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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Election Year Politics

Aired February 7, 2004 - 19:00   ET

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

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to a special election edition of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.
On Tuesday, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts won five of seven state Democratic contests, and the presidential candidates began firing at each other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a new president, not someone from inside the Beltway who's spent 15 years taking as much special interest money as they could possibly get.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the only United States Senator who has been elected four times who has voluntarily refused to take any political action committee special interest money.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Edwards, as I've announced earlier today, in his approach to veterans' affairs decided to side with supporting corporate interests at the expense of veterans.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the kind of petty sniping that people are sick of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Former Vermont governor Howard Dean Thursday morning declared his commitment to winning Saturday's Michigan caucuses, asserting, quote, "We're working our rear ends off here," end quote. When polls showed him well behind frontrunner John Kerry, Governor Dean canceled the rest of his Michigan appearances and switched his emphasis to the Wisconsin primary on February 17.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: This is going to be a fully contested, fully fought-out primary, the first one since Iowa and New Hampshire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The University of Wisconsin Badger poll shows a big Kerry lead in that state, with Dean far behind, tied for fourth.

Al, with John Kerry's victory just in Washington state announced today, can Howard Dean's Wisconsin strategy turn this around and save his campaign?

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, I think that Washington and probably Michigan later are just icing on the Kerry nomination cake, so the answer is no. The only model for a comeback of this sort -- after tonight, Howard Dean will be 0 for 11 -- the only semi-model is Ronald Reagan in 1976, came back after a series of defeats. And I make two points about that. No. 1, Howard Dean is not Ronald Reagan. And No. 2, even the Gipper fell short.

I think that most -- the vast majority of Democratic voters all over the country have concluded that Howard Dean -- great protest candidate in 2003, energized a lot of newcomers to the party, but he is not the man to take on George W. Bush.

SHIELDS: Wisconsin -- just postponing the inevitable, Bob, moving back the goalposts?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Absolutely. You know, they keep -- they keep moving it, and they say, Well, we're going to -- we're going to go back and do very well in -- in -- I guess it was Michigan (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Michigan is a disaster. So what, next week is Tennessee and Virginia. We can't do that. Two weeks is Wisconsin. We think we can do it. Now, this is over. I never said that about Dean because I never thought -- I always thought something bad was going to happen to Dean, and it did. But this is over. Kerry is going to be the nominee. The people in the party -- that's why they're all endorsing him. They want -- they want to get it over with. And for Dean to do so badly in a state like Washington, a left- wing Democratic state where they drink lattes...

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: ... and God knows what other unspeakable things they do, it's just ridiculous...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... like latte, too, Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Right.

SHIELDS: Just one thing on -- on -- Wolf announced at the beginning -- at the top of the hour that this State, County and Municipal Employees Union, big public employees union that had joined with the Service Employees to endorse Howard Dean in a major event in November...

NOVAK: And to deprive Gephardt of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SHIELDS: And Dick Gephardt, hurting -- undermined Dick Gephardt chances -- that Gerry McIntee (ph), the president of AFSCME, met with Howard Dean today and said he wasn't going to support him anymore. There's a guy that's really with you through thick and thick, huh?

CARLSON: Oh, right.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Yes, I mean, who's going to come out of this worse, Gerald McIntee or Howard Dean, at this point?

SHIELDS: I bet on...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I bet on McIntee.

CARLSON: Shame on McIntee for doing that. Listen, in Washington, Dennis Kucinich got, what, 8 percent? The vegan vote finally came out. It's located in Washington state. Listen, Howard Dean -- he was going to go to Washington. He was going to go to Michigan. Now he's only going to go to Wisconsin. But he might not even go there if he sees that he's losing. But he's now on the record for that, and I think he's got to find a way to get out gracefully. I don't think he needs to for purposes of John Kerry because I think John Kerry looks fine with Dean in the race because by contrast, he's a profile in courage.

SHIELDS: Profile in courage?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I think...

SHIELDS: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I think you should look at the remaining field. Howard Dean did more than just energize an awful lot of supporters who, in turn, supported him financially early, before most other people were paying attention, which was the problem. They weren't very representative. He did more than energize them, though. He so spooked the rest of the field that he Dean-ified the field. They're now all as anti-war and as anti-Bush as Howard Dean was, which is why I think it doesn't come down to issues to divide these candidates. It does come down to electability. And even though John Kerry hasn't gotten above 50 percent, I don't think, yet in a primary, I don't think that's a weakness he's showing, by any means. I detect that the primary voters are broadly supportive of Kerry. He'll be a fine nominee. There's no anti-Kerry vote, I don't think. They just maybe have some sort of a preference at the moment for John Edwards.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: I think he's in a very strong position.

