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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Do Terrorists Hope to Sway Elections?; Kerry: Stronger Leadership Needed on Security; Terry Nichols Found Guilty in State Trial; Will Gas Prices Influence Election?
Aired May 26, 2004 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us. Attorney General John Ashcroft says intelligence indicates that al Qaeda terrorists are almost ready to attack the United States and to hit it hard.
Speaking less than two hours ago, Ashcroft said terrorists could target major summer events in the U.S., including the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
No specifics on when, where, or how an attack might play out. But Ashcroft seemed to allude to a possible motive: influencing the presidential election, which is what happened in Spain in March.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Madrid railway bombings were perceived by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to have advanced their cause. Al Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: During the news conference, Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller released the photographs of seven people being sought in connection with terrorism investigations.
Against a backdrop of the new terror warnings, John Kerry says he thinks it is important to talk about America's security and how he thinks he'd do a better job than President Bush.
CNN national correspondent Kelly Wallace has been traveling with Kerry in Seattle, Washington. We're going to have a report from her in just a few minutes.
Well, no candidate, of course, wants to appear to be politicizing the war on terror, but there is no escaping the fact that politics is at play here. The presidential contenders know it, and so do terrorists, perhaps, who might be considering a new attack on the United States.
Here now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Terrorists may believe they can influence the U.S. presidential election by carrying out another attack. Isn't that what happened in Spain?
Experts say Spanish voters did not throw out their government because they were intimidated by the terrorist attack.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: The conservative government after the bombings essentially was seen as lying or trying to cover up who was responsible.
SCHNEIDER: Another terrorist attack on the U.S. would almost certainly boost President Bush's reelection prospects. Americans always rally to their president's support at a time of crisis.
President Bush was at his best after 9/11.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
SCHNEIDER: For a year after that, President Bush was politically unassailable. His job rating at the end of September 2001 was 90 percent. Eighty-four percent of Democrats supported him. The whole country, the whole world supported President Bush in Afghanistan.
A year later, Bush was still at 67 percent approval, with a majority of Democrats behind him.
Then the Iraq rollout began, and the consensus unraveled. The president's current approval rating: 47 percent and among Democrats, 12.
Bush's advantage is his image as a protector, an avenger. Another terrorist attack would play to his strength.
Ask Americans which candidate, Bush or John Kerry, would better handle terrorism, and the answer is clear: Bush. This campaign is becoming more and more about national security. Kerry has to establish credibility on that issue.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can make America safer and stronger and more secure than this administration and George Bush is today.
SCHNEIDER: He may be succeeding. Fifty-two percent of Americans say they think John Kerry is a strong leader, and President Bush? Sixty-two percent.
It's still Bush's issue. Another attack would very likely make it even more his issue.
SCHNEIDER: Another attack would also generate blame and recriminations. Could the attack have been prevented? Why wasn't the country better prepared? But that happens only after the shock and anger wear off. Like now, nearly three years after 9/11 -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much.
And as we mentioned a moment ago, our correspondent Kelly Wallace is traveling today with John Kerry. They are in Seattle, Washington -- Kelly.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.
Well, John Kerry is walking a bit of a fine line.
He talked about the new terror warnings coming out of Washington, saying it's a sign of the dangerous world we still live in.
But at the same time, he used the new warnings to blast the White House on what is the president's greatest strength, and that is his handling of the war on terrorism.
It was before a crowd of about 2,000 people standing in a rainy Seattle that John Kerry said this White House is not doing enough to protect ports and roads and nuclear plants since September 11.
He says U.S. officials keep saying it's not a question of if but when there is another attack. And so he raised the question, why isn't the administration doing more?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: And if it's a question of when, then my question and the question in most Americans is, why are we cutting cops programs in the United States of America? Why is it that in our ports all across this country, we still don't have the inspection of containers that are coming into our nation?
We deserve a president of the United States who doesn't make homeland security a photo opportunity and the rhetoric of a campaign. We deserve a president who makes America safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: And a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign reacting, calling Kerry's comments, quote, "gratuitously political," saying that funding for homeland security is at record levels since the September 11 attacks.
Now here's the big problem for John Kerry. It is what Bill Schneider just alluded to.
When it comes to the war on terrorism, Americans continue to give President Bush higher marks on that issue than John Kerry. And John Kerry is hoping to change that through a series of speeches beginning tomorrow in which he will be talking about national security.
Judy, his advisors say he will be talking about ways to restore the American leadership around the world, building alliances. He is hoping to make the case he can do a better job of protecting the United States. But so far, at least, Judy, according to the polls, Americans still think President Bush is stronger when it comes to protecting the homeland -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Kelly Wallace, traveling today with John Kerry in Seattle. Thank you, Kelly.
