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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Britain Proposes Benchmarks For Iraqi Disarmament

Aired March 12, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: On the map, two hold out nations take center stage in the diplomatic wrangling in the war in Iraq.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We come together to work very hard in the United Nations to secure the second resolution.

ANNOUNCER: Political poison. Tony Blair isn't the only world leader whose job is at risk for standing shoulder to shoulder with President Bush.

A New York State of mind. The city where the war on terror began weighs in on the showdown with Iraq.

Hardship on the home front. Military families left behind on base. Share their feelings and their worst fears.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Greg, how do you feel about your dad being over there in a place where there could very well be a war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, pretty scared that, even that he might not come back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

It is an arm-twisting, nose-counting (ph) whip operation that might rival anything you'd see on Capitol Hill. And at this hour, U.S. officials believe they are just one vote away from getting nine Security Council members to back a new U.N. resolution on Iraq.

Also in this "NewsCycle," Britain has proposed conditions Saddam Hussein must meet in order to avoid war, as part of the effort to win support for the Iraq resolution. The benchmarks include allowing U.N. inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists alone outside Iraq, surrendering or destroying all stockpiles of anthrax and a public statement by Saddam Hussein admitting that he has weapons of mass destruction, but promising to give them up.

President Bush has been busy today behind closed doors phoning various world leaders. The White House says he has been avoiding reporters' questions for the past five days for a reason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For the president to get drawn into a public discussion of this provision and that provision, this much time, that much time would put him in a position of either just not answering any of your questions about it, because he won't negotiate in public, or pursuing it the way he has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: And, now, let's get more on which U.N. Security Council members are willing to cast their votes with President Bush in the lead-up to a likely war with Iraq. CNN's Andrea Koppel is at the State Department. Andrea, where is the White House right now in lining up these votes?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are very close, Judy, but there is no guarantee that they're going to get there. They believe they're one vote away. And they believe that they can get either the support from Mexico or Chile, that they would then have the nine necessary votes to pass the resolution.

They've gotten in the last number of days signals from both Angola, from Cameroon, from Guinea, the three African members of the undecided six. And then also from Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. And so they feel they are closer. They are not going to talk about this publicly, Judy, because they not only don't want to jinx it, but they also don't want to put additional pressure on these countries.

WOODRUFF: Andrea, they've been saying they want to get a vote no matter what by the end of this week. It's already Wednesday. So, where is this timetable now?

KOPPEL: Well, we actually asked that at today's briefing. Was it the end of the week Friday or the end of the week Sunday. And Richard Boucher said he didn't know.

And in point of fact, a senior State Department official said that the U.S. doesn't -- it would be open or seemed to signal that the U.S. would be open to the possibility this could go on to next week. But, again, we all heard President Bush last Thursday night say so, categorically, that there would be a vote this week. It seems very difficult to imagine that they would push it off until next week, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Any, finally, Andrea, any sense of what the administration is saying to these countries, what it's telling these countries as it says, please vote with us?

KOPPEL: Right.

And, of course, the question everybody wants to know is how much money is the U.S., Great Britain or Spain offering these undecided countries. And the answer is, we don't know. Even if they are offering money, they certainly don't want to talk about it. What they're emphasizing right now, Judy, is that these are six countries that generally don't have a lot of clout on the world stage. And this is their opportunity, if you will, to kind of play with the big players, and to deal with the matter at hand, a very serious matter, Iraq. They say that's all they talk about generally during these conversations is how to get their vote.

And, in fact, Judy, one official told me, he said, look, if the undecideds feel that their opinions are being weighed and are factored into whatever this British compromise looks like, that that could be enough to get them on board.

WOODRUFF: You're right. These are countries that often don't see themselves in the news in this way for months and years at a time. All right, Andrea Koppel, thanks very much.

Former President Bill Clinton says the U.S. might still be able to avoid war in Iraq, if it backs Britain's approach and gives Saddam Hussein some more time to disarm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe a lot of these other people in the U.N. will vote for this if Hans Blix will say how much time he needs, and we let the merits, not the politics, governor that. And I think that's what we ought to do. And I'm not so sure that we can't still avoid war and disarm Saddam Hussein, but we all got to be together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Clinton spoke at a convention of communications workers here in Washington.

