Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Supreme Court Rules Against Death Penalty for Mentally Retarded; Plane in White House Vicinity Causes Furor Over Security Procedures; Angelina Jolie Speaks Out for U.N.

Aired June 20, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. In a major about-face, the U.S. Supreme Court bars the execution of mentally retarded criminals.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken at the Supreme Court, where dissenting justices have said that the ruling was influenced mostly by personal opinion and opinion polls.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Maria Hinojosa in New York. A New York City firefighter launches his bid for Congress. But does September 11th heroism qualify you for politics? I'll have that story.

WOODRUFF: I will also talk with actress Angelina Jolie about her offscreen role promoting the plight of the world's refugees.

Thank you for joining us. And before we begin our lead story tonight from the Supreme Court, we want to tell you about developments in Israel. We have pictures coming in live to us just now.

The first pictures from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank just outside of Nablus, the settlement is Itamar. And just a short time ago, a man described as a Palestinian militant infiltrated the settlement, opened fire. And we are told that at least three or four of the settlers were killed. Perhaps two others were injured.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is a group associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, has claimed responsibility for this attack on local television. Again, the settlement is named Itamar. It is just outside of Nablus.

A Palestinian militant went into the settlement and opened fire. At least three or four settlers are said to be dead. We'll bring you more developments as soon as we get more information.

Here in the United States, turning to our lead. It is one of the most dramatic restrictions on capital punishment in the United States since it was reinstated in the 1970s. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court now says that executions of mentally retarded criminals are unconstitutional.

CNN's Bob Franken is at the high court now with more on the decision -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, the justices, as a matter of fact, have done quite a reversal since 1989. It's based on an unusual premise, when the justices of the Supreme Court, who are appointed for life, consider. It's the consideration of the national point of view, the public point of view.


(voice-over): It is a striking reversal of a 1989 decision. By a 6-3 margin, the Supreme Court has ruled that executing the mentally retarded now violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

"Because," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment and control of their impulses."

The defendant was Daryl Atkins, sentenced to death in Virginia for a 1996 robbery murder. His IQ tested at 59, mentally between 9 and 12 years of age. The question before the court: is there now a national consensus against executing the mentally retarded?

Compared to 1989 when only two states prohibited the practice, now 18 do. Twelve more ban capital punishment entirely -- a total of 30. "It is fair to say," Stevens wrote for the majority, "that a national consensus has developed against it."

STEVEN HAWKINS, NATIONAL COALITION TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY: This opinion, I think, represents really where the American people have gone, in terms of concern about how the death penalty is being applied in the country.

FRANKEN: But in a particularly biting dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by the two other most conservative justices, Rehnquist and Thomas, complained that, "seldom as an opinion of this court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members."

KEVIN WATSON, LAW ENFORCEMENT ALLIANCE: It's our basic position that if someone is found by the court as fit to stand trial, then they're fit to receive the sentence that the court and jury gives them.

FRANKEN: President Bush has spoken out against capital punishment of the mentally retarded. But as governor of Texas, he allowed two men said to be retarded to be executed.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president supported laws in Texas...

FRANKEN: Capital punishment is an evolving political issue as well as a legal one.

(END VIDEOTAPE) And with the recent advances in DNA technology, the cases can be expected to get even more numerous here at the court of last resort, and even more complicated -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Franken at the Supreme Court, thanks.

For a closer look now at public opinion, the death penalty and the high court, let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, there's an old saying. The Supreme Court follows the election returns. That it does. And in death penalty cases, it also follows the crime rate and public opinion.


(voice-over): 1960, the execution in California of convicted kidnapper Carol Chessman brings a flood of protests. It's the early 1960s. The homicide rate is low, about five murders per 100,000 persons. In 1966, public support for the death penalty reaches an all-time low. Just 42 percent favor it for persons convicted of murder.

1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the nation's death penalty laws, calling them "arbitrary and capricious." But the murder rate is rising.

By 1976, it's up to around nine persons per 100,000. And public support for the death penalty shoots up to 66 percent. 1976, Gregg v. Georgia. The Supreme Court rules that new death penalty statutes allowing for two-stage trials are constitutional.

In January, 1977, a 10-year moratorium on executions ends with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah. Meanwhile, the murder rate remains high. Public support for the death penalty rises to 79 percent.