Well, the president's 2000 Democratic rival argued today that Americans are in more danger because of the war in Iraq.
As expected, Al Gore called for the resignation of several Bush administration war planners, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet. Gore says that Bush owes U.S. troops and all Americans an apology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He planted the seeds of war. He harvested a whirlwind. And now the corrupt tree of a war waged on false premises has brought us the evil fruit of Americans torturing and sexually humiliating prisoners who are helpless in their care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Gore's speech at New York University was sponsored by the anti-Bush group MoveOn.org.
In addition to Iraq, many Democrats are trying to use higher gas prices against President Bush. Up next, are Americans feeling all that much pain at the pump? And are they pointing fingers at the White House?
Plus, questions of acceptance. Will John Kerry postpone his crowning moment? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile already can't wait to debate that one.
And later, Democrats put a new spin on the mother of all reality shows. Wait till you see who's cast in their spoof of "Survivor."
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WODDRUFF: This story just in to CNN from McAlester, Oklahoma. A jury has found Terry Nichols guilty on all counts in the murder trial he is facing in connection with the Oklahoma bombing.
We know that just moments ago, the jurors returned the verdict on all counts. Terry Nichols, you see his picture here, found guilty. This means that he could face the death penalty in this state trial.
Now, the judge had told jury members the work of actually deciding this case, he said, is left with you. Shortly after deliberations began, the jury sent a note to the judge asking for a dictionary.
The judges -- or rather, the jurors were being asked to consider too starkly different versions of Terry Nichols' role in the Oklahoma City bombing. The defense said that he was manipulated; the prosecution described him as a mastermind.
Again, this was -- this is coming after a two-month long state murder trial. It included testimony from about 250 different witnesses. Jurors were sequestered during the duration of their deliberations.
And as we've just been telling you, reporting breaking news out of McAlester, Oklahoma. The jurors on all counts have found Terry Nichols guilty of the Oklahoma City bombings, guilty of murder on all counts.
That means that Terry Nichols -- you see him here in this file video -- faces, possibly faces the death penalty.
Sentencing presumably will come. And we are trying right now to get more information on when that will happen.
Nichols, 49 years old, was already serving a federal life sentence for involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy in the deaths of eight federal law enforcement officials in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Joining me right now, CNN's legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, why the murder verdict in this trial and not in the previous one?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, this trial has really been all about one thing, which is trying to get Terry Nichols the death penalty. Because the jury in the federal case, which took place in Denver in 1997, rejected the death penalty for Terry Nichols. Although it did -- another jury in Denver did impose the death penalty on Timothy McVeigh, and it was carried out against him.
Prosecutors in Oklahoma City said that we believe the crime is of such a magnitude that even though he is serving the death -- a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the federal system, we are going to try him for the individual murders of the 168 people, and under the double jeopardy rules were allowed to do that. Now we'll see whether the death penalty is imposed.
WOODRUFF: So was this, we know, Terry -- I'm sorry. We know, Jeff Toobin, there were, what, 250 witnesses. Was this a case that was a slam-dunk all along for the prosecution?
TOOBIN: I covered the initial trial, the two trials of McVeigh and Nichols, and it's a very strong case against both of them. The evidence was really very much the same in the federal case and in the Oklahoma case.
The case against McVeigh is much, much stronger than it is against Nichols. McVeigh was clearly the mastermind, and Nichols was kind of a hopeless loser who was just following along. But the evidence that he followed along and participated was quite strong. So it's no surprise at all that he was convicted.
WOODRUFF: But the prosecutors were describing Nichols as a mastermind.
TOOBIN: I think that's a bit of a stretch, based on the evidence. He was, at least in my view, having watched the first trial, an enthusiastic participant, but McVeigh is very -- was very much the brains of the operation. He organized it. It was his idea. And Nichols at least in my view, was a secondary, though a very real participant.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Toobin, stay with me.
Also joining us on the telephone, CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's been covering this trial. He is outside the courthouse in McAlester, Oklahoma.
Ed, describe the scene for us there.
Ed Lavandera, are you with us?
All right. Ed Lavandera, is that you? All right. We're -- we thought we had a connection. We're going to try to get Ed Lavandera in a few seconds.
Meantime, Jeff Toobin, what's the process now, for determining exactly what the sentence is going to be in this?
We may have lost Jeff Toobin in the process, as well. We had Jeff Toobin on the phone, and we are trying to get Ed Lavandera.
TOOBIN: I'm back. Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jeff Toobin, there you are. All right. What's the process in terms of deciding on the sentencing in this case now?
TOOBIN: The jury will go -- this same jury will go back to work and have a penalty phase, where they will be asked whether a life sentence or a death sentence should be imposed. It's a pretty straightforward process. And they will decide what the punishment should be.
