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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Taxing Reform Questions; The Democrats' Strategy

Aired February 14, 2005 - 15:29   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Global hotspots and President Bush. Where is the administration's strategy heading?

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: We can change the party, but only by working together and becoming a national party again.

ANNOUNCER: A new leader and new opportunities for the Democrats. Are they looking to Republicans for inspiration?

The federal budget and the bible. Is there more of a connection between those books than you might think?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

Democrats are seeing red over the president's Social Security reform plan. And they want Americans to see red too, as in red ink. So today, they sent out some senators to argue that the Bush plan for private savings accounts would considerably fatten the federal debt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: We need to encourage Americans to save. I think we all agree that that -- that will help everyone down the road. But what we do not want to see is money taken away from the payroll tax today, put into private accounts, making Social Security insecure for far too many Americans, add to the debt trillions of dollars in debt, and take away the guaranteed benefit that Social Security insurance program is today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: And in the middle of growing questions about the costs of reform, the Senate Finance Committee chairman suggested this weekend that president is opened to raising taxes. Is that true or false?

Let's check in with our senior White House correspondent John King.

Hi, John. JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How about to be determined, Judy? The president has consistently said he is opposed to raising payroll taxes, but the White House has not said flatly whether raising the income level at which Social Security is taxed, raising the cap so you take more taxes from wealthy Americans, whether that would be considered a tax increase or not.

Now, this question came back up again today because, as you noted, of comments made by the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, he was on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, and listen to this exchange.

Tim Russert asking Senator Grassley, "So, you're confident that if you put together legislation that includes private or personal accounts, but also some benefit reductions and tax increases for the next generation the president would sign that bill?" Senator Grassley: "The answer is yes."

Well, that, obviously, brought questions here at the White House this morning as has the president or have any top aides told key members of Congress -- and Senator Grassley is key on this issue -- that he would be open to tax increases? Scott McClellan at the briefing earlier this morning could have easily said no, could have said the senator was misinformed. But, Judy, all he said was that the president does not want to negotiate with the media, that the details will be worked out, that he's open to any ideas and all ideas as this debate continues.

So while they have flatly ruled out here raising the payroll tax rate, they clearly are leaving the door wide open to some adjustment of how much, how high the income cap is on Social Security taxes as this very difficult issue goes forward.

WOODRUFF: Everybody's going to be watching that one, John. Separately, the president sent over to the Hill today a list of judicial appointees, nominees. What's the significance of this?

KING: Well, the significance is that every one of the 26 names on this list have been nominated before and the Senate has not acted on them because of objections by the Democrats. The president had said after the election that he would re-nominate these candidates, and, in fact, he officially sent those nominations up today. Democrats have said that is picking a political fight.

Now, this is a recurring theme, the president fighting with Democrats in the Senate over his judicial nominations. And the president mentioned just today at the ceremonial swearing in of his new attorney general, former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that he wanted the Senate to give an up or down vote to every one of his nominees.

Even some Republicans had told the president, don't do this, sir. You may believe in your nominees, they may be well qualified, but you do not want to start the second term in a partisan confrontation with the Democrats. But the president, Judy, sent those 26 names up this afternoon. He's not going to back away from that fight, and it is a significant one.

WOODRUFF: One other thing, John. Internationally, the White House, so much of the focus has lately been not only on Iraq, but on Iran and North Korea. But today a terrible explosion in Beirut, in Lebanon. A former prime minister killed. What's the White House reaction?

KING: The most interesting part of the reaction, Judy, is even as the White House condemned the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, it condemned the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Now, it said it has no evidence that Syria had anything to do with this assassination, but the White House going out of its way to criticize Syria's occupation.

The White House, of course, has picked fights with Syria, rhetorical fights with Syria over what it believes to be its lack of enforcement of the border with Iraq during the war and now during the insurgency. The White House has said Syria has been too willing to let people come and go, let weapons perhaps come and go.

So quite striking that the administration went out of it ways to pointedly criticize Syria today. Administration officials say additional sanctions against Syria could be in the offing. And, Judy, it's a big setback for this administration.

Just as it celebrates the Iraq's elections, just as it begins to see some progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this assassination raising the prospect of perhaps even civil war, but certainly political instability in Lebanon just at a time the administration was trying to be hopeful about development in the Middle East.

WOODRUFF: It looks as if it's not quiet on any front over there.

