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Service and Sacrifice; Interview With Senator Bill Nelson; Fight on the Hill

Aired January 27, 2005 - 15:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: Three days until the election in Iraq and another deadly attack aimed at the political process. This weekend's vote is our top story.

They served in Iraq and paid a heavy price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be able to play soccer with my son again.

ANNOUNCER: We'll visit with some troops trying to get their lives back on track.

From Condoleezza Rice...

SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: But I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally.

ANNOUNCER: ... to Alberto Gonzales...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It's very, very political.

ANNOUNCER: ... from Iraq to Social Security, is partisan politics more intense than usual this year?



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

U.S. officials say American and Iraqi forces are cracking down ruthlessly on insurgents and three days to go from Iraq's crucial election. But that hasn't stopped the bloodshed. Or the fear.

A suicide car bombing in Baquba was just one of several new attacks aimed at scaring people away from the polls. Nearly all of those killed today were Iraqis 24 hours after the deadliest day for Americans in Iraq since the start of the war.

U.S. servicemen and women and their families are more aware than anyone of the price Americans have paid in Iraq. I visited this week with troops who had served there, men who lost friends and their own limbs. But never, it seems, their hope. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): They came from separate corners of the country. A father of two from South Carolina...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought the world was my oyster type thing.

WOODRUFF: ... a Mexican immigrant from Boonville, California...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never had seen anywhere else outside of California at the time.

WOODRUFF: ... a Marine from Virginia born to serve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

WOODRUFF: ... their paths took them to Iraq and then here, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where they are now learning to walk again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A strong stretch.

WOODRUFF: These are three men. There are many hundreds like them. Some thought they were short-timers in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The days just got starting to extend and extend and extend. And then finally they said we had been there for two weeks. They said, "You're staying here until further notice."

WOODRUFF: They went there focused on the mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking for insurgents, weapon smugglers, bomb makers and we're also trying to spread the good will of the United States and make democracy look great.

WOODRUFF: But Lieutenant Ed Sallo (ph) came home missing a leg. So did Sergeant Jack Sigman. Sergeant Manny Mendoza (ph) lost both of his.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last one. Go. Push. Hard, hard, hard.

Come on. Back. Come on.

WOODRUFF: Now they are rebuilding their lives one small step at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be able to play soccer with my son.

WOODRUFF: Others want to get fit enough to stick with the military.

SGT. JACK SIGMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: As long as we continue to past the physical fitness test which consists of sit-ups, pull-ups and three-mile runs, we can stay in the Marine Corps. So as long as I can do that, I can stay in the Marine Corps.

WOODRUFF (on camera): Can you do a three-mile run?

SIGMAN: Not right now, but by the time I leave here, I'll be able to do it.


WOODRUFF: Every one of them a hero.

And you can hear more of my report from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center tonight during a two-hour CNN primetime special, "Iraq Votes." That's at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Then at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, stay tuned for a special edition of "CNN PRESENTS: Under Fire: Stories from the New Iraq." CNN correspondents will give viewers firsthand accounts of the reality of life in the war-torn country.

Senator Edward Kennedy stepped up his attack on the Bush administration's Iraq policy today, calling for the U.S. to begin planning a military withdrawal. In a speech here in Washington, the Massachusetts Democrat became the first senator to publicly advocate drawing up a timetable for the troops to come home.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We have reached the point that a prolonged American military presence in Iraq is no longer productive for either Iraq or the United States. The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.


WOODRUFF: The Republican National Committee fired back saying, "It is remarkable that Senator Kennedy would deliver such an overtly pessimistic message only days before the Iraqi election. Kennedy's partisan political attack," it said, "stands in stark contrast to Bush's vision of spreading freedom around the world."

My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, sat down with Senator Kennedy this afternoon and talked with him about his exit strategy. You can watch that interview at 5:00 p.m. Eastern on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

President Bush's new secretary of state plans to discuss Iraq and other hotspots with U.S. allies when she travels to the Middle East and Europe next week. This was Condoleezza Rice's first day on the job after being confirmed by the Senate and sworn in yesterday. She told State Department officials she would restore their influence at home and abroad.

