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CNN CAPITAL GANG

DeLay Under Investigation For Enron Tie; Same-Sex Marriage Ban Rejected In Senate; Rumors Fly Over Dick Cheney

Aired July 17, 2004 - 19:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky.

Thanks for coming back, Mitch.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY WHIP: Glad to be here, Mark.

SHIELDS: The same-sex marriage issue reached the Senate floor as Republicans tried to bring the constitutional amendment to a vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The leadership is engaging in the politics of mass distraction by bringing up a discriminatory marriage amendment to the United States Constitution that a majority of Americans do not support.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Those of us who are proposing this amendment have been called divisive, mean-spirited, gay-bashing, shameful, notorious, hateful, intolerant. I go on. Now, wait a minute. Don't we all agree on this? Don't we all agree on the definition of marriage?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Americans who support the federal marriage amendment do so very forcefully.

It will never be adopted until many more Americans feel as strongly as they do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: A motion failed by a vote of 48 to 50 to reach the required 60 senators necessary to bring it to a vote. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry issued this statement. Quote, "The floor of the United States Senate should only be used for the common good, not issues designed to divide us for political purposes," end quote.

President Bush said, quote, "It is important for our country to continue the debate on this important issue, and I urge the House of Representatives to pass this amendment," end quote.

Bob Novak, was this, as some have said, a fiasco for the administration and for the Republicans?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Yes, I would call it a fiasco. You're right, for once. The...

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: The idea that you could bring up a marriage amendment -- it doesn't get any easier than this -- and you only get 48 votes just stuns me. The leadership looked confused to me. They didn't -- they couldn't get the right language. It followed a fiasco the week before, when they couldn't -- they had a majority for a class action bill against the -- class action lawsuit bill against the trial lawyers. So I really believe that this is an issue that's very important to the conservative base of the party. I hope they don't just drop it. But I thought that was a very, very poorly run operation in the Senate.

SHIELDS: I trust you agree, Mitch McConnell.

MCCONNELL: Well, look, this issue was forced on us by four activist judges in Massachusetts who are, in effect, ruling that thousands of years of marriage are going to be redefined. No lawyer that I know, Mark, believes that the Defense of Marriage Act will be upheld. And so the feeling was that only a constitutional amendment can keep one state from imposing its standards of marriage on another. And that's why we decided to take the debate up. I'm sorry Bob is disappointed in the vote count, but it's -- we'll be dealing with this again in the coming years.

SHIELDS: Margaret, this issue was expected to divide Democrats, and it ended up, apparently, divided Republicans. I mean, twice as many Republicans defected from the party position as did Democrats on this.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Right. I think some Republicans didn't understand just how tolerant their fellow senators were. Well -- or the American people. A majority of Americans don't want gay marriage, but a majority of Americans don't want Republicans monkeying with the Constitution, which they consider sacred.

But listen, I don't think it's a fiasco for, you know, Karl Rove and the conservative wing of the party because this failure feeds the base because it reminds them that these elite liberals are challenging their values. It inflames them that they're right. And it's very important to lose these battles in order to demonize those who would not agree with banning gay marriage through the Constitution.

SHIELDS: A fiasco, Al Hunt?

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, Mark, first of all, this has nothing to do with the sanctity of marriage. If you're worried about that, you'd try to do something about -- about divorce. This is a politically-driven solution for a nonexistent problem. The aforementioned Rick Santorum said that the future of the country hangs in the balance. Over what, Iraq? War on terrorism? Bob's cherished tax cuts? No, gay marriage. I mean, people aren't so dumb that they really believe that.

Margaret, I think I somewhat disagree with you. I think in some places, it may play, but I think most people whatever their views on gay marriage, are going to say, Wait a minute. I don't pay a bunch of politicians to go there, to Washington, and to debate putting sex in the Constitution. That's just silly.

As John McCain, a good Republican, noted, this isn't about states' rights. If it was about states' rights, you wouldn't do it. Massachusetts didn't force anyone to do it. They can solve their own problems up in Massachusetts. The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted eight years ago. Courts haven't knocked it down yet. Most people I talk to don't think the courts will. And as John McCain said, basically, it's imposing on the states a federal solution to a problem that most states don't think exist.

SHIELDS: Let me just ask you, though, one question, Bob Novak. And that is, this isn't going to go away because nine states are going to be dealing with it this year at the ballot box. We got first Missouri in August and then Louisiana in September. Now, some key states, some key swing states, possibility of it's being on the ballot in Ohio, Michigan and Oregon. Will anything -- any effect on the presidential race?

NOVAK: Well, it could. People do not want gay marriage, and there's no -- none of the Democrats are for gay marriage. And very cleverly, Kerry and Edwards are saying, We're against gay marriage, but we're against this constitutional amendment. The problem is that -- that as Mitch said -- that the court -- if the court -- if this gets to the Supreme Court and the past decisions indicate there could be a 5-to-4, 6-to-3 decision for gay marriage, then it's too late for a constitutional amendment. That's why -- that's why the constitutional amendment is -- is -- is very important, in my opinion.

