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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Bill Frist Prepares to Lead GOP as Senate Majority Leader; Shoppers Make Mad Dash to Malls on Last Shopping Day Before Christmas

Aired December 24, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Christmas Eve wishes for peace on earth amidst the ongoing battle against terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the power to get the answers which the American people are asking for.

ANNOUNCER: The new chief of the 9/11 commission talks about his goals and his clout.

A man of science who sometimes talks like a man of the cloth.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

ANNOUNCER: The spiritual side of surgeon-turned-Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

The campaign against land mines. Queen Noor of Jordan lends a powerful voice.

QUEEN NOOR, JORDAN: The greatest toll appears to have been on U.S. soldiers paying the price for an underground, if you will, weapon of terror.

ANNOUNCER: Christmas around the world. In our second half hour, live reports from hot spots on this holiday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

WOODRUFF: Hello again. In this "Newscycle," a defiant Christmas Eve message from Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The president of that country says United Nations weapons inspections, if they are fair, they'll expose what he calls American lies, and prove that his country is free of weapons of mass destruction. That statement was read on Iraqi TV.

North Korea says nuclear tensions with the United States are reaching an extremely dangerous phase. It could lead to uncontrollable catastrophe, their words. From South Korean officials today, word that North Korea is moving nuclear fuel rods from a facility that had been sealed, along with enough plutonium to build two warheads.

The Bush administration says it is trying to reach a diplomatic solution to stop North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is tracking the story at the White House. Suzanne, just how concerned are they at the White House about this belligerent statement from the North Koreans?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned before, Judy, North Korea said that really, the U.S. refusal to negotiate over the nuclear weapons program, its reactors, would, in its words, be an uncontrollable catastrophe.

Well, the White House is responding to those comments. I just talked to Sean McCormick, a White House spokesperson, who says that it only deepens the isolation that North Korea has with the rest of the world, that it must dismantle. He goes on to say that a peaceful resolution is what the United States is seeking, that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea.

All of this, Judy, while the White House, while the president is monitoring the situation in Iraq. North Korea, South Korea as wells as hot spots around the world.

He is monitoring those situations, being briefed on them, we were told earlier this morning. The president also put in about an hour, making telephone calls to about nine servicemen, members of the armed forces, to thank them for their work overseas, the risk that they put, the sacrificing, that the prayers are with those service people at this time.

But this is when the Bush administration really is seeing kind of an escalation of words from North Korea. But at the same time, the White House really downplaying the sense of urgency, saying this is just the initial phases of diplomacy, that they want diplomacy to play out. They want economic pressure to kick in.

We understand that Secretary Powell has really been making phone calls, a flurry of phone calls over the last 24 to 48 hours, counterparts in Russia as well as the European Union. Today, he called the foreign minister of Japan to make the United States' position known. A U.S. official telling us that the United States will not be blackmailed by North Korea. Another one saying that he believes that the strategy by North Korea is really three-fold: to actually establish a wedge between the United States and South Korea in its relationship, to try to extract some favors from the United States, and at the same time taking advantage of the timing of all of this, noticing that the administration is focusing so much on Iraq, that North Korea feels that it can take advantage of the situation.

But the administration making it very clear today, Judy, that they will not offer any concessions or any negotiations, that it must be North Korea that must prove again that it does not have these weapons of mass destruction and allow those inspectors back in -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, they are certainly not giving the White House any quiet time over the holiday. All right. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks.

Well, in the war on terror, I spoke with the new chairman of the September 11 commission, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, just days after it was announced that he would replace Henry Kissinger. Some have questioned Tom Kane's clout, given that he was not the first choice of the president, who originally opposed the commission's creation. I asked Kane if he will have the authority that he needs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: I talked to the president, and the president gave me only one instruction. He said, Do the best job you can, and he said, The only thing I would request is try to keep it nonpartisan.

Well, if this becomes partisan, then we haven't done our job. We're not here as Republicans or Democrats, but we are going to be here as commissioners who are Americans, trying to find answers to questions, and if it does become partisan, we've failed. So the president has told me that he and the white house will do everything they can to cooperate, and I believe he will.

WOODRUFF: But I ask that because among other things, you had Senator Richard Shelby, who was vice-chairman -- was vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee saying not long ago that as the Intelligence Committees were conducting their joint inquiry into what went wrong, he said at one point, I don't feel we have the support of the agencies we're investigating, or the support promised to us by the administration.

I'm asking if he felt that way not long ago, how can you be persuaded you are going to get that support now?

