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AMERICAN MORNING

Election in a Dead Heat; Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich Asks the FDA for Emergency Approval of Flu Vaccine From Europe

Aired October 26, 2004 - 07:00   ET

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


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The final week of the presidential race. Time to play an ace in the hole if you've got one. What the candidates are doing now to win next Tuesday.
Three hundred eighty tons of missing explosives in Iraq. Did U.S. commanders make a grave mistake or did the Kerry campaign? Health questions surrounding the chief justice and bringing up a new unknown should the election wind up in court.

And earning new wings...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had to at least try it. And I had to show everybody and prove to everybody that I was capable of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: The Air Force pilot who is now flying again after losing a leg. An inspirational story for so many on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

HEMMER: Is it really just a week away?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is.

HEMMER: Only seven days and counting now to the election for the president 2004. So much to watch again today, too. In a moment here, we're going to take a look today at what each of the candidates are doing as they begin their final push.

Also looking at the new polling numbers -- hard to find any real consistency. We'll try to sort through the numbers and try and figure out what they know, the polling folks versus what we know today. So, we'll get to that today.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, we're talking about flu shots. We're going to talk with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich about his plan to do a little end run around the federal government and get more vaccines for the people in his state. Where is he going to go to buy them, and will Washington allow it? We'll look at that.

HEMMER: All right. Jack Cafferty, good morning.

O'BRIEN: Hello.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

It's been almost 100 days since the 9/11 Commission made its list of recommendations on how to keep our country safe from terrorism. Guess how many of them have been enacted into law? None. Zero. And Congress is getting ready now to take another two months off. It's disgraceful. We'll talk about it some more in a minute.

HEMMER: All right, Jack, thanks.

Top stories top of the hour. To Heidi Collins this morning. We begin in Iraq. Good morning to you.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We do. Good morning to you, Bill.

The U.S. Military says it dealt a blow to Islamic militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Military sources say an early morning air strike killed one of Zarqawi's associates, making it harder for the terror network to conduct attacks. But a resident of Falluja says the strike destroyed empty homes.

There is word this morning the Bush administration is planning to ask for $70 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- that according to officials cited in "The Washington Post." The emergency funding would push the total war costs to $225 billion. If he wins reelection, President Bush would submit the proposal to Congress early next year.

North Korea again blaming the U.S. for a breakdown in nuclear talks. The charge comes as Secretary of State Colin Powell wraps up his visit to China, Japan, and South Korea. Powell has been working to restart six-party talks, but North Korea says this is impossible and is accusing the U.S. of playing politics ahead of next week's presidential election.

U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is in a Maryland hospital this morning. Rehnquist had a tracheotomy on Saturday as part of his treatment for thyroid cancer. He is expected to be released in the next few days and to be back on the bench next week. In fact, they are saying probably Monday he will be there. And that is, as you've already mentioned, one day before the election.

HEMMER: We were just talking...

O'BRIEN: Imagine. I mean, he is an elderly man. He's 80 years old. To be able to have major surgery like that and recover so quickly? Wow.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Interesting to see. All right, Heidi, thanks.

COLLINS: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Well, the final push is on for those undecided voters. The election now just a week away, but early voting is well underway in some states. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll gives President Bush a slight edge among likely voters. The president has a five- point lead, but just a two-point lead among registered voters. Other polls put the race at a dead heat.

And the political stars are on the trail, as well. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for John Kerry in Pennsylvania yesterday. Today he's in Florida. And former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani stumped for Mr. Bush in Iowa and Colorado.

Well, President Bush heads again for Iowa today, but he first campaigns in the battleground State of Wisconsin. Suzanne Malveaux is with the Bush campaign, and she joins us from La Crosse, Wisconsin, this morning. Hey, Suzanne, good morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

President Bush leads a bus tour today through Wisconsin and Iowa. His focus is going to be on his economic agenda. But that controversy over the missing explosives in Iraq continues. The Bush camps says this is the latest tactic from Kerry, what they call ripping from the headlines to avoid talking about his record. But it is very clear the Bush camp would like this headline to go away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The Kerry camp played it up.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tragically, today we just learned about once again how this administration has failed to make the American people safer.

MALVEAUX: The Bush camp played it down.

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: People like Governor Dean and probably John Kerry are going to torture this into some sort of political message to their advantage.

MALVEAUX: But the question remains how it will play with the voters. The controversy over whether the Bush administration was to blame for nearly 400 tons of explosives missing from an Iraqi weapons site threatened to undercut President Bush's message.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll fight these enemies with every asset of our national power. And we will do our duty and protect the American people.

MALVEAUX: While the president didn't mention the missing explosives controversy on his swing through three battleground states, his surrogates did. Late in the day, the Bush campaign seized on an NBC report they said proved Kerry's attacks were baseless.

