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Bush Defends Foreign Policy; Does Gephardt Hire Signal Message to Gay Voters?

Aired October 28, 2003 - 16:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't put it any more plainly - Iraq's a dangerous place. That's leveling.

ANNOUNCER: Laying it on the line in Iraq. Is there anything the president can say to ease voters' worries about the violence?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: There is a growing credibility gap between what is said and what is being done.

ANNOUNCER: Dick Gephardt and the...



ANNOUNCER: It's called "On the Road with Joe". But should Lieberman's new ad campaign be dubbed "Joe on the Defensive?"

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


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

We begin with President Bush struggling to maintain public support for his policies in Iraq, a task that is complicated by almost daily violence. At least two people were killed in a suicide bombing in Fallujah today after a wave of suicide attacks yesterday left more than 30 people dead.

Mr. Bush held a rare, formal news conference today to again defend the U.S. mission in Iraq. But some Democrats on Capitol Hill were not impressed.

Our John King is at the White House; our Jonathan Karl is on the Hill.

First, John King, to you.

John, these daily images of soldiers and Iraqis getting killed -- how is that affecting the administration's efforts to sell the American people on what they're trying to do?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, administration officials concede it makes it much for difficult for the president, as he did throughout 48 minutes in the Rose Garden today, to try to make the case that Iraq has a new currency, Iraq has new hospitals and new schools, that Iraqi policemen are beginning to take their jobs. Makes it much more difficult for the president to call this a success when, by the day, we see more bombings, especially in recent days, much more coordination and sophistication of the bombing attacks in Iraq.

This afternoon, as we speak, there is another urgent strategy session here at the White House. The defense secretary, the top commanding general and others trying to decide what they should do to adjust the tactics in Iraq. The president himself conceded today, while defending his strategy, that he needed to adjust the tactics to take into account these recent attacks. The president also trying to make the case that there's a lot of politics in this debate right now. His speaking in the Rose Garden today was one way of responding to all of the Democratic criticism. But Mr. Bush suggests he'll be more aggressive in the campaign to come.


BUSH: I will defend my record at the appropriate time. I look forward to it. I'll say that the world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership and America's more secure. And that will be the -- that will be the -- that will be how I'll begin describing our foreign policy.


KING: Mr. Bush also defending again today his decision back on May 1 to go to the aircraft carrier, the "USS Abraham Lincoln," and declare major combat operations over, although he did say that a banner displayed on the ship that day, saying mission accomplished, was put there by the navy to salute the sailors on that ship. The president says it was not put there by the White House to suggest any broader message that the overall mission was accomplished. Evidence today in Iraq, Judy. and in that news conference, still much more work to be done on that front.

WOODRUFF: Very interesting. All right. John, I want you to hang on for just a minute.

I want to turn now to Jon Karl at the Capitol.

Jon, given what the president is saying right now about Iraq, what are Democrats saying in response?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, about a half an hour after the president finished his press conference, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle came out and gave a blunt response, saying that he disagrees with the president's assessment that the world is more safe and peaceful, and the United States more secure under his leadership. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: I don't agree with that assessment today. I think that we still have a lot of work to do to be more secure and more free. I think that we need to find ways with which to deal with the international community more effectively. I think we've lost a tremendous amount of credibility around the world, in large measure as a result of the Bush foreign policy.


KARL: In some particularly barbed comments, Daschle said that the president only makes the problem worse when he talks about progress in Iraq.


DASCHLE: If this is progress, I don't know how much more progress we can take. I would also say that there is a growing credibility gap between what is said and what is being done.


KARL: But even with tough criticism like that coming from the Democrats, the president seems to be getting almost exactly what he wants from Congress in terms of support for Iraq.

On the question of the $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, final work is being done on that deal between House and Senate negotiators. And right now, sources tell CNN that it looks like the president will get exactly what he wants in terms of having the money for Iraq being a direct grant, not a loan. That deal may be wrapped up tonight or by tomorrow -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I know that would be a big relief for the White House. All right. Jon Karl.

Now quickly back to John King.