KING: That's right.

WOODRUFF: All right. John, thank you very much.

KING: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Howard Dean held his first staff meeting at the Democratic National Committee today after his election Saturday as the new party chairman. Aides who attended the meeting say that Dean told DNC staffers he wants to make significant changes in the party's overall mission. Dean suggests the Democrats can learn a thing or two about organization from Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: The advantage the Republicans have organizationally is no longer money, it's their ability where we bring in people from elsewhere to knock on doors, they have people who have been in place for 20 years knocking on doors. That is what we have to build. And it's going to be hard work. There's a lot of ahead of us, but I think that's what we have to build.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: So let's talk more about the Democrats' future and the cues they appear to be taking from the GOP with CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."

Ron, you do write today about the Democrats, in effect, imitating the Republicans. I think most people would do a double take. So what do you mean?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Ideologically, not necessarily. Tactics and strategy I think very much so since the election.

A lot of people thought that after the November election, with President Bush's dominance in the red states and his success at reducing the Democratic numbers of senators and House members in the red states, that a lot of Democrats would be looking for ways to cooperate with President Bush. But instead, the watch word among Democrats since November has been taking a page from Newt Gingrich when he was in the minority in the early 1990s, with Republican strategists like Bill Kristol, and trying to unify behind a coherent and consistent opposition to the president.

On a broad sense, I think the Democrats are basically arguing -- many Democrats are arguing that the Republican model of the early 1990s of confrontation with the president of the other party is a clearer path to recovery than cooperation.

WOODRUFF: Does that mean moving to the left as they perceive this president has done to the right?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that's part of the challenge, is defining exactly what this means. Democrats have been able to unify right now against some of President Bush's initiatives, particularly Social Security and the budget, where you are seeing very large -- a striking degree of unity among Democrats.

I think there is still concern among red state Democrats about whether this does translate into a move to the left. But, Judy, there are voices in the Democratic Party who argue that George Bush, George Bush's success, allows for a move away from the center.

In effect, Bush pursued an agenda aimed mostly at his base and was able to win centrist voters in part through strength, character, values. People arguing Democrats can do the same thing. They don't have to be as focused on the center as Bill Clinton was.

WOODRUFF: But isn't there a risk there? Because as you point out today, there aren't as many liberal voters out there as there are self-identified conservatives.

BROWNSTEIN: And I think that is clearly the risk, whether a polarization strategy would work as well for Democrats as it has for President Bush. In the last election, there were -- 34 percent of the voters called themselves conservative, only 21 percent called themselves liberal.

So if you sort of divide the electorate on a sharp ideological line, it's not clear that works as well for Democrats as it does for Republicans. But there's no doubt that the direction in the party now is pushing toward more confrontation.

Howard Dean's election is a perfect manifestation of this. When he was introduced Saturday, the one word that kept coming up from speaker after speaker was he's a "fighter." And that's what sort of the core of the Democratic base is looking for now, someone who will fight President Bush.

Now, does that then translate into success in '07 and '08, trying to appeal -- win back voters is the red states, is another question.

WOODRUFF: And would that require some in the party frankly to sublimate their strong views, their ideology in order to go along with the rest?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, what we've seen in the Republican Party is just that. They've had enormous success at getting conservatives to vote for some things they didn't like, like the Medicare prescription drug plan in '03, and they kept the moderates together on tax cuts that they might have resisted.

Over 90 percent of Republicans, according to the "Congressional Quarterly," in Bush's first term voted with the majority of the party on all the key votes. Democrats are looking to put increasing pressure, whether it's Nancy Pelosi being tougher about dolling out committee seats, or some of the interest groups running ads of people who are supporting President Bush, they're looking to be tougher to try and enforce more of that digiscipline on their party and do exactly what you said, force members to stand with the party even if it's a little uncomfortable for them on an individual vote on the theory that they all will prosper if they can block President Bush.

WOODRUFF: But Ron, reality check. We know that -- I mean -- and I think you may have even said this today in your column, getting Democrats to come together is a lot like herding cats. Isn't it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it absolutely is. And I think, you know, you saw last week, for example, on the class action vote. Eighteen Democratic senators broke party lines to support President Bush.

