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President Bush Speaks to National Urban League; Some Texas Democrats on the Lam Again

Aired July 28, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: A rare presidential appearance before an African- American audience.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been through a lot: recession, war, emergencies, corporate scandals. But I'm optimistic about the future.

ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush courts the National Urban League today, and seven of his Democratic challenges tag along. We'll tell you about the campaign to woo black voters.

As the search for Saddam continues, more U.S. soldiers die in Iraq. And another '04 Dem accuses the White House of bungling the peace.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The Bush administration threatens to give a bad name to a just war.

ANNOUNCER: We'll discuss the lingering conflict with the veteran of another war, Senator Chuck Hagel.

Costly chaos in California as the recall race kicks into high gear. Candidate after candidate is jumping into the fray. And the 75-day contest could come with a $50 million price tag. We'll have the latest from the Golden State.

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington sitting in for Judy Woodruff.

The situation in Iraq continues to dominate the political agenda here in Washington. Some new poll numbers in a moment. But first, President Bush headed to Pittsburgh today for a rare appearance before a group representing African-Americans, the National Urban League. The Democratic candidates will show up a short time from now.

In his address, Mr. Bush touted his domestic agenda using a familiar campaign theme.


BUSH: We must challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. And you know what I'm talking about. We simply have got to stop scuffling our children from grade to grade without asking question, are they thought -- have they been taught to learn to read, write and add and subtract?


CROWLEY: With us now, CNN senior White House correspondent John King. John, I want to talk first the politics of this, the political significance of this trip. And also why there was a NAACP meeting not that long ago that the president didn't go to. What went behind the choice?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the White House would like to insist today's speech to the National Urban League was a policy event, not a political event. But you're right. Some African-American leaders, many Democrats, have said why didn't President Bush go to the NAACP meeting this year? Why has he not done that in the two and a half years of his presidency?

The White House simply says the president gets a lot of invitations and has a very busy schedule and has to go to the events that fit in with that schedule. The White House said the president very much wanted to go to Pittsburgh for today's speech.

It insists this was a policy speech, but certainly this president and his political staff well-aware in what looks like it will be a very competitive election year. He needs to do better than last time which was a dismal 9 percent among African-Americans.

The White House makes the case this president has a good record, especially when it comes to education, they believe, and home ownership initiatives. But this the beginning salvo, if you will. Seven of the nine Democrats participating in this same meeting. They say this president's economic policies have let down all of America, but especially African-Americans.

So an early taste today of the tug of war, if you will, on a issue that is critical to this president. He does never expects to get a majority of the African-American vote. But most advisers believe he needs to do much better than 9 percent to be competitive in states like Pennsylvania come next year.

CROWLEY: John, let's take a sharp turn here and go to the politics of Iraq. We've had other deaths and continuing deaths in Iraq of American soldiers. How is this playing out politically?

KING: Well, they insist here at this White House, and you're well aware they say they're not guided by the polls and they don't follow the polls. But certainly they are aware of the polls.

They know the president's numbers have come down somewhat in large part because of the continuing deaths of American servicemen, some 50 now, I believe, since president said major combat operations were over on May 1, have died in hostile fire. They insist that things are getting better on the ground. They believe the president will benefit a little bit if not immediately in the long term from the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

And the bottom line here at the White House is they say they understand he is under quite a bit of criticism now. They believe if the reconstruction effort is up and running and in much better visible shape, you see improvements on the ground come early next year. And if the attacks by then have diminished significantly, that that will not be the political issue in the campaign year that it is right now in sort of the warmup, if you will, for the campaign year -- Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN's senior White House correspondent John King. Good to see you, John, thanks.

KING: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Iraq headlines a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll out this hour. Americans were asked how they feel about the latest developments in Iraq including the killing of Saddam Hussein's two sons. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider takes a look at the numbers for the Bush administration.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Was the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein's sons a major achievement for the United States? Most Americans say it was, according to the new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll over the weekend.

But the political impact of that achievement may be limited. It apparently gave a slight boost to public approval of President Bush's handling of Iraq. The percentage of registered voters who say they would vote to re-elect President Bush is also up slightly. But it's still not quite a majority.

TERRY NELSON, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We always assume that the 2004 election will be just as close as the 2000 election.

SCHNEIDER: The reason? Bush's re-elect figure is closer to Bush's rating on the economy. And that number has barely changed.

Here's something that has changed.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: If Saddam's alive, we will get Saddam. That's -- I'm fairly confident of that.

