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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Lieberman: War With Iraq May Come in Matter of Weeks; West Virginia Man Claims Single Winning Powerball Ticket; Winter Storm Lashes East

Aired December 26, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: The march toward war: Iraqis brace for the day Washington's patience runs out.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I'd say it's a matter of weeks.

ANNOUNCER: The president's admirers: it's no secret Mr. Bush has them, but does anyone else come close?

Digging out: can Northeasterners see the light of day? We'll talk to the mayor of one snow-socked city.

Up a tree...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been here most of the last 54 days.

ANNOUNCER: How is one man's political statement about growth playing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's barking up the wrong tree.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us, I'm Jeanne Meserve. Judy is off today. As many Americans look ahead to the new year, we begin with the prospect that 2003 will bring a new war.

In this "Newscycle," the Iraqi army says its militias have been holding exercises in central Iraq aimed at countering a U.S. attack. And Iraq's trade minister says the country has increased food rations to let its citizens stock up for a possible war.

Adding to tensions, coalition warplanes struck Iraqi military command and control facilities in response to Iraqi aircraft violating the southern no-fly zone. As U.N. inspections continue, Senator Joseph Lieberman suggests a showdown over Iraq's weapons declaration could come in a matter of weeks, and he tells CNN President Bush should prepare the public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: We are coming to a point where the U.S. has got to give some of the evidence that we have over to the United Nations and perhaps begin to talk about it a little more publicly so that the public and America, throughout the world will have a better idea of why we're so committed to seeing Saddam Hussein disarm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Lieberman is in the Persian Gulf region meeting with U.S. troops and allied leaders. He says he's confident Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain will support the U.S. if it goes to war against Iraq.

Now the latest on weapons inspections from CNN's Rym Brahimi in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The general also told reporters that despite the expansion of their activities from the northern town of Norsaw (ph) to the city in the south of Basra, none of these activities had supported the U.S. and British allegations that Iraq was still harboring any weapons of mass destruction.

Another point the general made was that he didn't believe that taking Iraqi scientists out of the country to conduct interviews was very useful. He also said that U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei had both thought that it was not useful, and he said, as far as he was concerned, replying to a question put to him by a reporter, he would refuse to leave the country because, he said, Iraq is my country and I would not leave it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: President Bush continues to monitor the situation in Iraq from his Texas ranch. He went there today after spending Christmas at Camp David.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is with the president in Crawford -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi. President Bush and the first lady are spending the remainder of their vacation at their Crawford ranch for the remainder of the holiday, a quiet holiday.

They arrived about 12:00 noon Eastern standard time. The president is being briefed daily on intelligence and security matters. He is monitoring the developments in Iraq as well as North Korea. While the president is not publicly speaking about the trouble there, a senior administration official does tell CNN that the U.S. strategy is to keep North Korea in its box, basically not to allow the tension to escalate, to continue to work with our allies: South Korea, Japan, Russia, as well as China to emphasize the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, that there is no need for the U.S. to change its strategy at this time.

Now, having said that, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, says that if North Korea does not cooperate in the next two weeks, if it doesn't allow those monitors back in, that he feels that the U.N. Security Council should gather and deal with North Korea at the same time that it deals with Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED ELBARADEI, IAEA: I think they are trying to use their nuclear capability, which is supposed to be for peaceful ends, to achieve a strategic and political objective, which is totally unacceptable. It's basically a policy of nuclear brinkmanship, and that's what they're trying to do, that if we do not get what we think we should be getting, we are going to use -- or to use our peaceful nuclear program for questionable activities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, a senior administration official also says that North Korea's strategy of creating a wedge between the United States and South Korea to try to also win concessions from the United States while taking advantage of the timing, the fact that the U.S. is focused on Iraq will not work. It will backfire, he says, because North Korea is even a greater threat to its neighbors than it is to the United States -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Suzanne, the president's international plate, obviously very full. But I imagine he's spending some time thinking about domestic issues and what he is going to do with the new Congress when he comes back.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And really, the budget, the economy is item No. 1 on that, a $300 billion stimulus package is what the president is working on, part of that tax cuts on corporate dividends. This is aimed at really jump-starting the economy to create jobs as well as to boost the confidence in the markets once again -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Suzanne, thanks for joining us from Crawford.