It's not going to be uniform. The big question will be, can they hold the party together on the defining issues, Social Security, the budget, making the tax cut permanent? And can they draw that bright line? Right now there's a lot more pressure towards uniformity among Democrats than we've seen in the past and, frankly, than I would have expected after this November 2004 election.

WOODRUFF: Enough to make us sit up and notice.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: OK. BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.

News about the political group Howard Dean founded leads off our "Political Bytes." In a letter to supporters, Howard Dean says his brother, Jim Dean, will be the new chairman of Democracy for America.

Howard Dean describes his brother as someone who "wasn't very political until recently." Jim Dean is a former marketing executive who worked on Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

Politically active employees at Google.com decided to put their money behind political candidates last year. And almost all of the recipients were Democrats. "USA Today" reports that a financial analysis shows 98 percent of the more than $200,000 in Google donations went to Democratic candidates.

California Republicans over the weekend broke with tradition and endorsed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for re-election 16 months before the party primary. Schwarzenegger has not yet said if he plans to run for a full term in office. The party spokeswoman said the early endorsement will make it easier to pay some party expenses.

In Arizona, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona tells the "Arizona Republic" that he has not ruled out a possible future run for office. Carmona is a former trauma surgeon, professor and Tucson sheriff's deputy. He told the newspaper, "It's not something on my radar screen now, but people have approached me."

And in Maryland, the daughter of conservative activist Alan Keyes is expected to take part in a gay rights rally this afternoon. Nineteen-year-old Maya Marcel-Keyes tells "The Washington Post" her parents have kicked her out of their house and have stopped speaking to her. In a statement to the "Post," Alan Keyes says of his daughter, "What she chooses to do has nothing to do with my work or political activities."

And this reminder. A CNN exclusive. Maya Keyes will be among the guests later today on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." That's coming up at 5:00 Eastern, 2:00 Pacific, here on CNN.

President Bush lays out many of his political priorities in his latest budget blueprint. Does the document reflect America's spiritual and moral priorities as well? We'll talk with a values advisor to the Democrats.

Also ahead, a new force online. Are blogs keeping the powers that be honest or simply knocking politicians and journalists down?

And later, a more perfect union? On this Valentine's Day, we'll find out if love is in short supply here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: On the CNN "Security Watch," the Senate today took up the nomination of Michael Chertoff to be the next secretary of Homeland Security. Members have set aside six hours to consider the nomination. A final vote has been scheduled for 4:00 Eastern tomorrow afternoon. Chertoff's nomination has been delayed by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is demanding more information on what Chertoff may have known about interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Remember to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Coming up next, Democratic-leaning evangelical Christian author Jim Wallis to talk about the budget and other matters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Still waiting to talk to Christian evangelical writer Jim Wallis.

In the meantime, they're becoming a larger and larger force in politics. Coming up next, we'll look at the increasing power of the blogs, and we'll tap into what they're saying today.

Plus, he has done it again. We'll tell you about another honor for former President Bill Clinton.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We both travel. I try to make my rule that we're never apart more than a night or two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: ... a Valentine's Day treat. We'll introduce you to one of Washington's tightest twosomes on this Valentine's Day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's a little more than six minutes before the markets close on Wall Street. And right now, as they close, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "The Dobbs Report."

Hello, Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Thanks.

Well, stocks are really very little change today, and that's despite another multibillion-dollar merger. Now, let's take a look.

The final trades are going to be counted in about 10 minutes, but we're only down about 1 right now on the Dow. Nasdaq lightly higher. Shouldn't really change much given the way the day has been going. And so it should close somewhere around there.

Now, we have a couple of corporate stories weighing on the Dow. We have AIG losing about 3 percent. New York's attorney general sent the insurer new subpoenas over insurance transactions. The company said recently that the internal investigation in the company found absolutely no wrongdoing, however.

We have another telecom merger made official. Verizon agreed to by MCI. That deal worth nearly $7 billion. Quest Communications actually offered more money, but analysts say MCI chose Verizon for its financial strength.

Now, the companies expect big cost savings from that combination largely because they'll lay off about 7,000 workers. This, by the way, is the third major deal among telecoms in two months. SBC agreed to buy AT&T, and Sprint cut a deal with Nextel.

Now, there's also some corporate deal breaking. General Motors paying nearly $2 billion to scrap a deal that it had with Italian automaker Fiat. And as a result, GM will no longer have to buy the 90 percent of Fiat that it doesn't already own.

