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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

New Poll in Reaction to Rice Testimony; Kerry Treading Carefully When it Comes to Iraq; Interview With Bill Richardson

Aired April 9, 2004 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I do.

ANNOUNCER: The day after Condoleezza Rice's testimony...

RICE: There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

ANNOUNCER: ... what impact did her appearance have on public opinion? We'll reveal the latest numbers.

Senator John Kerry keeps the heat on President Bush over Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that this administration has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by its own ideology and its own arrogance, period.

ANNOUNCER: We'll speak to a potential Kerry running mate, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

From cable to broadcast networks, a media extravaganza: critiquing the coverage of the 9/11 Commission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today. I'm Candy Crowley.

We begin with the fallout from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission yesterday. The White House had resisted letting her testify in public and under oath. Today, the Bush team may be wondering why they didn't allow her to testify sooner.

Bill Schneider is here with some New poll numbers.

Bill, did Condoleezza Rices' testimony help him, I assume? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, it did help the Bush administration, and that is based on evidence we gathered in a CNN-TIME poll taken last night. Ten days ago, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, believe the Bush administration did not do all that could be expected to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After Dr. Rice's testimony, only 40 percent held that view.

Now, more Americans are inclined to believe the about Bush administration did do all it that could have been expected to do to prevent 9/11. Dr. Rice has a lot of credibility.

CROWLEY: So Bill, when you look at these numbers, did she enhance the Bush administration's political prospects?

SCHNEIDER: Well, she wins the battle of credibility between herself and Richard Clarke, but only by a narrow margin. Forty-three percent of Americans say they're more likely to believe Dr. Rice's defense of the Bush administration and its record on terrorism. Thirty-six percent say they're more likely to believe Mr. Clarke's criticism of that record.

And guess what? Who you believe turns out to be highly partisan. Most Republicans believe Rice; most Democrats believe Clarke. But 30 percent of Democrats say they believe Rice, while only 15 percent of Republicans believe Clarke.

The fact that Rice is an African-American woman is probably not irrelevant here. That helps make her a sympathetic and credible figure to almost a third of Democrats -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider, Happy Easter.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Our CNN-TIME poll also shows the president's overall approval rating dipping below 50 percent. That is, 49 percent right now, with 47 percent disapproving. Bush's approval number was 54 percent in early February.

President Bush is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but the administration appears to be tying up loose ends from yesterday's hearing. A National Security Council spokesman says the administration is working to declassify the president's daily briefing memo from August 6, 2001, the memo with the headline "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

The 9/11 commissioners also questioned former President Bill Clinton yesterday, but the session was in private and off camera. The same goes for former Vice President Al Gore's meeting with the panel today. Both sessions are described as cooperative.

Former President Jimmy Carter says he, too. doubts that President Bush could have anticipated the September 11 attacks. But in an interview with a Brownsville, Texas, newspaper, Carter was critical of the Bush administration's released policy and call the invasion of Iraq "ill advised, unnecessary and tragic."

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is treading carefully when the subject of Iraq comes up. As Kelly Wallace reports, he would really prefer to focus on other things, but events overseas keep getting in the way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the second day in a row, John Kerry in the Midwest tries to focus on the economy, but finds the growing tensions in Iraq taking center stage.

KERRY: I think this has been a failure of diplomacy, a failure of foreign policy, a failure of creative leadership in the foreign arena. We can succeed, yes, we can. But boy, I'll tell you, it's a lot tougher than it ought to be or has to be.

WALLACE: But for the first time, the presumptive Democratic nominee is raising the possibility even his plan won't be successful. He told radio host Don Imus "If it doesn't work, it's because this administration has gone too far down the road the other way, and they have locked us into a much more complicated outcome. But it didn't have to be this way." Earlier this week, CNN's Judy Woodruff asked the Senator what he would do differently.

KERRY: Right now, what I would do differently is -- I mean, look, I'm not the president and I didn't create this mess. So I don't want to acknowledge a mistake I haven't made.

WALLACE: But in that interview on and the stump, Kerry says if he were elected president, he would reach out to the international community and convince countries they have a say in Iraq's transformationing.