Well, Mr. Clinton's old friend Tony Blair may be wondering if he, too, will be on the speaking circuit soon as a former world leader. These days the British prime minister probably could conduct a seminar on the political perils of supporting a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, as we've reported, war with Iraq is intensely unpopular everywhere outside the U.S. Governments that support the U.S. are beginning to worry. Could aligning with George W. Bush on this issue carry a political price? Just ask Tony Blair.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAIR: To come together to work very hard in the United Nations to secure the second resolution.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's the biggest leadership crisis of Tony Blair's career, for two reasons. One, the British public. They oppose war with Iraq unless there is a new U.N. resolution. A haggard Tony Blair has made appearances at public forums to show he's sensitive to people's concerns. WOODRUFF: What kind of government (ph) now bomb Iraq. You don't know how many people like me that's going to suffer so much.

BLAIR: I'm doing it because I think it's the right thing to do.

SCHNEIDER: Sometimes at the cost of exposing himself to public humiliation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prime Minister, thank you.

BLAIR: Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Blair's job ratings have sunk to the low 30s. His Labor Party, which won a landslide in the 2001 election, is now running even with the opposition conservatives. And, so, reason number two for the crisis, the Labor Party. Blair is losing support within his own party. This week a member of his cabinet threatened to resign if Britain goes to war without a second U.N. resolution.

ANTHONY HOWARD, POLITICAL ANALYST: There is a split right at the top of the Labor Party in the cabinet. And I don't think he'd necessarily be the only minister to resign.

SCHNEIDER: When parliament voted on Iraq last month, nearly a third of his party voted against Blair. Next time parliament takes on Iraq, Blair might win the overall vote because most conservatives in parliament support the war.

But if he loses his own party, Blair would be forced to resign and allow the Labor Party to select a new leader. It's happened before to Margaret Thatcher, in fact, in 1990. She supported an unpopular tax, which was opposed by massive public demonstration. Her conservative party was sinking in the polls. The party forced her out as prime minister, and replaced her with John Major. Well, guess what? This year's demonstrations in London against war with Iraq have been even bigger than the ones against Mrs. Thatcher's hated tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The political price of aligning with President Bush has also been high for other world leaders. John Howard in Australia, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Jose Maria Aznar in Spain. They've all suffered declines in popularity and their parties are losing support. But Blair is in more trouble than the others, because his own party could turn against him -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Bill, what was the reaction of that audience there in the television studio we heard?

SCHNEIDER: That's a particular British expression of, well, contempt. It's called slow clapping when a leader gives a talk and the audience doesn't approve, they clap rhythmically, very slowly to show their anger and contempt. And that's what they did to the prime minister.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks. Well, Britain and the United States have repeatedly tried to tie the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the war on terrorism. You might think that argument would carry weight in the city that suffered the most from the September 11 attacks. But, just a short while ago, New York City's council, city council, approved a resolution opposing war in Iraq, except as a last resort. Let's check in with CNN's Maria Hinojosa in New York. Maria, what happened?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, a very biter and emotional debate that wrapped up just about 20 minutes ago, when the New York City Council became the 141st city to call on no-war with Iraq. An emotional debate, Judy, as you said, that had lawmakers pointing again to September 11th as the reason why some people supported war with Iraq while others don't.

Now, the final tally of the votes, 32 supporting the anti-war resolution while 18 were against it. And just to give you a sense of what it was like among these city council members as they debated it on the floor today, two African-American Democrats took to the floor. One a former marine with a nephew and a godson serving in the Gulf, and he voted for the anti-war resolution.

Many others in the City Council saying that the president has not been able to prove any connection between September 11, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Another city council member then held up a photograph, an I.D. of his best friend who died on September 11. He said he supports the war now to get rid of terrorism and its supporters. Now, the earlier resolutions, Judy, that other cities passed were very clearly against any war with Iraq under any circumstances.

But for New York, in order for it to pass, this is the wording that they came up with, that the city council opposes a preemptive military strike on Iraq, unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the United States, or unless all other options for getting Iraq to comply with disarmament failed.

