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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Discussion of False Statement in State of the Union Address. Will President Bush Send Troops to Liberia? A Debate About Medicare Reform.

Aired July 12, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana.

Thank you for coming in, John.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: Glad to be here.

SHIELDS: Good to have you.

The week began with former diplomat Joseph Wilson identifying himself as the CIA envoy who reported that Iraqi uranium purchases were unlikely almost a year before President Bush included an erroneous report in his State of the Union address.

The White House admitted the mistake but said the CIA had cleared the president's speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services, and it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The Senate calls for presidential investigation of who was responsible, with some specifically mentioning CIA director George Tenet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ASSISTANT FLOOR LEADER: We should be able to point to those people responsible for putting that misleading language in the State of the Union address. They should be held accountable, and they should be dismissed.

BUSH: I've got confidence in George Tenet. I've got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA, and I continue to look forward to working with them and as we win this war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is this a major political crisis for President George W. Bush?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, the Democrats and a lot of the journalism community are trying to make it such. And I must admit that that -- the White House hasn't handled it well at all. If they'd admitted they'd made a mistake a long time ago, they would have minimized the damage. They hate to make mistakes.

But I think that the -- what it -- what was raised at the level of it was Ambassador Williams' mission. He only said a few things about that. That was some truths to be said about it. It was not a high-level mission. His report was not definitive. The mission was requested by Dick Cheney. Suddenly Cheney's a big player in that.

And as a matter of fact, the uranium sales was not a major part of the CIA finding, it was a very small part of it.

But just the same, people think that the Democrats think this a weak spot in the president, and the journalist community is willing to play ball with it.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, George W. Bush's dominance as a political figure has been based in large part upon strong leader and straight shooter. This week, he was very much on the defensive, and there was evasiveness in confronting the fact that they had made -- misled the American people, the president had been misled in the State of the Union.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, George Tenet's a good samurai warrior. He fell on his sword, as the White House clearly instructed him to do. There are two problems. I don't agree with Bob's benign interpretation of this. I think the White House has dissembled, it's not told the truth.

And this was not just a mistaken throwaway line. You can always make a mistake. Central to the president's case that Iraq was an imminent threat was to say they're developing nuclear weapons. Robert Novak said on this show, that's the only way you're going to persuade the international community.

And the centerpiece of that contention were the aluminum tubes, which ended up to be phony, and this bogus report about trying to buy uranium from Niger.

So therefore, this was not just a little mistake that somebody can make. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dissembling -- Bob, I'm not sure how you're convinced that Vice President Cheney's office didn't ask for that report, because Ambassador Wilson said that's what he was told. It's inconceivable to me that it wasn't sent to Vice President Cheney's office.

Moreover, as David Martin, the great national security correspondent for CBS reported, the National Security Council knew about it, and they debated the CIA on whether to use it in the speech or not. And their copout was, Well, let's just pin it on the Brits.

The problem was that both -- that our State Department had made the same charge a month earlier.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: The dishonesty here are all of the people who are ignoring the facts to this hysterical reaction to the 16 words in the president's speech. It is, in fact, not true that a possible nuclear program was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- the most fundamental reason for going to war.

Colin Powell, when he made his case, which everyone agreed at the time was the most compelling case about the need to defend ourselves...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: ... at the U.N., never mentioned a nuclear capacity. So that's just rewriting history.

Secondly, our intelligence agencies agreed in a confidential report last October, they all agreed, that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear program. They offered six reasons, none of which had anything to do with buying uranium from Africa.

Fact, the president said the British intelligence finds that Iraq has sought to buy uranium from Africa. That was true then, and it remains true. British intelligence still say that is the fact. They haven't shared the intelligence with us, but they still stick by that assessment, and they say it had nothing to do with the forged documents.

Niger in the past had sold uranium to Iraq and lied about it. So certainly they're not going to be telling Joe Wilson whether or not they did so this time. In fact, in the early '90s, we found Iraq's program was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- nuclear program was far more advanced than either the U.N. or the CIA thought.

There should have been a presumption in favor of the British intelligence report being so, and they still stick by it.

SHIELDS: There was a lot more than 16 words. That very same week of the president's State of the Union Address, Condi Rice did an op-ed page piece in "The New York Times" in which she said, "Why we know Iraq is lying," cited this in particular. And Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, standing there with General Myers, said, This is -- he made the same assertion that very same week.

John Breaux, bring some order to this discussion.