A driving force behind the Pentagon's Iraq policy says that he will step down this summer. Douglas Feith is Donald Rumsfeld's top policy advisor, and he will become the highest-ranking Pentagon official to leave the Bush administration. In an interview, Feith said that he was leaving on his own terms because he said he wants to spend more time with his family. Well, let's talk more now about Iraq, the Bush administration policy and Sunday's vote. I'm joined by a leading Senate Democrat on the Foreign Relations and the Armed Services Committee. He is Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

As you know, your colleague, Edward Kennedy, today, became the first U.S. senator to publicly call for a timetable to bring the troops home. Do you agree with him that it's time for that?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I do not agree with him, Judy. What we need, in my judgment, in the interests of the United States, is to stabilize Iraq. If we turn tail and pull out, the place would erupt into civil war, there would be all kind of chaos.

Terrorism loves a vacuum. The terrorists would fill it. And ultimately, you would have a radical Islamic -- something akin to the Taliban in control, and that's a lot closer to Europe than was Afghanistan.

WOODRUFF: Well, now, what I understand, Senator, is that he's not calling for an immediate pull-out, but for the beginnings of a discussion of a timetable.

NELSON: Well, that's nice to talk about, but we've got to stabilize the country first. Right now, we have in excess of 150,000 people, our troops, U.S. troops. I think the Pentagon is planning about 120,000. And I think that General Abizaid is planning for that over the course of the next couple of years. I think prudence would suggest that we get the place stabilized first and then determine what we're going to do about a pull-out.

WOODRUFF: So would you expect there is not much support for that -- for what Senator Kennedy is talking about among your Senate colleagues?

NELSON: I don't think there is. Now, I understand Senator Kennedy's frustration. All of us are. From time to time, this is beginning to look ghastly close to Vietnam experience. But we're not ready to be talking about pulling out at this point.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe a large number of Iraqis will vote on sunday? You see the violence day after day.

NELSON: I think it's expected that a large number of Sunnis, a lesser number -- correction. A large number of Shiites and a lesser number of Sunnis will be voting. The Kurds should vote in record numbers. But it's all a part of the process.

I think you can expect the violence to increase between now and Sunday, but then I think you can expect to see the violence increase in a period of transition and instability as ministries change over the course of the next several months after the election. WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, if that's the case, how does one measure success? As you know, the president, yesterday, said it's a success that there is even an election being held, that he's not looking at numbers of people who turn out to vote. How do you measure success?

NELSON: You measure success by getting Iraq to be stabilized politically and economically. And that's not going to happen with all of the terrorists and the insurgents that are now in there in the short run. It's going to take a while.

WOODRUFF: You believe it could still work out for the best in Iraq?

NELSON: I don't want to believe anything else, Judy. Because the stakes are so high.

We can question whether or not we went in under false pretenses. And I am certainly one that's questioning that. And we can rail about that there was no plan for the peace, which I have done that after a brilliant military campaign. But now that we're there, I don't know that we have any other choice.

WOODRUFF: What is at stake?

NELSON: Well, what's at stake is not letting terrorism get a foothold in that part of the world that is all the more close to the United States' interests, as well as all the more close to our ally, Israel, which is very, very close.

WOODRUFF: So you believe the U.S. could be there for how long?

NELSON: Well, you know, it's purely a guess on my part. I know the Pentagon planners right now are planning for about 120,000 troops over the course of the next year, two years. Beyond that, you know, it's anybody's guess.

WOODRUFF: Senator Bill Nelson, we thank you very much. We appreciate you talking to us.

NELSON: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Senator Nelson is a member of both the Armed Services and the Foreign Relations Committee.

Well, as we count down to elections in Iraq, the stakes could not be higher for people preparing to vote. But what's at stake in this country? Our Bill Schneider has some thoughts on that.

