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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Rehnquist's Health; Do Bloggers Matter?; RNC Chair Pushes Bush Social Security Plans

Aired February 18, 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: The chief justice and his battle with cancer. He made it to the inauguration, but he'll remain absent from the Supreme Court for now. What does it mean for the legal system and for President Bush?

Who's behind the blogs? The payoffs of being a pundit in cyberspace...

ANA MARIE COX, WONKETTE.COM: Ego gratification.

ANNOUNCER: ... and the tradeoffs.

JEFF JARVIS, VETERAN MAGAZINE JOURNALIST: If I make a mistake, bloggers will pounce on me like white blood cells on a germ.

ANNOUNCER: Who was a better president, Bill Clinton or Abraham Lincoln? America's answer may surprise you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

America's legal system has been operating for more than three months now without its top judge on the bench. And today we learned Chief Justice William Rehnquist will keep missing oral arguments when the Supreme Court returns from recess next week. The announcement raises new questions about Rehnquist's battle with thyroid cancer and whether President Bush will have to replace him anytime soon.

We're joined by our national correspondent, Bob Franken.

Hi, Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello. You pointed out, Judy, that he is missing the arguments on the bench. While important, the really important news of the court goes on behind the scenes during judicial conferences, during the writing of the opinions and that type of thing. And we are told repeatedly that the chief justice is an active participant, albeit offering -- oftentimes operating out of his house. He is voting on the various cases that are coming up. For a while he was only providing the vote in a case that would have otherwise been a tie.

We saw him, of course, during the inaugural, when he was able to deliver the oath of office to President Bush. Although, as you can see, he is a man who is clearly battling for his health.

But as for the possibilities in the court, it is important for the chief justice, as somebody who believes in the tradition of the court after so many years there, it's important that there is a 5-4 vote if possible when it's needed, because a 4-4 vote is kind of inconclusive. That goes to the lower court ruling. So he is expected to try and stay as long as he can, but, of course, the question that hovers everywhere is, how long is that?

WOODRUFF: All right. Bob Franken with an update. Thank you very much.

And so now let's discuss the political angle to this, the possibility of a Supreme Court nomination battle, sooner rather than later. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is with us.

So, Candy, what is the thinking at the White House? You know, whether it's now or at some point, the White House must be looking at William Rehnquist and at least beginning to think about what it means.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, whatever the White House is thinking, they're not saying. This is -- all White Houses are secretive about -- especially in so delicate a case as this. You still have a man who's on the Supreme Court, but clearly they know that they will have the possibility -- they think maybe even three possibilities -- in the next four years to appoint a justice of the Supreme Court and perhaps a chief justice.

But, look, it's pretty clear when you look at that there are a couple things the president needs to take into consideration, may take into consideration. One of them is legacy.

I mean, there is no more lasting legacy than appointment to the Supreme Court, which can outlive you, which can go on for 30, 35 years. There is that.

There is as well the fact that George Bush has a very full plate out there. He has a Social Security agenda, he has other things that he wants to get accomplished that he laid out in his State of the Union address. So how much and how long a battle? How much time do you want to take up with this?

So, do you go for a more confrontational appointment, which would then mean longer time spent debating? Or do you go for something that's more conciliatory and that might get through a lot easier?

The final thing is timing. If, as Bob suggests, that Rehnquist really doesn't want to have that 4-4 vote and wants to stay on as long as he can, June is a natural ending place. And then, even though it sounds like October then as a very long time away, Supreme Court recesses and when it convenes, that doesn't give a lot of time. They could come out with a nominee right then and then, you know, give the Senate a month, six weeks to go ahead and pore over it.

WOODRUFF: What about on the Democratic side, Candy? I know you've been talking to them as well. What are their considerations?

CROWLEY: Well, look, it's very clear the Democratic base is about -- wants confrontation. They learned that in the election. It's part of why you have Howard Dean as DNC chief.

But part of the consideration is this, if it is, indeed, Rehnquist, if he does, indeed, leave at some point, he is a conservative. If you're going to have three appointments, do you want to put all your firepower in fighting a conservative replacement to an already conservative seat? Or do you want to then wait maybe a little bit, you know, fight it, but save it for say when Justice Stevens, if he does, retire?

He's a liberal. Then -- then it, you know, matters. You need to save that seat.