JOHN BREAUX, CAPITAL GANG: The president should not be praising George Tenet. He should be asking George Tenet to step down. It's one thing for the Central Intelligence Agency to be giving information to the president of the United States for a State of the Union address that we later find out is incorrect information. It's quite another thing for the head of the CIA to give information to the president of the United States that they know at that time is incorrect information. That is unacceptable.

This may not be the only reason we went to Iraq. I think we should go there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But it was part of a justification that they may be going after building atomic weapons.

NOVAK: Well, now, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), wait a minute, well, just, let's just, let's just get this straight, John. They didn't, they didn't say, the CIA didn't say they gave the information to him. They said they had approved the speech. There's a -- there's chaos in putting these bits and pieces in a State of the Union speech, and that was the case.

Al, you were...

BREAUX: There was not chaos, Bob...

NOVAK: ... you -- you...

BREAUX: ... they prepare for months...

NOVAK: ... you...

BREAUX: ... to do this.

NOVAK: Well, no, they do it at the last minute...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: ... and that's where -- Al, you and I know that we rely on what people tell us, because we weren't there. And I, but I rely on people who have been honest with me before. And this, don't forget, the Joe Wilson report came a year before the State of the Union speech. It never, it never disseminated, it never creeped up to a high level.

And the, and the, when this, when they sent Joe Wilson out there, they had requests from all kinds of people in the government, including Cheney. But it was not a direct thing, Cheney saying, I want this.

HUNT: Well, you don't, we don't know if it was or not. But I'll you this, though. What we do know is that the State Department put it out on December 19, same exact charge. They said the same charge. The IAEA said, Well, give us the documentation. We'll -- if that's true, we'd like to find out.

The State Department (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Bush administration waited until a week after the State of the Union, sent it to IAEA, and it took them a matter of weeks to find the whole thing was forged.

The British report, the British are trying to protect Tony Blair's...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: ... stewardship in office. The British report...

O'BEIRNE: What...

HUNT: ... was bogus, the whole thing is bogus...

O'BEIRNE: How, how can you possibly know that?

HUNT: ... I don't think you needed it, I don't think you needed it to go to war, Mark. I think -- I agree with John Breaux, there was a strong case...

NOVAK: Are you think, do you think, do you think...

HUNT: ... without it. But...

NOVAK: ... they'd lie?

HUNT: Yes.

NOVAK: Do you think they'd (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), yes.

NOVAK: They -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE), no...

O'BEIRNE: Stop.

NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE), let me answer the question before you answer it.

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Do you think the president of the United States and his aides said, We know this isn't true, but we're going to lie?

HUNT: I have -- I have...

NOVAK: You don't believe that for a minute.

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), don't tell me what I believe. Could I answer your question, since you asked it? Or would you like to answer the question?

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: You want to ask and answer? OK, well, you already have, there's no point in going on, is there?

NOVAK: All right.

O'BEIRNE: What was beyond truth? The British intelligence stands by their assessment. Tony Blair over here in Washington this week, I think he's going to reiterate that we still stand by that as our assessment. BREAUX: The CIA...

(CROSSTALK)

BREAUX: ... incorrect information. They knew that when they gave it to the president.

SHIELDS: I would just say one thing in conclusion, and that is, what bothers me most of all is that the president of the United States was not angry, expressed no anger that he was misled and misled the American people. And anybody who says that we -- this was a doctrine of preemptive war, and the argument for nuclear weapons was as the cornerstone of that preemptive war.

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: John Breaux and THE GANG will be back with President Bush in Africa. Will he send troops to Liberia?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

As President Bush toured Africa, he faced a decision on sending peacekeeping troops to Liberia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BUSH: President Taylor needs to leave Liberia so that is country can be spared further grief and bloodshed. We won't overextend our troops, period.

PRES. CHARLES TAYLOR, LIBERIA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Afghanistan and Iraq, and then (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we assume, this specter of an American boy (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on his mind. We should (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a president who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to think about that.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: President Bush visited the departure point for slaves destined for America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My nation's journey toward justice has not been easy, and it is not over. The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, was the president's trip to Africa necessary? And was it productive?

HUNT: Mark, unfortunately, it was overshadowed largely by the Iraq controversies, but I think it was both necessary, and I think it was productive. I think you just look at the three A's, Africa, AIDS, and al Qaeda. This is a continent that we've ignored for too long. I think that AIDS is -- afflicts the whole world, but disproportionately afflicts Africa.

And we learned after 9/11 that any country that's impoverished and destabilized is a potential haven for international terrorists. And I think that George Bush admirably reversed his campaign rhetoric. I think he was quite eloquent on occasion over there. I think it was a good trip.

