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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Interviews With John McCain, Mitch McConnell

Aired September 8, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: The president moves on after his speech on Iraq. But Democrats are finding 87 billion reason to keep blasting away.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I used to think things were bad when George Bush the first was president. This George Bush is making his father look good, isn't he?

ANNOUNCER: The Supremes in special season. The new campaign finance law on the line. Will they change the 2004 found raising rules this late in the game?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it will be upheld.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We are guardedly optimistic.

ANNOUNCER: The leading Senate championship and foe of campaign finance reform join us with their verdicts.

The '04 Democrats star in a docudrama. Is it a taste of real life on the trail?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we bring a six pack of beer to our interview tonight would you drink one with us?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're damn right I would.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. I am at the U.S. Supreme Court, the scene of the latest showdown over campaign finance reform. This rare special session wrapped up just a short time ago. Now the justices not only hold the fate of the new reform law in their hands, their ruling could force a U-turn along the election 2004 money trail. And we'll have much more on all that ahead.

But first, the '04 Democrats found a forum today to continue to hammer away at President Bush and his latest speech on Iraq. Here now out Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Jon, what are the Democrats saying? JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the Democrats certainly aren't shying away from criticizing the president on Iraq and criticizing his speech, but for the most part they are not saying that they will oppose his $87 billion request for reconstruction and military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At that presidential forum, the Democratic presidential candidates, before the Service Employees International Union, were not shy about criticizing the president. But John Kerry, shortly after his speech to that group, was asked if he would vote in favor of the $87 billion and had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I'm going to do whatever is needed to protect our troops and whatever's needed to be successful. I want to be successful there. We have to be. But I want to have a further explanation of questions that are unanswered. And I would like to see a much greater involvement in the United Nations.

I think that the speech was completely inadequate in that regard and leaves the American people really questioning where we're going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Even Howard Dean, who has been the president's leading critic on Iraq, would not answer the question of whether or not he would support spending the $87 billion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Governor, how would you vote on the $87 billion?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not in Congress, I'm not...

QUESTION: It's the most important matter before the U.S. Congress...

DEAN: I doubt that very much. I'm running for president. I'd tell you what I'm going to do but I'm not going to tell you how I'd face an issue that is not of my making.

This was created by the congressman who didn't stand up to the president when they should and accepted a lot of false impressions that the president set out to create.

Eventually I'll look at the president's request and let you know what I think of it. But right now I think the real issue is how did we get there and how are we going to get out of it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: On Capitol Hill, the president's budget folks are up here talking to both Democrats and Republicans. As a matter of fact, Judy, one of the first people that Josh Bolton, the budget director, asked to meet with is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee in the Senate, Robert Byrd, who of course has been a leading critic of the president on Iraq. It will be interesting to see how that meeting goes.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Kennedy, another leading critic, is preparing an amendment, getting Democratic cosponsors, that would say the president would get his money, but first he would need to provide a plan for how he would spend the reconstruction money and also a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Some very tough conversations coming up between the White House and the Democrats at the Capitol. Jon Karl, thanks very much.

Well now we are across the street from the Capitol. And we're going to come back to the happenings here at the Supreme Court where the justices are facing an historic decision. Do new campaign finance laws set needed limits on big money, or do they violate free speech?

CNN's Patty Davis is out here with me now with more on the arguments and the stakes. Patty, you're out here but you were in there for four hours, an unprecedented four hours of arguments today. Tell us about the highlights.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was really riveting, Judy. A very complicated case. But it boils down to two main issues. No. 1, and that was argued this morning, it's McCain-Feingold law banning soft money. Those large, unregulated donations that go to political parties. Is that constitutional?

Now, opponents say that it is not. That it violates free speech. It also violates states' rights. And they found a backer in Justice Scalia who asked whether -- why they were picking on political parties? Why weren't they -- why didn't they point this at politicians themselves? Also why were lawmakers making it difficult for corporations and unions to express their First Amendment rights?