In 1989, the Supreme Court rules that executing mentally retarded persons does not violate the Constitution. In 1992, Governor Bill Clinton allows the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a borderline retarded man. It's not an issue in the campaign.

The nation's homicide rate has peaked in 1991 at 9.8 per 100,000. By 1994, public support for the death penalty reaches an all-time high, 80 percent. The nation's homicide rate then drops sharply in the 1990s, down to 5.5 per hundred thousand. Public support for the death penalty drops as well, to 66 percent in 2000.


June 20th, 2002, Atkins versus Virginia. The Supreme Court reverses its 1989 decision and rules 6-3 that executing mentally retarded persons is unconstitutional. The decision comes one month after a Gallup poll asks people whether they favor or oppose the death penalty for the mentally retarded. The result, 82 to 13 percent, opposed -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

We asked former President Bill Clinton about today's Supreme Court decision and how it squares with the 1992 case that Bill just mentioned, when then-Governor Clinton refused to stop the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who was left with a brain injury after killing a police officer.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the case that I was involved with, there was no question that the man was not retarded when he committed the murder. He was in a shoot-out with the police, and sustained a bullet wound to the brain after he committed the murder.

I don't think there's any question that the Supreme Court made the right decision today, because all the criminal law, all the criminal law rests on the proposition that the penalty should be proportionate to the deliberate intent, and the capacity of a person to know right from wrong.


WOODRUFF: We caught up with Clinton while he was making a public appearance in New York. And with us now, Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, where the death penalty case decided by the Supreme Court today originated.

Governor, this case was moving through the courts when you were governor. You've taken a strong interest in the issue. Why do you believe that the ruling was wrong?

JIM GILMORE, FMR. VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Well, Judy, first of all, I think that it's too blanket a decision to say that a person who has mental retardation should never been subjected to the responsibility of the laws of civilization. And that's what the decision decides today.

You see, the whole point is that we have a standard of conduct in civilization. There are some things that we say we simply will not tolerate. In this instance, as I understand the facts, this was the kidnapping of an Air Force enlisted man, forcing him to go to an ATM machine and withdraw his money.

And then after all of that, moving him to another location and shooting him eight times, just to make sure that he was dead. So the point really is, Judy, that we're going to now say that a person who has a mental retardation -- but yet can do that kind of crime -- doesn't have to live up to those standards of civilization that we have decided for ourselves. Today, perhaps they don't have to.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying they don't live up -- let me just read part of what Justice Stevens said today in his majority opinion. He set the mentally retarded who commit crimes should be tried. They should be punished.

But he went on to say, because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment and control of their impulses, he said they don't act with a level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult, criminal acts.

GILMORE: We hold people, Judy, responsible for their conduct. Any person who would do the kidnapping of an Air Force enlisted man, would actually take him someplace and understand he has to -- wants to steal his money, remove him from that scene to a private place, shoot him multiple times, is not acting on some irresistible impulse.

And even if he was, that's the kind of thing that you decide on the insanity defense, on a competency to stand trial. All those things were decided in this case, against the defendant. Now I think we have somewhat of a troubling standard, Judy.

Because what it really means is this: we've been persuading people over the years -- and I'm a big advocate of this -- that people who are mentally retarded should be living more into the mainstream of society. Now what we're saying is they're not in the mainstream of society. They're treated special and should not be subjected to the same penalties.

And that's really not good for that community. That means that they could be -- he could be viewed with sort of a new uneasiness. And I think that's bad for that community.

WOODRUFF: Mainstream, in the sense that they're given an advantage in terms of opportunity. But you're saying they should suffer the consequences of their actions as well.

Let me ask you about the poll that Bill cited. When 82 percent of the American people believe that it's wrong to execute a person who is mentally retarded, why shouldn't the Supreme Court take that into consideration?

GILMORE: First of all, the law shouldn't be based upon the whims of any particular poll of any particular year. The law is supposed to be predictable and stand for what the legislature thinks is right, in any state or in the Congress of the United States.

But that's hardly the point. The point is, you can make a poll come out any way you want to. This is not the issue. The issue is, what's the right law policy that we'd have to live with, as civilized people? And I don't think this is necessarily a step forward.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jim Gilmore, former governor of the state of Virginia, thank you very much.

GILMORE: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you. Appreciate it.

