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Bush Tours U.S. to Emphasize Military's Accomplishments, Rally Support; Heston Leaves NRA

Aired April 28, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: After cheering Saddam's fall, Michigan's Arab community welcomes the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People who live in Iraq deserve the same freedom that you and I enjoy here in America.

ANNOUNCER: Is the visit more about rebuilding Iraq or reelecting Mr. Bush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will come to order.

ANNOUNCER: Congress returns to do battle over tax cuts. Now that a key Senate Republican's given some ground, will it be enough to get the White House what it wants?

CHARLTON HESTON, FORMER NRA PRESIDENT: From my old cold, dead hands.

ANNOUNCER: An era ends at the NRA. How big was Charlton Heston's role in energizing the gun lobby?

Live from Washington this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

President Bush is returning to the White House from a Michigan trip that says a lot about the political dynamic here in Washington. In addition to touting America's military accomplishments in Iraq, Mr. Bush worked in a visit with automakers to talk about the nation's economic battles.

The war and the economy also feature prominently today in the Democratic presidential race and on Capitol Hill.

Let's turn first to the White House and our senior correspondent, John King. John, why did the president deliver his message in Dearborn, of all places? Are they already concerned there about perhaps an Arab-American backlash next year?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, to the contrary, the White House is fully confident that the president will get more support out of the Arab-American community because of its efforts in Iraq, and they say his follow-up efforts soon to come on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Why Dearborn, Michigan? It is one of the largest Arab-American pockets in the United States. It is, of course, also in a key presidential election state.

Mr. Bush speaking there to reassure Arab-Americans, including Iraqi-Americans that he is sensitive to their concerns. But his main audience was not that group in Michigan. The president knew full well this speech was being carried live on Al-Jazeera, on Abu Dhabi Television and other media outlets in the Arab world that have been harshly critical of the U.S. administration and its motives in the Middle East.

Mr. Bush appealing for patience. He says the reconstruction and improving the security and political climate in Iraq will take time. But he made clear in this speech that at some point, he can't define it just yet, U.S. troops will come home.


BUSH: As freedom takes hold in Iraq, the Iraqi people will choose their own leaders and their own government. America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture. Yet, we will ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government and all citizens have their rights protected.


KING: Aides say the president understands there could well be an Islamic democracy in Iraq. What they say the president will not accept is a fundamentalist Islamic regime like the regime in neighboring Iran, that one of the delicate challenges. One meeting being held in Baghdad today, Judy, to try to sort all that out. But the administration is confident it will have the support of Arab- Americans here at home.

One more footnote on the war front, the president will be in California, another key battleground state on Thursday, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. The president will deliver a major speech in which he says it's time to turn the page. The president will not say the war is over, but he will say the combat phase is over, and it is time to focus on security, the political situation and on reconstruction -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, John, the president also talked about the economy today in Michigan. What's the strategy there?

KING: Well, there is both a local and a national strategy there. The president meeting with the chiefs of the big three automakers, Ford, GM and Chrysler, asking them their assessment of the state of the manufacturing economy right now. Obviously, they are major employers in the state of Michigan, a major battleground won by Al Gore last time. A state George Bush would like to win in 2004.

Mr. Bush also, though, asking, even as he received their advice on how the economy is doing, asking for the help of the big three automakers and anyone they can reach out to in trying to sell his tax cut proposal here in Washington. Over the weekend, some developments, the White House believes at least somewhat positive in that front. And, Judy, as I was walking out here, John Snow, the treasury secretary, in the west wing having more planning meetings. He says the fight is not over. The president will fight for a tax cut of $550 billion or even more. Tough shredding on Capitol Hill, though, for that.

WOODRUFF: That's right. John King, reporting from the White House. And we'll hear more about that in a few minutes when we see my interview with Senator Chuck Grassley.

Meantime, over on Capitol Hill, some of the president's fellow Republicans are feeling the political heat that he's generating over those tax cut. The top Senate Democrat may be feeling heat, too, but for another reason.

