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President Bush Hits Road with Senate Votes on his Mind

Aired May 12, 2003 - 16:00   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have robust tax relief, the more robust the plan. Robust relief plan.

ANNOUNCER: Get the message? President Bush hits the road again with Senate votes and swing voters on his mind.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We thank you for joining us. I am at CNN Center in Atlanta today.

President Bush is outside of the Washington beltway too. He's heading from New Mexico to Nebraska. Another platform to pressure senators in the contentious debate over tax cuts.


BUSH: When you raise your voices, the people in Washington tend to listen.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): He hasn't been wasting any time. In the days after his triumphant touchdown on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush has been barnstorming the country, hoping some of his post-war popularity will add new fuel to his tax cut crusade. Today's first stop, a meeting with small business owners in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

BUSH: There is doubt in my mind, with the right policy out of Washington, D.C., that the entrepreneurial spirit of this country's going to remain strong, the productivity of our workers is going to be high and this economy is going to come back.

WOODRUFF: Then, it was off to Omaha for a little arm twisting. Nebraska's Democratic Senator Ben Nelson could prove a crucial vote for the president's tax cut package. Then on to Indiana for another jobs and growth event tomorrow.

BUSH: I would hope you'd call members of your Congressional delegation, to let them know what you think.

WOODRUFF: On a trip to Arkansas last week, Mr. Bush managed to woo another Senate Democrat, Blanch Lincoln, onto his tax cut bandwagon. As a back drop to the White House road show, next year's election. Today's New Mexico visit will likely win Mr. Bush plenty of positive press in a possible swing state. And was the timing of last week's University of South Carolina commencement address a coincidence? Or was the president tweaking his would-be rivals who assembled in the same city the week before for their first debate? Guess who got more live coverage?


WOODRUFF: The president can try to twist as many Senate arms as possible. The question is, are key members starting to squirm?

Let's check in with our Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl. Jonathan, how are the Democrats in the Senate reacting and, specifically, Ben Nelson in Nebraska and Evan Bayh in Indiana, the places the president's going?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this week, the Democrats in the cross hairs are exactly them, Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh. And both of them are taking this with smiles on their faces. I spoke via telephone to both senators. Both plan to attend the very events the president is going to be to go to in their respective states. Ben Nelson is with the president in Nebraska today. Evan Bayh plans to be with him in Indiana tomorrow.

These two senators are especially important because they're seen as potential tax cuts for good reason. Ben Nelson has told us, and he said this again today, that he could be convinced to vote for a larger tax cut, as long as the specifics of the tax cut are things he can live with. And as for Evan Bayh, he's somebody who has praised the idea of cutting the tax fund dividend. And he is a moderate Democrat up for reelection in a state that trends Republican. So he is seen as really a good possible target.

I spoke to him just a few minutes ago. He said, regarding the president's visit, quote, "I'm flattered. They obviously think I'm a reasonable person and am willing to at least listen to what he has to say." Now, in this conversation, just a few minutes ago with Senator Bayh, he also said that he could be convinced to vote for a tax cut larger than $350 billion if he saw a compelling reason to do so. So he's going to be out joining the president tomorrow. And he says he's going to give him a listen.

WOODRUFF: John, how precarious is the Senate support overall for this version that did get through the Senate, the $420 billion? I mean, how much does the president really need these Democrats?

KARL: Well, there is a reason the president is so desperately trying to get Democrats on board. That is that there is a potential pitfall for the president here this week in the Senate. The tax cut that passed the finance committee that will be debated on the floor is a net tax cut of $350 billion. But to get to that magic number that moderate Republicans could support, they had to include so-called offsets, really tax increases that disguise the real cost of the tax cut, which is over $430 billion. So, here's the problem, Judy. The chances are, when the Senate votes on this this week, there will be amendments to strip away those tax increases, those offsets. Those amendments may well pass. Which gives you a tax cut more than $350 billion, which means he may lose his moderate Republicans and he will need to find at least a couple Democrats.

