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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Gavin Newsom; Nader Announces Presidential Run

Aired February 22, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for watching.
"LATE EDITION" will check in with CNN reporters covering the day's big stories around the world in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get more on this dramatic development unfolding right now in Haiti. CNN's Lucia Newman is on the phone. She's joining us now live. Let's get some details.

Lucia, what do we know?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning,

Wolf. Well, right now, we've been able to reach the manager of the hotel, Mon Jolie (ph), in Cap-Haitien by phone. He confirms that rebels did enter the city. They tried unsuccessfully, he says, to commandeer an airplane at the airport. That is all we know for sure right now, Wolf.

The report of the attack is consistent with a vow made by Guy Philippe, the former police chief of Cap-Haitien, who slipped back into this country from his home in exile in the Dominican Republic exactly one week ago, and who has said he was going to retake his old city. We know that he is in the area and that he has soldiers who are well-armed. We don't know how many, however -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is this shaping up as the key battle between those forces still loyal to President Aristide and the rebels?

NEWMAN: It is still too early to tell whether this is a full- fledged battle or not. Cap-Haitien is, however, the second largest city in this country, so it would be a major development if the rebels, indeed, were to be able to take it over.

We do know also that the police force has barricaded itself, because they're afraid that they cannot repel an attack. But there are hundreds, if not more, Aristide supporters armed and vowing to fight to the death to protect the city, too, Wolf.

BLITZER: A horrible situation unfolding in Haiti. We'll get back to you, Lucia. Thanks very much for that.

Also, a horrible situation in Jerusalem. More details on that suicide bombing earlier today. At least seven people were killed, more than 50 others wounded.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem. He's joining us now live -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Wolf.

Well, it was 8:30 this morning, at the height of the Jerusalem rush hour, when the Number 14 bus that was heading toward the center of the city was ripped apart by a suicide bomber.

At this point, the death toll stands at eight. That's one more than it was a little while ago. According to Jerusalem police, they were -- I hate to share these details -- but they apparently found enough body parts in the morgue to determine eight people, not seven, were killed in this blast. More than 50 wounded; several of those still in very serious condition.

Now, the bombing has been claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. That's a militant faction loosely affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Now, according to a statement from the al-Aqsa Brigade that we have received, the bomber was a 23-year-old man from a village right outside of Bethlehem, which is just south of Jerusalem.

We are told that the Israeli army has now clamped a closure on that area and is, obviously, pursuing more leads.

Now Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia quickly came out and condemned the bombing, saying it was against higher Palestinian interests. But Israeli officials say that that condemnation simply is not enough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem.

Thanks, Ben. We'll get back to you.

Now to U.S. presidential politics and a potentially explosive development in the race for the White House. Consumer activist Ralph Nader announced today he is running for president as an independent candidate. Democrats are not pleased.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is on the campaign trail for us. She's joining us now live from Atlanta -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democratic Party chief Terry McAuliffe made it clear to you on Friday how much he was trying to keep Ralph Nader out of this race.

Many Democrats believe he was a spoiler, costing Al Gore the presidency in 2000. And some Democrats fear that could happen again this year, at a time when Democrats say the party is more united than ever in its desire to try and beat President Bush in November.

But mention the word "spoiler" to Ralph Nader, and he says it is an attempt to restrict democracy and those voters who want to back his candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH NADER, INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "Spoiler" is a contemptuous term, as if anybody who dares to challenge the two-party system and corrupt politics and broken politics and corporate power is a spoiler? Come again?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Now, both the major Democratic presidential candidates trying to downplay Nader's decision.

In a statement, the Kerry campaign saying that it hopes that those voters who want to see change in the fall will unite behind the Democratic nominee, whomever that might be. Saturday night, Senator Kerry saying himself his campaign will speak to those supporters who backed Ralph Nader in 2000.

And as for North Carolina Senator John Edwards, well, he is saying he is the candidate who can appeal to those independents who backed Ralph Nader four years ago. And Edwards's aide, in a statement, saying that if you have a Democratic nominee who can attract all kinds of voters -- progressives, moderates and dissatisfied Republicans -- well, then Democrats will win the White House in November.

So strategists for both candidates saying they do not think Ralph Nader will have the impact this time around that he had four years ago. But fair to say, Wolf, there is more anxiety in the Democratic Party with Ralph Nader in than had he decided to stay out of this race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace, thanks very much.

Let's get some insight, further insight, now into what this means, Ralph Nader's decision to become a third-party independent candidate. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us.

Remind our viewers, a lot of people, with the exception, perhaps, of Ralph Nader, believe Al Gore would be president of the United States right now, had Nader not run.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's pretty good evidence for that, Wolf. In Florida, he got some 97,000 votes. And you will recall that President Bush carried Florida by just 537. Maybe half of the Nader supporters wouldn't have voted at all. The overwhelming majority of the remainder would have voted almost certainly for Gore over Bush. Another state, New Hampshire, also Ralph Nader made the balance of difference. If Ralph Nader hadn't run, I think the virtually universal conclusion is, Gore would be president. And Nader believes that proves he has clout. That may be why he's running.

BLITZER: And he doesn't care that this might tilt the balance, if it's a very, very close election -- and almost everyone believes it will be a close election, irrespective of who the Democratic nominee is -- he doesn't seem to care. He doesn't see much of a difference between the Democrats and Bush.

SCHNEIDER: It is rational to vote for Ralph Nader only if you honestly believe that there's no difference between the Democrats and the Bush administration. If you believe that, you might as well vote for Ralph Nader.

Does Ralph Nader himself believe that? Well, in his remarks today, he said, there's a little bit of difference between the two parties. He gave the Democrats a D-plus and the Republicans a D- minus, but only a marginal difference.

BLITZER: What is the best strategy now for the Democratic leadership, whoever the Democratic nominee is, to deal with Ralph Nader?

SCHNEIDER: Essentially, they have to let Ralph Nader raise some very tough criticisms of President Bush. And he used some colorful language today. He said Washington is now corporate-occupied territory. This is the most corporate administration in American history.

Well, you know, Democrats believe that too. Let Ralph Nader say it, but in the end make the case that to vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush, so that very few people will end up doing that.

BLITZER: The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans and the White House, they're all happy about this, but Nader says he's going to bring a lot of new people into this race who won't vote Republican on Senate and House races.

SCHNEIDER: Well, there I think some Senate and House Democrats may be happy to hear this, because, they say, a lot of new voters will come out and vote for us. And maybe that means they can make some gains in Congress.

But in the end it's really about the White House. That is what the Democrats really want. That's where they think they have a chance to change what they regard as the Republican occupation of Washington.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider on the news that Ralph Nader will in fact run this time around.

Thanks, Bill, very much.

Just ahead, culture wars: Will San Francisco's decision to allow same-sex marriages hold up in the court of law and public opinion? I'll speak live with that city's mayor, Gavin Newsom. You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, a conversation with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about his decision to allow same-sex marriages. We'll speak with him live.

We also want to hear your thoughts: Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll have the results for you later in this program.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It is time for the city to stop traveling down this dangerous path of ignoring the rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warning the city of San Francisco about its decision to allow same-sex marriages.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by the man who initiated this highly controversial move, the San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom.

Mr. Mayor, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D), SAN FRANCISCO: Thank you.

BLITZER: The governor of California says flatly you're breaking the law. Why are you doing so?

NEWSOM: Well, I don't believe I'm breaking the law. I believe what we're doing is affirming the constitution of the state of California and its equal protection clause, which says I don't have a right to discriminate.