President Bush ranked high in another new poll out today, the annual list of the people most admired by Americans. Our highly admired political analyst Bill Schneider is with us from Los Angeles. Any surprises that Mr. Bush is at the top of the list?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's really no surprise. Gallup has been asking this question for years, and the president usually ends up on top. But this year, President Bush's lead is unusually large. The second place winner here is a bit of a surprise. Former President Jimmy Carter, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter hasn't been this widely admired since 1994. He's the most admired ex- president.

After Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Pope John Paul II, and in fifth place, former president Bill Clinton, behind Jimmy Carter.

Now, as you might guess, President Bush is way ahead among Republicans, but what about Democrats? Does President Bush top the list among Democrats as well? Nope. Carter's on top among Democrats with President Bush second at 10 percent. But look at that. Bush does beat Bill Clinton among Democrats -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Bill, that's the men. What about the women?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there is a bit of a surprise here. No run away winner like the president. The woman at the top of the list is -- not the current first lady, Laura Bush, but the former first lady and current senator, Hillary Clinton. Looks like she's doing better than her husband. Ah, sweet revenge.

Oprah Winfrey is tied with Laura Bush for second place, followed by the former first lady, and current, so to speak, queen mother, Barbara Bush, and then former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Now, get this -- the most admired woman among men is Hillary Clinton. How about among women? Women give first place not to Hillary or to Laura, but to Oprah Winfrey. Among women, Oprah beats out Hillary and Laura and Barbara Bush. Oprah rules -- for a while, at least, because in fifth place among women is Jennifer Lopez.

In fact, among all Americans aged 18 to 30, J.Lo tops the list -- tops the list of the most admired woman, beating all the current and former first ladies and Oprah Winfrey, too. Watch out, Oprah. J.Lo is breathing down your neck.

MESERVE: Bill, I'm sure she's quaking in her boots. Thanks a lot.

And there is much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jason Bellini in Charlotte (sic), West Virginia where a short while ago we were introduced to the single biggest winner of a lottery jackpot. We will have a live report coming up.

MESERVE: America's retailers haven't hit the jackpot this holiday season. We'll check out the day after Christmas action in the stores.

And later, is Tom Daschle planning to run for president or not? Our Bob Novak will share the "Inside Buzz." This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: One lucky West Virginian is enjoying his own version of the gift that keeps on giving. Last hour, lottery officials introduced the winner in last night's record $314 million Powerball drawing. Jason Bellini is standing by with more in Charleston, West Virginia.

Jason, one nice guy, said he was most concerned about those 25 employees he's had to lay off this Christmas season.

BELLINI: That's right. Jack Whittaker, the winner of the $314 million prize is a businessman and he said he's going to use the money to try to hire back some of those people, because it has been a rough year for him. He was very gracious about his winnings, he had his family there with him. They were describing some of the things that they wanted -- his wife, a house in Cancun. But he said that he wants to use the money for charitable purposes, giving 10 percent in tithing to his church, the Church of God.

Here's a little bit more of what he had to say. I'm going to pay tithes on it, the very first thing I do. And then after that, I'm going to take care of my family and then I'm going to expand my business.

BELLINI: Now I'm here with Governor Bob Wise. And obviously, this is a good thing for the state, when you have a winner here in your state.

BOB WISE, GOVERNOR, WEST VIRGINIA: Oh, it's great, particularly to have the largest Powerball winner, ever, come from West Virginia. It's historic. Yes, it's good for our tax revenues. We'll get about $11 million. But for the Whittaker family, they're talking about West Virginia values -- tithing to their church, putting some of the people they have to lay off, because of weather, back to work and keeping that money in West Virginia, which means that, ultimately, we're going to see it pay dividends, time and time again to our state.

BELLINI: That's right. And he's taking the money in one lump sum. He'll be receiving $111 million. What happens to all of the rest of that money?

