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Medicare Prescription Bill Drama; Interview With Hillary Clinton; 'Political Play of the Week'

Aired June 27, 2003 - 16:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge the Congress to reconcile their differences and to get a bill to my desk as quick as possible.

ANNOUNCER: The Medicare prescription drug drama isn't over yet. We'll have the inside story on last night's suspense filled votes and what happens next.

It only seemed as though he might live forever. Senators remember Strom Thurmond, his political legacy and longevity; the controversies and the kindness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said what he wanted to do, but he did it in a way which really reflected his Southern heritage. He was a Southern gentleman of the core.

ANNOUNCER: Hillary Clinton on the record. Judy goes one on one with the senator on the hottest political topics.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Is it automatically going to be a bloodbath?

ANNOUNCER: You can call him the Terminator, or would-be California governor, but who knew Arnold Schwarzenegger had a rap name, too?




WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining -- excuse me -- thank you for joining us. Mixed emotions on Capitol Hill today after a major expansion of Medicare cleared the house and the Senate. And after the loss of a unique and long-serving political figure.

Flags are flying at half-staff on the hill in memory of retired Senator Strom Thurmond. The South Carolina Republican died last night at a hospital in his home state at the age of 100. We'll have more on Strom Thurmond and his legacy in a moment. But first, Washington's prescription for improving Medicare. President Bush is urging House and Senate negotiators to quickly resolve the differences between bills approved by both chambers overnight.

Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reports there were plenty of white knuckles before the votes were finally cast.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wee hours of the morning, the House bill to help seniors pay for prescription drugs was in peril.

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Medicare is too important for partisan politics.

KARL: But Tom DeLay's problem wasn't just partisan Democrats, it was also conservative Republicans dead set against passing a new $400 billion entitlement without first limiting Medicare's costs.

When the vote was finally called at 2:30 a.m., the bill still didn't have enough votes to pass. Only after Republican Joanne Emerson, with tears in her eyes, was convinced to switch her vote from no to yes did Republicans score their single-vote victory.

There was also late-night drama in the Senate which around midnight voted overwhelmingly for a so-called means test that would force wealthy seniors to pay more for their prescription drugs. Ted Kennedy, his voice hoarse from hours of debate, rose to denounced the provision.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And the kind of Medicare system that our seniors relied on day in and day out will be destroyed.

KARL: Kennedy threatened to torpedo the bill, forcing Republicans to remove the provision. Republican Rick Santorum apparently unaware his mic was on, could be heard complaining that his party had sold out.


KARL: After that the bill sailed to an easy 76-21 victory in the Senate. But there won't be anything easy about the next step. There are significant differences between the House and Senate bills that need to be worked out. Some of the key questions, should Medicare compete with private insurers? The house bill allows private insurance companies to compete directly with Medicare for seniors' health coverage. An approach Democrats and the Senate bill reject.

Should wealthy seniors pay more? The house bill includes a means test. Although the Senate dropped that provision, Republicans vow that it will be in the final bill.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KARL: As for the Democratic presidential candidates, John Kerry put out a statement saying he would have voted no, Joe Lieberman said he supported the bill, but both of them skipped the vote to attend a forum held by the league of conservation voters. All the other presidential candidates in Congress, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich, Bob Graham and John Edwards voted no -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's that rare you see turmoil in both political parties over something like this.

KARL: In one night.

WOODRUFF: Alright, Jon Karl, thank you very much.

Well, again, checking some of the bottom-line figures of the dueling Medicare bill, both the House and Senate bills call for monthly Medicare premiums of about $35. And an annual deductible of $250 to $275.

Now, the Senate bill would cover 50 percent of most drug costs after the deductible. The House bill would cover 80 percent, but both include gaps in coverage.

Now we turn to the death of Strom Thurmond and to his legacy. The former Senator's funeral will be held Tuesday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina. In a statement today, President Bush said Thurmond lived an extraordinary life. And CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports the same could be said about Thurmond's political career.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hallmark of Strom Thurmond's political career, survival.

STROM THURMOND: No matter how tough the going gets, I don't give in and don't give up. After all, they don't call me Thurmondater for nothing.

