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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Will Congress Authorize Preemptive Strike Against Iraq?; White House Reverses Position on Independent 9/11 Commission

Aired September 21, 2002 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

President Bush asked Congress for authority, quote, "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force," end quote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: We have questions, we have some issues that we want to raise with the administration.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: It would be very unfortunate if it got a lukewarm response, or for the next several weeks, members eviscerated it and watered it down.

It would undercut my efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Even before the president's request, prompt action was promised by the Senate Democratic Majority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: I think that there will be a vote well before the election. And I think it's important that we work together to achieve it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Earlier in the week, the Iraqi foreign minister addressed the United Nations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

NAJI SABRI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians, you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places on scientific and industrial installations they would wish to see. POWELL: If the U.N. decides to send inspection teams back in under a new mandate, any time, any place, anywhere, with no hindrances tolerated, and Iraq tries to frustrate that, the teams come out.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, is President Bush guaranteed getting that congressional authority for a preemptive strike against Iraq?

KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: Mark, I think Congress will overwhelmingly approve or support the president's right to take preemptive action to protect Americans from the threat the administration's laid out that Iraq poses, not because they so fear President Bush, the Democrats, but because their constituents agree with President Bush.

For months, the Democrats have had no foreign policy, no clear views on national security. They've been hiding behind consultations are needed, we need more briefings, questions remain. But now that the time for all that stalling has run out, I don't think they're going to buck the public. They're going to give the president the resolution he wants.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

AL HUNT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I'm afraid Kate's right, and it's a very bad idea, although getting Saddam is a good idea. This is a very foolish Gulf of Tonkin type blank check resolution that has been sent up. A, it makes absolutely false assertions, I think, or at least unprovable assertions. It says that Saddam is a high risk to directly attack the United States. It's -- or give, give, give those weapons to terrorists. If so, do like President Kennedy did 40 years ago and show us the proof.

It is a blank check in the Middle East. We could attack Syria and Iran under this resolution. The administration's game is clear, Mark. They need two or three months to forward position. They want to go to war in February or March, not in the summer. And as Karl Rove said, Let's get the war drums going in the fall.

Congress should carefully look at this. They should decide what effect it has on, on, on, on allies, they should decide what effect it has on the war on terrorism, they should decide what the post-Saddam policy is. I don't think they will.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Tom Daschle made a political decision. We all know what politics is. He's looked, and the Republicans are coming up. This is an issue that hasn't been working for the Democrats, so he just said, OK, we'll give you what he want.

I think, I hope, it doesn't have adverse consequences. It's going to be fine if we have a very easy war. If it's not an easy war, there's not the base of public support, and they haven't made the case on any basis that there is a, that there is a cause for war. The one thing that the hawks on Iraq can always depend on is something stupid to be done in Baghdad, and they did it today. They put out a statement saying that they could not agree to any conditions by the United Nations or -- so this was a -- this was music to the ears of Don Rumsfeld, who said, OK, we'll go in with bombs.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: You know, what's surprising is that the Bush administration doesn't even wait for Baghdad to do something stupid, in that Bush was saying, Iraq won't agree to anything, we are going full steam ahead anyway, as if that U.N. -- he'd made no proposal to the U.N. He doesn't even leave it out there for 24 hours before he's saying, Oh, no, they'll never go along with it, undercutting his own coalition building.

It's such Kabuki theater that Bush has never held to the fact that he did go to the U.N. and he did ask for a resolution. Saddam Hussein is not the only one in violation of a U.N. resolution. Bush is going to be in violation of a U.N. resolution because he doesn't even stick with it for a couple of days.

O'BEIRNE: He doesn't have to wait for Baghdad to do something stupid. As he said himself, Here we go again. This has been going on for over 12 years. There's no need for a new U.N. resolution. We have a resolution from 1991, 687. It laid out exactly what Saddam Hussein agreed to in order to remain in power following the Gulf War. He's been in violation of it all these years.

What is there to wait for?