And just 45 days ago, I took an oath of office to bear truth, faith and allegiance to the constitution of the state of California, and there is nothing in that constitution that says that I have the right to discriminate against people on any basis. And I simply won't do that.

BLITZER: As you know, California Proposition 22 that passed in 2000, 61 percent to 39 percent, says flatly: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

That, I believe, is the law of the land, isn't it? NEWSOM: Well, we're in the courts right now on just that question. I don't believe that it's consistent, Prop 22, with the constitution of the state of California. Not only do I not believe that, but the city attorney's office in San Francisco feels very strongly about that as well.

We've been in hearings four times in front of two judges, and in neither case, or rather in any of those proceedings, have there been any suggestion that what we're doing is going to cause irreparable harm, irreparable damage, and that the question of whether or not we're doing what is constitutionally appropriate will be heard through a court of law in a process that's under way. And I look forward to that discussion and debate.

BLITZER: But why did you go ahead and effectively change the rules of the game without going to court first, just simply unilaterally saying, "Go ahead, same-sex couples, you can get marriage licenses."

A lot of people, including many gay leaders, suggested that you simply went about it the wrong way, by unilaterally deciding what is legal and what is illegal.

NEWSOM: Well, Wolf, I wanted to stand on principle. I feel very strongly that the oath of office I took -- and again, maybe it's just fresh in my mind, just 45 days ago -- to bear truth, faith and allegiance to this constitution, I think I have an obligation not to discriminate against people.

I wanted to put a human face on it. I mean, we're dealing with people's lives here. The first couple that was married in San Francisco had been together 51 years. To me, that's an affirmation of marriage. It's an affirmation of my own marriage with my wife. I feel very strongly that you can't discriminate in theory.

We've got to see the human lives; we've got to connect this discussion and debate with human beings and their families, so we can understand what we're doing is wrong and inconsistent with the values I think this country holds dear.

BLITZER: But do you, as a mayor, and you've heard this, have the right to make those kinds of decisions? For example, if another mayor in another community in San Francisco said, "Put the 10 commandments up in an office, in a government office complex," saying that he's reporting to a higher authority than the law of California or the federal law, for that matter, without going to court, would that mayor be right?

NEWSOM: I mean, and some of the other people are talking about, you know, gun control or stuff. And it's not about AK-47s. It's not about these other hypotheticals. It's about human beings. It's about human dignity. It's about advancing and affirming marriage in a unique bond and relationship. It's about, I think, holding truth, faith and allegiance to the constitution. I feel very strongly this is consistent. And I say that, Wolf, with some consideration. I mean, the fact is, every time these debates come to the Supreme Courts in states across this country, the constitution affirms the decisions like the decision that I've taken. Not least of which, obviously, in Massachusetts, but Hawaii and Alaska.

I think we're on firm legal footing and legal grounds, and certainly I believe very strongly and passionately we're on the right moral ground. I do not believe in advancing separate but unequal status. I do not believe in advancing discrimination.

I've got an obligation to stand on principle and not abdicate for another day, not wait another month. These were the same debates we were having on interracial relationships just a few decades ago, where blacks couldn't marry whites. We need, I think, to stand up on principle, and I think San Francisco's done just that.

BLITZER: The criticism, though, including people who are sympathetic to gay marriage, is that you're simply going about it the wrong way. I spoke with Senator Dianne Feinstein on Friday, former mayor of San Francisco, arguably the most popular Democratic politician in California. Listen to what she said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: We're going to challenge the law. We're going to court to challenge the law.

A mayor doesn't decide the constitutionality of any issue. I was mayor for nine years. I know that. The courts decide, and that's the proper place for this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say to her?

NEWSOM: Well, I say to her -- first of all, I have great respect and admiration for the senator. In many respects, she's one of the principal reasons I'm sitting where I am today.

I say to her that's exactly what we're doing. We're in the court of law. We've had four hearings in front of two judges. The judges have adjudicated this, and thought what we're doing is not creating irreparable harm. What we're doing now is being advanced in the courts, and will go to the constitutional question in a few weeks here.

So I think what we're doing is appropriate.

BLITZER: But she disagrees with your decision to allow 3,200 couples to go ahead and get married while this is still being adjudicated in the courts. That's what her criticism is. What you've done has potentially set back the process.

NEWSOM: Yes, I don't agree with that, and I don't agree with it on this basis: The courts could have stopped us; the courts have not stopped us.

The system is working. The system was set up for just this kind of decision and this kind of action. And it's working, it's advancing through those courts, not in front of one judge, but two different judges, in three separate hearings of the lower court, and one was rejected at the appellate court. We have a date set, a date certain. We're going to discuss the constitutional questions.

But I will not abdicate and step back and say what we were doing 10, 15 days ago before this action is appropriate. I do not believe it's appropriate for me, as mayor of San Francisco, to discriminate against people. And if that means my political career ends, so be it. Stand on principle.

Wolf, guys like me come and go, but there are certain principles that I hold dear, and the principle of nondiscrimination, of advancing human rights and civil rights, affirming marriage, affirming relationships and families, like we've done for 3,000-plus couples, that's significant, that's purposeful. And I believe very strongly what we're doing is appropriate.

BLITZER: Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is homosexual himself, openly homosexual for a long time, knows a great deal about this issue. He said this the other day. He said, "If we go forward in Massachusetts and get same-sex marriage on the books, it's going to be binding and incontestable. When you're in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion."

Do you understand the criticism he's leveling against you?

NEWSOM: Yes, and I have great respect for Barney Frank. I don't think it's symbolic to Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a relationship of five decades. I think it's very significant for them.

If people had the opportunity, as I have, to witness these kinds of bonds, to witness these kinds of unions, to see life and marriage affirmed, to see children weeping because finally their parents have the same kind of rights that are extended to my relationship with my wife, it is real, it's tangible now. It's not in the courts (ph) or (ph) some theory. It's being practiced.

These are the same discussions and same debates we were having between 1948 and 1967, when California got the ball rolling on interracial relationships and marriages. It's exactly the same debate. We need to advance the dignity of humanity and the dignity of our commonality by advancing the bonds of marriage, and that's all we're doing here in San Francisco.

BLITZER: Well, what happens if in March, maybe even earlier, the courts rule against what you've done? Some 3,200 couples already have been married. They would be in legal limbo. Aren't you toying with their feelings, their emotions right now? That's a criticism that's being leveled against you, as well.

NEWSOM: I frankly think politicians have been toying with their emotions for decades by abdicating responsibility, by saying one thing privately and saying another publicly, by sitting back and waiting for tomorrow, waiting for the next round of debates, waiting for the next state to do something.

You've got to stand up on principle. Every single person, Wolf, that came in to City Hall to get a marriage knew exactly what they were doing. People from all over the world, literally, from about two dozen states, came to San Francisco knowing exactly the challenges ahead, because they've lived it, they've lived the discrimination, they've lived the separate but unequal status, and they're fed up, and they came in to celebrate and affirm life and marriage. And that, to me, is an extraordinary thing. And I, as a married man, feel my marriage was affirmed in turn.

BLITZER: City Hall has been open almost around the clock over the past 10, 11 days, but now you're changing the process. Starting tomorrow, people will be able to get marriage licenses, same-sex couples, by appointment only. That will limit it to, what, 50 or 60 couples a day. Why the change?

NEWSOM: Well, I'll be honest with you. We have human beings doing great work, they're exhausted, City Hall. The whole point of this was, it's the right thing to do. We also have other things to do, and City Hall just simply doesn't have the capacity. I had 200- plus volunteers. Our assessors done an incredible job. They're exhausted.