I also think he, he's right to send troops into Liberia. You hate to get into that, but there's genocide going on there.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, what about Liberia?

O'BEIRNE: Well, but the wrong question's being asked, should troops be sent to Liberia? The question is, to do what? What would be the mission of these American troops in Liberia? Would they be peacemakers or peacekeepers? And may I point out, American military's not trained as peacekeepers, they're trained to fight and win wars.

It never fails that liberals, who opposed defending ourselves by moving militarily in Iraq, favor this kind of an intervention, because they seem to only favor the use of American military when it's not in our vital national security interest.

SHIELDS: And so George Bush, liberal, is going to send troops to Liberia, is that right, John Breaux?

BREAUX: My question is, is there any other country in the world who has an army other than us? I mean, why do we have to call the United States to send 2,000 troops over there? What about the French? What about the Germans? I mean, how -- what about the United Nations?

I mean, I think that we should have some order in that country, it is chaos. But why always the United States? How about some other armies in there? We can help coordinate. We don't have to be there.

SHIELDS: Point out, the French are already in Africa, and I'd also point out that half of British troops are on permanent overseas deployment, which has hurt morale and recruitment for the British troops.

Go ahead.

NOVAK: I tell you, I, I'm always happy when I can agree with John Breaux, and I agree with him 100 percent. I think we ought to keep hands off Africa. It hasn't been well governed since the colonial area -- era ended anyway. And I would say this, that there's every country in the continent was to find a reason to send troops to.

And that trip, I thought, was unnecessary and unproductive. Boy, finding out that slavery was a bad thing, I knew that slavery was a bad thing before the president (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said it.

BREAUX: I think the trip was productive, and I think it was an important one to make. I thought his speech on slavery was very eloquent. I thought it was very passionate. I thought it was a good speech.

NOVAK: We disagree there.

BREAUX: And I think that as the strongest country on the face of the earth, we have a responsibility to help people out and not just remove dictators.

HUNT: Mark, I'll settle this dispute. John Breaux's right, Bob Novak is wrong. It was an eloquent speech. It needed to be said. And I think that establishing relationships with the continent of Africa.

Bob, I'll tell you something. When you have al Qaeda, you have international terrorism, you ignore a -- you ignore a country, much less a whole continent, at your own peril.

NOVAK: That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that just...

HUNT: Doesn't mean you send troops everywhere, but it means you can't ignore it.

NOVAK: Wait, it does mean we send troops.

HUNT: No, it sure doesn't.

NOVAK: We're sending troops everywhere, and we're stretched very thin.

HUNT: We are stretched thin...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... I want to ask John Breaux one quick question, John. Do you agree with Bob Novak's nostalgia for the colonial era?

BREAUX: N, I think a lot of mistakes were made back then. But I think it was a productive trip.

SHIELDS: Thank you very much, John Breaux.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, will prescription drug legislation die in the U.S. Senate?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Led by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 41 Democratic senators wrote President Bush opposing the House Republican version of prescription drug legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We will not support any conference report that will come back from conference which will effectively intimidate or coerce our seniors who are in Medicare to leave Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisements are targeting Republican House members.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DCCC AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... end Medicare as we know it. That's what a Republican leader in Congress (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they wanted to do. And Heather Wilson cast the deciding vote to do just that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: A CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll shows that senior citizens by nearly three to one believe the congressional changes in Medicare will make things worse for them.

Kate O'Beirne, is the passage of a prescription drug bill no longer the sure thing it was a couple of weeks ago?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, it seems to be that despite its enormous cost and its complexity, and despite how unpopular it is, the Democrats worry about giving this political win to the Republicans, Republicans worry about having a policy loss to the Democrats, so many on Capitol Hill dare not not pass a bill, and the White House wants it so badly, I think odds favor this unpopular, hugely costly bill passing.

SHIELDS: John Breaux, we've got a bill right now that passed your Senate that House conservatives, Republicans, oppose, and a House bill that Democratic liberals on your side of the aisle oppose in the Senate. What's going to happen?

BREAUX: It's going to pass, Mark. I wouldn't bet my shoe on it, but I think it's going to pass.

SHIELDS: Thank you, congressman.

BREAUX: And I'll tell you what has happened out here is that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I mean, people on the left, more liberals, are opposed to it, and on the right, the more conservatives are opposed to it. But we have a coalition from the middle out, that's why it passed with 76 votes in the Senate. And there's a lot of Democrats, I think, in the House who would like to vote for something like the Senate bill.

I think it's going to be -- it's going to pass in the next -- hopefully before the August recess.

SHIELDS: So you think it'll be more like the Senate bill rather than the House bill.