Now, the cities for peace say, and they launched this campaign, that they actually modeled this on the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, where several cities divested from South Africa, paving the way for a national movement. Their focus now will be to get the number of cities to 200. They plan on focusing on southern cities, as well as Texas, where so far only one city has passed a resolution and that would be Austin.

WOODRUFF: All right, fascinating. In New York City, even. OK. Maria, thank you very much.

Well, many Americans, as you know, have taken to the streets to express their feelings about a war in Iraq. Not all of them have been protesters. More than 400 people rallied today in Cincinnati in a show of support for U.S. troops. Some waved flags, sang patriotic songs and held up signs against Saddam Hussein.

And now, a follow-up on another controversy stemming from the showdown with Iraq. House majority leader Tom DeLay publicly took aim today at Democratic Congressman Jim Moran who suggested that the Jewish community has pushed the president to wage war against Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM DELAY (R-TX) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We see it in the reckless climate, fostered by leaders in the other party which appears to countenance remarks like those made by representatives Moran and Captor recently. They were wrong and every leader must reject their moral equivocating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: DeLay spoke to orthodox Jewish organizations today. As you heard, he also slammed congresswoman Marcy Captor who likened Osama bin Laden to American's in the Revolutionary War. Democratic leaders, for their part, have also criticized the remarks by both Captor and Moran.

(BREAKING NEWS)

WOODRUFF: Still ahead, the heartbreak of staying home while a loved one may soon wage war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: She looks at the picture. She'll look at her mom's picture, pick it up and kiss it and says, oh, mommy, mommy. And we remind her that's who her mom is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: A child's fill-in mom shares her touching story. I talked to them and other military families trying to cope.

If the president declares war, can the U.S. afford bill billions to rebuild Iraq?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, a draft audit shows that Florida's Governor Jeb Bush faces a $3 billion pension problem. That audit was originally expected before Bush's re-election last year. And congressional investigators want to know why it was delayed.

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, the latest inside buzz on Senator Hillary Clinton. This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The cost of rebuilding. Estimates on how much the U.S. will have to spend in post-war Iraq are on the rise. Is the price too high? The take from the right and the left coming up in our "CROSSFIRE."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): It's time to check your IP IQ. On this date in 1993, Janet Reno was sworn in as the first female attorney general of the United States. Who preceded Reno as attorney general? Was it, A: Edwin Meese, B: Richard Thornburgh or C: William Barr? We'll tell you the answer later on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the debate over Iraq continues at the United Nations, and before any potential conflict has even begun, the U.S. military deployment is having a dramatic effect on thousands of American families. In recent months, 35 ships carrying 27,000 navy personnel have left Norfolk, Virginia. All of those sailors left behind families and loved of ones concerned about their safety.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Tonight, I thank the men and women of our armed services and their families. I know their deployment so far from home is causing hardship for many military families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: How hard is it to be a military family, left behind when the big ships leave? I went to Norfolk, Virginia, to find out. It is the biggest naval base in America. And if the home front has a front line, this is it. You see the families and the navy exchange on base. Mothers in small groups with their children. Dads with toddlers in tow, all suddenly single parents. That carrier pulling out is the "Harry S. Truman." It left three months ago. Greg Herron's dad is on board. He's a nuclear electrician. Greg is proud of the model of the "Truman" that he built with his dad, but you can tell he's worried.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Greg, how do you feel about your dad being over there in a place where there could very well be a war?

GREG HERRON, SAILOR'S SON: Well, pretty scared that even that he might not come back.

WOODRUFF: It's a lot for a 12-year-old boy, the oldest of three kids, and a lot for their mom, Connie Herron.

CONNIE HERRON, SAILOR'S WIFE: We had to replace the pilot ignition switch on the heater.

WOODRUFF: In the house?

C. HERRON: In the house.

G. HERRON: It was in the heater.

C. HERRON: We have, well, we had a pet die. We have some family emergencies as far as family here locally being in the hospital. But it all does seem to happen when they're gone.

WOODRUFF: What kind of questions do they ask you, Connie? C. HERRON: Sometimes they want to know that the ship is safe. They want to know if, you know, how dad is -- how well he's prepared for -- . I think recently we talked about terrorist attacks. And, especially, with him because they've been going over it a little bit in school, about some of the things that they, you know, biological weapons, and if that would affect him.