We still want to afford this right and privilege, and we want to extend these obligations of marriage to same-sex couples, so we're not going to stop. But we don't have the capacity to continue at the pace we've been at over the last 10 days.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the politics of your decision. There's a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll today that came out this week: Should gay marriages be recognized as legally valid? Thirty-two percent said yes; 64 percent said no.

Some Democrats fear what you're doing is giving the Republicans, to a certain degree, an opening right now, especially President Bush, who's raising the specter of a constitutional amendment, you're giving them an opening in the political world.

NEWSOM: Yes, but let's be honest here, Wolf. In the State of the Union, the president made this an issue. He decided to take on this issue in the State of the Union. This was hardly something unique to San Francisco. We're reacting to the president's decision to use this as a wedge issue to divide people.

I think what he's doing is wrong. It's hurtful. And I hope he reconsiders the notion of advancing a constitutional amendment. And I hope that the Republican Party recognizes how divisive this could be across this nation.

No, we're simply reacting to the president, and we're reacting to a train that had left many, many months ago. And I think it's inappropriate and unfortunate that he's decided to use this to advance a political agenda, which only seems to me, when you're doing something in the State of the Union -- and I had the privilege of being there at the State of the Union, to listen to his words firsthand -- that he's doing it in a way that, of course, associates the statements with a political agenda in order to get reelected. I just don't think that's right.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president said this past week in response to what you're doing in San Francisco. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have consistently stated that if -- I'll support law to protect marriage between a man and a woman. And obviously, these events are influencing my decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And listen also to what one outspoken opponent of your decision, Randy Thomasson, is saying in Newsweek magazine this week. He's the founder of Campaign for California, which opposes gay marriage.

"Gavin Newsom is a renegade. And the word "equality" is being misused to rob all the sacred things of their uniqueness. What's next -- legalized heroin? Prostitution? Polygamy? Incest?"

What they're criticizing you for is saying that if you open the floodgates now, what's to say that incest couldn't be allowed to go forward down the road? That's the argument that you're hearing.

NEWSOM: Yes. I mean, you know, I mean, stale rhetoric. Stale rhetoric. Divisive rhetoric. Absurd.

And it's exactly the same kind of rhetoric that used against blacks marrying whites in the '60s. It's the same kind of rhetoric was used when they made comments about Catholics being able to marry Protestants at the turn of the century. I imagine it was the same rhetoric some people used when they said, "What do these women want? Why do they want to vote in this country?"

No, I'm a student of history. I've heard this before, the "what next?" arguments. And to me, they just -- they fall flat on their face.

And, Wolf, just one thing. If I wait for the polls in this country to turn around, we're never going to change the order of things in this country. I mean, when Loving v. Virginia, which finally established the fact that interracial marriages in 1967 can exist in every state in the nation, and those 16 states that were holding out couldn't hold out, the polls didn't suggest it was a good decision.

If you wait for public opinion, again, nothing changes. Polls, to me, don't matter. Principles matter. That's the foundation of this country, is people standing up on principle and moving the agenda forward and bringing people together. Focus on our common humanity and decency. That's what makes a good country a great country, by affirming people in their unique bond and relation to one another.

BLITZER: Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, thanks very much for joining us.

NEWSOM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Haiti right now. There's a developing story we're following. Breaking news, fighting breaking up in an important city in Haiti.

Walter Eussenius is joining us on the phone now. He's an eyewitness to what's happening.

Walter, first of all, tell us exactly where you are and what you have seen.

WALTER EUSSENIUS: Yes, well, I am at the Hotel Mon Jolie (ph) in Cap-Haitien. There are about a dozen journalists or so. And so far, this morning at 10 o'clock, they say that the airport, they were shooting, and the airport was rapidly closed, and some rebels, or whatever they are, took over the airport. The international airport of Cap-Haitien is closed.

And after that, since the last hour, there have been heavy machinery gunfire in the middle of town. And the police station seems to have fallen in the hands of those rebels, and prisoners released.

Unfortunately, in this whole thing, that when they went into the caserne (ph) or the police headquarter, they found a depot of guns and ammunitions that was spread out in the streets. And then civilians now have guns in their hands.

Really, the situation is chaotic in Cap-Haitien, really bad.

BLITZER: So who seems to have the upper hand, the rebels or those forces loyal to President Aristide?

EUSSENIUS: Well, it's hard to tell. And it's very hard to tell, but, apparently, whomsoever came in this town came with some heavy machinery guns. And they came down from Gonaives with about 12 cars, and the situation is very scary.

BLITZER: Walter Eussenius, be careful over there. Thanks very much for calling us. We'll check back with you; we'll check back with our own Lucia Newman on this very chaotic situation in Haiti.

Just ahead, we'll also get a quick check of the hour's top stories.

Then, handing over power in Iraq: Will the United States meet its deadline? We'll talk with Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman -- she's just back from Baghdad -- and Republican Congressman Christopher Cox.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Working with the United Nations and working with our coalition partners, we'll succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Colin Powell predicting democracy eventually will be established in Iraq.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now from Los Angeles, California Republican Congressman Christopher Cox. He's chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. And just back from a trip to Iraq is California Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Good to have both of you on the program.

And I'll begin with you, Congresswoman Harman. You're just back from Baghdad. Is it working? Will democracy eventually get off the ground, as the secretary of state predicts?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I sure hope so, Wolf, but this administration has set a firm date for transfer of sovereignty of July 1, and making elections or caucuses fit that date is very tricky.

What I am hoping will happen is that the U.N. will play a bigger role. I think that is in the world's interest. And that they will help structure something like an election commission, as we had in Afghanistan, to take over on July 1.

One thing missing from the conversation, though, Wolf, is setting up a system of independent courts. I'm sure Chris Cox would agree with this. If we get to a constitution and a democratic system in Iraq, we have to have the rule of law enforced by some independent judiciary.

BLITZER: Congressman Cox, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, this past week, agreed with the Bush administration that there can't be, realistically, there can't be elections by June 30th by this deadline. Listen to what the secretary-general said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE U.N.: ... elections cannot be held before end of June; that the June 30th date for handover of sovereignty must be respected; and that we need to find a mechanism to create the caretaker government, and then prepare the elections later, sometime later in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: At the same time, the Bush administration, Congressman, says that the proposed caucuses by June 30th, that's not going to work either, in the face of strong opposition from the Iraqi Shiites. It looks like the administration, even at this late date, is going back to the drawing boards.

What's your understanding? What's likely to happen?

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, as you know, Kofi Annan will present the U.N. proposal tomorrow in New York. We're very much looking forward to what the U.N.'s perspective is, because they have had a team in Iraq.

But, as Paul Bremer has made clear, there are simply technical reasons that we can't have an instant vote. But there is no reason in the world that we cannot move forward just as scheduled with the transfer of sovereignty.

I serve on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is playing a big role in assisting the transition to democracy in Iraq. And the reports back from our NED in-country personnel are that things are going forward but they do need time.

BLITZER: They need time.

And listen to what Administrator Bremer had to say, Congresswoman Harman. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Iraq has no election law. It has no electoral commission to even establish a law. It has no law governing political parties. It has no voters list. It has not had a credible, reliable census in almost 20 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So the question is this: Why rush into anything under these circumstances? Why meet this June 30th deadline? Why not give it some more time to incubate, if you will, in order to set the stage for a really smooth transition to Iraqi authority?

HARMAN: Well, I think it's -- there are compelling arguments on both sides of that.

Clearly, the administration has set the July 1 deadline, in my view, in light of the U.S. election. But, on the other hand, the longer the American occupation goes on, the higher the casualties and, perhaps, the less likely it is for all of the parties to step up and take responsibility.