KERRY: Do they all have this kind of modern equipment...

WALLACE: The Senator wrapped up his two-day Midwest swing touring a job training site with one of the Democratic parties newest rock stars, U.S. Senate candidate, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And Kerry faces a delicate balancing act on the issue of Iraq, criticizing President Bush while not appearing to be exploiting a situation where American men and women are losing their lives -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Kelly, what in specific has he said about Rice's testimony? Is it just merely, OK, we're all about process now, I don't want to talk about the substance of it?

WALLACE: Exactly, Candy. He is not saying anything. He said he hadn't even really seen or read her testimony, and he is staying far and clear from it.

And there's a political strategy here. Aides say they don't believe he needs to step into this, that this is now in the hands of the September 11th Commission, and they will wait to see the report and let the process continue from there -- Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN's national correspondent, Kelly Wallace. Thanks, Kelly.

In both its sacred and secular forms, the Easter holiday is having an impact on the campaign trail and the "Campaign News Daily." If nothing else, today is giving the candidates a little time off.

President Bush is sending Easter greetings to Christians around the world. The president writes, "As families and friends gather to enjoy this Easter season, we celebrate god's gift of freedom and his love that conquers death." He adds, "Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a happy Easter."

The White House has announced that Monday's annual Easter egg roll will reopen to the public this year. Free tickets will be distributed Saturday. But don't count on seeing President Bush, who will still be at his ranch in Texas. Due to last year's Iraq war, the egg roll was closed to the public and limited to the families of U.S. troops. About 40,000 people usually turn out.

Finally, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has scheduled a holy Saturday appearance at an Islamic center in Denver. The stop is part of the Kucinich campaign swing through Colorado.

We will return to more topics in just a minute. I will have New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson joining meting to discuss everything from the insurgency in Iraq to that vacancy on the John Kerry ticket.

Also, political soap opera preempts the real thing. Howard Kurt looks at how the media covered yesterday's daytime drama.

And later, some of the hottest races on both sides of Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Speculation is growing about who John Kerry's running mate will be. The list of those most often mentioned as possible candidates for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket includes New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who is joining us now from Santa Fe.

Well, I'm very surprised you're (ph) here, and you won't be surprised that I want to know if you talked to anybody in the Kerry campaign about the number two spot.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: You know, what I said to you in New Mexico when you covered the first debate, Candy -- and you were so great at it -- was that I was very happy being governor of New Mexico. I still am. My position hasn't changed. And that's kind of where I want to leave it.

I think Senator Kerry has two months where he can look at issues of compatibility, where he's going to get votes, is the candidate that he picks going to be presidential material. I am ready to serve, to campaign intensely for him. I'm not interested in this position, and I've said it before. And I keep saying it, but you guys keep asking, and I keep saying the same thing.

CROWLEY: We do, we do, and that's why your name keeps coming up. And I noticed that skillfully you didn't answer the actual question, which is, has anybody from the Kerry camp reached out to you and talked to you about this, asked for any material?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's the kind of response that politicians will keep giving you, Candy. I can't discuss things like that. But I've made it clear publicly to my constituents in New Mexico I'm very happy where I am.

CROWLEY: OK. Fair enough. We'll take that as a yes, how's that?

Listen, I want to move you on to the more serious subject of Iraq. Fortunately, you have worn many hats. One of them is U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

With all this talk now about handing over of power to some sort of Iraqi entity in June, and all this talk of bringing the U.N. in, I want to know how much you trust, given the situation, that the U.N. could go in and make any real difference right now.

RICHARDSON: Well, Candy, I don't think we have any choice. We can't continue with the status quo.

The Sunnis and the Shiites are basically banding together to fight us, to attack us. That's a terrible development. The civil administration handing over power to Iraq on June 30, highly improbable, unlikely.

We have got to shift course, our policy. And the Bush administration, I believe, still has time to say to the U.N., look, when it comes to civil administration, help us. Peacekeeping, police force, amass NATO, Muslim troops, right now we are losing troops. Not just American that are dying because they're unsafe, but other countries are questioning their commitment.