They could have both in much the same way they had the Condoleezza Rice hearings or the Gonzales hearings, where you just get a chance to vent. You can talk about the president, what you hate about his -- the way he looks at the judiciary, but then go ahead and vote for it.

WOODRUFF: Or even just establish a record. So as you step back from it, Candy, what would you say the state of play is here on both sides?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, they've been waiting, as you know, more than a decade for this. So both sides are so ready for this.

In a lot of ways, you've seen it play out on -- in the battle for the federal nomination. That's really kind of the off-Broadway rehearsal for this.

I mean, even today, just of this news that Rehnquist would not be there for the -- for the oral arguments, we had NARAL, the National Abortion Rights League, come out and warn the president that in the next appointment he should, "not plot a partisan battle for out of touch judges would reverse Roe v. Wade and limit the right to privacy."

Basically, we also have on the other side the conservatives, CPAC, coalition of conservative groups, is in town. Today they loaded 90 people on a couple of buses and sent them over to Arlen Specter's office -- he being head of the Judiciary Committee -- with a greeting card for him saying, "Get well soon."

As you know, he's going through -- going through chemo for cancer of his own. And saying, "Get well soon and come back and get our nominations through."

So these groups are ready. They have been doing this battle for years over the federal nominations. But boy, a Supreme Court nomination is -- is just sort of the highest level of the branches of government all coalescing at one time.

WOODRUFF: And it's not like it's just the president and the Senate who do this by themselves.

CROWLEY: Right.

WOODRUFF: There are all the groups on the sidelines weighing in. OK. Candy, thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: We turn our attention now to what has people talking today online in what we call the blogosphere. All week we've been looking at the way Web logs or blogs are growing in popularity.

With us once again is Jacki Schechner. She's our blog reporter. She's joined today by another blog reporter, Cal Chamberlain.

So, Jacki, what are you seeing today?

JACKI SCHECHNER, BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Judy.

The Jeff Gannon saga continues today once again. Cal and I have been watching this all day long.

AmericaBlog.org has what it called breaking news. See if you can follow me here.

A news producer for a major network just told AmericaBlog.org that Gannon told the producer the U.S. was going it attack Iraq four hours before President Bush announced it to the nation. So it begs to question what's hearsay, what's news, it brings up something we've been talking about all week long.

CAL CHAMBERLAIN, BLOG REPORTER: Right. But that doesn't stop the other bloggers from linking back to this.

SCHECHNER: Absolutely.

CHAMBERLAIN: So now like you'll notice on The Daily Kos he's already linked back to it as a breaking story, another shocker. It's also being picked up more and more by the mainstream media.

There's articles in "The Seattle Post" today, "New York Daily News", "New York Times," "Minneapolis Star Tribune." So...

SCHECHNER: All over the place.

CHAMBERLAIN: It's got a new life.

SCHECHNER: We took a look at Whiz-Bang also, which is a more right-leaning blog, for its perspective. And it has "Gannongate Update." Everything is a "gate."

CHAMBERLAIN: Gannongate.

SCHECHNER: Maybe it's the gates in New York, the gate.

CHAMBERLAIN: Could be.

SCHECHNER: It's got allegation, fact, allegation, fact. So that's their take on what's going on.

We also went over to Buzz Machine. I really like this. It was a really interesting story.

Maureen Dowd yesterday wrote a column where she essentially said the Bush administration was creating its own media reality. And it said, "Even Nixon wasn't that slimy, that creepy."

Well, Jeff Jarvis says, yes, Nixon was that creepy, and specifically in regard to CREEP, the Committee to Re-elect the President. He once interviewed for a job, he didn't know at the time that it was with CREEP. But they were hiring reporters for a made up news agency to get press access to the other side's campaign information to record the speeches and events and report them back. For the record, he did not take the job.

CHAMBERLAIN: Oh, that's good.

SCHECHNER: We also went over to Wonkette, and at this point in the day they've got Merch (ph) pictures from CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. And if you see something you like, we would be happy to pick it up for you.

CHAMBERLAIN: Yes. They've -- like pretty much most of the right- leaning blogs are all covering the CPAC conference today. And if you want to get live blogging coverage from there, you can go to the CPACBloggers.com.

SCHECHNER: Yes, RedState.org is there, and also CPACBloggers.com has the credential bloggers. It has a list of them, and then it also has links to those sites.

CHAMBERLAIN: Yes.