Now, Solicitor General Ted Olson spoke for the Bush administration, arguing that the ban is constitutional. That it prevents an erosion of public confidence. And that appearance of corruption. It also prevents that as well.

Now, this afternoon it was all about issue advocacy ads. The law bans those ads paid for by corporations and unions. And once again, opponents are saying, Judy, that that is a violation of their free speech rights. They should be able to spend the money and get their -- their opinions out there in the public.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, when do we look for a decision?

DAVIS: We expect a decision by the end of the year. The justices had the special session early, they came back, as you said, from their summer break. They know how important this is. You have the presidential elections right around the corner. They want to get this settled.

WOODRUFF: OK, Patty Davis, thank you very much here at the Supreme Court.

Well, from money matters to poll numbers in the race to 2004, there is new evidence that Howard Dean has surged ahead of the Democratic pack in New Hampshire. The latest poll gives dean a 12 point lead over John Kerry, the other main contender in the lead off primary state. The other candidates are in single digits.

Nonetheless, John Edwards says that he thinks his White House campaign is doing well enough that he has decided not to seek reelection to the Senate next year. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, why the decision not to run again for the Senate?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, several reasons. The first is that they need to have a Senate race in North Carolina and the sooner they can get a Democrat under way there, the better.

It's not a surprising decision, nor is the timing. But it certainly is, as one aide talked about, risking it all. They have looked at Senator Edwards' numbers, they note that he is tied, really, for third in New Hampshire. They believe they will win South Carolina and by that time the electorate will be looking for someone other than Howard Dean. So they still have high hopes in the Edwards campaign.

The other reason is that he is going to officially launch his presidential race next week and they didn't want this decision to cloud that announcement so they wanted to get it out. However, it did come out just as the president was giving his speech to the nation on Iraq.

But nonetheless, there were several good reasons to get this done now. And now that that's out of the way they believe that John Edwards can move on and begin to move up in the polls.

WOODRUFF: Well, candy, it's understandable that the people around him would be optimistic but if this strategy doesn't work, if he doesn't get the nomination, what is this all or nothing approach mean for his political future?

CROWLEY: You know, one of the things that people have said about Senator Edwards is, Well, it's a little too soon for him. But as you know, Judy, sometimes getting the nomination requires that you run for it before. That very often people who get it have run for it before. So a lot of people sort of looked at this as his trial run or said, Oh, he's ring for vice president.

This pretty much takes that off the table because what this means is that if Senator Edwards does not win the Democratic nomination he's got no political job to go to, at least not an elected one, because he's given his main platform which was the U.S. Senate.

So that will maim him a one-term senator who ran for president. They however don't think that's going to happen, but it does put him in a bad position should he want to try again only because then there would be four years when he was not in elected position. WOODRUFF: Well, he certainly settled it though. There was a lot of speculation he might go the other way. But he cleared that one up once and for all. All right, Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Sure.

WOODRUFF: By the way, you can hear what Howard Dean has to say tonight on the debut of "PAULA ZAHN NOW." That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Plus, it has been two years since the 9/11 attacks and Osama bin Laden remains at large. CNN will have a special report, "Where's the Leadership?" tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on "ANDERSON COOPER 360."

A spokeswoman at a Chicago hospital, meanwhile, says doctors are performing surgery on Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon for a cerebral hemorrhage. O'Bannon was rushed to the hospital after he was found unconscious in his hotel room this morning. O'Bannon, who is 73, was in Chicago to attend a conference.

Still ahead, two senators who have fought tooth and nail over campaign finance reform were here for today's Supreme Court showdown and they're with us on INSIDE POLITICS coming up. I'll ask reform champion John McCain how his side did in the high court and then I'll ask Senator Mitch McConnell for an opposing take on what the justices may decide.

Later Mrs. Arnold Schwarzenegger goes solo on the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We're continuing our coverage of today's Supreme Court showdown over campaign finance reform. I'm joined by the leading sponsor of the law, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

MCCAIN: Co-sponsor.

WOODRUFF: Co-sponsor. You're being very generous.

It is a showdown. There is a great deal at stake.

