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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Gay Constituent Confronts Santorum Over Comments

Aired April 23, 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: Will universal healthcare be the ticket in 2004? Democrat Dick Gephardt says he has a prescription and George W. Bush does not.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has no plan, no vision, no answer beyond simplistic knee-jerk tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.

ANNOUNCER: Did you get the memo? A Republican pollster warns the President's approval rating has no where go but down.

It was the other air war.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios.

ANNOUNCER: We'll ask retired General Wesley Clark about the criticism, and whether he has a future in presidential politics.

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

We begin with more fallout for Senator Rick Santorum after his controversial comments likening homosexuality to incest, polygamy, bigamy and adultery. At a town hall meeting at his home state in Pennsylvania today, Santorum was confronted by a gay constituent who echoed calls that Santorum resign from GOP leadership posts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You attacked me for who I am: a constituent of yours, a proud gay Pennsylvanian. How can you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest? I live my life for me. Not for you or for anyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Santorum defended his comments saying that they were similar to what Justice Byron White wrote in a Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals have no constitutional right to private consensual sex.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R) PENNSYLVANIA: To suggest that my comments, which are the law of the land and were the reason the Supreme Court decided the case of 1986 is somehow intolerant, I just would argue that it is not. It is simply a reflection of the law. Obviously, I can't represent everybody's viewpoint. There are a variety of different viewpoints. There are a variety of different viewpoints in the room. My job is to respect everybody's viewpoint. And I do. I respect your point of view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean responded to Santorum's comments today by saying -- quote -- "gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion. It is immoral."

Well, White House hopefuls have rushed to condemn Santorum's remarks and President Bush's silence about them. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says Mr. Bush does not comment on Supreme Court cases or people's interpretation of them.

One of the Democratic presidential hopefuls went out on what you might say is a bit of a limb today. Congressman Dick Gephardt unveiled his plan to reach what he calls the Holy Grail of public policy. That is, universal healthcare.

In the process, Gephardt said he wants to take a scalpel to the president's economic package as our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In announcing his health plan, Dick Gephardt is breaking ground on another issue: he's the first Democrat candidate to call for the total repeal of the Bush tax cuts, including those already enacted.

GEPHARDT: Legislation repealing the Bush tax cuts, and using the money to pay for universal access to health care will be the first bill that I'll send to Congress as president of the United States.

KARL: He needs to reverse all the tax cuts because his plan is expensive, costing $214 billion in the first year alone, making it instantly the fourth most expensive federal program behind only Social Security, defense and Medicare.

GEPHARDT: I believe there's no work closer to God than caring for those at God's door. To me, your life's work is something worth fighting for.

KARL: Gephardt would funnel money from the federal government to employers to cover 60 percent of their health insurance premium costs. Companies that now don't provide any health coverage would get an even higher subsidy. States would also get a big subsidy. All told, the 10-year cost would most likely be even higher than the total cost of the Bush tax cuts, both past and proposed.

(on camera): You are talking about repealing the Bush tax cut all the way back to 2001. What you are really talking about is a tax increase. Aren't they going to eat you alive, Republicans, over this?

GEPHARDT: I don't see it that way. I see this as an alternative and better way to cut taxes for the American people to get health care for everybody and get real stimulus in our economy. Get this economy moving again.

KARL: But those income tax rates which have already been cut are going to go back up. So, the bottom line is individual income taxes are going to be higher.

GEPHARDT: But this is an alternative tax cut that puts more money in ordinary people's pockets than anything the Bush tax cut did. It's a distinct, clear, real alternative to the George Bush failed tax cut policy that we've had over these last two years. There hasn't been one job created by these tax cuts. There hasn't been anything good happen in this economy. Nobody's been covered by healthcare. No child has been educated by these tax cuts. They failed. They haven't worked. They are going to the wrong people for the wrong things.

KARL (voice-over): In a recent Gallup poll, Americans ranked health care as their greatest worry, ahead of even terrorism and the economy. Gephardt is hoping that means people will be willing to pay higher income taxes to get better access to health care.

(on camera): In a sign of how Republicans and their allies will treat the Gephardt plan, the National Federation of Independent Businesses ridiculed it as a take-two tax hikes and call-me-in-the- morning approach that mainstream America can't afford.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: How big a gamble is Gephardt's universal health care plan? We'll talk about that later on INSIDE POLITICS. And you can hear more from Dick Gephardt, himself, tonight on "MONEYLINE." That's at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Well, President Bush, meantime, is pushing ahead with his fight for big tax cuts. And his broader pitch for re-election.

