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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
U.S. Commander Wants Troop Options for Iraq; Kennedy Criticizes Bush on Iraq; Interview With Lawrence Eagleburger
Aired April 5, 2004 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Kyra Phillips. "INSIDE POLITICS" follows the headlines.
Preaching violence, Iraqis have issued an arrest warrant for a militant Shiite cleric. Moqtada al-Sadr is being blamed for inciting bloody attacks against coalition forces over the weekend. He's wanted in connection with the killing of a rival cleric.
Beware another blackout. Investigators say it could happen if the power industry refuses to guarantee more reliable power. That includes clear penalties for violators. A report's been issued by U.S. and Canadian officials that looked into the blackout last August which plunged much of the eight states in the dark and parts of Canada.
A delay for sure; a mistrial perhaps. The New Jersey manslaughter trial of former NBA player Jayson Williams is suspended for a week so the defense can examine new evidence. It was handed over by the prosecution after both sides had presented their cases. Prosecutors say it was an oversight. Williams' attorney calls it intentional.
Now "JUDY WOODRUFF's INSIDE POLITICS."
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A free Iraq will make America more secure. We will not be shaken by thugs and terrorists.
ANNOUNCER: President Bush stands firm against the insurgents, but will the continued violence in Iraq hurt him here at home?
Good news on American jobs, unless you're a Democrat running for president. We'll get Senator Kerry's take on the economy as he returns to the campaign trail.
Has pork taken over Capitol Hill? How the highway bill became an on-ramp for every lawmakers' pet project.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
The economy and job training were the planned message of the day for President Bush, but the deadly weekend violence in Iraq and the chance that more U.S. troops could be deployed to the region are making it difficult for the president to keep the focus on his domestic agenda. After a speech in North Carolina, Mr. Bush said, "Despite the latest Iraqi violence, the U.S. is committed to transferring power to Iraqis at the end of June as scheduled." He also said the U.S. is determined to bring democracy to Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The message to the Iraqi citizens is, they don't have to fear that America will turn and run. And that's an important message for them to hear. If they think that we're not sincere about staying the course, many people will not continue to take the risk toward freedom and democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: And as for the U.S. response to the deadly weekend fighting, and last week's violence in the city of Fallujah, CNN has learned that there is a renewed focus on the chance that more U.S. troops may be needed in the area.
For more on all this, let's turn to senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Pentagon officials call it just prudent planning, but nevertheless, the weekend violence and demonstrations has prompted the U.S. Central Commander General John Abizaid to order some options up in case the U.S. would need a quick infusion of additional troops into Iraq. This after months of saying they don't believe they need more troops. But Abizaid is looking at the situation, according to a senior CENTCOM official, to see what would happen if it got out of control and if he needed to quickly bring in more troops.
He wants to know where those troops would be and how fast he could get them in. Nevertheless, at the same time, officials at the U.S. Central Command insist they've made no requests for additional troops, that this is based on a worst case scenario which they don't believe is going to happen. And they say they have adequate forces now to take care of the situation.
In fact, they point out, because of the rotation, they actually have a plus up at the moment. Instead of about 120,000 troops they had at the end of last year, they're up to about 134,000 troops. So, again, no additional troops now, but the planning under way in case they need them in the future -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jamie, to what extent has this become a two-front war, at the very least, with the Sunnis in the north, the Shia in the south?
MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon insists that they don't believe they've got a two-front war. They do think that the main problem is with the Sunni Ba'athist sympathizers, those who sympathize with Saddam Hussein. And they believe that this radical cleric in the south doesn't have a lot of support beyond his core constituency, about 3,000 or so people who follow him, the young cleric with the name of Sadr, Moqtada al-Sadr.
So they believe that if they can take him into custody and neutralize him, they will not be dealing with a big Shia uprising in the south. But, of course, that's the way it looks right now.
WOODRUFF: So, Jamie, in their view, the Sunnis remain the larger problem?
MCINTYRE: Yes, but I think they think over a long term. But they also -- I have to say that Pentagon officials are clearly much more focused now on this problem now with Moqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric in the south. They really believe that has the potential for getting out of hand. So if you ask which problem right now is on the front burner, it's the problem with the Shia, and they really want to get a handle on that right away before it spins out of control.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie, thank you very much.