HUNT: I agree totally with what Kate just said, but I want to make one point about -- about John Kerry. John Kerry, I think it's important for him to win at least one of those two Southern primaries, Tennessee and Virginia, next Tuesday, not because it'll change the odds of the nomination. Bob's right. He's going to be the nominee. But if he doesn't win one of them, then that journalistic mantra, He can't win in the South, will take hold.

SHIELDS: OK, let me just -- let me make one point, and that is, first of all, I think Howard Dean did more than that. I think Howard Dean actually gave the Democrats a vertebrae transplant. I mean, he -- he said, look, fellows, you got to stand up there. And he did tap into what was really happening among Democratic voters. He didn't create that. I mean, he...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anti-Bush and anti-war.

SHIELDS: Well, I mean, he -- he -- and they galvanized -- and I think he made the others a lot better -- John Kerry's a lot better candidate than he was. But still, having said that, I have never heard the word "charismatic," "inspiring" or "mesmerizing" used in the same sentence with John Kerry. What makes him so unbeatable right now?

NOVAK: Because -- because he looks so much better than Dean. Dean turned out to be a terrible candidate. Let me tell you who else turned about to be a terrible candidate, and that was General Clark. I remember at the time that a lot of people were worried about Dean as a -- another McGovern, who would -- who would only win one state, they were saying, We get this general, NATO commander, four star -- and he -- he is just a jerk! I mean, the idea of talks -- of looking up one vote by Edwards, where he was against a corporate tax increase to fund veterans' programs and saying that this makes him anti-veterans, when he -- he votes for too much for veterans, in my opinion -- it's just -- it's just nasty...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You know, Kerry...

SHIELDS: ... John McCain and Chuck Hagel voted with him.

CARLSON: Yes. I mean, Edwards came right back on that. And Kerry's lucky that Clark has decided to go after Edwards and not go after him. I think the moment when the veteran came to Kerry's side in Des Moines will turn out to be the indelible moment of the campaign.

HUNT: It was an extraordinary moment.

SHIELDS: I think -- I think you're right...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... rattled the Bush people because now they don't have a guy who went skiing during Vietnam, they have a guy who was in the jungles of Vietnam while their guy was in...

HUNT: And Mark, can I say...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... one word about General Clark? He's a rookie, he's not a jerk.

SHIELDS: Yes, he is -- he is...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Well, and he said the same about you.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: The GANG of five will be back with the politics of an intelligence failure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. It's caucus day in Washington state. CNN has called the race for Senator John Kerry. As votes come in, we'll show them to you at the bottom of your screen.

Meanwhile, the CIA director delivered what he called a "provisional bottom line" on intelligence findings that led to the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production. However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On Friday, President Bush named a bipartisan commission to investigate the intelligence failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I think if the president's trying to push this off until after the election, he's already made it political.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell in a "Washington Post" interview said he didn't know whether he would have recommended an invasion of Iraq if he had known Iraq had no prohibited weapons. But then he backtracked a day later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president made the right decision. There should be no doubt in the mind of the American people or anyone else in the world that we have done the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, is President George W. Bush now vulnerable on the intelligence failures?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, the Democrats are so frustrated by the high marks the president continues to get as commander-in-chief, by the public support for the war with Iraq. They're about to nominate, it seems, an opponent of this war, that they are desperate to use the mistaken assessment by the CIA to somehow damage George Bush, but to do so, they have to totally ignore the facts. George Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell accepted the exact same assessment with respect to Iraq as did Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Margaret Albright -- Madeleine Albright.

And now they're alleging, out of thin air, that people in the White House -- this White House -- pressured the CIA. There's not only no evidence for that, there's directly contrary evidence. The Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence of that. David Kay says there's none. The CIA's own assessment says there's none. And the author of the report at issue under oath has said not only was he not pressured by this White House, they had given the same assessment to three administrations and six congressional committees for 15 years. It's the Democrats' credibility that ought to be shattered on this one.

SHIELDS: So I guess the president is politically vulnerable, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: What -- what is -- what is happening...

O'BEIRNE: You wish.

NOVAK: ... on -- on this is that the American people still support this war, but the president's popularity is plummeting. That's why Republicans in this town are in a panic. They shouldn't be in a panic. The question -- as far as I know, the general election's in November, not in April. It's a long way off. A lot of things...

HUNT: Boy, it's good to hear your insights.

CARLSON: Yes!