For the latest on those fronts, let's check in with our White House correspondent John King. John, the president traveling tomorrow to Ohio. What do we expect to hear from him?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, you will hear two speeches. The one that is most noteworthy domestically from the political standpoint is the speech he will deliver in Canton, Ohio on the economy. Don't look for any new surprises, just look for the president to be out in public making the case that the economy is doing pretty good, he will say. But he will also say that it needs a boost and that investors, especially, and businesses, especially, need confidence that there is a long-term plan to stimulate and keep the economy going. That is why the president will again make the case for as big a tax cut as possible. He will say he wants at least $550 billion, even more if he can get it.

That's a tough sledding in Congress, especially because one of the senators in the state Mr. Bush will be in, George Voinovich, the senator from Ohio has said that said he can support a tax cut of no more than $350 billion. He says that he's worried that, A, that tax cuts are necessary to begin with. But, B, he's worried even more, he says, about the federal deficit. White House officials say this is not any direct effort anyway to get in the face of Senator Voinovich, if you will.

But they do say the president over the next several weeks and, in fact, several months, as this debate plays out in Congress, will travel the country trying to get as much as he can. Part of it is the policy debate to get as big a tax cut as he can. Part of it, Judy, is just pure politics. The president wants the American people to know, yes, he's managing a war in Iraq, but he wants to make the case that he also has his hands full-time on the economy as well.

WOODRUFF: Well, John, speaking of politics, the president's pollster Mathew Dowd put out a memo today. In essence, what it looked to be was managing expectations, saying, or at least trying to say, already they predict the president's poll ratings are going to start to slip.

KING: That's exactly what it is, Judy, a classic case of the president's political team trying to manage expectations in the news media, trying to manage the expectations of Republican-based voters as well. Let's look at a few things that Matthew Dowd says in that memo. He says, among other things -- quote -- "Expect the current high approval numbers to drop to a more realistic level." He means, of course, after the war effort in Iraq. Mathew Dowd goes on to say, "As President Bush is tested in media polls, it will not be surprising to see the president behind in some polls against potential Democratic candidate."

In that same memo, the president's pollster Matt Dowd went on to say that Bob Dole was running ahead of Bill Clinton at one point in early polls. So Mathew Dowd trying to convince Republicans, don't worry when you see these polls. Also trying to get out ahead of the Democrats. You just had in Jon Karl's piece Dick Gephardt being very harshly critical of this president.

The war is almost over. And what they expect, and the fact that this show is back on the air is proof the Republicans believe we'll spend more time covering the Democratic candidates. We will spend more time on the president's re-election effort, and because of that there will be more talk of politics. They are simply trying to say, don't worry when you see those numbers go down. It is something we expect. And they are trying to convince Republican base voters, work hard for the president's re-election, but don't worry he'll be fine. WOODRUFF: And one more reminder that the first primary is less than nine months away.

KING: Coming very quickly.

WOODRUFF: It sure is. John King at the White House, thanks.

Checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily." Senator from Florida, Bob Graham says he plans to kick off his presidential campaign officially on May 6. Graham's big announcement was delayed first by his January heart surgery, and later by the war in Iraq. He also plans his first Iowa campaign trip early next week.

Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr has called off his campaign to return to Washington. Barr held a news conference today to say he's dropping out of the race for Georgia's sixth district House seat. Incumbent Republican Johnny Isaacson is leaving that seat to run for the Senate. Barr says he made the decision after conversations with his wife and family.

President Bush is urging former GOP governor Jim Edgar to enter the Illinois Senate race. Mr. Bush called Edgar to ask him to consider running. Edgar says he's thinking about it. Incumbent Republican Peter Fitzgerald said just last week that he would not run for another term. Edgar served eight years as Illinois' governor in the 1990s.

Is another Democrat ready to jump into the presidential race?

Up next I'll ask retired General Wesley Clark about his political ambitions and how his analysis of the Iraq war angered the Bush administration.

And we'll tell you why president Bush may not make it on some 2004 ballots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: He's riding high in the polls right now, but George Bush may not even be on next year's ballot in some states. We'll tell you why coming up on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: CNN has just confirmed that Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has accepted President Bush's offer that he serve yet another, a fourth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Greenspan, who is 77, was offered this yesterday. The invitation went out from the White House, and today we have just gotten word he will accept. That means several more years at least of service by this Fed chairman. You see him there on the right next to former President Bush who is currently serving his 16th year as chairman of the Fed.