If we get some international backing through the U.N. for what we're doing, this whole transition would be a lot easier. And I don't understand the administration sticking to a policy that seems to be producing more American deaths, 40 since Sunday.

I spoke to the parent of a New Mexico kid, Chris Ramos (ph), who died three days ago. This is not working, and we ought to shift gears. And still, there's time to make sense of more of an international coalition to what we're doing.

CROWLEY: Well, I guess my question stems out of the fact that when the U.N. was in Iraq during a very turbulent time earlier on when it was there for humanitarian purposes, when things got rough they did pull out. One of the reasons we had to act in Bosnia and Kosovo as we did was the U.N. and NATO needed help. So I'm just wondering how realistic it is to think that the U.N. is going to solve this.

RICHARDSON: Well, Candy, you're right. The U.N. is not perfect. And they've gone into situations like Bosnia and Kosovo and Iraq, where all of their missions have not been 100 percent workable.

In fact, the Oil for Food Program, we now know the U.N. administration has not been good. However, the U.N. is good at setting up elections, transition governments. But, most importantly, the political signal within Iraq, within the international community, within the Arab world that this is not an American occupation, that this is an international relief effort, that this is an international effort backed by the United Nations.

So the U.N. has, I think, operational strength that can help us and symbolic strength that really can help us. So we should reach out and we should go to the U.N. Security Council. And I believe that France and Russia and Germany and China and our allies that we should bring back and say, let's work together.

Senator Kerry, I know, put this position out recently. I think it makes a lot of sense.

CROWLEY: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who is very happy where he is, right? And we don't know whether you've talked to the Kerry campaign or not. I really appreciate your time, Governor.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Turning now to the September 11 investigation, there was an enormous buildup to yesterday's appearance by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. How did the media handle her actual testimony? Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give us one more chance.

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): The broadcast networks hardly ever blow off their lucrative soap operas to cover breaking news. Only on rare occasions: the Senate Watergate hearings, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Clinton impeachment debate.

CBS, NBC and ABC offered live coverage. So their presence, along with the cable networks, a battalion of photographers and journalists from around the world, made yesterday's Condoleezza Rice appearance before the 9/11 Commission a television extravaganza.

In cinematic terms, the face-off lacked the drama of, say, Oliver North's combative testimony during Iran Contra. Too much bureaucratic talk for that.

RICE: August 6 PDB, the legal impediments and the bureaucratic impediments.

I was responding to the threat spike. BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: This is what the August 6 memo said...

KURTZ: But there were a few testy moments that TV would replay again and again.

RICE: We were not presented with a plan.

KERREY: Well, that's not true. It is not...

KURTZ: We didn't really learn much that was new. Even this dramatic sounding title of a pre-9/11 memo for President Bush...

RICE: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

KURTZ: ... was in The Washington Post in 2002. But if the hearing was largely polite, the media coverage was anything but.

Rupert Murdoch's New York Post took the national security adviser's side, while The New York Daily News was far more critical. Rice was "unwilling to acknowledge that the newly-arrived Bush administration was part of that problem," said the generally liberal New York Times.

But conservative outlets attacked the 9/11 commissioners, such as this American Spectator headline: "Condi and the Louts." A Wall Street Journal editorial slammed Democrat Bob Kerrey. "We thought the former senator had more class than to preface his remarks with a condescending allusion to the fact that Ms. Rice is a black woman." And the talking heads were quick to choose up sides.

PAUL BEGALA, "CROSSFIRE": Dr. Rice has no one but herself to blame for the many contradictions in her testimony today.

SEAN HANNITY, "HANNITY & COLMES": I thought Condoleezza Rice handed him his lunch. And, similarly, I thought, frankly, she quite eloquently got the better of Bob Kerrey, when she started quoting his own words back to him. I thought it was hilarious, actually.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL": "I couldn't remember if I ever told the president about al Qaeda cells operating in the United States."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you not remember?

TUCKER CARLSON, "CROSSFIRE": Isn't it time to stop blaming people for 9/11 and stop turning this into some sort of partisan mud- fest?

