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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Christie Whitman Resigns as EPA Head; Tax Cut Battle Rages

Aired May 21, 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: The drill on terror: Americans prepare for the possibility of new attacks amid signs al Qaeda leaders still are talking and plotting.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will press on until the danger to our country and to the world is ended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Administrator Whitman.

ANNOUNCER: Christie Whitman announces her exit from the Bush administration after a stormy reign at the EPA.

CHRISTIE WHITMAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I'm not leaving because of clashes with the administration. In fact, I haven't had any.

ANNOUNCER: Where is the beef? Tax cut deal-makers plow ahead, still worried that:

REP. BILL THOMAS (R-CA), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There will be negotiations, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee might say, until the cows come home.

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington: JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

President Bush says America is making progress in nabbing al Qaeda leaders. But Osama bin Laden and his terror network are haunting the Bush administration again today. A taped message purportedly from bin Laden's right-hand man urges Muslims to attack U.S. embassies and other targets. And Saudi security sources say that they have thwarted a sudden al Qaeda plot for 9/11-style attack in Jeddah.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent Chris Burns.

Chris, what are they saying at the White House?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, President Bush has just come back from his trip to Connecticut, where he addressed the commencement ceremonies for the Coast Guard, Coast Guard playing a very important part in this elevated security threat that has been elevated since yesterday to orange. That's second highest.

Talking to the Coast Guard not directly about that threat level, but also talking about the fight against terrorism, saying that half -- once again insisting that half of the al Qaeda leadership has been either wiped out or arrested, but that the other half remains very active, mentioning also the attacks, the recent attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, saying that that fight goes on and that the U.S. will fight that to the end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Our country has been attacked by treachery in our own cities. And that treachery continues in places like Riyadh and Casablanca. We have seen the ruthless intentions of our enemies. And they are seeing our intentions. We will press on until this danger to our country and to the world is ended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Now, the main thrust of the president's speech was to talk about how the fight against terror is also a fight against poverty, the president talking about his programs, a $15 billion program to fight AIDS in Africa, and announcing a new program: Volunteers For Prosperity, trying to engage professionals in going into developing countries to help develop them and, thus, indirectly fighting the seeds for terrorism -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Burns reporting for us from the White House.

Well, with the president in Joe Lieberman's home state today, as you just heard, the senator and Democratic presidential candidate pounced on the homeland security issue. He urged Mr. Bush to back up his rhetoric about fighting terror with more money and greater vision. We'll have more on terror politics ahead with Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan and in the "CROSSFIRE" at the bottom of the hour.

Now we go to the Capitol Hill version of "Let's Make a Deal." Top House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a $383 billion tax cut and spending package that abandons one of the president's top priorities. And that is the elimination of taxes on dividends. Still, some key Senate moderates don't seem to be impressed.

Here's our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.

Jonathan, what's going on there?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, what's going on is, the vice president is up here meeting with Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, trying to close the deal. He's put on quite a show up here, the Ways and Means chairman, that is. The temperamental Bill Thomas held a press conference just a short while ago to lash out at his Republican colleagues in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KARL (voice-over): The Ways and Means chairman took to the TV cameras to announce that House Republicans have made an offer the Senate needs to accept or take responsibility for killing the tax cut.

THOMAS: Somebody has to face the fact that they may be the one that brings the package down. Until and unless that understanding is clear, there will be negotiations, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee might say, until the cows come home.

KARL: Thomas' take-it-or-leave-it plan includes nearly $350 billion in tax cuts, plus $33 billion in spending on state aid and on rebates to low-income workers with children, bringing the total cost to $383 billion. This, Thomas insists, is perfectly consistent with Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley's promise to Senate moderates to keep the size of the tax cut at $350 billion.

THOMAS: We aim to honor the Senate's budget position and the word of the Senate finance chairman. We have done that in this understanding. It's 349.8. The state aid the Senate said they had to have and the refundability for the child credit are on top of that. That is conforming to the letter, the spirit, and the substance of the Senate budget position.