KEAN: Only because the president said he would give us that support, and I believe that there will be that kind of cooperation, and I honestly, when somebody says something like that to me, particularly the president of the United States, I take it at face value.

If we don't get cooperation, not just from the president, but from Congress or from agencies or what have you, we have broad subpoena power. We have the power to use people in the agencies. We have, you know, we have the broadest power that has probably been given to anybody since the Warren Commission. So if necessary, we have the power to get the answers which the American people are asking for. But we're going to start off, Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman, and I have met. We're going to work as a team on this one, and we are going to find out the facts, and let the chips fall where they may, because I think that's what the American people want, and that's what the Congress has asked for in this particular resolution.

WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Senator Bob Graham, who was the chair of that joint Congressional inquiry at one point argued that some individuals should be sanctioned for the fact that they didn't follow up on leads that they had before these attacks of September the 11th. Is your commission going to be in a position -- are you planning, at this point, to make punitive recommendations?

KEAN: Our job is not to go after anybody. Our job is to find out what the facts are, and once we've put the facts down on paper, to make recommendations based on those facts so that it will never happen again, or we can do our best to make sure it never happens again.

That's our task. And we're not really going after anybody, but you know, the chips will fall where they may, once we have those facts on the table.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Tom Kean, former New Jersey governor who was just recently selected to head up the commission looking into what went wrong before September the 11th.

In dangerous and difficult times, some people rely on their faith for strength. The incoming Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has made it clear that he falls into that category. Frist appears to be a somewhat rare breed, a man of science, spirituality, and politics. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider in Los Angeles -- Bill, tell us a little about the spiritual side of Bill Frist.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Senator Frist, Judy, is a deeply religious man, a devout Presbyterian, and he spends his vacations doing medical missionary work in the poorest and most dangerous parts of Africa. His first public statement after being chosen as majority leader reflected those religious values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIST: My wife, Karyn, and I went to the same church that we have gone to on the eve of each of my previous elections, back in 1994 and the year 2000. While there, just several hours ago now, my mind kept returning to that passage in Proverbs. "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Now, politically, it fits. Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has reached out more and more to Americans of deep faith, of all faiths, less observant voters have become more and more Democratic. Democrats want to reclaim those religious voters, which is why Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate, and yesterday, Lieberman praised Senator Frist as -- quote -- "a man of faith."

WOODRUFF: So Bill, is it believed that it's the faith that's driving his political ambition?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, I'd say so. Frist is probably just as ambitious as another politician of the new South, Bill Clinton, but I think the two men's ambition comes from different sources. Clinton is a brilliant professional politician. Remember, even as a young man, he talked about protecting his political viability.

Bill Frist never even voted until he was 36 years old. He ran for the Senate in 1994 as a citizen politician, the opposite of a professional politician. Frist pledged he would serve only two terms. If he keeps that pledge, he will serve as majority leader for, at most, four years.

While he is the first physician to serve in the Senate for more than 50 years, he points out that there used to be a lot of medical professionals in Congress, back in the days when citizen politicians were the norm.

Bill Clinton was a leader of great political skill, but his values split the country. Bill Frist's values are a lot more unifying, which is why his party picked him. But in the job of majority leader in the Senate, we'll see if his political skills now measure up -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, now, let's talk more about Bill Frist and how his rise to majority leader is likely to affect the president's legislative agenda.

Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times" is with us.

Ron, just having a different person in there, is that going to affect what the president wants to do?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It may not affect what the president wants to do, but I think it will give impetus in some areas, particularly health care. And that was one concern that was being driven toward the president by events.

The number of people with health insurance increased by over 1.4 million in 2001. We're seeing double digit increases in premiums, prescription drug costs are obviously going up. So events were pushing him in this direction.

Now it's Frist in the top job. There's another element arguing for a big focus. That's been a principal concern for Frist since his arrival in the Senate in 1995. He's been involved in developing a Republican agenda on the broad range of healthcare issues and his ideas have already influenced what President Bush has been talking about.

WOODRUFF: What about on civil rights issues? Obviously, that was the big controversy that drove Trent Lott out of that position.

For example, these conservative judicial nominees. Should we expect the administration to continue to try to push these individuals, now, because Frist is in there? BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the key is going to be the courts, Judy. Even before Trent Lott's troubles, there was no indication that George Bush or, for that matter, the Senate Republicans had much stomach for direct conflict in executive or legislative decisions on civil rights issues with the traditional civil rights groups. Things like affirmative action, for instance.