So July 1 seems like it's going to hold, and now the question, as Chris Cox said, is how we do it.

I agree with him, that the National Endowment for Democracy is doing a great job, but what I think we're going to need is some form of interim sovereign authority with U.N. blessing, certainly a U.N. resolution that blesses it, but also something like an election commission.

That is what we had in Afghanistan. About 150 people, not selected by us, selected by the U.N. and local factions, who would transfer us toward an election at the soonest possible date, which is probably about a year or 15 months off, a national election. There might be some regional elections meanwhile.

But we've got to get this done right. We can't have gone there to change the regime and then cause chaos and the return to an Iran- type theocracy.

BLITZER: But, Congressman Cox, Congresswoman Harman is making a serious accusation against the Bush administration. I've heard it now, you've heard it from many other Democrats: The whole timetable was set up with one eye toward presidential politics, the November presidential election here in the United States. A serious accusation against the White House.

You believe that?

COX: Well, of course not. And as a matter of fact, as you know, the Iraqis themselves have been pushing on the United States to do this much sooner than we have been willing to do so.

The aim of U.S. policy is, of course, a democratic, free Iraq, and there is no question but that we are going to achieve that objective. It's not going to be done overnight. There is no reason, however, that we cannot have an interim Iraqi authority as we proceed to preparing a constitution and so on, so that we have legitimacy. These are important aspects of nation-building.

We have to recall that it's only been nine months since we removed Saddam Hussein. An enormous amount of good has been accomplished in that country, when you look at the schools, the hospitals and so on.

We've administered vaccines to children. The power that used to be 300 megawatts is now 5,000. It's just absolutely extraordinary what's going on. Twenty-six times increase in healthcare spending. Teachers are now being paid 12 times what they used to be. Enrollment is up. All the universities are open and technical institutes.

We're building something very, very sturdy there...

BLITZER: Congresswoman Harman, we're going to take a quick break. But I want you to respond very briefly, if you want to revise or amend your charge that politics, presidential politics in the United States, may have had a role to play in the timetable for handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis.

HARMAN: A role. It's not the only factor. There are other factors.

But I just want to say that the security issues are so large in that country right now -- not just against Americans, against, sadly, the Iraqis who are courageously trying to become police in that country -- that dealing with that is almost a full-time job, let alone moving toward structuring elections.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Congressmen. We're going to take a quick break.

Much more coming up with Congressman Cox, Congresswoman Harman. They'll also be taking your phone calls.

More "LATE EDITION" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing our conversation with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Christopher Cox, and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman.

Congressman Cox, you may have seen the story in today's New York Times suggesting that forensic evidence points to similarities, very ominous similarities between suicide bombings, the actual explosives, in Iraq, elsewhere in the Middle East, in Asia.

What do you make of the possibility that there may be some sort of coordinated international link responsible for some of these explosive devices that are killing Americans and others?

COX: Well, it's clear that there is a connection, because we are finding that the same designs for these bombs are showing up on different continents.

This is the work of TEDAC (ph), the new interagency intelligence operation headquartered at Quantico. This agency's been made public just in recent days, but they've been doing very good work, and what we are finding now is that the same kinds of devices, or at least apparently the same kinds of devices, are being deployed against our forces in Iraq.

It's an especial problem, because there's nobody to fire back at. These can be remotely detonated devices, and we're having to fit all of our equipment there with shields, so that we can protect our troops and anticipate it.

But I think it's also good to know that intelligence now is getting ahead of this, and that we are able to prevent terrorism now by finding these links in ways that we never could before. This is one of the great achievements of the homeland security mission. We're using intelligence proactively to make sure that we don't have to just clean up the mess, but rather we prevent these things before they happen. And I think increasingly we'll get very good at this.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Harman, you're the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Do you see a connection between these various bombings in the Middle East and elsewhere?

HARMAN: Well, I think there is more and more of a connection, as terrorism increases around the world.

I agree with Chris that our intelligence products are finally getting better. We're learning, sadly, that A.Q. Khan was proliferating nuclear technology in much greater amounts than we thought -- A.Q. Khan, the decorated hero in Pakistan -- to Libya, Iran and North Korea. And it is just absolutely critical that we fix the problems in our intelligence to stay ahead of these problems.

But I want to make one other comment, because I was in Libya, I did meet for two hours with Moammar Gadhafi just a few days ago, one of a handful of members of Congress who've been there. It is a good thing that he's agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction, but it is important that we be hard-headed about this and insist on, as the State Department has said, performance-based measures to be sure it's happening.

I worry that even if he is intent on dismantling weapons of mass destruction, which is a very good development, there may be elements in his country, just as A.Q. Khan was in Pakistan, who have bad stuff and are continuing to proliferate it to bad guys around the world. And that will just augment this IED problem, will augment it with nuclear technology, and then we'll really have an enormous security and homeland security problem.

BLITZER: Congressman Cox, as we're speaking, it seems that armed rebels have now taken -- or at least seem close to overthrowing President Aristide's forces in the second-largest city in Haiti. This is a country that's, what, only 90 minutes' flight from the United States. There are serious humanitarian issues, potential refugee issues for the United States.

What, if anything, do you think the U.S. government should be doing now to help ease this crisis that's unfolding not far away in the Caribbean?

COX: Of course the United States has offered a settlement plan, but the armed rebels are intent on one thing, and that is removing Aristide.

He is, of course, a brutal thug. I think that, to a certain extent, the policy during the Clinton administration that put him in power, that used military might to put him there, is now being shown to have been a mistake.

BLITZER: What do you think, Congresswoman?

HARMAN: I think we should be acting through the U.N. and some of our international organizations to bring a coalition of peace-loving nations to bear on this process, on this problem. I don't think we should be acting unilaterally here.

BLITZER: Very briefly, before I let both of you go, the issue of California and gay marriage. First to you, Congresswoman Harman. You may have heard what the mayor of San Francisco said on this program.

HARMAN: I did. BLITZER: He's going to go ahead and continue these marriages, even though there is a law in California saying marriage should be that between a man and a woman.

Is he doing the right thing?

HARMAN: Well, first of all, the right wing would love this to dominate the federal agenda. The president, by endorsing a constitutional amendment, means that -- will mean that Congress is going to focus on this, rather than focusing on reducing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the enormous security challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think this is a matter of state law and state courts. I agree with Senator Feinstein, who you had some film of on your program, that the courts of California should decide this.

I would like to salute my friend Gavin Newsom for his courage and his passion. He's raising this issue as a mayor of a city that cares intensely about it, and equal protection of the laws is something we should all strive for.

BLITZER: Congressman Cox?

COX: Well, I think that Mayor Newsom does not deserve to be saluted for failing to distinguish the difference between making a normative argument, which he just made earlier in this broadcast, about what the law should be, and a prescriptive argument, which is an act of towering hubris to say that that's what the law already is.

We have 150 years of legal history in California, and a recent initiative passed by the voters of California, as Senator Feinstein pointed out. You've got everyone from Senator Feinstein, to Barney Frank, to President Bush noticing the difference between challenging a law or going about changing it the proper way, and simply asserting, as matter of your own opinion as if it were fact, that this is what the law is now and you just didn't know about it.

BLITZER: Congressman Cox, Congresswoman Harman, always good to have both of you on "LATE EDITION." Thanks for joining us today.

COX: Happy to join you.

HARMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead, the race for the White House. Will a Ralph Nader candidacy spoil the Democrats chances of defeating President Bush? We'll talk about that with four United States governors.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get political analysis on Ralph Nader's decision to enter the 2004 U.S. presidential race in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: More now on the very chaotic situation in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Government rebels there are attacking Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitien, right now.