WOODRUFF: OK. John Karl with the latest from the capital, thanks very much. Thank you, John.

Well, even as President Bush was preparing to talk about tax cuts and job creation in Nebraska, the plastics plant where he is scheduled to speak was sending a different message. Air Light employees had been told they would need to make up time for work missed during the president's visit. Just as Democrats were ready to pounce on that, the company's president turned around and announced that hourly employees will get paid after all, whether they work, attend the president's speech, or take the day off. So that is off the table.

Well, the tax cut controversy of 2003 now appears to be changing the political landscape for election 2004.

With me now, our political analyst, Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Ron, what is it about the way this tax cut has evolved that is causing such a big problem for the Democrats who want to be president?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, Judy, one more layer of the complex situation surrounding these tax cuts. The bill that moved through the House last week and is moving toward completion in the Senate would significantly affect the political and economical calculation for most of the major candidates in the Democratic field. All of the centrist Democrats, Kerry, Lieberman, Graham and Edwards have tried to avoid putting themselves in a position where they can rebut Republican charges that they were raising taxes.

And they did that by having a very kind of nuanced view of the 2001 Bush tax cut. They sought not to repeal any of the rate cuts that people actually received in 2001, but to fund their agendas by freezing the tax cuts that are now scheduled for 2004 and 2006. What's happening right now, though, is that the tax bill moving through Congress today is going to accelerate all those rate cuts into 2003. It will render that strategy obsolete and leave the Democrats in a very stark position. Either accept the Bush tax cuts, which will make it very hard to fund their agenda, or explicitly propose to raise taxes by repealing them.

WOODRUFF: So, what's their option. They really have no choice do they, at this point? Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: I think most Democratic strategists feel they will have no choice but to join Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean, who already are talking about repealing the tax rate cuts from 2001 and, thus, raising taxes. Because if you don't, as a Democrat, go after these tax cuts, you simply have no money to pursue your agenda. And they move back into a position, like Bill Clinton in 1992, who also explicitly talked about raising rates on the top earners, which I should make clear is all these Democrats are talking about. They're talking about the top two or top three brackets, in some cases.

They will have to be able to make a case that in this period, that the country and the economy would be better off by raising taxes on some of those top earners. Judy, like Clinton in 1992, they may try to soften the blow by proposing some kind of middle class tax cut. But, nonetheless, they'll be in a position they wanted to avoid.

WOODRUFF: Ron, does this simply play into the old Republican saw that all Democrats care about is raising taxes.

BROWNSTEIN: There was a reason, Judy, that I think these four candidates chose this very precise line of blocking future tax cuts, but not repealing those that have already been granted. And that is that they feared that argument. They did not want to be in a position to explicitly propose raising taxes. Joe Lieberman, in a speech last year, said under his plan no one would pay more in taxes, in a Lieberman presidency, than they are paying today. That was, in fact, true. That will no longer be true if this bill goes through as it now appears it will, and the tax cuts are accelerated into '03.

And so the Democrats will have to make a tougher case. Not an impossible case, Clinton made it, but clearly one that's more difficult than they were hoping to have to carry.

WOODRUFF: It's always fun to watch the squirming over taxes.

Ron Brownstein, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Well, there's much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. What is retired General Wesley Clark's mission in New Hampshire? Business or presidential politics?

A racially charged mayor's race in Florida brings back bitter memories of election 2000.

And a profile in courage. I'll talk to the former governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes, about being honored for his unflagging work to heal old racial wounds.


WOODRUFF: Retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark is in New Hampshire today. In remarks to the Manchester Rotary Club, Clark said he hopes that the war in Iraq will lead Americans to ask tough questions about the use of America's armed forces. Clark, who has said repeatedly that he is not a candidate for president, insists that today's trip is strictly business.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.) U.S. ARMY: On the way here, I had a call from somebody who was running for president, and he began to ask me, you know what my opinion of the events were in Iraq and so forth. And then he said, well, where are you today? And I said I was in New Hampshire. And, I said, it's purely a business trip and it's just coincidental it happens to be in New Hampshire. He said oh, sure.