The reason I said it was a fiasco is -- and I think Mitch would agree with me -- there was a confusion on what the language was going to be, whether it was going to be Allard amendment or that amendment, and they could -- they could never get the maximum vote out. Isn't that right?

CARLSON: Wait...

MCCONNELL: Well, there were several different suggestions about how to approach it, and that would have taken up a lot of time. We finally decided, in the end, to pick the approach that seemed to have the most support and have a vote. This is not the last vote we'll be having on this subject. And the reason it's going to be around is because unlike Al Hunt's legal advice here, I haven't met a lawyer yet who thinks the Defense of Marriage Act will be upheld. If that wasn't enough of a problem, you have the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution, which is a good thing, generally speaking, but which requires states to recognize the actions of other states. So you could end up having, no matter what the standard is in Kentucky, for example, having every gay couple in Kentucky go to Massachusetts and have that be recognized in Kentucky. That's the problem.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: This is such Chicken Little...

CARLSON: Let me explain to Al why...

HUNT: It's just not right about the "full faith and credit" clause, Mitch. I mean, basically, the courts have never forced a state to recognize another state's marriage law. And Bob is absolutely wrong because if -- if the court should rule that way, which most people think they won't, there's nothing to stop a constitutional amendment then, if you want to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I would hope he would not -- but finally, Bob, the people of Massachusetts are going to deal with the issue there. I'm for gay marriage. The people of Massachusetts may decide they're against it. They will then undo what was done there.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... Margaret has a chance.

CARLSON: This result, however, allows Republican right-wingers to grandstand without frightening moderates who don't want the Constitution amended, into thinking there are going to be consequences from this. It's a perfect way to go into the election.

NOVAK: I just want to...

HUNT: And -- and...

NOVAK: I was just going to...

HUNT: ... as Paul Weyrich said, what it's about is diverting attention from Iraq.

CARLSON: Absolutely.

NOVAK: Just for a moment -- I just want to make sure I heard correctly because there's not one Democratic senator who's for gay marriage. Are you for gay marriage, Al?

HUNT: I am. Yes, I am.

NOVAK: I'm glad to hear that.

HUNT: Yes, I am.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You're more radical than I even thought you were.

HUNT: Bob, can I tell you something? I'm not so insecure that my marriage is threatened, my marriage (UNINTELLIGIBLE) threatened by gay marriage... (CROSSTALK)

HUNT: And I feel very sorry for those people...

SHIELDS: You know who else took that position, Al?

HUNT: ... who are.

SHIELDS: Former congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, in opposing it, said, The problems with heterosexual marriage are not caused by homosexual marriage.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: As Mayor Daley said, divorce is much more of a threat. Bob, we ought to be worried about that.

SHIELDS: Mitch McConnell and THE GANG will be back with Kerry among friends and Bush in the blue states.

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG "Trivia Question of the Week." Which three Democratic senators joined 45 Republicans to support debating the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage? Was it, A, Zell Miller, John Breaux, Joe Lieberman; or B, Zell Miller, Robert Byrd or Ben Nelson; or C, Zell Miller, Russ Feingold or Blanche Lincoln? We'll have the answers right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Before the break, we asked, Which three Democratic senators joined 45 Republicans to support debating the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage? The answer is, of course, B.

SHIELDS: Welcome back. President George W. Bush turned down an invitation to address the NAACP convention, but Senator John Kerry accepted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand you've been having trouble getting some speakers. When you're president, you need to talk to all of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Senator John Edwards, campaigning by himself for the first time, without his running mate, returned to Iowa, where his presidential campaign first broke through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need in the White House is somebody who has the strength, courage and leadership to take responsibility and be accountable not only for what's good, but for what's bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: President Bush campaigned in states that he lost in 2000, including Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other day, my opponent said that a bunch of entertainers from Hollywood conveyed -- conveyed the heart and soul of America. Now, I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places in Wisconsin. We need to stop frivolous lawsuits. You cannot be pro-small business and pro-trial lawyer at the same time!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what messages are being sent by these respective campaigns?

HUNT: Well, Mark, the Bush message, as always, is, The other guys are bums. That's the only message he has. But I think the Kerry-Edwards campaign veered off track this week. The plan was to have a boffo roll-out, which they got last week, and then a continuum through the convention. And I think they hit a couple snafus this week.

SHIELDS: Where?

HUNT: First, they excluded Hillary Clinton at first from speaking at the convention. That was either petty or dumb. They had to reverse it. You know, I found out the other day I'm going to stay at the same hotel as the South Dakota delegation in Boston. I assure you, there's not a single delegate from Yankton (ph) or Rapid City who -- who's going to the convention in order to hear Barbara Mikulski instead of -- instead of Hillary Clinton.