WISE: The rest of it goes to the federal government. West Virginia will get 6.5 percent, but the federal government will take the balance of it. But what impresses me about the Whittaker family, is quite clear, he's wants to stay in West Virginia. He was born in West Virginia, raised his children here and he wants to continue working in West Virginia with his company and tithing to his church. It doesn't get any better than that.

BELLINI: Jeanne, that's right. So a man from a small town in West Virginia won the big prize in today's lottery. Back to you, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Jason, he said he was going to go up to New York. What's that about? What's he doing up there? BELLINI: What's that about? Well, he's planning to go on all the morning programs. Said he's going to hit every one of them. His granddaughter, who's 15 years old, is also coming up there along with them, and she -- her one request was, she wants to get her hair done professionally when she goes up there.

MESERVE: I'm sure she'll have plenty of people offering to do that for her. This guy strikes me as a being a real character. He was just charming in that press conference. Don't you think?

BELLINI: Absolutely. I asked him, I said, you know, why were you so lucky? Why were you the one who won the prize, and his answer was, "I'm not lucky, I'm blessed."

MESERVE: OK. Jason Bellini, thanks so much for joining us from the state of West Virginia.

Shoppers in search of bargains might think they've hit the jackpot today, thanks to deep post-holiday discounts being offered by retailers. The sales were prompted by one of the worst shopping holiday seasons in memory. Even Wal-Mart, the world's-largest retailer, has announced December sales will fall short of expectations.

According to a group called "Shopper Track RCT," which follows retail sales, this shopping season is down 11 percent from last year. A spokesman for the group blamed tough economic conditions, the threat of war and weakness in the job market.

Next -- the big dig. This is what millions around the Northeast are doing today. We'll go live to one city coated with a heavy blanket of snow, plus, a freshman class with some cash to spare. Are new members of Congress, wealthier than their predecessors?

(MARKET UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Skies began to clear across much of the northeast and New England today just hours after the biggest Christmas snowstorm in years blew through the region. The heavy snowfall was scenic, but also dangerous. Workers have managed to clear most major roads across New England today, but officials warn driving will remain hazardous as the slush turns to ice. Some of the heaviest snowfall was in upstate New York.

CNN's Whitney Casey is standing by in Albany -- Whitney, you are looking a little chilly there. Is it starting to freeze up already?

WHITNEY CASEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is starting to get pretty cold. It is supposed to drop to about 18. And as you said, officials are very worried about that ice on the road, because it was such a nice, beautiful, warm, glorious day -- 32 degrees here.

All of that beautiful snow that you saw -- well, now it has turned to ice, because it has gotten so cold, and so they are worried about that black ice and some of the traveling.

But it has been a day of snow plowing, snow blowers, and shovelers. And joining me now -- come on over here, Jason. This is Jason Outlar (ph). He is who is an entrepreneur of sorts, we'll say. He has been making some extra money. You're an 11th grader here, and you decided to pick up your shovel and what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried to make some extra money, and try to pay off some of my debts to my family, get some extra minute shopping in, for some family down in New York City. So, it's pretty much been a tough day.

CASEY: Yes. You've been working -- you must of woken -- what time did you wake up this morning, you saw out your window all this snow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke about like 10:00, went and got my friends, said we got to split up and get some extra money.

CASEY: How much snow do you think you actually shoveled? Did you do a lot? Did you get a lot done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, like a ton of snow.

CASEY: A ton of snow! You heard it here. A ton of snow! Anyway, thanks, Jason. We'll let you get on your way. I'm sure you want to go home and have a nice dinner. Have a nice day. Good job to you. Proud of you. All right, Jason, take care.

As you can see, everybody here in Albany -- it has been a lovely day. That is what has been so great, because they were so hard-hit yesterday. It was Christmas, and it was a very rough day for commuters. In fact, since Monday, 18 people have died in accidents because of this storm, but today was a glorious day indeed.

And here, right now, it's dropping, as we said, the sun has gone away and the wind is picking up. And in addition to that ice, what they are also worried about are some of these things that are called ground blizzards, and what that is all this beautiful powder will then swirl up into the air when the wind starts to blow, winds gusts up to 40 to 50 miles an hour, and that will create a big visibility problem for drivers.