KURTZ (on camera): In the end, Rice's testimony was like a media Rorschach test. Praised by those sympathetic to the White House and dismissed by those who believe the president was negligent before September 11. While the pundits keep arguing about Rice's performance, the story is already being overshadowed by that other divisive issue of the Bush presidency, the continuing violence in Iraq. This is Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: A juicy political battle is brewing this November, and it doesn't involve George W. Bush or John Kerry. Next, come with us to the Lone Star State to tackle Texas-sized politics. That's coming up right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The presidential race is getting all the attention in the upcoming elections, but there are other political battles that promise to provide some fireworks this November. Some of them are taking place in Texas. Earlier, INSIDE POLITICS spoke with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: There are a lot of subplots here in the race for Congress. But the biggest and probably the most important is taking place down in the Lone Star State of Texas.

We've heard a lot about Texas in the last year or so. Texas legislators, Republican legislators redrew the map with a lot of help from another Texan here in Congress, Majority Leader Tom DeLay. They drew the map really to put pretty much every single Democrat in the delegation in serious jeopardy.

And right now, that looks to be the case. Republicans, they already have a 12-seat majority. They're having a good night on November 2. If they pick up more seats in Texas, this could actually give them a real structural advantage in controlling Congress, at least until the next redistricting 10 years from now.

We're really going to be looking at five Democratic incumbents who find themselves in serious political jeopardy. The thing to remember about Texas Democrats is they're not like the rest of the Democrats in the House. These guys are use the to running and winning in pretty conservative Republican-leaning districts.

They fought tough contests in the past. This is nothing new to them. But it certainly is going to be -- set up to be their version of the political Alamo.

So we're going to start out in west Texas, where you have two incumbents facing off against each other, longtime Democratic incumbent Charlie Stenholm, and newcomer, freshman Republican Randy Neugebauer. And the district itself favors a Republican.

Two-thirds of the district is from Neugebauer's old seat. It's very Republican leaning. But Charlie Stenholm is not new to these kind of rural, agriculture-dependent kind of districts.

Neugebauer has proven that he can be a tremendous fund-raiser, and he's probably the toughest candidate that Stenholm has ever had to face. But I think we're going to see a very well matched, very interesting contest out in west Texas this November.

Then we move out to Dallas and the sort of northern Dallas suburbs. Again, a very Republican district. Republican map makers knew exactly what they were doing here to give an advantage to Republicans.

They also have been aiming for Martin Frost, the longtime Democratic congressman from the Dallas area for years. Frost is facing up against Pete Sessions, a Republican congressman, in a district that looks pretty different from his old, more Democratic- leaning district. His biggest struggle here is, in a year with President Bush on the top of the ticket, can he convince these Republican-leaning voters to come over and vote for a Democrat?

So Texas has certainly entertained us politically over the course of the last few months, whether it was state legislators fleeing to Oklahoma or New Mexico to try to avoid what ultimately was the unavoidable task of redrawing these district lines. Republicans have really scored potentially big gains for the U.S. House of Representatives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: President Bush has a few political problems these days. And our new poll pinpoints just where they are. We'll share the latest numbers with you when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

Also ahead, Washington's penchant for adding colorful phrases to the political vocabulary. Stand by for a whole lot of tree shaking and fly swatting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good-bye, Saddam.

ANNOUNCER: A year after the statue fell, the violence in Iraq continues. The president monitors the situation from his Texas ranch as his rivals sense an opening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry and the economy? Troubling.

ANNOUNCER: The race for the White House has already flooded the airwaves with negative ads.

KERRY: We need to get some things done in this country.

ANNOUNCER: But further down the ballot...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Compare Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter on America's security.

ANNOUNCER: ... the waters are getting rough, too. We'll take the pulse of the Senate ad wars.

And with all this drama...

RICE: He told me he was tired of swatting flies.

KERREY: Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda?

ANNOUNCER: . there's got to be a "Play of the Week" somewhere. Bill Schneider lifts the curtain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, this is JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

CROWLEY: Welcome back. Judy is off. I'm Candy Crowley.

For President Bush, April 9, 2003 was a day of triumph, the day everyone watched the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. April 9, 2004 brings a decidedly different mood and even shows up in the polls.