Secondly, Senator Kerry at one point said that -- he criticized Bush for not reading the National Intelligence Estimate, and then it ended up that he hadn't read it, either. And then he compounded it by blaming it on the staff.

Are these all big deals? No, but it does raise questions about whether they're ready for primetime, for this attack juggernaut they're going to be up against.

SHIELDS: Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, you know, I -- I don't think that Bush, who hugged black children all during the 2000 campaign and did a parade of minorities on stage, really wants to be known as the first president since Herbert Hoover...

NOVAK: It's Warren Harding.

SHIELDS: Warren Harding.

CARLSON: ... since Warren Harding not to sit down... SHIELDS: Even earlier.

CARLSON: ... during his term of office...

SHIELDS: Eighty years.

CARLSON: ... with the NAACP...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What a -- what a snub. And he hasn't done anything for these blacks he hugged. I mean, he left the children he hugged behind with his education act because it's underfunded by $26 billion. It would have been in his great interest, I think, not to snub the NAACP. And whether or not they have criticized him, he's president, and he shouldn't whine about it and he should go and be respectful.

SHIELDS: Mitch McConnell, I want your dispassionate but always insightful analysis.

MCCONNELL: Well, the problem is the NAACP is not what it used to be. It used to be a fine sort of bipartisan organization that people looked up to. Under the current leadership, it's descended into a partisan group, and I think the president was really confronted with a Hobson's choice. If he didn't go, he'd be criticized. If he went, it would be a horrible headline that he'd be nailed (ph). So he's speaking to a group that is non-partisan, the Urban League. I think that's an appropriate thing to do. I don't think anybody believes that George W. Bush is a racist, but the NAACP is now a partisan political organization. Would have been a bad experience for him and for all of us. I think he made the right decision.

SHIELDS: Right decisions made by both campaigns this week, Bob Novak?

NOVAK: That's right. That is -- Mitch is exactly right. That is an extremely partisan group with Kweisi Mfume running it. It was a...

SHIELDS: Democratic congressman.

NOVAK: It was a different...

SHIELDS: From Maryland.

NOVAK: It was a different NAACP that Calvin Coolidge addressed, and he did address it.

CARLSON: And you were there?

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And I would -- I would -- I would say that -- I would say that John Edwards by himself -- I think he's better when he's hugging Kerry. I thought -- I think -- I think people are going to get a little sick of John Edwards after a while. He's a little too cloying and -- and -- you know, it's not like he's conning a jury in North Carolina...

CARLSON: Oh!

NOVAK: ... with an accident suit. So I -- I think you're going to see a lot less of -- of him as the year goes by.

SHIELDS: I just have to say, I mean, all I can think of when I -- when I see Dick Cheney and John Edwards is Snow White. You got Grumpy against Happy. I mean, you really do. I mean, and I -- and then it's any question (ph). I mean, John -- you see John Edwards, and it's -- he's upbeat and positive, and you see the vice president, and he kind of just comes lumbering on with a grump.

NOVAK: Dick Cheney made a joke this week.

SHIELDS: He did?

NOVAK: And I didn't see -- I still have not heard John Edwards ever make a joke.

HUNT: It was pretty funny. Bob, at some point on this show before the election, will you tell us specifically what case John Edwards conned a jury? Would you tell us with specificity?

NOVAK: Oh, sure! I'll be -- I'll be...

HUNT: Would you?

NOVAK: I'll be -- I'll be happy to.

HUNT: All right. We've been waiting for a couple years.

NOVAK: I'm sure it should be very interesting...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What I'm really fascinated is...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... you have become the stooge for the trial lawyers now, Al, and -- because you come (ph) off of them from the -- in the last show. And I would think that this is a very good issue that George Bush is talking about.

HUNT: And I assume you are the stooge for people who injure little kids, then, Bob.

CARLSON: Yes.

HUNT: I'd rather be -- I'd rather be on my side of that issue, Robert.

CARLSON: He represented parents whose children were horribly mangled by a doctor or a corporation. I wish my parents had had John Edwards to call upon... NOVAK: But he became a multi-millionaire doing it!

CARLSON: ... when my brother was born.

HUNT: When did you object to multi-millionaires?

SHIELDS: Senator Graham of South Carolina, a former trial lawyer, has -- has sort of urged to temper their criticism of John Edwards's profession. Is that going to be a Republican...

MCCONNELL: I think a legitimate question to ask, really, of John Edwards or any personal injury lawyer is, How much did you get, and how much did the victim get? Did the victim get a significant percentage of the overall money involved, or did the lawyer plus the court costs end up being an outrageous sum? And that is a legitimate question. It doesn't even deal with the issue of whether it was a legitimate case or not. Many of these cases are legitimate. How much did the victim get?

HUNT: Well, I think Mitch...

CARLSON: Well, the only...

