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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Hope to Trump Republicans in Texas; What Will Help Democrats Win Back White House?; Frist's Errors

Aired May 13, 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: Wanted in Texas, lawmakers on the lam. Rebel Democrats play a risky hand in hopes of trumping Republicans and their redistricting plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we're witnessing right now is the tyranny of the minority.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A free Iraq will make the world more peaceful.

ANNOUNCER: Some Democrats have their doubts about that. Will picking a fight over national security help them win back the White House?

Two strikes and you are almost out. We'll have the new stats on Senate majority leader Bill Frist's political errors.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today. I am Candy Crowley. With the tax cut debate on hold some Senate Democrats took aim at another major piece of the Bush agenda, the war on terrorism.

We want to check in now with our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Candy, a very strongly worded attack came from the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham who now, of course, is a Democrat running for president. He looked at the situation yesterday with the bombing in Saudi Arabia and said that the Bush administration must bear at least partial responsibility because it has been distracted from its central goal in terms of battling terrorism and dismantling the al Qaeda network. Bob Graham, as you know, has frequently criticized the war in Iraq as something that distracted from a more important war against al Qaeda. He renewed that statement today, citing the bombings in Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al Qaeda that they would not have had the capability to launch such a sophisticated attack.

I thought the priority for the United States should be to win the war on terror before we took on other evils in the Middle East and central Asia. If we had done that, al Qaeda would not have had the opportunity to regenerate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now another Democrat, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was on the Senate floor today in a speech that he wrote before the bombings in Saudi Arabia, and said that the Bush administration's fight against terrorism has been unfocused and largely unsuccessful. Republicans response to both of these called both charges off base and said it's still too early to tell exactly what happened in Saudi Arabia and who was responsible, but certainly not the Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: I think, if anything, it demonstrates that we do have a lot of work to do. It's going to take a long-term commitment, and I obviously would wholeheartedly disagree with any allegation that this was a failure on the part of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: And, Candy, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle also did not make the charge. He said that it was still too early to say what happened in Saudi Arabia. He didn't place any of the blame with the Bush administration. But some very strong words there, very harsh attack from the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee Bob Graham.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much, Jonathan. You're going to have a great time up there with all those presidential candidates, appreciate it. Thanks.

Now on to that Texas manhunt not for criminals, but for politicians. More than 50 Texas Democrats remain on the lam, shutting down business in the statehouse and leaving the Republican majority in the lurch. Under GOP orders, the Department of Public Safety posted a bulletin on its Web site, asking for public help in tracking down the Democrats. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reached at a hotel in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

We have a report now from CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the middle of the night,, a group of about 50 Texas Democratic representatives jumped into two buses and headed north out of Austin and out of state. They found refuse in a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was the only way they say to keep Texas Republicans from passing a new congressional redistricting bill that the Democrats don't like.

BARRY TELFORD (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: This Congressional redistricting map destroys rural Texas, utterly and completely destroys it.

LAVANDERA: Under Texas law, two-thirds of all House members must be present to conduct business. So, this temporary defection across state lines has essentially shut down the Texas House. Republicans aren't amused by the political stunt and have even created a most wanted deck of cards with the missing Democrats' faces.

SUE WEDDINGTON, TEXAS GOP CHAIRWOMAN: I have news for these Democrats. They may believe they are clever but the majority of Texans see them as childish. And they may believe they are courageous, but the majority of Texans see them as cowards.

LAVANDERA: Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and Texas rangers were sent out to search for the absent legislators and they could have taken the legislators into custody and driven them back to the House, if they were still inside Texas. But the fleeing politicians are untouchables, as long as they stay beyond state lines. And that's where these Democrats will be until Republicans promise to throw out the redistricting bill.

JIM DUNNAM (D), TEXAS HOUSE CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: And we decided yesterday that we were going to stay as long as it takes. I can't tell you right now how long it will take. It would take about two minutes if leadership in Austin would make the right decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Once again, that's CNN's Ed Lavandera from Ardmore, Oklahoma. Joining us now on the floor from Texas, the state House speaker Republican Tom Craddick. Thanks so much Mr. Speaker for joining us.

