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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Prescription Drug Deal Likely; Hillary Clinton Outshining 2004 Democrats?

Aired June 10, 2003 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Clocking America's debt: A new estimate shows record red ink this year, even as Congress considers costly new plans.
The explosive debate over weapons of mass destruction. Was U.S. intelligence on the Iraqi threat flawed or fudged?

The queen of the airwaves: With all the media attention on Hillary Clinton and her new book, can the 2004 Democrats get a word in edgewise?

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

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

Well, the remaining deficit hawks here in Washington may be feeling a little queasy today. Congressional budget analysts now expect this year's federal deficit will top $400 billion, after figuring in the cost of newly enacted tax cuts and continued softness in the economy. Now, that would be more than $100 billion higher than the record-setting budget gap back in 1992, before federal deficits were briefly wiped out.

Well, now, even as the red ink is flowing again, an expensive plan to give prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. In a bout of political reality, the White House switched gears and agreed to back a Senate plan, although Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says the administration still plans to press for changes during final negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think all Americans should be heartened by the fact that 2003 looks like it very well may be the year where seniors are able to get the prescription drugs they deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl has been following the prescription drug debate and the possible price tag of all this.

We just heard Ari Fleischer sounding rather pleased, Jon. So are lawmakers, happy, though, that a prescription drug plan for seniors may finally be on the verge of getting approved? JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are certainly feeling on both sides of the aisle that, because of what the White House has done, the idea of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare seems virtually inevitable now, which is a complete turnaround of where the conventional wisdom was just a few months ago, when it was thought that this whole plan had very little chance of passing.

So where it stands now is, some conservative Republicans are privately upset that the White House has been given a green light on this. They feel there is too much spending here and too little reform. Some of those that have expressed this privately include Senators Lott, Senators Nickles and Santorum, three conservatives on this issue who say they will press for more reform and perhaps some less spending on this.

But the Republican leader here in the Senate, Senator Bill Frist, came out today expressing complete confidence that this bill will pass and this benefit will go into effect later this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Within six months of the time we sign this legislation, every single senior, every single senior and individual with disability who is Medicare eligible, but every single senior within six months can begin to get help with their prescription drugs because of this program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, to understand why this issue is so important politically, look at the battleground for the next election. It is senior citizens. If you look at the latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, you will see that Bush holds a slight lead over an unnamed Democrat in the presidential race, with 22 percent undecided.

That is the highest category of undecided of all age groups. The presidential election in 2004 will largely be fought over who can win the vote of senior citizens. That's what both sides know. That's why Republicans are so anxious to take this issue off the table by providing a prescription drug benefit.

Meanwhile, Democrats are very uneasy. And you heard that from Senator Tom Daschle today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: We think that it is flawed seriously. We think that there are many improvements that must be made in order for it to be acceptable to seniors. We think we have amendments to do that. And we'll let the amendment process work its way. But that clearly is our intention. And we'll see what happens at the end of the day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KARL: At a private meeting of Democrats just a short while ago here on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats, Tom Daschle made the case against this compromise. So did several other Democrats. But Senator Ted Kennedy got up and made a very -- what he felt was a very strong case that this was a step in the right direction, that more can be pushed for, more -- to give seniors a more generous Medicare benefit.

But Kennedy said that Democrats should jump on this, that this is actually a victory for Democrats, not necessarily a victory for the president -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, so we'll keep watching what those conservative Republicans have to say about all this and where this goes in final negotiations. Jon Karl at the Capitol, thank you very much.

Well, now we turn to an issue that keeps dogging the Bush administration. And that is the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. U.S.-backed Iraqi political leader Ahmad Chalabi was in New York today defending information that his group gave Washington about such weapons. But questions persist about the intelligence that the Bush administration used to justify the war in Iraq.

Here now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Bush was definitive when he addressed the nation on the eve of war with Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

SCHNEIDER: Just as Secretary of State Powell had been when he addressed the U.N. Security Council a month earlier.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons.

SCHNEIDER: No doubt, they said. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, they said.

Where are they? The American public doesn't much care. Most Americans say the war was justified, even if the U.S. does not find any weapons. But the issue critics are raising is not whether the war was justified; it's whether the Bush administration has lost credibility.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We hope that we will find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Failing to do that, there will be a serious question as to the credibility of the United States in the world. SCHNEIDER: The charge is serious. Was there a policy of deliberate deception in order to make the case for war?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: There is significant evidence that the intelligence was shaded.

SCHNEIDER: Manipulation of intelligence is not just unethical. It could have serious consequences, given the Bush administration's policy of preemptive action, one senator told CNN.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: If that means that you are going to go into Iraq or into Iran or into North Korea, or whatever happens in the future, it puts an absolute premium on having superb intelligence.