Also today, the Supreme Court ended a tug-of-war between North Carolina and Utah over a House seat. The divided court upheld a 40- year-old census-estimating technique that allows head counters who can't reach anyone at home to use data from a neighbor's household.

Utah had challenged the technique, claiming that it caused its population to be under-counted, costing the state a House seat. The High Court decision means that that seat will go to North Carolina instead of Utah. And that's seen as a boost for Democrats, since the party controlled the redrawing of North Carolina's congressional map.

We'll turn to the races, the cash and the stakes in election 2002 next. After the president pulled in big political bucks last night, we'll check in with the chairs of the parties' Senate campaign committees.

Also ahead, Tom DeLay versus J.C. Watts. Our Kate Snow will have the "Inside Buzz" on tensions between the two House Republican leaders.

And later, you may know Angelina Jolie as a Hollywood star, but she's also committed to a less-than-glamorous cause. She'll tell us about it later, on INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: There was an impressive display of the president's ability to raise money for his party at last night's GOP gala here in Washington.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want Denny Hastert to remain the speaker of the House and Trent Lott to become the majority leader of the Senate.


BUSH: And I want to thank you for helping us achieve those two important goals.


WOODRUFF: Some 6,000 donors gave more than $30 million in soft money for Republican congressional candidates. That is a record. Among the donors, drug companies with a big stake in the prescription drug bill that's now before Congress.

As the president suggested, the political stakes are huge, with the Republicans holding a slim 11-seat majority in the House and Democrats clinging to a single-seat majority in the Senate. Among the most vulnerable Senate seats: Democratic-held seats in Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri and Republican-held seats in Colorado, Arkansas, New Hampshire and Texas.

With me now from Capitol Hill to talk more about these Senate races and the race for campaign cash, the two Senate campaign chairs for their respective parties: Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington. Senator Murray, to you first. Which of these -- if you look at all of these states that are up for grabs, which ones most could make a difference for the Democrats?

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Well, certainly we think we have an extra, we have an extra-special shot at New Hampshire and Arkansas, where our candidates lead right now. We also feel that we have a good chance in Colorado and Oregon and the Carolinas and Tennessee and Texas.

A number of states that are going to be very close. My advantage in this election cycle is, all of our incumbents are running and doing well, and the Republicans have four open seats they need to defend. So we feel very good about where we are right now.

WOODRUFF: Senator Frist, in that famous disk that was dropped by White House political adviser Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove, his opinions were reflected there, too. They also indicated Arkansas and New Hampshire, big headaches for the Republicans. Are they right about that?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: No, I think our focus, in terms of playing both offense and defense, will concentrate a lot in Arkansas and New Hampshire. We know that the Democrats are talking to those two states, and we're prepared very well with outstanding, outstanding candidates.

I think the real sleeper, the states that are in play, are really pretty much the ones that Senator Murray mentioned. But also, say, watch New Jersey. In the last two weeks, this has really broken through with an outstanding candidate. A lot is happening there. So I'd throw that into the very competitive mix race as well.

WOODRUFF: Senator Murray, I mentioned the money the Republicans raised last night, some 30 million. We're told that by tomorrow, another fund raiser coming up. The Republicans, between the president an the vice president, will have raised a record $100 million, for the election this year. Doesn't this put the Democrats at an enormous disadvantage?

MURRAY: You know, there's no doubt that we can match the soft money that the Republicans can raise in this election cycle. But I will tell you this: we are almost even in cash on hand at the end of April. And that's because I run a very mean, tight ship, and spend our money effectively.

We know we're going to be out-raised. But we believe our candidates and our message, and focusing on the issues people care about -- education and health care, Medicare, Social Security, the environment -- these are issues that we believe our candidates are going win on. We won't have as much money, but we'll have enough resources to get our message out for our candidates.

WOODRUFF: Senator Frist, is there a conflict of interest for the Republican Party, for some of these donors, to be giving these big amounts of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry, for example, when prescription drug legislation is up this week?

FRIST: Well, you know, it's interesting. When you look at the Democrats versus Republicans, the Democrats last cycle, did out-raise us in soft dollars. They get more hundred-thousand dollar gifts in the aggregate, in the Senate committees, than Republicans do.