Also ahead, so much for political healing or for a Bush honeymoon. Partisan head-butting alive and well here in Washington.

And later, on this day, did George W. Bush and John Kerry find any common ground? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This story just into CNN. The United States Supreme Court has cleared the way for the execution of a convicted serial killer in the state of Connecticut. The court today, by a split vote of 5-4, lifted a stay of execution on convicted serial killer Michael Ross.

Ross is on death row for strangling four young women and girls in eastern Connecticut in the early 1980s. He has also admitted murdering four other young women in Connecticut and New York. He raped most of the victims.

Again, the Supreme Court clearing the way for Ross' execution.

Back here in Washington, President Bush has said that he wants to work with the opposition on his ambitious second-term agenda. But it didn't take long for Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to resume their bitter fights over everything from Condoleezza Rice's nomination as secretary of state to the war in Iraq.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): A brief portrait of bipartisanship on Inauguration Day a week ago. But it was just that, a brief respite from the Washington wars, which seem just as intense now as they did in the campaign. The Condoleezza Rice confirmation hearing has been the most prominent second-term showcase for a deeply-felt divide.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I personally believe -- this is my personal view -- that your loyalty to the mission you were given to sell this war overwhelmed your respect for the truth.

WOODRUFF: Democrat Barbara Boxer's grilling of Rice got a lot of notice.

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I don't even view this at partisan politics. I view this at very petty politics.

WOODRUFF: The Republican National Committee took that sentiment a step further, going on the offensive against Boxer in an e-mail playing up her image as a new liberal star of her party. But Boxer wasn't the only Democrat to go after Rice.

DAYTON: But I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally. It's wrong. It's undemocratic. It's un- American. And it's dangerous.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: Those who oppose the war ought to say it and quit exaggerating.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: This is a vote that will be memorable. It is not in any way a trivial pursuit.

WOODRUFF: Of course, this is about much more than Condi Rice. From the dispute of over Ohio's election results, to the Alberto Gonzales nomination, to the mission in Iraq, there is no sign of a honeymoon.

SPECTER: Once the politics starts rolling it's a snowball effect, and it can't be stopped.


WOODRUFF: Joining me now with his take on partisanship on Capitol Hill and around this town, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

Tom Mann, good to see you. Is it just politics, petty politics, as Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, put it, or are there genuine policy differences here?

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes, it's -- there is nothing petty about it. There are major differences between the parties.

In my 35 years in this town, I've never seen the degree of ideological polarization between the parties. We also have a very ambitious president who's intent on making some major, if not radical policy departures. So it's not surprising that his ambitions lead to this kind of reaction from the Democrats.

WOODRUFF: Well, is it -- is this the earliest you've seen? I mean, you know, I've covered the second term of Ronald Reagan, the second term of Bill Clinton. Is this the earliest you've seen the two parties go at it again so soon after an election?

MANN: Yes, it is, but it reflects what's out there in the broader country. Remember, right now, George Bush has job approval ratings, at best, 50 percent. But that means 90-plus percent of Republicans think he's doing great, but only 10 percent or so of Democrats.

The country is split on George Bush. It was a close election. He came out afterward and with great confidence and a bit of swagger said, "I earned political capital and I'm going to spend it," which was a shot across the bough to Democrats. They are responding in kind now on substantive matters; namely, the management of the war in Iraq and, importantly, the ballots over Social Security reform.

WOODRUFF: Tom Mann, you're saying there is serious policy differences involved here. But you've got Barbara Boxer, who, at the same time she's opposing Condoleezza Rice before the Foreign Relations Committee, she's out soliciting money for the Democratic Senate campaign committee, talking about Condi Rice. You've got both sides firing at one another with, you know -- I'm getting multiple e-mails every day from both the Democrats and the Republicans.

MANN: Judy, that's what we live in now. It's called the permanent campaign.

There is no distinction between governing and campaigning. You govern by campaigning and you campaign by -- by governing. The Republicans frame issues in the Congress to try to extract some electoral advantage. And, now, Democrats in the minority, clearly the opposition party, see an opportunity to make some headway because of the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq and because the president is trying to do something with Social Security that is very controversial.