CNN's Lucia Newman is following developments. She's joining us now live via videophone.

Lucia, what do we know?

NEWMAN: Hello, Wolf.

There are conflicting reports coming out of Cap-Haitien at this moment. We were able to contact the manager of the Hotel Mon Jolie (ph), who lives about four blocks from the police station. He says the police station was attacked, the prisoners were released, and that he saw about 20 to 30 very heavily armed rebels on the street.

Also, eyewitnesses and local journalists say they've heard heavy gunfire. It started off sporadically, but in the last hour, they claim, it has intensified. There are also reports of smoke coming in the direction of the airport.

Now, it is unclear whether the city of Cap-Haitien, the second most important in this country, has been taken, or whether or not the gunfire is between the rebels and armed supporters of President Aristide.

The outbreak of an attack is consistent, however, Wolf, with statements made by Guy Philippe, the former police chief of Cap- Haitien, who slipped back into Haiti last weekend, vowing to take back his old city, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lucia Newman, watching this story for us. We'll check back with you. Thanks, Lucia, very much.

Now to a major political development in the race for the United States presidency. Ralph Nader today announced he's entering the contest as an independent candidate.

Joining us now, CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

I guess it's not a huge surprise, but it's still a very, very worrisome problem for Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Democrats are worried that this will be an extremely close election. And while it's very likely Ralph Nader's vote will shrink after Democrats know now what he did in 2000 -- they believe that he threw the election to Bush by taking votes that would otherwise have gone to Al Gore. So his vote is likely to diminish. But on the other hand, this election looks like it easily could be as close as it was in 2000, and any votes he gets could make the margin of difference in some critical states.

BLITZER: He's not going to be on the Green Party ticket this time, as he was four years ago. He's running as an independent. It's not that easy to get on the ballots in all 50 states.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It takes some money. He's not going to have any party infrastructure working for him. He doesn't have a lot of money.

But he doesn't need a lot to run. He's going to get some attention. The question is: Will he be frozen out of the debates, as he was in 2000?

He's probably going to get on most state ballots, but his claim that he made this morning was most states are not really competitive. They're already locked in by one party or the other. So he only wants to get on the ballot in those states like Florida where he can make a difference.

BLITZER: In Florida, last time, he got almost 100,000 votes, and Al Gore (sic) won by, what, 537 votes. A lot of those people who voted for Ralph Nader presumably would have voted for Al Gore, if Ralph Nader were not running. That's why Democrats are not happy about this development.

But they couldn't. They tried every which way. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, told me on Friday he met with Ralph Nader. Others implored him, including long-time friends, but he's going forward.

What's your assessment? Why is he doing this?

SCHNEIDER: He believes the 2000 election demonstrated his clout. He says that it showed he can make a difference. So now that he has that clout, he's saying, "You better listen to me."

Now, the only rational reason to vote for Ralph Nader is if you honestly believe there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, and it doesn't make any difference whether Bush has a second term or the Democrats replace him.

Does Ralph Nader honestly believe that? Listen to what he said this morning on "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: It's a question between both parties flunking, Tim, one with a D-minus, the Republicans, one with a D-plus, the Democrats. And it's time to change the equation and bring millions of American people into the political arena, so that the civic groups are not shut out when they try to improve their country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: So what he's saying is there's only a tiny bit of difference between the parties on the big issues, like the relationships with corporate America, he believes the differences are very small.

BLITZER: It's going to be exciting once again. Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

And with the presidential race heating up here in the United States, President Bush tonight will be speaking to the nation's 50 governors at their winter meeting here in Washington.

Our Kathleen Koch is over at the White House. She's joining us now live.

Set the stage for us, Kathleen. What's happening?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a very partisan group, many whose citizens are hurting from high unemployment, a lack of affordable health care, and a drop in federal funding for the state. So President Bush is tonight inviting this obviously tough audience to the White House for a state dinner.

Saturday, in dueling press conferences and also this morning on CNN, Democrats and Republicans, the governors, squared off, expressing conflicting viewpoints on the job President Bush is doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TOM VILSACK, GOVERNOR OF IOWA (D): I will tell you that, as a group, Democratic governors are becoming more cynical and more skeptical about the economic and fiscal policies of the Bush administration, in large part because of the recent mishaps, mistakes and misrepresentations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has provided strong leadership in tough times of change, exceedingly difficult economic and international circumstances. He's leading a successful war against terrorism, and he's leading our nation back to economic prosperity.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KOCH: President Bush has taken a lot of fire from governors this year, some who insist that the administration is pushing too many unfunded mandates -- some cite the No Child Left Behind Act -- on states whose coffers have been drained by the poor economy.

Governors are also concerned that they won't get enough money for some of their top priorities, like highway and mass-transit improvements. There is no indication, though, that President Bush is going to be coming forward either tonight or tomorrow with any new proposals to alleviate their concerns. He has invited the governors to come to the White House in the morning to meet with him and some Cabinet officials.

The Democratic governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who you'll remember was a member of the Clinton administration, predicts that that meeting will be, quote, "respectful but contentious" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kathleen Koch at the White House, thank you very much.

And coming up, 10 days, 10 states. Will John Kerry or John Edwards hit the Super Tuesday jackpot? We'll talk with four influential U.S. governors.

Plus, keeping the faith: We'll explore the debate over the new movie about the death of Jesus Christ.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you have a plan to put America back to work? I do. Do you have a plan to put America -- to have health care? I do.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We ought to have at least four debates so they know what each of us have to offer.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: The economy, health care among the key issues in this year's presidential campaign here in the United States.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The nation's governors are here in Washington attending their winter meeting. Joining us now to talk about the state of their states, four guests: Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania; Republican Governor Bill Owens of Colorado; Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan; and Republican Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Governors, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Welcome to Washington. No stranger, sure, to all of you.

Governor Rendell, let me begin with you. Listen to what Ralph Nader said earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: After careful thought and my desire to retire our supremely selected president, I've decided to run as an independent candidate for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That can't be good news for the Democrats, given the widely held notion this is going to be another close contest. GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, it isn't. But it also isn't good news for Ralph Nader. He's done so much for this country and is in serious danger of marginalizing himself.

My prediction, Wolf, based on 2000, is he's not going to get a third of the votes he got in 2000 if he stays in, and he shouldn't spoil what's a great reputation as a fighter for people.

BLITZER: Let's remind our viewers, some of the numbers, and I want Governor Granholm to weigh in on this.

In the 2000 contest, both of Gore and Bush got about 50 million votes. Nader got almost 3 million votes. But in key states like Florida, where there was a 537-vote difference, he got almost 100,000 votes. Pennsylvania, he got 100,000. In Colorado, he got 91,000. In Michigan, he got 84,000 votes. In Arkansas, he even got 13,000 votes in Arkansas.

Governor Granholm, if this is a close contest, Nader could be a spoiler, once again.

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN: And that's what we're all concerned about. I think that what he said earlier today indicated that he's come in because he wants to move an agenda. He wants people to pay attention to the issues he cares about.

The people who have supported him in the past certainly have a home in the Democratic Party, and we certainly welcome the discussion. But I think to throw the election, or to risk doing that, to see four more years of a president who, his followers, I don't think, are supportive of, is not a good idea.

BLITZER: Is this an opportunity for champagne bottles to be corked at the White House right now, Governor Owens?

GOV. BILL OWENS (R), COLORADO: Well, I don't think so. I think the president's very confident of running for reelection based on his record.

But I also would point out that it's not unusual to have spoilers in these races. We saw, in our own party, we saw Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot play key roles in earlier elections that some would say actually helped the Democratic Party and hurt my party.