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... and a lot of things are going to happen in that period of time, but that right now, the president does have a credibility problem. That's why "Newsweek" has his popularity this week at, what, 47 percent. So I think he -- I think it is a very difficult issue for him, and that's why he has named a commission to try to get this behind him. As -- as Senator Kerry said, however, if the commission result doesn't come in until after the election, that's a political problem.

SHIELDS: Tony Blair's commission -- has a similar commission -- is coming in in July. The president's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not come in until March...

CARLSON: Right.

SHIELDS: ... which may suggest...

CARLSON: Yes. Maybe...

SHIELDS: ... as Bob pointed out, the calendar.

CARLSON: Right. And I agree with Bob, the election will be in November. Listen, there were -- if you asked the question -- if the Democrats ask the question, Knowing what you know now, would you have gone to war, would you have lost 350 soldiers and...

SHIELDS: It's 500.

CARLSON: ... wounded 150 more...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... then -- and you answer that question, No, the American people answer that question, No, I think Bush is in trouble. Why isn't he angrier about the fact that the intelligence was wrong and he went to war based on faulty intelligence? I don't see any upset there. He's named a commission reluctantly. And so I think he is vulnerable on this point, especially running against Senator John Kerry.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne says the president had the same information that Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton did. They did not say, Let's go to war. I mean -- and preemptive -- a preemptive war demands a higher level of certitude, it would strike me. I think most people would agree with that.

HUNT: Well, the American people were sold a fraudulent bill of goods. Now, why is what the inquiry is all about. But I agree with Robert again, the issue -- the political issue here is one of credibility. And I think this was a bad week for the Bush White House. First of all, you had Colin Powell saying one thing, We might not have gone if we had known this, then you had Don Rumsfeld...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he didn't say -- let's -- he said, Would you have gone? He said, I don't know.

HUNT: Right. Fine. Donald Rumsfeld said, Let's just dismiss the Kay report. We're going to find those -- we may find those weapons anyway. I mean, that, to put it mildly, is -- is conflicting voices. And the commission is going to backfire. They hurriedly put this thing together, and instead of picking a Republican who would have credibility with Democrats to head it -- you know, a Brent Scowcroft, even though he's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or a Larry Eagleburger or Warren Rudman, they picked a very political partisan who Democrats don't like. And for the Democrats, when they could have picked a Sam Nunn or someone like that who has credibility, instead they pick Chuck Robb, a very good guy -- but I'll tell you a quick story. Chuck Robb called from the White House Tom Daschle, 1:30 Friday afternoon, to say, Hey, I'm going to head this commission for the Democrats, and I wanted to call you this morning, but they told me if I did that, I wouldn't be on the commission.

SHIELDS: Who told him?

HUNT: Chuck Robb told Daschle that. That is a suggestion of a guy doesn't have a lot of backbone. (CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: The record has to show David -- the president did not go to war based on -- as a result of faulty intelligence. David Kay found -- what he did find in Iraq makes the case for a war against Saddam Hussein. He found Saddam had the intent to use the weapons. He had the laboratories. He had the scientists. Everybody agrees...

HUNT: But that wasn't the case the American people...

O'BEIRNE: ... he could have...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: No, no. Those were the weapons that frightened us. The only thing he didn't have was substantial stockpiles. That's the one thing David Kay has not found.

NOVAK: Let me just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for one thing -- the plus for the president is Saddam Hussein is gone and we got -- and that is a political plus.

CARLSON: That is a political plus...

NOVAK: And the other thing is that I can't sit here and not defend Judge Silberman, the co-Republican chairman, distinguished jurist. You may not like him, but he's a very distinguished and well- thought-of figure in this town.

HUNT: Not by Democrats.

CARLSON: And what -- wait...

SHIELDS: Not by Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Bob, you don't know any Democrats.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the politics of the president's election year budget.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Updating the Washington state caucuses held today, CNN projects that Senator John Kerry will be the winner. Throughout the hour, we'll continue to update the votes on the bottom of the screen.

Meanwhile, this week President Bush submitted an election year budget showing a record deficit of $521 billion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason we are where we are, in terms of the deficit is because we went through a recession, we were attacked, and we're fighting a war.

KERRY: The president is pursuing an economically irresponsible course by making permanent tax cuts that we can't afford, driving up the deficits of the nation.

DEAN: If you want jobs in America, we got to balance the budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is the budget deficit a good issue for the Democrats, or shouldn't the Republicans worry at all?