An NBC News crew embedded with the 101st Airborne went to the weapons site the day after Baghdad fell, but reported the troops did not find the high-powered explosives in question. Military observers say this does support the administration's case that the site was not ignored. But it doesn't prove whether the explosives were truly missing at that time or the troops just couldn't find them.

Who is accountable for their loss is under investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Now Kerry's advisor, Joe Lockhart, also responding to the Bush camp, calling it a shameless attempt to cover up the failure of the Bush administration to actually secure those weapons. Yesterday, President Bush also addressed Kerry's charges that he took his eye off of Osama bin Laden by allowing him to slip away in Afghanistan. President Bush calling that the worst case of Monday morning quarterbacking -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Suzanne, President Bush, as you say, is campaigning hard in Wisconsin, focusing on several small towns. One small town, in fact, is the same town that Senator Kerry will be going to. Why the focus there?

MALVEAUX: That's really a very interesting story. It's called Cuba City. The population less than 3,000. President Bush in early May swung through Wisconsin through that particular town. He did not stop, much to the disappointment of many residents. The kids got out of school early to see the president.

Kerry camp picked up on that. Decided to swing through that same small town. Changed his route. So, of course, President Bush back here in full force. This is a must-stop town for both of these campaigns. Clearly, every single vote counts in this election.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, 3,000 residents there. Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning traveling with the Bush campaign. Thanks, Suzanne.

HEMMER: Question today again today: How close is this race? Here's Ron Brownstein from "The L.A. Times" this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Ron, "The L.A. Times" find numbers very similar to CNN. On the screen for our viewers, you can see that you have them a little closer between Kerry and Bush, 47-47 among registered, 48 and 48 among likely voters. What do you see when you analyze the numbers based on your polling?

RON BROWNSTEIN, COLUMNIST, "L.A. TIMES": How close do you want it? Not only do we have them tied, but we have the country split exactly in half, 49-49 on whether President Bush has done a good job or not. And that has also been historically a key indicator.

This really is as close as it can be, Bill. And what is striking about this poll is that the country is divided much more along the lines of values than interests. Class is not a particularly good predictor to this race. We see President Bush running best with voters right around the median income. John Kerry doing best with lower income voters and, intriguingly, upper income voters, especially white voters. In our poll, he leads among white voters earning $100,000 a year or more who tend to take liberal positions on social issues and who tend to be very skeptical of the war in Iraq.

HEMMER: Why values this year, in 2004, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Bill, we've been heading in this direction for a generation. In 2000, church attendance was a better predictor of the vote than income. We're seeing the same kind of patterns this year. Enormous differences in the behavior of voters, depending on whether they are married or not, whether they attend church regularly or not, whether they live in rural, urban, or suburban areas, whether they own guns or not.

These sorts of cultural indicators increasingly are the defining characteristics of allegiance to the two parties in our modern political system.

HEMMER: Our list of battleground states today for this segment takes us to 14 different parts of the country. I think for the sake of argument, Ron, you can probably take out Maine -- that seems to be going in Kerry's direction -- Oregon seems to be going that way, as well. West Virginia seems to be going in favor of George Bush, which knocks the list down to 11. Would you knock it down even further?

BROWNSTEIN: I think I would. Realistically, I think, you know, there are at least 11 states that are somewhat in play. But if you talk to the -- both campaigns, I think they each have their eyes on four states and maybe even less. Kerry is focusing heavily on three state, I think: New Hampshire, which they are optimistic about, and then Florida and Ohio, with Nevada still a possibility, Colorado, Arkansas lurking. But really those three with a falloff to Nevada.

Now, Bush, on the other hand, probably has their eyes most on three Midwestern battlegrounds: Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota. They have high hopes in New Mexico. They are still pushing in Pennsylvania and Michigan, but those look tough in the end. It could be we'll have some surprises. Hawaii has been a close poll.

But in all likelihood, we're talking about extraordinarily few number of states changing hands, which leaves both sides with very little margin for error as they try to construct that 270 vote electoral college majority.

HEMMER: Who would think the Democrats are worried about Hawaii? And Hawaii be considered significant at this point, putting some new ad dollars in there. Republicans have a little bit of concern about Arkansas now. And Hawaii and Arkansas are considered, in this huge mix, to be so critical in 2004.

Quickly, based on the news from yesterday and Chief Rehnquist, who is driven to the polls based on his news and thyroid cancer of yesterday?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it fits into the first thing we're talking about. And in politics, I think increasingly defined by cultural values, something like this energizes both sides. There's enormous energy around these issues on either side. And it's probably just one more factor pushing us toward what could be a very high turn-out, which, of course, adds to the complexity and the uncertainty, because we're not sure if the polls are fully reflecting the possibility of a very large number of people turning out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Again, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein, writer for "The L.A. Times" -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Weather now. Jacqui Jeras in for Chad Myers. And she's at the CNN Center with the latest update for us. Hey, Jacqui, good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: All right, Jacqui, thanks.