NOVAK: There's a disconnect there, Kate. You can, you can agree with me on this, that the president goes to the Congress with the resolution, where all the whereases talking about a regime change. They want to get Saddam Hussein out of there. They go to the...

O'BEIRNE: Well, we need to get him out of there.

NOVAK: All right. But they go to the U.N., there's nothing about regime change, because that would not, it would not sell there.

So it's a little (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: But it's very hard to argue that if you can destroy the weapons, if you can find the weapons, and it's an intrusive inspection and you can rid of the weapons...

NOVAK: But they say they...

CARLSON: ... that regime change has got to be at the top of your list. The weapons have to be at the top of your list.

NOVAK: But they, but they, but they are -- I don't even know that there are any weapons that they're talking about. I think it's dubious. They want a regime change, that's at the top of the order.

HUNT: Well, I think the Kabuki dance may go on for all year. Bob is absolutely right. What, what, what Baghdad did today was stupid. But my guess is that they may pull back from that in a couple of days.

And I think Saddam still has some (UNINTELLIGIBLE). First of all, no one thinks Saddam has come clean. I think it's clear that there are weapons there...

O'BEIRNE: Bob apparently does.

HUNT: So I don't think he's come clean.

NOVAK: I don't know.

HUNT: But I think there is -- there's part -- I think he can stretch this thing out for -- take a couple months to work out the modalities of getting U.N. inspectors in there. He has -- many of these weapons are mobile. Once they get there, the United States doesn't have the close relations, the U.N. inspection team, that it did five or 10 years ago.

All of which, I think, does potentially create complications, of course.

SHIELDS: But I think, I think two things, Al. First of all, they -- the Congress has a responsibility, which they apparently are to going to be meet, that we're not going to ask the questions going in that we didn't ask in Vietnam, we're not going to ask how long we're going, what is peace, what is victory, what will it look like, how long, how we're going to pay for it, how long we're going to station American troops there, what does a post-Saddam government look like? I mean, who's with us?

I mean, none of that has been asked, and what's happened to the Congress? Why the fold?

O'BEIRNE: There will be some unknowns, as there always are. It doesn't mean that we can't act in the face of some unknowns. And this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the weapons regime, the inspections regime at the U.N. They are not designed to play a game of hide-and-seek with Saddam Hussein. They are designed to confirm that he has gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction.

So as soon as he announces, I don't even have them, it's perfectly clear that these inspections can't work.

CARLSON: But they're on...

HUNT: But Kate, if they -- if the U.N. inspectors do go in, who's to determine that Saddam is not in compliance?

O'BEIRNE: There's no use...

HUNT: I mean, I just -- no...

O'BEIRNE: ... sending them in as long as he denies...

HUNT: ... is it -- well, but...

O'BEIRNE: ... he has the weapons.

HUNT: ... but, but, but...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... we want inspections, but there's no use.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... the shell game...

O'BEIRNE: ... they're not designed to find weapons, they're designed to confirm...

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: ... for him to offer proof I've destroyed them. He won't even admit he has them.

CARLSON: No, no. Intrusive inspections are not meant to do this. This is exactly what Bush did, which is offer a U.N. resolution...

HUNT: I mean, and you think Bush...

CARLSON: ... and then pull back immediately.

HUNT: ... should have given the U.N. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: For -- no, Bush -- our position should not be waiting for another inspection regime to fail...

NOVAK: Look, the position, the position...

O'BEIRNE: ... that's not the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: ... of the United States government is to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

HUNT: Yes.

O'BEIRNE: Correct.

NOVAK: All right.

SHIELDS: But that never came up at the U.N....

CARLSON: And...

SHIELDS: ... that was never mentioned.

And THE GANG of five will be back with a 180-degree change by the White House about investigating the attacks of September 11.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The White House suddenly ended its opposition to an independent investigation of last year's terrorist attacks. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer quoted and explained why, quote, "The administration has met with some of the families of the 9/11 groups who have talked about the need for a commission to look into a host of issues, and they have made compelling arguments," end quote.

