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Runaway Democrats Return to Texas House; Bush Files Reelection Paperwork; Democratic Presidential Set to Campaign in Iowa

Aired May 16, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: They're back, runaway Democrats return to the Texas House, claiming victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Government is by the people, for the people. And we had to go to Oklahoma to say that government is not for Tom DeLay.

ANNOUNCER: Let the campaign begin. President Bush puts in his paperwork. But wasn't he already running anyway?

The focus on Iowa. Democratic presidential hopefuls are set to bend union members' ears and face the feedback.

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


KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us, I'm Kate Snow. Judy is off today.

It's not exactly a stop the presses bulletin. Everybody and their brother knows President Bush is running for reelection. But, today, he filed his campaign paperwork, an official milestone that the White House clearly did not want to make a big fuss about.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Chris Burns -- Chris.


It wasn't even announced. It was very, very quiet. They merely filed, did not announce. In fact, it took a question at the press brief, the regular press briefing today to get the White House to admit that they did file. The president apparently trying to pursue some kind of a strategy, a campaign strategy in which he remains above the political fray, tries to cultivate his image as a popular post-war president, and also trying to, above all, try not to look like a candidate. Here's what he had to say as he was boarding his helicopter going to Camp David for the weekend.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people will decide whether or not I deserve a second term. In the meantime, I am focusing my attention today, on finding, on helping people find work. And that's where I'm going to be for a while. I want this economy to be robust and strong so our fellow Americans who are looking for a job can find a job. We've also got a lot of work to do on the security front. As John clearly pointed out, we got an issue with dealing with countries from around the world to make sure that they know that the war on terror continues.


BURNS: The president obviously trying to avoid what happened to his father 11 years ago. President Bush then won the Gulf War but then lost on the economy to Bill Clinton. What do they do today? Why did they do it? They filed because they want to raise a war chest of $100 million plus. That's going to take some time and also to build a campaign structure. Here's Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman.


ARI FLEISCHER, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: This is the legal structure that is required so that grassroots activities and fund- raising can begin. This is the required legal step that must be taken for other events to follow on. Now, in terms of any statement by the president, that's a follow-on event that would happen some time substantially down the road.


BURNS: Now, Democrats, of course, are firing at the president, saying that the economy is faltering, that the tax bill that he's pushed through Congress will not create the million jobs that the president predicts within the next year. Ari Fleischer, however, saying the Democrats are continuing to snipe among themselves. It, certainly seems from here, Ari Fleischer says, that the emerging Democratic theme is to snipe at each other. The president, he said, is focusing on economic security and national security -- Kate.

SNOW: Chris Burns on the White House lawn, thanks.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst now, Bill Schneider. Bill, Chris brought it up, the money is the thing here, is it not?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, sure, he can start raising money and the expectation is he'll raise over $200 million, perhaps close to $300 million, an all-time record for any presidential candidate.

SNOW: So in terms of where he goes now, he's still going to have the same kind of travel schedule that he's always had. But what's the difference?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the difference is everything he does now as president can be seen as political. What's new about that? Wait a minute, everything he's done for two and a half years as president has been seen as political. The difference is now it is fair to say so. Remember a couple weeks ago when he made that "Top Gun" landing on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln. A lot of Democrats said it was just a political stunt, part of the reelection campaign. We're going to see the pictures in all his campaign ads. And a lot of critics said, oh, the Democrats are just being cynical. Well, now he's a candidate for president. You can say those things without seeming overly cynical.

SNOW: Bill Schneider, thanks. So, can President Bush be beaten in 2004? That's the question in today's "CROSSFIRE" coming your way at half past the hour.

A short while ago, President Bush welcomed the scaled-down tax cut legislation passed by the Senate late last night, even though he didn't get everything he wanted.


BUSH: The tax cut must be strong and robust so people will be able to find work. That's what I'm focused on. I'm interested in jobs and job creation, and the more bold the tax relief package is, the more likely it is a fellow Americans will be able to find work.


SNOW: The Senate tax cut vote fell mostly along party lines, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaker. Now, a House Senate conference committee must work out the differences between the two chambers' tax bills. The Senate limited the price tag of its plan to $350 billion over ten years. The House version would cost $550 billion. The Senate plan would temporarily phase out the tax on dividends. The House approved a reduction on the tax rate on dividends and on capital gains. And the Senate Bill includes a $20 billion provision for aid to state and local governments. The House bill does not.

Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl talked taxes with a key player in the negotiations on the Hill, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Nickles, welcome to the subway ears.


KARL: Now, you've got a significant victory. You've got the tax cut passed the Senate. Do you think there is any way that you can get a tax cut at the end of day that is bigger than $350 billion, given what Senator Grassley has promised Senator Snow?

NICKLES: I think What we will do is I would love to see that happen. I also count votes pretty well in the Senate. I don't see anything, not so much even Senator Grassley's commitment to Senator Snow as counting the votes on the floor. And nobody's going to go bringing back a bill they can't pass in their respective house.

KARL: You don't see the votes there for more than 350? NICKLES: No, but I do see us being able to design a net of 350. We may be a gross tax reduction of 430 with some offsets, revenue closures and so on that will make up the difference, some extenders and so on. But I do see us having a front-loaded tax cut that is going to have as much economic punch in the first four or five years with the 350 as what people proposed with 550 or even 725.

KARL: Looking at the Senate bill, the White House came out, the president put out a statement praising it, but the speaker of the House didn't. The speaker of the House yesterday was very critical of the provision on dividends, saying it doesn't make much sense to cut only half the dividend tax in the first year.

NICKLES: The speaker of the House is a very good friend of mine. And we've agreed on more issues than not. And he may have a little difference of opinion than we have on dividends. They have a good dividend proposal. We have a good dividend proposal. I think the White House likes ours a little bit better than theirs. Fine, so they'll help weigh in, but we'll negotiate a good dividend proposal. We're starting with two good dividend proposals. We're starting with one a lot better than we did three days ago. And, so we'll work out something that will be a significant improvement over present law.

KARL: OK, I want to switch subjects for a second. Texas had this big showdown, the Texas state legislature. The Democrats ran out of Texas and went to Oklahoma. How do you like having a bunch of Democratic lawmakers going to Oklahoma?

NICKLES: It's frightening to think that we were invaded by these Texas Democrats. I told Senator Hutchison and Senator Cornyn they are going to have to take them back.

KARL: And they've left.


KARL: Did they leave some money behind?

NICKLES: I hope so.

KARL: And one last thing, are you going to run for reelection?

NICKLES: We'll find out. We're weighing that decision right now.

KARL: Senator Nickles, thank you.

NICKLES: Thank you, John.

KARL: Appreciate it.


SNOW: As you just heard, politicians here in Washington are buzzing about the 51 Texas Democrats who fled the state in order to kill a GOP redistricting plan. Today, those Democrats are back at work in the Texas capital.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there too.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some call them the killer Ds, others call them the chicken d. It doesn't matter which name you like, this week, these 53 Democrats ruled Texas politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to be home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to be back in Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready to go back to work.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Is this something you could do twice?

GARNET COLEMAN (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: No, no. This is something that you only do once and you're probably foolish for doing it once.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Last Sunday, the Texas Democrats dashed out of state in the middle of the night. And they returned under the cover of darkness early Friday morning. When they walked into the House chamber, cheers and some scattered boos were heard in the gallery. Publicly, Republicans vowed not to seek political revenge against the Democrats, but privately most lawmakers understand the last few weeks of the Texas legislative session could be uncomfortable for the renegade Democrats.

DAN BRANCH (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: They left the state. They deserted the state of Texas. So, I think the issue now is to get back to business, you know, let's see what bills we can save what we can salvage.

COLEMAN: They're glad we're back. I'm glad our back. And I know there will somebody tension.

LAVANDERA: That might be an understatement. These folks in chicken suits were sent to razz the Democrats. While the walkout was great political theater, Republicans worry about what it's done to the state's image.

BRANCH: Well, I don't think the idea of a state legislator from Texas leaving the state, it's kind of like the Congress or a third of the Congress going up to Canada. There is something about it that's bizarre and unusual.


LAVANDERA: Now, when George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, Democrats and Republicans here in Austin used to brag about how well they could get along. And a lot of people around here thought that made Texas politics slightly boring for the most part. But what a difference this week has made. And before we wrap up the week here in Austin, this is the popular t-shirt being passed around among the Democrats here in Austin, the killer d's. And I think that's supposed to be some sort of superman looking fellow there on the front part of the t-shirt -- Kate.

SNOW: Great political theater. Ed, what happens to the map now? This is all about the redistricting map for Texas. What happens to that?