This time, Ralph Nader has an agenda. He has a point of view that he doesn't think is being represented, and he's going to step in.

BLITZER: But is there a Republican, quote, "spoiler" running this time?

OWENS: No, not this time. But we certainly have had them in earlier elections, to the benefit of our friends in the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: What's your bottom-line assessment, Governor Huckabee? GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Well, I think the Democrats have something to worry about. But I think it's still going to come down to two people -- George Bush and whoever the Democrat nominee is.

But we're happy that Ralph Nader's joined the fray. Good, bring some more on. Maybe Jesse Jackson can run, and Justin Timberlake will get on the ballot.

(LAUGHTER)

Who knows? Bring in all of them. Because we're solidly united behind George Bush, and I think that's what's important for the Republicans across America.

BLITZER: Governor Rendell, you're a former chairman of the Democratic party. Did you weigh in? Did you personally call Ralph Nader and say, "Ralph, you know what, this is a terrible idea"?

RENDELL: No, I actually called someone in his campaign who was from Pennsylvania and said, "Look, this isn't a good idea. The differences are material." I think Governor Granholm is right. If you polled Ralph Nader's followers, they would even tell you the difference is dramatic.

And this is not the time for a symbolic vote. The votes are going to be very real about whether we change the direction of America.

BLITZER: Is Michigan a likely strong ground for Ralph Nader to gain strength? You know the state, obviously, very well.

GRANHOLM: He got 2 percent in the last election. In the last election, the state went for Gore. Michigan is going to be a strong state, I think, for the candidate that I'm supporting, who's John Kerry, because of the issue of jobs. That's really the thing that everybody in Michigan is very, very concerned about.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about a possible Kerry-Bush race. The new Newsweek poll that's just out today says Kerry would get 48 percent, Bush would get 45 percent. If John Edwards were the Democratic nominee, it would be 46-46 percent.

Governor Owens, this looks incredibly close. It's still a long time to go, but both of these potential Democratic candidates could give Bush a run for his money.

OWENS: Well, certainly. And we've felt from the very first that it very well is going to be a very close race. This is a country that's very evenly divided.

However, this is a good time for the Democrats in the sense that presidential campaigns run in cycles. This is a time when John Kerry's been winning some primaries.

But, in fact, by the time we get to November and have that debate about jobs and the war against terrorism, we're very confident that we'll be on top.

And, also, look to the past, look to where Ronald Reagan was right now, look to where Bill Clinton, even for a moment in 1996 was running behind.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about jobs right now, Governor Huckabee. Since the president took office almost four years ago, 2.2 million jobs have disappeared.

Let's take a look in the four states represented around this table. The increase of unemployment since the president took office: In Colorado, it's gone up 5.8 percent. In Michigan, it's gone up 7.2 percent. In Pennsylvania, it's gone up 5.1 percent. In Arkansas, it's gone up 5.5 percent since the president took office.

Why should Americans reelect him if jobs are so important?

HUCKABEE: Well, jobs are important, but leadership is even more important. And this is a president who has given us solid, strong leadership during a time of real crisis.

He inherited a coming recession. He didn't create it, but he inherited it.

Then after that, when we had the September 11th disaster, he was a president who stood tall, who had a clear vision of what we needed to do to respond to terrorism, and he's done exactly what he's told the American people that he would do.

It's refreshing having a president who not only says what he's going to do, but then turns around and does it, and sticks to it with a clear resolve.

BLITZER: All right, let's let Governor Rendell weigh in, because I want you to listen to what the president said in his own defense this week on this particular issue of the economy and jobs. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Well, I've seen firsthand what we've been through, and we've been through a lot. And in spite of that, our economy is strong and it's getting stronger. There's still room for improvement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He suggests, his economists suggest, the trends are definitely moving in the right direction because of the tax cuts he pushed through the Congress.

RENDELL: Well, there's really no evidence to support that. And you'd have a tough time convincing the people of Michigan or Pennsylvania that that's true.

And Governor Huckabee says he inherited a recession. Well, Bill Clinton came in in very difficult economic times and turned around and produced 25 million new jobs. George Bush came in in times that were turning bad and has produced over 2 million job losses, the largest in the last 11 administration.

The tax cuts haven't worked to produce jobs. We haven't invested in American business. We haven't increased the technology of American business. We haven't done things like an infrastructure-repair program for this country, which, as governors, we all agree is needed.

BLITZER: All right, let's let Governor Huckabee respond.

HUCKABEE: Well, I think what we saw in a lot of the '90s was what I call a "botox economy." We had the inflation of the dotcoms, there was a lot of economic activity, and it began to shut down, even in the waning days of the Clinton administration. You can't blame either president, Clinton or Bush, for that.

But what you also had was a clear not only economic issue, but you had an unparalleled issue in terms of national security. And I think this president is focused not only on national security, but he is focused on jobs and economic development.

BLITZER: Do you buy that, Governor Granholm, he inherited this problem which was dramatically complicated by 9/11?

GRANHOLM: I do think it was complicated by 9/11, I must say that. But I do also know that he inherited a fiscal situation where he had a $250 billion surplus. It's now at the most eye-popping deficit level that anybody has ever seen.

You combine that with the tax cuts, which are supposed to create jobs. They are not just supposed to jack up the stock market. The tax cuts are supposed to give capital to corporations to invest to employ people. The corporations are hanging on to the capital, nobody's being employed. And in Michigan that means 300,000 jobs.

BLITZER: In Colorado, we know that surpluses and deficits are big issues, and Governor Granholm just referred to it. Let's put the numbers up on the screen.

There was a $300 billion deficit in '92, when President Clinton took office. In '96, it went down to $107 billion. But in 2000 there was a surplus of $237 billion, with surpluses projected for as long as the eye could see. Right now, there's a $521 billion deficit.

Is the president responsible for those horrendous numbers?

OWENS: Absolutely not. In fact, this nation did go into recession as President Bush took office. Economists tell us that. The market peaked six months prior to his administration. Today productivity is at a 15-year high. The GNP had its best half year in 20 years. We see unemployment today lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s.

You cannot blame a deficit on a president when we went through a national recession, in many ways a worldwide recession, and we also had September 11th. This president has in fact inherited a tough time when we've needed a leader. And we're doing a very good job...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very briefly, because we want to take a break, go ahead.

RENDELL: Let's assume he did inherit this. What has he done? Cut taxes. That's failed. There are other things you could do to jumpstart this economy. He hasn't done them.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break, governors. Stand by, all the governors.

We have a lot more to talk about, including our viewers, they're standing by, they have phone calls for all of our guests.

Up next, a quick check of the hour's top stories, including an update on the escalating violence in Haiti unfolding right now, then more with the governors.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our discussion with four governors: Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, Colorado Republican Governor Bill Owens, Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Arkansas Republican Governor Mike Huckabee.

We have a caller from Ohio who wants to weigh in.

Go ahead, Ohio.

CALLER: Thank you, Wolf, for taking my call. This is Kevin. I'm just curious as to why so many jobs are being outsourced overseas, when there are so many people unemployed in this country. I've been unemployed for 15 months and can't find a job, with over 340 resumes mailed out.

BLITZER: Governor Granholm, Michigan's got this problem.

GRANHOLM: Huge problem. In fact, 170,000 of our job losses have been in the manufacturing sector.

And what's gone on is that -- I just have a classic example. There's a little city in our state called Greenville, Michigan, 8,000 people. Last month the main employer there, 2,700 people employed, Electrolux, said they're going to go to Mexico.

We had given them zero taxes. We had given them huge concessions, a brand-new plant. But they could pay $1.57 an hour in Mexico.

