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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush, Cheyenne Answer Commission's Questions; Iraqi Opinion Poll; Interview With Ed Gillespie, Terry McAuliffe

Aired April 29, 2004 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Bush and Cheyenne behind closed doors. What did they tell the 9/11 Commission?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.

ANNOUNCER: The future of Iraq: are the people there optimistic? We'll have fresh results from our comprehensive poll and consider the implications for the Bush administration.

Actor Ben Afflict has been some part of some dynamic duos. But what's he doing with Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill?

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Perhaps the senator saw my movie "Gigli" last fall and figured that I was soon to be working for minimum wage myself. So it was in my naked self-interest to show up here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

President Bush says that he and Vice President Cheyenne answered all of the questions asked today by members of the 9/11 Commission. Publicly, Mr. Bush had nothing but good things to say about a session that once was a subject of a good deal of legal and political wrangling.

Let's get more on all of this from our White House correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, as you know, in politics, it is always a good thing to try to define a story, get out ahead of it before others can do it for you. That's what President Bush did about 30 minutes after his three-hour session with the 9/11 Commission ended here at the White House.

He came out to the rose garden, and essentially to say that he was pleased with the way the session went. And he said that he was glad that he did it. But, as you mentioned, this session was part of or after a lot of wrangling with the White House and the commission to try to figure out exactly what the ground rules were for the meeting. And the end result has been a subject of a lot of controversy, particularly the fact that the president and the vice president appeared before the commission together.

Democrats have said that this is just their way to try to get their stories straight and not to contradict one another. A couple of weeks ago the president was asked about that. He didn't answer it. Today he had an answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. We answered all their questions. And as I say, I think -- I came away good about the session because I wanted them to know, you know, how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, another aspect of the ground rules for today's session, really historic session, was that there was no recording. Unlike the interviews with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, the private meetings with the commission, there was absolutely no transcript of this taken, no stenographer there. It was simply notes taken by the commissioners and by White House staff. And one member of the commission staff was allowed to be there.

A reporter asked for the second day in a row of the president why he resisted the idea of a transcript for the history books, and also for the family members of 9/11 victims. And for the second day in a row, Judy, the president didn't answer that question.

But for its part, the members of the 9/11 Commission did very shortly after this was over put out a statement saying "The meeting was extraordinary and lasted more than three hours. The commission found the president and vice president forthcoming and candid. The information they provided will be of great assistance to the commission as it completes its final report."

The other thing that the president did mention was that there was discussion about what the final recommendations will be. This is something where the commission needs the White House as much as vice versa, because a big part of the commission's final product will be trying to figure out what to do in the future, and they're going to need the White House to be on board for that -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now Dana, we know that some Republicans in the Congress -- in the Congress have been critical of some members of this 9/11 Commission. And just -- was it in the last day or so, the Justice Department under President Bush has put out documents critical of commission member Jamie Gorelick? What was the development on that at the White House today?

BASH: Well, Judy, it was really an extraordinary development. We had from the White House podium the White House spokesman essentially saying that the president admonished his own attorney general over that issue, and did he so in the private meeting with the commissioners earlier today.

Now, the story essentially is that the Justice Department did release on its Web site some documents that they say further proves that Jamie Gorelick, who of course is now a commissioner, was the deputy attorney general, was supportive of the idea of separating law enforcement from intelligence. That is something that the administration says was a big problem leading up to 9/11.

Today, what the White House spokesman did was he essentially said that the president started his meeting with the commissioners not by an opening statement, but by saying that he was disappointed that this happened, and that he expressed his displeasure with it, because he said he does not want the finger pointing to go on. As you mentioned, a big question has been whether or not this commission has been too partisan. The president, and then, of course, his spokesman, making it very clear publicly that they don't want to look like they're involved in any partisanship, at least publicly -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So one version coming out of the Justice Department, another from the White House. OK. Dana, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, for his part, John Kerry says is he determined that no matter who wins the presidential election in November, the terrorists will lose. But the Democratic presidential candidate went on today to blast the Bush administration's policy on homeland security. Speaking in Philadelphia to the Conference of Black Mayors, Kerry accused the president of failing to protect America's chemical plants from terrorist attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's nearly two and a half years after 9/11, and the administration is still dragging its feet when it comes to fighting to secure our chemical plants in this country. Now I wish their policies were in touch with the tough rhetoric that you keep hearing.