SCHNEIDER: So are most Americans -- now. The number of Americans who feel confident the U.S. will capture or kill Saddam Hussein has jumped 20 points in the last month. Two-thirds of the public now believes the U.S. will get him.

But will the U.S. find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? A bare majority says yes. And that hasn't changed much. What's more worrisome is the continuing attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Will the U.S. be able to stop those attacks? Only 51 percent say yes. And that number has gone down as the attacks have persisted.

The fact is, the war in Iraq has become more controversial, not less, as time goes on. Victory has not led to consensus anything but. Ninety percent of Republicans say Iraq was worth going to war over. Most Democrats say it was not.

The two sides disagree over how things are going now in Iraq. Nearly 80 percent of Republicans say things are going well for the U.S. Over 60 percent of Democrats say they're not. Even bringing down Saddam Hussein has not brought the country together.


SCHNEIDER: Opposition to the war in Iraq has really become a defining issue for Democrats. If you supported the war, many Democrats say, we're not sure you're really one of us -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, appreciate it.

The Democrats who hoped to unseat President Bush are not all on the same page when it comes to the war in Iraq. And today Senator Joe Lieberman, a war supporter, had critical words for some of his fellow contenders as well as President Bush. We want to go now to our Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, Senator Lieberman had criticized the Bush administration, the president personally, for mishandling the post-war situation in Iraq and for using that faulty intelligence in his State of the Union Address. He said the president's actions threatened to obscure the fact that he believes that the war in Iraq was a just war.

But his most interesting criticism, as you mentioned, was his attack on fellow Democrats, both those like Howard Dean that opposed the war in the first place and those that voted with him to give the president the authority to go to war.


LIEBERMAN: The Bush administration threatens to give a bad name to a just war.

But by their words, some in my party are sending out a message that they don't know a just war when they see it. And more broadly, that they're not prepared to use our military strength to protect our security and the cause of freedom.

We've watched some opponents of the war seize upon this emerging scandal with a disquieting zeal as though it offers proof that they were right all along. The same is true of some of those who supported the war but now seem to have forgotten why. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Lieberman said it was important for Democrats to stand up to what he called "the great Democratic tradition presidents like Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt and Kennedy." Presidents who understood when it was necessary to project American force around the globe.

In response to this criticism, one of the people that he mentioned by name in his speech, Howard Dean, put out a statement saying, quote, "I must ask since when is it in the finest tradition of the Democratic Party to follow unquestioningly a Republican president who leads us in the wrong direction? Everyday it becomes clear that this was the wrong war at the wrong time."

Senator Lieberman also singled out two pro-war Democrats for criticism today, Dick Gephardt and John Kerry. John Kerry's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said he was a little puzzled by the criticism because they both voted the same ways and have had the same criticisms of the president since the war.

And a spokesman for Dick Gephardt said simply that Lieberman must not have heard Gephardt's speech last week where he clearly said that he supported the war at the time and reiterated why, saying he believes now still that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or at the very least the components of weapons of mass destruction.

But most interesting here today, Candy, may well be simply that Lieberman came out and supported -- felt it necessary to reiterate his strong support for the war in the first place -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. CNN's congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. The latest in our power line-up today on INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks, Jonathan.

Still to come, he touched funny bone across America and around the world. Today politicians, entertainers and people on the street are paying tribute to Bob Hope who died yesterday at the age of 100. More on this American icon and his incredible career when we return.

Also ahead, it's a circus in California. We'll have the latest on the upcoming recall election and how it's anybody's guess right now as to how the final ballot might look.


CROWLEY: Bob Hope, who died today at 100, was known as a Republican supporter at least since the '60s. He didn't seem passionate about it, though. He befriended some Democratic presidents when they were in the White House. But Hope was a golfing buddy of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford those are the images people remember. More on this from CNN's Stephen Frazier.


STEPHEN FRAIZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gerald Ford once said that Bob Hope was the only man who called the White House his favorite bed and breakfast in Washington, D.C. The comment was well-founded. Throughout his career Hope developed personal relationships with several U.S. presidents.

FDR befriended Hope when he asked the comedian to entertain U.S. troops stationed overseas. Harry Truman played the piano for Hope. Eisenhower served as a suitable golf companion. And Jimmy Carter hosted a White House reception for Hope's 75th birthday.