WOODRUFF: Well, not all Democrats are taking the general at his word. A draft Wesley Clark effort is now under way, complete with its own website.

Still ahead, is it deja vu all over again in Florida? Our Bill Schneider takes a look at Jacksonville's mayoral election and how it may affect the presidential election in 2004. Stay with us.


WOODRUFF: Political contests in the state of Florida have gotten special attention ever since the 2000 election standoff. Voters in Jacksonville go to the polls tomorrow. Sheriff Nat Glover is hoping to become the first African-American mayor of Florida's largest city, but he faces strong opposition from Republican businessman John Payton. In the midst of this often rancorous campaign, vandals spray painted racial epithets outside of Glover's headquarters and into the offices of a white Republican who threw his support behind Glover.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is following this campaign and its political implications. Bill, is race a factor in this contest?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Neither side, neither the African-American Democrat nor the Republican white man who is running for mayor, neither side wants to make race an issue. In fact, Nat Glover, the African-American Democrat, has twice been elected sheriff of Duvall County. And after this ugly racial incident, nobody knows who caused it. It's not been connected to any campaign, the white Republican candidate, John Payton, offered a reward for the arrest and prosecution of anyone who is responsible for this and said this does not reflect his campaign, or community sentiment in Jacksonville or Duvall County. So, both sides have denounced this ugly racial incident.

WOODRUFF: Bill, this is just a mayor's race. But we know that in 2000, Jacksonville was the scene of some controversial voting incidents, if you will. Could this have any implications for the presidential campaign next year?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's why both sides are very nervous because they don't want racial polarization to increase, because it was certainly there in the 2000 election. A lot of people don't know this, but there were actually more spoiled ballots than the ballots that were thrown out in Duvall County, which includes Jacksonville, than in the famous incidents in Palm Beach County. Remember all those chads and butterfly ballots?

Well, Jacksonville had some very special problems. Some 22,000 votes were declared invalid, because people voted twice for president. Why did they do that? Because on the Sunday before the election, a sample ballot was published which showed all ten choices for president in a single list and voters were instructed, vote all pages. But then, a couple days later, in the actual official ballot, which I actually have right here. This is the Duvall County ballot. The presidential vote was spread over two pages. Here are five choices on the first page, five choices on the second page. A lot of voters thought they were supposed to vote on every page.

In fact, some Democratic Party organizers had gone to African- American churches and told people to vote on every page. So a lot of voters voted twice. Was this racial discrimination? No one has ever proved that it was. African-Americans complained bitterly that there was a pattern of turning black people away from the polls. But Republicans would argue this was voter misinformation, a lot of new and inexperienced voters, and inexperience that caused the problem.

WOODRUFF: There will be a lot of attention all over the state of Florida in the next presidential election, we know that for sure. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Well, there are some potential problems back home for -- while we are talking about Florida -- presidential candidate Bob Graham. Up next, a new poll asks Florida voters to choose between Graham and President Bush. The results are next in our "Campaign News Daily."


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," a new poll appears to undercut Senator Bob Graham's argument, at least for now, that he has a lock on Florida's 27 electoral votes. A survey by Schrock and Associates and the Polling Company for three Florida newspapers finds President Bush would defeat Senator Graham for president by nine points in a hypothetical one-on-one match up. The president's brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush also appears to be in a strong position with state voters. He has a 56 percent approval rating. By comparison, only 16 percent of voters say they approve of the state legislature's performance.

Meantime, next door in Georgia, GOP Congressman Mac Collins is seriously considering the race to succeed retiring Democratic Senator Zell Miller. Collins is considered more conservative than fellow Republican Congressman Johnny Isaacson who has already announced plans to run for the seat. Spokesman said that Collins will make a final decision by the end of the month.

INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes was awarded a profile in courage award today by the John F. Kennedy library. Barnes changed the Georgia state flag two years ago to de-emphasize the Confederate battle emblem. He lost his bid for reelection to Republican Sonny Purdue, who campaigned in part on a promise to revisit the issue with a referendum.

A little earlier, I spoke with Roy Barnes, and I began by asking him if this award is in any way vindication for losing the election last November. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROY BARNES (D), FORMER GEORGIA GOVERNOR: Well, I don't know if it's vindication. At least I think it is a recognition that the hard decisions made in the South in the last few years by Governor Beasley in South Carolina, and Governor Miller in Georgia and myself are ones that brought about a better South and some racial reconciliation. So I guess this is at least a partial vindication.

WOODRUFF: You were doing well in the polls, Governor, before last November. The people close to you said that you did not expect, in any way to lose. Did you underestimate how much damage there was out there, political damage, with this flag issue?

BARNES: No, I knew that there was a problem. I thought I was going to win, of course, I'm an eternal optimist. But -- I could -- every stop I made, I had protesters holding up signs that said Judas Ben Barnes, and Osama bin Barnes and Judas Barnes and you stole my heritage, and things like that. So I knew it was a tough issue. And it's difficult to poll an issue that has racial overtones.

So, I knew there was great danger it. And I had seen that this same issue had defeated Governor Beasley in South Carolina in 1998 and almost defeated Governor Miller in 1994. I knew it was fraught with risk. But, of course, as I said, being an optimist, I thought I could pull it off and I didn't. It's one of those things that happens. Ebbs and flows of politics, as I call.

WOODRUFF: What do you make of the way your successor, Sonny Purdue, Governor Purdue has handled this? He campaigned suggesting he favored going back to the old flag, and now there's this compromise flag. How is he handled this?

BARNES: Well, I don't understand why we're having a referendum. I mean, we've never chosen a flag by referendum. That's what you have leaders for. You have leaders that take a position, says we need to do this, or that lead. And I don't understand why we're having the referendum. Now, as far as what form the flag takes, I think that's a matter for our leadership, for our governor and general assembly to take up. As long as it does not go back to this being two-thirds of the Confederate battle emblem, which is very divisive to the state.

WOODRUFF: Is this whole debate over the flag, Governor Barnes, really an effort to play the race card in the South?

BARNES: It is. I mean, I don't think there's any doubt about it. There will be those that say, oh it's about heritage and it's about this and about that. In fact, we know what this symbol means. And this symbol means that we don't -- we didn't like integration, we didn't like the advances that African-Americans have made, and we're going to show you that we can put something over a capital whether you like it or not to show you where -- what place you should hold in society. And I don't think that's right. I mean, listen, we have a right to preserve and to hold dear those sacrifices that were made by our ancestors. I had one that fought in the Civil War. But we do not have a right, as David Beasley, former governor of South Carolina said today, he said we don't have a right to worship the Confederate flag.

WOODRUFF: Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, again, congratulations on winning the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award.

BARNES: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you.


WOODRUFF: The Kennedy Library honored two other Southern lawmakers for their efforts at reducing racial tensions, former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, whom you just heard mentioned, and former Georgia State House member Dan Ponder.

Still ahead, a touch of class in the Democratic presidential race.



WOODRUFF: Well, it's no secret that political candidates like to show they are in touch with the average person. Democrat Bob Graham has made a name for himself by holding work days on the job with regular people across his home state of Florida. Well, now that he's running for president, Graham's work day on Friday was as a school teacher in, surprise, New Hampshire. And yesterday in Iowa, he bused tables at a Desmoines diner. We just wanted to show you these pictures. Now, let's see if we can see Senator Graham. He is somewhere in the picture. There he is. Looks like he is not bussing tables but we have the pictures.

Tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, a candid conversation with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean as he unveils his healthcare plan. That's it for now.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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