HUNT: ... has got a good point, and you ought to go to the victims and ask them, and ask them if they're satisfied. And if they say they're not, then, Mitch, I think you got a good point.

SHIELDS: But we have seen a breakthrough here today. We've heard Bob Novak attack multi-millionaires. And I think...

NOVAK: Certain multi-millionaires.

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: I mean, this is class warfare, folks!

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the rumor mill cranking out more "dump Cheney talk."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

"The New York Times" ran a front-page story based on a rumor that Vice President Dick Cheney has hired a new doctor in order to get medical recommendations not to run for reelection.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KERRY: I can't tell you whether there's something to it, but I'll tell you what it'll mean. It'll mean that the president's word once again doesn't mean anything, that he's the biggest -- that he himself is the flip-flopper of all flip-floppers because he's been touting how important Dick Cheney is.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's made it very clear that he wants me to run again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The vice president's office released this statement. Quote, "The results of the vice president's most recent routine comprehensive check-up were very good. He was advised by his physicians that there is no health issue that would interfere with his running for reelection or holding office for a second term," end quote.

Margaret Carlson, is there any reason to think there is any substance in the "Dump Cheney" movement?

CARLSON: Well, the back story is there's this little substance abuse, in that his former doctor, who pronounced him healthy, was removed from his duties because of a substance abuse problem, which gave rise to this rumor. But you've heard of beach reading? This is like a beach rumor. It's kind of delicious and fun, but there doesn't seem to be much merit to it. And by the way, who would they replace Cheney with? You don't want Cheney lite, and you don't want to replace him with someone like John McCain, who, by the way, voted against the gay marriage amendment, or Giuliani, who's for many of the things that Bush is against, or Colin Powell, because I think he's not going to be acceptable to Republicans, in any event. So where does he go?

SHIELDS: Where does he go? Where does he go, Mitch?

MCCONNELL: Dick Cheney is going to be the vice presidential candidate and be the next vice president. This is an utterly absurd rumor. I can't believe it was on the front page of "The New York Times" -- further indication of their continued problems.

SHIELDS: Does it strengthen the ticket to have him on?

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. Yes.

SHIELDS: Bob -- Bob Novak, as you look at this, the only person in American political history who's been suggested and recommended to be a vice president on both tickets is John McCain.

NOVAK: Yes, well, and he says he wouldn't go on -- he wouldn't even go on the communist ticket, he said. He wouldn't go on any ticket.

SHIELDS: He said vegetarian.

NOVAK: Vegetarian? OK.

HUNT: You confuse those...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Of course, this is a ridiculous rumor. I -- I'd just like to -- to underscore what Mitch said, that -- that for "The New York Times" to run this kind of a story -- this is a tabloid story, a rumor that there's no basis for, and put it on page one, that just shows that -- the dregs that "The Times" has gone to. Secondly, I think it was very interesting that John -- John Edwards, when asked about this, said, Oh, I'm not going to talk about it. I'm not going to talk about these rumors. And when Imus, Don Imus, asked Kerry about it, he jumped right in and he said, Well, if he knocks him off, it's a flip-flop. Democrats have been leaking this story he's going to be knocked off. Kerry says, If he knocks him off, he's a -- he's going to be a flip-flopper. They got it confused! Kerry's being the hatchet man, and Edwards is being the soft guy!

SHIELDS: Al, I have to ask you, though -- Al D'Amato won three elections in a very tough state, New York. I mean, he knows how -- what it's like. And he's the guy that recommended publicly to get rid of -- get rid of Cheney. Now...

HUNT: Well, he did it publicly, but Bob and Mitch are wrong about "The New York Times" because it's what people are talking about in this town. You talk to any Republican, and they raise the question. You took a private vote, most of them would be -- would be for dumping Cheney, if they could. So therefore, that makes it a legitimate story.

Let me tell you something. It's not going to happen. There's not a ghost of a chance it'll happen.

SHIELDS: Why?

HUNT: Margaret's absolutely right. There are no appealing alternatives. Cheney was put on the ticket in the beginning not because -- for reasons of governing or not for reasons of loyalty or anything. He was put on because George Bush was viewed as inexperienced and untested in the ways of Washington. Cheney was the perfect complement. He was an asset then. He's no longer an asset. He's now more of a -- more of a liability, but they're stuck with him.

NOVAK: Would you have run that? You're an executive at "The Wall Street Journal." Would you have run that story in "The Journal"? Yes or no!

HUNT: I think you run a story pointing out that there is great speculation on...

NOVAK: Would you have run that story?

HUNT: Well, wait a minute. Do I get a chance to answer? Mr. Prosecutor?

SHIELDS: Yes. Go ahead, Mitch.

NOVAK: You didn't answer it.

MCCONNELL: There is no speculation...

HUNT: I did. I will. MCCONNELL: Zero speculation. I don't know -- he doesn't know much -- as much about Republicans as I do. There's no Republican talking about dumping Dick Cheney, other than Alfonse D'Amato.