Now, one analyst called GM's tie with Fiat a strategic blunder, and ending it will relieve GM of some of its heavy debt. Fiat has agreed to continue sharing technology with GM, however, to help in its European operations.

We have a few things coming on CNN 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight on "LOU DOBBS." Culture in decline. An alarming number of high school graduates did not seem to understand the Constitution. In fact, a recent study found that three-quarters of the students surveyed had little interest or knowledge of the first amendment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HODDING CARTER, KNIGHT FOUNDATION: What it indicated was that they are either ignorant or unconcerned about both the first amendment generally and its implications for press freedom specifically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Also tonight, broken borders. A Social Security deal with Mexico that could cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $350 billion over the next 10 years. The president wants Congress to leave it alone. We'll have a special report on that.

Plus, we'll discuss North Korea's claim of having nuclear weapons with James Lilley, who's the former ambassador to China and South Korea.

Also, congressmen Bernie Sanders and Virgil Goode will join us tonight to discuss how they're trying to put a stop to the exporting of American jobs to China.

That and a lot more tonight, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. But for right now, back to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Kitty, thanks very much. And we'll be watching at 6:00. Well, some political observers have pointed to the so-called values debate as one reason John Kerry lost and why Democrats lost seats in both the House and the Senate on Election Day.

With me now from Memphis to discuss Democrats and their faith is Jim Wallis. He's the editor of "Sojourners Magazine" and convener of Call to Renewal. It's a national anti-poverty organization. He's also the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

Jim, Wallis, thank you for being with us.

JIM WALLIS, EDITOR, "SOUJOURNERS": Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Among other things, you are argue that liberals need to get comfortable with the idea of talking about their faith. But I hear conservatives saying they don't think liberals have any faith.

WALLIS: Well, Judy, that's silly. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Religion doesn't narrowly fit the categories of politics left and right. It should cut both ways.

Values are a good conversation for all of us. All of us should talk about the moral values of politics. But there aren't just two moral values. There are lots of them.

I'm an evangelical Christian. I think 3,000 verses in the bible on the poor get my attention. So fighting poverty is also a moral value, and Democrats should talk about it like that.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's one thing, but you know conservatives say that, look, if your position is pro-choice on abortion, if your position is pro-gay rights, then you're not someone who has faith, you're not close to god.

WALLIS: Well, you know, I think Democrats do need to talk about abortion in a different kind of way. This is a moral issue, and preventing unwanted pregnancies is a huge issue for all of us.

Pro life and pro choice should come together and say, how do we solve the problem? How do we prevent so many unwanted pregnancies? This is a big issue.

Family values are not left and right. When I say to parents that parenting in America has become a counter-cultural activity, all parents says (UNINTELLIGIBLE), liberal or conservative.

So we've got to get out of this left-right polarization -- it's a paralysis really -- and talk about what's right and what works on the ground, on the street. I want Democrats to talk that way, I want Republicans to talk that way, and not just say the only moral values are abortion and gay marriage.

Important issue, but those are simply not the only moral issues. The environment's a moral issue. The ethics of war, whether we go to war, how we go to war, whether we tell the truth about going to war, these are all moral and religious matters, all of them.

WOODRUFF: One of the things you're doing it's been reported is advising the Democrats, Democrats in Congress, about how to talk about the budget. Give us an example of how you talk about the budget in a biblical context or a faith context.

WALLIS: Well, it isn't just one side or the other. I talked with Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., last Friday.

Budgets are moral documents, Judy. They reflect the values, the priorities of a family, a city, a church or a nation. This budget will have values. We should do a values audit of the budget. What are the -- what are its moral values?

For example, will fiscal responsibility or deficit reduction, two very important things, will the brunt of that fall on those least able to bear that cost, or those most able to? Any budget should look at what -- who suffers, who benefits, who wins, who loses. What's important and what's not? So let's have a values audit of this budget and see if its values square with the values of the American people or not.

WOODRUFF: But how does one know that one has made the right decision? Clearly people of good intentions on both sides believe they are doing the right thing.

WALLIS: Well, sure, but again, let's just say from a biblical point of view, which you raised a moment ago, you've got to talk about, you know, what happens to poor people. We have an environmental impact statements. We ought to have poor people's impact statements. Those who are -- you know, nine million families in America, nine million families are working hard full time and not making it. They're not getting by. They're working hard and falling short. That's a moral values issue, as well.

