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Texas Democrats Still AWOL; Interview With Richard Gephardt; Are Democrats Re-Exploring Old Ground?

Aired May 14, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: AWOL Texas Democrats offer prayers while lawmakers from both parties take potshots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. DeLay, don't mess with Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God we didn't have those Democrats at the Alamo.

ANNOUNCER: Democrat Dick Gephardt shows off his friends in the House. But how far will they go to help his campaign for president.

Journey to the center of politics? Are the Democrats re- exploring old ground?

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


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

Well, sicking Texas rangers on rebel Democrats didn't work. So today Republicans in the Texas State House are trying a new tact, appealing to their colleagues to come home. That isn't solving the standoff over Congressional redistricting either. The 51 Democrats say they plan to sit tight in Ardmore, Oklahoma until Friday, after tomorrow's deadline to vote on House bills.


PETE GALLEGO (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: To get to a point where you draw your line in the sand and you make a stand.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): The renegade Democrats are still on the lam, holed up in an Oklahoma Holiday Inn just over the Texas state line. They made a run for the border late Sunday night in a last- ditch effort to block the Texas legislature from approving the plan to redraw the state's Congressional districts. If the lawmakers are not inside the State House, the proposal cannot come up for a vote. The fugitives complained the redistricting measure, a brainchild of Texas titan Congressman Tom DeLay, would put Democratic House seats in Republican hands.

GALLEGO: The reality is that Republican leaders are the ones who have put an excessively partisan bill at the forefront of the legislative agenda. They have made redistricting more important than the real priorities of Texas.

WOODRUFF: Republican Governor Rick Perry is demanding that the Democrats knock it off and come on home.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: If the Democrats in hiding really care about important issues like children's health and education, they'll come back to Austin, and go to work.

WOODRUFF: Meanwhile on Capitol Hill ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. DeLay, don't mess with Texas.

WOODRUFF: Texas Democrats couldn't say enough about their home state colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a Texas kind of courage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come to the House floor today to salute heroes in my state.

WOODRUFF: Of course, Texas Republicans aren't convinced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God we didn't have those Democrats at the Alamo.

WOODRUFF: And so, the standoff continues with the clock ticking down to midnight Thursday when the redistricting bill will likely be forced off the table.


WOODRUFF: And, now let's talk to one of those Democratic lawmakers on the lam.

He is Texas state Representative Richard Raymond of Laredo. He joins us now from Ardmore, Oklahoma. He is on the State House redistricting committee. Representative Raymond, one of your Republican colleagues in the State House says this amounts to extortion. What do you say to that?

REP. RICHARD RAYMOND (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Well, let me say, Judy, that the word hero has been thrown around a lot and sometimes I think too loosely. But I want to tell you in Laredo, Texas, my home town, every year we honor a true American hero and that's George Washington. And what people have to remember is that George Washington, and our founding fathers, established in the constitution that we would take up Congressional redistricting every 10 years. And what Tom DeLay and so many Republicans are trying to do is to change the Constitution, to change what George Washington and those true American heroes established for our country. And we're taking a stand against that, because we think it's violating the voting rights and the representation and the right to representation of Texans all over the state. WOODRUFF: Well, Tom DeLay's argument, as we understand it, is that Texas has essentially become more Republican over time. Let me quote something he said. He says, "Fifty six percent of Texas voters cast their votes for a Republican Congressional candidate last fall." And then he said, "Yet, Texas sends more Democrats to Congress than Republicans." Things are out of whack is this point.

RAYMOND: Well, and the point there is that first of all, I didn't know that Tom DeLay was for quotas, but apparently he is. But also what Tom DeLay is saying is, if you live in Waco, Texas, and you want to vote for George Bush to be president of the United States, you can't also vote for Chad Edwards to be your Congressman. That makes no sense at all. The people of Texas have the right to vote for whomever they choose. That's what the Constitution guarantees. That's what the Voting Rights Act guarantees. The Voting Rights Act says you cannot go and establish a district that will in advance dictate who the voter shall choose. The voters have a right to vote for a Republican for president and a Democrat for Congress.

