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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

FCC Votes to Relax Media Ownership Rules; Grand Theft on Democratic Campaign Trail?

Aired June 2, 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: He made peace with the French, but can President Bush make peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understand this is going to be a difficult process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, he has misled the country.

ANNOUNCER: Is George Bush as hated by some Democrats as Bill Clinton was despised by some Republicans?

Grand theft on the campaign trail?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Take two tax cuts and call me in the morning.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... is take two tax cuts and see me in the morning.

ANNOUNCER: Who stole from whom? We'll look at some bad blood between two Democrats running for the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

After spending much of his term in office avoiding a direct role in pursuit of Middle East peace, President Bush has arrived in the region for face-to-face talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Here at home, most Americans say they see little chance of success. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll finds that just 32 percent say they think the meetings will produce significant progress towards peace.

CNN's Dana Bash is standing by in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with more on the president's Middle East agenda.

And, Dana, what are the White House expectations right now?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, Judy, because the White House is, of course, deft at the expectation game. Like with most politics and diplomacy, they are certainly trying to lower expectations for what this trip can accomplish.

But President Bush did arrive here for his first time since being president here in the Middle East. He arrived just about an hour and a half ago to this resort town in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. He was greeted by his host, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. And this first stop here is going to be a summit of Arab leaders. White House officials are saying that the overriding goal in this first stop is to have the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, see and be seen with the Arab leaders in the region. They say that's critical to helping give him legitimacy as a leader and also as a negotiator moving forward.

Now, the president, before he came here to the Middle East, was in Evian, France, where he tried to start to bridge his own diplomatic divide with French President Chirac. While there, in talking to reporters, he made clear that he is going to be in this process in the Mideast with all his efforts for the long haul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My expectations in the Middle East are to call all the respective parties to their responsibility to achieve peace and to make it very clear that my country and I will put in as much time as necessary to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace.

I fully understand this is going to be a difficult process. I fully understand we need to work with our friends, such as France, to achieve the process. I know we won't make progress unless people assume their responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And this meeting here in Egypt is a lead-up to President Bush's meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers. That will, of course, take place in Aqaba, Jordan. It will be the first time President Bush will sit down with two leaders -- with those two leaders.

And it does mark an important turn in the president's strategy in dealing with the Middle East. As you mentioned earlier, Judy, he has not wanted to get personally involved, use the personal prestige, the prestige of the presidency, for a situation that he thought before had really no hope. Now, with Mahmoud Abbas in power, the White House is moving forward. But this particular summit tomorrow here in Sharm el- Sheikh is important for the White House, they say, because nothing can happen without the support of the Arab leaders in the region -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, you can bet that all eyes back here are on what's going on over there.

Dana Bash reporting from Sharm el-Sheikh, thanks very much.

Well, their strong backing for Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has earned Mr. Bush key political support here at home. But the tough decisions required by the road map for peace could place those gains at risk.

With me now from San Francisco is political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, you could say what the president is doing is very courageous, so what are the risks involved?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he has more opportunity for diplomatic gain and perhaps more opportunity for political pain at home.

The fact is, Judy, that, over the last few years, the dynamic in American politics, really in both parties, but increasingly in the Republican Party, has been against pressing Israel to make concessions toward the Palestinians. And through the first 2 1/2 years of his presidency, President Bush was very reluctant to pressure Ariel Sharon to do anything he did not want to do.

Last year, when the president called on Sharon to end the incursion into the West Bank, Sharon essentially ignored him. And the president retreated, amid criticism from both sides. What the president is doing now is a turn, in more ways than one. Dana mentioned that he's turning in the sense of becoming more personally involved.

He's also shown more willingness, in the last few weeks, to pressure Sharon, as well as the Palestinians. And that exposes him to risk to significant elements within his coalition, some of neoconservative foreign policy thinkers, and also the evangelical Christians, the religious right leaders, who have become an important pro-Israel constituency.

WOODRUFF: But, Ron, hasn't the argument always been for those parts of the Bush constituency, where else are they going to go? They're going to support George Bush over a Democrat.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, there are a couple things here.