WOODRUFF: But don't the Republicans have an automatic advantage because of their numbers in the Senate and the House? And they've got the White House.

MANN: No, they -- listen, if they were just passing out goodies to everybody, there were only winners, of course. But now they're -- they're taking on issues where losers are created.

So, on Social Security, you've got maybe two or three dozen House Republicans that are weary of the direction the president is -- is proposing. In the Senate, you need a super majority, 60 votes to get anything done on these issues. And I've never seen Democrats as united as I -- as I see them today. So I think it's -- it's a tough road ahead for the president.

WOODRUFF: All right. As you look down the road, very quickly, as far as the eye can see, partisanship or any -- any -- any hope in sight that they're going to work together?

MANN: The only hope would be if the president made major policy concession. And, at this point, I don't see it. So look for intense partisan wars in the months and years ahead.

WOODRUFF: All right. A battleground view from Tom Mann at the Brookings Institution. Tom, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

MANN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Well, Bush and Kerry locking horns once again. Coming up, what Bush said today about health care and why Kerry and other Democrats don't like what they're hearing. It's all in our "Political Bytes."


WOODRUFF: Dueling health care prescriptions in today's "Political Bytes."

President Bush used the first trip of his second term to pitch his health care agenda at the Cleveland Clinic. Mr. Bush urged greater use of computerized medical records and electronic prescriptions.

Back here in Washington, Senator John Kerry used his first major speech since the election to criticize the president's health care policy. Kerry called Mr. Bush's plan "irresponsible" and said it will not meet the needs of children and low-income families. Other Democrats are talking health care today at the same event where Kerry spoke. Illinois Senator Barack Obama took part in a morning panel with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Senator Clinton called for fairness and quality in the health care system, suggesting the Bush administration has slashed the safety net programs that have literally kept people alive.

Speaking of Senator Clinton, the Republican district attorney of Westchester County, New York, Jeanine Pirro, reportedly is considering challenging Clinton's bid for a second term in the Senate in 2006.

Getting to the polls could be one of the hardest parts of this Sunday's Iraq election. Coming up, our Jane Arraf reports from Iraq on the intense security in place for the vote this weekend.

Plus, President Bush has a great deal at stake this Sunday. Our Bill Schneider takes a look at the potential consequences.



ANNOUNCER: All eyes are on Iraq this weekend, but just what's at stake for the U.S. as Iraqis vote this sunday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly a bad election could speed the process of movement to civil war.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush and African-Americans. Is the strained relationship on the men? We'll ask the head of the Congressional Black Caucus about his meeting with the president.

One year ago, John Kerry grabbed frontrunner status in the race for the White House.

KERRY: I have only just begun the fight.

ANNOUNCER: The Kerry comeback is our campaign flashback.



WOODRUFF: Welcome back. And we'll get to INSIDE POLITICS in just a moment. But it is just before 4:00. The markets are getting ready to close on Wall Street. And I'm joined by Lou Dobbs in New York first with "The Dobbs Report."

Hi, Lou.


Stocks on Wall Street today mixed. Caterpillar today posting disappointing earnings while Verizon met street estimates. Still, both stocks losing ground on the day, pulling blue chips lower as well.

As the final trades are now being counted, the Dow Jones industrials off just about 28.5 points. The Nasdaq trading slightly higher.

Microsoft is due to report its earnings shortly. And members of Congress are now voicing concern about IBM's plans to sell its personal computer business to Lenovo. Lenovo's a company controlled by the Chinese government.

Certain members of Congress now are calling for a full review of that deal before any U.S. technology is passed on to the Chinese, potentially threatening national security. We'll have much more on this developing story at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

IBM, General Electric and more than 50 other Fortune 500 companies are joining forces to offer health insurance to their workers who don't qualify for company coverage. Up to 3 million employees who work on a part-time or freelance basis will be eligible. The companies involved aren't subsidizing the program, but workers can expect savings, with premiums offered at group rates.