What are we waiting for? Instead of misleading us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they ought to lead this nation to take every step to prevent one of our own chemical plants from being turned into a weapon of mass destruction against our own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll have a full report on Kerry's speech and the politics behind it later this hour.

In Iraq today, U.S. fighter jets dropped three bombs over Fallujah after a new wave of clashes between Iraqi insurgents and American troops. At least 10 more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Iraq, bringing the total number of deaths by hostile fire in the months of April to 126.

That is more than were killed by hostile fire in the first six weeks of the invasion. That is, up until President Bush declared an end to major combat. Nearly one year after the president's famous aircraft carrier speech, the Iraq conflict triggered sharp words on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Iraq has become a quagmire. It may well go down as the worst blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL ENZI (R), WYOMING: I'll tell you, I'm a little disturbed at some of the words I heard on the floor this morning. The minority party is trying to take the president apart at the cost of our troops. And we can't stand for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well, despite the many ups and downs since the U.S.- led invasion, there is new evidence that Iraqis themselves are relatively upbeat about their nation's future, but remain highly skeptical about the United States. We have more findings today from a new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, the most comprehensive survey of Iraqi opinion since the war began.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Most Iraqis apparently can see beyond the current snapshots from their country to better days ahead. Sixty- three percent of Iraqis polled from late March to early April said their nation will be better off five years from now. More than 3,400 Iraqis were surveyed face to face by fellow Iraqis in their own homes, across all parts of the country.

If Iraqis are united about anything, it's in their desire to see Saddam Hussein put on trial and punished. More than 80 percent said the fallen dictator is guilty of murder, torture and war crimes. And most, 61 percent, believe he should get the death penalty if convicted.

But anger at Saddam does not translate into positive views of the United States. Fifty-five percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. And that was before fighting flared in Fallujah and Najaf.

A majority of Iraqis said they do not believe the Americans will leave Iraq unless they are forced to do so. And half said they do not believe the U.S. is serious about establishing democracy in Iraq, though nearly all said the country does need a democracy run by Iraqis.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: U.S. officials and others with an interest in Iraq may find some valuable insights within the pages of this poll. Let's find out what our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, got out of the numbers.

Bill, first of all, what does this poll say about the Iraqi people?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they are happy that Saddam Hussein is out. They don't think it could have happened without the United States, and they want him brought to justice.

Iraqis feel better off now than they did under Saddam, but they're worried about security, and they believe they are safer with U.S. forces there. But they still want the occupation to end as quickly as possible.

Why? Because they distrust American motives and intentions. Most Iraqis do not believe the U.S. is very serious about establishing democracy in Iraq. Moreover, the occupation has stirred up Iraqi nationalism.

Most Iraqis have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. and tend to be critical of the occupying authority. But any institution identified as Iraqi gets a positive response, including the new Iraqi police force, the new Iraqi army, and even the Iraqi provisional government, even though Iraqis know it's controlled by the occupation authorities. The Iraqi people want to get foreigners out and Iraqis back in control of their own affairs.

WOODRUFF: So what sort of government, Bill, do they want?

SCHNEIDER: Democracy. But not exactly the U.S. model.

They favor strong Islamic advice and influence in the new government. Not an Islamic government run by mullahs likes the one in Iran. They don't want to go back to the bad old days of dictatorship either. They want basic rights and freedoms, along with a represented role for religion.

The polls show Iraqis do not support the insurgents, who they suspect have radical anti-Democratic motives. So what you have is two competing impulses: a strong desire for democracy, which the U.S. is encouraging, and a lot of anti-American resentment and a desire to end the occupation, which the insurgents are hoping to stir up.

WOODRUFF: And so, Bill, to clarify again, this poll was done until April 9, before some of the recent violence flared. But what are the implications of this poll for U.S. policy going forward?

SCHNEIDER: What it means is a lot of pressure to end the occupation. Look at what's happened. Iraqis say that they were split at the time of the invasion over whether the coalition forces were liberators or occupiers. Now they've made up their minds. They're occupiers. So Iraqis are saying thank you, and get out. While the latest polling shows more and more Americans are ready to say, you're welcome, and good-bye. But both countries agree that basic security must be ensured so Iraq doesn't fall under the sway of radicals and terrorists.