The question is, what can we do on a national level to prevent this hemorrhaging of jobs? NAFTA has been a problem. We need to have international trade agreements that have core labor and environmental standards.

This is not anti-trade. It's pro-trade. Our companies can compete with the best of them, if the playing field is level. Right now, the administration has not been developing international trade policies that help our companies and our workers.

BLITZER: What about in Arkansas? Is this a problem in Arkansas?

HUCKABEE: We've lost jobs. Sure we have. Everybody has. But, you know, everyone wants to blame the president.

You want to know who really is at fault? The consumers. When consumers buy things -- the cameras that we're being videotaped on today. Where did they come from? They came from Japan. The microphones that we're talking into, they weren't American-made.

The fact is, people buy products because the products are a lower price. And they're lower-priced because they're produced overseas at lower cost, where countries aren't regulated by EPA and OSHA and a dozen other entities, and because the tax burden is lower and the labor costs are lower.

If we want to be competitive, we have to not only see that there are jobs. Those jobs have to be able to produce products at a lower price that consumers are willing to pay.

BLITZER: If consumers are benefiting in the end by lower costs for all sorts of products, what's wrong with that?

RENDELL: Well, there's nothing wrong with that, per se. But Jennifer's right, we ought to level the playing field by insisting that these trade agreements have wage and labor standards. That's number one.

Number two, the federal government ought to invest in technology, help companies invest in updating their technology. The state of Pennsylvania, the state of California, we probably spend more money, give our corporations more money to do that than the federal government does.

There's so much we could do. And also, our tax policy. We control our own tax policy. Why are we giving tax incentives and tax breaks to corporations who set up outside of our shores? Makes no sense at all.

BLITZER: Does it make any sense?

OWENS: Well, I think most of what my good friend Ed Rendell says doesn't make much sense. Actually, American productivity is at record levels. We've set -- we've improved productivity more than in the last 50 years.

For Ed to suggest that we need the federal government to come in and help corporations be more productive -- what we actually need to do is make sure that the tax burden on American business is low enough that we can compete. Ed and John Kerry and most of my friends in the Democratic Party want to raise taxes, which actually will drive more jobs offshore.

RENDELL: We don't want to raise corporate taxes, but we don't think that the richest 1 percent, who average over a million dollars, should be getting a tax break of $100,000, when, in this tax break, ordinary Americans get $100. That's not fair. It's not right.

OWENS: John Kerry wants to end the capital gains tax reduction. That is an increase of taxes on corporate America. My friends, again, in the Democratic Party have a problem with President Bush's reducing the tax load. The average refund check is going to be $300 more because of what President Bush did.

The way to keep America productive is to keep the tax burden on business and the individual lower. That's a big difference between the two parties.

BLITZER: I want to go around the table once and get your thoughts on what's happening in California right now, Massachusetts, New Mexico, this move towards legalizing gay marriage. Listen to what the president said this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I am troubled by activist judges who are defining marriage. I have watched carefully what's happened in San Francisco.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Governor Granholm, is this an issue in Michigan?

GRANHOLM: It is an issue in Michigan, like it is everywhere else. But in Michigan, we have a ban on gay marriage, and I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.

But I also believe that this is a wedge issue, that this is something that is often raised to try to divide people. I don't think the government should be in people's bedrooms one way or the other. I don't think most Americans believe that either.

BLITZER: What do you think?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think they ought to be in the bedrooms, but when they go to the courthouse and get a marriage license, that's not the bedroom anymore.

And when you advocate the government should sponsor same-sex marriage you've crossed a line that we have a right to be a part of, because if that marriage is recognized, whether it's in California, New Mexico or Massachusetts, and these folks move to Arkansas, we're going to have a real problem with that.

BLITZER: Do you want the president to go for a constitutional amendment? HUCKABEE: I'm comfortable with that. That's the president's decision. But I want to make sure that we preserve what has historically and traditionally been the understanding of marriage, that it's between a man and a woman. And every, every culture and society that I'm aware of has always historically defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

BLITZER: Governor Rendell.

RENDELL: What a horrible prospect it would be, Wolf, if on a social issue like this, we started amending the Constitution. Amend it on this, we're going to amend it on something else.

Look, most Democrats, Governor Granholm and I, believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But we also believe that gay couples who have made a commitment to each other should get the same legal benefits that they can under our existing law.

HUCKABEE: They can do that under a power of attorney.

BLITZER: Let's let Governor Owens wrap this up, because we're out almost out of time.

The argument is, Governor Owens, that if there's a loving gay couple and they're committed to each other, why should they be discriminated against and not be allowed to get married?

OWENS: Well, because, in this democracy -- for example, in California that issue went to the ballot just a period of two years ago. Sixty-two percent of Californians said that marriage is between a man and a woman. Now, in fact, the mayor of San Francisco is throwing that law on its face.

Because of the interstate compact, because of the U.S. Constitution, we don't want to recognize California's law or Massachusetts's law in Colorado. This isn't a wedge issue that's being brought my party. It's being brought by activists on the other side. We will deal with it.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there, unfortunately, because we're all out of time.

Governors, welcome to Washington. I hope you have a good stay here. And we'll have you back. Thanks very much.

Up next, "The Passion of Christ" heads to a movie theater near you. Is it a fair portrayal of the death of Jesus? We'll get insight from the men known as "The God Squad," Monsignor Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman. They'll join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

On Wednesday, actor/director Mel Gibson's new film, "The Passion of Christ," opens in theaters across the United States. The film addresses the final 12 hours of Jesus, and is already generating huge amounts of controversy.

We're joined now by two guests who have already seen the film. They're known as "The God Squad": Monsignor Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Monsignor Hartman, let me begin with you. What was your sense? What did you think of this movie?

MONSIGNOR THOMAS HARTMAN, GOD SQUAD: I loved it. I went through it fearful that it may be anti-Semitic. I came out of the theater very much intrigued with the portrayal of Jesus. It was a personal movie. It was a spiritual movie. It was authentic to the Gospels.

And I think the most important thing that Christians need to be aware of is that, while it is not anti-Semitic, there are people who may have anti-Semitic leanings who may use this movie for the wrong purposes. This is meant to be a spiritual experience, not a political statement.

BLITZER: Rabbi Gellman, you saw the film as well. What did you think?

RABBI MARC GELLMAN, GOD SQUAD: I did. Wolf, I was prepared, with every fiber of my being, to hate this movie, and I think it's one of the most extraordinary religious films ever made.

I think that the concerns of the Jewish community are of course well-founded, but the concern and the difficulty, Wolf, is not with the movie. The concern and the difficulty is with the Gospel account of the death of Jesus.

There's just no doubt that in an authentic Christian telling of their formative story, there are anti-Jewish elements in the story. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and the Jewish people rejected him. And that message, and the fact that the Christian claim that God became man, the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Christian claim that he was resurrected, all of these claims fly in the face of Judaism.

But the movie allows us all to grow up. It allows Christians, I think, to tell their authentic story, and it allows Jews to hesitatingly but trustingly wait to see whether Christians have also grown up, and whether they can tell their story without the story being used to foment cruelty and suffering among the Jewish people.

BLITZER: Monsignor Hartman, I want you to listen to what Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said this week. He saw the film as well. He says, while he doesn't believe that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite or the film is anti-Semitic, he does have concerns. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABE FOXMAN, DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: The movie has a fix. It's unambiguous: The Jews are bloodthirsty. The Jews are vengeful. And the Jews are the angry ones. The Romans are loving and kind, and forced by the Jews into the crucifixion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Monsignor, what do you say to Abe Foxman?