First of all, when -- there are probably two political elements that are important to consider here: social conservatives, as I mentioned, who have become very staunchly opposed to the road map, at least through the leadership. Two weeks ago, two dozens of the leading religious conservatives wrote to President Bush, urging him to stay away from the road map.

Bush has shown a reluctance to confront his base on most issues. That isn't something he's gone out of his way to do. They like the idea of an enthusiastic Republican base. And it is something that's going to cause him some heartburn, I think.

The second question are American Jews. In 2000, President Bush really was at a low point for Republicans in modern times among Jewish voters: only 19 percent in the national exit polls, about half of the high point that Ronald Reagan reached in 1980. So he has a risk here that, if he is seen as pressuring Sharon too much, he may erode some of the gains that many people think that he's made. On the other hand, there is substantial support among more liberal Jews for a negotiated peace.

WOODRUFF: A lot of dicey elements to all this. All right, Ron Brownstein joining us from San Francisco -- thank you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, over the weekend, some of the 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered in Upstate New York to focus on what some consider a weak link in their party's appeal, and that is rural issues.

Our Jonathan Karl reports that it didn't take long for the candidates to start focusing on one another.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is getting personal. Senator John Kerry got a rousing reception at a candidate forum in Lake Placid, New York, by ridiculing President Bush's domestic policy with this line.

KERRY: Take two tax cuts and call me in the morning.

KARL: But former Vermont Governor Howard Dean then accused Senator Kerry of stealing the line from this speech he gave three weeks ago.

DEAN: ... is take two tax cuts and see me in the morning.

I think flattery -- imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. So I don't know the answers. I don't write his speeches. Well, I guess I do now.

(LAUGHTER)

KARL: When it was Dean's turn to speak, he lashed out at Kerry for indicating his rhetoric, but not his record.

DEAN: I appreciate Senator Kerry saying that we don't want Bush- light, and we don't. But, Senator Kerry, we don't want Dean-light either.

KARL: Kerry was long gone by the time Dean spoke, but his campaign said, in response, "We're simply not going to play politics at that level."

Privately, however, Kerry allies were quick to suggest that Dean is the plagiarist, pointing to press reports from three weeks ago saying Dean stole the "Take two tax cuts" line from Kerry. But the Dean campaign said Kerry's speech also stole Dean's central theme, that Democrats have been too timid in taking on Republicans.

KERRY: We need a Democratic Party that stands on its own two feet, and the one thing this country doesn't need is a second Republican Party. KARL: The two Democrats have been at each other's throats for a while, especially last month at a Democratic debate in South Carolina, where Kerry, a war hero, responded to an attack by Dean by saying, "I don't need any lectures on courage from Howard Dean."

There is a reason for all the bitterness. The two are locked in a political battle to the death in the critical New Hampshire primary. Kerry is from Massachusetts. Dean is from Vermont. Both are well- known in New Hampshire. But even as the real candidates battled it out, noncandidate Hillary Clinton got the warmest reception of all, even getting a plug from Howard Dean, who said she'd be a good president.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I have no plans, no intentions. It's flattering for people to say something like that, obviously. But as far as I'm concerned, I have a great job, and it's a very challenging job. And I love doing it and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability.

KARL: And retired General Wesley Clark, another noncandidate, was the forum's keynote speaker, thereby giving some encouragement to those Democrats trying to draft him into a race for the White House.

(on camera): General Wesley Clark says he won't speculate on whether or not he will become a Democratic candidate for president. In fact, the self-described independent, at this point, won't even declare himself a Democrat.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Lake Placid, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, in fact, General Wesley Clark leads the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily." While he does insist he's not a candidate, Clark told our Jon Karl at that New York meeting -- quote -- "I haven't ruled anything out." He also proved very adept at spelling out his qualifications for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I certainly had a wonderful experience in the United States armed forces. I've dealt with diplomats. I've dealt with heads of state. I've run large organizations. Plus, I spent the last three years out with the business community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and Florida Governor Jeb Bush are facing questions about campaign barbecue. The Associated Press reports that the Georgia-based Williamson Brothers barbecue chain provided food at fund-raisers for both Republicans last year. But the AP says the contributions were never reported by either candidate. A Chambliss spokeswoman says that a check will be sent to cover the food costs. Florida GOP officials say the event was for the party, not for the governor. Actor and would-be candidate for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger already knows the value of money to a political campaign. When asked what he values in his friends, he tells the July "Vanity Fair" -- quote -- "The same things everyone does: loyalty, a sense of humor, the ability to make campaign contributions." Hmm.