John, you said the president has been and will continue to defend his policy in Iraq. But given this -- this crescendo do of criticism, not just Democrats on the Hill, Democrats on the campaign trail, what is that -- is that causing the White House to rethink how they defend Iraq next year, when the president is out there campaigning?

KING: Well, Judy, one of the reasons you saw the president in the Rose Garden today was because of that very question. They had decided some days ago perhaps to have a news conference when Mr. Bush came back from Asia because of the attacks in recent days and because of the sharp criticism from the Democrats in the wake of those attacks. They decided to put the president himself out today to answer the criticism and one of the subjects in the urgent strategy sessions is how can the administration accelerate the planning, the training of Iraqis to get the Iraqi military and Iraqi police force up and running quicker? They know that by early next year, they have to begin to show voters that progress on the security front -- not just opening the schools and hospitals -- but progress on the security front has improved substantially in Iraq. They know they need to be able to make that case, and make it quite soon.

WOODRUFF: All right. John King at the White House, Jonathan Karl at the Capitol, thank you both.

As Republicans and Democrats square off over Iraq and look ahead to next year's election, you can be sure they're keeping tabs on public opinion.

So is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, you've looked at new numbers. What is the public view of the war? Is it changing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what the public has done is turn against the post-war policy in Iraq. As of this weekend, when our poll was taken, before the latest bombings in Baghdad, most Americans continue to feel Iraq was worth going to war over. That number is down from the three quarters who felt that way in April, shortly after the major fighting end. But it's still a majority and it's held steady for the past two months.

However, the public has turned critical of the way the U.S. is handling the post-war situation in Iraq. Only 47 percent approve of what we're doing there now, down from 80 percent in April.

The issue is what the U.S. is doing in Iraq now, not last spring. Anti-war Democrats should keep that distinction in mind. You know, back in 1972, most Americans wanted to get out of Vietnam. But when the Democrats nominated an anti-war candidate, the voters still found his views on the war too extreme.

WOODRUFF: Bill, do most people think that the war accomplished its purpose?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, they're not sure. President Bush sold the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism -- overthrowing Saddam Hussein would make the U.S. safer. But do Americans actually feel safer?

Well, they're split. Forty-five percent say they feel safer; 43 percent feel less safe. By the way, most men do feel safer, but women don't. Many Americans and, in particular women, see the bombings in Baghdad as evidence that Saddam Hussein's forces are still a threat to the U.S., certainly overseas, and possibly at home.

WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, I know the poll also asks people about the economy. There have been some good economic numbers coming out lately. What is the public saying about that, though?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there is some good news, even though three- quarters of Americans continue to describe the nation's economy as in bad shape. More and more people are saying things are getting better; 40 percent in September, 45 percent in early October, 47 percent now.

Does the expectation that things will get better affect the way people vote? You bet it does. Take a look at voters who think the economy is not good right now, but it's getting better. By a margin of better than two-to- one, they say they're likely to vote for President Bush over the Democratic Party's candidate next year. President bush may not need good times to win re-election. He may need the expectation of good times. And that's growing -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, as you said, that is good news at the White House.


WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you.

Well, the '04 Democrats, for their part, are busy fine tuning their strategies. Up next, we'll get a reality check on two of the contenders and what their latest moves say about their campaigns.

Plus, I will ask Gephardt campaign co-chairman David Mixner about his job and the message he sends to gay voters.

And what do you get when you mix hip-hop music and Bill Clinton?

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


WOODRUFF: President Bush did not mince words today when asked about several controversial moral issues. Mr. Bush was asked if he thought his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, was right to intervene in the legal battle over a brain damaged woman. He was also asked if he plans to sign the recently passed ban on the procedure referred to by opponents as partial birth abortion.


BUSH: Yes, I believe my brother made the right decision. Yes, I'll sign the ban on partial birth abortion. And no, I don't think the culture has changed to the extent that the American people or the Congress would totally ban abortions.


WOODRUFF: In this instance, a man of few words. INSIDE POLITICS returns in 90 seconds.


WOODRUFF: Checking the Tuesday headlines in "Campaign News Daily" Joe Lieberman is launching his first two TV ads in New Hampshire tomorrow. In one spot, he criticizes the president's tax cuts for having what he calls outrageous loop holes for corporations.