WOODRUFF: A lot there to chew over. And I think this is available on the CNN Web site if people are interested.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

WOODRUFF: Bill, thank you very much.

If you want to see more on this wide-ranging poll, you can go to the Web site. It's at cnn.com.

In the presidential race, it has been something of a testy week, you could say, and it's not over yet. Up next, I'll talk with the Republican and the Democratic Party chairmen about partisan flashpoints from the war on terror to Iraq and the latest polls.

Also ahead, new details on John Kerry's search for a running mate. We'll name some names.

And a high-priced movie star lobbies for a bigger payoff during a trip to Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we reported, John Kerry out on the campaign trail today, talking homeland security today. He's accusing the Bush administration of passing the cost off to local governments and neglecting security around chemical plants. I sat down a little while ago with Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, and I began by asking him what the Bush-Cheney campaign has to say about Kerry's charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, and the fact is, everything that Senator Kerry talked about today that we need to do relative to chemical plant security is being done today by the Department of Homeland Security. And he has done this before, taken policies that are in existence, pretended that they're a new idea, and called for them, when, in fact, they're being implemented. That's exactly what's going on when it comes to this instance of chemical security today.

Spending for homeland security, when you look at the new department, actually has gone up by about 20 percent year under this president. That's an appropriate expenditure, but it is being fully funded obviously to the needs that are necessary.

WOODRUFF: Let me turn you to some polls out today, and particularly The New York Times-CBS poll. It shows President Bush with the lowest approval rating yet, 46 percent. And when people are asked who they'd vote for today, the president is at 43 percent, within the margin of error with John Kerry. Does this concern you?

GILLESPIE: It doesn't, Judy. The fact is, we've said all along, you know, when the president was up in the most recent polls I said them, "He'll be up, he'll be down." I've said it frankly since the beginning of the year.

We've always anticipated a close contest and suspect that this is the nature of the polls from now through November. I think we can probably save your organization and a lot of others some money if we just accepted that fact because I think that's what it's going to be.

WOODRUFF: You think so? Probably some people agree with you about that. But, specifically, Ed, about Iraq, the war -- support for the war appears to have eroded dramatically in the last few months. Only 33 percent of people who were asked now say the war was worth the cost in American lives and other costs.

GILLESPIE: Well, Judy, I'm not trying to quarrel with the organization that did the poll. That is an aberration that's not consistent with what other polling data has suggested. I don't believe it's the beginning of a trend. I think it may be an aberration.

The fact is that, when asked if we think people think we did the right thing in Iraq, a majority strongly believe that we did. And I suspect that will continue to be the case through November.

WOODRUFF: And then you've got 39 percent approve of the handling of the economy, 55 percent saying they think the country has gotten off on the wrong track.

GILLESPIE: I think, you know, once people see -- people were encouraged when they saw the 308,000 jobs created in March, but they want to see more, obviously. And I think when we see the 4.2 percent growth rate that was released today for the first quarter, they'll start to realize that this economy really is gaining strength.

In fact, Judy, if you take the last three quarters, it's an average of 5.5 percent growth. You have to go back 20 years to find a three-quarter average that high. So I think we're seeing steam kick into the economy. And the American people are going to see that as well.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the 9/11 Commission. The president, the vice president met with it today. The president came out afterwards and said the work they're doing is important, he's appreciative of what they're doing. But then you have some Republican senators, members of the Congress, saying they think the commission is off -- turned into a partisan witch hunt.

Which is it?

GILLESPIE: Well, it's probably both. The fact is that what the commission is doing is important. And it is important, we're looking forward to seeing the recommendations and the analysis they've done. But I have to say I agree with those Republican senators who made the point that some on the commission have been fairly political and partisan in the way they've gone about doing their jobs.

WOODRUFF: But how could it be both? If the president...

GILLESPIE: Because the commission's important. And the work it's doing is important. That doesn't mean that everybody is doing it and treating it with the importance I think and with the non-partisan approach that it probably deserves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Now I'm joined by Terry McAuliffe, who's chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Terry, there's another way to look at those numbers. The president's approval rating is down, but when you look more closely, John Kerry doesn't seem to be taking advantage of it. Sixty-one percent of the people say that they think he simply says what he thinks people want to hear and not what he believes.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, we've just gone through about $55 million being spent by the Bush-Cheney committee attacking john Kerry. John Kerry is now up with his positive spots, with his spots about what he's going to do for America, and we haven't been on television advertising.