And coming up on CNN, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," celebrities now helping to -- at least working to -- open up borders. They're lobbying to get driver's licenses for illegal aliens. Why are celebrities doing this? I'll be talking with one of those celebrities tonight, actor Mike Farrell.

Also, the Mexican government is upset about U.S. criticism of its war on drugs. Mexico's interior minister today made it clear, the United States should stay out of Mexico's internal business. We'll have that special report.

And former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman will join us. She says the far right has taken over the Republican party. She'll be with me to explain tonight. All of that and more coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Please join us. Now, back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, very interesting story about the potential IBM sale to the Chinese, but I want to ask you about the mention, the story you're working on, the interviews. Celebrities getting involved in this fight over driver's license for illegal immigrants. Why do you think they're getting involved and do you think it's going to have any effect?

DOBBS: I don't think it's going to have much of an effect because right now there is a tide, Judy, in the country, that is turning, saying that national security demands that we have secure borders. It is not a racial issue, it is not an immigration issue, it is a national security issue and has to be dealt with on that basis. But we'll be talking with Mike Farrell about that and a great deal more tonight.

WOODRUFF: We'll watch at 6:00. Thanks very much. Lou Dobbs. And right now, back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Iraq already is under, as we've been reporting, a state of emergency, but officials there say tight security is getting even tighter, heading into Sunday's important election. CNN'S Jane Arraf is getting a first-hand look at restrictions aimed at preventing insurgent attacks and aimed at keeping Iraqi voters safe.

JANE ARAFF, CNN SR. BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT (via video phone): Well, in Falluja, where we've been for the past week, we just came from this morning to Baquba, certainly there's increased security around the city and that's one of the reasons why that city is relatively safe, ironically, after that fierce battle that took place there in November. Very stringent security checks on people coming into this city.

Here, the polling sites have remained a secret. That's the part of the way that they have managed to maintain the security around the sites where people will vote. They will have to tell them, obviously, where to go where to vote, but they're waiting to do that until essentially the last minute. Now, when they get to those voting sites, there will be layers and layers of security. On the outer cordon, it will be U.S. military, marines in some cities, U.S. army in others, and as voters get further in, they will see only Iraqis, Iraqi police, public order battalions and in the middle cordons, the Iraqi army.

Now, there will also be other measures such as snipers on the rooftops, multiple checks, they'll pat people down. It will be an ordeal to go out and vote. But this is historic. It is the first time most Iraqis will have had a chance to vote in their lifetime and some of them appear to be willing to take that risk.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Jane. Jane Arraf is our senior Baghdad correspondent.

With insurgents threatening to kill Iraqi voters on Sunday, the stakes could not be higher for the people of Iraq and for U.S. troops that are stationed there. For President Bush, the election may not be life and death, but he does have a great deal at stake.

Here now, our political senior analyst, Bill Schneider.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The Bush administration has a lot riding on Sunday's election in Iraq.

KENNETH POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Their theory is that the Iraqis come to the polls in large numbers, they're going to elect a legitimate government that will basically undermine the underpinnings of the insurgency.

SCHNEIDER: There is one outcome the United States can never accept. It is exactly the outcome insurgents like Abu Musab Zarqawi want. BRIG. GEN. ERV LESSEL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE: Last year he came out and said that one of his objectives was to create sectarian violence and create civil war.

SCHNEIDER: The Sunni Arabs are the biggest problem. They're the minority who used to rule Iraq. They face the prospect of losing power. If Sunnis won't vote, they won't get their fair share of seats that will draft a new constitution.

LAITH KUBBAH, NAT'L ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY: If we do not include that community in the process, we're simply handing in millions of people to the insurgency.

SCHNEIDER: A civil war could lead to the break up of Iraq and the total failure of U.S. policy. Neighboring Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria will do whatever they can to keep Iraq intact and protect Sunni interests. Iran seems strangely committed to the electoral process in Iraq -- for a reason.

