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Rove Makes Rare Public Appearance; Lieberman: U.S. Too Dependent on Middle East Oil

Aired May 7, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: He's the president's top political adviser, considered the mastermind behind Mr. Bush's rise to the top. And, today, Karl Rove did something he rarely does, speak out in public.

KARL ROVE, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: People are going to see the candidate as he or she is at the end of the parade. They are going to try to the best of their ability to make a decision about who they ought to vote for on the basis on who they think will be best for the times.

ANNOUNCER: He wants to make America safer by making the country less dependent on Middle East oil.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No matter how strong we are in other ways, how safe we want to be, foreign countries can pull us down.

ANNOUNCER: We'll go one on one with Joe Lieberman.

It appears twice is enough. Why is two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart passing on a third run for the White House?

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


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

The White House often downplays any suggestion that the next election is already a major item on the president's agenda. But there are increasing signs Mr. Bush is gearing up for the 2004 campaign. Vice President dick Cheney has accepted the president's request that he once again serve as his running mate in 2004.

Today in New Hampshire, the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, made a rare public appearance, where his topics included the nation's economy and the war on terrorism.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley was there for Karl Rove's remarks. She's with me now for an update. Candy we know that President Bush probably isn't going to face any primary opposition. So why is Karl Rove in New Hampshire? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, it is full of Democrats up here, most of the weeks and the weekend. So it's always good to keep the president's name and the embodiment of the president out there. Here's what Karl Rove said as he first came to his first stop in Bedford. I said, well, what's the strategy, Karl? And he looked back and said, "not to make any news." So, he tried very hard to give only the broadest of hints about the president's re-election strategy.


ROVE: The president understands we have two great necessities, to win the war on terror and strengthen the American economy. And he believes that it's vital we strengthen the American economy.


CROWLEY: If there is any primary strategy to the president's re- election campaign, it is to stay as presidential as long as possible. And while Karl Rove is the embodiment of George Bush and politics, he, too, is trying very hard to look into both what he calls policy and pushing for the president's programs.


ROVE: ... that we need a growth package. So the question is, if you agree that we need to grow the economy, then we ought to grow the economy with the biggest possible package that's reasonable and fiscally responsible.


CROWLEY: Rove did take some questions that he thought they would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he defended the Patriot Act, which is coming under increasing criticism by Democrats. Rove says he thinks it's done some good.


ROVE: ... despite the enormous power of al Qaeda and the reach of al Qaeda, that the country has not been hit against since 9/11. And a lot of that has to do with some of the tools that have been given to law enforcement and the changed attitude among the FBI and the CIA to attempt to deal with these threats of terrorism before they come inside the United States.


CROWLEY: As you know, Judy, the primary season in New Hampshire has not been kind to candidates named Bush. But last -- in the year 2000, this George Bush did win the general election here in New Hampshire. It always helps to have somebody up here. And they have had a long list of Bush administration officials who have been up here courting voters, even while Democrats steal the headlines -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: In essence, Candy, they are not taking any chances. CROWLEY: Right.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley reporting for us from New Hampshire, where she's going to be spending a lot of time over the next year or so. Candy, thanks very much.

The president's top gun-style arrival on board the USS Abraham Lincoln last week made for some dramatic pictures. So dramatic, in fact, Democrats say they expect the images to return in the form of campaign advertising. Some Democrats also complain that the trip was a waste of money that also delayed the carrier's arrival in California. Well, the navy today disputed those claims, pointing out that the ship's arrival date was set before the president's trip was announced.

For more on the political back and forth over the president's trip, let's turn to CNN's Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill and CNN's senior White House correspondent John King.

WOODRUFF: Jon Karl, let's start with you. The Democrats really think they can make an issue out of this?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are deeply divide on that question, Judy. On one hand, you have Robert Byrd in the Senate and Henry Waxman over in the House trying very hard to make an issue out of this, calling it a political stunt and wasted taxpayer money. And that really touches a nerve among Democrats. A lot of Democrats were angered when the president came out and had that wonderful photo opportunity on the aircraft carrier. They saw it as brilliant campaign-style treatment. But they thought this was a misuse of the military. This was exploiting the military for his own purposes. So it does touch a nerve.