BREAUX: I would hope so, because I think it -- you know, we don't want to have a filibuster situation in the Senate, and I think we can get something that'll have over 60 votes in the Senate. See, I... SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Of course, the only member of this panel who's going to be in the conference is John Breaux...

SHIELDS: Yes.

NOVAK: ... and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: Couldn't stop myself.

NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- as a matter of fact, there's a lot of people talking about a 50-50, the kind of a bill that'll get a 50-50 vote in the Senate, because it was very unpopular. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Republicans, when they went back on this last recess mouthful got a mouthful from their -- an earful, I'm sorry, from their constituents.

The interesting thing, John, is, if you have something more like a House bill, and you have a filibuster, boy, this -- and kill the bill, this would please an awful lot of people, and the Democrats would get the blame for killing prescription drugs. Is that something you want?

BREAUX: I do not want it, and I don't think either side wants to be put in that position. That's why I think in the conference that we can work with our conferees and come back with something that can pass, because if we don't, no one wants to be the team that's responsible for killing $400 billion worth of prescription drugs for seniors. It's 100 percent better than they've ever had before, it's not perfect. Lot of work still needs to be done.

SHIELDS: Al, it's strange, it seems $400 billion is not considered enough to cover the real cost of prescription drugs for seniors, but the House put in a $177 billion tax credit for medical savings accounts. You put that into prescription drugs, you'd really have something going, wouldn't you?

HUNT: That was just a sop to the right wing. I think it's going to be much more expensive than the $400 billion label. I think we ought to have it, though. I think the Senate bill is basically a good start. I think the final version has to be pretty close to that, because I think the House bill really is a phony.

And Mark, there's a simple test. One of the simple tests is basically, give seniors, give a fair choice between HMOs or Medicare. If they want to try HMOs, fine. But don't penalize them if they want to try Medicare.

Because you (UNINTELLIGIBLE), this bill, let the market (UNINTELLIGIBLE), let seniors, let doctors, let hospitals say you want HMOs, you want Medicare. That's a fair question, and I'll tell you what the answer will be 80 percent of the time.

BREAUX: Well, nobody likes to change anything. We haven't changed this program since 1965. This is a program that cries out for reform and modernization. It's not easy to do, because people are comfortable with what they have. But we can't continue with what they have. We're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for...

NOVAK: Can't we understand what's really going on? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is Teddy Kennedy is on a march toward national health care, socialized medicine. And anything that has a private factor, as the House bill, he's against it.

HUNT: You think Medicare's socialized medicine, don't you?

NOVAK: I sure do...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... most Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... and I love the idea of going toward my private marketing when you say the insurance companies, and the insurance companies say no, we're not going to write it unless you give us bigger subsidies out of the federal treasury. Is that the market, free market, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, it's nonsense, you know it. You know that Teddy doesn't want, you know that...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... doesn't want any private medicine.

BREAUX: We've combined the best of what government can do with the best of what the private sector can do. That's why we got 76 votes in the Senate, and I think it's going to pass.

SHIELDS: John Breaux.

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lot of flak from the left wing of his party for supporting that bill, Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Oh, he really did, sure.

SHIELDS: Final word, Al Hunt. Sorry, Bob.

Bob -- John Breaux, thank you very much for joining us and bringing light, for bringing warmth in just bringing yourself here.

Coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our Newsmaker of the Week is former Gerald Ford campaign adviser John Deardourff, talking about President Ford, who turns 90 this week. Beyond the Beltway looks at the Democratic presidential outlook in the Iowa caucuses with David Yepsen of "The Des Moines Register." And our Outrages of the Week. That's all after the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL AND NEWS BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Looking forward to Gerald Ford's 90th birthday Monday, our Newsmaker of the Week is John Deardourff, media consultant to the Ford 1976 presidential campaign.

John Deardourff, age 70, residence McLean, Virginia, religion Episcopalian. B.A. degree from Wabash College in Indiana, M.A. from Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Founding partner of Bailey, Deardourff, and Associates, a political consulting firm, aide in the presidential campaigns of Nelson Rockefeller and of Gerald Ford. Currently Republican co- chairman of Voters for Choice.

Al Hunt sat down with John Deardourff earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: John Deardourff, how did you get involved with Gerald Ford?

JOHN DEARDOURFF, FORD CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: Well, the interesting thing is, we almost didn't. In the early stages, we weren't sure we wanted to do the Ford campaign, and they certainly weren't sure they wanted to have us.

HUNT: The presidential campaign of '76.