JON ALTERMAN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC INT'L STUDIES: The Iranians want the election to go well because the Iranians think that everything is coming their way. Their friends, the Shia, in Iraq, are going to do well.

SCHNEIDER: A big victory by Shiite religious parties could create fear among many Iraqis of too much Iranian and radical Islamic influence. The election has to produce a government that can hold Iraq together. Iraqis are waiting to see if that can happen. So is the rest of the Middle East.

POLLACK: Maybe this democracy idea isn't such a bad idea.

SCHNEIDER: And if they don't see it?

POLLACK: We'll see a lot of Arabs saying democracy is a terrible idea and we don't want here what they've got in Iraq.


SCHNEIDER: Iraq is the big test for the Bush doctrine that the president proclaimed in his inaugural address. A successful election will mean so far, so good.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, we've heard the president's definition of success, that there is an election that they pull off. How does one objectively define success in this election, though?

SCHNEIDER: I asked several Iraqi analysts, including an Iraqi citizen himself, people who are watching this election. It's a very slippery concept, but all of them seem to agree if turnout is less than 50 percent of registered voters, that will be a defeat for the United States and will not look like a legitimate election. And that could be a very tough test.

WOODRUFF: And is anybody venturing a guess as to whether more than 50 percent of registered voters are going to have the nerve, the guts, to get out and vote?

SCHNEIDER: No one expects more than 50 percent in the Sunni areas because of the danger and also because of the boycott declared by some leading political parties there. The rest of the country they're expecting, they're hoping for a very high turnout. The Kurds are determined to vote and the Shias are under religious decree instructing them to vote. So, in parts of the country, you could see very high turnout; in other parts, it could be very difficult.

WOODRUFF: And of course, the high-turnout areas could counterbalance the percentage and...

SCHNEIDER: That's right. The problem is the imbalance there. And you know, because of the whole country's one constituency, that creates a special problem. Because if Sunnis don't vote, they won't get any seats. If you had created districts in the Sunni areas, then even if turnout were low, there would be Sunni representatives elected. So that creates an even bigger problem for the under- representation of the Sunnis.

WOODRUFF: But Bill, there has been talk about promising -- guaranteeing the Sunnis an important role in the new government, regardless of what their turnout is.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Knowing what is happening there, that Sunnis may not vote and may not get many seats, they're going to reach out to them and try to include them in the process of governing and writing the constitution because they cannot afford to exclude that crucial constituency.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider. Watching this election from a afar, but watching. Thanks very much.

And a reminder now to stay with CNN for complete coverage in the run-up to the Iraqi election, a two-hour primetime special. "Iraq Votes" begins tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Then at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition of "CNN PRESENTS." "Under Fire: Stories from the New Iraq." First-hand accounts from a country that still looks and feels like a war zone.

One week into President Bush's second term, is he trying to make political amends with African-Americans? I'll ask the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Melvin Watt.

And later, primary color. We'll remember where we were and where John Kerry was one year ago today.


WOODRUFF: Some breaking news from Capitol Hill and that is that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, 17 members, has just announced that it will not endorse, declining to endorse Alberto Gonzales who was President Bush's nominee to be attorney general. In fact, he would be, if confirmed, the first Latino attorney general in history. The Hispanic Caucus saying that Gonzales, after expressing interest in their endorsement, expressing interest in a meeting, has since declined or they say refused to meet with members of this largely Democratic organization, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. So that news just coming in to CNN from Capitol Hill.

Right after his first inauguration four years ago, the president met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Their next meeting didn't come until three years later, an obvious indication of a strained relationship. Now Mr. Bush appears to be reaching out to African-Americans. He sat down this week with black lawmakers and business and religious leaders.

Joining me now with his take on all this the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Melvin Watt of North Carolina and, of course, you are a Democrat, as are all the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. You talked to...

REP. MELVIN WATT (D), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Not by choice, of course. You know, only because Republicans have not elected a member to the House or the Senate. So, we are not a Democratic organization. We are a black organization and if they were to elect somebody to the House or the Senate, they would, of course, be invited.