Meantime, the president's Iraq policy came under withering criticism today from Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. The senator is a bitter opponent of the current policy and, of course, he's a close adviser to fellow Massachusetts senator and presidential hopeful John Kerry.
Our congressional correspondent Joe Johns is with me now for more on what Senator Kennedy had to say -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, more tough talk today from Senator Edward Kennedy. He's given upwards of a half- dozen speeches since 2002, slamming the administration. Today, he took out after the president's domestic policies, as well as the war, comparing Iraq to Vietnam and comparing President George W. Bush to Richard Nixon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASS.: They repeatedly invent facts to support their preconceived agenda. Facts which administration officials knew or should have known were not true.
This pattern has prevailed since President Bush's earliest days in office. And as a result, this president has now created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon. He has broken the basic bond of trust with the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Senator Mitch McConnell now expected on the Senate floor giving essentially a Republican response to the Kennedy speech. He is expected to argue that the focus should be on al-Qaeda and terrorism, not on the administration.
Meanwhile, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, has now canceled a visit to Washington. We're told here a lot of people believe he canceled it because of the problems now occurring in Iraq -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Joe Johns reporting for us from the Capitol. Joe, thank you very much.
And you can hear more from Senator Kennedy tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." He'll be talking to Larry at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.
Well, for more now on the U.S. policy in Iraq and the latest violence there, I'm joined from Charlottesville, Virginia, by the former U.S. secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger.
Secretary Eagleburger, disturbing violence in Iraq. The situation certainly grim, grimmer than we've seen over the last few days, talk of additional troops. Is this something that you think may be inevitable?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Which, the troop increase or just -- I think what's inevitable, Judy, is the fact that both the Shia and the Sunnis now are acting up because what they see is that when and if the U.S. transfers authority, they're going to have a difficult time getting themselves into power. So what they're trying to do now, I think, is embarrass us as much as they can on both sides, both the Sunnis and the Shia.
And then the basic point being that they want to give as much in the way of strength when the power is turned over to the Iraqis as they can. I think it's selfishness in the extreme, but that's what I think they're doing.
WOODRUFF: Did the Bush administration in any way underestimate the resistance?
EAGLEBURGER: Oh, sure. I think that's clear. Mind you, I'm not at all sure that I blame them for it.
But I do think there is no question that none of us -- and I suspect that would be true of almost everybody involved in this at one stage or another -- none, I think, none of us expected that the reaction would be as it has been. I think, yes, it was underestimated.
WOODRUFF: Well, now you have, among others, Senator Richard Lugar, who's the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying the administration needs to take a hard look at whether to postpone the handover date, the date at which control of Iraq is supposed to be handed back to the Iraqis. Is that something the administration should be seriously considering? They're saying no.
EAGLEBURGER: They should be considering it, but they have said no. And I think they will continue to do so. But I've worried for some time that we are rushing to judgment here in terms of how fast we're turning things over.
The issue, it seems to me, ought to be that we will turn authority over to an Iraqi government of some sort once we are confident that there's going to be stability thereafter. And I don't think we can be confident of that at this stage. But if we're going to turn it over in June, I think what is important is what the president also said, that we're going to still be there and in force,. And I think what that means is you have to assume that we will react if we have to against those who threaten the government.
WOODRUFF: Well, will that have really been a handover then, a turnover, if the U.S. is still there in force and the U.S. is still making important decisions?
EAGLEBURGER: Well, that's -- that's better than nothing, Judy. In my view, if they're going to turn it over to an Iraqi government of sorts and move toward elections and things of that sort, all right. But the fact of the matter must be, I think, that at the base of all of this, the Iraqis and we can count on the fact that if things don't go well, American military force is still there to put things back in order. And if we move out militarily, I think we've made a terrible mistake.
WOODRUFF: I want to ask you, Secretary Eagleburger, about comments yesterday made by the chairman and the co-chairman or vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. We've heard this from Tom Kean before. Now both of them are saying they think that 9/11 could have been prevented.
Is that conclusion one that disturbs you? Are you comfortable with that conclusion?
EAGLEBURGER: Well, I'm not comfortable with the fact that the chairman and the co-chairman of this commission are talking in public at all before the commission has finally made up its mind on anything. I think the Clarke business has thrown everything askew here, and I think it's quite wrong to say and have it mean anything to say that 9/11 could have been prevented.