WOODRUFF: Do you feel like you have the answers to those questions?

C. HERRON: A lot of times I have to stop and think before I respond and see exactly what lies underneath the question. But most of the time I can answer it, because they are prepared. I have every faith that they are doing their best to prepare for every eventuality, whatever could happen. And so I have absolutely no doubt that he will come home safe, and so it's not difficult for me to convey that to them.

WOODRUFF: Until that day, life goes on. Eleven-year-old Christopher has his karate. Greg's looking forward to soccer, and when dad gets back, some one-on-one time. Sooner or later when he actually gets a chance he actually wants to start like building models with me of different like planes, aircraft carriers or cars or something. That's about it, because she won't do that.

There are some things that moms are just not as adept at.

And from 10-year-old Katie, a simple message for dad.

KATIE HERRON, DAUGHTER: That I love you.

WOODRUFF: Norfolk is a navy town to the core, the kind of place where a pair of fighter jets can buzz a strip mall and no one looks up, no one complains. Right now, the base is unusually quiet. Parts of nearby Virginia Beach look like a ghost town with all those ships and sailors out at sea.

At the popular Uncle Louie's restaurant, owner Louis Eisenberg says there is a noticeable difference now.

LOUIS EISENBERG, RESTAURANT OWNER: We are only approximately five minutes from the base on the interstate. And, yeah, we see a lot less uniforms in this restaurant presently.

WOODRUFF: We found just two uniforms. This is senior chief Billy Baker. Veteran of navy conflicts in 1980 and 1991. Now, he's on shore, while his wife also in the Navy is in the Gulf.

SR. CHIEF BILLY BAKER: We really swapped shoes where my wife normally did this when I stayed at sea. And this is my first experience being a single parent with two small children. So I have a new-founded respect for single parents in this world. That's my daughter, and then there's my son. It probably really impacts my daughter right now, because she is in school and she understands that her mom's not home. My son, it really doesn't impact him too much because I am here with him. But my daughter she feels it's a must. It was pretty tough on her when she first left due to the fact that, you know, her mom whose been a major part of her life, you know, for the first seven years is no longer here. So her grades started suffering really bad. And the teachers were wonderful. They understood that if she started crying in class, you know, the reason why she is crying is not because they did something wrong. It's because she missed her mother.

WOODRUFF: When his wife returns Baker will be the one waiting on the peer. Now that he's on the other side, he knows the adjustment to home life will be a challenge.

BAKER: You have to work yourself back into it. You have to - where your other partner, like where right now I'm, you know, the father, the mother. I pay the bills. You know, my wife is out there having the good life. You know, she's floating around the ocean where I would rather be.

WOODRUFF: The work or readjusting the families and much more takes place here at the Navy Family Support Center, near the base. As we walked through, we met a woman and child with a remarkable story. This is 2-year-old Nicole. Her mother is a single parent serving now in the Gulf, and with no other family who could care for the child, Dee Crosby and her navy husband agreed to act as Nicole's parents until mom returns.

And how is she doing without her mom?

DEE CROSBY, FILL-IN MOM: When mom calls, it's sticky. She cries for awhile after mom hangs up the phone. She has to hang up the phone. We're not allowed to hang up the phone. She'll pick up the phone and pretend she's talking to her mom again. We have pictures hanging around the house of her and her mom.

WOODRUFF: It's tough, obviously, when she talks to her mom on the phone. How often can she talk to her mom?

CROSBY: Her mom right now has called for like three days in a row. And then - but all conversations are getting ready to stop, even e-mails are getting ready to stop. We can no longer communicate through e-mail or by phone.

WOODRUFF: And how is Nicole doing the rest of the time?

CROSBY: Pretty good. She just doesn't - she looks at the pictures. She'll look at her mom's picture, pick it up and kiss it, and says, oh, mommy, mommy. And we remind her that's who her mom is. We let her know that we are not her mom and dad, and that we are just trying to take care of her.