So that's what we've got here. Jeanne, it was a beautiful day, but it may be a perilous night -- back to you.

MESERVE: Whitney, are the kids disappointed? No snow day today.

CASEY: I know! They would have loved to have school off. But I was pretty impressed by the many of them that were out today helping their parents, and making some money, like Jason. Wasn't that pretty impressive?

MESERVE: It was. It was. And what about the roads, apart from this threat of ice and the blowing snow, are roads in Albany in pretty good shape at this point? CASEY: Yes. I spoke with somebody from the city earlier. They said they had about 50 snow plows out today. They had some independent contractors out and they have been working. What they had a problem with was a lot of the streets had cars that were already stuck on them, so that they couldn't get to the streets. But by tonight, they've had a lot of people out, and they've been salting. So tonight they say they should be pretty safe, but you still should drive with caution.

MESERVE: OK. Whitney Casey, thanks so much for joining us from Albany. Also, welcome to CNN. Glad to have you with us.

And how does a city like Albany handle almost two feet of snow? We are going to find out from a man who knows. With me now is the mayor of Albany, Gerald Jennings -- Mr. Mayor, hi. You look a little chilly yourself.

GERALD JENNINGS, MAYOR, ALBANY, NEW YORK: How are you doing? It is not bad. We're used to this. I don't think Whitney is, but we are.

MESERVE: So tell me, is it a blessing or a curse to have a storm like this on Christmas Day? You haven't got travelers out, but on the other hand, are a lot of your snow crews off for the holiday?

JENNINGS: Yes, and a lot of them did come in yesterday, and we have a snow plan here. It's a regular plan that's dictated to by the amount of snow that -- and precipitation we have. We know the kind of equipment we need on the streets, the amount of workers we need to effectively clear the streets and make them safe and passable. So it's a challenge, but -- and we don't usually anticipate 20 inches all at one time -- or 21 inches, like we received.

MESERVE: I've heard a lot of mayors saying they're in a tight budgetary situation. I imagine Albany is suffering through some of that itself. Does something like this make it very difficult for the city? What is the cost of clearing this much snow?

JENNINGS: Well, we call a snow emergency in this city, it costs in excess of a quarter of a million dollars just to deal with it, and that is limited removal, that is making sure all the streets are cleaned and we do what we have to do to make sure they're passable for all emergency vehicles.

And that's the focus here. Public safety, emergency vehicles passable on all the streets, and that's why we have to go to a snow emergency in this city at the time.

MESERVE: So cost is no object, in effect?

JENNINGS: No. I'm not going to -- cost is not going to dictate. It's about public safety, and everyone that lives -- whether they are on a dead-end street or on main thoroughfare, they deserve the same treatment and the same response time from our police or our fire department. MESERVE: Now, can't snow removal be political dynamite for a mayor? If you don't do it well, isn't there a price to pay with the citizenry?

JENNINGS: Well, there was a mayor before me who was here for 41 years, his name was Arestus Corning (ph), and his philosophy was, The good Lord put it here, and he'll take away.

Now, he lasted 41 years. I wouldn't last that long if I had that philosophy. No. We take it away, we know what we have to do. But you are right. People are calling. I was in the office very early this morning. They've been calling all day to tell us that their streets haven't been touched, or they have, or there are problems. So, we have to deal with it, but as I said, it's public safety. It has nothing to do with the budget. We have to get it done.

MESERVE: How many of the streets are cleared now? All the major thoroughfares, I am sure, but what about residential areas? Have you gotten to it?

JENNINGS: Well, residential areas are very tight, because as was indicated, cars are on these streets, and they're probably buried.

People have to dig them out. One of the good things is that our schools are all on break, the colleges and universities are all on break, so there are fewer cars in the central part of the city, which enabled us to get through there much more quickly.

Now, some of the side streets are very, very difficult. Tonight, when we go to the odd/even parking, we'll be able to get larger plows up those streets so that we can move the heavy snow that is here. A lot of our smaller plows could not tackle this because we had so much snow. That was part of the difficulty we faced early on.