Of course it could have been, if we'd done things 10 years, five years earlier, perhaps. But to blame it on either the Democrats or the Republicans, Clinton or Bush this time, I think is nonsense.
WOODRUFF: Well, one other comment Tom Kean made, among other things, he said the Bush administration's skepticism about the Clinton's national security policies, he said, may have led the Bush White House to pay too little attention to the threat of al-Qaeda.
EAGLEBURGER: Well, here again, you know, I hope he knows what he's talking about, but I wish he would wait until this was all over to say it. I've been through too many transitions, and I know for a fact that any administration coming into office is going to look with great care on what its predecessor did. And I don't think that that's to be blamed on anybody. I think that the Republicans, when they came in, yes, I think they were skeptical about how much the Clinton administration had done on terrorism. I don't think it had anything to do whatsoever, however, with whether or not they could have prevented 9/11.
WOODRUFF: Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, thank you very much for talking with us. Good to see you again.
EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure. Good.
WOODRUFF: Thank you.
Well, you won't be surprised to know that Iraq is dominating today's headlines. But both President Bush and Senator John Kerry started out the day with a different item at the top of their political agendas. That's coming up next.
Later, what is money for a museum doing in a highway construction bill? I'll explain how it works.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to outsource George Bush and this administration. Then we can provide real jobs for people in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: ... is John Edwards interested in the job of being John Kerry's running mate? Stand by for some ticket talk.
WOODRUFF: Bolstered by robust job growth last month, President Bush focused on economic issues during a trip today to North Carolina. At a stop in Charlotte, he unveiled a plan to overall the federal job training program.
The plan would double the number of Americans enrolled in skills training programs set up during the Clinton administration. President Bush says the expansion would cost $300 million. But he said it would be paid for by reining in the costs and duplicate services of existing programs.
Well, the president's Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry, is not letting up in his attacks over the issue of job losses. Kerry is getting back into full campaign mode after a vacation and shoulder surgery.
CNN's national correspondent Kelly Wallace is with us now from New York.
All right, Kelly, first of all, what is the Kerry strategy in the light of the good news that came out late last week about jobs? KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, there's really two parts to Senator Kerry's strategy, and one was illuminated by John Kerry's visit earlier this morning to a career center in Washington, D.C. There he talked to some D.C. residents who were out of work.
The message coming from the senator and his top aides, they are saying, despite one month of very good job growth, some two million Americans are still out of work. Many of them unemployed for 27 months or longer.
Another part of the strategy, though, after weeks of being painted by the GOP as a taxer and a spender, the senator is firing back, issuing a new report and a new Internet ad today. In this ad, he is accusing President Bush of proposing $6 trillion in new spending and tax cuts without indicating how he will pay for all those programs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George, it looks like you're having a little trouble with your math.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, your budget numbers don't add up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they're close enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George, you've overspent by $6 trillion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: And in this age of rapid response, the Bush-Cheney team responding very quickly, saying this is nonsense and charging that Senator Kerry is the one with a $900 billion shortfall between what he is proposing to spend and what he would take in. Well, the Kerry campaign says that is not the case and says the senator will be unveiling his budget framework on Wednesday in a big speech. The senator, though, has indicated he might have to scale back some of his campaign promises and proposals in light of the higher deficit numbers now than existed last summer.
In-between the speech, Judy, on Wednesday, the senator's hitting the road. Tomorrow, he travels to Ohio. On Thursday, he'll be in Wisconsin. Friday, Illinois.
Very important states in the Midwest. Ohio and Wisconsin, in fact, key battleground states, Judy, that could play a very, very decisive role in this election -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Some of the places we're going to be hearing a lot about over the next seven months. Kelly, thanks very much.
Well, as John Kerry pushes ahead in his campaign to unseat President Bush, an important question remains unanswered: who will the senator from Massachusetts pick as his running mate?
Well, CNN political editor John Mercurio has been reading all the vice presidential tea leaves, and he's with us now for what we're calling some ticket talk.
All right, John. The guys who were competing against John Kerry, some of them are very much apparently interested in being his running mate.
JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Imagine that.
WOODRUFF: First of all, Dick Gephardt, what has he been out there doing?
MERCURIO: Well, he was up in New Hampshire last Thursday. There was a mini hurricane actually in New Hampshire, but Gephardt refused to cancel his events. He was at two events designed as sort of a "Thank you New Hampshire" to his supporters who never got to vote for him. And he made clear, according to the people I talked to over the weekend, that he's very interested in being on the ticket with Kerry.