WOODRUFF: I am reading from an A.P., an Associated Press wire saying that dozens of victims' family members and survivors of the bombing also expected to testify in the penalty phase, which is expected to last four to six weeks.
Your point is that it's the same jurors who sat and listened to all this evidence.
TOOBIN: Right, and I expect many of the same victims' families will testify at this trial who testified in Denver in the original federal trial. And I have to say, Judy, that was some of the most harrowing testimony I have ever sat through, because there was testimony about the loss of all those children in the Alfred Murrah building. There was the testimony from some of the people who survived but with horrible injuries. There was testimony from parents who lost children, from children who lost parents.
It was really some of the most awful testimony I had ever heard. And I expect this jury will go through a very wrenching ordeal listening to it for that long.
WOODRUFF: Again on a day when we're hearing about possible terror threats during the summer, a jury in McAlester, Oklahoma, has found Terry Nichols in the worst domestic terrorist incident before 9/11, and that was the Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing of the federal building, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
With us now on the telephone, Ed Lavandera, CNN's own.
Ed, you've been in the courthouse. Tell us -- you're there live. Tell us what's going on.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the verdict coming out in just a short while ago. This jury started deliberating at 9:15 Central Time this morning. So it took this jury about five hours to come to this guilty verdict on 161 counts.
If you remember, the federal charges that Terry Nichols has already been convicted of was for eight counts of murder of, actually, conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter, but those charges related to the eight federal agents that died in the Oklahoma City bombing.
So this case had to do with the 161 -- actually, 160 people and the fetus of an unborn child that was also in the building at the time of the bombing. So these state charges apply to those other 161 people, and that is what the prosecutors have brought forth here in McAlester, Oklahoma.
And of course, all of this brought on by the fact that prosecutors here in Oklahoma wanted to ensure that Terry Nichols would get the death penalty for his involvement in the Oklahoma city bombing. The federal charges would only keep him in prison without parole for the rest of his life, but prosecutors here wanted to pursue the death penalty, and that's what they're preparing now.
As I heard you -- you and Jeffrey talking about just a little while ago, we move now to the punishment phase. There is a gag order in the case, so we won't be able to hear from prosecutors or defense attorneys today.
But we do understand that the punishment phase in this trial will begin next Tuesday after the Memorial Day weekend. And as Jeffrey mentioned, it will be emotional.
There will be victims -- family victims that will be coming here to testify, as well. And from Terry Nichols' side, we expect to hear from, perhaps, some of his relatives might testify on his behalf, as well, as defense attorneys prepared to lay out testimony that would spare Terry Nichols from being sent to the death chamber here in Oklahoma.
Now in addition to the 161 counts of first degree murder that Terry Nichols has been convicted of today, there were also some minor charges, but I think this is all kind of a moot point at this point.
He was convicted of a conspiracy charge and an arson charge, which also throws on even more prison time and some monetary fines, if you're keeping count of everything that he's been convicted of here today.
But of course, the most important part is the 161 counts of first-degree murder -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Ed, what else can you tell us about reaction there either inside or around the courthouse?
LAVANDERA: Well, it's kind of difficult from our vantage point right here. We're actually -- news media and satellite trucks and everything are being kept a couple blocks away from the courthouse as this is happening. So we've been -- it's kind of difficult for me to be able to fill you in on some of the feelings and the emotion that's running through the courtroom right now.
So, we have someone inside and as soon as we get some of those details, we'll be able to pass it along to you, as well.
WOODRUFF: And Ed, in the community, I mean, is it just an overwhelming feeling of this man deserves to die for what happened?
LAVANDERA: Well, you know, it's kind of interesting. Before this trial started, the newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, conducted a poll as to whether or not they thought the prosecutors in Oklahoma should go forth with this case.
You know, the feeling being that there's a large segment of the population here in Oklahoma who probably, perhaps, believes that Terry Nichols should be sentenced to die for his involvement in the bombing.
But this poll also found that 70 percent of Oklahomans also didn't believe that the state should go through the expense. This is a trial that will cost well over $1 million to put on here in McAlester, Oklahoma, and that there are a lot of people in Oklahoma, 70 percent, according to this Tulsa newspaper poll, saying that they didn't think they should go through the expense of bringing this case forward, the thought being that Terry Nichols had already been convicted on federal charges and that he would be in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole.
But beyond that, I think there's still -- it's very safe to say, a very large segment of the population in Oklahoma who believe that Terry Nichols was highly involved and should die for what he was involved in. Even though this bombing happened nine years ago, those feelings still haven't subsided. WOODRUFF: They sure haven't. All right. Ed Lavandera, who's in McAlester, Oklahoma, reporting on the verdict in the trial of Terry Nichols.
He was charged with murder of 161 different victims, plus separate victims, law enforcement officials, and a jury has found him guilty on all counts. The question now is in the coming phase, will he be sentenced to death?