SCHECHNER: Now, back to the little blog story that could.

CHAMBERLAIN: Yes.

SCHECHNER: Tell us about it.

CHAMBERLAIN: Well, we were watching a story at the beginning of the week which we thought was going to turn into a blog swarm in the making. It was about this little blog called BatesLine.com, and they were being threatened with a cease and desist letter from...

SCHECHNER: The "Tulsa World." CHAMBERLAIN: The "Tulsa World." And they put a call out, and lo and behold the call was answered. And he's getting help from this group called the Media Bloggers Association. And...

SCHECHNER: I've got that. It's MediaBloggers.org.

CHAMBERLAIN: At MediaBloggers.org. And the general counsel is Ronald Coleman, and he's familiar with this kind of case because he helped the founders of the Media Bloggers Association, Bob Cox of The National Debate, because National Debate had a parody "New York Times" corrections page.

SCHECHNER: A corrections page, right?

CHAMBERLAIN: Right. And it looks...

SCHECHNER: It looks exactly like that.

CHAMBERLAIN: ... identical, and, you know, they would lampoon and pun, you know, make the corrections that they would really like to hear. And so when they got the crease and desist from the "Times" Ronald Coleman actually managed to get the "Times" off their back.

SCHECHNER: He's got some experience at this kind of thing.

CHAMBERLAIN: Got the experience. So he's going to help the BatesLine.com out, and hopefully the "Tulsa World" will back off.

SCHECHNER: If you go over to National Debate right now, actually, they've got CPAC coverage as well. So if you want to take a look at that, that's what's going on.

We also wanted to tell you about a Terry Schiavo thing that was going on. It's just been big all over the Web today. Real quickly, to let you know the power of the blogosphere community, people who are in favor of her cause are sort of rallying around her.

So that's what's been going on today. It's been very, very busy on the blogs. Obviously not slowing down for a Friday -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Jacki, I've got one question.

SCHECHNER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: How do you and how does Cal -- how do you pick the blog sites you want to look at?

SCHECHNER: I'm sorry, Judy. I didn't hear that. Can you say that again?

WOODRUFF: How do you pick the blog sites that you want to look at?

SCHECHNER: That's interesting. We have a couple of compilation lists that we take a look at, we go through, and we sort of scour the big names. We call them the blog stars. Those are sort of the big ones out there in the blogosphere. And we come in every day and we take a look at those.

We go to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which tops the links. It's the rating system is what we call it. But it's...

CHAMBERLAIN: Yes. Well, there's a couple different blog aggregators, and they put together lists of groups. Like you have your political blogs, your family blogs, your hobby blogs. So depending on what you want you can go and look up on these lists and you can find in your community.

SCHECHNER: And we've been trying to give you a little piece of different stuff every day. That's been very important for us. Because we don't want to go just back to the same ones. We want to give you all sides of the story.

CHAMBERLAIN: A variety.

SCHECHNER: The left, the right, the indifferent. So...

WOODRUFF: Yes. And all this week we've been -- we've been getting a closer look inside the blogs. So, once again, Jacki Schechner and today joined by Cal Chamberlain, thank you both. We appreciate it.

So we know a little about what they're saying on the blogs, but who is saying it? Up next, we're going to consider why blogging is so big or appears to be so big these days. And we're going to look at the power of punditry online.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COX: This is, you know, the terrible truth that bloggers, I think, almost don't want to admit to themselves. I get my information from the mainstream media.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Should the public care what the bloggers are saying? We'll get some different opinions on that.

And later, from Madame Secretary to Madame President? We'll find out who's making a case for Condoleezza Rice's presidential campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: To some people it might seem as though the Web loggers, bloggers, have come out of nowhere. In fact, some have.

Others, though, are veteran writers, journalists, and opinion shapers, using the Web logs to try to reach out to a new audience. Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" answers the question, who are the bloggers?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): The blogosphere is like a crowded maze of freeways at rush hour with cars of all shapes, sizes and colors honking their horns for attention. Veteran magazine journalist Jeff Jarvis...

JARVIS: All you do is type in words and hit "send" and you've talked to the world.

KURTZ: Jarvis has a day job at a big media company but loves to write at BuzzMachine.com.

JARVIS: I mainly blog at night and in the morning, but, yes, I'll admit if you don't tell anybody that I do sneak in the occasional post during the day.