The approval rating for the president's handling of Iraq has dropped seven points in the last two weeks, from 51 percent to 44. His approval rating on the U.S. economy is even lower. It's at 41 percent.

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins us from Texas, where the president's latest mini vacation is at his ranch. But anything but carefree.

Suzanne, let me start out with Iraq. I've got to believe that as they watch these pictures unfold, there is some consternation there that this is really, really beginning to hurt.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, you're absolutely right. This really is a time of reflection, but also determination for this White House. President Bush informed this morning through a conference call about the latest developments in Iraq. The troops on the ground. Their movements there. He is not only talking to his top officials, Secretaries Rumsfeld, Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others, but also his top officials in Iraq, as well.

Talking to General Abizaid and Ambassador Bremer in terms of what are the next steps that should be taken. The president also reaching out to his allies today too. He made three telephone calls to leaders of Poland, Italy and El Salvador. We are told by White House spokesman Scott McClellan that, yes, they are still committed to making this transformation work inside of Iraq and they are still committed to taking on what they call those radical elements, forces inside of the country led by Sadr, they say a very small group of rebels and thugs but determined they're going to go after them, that this is going to work by the June 30 deadline.

CROWLEY: Suzanne, what about the 9/11 Commission, Condi's testimony yesterday? Are they feeling pretty good about it? MALVEAUX: Well, they're feeling pretty confident about it. The president certainly saying he thought she did a great job overall. Many of the administration officials saying that, but one of the concerns is is that presidential daily brief, as you know it really took center stage yesterday, a lot of controversy over that, whether or not that brief in the hands of the president last year at his -- not last year, but one month before the September 11 attacks, that is, at Crawford ranch, show that they had any kind of warning that a threat was underway. Rice said absolutely not. There were no kind of details but they are working on declassifying that brief to make their case to the American public.

CROWLEY: Suzanne Malveaux in Crawford spending Easter with the president. Thanks, Suzanne.

The news flow from Iraq is constant and the 9/11 Commission holds more public hearings next week. Everyone's political calculations seem to be in flux. Joining me are Liz Marlantes and Jim VanderHei of the "Washington Post" who is in the post newsroom. Jim and Liz, thank you so much for joining us. First to you, Jim. Kerry's approach to Iraq right now, what do you make of it?

JIM VANDEHEI, "WASHINGTON POST": He's trying to sort of balance his pushing of an economic agenda with the daily news of casualties and chaos in Iraq. He hasn't taken a forceful lead in condemning the president, though he has made a couple comments each day. He's trying to play a careful game here. He doesn't want to appear to be politicizing Iraq. Because, in truth, if this is political issue, it's going to hurt the president, it's going to hurt him whether Senator Kerry is talking about it or not. So I think he'll be delicate with this in the couple days ahead.

CROWLEY: Liz, is that how you frame it? He certainly has a number of people that are taking his case anyway. Is this a smart move?

LIZ MARLANTES, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": Yes, although he also is in a sort of difficult position because, of course, he didn't have all that much he would do differently or that he's put forward so far. It's the case where, as your clip earlier showed, he had that telling interview where he was asked what he would do differently and said well, it's not my fault. Not what he would do. If he were president, he'd have to come up with something. He's in a tough position politically for that reason as well.

CROWLEY: The 9/11 Commission, it's another thing that really Kerry hasn't talked about much. I'm assuming because, a, other people are talking about it and why do that. Is there another reason?

MARLANTES: I do think in that particular case, there's so many sensitivities surrounding 9/11 that it's a very, very tricky political arena to wade into, and certainly in this case, the focus was not on Kerry. The focus doesn't need to be on Kerry. Americans were watching the Rice testimony and will make up their own minds.

CROWLEY: As they make up their own minds, Jim, Condi Rice, was she a net plus, a negative, a wash, how do you think yesterday plays?

VANDEHEI: Probably a net plus. She did a good job of answering the questions, she finally got out there and answered the questions which the administration did not want her to do for so long. It's ironic because there's been a lot of focus this week on 9/11, but people I think are most concerned and I think the biggest political issue going forward is going to be what's happening in Iraq. If you look back at Dick Clarke's book and comments, he talked both about this obsession with Iraq and what happened before 9/11. And I think most people care about the situation in Iraq as they see images and see the casualty totals mount. So I think this is going to be the big issue going forward.