KARL: But there's a problem. The bill almost certainly can't pass the Senate, because key Senate moderate George Voinovich rejects any economic plan that costs more than $350 billion, regardless of whether the extra costs are tax cuts or spending.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: I have held this stand throughout the whole process, in spite of what some editorial writers have said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, if this deal is finalized, the president will sign into law a tax cut that does not include what was his highest priority, the elimination of the double taxation of dividends. Instead of that, this plan, this proposal, includes a reduction in the capital gains tax, which would reduce, but not eliminate the tax on dividends as well -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Jon, if that happens, as you suggest, we'll all want to find out what the White House, what the president has to say about it.

OK, Jon, at the Capitol, thanks very much.

Well, House and Senate Democratic leaders say that a delay in passage of a tax bill could further delay an extension of benefits for jobless workers. Democrats blame the president and House Republicans for failing to extend unemployment benefits beyond the previous 13- week extension, which expires at the end of this month.

In the words of one environmentalist, EPA Chief Christie Whitman -- quote -- "must feel like her own long national nightmare is finally over." Whitman announced her resignation today. And President Bush issued a statement saying that she has served him exceptionally well.

But, as our Bruce Morton reports, there have been clouds over Whitman's tenure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christine Todd Whitman is step down as head of the EPA, saying, like Press Secretary Ari Fleischer earlier this week, it's just time to go home.

WHITMAN: My husband and I have been married 29 years. For 26 1/2 of them, we lived together. The last 2 1/2, we haven't. And we like it better the other way.

MORTON: Her resignation has been predicted often, an environment-friendly EPA head in a pro-business administration. And she did, early on, announce that the president was for mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, only to have him say a week later that he wasn't.

But she's had successes, too: imposing a tough Hudson River clean-up paid for by General Electric, issuing tough new standards for diesel fuel emissions, for example.

WHITMAN: I'm not leaving because of clashes with the administration. In fact, I haven't had any. I report to the president. And he has always asked me to give him my best, unadulterated advice. I've always done that. And we've been on the same page.

MORTON: Whitman, who served two terms as New Jersey's governor, said she had no plans to run for office, but ruled nothing out. She leaves an unusual legacy, not a bill or a monument, but a Scotch terrier named Barney, a Whitman gift to the Bush family. She gave them a dog. Her husband gave her:

WHITMAN: When my husband gives me roses for Mother's Day, saying, welcome home, you know it's time to go home.

MORTON: Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, Bob Novak has some "Inside Buzz" on Christie Whitman's resignation later on INSIDE POLITICS.

Also ahead: President Bush in the money -- Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile offering their 2 cents on the president's latest fund-raising blitz.

And the politics of health care. Democrats keep coming out with plans, but how much do Americans really care?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Massachusetts Senator and presidential hopeful John Kerry may have some work to do at home in his race for the White House. The research group Mass Insight matched up Kerry with President Bush in a hypothetical race. The survey found Kerry trails the president among Massachusetts voters by 6 percentage points.

A few hours from now, President Bush will be the star attraction at a huge Republican Party fund-raiser here in Washington. The GOP- sponsored President's Dinner will be the largest ever. More than 7,500 people are expected, including the president, the vice president and members of Congress. Tickets are $2,500 per plate, but some donors have already given more. A source tells CNN that the party expects to bring in at least $20 million.

Republican Congressman Ernie Fletcher and Democratic state Attorney General Ben Chandler will face off this fall for Kentucky governor. Fletcher won the GOP nod easily yesterday. Chandler, meanwhile, edged fellow Democrat Jody Richards to win his party's nomination.

INSIDE POLITICS returns in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now: former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and American Cause President Bay Buchanan.

All right, the first thing: homeland security. Democrats are starting to make noises: The administration, the president, talks a good game, but they're not putting the money where their mouth is.

Bay, are the Democrats going to get anywhere on this?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: No. And, in fact, the last place the Democrats want to be is on the issue of homeland security. This is where the president made his name, where he gained enormous popularity by really stepping in when this country really felt insecure and it needed somebody in a leadership position. So he's enormously strong on this issue.

They're like a bunch of yip-yap little dogs bitting at his ankles. And every time they continue to do so, he looks more presidential and they look more insignificant.

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Bay, he's so vulnerable on this issue. And let me tell you why.