He was at two events and he spoke just briefly for five or six minutes at these events. And according to the people I talked to, he said sort of a vague quote: "In order to beat Bush, Democrats need to have a strong ticket. And I really want to be part of that ticket."
Now, whether he actually means he wants to be VP or he just wants to be one of the Democrats who is campaigning for Kerry, is subject to debate. He also made clear there were several Democrats up there who were backing him. So Gephardt wants to be out there, kind of working with Democrats, campaigning, and ideally to be on the ticket.
WOODRUFF: All right. Somebody who stayed in the campaign longer than Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark. He was on the trail almost immediately after he got out. What's he been doing lately?
MERCURIO: Well, on Thursday, he's going to be at the Arkansas Democratic Party's state fund-raiser, expects to raise about $15,000 there. And they're honoring Wes Clark.
He's also going to be at the Arkansas party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner on May 1. But he's not going to be the keynote speaker, and this is sort of interesting.
Apparently, according to his aides, the party asked him to be heavily involved, possibly to be the keynote speaker. He deferred, saying there might be scheduling problems, and encouraged them to look elsewhere to other Democrats.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is the Democrat they ended up choosing. So this is used from Clark aides to say, look, we're not campaigning for this, we're not interested. We wouldn't want to share a stage with Bill Richardson if we were actually campaigning for VP.
But he is going to be out there. He's campaigning for Tom Daschle later on this month, or sometime in the near future. WOODRUFF: There's something to be said for not looking too eager. Finally, what about John Edwards, the last man to get you the out of the race? He has been traveling around.
MERCURIO: Been traveling around. He's been campaigning. He was in North Dakota over the weekend.
In response to questions from reporters, he said -- reporters asked him if he wants to be president some day. Apparently he smiled and said "Yes. Yes, I do." So now we know that. Now we know the answer to that.
And he also was endorsed by two sitting U.S. senators. I think it's the first actual endorsements from U.S. senators...
WOODRUFF: To be running mates? To be Kerry's running mate?
MERCURIO: To be VP, right.
WOODRUFF: And, quickly, what are you hearing about a timetable for a decision?
MERCURIO: The reports are out there that Kerry wants to do it in May. We're hearing internally, yes, they do want to have a name of a candidate by May 1.
Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, came out last week and strongly publicly urged him to make announcement in early May. She said, "I don't want John Kerry to be debating Dick Cheney. I want to have a VP who can do that."
WOODRUFF: All right. A lot of tea leaves to look over. John Mercurio, we're going to be talking to you regularly throughout this campaign, or at least until a decision is made. And even after.
WOODRUFF: All right. John, thank you very much.
Well, the Republican Congress and the Republican president may be on a collision course. Coming up, the road to pork barrel politics.
WOODRUFF: A performing arts center in Rochester, New York; a museum in Dearborn, Michigan; and an old bus depot in Jessup, Georgia, all have something in common. There is money for all three and much more in a new highway construction bill. If you don't understand what those projects have to do with highways, you're not alone. But that's how it works.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): Bring on the bacon, because pork is a regular feature on the Washington menu. Take the $275 billion transportation bill that sailed through the House last week. Sure, it's about rebuilding roads and strengthening bridges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't have good highways, you can't keep and grow good jobs.
WOODRUFF: But it's about something else, too. Like $11 billion worth of local pet projects lawmakers tucked into the already pricey package. We're talking about nearly 3,000 projects, including horse trails in Virginia and a $4 million initiative to clean up graffiti in New York, all of which bloat the bill while allowing lawmakers to claim credit for hometown improvements.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far and disgraceful a path we have tread with this pork barrel-laden piece of overspending at a time when we have all-time deficits.
WOODRUFF: The White House agrees and is threatening a veto which both houses of Congress have enough votes to override.
WOODRUFF: So we'll see where that goes.
Meantime, President Bush says the U.S. has to stay the course in Iraq. Coming back -- coming up, a look back at other times U.S. presidents wanted to hang tough, but the images changed voters' minds.
Later, who's winning the race for Latino voters? A new poll sizes up George W. Bush and John Kerry.
ANNOUNCER: As violence in Iraq escalates, Democrats step up their attacks on the president.