CROWLEY: So let me ask you while I've got you there about another issue, which is the economy. Very -- the Democrats always thought this was their strong point and it's very tough to get that message out in a week like this or a lot of other times. What's a candidate to do?

VANDEHEI: Right, I mean, I think all John Kerry can do is sit here and lay out his economic agenda which was kind of significant. You have a candidate now firmly saying I'm a Bill Clinton Democrat, a moderate Democrat, I'm going to fight for deficits and middle-class tax cuts. You're seeing this definition taking place but basically only a few of us are paying attention because everyone else is looking what's happening in Iraq. This whole campaign from when Kerry took off in Iowa to now, it's sort of surreal and it doesn't have a lot to do with John Kerry, it has a lot to do with George Bush, Bush's war and Bush's economy and whatever happens on those two issues is very much going to determine who wins this election.

CROWLEY: Do you go along with that, John Kerry needs to sort of ride the wave?

MARLANTES: Yes, we've said from the beginning not even so much that George Bush is going to be dictating this election, but external events that neither candidate can control. I mean, this is an election that's always turned politics but this year more than ever, I think there's just going to be external events that are going to dictate what happens in this campaign and they both have to be prepared to go with it.

CROWLEY: Liz Marlantes of the "Christian Science Monitor," comes in my mailbox every day, Jim VandeHei, of the "Washington Post," shows up on my front lawn every day, thank you both very much. I appreciate it.

To catch the political play of the week, all you had to do was glance up at a television yesterday morning. Bill Schneider was watching and joins us once again to do the honors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Bush has finally met his match, not him, them. The 9/11 Commission. The last time a disaster of the magnitude of 9/11 hit the United States was Pearl Harbor. Critics of the Bush White House cited as a model.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt who was the president didn't need to be prodded to start an investigation to find out what happened. And he didn't need to take months...

SCHNEIDER: The White House cites that model, too.

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If you go back and look at history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not cooperate as much as we have in the context of the reviews that were undertaken for Pearl Harbor.

SCHNEIDER: But some commission members say the administration had to be dragged kicking and screaming to cooperate from the outset.

TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: When we first proposed the 9/11 commission, the White House opposed it, and then eventually supported it.

SCHNEIDER: At first, the White House say the president would testify for no more than one hour. Under pressure, the White House gave in.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody's watching the clock.

SCHNEIDER: At first, the White House said the president would meet only with the chairman and vice chairman of the commission, but under pressure, the president pledged last week...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vice President Cheney and I will jointly meet with all members of the commission in a private session.

SCHNEIDER: Then there was the matter of Condoleezza Rice's public testimony.

ROEMER: When we went to them to ask for Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission, they opposed it, and then eventually they supported it.

SCHNEIDER: Under questioning, Rice revealed the title of a presidential briefing dated August 6, 2001.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I believe the title was bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.

SCHNEIDER: The commission pressed for more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would be happy to have it declassified in full at this time. Including its title.

SCHNEIDER: The White House is now working to declassify that document. Once again, the 9/11 Commission goes eyeball to eyeball with the White House. The White House blinks, and the commission scores the political play of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The risk is that that commission which includes five Democrats and five Republicans will now be seen as partisan. That is why it is so important for the commission's final report this summer to be unanimous -- Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN's political analyst, Bill Schneider, thanks again.

One of the hottest U.S. Senate races doesn't involve a Democrat. It involves two Republicans. And will be decided in just over two weeks. Bob Novak joins me next with the inside buzz from Pennsylvania.

Also ahead, we follow the money in the campaign ad wars. Plus, desserts for Democrats. And for laughs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Boston is preparing for the Democratic Convention and so are the city's hotels. The Ritz Carlton, for example, will decorate its appropriately named presidential suite with photos and duplicates of presidential documents from the nearby Kennedy library. And guests who are addicted to politics and sugar will have a good reason to flock to the hotel's grand dining room. It will offer the Kerry Berry Cobbler and Governor Dean's Ice Cream Dessert. INSIDE POLITICS moves on right now to Bob Novak. Neither one of us are screaming at the moment. Only you and I and other political junkies would currently be adding up the electoral votes but you are.