MESERVE: Thurmond could not have enjoyed such political longevity without the evolution of his viewpoints on race and party. Segregation was the defining issue of Thurmond's early political career. He was a Democratic governor of South Carolina in 1948, when he erupted onto the national scene.

Running for president against Harry Truman as a third-party segregationist Dixiecrat.

STROM THURMOND: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) To dominate their country by force and to put into effect these uncalled for and these damnable proposals, he has recommended under the guise of so-called civil rights.

MESERVE: Thurmond won four states but lost that race. But after waging and winning a write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1954, he continued his crusade. In 1957, he conducted the longest filibuster on record, to block civil rights legislation. He talked for more than 24 hours.

But after years of opposing and obstructing civil rights legislation, Thurmond's approached changed in the early '80s. He supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act and the Martin Luther King national holiday. In 1971 he became the first southern senator to hire a black staff member.

NADINE COHODAS, THURMOND BIOGRAPHER: He was able to make a transformation in his public life to make himself appealing enough to white voters and also not stoke the ire of black voters that they would turn out to vote against him.

MESERVE: Disagreement with the Democratic party's approach to race contributed to Thurmond's 1964 decision to become a Republican. And support the presidential bid of Barry Goldwater. Thurmond's party switch broke the Democrats' long-time lock on the south and set the stage for Republican ascendants in the region.

A veteran of D-day, Thurmond devoted much of his career to defense issues.

THURMOND: Come to order.

MESERVE: A member of the Armed Services Committee since 1959, he wielded the chairman's gavel from 1995 to 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you still deliver the goods for South Carolina?

THURMOND: Well, I suggest you ask my constituents.

Where you been?

MESERVE: If there are no grand visionary pieces of legislation bearing Thurmond's name, it is in part because his eyes and efforts had a narrower efforts, his home state.

THURMOND: I'm in positions of leadership where I can help you. I have helped, I'll keep on help you, and God bless you.

MESERVE: South Carolinians returned the favors by electing Thurmond over and over again to his Senate seat even after critics said age was a liability.

CROWD (singing): Happy birthday, dear Strom.

MESERVE: At his 100th birthday party in December of 2002, just prior to his retirement after eight terms in the Senate, then Majority Leader Trent Lott said some of the nation's problems would have been avoided if Thurmond's Dixiecrat bid for president had been successful. The ensuing furor over the racial implications of the comment resulted in Lott's ouster from leadership.

Though over the years Thurmond's role became more ceremonial than substantive, though his stride became a shuffle, Thurmond soldiered on and survived longer than any member of the Senate ever. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: From the death of Strom Thurmond, we turn to the presidential race. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a California hotel where President Bush attended a campaign fund-raiser today. Mr. Bush was expected to net $1.6 million at the luncheon in suburban San Francisco. As presidential candidates prepare to file their second-quarter fund-raising reports with the Federal Election Commission, Democratic sources have provided to us these estimates: John Kerry raised about $5 million in the second quarter. John Edwards and Dick Gephardt each raised, we're told, $4 to $5 million. Joe Lieberman was said to be aiming for $4 million. Bob Graham raised as much as $3 million; Howard Dean as much as $4.5 million.

Well, the results are in from America's first virtual primary. The group says none of the Democratic presidential candidates got 50 percent of the online vote. So the group will not endorse any of them yet. That's not stopping Howard Dean, though, from claiming a landslide victory. Dean got 44 percent of the vote. Dennis Kucinich was second with 24 percent, John Kerry got 16 percent, and the rest of the candidates were in single digits.

Still ahead, an appeal from Senator Hillary Clinton.


CLINTON: Please pick someone who isn't a poke in the eye, who isn't an extremist, and let us work collaboratively with you.


WOODRUFF: Senator Clinton talks to me about a potential Supreme Court battle and the state of the Democratic presidential race.

And if you think the president often walks on a political tightrope, wait until you see the balancing act that gets the "Political Play of the Week."