LAVANDERA: Well, technically, for the rest of the session, which ends in the first week in June, this issue is all but dead. But there is talk here that the governor of Texas Rick Perry might call for a special session, which means the Republicans would and probably more than likely bring up this redistricting bill again. So the question is whether the Democrats will try to do what they did this week, which doesn't appear terribly likely, as you heard one of the representative say it's not something you can do twice. What they're hoping for, perhaps, is that they've gained enough publicity and enough PR ground on their side that that would dissuade Republicans from bringing up the issue. That's at least what the Democrats are hoping for -- Kate.

SNOW: Ed Lavandera in Austin, thanks, Ed.

Now that President Bush is an official candidate, what are his would-be Democratic opponents up to? We'll check in on the candidates and what they hope to accomplish in Iowa this weekend.

When the going gets tough, our Bill Schneider gets going in the "Political Play of the Week."

Plus, the Rolling Stones can't get no satisfaction, but the president and one of his daughters sure did.


SNOW: Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily," two Republican members of Congress are looking ahead to future campaigns for statewide office. Congressman Darryl Issa says he has filed the paperwork to run for California governor in 2006, a move that would also make him eligible for a possible recall election against Governor Gray Davis later this year.

In Georgia, Congressman Mac Collins confirmed speculation he plans to run for the Senate seat held by the retiring Democrat Zell Miller.

Some fellow Democrats are defending Howard Dean, following critical comments made by the leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, a new DLC memo grouped Dean with what it called the McGovern-Mondale wing of the party. Among those responding, Dean's fellow Vermonter Senator Jim Jeffords. He says, quote, "I have heard such charges coming from Republicans most of my political life, but I find it incredible to hear such charges coming from Democrats."

Senator Bob Graham is taking flack from a Florida environmental group unhappy with his ties to the sugar industry. A leader of the Everglades Trust tells the Orlando Sentinel Donations from sugar growers raise questions about Graham's commitment to restoring the Everglades. A Graham spokesman and a lobbyist for the Audubon Society defend Graham's record on the issue.

INSIDE POLITICS returns in a moment.



SNOW: Some Democratic state lawmakers on the lam or the Republicans in the U.S. Senate? Which group won the political "Play of the Week"? The answer when we come back.


SNOW: Bill Schneider is here to talk about some elected officials who took their show on the road -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, since when do you get the "Play of the Week" for walking off the job? Since Texas Democrats did just that this week.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Walking off the job can get you called some rude names in Texas.

SUE WEDDINGTON, TEXAS GOP CHAIRMAN: The majority of Texans see them as cowards.

SCHNEIDER: But, somehow, the renegade representatives ended up looking like heroes.

JIM DUNHAM, CHMN. TEXAS HOUSE DEM. CAUCUS: We weathered some troopers, and we weathered some tornadoes and we weathered Denny's.

SCHNEIDER: How did they make the walkout work? By choosing a terrific target.

DUNHAM: We have a message for Tom DeLay. Don't mess with Texas.

SCHNEIDER: The walkout demonstrated what looked like a power play by Tom DeLay, trying to ram a bill through the Texas legislature that would redraw district lines to give Republicans at least four more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and, not coincidentally, help DeLay keep his job as majority leader.

PETE GALLEGO (D), TX. CHMN. DEMO HISPANIC CAUCUS: Let me point out last week Congressman DeLay wasn't in Washington attending to his duties as a national leader. He spent several days in Austin, and he missed at least 15 roll call votes as he took those days off to work on this redistricting effort.

SCHNEIDER: How's that for walking off the job? When the news got out that Texas authorities had followed up on DeLay's suggestion and asked the feds to help round up lawmakers on the lam, Democrats had a field day. REP. MARTIN FROST (D), TEXAS: Tom Nixon DeLay, not since Watergate, 30 years ago, has anyone tried to invoke federal law enforcement officials to resolve a political partisan dispute.

SCHNEIDER: On Friday, the Texas Democrats returned in triumph ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oklahoma is OK, but we're glad we're back in Texas!

SCHNEIDER: ... to claim the political "Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Texas Republicans accuse the Democrats of abandoning the tradition of the Alamo, a serious charge in Texas. Texans are supposed to stay and fight. But you know, the defenders of the Alamo lost. The Democrats won -- Kate.

SNOW: Bill Schneider.

Up next, financial info on the president and vice president. Details on their income, the gifts they decided to keep and which ones scored tickets to the Rolling Stones.


