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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Rumsfeld Testifies on Hill; Clark Under Fire From Democrats

Aired September 24, 2003 - 16:001   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: The president's Iraq warriors, in the trenches on Capitol Hill.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Is $87 billion a great deal of money? The answer is yes.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Where's the mandate for that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have a money problem. We have a political problem.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's heartless. It's reckless. And it's wrong.

ANNOUNCER: Wesley Clark takes on the president -- not on war, but on tax cuts. The general is taking flak himself, from his primary rivals.

Get ready for a debate double-header. Will Arnold Schwarzenegger hit one out of the park in California tonight, or strike out his first time at bat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're out!

ANNOUNCER: And will the '04 Democrats play rough tomorrow, now that Wesley Clark is in the field?

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

Well, while President Bush was in New York today, still trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of key U.S. allies, some of his top guns were also facing a tough crowd here on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers again demanded answers about the situation in Iraq and its multi-billion- dollar price tag.

Here now, our Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl.

Jon, the president's advisers having to play some defense up on the Hill today? JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and they were out in force here, Judy.

You had Vice President Cheney up here with closed-door meetings with Republicans, some of whom are very concerned about the way the situation is going. You also had the chief administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, before two committees. He is still testify of testifying.

And the most contentious hearing up here was with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He faced angry Democrats, including one Democrat who said the administration was arrogantly assuming that Congress would simply pay whatever price the administration asked for for Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: We want to be good Americans. We want a bipartisan foreign policy. We know the time is tough. We want to be with you.

RUMSFELD: I can tell you...

FEINSTEIN: But there's a feeling that you know it all. The administration knows it all. And nobody else knows anything. And, therefore, we're here just to say, "Yes, sir. How high do we jump? And at some point we refuse to jump. "

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld acknowledged that $87 billion is a lot of money, but he said it was affordable in the light of the size of the overall American economy, and that it was absolutely necessary when you consider the price of another terrorist attack. He said America's got to finish the job, and this is affordable and worth doing.

But one of the most interesting parts of the hearing came after Rumsfeld had been repeatedly hit by Democrats who said he had misleaded -- misled the Congress, misled the American people about how difficult this process would be in the run-up to the war. Rumsfeld defended not just the administration on this, but his own honor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: I have bent over backwards trying to be as forthright and candid and accurate and balanced in how I've characterized what's taking place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

RUMSFELD: I guess time will tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, some conservative Republicans and Democrats are saying that the $20 billion that's going for rebuilding Iraq should be a loan instead of a grant. Rumsfeld said that would not work, that Iraq still has too much debt. And Cheney in private offered a different explanation, saying that if Iraq's oil revenues were used to repay the United States, it would look like this war was fought for Iraq's oil revenues, and that's not the message he wants sent -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Jon Karl reporting on those hearings, and also from behind the scenes. Jon, thank you very much.

Well, a short while ago, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay offered a no-holds-barred defense of the Iraq war price tag, and he lambasted Democrats for what he calls "carping."

In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, DeLay said, -- quote -- "rather than a challenge of historic importance, too many Democrats treat the war on terror like a political nuisance" -- endquote.

Well, the newest member of the '04 presidential field has done his share of question-raising about Iraq. But Wesley Clark is trying to be more than a one-note candidate as he prepares for his first Democratic debate tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): On the one-week anniversary of his big announcement, a battle plan for the economy.

CLARK: There are great inequalities in this society. There's vast wealth, there's deep poverty. But that doesn't have to divide us as long as everyone has a chance.

WOODRUFF: The jobs plan is Clark's first major foray into the thicket of domestic issues. His $100 billion program would roll back the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans, earmarking that money for homeland and economic security, tax rebates for states, and business incentives.

CLARK: The president won't change his policies, so we have to change the president.

WOODRUFF: Clark rolled out the plan on the eve of his debate debut, trying to deflect criticism that he hasn't established credentials on domestic concerns.

Indeed, the retired general has built a candidacy around his opposition to the war in Iraq, accusing the president of alienating the international community.

CLARK: No one should be surprised that he's had difficulty getting assistance from friends and allies abroad. And I think that shows exactly the damage that he's done with this policy.

WOODRUFF: But Clark, of course, is not the only candidate to run on the war. And his rivals aren't about to let him monopolize the issue. HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will never send our sons and daughters and our brothers and sisters and our grandchildren to a foreign country to fight without telling the truth to the American people about why they're going.