Well, former Army General Wesley Clark is arguably the only potential Democratic presidential candidate to benefit from the saturation news coverage of the war in Iraq. Well, the nine announced candidates all but disappeared from the headlines during the war, Clark's military expertise kept him in the spotlight, and at times, even made him a political target.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): With war coverage dominating the news, the '04 Democrats have found it hard to get any airtime. But one potential candidate hasn't had any trouble getting on television.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I do take these reports as credible.

WOODRUFF: Retired General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander during the fighting in Kosovo, has been logging lots of precious TV time as a military analyst for CNN. Five days into the Iraq war, he was one of the first to criticize the pentagon's battle plan saying, "Our air power is wonderful, and we should be able to handle this, but our boots on the ground strength is low." That comment didn't sit well with Republicans, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who blasted what he referred to as blow dried Napoleons, and accused Clark of trying to further his own political ambitions.

REP. TOM DELAY (R) MAJORITY LEADER: He's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert. I think they would serve the nation better if they just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward.

WOODRUFF: When a speedy victory drew near, Vice President Dick Cheney gloated openly.

CHENEY: In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios. But with every day and every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent.

WOODRUFF: And there's a downside to all that free TV exposure. General Clark's running commentary on the Iraq war could become powerful political ammunition for his opponents if he becomes a candidate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Retired General Wesley Clark is with me now in Washington. He is, of course, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. And as we mentioned, a CNN military analyst. General Clark, what do you make of that criticism of you as a commentator during the war. Is it justified?

CLARK: Well, I don't think it is. I think I -- first of all, I do have a legitimate body of expertise and anybody who looks up my military record will know that. I did a lot of planning, a lot of the training, a lot of the writing of the doctrine. And I've done it myself. And I'm probably the only one of the analysts who has been a theater commander in war and been where Tommy Franks has been. So, I think I've got a very good basis for talking from. I think I've called it objectively. Lots of people from both parties in all walks of life have told me that.

So, no I don't think it is fair criticism. But show business is show business. And I think, you know, one thing that everybody has to understand is when you give your opinions, they are subject to criticism. And that's true, whether your out of the government, like me, or whether you are in the government. And when you write a plan that puts the lives of young people at stake, I think people, you know, want a commentary on how it's going. So I think if you look at my record you'll see I've been very positive on this throughout and really boosted the soldiers and airmen.

WOODRUFF: Now that the war is over, what is your assessment of the way the war was conducted. Were there enough boots on the ground?

CLARK: Well, I think it was a case of making a decision to either wait for the 4th Infantry Division to get there or to go ahead and take the risk. We took the risk and it worked out. And I'm really glad that it did. And I think that was the right call, but I'm still of the school that would say, don't take risks if you don't have to take the risk. When it came time to make that decision, we had to take the risk.

But what we really don't know and why I can't criticize the plan is I wasn't there in the planning process. I have no idea what the decisions were that laid behind the plan, but there were a lot of troops who could have been there who weren't there. And we don't know the why or the wherefore for that. So, now as I look at the post- war plan, and, Judy, I think something we do need to keep in mind is that the military had a responsibility not only to plan for the finishing of the regime, but to plan for what happened afterwards. And I think it's very clear to everybody who is reporting from on the ground and the American people that a few more boots on the ground in Baghdad would have been very useful.

WOODRUFF: Especially in the post-war period.

CLARK: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: How do you assess President Bush's leadership during this war, since 9/11 in this country. Well, I think he - and as a wartime commander in chief, from everything I've read and I'm only seeing what's on the outside in the public medium, he's been decisive. He's taken control. He's not afraid to make tough decisions. He made a gutsy call there at the start to use intelligence to go in and get Saddam Hussein. I think that's fine.

WOODRUFF: But what about across the board as president, his leadership?

CLARK: Well, I'm not in a position right now to go through the whole thing. I think it's more than I can give you in a sound byte. But I think what is really -- what people are looking for in this country is the strategy for how to take us from where we were to where we'll have a safer, more secure America. Is it just taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan? That's fine. How did the attack on Iraq figure into that? And I think people are asking, are we really safer today or are we engaged in -- what I think people are looking for is the overall strategy within which these actions made sense.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you this, you were hosting a conference today at Georgetown University here where you had commentators, most of whom were critical of this president's, what they said unilateralist approach internationally, and also critical of his failure, they said, to deal with problems here in America -- jobs, education and health care. You picked those speakers. So one assumes you share their views.

CLARK: Well, I didn't know precisely what their views would be.

WOODRUFF: You did know.

CLARK: I did not, Judy. I brought in people who were journalists, practitioners and scholars. And Richard Holbrooke has his own views. I pretty much knew he was an internationalist. When I brought in Karen de Young ...