The change followed the first public hearings by the Senate-House inquiry into the September 11 disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ELEANOR HILL, STAFF DIRECTOR, 9/11 JOINT INQUIRY: By late 1998, the intelligence community had amassed a growing body of information, though general in nature and lacking specific details on time and on place, indicating that bin Laden and the al Qaeda network intended to strike within the United States.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: September 11 could have been prevented if we were doing everything we should have done, and if we had had our guard up, we had devoted more resources than to support apparently just one analyst.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, right? Was it really the pressure from families that forced the flip-flop on the part of the administration to start an investigation?

CARLSON: Well, the families are a very powerful force. Just ask Mayor Bloomberg in New York. They have tremendous political force now.

But I think it was the second shoe to drop after Coleen Rowley, then the FBI agent behind the screen with that dramatic testimony...

SHIELDS: Coleen Rowley being the FBI agent in Minnesota.

CARLSON: Yes.

SHIELDS: Yes, that's right.

CARLSON: And, you know, the administration needed to find a way, just as they did on homeland security, to be for it, because it was going to, you know, it was the inevitable outcome eventually. So -- as just as Bush came around on homeland security, he's now come around on the commission, and he can make it his own.

He can tilt it the way he wants because now it's his idea, just the way he did homeland security -- not well, but he did it, and he got control of the reins.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, it had already passed the Republican House, and Joe Lieberman and John McCain had the votes in the Senate... (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... well, Torricelli too.

SHIELDS: ... with Bob Torricelli, excuse me, that's right, Democrat from New Jersey.

But didn't they have the votes, really, for an independent commission?

NOVAK: Yes, this is all politics. The people at the CIA and the FBI said they're overburdened now. This is another investigation just takes away from their effort. That's why the administration didn't want it. I don't think great secrets are going to come out that Bob Graham and Porter Goss didn't come up with. So this is a political thing.

I have a great deal of trouble, I have great sympathy for the families of these victims, but their becoming a political force bothers me, and particularly the president and the United States saying, We didn't think this was a good idea, but since the families want it, we're doing it.

That, I think, is not good presidential leadership.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Balderdash, Bob. We fought World War II with three Pearl Harbor commissions, and it didn't interfere with the military. That's just a pathetic excuse to say the CIA and the FBI ought to be unburdened. Dick Cheney's tried that line all year. It just -- what they're afraid of is embarrassment. I don't think there's a smoking gun, but it's simple embarrassment.

They say they're for a commission now, but it shouldn't get into intelligence, Mark. Now, that's like saying Pearl Harbor -- the Pearl Harbor commission shouldn't get into December 7, everything but, but, but, but that day.

They also refuse to tell the congressional committees what President Clinton or President Bush were told by the intelligence community. Why? Because they're, they are, they are afraid of embarrassment. I don't know who -- I -- that -- this is just, this is just an absolutely outrageous cover-up.

SHIELDS: You know, speaking of a cover-up, I watched Paul Wolfowitz, this deputy secretary of defense, when Dianne Feinstein was trying to get from him the tie to whether in fact Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11, and the meeting with Mohammed Atta, the terrorist leader, that allegedly took place in Prague. You know, it's been rumored but never confirmed.

And you couldn't get -- he wouldn't even say yes or no to her.

O'BEIRNE: I am not -- I'm not -- see, experience tells me not to ever expect too much from these independent commissions. But I think in this case there was obviously such a colossal intelligence failure, the stakes are so high to repeat it, that I'm willing to ignore my experience and endorse this one.

But I'll tell you, if (UNINTELLIGIBLE) look at the ruinous role Congress has played in their oversight. Either they are posturing and accusing intelligence agents or the FBI of being too timid, or they're being aggressive.

And may I point out the exact same people who are complaining in hindsight that the dots weren't connected are the people complaining about the Justice Department's detention. Guess what? They are keeping dots, those same dots, behind bars.