DEARDOURFF: The -- yes, the campaign in '76. Doug Bailey and I were certainly to the left of most of the Ford people and the Republican Party. Both of us had worked for Nelson Rockefeller, and frankly, were not happy that the Ford campaign had essentially pushed him out of the vice presidential candidacy in '76.

And there were some policy differences that we had with Ford at that time. But -- and they, frankly, had been faced with the challenge from Reagan, weren't sure they wanted us involved in a campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: Once you did get in, what was your impression of Gerald Ford?

DEARDOURFF: Well, let's -- once we got in, frankly, it was really character trumping all of our earlier concerns about President Ford. I mean, I came to believe that this man was one of the most decent, honorable, principled men I'd ever met in politics. And it was just a pleasure to work with him.

HUNT: In 1976, you were down by 30 points on Labor Day. You almost pulled it off, losing by about a point, with brilliant but simple and direct ads like this. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

ANNOUNCER: America is smiling again, and a great many people believe that the leadership of this steady, dependable man can keep America happy and secure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Extraordinary campaign. Did you run out of gas, or did you need a couple more days?

DEARDOURFF: No, well, I think it was really a little bit of running out of gas. We had come -- we were gaining about a half a percentage point a day throughout the campaign. We just didn't quite have the juice to get over the top.

The thing about that campaign that is so memorable to me is the way it was conducted by both campaigns. It really is the last time in American presidential campaign politics that the two candidates ended up liking each other much better after the campaign than they had before.

HUNT: If President Ford hadn't pardoned Richard Nixon, would have won that election?

DEARDOURFF: I doubt it. I think that the Nixon trial, whatever would -- I mean, it would have stretched all through the Ford presidency. And I think Ford recognized that if he was going to have any chance of healing the wounds of Watergate, he had to get Nixon off center stage.

HUNT: What was Gerald Ford's most notable achievement as president?

DEARDOURFF: Well, I think that he restored some modicum of trust in the government. I mean, people's view of Washington and of the presidency was at such a low ebb, and Ford, largely through his own personality, was able to really lift up people's spirits. And I think the commercials that we ran in that campaign, and the theme of his making us feel -- we're feeling good again about America, was really the whole point.

HUNT: It's been over 26 years since Gerald Ford left the presidency. He's going to be 90 years old next week. He's really been a pretty active and pretty contributory ex-president, hasn't he?

DEARDOURFF: He's been not -- more than -- I -- I mean, in my view, more importantly, he and Betty Ford have been the happiest of couples. I think those years in public life were hard on her and hard on him as a result. To see the two of them able to live out a life after politics and to be such useful contributors, both of them -- And of course the same thing is true with Jimmy Carter.

I think they are wonderful examples of how to live your life after you're out of politics.

HUNT: John, thanks. Happy birthday to... DEARDOURFF: Absolutely.

HUNT: ... ex-president Ford...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, since Gerald, Gerald, Ronald Reagan's emergence and dominance of the Republican Party in 1980, has Gerald Ford been estranged from prevailing Republican ideology?

HUNT: Well, certainly the party has moved to the right since then, Mark, but -- and it's interesting, Ford people dominated both the first Bush administration and dominate policy today, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alan Greenspan, even though the party has moved to the right.

But we just owe Gerry Ford on the eve of his 91st day a tremendous debt for what he did back in those tough times.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

NOVAK: I've known Gerry Ford since my first week in Washington 46 years ago, very nice man, but he's totally -- ever since that election, he's totally out of touch with the Republican Party that arguably is the majority party in the country, and he's really not a part of it, he doesn't like what's happened, doesn't -- I know very much, he doesn't like the Reagan administration or even the Bush administrations.

So he's a nice man, though, but totally out of touch with his own party.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: I, of course, wish former President Ford a very happy 90th birthday. But this interview represents the kind of Rockefeller Republican that would have made the Republican Party a minority party for as far as the eye can see. And Gerald Ford's biggest problem wasn't in the national election. He barely got -- won that nomination, a sitting president, given the Ronald Reagan challenge, because that was clearly where the party was.

SHIELDS: I'll just say in conclusion that Gerry Ford is the most mentally and emotionally healthy former president I have ever known, in the sense that he didn't -- he never lusted for the presidency his entire adult life, and it came to him quite unexpectedly. Therefore it didn't leave this gaping hole in his psyche.

And I'd also say that Betty Ford has done more to rid the nation of the plague of addiction of both drugs and alcohol than probably all the federal programs put together.