WOODRUFF: I sat down with New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton about a wide range of issues yesterday, including the White House-backed Medicare reform bill. Senator Clinton opposed the measure. She says it doesn't go far enough. Senator Edward Kennedy, however, decided to support the bill. He was a leading supporter. I asked Senator Clinton if she thinks Kennedy made a mistake.


CLINTON: I think he believes given the fact we have a Republican president and Republican majorities in both Houses, that this is the best we're going to get, and we should take it as a down payment. And I understand that position. I don't agree with it, but I certainly think it's a credible, supportable position to have. WOODRUFF: You don't agree with it. And the other piece of this is, is doesn't it take a potentially good issue for the Democrats off the table and let the president have a victory here?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think about it like that. I mean to me you're supposed to be doing the work for the people who send you to Washington and the politics will take care of itself.

What I'm worried about is the substance of the compromise that I'm afraid will come out of a conference committee between the House and the Senate. You know clearly everyone wants the same goal, a prescription drug benefit. I believe it should be in Medicare. I think that we're looking down the road at so much confusion and so many problems for seniors to try to understand what this means. People are going to be paying benefits for a service that they're not going to get for part of the time. I mean there's a lot that just doesn't make sense about this proposal.

WOODRUFF: Turn to the Supreme Court, a lot of discussion and speculation about whether there will be a vacancy, a retirement on the Supreme Court right now. If there is, if the president picks a replacement is it automatically going to be a bloodbath, do you think, in the fight for confirmation?

CLINTON: I think it depends upon who the president nominates. You know, just this week we've had two landmark decisions, one upholding the role of diversity as a compelling state interest in the admission process to higher education and the other upholding the right to privacy. So clearly a great deal of concern that if we have someone who is so extreme that they couldn't work with the remaining justices, that they would come at these issues from way outside the mainstream of American jurisprudence, then I think there would be a problem. But there are so many thoughtful Republicans who could be nominated, and I hope the administration, if a vacancy opens up, will choose to go that route.

WOODRUFF: Now some Democrats have written a letter to the president saying this should be a collaborative process, that he should consult with Democrats. Now it's my understanding that Republicans did that when your husband was the president. He didn't necessarily agree to do that, I understand. And if that's the case, why should President Bush do it?

CLINTON: Well I think there was a lot of consultation during the Clinton administration. And in fact there were oftentimes a senator from a home state of a nominee who would say no and the administration abided by the rules of the Senate and didn't go forward, and we're not seeing quite that same courtesy now. And, unfortunately, many nominees who were well qualified, who were within the mainstream of American legal thought were held up, never given a vote, filibustered and unfortunately, were not given the chance and honor to serve our country on the bench.

I think what the letter that a number of my colleagues from the Judiciary Committee meant in the effort to try to work collaboratively with the administration was to say you know we're willing and more than willing to meet you more than halfway on a nominee for the Supreme Court. Please pick someone who isn't a poke in the eye, who isn't an extremist and let us work collaboratively with you.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the 2004 election. We have at least nine Democrats out there who have declared they want to be president. They're out there work, they're giving it their heart, they're campaigning day and night, they're pouring their passion, but are they getting their message across? It seems to me they're having a hard time connecting with the American people. What do you think?

CLINTON: I don't think that's a fair assessment. I think that right now they're doing what a candidate so far in advance of any votes being cast have to do. They, unfortunately, have to spend a lot of their time raising money. They do have to get out and meet people and try to round up potential delegates and voters. I think we have some very highly qualified, tough-minded candidates running, and I don't think the American people are paying much attention. They're not handicapping this right now. But when we get closer to votes being cast in the Iowa Caucus, in the New Hampshire Primary, I think you're going to see someone emerge from that process who will be a very viable contender against President Bush.

WOODRUFF: What do you say to those observers, Senator Clinton, who say that your husband out there making speeches, more active than most former presidents have been, you're out there with your book, the comment I heard is well, the Clinton's are -- you know they're getting all the attention, they're hurting the Democrats who are running for president taking attention away from them? What do you say to that?