And one last thing, what if we had -- intelligence had worked beautifully, and they reported to the president that al Qaeda plans a deadly attack in America. If the president wanted to move preemptively, the exact same people would say -- be saying, as they are about Iraq now, Why now? We need more proof. It's not in the American tradition.

CARLSON: Oh...

O'BEIRNE: So had we connected the dots back then, what would they have been willing to do?

HUNT: Well, the problem is...

CARLSON: No. Iraq is so different...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... the problem is back then that John Ashcroft had more FBI agents eavesdropping on prostitutes in New Orleans than he did looking for al Qaeda.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Al...

HUNT: But also, Mark, it was the third shoe. There was also the Arizona agent who wanted to...

NOVAK: Just, just, I just want to make a point...

CARLSON: Exactly, yes.

NOVAK: ... that this, these, this investigation, this joint inquiry, I think it was a good investigation, and it did produce a lot of -- I don't know what more the independent...

O'BEIRNE: We learned something.

NOVAK: ... commission is going to produce. But just for the historical record, Al, you weren't old enough to remember the Pearl Harbor commission...

HUNT: I wasn't born.

NOVAK: ... but that was a whitewash of Roosevelt, it was not a very good investigation. Put your hat, your hat on.

HUNT: But do you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: We still don't know what the answer is.

HUNT: Have you read the Wolsheimer (ph) book on that?

NOVAK: I've read a lot, I've read all the books.

HUNT: Because in fact she, she refutes that absolutely authoritatively, Bob.

SHIELDS: Give us the last word.

CARLSON: You know, and the -- well, and the very problem that was shown about communicating between the FBI and CIA is not addressed by the Homeland Security Act.

O'BEIRNE: That was a new regulation of Bill Clinton's to prohibit that communication.

CARLSON: Right, but let's fix it.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, who is the reformer in Massachusetts?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In the final, the year's final big primary election, State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien won the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts, running well ahead of former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Republican Mitt Romney appealed to Reich's supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: There's been some other reform campaigns out of there, out there. I want those reform campaigns to look at -- that a close look at this campaign and say, You know, there's another team that's willing to go up against the insiders, there's another team that wants change on Beacon Hill.

SHANNON O'BRIEN (D), MASSACHUSETTS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt Romney and the Republicans tried to tear me down and stop me from winning.

Which candidate is going to stand up for families? Which candidate is going to share your values? Which candidate will end the gridlock on Beacon Hill?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: "The Boston Herald"'s post-primary poll shows Romney falling behind O'Brien by 3 percentage points after running well ahead of her for several months.

Bob Novak, now that the Democrats have picked their candidate, is Mitt Romney going to have to settle for the silver medal in the Massachusetts Olympics?

NOVAK: Well, certainly Shannon O'Brien did get a good boost out of that, and it's going to be a horse race. I don't know who's going to win it. You remember, we all know that the Democrats had given up on this race. They thought Mitt Romney was going to win because he was running so far in the polls.

What's interesting is that all the sleazy Democratic politicians, your friends, Mark, on Beacon Hill and the legislature, everybody's against them. Everybody runs away from them, say, we're, we're, we're the reformers.

But I was, I think that what Shannon O'Brien was going to say is that the people in a state that goofy enough to vote for George McGovern and that they, they, they, they can't keep electing these Republican governors. And she says, Yes, I'm for family values, come with me.

SHIELDS: I'll say this, Bob, just for your own information, that Mitt Romney, just like Jeb Bush in Florida, failed in trying to pick his own primary opponent. He ran television spots against Shannon O'Brien because he was scared stiff of running against her in November.

CARLSON: Yes.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Shannon O'Brien may be running away from the Democrats in -- on Beacon Hill, but Mitt Romney said to Trent Lott, Keep out. He doesn't want...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: ... the national Republican...

SHIELDS: John McCain, he wants.

CARLSON: ... up there, he -- John McCain is who he wants.

