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Bush Says Economy on Healthy Rebound, Congress Disagrees; Estrada Out of Running for Judicial Appointment

Aired September 4, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush declares the economy's coming back.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's economy today is showing signs of promise. We're emerging from a period of national challenge and economic uncertainty.

ANNOUNCER: But will Congress cooperate? We'll take stock of the president's standing with Senator Trent Lott.

After a two-year confirmation battle, a judicial nominee bow out.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Miguel Estrada is an unfortunate victim of a White House policy, of not cooperating with the Senate.

ANNOUNCER: But the president calls the Estrada affair one of the most unfortunate chapters in Senate history. We'll look at what it could mean for future Bush nominees.

In New Mexico, the '04 Dems gather for their first official debate. Will the other candidates pile on Howard Dean? Which hopeful has the most to gain tonight? And the most to lose? We'll preview the showdown.

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


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

The Democratic candidates are getting ready for their first major debate of the '04 presidential race, and they have a decision to make. Who will they rip into more -- President Bush or one another?

Mr. Bush isn't waiting around to find out. Even before the Democrats could slam his economic stewardship, the president went to Missouri to talk optimistically about recovery and to defend his tax cuts. He also had a few things to say about another Democratic target, the situation in Iraq.

We begin with our White House correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, the president has been hitting on the economy lately. Is that something we can expect to hear in the days to come?


Judy, the economy is the top priority for American voters right now. It is their biggest concern according to multiple public opinion polls and the White House is well aware of that. That is why you heard the president today in Missouri talking up the economy. You also heard him on Monday in Ohio and on Friday, tomorrow, he will be going to Indiana, three critical states in the Midwest for his re- election, places where joblessness has certainly been on the rise since he has been in office.

And today he gave a vigorous explanation and defense of his policies. And went through, like he does time and time again when he's out traveling around the country, the reasons for the economic recession, things out of his control, he said. One of those reasons, he has said, is the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and today he tried to put it in some terms that the people of the state of Missouri could relate to.


BUSH: The economic impact of those attacks is estimated at $80 billion in economic damage and lost output, which is nearly equivalent to wiping out the entire economy of Kansas for one year.


BASH: Now the president was in Kansas City, that was Kansas City, Missouri, of course. But the president repeated the line that he is going to repeat time and time again until the White House feels that it is really sunk in, which is that his policies, specifically the tax cut, that same tax cut that, as you said, Democrats will be slamming tonight in the debate, created the shortest recession in history, as the president says. And it also really made the job loss not as bad as it should be. And he said that joblessness is the last economic indicator to show. But he also believes, he said, that things will get better. And he also came out about a plan, a six- point plan to do so -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So Dana, did the president mean to say Missouri? Is that what you're saying?

BASH: Well, I'm not sure what he meant to say. He specifically said the state of Kansas. I think what he was trying to do was to give an example of something that they could actually relate to of just how devastating the attacks of 9/11 were on the economy, something, perhaps, it was a state next door.

WOODRUFF: Right. OK. Dana, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, president bush lost today a more than two-year battle with Senate Democrats when his judicial nominee, Miguel Estrada, pulled his name from consideration for an appeals court seat. In a statement, Mr. Bush said Estrada -- quote -- "received disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 United States senators." And he added -- quote -- "the treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate's history."

For reaction from capitol hill, let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl.

Jon, a lot of hard feelings up there.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, no shortage of Republican outrage on Capitol Hill about what Trent Lott labeled a day of infamy for the U.S. Senate. Many Republicans suggested the Democrats have been blocking Estrada's nomination for 28 months in part because he is Hispanic.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: I decry this shabby treatment. I decry the selective way that Miguel Estrada has been treated in comparison to all other nominees who have been brought to the floor. And I decry anybody who says this is a -- quote-- "victory" -- unquote. It's not a victory, it's a disgrace. And it's a despicable disgrace at that.


KARL: Senator Ted Kennedy, for his part, did call it a victory for the Constitution. Kennedy and other Democrats said that Estrada was a stealth extremist who refused to answer questions about his political philosophy, or his judicial philosophy. And they said the blame for what happened lied with the White House for not turning over memos that Estrada wrote when he worked in the solicitor general's office both for President Bill Clinton and for the first President Bush.


SCHUMER: Miguel Estrada is an unfortunate victim of a White House policy of not cooperating with the Senate and stonewalling in the appointment of judges. As long as the administration continues to do this, we will continue to block the judges they nominate that are far beyond the mainstream or those judges that refuse to answer questions.