Stay with CNN for the latest developments in the Nichols case. But first, we're going to turn back to the presidential campaign and ask the question, are voters blaming soaring gas prices on President Bush?
Plus, should John Kerry delay the moment he's been long waiting for? Up next, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan on the chance Kerry might wait till after the convention to accept his party's nomination.
WOODRUFF: You could call it pain at the pump. It is something most Americans who drive a car are feeling these days. But who is to blame for the record gas prices? And how important is the issue in the race for the White House?
CNN's Bruce Morton checks out what the polls are saying.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Soaring gasoline prices. And Iraq. Two issues in this year's election, are they related? John Kerry says yes.
KERRY: The uncertainty about the Middle East is costing us a $10-12 per barrel premium today. An enormous increase in the price of oil today, just because of the instability and the way in which this administration has conducted its foreign policy.
MORTON: Is he right? Our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked why would you say the price has been rising so much?
Only two answers made it into double digits. Twenty-two percent of our sample blamed big business, the oil companies; 19 percent blamed the Iraq war. And those people voted differently in the presidential horse race. Those who blamed the companies were for Bush, 45-42, a tie, really, within the poll's margin of error. Those who blamed the war with Iraq were for Kerry, 62-27.
Same split when we asked "Do you expect the high prices will or will not cause any financial hardship for you and your household this summer?" Fifty-nine percent said yes, they will cause hardship. And that group was for Kerry, 58-34 percent. Those who said no, high prices won't be a hardship, favored Bush, 59-37.
KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Foreign policy has always been Bush's strong suit but he's been very weak on the economy. If the war in Iraq suddenly turns into an economic issue for a lot of voters, that's not good news for Bush.
MORTON: The last time prices went up in an election year was in 2000. In May of that year, just over a third of our sample said they'd been hurt by the increases. This time almost half say that. So it may be more of an issue in this year's election.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: With us now, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.
So much to talk about. We could talk about gas prices. But let's talk first about the terror alert.
You have the attorney general of the United States saying now it looks like al Qaeda is planning something big this year, and he suggested strongly this may be in connection with the election.
Donna, is this something that is inevitably going to be played out in the presidential campaign? And if so, how?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no question that the attorney general and the administration have known for over a month. They had credible information that al Qaeda is planning some type of attack.
That's -- The issue, I believe is, are we prepared to counter whatever attack they're planning? We know that they've been planning for months and who knows, for years. But the question is, are we prepared, are our first responders prepared and have we shared information intelligence with those on the front lines to ensure that we can prevent this from happening?
BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: And your question being if it's going to impact this election. Clearly, if there is an attack, which we all pray there's not, that's going to impact the election. I mean, it's going to be the story of the election.
And -- And I think Donna is right. We've got to make certain that the president has taken the necessary steps. And the American people have to feel that he has done a good job.
And the fact we have not had an attack since 9/11, I think the people feel a great deal of confidence in him as the head of state under these circumstances, Judy. So I think it's to his benefit right now. He benefits from the fact that he has done a fairly good job now, it appears.
BRAZILE: But we can do more. Now that we know there's a credible threat, we could do more. And that's what John Kerry's going to lay out over the next 11 days.
He's going to say that we can do more as a country to become more safe and secure. We can strengthen our military. We can also keep WMDs out of the wrong hands, and we can have a credible plan for securing Iraq and winning the war on terror.
BUCHANAN: But nothing that John Kerry says is different. He says, "We'll do it better. We're going to do the same thing; we're just going to do it better."
But the key is, there has not been an attack here since 9/11. You cannot do better than that.
I believe that there are some vulnerable areas such as the border. The border is a sieve. Where are theses terrorists coming from? Are they coming across the border?
But John Kerry and the Democrats are worse than the president. Both are terrible on the issue of border control. So how does he say I'll do it better unless he was saying I'll close the border? Then you'd have an alternative. He doesn't say that.
BRAZILE: For starters, we will fund the cops and the programs that we need to ensure that our homeland security is second to none. And also, we can re-create our coalition against global terrorism so that we can prevent this and have better intelligence in the future.
WOODRUFF: All right. Very quickly, I want to move to another question that's hanging out there, and we're told we may get an answer this week. And that is whether John Kerry is going to delay accepting the Democratic nomination.
Bay, you -- I know you have some personal experience with this in another political...
BUCHANAN: I certainly have been before the FEC at least six times on presidential campaigns. And it's very clear. They have this -- they call it the red line, that's it. And it's the day of nomination. And that before that, it's primary and after that it's general. They have worked towards this, and that's what the auditors look for.
So he may have a problem with the law. It's not clear that he can do this and get away with it.