Now we will aggressively go out and tell the American public what John Kerry's going to do for them. But for us right now to be in this position -- today's poll has us two points up running against an incumbent president who is at war, who just spent $55 million attacking the Democratic nominee for president -- is truly extraordinary. Fifty-five percent of Americans today think the country's heading in the wrong direction.

WOODRUFF: But you also have 55 percent in that same poll saying they think the economy is in good shape. Either very good or pretty good shape.

MCAULIFFE: Well, most people think that the president is not doing a good job on the economy. And Ed earlier talked about jobs being created. He failed to mention that in March, 514,000 people left the job market totally, stopped looking for work.

People don't feel good. Their education costs are going up. Sales taxes are going up. Property taxes with going up. And yet, George Bush says he's helping them. You go out across this great country, people don't feel good about their economic outlook.

WOODRUFF: Terry McAuliffe, Senator Kerry has been very critical of President Bush on the campaign trail. He's been defending his own record in Vietnam. There are now people, Democrats, looking at what he is saying and saying, this kind of negative talk, defensive talk, defending his own record, spending a lot of time talking about that rather than the economy and other issues, is not the sort of thing that's going to appeal to swing voters.

MCAULIFFE: Well, clearly, if you're on the campaign trail -- and last week I was on the campaign trail with Senator Kerry -- he is talking about jobs, education, health care. Is he out there aggressively talking about what his vision for the future is. So you've got to be...

WOODRUFF: But he's also defending his record in Vietnam, which is taking attention away from that.

MCAULIFFE: Well, let me tell you. This man served two tours of duty in Vietnam, fired upon, risked his life to save the lives of others. And he does take offense, as he should take offense.

Listen, George Bush could have gone to Vietnam. He didn't go. Dick Cheney could have gone. He didn't go. He said he had other priorities than military service.

He is not going to stand by and let these people, who did not go to Vietnam, when he went over there as a young man to fight for this country -- obviously, he would take serious offense to people who question the medals and the time he spent over there. He was there. It's a non-issue. I actually welcome the debate.

WOODRUFF: What do you say, Terry McAuliffe, to those journalists, pundits and others who say, yes, John Kerry has raised a lot of money, as have you, the Democratic Party, but there's no message, there's no clear, coherent, cohesive message yet?

MCAULIFFE: I would say, just this week, the Kerry campaign went out with their television advertising. We are 187 days away from Election Day. For us to be in this good a position today is extraordinary.

I remind you that Bill Clinton didn't win the nomination in 1992 till June 2. Here we are; we had a nominee by March 10. Combined, we have over $70 million in the bank between the Kerry for president and the Democratic National Committee. We're more unified, we're more organized, we're more energized than we've ever been.

WOODRUFF: Message?

MCAULIFFE: And the message will be that we are now going up with advertising to talk to the American public about what John Kerry is going to do for them on health care, education, job creation. You're not going to have a question 187 days from today where John Kerry stands on these issues.

We know that George Bush has been a disaster on all these issues. People are going to vote for John Kerry because of his positive vision for America.

WOODRUFF: All right. We've heard it from both sides. Terry McAuliffe...

MCAULIFFE: Thank you, Judy. WOODRUFF: ... Democratic Committee. Earlier, Ed Gillespie.

Thank you very much, Terry. Good to see you. Thank you for coming by. We appreciate it.

MCAULIFFE: You bet.

WOODRUFF: Some star power on Capitol Hill. We've got some here at CNN, too, with Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Gillespie. But over at the Capitol, actor Ben Affleck speaks out on a controversial proposal when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Senator Ted Kennedy brought a star out today to promote his effort to raise the minimum wage. Actor Ben Affleck joined Kennedy on Capitol Hill to call for increasing the minimum wage by $1.85 up to $7 an hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AFFLECK: Today, the minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. I suspect most Americans have no idea that it's so low. Senator Kennedy's bill would raise it to $7 an hour.

Nobody is going to get rich off making $7 an hour. And no employer will go broke. It is simply the very least that we as a wealthy and prosperous nation can do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Affleck also says for the working poor, the increase could mean the difference between a home and living on the streets.

Well, from the president and vice president's session with the 9/11 Commission, to John Kerry's day on the campaign trail, plenty of issues for Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile to take issue with. They'll join me in our next half-hour.