WOODRUFF: And Howard Dean refuses to cede any new ground to the new guy. When Clark waffled over whether he would have voted for the Congressional war resolution, Dean declared himself "shocked."

And then there's the question of party. Clark recently declared himself a Democrat, but acknowledged he's voted Republican before. That prompted a sharp rebuke from John Kerry, who told "The Miami Herald," "I know that when he voted for Nixon or Reagan, I was fighting against both of them."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And that's a quick look at the presidential field.

Now to the other high profile candidate set to make his debate debut. Arnold Schwarzenegger's only faceoff with his California recall rivals begins about five hours from now.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is at the debate site in Sacramento.

Kelly, how much do we know about any Schwarzenegger strategy for this debate?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the Schwarzenegger strategy going into the debate appears to be trying to downplay expectations.

One aide put it to me this way. He said, "Look, this debate is important. But also, Californians know this is the first time the candidate is ever participating in such a forum." The thinking is that low expectations could really help Schwarzenegger. If he gives a good, decent, confident performance, he could be viewed as a winner. We certainly know low expectations have worked before in the past for other candidates, including President Bush before his first debate during the presidential campaign with Vice President Al Gore.

Aides say to prepare, Schwarzenegger has been doing mock debates. No word on who plays the other major candidate. And aides also know that Schwarzenegger is going to be the target of attacks by these other candidates. How he handles those attacks will be critical. But some observers also say there are risks for these other major candidates if they are viewed as being too aggressive, too negative. That could hurt them, and help Schwarzenegger.

All in all, Judy, the thinking is the stakes are very high for all the major candidates. But that the pressure is highest for Arnold Schwarzenegger. His poll numbers have not gone up significantly over recent weeks.

Also, Republicans are talking about having one of the major candidates get out of the race. Schwarzenegger makes a big mistake, the pressure could be on him, not State Senator Tom McClintock, to get out -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Hmm. All right. Kelly Wallace. I guess not a lot of surprise that they are trying to lower expectations. All right. Kelly at the debate site in Sacramento.

This is probably going to be the most watched state debate any time -- at any time across the country. And you can watch it for yourself tonight right here. CNN is going to carry it live starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

Well, for political junkies, it is the ultimate double feature. Star candidates premiering on the debate stage, two days in a row. You can be sure our Bill Schneider will be watching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It's the new TV season with two new political debate shows.

In California, it's all about Arnold. While the candidates got the questions ahead of time, don't expect them to stick to the script.

From the left, Arianna Huffington will try to expose Schwarzenegger as a Bush clone.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: I just got some fresh gas for you. Just picked it up.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: Thank you, Bushy.

SCHNEIDER: From the right, Tom McClintock will try to corner the Republican vote by exposing Schwarzenegger as anything but a Bush clone.

Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante will argue that Schwarzenegger doesn't know anything about state government.

For Schwarzenegger, the debate can either establish or demolish his credibility, which was a little shaky at the outset.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your plan to cut the state budget?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: We will have a plan very soon.

SCHNEIDER: But it's picked up lately. He's come up with an intriguing environmental plan.

SCHWARZENEGGER: As governor, I will create a network of hydrogen highways throughout California, with a clean hydrogen fuel stations every 20 miles to help clean our air.

SCHNEIDER: Then there's the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday. Call that show, "All Eyes on the New Guy," Retired General Wesley Clark, who got into the race a week ago and instantly became the front-runner. Now comes the tough part. Who is he? What does he stand for? For instance, on prescription drugs.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you support either of the plans, the House version, the Senate version that are currently be being kicked around in conference in Washington?

CLARK: No, I haven't supported either one of those.

BROWN: Do you expect to? Or would you rather come up with your own?

CLARK: We'll produce our own ideas on this.

SCHNEIDER: Clark's reversals last week on the issue of the Iraq war resolution -- first he said he would have voted for it, then he said he wouldn't have -- created consternation in Democratic circles.