But Democrats are keenly aware that whenever you bring this issue up you're going to see these very pictures that you are seeing right now. George Bush triumphantly being greeted by the troops on the USS Lincoln. And that's not a good situation. As one senior adviser to one of the top-tiered Democratic candidates for president told me, quote, "Any time you talk about Bush on an aircraft carrier, you're talking about what Bush wants to talk about." This senior adviser says, look, Democrats should be trying to hit the president on the economy, on health care, on domestic issues. And this is something that could easily backfire.

WOODRUFF: OK, Jon Karl reporting from the Capitol.

And now let's move down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, John king. John are they worried at all about any damage from this criticism coming from the Democrats?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They don't seem to be worried at all, Judy. And as Jon Karl just noted, they hope as I speak we show the pictures yet again. Here at the White House, one senior aid said, bring it on. If this is what they want to talk about for the next year, we're happy to do so. They say that Henry Waxman is wrong on the facts. But they looked at the cost here at the White House. And it cost roughly the same for using the helicopter or for the president using that jet. And they said the navy said the jet was much safer because the president could, if there were some trouble, eject from a jet. You cannot, of course, eject from a helicopter.

Here at the White House, they also dispute the politics in the trip itself. They say, of course, the president would benefit from the pictures. But Ari Fleischer today saying the president went on to the deck of that carrier to fulfill one of the duties he has as commander in chief.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it does a disservice to the men and women of our military to suggest that the president of the United States or the manner in which the president visited the military would be anything other than the exact appropriate thing to do. And I think that the 5,000 sailors on that ship recognized this for what it was. The president going out there to say thank you to those who risked their lives.


KING: And, Judy, as you noted at the top, they also say here at the White House that the navy had announced the arrival back at the port in San Diego for May 2. So even if the ship was ahead of schedule, it would not have gone ashore because of the security, the other dock workers, logistics and simply getting the families of those sailors into the port. The ship would not have gone to shore, even if the president was not aboard, because they were not ready on the shore for that ship to arrive.

Here at the White House they way what Congressman Waxman and other Democrats were doing reminds them very much of what Republican Congressman Dan Burton did, often critical of Democratic President Bill Clinton's travels. Here at the White House they say they were critical of Dan Burton during the 2000 campaign. They think Henry Waxman is doing the same thing now. But they say of this is what the Democrats want to fight about and not the economy, bring it on -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK, John King. And we should add, when I asked Congressman Waxman about this issue a short time ago, he said he wasn't going to take the navy's word for the cost of all of this. He was going to wait for the general accounting office. So we shall see. We'll all be watching. John, thank you very much.

He has got a plan to make America safer by making it less dependent on Middle East oil. Next my one-on-one interview with Senator Joe Lieberman.

Plus, Gary Hart says no to another shot at the White House. We'll go past the headlines to find out why the two-time presidential candidate won't make a third run.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: Was the war in Iraq a mistake? That is just one of the questions I asked presidential candidate Bob Graham. My interview with the Democratic senator from Florida coming up.


WOODRUFF: The United States would eliminate its oil imports completely 20 years from now. That is just one of the highlights of Senator Joe Lieberman's national energy plan. The Democratic presidential candidate unveiled his plan today in Washington. Among other things, it would give tax breaks to Americans who buy fuel- efficient vehicles.

Earlier today I asked the senator if that would be fair to Americans who drive SUVs and other gas guzzlers.


LIEBERMAN: ... got a problem, and it saps our strength, and it puts our working families' budgets, our small business budgets, at the mercy of people outside of America when we ought to be independent.

So, look, people will still have the ability to buy cars that aren't fuel efficient, but the difference in my approach here is that we're not setting a particular number, a fuel efficiency number. We're saying you've got to save at least 2 million barrels of oil a day within 10 years, figure out how to do it, trade with one another. If one company wants to put out some gas guzzling cars, they are going to have to pay some other company for putting out more efficient vehicles.

WOODRUFF: Senator, let me ask you broadly, you distinguished yourself in the recent days, the debate over the weekend, from a number of the other Democratic candidates for president. You support President Bush on the war. You don't like the Gephardt-style universal health care plan.