SCHNEIDER: Realizing the danger, the White House dispatched National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary Powell to the talk shows last weekend. Their mission? Damage control.

POWELL: I spent four whole days and nights at the CIA going over all intelligence in order to make sure that what I presented was going to be solid, credible.

SCHNEIDER: This week, President Bush adjusted his terminology.

BUSH: Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program.

SCHNEIDER: Not weapons, a weapons program. This issue is not likely to go away as long as the war in Iraq remains controversial, which will happen if the situation in Iraq remains out of control. In the 40 days since the war officially ended, 44 Americans have been killed in Iraq, more than one a day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: If terrorist attacks like the one in Saudi Arabia and Morocco continue, Americans will begin to ask, what exactly did the U.S. achieve in Iraq and was the threat from Iraq exaggerated? -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Very, very tough questions.

All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

And still ahead, we will be joined by two congresswomen who disagree over this question of weapons of mass destruction and whether U.S. intelligence was manipulated to justify the war in Iraq.

And now checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Democratic presidential hopeful Bob Graham has changed his name. He has decided not to release his thousands of personal notebook diaries to the public. Graham's habit of keeping track of his daily life, down to the last detail, has been described by some as obsessive. A spokesman says the senator doesn't want to keep talking about the notebooks. Vice President Dick Cheney traveled south to Mississippi to make his first appearance for a candidate this year. Cheney appeared at a luncheon yesterday for one-time RNC Chairman and now gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour. About 1,500 people paid $100 a plate to attend the event. Barbour's only primary -- GOP primary opponent, Mitch Tyner, though, criticized Cheney's appearance, saying -- quote -- "Washington wants to run Mississippi and they know they can do it through my opponent" -- end quote.

Well, coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: A controversial figure from the Reagan era has died. We'll remember former Treasury Secretary Donald Regan.

Plus: Hillary Clinton's star power. How badly is she outshining the 2004 Democrats?

And later: a surprisingly sweet, but rather unusual gift for lawmakers.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's been two months since the major fighting in Iraq ended, but now there's a new battle raging in Congress over Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction -- the view from the right and the left when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The failure to uncover evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, at least so far, has emboldened war critics who say the credibility of the United States government is now in question.

With me now to talk more about the weapons search are two members of Congress, Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and Congresswoman, Democrat, Diana DeGette of Colorado.

Good to see both of you.

I want to turn to you first, Congresswoman DeGette.

The president has said very flatly that there will be weapons of mass destruction found. How long are you and other members of Congress prepared to wait?

REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: Well, Congress and the American people were told by the Bush administration that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that placed an imminent threat, such that we had to send troops over there for a unilateral or bilateral force to attack another country.

And so far, it's been 80 days. We haven't seen the weapons of mass destruction. And it looks like the Bush administration is now backing down, as you said in the last segment. A lot of us are saying, where was the failure? Was it an intelligence failure, in which case, we better fix that right away, or was it something deeper than that? And that's the question we have to ask. Who knows whether they'll find weapons of mass destruction, but, certainly, it has taken us so long, it doesn't look like they had those weapons poised at -- either to attack the United States or one of our allies.

WOODRUFF: Congresswoman Pryce, does it matter whether these weapons for found or not, now that the war is over?

REP. DEBORAH PRYCE (R), OHIO: Well, we would like to find them and I truly believe that we will find them, Judy.

There is mass evidence that they were there at one time. I mean, we have 300,000 Kurdish Iraqis massacred in the late '80s. The weapons were there. Where are they now? This is a country that buries airplanes and helicopters. It's the size of California. And we could kill a million people with just a little bit of these agents, enough to fill a U-Haul truck. So we have to find them, and we will.

WOODRUFF: Congresswoman DeGette, now the president is talking about weapons programs. Is that going to be enough, if it's simply programs and if it's in the past tense? The president is talking about having had weapons program. Is that enough to satisfy you?

DEGETTE: Well, the thing is, in the late '80s, we do know that the Iraqis had or were developing chemical and biological weapons. That was 15 years ago. We had the U.N. weapons inspections and so on.

The president and his administration made a case to the American public that we had to attack Iraq because they had these weapons and the nuclear program and that they were presenting an imminent threat to us. That's far different from what the administration is saying now. And both administration officials and intelligence officials are beginning to admit that there were some problems in intelligence.

If we hope to continue to aggressively fight this war against terrorism, we're going to have to figure out where the breakdown was or if the American people were being lied to, because this is obviously affecting our international credibility.

WOODRUFF: Congresswoman Pryce, is it possible that the American people or people in the administration were lied to?

PRYCE: No, I can't imagine that being the case. The president's most trusted advisers were involved in examining all this evidence. These weapons are there or they were there.