WOODRUFF: Carrier groups are generally deployed for six months. But no one here has any idea when the ships will return. For now, they will await order from the commander-in-chief. And that happy day when these empty peers are, once again, packed with families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And we met some really amazing, courageous moms, and dads and kids.

Just ahead, the financial costs of waging war Has the White House failed to warn Congress about the high costs that lie ahead? Part of our taking issue debate with Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson from "CROSSFIRE."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): It's time again to check your IP IQ. Earlier we asked, who preceded Janet Reno as U.S. attorney general. Was it, A: Edwin Meese, B: Richard Thornburgh or C: William Barr? The correct answer is "C," William Barr, who served in the final years of the first Bush administration. Janet Reno served until 2001, making her not only the first female, but also the longest serving attorney general in the 20th century.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Grading the candidates: coming up, Bob Novak on which Democratic presidential contender is the surprise of the field.

(NEWS BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now from the CNN "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

Gentlemen, that blue-ribbon commission that we just were talking about said that the president has failed to warn the Congress and the American people what this war is going to cost, what the post-war costs are going to be for American taxpayers.

Has the administration let down the American people this way, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, I think so. I think they've, frankly, failed to level with us.

The president needs to be honest with us. If he wants to have this war, or he feels like he needs to, to give him his due, he needs to tell us what it might cost. And, frankly, it's in his interest, it's in the interest of the supporters of the war to prepare the American public, to tell them, this could take years. It could cost tens of thousands of lives. It cost billions and billions of dollars.

And if then the American people want to support it, go ahead and do it. But if this thing good badly, the reconstruction, that is, the occupation -- I think the war, if it happens, will be won decisively. But the occupation could be problematic and the president is not leveling with us. And it's a shame.

WOODRUFF: Tucker?

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, I'd like to find one person in the entire continental United States who doesn't know that the war potentially could cost American lives and billions of dollars and could take years to pacify Iraq after the war. That goes without saying. Everybody knows it. Not clear what the president can add to that very, very obvious point.

And I think the debate itself is a sideshow and it takes away from the core issue, which is, does Iraq pose a threat to American national security? That's what the president is arguing. That's the debate right there. There really is no other debate. And for some reason, Democrats don't want to take that on directly, so they argue around the edges, about Cameroon, France, about the potential cost, etcetera. But they don't address the key question: Is Iraq a threat?

BEGALA: I'll tell you one American who doesn't have a clue what it's going to cost. And that is President Bush. Either that or he knows and he's not telling us and he's purposely deceiving us.

I think our president has gotten good cost estimates. He should share them with us. His top general, General Shinseki, the chief of staff of the of the United States Army, testified before the Congress and said it could take 200,000 troops to occupy Iraq. This commission you reported on a moment ago said it could take every single soldier in the Army six months out of every 18-to-24-month tour of duty. Six months of that would be spent in Iraq.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: They need to tell us that. This is what the experts tell us. Why doesn't the president level with us?

WOODRUFF: Tucker?

CARLSON: But it could also take 50,000 troops. The point is, these are estimates. And to pretend that they're somehow accurate before the war has even begun, that these are hard-and-fast numbers, simply isn't true. Everybody knows it's going to be expensive. Everyone knows it's risky. The only question on the table is, is it worth it? Do we need to do it? That's the question.

WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, a second question. There's a group of congressional Democrats who have joined with about 15 parents of soldiers serving in the Gulf, three soldiers. Together, they've all gone to federal court to challenge President Bush's ability to wage this war without getting formal approval, a formal declaration of war from the Congress.

And let me just quickly cite what the lawyer for the plaintiff said. He said -- John Bonafas (ph) is his name. He said: "If we're going to go to war now, we need a debate. If it strengthens the president's hand, so be it. At least people can be held accountable."

Paul?

BEGALA: We've had the debate. Frankly, my side lost. I think the war is unwise. I think it's unwarranted. I think it's unjust. But it's not unconstitutional or illegal. The Congress did give the president the authority. The courts -- the Constitution envisions no role for the courts in deciding when to go to war and where to go to war. Of course, they envision no role for the Supreme Court in deciding presidential elections either, but the Supreme Court stepped in. I hope, in this case, the courts stay out of it. Congress has given the president the authority. I just hope he doesn't exercise it.