As to last night and the pharmaceutical industry, remember that the Democrats to date have received over $3 million -- $3 million -- from the pharmaceutical industry. Secondly, last night the chairman was ahead of a pharmaceutical firm. So surely, he's going to go around and talk to his colleagues to contribute.

But third -- and I think even most importantly -- Republicans believe very strongly in the power of our pharmaceutical industry to address issues like research, curing Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease. And I think the pharmaceutical industry likely will support Republicans more than Democrats in the future, not because of specific legislation, but because we support the foundation, the fundamentals, behind the research, and the great work that they're doing.

WOODRUFF: Senator Murray, Senator Frist was saying the Democrats have gotten millions from the pharmaceutical industry, too.

MURRAY: Well, if you look back at the 2000-2002 elections, the Republicans raised 77 percent of the pharmaceutical money. I'm sure that's consistent now. And it is true that, with the prescription drug bill that the Senate Democrats are now behind, the pharmaceutical industry is pouring millions of dollars into the Republican Party. But we feel the message and the need and the voice of the people is on our side, so we feel it's a winning issue for us.

WOODRUFF: Senator Frist, quickly, different subject. Your name has come up on the short list of those to head up the new department of homeland security. Have you been asked about it? Would you consider it? What do you think?

FRIST: I've not been asked, have not been in discussions with anybody about that. Obviously, honored to think of myself in any other position. But I'm in the United States Senate. That's where my focus will be in the foreseeable future.

I do support the president's initiative for establishing this new department. And it's coming along very well. And hopefully we can accomplish that in the next several weeks.

WOODRUFF: You're not ruling it?

FRIST: Well, it's right now not on the table.

WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Frist, Senator Murray, we appreciate it so much. Good to see both of you.

FRIST: Good to be with you.

MURRAY: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Just ahead, late word of Middle East violence in the West Bank. We'll have details next, in the "Newscycle."

Also, why the White House was evacuated, and why the president knew nothing about it.


WOODRUFF: Updating the top stories in our "Newscycle," Israeli military sources tell CNN that a Palestinian gunman opened fire tonight inside a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, killing at least three people. The gunman was also reported killed and four Israeli settlers were wounded. Three separate Palestinian groups claim that they are responsible for the attack.

Military jets were not able to intercept a small plane that passed through restricted Washington airspace last night until more than 10 minutes after the plane made its closest pass by the White House. The incursion was determined to be an accident. President Bush was not told of the incident, even though the White House was partially evacuated. A spokesman said no alert was needed, because there was never a threat to the president.

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to execute the mentally retarded. The ruling applies to mentally retarded defendants convicted of murder. It does not address the overall constitutionality of the death penalty. With us now, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.

Bay, the Supreme Court ruling, the right decision or not?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: It was an awful decision, Judy, for the Supreme Court to make a decision like this. It's not based on the Constitution, clearly. It's not based on the social attitude in this country. It was based on the personal opinion of a couple of people who happen to wear black robes during the day.

And that's not what they're appointed to do. This is a man -- and every single person who goes before trial is determined to be competent to stand trial. And then you have the jury and the judge to determine the circumstances, and if -- including the circumstances of his mental abilities -- if indeed the proper punishment is the death penalty. This is not an appropriate decision, and I think it's a dangerous one.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Bay, I never thought I would see the day where I would rejoice at a Supreme Court decision, but this was a great decision. First of all, we're back in the civilized world. For a couple years other countries, as well as 18 states, have basically stopped executing mentally retarded people.

There is something awfully wrong about the death penalty in this country. It's disproportionately applied to people of color. Many people, including the mentally ill, are unable to afford good legal counsel. So I think this is a first and a long step. And hopefully one day the Supreme Court will outlaw the death penalty completely, once again.

BUCHANAN: You know, Donna, it might come as a surprise to you, but I don't really give a hoot what other countries do. I think we have to determine what's best for this country. And it has been determined, and the people have supported it. And the states support it, that the death penalty is the appropriate response in some cases.

BRAZILE: But the states are now moving -- lots of states, including Illinois, Maryland, and other states, to put a halt on these executions...

BUCHANAN: That is their right.

BRAZILE: ... until they can take a look at whether or not it is applied equally and fairly. Look, we should not put one innocent person to death. And since 1976, 35 innocent people have gone to their death -- at least, that's what some of the studies have said.


BRAZILE: ... and we should not execute mentally retarded people.