Secondly, what's he do with his vice president? He gets nominated at the convention. Here's a guy that has a vice presidential candidate who has to have been nominated and he's saying, "I'm not in the general election yet." I mean, how does this all work? It's too cute and maybe illegal.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, as a Democratic strategist, I believe the Kerry campaign should look at all of the options to ensure that we're leveling the playing field as relates to resources.
But as a convention delegate, my last convention I'm going as a delegate, I want to have an acceptance speech. I want to feel love and some balloons and some other little confetti.
So I think the Kerry campaign will make the right decision. This is a very important strategic call on their part, and they will do the right thing.
WOODRUFF: We suspect it could come. Candy Crowley's been doing some reporting. She's thinks -- she's told it's going to come this week. most likely it may be even today. So we're waiting to find out.
Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, thank you both. Appreciate it.
The second half hour of INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months.
ANNOUNCER: America on alert. Will there be any campaign fallout from the new warning?
The pulse of the people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least we have a game plan from the current president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well we ought to. He's the president.
ANNOUNCER: Judy gets comments from average voters on the candidates and the issues.
John and Teresa Kerry mark nine years as husband and wife. How are the two celebrating their anniversary?
Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: Welcome back. We're going to get to politics in just a moment. But first a very quick update. A jury in McCallister, Oklahoma has declared Terry Nichols guilty on all counts in the murder of over 161 people in Oklahoma City in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building back nine years ago.
Again, on 161 counts of first degree murder, Terry Nichols found guilty. This was a state trial. It comes after a federal trial that landed him in prison for life without any possibility of parole.
The question now on the state charges, will he face the death penalty? The jury will be back in a short period of time. We are waiting for more information on that, and the jury will deliberate whether he gets the death penalty. Again, Terry Nichols found guilty on all counts.
Back now to INSIDE POLITICS. The Bush administration is denying any political calculation went into its latest warning about the terror threat. But even as officials announce their concerns about a possible summer attack in the U.S., some of John Kerry's supporters were questioning the Bush camp's motives. And Kerry himself was accusing the president of not doing enough to protect the nation.
Let's quickly bring in our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, first of all, from a political perspective, is the Bush team worried about all this?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, as far as their motives go, the Bush team certainly is well aware of the fact that people are questioning their motives and that there's a perception that perhaps that there was a political motive out there.
As a matter of fact, they understand it is, people think, perhaps to change the subject on Iraq. I talked to an official about Iraq earlier, called the official and started asking questions about that. And sarcastically the official said, Why are you calling me about this? Don't you know that we changed the subject?
But in terms of the politics of all this, the politics of a potential attack, this is a dynamic that the Bush campaign simply isn't that comfortable talking about. Some are candid about the fact they don't have a clue, really, how it would cut politically if there were another attack, if it would feed into John Kerry's criticisms that the simply president didn't do enough to help to close borders, for example, on ports and fix border security.
But also, they think that there might be a potential that people -- might remind people of why they liked the president after 9/11. And if you take a look at the president's polls, it is still his No. 1 asset. The Quinnipiac Poll that came out today shows when you look at all of the key issues that are in this campaign, terrorism is 51 percent, the war in Iraq, 41 percent, the economy 42 percent.
However, even though the handling of terrorism is at the top of the list, that approval rating has been sinking along with other issues. Now it is at 51 percent. But in December of 2003, just five months ago, it was 59 percent.
So it is certainly coming down along with all of the other issues confronting the president and how people view him. And this is not a decline that his campaign wants to see, particularly after they have spent tens of millions of dollars talking about the fact that Mr. Bush is somebody who is a steady leader that people should be able to trust.
That is why this week the campaign is running some ads. They are hoping to regain some ground they lost there. They're attacking John Kerry for his changed position, they say, on the PATRIOT Act. That is something they say has helped American law enforcement try to fight terrorism.
And they still say at the campaign, Judy, that as long as they can convince Americans that George Bush is better than John Kerry, the president's challenger, then they still think that they'll be OK. That is why they're continuing to attack John Kerry and make him look like a flip-flopper. That is what the PATRIOT Act ad is all about -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Dana Bash, our White House correspondent. Thank you very much.
As we've reported, the Democratic National Convention in Boston is listed as one of the potential targets of a terror attack. Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino, joins us now to talk about that and other convention related issues. Mayor Menino, is Boston prepared if the worst were to happen?
MAYOR THOMAS MENINO, BOSTON: I think we are prepared. The secret service has come up with a plan to make security a No. 1 priority at the Democratic National Convention. And the Boston Police's work with Interagency Task Force on Terrorism's involved also. So I think we'll be as prepared as we can be.
WOODRUFF: Are you, Mr. Mayor, getting information? Are the federal -- FBI and everybody else, are they sharing information with you about what they have to help it you work with your own local law enforcement officials?