NOVAK: It's not a good issue. Molly and Sam don't sit around at the kitchen table and say, Molly, what do you think of the budget deficit? And Sam says, What we should do is get a balanced budget. Republicans had that delusion for years and years. What people are worried about is their income, their jobs. The economy, I hate to tell some of the people at this table, is going up. It's improving. There's going to be a tremendous job creation. And the deficit is a statistic that only -- that is trying to be used -- I think disingenuously by Democrats who didn't worry about it for the last half century.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Margaret...

CARLSON: Molly and Sam care about the deficit. Ross Perot made them care. And when Clinton left office with a surplus, people knew that the Rubin economy had given them jobs and savings. Now, Dick Cheney still says deficits don't matter...

SHIELDS: He learned that in the Reagan years.

CARLSON: ... but Republicans are coming to think they do, Bob. And there's grumbling on the Hill about the deficits. Bush literally promised the moon and tax cuts, and everyone knows that's ridiculous. And House Appropriations chairman Bill Young said, These numbers don't add up.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt?

HUNT: Well, Bob, I want to -- I'm not sure it's a great issue for Democrats, but it's not such a good issue for Republicans, either, and they're the ones -- it's this White House says, We're going to halve the deficit in the next five years. And when you bring that issue up, as the White House did, you got to get to tax increases. That's the only way you do it, if you want to do that, because as a matter of fact, George Bush's assumption of a $237 billion deficit by -- assumes a huge middle class tax increase because he does nothing about the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Secondly, Bob, I would just point to you that I think some of these -- if you really want to talk about taking issues to the American people, this is a -- every budget we've ever covered is political. This is the most political I've ever seen.

NOVAK: Oh!

HUNT: This year -- this year, we're fine with compassionate conservatism. After this year, we cut medical research. We cut -- budget -- cut special education. After the election. And Bob, I think this budget frames the debate perfectly for the year, but I'll tell you something. It's not something that can be taken seriously.

NOVAK: Well, you went -- you went -- you went far away from the deficit! The question was, Is the deficit a good issue? It's a terrible issue.

O'BEIRNE: I'll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: The budget, we were talking about. Go ahead.

O'BEIRNE: It is true that the recent budgets have not been popular on the president's side of the aisle up on Capitol Hill, but not because of deficits. They're concerned with spending, and they're right to be concerned with spending. Spending matters so much more than deficits, and I don't think that's why deficits play politically. It's sort of an abstraction. Government is growing too much and too fast and has too big a claim on the private sector.

Now, we can have a big fight this year, I think, over new budget rules, which is one thing the White House is hopefully proposing. Should budget rules make it more difficult to cut taxes, or should it make it more difficult to raise spending? I think that's a fight...

HUNT: Or do both.

O'BEIRNE: ... that the Republicans -- that the Republicans can probably win.

HUNT: Or do both.

NOVAK: See, one -- one thing about Al is he always lets out what his ulterior motive is, and that is to raise taxes. He wants a high- tax economy where the government is king! And that is not popular with the people, and that's what the issue is going to be. The issue is going to be, Does John Kerry -- can you trust John Kerry not to increase taxes?

HUNT: Could I have a point of personal privilege here...

SHIELDS: You can, Al...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I don't want to raise taxes on most Americans. I really don't. I don't want to raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans. I want to raise taxes on you and your ilk.

NOVAK: Well, that's not...

HUNT: That's who I want to raise taxes on.

NOVAK: That's redistribution of income!

HUNT: Yes, all the income you've got...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: OK! We have it!

SHIELDS: It's based upon the ability to pay.

NOVAK: That's my (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SHIELDS: I would just -- I would just say the Council of Economic Advisers to President Bush pledged that if tax cuts were adopted, which they were, there'd be 350,00 new jobs a month. Now, I'm looking for them, folks -- 112,000 was the best...

O'BEIRNE: But we've got a recovery. We've got...

SHIELDS: A recovery!

O'BEIRNE: We've got a strong...

SHIELDS: The slowest...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: The slowest economic recovery in history!

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: It's stronger than what he inherited, Mark!

NOVAK: I've got some bad news for you. The best economists in the city -- in this city, the Federal Reserve Board, see a huge increase in jobs...

SHIELDS: In jobs?

NOVAK: ... over this year. Yes.

O'BEIRNE: Well...

NOVAK: You wait and see.

SHIELDS: As opposed to...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: That's bad news for you, jobs!

SHIELDS: As opposed to corporate...

HUNT: Are you talking about Chairman Greenspan?

CARLSON: Two million of them gone! Two million gone!

NOVAK: I'm talking about the professional staff there.

CARLSON: Two million are gone, so they better come fast.