Where they are now is a subject of must interest. And we must find them. This is a nation the size of California. It's huge. And it's not like they didn't know we were coming. They had plenty of time to hide this stuff, to bury it. And it is still a very unsafe place for us to be. We have to tread very, very carefully. We just can't go in and storm the entire country. People are being killed daily. It's still dangerous. And we have to go slowly, but carefully. And we will find them.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly to you both on another question. And that is the CIA saying this week no links for sure between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Does that make any difference in the long run, Congresswoman DeGette, just quickly?

DEGETTE: Well, one of the rationales given for attacking was this supposed link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. I didn't see it at the time. None of us saw it at the time. And that is of great concern. Why exactly did we go into Iraq? We need to clarify that.

WOODRUFF: And, Congresswoman Pryce, last word.

PRYCE: Yes, Judy, terrorists deal with terrorists. They befriend one another. And there is no reason for this administration to think any differently.

WOODRUFF: Congresswoman Deb Pryce, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, it's good to see both of you. Thank you for talking with us today on INSIDE POLITICS. We appreciate it.

DEGETTE: OK.

PRYCE: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And we do have some sad news to report from Iraq right now. And that is, the Pentagon is reporting that a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne was killed in a hostile-fire incident today in Iraq, once again evidence that American troops -- American officials saying American troops are continuing to pay a price in the days and weeks after the war ended and the major fighting there ended.

Just ahead: the political duo with a permanent hold on center stage, how the New York senator and the former president stay at the center of media attention.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Their feud was famous in political circles, but, today, Nancy Reagan says former Treasury Donald Regan served this country with great distinction.

Regan died today of cancer today at a Virginia hospital. He served as treasury secretary in Ronald Reagan's administration from the early 1980s, before switching jobs with then White House Chief of Staff James Baker. Two years later, Regan was forced to resign amid the Iran-Contra affair.

In his 1988 memoir, he blamed Mrs. Reagan for his ouster and he claimed that she regularly consulted an astrologer for advice on her husband's decisions. Treasury Secretary John Snow is remembering Regan as an innovative leader of the American business community.

Donald Regan was 84 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The release of Senator Hillary Clinton's new book received a level of news coverage more often reserved for celebrities or heads of sate.

Our Bruce Morton reports, the recent return to the headlines of Senator Clinton and her husband cuts both ways for the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: And time will prove that the United States made the absolute right decision in freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, of course people listen when he speaks. He's the president, the commander in chief. And you can't have a better pulpit than that. And, of course, it's hard for the nine Democrats who want his job to get that kind of coverage. This week, it's gotten even harder.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: These were, obviously, personal and private moments that unfortunately were made public for partisan, political purposes as part of the ongoing politics of personal destruction that was so much a part of our country's life.

MORTON: Hillary, Hillary's book on the TV, in the magazines, in the newspapers, on "LARRY KING" tonight, Hillary here there, Hillary everywhere. Is she running?

H. CLINTON: That's obviously flattering, but I have a wonderful job that I'm very proud to have, which is representing the people of New York in the United States Senate.

MORTON: OK, but she's sure drowning out the wanna-bes. They're talking about serious stuff.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Health insurance.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The future attacks.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bin Laden!

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Failing our children.

MORTON: They are talking, but is anyone listening?

To be fair, it is early in the campaign cycle and candidates are concentrating more on fund-raising and recruiting activists than on reaching masses of voters. Still, it's hard to be heard. And that's not even the worst of it. Hillary is not alone.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At a very time when many cities are already laying off police officers because they're broke and the crime rate is going up. But I have to have my tax cut. It's more important than your having police on the street. MORTON: That's right. There's another Clinton. And he's written another book. And it's coming out even closer to the election. And his book may get more attention even than her book. And who will pay attention to us then? Really tough these days being a wanna-be.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, whenever her husband's book comes out, Hillary Clinton may soon have to share the limelight. Senator Trent Lott says that he may try writing a book of his own about his experience as majority leader and what he describes as the ugly way in which he was brought down. The senator says -- quote -- "I'm going to tell all. There are going to be a lot of nervous people around here." That's what he says.

Still ahead: Will his colleagues be crying over a gift from Georgia Senator Zell Miller?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(FINANCIAL UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: He's been called -- forgive the expression -- "Give 'Em Hell Zell." But Georgia's Senator Zell Miller is giving his colleagues something else, 1,500 pounds of onions, and not just any onions. They are Georgia-grown Vidalias, billed as the sweetest, best-tasting onions in the world. I can testify to that. They were such a hit when the senator gave them to his colleagues two years ago that Miller says he could have sold every single bag to lawmakers right off of his pickup truck.

None for the press, Senator?

Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.

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