MENINO: We have the police commissioner and my homeland security director's on the Interagency Task Force on Terrorism. Any information they will have, they refer it to me. And right now we don't have any specific information pertaining to the city of Boston.
WOODRUFF: So are you feeling -- how? I mean, how would you describe your sense this day with this word coming out of Washington?
MENINO: Vigilant. We have to be vigilant, more vigilant than ever before. We live in a different world today. There's a thought out there that it's going to happen. But when it's going to happen, nobody knows. And so we all have to be vigilant.
The public safety officials in the city of Boston, the general public -- and going to public buildings now is much more difficult than before. And it's just a different world. We have to be very vigilant of the world around us.
WOODRUFF: Mayor Thomas Menino, mayor of the city of Boston which hosts the Democratic Convention this summer. All the talk right now is about whether John Kerry is going to go ahead, maybe, with a plan to delay accepting the nomination. You've been quoted as saying you're not very thrilled with this idea. What do you think about the fact that they're even considering it?
MENINO: It's a matter that John Kerry has to make a decision. Does he accept it or doesn't accept it?
But you have to look at the law, Judy. You know the law better than I do. The law it was put into effect to have a level playing field for each candidate for president. Well you don't have a level playing field when you have one candidate accepting the nomination a month later because once you accept the nomination, you cannot spend campaign funds.
So the reason behind the law was to put everybody at the same level. Well this doesn't put each at the same level because one candidate's having their convention in July and one in August. And that doesn't give us a level playing field.
WOODRUFF: But that was known a long time ago, Mr. Mayor. And money was set aside for this convention, federal security moneys were set aside because this was going to be the site where the convention -- or rather the nomination was accepted. If that doesn't happen, do you lose that money?
MENINO: I don't think we will. I think it's a designated area. You know New York's going to go through the same issue of security. But the -- John Kerry will go through the same procedures at the convention. All he will not do is sign the document that goes to the FEC to get his federal funding. That's all the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) can be. And John Kerry will make that decision and we'll all live by that decision, whatever the decision may be.
WOODRUFF: When do you hear it may come down?
MENINO: You know, when you hear it.
WOODRUFF: You're not -- are you having conversations with the Kerry campaign about what they ought to do?
MENINO: I had one conversation this weekend, and I hope to have a conversation later on. But I haven't spoke to them in the last several days.
WOODRUFF: What is the sense in Boston? You talk to a lot of Democrats, and Republicans for that matter. You talk to a lot of people in your hometown. What are they saying about that?
MENINO: They'd like to just get on with it. We've had a lot of press the last week about the security plan that's put in place. And they think it's a foolish security plan. My Republican friends, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are laughing at us because of the indecision we're going through right now.
Let's get on with the campaign. You know, there is inaccuracy in the law and we've just got to get beyond this. And whatever it may be, it's on the books now. If we really want to settle this problem, why don't they file a piece of legislation, move it through the Congress right away and get the president to sign it? We really want to get beyond all the nonsense we're going through. You know, it's political chagrinery (ph).
WOODRUFF: Have you personally advised the Kerry campaign not to delay accepting?
MENINO: I'm only the mayor of Boston, I'm only in charge of the convention. If I had my druthers, I'd just want to get on with it. It's just a distraction. There's too many other issues out there that we have to talk about.
WOODRUFF: You mean get on with it meaning have him accept it at the convention?
MENINO: That's right. Have him get on with it. You can't make a campaign about money. It's not about money, it's about issues. It's about what the future is for American people. And that's what they should be all about. What's your policy on how you make America better for all our people. That's what the campaign should be about.
And the problem is now, it's all about money.
WOODRUFF: We are told, in fact, that, speaking of money, that people who have been contributing money to John Kerry and contributing money to the convention, some of them are really upset. Some pretty strong language we're hearing at the idea that they've been giving money for this convention and now it just may be a party.
MENINO: Judy, let me tell you, we had a phone-in this morning for the convention to raise more money for the Democratic convention in July. We raised $900,000 this morning. I don't know where that information has come from. I personally was there. They raised $900,000 this morning to help defray the costs of the convention in July.
WOODRUFF: Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino, he's going to be there this summer at the convention. Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. Good to see you.
MENINO: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: And I am told that just a few moments ago in Seattle, Washington, where John Kerry's campaigning today along with his wife Teresa, that she was asked, I gather, about this whole question of delaying accepting the nomination. Here's what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERESA HEINZ KERRY, WIFE OF JOHN KERRY: Whoever has the earliest convention should not be penalized under the new rules. So they should have a date set for when the monies have to stop being gathered. So if -- let's say the 15th of August, whoever who has the end of August, whoever has the end of the July, 15th of August, it's over and done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Teresa Heinz Kerry referring to that gap of five weeks between the Democratic convention and the Republican convention and the date at which the candidates start to receive public money and can no longer receive private money to run their campaign.