SHIELDS: Thank you. Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, the politics of gay marriage, the fall-out from the Massachusetts court ruling. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the Tennessee presidential primary with political reporter Tom Humphrey. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after an election update from Wolf Blitzer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. CNN is beginning to get official results from the Michigan caucuses right now. Let's put them up on the screen if we can. With 11 percent, we don't have him on the screen, but with 11 percent of the numbers now in, in Michigan, John Kerry doing well.

We have already projected that he will win the Washington caucuses. John Kerry doing well in Michigan. With 11 percent of the vote now in, we are showing he has 56 percent of the delegates. John Edwards coming in second so far with 15 percent. Howard Dean at 14 percent. Wesley Clark at 7 percent.

An impressive lead so far with 11 percent of the delegates total now in in Michigan. Earlier in Washington state, John Kerry also doing exceedingly well there. He is the projected winner, take a look at this, with 71 percent of the vote now in. John Kerry is at 48 percent. Howard Dean at 31 percent. Dennis Kucinich at 9 percent. Six percent for Edwards, 3 percent for Wesley Clark. Both of them sort of abandoned Washington in recent days. Al Sharpton with 0 percent.

We are continuing to watch all of this. There has been some other campaign news that we're following as well. A serious disappointment for Howard Dean. CNN has now confirmed that a major labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is taking back its endorsement of Howard Dean's presidential campaign. But members of a second major union, the Service Employees International Union, tell CNN they are not pulling out. Both unions jumped on the Dean bandwagon late last year. Dean aides note that the SEIU is the largest union in the AFL-CIO, and having their support is very important to their campaign. But a serious loss right now for the Howard Dean campaign.

We expect many more results to come in from the Michigan caucuses right at the top of the hour. Please join me and the full CNN election team for a special hour-long report on all of today's major developments. In the meantime, back to Mark Shields and THE CAPITAL GANG. SHIELDS: Thank you, Wolf. Welcome back to the second half of the special election edition of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG - that's Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

The Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled that civil unions are not an adequate substitute for same-sex marriages between gays and lesbians. President Bush terming the decision deeply troubling, said, quote, "If activist judges insist on redefining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process," end quote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support equal rights and the right of people to have civil union, equal partnership rights. I don't support marriage. I never have.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whether you call it a marriage or not, that's up to states and the churches, and the synagogues and the mosques.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We chose to leave marriage between a man and a woman. They may choose something different in Massachusetts, and I think that's their right to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is this court ruling bad news for the Democrats in 2004?

CARLSON: Well, it's bad, because the Democrats seem to be the party of gays. And not just tolerance for gays, which I think is now - gays are gaining much more acceptance in society. I don't think even the most hard-core Republicans want to discriminate against them, except perhaps for Bob here, but it touches people that the idea of marriage, gay marriage, you know, seems like the gay agenda. And I think we're going to be discussing this issue until death do us part, it just is - it brings out something irrational in people, so that if you put two candidates, one who's going to give you a job, the other who is going to keep the gays - the two gay people in the choir from not getting married, they'll choose that person, because it just - it's a...

SHIELDS: Do you really think...

CARLSON: It's one of those hot button issues.

SHIELDS: It's that much of a hot button?

CARLSON: For some people. I don't know that it's a majority thing, but polls show that people don't support gay marriage. But note that Bush said constitutional process. He has not quite been pushed over into constitutional amendment.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak. NOVAK: Well, let me summarize what Margaret said in a little simpler language than hers. This is a disaster for the Democrats.

CARLSON: Oh, thanks, Bob, for doing it.

NOVAK: The president better get moving quick on a constitutional amendment, because he's going to have to, and stalling around does not help. I was very interested that Senator Kerry, who is going to be the nominee, says he is against gay marriage, while General Clark, who does what he's told, and Senator Dean (sic), who goodness knows where his source...

SHIELDS: Governor Dean.

NOVAK: Governor Dean, his sources, they both say, oh, Massachusetts can do anything they want, but Kerry, who is from Massachusetts, is saying he is against gay marriage, because he knows this is a real problem.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: In addition to - I agree that it's a real problem for the Democratic Party as a whole. Look, even voters in Hawaii and liberal voters in California have rejected gay unions. It's a particular problem for John Kerry, though. In 1988, the definition of a Massachusetts liberal was a governor who didn't want kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Now, the example of a Massachusetts liberal is from a state, the very first one in the union, that is trying to force gay marriage, undemocratically, on its state citizens. That's now John Kerry.