You know, the...

NOVAK: Theodore Roosevelt, if he could get him.

CARLSON: ... it'll -- you know, there's such a thing as running as too much of an outsider. Remember Mitt Romney had that problem about being from Utah and taking the tax deduction on his house as a, as his main residence. And he hated that and he railed against the Democrats being so negative against him.

And the first thing he does is send out Kelly Healy (ph), his lieutenant governor, to go after Shannon O'Brien so he can have the skirt-to-skirt thing. He's hiding behind Kelly Healy's skirts.

SHIELDS: But he is an appealing candidate, Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Well, he was, Mark. I thought in running the Olympics he had an impressive, commanding, charming presence out in Salt Lake City.

But races favor experienced politicians. He wasn't so impressive when he ran for the Senate seat against Teddy Kennedy. I remember those debates. It's some time ago, but as I said, she's an experienced politician who's run twice before, which makes me think she's very competitive.

And I was encouraged that even in Massachusetts, apparently, Democrats have their limits. The most liberal guy in the primary, Robert Reich, apparently only ran first in, like, Cambridge and Beacon Hill, so that was encouraging to me.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, one of the things, the supposedly secret weapons, that Shannon O'Brien has going for her is the way that Jane Swift, that is acting governor, was pushed out of the race by the arrival of Mitt Romney -- Go ahead.

HUNT: One Democratic politician said to me that what Mitt Romney did, he kneecapped Jane Swift, and that now has become the greatest -- that's why Shannon O'Brien is his greatest nightmare, because it will energize the women vote.

I think it's going to be a very close race. I think Mitt Romney is still an attractive candidate. But, you know, you know, your home state Democrats have never elected a woman senator or governor...

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: ... and they haven't sent a woman to Congress in over 30 years.

SHIELDS: They have an all-male congressional delegation.

HUNT: Over 30 years...

SHIELDS: The Boys Town.

HUNT: ... since they last sent a woman. And I think that the women are going to be energized (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I think that Shannon O'Brien's got a real shot, and Bob is right.

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jane Swift gave women and working mothers a very bad name, commuting three hours a day, using state helicopters. I -- women -- women -- it's... NOVAK: One of the reasons, one of the reasons it's an interesting race is that if Romney wins, he will run for president.

O'BEIRNE: There's no -- even...

SHIELDS: That's interesting.

O'BEIRNE: Even in Massachusetts, I wouldn't expect a monolithic woman's vote. The majority of women never voted for Christie Todd Whitman in New Jersey. It's not a sure bet by any means they support these women candidates.

SHIELDS: OK, last word, Kate O'Beirne.

We'll be back with our CAPITAL Classic, Saddam Hussein kicking out weapons inspectors nearly five years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Five years ago, Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors, and President Clinton suggested that only Saddam Hussein's fall could end the confrontation.

Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on November 15, 1997. Our guest was Patrick J. Buchanan, our former moderator and three-time presidential candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, November 15, 1997)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is President Clinton declaring that it's U.S. policy that Saddam must go?

HUNT: Mark, it's a wish, not a policy. It is unrealistic to think that we can get rid of Saddam without a military invasion and occupation. And the effect of that would only be to perpetuate Saddamism and anti-Americanism.

So Clinton is stuck with Saddam and a faltering coalition...

NOVAK: The sanctions are creating tremendous pain for the people of Iraq. I believe that the answer to this whole situation is to accept Saddam as he is and to, to, to, to lift the sanctions and to try to make some kind of an agreement with him.

PATRICK J. BUCHANAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, even if the unstated policy, which it's always been, is to try to get rid of Saddam, I don't think the president of the United States ought to be saying that.

CARLSON: I mean, our policy is Saddam must go. The problem is, it's not France, Russia, and the U.N. at the moment, and it's Tony Blair and Clinton going against Saddam Hussein, and more has to happen than that. But he must go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, if the policy five years ago was that Saddam must go, why is he then still there?