Just ahead: the FCC vote on media ownership. I'll talk with Commissioner Michael Copps about his vote against the new rules and his predictions on how the changes will affect consumers.

The Democratic faithful consider their options. And some say, anybody but Bush. New poll numbers weigh the role of pragmatism vs. ideology.

And later: just the facts about a political whodunnit. Trent Lott's likeness goes missing from his hometown middle school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Do some Democrats dislike President Bush as much as some Republicans despise President Clinton? We'll look at some interesting numbers, coming up later on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to relax some media ownership rules that have been in place for decades. Under the new rules, media companies can buy more TV stations and own both newspapers and broadcast outlets in most cities.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell calls the change a bonus for consumers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL POWELL, FCC CHAIRMAN: Much of the consumers just never really fully appreciated the depth of what we were doing. That could be a failing on our part. But I do think that they're going to be confident that, as they watch TV in the next coming days, months and weeks, they're not going to see something radically different than they've seen for decades. And, indeed, in our judgment, in some local markets, you'll see some improvement on what you see on television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Today's FCC vote was along party lines, with the three Republican-appointed commissioners voting for the changes and the two Democrats against.

Some Democrats in Congress already are pushing for a review of today's vote, among them, presidential candidate John Edwards, who says he'll co-sponsor a bill to undo the decision.

With me now here, one of the two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps.

Commissioner Copps, your chairman says this is a bonus for consumers. Is that what it is?

MICHAEL COPPS, FCC COMMISSIONER: The only bonus here is for the media companies, who are given a green light for further consolidation.

I want to pick up on your point, though, on Republicans and Democrats, because the way I see it, this is not a Republican-Democrat issue. The only place in the country where it seems to boil down to that is at the FCC, where we voted this morning. In the Congress, it is bipartisan. It's Republican and Democrat. It's the majority of the people in the Senate's Commerce Committee who instructed us to slow down and put these rules out before we ruled on them.

Around the country, it's not even liberal and conservative. We've got the National Rifle Association and now Common Cause and the Parents Television Council.

WOODRUFF: You say consumers, readers, viewers, listeners are going to be hurt. How specifically are they going to be hurt by this?

COPPS: They're going to hurt by their entertainment, which is going to be more standardized. It's going to be more homogenized. It's going to be less regional. It's going to be less local.

They're going to be hurt by the potential for abuse of control over the civic dialogue. They're going to be hurt by a lack of local news, diminished news resources when consolidated stations go in. All of these things which go to the very substance of our democracy are at issue. It's a big, big deal.

WOODRUFF: And yet you have Chairman Michael Powell saying these rules that you changed had been in place for decades, for half a century, some of them, and that's what's happened with the media today, with Internet, with cable, with satellite, the media has moved beyond that and these rules had to be adjusted.

COPPS: They haven't moved as far as he would have us believe. In cable, if you look at the top 50 channels, 90 percent of them are owned by the networks and the big cable distributors. Now everybody's saying, oh, the wonderful dynamism of the Internet is going to keep this all open. We visited the top 20 news sites on the Internet. Guess who owns them? It's the very same folks. It's not diversity. It's not openness.

We are in real danger, though, with this proceeding and the broadband proceedings at the commission, of really suffocating the openness of that Internet. And I think every American ought to be afraid of that.

WOODRUFF: So, again, when your chairman and others argue that this was absolutely necessary to keep the competition going for the television networks and others, what's your answer to that?