MESERVE: OK. Mayor Jennings from Albany, New York, thanks a lot for joining us, about the politics of snow removal.

Well, how do you compete with the commander in chief? Up next, some Democrats who want the president's job are starting to challenge his record on terrorism. A smart strategy, or could it backfire? We'll ask analyst Jeff Greenfield and Ron Brownstein.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With speed and honor, I shall go to Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Criticizing the incumbent on security, it worked for Eisenhower, but will it work for the Democrats gunning for President Bush's job?

We'll go in depth in a moment. (NEWS BREAK)

MESERVE: An international watchdog group today accused North Korea of nuclear brinkmanship in its move to restart a shutdown nuclear reactor. And South Korea's president said his nation will never tolerate nuclear development in the north.

But the south says it wants a peaceful end to the dispute, and CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae reports from Seoul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOHN JIE-AE, CNN SEOUL BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): South Korea's outgoing president, Kim Dae-jung, told an emergency meeting of security and foreign policy ministers to seek dialogue with the north through existing channels while working with the United States, Japan and others to diffuse the crisis.

YIM SUNG-JOON, SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN POLICY SECRETARY (through translator): The nuclear issue is a very important one for the Korean Peninsula. So President Kim told us to play a leading role in trying to resolve the issue.

JIE-AE: President Kim, who favors active engagement with the north, did not spell out specific measures. But the Seoul government continues to hold talks with the north on various sectors, including military cooperation, despite the recent nuclear development. During the meeting, South Korea's unification minister said the north's nuclear actions seemed largely aimed at forcing the United States to talk.

For its part, North Korea, in a radio broadcast Thursday, denied it was trying to produce nuclear weapons and said it needed the plant to generate more electricity after a U.S.-led consortium decided to stop shipment of fuel oil to the north. While the north has called for dialogue with the United States, Washington officials have said they would not offer incentives to induce the north to give up its nuclear ambitions. South Korea's military officials say the north has recently made no unusual moves along the heavily fortified border between the two countries.

Meanwhile, as the next step in reactivating the facility, which is suspected of being used to produce nuclear weapons, the north has started moving fresh fuel rods into the nuclear reactor.

Sohn Jie-Ae, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: A number of Democrats walked away from their midterm election debacle convinced the party needs to stand tougher on national security issues. That may be one reason Senator and would-be White House candidate Joe Lieberman has been touring the Middle East talking about war and peace.

While Lieberman has largely supported the president's stand towards Iraq, he and other Democratic presidential prospects have been stepping up their criticism of the administration's war on terror.

Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, in New York.

Jeff, give us some political background why the Democratic presidential contenders appear to be turning more and more to these security issues.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I think, Jeanne, there are two striking political points to this as background.

First, the last time Democrats won a presidential election where national security was a major issue was back in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater, who was seen by some voters as reckless. And since then, Democrats have won only the post-Watergate election of 1976 and Clinton's post-Cold War victories.

And now, after 9/11, with an Iraq war looming, Democrats are coming to the view that they can't win by trying to shift attention to domestic concerns. You just alluded to the fact that we saw that in recent midterms.

There's another, second point. National security and terrorism, I think, are no longer arcane, faraway issues; 9/11 taught us how close to home they may be. They are personal security issues now. And you'll remember that Democrats spent a lot the 1970s and '80s playing defense on the crime issue. They simply cannot afford to be in that position for 2004.

MESERVE: But, Jeff, are there some risks to this issue for the Democrats?

GREENFIELD: Sure, the question of seeming to be unsupportive of a war on terrorism.

Again, Democrats saw that in the midterms, when some of their candidates for Senate were hurt by the fight over a Homeland Security Department, how much civil service protection would employees get. In fact, the White House had opposed that department for months, but the rally-around-our-leader argument is a very strong one.

I would suggest to you, though, that there is one big historic exception. And that's when the public thinks the fight is not going well. We saw Dwight Eisenhower, that little clip, in 1952 in the middle of the Korean War saying, "I shall go to Korea," pledging he and his credibility as a general would help end the fighting.