WOODRUFF: Representative Raymond, what about what your Republican Governor Rick Perry says. He says if you care, you and your colleagues cared about issues like children's health care, you'd come back and go to work.

RAYMOND: Well, with reference to children's health care, my colleagues and I here, 51 of us who sit here today have fought for years to make sure that we do provide children's health care. And this year, in particular, we are fighting to make sure that 300,000 kids are not cut off from health insurance when Governor Perry has consistently said he thinks 300,000 children should be cut from children's health care. So I think that it's nice for him to throw out these political statements, but they make no sense at all.

WOODRUFF: Richard Raymond, if you don't feel a little silly doing this?

RAYMOND: Ma'am, this is a very serious issue. What we're talking about is the right to representation for people all over the state. The reason we are doing something that has never been done in the history of Texas is because Tom DeLay and the Republicans want to change the constitution and done something that has never been done in the history of Texas.

WOODRUFF: Texas state Representative Richard Raymond joining us from right across the border in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Mr. Raymond, good to see you. We thank you for talking to us this afternoon.

RAYMOND: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

There will be more on this Texas showdown at the bottom of the hour on CNN when Democratic and Republican state representatives will appear on "CROSSFIRE."

Here in Washington, a number of House Democrats embraced one of their own in his run for the White House. As expected, Dick Gephardt was endorsed today by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, minority whip Steny Hoyer, and 28 other prominent House Democrats.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Snow talked to Gephardt about the show of support and about the campaign.


KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You got some key endorsements today?


SNOW: How does that translate into the votes out in the country?

GEPHARDT: Well, first of all, each of these members will vote in the convention. And they are providing the first delegates, so that's important. They can also help me run in their states, in their districts. They are all accomplished political figures, public servants. They have a following in each of their states, and that will help as well.

SNOW: There were some people missing here today, Martin Frost, for example, Bob Menendez. Only one member of the Congressional Black Caucus up there with you today. Some Democratic aides told me that it is in part because of your Iraq vote. Some people are still upset that you voted with the president to endorse using military force. Are you worried that you've alienated any of your own?

GEPHARDT: I don't think that's going to be the problem. A lot of members wait way longer in the process. This is unusual to have this many people come out this early, to be honest with you. And so I think a lot of other members will come on board as the year goes forward, as they go through a process in their own district. And as I said before, you never are going to have unanimity on all of the issues. People know that I did what I thought was right. I respect deeply their decision on the war and other issues. That isn't going to keep people from deciding on a candidate.

SNOW: Senator Kerry is going to be unveiling a health care plan. You were first out of the gate with a specific plan. Senator Edwards has called your plan "a giveaway," says it takes money from working people. Senator Lieberman called it "big spending that will never pass Congress." What do you say to that? Is it too big? Are you being too ambitious?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think it's the right plan, and I disagree with their critique. My plan is the only one that's comprehensive, universal, that has a chance of stimulating the economy much better than the president's tax plan. I think it's the right plan. I will argue for it through these next months. This is a healthy debate. I'm going to win this nomination, and I'm going to pass this plan when I'm president of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: Dick Gephardt talking with our Kate Snow just a short time ago.

More news about the Democratic hopefuls in our "Campaign News Daily." We have a preview of the national health care plan Senator John Kerry plans to unveil tomorrow in Iowa. You just heard it mentioned. Kerry will promise to make health care and prescription drugs more affordable by cutting waste and creating what he will call premium rebates for workers. He'll also offer every American access to the same health plan given to members of Congress.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been a leading critic of the Republican proposal to cut the dividend tax. But in 1998, he co- sponsored a bill to do just that. The Cleveland plain dealer quotes Kucinich of saying his 1998 bill made sense back then, but it would not today because in his words, quote, "the economy has changed." Kucinich told the paper he would not vote for his own bill if it were put to a vote today.

A group founded by the insurance industry is taken on North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Americans for job security, the name of the group, plans to post billboard ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, along with this TV ad destined for TV stations in North Carolina. The spot blasts Edwards for his ties to trial lawyers and companies and his voting record - his voting record to Senator Ted Kennedy.