Is this guy ready for primetime? The other candidates will raise that question subtly. Because beating up a movie star is one thing, beating up a retired general is something else entirely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Look for fireworks in the California debate. You've got a Democrat, two Republicans, an independent, and a Green Party candidate all mixing it up. And the vote is less than two weeks away. Expect fewer sparks to fly in the presidential debate. They're all Democrats. And the first primary is still not for four months -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Very true. Right around the corner. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well debate performances can be important, but up next, it's not too soon to ask a question about Wesley Clark. How is his campaign playing in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Also ahead, are some Republicans panning the president's latest U.N. speech? Bob Novak has the "Inside Buzz."

Plus, Senator Hillary Clinton censored? Details to come on INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: CNN has learned that Erskine Bowles will announce as early as tomorrow that he will run for the North Carolina Senate seat being vacated by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Bowles, a businessman, was Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and was a Democratic Senate nominee in 2002 but lost to Elizabeth Dole in the general election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Iowa's Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has added a tenth, hear it from the Heartland issues forum so that Wesley Clark can meet with Iowa voters. The event will be held October 6. Harkin has organized similar events for the nine other Democratic hopefuls.

With me now to talk more about Wesley Clark's chances in Iowa, as well as New Hampshire, are two veteran political reporters. David Yepsen of "The Des Moines register." He's in Des Moines. And David Nyhan of "The Eagle Tribune" newspapers. He is in Boston.

David Yepsen, to you first. We're only a week in, but what impressions so far has Wesley Clark left with the voters of Iowa, would you say?

DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES" REGISTER: I think very few, Judy. He made one stop in Iowa City, Iowa for a long-scheduled experience and met a few people and then he was gone.

One thing significant, Judy, that he was not doing, none of his people were collecting any names of supporters. He had about 1,000 people that showed up at the university of Iowa. He got a decent reception. And then he was gone.

If you're not at this stage of the game organizing your people to turn out on caucus night, then you're missing the boat.

WOODRUFF: And quickly, how does that compare to the other Democrats at this point?

YEPSEN: They're way ahead of him. They've got staff on the ground. They've been here for months. They've spent a lot of time here. General Clark is going to have to try to run a wholesale campaign in a retail state, and I'm not sure he can do it.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Nyhan, what about in New Hampshire. What are the voters there seeing or hearing of General Clark so far?

DAVID NYHAN, "EAGLE TRIBUNE" NEWSPAPERS: Well, the people I talked to, everybody's astonished that Clark did so well coming out of the gate in the poll. But given the fact that Howard Dean surged to the front in New Hampshire was propelled by his opposition to the Iraq war people were astonished when Clark first said he would have voted for the war resolution because the president deserved to be supported on a war resolution and then that he would have opposed it.

So I think he stumbled coming out of the gate. It remains to be seen whether he's a Seabiscuit of a candidate. But he better be because with barely four months to go in voting in the first primary in New Hampshire, he's way behind the others in terms of organizing on the ground just as David Yepsen finds in Iowa.

WOODRUFF: All right give me a quick example of that, David Nyhan. How is he behind the others?

NYHAN: Well, some of them, people like Kerry, Gephardt and Howard Dean, whose organization has surged on this great -- the great wave of antipathy towards President Bush among Democratic core primary voters, they have built substantial organizations. They have offices in different cities and towns around the state. People are pouring money into the Dean campaign. I mean, it's really a phenomenal growth (UNINTELLIGIBLE) $20 million in this quarter.

WOODRUFF: Still?

NYHAN: Absolutely, yes. And what I find and some of the Kerry people agree with me is that Kerry as a former front runner underestimated the depth of antipathy to President Bush and to his policies and to people like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Cheney and Tom DeLay. The Democrats in New Hampshire are boiling to get a crack at the administration. And Dean was the messenger they selected out of this deck that now includes ten cards.

WOODRUFF: So, David Yepsen, give us a little more of the lay of the land in Iowa. You're saying Clark's barely put his toe in the water there. But what about for the rest of the candidates?

YEPSEN: I think Governor Dean is running quite well. He's got a good organization. He's spent time here. I see nothing that changes my view that he's a front-runner right now.

Dick Gephardt is right behind him, got a lot of support from labor unions, picked up another won in the laborers. He's got thousands of union members supporting him.

And I think Senator Kerry, he's down, but he's certainly not out. He's coming out here in a few days with Senator Kennedy to try to add a little juice to his campaign here.

So these guys have got time to get their campaigns either reignited or to light some fires. General Clark has done none of the basic organizing in Iowa. And I think he sounded an uncertain trumpet with his waffling on whether he would have voted for this war resolution or not.