COPPS: Where's the competition if a media market is tied up by a company that owns the newspaper, the leading television, the radio, the cable outlet? Where's the opportunity for the independent competitor, the minority competitor, the woman who's trying to get ahead and start a company and start a station? It's not there. This is not competition. This is for the big guys. This is all about oligopoly, monopoly on the newspaper side, oligopoly. Put them together and what do you do got? And it's not diversity and it's not localism and it's not competition.

WOODRUFF: Well, you've got some allies in the Congress. We're already hearing from some members, including John Edwards, that they want to try to undo this. Do you think there's a good chance that could happen?

COPPS: I'm encouraged.

There's lots of avenues of recourse. There's the Congress. We have a hearing in two days before Senator McCain and Senator Hollings on the Commerce Committee. Bills have been introduced. We've got the courts. We can have petitions for reconsideration at the FCC. Most of all, though, we've finally got the interest of the American people. And I don't think they're going to let go of this issue just because we voted today. This is really the end the beginning. That's all today...

WOODRUFF: Do you think you are going to continue to hear from people on this subject?

COPPS: There's no question about it.

WOODRUFF: The vote has been done. So, I mean...

COPPS: But the problem hasn't gone away. Now it's going to be harder to solve the problem, after June 2, after we've energized this further round of consolidation. So it's...

WOODRUFF: Michael Copps, commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, thank you for stopping by.

COPPS: Thank you. Appreciate it.

WOODRUFF: It's good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

COPPS: Nice to see you again.

WOODRUFF: And when we come back, we're going to find out how President Bush is faring with Democratic voters. Our Bill Schneider has the latest poll numbers just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Democrats may not all be paying a great deal of attention yet to the race for their own party's presidential nomination, but they are paying a lot of attention to one candidate. And their hostility is growing.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, takes a look at what a new poll is showing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Democrats are increasingly angry and frustrated with President Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I personally am going to do everything I can to make sure that he's not reelected, because I think he's a phenomenally dishonest, dangerous man.

SCHNEIDER: During his first eight months in office, President Bush's job approval rating among Democrats averaged only 30 percent, hardly a honeymoon. September 11 created a huge surge of unity in the country. Democrats rallied to Bush at the end of 2001, giving the president nearly 80 percent support.

But it wore off quickly in 2002, especially after what Democrats saw as the president's harshly divisive midterm election campaign. So far this year, the president has averaged less than 40 percent support from Democrats, the latest figure, 32 percent. Democrats don't like his international policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I feel as if I've been betrayed.

SCHNEIDER: And they don't like his domestic policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just an unbelievable tragedy and demonstrates their economic outlook, which is, let's benefit our wealthy constituents and to heck with everybody else.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans cultivated an intense dislike for President Clinton in the 1990s. Has Democrats' antipathy toward Bush reached those epical proportions? The answer is, almost. Republicans' approval of Bill Clinton averaged about 26 percent over his eight years in office. Democrats aren't quite as angry as Bush as Republicans were at Clinton, but they're getting there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that he has really done such damage to this country.

SCHNEIDER: Right now, Democrats say, by nearly 2-1, that they want a candidate who can beat Bush more than a candidate whom they agree with on the issues.

And which candidate would that be? So far, no Democrat has really caught fire. Senator Joe Lieberman leads the field by a small margin because he's the best-known Democrat. But the largest number of Democrats say they can't decide whom to support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The message here? There is an army of angry Democrats looking for someone to lead them. They don't see anybody out there yet -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Hmm. And when they do, the question is, will they come out to vote?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's the question.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider -- one of the questions -- thanks very much.

Still to come: Did your stocks make money today? We'll go live to Wall Street for the latest.

And in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the search is on for a likeness of Senator Trent Lott. We'll tell you what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(FINANCIAL UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Someone in Senator Trent Lott's hometown made off with a bust of the former Senate majority leader again. The 50-pound bronze bust was in front of Trent Lott Middle School in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was discovered missing on Saturday.

Now, this bust was a replacement for the other one that was stolen six years ago. And this word literally just in: We've just -- told that it's been found on a side street in Pascagoula, just a few scratches on it. But it's now back in front of the school. Sounds like an end-of-the-year school prank to me.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.

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