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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Frist Chosen as Senate GOP Leader; Florida's Graham Says He May Seek Democratic Nomination For President in 2004

Aired December 23, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Frist is it. Senate Republicans officially choose the Tennessee senator as their leader.

What do Democrats do now? We'll consider the power of racial politics after Trent Lott's fall.

Citizens, can you spare a dime? A mayor passes the hat to help his city pay the bills.

A White House tour. The building looks familiar, but the Bushes don't live there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am happy to just be able to say I am sitting in the Oval Office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. We are waiting for an appearance in Nashville, Tennessee, by the newly elected leader, Republican leader of the Senate, Senator Bill Frist. And as soon as that get underway, we will take you there live.

We begin with big decisions by members of the Senate. As we say, the Republicans have elected the new majority leader, but also in this "Newscycle," Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida says he is seriously considering running for President. More on that ahead.

Within the last two hours, Bill Frist of Tennessee was chosen to lead Senate Republicans. His first challenge, to help the GOP move past the racially-charged controversy that forced Trent Lott to give up the top Senate job.

As we were just telling you, Frist is just about to speak to reporters after his colleagues voted unanimously for the surgeon- turned-senator in an unusual telephone conference call.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in Nashville right now -- and Jason, we thought the senator was going to be out sooner. There must be something going on in there. JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that conference call is definitely taking a lot longer than many of us had originally thought, but he is still behind closed doors. We are now being told that he will be out in five minutes. We hope that's a real five minutes. I can tell you that when he arrived here just before the vote was scheduled to take place, he arrived with his wife and his two children.

Had a very quick opportunity, Judy, to ask him how he felt before the vote. He said, "I feel good." He said, "My life is about to change."

So once again, we're just waiting to see what happens when he comes out, waiting to see what he's going to say -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Jason, how much of a chance have you had to talk to some of the people who live in Nashville? They obviously know Bill Frist very well. They voted for him twice to serve in the Senate. What do they think about all of this?

CARROLL: You know, he is extremely popular here in the state of Tennessee. All throughout the weekend, we had an opportunity just to talk to people all across the board. And as you know, Judy, he was elected -- reelected by an overwhelming majority, the largest margin in Tennessee state history.

People really seem to like his background. They seem to like his bedside manner. This is a man who they say is down to earth. It is a man who they say that they trust, a man of good character. So, it is not surprising that at least here in the state of Tennessee he enjoys a great deal of popularity.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jason Carroll reporting for us from Nashville. And we'll be coming back to you just soon as Senator Frist comes out, and we are told that is in just a few minutes. Thanks very much.

Well, Senator Frist's selection may put a better face on Republican efforts to court minority voters, but some Democrats hope the political battle lines underscored by the Trent Lott controversy don't get blurred.

Here's our national correspondent, Bruce Morton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You needed that job, and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A 1990 Senate campaign ad, Republicans unabashedly seeking white votes. That was then, this is now.

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: I think it is important that we make it clear that we are interested in the people of African- American origin, and other minorities as well.

MORTON: Why? The country is changing. In 1980, nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population was non-Hispanic white. In 2000, 69 percent. Some states will change more quickly than others.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: State by state, it may only be ten years or less before they start to see serious problems. Obviously in states like California, Texas, Florida, already they're beginning to see signs of problems because there's a large number of Hispanics.

MORTON: Republicans have courted Hispanics, had some success in Texas. Not, on the other hand, in California. And blacks, in the most recent CNN "USA Today" Gallup poll, just 6 percent of African- Americans said the Republican Party shares their values.

Will the Democrats try to use race in the new Congress?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": I'm sure the Democrats are going to keep this issue on the front burner, both to energize African-Americans, make sure they vote in big numbers in 2004, but also to appeal to swing moderate whites to try to portray the Republicans as intolerant.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, there are many Democrats that want to keep this race issue alive, want to actually prevent us from moving forward. They do it around election time every year. It's quite irritating.

MORTON: How will they do it? Raise issues like hate crime laws, a ban on racial profiling, protest judicial nominees like U.S. judge Pickering of Mississippi, rejected by a Democratic Judiciary Committee in the last Congress.