In the other ad Lieberman says he voted for the $87 billion proposal to rebuild Iraq even though the president's post-war policies are misguided.


LIEBERMAN: That's the price we're paying because George Bush antagonized our allies and had no plan to win the peace. But we had to make the choice. I didn't duck it. I didn't play politics. I voted to support our troops and finish the job.


WOODRUFF: For his part, Democrat Howard Dean has picked up the support of Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Jackson said yesterday he supports Dean and plans to make a formal endorsement soon. Dean has also picked up the backing of the California Teacher's Association, an affiliate of the powerful National Education Association.

For more on the political fortunes of Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman, I'm joined by our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. Candy, these new Lieberman ads, how do they fit in with what he's trying to do?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's trying to win third in New Hampshire, at least a respectable fourth. He's taken his resources, moved them into New Hampshire.

I think these ads say, Look here, there's 50 percent -- as the Lieberman camp sees it, there's 50 percent of the voters either in the Dean or Kerry side.

But there's the other 50 percent and as you know Independents can vote in New Hampshire, that are kind of are up for grabs. So this is where he's going.

I think the ads are interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it's Lieberman's way of still trying to parse the war. He was very for the war. He's voted for the $87 billion, and yet it has to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) negative terms.

And what happens here is that I think is that you get a very real sense of how this race and every race before it has been shaped by events because when the Lieberman campaign started out in January, they thought his being pro-war was going to be a big selling point. That he could say, I stood with the president when I needed to, buy now, on the economy, here's what he's doing wrong.

And they've really had to revamp this into what is Joe Lieberman's signature issue. And in this case, they hope it's tax reform. And that's what you saw in the economic ad.

WOODRUFF: And he's not backing down on the war. He's stuck with that vote and he...


CROWLEY: ... but notice in the ad, he never said, I voted for the war. He just said, I voted for the $87 billion to protect the troops. And he's back to the integrity issue. That's the other thing is that they think one of the main selling points for Joe Lieberman is to remind voters of what they liked about him before. And it's like, I'm not playing politics, I say what I want...


WOODRUFF: All right, Howard Dean picking up the endorsement of the California teachers. Also picking up, very interestingly, endorsement coming from Jesse Jackson Jr.

CROWLEY: Yes. Couple of things, I think. We'll put the caveat in endorsements. There's a lot of debate over how much they really help. Helps if you get a group, because they have an infrastructure. But the fact of the matter is people vote on the man.

However, I think the California one speaks to the win ability of Dean. It's finally -- when he first started out, it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Howard Dean? Who's Howard Dean. Then it became yes, but he can't win the primary.

Well now, you know, when you start to get name endorsements, it speaks to your winnability particularly at this point. The Jesse Jackson Jr. thing -- obviously, right now most of Dean's support comes from the liberal -- moderate to liberal upper middle class white vote.

He needs, especially, when he gets into South Carolina, into Arizona, into New Mexico, that minority vote, insofar as Jesse Jackson begins to put a minority face within the Dean campaign, that's got to help.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're looking at those campaigns and Candy is right on top of it all. Thank you very much.


WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And just a quick correction on a story that we reported here yesterday. In a report on presidential candidates and their campaign books, we said that Senator John Edwards' book would be published in January.

Well it turns out that was wrong. The book actually is going to come out in late November. And we want everybody to get ready to rush to the book stores for his book and the book of all the other candidates who've written one.

Dick Gephardt names a new campaign co-chair. Next, I will talk with Gephardt's newest adviser, David Mixner, about his long career a as a party activist and political liaison to the gay and lesbian community.


WOODRUFF: The newest co-chairman of Congressman Dick Gephardt's presidential campaign in David Mixner. He is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. He's also known for his ability to organize political support in the gay and lesbian communities.

David Mixner, thank you for dropping by.

DAVID MIXNER, CO-CHMN., GEPHARDT CAMPAIGN: Thank you for having me here today.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. You and I were saying this may be the first time a major presidential candidate named an openly gay advocate, as you are, to be co-chair of the campaign, a top organizer. Why is that?

MIXNER: Well I think it's a yard stick of the success that the gay and lesbian community has had since political the campaign of Bill Clinton in 1992 which was the turning point for gays and lesbians in American politics.