Also coming up, Chuck Todd surveys the political landscape in a crucial pair of showdown states.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Defending America.

KERRY: It's wrong to ask our mayors to prevent and protect us in the war on terror and then just stick you with the bill and walk away and not do what's necessary to fix it.

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry says that he can do better.

He's not your average vice president. E.J. DIONNE, BROOKINGS INST.: You can see Bush as the chief executive officer and, in some ways, Cheney is the chief operating officer.

ANNOUNCER: We'll examine Dick Cheney's role at the White House.

They served their country in war and in the Senate. Now, another mission is accomplished.

SEN. DANIEL INOUYE (D-HI), WORLD WAR II VETERAN: I'm glad it's finished before all of us are gone.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

The ultimate verdict will come in the 9/11 Commission's final report. But today panel members are calling their meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney candid and even extraordinary. The president was equally upbeat in his public statements about the three-hour, ten-minute session which was questions and answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I took the time. This is an important commission. And it's important that they ask the questions they ask so that they can help make recommendations necessary to better protect our homeland. And it was -- I enjoyed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: For his part, John Kerry isn't exactly giving Bush and Cheney kudos for talking with the commission. Kelly Wallace reports on the Democrats' message of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. John Kerry blasts the White House on homeland security just hours after the president and vice president meet with the September 11 Commission.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Instead of misleading us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they ought to lead this nation to take every step to prevent one of our own chemical plants from being turned into a WMD.

WALLACE: The presumptive nominee telling the nation's African- American mayors gathering in Philadelphia that he believes the Bush administration is not giving them what they need to keep America safe. But he also added this... KERRY: And let me say this. I am determined that no matter who wins in election in November the terrorists will lose.

WALLACE: The Bush-Cheney camp accused Kerry of playing politics with homeland security, charging that the White House is already doing almost everything the senator proposes to safeguard the nation's chemical plants.

The speech, billed as a major address on homeland security, comes as a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll last week showed that when asked who would do a good job handling terrorism President Bush led his Democratic rival by more than 20 points.

To change those perceptions, words like these on the stump...

KERRY: Together, we can build a stronger America.

WALLACE: ... and in ads.

KERRY: I'm John Kerry, and I approve this message because together we can build a stronger America.

WALLACE: What one Democratic source called a theme of Kerry's campaign. Still missing, though, some Democrats say privately more of a sense of who Kerry is and where he comes from.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: Asked about that and when we might see biographical ads of John Kerry that many Democrats believe were quite successful during the primary campaign, a source close to the campaign said, quote, "soon." And then indicated that meant days, not weeks -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, we're also hearing about the Kerry campaign getting farther along the path of choosing a vice presidential running mate. What have you learned about that?

WALLACE: Democratic sources telling us, Judy, that the vetting process of some candidates for vice president has begun. Vetting, we know, is that Washington word that basically means going through and doing an exhaustive background check to make sure there is nothing problematic in a candidate's background.

Our sources are saying that the vetting process has been underway for some time now North Carolina Senator John Edwards as well as Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, both former presidential candidates. It also appears that other candidates, included Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack, will likely be vetted, if not already.

A big question continues to be, Judy, when will a decision be made. A Kerry campaign source is telling one of our CNN colleagues that no decision will be made in May. But another source I was talking to early today outside the campaign says there is renewed talk over the past few days of the need to get a decision sooner rather than later to get John Kerry extra help on the campaign trail when it comes to dealing with attacks coming from Vice President Cheney as well as the president -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Sounds like some conflicting advice at work there inside that campaign. Kelly Wallace, thank you very much.

The presidential ad war gets the big headline in today's "Campaign News Daily." A new study suggesting the Bush campaign's TV ads to date have been significantly more negative than the Kerry spots. According to the University of Missouri research, 52 percent of the president's statements in the 12 TV ads he has aired so far are negative. That is compared to 32 percent of negative statements in a eight Kerry ads.

But the study suggests testimony ads produced by anti-Bush groups such as MoveOn.org are helping to even the playing field. Those spots were deemed overwhelmingly negative.