Secondly, one way to oppose the constitutional amendment - you're wrong legally, but you can oppose it by saying, I supported the Defense of Marriage Act. And John Kerry didn't. Eighty-five or eighty-six senators voted for it; Bill Clinton signed it, and he was way to the left of all of them on the Defense of Marriage Act.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, let me just understand this. Britney Spears gets married for 55 hours, and she has all the rights in the world. A committed relationship between two women for 35 years, and they can't even have inheritance rights and visitation rights in the hospital, and that's going to be a political liability? I guess it is.

HUNT: Mark, I think the John Kerry position and that of most of the Democrats, for civil unions, against gay marriage, quoting Dick Cheney, "we ought to leave it to the states," is a sustainable one. The problem for John Kerry, however, what happens when they say, OK, in Massachusetts, let's have a state constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriages, but say civil unions are OK. That's going to be very difficult for him.

To be sure, I think George Bush can overplay his hand here. The idea of putting sexual orientation in the Constitution is just ludicrous. It's really shameful.

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: It's absolutely shameful to do that, Mark. It takes - it makes the most serious document we've ever seen, you know, into something frivolous.

But I'll tell you, I think it's very, very difficult for the Democrats to handle this issue, and I am one who is for gay marriages.

NOVAK: How are you going to do it if you don't do a constitutional amendment?

HUNT: You do it - first of all, you do it by state by state, but Bob, you want to put sexual orientation in the Constitution...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Let me just answer - do you want to put sexual orientation in the Constitution?

NOVAK: You're answering my question...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Can I ask one question? Seriously, I mean, it's a straight political question. Are they going to push a constitutional amendment with Dick Cheney on the ticket?

O'BEIRNE: Yes.

NOVAK: Yeah, they should and will. There is no question about it. He better get moving - the president better get moving now on his position...

O'BEIRNE: The only way...

NOVAK: Let me tell you, this is a bigger issue to conservatives, social conservatives than abortion.

SHIELDS: And do you favor putting sexual orientation in the Constitution, Bob?

NOVAK: I'm just a journalist.

SHIELDS: Hey, listen, you'll need gay marriage with this great job-producing machine of this Bush administration.

Coming up, CAPITAL GANG Classic. George W. Bush's loss in the 2000 Michigan presidential primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. There were two Democratic caucuses held today. CNN has declared that Senator John Kerry is the winner in Washington. As results coming in from both of these states, we will continue to show them to you on the bottom of the screen.

Four years ago, Senator John McCain of Arizona upset Texas Governor George W. Bush in the Michigan Republican primary by a decisive margin. Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on February 26, 2000. Our guest was then ironically Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: You still have to give the edge to Bush because of his core Republican support, but all the indicators are moving to McCain.

GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: You talk about the indicators going toward McCain. I think it's going stronger toward Governor Bush.

The overwhelming winner in every primary so far has been Governor George Bush. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 600 among Republicans, there are only 625 delegates left, where it's open independent, and one of those is Texas.

CARLSON: McCain is building a new coalition. His trajectory is up, and Bush's trajectory is down so far. And he vowed to win Michigan, and he lost Michigan.

NOVAK: There is a primary right across the river here in Virginia on Tuesday. Fifty-eight winner-take-all delegates where Governor Bush is heavily favored. This is one that I really do believe that if John McCain wins that, then all the rest start running...

SHIELDS: McCain is a stronger candidate in the fall right now than is Bush. And secondly, I would point out that Bush led McCain by 40 points in New York just two months ago. Today, it's nine points or seven points.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, did we somehow overestimate the impact of Senator McCain's victory in Michigan?

NOVAK: Not at all, Mark. As a matter of fact, at the moment we were saying that, McCain was on the rise. The polls then showed Virginia was even, and as you said, he just about crawled up in New York and California. But he blew it. He blew it by taking advice from certain people to attack Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Stupidest thing he could do. I think if he hadn't done that, he might have been the nominee.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, do you think that was the case?

HUNT: Absolutely not. I think we ought to bring Tom Ridge back. He was a better pundit than any of us. We were just wrong.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Well, no, actually, I don't think you were. Bob was right to point out the problem John McCain was having was the majority of Republicans wouldn't vote for him. You actually need the support of your own party members. I don't think Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson hurt him when he lost the New York primary. I think there was a backlash to the kind of ads he was running in Michigan about Catholic voters, and I think he felt the backlash in New York when George Bush won that primary.

CARLSON: Bob, I don't think that McCain - somebody told McCain to say it. I think he was speaking what he felt, which is that the religious right had too big a hold on the Republican Party. And I'm glad Governor Tom Ridge was right, because I want him to be right now on homeland security.