They, the Republican Party, has spent enormous capital putting together a $350 billion tax package. But yet they've only given the state $3.5 billion for first-responders and to secure our borders. So they are very vulnerable. And I think the Democrats who seized this issue last year, who created this issue, who made it their own, the Republicans stole it, like they always steal good issues from the Democrats.

They understand that the Democrats will be coming after this president on this issue until the Republican Party just stops talking tough, but invests in homeland security.

BUCHANAN: They are suggesting the president is not tough on terror. This is what his reputation is. He is extremely strong. And his relationship with the American people is one that they believe he, of all people, will give them the kind of security that they have now and want to continue to have.

BRAZILE: The rhetoric is hot, but the money is not there in the pot. And so, when it comes to funding first-responders, Michael Bloomberg is laying off people in New York. Who is going to be there next year to

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Almost every single state has economic problems, financial problems.

And there's no question the president, in his budget, is going to have move stuff to make certain that the states and, more importantly, the cities have the money for that front line. I agree with you there. The money is going to need to be there. The president will find it, because this is what his administration is about. They will not falter on security. And I think the American people have put their faith in this man. And they're going to keep it there. Democrats are a mistake -- this is a mistake.

WOODRUFF: Quick last word on that point.

BRAZILE: Well, the Republicans, they are putting money in national security, but homeland security deserves just as much attention as national security. And it's time that first-responders and those who are on the front lines receive some of the money.

WOODRUFF: And Democrats are going to have bet that people can make that distinction.

BRAZILE: They will make the distinction.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about a different kind of money. And that is how much money President Bush is raising for his campaign, $20 million, Bay, tonight. Is this going to make him prohibitively so far ahead of the Democrats that nobody can hope to catch up?

BUCHANAN: This is $20 million tonight for the party. He is looking at raising $150 million to $250 million in a primary, Judy, where he has no opposition. So this is enormous sums of money. We are talking probably three, four, five times as much as any other candidate

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: And you know what? Look...

WOODRUFF: So, Donna, why don't the Democrats just give up and go home?

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely not, Judy. Message trumps money all the time.

And, look, of course Republicans can raise a lot of money. They have got the collection plate right now right on Capitol Hill, with all the tax breaks that they're giving away. So I'm not surprised that they're raising this money. Look, the key issue for Democrats is not to get sidetracked with the money, but just look at a message, a strong message, that they can tell the American people. And that will help Democrats win in 2004.

BUCHANAN: You know what's interesting is, not only can this man raise money. But there's only one thing he does better than raise money. And that is connect with the American people. And you put those two things together in a candidate -- and Donna here knows as well as anyone -- that is one powerful formula, I think almost unbeatable.

BRAZILE: let me just remind you, the Republicans raised $180 million more than we did in 2000. And we still beat you.

BUCHANAN: I think there's a Republican in the White House, isn't there?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... the Supreme Court, dear.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: More votes with less money.

WOODRUFF: Let's argue that one all over again.

Bay, Donna, great to see you. Thanks very much.

Coming up next: Health care and the Democrats, it's already a big topic on the campaign trail. But hasn't the party been down this road before?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A bitter battle in Congress over your taxes. So, who are the political winners and losers? Our Bob Novak makes his pick.

INSIDE POLITICS back in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Add another name to the growing list of Democratic hopefuls touting their plan to make American health care better, cheaper and/or more accessible. And at George Washington University today, Senator Joe Lieberman unveiled a portion of his health care proposal. The centerpiece is a $150 billion, 10-year plan to accelerate medical research and to bring new treatments to patients.

With me now for more on all this: our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, why is health care turning out to be such a hot issue for the Democrats this year?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not much farther than going to the polls. And that is, when you ask people, both when the campaigns ask in their polling and when we ask in our polling, "What are you most worried about?" health care is always in the top two, right up there with the economy.

People are more worried now about it because there's an increase, not just in those who are not insured, but in those who fear they will soon be uninsured. And then add peer pressure on top of it. You had Gephardt come out and he got great play on his health care plan. Then you saw Dean, who really wants that to be his issue, because he's a doctor, come out and do his. Then you saw Kerry. There's a Kerry/Dean rivalry. So then Kerry comes out with his.