HEMMER: Hey, Jacqui, you got the forecast for hell today? Because I think it just froze over last night.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK.

HEMMER: E-mail the devil. After 15 years, Cincinnati was finally ready for some football. Chad Johnson, seven catches, 149 yards last night. The Bengals actually won a football game. They beat the Denver Broncos 23-10 in primetime. The first time Cincinnati has hosted a Monday night game since 1989. The first time they played on Monday night since 1992. That win ended a three-game losing streak. Through all of that, the Bengals are still just 2-4. I think they are talking Super Bowl today in Cincinnati. Wow.

O'BRIEN: Still to come, was it live or was it Memorex? Ashlee Simpson performs for the first time since her SNL debacle. So, how did she respond at the Radio Music Awards? We'll take a look.

HEMMER: She's got a couple of excuses, doesn't she?

O'BRIEN: Yeah.

HEMMER: Also, thousands of Floridians may end up taking the old adage, vote early, vote often to heart. Jeff Toobin takes a look at the state of the ballot for us this morning.

O'BRIEN: You can't do that.

HEMMER: ... I'm telling you.

O'BRIEN: And also, one state comes up with a plan to fight the flu shot shortage. But will the FDA go along with that plan? We'll talk to the Governor of Illinois just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The Governor of Illinois is asking the FDA for emergency approval of flu vaccine from Europe for use in state nursing homes. Rod Blagojevich says they cannot afford to wait until January when additional vaccine will be available in the U.S.

The governor joins us this morning from Chicago to talk about his personal appeal. Nice to see you, governor. Thanks for being with us.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Explain to me where exactly this vaccine would be coming from?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, we've, first of all, taken advantage of our program here in Illinois. We have a prescription drug program that allows the citizens of Illinois to go to Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland to purchase the same medicines they get here, but get them over there for a lot less money because of the contacts we establish with this program.

We have been able to contract with wholesalers in the United Kingdom. They have been the ones who have been able to get us the flu vaccine that's manufactured by the same company that manufactures most of the flu vaccines that we get here in the United States to begin with.

So, we were fortunate because we established a program in Illinois -- frankly, in defiance of the FDA -- to help our citizens get medicine a lot less expensively. And because of that, we've been able to obtain what we think is close to 150,000, now, doses of flu vaccine, which will help our most vulnerable citizens.

O'BRIEN: You had to make a request now to the FDA to get approval for that. What have they said to you, and when do you expect to have a final word?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, we haven't heard back from them yet. They have publicly said and they've spoken to some of our representative that they'll expeditiously review our request and they'll get back to us, they have said, quickly. And I'm hopeful that they'll be able to get us the answer that we expect. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Again, we're talking about the same flu vaccines that we get here in the United States anyway, and President Bush himself has said himself that he's looking to Canada and the FDA is looking around the world, scouring for medicines so that we can address the immediate needs of those who are particularly vulnerable to flu -- and that's the elderly in nursing homes, other senior citizens, those with challenged immune systems, and children in hospitals.

And if we're successful, we just obtained another 80,000 doses overnight. Europe being six hours ahead, we sort of worked through the night. And if we can exceed 150,000 doses, we're in a position where we are eager to share some of what we have with other states.

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you that, because with all due respect, why just the folks in the nursing home in Illinois? I mean, how would you share those 150,000 doses? How would you divide them up?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well,again, we would be based on a priority that would be predicated on the most needy -- and that, again, nursing homes, senior citizens who are there, children in hospitals, and men and women who have challenged immune systems would get first priority.

With regard to any excess that we have, we're interested in being helpful to other states. Wisconsin would be a state that we would want to work with, because Wisconsin and Illinois have joined together to form a program that would import prescription medicines from Canada, United Kingdom, and from Ireland. And because of our relationship with the State of Wisconsin, we would probably offer them the first opportunity if, in fact, we have an excess, which so far we're working at. We haven't quite gotten there yet.

O'BRIEN: You say the FDA has promised to get back to you expeditiously. Any idea on a timeline? When do you think you're going to hear?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, you know, I wish I could tell you I stood by the phone, but I almost act like I sit by the phone. We wait for a phone call at any moment. My hope is that they will respond quickly. And I think they are aware of the challenges. They understand that there is an emergency, not just in Illinois, but around the country. And I think they know that the right thing to do for the public health is to act quickly.

O'BRIEN: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich joining us this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.

BLAGOJEVICH: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Bill?