KURTZ: Why do people gravitate toward blogging, where the pay ranges from modest to, well, nonexistent? Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette.com...

COX: No one cared what I had to say before I started doing Wonkette.

KURTZ: Paul Mirengoff of the PowerLineBlog, which helped exposed CBS's apparently bogus military records involving President Bush, is an attorney like his partners on the blog. And that affects their online style.

PAUL MIRENGOFF, POWELINEBLOG.COM: Because as a lawyer you have to know, you know, who's credible, what sounds fishy.

KURTZ: Politically speaking, people who blog are all over the cyber map.

JARVIS: I'm a liberal, I'm a reluctant Kerry voter, I supported the Iraq war, but not for the reasons Bush said. That's all in my blog.

KURTZ: Mirengoff, who's on the right, took heat from his side when he criticized Bush's performance in the debates.

MIRENGOFF: A lot of conservatives jumped on me for that.

COX: Oh, I mean, I'm a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Like I'm pretty far left.

KURTZ (on camera): There are no rules on the bloggers' highway, no ethics code, no editors, no lawyers, no fact checkers. So should we believe everything on their highly opinionated sites?

JARVIS: I found that blogs are a tremendous self-correcting mechanism. If I make a mistake, bloggers will pounce on me like white blood cells on a germ.

COX: This is, you know, a terrible truth that bloggers, I think, don't want to admit to themselves. I get my information from the mainstream media.

KURTZ (voice-over): When bloggers pummel people in the media, whether it's Dan Rather, or, for that matter, discredited White House reporter Jeff Gannon, critics say they resemble an angry lynch mob. MIRENGOFF: We don't have the power to lynch anybody. We put out our views and people take them for what they're worth.

JARVIS: If seeking truth of power is lynching, then all journalists are lynchers.

KURTZ: Not surprisingly, bloggers get their share of incendiary criticism.

MIRENGOFF: If it's just pure -- you know, pure tirade or obscenity-laced, I will either ignore it or try to say something that at least to my mind is witty.

KURTZ: So is there a common compulsion driving these people to share their ramblings with the outside world?

COX: Well, ego gratification.

KURTZ: Howard Kurtz, CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Those are just a few of the faces behind some of the most popular blogs. Up next, what kind of influence are they having? Coming up, Howard Kurtz will join me here on set, along with political analyst Stu Rothenberg, to talk about the growing power of blogs and their effect on how news gets reported.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we've seen in our coverage all this week, online blogs are receiving a lot of attention. And some say their influence is overstated.

With me now again, Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," and political analyst Stu Rothenberg, of "Roll Call" and the "Rothenberg Political Report."

Stu, let me start with you. We just heard Howard's report giving us a look at who some of the bloggers are. But you're a long-time political observers, analyst. What do you make of the blogs?

STU ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, I think blogging is simply another vehicle for people getting their opinions out. Everybody has opinions. For hundreds of years they've used different methods, whether it's soap boxes or pamphlets, talk radio.

Now blogs. They're opinions. And they're as good as or not as good as the particular opinion and the person who is offering it.

WOODRUFF: Howie, what about the issue of accountability? You know, we hear about what everybody has to say in the blogosphere. At least we're starting to hear about it more on television this week. But do you -- how do you know who to give more weight to?

KURTZ: People have to be smart and figure out who they find to be credible, because bloggers don't have any editors or fact checker, and so they can be wrong, they can be reckless, they can be irresponsible. They can also be provocative and funny and cover things that the mainstream media miss.

And I disagree with Stu about it's just opinion. Some of these bloggers are pretty good diggers.

The people such as PowerLine, that helped uncoverer the apparently bogus CBS documents in that Dan Rather story on President Bush, they weren't just giving their opinions. They were proving that these documents had problems. And there are lot of other examples like that.

WOODRUFF: So when they do that, Stu, I mean, they can affect the course of a story and the course of politics.

ROTHENBERG: Yes, I'm not saying that you shouldn't blog, you shouldn't read bloggers.

KURTZ: But it's not like people standing on the street corner. I mean, they now have an effective message delivery system that rivals having a camera here.

ROTHENBERG: It isn't -- yes, but, Howie, look, if CNN -- if INSIDE POLITICS is going to do segments on bloggers, they ought to do segments on C-SPAN callers. They have opinions, too. And they may be digging research, and they may have news.

And you ought do segments on poster -- people who put up posters on building sites. They have opinions.