MCCAIN: Yes.

WOODRUFF: And what is at stake here?

MCCAIN: Well, whether we're going to continue to see this incredible influence of special interest embodied with these massive amounts of money, soft money, as we call it, which are unregulated and many times unreported massive contributions. Or we're going to see a transparent, reasonably limited kind of situation.

Without boring you, in 1907 we outlawed corporate contributions. In 1947 we outlawed union contributions. Those laws have been completely destroyed by the Federal Election Commission, which, by the way, is hard at it now. But -- and so what we're really doing is restoring those laws and closing the loopholes which would prevent corporations and unions and large donors from contributing to campaigns.

WOODRUFF: You are very passionate about this, Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: I see the effects of it.

WOODRUFF: Are you worried that a majority of this court is not going to agree with you? All it takes is five of them and we know four are likely to be against you going in.

MCCAIN: Well, of course I'm concerned but I think this is legitimate. We wrote into the law an immediate as possible consideration. As you -- I'm sure you've already mentioned, this is unprecedented, for the Supreme Court to convene this early for a specific issue and for this long an argument.

The thing that impressed me is justices knew the issue. They knew the issue. This is a very complex set of issues. And by both the content and the tone of their issues -- of their questions, it was clear to me they'd studied the issues.

WOODRUFF: Two of the key justices on this are from your home state of Arizona.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: I don't know if they're going to show any state loyalty or not.

MCCAIN: Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Any sense at this point of how they're going to come down? I know I'm asking you for the impossible.

MCCAIN: No. The court watchers say the worst thing you can do is depend on the tone of the questions.

I thought -- I was fascinated by all four hours. I thought the presentations by both sides were excellent, I thought the questioning was excellent, I enjoyed the way these justices leap in and -- and frankly sometimes I was surprised. I was surprised there was so much time spent on the role of NBC and General Electric. I didn't know that -- you know, they were not a subject of our debates on campaign finance reform.

But the justices were well informed. And that gives me confidence because then, of course, I think the more the issue is understood, the better our chances are. But I make no predictions.

WOODRUFF: I want to turn, quickly, Senator, to a subject that is also on your mind today and that is Iraq, President Bush's speech last night. The criticisms coming from Democrats and others is that the president is finally saying what he should have said long ago. Has the administration lost too much time on this, do you believe? MCCAIN: No. Look, these are tough decisions. I was pleased that he really bit the bullet here, as far as the size of the appropriation that he'll be seeking. I think that he explained well the challenges we face last night. We have a disagreement on troops. There's no commitment of additional troops. We need more special forces. We need more Marines. We need more civil affairs people. The British today are sending more people in their area of responsibility.

It's clear to me that we need more people to secure -- to secure these areas.

WOODRUFF: This is a much bigger commitment than what the American people were originally told by this president.

MCCAIN: Yes. And it's much greater than many of us, including me, expected it to be. But when you're in these kinds of things, you have to adjust. But the important thing is tell the American people what the challenges are, and I think he did a good job of that last night.

WOODRUFF: All right, Senator John McCain, thank you very much for stopping by to talk to us. We appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, a conversation with the leading Senate opponent of the McCain-Feingold law, Senator Mitch McConnell shares his point of view when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We just heard from Senator John McCain. With me now is a senator who filed the lawsuit at the center today's hearing and who led the political fight against the McCain-Feingold bill, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senator, thank you for being here.

MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you.

WOODRUFF: Now I overheard you saying just a few minutes ago to some reporters that you're cautiously optimistic.

MCCONNELL: That's as far as I'm willing to go.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: What are you basing that on?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think our side of this case is a little more difficult to explain. And I was very pleased that the justices all had obviously done their homework. The lawyers could barely get a sentence out before somebody was interrupting with a question. They were thoroughly engaged for four hours. Normally there's one hour before the Supreme Court. Today there were four.

So they understand the gravity of the case, they understand how it affects the political parties and the outside groups and how all of this really goes to the core of the First Amendment, who gets to speak and how much. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

WOODRUFF: What is at stake here, as far as you're concerned?