BUCHANAN: Let's talk mentally retarded people. You know this individual that was before this case in particular. His IQ was determined, by his own attorneys, to be 57, which probably is a couple notches above some of our congressmen, to be honest.

But the other people have determined -- the state determined, he was a slow learner and that is it. And so now you're going to have people, these murders, thugs, going in there, taking tests. And they're all going to say hey, I'm mentally incompetent, I'm retarded, in order to get out of it.

BRAZILE: There's a way to judge...


BUCHANAN ...hey, I'm mentally incompetent; I'm retarded, in order to get out of it.

BRAZILE: No, there is a way. There is a way to judge and I.Q. of an individual.

BUCHANAN: There is a -- and the state determined and the jury determined and the judge determined he was competent.

BRAZILE: So, you disagree with your president. Even your president, my president as well...

BUCHANAN: I have no hesitancy to disagree with him ...


BRAZILE: Also, the president said that we should not put mentally ill people to death. Now, this is a guy who, as governor, put a lot of people to death.

WOODRUFF: I'm going to interrupt, because I want to ask you about one other thing.

And that is this incident over the White House. A small plane flew very close to the White House. They evacuated the press. They evacuated some of the staff. They didn't even tell the president, we are told, until this morning. Was this the right way to handle it?

BUCHANAN: No, it's totally wrong.

This is a concern of mine, because the greatest impact that a terrorist could have today would be to effectively assault that White House. It would be a devastating blow to this nation. And the White House can be protected. This is not a huge task.

What is going on in this country that, nine months after we know that's a target of the terrorists, that we cannot protect it? We should have had F-16s up there immediately. The plane should have never been able to get anywhere that close. And I assume that the president was safe at all times. There's places in the White House where he would be protected. But this should never get this close. And I, for one, am tired.

WOODRUFF: But they didn't even tell him until...


BRAZILE: And I find it ironic, because, normally, they evacuate the person at the top and all of the bigwigs and let the peons suffer and have to stick around to put out the whatever fire.

But I agree with Bay. After 9/11, we should have a better system in place to not only protect the White House, but the Capitol and other important landmarks in this whole capital region.

BUCHANAN: And, Judy, what concerns me is that no heads have rolled since 9/11. We point fingers. We say it's someone else's turf.

Who is responsible? And until heads roll, until people are fired and we put new people in charge and say, "This is your responsibility and you have an obligation and you'll be held accountable," then nothing is going to change. Who is responsible for making certain the White House is protected? And that person should be out of a job tomorrow morning.

WOODRUFF: But the White House is against this idea of an outside blue-ribbon commission.

BRAZILE: And they should...

BUCHANAN: Forget the commission. Let's just put somebody in charge.

BRAZILE: Well, and we need a national strategy on homeland security, and perhaps Mr. Ridge, who was talking about that today on Capitol Hill. But I agree with Bay. We need a strategy. We need to figure out a way to continue to maintain the safety of this capital.

And let me also say this. Please come to Washington, D.C. on July 4. I get sick and tired of these threats. And we are scaring the public. And we really need people to come and visit our nation's capital during the July 4 celebration.

BUCHANAN: But, Judy, we don't need any investigation. I think we should have an investigation. Don't get me wrong. But it's time for the president to say: "You're in charge. This should never happen again. If there's a problem, I'm coming to you. So, you do whatever you need..."

WOODRUFF: But if don't have an investigation, how do you know who...

BUCHANAN: Well, you know right now the White House needs to be protected. The capital needs to be protected. Who is in charge? Bring them in on in. I want to talk to them: "What are you doing? Is all areas covered?" Bring the experts in. You can learn that in an afternoon.

BRAZILE: Congress leaves for another congressional recess next week. They have 35 business days left in the congressional session. We need an independent commission whose job it is 24/7 to find real solutions.

BUCHANAN: We are sending a message to terrorists that you have got 60, 90, 120 days for the investigation, the report to come in? Forget it. We've got to do it today.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there.

Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, good to see you both.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you. Thank you.

Bob Novak will have the "Inside Buzz" on a hush-hush event involving a Bush. Also ahead: a New York firefighter who did his duty on September 11 hopes to serve in a new way: in Congress.


WOODRUFF: And now let's get the "Inside Buzz" from Capitol Hill and our congressional correspondent Kate Snow.