WOODRUFF: You met with the president yesterday, you presented him with a copy of your agenda. Give us some highlights of that agenda.

WATT: Well, it has actually a single focus, which is closing disparities that continue to exist between African-Americans and the majority community. Unfortunately, it's an expansive agenda because those disparities exist in every area of our lives. And, so, we want to make a renewed commitment to closing and eliminating those disparities.

WOODRUFF: And what was the president's reaction?

WATT: We didn't really get a reaction yesterday. We were very methodical about making the presentation. I would call on a member to describe some of the dramatic disparities that continue and then I would call on a member to talk about some of the policy things that the Congressional Black Caucus could support to eliminate or reduce those disparities. At some point in the conversation I started to hear kind of visible grunts. It was like every time a new piece of information was hitting the president, he was being hit in the stomach.

So, I know it was having an impact on him. But the breadth of what we were presenting was so much that we weren't really looking to get a response yesterday.

WOODRUFF: Literally, an audible grunt from the president?

WATT: Yes, you know, like you're being hit in the stomach or groin or in -- look of disbelief that the disparities are so dramatic in a number of these areas.

WOODRUFF: Do you think the president will support you in some of your agenda?

WATT: Well, I'd like to think so. I think our meeting was timely because while we didn't have time to get a response yesterday the State of the Union address is coming up soon and the president's proposed budget is coming up right after that.

So, he's going to have two really clear opportunities to either embrace all or part of our agenda of closing disparities or to just say, you know, I'm not going to deal with it.

WOODRUFF: Did you talk to him about Social Security? I ask because he made a comment in an interview with the "Washington Post" last week and he talked about his idea of creating private accounts for younger Americans. He said in so many words, this should be especially appealing to black Americans because he noted that the life expectancy of African-American males is, in his words, a lot less than other groups. Therefore, he went on to say, you have people putting money in the system, families aren't going to benefit. Did you get into any of that with him?

WATT: We did talk about retirement security but we talked about it in our disparities context because there are disparities in the existing Social Security system and we'll be looking forward to seeing the president's specific proposal.

WOODRUFF: What do you think about that aspect?

WATT: I can't comment on that because I don't know what he is proposing. I do know that the current Social Security system does have African-Americans subsidizing the system because we die sooner than white Americans do and so we pay into the system, we don't get back out of it. I think -- I hope that's what Bill Thomas was trying to get at in his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) comments earlier.

WOODRUFF: So, you might be able to support some aspect of private accounts, is that what you're saying?

WATT: I don't think we're going to be in a position to support private accounts, taking money out of Social Security because the effect of that would be to double the number of African-Americans who would be living in poverty, older African-Americans. But part of our agenda is to increase the ability of people at all income levels to have retirement and other assets outside Social Security as a supplement to Social Security.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, did you know the president at Yale, you were starting law school the year he was finishing undergraduate at Yale?

WATT: I did not, no.

WOODRUFF: Just curious because I noticed today in your biography you were there at the same time. Congressman Mel Watt, North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thank you very much.

WATT: Thank you so much.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, stopping the steamroller that was Howard Dean. Coming up next, the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat as we look back at the start of the race to the White House January 2004.


WOODRUFF: With President Bush rushing headlong into his second term, we are going to reverse gears. Exactly one year ago today John Kerry won a key primary victory in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination. We're going to take you back, looking at the topsy-turvy campaign month of January 2004.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): The new year found Howard Dean on top in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The former Vermont governor was the frontrunner when it came to raising money. He scored major union endorsements, as well as Al Gore's seal of approval as 2003 came to a close. Dean was also on top in the early polls in Iowa. And Tom Harkin, the Hawkeye State's Democratic senator, backed him as well.

But at a debate just eight days before the Iowa caucuses, Al Sharpton forced Dean to admit that during his 11 years as governor he had never named a black or Latino to his cabinet.