KARL: The Republicans -- Republican Senate leader, Bill Frist, speaking on the Senate floor, said that Democrats did not want to see somebody, an Hispanic, with Miguel Estrada's abilities and his record on track to be a potential future Supreme Court Justice. Frist said that was why the Democrats blocked him.

Over on the House side, Republican leader Tom DeLay went further. He called what happened to Estrada a political hate crime -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jon Karl reporting on that Republican outrage up on the Hill. Thanks.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll set the stage for the Democrats to debate and consider why they need to make an impression on Latino voters.

AWOL Texas state senators surface in the nation's capital to help teach the four "R's." Bill Schneider will explain.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger moves on after skipping the first California recall debate.

We're back in 60 seconds.


WOODRUFF: The Estrada battle is ending even as the Senate begins to tackle another politically combustible issue on its jam-packed fall agenda.

Let's talk now with a Senate who has led Republicans in the trenches before. He is former Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. He joins us from Capitol Hill.

Senator, first on the Estrada withdrawal of his nomination. You, I know, are aware that Senator Ted Kennedy is saying that this now means that the White House should recognize it has to turn over information about nominees. It can't withhold memos, as it did for Mr. Estrada.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, the Democrats were demanding a memoranda that had not been available most of the time, in fact, I think every former solicitor general, Democrat and Republican, said you can't turn over these confidential memoranda from within the Solicitor's General's Office at the Justice Department.

For instance, if you had a young attorney over there who aspired someday to be perhaps a federal judge, he's asked to do a memoranda on a particular subject, or a memorandum, and he realizes that that could end up in a public arena and before Congress, he would very well shade what he would put in that memorandum.

Beside that, they had over 100 hours of testimony. There has been lots of opportunities to ask questions. Only one Democrat agreed to meet with him personally. Only one Democrat, I think, took advantage of an opportunity to give more written questions. We had seven efforts to cut off the debate. But all of that is technical.

Here's the bottom line. Here is an American dream come true. A Honduran-born, Hispanic American, magna cum laude graduate from Harvard, rated by the American Bar Association as exceptionally well qualified, unanimous vote. And what is his sin? The only thing that really comes out is that he is a conservative. He is a conservative Hispanic.

WOODRUFF: Well....

LOTT: There was no indication he want qualified by education, by experience or by ethics.

WOODRUFF: Will the Democrats pay a price for this?

LOTT: I think they should. This is an unprecedented thing that they're doing now in filibustering several nominees for the federal judiciary. That has not happened over the 200 years of this country.

And here's the other thing, Judy. This was a Hispanic nominee. They're also filibustering or threatening to filibuster other nominees including an African-American woman, a woman -- a sitting judge from Texas and other nominees. So the pattern is being set up here.

It is obstructionism. It is a problem for the institution of the Senate that could have long-lasting negative effects.

We need to find a way to get beyond it. I hope what happened with Estrada will allow the Democrats to find a way to begin to stop this procedure.

WOODRUFF: Senator, quickly, I also very much want to ask you about Iraq. You've come back now from the recess raising some questions about the administration policy, about the presence of the U.S., about the costs over there. What are the questions you need answered from the administration?

LOTT: Well, we need to know what is going to be the plan to continue to try to get the violence under control, to stop the people being killed not only the American soldiers that are still being injured and killed, but the Iraqis themselves. What can we do so do a better job to get the infrastructure up? How much progress can we make in getting the Iraqis to take over some of the responsibilities for their own country and their own governance?

And I think the message has become muddled. I do think that there are serious problems with what's happening right now in Iraq. The cost has got to be a matter of concern. If we're talking $50 to $60 billion, that is a huge amount of money to go into the military operation and the rebuilding. And I think we have a responsibility on the part of the American people to ask questions about how much this is needed and what's it going to be used for.

The president, I think, needs to come out and, once again, remind us what we're doing there. Clearly we had, you know, did the right thing by going in. Now we need to do a better of job of explaining what we're going to do next.

WOODRUFF: Quickly over in the House, the majority leader, Tom DeLay, is saying whatever it costs to win this war, the U.S. has to win it. He's comparing it to World War II.

LOTT: I think if you look at what Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate have been saying, we have to stay the course. We cannot just pull up stakes now because it's winning the peace is tough and pull out.