Kate, you have been covering the Intelligence Committee hearings over there. Yesterday, at about this time in the afternoon, it was reported the national security agency had -- that there were two intercepts that came across before 9/11. They weren't translated until after 9/11, a lot of discussion about that. And that now has affected these hearings.


There has been a lot of discussion here on the Hill today about that story. CNN, of course, first reported those two intercepts and specifically the content of what those two messages said, based on congressional sources who had talked about this with the NSA director, the National Security Agency director, Michael Hayden, who had been testifying before them the last couple days. One of them said, "The match begins tomorrow." The second said, "Tomorrow is zero hour."

Well, today, the four leaders of that intelligence panel came out and said that they are now going to launch -- ask to launch an investigation by the attorney general looking into who provided that information, where those leaks came from. They said that after the vice president called them this morning, Mr. Cheney asking them to take care of the leaks.

Now, the second headline out of today, Judy, is that we were expecting public hearings to start next week with this same committee, the Intelligence Committee, looking at 9/11. There would have been a lot of fanfare about that, the first time our cameras could get in. But they are now saying they are not going to meet again until after the July 4 recess. And, at that, they are not saying when they're going to go public.

One member said to us yesterday, Judy, "We're not ready for it yet," Representative Ray LaHood saying, "We don't want to fly by the seat of our pants" -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kate, separately, a lot of talk swirling last night and today about a prominent Republican in the House retiring, what's that all about?

SNOW: Yes, some rumors circulating that J.C. Watts, the No. 4 Republican in the House, might be stepping down. Well, we asked him, many reporters asked him about it today on an off-camera session. And his response was, no, that's not the announcement that he is ready to make, although he didn't completely bat it down.

And here's the quote of what he said. He said: "I'm not going to chase the rumor. At the appropriate time, I will make my announcement in the state of Oklahoma and not in my Washington office" -- so, you can see, not a clear denial that he's not stepping down, but certainly not ready to make any kind of announcement.

Now, there's been a lot of speculation, Judy, about why this rumor is out there, one congressional source saying that perhaps he feels squeezed out by Tom DeLay, because, of course, Mr. DeLay is running for the job of majority leader, and Mr. Watts has not announced his intentions there; another source saying that perhaps he feels upset and frustrated because recently the White House has made it clear that they want to end the Crusader project, something that's near and dear to J.C. Watts; and others speculating that this could be other Republicans leaking this rumor to try and sabotage his chances of moving up in the ranks.

But, bottom line, Judy: J.C. Watts saying, "Look, I'm not ready to make any kind of announcement right now" -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: But you're right. That statement sounded like it was something that could come later on. All right.

SNOW: You never know.

WOODRUFF: You don't.

Kate Snow, thanks very much.

And now with some "Inside Buzz," our Bob Novak joins us, who is on the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University.

Bob, I understand the president added a line to his remarks at that big fund-raiser in Washington last night?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This was the massive annual fund-raiser at the Convention Center.

And, right at the end of his speech, he said this, Judy. He said, "If you run a corporation in America, you're responsible for being honest on your balance sheet with all your assets and liabilities." Now, that's fairly mild, but it is a slap at Enron, a slap at Arthur Andersen, a slap at Tyco.

And the president has wanted to make a full-scale blast at these companies for some time. He was dissuaded by aides on the grounds that it might hurt the stock market. I am told that, within 20 minutes, he is going to address the Business Roundtable and make even a stronger statement. He feels strongly about this. But, unfortunately for us, this is going to be behind closed doors, the Business Roundtable statement.

WOODRUFF: Well, Bob, still on that fund-raiser last night, I interviewed John McCain yesterday. And he said, when people put out the kind of money they were putting out, or organizations, $100,000, $250,000, he said they're buying access, no way around it. What were they getting last night?

NOVAK: This was one of the great fund-raisers of all time, because people who had been going to these things for 20 years had never seen them so crowded. It was chair to chair, back to back.

They had to pay $100,000, Judy, to get into the photo sessions. If you wanted to sit up on the platform with the president, it's $250,000. Now, after he made his speech, of course, the president went back to the White House while the people ate. And I'm told the food was atrocious. It was really bad. But I guess you're not paying for a gourmet meal. You're paying for a photograph or even a handshake with the president of the United States.

WOODRUFF: And, as we reported a little earlier, Bob, by tomorrow, between the president and the vice president, they will have raised $100 million for the party this year.