CROWLEY: With us now from Capitol Hill to talk more about Iraq, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for being here. I want to ask you just straight off the top, is the peace being bungled in Iraq?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is a difficult, complicated, long-term challenge we have in front of us, Candy. Many of us were saying this before we got to Iraq. I think it is playing out the way many of us expected.

This is going to require a long-term commitment from the American people, from all of our allies to stabilize, secure that area. And then work it toward a market economy and a Democratic nation.

And these things don't come easy. What Saddam Hussein did to that country over the last 30 years, we are now just sorting out. So if there were high expectations, they were probably not based on any sense of reality because that country is going to require a lot of focus, a lot of help, a lot of investment, and a lot of manpower.

CROWLEY: You speak of American support, and you're someone who knows well what that means as a Vietnam vet. We see the numbers in polls go up and down on support for this war depending usually on how many American deaths have been over there. Do you think this country has that kind of staying power to hear over and other, day after day, two deaths, three deaths?

HAGEL: Well, Candy, I think if the American people realize the outcome in Iraq is in our interests, in our long-term/short-term security interests, in the interests of Middle East peace, then I think the American people will sustain whatever effort is going to be required.

But the president of the United States must speak very clearly and directly to the American people about this. And he must connect the reality of what's going on with our future, with our interests. It is in our interests to help stabilize that part of the world, not just Iraq, but Afghanistan, and certainly the Middle East peace plan must further develop. And we want to see peace come overall to the region.

It's going to take a high toll and extract a high price from America both in terms of treasure and lives.

CROWLEY: Sounds like you don't think he's done a good job as making that connection for the American people.

HAGEL: Well, I think he may have to come back and reconnect again on this issue. The American people need to be reassured as we go along. And as you suggest, we've had a very difficult time, especially the last two weeks, in how many people we've lost over there.

If that continues, then the American people need to be reminded of why it's important, why we're investing our young people over there and our treasure, why it's in the interests of our security. And really only the president of the United States can do that and do that effectively.

CROWLEY: Senator, we don't have a lot of time, but I know you were head of the World USO, you were on the board for an awfully long time, and you worked with Bob Hope. And of course, he's died. I wondered about your thoughts.

HAGEL: Oh, well, there won't be another like Bob Hope ever again. I had the privilege of working with him a little bit over the years. I served as president of the World USO, on the board. A remarkable man, contributions to our country to the member and women who served our country are legend and will be legend for years and years to come.

CROWLEY: Senator Hagel, thank you so much for joining us.

HAGEL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

Still ahead, California politics has officially become a three- ring circus. But will it prove to be the greatest show on earth? We'll take a look when we return.


CROWLEY: New developments in the California recall. Experts say total campaign spending for the October 7 election could be $50 million or twice that much.

There's word also the state assembly may vote on a spending plan tomorrow. It includes nearly $13 billion in cuts, no new taxes.

And rumors continue to swirl around actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whether he'll be one of the candidates for governor on the recall ballot. In all, quite a circus in California.


CROWLEY (voice-over): It's California's favorite parlor game: guess who's running for governor? Everyone's playing it -- almost everyone.

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: And I haven't really -- I pay more attention to national politics probably right now than state politics for some reason. I don't know why. Maybe it's just a sexier political scene.

CROWLEY: Ben, Ben, Ben. You and J. Lo need to stay home more. California has a recall free-for-all going.

Georgy Russell (ph), a 26-year-old UC-Berkeley grad is all over it, a gubernatorial hopeful who wants to bring new meaning to the race.

And California's recall will be quite a show even if the Republican's marquee name says no.


CROWLEY: For instance, a caretaker at an interstate rest stop may run, making a twisted sense in car centric California. Sixty-five signatures and $3500 will get you on the ballot.

Shoestring campaigns can opt for the no-fee 10,000 signature plan. This 18-year-old told "The San Francisco Chronicle" he's looking for the signatures because he needs the money for a laptop to take to college.

Getting serious, sort of, a couples of exs are thinking about a battle at the ballot. Republican Michael Huffington, who lost a California Senate race, divorced his wife and announced he was gay, is apparently ready for a return to public life.

His ex-wife, Arianna, who began her public life when his ended, is being urged to run as a Democrat. She told a California paper she won't comment on anyone who may be on the ballot, even if she has been married to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sound like you should be running.

AFFLECK: Yes. I got too good a life right now.


CROWLEY: So count out Ben Affleck.

In the end, some or all of those pondering a race may ponder out, but at the moment it's shaping up as quite a show. And the person most likely to gain by a three-ring circus is Governor Gray Davis. The weirder things get, the better he looks.

Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is turning to cyberspace to pad her re-election campaign coffers. She's launched to raise cash for the race. Donors who give more than $150 will receive a signed copy of her book "Living History."

Meanwhile, a "Boston Herald" poll says Clinton would lead the '04 pack in New Hampshire. She comes in first with 27 percent. Howard Dean takes second place with 23 percent; John Kerry third with 16 percent. Dean is flexing his fund-raising muscle in a battle with one of the masters, Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney's raising a quarter of a million dollars at a private South Carolina event today. Friday, Dean urged his supporters to go online and match that number. It took team Dean two days to surpass Cheney's projected tally.

In Manchester, New Hampshire today, John Edwards laid out a $53 million prescription for child health insurance, calling health care a birth right.


SEN. JOHN EDWARD (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're the average parent who's already covering your kids through your job, my plan would mean one thing: a new tax break to help you with that coverage, about $300 a year for a typical family. And if you've always wanted to cover your kids but you've been unable to, my plan will give you a chance to do that. And for poor families, my plan covers every penny of the cost.


CROWLEY: The plan relies on a combination of tax breaks and government subsidies.

With us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, to talk more about the Edwards plan is Ron Brownstein of "The L.A. Times."

Hey, Ron.


CROWLEY: What -- what's the difference between this plan or any other plan? Does it fit into some category?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think he really does separate himself from the field. It will be interesting to see how popular those are.

This is a plan that's more narrowly targeted. As you said, it's much more focused on children, so it doesn't cover nearly as many of the uninsured adults as some of the others like Gephardt, Kerry and Dean. It doesn't cost nearly as much and it also asks more of the uninsured themselves. What he didn't mention in that little sound byte was there's a mandate for all parents to cover their kids. Those that already pay for insurance through their employer, they'll get a tax break. But those that don't pay, beyond the poorest and very low- income families, will have to reach into their pocket and pick up part of that cost.

So it's kind of a personal responsibility message in some ways reminiscent of Bill Clinton in 1992.

CROWLEY: There's a lot about that campaign that's reminiscent, I think.

Look, one of the things that I think is the ramp on Edwards is that he hasn't shown a lot of support in places like New Hampshire and Iowa. What can you tell us about the field today?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, I think-- I think -- look, he is someone who's clearly looking for a spark in his campaign. The numbers in the polls have been very disappointing for them. They spent a lot of time raising money in the first half of the year. Now this summer they're going out, both in New Hampshire and Iowa, and trying to put a lot of time in on the ground. He had a town hall meeting today in Laconia, one of a dozen, well attended, did well with the crowd. He's got this Main Street tour in Iowa, where he's trying to hit, I believe, about three dozen cities and he's got bus tours scheduled for both New Hampshire and Iowa in August.

They clearly recognized they have to begin showing something because, you know, you get that self-fulfilling prophecy, where if you can't show anything in the polls, the money becomes harder, too, eventually.

CROWLEY: We are in a primary, Ron, and I'm wondering how much a sort of moderate, be responsible health care plan is going to stack up against, say, a plan like Dean's or Gephardt's, which seems to me might be more attractive to the primary Democratic voters.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, this is the challenge for Edwards and probably for Lieberman when he comes out with what he comes out with eventually too.

Edwards today, at his town meeting, was arguing, look, we can't afford to put all the money into health care, because then we won't have money to do anything. Reduce the deficit, pay down the debt, improve education, deal with homeland defense. His plan is still pretty. It's almost $600 billion over 10 years, significantly more what even Al Gore's 2000 plan would have cost if updated to current dollars. But it's not nearly as big as the $900 billion for Kerry and Dean, much less the $2.5 trillion for Dick Gephardt over 10 years.

CROWLEY: Ron Brownstein, "L.A. Times" in Manchester, New Hampshire. Thanks, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Candy.

Democrats on the run again in Texas. We'll explain when we return.

Stay with us.


CROWLEY: The Texas tussle over Congressional redistricting has sent 11 Democratic state lawmakers on the lam again. It's the second time the Dems have bolted in order to prevent a legislative session from tackling the issue. In May, a group fled to Oklahoma , here they holed up for several days. It's not clear where the latest group of renegade lawmakers is hiding out or whether they've even left Texas, but they have managed to foil a special legislative session. The Republican lieutenant governor says he'll convene a new one soon. We do not make this stuff up. That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley.


Democrats on the Lam Again>

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