ROTHENBERG: I think that every time the Republicans propose a nominee or a legislative agenda item, the Democrats are going to look to it in terms of race. Is there a racial component? Is there a racial history? How is it going to affect African-Americans?

MORTON: They will win some and lose some, but there's one other prospect that could drown out these arguments. If Americans troops are in a shooting war in Iraq and taking casualties.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And as we are telling you, we're waiting for Senator Bill Frist to come out. You see his -- the doors of his office there in Nashville, for him to come out and talk with reporters.

Just now a little over an hour after his colleagues in the Senate, Republican colleagues, elected him their leader. While we -- there he is. And we will -- this is like a convention shot.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS) WOODRUFF: Iraqi TV, turning now to international developments, is showing pictures of what they say is the drone that they shot down today. Joint chiefs chairman General Richard Myers says that Baghdad -- quote -- got a lucky shot today when they brought down the unmanned U.S. aircraft.

U.S. forces lost contact with a Predator drone like the one seen here this morning over southern Iraq. Two other drones have been shot down over southern Iraq in recent years.

Coming up, more on Bill Frist's relationship with the Bush White House and his own presidential potential.

Also ahead, are Americans feeling a little chillier toward Mr. Bush? We will have new poll numbers.

And if churches can pass the plate, can't a city follow suit? We'll talk to a mayor who hopes the spirit of giving will keep his government out of the red.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As Republicans take control of the Senate, a leading Democratic member may take on a new challenge. Outgoing Intelligence Committee chairman, Bob Graham of Florida, says he will decide by mid- January whether to run for the White House in 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I am looking seriously at this. I have gotten considerable encouragement within Florida and elsewhere to do so.

I recognize the seriousness of the times that we are living. I have had a front row seat to some of those as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I understand the importance of a new look at our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Graham was considered a possible running mate for Al Gore in 2000. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He's up for reelection in 2004. Graham was governor of Florida for eight years after serving in the state legislature.

Well, Bob Graham has impressive credentials, but does he have what it takes to win his party's presidential nomination? Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, what are the pluses and minuses for Bob Graham?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is one big plus, and it's one word: Florida. Florida is an important state. It is obviously a swing state in presidential elections. He has been elected governor twice, and then he was elected senator three times. Very, very popular figure in Florida, devoted to the state. Look at that tie. Every tie you see this man wear, you see, those are little figures of the state of Florida on them. Completely devoted to Florida causes, has been all of his life. That is the big plus.

He also has a habit of doing these things called "workdays" where he takes one day a week to work an ordinary job. So he has worked as a construction worker, a grocery bagger, a flight attendant. He tries to mix with ordinary people in a way we rarely see.

But he also has some habits that have raised some eyebrows. For instance, his obsessive note taking and diary keeping. He has over 2,500 little diaries where he writes everything down. What he has for breakfast, who he shakes hands with, how much he weighs every day. He puts it in a book, and that raises a lot of questions. What is that about?

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, you are right, it does raise questions, and lots more to talk about if he does, indeed, announce he is going to run.

Thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. Coming up, I will speak with a mayor who has a creative way of getting his city out of the red.

And later: It looks like the White House, but the address is definitely not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We'll take a tour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Time now to check your I.P. I.Q.: Who was the last person from Tennessee to be named Senate majority leader? Was it, A, Al Gore Sr., B, Howard Baker, or, C, Bill Brock?

Stay tuned to INSIDE POLITICS. We'll have the correct answer later on in the show.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The mayor of York, Pennsylvania, has taken a novel approach to solving his city's budget crunch. He's asking for donations. Mayor John Brenner says he doesn't want to raise taxes, but he also wants to avoid cutting city staff, including police and firefighters.

And Mayor John Brenner is with me now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to talk about his donation idea.

Mr. Mayor, where did this idea come from? Was this your idea?

JOHN BRENNER (D), MAYOR OF YORK, PENNSYLVANIA: Good afternoon, Judy.

Yes, it was my idea. I approached your York County commissioners and a few months ago and asked them to help us make our ends meet in a very difficult budget year.

WOODRUFF: And what was their reaction?

BRENNER: Well, I asked them for $3.32, coincidentally, the same price of a six-piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal at McDonald's, for all 302,000 people that live in the County of York, but live outside the city, who are 18 years of age.