So any budget that reaps a whirlwind of benefit for the wealthy while effective programs for the poor are slashed, is not a budget that I can square with my evangelical Christian values. I just can't.

WOODRUFF: And Jim Wallis, where does this go from here? You've gotten in some pretty heated debates in the last days with Christian -- at least public Christians on the other side. Where do you see this going?

WALLIS: Well, the subtitle of the book says it all for me: where the right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it. Both sides polarize these issues. Religion and values ought not to be wedges and weapons that drive us apart and destroy us, but bridges that bring us back together again. Blue and red states have a lot more in common than people think. And we can find common ground by moving the higher ground, asking what's going to help most of us.

There's this notion of the common good. It's a wonderful Catholic idea. And I think if we can find both personal and social responsibility, what each of us must do and what we do together to take care of each other, to make sure this society is something that benefits all the families. Family values means we take care of all the families and the kids.

So we can come together if we talk about values and they ought not to be things that rip us apart, but really can pull us back together again. I think they can if we get out of the sort of ideological divide that we're so stuck in American politics.

WOODRUFF: Jim Wallis, initiating a conversation on something of interest to all of us. Thanks very much. He's the founder of "Sojourners" magazine. We appreciate it. Thank you.

WALLIS: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: The second half hour of INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: It's a day for passion. But is there a lack of love in Washington? Why can't Democrats and Republicans just get along?

There are millions of them, posting their opinions and observations online for everyone to read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyone who is a witness to news can be a reporter because anyone and everyone has access to the press, to the Internet.

ANNOUNCER: We'll take a closer look at the growing importance of bloggers and we'll listen in to what they're saying.

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. It's not a bouquet, it's not a heart- shaped box of candy, but some Republicans and Democrats are trying to repair their frayed relationship by forming a new bipartisan group this week. The center aisle caucus is what they are calling it -- will recommend ways to improve civility in the House.

On this February 14th, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider reports goodwill between the parties is conspicuously lacking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It's Valentine's day. Where's the love? Not in Washington, that's for sure. How's this for a Valentine? The Republican National Committee sent a 13-page e-mail all over the country branding new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid the chief Democrat obstructionist. New Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean is not exactly blowing kisses at the Republicans, either.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: The Republicans know the America they want and they are not afraid to use any means to get there. SCHNEIDER: Are things in Washington worse than ever? We look back at Valentine's Days past to get an idea of how bad things are. Lyndon Johnson was pretty controversial. The war in Vietnam, student protests, racial violence. In February 1968, LBJ was not very popular in his own party. He got 56 percent approval from Democrats, 24 percent from Republicans. That's a 32 point difference.

A few years later, Richard Nixon was in deep trouble over Watergate, Valentine's Day 1974. Republicans gave Nixon a lukewarm rating, 55 percent. Democrats just 14. 41 points apart.

How about in February 1999, after Bill Clinton's year of living dangerously? Monica Lewinsky, the Starr report, impeachment. 91 percent support from Democrats and 35 percent from Republicans. A 56 point difference.

It was all sweetness and light for this President Bush on Valentine's Day 2002. The 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan brought Americans together. Bush was drawing a near unanimous 98 percent approval from Republicans and an impressive 67 percent from Democrats, just 31 points apart.

The era of good feeling came to an end with the Iraq War and the bitterly contested 2004 election. How bad is it? On this Valentine's Day Bush is drawing spectacularly high 94 percent approval from Republicans and spectacularly low, 18 percent, from Democrats. A 76 point difference. A bigger gap than any Valentine's Day we checked.

So, yes, things in Washington are worse than ever. Is there any love out there? There was this tender moment between President Bush and Democratic senator Joe Lieberman at the State of the Union speech last month. It's a start.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Harry Truman once said you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. These days you may need a pitbull.

WOODRUFF: That's interesting. I interviewed former DNC chair Bob Strauss on Friday, who said he had never seen it so polarized. He said even back in the 1970s, after Watergate. Today, he said, it's much worse.

SCHNEIDER: And there's the evidence. It has never been so polarized.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider. Thanks very much.

And now we turn to a different source of tension here in Washington, the rising power of bloggers. A top CNN executive, Eason Jordan, resigned over the weekend after web blogs seized on controversial comments that he made about journalists killed by U.S. troops in Iraq.

As Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" explains, that was just the latest in a series of incidents underscoring the clout being wielded in the blog-o-sphere.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Most Americans hadn't heard of Internet bloggers in 2002 when Trent Lott fumbled away his job as Senate majority leader.

TRENT LOTT, FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all the years, either.

KURTZ: Most of the mainstream media had yawned when Lott praised Strom Thurmond at a birthday party, including his segregationist candidacy for president. But bloggers, the millions of people who post their opinions online for anyone to read, pounded away to lead a controversy that cost Lott his job.

When Howard Dean ran for president last year, liberal bloggers gave him a big boost with his unprecedented online fundraising. He even put a couple on the payroll. And they helped him beat the odds last week in winning the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

The bloggers biggest target, at least on the conservative side, has been Dan Rather. When he cited National Guard documents last fall in a "60 Minutes" piece President Bush's military service, several online commentators attacked the memos as fraudulent and the major newspapers were right behind. CBS eventually retracted the story and Rather steps down as network's anchor next month.

Last week the blog-o-sphere, as it's called, scored three times. Jeff Gannon, the White House correspondent for two conservative Web sites, "Talon News" and "GOP USA," came under scrutiny after asking President Bush a question that belittled Senate Democrats.

JEFF GANNON, FMR. TALON NEWS REPORTER: How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?

KURTZ: Liberal bloggers, led by "Daily Coast" and "Atrios," discovered that Gannon's real name is James Guckert, that he had registered some web addresses with embarrassing names and even circulated a provocative photo of him. Gannon promptly quit.

Eason Jordan, who was CNN's chief news executive, ran into trouble when a single blogger reported his remarks at an off-the- record conference Davos, Switzerland. Jordan had suggested that U.S. soldiers were targeting journalists in Iraq. He backed off that statement to challenge, to what degree is in dispute, and later said he never meant to suggest and doesn't believe that soldiers were intentionally killing people they knew to be journalists.

The bloggers, led by such conservatives as a radio host Hugh Hewitt and "National Review Online," began ripping Jordan. The mainstream press ignored, with the exception of a few newspaper articles and talk shows, ignored the story. And yet it didn't matter. Jordan resigned on Friday.

(on camera): Anyone who's a witness to news can be a reporter, because anyone and everyone has access to the press, to the Internet. Everyone is a Wolf Blitzer in sheep's clothing.

(voice-over): Also last week we learned that a longtime aide to Maryland's Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich was using the conservative website Free Republic to spread unsubstantiated allegations that Baltimore's Democratic mayor Martin O'Malley was having an extramarital affair. When the "Washington Post" revealed the postings Ehrlich fired the aide.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Like it or not, these bloggers operating from their bedrooms and basements are providing an increasingly important check on the mainstream media but sometimes the much maligned media can expose the excesses of the online world, as well -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: You mean there's still a role for us, Howard?

KURTZ: I hope so.

WOODRUFF: We're going to come back to Howard in just a minute. There's much more to investigate in the blogosphere. Up next we're going to continue our discussion with Howard about the power of blogs. And we'll be joined by a reporter who closely follows what the blogs are doing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As Howard Kurtz just reported online blogs are stirring up the world of politics and all this week we're going to examine the growing influence of political blogs. Howard Kurtz of "CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES" is back with us here in Washington. And to tell us more about what the top blogs are covering today Howie is joined by Jacki Schechner. She is a blog reporter. Jacki, what are you seeing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, BLOGGER: Hi, Judy. We are seeing a lot of what you are talking about. Just in a greater abundance. There are actually 7 million blogs being watched on this one site called Technorate (ph). And it gives you an idea of what is going on. And there's so much out there. And it's so hard to keep track of it all. But if you take a look at a site like this it will break it down for you. It gives you, like, the top 100 sites. You can get down into something like politics. It will give you the top ten stories that people are talking about and where they are being covered whether they are going up or down in terms of popularity. And then it is broken down in terms of liberal, conservative, and uncategorized.

But let's go to something called blog polls. And we can bring in here some of the stories we've been talking about particularly we'll start with Eason Jordan and it's got this wonderful little sort of trend search that you can do. You type in what you're looking for on blog polls. And it will give you sort of this graph here. And now we look and we see where it peaked when Eason Jordan resigned. But it's still sort of hanging in there and there's another spike again.