SHIELDS: Well, I -- no, I have to say...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... anybody heard of D'Amato in years.

SHIELDS: I have -- no, I've had Republicans say -- seriously -- I mean, not for attribution, but say openly that they would -- they would -- they would do it to win because they think Dick Cheney is a liability. But the point was that George Bush would rather lose than admit he was wrong.

NOVAK: I haven't heard that from...

CARLSON: Republicans...

NOVAK: ... a single Republican!

HUNT: You have not heard...

CARLSON: Mark...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: You have not heard a single Republican speculate on whether -- whether Cheney...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No. Everybody says it doesn't matter.

CARLSON: We're in the odd situation where Republicans secretly wish he would be dumped and Democrats pray he won't be.

HUNT: It's not going to happen.

SHIELDS: That's Margaret -- Margaret has defined the nub, as always, of this whole thing, and Mitch...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'd still like to get an answer from...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Bob! Bob! Bob! We're going to turn up the hearing aide...

NOVAK: Would you run that story? Yes or no?

HUNT: No, Mr. Prosecutor, stop for a second. You got an answer. I already said in the beginning, apparently you couldn't hear -- I already said I thought it was a perfectly legitimate story.

NOVAK: You would have run it?

HUNT: I might have run it differently, but I would have run the story. Yes, Bob. You know something? If you had ever been an editor, you would have, either, but I'm not sure you ever were an editor.

SHIELDS: OK, I think this has gotten touchy-feely enough. You know, it's -- I think it's the Edwards-Kerry thing...

CARLSON: Oh, would you two hug?

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Mitch McConnell, thank you for joining us.

Coming up on the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, the ethics attack on majority leader Tom DeLay is our "Sidebar" story. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Georgia, where a black Republican candidate is trying to create a run-off for the United States Senate. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these urgently important messages and the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: More of CAPITAL GANG in just a moment but first a look at what is happing now in the news. Details leaked, the 9/11 Commission's final report calls for a new Cabinet level post to oversee U.S. intelligence gathering.

Sitting this one out, defending Olympic champion Marion Jones pulls out of the 200-meters at the U.S. track and field trials. Why?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION JONES, DEFENDING OLYMPIC CHAMPION: My reasoning for pulling out the 200 today is simply because of fatigue. There is no other reason. There are not other excuses. After running my rounds yesterday, I was simply tired, exhausted. It happens. It happened to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIN: That leaves Jones competing in the long-jump event and perhaps the relays.

And out of control balloon ride. Will it end safely? The helium- filled balloon carrying five children and 10 adults was out of control over Baltimore this afternoon. It has now been reeled in and some passengers are being treated for minor injuries.

That is what is happening now in the news. I'm Carol Lin, keeping you informed, CNN the most trusted name in news.

Now back to Mark Shields and THE CAPITAL GANG. ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson.

E-mails between Enron officials indicate that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, in 2001, asked the bankrupt company to contribute $100,000 to his political action committee, partly to finance his congressional redistricting plan in Texas.

Freshman Democratic Congressman Chris Bell, who lost his seat in that redistricting plan, had filed a complaint against Congressman DeLay with the House Ethics Committee.

This week, Congressman Bell wrote the committee, quote, "I hope the committee fully explores Mr. Delay's Enron connection before taking action on the complaint," end quote.

Delay spokesman, Stuart Roy said, quote, "DeLay is doing everything moral, legal and ethical to increase the Republican majority and to advance conservative ideas. He raised legal campaign money for effective political activity and that makes his critics enraged. Unfortunately, some Democrats are making an attempt to criminalize politics," end quote.

Bob Novak, is Tom DeLay in danger here of getting into deeper political trouble?

NOVAK: I don't believe he his is because there doesn't seem to be any substance to these complaints. Just briefly, to review the bidding is what happened is that the Democratic -- there was a gerrymandered congressional redistricting after the 2000 census, in a state that is Republican. They had a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats were greedy and they paid for it because DeLay came back with a new redistricting and that -- and the Democrats, like Chris Bell, are so upset about having this new redistricting that they are going after DeLay. It is criminalizing the politics.

They tried -- the same district attorney in Texas tried it to do it against Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the senator, several years ago. And I don't think it works.

Let's call it -- let's describe it what it is, it is a desperate attempt by the minority white Democrats in Texas to survive.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is that all it is?

CARLSON: Well, I don't think you are allowed to shake down Enron to pay for the redistricting, whether or not the redistricting is right or not. And it is interesting when you pull back the curtain on these things to see that it's not, you know, lobbyists only trying to buy influence.

When you have someone like DeLay -- he's aggressively telling them they have to give X number of dollars for this purpose. And if they don't, they're in trouble. They don't get in the door. And that is what we looking at these documents with Enron.