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Under your administration, did you have a senior member of your cabinet that was black or brown?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a senior member of my staff on my fifth floor...

SHARPTON: Of your cabinet.

DEAN: No, we did not.

WOODRUFF: The same day the state's largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, endorsed rival John Edwards. On January 15th, the field of nine became eight. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun dropped out of the race and endorsed Dean. Two Democrats, retired General Wesley Clark and Senator Joe Lieberman decided to pass on actively campaigning in Iowa and concentrated on New Hampshire.

But it was just the opposite for John Kerry. The senator from Massachusetts cut back his operations in the Granite State and put all his chips on Iowa. An emotional reunion the weekend before the caucuses put the spotlight on Kerry. He embraced Jim Rassmann, the Green Beret he had rescued over 30 years earlier. It was their first meeting since the Vietnam War.

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Jim Rassmann put a human face on Kerry's story and brought home this idea that he had fought bravely and saved men's lives. The campaign might have manipulated the timing of this reunion, but in this case it worked.

WOODRUFF: The caucuses were held on January 19th, their earliest date ever. When the results poured in, we had a new frontrunner. John Kerry grabbed first place with 38 percent, followed by a fast charging Edwards at 32 perecnt. Dean finished a distant third at 18 percent.

But the night was not over for Howard Dean. Comments he made to supporters that evening changed his campaign.

DEAN: We're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House! Yeeeaaaagh!

WOODRUFF: What became known as the "Dean scream" was played over and over by television news and on talk radio.

SASHA JOHNSON, CNN SR. POLITICAL PRODUCER: Did we think it was sort of out of context at the time? A little bit. But we didn't really realize how it was going to play until we got home and watched it on television. It looked much different in that box than it did in the room itself.

MERCURIO: It was silly. It didn't mean Howard Dean was crazy, or he had come unhinged. He never recovered and it ruined his campaign.

WOODRUFF: The Iowa caucuses were also a major disappointment for Dick Gephardt. The congressman from Missouri was expected to do well in neighboring Iowa, but Gephardt came in fourth and the next day gave up his hunt for the presidency.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Life will go on because this campaign was never about me.

WOODRUFF: For the remaining candidates, it was on to New Hampshire and the nation's first primary. New Hampshire was practically home turf for the senator from Massachusetts and the former Vermont governor. Both Kerry and Dean campaigned hard in the Granite State. But as the results came in on January 27th, the winner with 39 percent of the votes was, once again, John Kerry.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have spent my whole life fighting for what I think is right and against powerful special interests and I have only just begun the fight.

WOODRUFF: Dean finished 13 points back, followed by Clark with 13 percent, Edwards at 12 percent and Joe Lieberman in single digits. The next day, another jolt for Dean.

JOE TRIPPI, DEAN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It's a jump of what's going to be something like $3 million in nine days over the net.

WOODRUFF: Joe Trippi, the man credited with much of the Internet innovation and organizing of the Dean campaign quit after Dean proposed a shake up.

JOHNSON: It signaled sort of the beginning of the -- you know, the real downslide for Howard Dean to shake up a campaign that late in the game when John Kerry already had the momentum, showed that Howard Dean's campaign was really completely and totally falling apart.

MERCURIO: Dean and Trippi were never that close. And tensions had been building for some time. It was actually, I think, something that had been building for a while.

WOODRUFF: And so the month ended very differently from the way it started. We had a new frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.


WOODRUFF: So that was one year ago today looking back. The man who was having a hard time then, Howard Dean, now considered the frontrunner in a very different race, and that is for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. We're following that contest. They vote on February the 12th.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, as the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to do battle in the Super Bowl, two former presidents make plans to attend the game. More when we return.


WOODRUFF: Two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will be heading to Jacksonville next week for the Super Bowl. But they won't be there just to enjoy the game. The former presidents will appear together on the nationally televised pre-game show to make another plea for donations to help victims of last month's Asian tsunami. As for the game, no word yet on who they will be cheering for.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS on this Thursday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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