KURTZ: There are a lot of bloggers, and they don't have equal influence. But Trent Lott might still be the Senate majority leader if it were not for bloggers, Dan Rather might possibly still be the CBS anchor and that story might not have gone through the scrutiny. They have a way of inserting into a story and forcing people like us to pay attention, whether we like it or not.

ROTHENBERG: If people at CNN and CBS News are making these decisions on the basis of the bloggers, it seems to me they ought to be -- they ought to be embarrassed about it. You know, we don't know who these people are.

Everybody needs an editor. I've always felt so much better when I have an editor, somebody who looks at my copy and tells me, "Have you considered this? Are you sure about this?" I think that's a big problem with bloggers.

WOODRUFF: But what about -- what about the point that Howie is making, that they are having an effect on the real world? They did affect the Trent Lott story, Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, the former CNN news executive. They are having more influence, and ultimately, doesn't that affect political decisions?

ROTHENBERG: I will give you an answer that I think you would never get from a blogger. I don't know. I'm not sure what the -- what the effect is, Judy.

Yes, they're out there. And if you give them attention, if you're giving them segments, if the other networks -- if Charlie Rose is having big segments on the bloggers and how important they are, then, yes, then they are important.

KURTZ: When you say we don't know who these people are, I mean, some of the, like Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall (ph) are accomplished journalists who have written for mainstream publications.

And others are just partisans, and they rant and rave. And still others have a way of -- like the guy who's going to be on my show this weekend who found the controversial X rated pictures of Jeff Gannon, the former online reporter covering the White House.

So it is not purely opinion, although there's a lot of opinion and a lot of bloviation out there. I think you're a little too quick to write them off.

ROTHENBERG: Well, I think my point, Howie, is that I'm not saying that they -- people shouldn't blog or you shouldn't read them. I think that as an institution, we should be skeptical of blogging as an institution. I think...

KURTZ: Shouldn't we also be skeptical of the mainstream media?

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying the...

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. But, you know, the difference -- the problem is, Judy, I don't know about you, but the amount of time that I have, there are lots of good newspapers out there, lots of terrific magazines. I know lots of really smart people. I know people who are credentialed and have put in time and I can trust to have interesting opinions and who dig up news.

Do I have additional time to spend on blogging? I don't have a lot of it. Now maybe somebody else does. Go read them. It doesn't bother me if you read them. Feel free, Howard.

WOODRUFF: What about that point, that people have limited time? Whatever time you have, why not put it in the so-called mainstream accredited media rather than blogging?

KURTZ: But, in fact, people always say they have limited time. Newspapers are losing circulation, network broadcast news is losing circulation.

A lot of people, especially younger people who didn't have the news habit, are gravitating to online. They like bloggers, they like news sites, they like newspaper Web sites, too. I do blogging online for "The Washington Post."

So it's a competitive world out there, and we don't control the conversation anymore. There was a time when a few media... WOODRUFF: "We" meaning?

KURTZ: "We" meaning CBS, ABC, CNN, "Washington Post," "New York Times," "Newsweek," "TIME." We don't have a monopoly anymore. And I think that's a healthy thing.

WOODRUFF: I'm going to give you the last word, Stu.

ROTHENBERG: I don't have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with other people either having opinions or digging up -- looking to dig up information. And if it's good, if the opinions are thoughtful, fine.

I think it will find its way into the mainstream media and into the public discussion. But I'm concerned about this being the latest fad, just like talk radio or...

KURTZ: Talk radio has a huge audience.

ROTHENBERG: The way we cover it -- I remember when evangelicals first came up as a political happening. It was like, wow, there's a group out there.

It's just overkill is my concern. I think there's this orgy of attention to blogs. An individual blog may be terrific, and I will read your blog because I know who you are and I know your credentials, and I know you're smart.

WOODRUFF: Well, we're giving them -- we are giving them attention this week, and we're certainly giving them attention today. And we thank you both for your views.

Stu Rothenberg, Howie Kurtz, we appreciate it.

So, a quick reminder. Howard is going to have more on the blogs -- you just heard him mention it -- on this weekend's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Are they truth-tellers or they online vigilantes? That's Sunday, 11:30 Eastern here on CNN.

Thank you, both.

Some bloggers have had a field day with Howard Dean and his verbal gaffes. Coming up, wait until you hear what Dean is saying now and who he said it to.