KENNEDY: Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. And this country needs a new president.
ANNOUNCER: And aftershocks from the battlefield are being felt on the campaign trail.
All eyes on Condoleezza Rice. The national security adviser takes center stage at the 9/11 hearings on Thursday. What's at stake politically? We'll put that question to a man on some Democrats' VP wish list, Florida Senator Bob Graham.
The Sunshine State's a key battleground this year, and one group is looking to flex its political muscle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't pay attention to the Cuban- American vote, they as a group, thousands of them, will not show up.
ANNOUNCER: And that could spell big trouble for the GOP.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: Welcome back. President Bush began his day with a speech on jobs and the economy. But the challenges of securing peace in Iraq threaten to steal the political spotlight. This morning in North Carolina, Mr. Bush addressed a range of issues facing the United States both at home and abroad. For more on the president's day, we turn to CNN's Elaine Quijano at the White House -- Elaine.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Judy. President Bush traveled to North Carolina to talk about job training and the economy. He gave a speech at a community college there and afterwards at an impromptu news conference, he was answering questions about Iraq. Specifically the president forcefully reiterated his commitment to meeting the June 30 deadline for the transfer of power to the Iraqi people. President Bush saying that the U.S. is working toward that day and despite the heightened violence in Iraq this past weekend, he will not be deterred. The president also said the closer it gets to that deadline, the more likely people will challenge the coalition's will and the will of the Iraqi people but the president says that June 30 date remains firm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The message to the Iraqi citizens is, they don't have to fear that America will turn and run. And that's an important message for them to hear. If they think we're not sincere about staying the course, many people will not continue to take a risk toward freedom and democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: So President Bush sticking to that date, June 30 saying that that transfer of power to the Iraqi people will happen. President at this hour now taking in a baseball game actually. He is set to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in St. Louis at the Cardinals-Cubs game. That's set to take place and then the president will head to his ranch in Crawford, Texas -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: A lot going on in the president's schedule today. Elaine Quijano at the White House.
Some of the video coming in from Iraq in recent days has been painfully graphic, at times difficult to watch. Our Bruce Morton reports the images of war from past conflicts have helped to shape and even reverse public opinion, but so far that does not seem to be happening with the war in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the troops run for the safety...
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Few die well," Shakespeare wrote in "Henry V," "that die in battle," and that's still true. How much dying will a country take before its people say enough? Remember Vietnam, there are 58,000 names on the black wall and families, children, grandchildren now still come and mourn those dead. The war destroyed one president, Lyndon Johnson, damaged another, Richard Nixon who made a peace which amounted to defeat delayed a little.
Michael Williams, a soldier in that Shakespeare play says "if the cause be not good, the king himself has a heavy reckoning to make." Many thought Lyndon Johnson's cause was not good. "Hey hey, LBJ," they would chant outside the White House, "how many kids did you kill today?"
On Ronald Reagan's watch, a truck bombing attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon killed dozens in April of 1983. A suicide truck bombing at Beirut's airport killed 239 U.S. military personnel mostly marines, in late October. In February, '84, Reagan began withdrawing troops and formally ended the U.S. role in the peacekeeping force there in March.
In October, 1993, U.S. forces took casualties fighting warlord Muhammed Fatah Adeeb (ph) in Somalia. His men dragged American bodies through the streets, scenes like those in Fallujah last week. Bill Clinton withdrew the last Americans in March of 1994 and some think that convinced Osama bin Laden that the U.S. was gun shy, would not stand and fight. If the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make.
STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Our reactions to the pictures are always the same, brutal, horrible, and you may, but what we do about it will depend largely on whether we think we should be there or shouldn't be there.
MORTON: Hess worked in the Nixon White House, remembers Vietnam, remembers Somalia. This time the polls say people think we should be there in Iraq.
HESS: It's not 100 percent. If it's 60/40, that's the way we can respond to these things. There'll be plenty of people who will ask very serious questions about why we're there and will relate it very significantly to these brutal pictures we're seeing.
MORTON: Why and for how long? Senators John McCain and Joseph Biden on NBC.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Many years, many years. Hopefully, hopefully as a peace-keeping force, but many years. There will be tough times to come.