Bob, still on the subject of fund-raising, a secret fund-raiser for another Bush?

NOVAK: I am fascinated with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida running for reelection. He's way ahead of Janet Reno or any Democrat. But he just goes all over raising money.

The week before last, I find, he was in New York City for a secret fund-raiser. I had a hard time finding out where it was. Finally they told me it was in the Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Center, not exactly a private place, but nobody knew about it. There was no publicity on it. And the way they do that, is, they don't have invitations to things like that, Judy. They have telephone calls: "Would you like to attend a fund-raiser for the governor of Florida in Rockefeller Center?"

WOODRUFF: Bob, very quickly, next week a big labor leader meeting with the president?

NOVAK: James Hoffa has had -- his 150 top political operatives from around the country are in. And they or going the meet with George W. Bush, the Teamster political biggies at the White House on Monday. I am told that's the first time at this annual meeting they have ever met with the president of either party inside the White House. Do you think George Bush is wooing James Hoffa and the Teamsters? You better believe it.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, thanks very much. We'll be watching you tonight.

And now checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": A televised debate in the Alabama Republican runoff for secretary of state took an ugly turn this week when one candidate challenged the other to a fistfight. State House member Dave Thomas lost his temper after opponent Dean Young called him a liar.


DEAN YOUNG, ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: Then you get on TV statewide and you lie.


YOUNG: And you got a problem.


YOUNG: I can prove it.

THOMAS: I'll tell you what. Then we'll take that matter up outside after this program is over, if you want to sit there and call me a liar like that.

YOUNG: There's your secretary of state, people of Alabama. That's your secretary of state.

THOMAS: Absolutely. I will fight for the issues and I will fight for my honor and integrity. And you want to challenge it and question it, we'll take it up mano-a-mano, buddy.


WOODRUFF: Well, the debate ended without incident. Voters will decide this battle next Tuesday.

Democratic Congressman Barney Frank is the latest Massachusetts Democrat to question his party's attempt to knock Republican Mitt Romney off the gubernatorial ballot. Democrats this week argued that Romney should be disqualified from the race for governor because he lived in Utah for two years while managing the Winter Olympics. Congressman Frank calls the legal challenge a political mistake. Democratic candidates Robert Reich and Steve Grossman have also criticized the legal challenge.

A federal prosecutor today closed the book on former President Clinton's decision to commute the prison sentences of four New York men. The four were residents of New Square Village, a Hasidic Jewish community outside New York City. Mr. Clinton commuted their sentences just before he left office. Two months earlier, on Election Day 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton took 1,400 of the community's 1,412 ballots that were cast.

A firefighter turns to a different sort of public service when we return: why a veteran of the New York recovery effort says he's ready to run for office.


WOODRUFF: Now back to September 11: When it comes to the events of that day, people often say, keep politics out of it. But that may be difficult to do for a newly announced congressional candidate in New York.

Here is CNN's Maria Hinojosa.


HINOJOSA (voice-over): Perhaps it was inevitable...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are proud to have Joe make his very important announcement in front of our firehouse...

HINOJOSA: ... that someone involved in the September 11 rescue would turn to politics. Today, that someone is firefighter Joe Finley.

JOE FINLEY (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Generations of my family have been dedicated to public service as New York City firefighters, dedicated to protection of our public safety and security. I want to continue in that tradition of public service.

HINOJOSA: But this time not as a firefighter, instead as a Republican congressman from Long Island.

FINLEY: I think we need somebody in Congress who has been down there at the World Trade Center and worked down there on the rescue effort. I think that brings a whole different attitude into Congress.

HINOJOSA: Finley is running for a seat now occupied by Democrat Steve Israel, who won the seat after Republican Rick Lazio lost his Senate bid against Hillary Clinton.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: I respect my opponent. I respect the opportunity that we will have to agree and disagree. I don't think that anybody, not the president, not the governor, not a member of Congress, and not a candidate for Congress, should use 9/11 for political purposes.

HINOJOSA: Firefighters are new at this game of politics. They were barred by city law until 1998 from running for office. And they have their rules and regulations.

Finley was allowed to announce in front of his ladder company, but encouraged not to wear his uniform. The memorials to the lost 9/11 firefighters gave way to American flags supporting a Republican. Today, even those backing him felt a little awkward.