WOODRUFF: Laura Tyson was Bill Clinton's economic ...

CLARK: Yes, because if you are going to go after practitioners that are relatively current you're going to either get Paul O'Neill or somebody from the previous administration, and I thought it was fair, and I brought in Bob Reicher (ph) who was the CBO chief under both Republicans and Democrats. So I think, you know, it was a relatively fair panel. I guess what surprised me about the panel was the degree of unanimity.

And I asked what I thought was the key question to the panel, which is, look, we went over there, we whacked a country. A lot of people have come to me and said, it doesn't matter why we went there or what the results were. The fact is there were people around the world who thought America didn't have the courage to stand up for itself and its values, and what it believed in. And we did, and we showed them. And I asked the panel, did that make us safer? And not a one of them would articulate and commit and say it did.

WOODRUFF: And you seem to agree with that. But we are not going to pursue you on that. What I am going to pursue you on, are you running for president? You keep saying ...

CLARK: No, I'm not a candidate.

WOODRUFF: You keep saying you are not ruling it out. You are not a candidate, but you haven't made up your mind yet?

CLARK: I'm not a candidate. I think it's a time for dialogue. I think 9/11 was the day that not only was a horrible tragedy but also the day that dialogue died in this country. There's been a spirit of fear that's out there, and we finished with Iraq now, except for the difficult aftermath of it, but Saddam Hussein's regime's not there. But the Taliban are gone. Al Qaeda is on the run. So I think Americans have to go about putting the trauma of 9/11 behind them, and I think they've got to talk about the future of America.

WOODRUFF: And you are doing it, but not -- you are still thinking about running? Let's put it that way.

CLARK: I'm trying to do it in a nonpartisan fashion.

WOODRUFF: But you are thinking. All right, General Clark, good to see you. We appreciate you coming by.

CLARK: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Great to see you. Many thanks.

Up next, is Democrat Dick Gephardt rolling the dice? We'll talk about the politics of his universal health care proposal and its whopping price tag.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Dick Gephardt saw first hand back in the 1990s that addressing this country's health care crisis can be politically risky. Just ask the Clintons. But today, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate stepped into that minefield anyway.

Let's bring in our political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Ron, just how risky a step is this for Gephardt?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Judy, he is putting a lot of chips on the table. This plan is so big that it really encompasses three distinct goals. Expanding access to health care, stimulating the economy through a tax cut and bailing out beleaguered state and local governments with a huge new infusion of federal aid. All of those goals individually are likely to be very attractive to Democratic voters. The risk to Gephardt is the combined cost of doing all of them at once, which can approach $700 billion over the next three years alone, is so great that the plan could sink of its own weight.

WOODRUFF: Why is he doing it now, Ron. I mean, most Americans have not yet focused on the Democratic candidate.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think there's real incentive for Gephardt to put out an idea this bold, which is clearly the most ambitious idea that any Democrat has put on the table on any subject in the race so far. I think the biggest hurdle that Gephardt faces in this race is the sense that he's been around too long to present a compelling view of the future, that he's yesterday's guy, in effect. And by putting out such an ambitious agenda here, I think he does begin to give voters a reason to take a second look at him, and to confront this perception that he is someone of the past, not the future. It really is something that's going to put pressure on the other Democrats to come up with their plans, not only on health care, I think, but on other issues as well.

WOODRUFF: Will health care be a big issue next year? BROWNSTEIN: I think it will be both in the Democratic race and in the general election. The number of Americans without health insurance is going up again. It's over 41 million. It almost certainly went up again in 2002. A poll showed, as Jonathan mentioned, either the cost of health care is a top concern not only for individuals but for corporate executives. There are a lot of different reasons why there are going to be pressure on the candidate. And what Gephardt has done here is set the bar very high. The question is, can he afford it?

WOODRUFF: OK, Ron Brownstein, joining us today. Thank you very much from New York. Good to see you, Ron. Thank you.

Still ahead, we'll tell you why timing may trip up President Bush's re-election prospects in at least one state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET UPDATE)

WOODRUFF: Well, some Republicans have been touting the political benefits of holding their nominating convention unusually late next year. But there may be a catch. Mr. Bush is scheduled to accept his party's nomination on September 2, two days after Alabama's cut-off to certify presidential contenders. Now, unless state Republicans can get the Democratic-run legislature to extend that deadline, Mr. Bush may not be on Alabama's ballot.

We're investigating similar problems in other states. And we'll tell you what we learn.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us.

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