One of them told me they couldn't do it. The other said, if you can get one of the other two to vote for it, I will. And the third one said, it sounds like a nice idea. We should talk about it. But, unfortunately, the county has its own budget trouble and they couldn't make it happen.

WOODRUFF: All right, so, now, what's the response been from the public? How many people have actually ponied up the $3.32?

BRENNER: Well, as of this morning, we've collected over $25,000. So, it's really only been a week that we discussed this idea at our public budget meetings with our city council.

And we said, if the county commissioners can't come forward, maybe the citizens of York County could. And, so far, just hundreds and thousands of them have stepped forward to make that donation not just on behalf of themselves, on behalf of their family members, their grandchildren, and some even on behalf of their pets.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Now, in a way, this is a tax increase, isn't it?

BRENNER: Well, not really.

I have held the line on taxes. I proposed a 0 percent tax increase. But I have proposed some serious reductions in our services. And I have asked county residents, who come into the city every day, either for work or for entertainment or other purposes, if they'd be willing to make a voluntary donation to help offset our costs. And, overwhelmingly, the reaction has been positive.

WOODRUFF: All right, any donations from outside the county?

BRENNER: We've received a few. But I'm hopeful that, after this appearance, that you will encourage people to write their check to the City of York. That's P.O. Box 506, York, PA, 17405.

And, Judy, I should remind you -- you probably know this from history -- but York was the site of the Continental Congress. And they moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster and then to Yorktown. And they adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1776 and 1777. And, ironically, we are now celebrating the 225th anniversary of that adoption. WOODRUFF: Well, you are making history twice in the City of York, Mayor John Brenner, the mayor who's asked county residents who use the city to donate $3.32 each.

Thanks very much. And we'll check in with you to see how it's going a few weeks and months from now. Thank you very much. Good to see you.

BRENNER: Thank you, Judy. Happy holidays.

WOODRUFF: And to you.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld uses the word "idiotic" to describe North Korea's latest actions. When we return: what prompted Rumsfeld's comments and White House reaction to the potential threat posed by Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. Earlier in the show, we asked: Who was the last person from Tennessee to be named Senate majority leader? Was it, A, Al Gore Sr., B, Howard Baker, or, C, Bill Brock? The correct answer is B. Howard Baker served as majority leader in the Senate from 1981 to 1985.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The Bush administration is warning North Korea that it should not feel free to pursue nuclear weapons because Washington is focused on Iraq. North Korea is removing international monitoring equipment from a dismantled nuclear reactor. U.S. officials say that is evidence that Pyongyang is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected North Korea's claim that it needs to restart the nuclear facility to produce electricity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They don't need a nuclear power plant. Their power grid couldn't even absorb that. If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean Peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy; North Korea is dark. It is a tragedy what's being done in that country. And the suggestion that it is a result of rhetoric from outside, I think, misses the point. We have a very strange situation in that country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: You can see the economy from the night sky.

Well, the White House emphasizes that it wants to reach a peaceful solution with North Korea. But Secretary Rumsfeld said the United States could fight simultaneous wars with North Korea and Iraq, if necessary.

More ahead on Trent Lott's exit and Bill Frist's promotion: What might it mean for presidential politics down the road?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": President Bush continues to enjoy strong support from the American people, though his approval rating has fallen in recent weeks. The new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallop poll finds 61 percent of Americans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. Now, that is down from 68 percent in early November.

Former college football coach and current Nebraska Congressman Tom Osborne says that he may be interested in higher office. Osborne told the "Omaha World Herald" Sunday that he might be interested in a run for Nebraska's governor. Osborne, who was elected to Congress in 2000, said he wouldn't rule anything out.

Well, Bob Novak is with me now to share some of what he's been uncovering in his "Reporter's Notebook."

First of all, what are you hearing about the team that Bill Frist is putting together? We just heard from him a few minutes ago.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, a lot of people don't realize that the Senate majority leader brings in a whole team, just like the president. And the big job is chief of staff. It was David Hoppe under Trent Lott. David was a very strong conservative.