But they do have a much more aggressive or even ideological agenda of appointing conservative judges. Now that was in -- some of those appointments were probably going to be difficult with Trent Lott still in there, particularly Charles Pickering, who was rejected last year by the Democrat controlled Senate judiciary committee.

A key question for Frist is going to be, Does he advise the white house to bring back Pickering? Many conservatives clearly want that. Orrin Hatch, the incoming chairman, has talked about it. but some of the Republican moderates have raised warning flags. And I think it will be an early indication of the kind of leadership style that Frist will be pushing, what kind of advice he gives the White House on whether to come back with Pickering and, for that matter, Priscilla Owen, who was also rejected on some civil rights questions as well.

WOODRUFF: So those are really some early signs that we can look for.

BROWNSTEIN: Give us an indication.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein, thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Happy holidays.

WOODRUFF: Appreciate it. And to you. And to you.

Well, there aren't many shopping hours left until Christmas. Up next, we'll head to the mall to watch the procrastinators in action. I was one of them a little earlier.

Also ahead, what is the on the Bush family menu this Christmas? We'll have the juicy details.

And at the bottom of the hour, Christmas around the world as only CNN can bring it to you, live almost anywhere at any time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. What did the elder George Bush do on Christmas Eve in 1992 that made news? Was it A, Rode a tank in Kuwait, B, Got sick at a formal dinner in Japan, or C, Gave presidential pardons to officials tied to the Iran-Contra scandal. Stay with INSIDE POLITICS. We'll tell you the answer later in the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A little cameo appearance by Santa Claus on Wall Street this afternoon. It was a half day for the markets, which closed three hours ago. But there was no holiday treat for investors. As you can see, the Dow Jones Industrials, the Nasdaq and the S&P all closed down.

Early reports indicate the shopping season this holiday will be a forgettable one for the nation's retailers. Two separate reports today found retail sales continue to be sluggish. This holiday shopping period could finish as the weakest on record.

Now what's bad for business is sometimes good for bargain hunters. After Christmas sales are expected to include huge markdowns on already discounted items.

A lot of people are still out there shopping, however, even at this late hour. One interesting note, American Express reports that 75 percent of those who start shopping the week before Christmas are men; 57 percent of those who are still shopping today, Christmas Eve, also are men.

Are you surprised?

Well, for more on the last minute shoppers, we turn to CNN's Ceci Rogers. She's standing at the Woodfield Mall outside Chicago. Ceci, are there any women there?

CECI ROGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are. There -- surprisingly, there are quite a few number of women. But who you see in the stores, actually talking to the store clerks and trying to get advice on what to get, those are the men. And I've seen them in several departments in Nordstrom, in the finer apparel apartment and the jewelry departments. They're out here and they only have three hours left.

Now the mall says this is a pretty good crowd, actually, for the day before Christmas. They're expecting to rack up some decent sales. The mall here, Woodfield Mall, is actually having a record year in spite of retailer's woes.

The discounts are unbelievable when you go around to the stores, 40 to 70 percent off a variety of items. A lot of sweaters and apparel and coats marked down and shoes, jewelry. You name it. And so the bargain hunters definitely are also out here.

But whether all of this is enough to save Christmas is really questionable. Some retailers -- retail analysts are expecting that retail sales will only be up 1.5 to 2.5 percent this year. That would be the worst showing in at least 30 years -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ceci, thanks very much. We hope at least if those men are out there they're buying presents -- expensive presents for the women in their lives.

OK. Ceci, thanks.

Well, overall sales may be down, but there's no shortage of political gifts this holiday season. How about the John Ashcroft snow globe, complete with a bust of the attorney general and the tune "White Christmas."

Or the political fan might enjoy a Bush versus Gore tea towel, featuring the faces of all nine Supreme Court Justices.

But you know the hot political item this year is the talking George W. Bush doll, which features actual recordings of the voice of President Bush.

Our Bill Schneider hands out more political gifts tomorrow on our special Christmas Day edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, President Bush and his family are going to be celebrating Christmas at Camp David in Maryland. Joined by the first lady, their twin daughters, and their extended families, the Bushes plan to attend a candlelight service later this evening.

The Christmas Eve menu, we've found out, will be straight from Texas with enchiladas and tamales. They will continue a family tradition by drinking hot chocolate tomorrow as they open Christmas presents Christmas morning, followed by a pancake and waffle brunch. Yum.

Later, they will sit down to a dinner of beef tenderloin, potatoes anna, creamed spinach and hot rolls and I'm counting 3,000 calories and up. We'll see.