Let's check in with our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Jon, to the Republicans first. What are you hearing about White House pressure on Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm told this week that the White House pressure will go squarely at that Senate Finance Committee, which this week will attempt to craft a tax cut, a tax cut of $350 billion, or perhaps higher as the White House hopes. I'm told that White House cabinet secretaries will be calling members, Republican members of that committee this week, putting some pressure on, reminding them of what the president's position on this.

And today, Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, is actually out with one of the moderates on that committee, Gordon Smith. He's out in Oregon today doing some campaign style events with Gordon Smith. I'm told that what the message here is that the president and his men will -- his men and women will seek to not only put pressure on those that disagree with the president's policy, but also to support very actively those who support him on this. And Gordon Smith is one of those moderates who has so far been very supportive of the president's plan to cut taxes.

WOODRUFF: Now, separately, Jon, we know that Tom Daschle, there's a group in South Dakota that says it's going to spend a lot of money to try to prevent him from winning reelection. How seriously are the Daschle people taking all this?

KARL: Well, this is an interesting story and the Daschle people are taking it very seriously. This is a group called the Rushmore Policy Council. It is based in South Dakota, but it has ties to the Family Research Council, which is based here in Washington. They are saying that they would like to raise and spend about $800,000 to launch a coordinated television, radio and TV ad campaign to, in the words of a fund-raising appeal for this group, destroy the credibility of Tom Daschle in his home state. They are looking to run a series of ads featuring two characters, kind of out of the old show hee-haw, two guys in South Dakota in a barber shop ridiculing Tom Daschle on various issues, especially on taxes.

Now, one of the heads of this group told the Argus Leader out in Sioux Falls, talking of Daschle, quote, "He is an obscenity, an embarrassment to the state, and ending Daschle's career would be a political act of hygiene. Our president deserves better and our state deserves better." Very tough words from the head of this group. As far as the Daschle people, they are taking it seriously, but they are also saying that they believe this group is illegally skirting campaign finance laws. And they also say it has direct ties to John Thune, who, of course, ran against Tim Johnson.

And Steve Hildebrand, who I spoke to this morning, said, "It's the start of the Daschle versus Thune race. Now, if you remember, Thune ran against Tim Johnson last cycle. It was the closest Senate race of that cycle. The Democrat, Tim Johnson, did end up winning. But John Thune is widely believed to be the likely candidate to run for the Republicans this time around. The Thune folks that I spoke to said that Thune has not made up his mind about whether or not he's running. And, in fact, although he has ties to the people who started this group, that he disavows what they are doing. He has nothing to do with this, and he believes third party groups should stay out of these types of situations in South Dakota.

But, Judy, what this is is this is a reminder, that even as Tom Daschle leads the fight against the president's economic plan up here on Capitol Hill, he could potentially be in a very tough place for his own reelection back in South Dakota, where the president is a widely popular figure.

WOODRUFF: Political act of hygiene. Those are an interesting twist of a phrase. All right, Jon Karl, reporting from the Capitol. Thank you very much, Jon.

WOODRUFF: Battle lines also are being drawn today between two of the Democrats running for the White House. John Kerry's camp is taking aim at comments by anti-war candidate Howard Dean. Now, Dean recently suggested that America should take a different approach to diplomacy, because, quote, "we won't always have the strongest military."

Well, Kerry's campaign communications director, Chris Lehane has now responded by questioning Dean's capacity to serve as commander-in- chief. Lehane said, quote, "No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy." I have a feeling we are going to hear back from the Dean camp on all this.

Well, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is with me now, more on the war and the Democratic presidential race. Bill, you've been taking a look at this. Did the war have an effect on the Democratic contest?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a little. First, let's look at the Democratic standings in mid-March, just before the war started. Of the nine candidates running for president, only three were in double digits -- Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman. And now? The same three are still the only ones in double digits. But Joe Lieberman has picked up some strength and is now slightly ahead. Could that be because of Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq. You know, Democrats are divided over the war. A small majority, 52 percent, now say they favor the war. That may have helped Lieberman.

Among pro-war Democrats, Lieberman has a lead, followed by Gephardt, another war supporter, and then Kerry. Among anti-war Democrats, Kerry leads. Kerry voted for the war resolution last fall, but he has been strongly critical of President Bush's diplomacy. He got a lot of attention during the war when he said, the U.S. needs regime change, like Iraq does. Apparently, anti-war Democrats noticed.

WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, you've been looking at these poll numbers. Are people paying attention to this Democratic contest with nine people in it right now?

SCHNEIDER: Frankly, no. Not even most Democrats. Fewer than a third of Democrats say that they're following the candidates, even somewhat closely. Now, do the Democrats who are paying attention and presumably are more likely to get involved have a different take on the race? A little. Kerry does better among Democrats who say they've been following the race. Lieberman leads among Democrat whose aren't paying much attention. Lieberman's lead is based partly on the fact that he's Al Gore's man, and a lot of Democrats who liked Gore now say they like Lieberman.

But Kerry is beginning to show some momentum among more activist Democrats. And remember, last Wednesday, Dick Gephardt tried to make an impression upon those same Democrats with an ambitious healthcare proposal. Did it work? We don't know yet. This poll was taken just before Gephardt unveiled that proposal -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, we're going to have to ask those questions in the next poll.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And we have sad news to share with you. This just in to CNN. It's been confirmed by the Pentagon that the last American soldier to be missing in Iraq has now been found dead. Twenty-four-year-old Army Sergeant Edward John Anguiano, his family now says the Pentagon Army officials have told them he has been found dead. He was 24 years old. He disappeared after his convoy was attacked on March 23 near Nasiriya in southern Iraq. His grandfather and an aunt said that military officials had notified the family late yesterday, lat on Sunday.

He was in the 3rd Infantry Combat Support Division, a Batallion unit out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. He was traveling with the 507th Maintenance Company. Of course, that was the group where there were nine soldiers killed, six of them, all with the 507th taken prisoner. Most of them were released. They were safe. And as you all remember, Jessica Lynch was found with a number of injuries. But again, the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq has now been confirmed dead, 24- year-old Army sergeant Edward John Anguiano.

Still ahead, a key figure in the tax cut fight that is dividing Republicans.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If we come to the conclusion that Republicans were elected a majority to produce a product, it means we have to get together or else we aren't governing.


WOODRUFF: How much is the Senate likely to budge on the president's tax cut plan? I'll ask Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley.

Also ahead, we'll tell you who is banking on Senator Hillary Clinton, big time. And should campaign watchers be taking talk show host Jerry Springer seriously?

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


WOODRUFF: An update now on that brush fire in Mentor, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. We are told the fire continues to burn through a marsh that is filled with six-foot weeds that contain what is described as an oily hydrocarbon. The burning substance is creating a large cloud of thick, black smoke, firefighters working hard to contain the fire. The flames have come within just feet of one nearby house, but so far no homes have been damaged.

The final credits are rolling on Charlton Heston's years as NRA president. How much of a role did the famous actor play in the recent rise of the gun organization?

Our Bruce Morton takes a closer look.

INSIDE POLITICS back in 60 seconds.


WOODRUFF: As we've been reporting, the president's tax cut package faces several stumbling blocks on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans. Earlier, I spoke with GOP Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. He's the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. And I started by asking him about the tax cut debate, and if he thinks he can get fellow Republicans to approve cuts that are only about half as large as what the president requested.


GRASSLEY: I think that we have a very basic problem between Republicans, particularly in the house, who wanted $750 billion to begin with, and Republicans in the Senate, who didn't want one penny over $350 billion or maybe, preferably, no tax cut at all. I think eventually, Judy, both groups have to make a decision whether or not they want Republicans to govern or they don't. And if we come to the conclusion that Republicans were elected a majority to produce a product, it means we have to get together or else we aren't governing.

WOODRUFF: But you're saying you're not there yet?

GRASSLEY: No, no, I'm not there yet. You know, there's still a lot of things that need to be worked out between the House and Senate. First of all, I would expect the House to pass something all the way up to $550 billion, and, obviously, if we pass something at $350 billion-plus, something offset, you know, it's still a wide difference between.

WOODRUFF: Senator, in the numbers you're looking at, whether it's 350 or something above that, how much of that is the president's proposal to completely eliminate the tax on dividends?