The other thing DeLay is doing, it's like a play within a play within a play, he's fundraising now to pay for the lawyers to pay for this investigation of the other fundraising.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, I have two questions that come up. One is, Texas law prohibits the use of corporate money for political campaigns. And it appears to me, at least on the surface of this, direct solicitations of contributions for use in the congressional...

NOVAK: Are you a prosecutor or are you?

SHIELDS: ...state district evidence (ph)? No, this is -- I mean, editorially, this has been written all over Texas.

And secondly, four of the five members of the Ethics Committee, doing this alleged investigation of Mr. DeLay in the House, all received contributions from him.

HUNT: Well, let me take a look at this.

On the latter point, "The Dallas Morning News", which is hardly a liberal newspaper.

NOVAK: Oh, it isn't?

HUNT: It endorsed George Bush in 2000, it doesn't make it much of a liberal newspaper.

It editorially, this week, said a special counsel ought to be named because the House Ethics Committee has conflicts of interest to investigate the Tom DeLay case. I think that is indisputable.

The facts: I don't what it will lead to, in any charges, but the facts, Mark and Margaret are absolutely right. Number one, Tom Delay controls this PAC. Secondly, the PAC raised money from corporations. Thirdly, the PAC gave money for the Texas redistricting, to help in that effort. And fourth, Texas law says you are not supposed to have corporate money in state races.

All four of those are undeniably true. Now, whether you can put it together for a case or not, I don't know, but it is not frivolous. It is serious.

NOVAK: I don't want to pretend that I'm a lawyer, because I'm certainly not, but we're talking about corporations giving -- the law is against corporations giving money to campaigns. The question of whether they gave money to any campaigns or not is doubtful.

But I would wish you would address this. I mean, you are acting like a bunch of Democratic lawyers sitting around there. What they hate is the idea of a majority of this House delegation in Texas, when I first came here was totally Democratic. And there was not contest. They just hate the idea of this being a Republican state, and so they want to criminalize politics. I think that's reprehensible.

HUNT: If you get the desirable means, or ends, by illegal means that is not they way we do it in this country. That is not the way we practice politics.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: The money was -- I don't either! That is what the court of law is going to find. The money was laundered -- some of it was laundered through the RNC. Corporate money got to those Texas races and that is illegal under Texas law.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Now, who is responsible is what you have an investigation for.

NOVAK: The question is not whether it got to the race -- the question was whether the money was used for this legislative operation, the changes or the redistricting not the actual races. And whether that is illegal or not, I don't know.

HUNT: They funneled some of the money through the -- Delay's PAC funneled some of the money through the RNC.

CARLSON: Right. And in one of these documents, the contributors were told the money would not be disclose-able in public records.

NOVAK: But Al, can't you -- can't you as a political reporter agree with me that this is sour grapes. That whether you end up right or not this is sour grapes, saying, we just can't stand the way politics have gone in Texas and we're going to go to courts.

HUNT: Yes, I can say there is clearly sour grapes here, Bob. I hope you would agree that you shouldn't redistrict every time you get a majority in a state legislature. We do it every 10 years. We don't do it every 2.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the CAPITAL GANG classic, George W. Bush gets ready to pull a huge surprise, four years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Four years ago, this week, as Americans awaited candidate George W. Bush's decision on a running mate, word of a surprise leaked: it was Dick Cheney who was leading the pack. Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on July 22, 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Dick Cheney is a good choice, Mark. He's a tough partisan, but he's respected by all sides. He's acceptable to every faction within the Republican Party. I think George Bush deserves praise and Republicans ought to be rejoicing.

CARLSON: He's a nice solid, no surprise choice. The problem with Dick Cheney is that the only thing that the vice president needs is to be healthy and stay alive, mostly just be alive.

NOVAK: Out of all the people, including John McCain, Al, who would be the president who would be most widely accepted? Somebody who could really succeed to the office? And it is Dick Cheney.

SHIELDS: Let me raise two sort of dissident notes here. One is, he has been CEO of Halliburton, a major multi-national with heavy oil interests. Secondly, it obviously takes abortion off as an issue. He's pro-life, but he's not identified...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, does George still deserve praise for picking Dick Cheney to run with him?

HUNT: Mark, first let me say how jealous I am of you. I mean to understand the Halliburton thing well before the rest of the country did.

SHIELDS: Well.

HUNT: You deserve enormous credit. Dick Cheney was, I think, an asset to that ticket back in 2000. He brought experience. He brought bipartisan respect. Today's Dick Cheney is not your father's Dick Cheney.

SHIELDS: Oh! Bob Novak?

NOVAK: It is very interesting that Margaret and Al were praising Dick Cheney, because the lynch mob hadn't started yet. But the interesting thing to me is that moderator! He was ahead of the lynch mob! He was starting the whole nonsense of Halliburton before anybody else.

CARLSON: So, neither one of us can be right?