TOM CRADDICK, TEXAS SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's a pleasure.

CROWLEY: What is this fight about?

CRADDICK: Well, mainly, we have rules in Texas and we've had them since the inception that if a bill goes through a committee process that it can be set on account. Or if it passes through the committee and passes through the calendar's committee, we have got a bill up on the calendar. We've had it up since Monday that does Congressional redistricting. We weren't allowed to do it in the last session of legislature. The Democrats had control of the House. The Republicans had control of the Senate. We were never allowed a vote. It was done by the federal courts, and where the people in the state of Texas control -- the Republicans control every statewide office, both the House and Senate, yet we have a minority in the Texas Congress. The people want them -- Texas legislature, not the court, to vote on redistricting. So a majority of our members -- excuse me. CROWLEY: I just wanted to interrupt you here, Mr. Speaker, because I think what you are saying to me is that this is about politics and this is about who is going to control the state of Texas here in Washington. And I have heard from some of your Democratic colleagues back there in Austin that this is not just about redistricting, but it is about the way this whole session has been handled, that the Republicans under your leadership are ram rodding things through. Is this a good old-fashioned political showdown?

CRADDICK: No, it's not, really. It's a process. We've got a process and in the 35 years I've been in the legislature I've never walked and taken a vote. Nor has anyone else, except for a small group of senators that did it in the late '70s. And so it's a situation where everyone is entitled to go to the floor, to express their opinions, try to amend a bill or vote against it or do whatever. That's what we've always done. And the key to this whole thing is that if you allow them to block a bill by walking now, what about next week? Do they block the budget? How about next week? Do they do school finance? And so, if we've got a set of rules that everybody has to play by, they've had control of the Texas House for 130 years, and now they don't. And so the rules are the same now as they were then.

CROWLEY: Texas state House speaker Republican Tom Craddick, we appreciate your time. Thank you, you've got your hands full.

CRADDICK: Thank you.

CROWLEY: This is not the first time Texas Democrats staged a walkout, as you just hear. As part of a political feud, 24 years ago a dozen Democratic state senators came to be known as the killer bees for buzzing off from the capital. They hid out in a west Austin garage apartment while troopers and Texas rangers unsuccessfully combed the state for them.

Coming up, our Bill Schneider will have more on the Democrats versus President Bush over the war on terror.

Plus, Howard Dean talks to me about his feud with fellow Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and his new health care initiative.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: How safe is the nation and how will national security play as a campaign issue in 2004? Our very own Bill Schneider up when Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a well-planned terrorist attack, obviously. The facility had been cased, as had the others, very well executed. And it shows the nature of the enemy we are working against. These are people who are determined to try to penetrate facilities like this for the purpose of killing people in their sleep. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Secretary of State Colin Powell altered his travel schedule today to visit the site of yesterday's suicide attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Powell said the near simultaneous strikes had what he called the earmarks of al Qaeda. The bombers hit three separate residential compounds home to many U.S and western workers. At least 20 people killed, seven of them believed to be Americans.

Given the president's sustained popularity since the September 11 attacks, national security would seem like the last issue that Democrats would try to use in the 2004 campaign.

For more on this, I'm joined by our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. But it's not an untouchable is it?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It is not, Candy. The one thing President Bush appears not to be vulnerable on is national security. Most democrats see no point in making that an issue, most, but not all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The attack in Saudi Arabia this week gives Democrats an opening.

SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Those forces who would have us live in fear have not been destroyed.

SCHNEIDER: The latest terrorist attack makes their point, they say, that the war in Iraq was a dangerous diversion from the war on terrorism.

FEINGOLD: The majority of the American people believe that the Saddam Hussein regime was involved in the September 11 attacks. But I have never, Mr. President, I have never not in hearings and not in classified briefings, I have never once heard our officials assert that we have intelligence indicating that this is the case.

