGE: It may not be settled. But since the Thomas Jefferson Historical Society basically settled this, to a certain extent, they feel that Hemings descendants do have a rightful claim here, I think they should be buried with their white descendants.

BEINART: My feeling is that, even if they're not Jefferson's descendants, they should be buried at Monticello. After all, I mean, it was slaves who built this estate, wasn't it, with their blood and toil. Let them have the run of the place.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think a compromise along Peter's lines is right. I don't think Hemings actually has the claim that people -- they think she does. But...

BLITZER: You have doubts whether in fact...

GOLDBERG: Yes. I think it may be one of Jefferson's relatives. But regardless, why not be inclusive and, you know...

BLITZER: You have no doubt, Julianne.

MALVEAUX: Well, this is historical denial. People want to deny that someone like Thomas Jefferson could have had sex with the slave Sally Hemings.

The fact, though, is that this'll be settled when black folks get reparations, because these folks seem to be so rigid in their...

GEORGE: That would mean, Julianne, it would never get settled.

(LAUGHTER)

I think it's better to focus on this single issue, rather than bringing in...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: I'm just talking about the fact that, the way these people are, as rigid as they are, the likelihood of its being settled is as likely as blacks getting reparations.

GOLDBERG: Wasn't it better than when Washington was the father of the country?

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. Today is Cinco de Mayo day, a Mexican holiday that's gaining popularity here in the United States. It's the result of a growing Hispanic influence, or is it the result that it's simply a good excuse to have a few margaritas?

GEORGE: I'm certainly not against margaritas. It does seem more of an artificial holiday, especially when it tries to bring in all Hispanics, when it's only a Mexican -- it's only a Mexican holiday.

BEINART: I actually think it's a good thing. First of all, I like margaritas. Second of all, if you want Hispanics to assimilate into the United States, you also have to recognize that America has to embrace Hispanic culture just as we did with St. Patrick's Day, you know. So I think it's actually a good thing.

GOLDBERG: I think it's utterly harmless, and the idea that we should be scandalized, that at corporations are using a holiday to sell products in this country is absurd.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Shocking.

MALVEAUX: You know, the Latino influence you can see certainly in terms of salsa outsells ketchup. You know, demographically so. We have an increasing influence.

Cinco de Mayo is a good thing, but half of all Americans are teetotalers, so the margarita thing is something else again.

GEORGE: And where are our margaritas today, anyways?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: No margaritas today.

MALVEAUX: You had your margaritas last night.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Much healthier water, very good for you.

(LAUGHTER)

The former president Bill Clinton has met with TV executives about the possibility of becoming a talk show host. Should Oprah be worried? Should I be worried?

Jonah?

GOLDBERG: I don't think you should be worried. It would make conservatives finally feel vindicated, though, because it would truly become the Clinton news network again.

(LAUGHTER) I don't think he's going to have a TV show, although just because, you know, he may have been a bad president, in my eyes, doesn't mean he would be a bad TV host.

BLITZER: For the record, it was NBC executives that he spoke to. And they're talking supposedly, if you believe the LA Times, $50 million -- million -- dollars.

MALVEAUX: I'd rather see him on PBS than NBC. I think he's a great talker. I've been to the White House conferences, the White House conference on economy. Saw him lead a discussion, very Oprah- like. But Oprah doesn't have to worry. He'd be on the air and off the air, and on the air and off again before 2006 when she leaves.

GEORGE: I think it would be unseemly if it's going to be a, you know, Jerry Springer or even an Oprah-type of show for the former head of the free world to be doing a show like this. Maybe if he can find an issue or book or something to discuss on, like, a monthly basis, that might work.

BLITZER: You mean sort of like C-SPAN, Book Notes?

GEORGE: Almost like C-SPAN Book Notes, exactly like that and...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I don't think C-SPAN Book Notes are paying $50 million a year.

GEORGE: CNN has Begala and Carville, so I don't think they would want Clinton on top of that.

BEINART: Don't worry, Wolf, we will not abandon you no matter what offer this Final Round gets from Bill Clinton.

GEORGE: Speak for yourself.

(LAUGHTER)

BEINART: Exactly. Oh, the conservatives embracing Bill Clinton.

(LAUGHTER) I think, actually, conservatives better hope he gets this because his other ambition is to be secretary general of the U.N., and that would really be a nightmare for people like Jonah and Robert.

BLITZER: I didn't know about that ambition, secretary general.

BEINART: Well, it's been -- you know, it's been even reported.

GEORGE: Wouldn't he have to become Bill Clinton Clinton to become secretary general of the U.N.?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Nevermind, we're not going there.

(LAUGHTER)

That's it. Thank you very much, our Final Round.

That's your Late Edition for Sunday, May 5. Please join me again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Next Sunday is special, Late Edition live from Jerusalem. Starting tomorrow, I'll be reporting all week live from the Middle East. Special editions of Wolf Blitzer Reports every day, 5 p.m. Eastern, beginning tomorrow, from Jerusalem.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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