Or Richard Nixon in 1968 saying that the inconclusive war in Vietnam proved it was time for new leadership. I think that's why you see Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who was a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, more than willing to remind voters of that experience. It gives him credibility.

MESERVE: But, Jeff, the potency of this issue largely depends on what happens between now and the election in 2004, doesn't it?

GREENFIELD: I think that's the unanswerable key. And, in fact, one of the questions that I hope to heaven we never have to try to figure out is, what happens if there is another devastating attack on American soil? Does the country rally around the president and say, no more criticism at all? Or does it then blame the administration for not adequately protecting the citizenry? As I say, I hope to heaven we never have to face that one.

MESERVE: Jeff, let's bring in Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, this is already having some impact on the scramble for the Democratic nomination, isn't it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is, Jeanne.

In this Democratic presidential race, foreign policy credentials and credibility as national -- as commander in chief is probably going to be more relevant than it has been in any presidential race since 1980, I think, when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter.

And you're seeing two impacts already. One, there are some people talking about running, exploring the race, who probably wouldn't be otherwise: Bob Graham, the outgoing chair of the Senate and the Intelligence Committee, retired General Wesley Clark, who appears sometimes here on CNN. Both of them are talking about it now.

The other thing is that, because of this increased relevance of national security and commander-in-chief credibility, candidates without a lot of foreign policy experience may be handicapped. Someone like John Edwards, a first-term senator who really didn't have any political experience before he ran, may have a tougher time now, relative to someone like Kerry, who does have a longer pedigree in foreign policy.

Howard Dean, the outgoing governor of Vermont, again, the same kind of question. You wonder if Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, running originally as governors, would be as viable a candidate today, in the post-9/11 environment, as they were before it?

GREENFIELD: No, I think that's exactly right.

And, in fact, when Ron alludes to 1980, the curious thing about that election was, it was dominated by concerns about the American hostages in Iran. And an ex-governor of California beat the incumbent president of the United States using, in substantial measure, national security issues. That is really anomalous. And it's hard to imagine how that could happen in 2004, with a Democrat without foreign policy or national security credentials.

MESERVE: When Senator John Edwards gave a major speech on homeland security just about a week ago, very critical of the administration, I called the White House for reaction. And their reaction was: Bring them on. We're just waiting for them to make this an issue.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the White House does feel it's in a very strong position, Jeanne.

Bush's approval ratings on issues relating to the war against terrorism are overwhelming, in the 70-75 percent range, much stronger than his ratings on the economy, around 50 percent, or on health care, probably the second biggest domestic concern. I saw a poll last week where it was as low as 35 percent.

But, despite that, I agree with Jeff. The Democrats really have no choice but to engage in this debate. In the 2002 campaign, their strategy was essentially to hug the president on national security issues and then try to create differences on domestic ones. You can't cede that much ground on an issue of this much concern. You really have to convince the public you have an alternative view, or at least a credible view of where we go from here.

MESERVE: Did the Democrats in Congress miss an opportunity in the whole debate over the Department of Homeland Security? The points the Democrats raised tended to be about labor issues rather than about the wisdom of the administration's approach towards homeland security. Did they miss an opportunity?

GREENFIELD: Well, in retrospect, it's sure easy to see that, because a couple of candidates for senator -- Max Cleland in Georgia, I think Jean Carnahan in Missouri, to some extent, even Walter Mondale -- were hurt by being on the -- quote -- "wrong side" of that issue.

And, as I mentioned in the discussion we had earlier, Jeanne, the Democrats had originally proposed this department. The White House had said no. And by the time they came on board, the Democrats were locked into this position of, well, we're not going to have this position until you protect our principal ally, labor unions, in this fight.

Now, as you said, though, does it make sense, in a post-9/11 world, for the Democrats to have a campaign and say, well, you're for a Homeland Security Department now, but you were late? I don't know that that's a particularly potent argument, in and of itself.

BROWNSTEIN: Ultimately, I think several of the Democratic candidates are going to go further than that.