But for Democratic primary voters who are looking for an alternative to George W. Bush, are you enough of an alternative? Is there enough difference between you and the president?

LIEBERMAN: The important thing that I'm saying here is that the American people will not vote for a Democratic candidate for president unless that candidate gives them a sense of safety and security, but also gives them hope about the economy and social progress in our country. And I'm the one Democratic candidate who can give the American people both confidence on security and confidence for a better economy. And that's what the Democrats want. Democrats want to win. They want to take the country forward.

WOODRUFF: Senator Robert Byrd, one of your colleagues, went to the floor of the Senate yesterday and said he's questioning the motives of President Bush in going to that aircraft carrier last week to make the speech on Iraq.

He said -- quote -- "it's an affront to the Americans killed and injured in Iraq to exploit the trappings of war for a momentary spectacle of a speech."

Do you agree with him?

LIEBERMAN: I wouldn't have used that language. I mean, look, this president, it wouldn't be the first to do something for the effects it had on the media. I'd say that the 127 Americans who died in the defeat of Saddam Hussein died in a just cause that has greatly increased American security. The president can choose however he wants to note that.

WOODRUFF: So you don't agree with -- even the sentiment that he was expressing, even if the language you wouldn't have used, you don't agree with the point he was making?

LIEBERMAN: No, I don't. I think we've got more important things to do here, and the important thing is to get together and take America forward.

WOODRUFF: You accused Senator John Kerry over the weekend of being ambivalent on the war. He says he hasn't been ambivalent. He said he supported the effort to go and disarm Saddam Hussein. He simply believed that diplomacy should have been given more of a chance. What could be clearer than that position?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's not a clear position. Most everybody wanted Saddam Hussein to be out of power. The question is what we were going to do about it. You know, Senator Kerry's own spokesperson, Chris Lahine (ph), a couple of months ago, I believe in February said that Senator Kerry's position was ambivalent, but so was the position of the American people. So Senator Kerry's ambivalence reflected the American people. To me, it was a time for leadership. We had given diplomacy every opportunity we could. We've given Saddam Hussein every chance we possibly could have given him to disarm. All that was left was war.

We did the right thing and we're safer as a result of it.


WOODRUFF: Senator Joe Lieberman speaking with me earlier today.

Former House minority leader Dick Gephardt is getting a boost in his bid for the White House. CNN has learned that Representative Ed Pastor will endorse Gephardt later this hour. Pastor is perhaps the most influential Hispanic Democrat in the early primary state of Arizona.

The event is a political fund raiser. The entertainment, the Dixie Chicks. Up next, the U.S. senator forging ahead with plans made before the music group picked up some political baggage.


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily." Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanch Lincoln plans to hold a fund raiser next month at a Dixie Chicks' concert. The event was planned before the group's lead singer criticized President Bush over the war in Iraq, which led to a fierce backlash from many country music fans. Aides say Lincoln does not agree with the singer's comments about the president, but she does support her right to free speech.

In Massachusetts, the state's budget crunch is being overshadowed by a dispute over naming a portion of the Big Dig expressway project, a long-time U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill.

GOP Governor Mitt Romney wants to name a portion of the highway the liberty tunnel. But Democratic lawmakers want to name it for O'Neill. Democrats say they have the votes they need to honor O'Neill. Republicans are threatening to stall the measure with amendments.

The budget problems in New York City have taken a toll on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's approval rating. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds just 32 percent of Big Apple residents approve of Bloomberg's job performance. Fifty-six percent say they disapprove.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

WOODRUFF: Taking a look at how many people are closely following the Democratic campaign for president so far or the campaign at all. Florida Senator Bob Graham has officially kicked off his presidential campaign, formally announcing in his home state of Florida what we've already known unofficially for weeks. I spoke with Senator Graham after his announcement yesterday and I began by asking how he plans to make the argument that President Bush has been shirking his responsibility in the war on terror.


SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Judy, first, I guess the best historical analogy to what's happening now is what happened to President Bush's father, who came out of a war in the Persian Gulf with even higher approval ratings than his son has today. And then it was a combination of what happen after the war ended plus the failure to give attention to the economy that resulted in his defeat in November of 1992. I think the current President Bush has the same challenge. I think his economic plan that he submitted will not, in fact, stimulate the economy out of its current doldrums. I believe that the real challenges in Iraq are now beginning to start and the need to restart the war on terror.