Well, the political battle over guns is still ahead. Democrats are taking aim at the president, charging his actions speak louder than words. We'll see what a top House Republican has to say about that.

Bill Clinton was credited with moving his party to the center. So why are liberal and moderate Democrats at odds again?

And later, will there be an audit of President Bush's made for TV appearance on an aircraft carrier? We'll have the answer on INSIDE POLITICS.



SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It's disgraceful for the president to get up and say he supports the assault weapons ban, and then have his aides whisper to the House, kill it in the dead of night. And so, we're challenging the president, if you believe in what you said, if you are being honest and fair with the American people, you'll publicly ask the House to pass it and you'll get the House to do it. We believe all the president would have to do is ask Tom DeLay to put it on the floor for a vote and let members vote their conscience. We believe there are enough votes in the House to pass for renewal of the assault weapons ban.


WOODRUFF: Senate Charles Schumer questioning whether, in his words, the president is being a straight shooter with Americans about his gun policy. The White House today restated Mr. Bush's support for renewing a ban on oozies and other semiautomatic weapons. But White House press secretary Ari Fleischer gave no indication that the president would publicly push for the legislation. House majority leader Tom DeLay's office has said there are no plans for a vote on extending the ban, which expires in September 2004.

For more now on the assault weapons ban and other issues, I'm joined from Capitol Hill by the House majority whip Republican Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri. Congressman Blunt, what about Senator Schumer's comments that if the president believes in this then he should stand up publicly and say to the House, let's have a vote.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Well, I heard the senator's comments. Actually, Chuck Schumer wasn't a very good whip when he was in the House. He never was the official whip on either side. I suspect the majority leader's sense of where the votes are in the House are a lot better than Chuck Schumer's. I agree with that. The votes are not here yet. That's what the majority leader said yesterday. It's 16 months until this ban runs out. I think it shows just how strong the president is, frankly, that of all the things going on right now that our friends on the other side of the building would decide that the thing to attack the president on is something that he's made his position clear on that doesn't really have to be dealt with for months. He's trying to change minds now on the tax bill. I think he's doing that with success, and I assume later he can change minds in other areas as we get nearer that time.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying there's still time for the president to come back and publicly call for a ban. Do you think he'll do that? I mean you talk to the White House every day.

BLUNT: Well, I was with him all day yesterday. We talked about lots of things. This wasn't one of them. But there are months ahead before this assault ban is something that would have to be dealt with legislatively. There are a lot of things that need to happen. The president, as he's been able to turn his focus from Iraq, has been able to now focus on taxes. He's doing that effectively.

WOODRUFF: But we know congressman ...

BLUNT: I have no idea what his long-term plan is on assault weapons, but I do know it's a long time before this issue is an issue that really is kind of critical.

WOODRUFF: I hear you. But just quickly, we both know the president has a lot of friends, supporters in the House. You have got a good Republican majority in the House. To some, it seems odd that the president couldn't work his will in the House.

BLUNT: You know what, I think what seems strange, though, Judy, after the last months, particularly, is that anybody would suggest that the president doesn't mean what he says or is in the least bit disingenuous. People all over the world now know this president means what he says. I'm sure that our friends in the Senate know that as well. Again, this just shows how little they have to talk about these days.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the tax cut measures, I should say plural, moving through the Congress right now. The House has wanted a bigger number, closer tax cut measure than what -- closer to what the president wants. The Senate has come in with something smaller. If the number ends up closer to $350 billion over 10 years, is that something the president can declare a victory with?

BLUNT: Well, what we would appear to have some agreement on is accelerating many of the things that were in the tax package that we passed in the first year of the, getting that child tax credit, the marriage penalty the marginal rates moved. We'll have real impact on the economy. We think our package has much more potential to grow the economy. And the president in Nebraska, the president in Indiana, the president in New Mexico is making the case to Democrat senators, frankly, who haven't been in this debate very much up until now that they need to join the House on a bigger number that comes out of the conference. We've got to get to the conference first. The senate is not quite there yet.

WOODRUFF: But you have got moderate Republicans who are saying they can't go for the bigger figures.