And I think now they're looking for talented people, people who have outreach into a number of communities, labor, gay and lesbian, the HIV community, which is far beyond gay and lesbian.

And so I would hope that I was chosen for a lot of reasons, not just because I happen to be gay and lesbian. But I'm very proud I'm one of the first.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about some of the issues that are going to come up. I know you're very aware of this. Already, there is talk about the role of gay marriage, whether this issue is going to be a big deal in these campaigns.

Now, as I understand it, Congressman Gephardt has said at this point, he's not in favor of gay marriage. He is for civil unions. Are you comfortable with his position?

MIXNER: Yes, in fact, all the Democratic candidates are practically in the same place. No Democratic candidate has come out for gay marriage.

The real issue here, there are over 1,000 rights, privileges and benefits granted all other Americans that are denied gay and lesbian Americans. I don't really care what they name it. I really care that the people and immigration issues and taxation issues and bereavement rights and family leave rights have the same rights as any other American. That's what I care about.

I'm very proud that Congressman Gephardt has come out for civil unions. I think it is a major step over the last ten years. And I think this issue will be attempted to be made an issue by the Republicans and the extreme right of the Republican Party this election. They'll fail.

The American people are going to judge this election on the economy, and if there's great casualties in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: How can be so sure that it's going to fail? Because you do have -- there was another report in "The Washington Post" over the weekend quoting senior people in the Christian Right movement saying, We are determined to make this an issue. This is a higher priority for us than even abortion.

MIXNER: Oh I believe that they're determined. And I think they'd like to raise money off my civil rights and dignity and integrity if they had the chance. I have no doubt about their determination.

But I also have no doubt about history. Time and time again when the American people have had to pick between a candidate who represented the economy and jobs and work, versus whether they care about gay marriage, even though they might be against gay marriage, has always chosen jobs over gay marriage.

You know, Pat Buchanan -- and Robertson, at the convention -- Pat Robertson at the convention -- tried to make this issue in 1992 against Bill Clinton and it backfired badly against President Bush.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the state of Iowa. Obviously, first state conducting its caucuses on January the 19th. There was a poll done there by "The Des Moines Register" in September. We've got a graphic here.

Found 65 percent of the state's adults want to keep the states ban on gay marriage in effect, 23 percent support legalizing marriage between same-sex partners. In other words, it's lopsided against gay marriage.

Again, I understand what you're saying, that gay marriage, the candidates are there. But is this something that for, you know, for whether it's Dick Gephardt or any other Democrats, it's going to be a problem for them to even be talking about civil unions?

MIXNER: No, I don't think so, really. I disagree for any of the other Democrats. I don't think American people, every time they have seen and had the chance to vote on whether to take away rights from gays and lesbians.

And in this case, they're talking about a constitutional amendment, putting in the Constitution of the United States basically an apartheid law. Taking away rights from gays and lesbians. They don't want to take away rights that gays and lesbians have. They don't want us to feel like we're getting anything special, either.

And I believe, though, if you ask people in that same poll if you had to choose between your job and whether you want gays and lesbians to get married, I'll tell you where the poll results. It will be 89 percent saying, I want a job first. And that's what it's about. I want health care first. I want this deficit erased. I want our boys home safely from Iraq.

WOODRUFF: So we may be hearing the framework of some of the debate we'll be hearing next year on the trail.

MIXNER: I think you are. WOODRUFF: David Mixner, good to see you. Thanks very much for coming by.

MIXNER: Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

In the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton is a star unlike any other. But is a solo performance by the former president enough to attract younger voters?



BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When people ask you tomorrow why you showed up here tonight and wrote a check, tell them it's because you want an America where we all good forward together. Tell them it's because you want a world where we're making more friends and fewer terrorists. Tell them it's because you want people in office who are thinking about your children and not what's right in front of their noses.


WOODRUFF: With a little help from hip-hop artists, it was none other than Bill Clinton who urged young professionals to open their wallets and give to the Democratic Party. The former president, singer Ginuwine and rapper Big Boi helped the DNC pull in an estimated $250,000 at Washington's Dream nightclub last night.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


Message to Gay Voters?>

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