(on camera): Does it feel a little bit strange to be on duty and to be kind of supporting your guy as he is announcing for candidacy?

BILL FANOS, NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER: Of course. Of course. Normally, firemen, we are behind the red doors until a run comes in. And then we are out in the public's eye. But we usually don't have this kind of interaction. So, it is very surprising and exciting at the same time.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): An hour away from the firehouse, in Finley's district in Long Island, almost no one was prepared to criticize one of the men seen as national heroes. And many were ready to support him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really know his background. I don't really know much about this man. But if he deserves to be there and he is capitalizing on 9/11, God bless him. He was one of the people that helped.

HINOJOSA: And now candidate Finley hopes people will return that service and help him become a firefighter politician.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: Up next, an actress with a cause: Angelina Jolie takes time out from a busy day in Washington to tell us about her campaign on behalf of the world's refugees.


WOODRUFF: Today is World Refugee Day. And that brought actress Angelina Jolie here to Washington, just another stop in her worldwide travels as a United Nations goodwill ambassador. At the podium and with us, Jolie spoke about her new role and the emotions it stirs in her, particularly now that she has a son adopted from Cambodia.


ANGELINA JOLIE, U.N. GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: Recently, I went to Ecuador to meet with Colombian refugees. And it was my first time away from my newly adopted son. And I missed him so much.

And, on our way out to the first shelter, I was sitting in the car thinking about how hard it was to be away and how sad I was. And the first person I met told me that they had watched their three children be shot dead in front of them. And I realized that I was just so happy that my child was safe.

I met many other people on that trip. And almost everyone had lost a child or a spouse. They had had their houses burned down. And they ran with only the clothes on their backs. Refugees have done more for my heart and my spirit than I can ever express in words. They've changed my life. They've shown me friendship and love and courage and loyalty. They've triumphed against enormous odds with unbroken spirits.



WOODRUFF: Angelina Jolie, thank you for talking with us.

Why choose this particular issue of international refugees? What drew you to this?

JOLIE: Oh well, I guess -- I think so many things, but mainly I wanted to learn more about the situation, because, just on a personal level, I read about the high numbers of people that were displaced in over 120 countries. And I couldn't understand how, growing up, I didn't know about that or hear about that. There were so many things and I couldn't understand how that could be happening in the world.

WOODRUFF: Could governments, powerful governments like the U.S. government, be doing more?

JOLIE: I think they're doing a lot. They're doing -- so, I don't want to be -- but I think governments could do more. I also think individual citizens could do more.

I'm just a citizen. And I'm a learning -- I'm a person who has decided that, other people, because they live across other borders or live in other countries or seem different from me, they are exactly the same as us. They're families we should help. They deserve everything equally. And if they are suffering through a hard time, we should do what we can to help them. And if we all thought about it that way, if everybody in this country thought about it that way, then everybody would do something.

And we could really -- it sounds very poetic, but we really could change the world if we individually took a stand.

WOODRUFF: There are those in the refugee movement who say that it is policies, including policies by the United States, having to do with educating young women and girls about childbirth, about birth control, that are having an effect. What's your view on that?

JOLIE: Well, if you're talking about what I think, which is to have -- I think they call it family planning in the camps -- there's a lot of discussion about family planning -- I think people who are opposed to that need to go to these camps and see all these starving, sick children living in these horrible situations with not enough food to eat, and understand that the quality of their life is very, very difficult and very different from maybe what other people know to be.

So, it's very important. It is not a matter of -- I believe it's one in six children in Africa don't live past the year five. So it is important to have family planning. It is important that children aren't just born to die in these places.


WOODRUFF: Angelina Jolie talking to us earlier today.

Now let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Here's Wolf Blitzer.

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

Just outside New York City, investigators are tracking two men who tried to pay cash for an ambulance, then took off. Could they have been terrorists? And a government panel is just out with a key recommendation: Who should get the smallpox vaccine? We'll tell you what they decided. And police in Salt Lake City have looked at computer evidence from the home of the missing teenager Elizabeth Smart. What have they found? I'll talk with the police chief.

That's all coming up right after INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is next. I'm Judy Woodruff.


Retarded; Plane in White House Vicinity Causes Furor Over Security Procedures; Angelina Jolie Speaks Out for U.N.>



Back to the top