Coming up on this CAPITAL GANG Classic, Bill Clinton's tour through Africa five years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Five years ago, President Bill Clinton's 11-day visit to Africa was labeled a, quote, "guilt trip," end quote, by "The Washington Post" after he expressed regret for slavery and neglect of the continent.

CAPITAL GANG discussed this on March 28, 1998. Our guest was Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, March 28, 1998)

NOVAK: It's very disappointing that he has gone into this contrition mission of saying, I feel your pain. That wasn't on his schedule, but he just couldn't control himself. And particularly the business, this ridiculous business of apologizing for slavery...

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Why not apologize for it when you're the country where we, you know, brought people here against their will? I don't see what the big deal is about that.

And Republicans are trying to make something of that.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Frankly, the Clinton administration has a lot to apologize about when it comes to Rwanda. The Clinton administration was responsible for interfering with a planned U.N. mission that perhaps would have stopped the massacre.

HUNT: Of course, if the president goes along with U.N. missions, he frequently gets criticized by some of your other Republican colleagues, Susan, so it's not kind of tough to win.

I think there was some pandering on this trip, but I also think it was a very important trip. And Bob, what he said was, he didn't apologize, he said slavery was wrong.

SHIELDS: It's considered totally appropriate for any American political figure to go to Israel or to go to Ireland and use it as a visual, as Ronald Reagan did, as Bill Clinton did. But it's somehow -- going to Africa is pandering?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, how would you compare the Bush and the Clinton trips to Africa?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, to President Bush's enormous credit, he knew he could count on the concern and generosity of the American public. He had -- he has sponsored now this billion, billions of dollars, $15 billion, of aid, of -- to Africa, to address the enormous AIDS crisis, 11 million children in Africa orphaned by AIDS.

Bill Clinton specialized in empty rhetoric, in contrast, and he ought to make a tour now to Africa, former President Bill Clinton, and apologize for not having done more.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, a contrition mission is what Bob Novak called it.

HUNT: Well, first of all, I think Clinton began and Bush has admirably significantly enhanced what Clinton did begin. And you know something, Mark? Real men are capable of contrition.

SHIELDS: You know, isn't that true? You know...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'd like to see you try it sometime, you know. You know...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... apologize for slavery.

NOVAK: The big, the big, the big difference was that it was twice as long, but everything was twice as long with Clinton, as the Bush trip. And Bush said slavery was bad, but he didn't apologize. Clinton apologized for it. He had no business to apologize for it, because...

HUNT: I apologize for it. It was awful, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: But you didn't have -- did you have any slaves?

HUNT: I wasn't born, but some of my ancestors did.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: You're apologizing on behalf...

NOVAK: ... my family didn't have any slaves.

O'BEIRNE: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) empty apology.

NOVAK: We were in Russia.

SHIELDS: You don't think you should apologize?

NOVAK: No.

O'BEIRNE: It's an empty apology.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... what was President Bush doing? President Bush was saying, We made a mistake, it was wrong, I'm sorry. If that isn't an apology...

NOVAK: He didn't say (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: ... I don't know what is.

NOVAK: ... he didn't say, I'm sorry. He didn't say I'm sorry.

SHIELDS: I think I got more of President George W. Bush, obviously, than Bob Novak did.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at the outlook for the Iowa Democratic caucuses with "Des Moines Register" political columnist David Yepsen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

A survey of current presidential preferences by Democrats attending the 2000 Iowa presidential caucuses shows former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has pulled within a single percentage point of Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts close behind in third place.

In Iowa, Governor Dean and Congressman Gephardt stressed universal health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you like the Bush tax cuts, if you think that was great for you, then vote for George Bush. But if you want health care that can't taken away from you, then vote for me.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to give people a choice. Would you like the president's tax cut, or would you prefer to have health insurance for every single person?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Joining us now from Des Moines is David Yepsen, political columnist for "The Des Moines Register" and a respected observer of that great political process out there.

Thank you for coming in, David.

DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": Hi, Mark, how are you?

SHIELDS: Good.

David, is Howard Dean now the hottest candidate in Iowa?

YEPSEN: Yes, there's no question about it. He has come farther, faster, than any of the other candidates. As that survey showed, I think he's within striking distance of Dick Gephardt to actually win these things outright.

SHIELDS: And David, is it based in large part upon his tapping into the antiwar segment -- sentiment among Iowa Democrats?