MCCONNELL: Well, the legislation dramatically reduces the power and the influence of the parties and it seeks to quiet the voices of outside groups. I think that's really at variance with what our democracy should be about.

And I think to the extent that they come to grips with the reality of this new regime under which we're now operating, we've got a good chance of winning.

WOODRUFF: You heard -- you said -- you mentioned all the justices were asking questions today with the exception, I believe, of Justice Thomas. But we know that there are two justices who were seen probably as being swing votes, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor. Anything in their questions that give you hope or reason to believe optimistic?

MCCONNELL: Well, I thought all of the justices had good questions to ask of the other side. I think they all sort of understood some of the weaknesses of the points of view of the other side. So I'd like to not write anybody off. We don't know how this is ultimately going to come out. But we're sure hoping for at least five votes.

WOODRUFF: But there was nothing in other words in the Rehnquist or O'Connor comments that...

MCCONNELL: Nothing that I'd want to comment on, no.

WOODRUFF: OK.

Is this the way, in a democracy, these kinds of decisions should be made? That it should come down to four hours of arguments before the Supreme Court? What do you make of this whole spectacle?

MCCONNELL: Sure, we believe in the rule of law in this country and we had a big fight over a piece of legislation, one side won and one side lost. The side that lost, led by myself, went to court and this is the way you do it in our democracy. It's the end of a long road.

Senator McCain and I have become good friends arguing this issue for a decade now. And it's now ended up in the Supreme Court, which is where we all knew at some point it would end up.

WOODRUFF: What we're starting to see, Senator, and I know you know this, is that even Democrats are saying, Well, we can get around this to some extent because there are other ways -- there are always going to be ways we can get money to the candidates who need it.

MCCONNELL: Yes.

WOODRUFF: So if there's always going to be a way around it, again, what -- what's at the core of this? MCCONNELL: Well of course in a free society, it is mission impossible to try to shut everybody up. I mean the media's lucky they have an exemption in this law that allows them to say whatever they want to at any time. Other citizens are not so lucky and this is about the rules of the game and our democracy.

You can't keep money out of politics because that's the only way people can raise their voices and reach a larger audience. And I, you know, think that, sure, there will be ways around this. There should be ways around it. But I hope that we'll strike -- that the Supreme Court will strike this legislation down because the government here has tried to shut people up.

I mean, there's -- the lower court upheld a provision that prevents at any time during the course of the year an issue ad mentioning the name of a candidate. My goodness, this is not the old Soviet Union, this is the United States of America. People ought to be free to criticize us at any time.

WOODRUFF: Senator Mitch McConnell, who -- whose lawsuit sparked this whole thing today, this almost unprecedented hearing for four hours. Senator, good to see you, thank you very much, we appreciate it.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Judy. Pleasure to be with you.

WOODRUFF: Ahead, a California recall edition of our "Campaign News Daily."

And would the Democratic presidential race make a good movie?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With less than a month to go before election day, the California recall leads the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

Absentee voters can pick up their ballots starting today. Governor Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger both plan town hall- style meetings to get face to face with voters. Schwarzenegger plans to take audience questions this evening at Chaplain University in Orange. Davis has scheduled a similar meeting in Los Angeles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a new and somewhat unexpected ally on the campaign trail -- his wife, Maria Shriver. She's scheduled to attend a voter registration event later this afternoon at a Sacramento Wal-Mart as part of the Schwarzenegger campaign voter registration drive. INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's it going?

KERRY: Fine. It's going great. Great day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we bring a six pack of beer to our interview tonight would you drink one with us?

KERRY: You're damn right I would. Maybe more than one.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what my grandchildren call me? "Doodle." and when I'm really good, I'm "Super Doodle."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Supposedly unscripted scenes from the campaign trail. Independent filmmakers profiled each of the '04 Democrats to help a labor union assess the candidates on a more personal level. At the very least it may give the members a taste for hot dogs and beer.

That's it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS from the Supreme Court. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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




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