KURTZ: Kind of looks like a text doctor. If I can just make a quick point about the speed of the blogosphere. Hours after Eason Jordan resigned from CNN on Friday night, Pressthink which I have up here, it's maintained -- written by NYU professor Jay Rosen got an e- mail and posted an e-mail from an editor at "Columbia Journal Review" who said, quote, "the salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail." But that didn't go over too well in the blogosphere so Vodka Pundit responded by saying these are not lynch mobs at all. And then on Sunday I did my "RELIABLE SOURCES" show on this very program. An hour later Instapundit had a review of the show.

SCHECHNER: It's very very quick. We found this one site Viewpointjournal.com, a particularly conservative site that was talking about Eason-gate is what they're calling it. And he said that he's wondering if the whole situation was a little more than a successfully executed witchhunt. A conservative site talking about this. Now we found this under a title that said Bloglust which we thought was very clever. And then we went back to find it two minutes later and it was gone. It was down farther on the list. So it's changing ever so quickly.

KURTZ: People think television is driven by ratings. Blogosphere is minute by minute.

SCHECHNER: This is so fast. So absolutely quick. The other one we wanted to talk about was the Jeff Gannon story. Something that you're very familiar with. Now, he had originally -- Wolf, let me show you first the trend. Let's look at that. You can see here it's the yellow line. Now there's a spike today and the reason why is because he had told you that some of these sort of racier sites that he had allegedly been a part of didn't exist.

KURTZ: He had registered the addresses, he said the sites never actually went up.

SCHECHNER: Well, we found it. Or actually, one of the bloggers found it. We found it through the blog. Americablog.com which is a liberal site found it. Now we would show you that but the pictures on that site are actually kind of racey. So we didn't want to go there but Wonkette.com (ph) has it as well. And you can read about that story.

KURTZ: She has the PG version?

SCHECHNER: She has the PG version and then she has a link to the sort of X-rated version.

KURTZ: So just like in primetime television sex apparently sells based on these pictures.

SCHECHNER: They were and actually they were pretty graphically displayed. And then we went back and they were covered over.

KURTZ: Although what this has to do with Jeff Gannon's job at the White House -- whether was criticized on the substance is debatable.

SCHECHNER: Absolutely. But the opportunity to sort of bring up any little detail is what is going on here. You can certainly dig up anything and that's what this is showing.

KURTZ: We saw the same thing with Dan Rather and those National Guard documents involving President Bush. One of the reasons that blogs have the power they have and some of them are very thoughtful and provocative and some of them are reckless and irresponsible -- you get the whole range -- is that their readers are smart. And so these typographical experts wrote in to some of these blogs and said, wait a minute, these don't look like they could have been written on a 1970s government typewriter and that of course started the ball rolling towards CBS having to retract that...

SCHECHNER: The power of dissemination. You get it off to enough people you get enough information coming back in. We also want to take a look farther down just a little bit on Wonkette.com. An interesting story today that we're going to actually talk about. Maya Keyes, Alan Keyes' daughter, obviously very conservative. Former presidential candidate who actually criticized Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney's daughter for being a lesbian is now coming out as being a lesbian. She is going to be on "WOLF BLITZER" later today to talk about that.

KURTZ: And I didn't want to write about it because I wasn't sure it was true but now journalists have actually interviewed and she has her own site. Everybody has a blog these days.

SCHECHNER: And she's going to come out and talk about it.

We want to talk about Howard Dean, also when you talk about Internet, people who are using the Internet to sort of spread their grassroots movement through the Internet Howard Dean is back. We'll show you his little spike on blog polls here. Let me get that for you. Here it's the green right there is his and he's sort of up and down, but today being the first day of taking over the chairmanship. That's where he's got. And you can go to sites now and we're back to raising money for the DNC. Go to Daily Cause. And you can click on it and contribute money to the DNC.

KURTZ: It was bloggers who really fueled Dean's initial rise as a presidential candidate. It wasn't enough fuel to get him the nomination. But it certainly put him on the map of the mainstream media. Another example where the online world is kind of driving what we report here and what we talk about.

SCHECHNER: They are also watching us. And we found this interesting story.