SCHNEIDER: One of those Democrats is running for president.

GRAHAM: I am running for president to bring back a focus on America's security.

SCHNEIDER: Back in October, Senator Bob Graham opposed the resolution authorizing the president to use force in Iraq on the grounds that it was too weak.

GRAHAM: I urge my colleagues to open their eyes to the much larger array of lethal, more violent foes who are prepared today to assault us here at home.

SCHNEIDER: In an impressive feat of political jujitsu, Graham is using the security issue to attack President Bush from the left where he can make him sound like George McGovern ...

GRAHAM: Friends, it is time to bring America back.

SCHNEIDER: ... and from the right where he can make himself sound like Ronald Reagan.

GRAHAM: If you reject that, the American people are not going to be in an additional threat, then, frankly, my friends to a blunt term, the blood is going to be on your hands.

SCHNEIDER: The bombing in Riyadh and the terrible prospects of more attacks gives Graham a potentially powerful theme to rally Democrats.

GRAHAM: The war in Iraq was a distraction. It took us off the war on terror, which we were on a path to win, but we have now let it slip away from us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The idea of challenging President Bush on his strongest issue could be called daring or fool hearty. You know, Candy, the two go together.

CROWLEY: As always, thanks very much Bill Schneider. Appreciate it.

Congressman Dick Gephardt's health care proposal was a big issue at the recent debate among the Democratic presidential hopefuls. Today former Vermont governor and medical doctor Howard Dean unveiled his own health care plan. I spoke with Dean earlier today, and began by asking him why businesses should continue to offer health insurance for employees if the Dean plan will help those businesses that don't offer insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because, first of all, Dick's plan is a good plan, but it's three times as expensive as ours is. The reason that people should continue to cover their employees is because they'll get a better health care plan that way. Our plan requires employees to pay 7.5 percent of their gross income, if they don't have health insurance already. The other thing that happens is that we penalize companies that don't give health insurance by removing some of their tax deductions. If your a big corporation and you could get health insurance but you don't, we do not allow the American taxpayers to subsidize your chief executive salaries, your senior executive salaries or benefits. In other words, you lose the tax deduction for those benefits.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, if you have a plan that costs one- third, I guess is how we do that math, of what Congressman Gephardt's plan does but covers everybody, something tells me that somebody is not going to get very good coverage because you get what you pay for, don't you?

DEAN: No, that's not true. Dick's plan has chosen to subsidize every corporation in America. We don't think that's possible. I don't think we can get that through. It's not that Dick Gephardt's plan is a bad plan. It's just incredibly expensive and it's a little complicated. So ours is much easier to understand. It's much cheaper. It's based on what we did in Vermont. As almost 12 years as a governor in a position, of course, I've got a fair amount experience with how to do this. We just found it was much easier to look, specifically, at the individuals that don't have insurance and cover them, rather than to do a huge change in what the system already is by giving enormous subsidies to big corporations. That's probably not the best way to do this in terms of the taxpayer dollars.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you a little bit about what gets the most play about you, and that is your relationship with Senator Kerry. Is it as tense as it appears to the rest us from the outside looking in?

DEAN: I don't think so. This race is not about myself and any of the other candidates. This is about taking the country back, back to a time where we could trust our government.

CROWLEY: Most of the squabbling does seem to come between the two of you and I'm trying to figure out why that is.

DEAN: Well, I can't tell you why that is, other than we're doing much better than I think most people expected us to. I think a lot of people expect we are going to just be a candidate that wasn't going to go anywhere, and we're tied for the lead in New Hampshire by a good margin. And I think that's of some concern to some of the other candidates. Politics is a rough sport. I expect him to say things about me. Again, 5he campaign is not about my relationship with other candidates, it's about what we're going to do for the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: A short time ago, Congressman Gephardt issued a statement responding to the Dean proposal. Gephardt says his plan, not Dean's, will offer coverage to all 60 million Americans who go without insurance at some point every year. Gephardt also says the Dean plan does not make insurance more affordable for lower and middle class families.