GRASSLEY: Well to completely eliminate it would take $350 to $400 billion more. So, that's where the $726 billion comes in.

WOODRUFF: But how much of that would be included a smaller number?

GRASSLEY: First of all, let me establish a principle as far as I'm concerned. Now, this may not govern, but I think unless you get at least 50 percent exclusion, it's pretty difficult to do anything worthwhile on dividends. That would be about $200 billion. Now, I'm going to look at anything less than that, if it will do good economic good, I'm glad to go down the road of dividends, because I think eliminating the taxation on dividends is good policy. But you ought to do it upright, if we're going to do it.

WOODRUFF: Senator, there have been a lot of recriminations we've been hearing between Republicans in the House, Republicans in the Senate, talking about one another, even from the White House. What is it going to take to work through all this in this atmosphere where there are a lot of recriminations flying around?

GRASSLEY: Well, first of all, I don't think the recriminations, except for words, are going to last very long. We will get together, we will produce a product. And what it's going to take is what I've already referred to as a lot of team work and a lot of compromise on the part of Republicans. And in the Senate it's going to require some bipartisanship. And on the part of the House, it's going to be some understanding that in a 51/49, almost equally divided Senate, albeit Republicans controlling, that Republicans don't get everything they want. And if Republicans push too hard, you have what happens to us two years ago, with Senator Jeffords leaving the party.

WOODRUFF: So that sounds like a serious threat. If the party doesn't get together on all this, you could lose another Republican? Is that what you're saying?

GRASSLEY: Well, no, I suppose I spoke a little bit too strong, that somebody in our moderate group is ready to leave. I don't know anything about that. And I don't expect that to happen. But you know, at least that's the reality of what happened two years ago. And I think that we should learn from history.


WOODRUFF: Learning from history, Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Checking the Monday edition of our "Campaign News Daily." Democratic candidate John Edwards is trailing President Bush in a hypothetical match up in his home state of North Carolina. When Senator Edwards goes head to head with Mr. Bush in a poll sponsored by the "Raleigh News & Observer," the home folks give the president 58 percent to Edwards' 39 percent. Both men run well among the party faithful, but Mr. Bush wins 61 percent of targeted (ph) independents.

Talk show host Jerry Springer is still talking about an Ohio Senate run. The "Chicago Sun Times" reports that Springer plans to form an exploratory committee in a few weeks. The newspaper also says Springer has hired two Democratic pollsters to gauge his chances as a candidate.

In politics and in acting, you have to know when the time is right to leave the stage. Coming up next, Charlton Heston's swan song at the NRA and the role he played in promoting the gun lobby.


WOODRUFF: National Rifle Association board members still are meeting in Orlando, Florida, but Charlton Heston already is back in California after his weekend farewell as the NRA's president.

Our Bruce Morton looks at Heston's performance as the leader of the gun lobby over the years and as he said good-bye.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His walk is slower now, his voice softer than when they first elected him their president in 1998. He has Alzheimer's. But as his final appearance at the NRA convention in Orlando, he could still say the five words that have become his mantra. They'll have to take my gun ...

HESTON: ... from my cold, dead hands.

MORTON: They love him.

RICHARD PADILLA, NRA MEMBER: With him leaving is like a piece of a mountain that will be missing.

TOM WATSON, NRA MEMBER: People that are on the fence, that are going teeter tottering either way, they see somebody like him, and some of the roles he played and seen what he's done in his career and in his life, and he -- it means a lot to them.

HESTON: Behold his mighty hands!

MORTON: Roles? Well, he's played Moses. KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Before Heston became president of the National Rifle Association, most Americans had an unfavorable view of that organization. After he became president, a bear majority, but a majority of Americans did start to have a favorable view of the NRA and continue to do so even today.

MORTON: And aside from changing Americans' views on guns, he and the organization he heads may have helped elect a president.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Were it not for your active involvement, it is safe to say that my brother would not have been elected president of the United States.

MORTON: So, Charlton Heston steps down. But he's had a grand role.

HESTON: It's been a wonderful run. I'm going to miss you.

MORTON: Bruce Morton, CNN, reporting.



WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.


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