MORTON: Tough times. More pictures that are hard to look at. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: A new poll meantime shows a majority of the U.S. public still thinks President Bush was right to go to war in Iraq. Even as his job approval rating is slipping. The Pew poll shows that the president's approval rating has slipped from 47 percent in late March to 43 percent now. However, the same poll shows a 2 percent increase, actually within the margin of error when people are asked if the U.S. made the right decision by using military force in Iraq last year. It was 55 percent in mid-March, it is 57 percent now.
A little over an hour ago, I talked with Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida about the recent disturbing news from Iraq. I started by asking him to size up the situation as he sees it right now.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Well, Judy, it's very difficult and I think we probably made a mistake by indicating a specific date, June 30, for withdrawal. That gives the bad people a calendar that they can look at and see how many days they've got before they're going to have free rein in Iraq. I also think we made a mistake a year and a half ago when we didn't plan adequately for the occupation period, particularly to have enough troops on the ground in order to give security to our people and an environment in which Iraq rebuilding could take place.
WOODRUFF: Do you think more troops should go in if it's determined they're needed?
GRAHAM: Hopefully, international troops, but frankly, at this stage of the game, with all of the instability and loss of life I think it's going to be very difficult to get substantial numbers of foreign troops to go to Iraq, and so it leaves it up to us to decide, are we prepared to leave an inadequate force on the ground with the kind of vulnerabilities that we've just seen or will we put more Americans there? I think if those are the two difficult choices, we ought to put more Americans into Iraq.
WOODRUFF: The June 30 handover date you just mentioned, should that date hold as the administration says it will even if it is not clear who is running Iraq, who's in control of Iraq after that date?
GRAHAM: Well, this administration has had a number of unfortunate habits of judgment, one of which is that it doesn't level with the American people as to what the situation is in Iraq. We didn't have good information as to why we were going there, what we would find in the military phase, and particularly, what we'd find in this occupation phase. And the administration has also been very reluctant to ever admit it made a mistake.
On a news show yesterday, Karen Hughes, when asked what was the biggest mistake the Bush administration has made couldn't think of one thing to mention. I think that we've made a series of mistakes, including having and insufficient number of troops on the ground to protect our people and start the rebuilding process. The administration needs to face up to those mistakes and say we're human, we've made a mistake. We're going to put some more people in there, going to try harder to get international forces involved and we're going to relook at the reasonableness of the June 30 withdrawal date.
WOODRUFF: Senator, I want to ask you about the testimony coming up this Thursday of Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser before the 9/11 Commission. What do you look for from her this week?
GRAHAM: Well, I hope she'll answer some questions such as, what do you think were some of the things you would like to do differently before 9/11 that might contribute to our understanding our enemy and being able to take better steps to protect ourselves. What -- how have you applied the lessons that you have learned in areas such as what have you done to reform the intelligence community to deal with some of the clear problems that existed before 9/11 and I'm afraid continue to exist. What did you learn about accountability, has anybody been held accountable for 9/11, and if not, would you recommend that the president hold somebody accountable.
WOODRUFF: Senator, and finally a question about the Democratic presidential ticket. A report in the "New York Times" over the weekend about the vice presidential nomination. Among other things, the article said that as of at least last Friday you had not been contacted. Have you been contacted since then by the Kerry campaign?
GRAHAM: Judy, that is a personal decision that Senator Kerry will make and he will make it on the standards that he thinks are appropriate and at the time that he thinks it's appropriate and for the individual. I am not going to comment about that, and will leave any announcement up to Senator Kerry.
WOODRUFF: So if I were to ask you, do you expect to be contacted by the Kerry campaign...
GRAHAM: I would say that the campaign president -- for presidency has a phone number listed in the Boston and Washington phone directories and I would request that you call there to see if they're prepared to make any announcement.
WOODRUFF: We whipped out the phone book right after that interview.
With the Latino vote a top priority for both the Bush and Kerry campaigns, coming up, a new poll indicates a clear favorite at least for now. Plus, Ron Brownstein will join us to talk about the main issues affecting President Bush's reelection campaign.
WOODRUFF: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are taking advantage of the start of the Major League baseball season this day to put in campaign appearances or rather we should say appearances in a couple of key campaign showdown states. The president is in Missouri to throw out the first pitch in this afternoon's St. Louis Cardinals-Milwaukee Brewers game. A little earlier, Vice President Cheney was in Ohio to make the first pitch when the Cincinnati Reds hosted the Chicago Cubs. We'll talk more about that later.