BLUNT: You have a couple of moderate Republicans that are saying that. I Frankly, I think it's time to move beyond them and talk to Democrats on the Senate about what a couple of them need. And that's exactly what the president is doing when he's in Nebraska, when he's in Indiana, when he's in New Mexico. And I think there's more of that to come. We're not ready to vote on this final bill in the conference. We haven't even started the conference yet. We're going to fight hard in the conference for the biggest possible jobs package that we can get. We just think the American people can do a better job growing their economy with their money than the government can.

WOODRUFF: We're hearing you. Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri. He is the House majority whip. It's good to see you again.

BLUNT: Good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

Well, at this hour, members of the Senate continue to debate the scaled down version of the president's tax cut proposal. A lot of Republicans are not happy with the changes made to the legislation. But supporters say the bill can still be a boost for the economy.


SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: If the Democrats will just get out of the way, or at least not take so long that they kill this package, that we have a chance. We have a chance for the first time of giving this economy a real kick, if that's what it needs. It doesn't need more of the same.


WOODRUFF: But most Democrats argue the bill is too expensive, will benefit the wealthy and won't help the sagging economy.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This bill is designed so that Warren Buffet and the wealthiest people in America will get the tax breaks. Warren Buffet knows that's unfair. He said that publicly. I think most Americans know it's unfair.


WOODRUFF: The Senate has already agreed to limit the overall tax cut package to $350 billion, a move that forced choices that have proven unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans.

Still ahead, the Democratic presidential candidates and the political center is giving our Bill Schneider a sense of deja vu.


WOODRUFF: The group that helped put Bill Clinton and other Democratic centrists on the political map is holding a strategy session here in Washington today. The Democratic Leadership Council is looking ahead to the 2004 election. But the view may not be that bright.

Right now, here's our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, the Democrat Leadership Council is trying to save the Democratic Party. Question, haven't the Democrats been there and done that?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Bill Clinton was chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1991, he made quite a splash with his formula for reviving the Democratic Party.

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Too many of the people that used to vote for us, the very burdened middle class we're talking about, have not trusted us in national elections to defend our national interest abroad, to put their values into our social policy at home, or to take their tax money and spend it with discipline.

SCHNEIDER: It worked. The DLC got its man elected. What were Clinton's greatest policy achievements? Free trade. Remember NAFTA? Welfare reform. A balanced budget. Right off the DLC's agenda. But those are not causes that bring Democrats to their feet like, say, tax cuts does for Republicans. Moreover, the Democratic Party did not thrive under Bill Clinton. The party lost control of Congress. Most governors are now Republicans. The Democrats control only 17 state legislatures, the smallest number in over 50 years. So you could argue the Democrats are back where they started in 1991.

CLINTON: I read the "New Republic" with the cover, the Democratic coma.

SCHNEIDER: Twelve years later, they may be even worse off. The issues seem to be there for Democrats. Ask people which is more important for the country right now, tax cuts or health insurance for all, and the answer, by a wide margin is health insurance. Exactly the issue Dick Gephardt, and Howard Dean, and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry are all pushing in their campaign. But two-thirds of the voters and nearly two-thirds of Democrats cannot name a single democrat running for president.

Most Americans believe the Republicans do have a clear plan for the country. The Democrats don't. And so we're back to the same old debate. Liberals ...

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Howard Dean and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

SCHNEIDER: ... versus moderates.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Bob Graham. I come from the electable wing of the Democratic Party.


SCHNEIDER: President Clinton defined Democrats as the party of security. Remember, Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. And that attracted a lot of women voters. Men prefer a party that takes risks on things like tax cuts and wars. The problem is, security means something very different now than what it meant back in '96, and Democrats haven't quite caught up with that change -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: But they've got a year and a half until the election to figure it out.

All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, the picture's worth 1,000 words and then some. Up next another development in the ongoing debate over the president's trip to the USS Lincoln.


WOODRUFF: And a postscript to the president's recent trip, an overnight stay onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. The General Accounting Office has announced that it will not audit the cost of the trip to taxpayers because it says the analysis does not pass with the GAO director called a cost-benefit test.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff, thanks for joining us.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


Gephardt; Are Democrats Re-Exploring Old Ground?>

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