SNOW: As he kicks off his reelection b.i.d., President Bush is counting his political assets and he's not hurting in the money department either. Mr. Bush and his family are reporting assets of at least $8.8 million. But Vice President Cheney and his wife have more than twice that much, reporting at least $19 million in assets. In keeping with government rules, Mr. Bush also reported gifts he kept, including a $1,000 cowboy hat, an old map of Texas given to him by the vice president and eight tickets to a Rolling Stones concert. He didn't go, his daughter Jenna did.

Seven of the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls will be in Iowa tomorrow for a town meeting with a key constituency, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is hosting the event. And about 1,000 union members will be present to hear the candidates' best pitch to the labor audience.

With me now on the phone from Des Moines is Chuck Todd, editor of the "Hotline." He's already in Iowa to cover tomorrow's big event. Chuck, seven of the nine will be there in person. The other two via satellite. Why are they trekking to Iowa? Why so important to get that labor vote?

CHUCK TODD, "THE HOTLINE": It's funny. Really, there's an audience of just one person that they're all trying to win over, and that person is Gerald McEntee. He's the head of AFSCME, and he's probably the one labor official who isn't necessarily already in the tank for Richard Gephardt. A lot of people believe that most of labor is going to be behind Gephardt's presidential campaign, but not AFSCME. Gerald McEntee is already on the record saying very nice things about John Kerry, for instance. And he endorsed Bill Clinton in '92, very early on, while all of labor was behind another candidate. This is sort of the one labor union all the campaigns believe they have a legitimate shot at, even if they're not as pro- union as others.

SNOW: And what do we think he's looking for on behalf of labor? What does he want out of these candidates?

TODD: He's made no bones about it, he's looking for electability, pure and simple. He wants to win. That's what he said. He has said this on the record. McEntee wants a winning candidate. He wants somebody that can win. He's willing to make compromises on certain issues, even as long as there's somebody who can win, which is a lot different than other labor unions who want somebody who is going to tow the line a little bit more of labor's agenda. And not Gerald McEntee, he has said he is looking for, apparently, somebody from electable wing of the Democratic Party.

SNOW: You mentioned Dick Gephardt. He would be the defacto favorite among everybody else in Labor.

TODD: Right, but this is -- you've got to remember AFSCME, this is the federal, and state and county workers. These is the white- collar members of labor, not the necessarily the blue-collar crowd. So, it is a little bit of a different electorate than -- when people think of labor unions, they think of autoworkers or they think of other trade workers. This is a little bit different.

SNOW: Are we going to hear a lot of talk about health care this weekend, do you think? Senator Kerry unveiling his plan this morning.

TODD: Oh, I think, it's inevitable that we will hear about health care. You know, another issue you might hear about, remember AFSCME was very touchy about the Homeland Security Department and making sure that labor doesn't get kicked out of the federal government. Obviously, they represent federal workers. We might hear a little bit about that. But, absolutely, health care is going to be as much of a central issue.

It's interesting in the way this format works, Kate, there is a chance that some candidates might engage each other. And we talked earlier about the DLC and the Howard Dean feud. It will be interesting to see if somehow, Howard Dean works in the DLC stuff in his forum questions tomorrow.

SNOW: What is the format there? You say there's a chance that they'll engage each other?

TODD: Well, it's questions from McEntee and then questions from a select panel to the candidates. However, there's a little caveat in the format, I've got to take a peek. I got a little bit of a peek at what the candidates' rules are. If another candidate mentions another candidate by name, the person mentioned gets a chance to rebut. So that's where this sort of -- when I say there's a chance, the most likely thing is that they're not going to try to engage each other, because some of the Howard Dean/John Kerry back and forth at the South Carolina debate didn't meet with approval with a lot of folks. And I think that maybe it will make everybody have pause about trying to mention another candidate by name.

SNOW: Chuck Todd, editor of "The Hotline," the "National Journal's" daily briefing on politics. Thanks for joining us by phone from Iowa.

TODD: Great, thanks Kate.

SNOW: Still ahead, politics can make for strange bedfellow. Dick Gephardt certainly knows that. But now he's finding that bedfellows make for strange politics. Details when we return.


SNOW: Dick Gephardt isn't losing a daughter, he's gaining a son- in-law and another vote for his presidential campaign. Twenty-give- year-old Kate Gephardt is engaged to marry Neil Greenberg. Greenberg has something of a skeleton in his closet. He's a Republican. He says his party loyalty won't change, but he will vote for Gephardt for president because he says he's the best man for the job. Not to mention his future father-in-law.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Kate Snow.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


Reelection Paperwork; Democratic Presidential Set to Campaign in Iowa>

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