I was talking to one of Howard Dean's people who said he was really worried about General Clark when he got into the race. And once he saw that Clark waffled on the war issue, he's not worried about the man anymore. If you sound an uncertain trumpet, who will follow? I think General Clark has done that with the anti-war movement. They're just not sure about him. They've got a horse to ride, and that's Howard Dean.

WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. I hope we can talk to you both very soon. David Nyhan with us from Boston, David Yepsen from Des Moines, thank you both.

YEPSEN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And now a few updates on other Democratic candidates in our "Campaign News Daily." John Kerry has picked up his first national union endorsement. The International Association of Firefighters announced that it is backing Kerry, making the group the first national labor organization to back a candidate other than Dick Gephardt. Speaking of Gephardt, the Missouri congressman has added another union to his commanding lead in the hunt for labor support. The Laborers International Union of North America signed on to the Gephardt campaign today in Chicago. It is Gephardt's 14th union endorsement. The union has 800,000 members.

A new poll finds increasing number of New York voters do not support a 2004 presidential run by Senator Hillary Clinton. The Marist College Survey shows that 69 percent of state voters do not want Senator Clinton to enter the current race for the White House. That's up from April when 54 percent opposed her entry into the campaign.

On a related matter, publisher Simon and Schuster is demanding that a censored version of Senator Clinton's autobiography be recalled. A Chinese publisher removed portions of book considered unfavorable to the Chinese government. Senator Clinton today called the unauthorized credits, quote, "unbelievable."

Coming up, Wesley Clark under fire. When will his Democratic rivals attack next and how? Bob Novak has the "Inside Buzz."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak her now with some "Inside Buzz." All right, you've been talking to people, reaction to the president's U.N. speech yesterday.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Yes, I've been talking to Republicans, Judy, and they do not -- not -- feel he hit a home run at the U.N. They didn't think it was that great a speech.

And it didn't address what they really were worried about, and that is constituents are telling Republican members of Congress, Why do we not have money to pay for our sewers and our schools and we're throwing all that money into Iraq? That's a real political problem and it worries them.

There's also some Republicans who wonder why there were no Republicans on the morning network shows this morning. They saw Dean. They saw Clark. They didn't see anybody from the White House.

WOODRUFF: That's got to have the White House worried if the Republicans are saying that.

Let's turn to Wesley Clark. What are you hearing about the '04 Democrats and him?

NOVAK: I've checked some of the people of the '04 Democrats. And they wonder whether the Thursday night debate is the format to really hit him.

But sooner or later, they are going to really start taking pot shots at the new national front-runner on questions of, what is his position on partial birth abortion? Why did he -- what is his real position on whether he would have voted for the war in Iraq? Did he vote for Reagan and Nixon?

Just because he's got four stars or had four stars doesn't mean he's going to be immune. They're ready to go after him now that he's got such a commanding -- such a good position in the national poll.

WOODRUFF: All right, let's finally turn to the U.S. Senate and somebody who hasn't been doing a lot of fund-raising, but now he is.

NOVAK: In the mail, there are invitations from Senator Trent Lott, the former majority leader and his charming wife. A holiday weekend in New York with the Lotts December 5 through the 7th. Including a special feature of going to Radio City Music Hall and seeing the Christmas show with the Rockettes. You've seen that, haven't you?

WOODRUFF: No, I haven't.

NOVAK: Well maybe this is your chance.

There's one thing about this alert to save the day, they don't say what the price is. This is a fund-raiser and I wonder what that charge is. That might influence your decision, I suppose, how much the cost is.

WOODRUFF: You'll have to find out how much it eventually goes for.

NOVAK: What do you think it was? Do you want me to make a prediction?

WOODRUFF: I'm sure it's up in the millions. We'll find out.

All right, that's the next story from Bob Novak. Thank you, Bob. We'll see you very soon.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey is aiming high in his race for the New Jersey State Senate. Glen Cunningham is using campaign money to publish a comic book portraying himself as the superhero "Mayor-Man." The hero rescues a child from the path of a speeding car and captures an escaped prisoner, all while keeping taxes low. Cunningham says the book is all in fun. I wonder if the voters there are going to hold him to it.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. And just a reminder, you can watch the California recall debate tonight here on CNN starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific live.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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