WOODRUFF: Tucker, no disagreement here?

CARLSON: Some of us haven't quite gotten over the 2000 election and some of us could use a little therapy.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: No, there's really no question that the executive has the power to wage war. That's why we have an executive. That's why Congress doesn't run the country alone, is that the framers decided you need a single person, you need a president, primarily, to wage war. And there's been a U.N. resolution.

As Paul said, Congress has already given its OK. Again, this is another sideshow. I do think we need a debate about whether Iraq poses a real threat to the United States. And it's a shame we're not having one.

WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we are going to leave it there. It's always good to see you.

Paul and Tucker are going to continue their debate later on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.

Still ahead: political questions and family connections. Does Florida Governor Jeb Bush have some explaining to do about a delay that may have helped him politically and the motive behind it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A tangled political web is emerging here in Washington involving Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a federal audit of a Florida pension fund, and the daughter of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Our congressional corporate Jonathan Karl has been sorting through the details. He says some members of the Senate have some questions they want answered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL (voice-over): As Florida Governor Jeb Bush faces a big budget crunch, a draft audit of the state's pension fund obtained by CNN says the state owes $3 billion to government employers in Florida, including more than $500 million to the federal government.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We were told we were going to see this report in late March and we were going to have 30 days to respond to it. So it would be very difficult for me to respond to anything -- it hasn't reached Florida yet. It's made it to the newspapers, but it hasn't reached Florida.

KARL: The audit says the state required employers to put too much into the retirement fund, which, thanks to strong investments, was then running a surplus. Now the money needs to be paid back. For Governor Bush, who was on Capitol Hill to testify on other issues, this is another budget headache.

But it could have been a political headache as well. The draft report, according to internal government documents, was originally expected on September 30 of last year, in the middle of Governor Bush's reelection campaign. The pension fund was already under scrutiny at the time after losing more than $300 million because of the collapse of Enron stock. The audit was delayed last year after an urgent call from Governor Bush's chief of staff to Health and Human Services Inspector General Janet Rehnquist. The governor's office wanted a delay. And, in a highly unusual move, Rehnquist granted it.

JUNE GIBBS BROWN, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, HHS DEPARTMENT: That happened as it was reported, that there was a request to delay it, particularly with an election coming up, where there could be any political motivation for it. Why, it would be totally unacceptable. I don't think any I.G. that I know of would have responded to that and gone ahead and done it.

KARL: Rehnquist says she took the call from Governor Bush's office at the request of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's senior staff. Governor Bush says the delay was requested because the pension fund was getting a new executive director.

J. BUSH: The implication the somehow this was a politically motivated deal because there was a campaign, it's just wrong. It's not true.

KARL: But Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Max Baucus of the Senate Finance Committee are not satisfied with that explanation and continue to investigate.

In a letter to Janet Rehnquist on January 30, they expressed concern that "at least the appearance that politics, rather than the interest of the American taxpayer, controlled your decision to allow a lengthy delay of the audit."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Amidst investigations into her role in delaying the Florida audit and other matters, Janet Rehnquist resigned last week, citing family reasons. But investigators here in the Senate say that their inquiry will continue into this matter, despite her resignation -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So we haven't heard the end of it?

KARL: No, we haven't.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl, at the Capitol, thank you.

Well, meantime, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are breaking with the Bush administration's effort to downplay the seriousness of budget deficits. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle today proposed a plan to get the budget back in budget in seven years. And Senate Budget Committee Don Nickles reportedly is preparing to offer a plan for ending deficits in 10 years. Those proposals may take some steam out of Democrats' efforts to portray Republicans at budget- busters.

Meanwhile conservative Blue Dog Democrats are set to unveil their budget blueprint tomorrow that highlights differences with the White House on tax cuts and on deficit spending.

Coming up next: Is Dick Gephardt making the grade? Bob Novak will have the early buzz on the White House hopeful's performance out on the trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak here now with some "Inside Buzz."

All right, you have been getting a little early reading on how the Democratic presidential contenders are doing. What are you hearing?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I've been talking to some Democratic pols. And they're really not impressed with anybody so far. And nobody has been able to raise much money.