Up next, the president plugs a key adviser considering a run for office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: A member of my cabinet has joined us here today. My man Mitch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily." He is not old enough to vote yet but an 11-year-old Vermont boy is going all out for Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich. Dillon Hallsmith (ph) with a little help from his mom started the Web site KidsforKucinich.org. He says he likes former Vermont governor Howard Dean, too, but he thinks Kucinich would make a better president. President Bush praised outgoing budget director and potential candidate for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels this morning before a friendly Hoosier state audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Mitch Daniels has been a good friend, a close adviser, and I'm going to miss him. Washington's loss, however, will be the gain for the people of Indiana. He's a fine fellow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Daniels announced earlier this month he's leaving his White House post to return to his home state.

Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour praised the federal Headstart program yesterday with an unusual choice of words. The Memphis commercial appeal quotes Barber as calling the program a Godsend. He then said, quote, "Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now." A Barbour spokesman says the candidate was making the point of why Headstart is so important.

We are going to be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: A campaign source says Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt will rack up some key endorsements tomorrow from prominent members of the Democratic leadership, not exactly a bulletin. Democrats joke it's the worst kept secret on the Hill that Gephardt would be endorsed by his House colleagues, minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. Nonetheless, stay tuned for the official announcement tomorrow.

Bob Novak with me now to share some insight. Mr. Frist, another strike?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he dodged the bullet this time. They just a short time ago in the Senate, Candy, agreed to a 12-hour debate limitation which means that they will get to the tax bill in the Senate on Thursday night. One of Mr. Frist's aids, Senator Frist's aids made a mistake, got the wrong bill. Very complicated in the Senate. And it looked as though they might have to slip over into next week because of this mistake. But he's bailed out. But these are the adventures of having a rookie majority leader who is not quite sure of the parliamentary rapids.

CROWLEY: OJT, as they call it.

Listen, we just saw Senator Lugar standing next to the president out in Indiana all smiles. But he's upset with the Bush administration.

NOVAK: He hides his emotions, as you know. But Chairman Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee very unhappy that he's been cut out of the loop on the Iraqi occupation. General Garner went there without checking in with him. And in "Roll Call" newspaper, said the other day how angry the members of Congress are that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has canceled their congressional delegations to Iraq. Now, it hasn't been announced yet, but Dick Lugar is going to have hearings, I think, next week on the Iraqi occupation. Maybe a Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz will lead it off. And these will be very tough hearings because there's a lot of criticism on the Hill among Republicans of the Iraqi occupation policies.

CROWLEY: Now, it seems to me that no one should be surprised that Edgar decided not to run in the Illinois for the Senate, but you're telling me someone is surprised.

NOVAK: The Republican establishment, including the White House, very surprised. Matter of fact, Jim Edgar looked like he was going to run so much he wanted to go here to go house hunting. And they said, hey, don't be too premature. He went back to Chicago, and I think he had to sit down with his wife. She didn't want him to run. That changes that seat now held by a Republican Peter Fitzgerald to a probable retention if Edgar would run to probable takeover by the Democrats, because there's a Democratic tie running in Illinois the last few years.

CROWLEY: A big decision for Edgar and for the Republicans as well. Thanks, Bob, really appreciate it.

NOVAK: In the movie the "Terminator" gets what he wants, and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes that's true on Capitol Hill. In testimony today, he asked Congress to pump up funding for after-school centers the major focus of his political activism in California. The marshmallows are coming out in the New York statehouse. That fluff of a story is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET UPDATE)

CROWLEY: Finally, there are big political issues. And then there's the matter recently addressed in the New York capital. Are large marshmallows a candy or a food? Until five years ago big marshmallows were considered a candy in New York and subject to a sales tax. Mini-marshmallows and marshmallow fluff were classified as food and were exempt from tax. The Pataki administration has just extended the tax-free status for big marshmallows. So, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lovers and others marshmallow fans can rest easy. Glad they cleared that up.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley.

"CROSSFIRE" begins right now.

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