Plus, cast your vote. Who was a better president, Ronald Reagan or Franklin Roosevelt?

More INSIDE POLITICS ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Let's start on Wall Street. Stocks are pretty mixed. And let's take a look at the Dow right now. The Dow industrials are gaining, about 29 points. Nasdaq, however, slightly lower. We have some late gains in the day due to drug stocks.

But let's start with the economy. Wholesale prices rose three- tenths of a percent last month. There was worse news, though, about the core rate of inflation. It excludes oil and food. That jumped eight-tenths of a percent. That's the biggest increase in six years.

On the drug front, Vioxx may soon return to pharmacy shelves. An FDA advisory panel just voted the painkiller is safe enough to be sold. That's despite an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. That drug, remember, was withdrawn back in September. The panel also said Celebrex and Bextra can also be sold, but with a special warning label.

Blockbuster has been accused of deceptive advertising and defrauding consumers. New Jersey's attorney general charges the movie rental chain is imposing hidden fees behind its new no more late fees policy. Now, this policy eliminates its old system of late charges; however, it penalizes customers returning a movie a week late with a restocking fee and if the film's a month late, customers automatically buy the movie.

Well, coming up on CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Is China's military build-up out of control?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Some experts project that the Chinese naval fleet overall will actually surpass the size of the American fleet by the year 2015. That's only a decade from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: We look at this issue one day before the United States holds security talks with Japan about the potential increase threat to Taiwan.

Also tonight, former ambassador James Lilly joins us to talk about the scale of the Chinese military build-up and how the United States should respond.

Also, culture in decline. We take a look at why high school graduates are facing limited employment opportunities in the real world these days. Plus an in-depth look into the findings of the FDA advisory panel on those painkillers. We'll talk to Marcia Angell, who's the author of "The Truth About Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us And What to do About It." All that coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But for now, back to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Kitty, and we'll be watching at 6:00. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Condi Rice for president? She just started her job as secretary of state, but her fans are singing her praises as a 2008 contender.

The Republican party chairman, live and uncensored. What does he really think of his new Democratic counterpart Howard Dean?

ANNOUNCER: The art of big city politics. Sometimes it's as easy as a walk in the park.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. If you're familiar with this program, or the way Washington works, you know it doesn't take much to get people talking about a perspective presidential campaign. But some fans of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are doing more than talking about their hopes that she'll run for the White House in 2008.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry reports on the Rice run for president campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the world stage, she's Rice the rock star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Oh, just by the way, I've obviously said an open and honest congratulations on the new job.

HENRY: So back here at home, how does President Rice sound? Music to the ears of some of the thousands of activists gathered in Washington for CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where there was a bit of a buzz about Condoleezza Rice.

CRYSTAL DUEKER, AMERICANSFORRICE.COM: And there were about 30 young women who came up to me, basically as a group, and wanted to get the campaign buttons, they wanted to get the bumper stickers.

HENRY: Crystal Dueker is part of a new "Draft Condi" movement, americansforrice.com. On Friday, the group started running a radio ad in the critical state of Iowa, with plans to move on to New Hampshire next.

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO ANNOUNCER: Dedicated to electing Dr. Condoleezza Rice president in 2008.

(MUSIC)

HENRY: They even have a catchy new campaign song.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing) Condoleezza will lead us, brother, into a brave new world. Condoleezza will lead all the people...

HENRY: A new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll finds that 50 percent of Americans have a very or somewhat positive view of Secretary Rice. 27 percent have a very or somewhat negative view. Political insiders are already dreaming about a potential rice match up with Senator Hillary Clinton.

A December NBC poll suggests Rice may have an edge. 45 percent of Americans have a very or somewhat positive view of the senator. 40 percent felt very or somewhat negative. Six secretaries of state have gone on to become president, a fact that hasn't been lost on Rice fans.

DUEKER: I basically look at her charm and her intelligence and whether she was Asian or Caucasian, I would still have the same admiration for her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: A second "Draft Condi" movement has popped up at rice2008.com, where you can even buy a bobble head. But her legion of fans may be disappointed to learn that when the BBC asked the secretary about all the speculation, she said, quote, "Oh my goodness, I think no one should count on such things." But you know, you could read it that maybe she left the door open, as well.

WOODRUFF: Well, you certainly could, and I guess she hasn't heard that song yet, either?