HUNT: Mark, that's one of the few CAPITAL Classics where I'll stick with what I said before.

SHIELDS: Yes.

HUNT: Look, the only reason Saddam is not going to outlast this current President Bush is because of 9/11. Otherwise I think we'd still be having the same debate we had five years ago.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I still, I still felt they always could have made a deal with him. I still think they can. And, but we wanted to run all the countries in the world in the Clinton administration almost as much as the Bush administration.

CARLSON: You know, a few times...

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: ... we had provocation to go in and get Saddam Hussein, and to find the weapons, in '91 when we were there, in '97 when he threw out the inspectors, and we didn't do it. Now we have no immediate provocation. We should at least wait and see if we can get in there and have -- and be thrown out again before we...

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne...

CARLSON: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: ... why do our CAPITAL GANG Classics invariably include Patrick J. Buchanan...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some company in wanting to learn to live with Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton didn't have the resolve to get rid of him, and so now we have a president who does. And Saddam Hussein over 12 years has foregone $160 billion in oil revenues for weapons that Bob Novak doubts he has, or for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for weapons that others doubt he's ever going to use.

A hundred and sixty billion dollars he's paid for these weapons. He clearly intends to use them at some point.

NOVAK: Who's he going to use them on?

O'BEIRNE: Troops in the area, his neighbors, or he'll slip something to a terrorist who brings it right smack here.

SHIELDS: It just strikes me that Al Hunt's question...

NOVAK: If he's attacked, he will.

SHIELDS: ... Al Hunt's question remains salient today, as it was then, I mean, the statement that, what's it, what's it going to take? And how long are we going to be there, and all the other unanswered questions as of this moment.

We'll be back with the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Our Newsmaker of the Week, defense expert Michael O'Hanlon assesses the Iraqi military. Beyond the Beltway looks at the critical Missouri Senate race with Steve Kraske of "The Kansas City Star." And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these significantly important messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED FOR CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Missouri is one of the key contests for control of the U.S. Senate, with polls showing the race a tossup.

After her husband, Governor Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash during the 2000 campaign, but still defeated Republican Senator John Ashcroft on election day, Democrat Jean Carnahan was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

Mrs. Carnahan is being challenged by Republican former congressman Jim Talent, who himself was defeated for governor in 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

SEN. JEAN CARNAHAN (D), MISSOURI: It's a matter of right and wrong. We cannot let dishonest people in corporate boardrooms get rich while the life savings of hardworking Americans dwindles away. That's why I offered an amendment that is now law that keeps executives from secretly cashing in their stock and hiding it from the rest of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people have lost their jobs and don't have health care.

ANNOUNCER: But sadly, partisan Democrats like Jean Carnahan voted against that compromise.

BUSH: And there's something more important than politics, and that's to do our jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us now from Kansas City is Steve Kraske, political correspondent for "The Kansas City Star." Thanks for coming in, Steve.

STEVE KRASKE, "THE KANSAS CITY STAR": Glad to be here.

SHIELDS: Steve, is Jim Talent, Republican, gaining momentum by tying himself closely to President George W. Bush?

KRASKE: Well, no question about it. The president has been out here a couple of times on Jim Talent's behalf. Vice President Cheney has been out here. And many members of the administration have been out here as well, I think half the cabinet's been out here in Missouri.

Obviously it's a very important race for the White House. They're keeping very close tabs on it. I think Jim Talent's wise to identify himself closely with the administration. As you know, George Bush remains very popular out here in the heartland, and particularly in the two states that I cover, in Missouri and Kansas.

SHIELDS: Has John Ashcroft been in on behalf of Talent?

KRASKE: No, we haven't seen that, and I would be surprised if we do. Ashcroft remains popular here, but he's still a fairly polarizing figure, at least since he's gone to the national stage, as he has.

I'd be surprised if we saw him out here.