Now, the person that is in line, I am told, for the job under Senator Frist is Mitch Bainwol. That's a very familiar name in Washington. He's been on the Hill. He was with the Republican National Committee. And he was Frist's No. 1 guy at the Campaign Committee in the last campaign. Some people think he is not that good an administrator.

And they are talking about a man named Mark Tipps, who is a trial lawyer, who was Frist's chief of staff in his first two years as a senator.

WOODRUFF: These names are just starting to surface. And Bob Novak is the first to have them.

A soft landing maybe after all for Trent Lott? What are you hearing?

NOVAK: Still trying to put it together.

See, the problem is, they want to give him a chairmanship, but none of the chairman want to give it up. One thing they could do is give him the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee chairmanship. He's not even on the Appropriations Committee. That doesn't matter. They can put him in there, because that subcommittee chairmanship is held by Ted Stevens, the chairman of the committee. And he might give that up to give Lott some kind of a face-saving job. That's an important job, though, Defense Appropriation. That's a possibility, anyway.

WOODRUFF: Now, there's another committee development that involves the Democrats. They obviously are down a member or so in the Senate. What about what's going on?

NOVAK: They're going to lose at least one seat on the Judicial Committee, one seat, probably.

WOODRUFF: Judiciary.

NOVAK: Judiciary Committee.

And the most junior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee is Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Now, the problem is, the Democratic inner circle would like him to stay there because he's such a tough arguer against these Bush judicial appointments. He was very tough on Judge Pickering's appointment.

But to keep him on, they might have to bump a person ahead of him, Maria Cantwell, a woman from Washington state. That's kind of touchy, too. So the Democrats don't know. They'd like to keep Edwards on that committee, though.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak with the notebook just bursting with tidbits. Thank you, Bob. Great to see you. Appreciate it.

Coming up next: another congressman in the segregation spotlight -- the story when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: President Bush issued a statement today congratulating Bill Frist on his election as Senate majority leader. He no doubt was careful to keep his comments to a minimum, given some senators' concerns about his close relationship with Frist.

The statement on paper says: "I congratulate Senator Bill Frist on his election to Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Senator Frist has earned the trust and respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to working with him and all members of the Senate and House to advance our agenda for a safer, stronger, and better America" -- end quote.

Well, even before Bill Frist was promoted to majority leader, his name was bandied about as a potential presidential candidate in 2008.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has been thinking about Frist's short-term and long-term future.

All right, Jeff, this sudden elevation of Bill Frist, any downside for him?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, I think you just alluded to it.

If that speculation about his future presidential ambitions are true, that could be a downside. The job of a Senate leader is to find the middle ground and find a way where you can cobble together a majority behind legislation that's going to pass. And, in a chamber where senators have a big degree of independence and where the split is so even, as it is now, that's very tough.

And what it means I think is, inevitably, almost, you wind up angering the base of your party, which is always more ideological than the public at large. You wind up being seen as a compromiser. And, as Senator Dole remembers, and others, that's just not a great posture from which to run for president when you have to win primaries and your party's base is so significant.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about something in "The New York Times" today. Columnist Maureen Dowd suggested, probably whimsically, that maybe the president -- that Jeb Bush was out there getting involved in this, but that Jeb Bush might be hurt by the selection of Bill Frist, because the president didn't want to be overshadowed. It was a little convoluted, but what about that theory?

GREENFIELD: Well, in the spirit of the season, let's get really conspiratorial and flip that completely around.

Maybe the president and his people were trying to help Jeb Bush by putting Frist in a position where it's almost impossible to win the White House. Look at the record, as Al Smith used to say, of all the leaders in the Congress who wanted the presidency.

John Nance Garner in 1932 lost to FDR. Lyndon Johnson, Senate leader in 1960, lost the nomination to John Kennedy. Howard Baker, Senate Republican leader in 1980, lost to Reagan. Senate leader Dole in 1988 lost to George Bush. House Democratic caucus chair Dick Gephardt that same year lost to Dukakis. Of all of them, only Bob Dole in 1996 even managed to get a presidential nomination. And he got clobbered by Clinton that November.