But we have got to understand, you know, what we're going to do there. We've got to try to get others involved to help us. We've got to understand what is the cost going to be and who's going to pay for it.

I don't think that that's being critical of the administration. That is urging the administration to work with us as we do what we have to do to bring about a peace and hopefully their own governing situation in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. Good to see you again.

LOTT: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Well, the soon to be released book by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia slams his own political party saying it no longer represents American values. The book is titled "A National Party No More: the Conscience of a Conservative Democrat." The former Georgia governor has often voted against his own party since he entered the Senate three years ago. He is retiring after next year.

INSIDE POLITICS back in 90 seconds.


WOODRUFF: America's fastest growing minority group will have the full attention of the Democratic presidential candidates tonight. Issues important to Latinos are expected to be front and center when all nine hopefuls attend a debate in New Mexico. CNN's Candy Crowley is in Albuquerque with more on the growing influence of Latino voters.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside Albuquerque even the wicked bite of the roasted chilies is not as surprising as the bent of the politics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I feel I'm a democrat so I feel they do more for the people.

CROWLEY: And now for the kickback. Ask her what she thinks of George Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I like him. What he says, he does.

CROWLEY: Recent polls show more Latinos identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans and the majority of them approve of George Bush's job performance enough to give the govern examiner of New Mexico heartburn.

The Democrats most visible Latino politician, Bill Richardson, has become the unofficial nag inside a party that many worry is not doing enough to hold on to what it's had.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: The Democratic party needs to first of all, not take the Latino vote for granted, especially after Republicans are making such a big push.

CROWLEY: For a variety of reasons, both symbolic and substantive, increasing numbers of Latinos identify themselves as independents, willing to be courted by a very attentive Republican Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a lot of Republicans that are changing, that are going from one. I don't think anybody's voting a straight ticket anymore.

CROWLEY: As a political entity, Latinos are a conflicted group, social conservatives who favor a large government role in health care, education and the workplace. Combine that with the explosive population growth of Latinos in the U.S., and what you've got is a grande swing voting block.

RAUL YZAGUIRRE, "LA RAZA": If I were a Republican candidate, I would stress social issues, patriotism, abortion, those kinds of issues that -- where we -- where these issues resonate with our community. If I were a Democrat candidate, Democratic candidate, I would stress education, jobs, health care and the environment.

CROWLEY: Democrats face this election season with two realities: the Latino voting block that has become less predictable and more powerful, and a Republican Party ready to play.

The sleeping giant, Bill Richardson, has talked about for so long is stirring.

RICHARDSON: I belief the next president will be elected by Latino votes in crucial battleground states like New Mexico, like Arizona, like Florida, like Nevada. States where the Latino vote is already decisive.

CROWLEY: A Johns Hopkins University study argues that Latino voters may make history long before the November '04 election. New Mexico and Arizona will participate in the first multi-state primary day just a week after New Hampshire. It is a day the study calls "Hispanic Tuesday."


CROWLEY: All of which explains why, for their first of the six fall debates, Democrats chose to come to New Mexico for the event.

Judy, one last thing we want to tell you, Governor Richardson, someone with national experience as well as now gubernatorial experience, often mentioned as the No. 2 man, but yesterday in an interview with CNN, ruled himself out.


RICHARDSON: Governor Richardson is going to stay as Governor Richardson. I've made that commitment to the people in New Mexico to run for re-election and serve. But maybe in the future, there will be a Latino on a national ticket. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Of course, Judy, as you can imagine, all the candidates here have mentioned in their various stops that he would make a very good vice president. But apparently not this time around. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, at the very least, it's flattering. OK. Candy, thanks very much. We'll be talking to you tomorrow.

Well, Republican Party leaders say they hope to use the Democratic candidates' tough criticism of President Bush as a way to attract more undecided voters. The Republican National Committee has released a video that it plans to show at GOP recruiting events that coincide with tonight's Democratic debate.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's declared war on the American people.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a Pinocchio president.

ANNOUNCER: Tired of the pessimism?


WOODRUFF: In a statement, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie says the Democratic attacks are not working. He says Americans are looking to Republicans as a positive alternative.

Our "Campaign News Daily" focuses on newly declared Democrat Wesley Clark who revealed his affiliation yesterday here on INSIDE POLITICS. When I spoke with Senator John Kerry in New Hampshire yesterday, he shared his opinion of the retired army general and potential White House rival.