SHIELDS: OK. Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Steve, Mrs. Carnahan, has she ever run for public office? She sometimes looks very uncomfortable, as I watch her on the Senate floor. Talent, although he didn't run a very good race for governor, I'm -- I believe, is an experienced politician.

This is a tough match-up, isn't it, for the Democrats?

KRASKE: Well, I think it is, and there's certainly a sense out here, Bob, that the Republicans sort of have an intangible sense of momentum. You know, they felt in 2000 that they had the U.S. Senate race won, which would have been a second term for John Ashcroft. They felt they had the race for governor won with Jim Talent that year.

And then the night of October 16 happened, and their Governor Carnahan died in that plane crash. And I think that really tipped the calculus in this state upside down and gave the Democrats narrow wins in both those races.

So yes, in a real sense, I think Republicans have the wind at their backs this time around.

You know, Jean Carnahan is a little bit still unknown out here. I've seen her once or twice in full-scale news conferences where she's answered all kinds of questions from A to Z on the spectrum, and I thought she did pretty well. But there still is a sense that she's a little bit untested.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: I've seen her grow since she's been here. I think she comes across quite authoritatively now. She seems to be pursuing a Rose Garden strategy, whereby she's going to all her Senate events and all the Senate votes, whereas Jim Talent, when he ran for governor, apparently missed over 100 votes. He's criticizing her for not being in Missouri more.

Is that working?

KRASKE: Well, maybe to a certain extent. There is a sense out here, and Charlie Cook, the political forecaster out here, has added to this thought, that Jean Carnahan has struggled to get acclimated out there. And that's -- we've had fuel added to that idea, because she hasn't been out here a lot to talk to reporters, with one or two exceptions.

So I think that idea has taken root just a little bit.

We'll have to see how the debates play out. The Talent people have been very aggressive, Margaret, about pursuing debates, trying to get Senator Carnahan out to two or four debates. She's now agreed to four. I think two are definitely on the table.

I've been thinking too maybe there's something counterintuitive going on here, that the Democrats are lowering expectations for her so that when these debates finally occur, she might end up doing quite well.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Steve, Jim Talent lost that race for governor two years ago so narrowly, by about 1 percent of the vote.

KRASKE: Right.

O'BEIRNE: Since then, the Democratic governor has had a pretty rough two years and has very low approval ratings.

KRASKE: Right.

O'BEIRNE: Is there any sense that a case of buyer's remorse about the Democratic governor might help Jim Talent in his second run?

KRASKE: You know, I'm not sure how much of a factor that is. I think you have to keep in mind that in 2000, it was amazing, because that governor's race was really sort of a down-ballot (ph) race in a sense, because the Senate race between Ashcroft and Carnahan really took over the limelight and was the talk of the state.

It was the first time in a long time that a governor's race for an open seat, no less, really took a back seat to another race in the state. So I'm not sure how much that idea's really resonating out here.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: Steve, I don't know about other issues, but I really was taken by that Talent ad, the chutzpah of it, talking about his plan for prescription drugs, when in fact Zell Miller and Bob Graham wrote in a very unusual letter this week his -- their very unpartisan-type Democrats, that his plan's been the basic Republican plan, relying on HMOs instead of Medicare, it'll be less costly but also less generous.

Will he get away with that, or -- and obfuscate the issue, or is he going to get caught on that kind of stuff?

KRASKE: My sense out here is that he may have overreached on that particular issue, Al, and I think Senator Carnahan, though, has a similar issue in a tit-for-tat way that's sort of hung out there a little bit.

Early on, she had an ad in this campaign in which she claimed credit for aiding the merger between American Airlines and TWA. And the ad made it sound like she alone was responsible for that taking place. And of course out here, Missouri Senator Kitt Bond, who's a Republican, took great offense to that and made it known. And she may have overreached a little bit on that ad.

So I think we have a tit-for-tat situation, at least as far as those two ads were concerned.

SHIELDS: Now, Jim Talent, Steve, is clutching to President Bush's coattails. What does Dick Gephardt, I mean, who has, obviously, national ambitions, is this in any way seen as a test of his ability to be effective in Missouri as a political leader?