In this hot campaign season, there's a lot to talk about with voters. And that's just what I did. We'll hear at length from some of the people who will decide the presidential election.
And later, the Kerrys mark a milestone.
WOODRUFF: On Monday night, I met with six voters in the showdown state of Pennsylvania to find out where they stand on the key issues in this election season. We put together our group in southern Pennsylvania in the town of Dover. I started by asking them about the war in Iraq and the president's role as a leader.
WOODRUFF: What do you think of the Bush presidency?
RAY VAN DE CASTLE, DEMOCRAT: I feel it's been a near disaster. It's -- the economy has just tanked. There doesn't seem to be a cohesive plan. There seems to be a lot of disagreements. The leadership that he portrayed in the campaign was not evident in the White House.
WOODRUFF: Rhea, what sort of president do you think George W. Bush has been?
RHEA SIMMONS, DEMOCRAT: I really am disappointed with the presidency the way it's going. I don't feel really much more secure than I did before the terrorist attacks. I thought that his allegiance to big corporate interests were at the expense of the environment. And as an educator, I really, really am having difficulty with NCLB, No Child Left Behind.
WOODRUFF: Dave, what about you? You voted for George W. Bush. What sort of president has he been?
DAVID THOMAS, REPUBLICAN: I'm satisfied. We're seeing unemployment going down. We're seeing employment going up. I don't know what else people would expect in a three-year period of time that the man has been in this administration.
WOODRUFF: Glenda, what about you? You voted for George W. Bush. What do you feel about his administration.
GLENDA LENTZ, REPUBLICAN: I feel that what he says he's going to do, he does. I just -- I like what he stands for and I'm satisfied with what I've seen so far. I'm -- I have to stand behind him with the war. I would stand behind any president that decided that I feel out of respect and because I feel they have more information than what I have.
WOODRUFF: OK. Jim, what about you? You voted for Al Gore. What do you think of the Bush presidency?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very disappointed, very unhappy with the Bush presidency. I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning. I don't believe that was good policy. Preemptive attack on a country I don't believe is the way we do things in this country. I don't believe there was a connection made that was legitimate to tie Iraq to 9/11. I'm even more so against the war now that it has gone so badly.
WOODRUFF: Theres, what about you? You did vote for George Bush? What do you think of his administration?
THERES ALFANO, REPUBLICAN: For the past couple of years, we've had to worry about the war as well as the economy. So I think the economy kind of took a downslide. But I think now it's coming up in good ways. Also, one of the reasons why I voted for him is that I feel that he can possibly bring more Christianity, put God possibly even back in the schools eventually. I mean things can happen.
WOODRUFF: I want to -- I do want to stick to this point about Christianity and, Jim, come to you on that. Is that something that makes you more comfortable or less with President Bush or is that even a factor for you in your voting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a factor. I think that he's -- I think that he wears his Christianity on his sleeve a little too much. I think he in some sense has made this kind of a holy war, a Christian against those people, the Muslims.
WOODRUFF: Glenda, what about for you? You brought that up as a reason. Is the fact that the president talks about his faith as Jim mentioned, what reaction do you have to that?
LENTZ: That's wonderful to me. That's wonderful. The fact that a president does look to a higher power, prays to God, looks to God for guidance. As a Christian I do that every day in my life.
WOODRUFF: So faith is very important to you? Dave, what about you?
THOMAS: I guess I look at it a little bit differently. I'm looking for moral leadership. It doesn't have to do with the religion of the individual. It has to do with what's right, what's wrong.
SIMMONS: I try to think about that saying, what would Jesus do? Would Jesus be -- do a preemptive strike in Iraq or would his compassion extend to those who have less and I'm not seeing a lot of that from this president.
WOODRUFF: Let me ask you all if there's any other issue that particularly is on your mind. Several of you mentioned the economy. Is there anything else?
VAN DE CASTLE: The war has just not -- hasn't gone well, and I -- it just seems like a poor plan and instead of just coming out and saying we've made a mistake and we need to rethink this, and if it takes another 100,000 troops and that puts some security and safety in the country rather than seeing people constantly being killed, especially our soldiers.
WOODRUFF: Who else wants to jump in here?
THOMAS: I have a problem with what is on the nightly media as regards to the war because all we hear is one or two soldiers killed, three or four sorties killed, five or six civilians killed and then the sound bite's over and we move on. I don't believe for a minute. I read more, that more positive things aren't going on there.
WOODRUFF: Rhea is about to jump out of her chair. Real quick.
SIMMONS: I understand it takes time to rebuild a country, but the thing about it is that we did not have to go in there and destroy it in the first place and we certainly didn't have to go in there alone.