As we've been reporting, President Bush took part in a closed door question and answer session with the 9/11 Commission today with Vice President Dick Cheney right at his side. Cheney is spending more time in the public spotlight as election day draws closer. Our Bruce Morton examines Cheney's role and what the vice president means to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dick Cheney may be the most usual vice president of modern times, the most inside, the closest adviser. Some, Paul O'Neill in the book about his time as President Bush's treasury secretary, seemed to feel he was in charge. Is Cheney like the man behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz"?

FRANK MORGAN, "THE WIZARD OF OZ": The great Oz has spoken.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

MORTON: Most disagree with that. Bob Woodward wood card quotes Bush telling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about invading Iraq, "Look, we're going to have to do this, I'm afraid," telling Secretary of State Powell later, "I think I have to do this. I want you with me." Adding later, "I didn't need his permission."

But Cheney may well be first among the advisers.

DIONNE: I don't think there's any doubt that Bush made this decision, but I also don't think there's any doubt that Dick Cheney was pushing very hard to get this decision made.

MORTON: The voters agree Bush is in charge. In a October 2003 CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll 63 percent said the president makes more of the important decisions in the administration. Just 18 percent thought Cheney did.

And Americans have always seen Bush as a strong leader. Last February, 65 percent in our polls saw him as strong and decisive. John Kerry got a slightly lower mark, 59 percent. Cheney does some of the things most modern VPs do. Go on the attack during the reelection campaign, for instance.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a way to clarify the matter, Senator Kerry recently said, quote, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it," end quote.

The senator is obviously free to vote as he wishes, but he should be held to his own standard. It is irresponsible to vote against vital support for the United States military.

MORTON: But he does much more. Trusted adviser, man with Washington experience.

DIONNE: Since this is a rather corporate administration in its structure, you could see Bush as the chief executive officer. And in some ways, Cheney's the chief operating officer.

MORTON: When they disagree, Cheney aide Mary Matalin has said he salutes smartly and moves on. He may be so inside and so trusted because he is not a rival. He's older than Bush with four heart attacks behind him and doesn't want to run for president. He'll be on the ticket again because Bush wants him there.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Coming up, Chuck Todd takes the political pulse in two states that will be vital in this fall's presidential election.

And as the national World War II Memorial opens to public, I'll talk about its significance with a pair of distinguished veterans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now, former Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. Let's start by talking about the grim news today out of Iraq, again, more Americans killed. Standoff in Fallujah. Maybe some hope of a truce to work it out, but at this point, Donna, is this having an effect at all on the presidential campaign?

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Absolutely. It's topic A no matter -- if George Bush decides to address it or John Kerry. It is topic A on the minds of the American people. They're seeing each and every night intense fighting going on. Mission has not been accomplished. As we approach this one-year anniversary where the president said the mission was accomplished, it's time to raise new questions as to whether or not we have enough troops to finish the mission and move forward with the transition.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: No question it's tragic and all Americans are concerned and that's always reflected in the polls, Judy. But I think the key here is all Americans, whatever party you might belong to, definitely want to see the president succeed in his efforts to give the Iraqi people a chance and support him in whatever he chooses to do to see that come about where we can transfer that power and move our troops out of that state. But it's a tough go right now and I think it will continue to be right up to June when at least the first step of that transfer occurs.

WOODRUFF: There are polls, CNN reporting polls and today's CBS/"New York Times" poll showing the support for the war seems to be slipping dramatically. Only 33 percent of the people saying they think the war is worth the cost in lives and in conjunction with that the president's approval rating, Donna, down to 48 percent, the lowest it's been since he's been in office. Is this the sort of thing that holds or is this something President Bush can turn around?

BRAZILE: Look, I think it's troubling. In part, the reason why the American people are uncomfortable now is because they don't see a clear exit strategy or a plan to increase the numbers of troops on the field, they don't see a battle plan that's being enforced across the country. That's why his poll numbers are going down, not only in Iraq, they're going down on the war on terrorism and domestic issues.

BUCHANAN: You know, I think the key here is this is foreign policy that no matter what those polls are doing, and sure they're going to move around, you can't watch TV every single night and see the trouble over there and expect the American people to be more supportive. They are very concerned but the key is the president has to make decisions relevant to those polls. He has to decide what is in the best interests of this nation and how to pursue this policy so we can get our troops home in an honorable fashion. It's a tough call but I don't think the president should be worrying about polls right now. He does his job and the people will be there to support him.