John Edwards talked about a domestic security agency. Joe Lieberman, the indications are, will be very critical of the administration, arguing they have not done enough to safeguard the homeland. Now, whether they can convince the public of that case is another thing.

But they do want to go out and essentially take Bush on at what has been his strongest point, which is that he has effectively prosecuted this war against terror. Again, I think they correctly calculate that, unless they are credible on this front and are seen to have an alternative, it may be very be difficult for them to press the advantage on those other issues where Bush isn't as strong, the economy and health care and some of the other domestic concerns.

MESERVE: There have been standard issues in all elections past. We've seen welfare, health care, education. Is homeland security, terrorism, is that going to be an issue from hence forward? Is this with us for the long haul?

BROWNSTEIN: I think so.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Go ahead, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: No, I think we could probably say this in unison.

After 9/11, homeland security is personal security, is quite literally a matter of life and death. And it's unimaginable to me that, in 2004, no matter what happens in Iraq, even if there isn't, God forbid, another terrorist attack here, that that will have simply faded. I think Democrats thought that might happen in November and they got a wakeup call.

MESERVE: OK, Jeff, Ron, thank you both for joining us to talk about the issue.

Ahead here, Bob Novak joins me with some "Inside Buzz." What would a Tom Daschle campaign for president mean to Democratic lobbyists?

We follow the money -- when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Now let's get the "Inside Buzz" from Bob Novak.

Well, Bob, what are you hearing about Tom Daschle? Is he going to run or is he not?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I haven't any idea.

But the word has been out that he might run. And that's a problem for the big Democratic lobbyists on K street. They have kind of privately decided among themselves the best man for the Democratic nomination is Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. But they don't want to offend the Democratic leader of the Senate, because that's where their bread and butter is.

So, what they've been doing is waiting for Daschle to get out and then they can go for Kerry. But now they may have a problem. They can't move. They have got a dilemma. And who do they pick, Kerry, who they really like, or Daschle, who they can't afford to offend?

MESERVE: There also have been murmurings about General Wesley Clark.

NOVAK: I just love this.

There are liberals in the House of Representatives who don't like the Democratic field. They certainly don't like their former leader, Dick Gephardt. And they are starting to look at Wes Clark. He's the CNN military analyst. He's lives in Little Rock. I think he's a Democrat.

I asked one of these liberals who was talking about Wes Clark, what does he stand for? He said that he didn't know. That reminds me, Jeanne, of way back in 1948 -- '48 is a big year lately -- when the liberal Democrats didn't like Truman and they were looking to Dwight D. Eisenhower. They had no idea what he stood for.

MESERVE: Nancy Pelosi, heading up Democrats in the House now, I understand she has some members of her caucus a little bit unhappy with her.

NOVAK: The Congressional Black Caucus wanted Congressman Jefferson, William Jefferson, of Louisiana, one of their own, to be named as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Everybody thought she would bow under pressure, but she didn't. She named a fellow Californian, Bob Matsui, a very highly respected person. But it did show to a lot people that Nancy Pelosi is not going to just roll over for every left-wing group, as some people said. She's a person of her own who has a mind of her own.

MESERVE: And is there a value in demonstrating that right off the bat?

NOVAK: Absolutely. I think it did show that she is a considerable person.

MESERVE: And, also, a Republican who kept a key decision all in the family getting some fallout?

NOVAK: Frank Murkowski, the former senator from Alaska, now the governor, named, after weeks of suspense, somebody to fill his seat, his own daughter.

MESERVE: His own daughter, right.

NOVAK: Lisa.

Though she is a politician. She was just named House majority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives. But everybody thinks it's a terrible choice. They really believe that -- in the first place, the anti-abortion people are furious, because she is pro- choice. He is pro-life. They've lost an abortion seat.

But the worst part of it is, they think that it's such -- it looks like nepotism so much that she is going to have to run in 2004 against former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles, very popular. They think that Frank Murkowski has lost a Republican seat. We'll see.

Sometimes it is not so good to be that nice to your children, is it?

MESERVE: No, I think it's always a very good idea, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

MESERVE: You're good to yours, aren't you?

NOVAK: I wouldn't name them to the Senate, though.