LENTZ: In the area here that I live, you know, I don't see the things that happened from 9/11 except for what you see on the news. I really don't know if it's going to make us a safer country. I really -- I really don't.
WOODRUFF: Dave, let me come to you on that question about is the United States more secure as a result of the war in Iraq?
THOMAS: As far as I'm concerned, that particular country on the basis of the way it was being run by a dictator, there's enough evidence to indicate that terrorism was -- it was a breeding ground for terrorism.
WOODRUFF: Three Democrats, three Republicans. We'll talk more with them about the war in Iraq in just a moment plus members of the roundtable share their thoughts on John Kerry and the health of the nation's economy.
LENTZ: ...but I saw the actually footage of him at that time saying he did throw his medals away from Vietnam. So he didn't support it then but he does now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether he's for the Vietnam war or against the Vietnam war, to me, the point is he was in there, he was there on the ground, fighting. He knows what it's like to be in a war and be shot at. Which is an important characteristic for somebody who's going to be a president during a so-called wartime.
WOODRUFF: Go ahead, weigh in, Dave, on that.
THOMAS: Today's today. This is 2004. This is not the 1960s. I lived through the 1960s. Kids that I went to high school went to war in Vietnam. OK? I want to know about today. OK? It's a different world today.
LENTZ: My take on why I would not vote for Kerry is different than you know what we've heard here. Mine goes back to my faith and my religion, and I do feel that God should be in the country and in our government. And I feel that some of the issues that he would vote for or that he would stand behind are not for what I personally believe...
WOODRUFF: Such as?
LENTZ: Or feel. Let's see, got to be careful here. I don't agree with same-sex marriages.
SIMMONS: I don't think he has come out and said that he was for same-sex marriage.
LENTZ: But I did -- I recall him saying that he was for equal treatment of all, of all people in all social situations.
WOODRUFF: OK. Anybody else on Kerry, thoughts on Kerry?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a strong supporter of Kerry. I think he's very much a strong presence for us. I think he's a good statesman. I think he has much more of the skills of being diplomatic. I think he's a -- he has good strong leadership characteristics.
SIMMONS: I think that Kerry would attack the economy in a different way. I can't help but look at our president's economic plan as rehashed trickle-down economics where you have that tax cut for the rich and yes, I had two kids. I got the little -- the tax credit for my children, but I ended up paying it to the state and the local governments because of the increases there...
WOODRUFF: So the tax cut didn't...
SIMMONS: I mean, in the end, it was a wash. It didn't really make that much of a difference.
THOMAS: At least we have a game plan from the current president.
SIMMONS: Well, we ought to. He's the president.
THOMAS: If John Kerry aspires to be president, then he better start putting a game plan on the table that he can be evaluated on.
VAN DE CASTLE: But President Bush has had his in place with Karl Rove for the last three years, they've been working on it for three years.
THOMAS: That's why the economy is on an upswing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure that where this is coming from that the economy is really booming. We're seeing oil prices through the roof. We've got gas over $2 a gallon. I haven't heard any explanation as to why this is happening. The market has been very flat.
LENTZ: I own a small gift shop, and I've been in business six years, and from the very beginning, I've continued to grow every year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do your products come from.
LENTZ: Well, where do you think they come from.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of this country.
LENTZ: Not all of them but some of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority?
LENTZ: Some of them do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority?
LENTZ: No, I wouldn't say a majority.
THOMAS: Who's your customers though? Your customers are in this country.
LENTZ: No matter where my products are coming from, in my small town, I have more people supporting me because I'm a small family- owned business. You know, I'm just saying that in the six years that I've been in business, my -- the income has not gone down in any year. It's increased gradually. You know, every year.
WOODRUFF: Six voters, three Democrats, two Republicans. We could not find an undecided voter, we looked in York county, Pennsylvania. They weren't at each other's throats but they clearly disagree on a number of things.
While he's on the campaign trail, Senator John Kerry has something else on his mind today and it has nothing to do with politics. The story just ahead.
WOODRUFF: Quickly checking the headlines in our campaign news daily, California looks like Kerry country. A new poll there gives Kerry 55 percent among likely voters, a 15-point advantage over the president.
The group created to elect more Democrats to Congress has launched an online programming channel, and its first feature is called "Republican Survivor." The cartoon uses some rather unflattering caricatures to portray President Bush, Vice President Cheney, commentator Ann Coulter and others as part of a group stranded on an island. Each week, viewers will be allowed to vote one person off the island.
Today is a special day for Senator John Kerry and it has nothing to do with the race for the White House. Kerry and his wife Teresa are celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary. Mrs. Kerry is with her husband today as he campaigns in Seattle and will be attending a fundraiser tonight. The Kerrys were married over the Memorial Day weekend in 1995. We wish them well.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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