HEMMER: Ashlee Simpson was back on stage last night, Radio Music Awards in Las Vegas. She was caught on tape Saturday night during a "Saturday Night Live" performance. So, this show last night was given a bit closer look. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER: Wrong song. It's the wrong song guys. Just kidding, you guys!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Last night was for laughs, apparently. The 19-year-old back on stage. On Saturday, she blamed the band. Last night, she offered a new explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMPSON: You know, it's crazy but, you know, you move on, and whatever. You know, things happen. I'm a human being and -- you know.

CARSON DALY: And you haven't been feeling well, which people are just now saying something was wrong with your throat.

SIMPSON: I have severe acid reflux. And the day of "Saturday Night Live," I actually completely lost my voice. And in the rehearsals, it was going great. And then, you know, comes like four hours to the show and I lost my voice. So...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: So, the list is growing longer today, Soledad. Did you know that?

O'BRIEN: I just don't know if I would go with the acid reflux excuse.

HEMMER: Today, name the top three reasons for Ashlee Simpson's embarrassing appearance this Saturday night.

Number three: The band played the wrong song -- we heard that on Saturday.

Number two: NBC played the wrong tape -- we heard that for a time.

Now we know the number one reason was acid reflux. Of course. Simpson's father/manager Joe says he told Ashlee to play the tape instead of going live because her voice was hoarse. He says he has never done that before. Everyone is watching a lot closer now, aren't they?

O'BRIEN: She's just a human being. I mean, things happen. Like things happen. I'm just a human being.

I got to use that. Remember to write that down as my next excuse when I make a mistake. I'm just a human being, Bill.

Still to come this morning, price fixing, payoffs, rigged bids -- accusations of corporate corruption claim a casualty at the world's biggest insurance broker. Andy is "Minding Your Business" just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. There's been a big shake-up in the insurance world. Here with that first check of money news with Andy Serwer "Minding Your Business." Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning to you. I hope they are going to start rolling the tape. I was going to lip synch this.

The CEO who is in the crosshairs of Eliot Spitzer's investigation in the insurance industry has resigned. Jeffrey Greenberg stepped down. He heads up Marsh & McClennan. He resigned yesterday. It's the nation's largest insurance broker. He's going to be replaced by a gentlemen, Michael Cherkasky. And it's an interesting choice. Cherkasky is the head of Marsh's Kroll company, which is an investigative unit. And he's an old colleague and friend of Eliot Spitzer's. In fact, he was Eliot Spitzer's boss back in the Manhattan D.A.'s office in the 1980s when they went after mobsters.

This is interesting because Eliot Spitzer essentially said he was not going to negotiate with Greenberg, essentially forcing him out saying that there is no leadership of the company. Now Cherkasky is in charge of the company. And so, Eliot Spitzer can proceed saving this company probably from actually being liquidated, because he was looking to bring criminal charges against the company, against the CEO. And no company has ever survived a criminal indictment like that.

So, it looks like Marsh is going to survive and Jeffrey Greenberg, the CEO, takes the fall there.

HEMMER: Wow, interesting stuff. Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: Indeed. You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Question of the Day?

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Soledad. Ninety-six days is how long it has been since the 9/11 Commission issued its report on how to protect this country from terrorism. And Congress still has been unable to adopt any of the major recommendations. Nada.

Originally, they said they couldn't possibly act until next year. They said they were much too busy. Of course, they found time then right after that announcement to take six weeks off. Eventually, the House and Senate did pass two bills, but now it looks like they'll be unable to reconcile the differences before the election next week. And of course, they've got to take another recess -- two more months. They won't be back until January of next year.

The 9/11 Commission is fed up. Says the nation will hold lawmakers partially responsible if an attack occurs before they take action to make this country safer.

The question is this: What's an acceptable timeframe for lawmakers to act on the 9/11 Commission recommendations? You can e- mail us at am@cnn.com. And we'll read some of your responses later.

I know what I would be inclined to do. I would inclined to vote against every incumbent running for either the Senate or the House of Representatives based on that little piece of information alone. It is obscene that these guys have not done any more than they have to act on these recommendations.

SERWER: What are they saying? I mean, they've just got to go on vacation? I mean, how do they respond?

CAFFERTY: You know, it's politics. They have a Senate bill and a House bill. One calls for budget authority. One says partial budget authority. One says leave some of the authority -- but it is all politics. Nobody can put all this crap aside and say, you know what, the country is at risk here. Why don't we try to get on the same page?

We actually had a countdown on the program for a while, but one of our management types took it off the air one of the weeks I was on vacation.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

In a moment here, John Kerry tries to close the gap on what could be the deciding issue of this election. We'll get to that in a moment.

And a veteran of the Gulf War making military history six years after his own leg was amputated. His choice and his incredible story of determination from the man himself. Still to come this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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