(LAUGHTER)

MESERVE: Bob Novak, thanks so much.

NOVAK: Thank you.

MESERVE: And members of the Bush family set sail for the Caribbean. We'll tell you which of the president's relatives are vacationing on the high seas when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: Now a quick look "Inside Their Politics" at campaign news from around the world that Washington is keeping a close eye on: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's reelection campaign is under way. Sharon says he thinks peace with the Palestinians is closer than it appears. But near-constant Israeli-Palestinian violence and corruption charges against some members of his Likud Party could hurt Mr. Sharon at the polls. The prime minister is still the front-runner in the January 28 election.

Checking headlines back home in "Campaign News Daily": A survey of financial records find the new freshman class of Congress is a lot wealthier than most of the people they represent; 43 percent of the incoming House freshmen are millionaires, according to a study by the Associated Press. That's an increase from two years ago, when a third of the class of 2000 freshman qualified as millionaires. For comparison, about 1 percent of all Americans fall into that millionaire category.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his father, the former president, are among the Bush family members taking a holiday cruise through the Caribbean. About a dozen Bush members are leaving port in Florida today aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship. The Wonder has stops scheduled in the Bahamas, as well as Disney's private island resort. The ship is not among those recently hit by an outbreak of stomach viruses among passengers.

When we return: one man's battle to save an old oak tree and the comedown he faces next month.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: A California man's days of living high are numbered. John Quigley says next month he'll come down from the old oak tree he's been sitting in since the 1st of November.

CNN's Charles Feldman talked to Quiqley about his crusade to save the tree.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, let me ask you. There are people around the country who are probably going to wonder why you're sitting in a tree. And you've been there how long now?

JOHN QUIGLEY, TREE-SITTER: Well, most of the last -- today's day 54. I've been here most of the last 54 days.

FELDMAN (voice-over): Meet one John Quigley. His main job is as an environmental educator, teaching kids in the L.A. area. But for almost two months now, Quigley has been perched atop this 70-foot tall oak tree, trying to block what he says will be its almost certain destruction.

QUIGLEY: This is a 400-year-old oak tree.

FELDMAN: To be more exact, the tree, which may or may not really be 400 years old -- no one seems to know for sure -- is in the way of a proposed highway expansion through this new development community. L.A. County wants to move the tree, but Quigley says that will kill it. He want the road to be built around the tree, dubbed Old Glory.

QUIGLEY: This area of Los Angeles, this is one of the last undeveloped areas. And the developers up here have pretty much had their way. What they like to do is come in and bulldoze everything, pretty much, and then just create these cookie-cutter houses and make a lot of money.

FELDMAN: Quigley has come down from the tree for brief occasions, but mostly he sits in it. He even had some dental work done in the tree, a first for him and probably for the dentist as well.

(on camera): How to you eat? How do you go to the bathroom? What do you do when it rains or snows?

QUIGLEY: Well, go to the bathroom, it's similar to mountain climbers. You use containers. I eat. The community's been so generous. They come by every day, three meals a day. And we hoist it up in the bucket here. So, I eat really well in the tree.

FELDMAN (voice-over): In fact, Quigley even had Christmas Eve dinner in the tree.

Now, the developers say they are trying to resolve all of this, save the tree and satisfy the need for the road. Asked about John Quigley's protest, the L.A. County supervisor says:

MIKE ANTONOVICH, LOS ANGELES CO. SUPERVISOR: He's barking up the wrong tree. What we have now is a situation where we can relocate this tree nearby in a park for the community and maintain the safety of the residents by having this road, which, again, had been planned for the past 60 years.

FELDMAN: Quigley says, come January, others will take over for him, and seems a bit sad about the prospect of leaving the tree.

(on camera): Do you kind of bond with the tree after a while, or what? QUIGLEY: Well, it's very difficult to have a relationship with anything for an extended period without bonding. And I think -- you know, people have asked me about this. And all I'll say is, I feel like there's a quiet respect between the two of us.

FELDMAN (voice-over): And that is John Quigley. Call this: portrait of a man and his tree.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Santa Clarita, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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