HARTMAN: I'd say, Abe, it is a very complex story. What we teach today in our schools, in our churches is that it wasn't the Jewish nation that encouraged the death of Jesus, it was a few Jews. It wasn't the Roman government, but that it was some Romans.

And, by the way, we also teach that Jesus came on earth to die for our sins, to liberate us, and that, just as Mel Gibson put the nail in the crucifix, he's pointing out that all of us who are Christian, all people of the world, helped to kill Jesus because of our sins.

So, I'd say, Abe, you're partly right, but not seeing the whole story.

BLITZER: And then, Rabbi Gellman, what do you say to Abe Foxman?

GELLMAN: I think he's pretty much dead wrong. The fact is that the movie clearly shows a degree of cruelty among the Romans that is as nauseating as the complicity of the Jewish priests. But the Roman soldiers are the ones who scourge Jesus. The Roman soldiers are the ones who crucify him.

And they show Jews like Simon of Serene (ph) helping Jesus carry the cross. They even show the priests, who are depicted in a terrible way, a terrible way, they show some priests who resist the ruling of the high priest.

And what is really interesting is that after Jesus is on the cross, there's a flashback of him talking to his disciples, and he says, "Look, if no one -- if I did not want to lay down my life, no one could have taken it from me. I came here to lay down my life."

And then, of course, there's the forgiving of the priests.

So, yes, if you want to use this movie to hate Jews, you can use it. But if you look at the movie honestly, you can see it as an authentic telling of the Christian story.

And I think it is long time past for Jews to accept this idea that we have been taught often -- and I think incorrectly -- that it was, of course, the Romans who killed Jesus. There's no dispute about that. Crucifixion is against Jewish law, and the Romans had the military and political authority of the time. But the idea that the Jewish community was simply a passive observer to this is also not true.

BLITZER: All right.

GELLMAN: What Jesus taught is simply against Jewish teaching. BLITZER: Mel Gibson, in his interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this week, Monsignor Hartman, said this. "The Jewish Sanhedrin," which was the Jewish court, "and those who they held sway over, and the Romans, were the material agents of his demise. You know, critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me and this film. They have a problem with the four gospels."

Do you agree with Mel Gibson on that?

HARTMAN: Well, as Marc said before, Jesus was radical. There were divisions between the Sagasees (ph) and the Pharisees (ph). And Jesus was at odds with many of their beliefs.

For example, he quoted himself. And, just as in law, where you quote a precedent of another case, so Jews, rabbis, quoted other rabbis. They didn't quote themselves.

He claimed to be God. He claimed to be the Messiah. Of course he would come in conflict.

Even the notion of who the Messiah was. The Jews had the notion that the Messiah to come would be human, would be like a man for all seasons, somebody who would inspire people and lead them to another level of peacefulness and happiness.

Jesus came on Earth, and he really put people in conflict with each other. He said that his kingdom was not of this world, but of the next world and that he was divine.

Of course there's going to be conflict between Jesus and the Sanhedrin.

BLITZER: Rabbi Gellman, listen to this exchange between Mel Gibson and Diane Sawyer earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Are you anti-Semitic?

MEL GIBSON, ACTOR: No, of course not.

And here's the other thing. For me, it goes against the tenets of my faith to be racist in any form. To be anti-Semitic is a sin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, Rabbi Gellman, the concern of many Jews was that over the centuries when these types of passion plays have been put forward, especially in Europe, they almost always generated waves of pogroms, or murder of Jews, after people went forward.

In the United States, there's probably not much concern of that, but are you concerned that elsewhere around the world, people who may be anti-Semitic may see these kinds of films, may be inspired to go after Jews? GELLMAN: Yes, of course I'm concerned. But the concern leads us to ask this question: Should Christians be prevented from telling their authentic story? Or should they be allowed to tell their story, and then grow up to take responsibility for the way their story has been distorted?

Look, Muslims face exactly the same challenge in our own time. Islam is being perverted by Islamic terrorists. Does that mean we should not teach the Koran, that Muslims shouldn't have a chance to teach the teaches teachings of Mohammad? Of course not.

In fact, the movie challenges all of us to grow up and to realize that our stories are different, but they don't need to lead to cruelty.

BLITZER: Rabbi Gellman, Monsignor Hartman, thanks to both of you for joining us on this important subject.

And this note to our viewers: More on the subject, Reverend James Dobson will be a guest tonight on CNN, 10 p.m. Eastern. That will be here on CNN. Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family.

Up next, the results are in on our Web question of the week: Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? We'll have the vote for you when we come back.

Also, Bruce Morton's last word on the Bush White House, everything according to script.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? Here's how you voted: 74 percent of you said yes; 26 percent said no. Remember, this is not -- repeat, not -- a scientific poll.

Let's get to some of your e-mails.

Steve from Wyoming writes this: "The idea of gay marriage used to make me uncomfortable. But seeing all of those people standing in line to get licenses in San Francisco changed my mind. It became real, and it became admirable."

Caroline (ph) from Texas writes: "Proponents of gay marriage see it as morally neutral, but I think that gay marriage could destroy the social institution of marriage."

This from Bill in Texas: "The base of the discussion isn't what God wants; it's what the U.S. government allows. The land of the free needs to act that way."

As always, we love hearing from you. Our e-mail address, lateedition@cnn.com.

Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on one former insider's story of the Bush White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ron Suskind, formerly a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, has written one insider's fascinating account of how the Bush White House works.

The insider is Paul O'Neill, Bush's treasury secretary, until he was fired after about two years on the job. Suskind says O'Neill gave him total access: appointment books, phone records, the lot.

There are some surprises. The first National Security Council meeting, January 30th, 10 days after the inauguration, Bush explains Condoleezza Rice will run the meetings and brief him later. What's on the agenda? Iraq.

Three days later, February 2nd, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is more specific: Sanctions are fine, but what we really want to think about is going after Saddam.

So months before 9/11, months before the war on terror, the administration was focused on overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

But the way the president and the White House work may be the most interesting. In his first one-on-one with the president, O'Neill delivers a rundown on the economy. There were a dozen questions, Suskind writes, that O'Neill had expected Bush to ask. He was ready with the answers. Bush didn't ask anything. He looked at O'Neill, not changing his expression.

O'Neill is puzzled. "You meet with the president to answer questions. I wondered from the first if the president didn't know the questions to ask," O'Neill recalled, "or did he know and just not want to know the answers."

At other times, O'Neill is quoted as saying the president doesn't know much about most domestic issues.

But the oddest part may be the way he describes meetings. They were not held to argue over what to do. Everybody played their parts, literally.

For this president, Cabinet meetings and the many mid-size to large meetings he attended were carefully scripted. Before most meetings, the Cabinet secretary's chief of staff would receive a note from someone on the senior staff in the White House. The note instructed the Cabinet secretary when he was supposed to speak, about what and how long.

When O'Neill had received his first such note, he was amazed. He had been in many White Houses. He had never heard of such a thing.

O'Neill says other things: that Vice President Cheney seems to be first among equals, that politics is very much a part of policy. But his description of an incurious, scripted president is the most interesting. It's hard to imagine a White House running the way he says this one does. But it's also hard to imagine how he could have made it all up.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

Let's take a quick look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Time magazine asks, are too many jobs going abroad?

And Newsweek features Donald Trump in his new reality TV show, "The Apprentice."

There they are. Newsweek, Donald Trump; Time magazine, jobs.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, February 22nd. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday, twice a day, at noon, at 5 p.m. Eastern.

This programming note: Ralph Nader will be Judy Woodruff's special guest on "Inside Politics." That's tomorrow, 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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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