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Bob is attacked on all three fronts. Go ahead, Margaret.

CARLSON: That's right. Cheney was just what the doctor ordered, more or less for Bush, in that he needed to have a serious experienced guy next to him, to make up for his lack of experience. Now, he doesn't need him because he is so identified with the war.

And in Bob Woodward's book, he says that Colin Powell said, you know, nobody has changed more than Dick Cheney since he knew him back in the Ford administration. Which is, that he has become a fevered presence in the Cabinet, obsessed with Iraq. Dick Cheney, I think, changed very much over the course of the of these four years.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond The Beltway", looks at a potentially historic Republic primary election in Georgia. Pollster Matt Towery joins us from Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In the Georgia Republican primary next Tuesday, African-American businessman Herman Cain is trying to force front-running Congressman Johnny Isakson into a run off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): I've always been a businessman.

ANNOUNCER: Johnny Isakson, a conservative who delivers. And Johnny has never voted for tax increase, not once.

ISAKSON: You ought to spend the American people's money like they spend it, sitting around the kitchen table and setting priorities.

HERMAN CAIN (D-GA), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: There is a big difference between me and Johnny Isakson, and it is not just the color of our eyes.

I believe in life from conception. Johnny has voted pro-abortion 14 times. I want to slam the breaks on trial lawyers. Johnny is on their side. We need a conservative Republican who will vote that way.

That's my message. I'm Herman Cain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: The "Insider Advantage" poll conducted this week shows Congressman Isakson at 46 percent, just short of the more than half the votes required for nomination. With 20 percent for Herman Cain and 16 percent for Congressman Mac Collins.

Joining us now from Atlanta is Matt Towery, syndicated columnist and pollster of political newsletter, "Insider Advantage".

Good to have you back, Matt.

MATTHEW TOWERY, "INSIDER ADVANTAGE": Thank you. Nice to be back with you.

SHIELDS: Matt, can Herman Cain come from nowhere to force a run- off with Congressman Johnny Isakson?

TOWERY: No, it is not going to happen. He certainly has great presence on television. He has a message that does appeal to conservatives. But the problem here is that Isakson has such broad support. I mean, this is a guy who, long before my years in polling and writing, I was, as you know, an elected official. And I was actually Isakson's so-called running mate, even though we don't run together here in Georgia, in 1990, as the lieutenant gubernatorial nominee.

SHIELDS: Right.

TOWERY: I've watched Johnny's campaigns. This is the first statewide campaign Isakson has run that was virtually flawless. He's going to win this without a run off on Tuesday, guys.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Matt, the rec -- the profile of Johnny Isakson, of the conservative movement here, is that he is a liberal. He votes liberal on abortion. He's pretty soft. Is it in Georgia -- I see his campaign ad says I am a conservative and all that, but in Georgia is there not some problem with the rural conservatives who might say, hey, this guy is an Atlanta liberal and maybe we ought to go with a real conservative?

TOWERY: Well, I think, Bob, what you have to keep in mind is that with states like Georgia, Florida, many of the Southern states that have grown very quickly, you really don't have this rural strong conservative base that people assume exists.

The average Republican voter, and you have a very broad Republican turnout, because there are so many races, the state has basically gone Republican, tends to skew towards the middle.

I mean, what you and I would call the middle. I mean, probably Al might call it, or some others might call it the ultra-conservative or conservative, but it is the middle. But they do tend to be -- for example, females in Georgia, Florida, other states that are Republican, often times call themselves pro-choice; huge pro-choice segment within the Republican Party, in the Southeast.

So, no, I don't think, Johnny is viewed as, quote, "liberal" among the electorate here.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Matt, Senator Zell Miller, who is very popular in Georgia, largely because he's a Democrat who is actually a Republican, is he having any effect on this race, or Georgia politics in general?

TOWERY: Well, not really, because Zell chose not to -- Senator Miller chose not to get involved in the race.

But under, sort of behind the radar, or under the radar, a lot of the Miller people are supporting Johnny Isakson. You know, Miller defeated Isakson in 1990, but they pretty much had the same philosophy on most issues.

And so, Johnny Isakson is sort of viewed as being the Miller replacement, so to speak, not just among Republicans but among a wide segment of Democrats. You know, there is this concept that Zell is suddenly unpopular with Democrats, because he's speaking at the Republican Convention. That is not true. Our polling shows, in Georgia, that most Democrats still like Zell Miller, as well.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: My friend, Matt, I want to assure you I would never call a pro-choice woman an ultra-conservative.

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: But let me ask you this, where are the Democrats in this? They have really fallen on hard times in the state of Georgia. Is this election of Johnny Isakson, is this a slam dunk for the Republicans in the fall?

TOWERY: Well, it is a slam dunk in the fall. And, Al, the funny thing about it is the Democrats, really, are still competitive statewide in Georgia. Georgia is about a 40 percent/40 percent split in terms of party ID, with the rest being independent.