Two new polls lead the headlines in our campaign news daily. Likely voters in Minnesota give the early edge to John Kerry over President Bush. A "Star Tribune" poll gives Kerry a 12-point lead over Bush, 50 - 38 percent. The economy was the top concern among those surveyed. The poll was taken before Friday's positive job numbers were released.
The Bush and Kerry campaigns have plans go all out for the increasingly important Hispanic vote. A "Miami Herald" Zogby (ph) poll finds Senator Kerry leading President Bush, 58 percent to 33 percent among Hispanics nationwide. For some comparison, President Bush won about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.
Polls consistently show voters in every state are worried about the economy and national security. Joining me now to talk about the president and the top issues in this campaign, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Ron, people obviously paying attention to the job numbers but you also have really bad news coming out of Iraq over the weekend. How is Iraq in particular affecting the president politically?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Iraq seems to be the wildcard or maybe a better phrase is the tipping point in this election right now. The president consistently gets positive ratings from most Americans on his handling of the war against terror. Those have eroded in the wake of Richard Clarke's criticisms but they're still above 50 percent. He's consistently under 50 percent on the economy. Even after the good job numbers, the Pew poll that you cited that came out just today had him at only 39 percent on the economy.
The one that really varies and is very much conditioned by events is Iraq. Somewhere around 50 percent of the public generally supports what he's doing there but when things go bad in Iraq, that number goes way down and the Pew poll was only 40 percent approval for the president on Iraq and that dragged down his overall approval number to the lowest rating they've ever had on that, 43 percent, a figure from which he cannot win reelection. He will have to improve it obviously from there.
WOODRUFF: Does something like a speech today from Senator Ted Kennedy affect all of this, or do people just write that off as partisan...
BROWNSTEIN: I think that especially on Iraq and the economy, it's being driven much more by event than argument. The sense of the public not on whether we should have done it at all, as you pointed out, that has consistently stayed above 50 percent. There's not an ideological majority against the war but there can be at various times an operational majority against the war, anxiety about whether it is working. In this Pew poll, only about a third of Americans say they believe the president had a plan for resolving the Iraq situation successfully. So he is really whip sawed between the economy, terror, and Iraq, the three big factors in this election. If he can get them all pointing in the same direction, it's going to be a good fall for him, if they're pointing in different directions, that's where it gets dicey.
WOODRUFF: If that's how it affects President Bush, what about John Kerry? Is he able to capitalize on this in some way or is he completely a victim of events?
BROWNSTEIN: I think they are both largely going to be driven by events. Kerry's job is to be an acceptable alternative to not allow the president to make the argument that Kerry would make things worse. That has been the argument certainly on the economy where until Friday's good news, the president was focusing on the argument that Kerry's prescription would cause even more jobs to be lost.
But I do believe in an area like Iraq, the judgment is going to be on the president. This is President Bush's war. It is very much identified that way in the mind of the public. As I said, it's not that the public a majority would say it was the wrong thing to do on an ideological basis, but there can be doubts about whether it is working, whether it is making the country more secure, and whether our forces are being exposed to unnecessary risks.
WOODRUFF: Does this in many ways come down to what question you're asking the voters and what question they're focusing on? If the question is, was the president right in the first place, a majority still say yes. If the question becomes did the administration have a plan, do people agree with what appears to be the goal in Iraq, you could have a very different outcome.
BROWNSTEIN: And as well, the other question is how much of the focus is on Iraq, terror, and the economy. How do those three baskets balance out. We don't really know yet how much weight people will put on what has been a pretty negative verdict on the president on the economy, the very positive verdict on terrorism and again, Iraq has sort of this tipping point, depending on how it goes. I think a lot of it depends what's in the news, what's on people's minds, what are the events on the ground. More than anything else, a presidential race with an incumbent president is a referendum on the incumbent which is largely a referendum on how the nation is doing.
WOODRUFF: If it's dependent on what's in the news, those are the things that change literally every day and we could see it up and down.
BROWNSTEIN: I think you do see it up and down in these poll numbers.
WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, "Los Angeles Times," thanks very much.
Medicare reform, it is a hot issue. Another one this election year, but which party is winning the battle for public opinion? Find out some answers from our senior political analyst Bill Schneider when we come back.