YEPSEN: Well, Mark, that was the start of it. But I think too Governor Dean is really following the Jimmy Carter model. He's spending a lot of time here, he's doing a lot of good retail work. But it's also, I think, the notion that he's a little different, he's a fresh face. And Democrats in Iowa right now are really struggling with the question of electability. That's the big issue, who can win? And the question is, do they go to the left with a candidate who has a clear and distinct message, or do they stick with the center and somebody like a Dick Gephardt or a John Kerry? And that's really what they're trying to sort out here in this thing right now.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: There's a lot of speculation, David, that Congressman Gephardt really had the edge in Iowa, and now he's, according to these polls, he's just about 20 percent. Was that speculation wrong in the first place, or has Dick Gephardt slipped?

YEPSEN: Dick Gephardt has been kind of flat, Bob. Everybody likes Dick Gephardt in the Democratic Party, he's been here for years, he doesn't need a road map to get around this state. But that's almost a liability to him. Everywhere you go, people say they like Gephardt, they like what he says, but they worry that he's flat, that he's an old face.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: David, in 2000, John McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses, went straight to New Hampshire, didn't seem to hurt him a bit. He won New Hampshire really big. Might one of the Democrats be tempted to skip Iowa, follow the McCain model?

YEPSEN: Well, Kate, if they're doing that, they're not saying that. I mean, that strategy has really never worked for a distance runner in a presidential campaign. You're in this thing from the beginning all the way through, you have your ups and your downs. But you start where the process starts. I mean, Al Gore tried to bypass it in '88, President Ernest Hollings tried to bypass it.

I mean, there's a lot of candidates who tried over the history of the caucuses to bypass them, and they just -- they don't -- they're not distance runners, it doesn't work.

So right now, all the candidates are trying a little bit. Joe Lieberman, I think, is the one who's really probably trying most to bypass the state. He has a very token presence here. And his people say he's really going to make his stand after New Hampshire. That'll be interesting, to see how he pulls that off.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: David, there has only been one contested Democratic caucus since 1988, Bradley and Gore. There were 61,000 Democrats who turned out back in 2000. Are all these surveys and assumptions predicated upon that kind of turnout, 60,000 Democrats? Or could the universe be larger? And if so, what effect does that have?

YEPSEN: Yes, they are predicated on those little numbers, and I think you've identified a flaw that's in a lot of these polls -- newcomers. One of the things that Howard Dean is doing in this process is, he's attracting a lot of new people.

And if you remember, the ability to bring new people into the process is one of the indicators of success, whether you're Gene McCarthy on the Democratic side or George McGovern, or whether you're Pat Robertson on the Republican side.

If you can bring new people in, then you can do well. And Howard Dean, I think, is capturing a lot of that with people. As I said, he's a kind of a fresh face.

But it's also -- his sophisticated use of the Internet, he's a very candid stump speaker. He's sort of a -- he's not a predictable candidate. I mean, his position on gun control, that that should be left primarily to the states.

I think those are all things that appeal to people, and when you bring new people into this process, they're not going to show up in any of these polls.

HUNT: So you think his strength may be actually under, underestimated by these, by these polls?

YEPSEN: Yes, I do, Al. I mean, I think there's no way to find out right now who all is going to go to a caucus. And there's about a third of these caucus-goers who are going to be undecided until they walk into the caucus that night. They want to go with somebody they think is going to win, and they're not going to commit early, and -- because some candidate may stumble and fall.

Al, if you remember, the one thing that you got to watch in this process, while we talk a lot about Howard Dean and capturing a lot of support from the liberals, throughout the history of these caucuses, it's always been the more centrist Democratic candidate who has done well. I mean, Carter beat Kennedy two to one in '80, Carter had people to the left of him in '76, Gore beat Bradley two to one, he was more in the center.

So I think that while there's a lot of focus on Howard Dean, I think some of these other candidates, particularly Dick Gephardt, is counting on the good old party rank and file that's a little more in the center thing to pull him through on caucus night.

SHIELDS: Mention of Dick Gephardt reminds us that in 1988, Dick Gephardt ran as an economic populist at a time when there was really an economic tragedy in Iowa to a considerable degree, and exploited that, and won. Now, is that economic populist (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- one doesn't think of Howard Dean as an economic populist. Is that economic populist message not getting any traction now?

YEPSEN: Well, it's something they've heard before. The economy is a little better in this year than it was in '88. But I think Dick Gephardt has started, with some of his talk, say, on health care, for example, to add a little juice to his candidacy. I think he's going to try to do it with issue positions, try to add some excitement to his candidacy. NOVAK: David, the two sound bites we ran before you came on, both showed almost an identical language, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean, coming out for universal health care against tax cuts.

Now, I don't think universal health care is a big national issue. But is, it is, is this something that really appeals to the Iowa caucus-goers?