Had the Democrats chosen to run a strong candidate and with the president running a little weaker in Georgia -- you know the president is only at 49 percent in our latest poll here. He's running a little weaker.

And nationally, when we look at our polling nationally for the president, we see that he's not doing particularly well with people from the age of 40 to 59. That is not good news.

So, Democrats, in general, are sort of slacking off in some of these Southern states where they might have actually done better if they had concentrated on having a major candidate.

SHIELDS: Matt, the third and overlooked person in this race, Mac Collins, who gave up a safe House seat to run, is this going to have, this primary, going to have any fallout in the fall's congressional races in Georgia?

TOWERY: I think it won't have much fall out. Although, I will say this about Mac Collins, as you know, Collins comes across as being -- I don't want to say rural, but a little more agrarian, whatever you want to call him. But as you know, Collins has a great knowledge of the tax code.

And we're losing a person who, really, was one of the strongest Republicans in dealing with the tax code, to basically a race in which he has ended up being non-competitive, which is a real shame. I think he will be back. I think you'll see him come back.

As far as impact on the other congressional races, I don't see much of that, quite frankly.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Matt, do you see any future for Herman Cain? He has interested a lot of people. I thought that the spot with the ad we just ran on him was quite good. Has he got any future as a black Republican in Georgia?

TOWERY: Yes, he does, Bob. In fact, I really believe he may become the first major African-American Republican leader in Georgia history. He has a combination of a great personality, great presence on television and at the same time, he has shown early political acumen, not strong enough to beat a Johnny Isakson. He just didn't have the experience and, obviously, this is somewhat of a novelty.

But he has gone past the novelty stage and he is really appearing to be someone who is going to be a comer in the future. I'm watching Herman Cain. I think he's going to go places.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Matt, is there any regret in Georgia over the way Max Cleland was defeated?

TOWERY: Well, I think that there is a lot of question about Max's campaign. You know that was -- the entire Democratic operation just seemed to collapse in the last two weeks. And I have to say that Max was not at the top of his game at the time, either. So that created a bit of a problem to be honest with you.

SHIELDS: Al, quickly.

HUNT: Very quickly, Matt, who is going to win the Democratic senatorial primary?

TOWERY: You know, it is almost like, who cares? I think a fellow named Cliff Oxford (ph) will probably win it. Denise Majette (ph), could have been a strong candidate. For some reason she has just not taken to the airwaves. And you know my rule of thumb, if you are not on TV, you're not going to be a winner.

SHIELDS: Well, you're on TV, Matt. You're a winner. Thanks very much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with "The Outrages of the Week".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: And now, "The Outrages of the Week".

In a more civilized era, Americans dressed up to go to the airport. Today, the fashion statement made by air travelers is sloppy, frequently un-kept sweat suits. But apparently no one at the Homeland Security agency has been to an airport in the last 20 years, because the Homeland Security agency demands that federal air marshals wear a suit or a coat and tie when protecting flights.

Hey, guys, the point is that marshals' mission is to protect air travelers. To do so, and to do that, they should be able to blend with everybody else and not stand out to potential high-jackers.

Bob Novak. NOVAK: In Oklahoma, ex-Congressman Tom Coburn and former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys agreed not to attack each other in seeking the Senate Republican nomination.

But when polls put the conservative Coburn ahead two to one, establishment party candidate Humphreys attacked in these words. Quote, "Do we know the real Tom Coburn? In Congress, Tom Coburn voted against vital defense spending and sided with liberals to cut intelligence funding. With America at war, we can't count on Tom Coburn," end quote.

Coburn's votes opposed pork barrel spending. I guess that is reason enough to keep him out of the Senate.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, say good bye, America, to pristine national forests and parks. This week, the president and a former timber lobbyist, temporarily masquerading as under secretary of Agriculture, opened up 60 million acres of national forests to plundering by mining and logging companies. This follows rescinding a Clinton rule banning ear-piercing snow mobiles from the national parks.

By the way, taxpayers get to pay for building new roads to help companies like Boise-Cascade strip log in Yellowstone.

Is no land sacred to Chainsaw Bush? Soon we'll be singing, "On top of old Smokey, covered with sludge."

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Remember last year when the White House and Congress delivered a prescription drug benefit? Now, we found out earlier that the $400 billion advertised cost was a lie. Now we discover its estimated employers will reduce or eliminate current drug benefits for 3.8 million retirees, or one out of every three.

It gets worse. The Bush administration agreed to give employers $71 billion to encourage them not to drop retirees. Guess what? They still get the money, even if they deep-six the benefits. Drug companies and rich employers benefits; seniors and taxpayers get the shaft.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN Presents: Fountain of Youth."

At 9 p.m., "Larry King Weekend" an encore interview with former news anchor, Bree Walker.

And coming up at 10 p.m., the latest news headlines.

Thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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