CLINTON: Well, I don't see that at all. I think that we have good candidates. I'm certainly going to support whoever emerges from this process. And I think it's important that people be reminded of the very significant differences between Democrats and Republicans. And the best way to do that is look at the policies of the Clinton administration and the difference it made in the lives of so many Americans, and compare that to the choices that are being made in this administration. It's a very different vision of the kind of country that we should have in the next generation.

WOODRUFF: Is there a leader of the Democratic Party right now?

CLINTON: I think that there are certainly two leaders, Tom Daschle in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House. And then we will have a leader emerge from this nominating process as our presidential candidate.


WOODRUFF: Senator Hillary Clinton, touting her husband's administration, not surprisingly.

More about those potential candidates, Senator Clinton referred to in our Friday "Campaign News Daily." The Democratic hopefuls are making appeals for the Hispanic vote this weekend in Arizona. Seven candidates will address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, either by satellite or in person. That's today and tomorrow.

Last night in Los Angeles, five of the hopefuls attended a forum sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters. The rivals spent most of their time, however, aiming their criticism at President Bush instead of one another. Comments by Howard Dean symbolize much of the discussion.


DEAN: We don't disagree on very much. I mean, there's a stark distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats in this are enormous. And I think we're all going to be pretty much -- have similar platforms on the environment. The question is, which of us can get elected?


WOODRUFF: Well, some landmark Supreme Court decisions and two major votes on historic Medicare reform. So who gets the "Political Play of the Week?" Our Bill Schneider reveals the winner when we return.


WOODRUFF: A long, simmering legal battle came to an end this week. Our Bill Schneider joins me now from Los Angeles with more on all that -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, somewhere in the din of loud opinion on affirmative action, a consensus has been struggling to break out. Well, this week it did. It was a delicate political balancing act, and the "Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When the Supreme Court issues a decision on a hot topic like affirmative action, you wouldn't expect to hear praise from both sides, but supporters of affirmative action were happy.

MARY SUE COLEMAN, PRES., UNIV. OF MICHIGAN: This is a wonderful, wonderful day, a victory for all of higher education because what it means is at its core, is that affirmative action may still be used.

SCHNEIDER: Critics of affirmative action also found something to like.

TERRY PELL, CENTER FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: I think this is a big step forward against the use of race preferences.

SCHNEIDER: Affirmative action, yes; racial preferences, no. That's exactly what the court ruled in two decisions. Only two justices sided with the majority in both rulings; Sandra Day O'Connor was the one who drew the line. Writing for the majority, O'Connor said -- "Universities cannot establish quotas for certain racial groups or put members of those groups on separate admissions tracks. Universities can, however, consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a plus factor."

O'Connor's distinction was precisely in line with public opinion. Americans favor the idea of affirmative action, which is popularly understood to mean outreach, helping disadvantaged minorities meet the prevailing standards of competition.

Americans oppose preferential treatment, changing those standards for minority applicants to make sure a certain number get in. Outreach, yes; preferential treatment, no. That's what the court said. That's what Americans say. Justice O'Connor gave legal standing to that consensus, for which our court awards her the "Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Eleven years ago, the Supreme Court defined the national consensus on abortion -- keep it legal, but limited. And now it's defined the consensus on affirmative action. In both cases, the Supreme Court did what elected officials have been unable to do -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's interesting how we keep coming back to Justice O'Connor.


WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Coming up, Jay Leno gives Arnold Schwarzenegger some campaign tips. The political strategy when we come back.


WOODRUFF: Arnold Schwarzenegger is making the TV rounds, ostensibly to promote his new movie, "Terminator 3." But his would-be race for governor keeps coming up, along with his support for the campaign to boot Gray Davis from the job. Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno both went for campaign-related laughs last night.


JAY LENO, HOST: How about this one? Schwarzenegger, who better to represent a state where no one speaks English.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: Very, very good. It's a wild trip to go to a country like that, if you know what I mean. Imagine the blackouts, they have no money over there, there is no leadership. Pretty much like California.

Yes, the notorious GOP.

LENO: Really?


WOODRUFF: Schwarzenegger says he was given that rap name from another of Leno's guests, the rapper Snoop Dogg. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


Clinton; 'Political Play of the Week'>

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