NOVAK: I think my dear friend Senator Rudman advised him to do that.

SHIELDS: Well, I think - let's be very blunt about this, the experience in South Carolina was the catalyst when in fact the religious right, in particular Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and others, were savaging McCain's campaign.

NOVAK: I am not saying it was justified, I'm just asking - it was dumb, it was dumb. It was a dumb political move. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: George Bush was a stronger candidate in November. George Bush had a unified Republican Party. John McCain - John McCain would never have gotten that.

HUNT: John McCain would have blown Al Gore away.

SHIELDS: Yes, he would have. John McCain would have won by 10 points.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, wouldn't have had to count on the Supreme Court, but "Beyond the Beltway," "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the showdown in Tennessee with Tom Humphrey of "The Knoxville News Sentinel."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. The American Research Group Poll of Tennessee Democratic voters shows a New Englander, Senator John Kerry, leading in next Tuesday's primary against two Southerners, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, General Wesley Clark of Arkansas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can beat George Bush everywhere in America, and I do think it is something that voters should know.

CLARK: He is a good man, John Kerry, but he said that a Democrat doesn't have to win the South. I appreciate the South.

KERRY: I'm not worried about coming down South and talking to people about jobs and schools and health care and the environment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Joining us from Nashville is Tom Humphrey, the Nashville bureau chief of "The Knoxville News Sentinel." Thanks for coming in, Tom.

TOM HUMPHREY, "KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL": Pleasure to be here.

SHIELDS: Tom, Northerners have shown a willingness in the past to vote for Southern Democrats. Are we now seeing a case in Tennessee for the first time when Southerners would be willing to vote for a Massachusetts Democrat?

HUMPHREY: So it would seem. I believe there is still some regional loyalty among Tennessee voters at any rate, especially we've got a couple of guys who are trying to play up their Tennessee ties, Mr. Kerry and - Mr. Clark and Senator Edwards had both lived in Tennessee briefly. The problem for them is, there is only a limited number of people who are that bound to the regional vote, and that's split two ways.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Tom, where is the African-American vote going, as far as you can see, in Tennessee?

HUMPHREY: Well, Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry have both made perhaps the biggest efforts to get that, all three of them have. A good part of that, Harold Ford Jr., a congressman over in Memphis, who is fairly - (UNINTELLIGIBLE) perhaps 20 percent of the black vote in a Democratic - or more in a Democratic primary will come from, is a longtime Kerry supporter. So if he can deliver some of that, that will help him on the African-American vote. Largely other candidates seem to be splitting it up. A number of the African-American legislators are supporting all three candidates.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Tom, General Clark seems to have decided to leave Senator Kerry pretty much alone and go after John Edwards. Is this having any effect, you know, is General Clark scoring any points? It looks to us as if it's fallen flat, especially since he picked a vote in which Senator John Edwards was not really involved, you know, it didn't - it wasn't a fair conclusion that he was against veterans.

HUMPHREY: That is - I think it probably has fallen flat. General Clark yesterday made a big point in trying to stress that veterans vote. I don't think that translated too well to the Tennessee electorate.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Tom, based on the case the candidates are making in face of their own election, or the arguments they're making against the other guy, will the winner next week have any issues to point to, to thank for the victory, or will it come down to electability?

HUMPHREY: It seems it's coming down to electability. That's what you hear most of the Democratic voters, rank-and-file types, talk about and even some of our Democratic leadership here in the state seems to be looking more to that, and that is the argument, who is the most electable. I do not see a great deal of difference between the candidates on issues.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUMPHREY: ... from what they've been playing (ph) here.

SHIELDS: Oh, excuse me.

HUMPHREY: It's OK.

SHIELDS: Al.

HUNT: Tom, we've gone four or five minutes in this segment and haven't mentioned one name, Al Gore. You know, vice president used to be the senator from Tennessee, used to think that he was a fairly influential figure down there, endorsed Howard Dean. Do people just forget who Al Gore is? Has no influence? Or what is the Al Gore role in this primary/

HUMPHREY: Al Gore has been fairly irrelevant in this primary. He hasn't done anything to help Mr. Dean within the state. He did not talk with any of his friends within the state party ranks before he made the decision to endorse Governor Dean, and he has not been present. He is to be honored tomorrow night at a Democratic function, along with a former governor and a former senator, and presumably may make a kind remark about Mr. Dean there, but otherwise he has been out of the picture in Tennessee.

He didn't mend those Tennessee fences as well as he perhaps intended when he came back here.