But the old pros are kind of surprised how well Dick Gephardt, Congressman Dick Gephardt, looks. He hasn't run since '88. They'd kind of forgotten about him. And he's a pretty good candidate. He's got labor back. And although Kerry and Lieberman are ahead in the polls, don't forget about Gephardt. He's a major contender and he's looking pretty good.

WOODRUFF: All right, somebody who is not running for president, Senator Clinton, what are you hearing about her reviews these days?

NOVAK: Well, Hillary is getting great reviews in the Senate in her third year as a senator, but not so much back home in New York in her liberal base. They don't like the fact that she is not joining the anti-war movement. They don't think she's talked enough about the bad economy either. And they feel she's got much too low a profile. The feeling is, she's looking at 2008 for president, not 2004.

WOODRUFF: All right.

In Pennsylvania, some intra-Republican rivalry going on in the Senate race.

NOVAK: Yes. The hottest Republican primary of 2004 is shaping up in Pennsylvania: moderate Republican Senator Arlen Specter being challenged by Conservative Senator (sic) Pat Toomey. The question is, what is the White House position? Of course, they always endorse all incumbent Republicans senators, so they are backing Specter. But I think, beyond that, they really didn't want Toomey to run. If that gets out, that doesn't help Toomey. He's trying to make this into a conservative national movement to get rid of a liberal Republican senator. And you might watch for Arlen Specter to vote a little more conservative than usual the next year or two in order to get ready for that primary.

WOODRUFF: Assume he wasn't talked out of running altogether.

Last but not least, a South Carolina senior senator, whether he's going to run again.

NOVAK: Fritz Hollings up for reelection in 2004 -- nobody knows. But some of the national Democratic operatives think he is not running. He's not raising any money. He's not going to do anything. He'll be 82 years old for that race. That's pretty young in South Carolina, considering Strom Thurmond ran for...

WOODRUFF: Young in the Senate.

NOVAK: Yes. He ran for his last race when he was 94. There's a lot of worry on the Democratic side that the only person who can hold that seat in a state that's trending Republican is old Fritz Hollings. If he doesn't run, they're afraid they will lose it. But Hollings might have trouble in South Carolina even keeping the seat. But that would be a very colorful figure, another colorful figure in the Senate out if he doesn't run next year.

WOODRUFF: All kinds of interesting Senate speculation these days, especially in the South.

OK, Bob Novak, thank you.

We turn to presidential politics again after the break. Senator John Edwards outlines his plan to help American families, what he proposes and what his proposals would cost -- when we check the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The 2004 presidential race leads the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

Democratic hopeful John Edwards today unveiled a series of proposals he says will strengthen America's families. In a speech at George Washington University, Edwards outlined a number of ideas, including a $2,500 tax credit to help parents of newborns take time off from work. Edwards' staff estimates the total cost of his proposals at $11 billion.

Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate John Kerry plans to skip the always festive Saint Patrick's Day events in Boston and attend ceremonies in New Hampshire a week later. Aides blame a scheduling conflict and the senator's recent surgery for his decision. Some Boston leaders, however, question if the recent flap over Kerry's family background could be a factor. Kerry, whose ancestry is Jewish, was recently criticized for not dispelling the once widespread belief that he is Irish.

Presidential primaries could be another casualty of budget- cutters in several cash-strapped states. Republican legislatures in Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, and Utah are all considering bills to cancel their 2004 primaries to save money. Colorado has already canceled its primary, at a savings of more than $2 million. Republicans have little interest in the primaries next year, since President Bush is expected to be unopposed. But Democratic governors in Arizona, Kansas and Missouri, though, are likely to veto those bills.

The threat of war is complicating politicians' lives in a number of ways. Up next: What if voters elected a representative who was too busy serving his country to serve them?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: What if they held an election and the winning candidate didn't show up?

Well, it happened in Pennsylvania, where John Pippy easily won a special election to the state Senate yesterday. Pippy is an Army reservist on active duty in Maryland. He got special clearance to run from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Given the uncertainty ahead in Iraq, it's anyone's guess as to when Pippy will actually occupy his seat in the Pennsylvania Senate.

And tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, I'll talk with another official juggling his duties as a politician and as a military reservist: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.

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