So, just to finish the conspiracy theory, Judy, Garner and Johnson Alben Barkley in 1952 all wound up as vice president. So let's put the final cherry on this conspiracy cake. The White House is plotting a Jeb Bush-Bill Frist ticket for 2008. And, remember, you heard it here first.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Well, we're going to find something there, whether it's there or not.

Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much.

GREENFIELD: OK.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you later.

Well, in response to the Trent Lott controversy, a North Carolina Republican is trying to put a different face on his racial views. A black lawn jockey ornament on Congressman Cass Ballenger's front lawn has been painted white. And Ballenger has gotten flack about the family heirloom before. CNN has learned that, when the Lott story hit, a Ballenger aide painted the jockey's face white to goad the congressman to finish the job and prevent it from becoming a political issue, which it apparently has become.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, we've learned, has now named fellow Californian Bob Matsui to be chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Congressman Matsui was elected to Congress in 1978. As chairman, he will be in charge of recruiting new candidates and raising money on behalf of House Democrats. He becomes the first Asian American to serve among his party's top leaders.

Well, it looks like the White House, but something's not quite the same. Up next, we're going to take you inside an Atlanta home that bears a striking resemblance to the executive mansion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: President Bush today pardoned seven Americans for what appears to be minor offenses. They range from a Mississippi man who tampered with a car odometer to a postal employee who stole $10.90 worth of mail. They are the first pardons of Mr. Bush's administration, raising questions about just how these seven were chosen.

Well, at this time of year, many Americans wait in long lines to tour the holiday-decorated White House.

But if you can't make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, CNN's Bruce Burkhardt may have found the next best thing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White House, you know, it's often called the people's house. I'm people. It's my house, then, right? No reason I shouldn't be able to just go right in. I don't see any Secret Service around. Why wait in line for the tour, huh? I think I'll just go right in.

FRED MILANI (ph): Hello, Bruce.

How are you?

BURKHARDT: Nice to see you.

FRED MILANI: My wife, Yvonne.

YVONNE MILANI (ph): Hi.

BURKHARDT: You guys don't look like George and Laura.

(voice-over): How far the country has come. We now have an Iranian-American, Fred Milani, and his wife Yvonne, an African- American, occupying the White House. Except this White House isn't on Pennsylvania Avenue, but on Briarcliff Road in Atlanta, Georgia.

YVONNE MILANI: This is called the Lincoln Bedroom. It's named after President Abraham Lincoln and the bed that you see here is a replica of the Abraham Lincoln bed.

BURKHARDT: Fred and Yvonne say it was never their original intention to copy the White House. It just turned out that way.

(on camera): Why in the heck did you build a White House? How'd that happen?

YVONNE MILANI: Well, I wanted columns.

BURKHARDT: She wanted columns?

(voice-over): When an architect drew up the house with columns, everyone noticed a resemblance to the White House. So they decided to build on that idea, even including the Truman balcony on the back.

(on camera): The Rose Garden.

(voice-over): The inside, no resemblance to the White House, though there are a few loosely copied rooms.

YVONNE MILANI: We just call it the Queen's Room. It's our own design.

BURKHARDT (on camera): The Oval Office? It's not an exact replica.

FRED MILANI: Right.

YVONNE MILANI: No, it's not an exact replica, but we have picked up some things, like the molding is a replica, the desk is a replica.

BURKHARDT: And the sea.

FRED MILANI: I'm happy to just be able to say I am sitting in the Oval Office.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): Seven years ago, Fred says he was saved, converted from Islam to Christianity. Now devout Christians, Fred and Yvonne opened up their house to tours this holiday season to raise money for their church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe it.

BURKHARDT (on camera): What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's awesome. It's just breathtaking.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): At 16,000 square feet, it's not nearly as big as the Washington White House. But then again, it has some of its own special features.

(on camera): Like this. This White House has a two car garage. The view is different from the White House.

(voice-over): And even though the view from the Truman Balcony is not of the Washington Monument but a Georgia subdivision, this is a place of fantasy, not just for its residents, Fred and Yvonne, but also for the occasional reporter, who always wanted to say...

(on camera): Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, the White House, in Atlanta, Georgia. Take that, John King.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: That's right. Take that, John King.

And I guess if those people wanted attention, they got it.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.

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He May Seek Democratic Nomination For President in 2004>

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