WOODRUFF: And in fact the polls are showing Kerry is not capitalizing, not taking advantage of some of the slippage the president is experiencing. His numbers are not dramatically better than they were.

BRAZILE: Given the fact that John Kerry is just beginning to run his advertisement and responding to the negative attacks that's been hurled at him by the Bush-Cheney campaign, I think it's remarkable he's still in a good place right now.

BUCHANAN: John Kerry's been running for a year, for Heaven's sake, he's been able to get his message out for many, many months here. His problem is he is flat and the reason he's flat and the American people are not responding to him as an alternative to George Bush at all.

BRAZILE: If Ralph Nader finally put you on the ticket and get out of the way, John Kerry would be leading now by eight percentage points.

BUCHANAN: National polls are not significant here. If you look at the state polls, Kerry should be much stronger in some states. I see double digit for Bush in Florida for instance. That's very devastating for Kerry. WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about this comment Karen Hughes made over the weekend where some say she was in effect comparing people who support abortion rights to the terrorists. She says that's not the case, but now you've got Planned Parenthood and members of Congress saying that Karen Hughes should apologize.

BUCHANAN: Not only should she not apologize, she should repeat the statement. The statement was completely and absolutely correct. She was talking about innocent life and it's always tragic to see any innocent life taken, whatever the reason being. That indeed is the situation for abortion.

BRAZILE: There's a place for a conversation and debate about abortion rights, reproductive rights, but this was a march put on by American taxpayers by American citizens to march for the freedom to choose. And for anyone, including Karen to compare the marchers including me as terrorists is mind boggling.

BUCHANAN: First of all, she did not say that. She did not say that whatsoever. She talked about life and how after 9/11, people much more focused on life...

BRAZILE: We're concerned about life, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and the pursuit of happiness and that's why we marched. That's why people gathered at the Mall this weekend to say we're not going back on the right to choose and we're not going back on our civil rights and our civil liberties.

BUCHANAN: The American people are much more pro-life today than they were years ago. More and more pro-life and that's what she's talking about.

BRAZILE: They are more and more pro-choice which includes life.

WOODRUFF: We've going to have to leave this one.

BUCHANAN: That's a hot one there.

BRAZILE: That's a hot button one, boy.

WOODRUFF: Bay, Donna, you're always hot. Thank you. Great to see you both.

Whether the Bush-Cheney team returns to the White House depends in part on two crucial Midwestern states. Coming up "The Hotline's" Chuck Todd joins me with an update on both candidates' efforts to woo voters in Minnesota and Missouri.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: In all likelihood, the presidential race could boil down to how George W. Bush and John Kerry do in a dozen and a half so- called showdown states. Here to talk about two of them, Chuck Todd, the editor-in-chief of "The Hotline" an insider's political briefing produced every day by the "National Journal." Let's start out by talking about Missouri. CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": Missouri's one of those states. It's sort of just to the right of the battleground, it's going to be closely contested but it's almost a Republican base battleground state. The president's already been there 15 times, John Kerry for instance has only been there five times. It always feels like a swing state because recently some Carnahan was always on the ballot, they're very popular. Always sort of up the Democratic number almost falsely and a lot of Democrats I've talked to in their heart of hearts believe if they're carrying Missouri it probably means they're carrying everything and that they don't necessarily are counting on Missouri (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WOODRUFF: You've been looking even more closely at Missouri. Are there any down ballot races that could cause problems for either side?

TODD: Well, there's sort of a headache down there for the Democratic side. The Democratic governor is not very popular there. Bob Holden. He's being challenged in a primary, Claire McCaskill, she's a state auditor, in the same way that Pennsylvania Senate primary caused all sorts of headaches for the Republicans, this is going to cause headaches. It might not be the best thing for Dick Gephardt's hopes of getting on the ticket because there's so many internal squabbles leading to Democratic messes.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: It's sort of an obsession more of the Republican side. They really want to make Minnesota in play. It was sort of close in 2000. But some people say it's because Ralph Nader did so well. He got 5 percent in that state which was over performing than how he did nationally. Now Norm Coleman's victory gave him a lot of hope there. And he's almost pushing this as much as anybody.

That said, Democrats actually are already outspending in the state. It's one of the few battleground states where Bush is getting outspent. It's almost more of a base Democratic battleground state.