KRASKE: In a word, no. You know, Congressman Gephardt obviously is very well known on the national stage, but I'm in western Missouri, and he's very much seen as an eastern Missouri congressman, and he might as well be from Ohio as far as people over here are concerned.

So I'm not sure that Gephardt has a whole lot on the line here.

NOVAK: Steve, there's a lot of speculation on Washington that if Talent wins, if he would be certified as the new senator in a possible lame-duck session, and a lot of people say that although the secretary of the state as a Republican would certify him, the Democratic governor wouldn't send him along.

Is that possible, that Governor Holden would hold, would, would, would keep that from getting to the Senate?

KRASKE: I think given the stakes, it's a very good chance something like that could happen, Bob. Politics typically get played with situations like that.

And think for a minute what a mess you would have in the Senate if that came to pass. You'd have Tom Daschle, perhaps, holding up organizing resolutions so that you could have a situation where Trent Lott was actually majority leader and Democrats still maintained control of the committees with their own members -- chairpeople out there. I think it could be a real mess, and I'm not sure I'd hold my breath thinking that Jim Talent could sweep in there and then Republicans could pass a whole slate of legislation.

SHIELDS: I think your reading on it is pretty damn good, to tell you the truth, Steve, of that happening, even though Brother Novak fantasize about it.

Thank you very much for being with us.

KRASKE: Glad to be here.

SHIELDS: Dave Kraske.

THE GANG will be back with our Outrages of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now for the Outrage of the Week.

Basketball coach Marianne Stanley told her pregnant assistant, You have a choice. Get an abortion and keep your job, or lose your job. Stanley's boss had to pay $115,000 to settle a lawsuit for her despicable conduct.

But where is the feminist movement on this ugly mistreatment of a woman? Silent. What the feminist movement fails to recognize, as "The Washington Post" sportswriter Sally Jenkins did, that women in power, quote, "can be just as tyrannical as some men," end quote.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk was running a good race as Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Texas until he decided to play the race card. He said of the war in Iraq, quote, "Look who would be doing the fighting. They're disproportionately ethnic, they're disproportionately minority," end quote.

Kirk later expressed regret for the way he stated his concerns but did not apologize. He should have for injecting divisive racial hatred into a debate over war and peace.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, the summer's biggest hit show, Fox's "American Idol," produced sky-high ratings and a telegenic pop star with a number one single. Now comes Rupert Murdoch's copycat, "American Candidate." A hundred potential presidents will compete every week, not to be kicked off the island by the viewers voters at home.

Fox claims, quote, "It won't make a mockery of the electoral system," but also promises to investigate, quote, "once and for all a candidate's sex life." No prescription drug programs here.

After 9/11, Americans realized how serious choosing a president is. Shame on Murdoch for turning it into "Star Search." SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: On the eve of German elections, its justice minister accused President Bush of threatening Iraq to take attention away from his alleged domestic problems. She noted, quote, "It is a popular method. Hitler used it," end quote.

Now, without the United States, Germany would have a National Socialist Workers' regime with no need of a justice minister, and its Chancellor Schroeder, who rails against invading Iraq to fuel the anti-Americanism that has rescued his floundering campaign.

What wunderbar allies.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, pro football commissioner Paul Tagliabue, with the possible exception of the NBA's David Stern, is the best sports czar. But the NFL really blew it this week.

After Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback who ever played the game, died, several quarterbacks sought to wear his trademark black high-tops. The NFL said no to the Colts' Payton Manning and threatened to fine the Baltimore Ravens' Chris Redmond (ph).

How petty. The game wouldn't be where it is today without the great Unitas.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying, Happy birthday to Jimmy Bresnahan, a part of THE CAPITAL GANG. And good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

If you missed any part of our show, don't despair. You can catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at 8:00 -- at 4:00 a.m. Eastern time.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Hurricane -- When the Big One Hits."

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