Straight ahead, my conversation with Jordan's Queen Noor. Her thoughts on the devastation caused by landmines and the threat of another war in the Persian Gulf.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. Earlier we asked, What did the elder George Bush do on Christmas Eve in 1992 that made news? Was it A, Rode a tank in Kuwait, B, Got sick at a formal dinner in Japan, or C, Gave presidential pardons to officials tied to the Iran-Contra scandal. The correct answer is C. Bush Sr. pardoned Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other on Christmas Eve 1992.

Well, records at the Pentagon are showing that the United States has stockpiled land mines for possible use during a military action against Iraq. Recently, I talked about the issue with American-born Queen Noor of Jordan, who takes an active role in the campaign to ban landmines. I began by asking her about the U.S. argument that landmines can help control the movement of enemy troops.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOOR: What's very interesting is that the U.S. General Accounting Office just came out with a report on the use of mines, and unexploded ordnance -- or ordinance in the Gulf War of 1991. And in that report, which states very clearly that there's no evidence of enemy casualties, dead or injured, or of impact on enemy equipment and, more importantly, no -- there was no evidence of any impact on the maneuverability of the enemy from the use of landmines and, in fact, sadly, you had 81 U.S. casualties, U.S. soldiers who were killed or injured because of land mines during that crisis.

So, as in Vietnam and in the Balkans and in other conflicts where the U.S. has used land mines, in fact, the greatest toll appears to have been on U.S. soldiers paying the price for an underground, if you will, weapon of terror, indiscriminate and very random in the impact it has on soldiers but also, after the conflict is over, on civilians and their ability to resume their lives.

WOODRUFF: I assume that you and others with the campaign to ban landmines have made your position known to the Bush administration, to the Pentagon. Does the make sense to you that they're considering doing this?

NOOR: Well, I've certainly spoken with officials here in Washington, as I do and have for years with heads of state and officials around the world on the subject. The main thrust has been that, first of all, countries like the United States that have not signed the ban treaty to encourage them to sign the treaty.

Second of all, to accelerate demining efforts so that civilians are not dying on a daily basis from these weapons left long after the conflict has ended.

And third, to increase humanitarian assistance so that the casualties of landmines will receive -- more of those will receive treatment and rehabilitation.

The United States has been strong on demining support and on humanitarian support. The fact that they haven't yet signed the ban treaty is a constant source of discussion. I was very reassured last week, in meeting with officials, that they are undertaking a very serious review of the issue and they are going to be drawing in both former and current military personnel, high ranking military personnel, many of -- you know, former military leaders have testified that they believe that the military utility of the weapon, as was shown in the 1991 Gulf War, really does not justify its use and the humanitarian consequences long after the war has ended.

WOODRUFF: But -- so, as someone who is intimately familiar with this part of the world, having married into the royal family in Jordan, when you think about a conflict, possible conflict in Iraq, what do you think in terms of the impact on the entire region?

NOOR: Well, I think of the impact on people. And it's the impact, not only on Iraqis, and we've already seen the devastating consequences for Iraqi civilians of previous conflicts, but it's also the impact on people throughout the region, looking at how to build more successful relationships, how to promote the forces of moderation and of cooperation in the region.

Military action, as far as I can see, historically, has only resulted in promoting or strengthening extremist forces, reactionary forces, and has resulted in the devastation of so many lives of those who should be active partners in a more hopeful, opportunity-filled future than war seems to be able to provide. So I worry for the stability of the region. I worry, primarily, for the lives that would be lost, the prospects for the future, that sense of hope that might be damaged further than it already has been by the conflicts that the region has known to date.

And I would also be very concerned that the Arab/Israeli peace process, which has also suffered so much, could be further hindered by a military action that -- gone wrong if you will, if there were one.

WOODRUFF: A lot, a lot to consider. Your Majesty, Queen Noor, we thank you very much. We appreciate it very much.

NOOR: Thank you, for your interest in the subject.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Recently, it was reported that the United States has positioned landmines in the countries that encircle Iraq. That was Jordan's Queen Noor.

That's it for this abbreviated edition of INSIDE POLITICS. As the snow falls here in Washington, that's a picture, a live picture of the beautiful dome of the United States Capitol.

But stay with us, because next, CNN will take you around the world like no other network can, as people across the globe celebrate the holiday. We'll go from America to Afghanistan, from Bethlehem to Baghdad. We will ring in Christmas around the world.

(MUSIC)

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