WOODRUFF: Medicare has traditionally been a strong political issue for Democrats. But President Bush tried to steal their thunder with a controversial new prescription care drug benefit. Who's winning the battle for public opinion today? Here's our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): In December, when President Bush signed a new Medicare prescription drug benefit into law, he foresaw a big political payoff.
BUSH: Seniors will start seeing help quickly.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats predicted a different reaction.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: We estimate that about one-quarter of all senior citizens will be worse off virtually the day this bill passes.
SCHNEIDER: Since February, the government has been sending out millions of fact sheets like this, explaining the new plan. And running TV spots.
AD ANNOUNCER: It's the same Medicare you've always counted on plus more benefits like prescription drug coverage.
SCHNEIDER: What do Medicare beneficiaries think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't really cover enough. And that's what I think of it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It should be a better plan. Very disappointed in it.
SCHNEIDER: When the bill was signed in December, seniors were inclined to favor it. And now they've turned against it, especially seniors who understand the changes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just trying to figure out what this income level is in relation to poverty.
SCHNEIDER: Most seniors who feel they understand the new plan are critical of it, they think it will mostly help low income people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Based on the information I got in the mail yesterday, it seems like it's centered around low income.
SCHNEIDER: Or those with high prescription drug bills.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE; People that are paying a lot, it's going to help them naturally.
SCHNEIDER: It does not do the one thing most seniors want it to do, bring drug prices down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to see this law, which is now in place, could be amended like to give the government permission to negotiate lower prices.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should have more control over the prices. SCHNEIDER: So far, the political payoff has not materialized for President Bush. Right now, the president has a small lead over John Kerry among all likely voters but he's doing worse with seniors. Could administration's public information campaign be backfiring?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it brings back to mind those members of AARP who were opposed to this movement, it brings it fresh up into their memory that they don't like this bill.
SCHNEIDER: The government's chief Medicare actuary says he was ordered to hide the true cost of the plan in order to get it through Congress. News like that only increases public skepticism about the information they're getting from the government -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.
President Bush, as we all remember, captured Florida's Cuban- American vote by a huge margin in 2000, but new polls show the president now needs to be concerned about that key voting bloc. The story coming up.
WOODRUFF: Apparently hoping to reverse its narrow loss in the presidential race in Florida four years ago, the Democratic party is taking aim at a key voting bloc for President Bush. New polls suggest the president has reason to be concerned. Here's CNN's John Zarrella.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Four years ago, the numbers were staggering. In Florida, more than 450,000 Cuban-Americans went to the polls and 80 percent voted for George W. Bush. It is the kind of support political analysts say the president must have again.
JIM KANE, EDITOR, "FLORIDA VOTER": If you don't pay attention to the Cuban-American vote, they as a group will, thousands of them will not show up. And that's going to make a big problem for the Republican because he needs every single one of those core voters.
ZARELLA: But recent surveys show Cuban-Americans are not quite as enthusiastic as they used to be. A Florida International University poll found just over 58 percent of Cuban-American voters would definitely or probably vote for the president in November. To Democrats, that number means the Cuban-American vote is in play. Television ads have just been unveiled by the new Democratic network targeting the nation's Hispanics, including Miami's Cubans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, TV AD: When they promise, they deliver.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD, TV AD: Ah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, TV AD: Only with the Democrats will we have a better life. SIMON ROSENBERG, PRESIDENT, NEW DEMOCRATIC NETWORK: They're going to go hard into Miami and to try to get everybody that we can in that market.
ZARELLA: So far, political analysts say the Democrats have been slow to act. They have not done much to court Cuban-Americans who feel the administration's policies, the critics say, have not been tough enough on Fidel Castro.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted a policy that brought about change, that promoted freedom. Something that you know, we're willing to do 6,000 miles from the United States, we're not willing to do 90 miles from our shore.
ZARELLA: Expectations were simply too high says Al Cardenas, former head of the Florida Republican party.
AL CARDENAS, FMR. CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Short of seeing Castro leave one way or the other after 40 some years in exile, there's very little you can do to appease a community that's been so hurt and so wistful and so hopeful and yet their dreams not realized.
ZARELLA: The president is expected to spend considerable time in the Cuban community showing he cares. The question is, just how often will Democratic candidate John Kerry be here? Republicans say he hasn't been here yet and they don't expect to see much of him, which they add should tell you something about just how attainable the Cuban vote really is. John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
WOODRUFF: And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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