WOODRUFF: Well let me ask you about somebody else who is thinking about getting into the race, General Wesley Clark. You said yesterday that he lacks the, quote, "broad lifetime experience"...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I didn't say that. I like Wes Clark...

WOODRUFF: I'm sorry, it was quoted in a newspaper.

KERRY: Things are quoted in newspapers that aren't always correct. What I said was there's a difference between having a lifetime career in one area and having all of the other things that make up the full measure of experience. I didn't criticize him at all. I'm a great admirer of Wes Clark's.

WOODRUFF: Well are you saying he's not qualified to be president?

KERRY: No, I think he carries a certain kind of qualification. But what I bring is a different level of experience. I think it is important to have other kinds of experience, too. But he is a very qualified, very distinguished individual, a friend of mine, I might add, and I will never say anything critical about Wes Clark.

WOODRUFF: So you didn't say that he...

KERRY: I didn't say he lacks the experience. What I said is there's a distinction between the experience that he brings and somebody who has a different set of experiences that they also bring. That's all I said. It's very simple statement.

WOODRUFF: What's next for John Kerry?

KERRY: I'm going to win this race, that's what's next.


WOODRUFF: Well Senator Kerry is wasting no time invigorating his New Hampshire campaign effort. His first television ad for the New Hampshire market hit the airwaves today. It features video recorded during yesterday's campaign stops.

Just ahead, national attention for some Texas Democrats. Why the national party and a presidential candidate are giving special attention to a group of state lawmakers.


WOODRUFF: Those Texas state senators who fled their state to block a GOP-led redistricting plan are growing in stature with their national party leaders. Some of the Texas Democrats were in Washington today. Others met in New Mexico with Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt. Howard Dean also planned to meet with the group later today.

Our Bill Schneider has more on how the situation in Texas is being used as part of a national campaign to galvanize the party's grassroots.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The redistricting war in Texas has gone national. Several of the Texas Democratic senators who have been boycotting the legislature showed up in Washington, where they joined forces with, a liberal advocacy group.

The goal? To rally Democrats around the country to proceed test what they see as a White House powerplay. LETICIA VAN DE PUTT (D), TEXAS STATE SENATE: We realize this is a systemic abusive power with one goal in mind, and that is to consolidate the power at the national level in Congress.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats are keeping a list of grievances, call it the four "R's."

Let's hear it from one aggrieved Democrat.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: It started with the impeachment of President Clinton, when the Republicans could not beat him in 1996.

SCHNEIDER: First "R," removal.

DAVIS: It continued in Florida, where they stopped the vote count, depriving thousands of Americans of the right to vote.

SCHNEIDER: Second "R," recount.

DAVIS: This year, they're trying to steal additional Congressional seats in Colorado and Texas, overturning legal redistricting plans.

SCHNEIDER: Third "R," redistricting.

DAVIS: Here in California, the Republicans lost the governor's race last November. Now they're trying to use this recall to seize control of California just before the next presidential election.

SCHNEIDER: Recall. That makes four. That same list appears in a new newspaper ad. Clinton, Florida, recall, redistricting.

The idea is to revive Democrats' outrage over impeachment and Florida and stoke it with new grievances.

Republicans say the four "R's" are really two "P's" pessimism and protest, a destructive kind of politics.

But Democrats see it as a way to rally the base for 2004. They see the hand of one sinister figure behind all those grievances, the fifth "R."

RODNEY ELLIS (D), TEXAS STATE SENATE: Karl Rove, a government employee, has made calls to members of the Texas Republican leadership saying, We want additional seats in Congress, so you all need to go through a redistricting again.


SCHNEIDER: Call it Rove rage. Democrats are counting on it to bring their supporters to the polls next year. Votes "R" us. How about that?

WOODRUFF: I don't know if I can handle all this alliteration and onomatopoeia, what we learned back in English class. SCHNEIDER: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Well, still ahead, the California recall. More about it. The first debate is over. The reviews are in. So now what?


WOODRUFF: Out of the millions of dollars in money that it is spending and raising, the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign made a point today of saying that it will return a $2,500 check from a law enforcement union. The unsolicited donation, according to the campaign, ran counter to the Republican's pledge not to accept money from special interests. Schwarzenegger took his campaign for governor to Riverside, California, today, where he gave a speech to supporters and never mentioned his absence from the first recall debate. His rivals, however, have had some harsh words about his no-show status.

And that is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.


Estrada Out of Running for Judicial Appointment>

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