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": My (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I have now done the latest add-up and we find Bush ahead of Kerry 174 to 164 for one reason, and that is the latest poll by Mason Dixon shows a substantial Bush lead in the state of Florida. Now, the Kerry people say don't pay any attention to the Mason Dixon polls. But there have not been any other polls for three weeks and the poll shows Kerry's negatives in that state have gone from 21 percent to 42 percent, which is not good because of all the Bush ads. And once again, Candy, we're back to Florida, whoever wins Florida is going to have a leg up for being the next president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Just got to win a couple of others around it, right? Let's talk about this "Passion of the Christ" in a new venue they've found to show it.

NOVAK: Mel Gibson has wanted to show that to prisoners and he got in touch with Chuck Colson, the old Nixon aide who has this prison fellowship and they are going to show the "Passion of the Christ" at the Broward Correctional Institute for Women in Florida tomorrow, holy Saturday, and there was a lot of word that Jeb Bush who is a Christian and a Catholic was going to attend. His office says he's not scheduled to, but that's getting to be a very political event (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what position you take on that movie.

CROWLEY: Exactly. And in prison too, so you've got a lot of things going on in that story. Pennsylvania Senate primary, what a great story.

NOVAK: Hottest primary in America, Candy. The four-term Republican Senator Arlen Specter being (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very serious challenged by Congressman Pat Toomey. The debate was not very good for Specter last Saturday. He was supposed to really plough over Toomey and he didn't. Several polls show this is now in single digits, and President Bush really is supporting all incumbents including Arlen Specter and the word is he is -- before this primary, which is April 27, President Bush is going to go to Pennsylvania, embrace Arlen Specter, and he's very popular with Republicans in Pennsylvania, the president is, so that would be a big plus for Specter.

CROWLEY: That's huge for Specter who hasn't always been in the Republican fold all the time. Let me ask you, finally, about fundraisers. We usually think of people sitting around eating the same dinner. But you've got another one.

NOVAK: They had a gratitude dinner for the big fundraisers, guys and girls who raised 100,000, $200,000 for Bush down at the Ritz Carlton Lodge near Greensboro, Georgia. I'm sure you go there all the time, and the president was there, Dick Cheney was there. Mostly it's a great golf course. This was just a week ago. But for people who didn't play golf, they could go skeet (ph) shooting, trap shooting with Dick Cheney, three hours of trap shooting.

What fascinates me is that everybody who went into the trap shooting thing had to go through the Secret Service mag, get magnetic to get all -- make sure they didn't have anything on. Once they walked in, they were handed a loaded shotgun. I've been trying to figure out how the Secret Service reacted to that, but I guess if you raise $200,000 for the president they'll let you have a shotgun in Dick Cheney's presence.

CROWLEY: They pretty much trust you. I learned long ago not to question the Secret Service. Thanks so much, Bob Novak, always good to have you.

The presidential campaign is a veritable gusher when it comes to spending on campaign ads, but that Arlen Specter/Pat Toomey race has the dollars flowing too. Numbers from Pennsylvania and more straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Presidential candidates have been lobbying negative television commercials at each other for months. Several Senate contests have turned into battlefields in the ad wars. Joining us now Evan Tracey of TNS Media Intelligence. His group tracks ad spending in the nation's top 100 markets. I guess however the presidential election goes in terms of spending, the Senate follows.

EVAN TRACEY, TNS MEDIA INTELLIGENCE: It seems to be that's the story this year is lots of money early. The presidential candidates are approaching $50 million spent but when you look at all political advertising this year, we're up to $192 million being spent already on TV and a lot of this in these big Senate races.

CROWLEY: Remember we thought it was a really big deal when Dianne Feinstein spent a whole bunch of money in her Senate campaign many years ago. Lots more than that being spent now. We talk to you about these 527s, speaking about a lot of money. Those have got to be a factor in the Senate races too.