YEPSEN: Well, Bob, you know, the Iowa Democratic caucus-goers are pretty left of center. And so, yes, it does. Now, the nuances of these plans are not as important, I don't think, as the fact that they've got -- they recognize this as a problem and they've got a plan that's out there.

But Bob, you know this from being out here, it's not just your position on issues that's important, it's your -- it's how you carry yourself, it's your gravitas, it's the whole notion that, Can this guy win? Democrats really want to beat George W. Bush in the worst kind of way.

And I've never seen a bunch of Democrats more interested in electability as an issue, and less in the nuances of your health care or your tax or your infrastructure plan.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: David, aren't foreign policy hawks in short supply in Iowa? And given the prominence of national security, isn't the -- aren't the antiwar Democratic contenders going to conflict with the need that the electability demands of a national security environment?

YEPSEN: Absolutely, Kate. I mean, that's one of the criticisms that's made of this process, that the activist Democrat is -- in the caucus is so far to the left that they pull the party and the candidates off to the left, and they wind up nominating people who can't win in the fall election. I mean, we've seen that in the past with George McGovern, for example, he came in second in 1972 and really put these events on the map.

So absolutely. And Democrats are worried about that. They don't want to pull things off to the left too far. But by the same token, they want to find a way to contrast some issues with George W. Bush.

Iowa, Kate, has one of the lowest per capital levels of defense spending of any state in the country. We rank about 49th among all the states. There's no defense establishment here. There's not a lot of defense contractors. There's simply no warrior culture in Iowa. And that tends to make for some pretty liberal Democratic politics.

SHIELDS: David Yepsen, as always, thank you very much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the Outrages of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Now for the Outrage of the Week.

President Bush's signature school reform, Leave No Child Behind, is based on the Texas law which grades schools by its student test scores and by dropout rates. In naming Houston school chief Rod Paige to be secretary of education, Mr. Bush saluted Paige as someone, quote, "who understands it is important for us to set the highest of high standards and not accept any excuse for failure," end quote.

But a state audit shows that Houston schools did not count 5,500 school dropouts, changing 14 of 16 Houston schools from a ranking of best to worst.

Looks a little bit like Enron cooking of the books down there in Houston.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Hitherto, success in rehabilitating Harry Truman's reputation suffered a setback when his 1946 diary was discovered. He wrote, "The Jews, I find, are very selfish," adding that, "The Jews have no sense of proportion, nor do they have any judgment on world affairs."

He then compared Jews to Hitler and Stalin in cruelty to underdogs.

This is anti-Semitism no matter how you parse it, much worse than Richard Nixon's musings. Why is it that commentators couldn't stop talking about Nixon but ignored Truman's outrageous bigotry?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Twice Nevada voters have approved initiatives mandating that a two-thirds majority must approve tax increases. The state constitution includes this democratically approved provision. But the Nevada Supreme Court just threw aside the public's decision and ruled that a mere majority can raise taxes, citing a competing constitutional requirement to fund education.

Of course, education can be funded without a tax increase. And why have a legislature at all when courts can rule us? Nevada is just the latest example of judges violating our right to self-government.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, the Bush administration rightly objected when Iraq refused to allow the U.N. to interview Iraqi scientists without minders or handlers present. That would have been intimidation.

Yet the same Bush administration tells the commission investigating preparations before 9/11 that it can only interview mid- or low-level officials of political handlers are there.

Now, there's no comparison between our government and the Iraqi dictatorship. But when any institution tries to impede legitimate investigations, usually it's because someone's trying to hide something.

SHIELDS: Good point. You know, that's a good point, it really is.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... if there's no comparison, why do you compare them with Iraq?

HUNT: No, I don't compare them. I just compare the fact that...

NOVAK: You brought it up, didn't you?

HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Bob, do you think we ought to have minders and handlers when we interview people like that?

O'BEIRNE: Can we all agree that...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: Can we all agree with Bob's outrage...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... my outrage, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I don't think Bob, I don't think Bob wants to answer that question.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Wait a minute, wait a minute...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... Bob, Bob just apparently doesn't want to answer the question.

But we now have President Bush returning to Andrews Air Force Base from his historic visit to Africa. You can see that on our screen right now. The Air Force One is there in this scene, the president...

And we'll say goodbye as we say welcome home, Mr. President. This is Mark Shields saying goodbye for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Killing Pablo." At 9:00 p.m., "LARRY KING WEEKEND" with Dolly Parton. And at 10:00 p.m. , the latest news headlines. All that and much more right here on CNN. Thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



Address. Will President Bush Send Troops to Liberia? A Debate About Medicare Reform.>


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