WOODRUFF: Do you think the war in Iraq was a mistake?

GRAHAM: In my judgment, it was the wrong priority. Certainly Saddam Hussein either is or was an evil man. But there are a lot of evil people in the Middle East and central Asia. I think we should go after those evils that have the greatest capability of injuring Americans first. And in my judgment, those are the international terrorists who have both the demonstrated will, as seen on September 11, and the capability because of large numbers of their operatives embedded in the United States to do damage to Americans.

WOODRUFF: Senator, let me ask you about this. When you ask a number of people, what do they think about Bob Graham as a candidate for president, one of the first things they say is, is he physically up for the job? He's 66 years old. He's just had major heart surgery. If he's the nominee he is going to be running against a vigorous, younger incumbent president. What do you say to them?

GRAHAM: I had heart surgery in late January. Three months ago the doctors had given me a green light, and they said that my heart is significantly more efficient today than it was four months ago. I have always conducted vigorous full campaigns which take the issues right to the people. That's what I intend to do in 2004.

WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley, our reporter, whom you know, in reporting on your announcement said he's a man with a lot of bravada, but no pizzazz. What do you say about that? Is that a problem when you are running for president?

GRAHAM: Well, I am sorry that Candy didn't pick up on my charisma. Maybe over time she will do so. But I think what the American people are looking for now is they want a moderate centrist who can actually begin to solve some of their problems, whether it's prescription drugs, under Medicare, or beginning a serious effort at protecting our environment. They also want someone with executive experience. They want someone who has new ideas. And those who are really interested in electing a Democrat are looking at the map and saying the last three presidents we elected lived in Texas, Georgia and Arkansas. Does that say something about where our candidate in 2004 should come from?

WOODRUFF: Senator, this is kind of a mean question, but I'm going to quote something an "Orlando Sentinel" columnist wrote in the last day or so. He said, "Bob Graham was looked at by three Democratic nominees for president. Bill Clinton. It was Michael Dukakis and Al Gore." And he said, "All three of them looked at him and decided that he would not be their running mate." And went on to say that was the right decision. What do you say about that?

GRAHAM: I am not running for vice president. I am running for president of the United States. I believe I have the combination of qualities to be president, and I fully expect to do so.


WOODRUFF: Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham who announced he is officially running for president.

Coming up, he says he would have been a very good president. But Gary Hart will not be one of the Democratic candidates in next year's race. We'll find out more from our Bruce Morton just ahead.


WOODRUFF: Actor Christopher Reeve was on Capitol Hill today for the introduction of a bill that bears his name. The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act. It would provide additional funding for neurological and paralysis research. We'll have an interview with the actor tomorrow. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The race for the White House on the Democratic side will not include one familiar face, former Senator Gary Hart. He has decided not to join the crowded field.

Here now, CNN's Bruce Morton.


GARY HART, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to give some speeches. I want to see what the public's response to those speeches is and then make a decision in March.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The decision is, no. Gary Hart won't run for president. He told the "Denver Post" he felt strongly about issues, but you have got to have enthusiasm about the mechanics. I don't. At 66, this is probably his last hoorah.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think it closes the chapter on somebody who 20 years ago was regarded as a rising star, a policy wonk and someone who would maybe set the agenda for the Democratic Party for a generation.

MORTON: His star shown brightest maybe in 1984 when he almost beat out front runner Walter Mondale, until Mondale challenged Hart's philosophizing with a slogan a hamburger chain had coined.


MORTON: In 1987, he started as front runner, but reporters were reporting stuff they never used to write about. The candidate seen with model Donna Rice faced a question seldom asked before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever committed adultery?

HART: I do not have to answer that question.

MORTON: But the reporting about Rice and a boat called the "Monkey Business" killed his chances, but not his marriage, which endures today. Back then, he got one percent in the Iowa caucuses, though, it was over.

HART: I know I could have been a very good president, particularly for these times. But, apparently, now we'll never know.

MORTON: We won't know this time either. But with nine candidates already running, he may have made a wise decision.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Gary Hart, bowing out.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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