TRACEY: So far, yes. In Illinois's Senate contest, they spent about $25 million total and we had the League of Conservation Voters come in late with an ad there. In Pennsylvania, when you look at the race that Bob Novak was just talking about, Arlen Specter, incumbent spending $2.5 million so far in the Senate race, Toomey, the challenger, again, Republican primary, you have his spending about $800,000. Now comes along the Club for Growth who is chipping in about another $700,000 on ads really going hard after Specter and his moderate record on Capitol Hill so far. So the 527s are certainly stepping in and playing in the Senate races just like they are on the presidential races.

CROWLEY: And the tougher the race and the closer the race, the more the money spent. I think that's a pretty good political rule, right, for ad spending and everything else?

TRACEY: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: So what's the other tough one? There's two couple of really good primaries. Pennsylvania and...

TRACEY: Well, South Carolina is the other race right now where we're seeing ad activity and this is a Republican primary for the right to challenge for the open Hollings (ph) seat. And right now there's been four candidates that have been on the air.

Arthur Avenel (ph) Jr. spent some money last year, about $150,000 but the advertising is now starting to kick up with Jim DeMint, the congressman and Condon and also former governor Beasley and these messages are so far what you expect in a Republican primary, there's the traditional marriage, there's trade now which is a new Republican issue in the south, and of course, government waste and spending. Haven't seen the 527s there yet, but it's only a matter of time.

CROWLEY: We've got little time left and I wanted to ask you something. Is there any way this genie is ever going back in the bottle or we destined forever increasing spending on ads and campaigns?

TRACEY: Well, advertising and TV especially are still the biggest megaphone these candidates have at their disposal to get it out. When you get into these races now with the new campaign finance laws which take the parties out of the equation, the 527s are going to be the conduit of this money and it's going to come earlier.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much. Evan Tracey of TNS Media Intelligence, come back and tell us more. Appreciate it. Our Wolf Blitzer has just wrapped up an interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell. They talked about the hostages that have been taken in Iraq. We want to play you a bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There are hostages that have been taken. And you're familiar with the nations there from Japan, The United Kingdom and several others. This shows that there are people out there -- think of what they're doing. They are going after those who are there to serve the Iraqi people, they're going after health care workers, people who are there to help with reconstruction, to help with fixing the sewage systems, sanitation system. So we can't let these individuals determine the future of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And of course, Secretary of State Colin Powell, that entire interview will be on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," 5:00 Eastern tonight. Don't miss it.

Some colorful language emerged during Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the September 11 Commission. Just ahead, what's all that talk about silver bullets and hair on fire? We'll focus on the buzz phrases. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Condoleezza Rice's appearance before the 9/11 Commission was memorable for many reasons, among them the exchange of dramatic, sometimes peculiar figures of speech between Rice and her questioners. From swatting flies to shaking trees, here's a sample of the buzz phrases that flew through the testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICE: He told me, he was tired of swatting flies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say the president was tired of swatting flies. Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al-Qaeda prior to 9/11?

RICE: I think what the president was speaking to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, what fly had he swatted.

RICE: Well, the disruptions abroad. There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. I don't agree that we know that we had somehow a silver bullet. It was not going to be a silver bullet to kill bin Laden.

Somehow, maybe we would have gotten lucky by, quote, "shaking the trees." Dick Clarke was shaking the trees. Director of Central Intelligence was shaking the trees. It's questionable to me whether the argument that has been made that somehow shaking the trees is what broke up the millennium period is actually accurate. I don't think it was shaking the trees and with meeting with him and I'm sure shaking the trees... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If all of his recommendations during the transition or during the period when his, quote, "hair was on fire" had been followed immediately, would it have prevented 9/11, he said no. Do you agree with that.

RICE: I agree completely with that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Well, my hair's on fire and I'm going to run out and shake some trees. That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. Remember politics doesn't take the weekend off and neither do we. Be sure to join our Kelly Wallace Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Pacific for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Among her guests, Kerry national security adviser, Rand Beers. That is it for now. Please have a safe Easter weekend but not before you watch "CROSSFIRE" which starts right now.

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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