SHIELDS: Tom, we're always a little skeptical about how much endorsements mean, but I saw Governor Ned McWherter, towering figure in Tennessee, speaker of the House and then governor, endorsed John Kerry, and county music legend George Jones endorsed Wesley Clark. Sort out those two endorsements for us, would you?

HUMPHREY: Well, Ned McWherter is a very popular governor. He is sort of the personification of the gold old boy, country governor. He talks real country, and he's fat and bold, and he has rural West Tennessee roots. In that part of the electorate, the undecided voters, if they hear Ned is for a candidate, maybe more inclined to support him a bit.

George Jones, it's a casual thing for the country music station listeners. Perhaps will hear George Jones saying nice things and to go with Mr. Clark, but I think you're right, probably fairly limited impact.

SHIELDS: OK, Tom Humphrey. We'll be keeping an eye on the Volunteer State, and we thank you so very much for being with us. And now let's go directly to Wolf Blitzer. BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mark. The Associated Press now reporting that John Kerry will make it two for two today. He will go ahead, according to the Associated Press, and win the Michigan caucuses, the biggest prize so far in these primaries and caucuses, 128 delegates. John Kerry earlier, we projected, will win the Washington state caucuses as well.

Let's take a look at the numbers we're getting in from the Michigan caucuses right now. With 15 percent of the vote now in, John Kerry decisively, with 56 percent of the vote, John Edwards with 15 percent, Howard Dean with 14 percent. Wes Clark, 7 percent. Dennis Kucinich, 5 percent. Al Sharpton, 3 percent. A big win for John Kerry in Michigan. Earlier, a big win in Washington state as well. The caucuses there, John Kerry collecting the big prize in Washington state. Seventy-six delegates at stake. With 76 percent of the precincts now reporting, John Kerry, the winner, will get 49 percent of the delegates; 31 percent are going to Howard Dean; 8 percent for Dennis Kucinich, 6 percent for John Edwards. Wesley Clark at 3 percent. Al Sharpton not registering.

We have a special hour of coverage coming up at the top of the hour. THE CAPITAL GANG and "The Outrage of the Week" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now for "The Outrage of the Week." NBC, the Hearst Corporation and the Disney Company all owe a profound public and abject apology to the American people and to the family and the friends of the late President Lyndon Johnson. Why? Those three corporations are the parents of the History Channel, which broadcast a truly reprehensible, so-called documentary that baselessly accused then Vice President Johnson of conspiring to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Former President Gerald Ford has insisted on an investigation of this piece of fiction posing as fact. History and truth most demand that this hateful heroin be purged from our nation's blood stream - Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Does George W. Bush really care about runaway federal spending? We'll soon know. The president has set a $265 billion limit on the highway bill, but bills about to be passed by the Senate and House both are way above $300 billion. Members of Congress are addicted to all kinds of pork, but they particularly like highway pork, and will probably override a Bush veto. So what? Let the president exercise his first veto as a matter of principle. That might become addictive to George W.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, CBS suits were actually at rehearsals when Justin Timberlake sang quote, "I'm going to get you naked before the end of this song." So how could they be shocked by the so-called wardrobe malfunction? What's shocking is what CBS did approve - Timberlake's halftime bump and grind against Janet Jackson, ads for erectile dysfunction, Kid Rock's ode to hookers while wrapped in an American flag, and rapper Nelly's crotch-grabbing. Here is a viewer malfunction: CBS is lying. Jackson is just a scapegoat. Forget the FCC. CBS should show some judgment, and the public should quit watching until they do.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Documents found in the files of the Iraqi Oil Ministry show that much of the opposition around the world to America's war on Iraq was bought and paid for by Saddam Hussein. Among those who got lucrative Iraqi oil contracts were the president of Indonesia, the Russian government, the left-wing British war critic George Galloway (ph), and of course, France. Much of the world is on the take, and Democrats still insist on unanimous international approval before the United States defends itself.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, a judge ruled this week that the National Football League cannot set a minimum age requirement and exclude high school and freshmen and sophomore college players from its league. This is questionable law. Other professions have minimum age or experience requirements, and terrible policy. Despite the dishonesty of some big time college football, kids at least get a shot at maturing physically and emotionally. A young collegian like Maurice Clarett (ph) may be a go, but no 17-year-old high school kid is ready for the NFL.

NOVAK: Congratulations to a new grandmother. Margaret Carlson, her granddaughter Ana Carlson York (ph) was born Wednesday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Terrific, Margaret.

CARLSON: Why, thank you, Bob. It's been nice...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Proud parents Courtney (ph) and David (ph), and Margaret, I don't believe you're a grandmother. You're too young.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

END

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