WOODRUFF: All right, last but not least, let's move over and talk about the Kerry campaign. They lost their main ad making person, Jim Margolis. What are you hearing about who they're talking to?

TODD: It's interesting. We're almost having an Al Gore 2000 reunion because from what we're hearing, Bill Knapp who is of Squire Knapp Dunn is now being wooed by the Bob Shrum side of the Kerry campaign which right now they're sort alone charged with the media campaign. And they may end up teaming up again just like they did for Al Gore in the fall of 2000. They may team up again.

It's a little complicated because Squire -- Knapp's firm would actually have to leave one of the 527s and then go to that. But everything we're hearing that that might be the new Kerry media team. So if you loved Al Gore's ads, you're going to really love Kerry's.

WOODRUFF: So all these guys could work together, right.

TODD: One more time.

WOODRUFF: OK, all right, Chuck Todd, thank you very much. We always learn a lot. "The Hotline," of course, an insider's political briefing produced everyday by "The National Journal." Go online to NationalJournal.com for subscription information.

A new memorial is open on the National Mall. Coming up, we'll get a tour from two World War II vets, former Senator Bob Dole and Senator Daniel Inouye.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A new memorial, the National World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. opened to the public today. It will be officially dedicated over the Memorial Day weekend next month.

The memorial culminates 11 years of planning and construction. A couple of days ago, some very special veterans of the war got a preview of the memorial. And I spoke with two of them, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB DOLE, FRM. SENATOR, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Well, I think the message is that sometime in your life, you may be called upon to make a sacrifice and -- in America. And that's message of the whole memorial, as far as I'm concerned.

WOODRUFF: Senator Inouye, what about you? This has been a long time in the making. We're almost 60 years since the end of this war. What does it mean to you?

INOUYE: I'm glad it's finished before all of us are gone, for one thing. But secondly, I don't know if the people have noticed, this is the first memorial that has all the states involved.

WOODRUFF: All the states?

INOUYE: All the states.

WOODRUFF: Fifty states plus the District of Columbia.

DOLE: And there's a special relationship here because Danny and I were wounded a week apart in Italy, a hill apart. We wound up in the same hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan for a couple of years. So we've known each other long before we ever got into politics.

WOODRUFF: You sure did.

What about the families? I mean I looked this up the other day. What is it? Over 80 percent of Americans were born after the end of World War II.

Does the meaning of this war -- is it -- do Americans still get the meaning of this war, Senator Dole?

DOLE: Maybe not the meaning of the war, but they know their grandfather or their father was in it. And that's enough for them.

Particularly with women, I found when I speak about it from time to time, will come up to me in droves afterwards, say my father did this, my grandfather did this, my uncle, my neighbor.

I think the message is still there that they -- young men and women made great sacrifices.

WOODRUFF: Picked up "The Washington Post" this morning and there's an article about the number of young men mostly being wounded in Iraq right now. And severe injuries to the head, the eyes, the limbs. Even a doctor quoted as saving some who we're not sure we should be saving.

What do you say to those families and to Americans who are going to be welcoming these changed young men coming back like you did so many years ago?

DOLE: Well, our parents were happy to see us, even though we weren't in very good shape. I think what it says, look at the advance in technology, medical technology. No doubt about it.

If this had been world war ii era, many of these young men would never have come to Walter Reed, those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would have died.

INOUYE: I just hope and pray that these young men will be received with compassion because we've gone through this. And at first glance people look at us in horror. But it's very important as to how the welcome is done.

WOODRUFF: One last thing, Senators. Just in this presidential campaign, John Kerry is now being criticized by the Bush campaign, by its allies for the extent of his service in Vietnam, for what he did or didn't do with his medals and ribbons. Is all that fair game, do you think?

DOLE: It may be fair game, but not today. I'll not talk about it. I think here today we're trying to stay out of politics. This is not a political moment for me. And so I'll reserve comment.

WOODRUFF: What about, Senator Inouye? Is it fair game for this sort of thing to be discussed?

INOUYE: As Bob says, today is a special day for us. So maybe tomorrow we'll discuss it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Senator Daniel Inouye, former Senator Bob Dole, both of whom fought in World War II. Both came back to the United States with severe wounds. Both went on to success in politics.

And by the way, we're going to be talking tomorrow with the three authors of the new John Kerry biography. They'll be here to join me on INSIDE POLITICS. That's it for today's program. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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