And then you sort of have this domino theory. Once you have three of them out there, you're probably going to get a couple more. And I think maybe we'll hear from Edwards next week on a health care plan.

WOODRUFF: But, at the same time, all of us remember what a radioactive, negative issue this was for the Democrats, for Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton in 1994. It was nine years ago, but it left a very bad taste in the mouths of Democrats.

CROWLEY: Sure. And it was nine years ago. And you go -- again, go back to the polls.

More people are worried now about it than they were at that time. At that time, things were pretty much OK and people weren't as worried about health care as they are now, about whether it's too expensive, not covering enough, or they don't have it. So those are the three big reasons.

And, No. 2, all of these people are pretty careful to say, we're going to use existing structures. You remember, the Clinton health plan was this whole new structure that nobody understood. Most of these plans go through what is existing. And that seems a lot safer to people when they hear about it.

WOODRUFF: So, we can assume we're going to continue to hear about health care from these Democrats. It's a pretty good bet it may not be the end of it.

All right, Candy, thank you very much. A picture is worth 1,000 words, we know, but how much does it cost to have your picture made with the president? Bob Novak is next with some big money details on tonight's Republican fund-raiser.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak is here with some "Inside Buzz."

All right, let's start with what we just teased. And that is that you're going to tell us more about this big Republican fund- raiser.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You could get a seat at that fund-raiser for only $2,500. But if you want your picture taken with George W. Bush tonight: $25,000. And that has to be a personal check. No PAC checks are permitted. And expect about 175 to do it. That will work out, by my arithmetic, to around $4.4 million extra.

WOODRUFF: So none of this campaign finance reform.

NOVAK: That's right.

WOODRUFF: None of the soft-money restrictions have gone into effect.

All right, Christie Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced her resignation today. What's going on?

NOVAK: She hasn't been a happy camper for a long time. And she really didn't like the publicity about allegations of misuse of her security detail. It really embarrassed her. She thought it was unfair. Now there's going to be a big conflict over who succeeds her. Jeb Bush's environmental chief down in Florida is being pushed by the greens. His name is David Struhs.

And the big auto industry lobbyist Josephine Cooper is being pushed by industry. But somebody you probably never heard of: the deputy administrator, a very competent civil servant named Linda Fisher, may be the successor.

WOODRUFF: We heard it here first.

OK, the tax bill, Jon Karl doing reporting on how that's coming down. They still haven't worked it out, but, already, Bob, it's clear there are some winners and losers.

NOVAK: The big winner is Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He dominated the Monday night meeting at the White House.

The bill, as it is coming forth, is mostly Bill Thomas' bill. The big loser is Senator Nickles of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Budget Committee. He's the working chairman. He's made a lot of mistakes. And they had a $70 billion miscalculation, which the Democrats are not letting get through. And it's just causing a lot of extra trouble right now. WOODRUFF: Last but not least, another aspect of this whole tax debate, something having to do with unemployment compensation.

NOVAK: Yes, to try to sweeten up the pie, there's going to be an extra bill for unemployment compensation going through. The Republicans have agreed to that. And do you know who the lead sponsor is in the Senate? Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

WOODRUFF: The freshman.

NOVAK: Freshman. But she is an appointed senator. Her father appointed her to the office. She's the most vulnerable Republican incumbent. And they want to give Lisa Murkowski a little credit for unemployment comp, a lot of unemployed people in Alaska. That's the way they play politics in Washington, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, she'll get a little credit, then.

NOVAK: That's right.

WOODRUFF: She'll get her name in some newspapers.

NOVAK: She just got it on CNN.

WOODRUFF: She just did.

All right, Bob Novak, great to see you. Thanks very much.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Still ahead: a follow-up on the runaway Texas lawmakers. What happened to the paper trail left by those ordered to track them down?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: There are some new revelations about the police search for the Texas lawmakers who fled to Oklahoma last week.

Just one day before the Democrats ended their boycott, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all records of its effort to track them down. Now, the DPS says that its commander signed the order to destroy the papers because federal rules forbid keeping intelligence information that is not part of a criminal case. But some Democrats say that they are appalled.

We'll do some more checking on that story.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. We thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.

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