We found this interesting story on the Brad Log is what it is. And we had these -- CNN.com had these satellite photographs up and if you take a look, a close look at them, one is allegedly North Korea's nuclear plant and the one below it is supposedly an Iranian nuclear plant. And it actually seems to be the same picture. So just an error, I'm sure. I'm sure it's just sort of a web error. KURTZ: But the kind of error that might not have gotten caught in an era when you didn't have millions of people searching and commenting and aggregating this kind of information. It will be interesting to see what the explanation...

SCHECHNER: Seems like nobody is immune.

KURTZ: And that's a good thing. That's a healthy thing.

SCHECHNER: Absolutely -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, Jacki, I heard you say there's something like 7 million blogs out there. Is there any way of knowing how many people actually read these blogs and how many people contribute to them even if it is not their own site?

SCHECHNER: Well, there's actually lists on something like technorate.com where they will give you what the top sites are. That top 100 list that we were talking about actually has a listing of how many links, how many sources, how many people are going to them. There's a couple I think, Right Wing News was another one of them that lists the top sites and then how many people are looking at them on a daily basis. So you can sort of keep track of what the more popular ones are. But it changes all the time.

KURTZ: It is interesting, Jacki, not only are there about 8 million blogs, and of course, some of this includes junior high school girls who are writing about their dates and not necessarily about major league politics, the percentage of Internet users who read blogs about 27 percent, which is significantly up from where it was a year ago. And the average age of readers of blogs, 48 percent, almost half under the age of 30. So this is something where a lot of young people are getting their news and opinions, and a lot of other things as well, as you pointed out.

SCHECHNER: Absolutely -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, it is a fascinating area, it's an area that is having some influence as we have been reporting. It's affected several people's jobs and we're going to be following it all this week and beyond. Howie Kurtz, thank you. And Jacki Schechner, who, as we said, is a blog reporter, thank you both for joining us to begin to talk about all of this.

WOODRUFF: Well, the music industry paid tribute to its favorite artist last night out in Los Angeles. That included a repeat performance from a former president. More on the political connection to the Grammy Awards when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Dozens of musical artists were recognized for their talent at last night's Grammy Awards. Former President Bill Clinton wasn't at the ceremony but he was awarded a Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album for the audio version of his memoir, "My Life." Last year he won in another spoken word category. His wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won in 1997 for her memoir, "It Takes a Village."

And in person at the Grammys, former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno, she was there to let people know about an album she has conceived and is working on with a producer. The 50-song collection called "Song of America" will trace the path U.S. history from 1620 to the present.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET RENO, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Several years ago I suggested to my nephew, who had written a number of folk songs, that he produce an album telling the history of America in song to reach kids who were turned off by history, who didn't find it relevant, because music is a wonderful way to open the doors for so many young people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Former Attorney General Janet Reno.

Well the album's release is expected next year. The proceeds will be donated to folk music education efforts.

On this Valentine's Day, flowers may put you in the right mood, or you can stay tuned to find out how love can bloom and last, right here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: If you're looking for a little romantic inspiration on this Valentine's Day, the last place you might expect to find it could be Capitol Hill. But we went there any way and we found a reason to take heart in the love story of veteran Michigan Congressman John Dingell and his wife Debbie Dingell, who is head of the General Motors Foundation and a long-time Democratic activist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Years ago we met on an airplane on a dark stormy night.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): She was jittery. He tried to calm her down.

DINGELL: Mostly we talked about anything that would comfort her because there was lightning flashing and storm and wind and the plane was rocking around.

DEBBIE DINGELL, REP. DINGELL'S WIFE: I thought he was a nice man but I was never going to go out with him for about 10 different reasons. He asked me out about 15 times before I said yes. He wore me down. I finally said yes to get rid of him.

WOODRUFF: More than a quarter century later Michigan Congressman John Dingell and his wife Debbie are known as one of Capitol Hill's tightest twosomes. They say Washington couplings require a special brand of tender loving care. J. DINGELL: Marriage is a dangerous business in this town.

D. DINGELL: We work very hard to not be apart. We both travel. I try to make my rule that we're never apart more than a night or two.

WOODRUFF: And they tolerate each other's fancies.

D. DINGELL: Love means you even go to the rifle range. Love means you fish together.

WOODRUFF: Sounds like true love. Exactly what you need in a town like this.

J. DINGELL: I'll be seeing you. I do love you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: See, even fishing, even the shooting range. Debbie Dingell and John Dingell, thank you very much.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS on this Valentine's Day, I'm Judy Woodruff, "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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