HENRY: No. Once she hears the song, she may rethink this thing. She may be ready.

WOODRUFF: Ed Henry, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Now, we turn the debate over Iraq, performed by a political odd couple: the new DNC Chairman Howard Dean and former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle. The face-off in Oregon yesterday began with a protester throwing a shoe at Perle and screaming "Liar, liar." Perle went on to defend the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq before Dean took to the platform to accuse the Bush administration while focusing on Iraq while ignoring threats in Iran and North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: We picked the low-hanging fruit in Iraq and we have done nothing about stopping the consequences of nuclear possession of nuclear weapons in either North Korea or Iraq in the fifth year of the presidency of the United States. We can do better than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Dean added, and I'm quoting now, "Defense is a lot broader than swaggering around saying you're going to kick Saddam's butt." End quote.

Well, Howard Dean only has been party chairman for a week. What sort of impression has he made so far on his Republican counterpart? I'll ask RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman next.

Also ahead, a Hollywood critique of Hillary Clinton. Why is a mogul saying less than positive things about her? And later, we'll paint you a picture of political clout at work.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Ken Mehlman still is settling in over at Republican National Committee headquarters in his new job as party chairman, but he did get a jump on his recently elected Democratic counterpart Howard Dean. Ken Mehlman joins us now on INSIDE POLITICS.

KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: How are you?

WOODRUFF: Good to see you. Thank you for being with us...

MEHLMAN: Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: ... in your new capacity as party chair. The president's plan for Social Security, clearly an enormous priority for him, running into trouble not just with Democrats but Republicans, conservatives this week, really upset yesterday about the fact the president has left the door open to raising that wage cap on which Social Security taxes could be raised. Did the president underestimate the potential Republican oppositions?

MEHLMAN: I don't think so, Judy. I thought that was a story that really was a lot of ado about really no change. The president has been very clear from the beginning. He said, we need to save Social Security by modernizing it for the future. We need to make sure that people born before 1950 have no change. We need to make sure that we don't include an increase in the payroll tax rate. And we need to make sure that whatever we do is permanently sustainable.

I thought the news this week, Judy, was what Alan Greenspan said, which was that in fact there is a problem and that personal retirement accounts are a good way to deal with the problem.

WOODRUFF: But let me read to you from the normally friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page. They're saying, essentially, when the president left the door open, not on the rate, he said he won't raise the rate, but he's left the door open to raising that wage cap above $90,000. They're saying -- that's tantamount to saying he's for a tax increase -- it would be for a tax increase

MEHLMAN: Look, Judy, this is a president that has led America with pro-growth polices, anti-tax increase policies. In fact, if you stop to think about it, George Bush has cut taxes more times and never supported a tax increase than any president in history.

So I think what the president saying is, we need to bring Democrat ideas, Republican ideas, independent ideas, Social Security is important enough. We need all the ideas on the table because we need to make sure we save it for the future generations. We can't allow Social Security to go broke, which is what will happen if we do nothing.

WOODRUFF: I hear you. But would raising that wage cap be a tax increase? MEHLMAN: Well, I think you need to look at the overall plan obviously. And you need to look at what's part of the overall plan. And I think that what the president is saying is he doesn't support a rate increase in the Social Security tax rate, in the payroll tax rate, but we need to make sure that all the ideas are on the table, this is not something he was...

WOODRUFF: But would that be a tax increase?

MEHLMAN: Again, I think you need to look at the overall plan, Judy. You need to look at what other are the revenue implications of what we propose? What else is part of the overall plan? What the president is saying is there is a bottom line. People who were born before 1950 can't be affected. We need to make sure personal retirement accounts are a part of it. We need to not have an increase in the payroll tax rate. And we need to save Social Security for the future. And the president is willing to work with men and women of good conscience to accomplish that goal.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Stephen Moore, formerly head of the Club for Growth, people are angry about the Bush -- he said, Bush opening a Pandora's box. He said it's almost like "read my lips" all over again.

MEHLMAN: Well, I would respectfully disagree with Stephen Moore. You don't need to read the president's lips. You can read his record. There's never been a president that has led this country the way this president has, to reduce, not increase taxes.

WOODRUFF: But, again, if you raise the wage cap, you're saying it could be...

MEHLMAN: Well, what I'm saying is that we need to look at an overall plan. And I think looking at one particular aspect of it as opposed to the overall plan is a mistake. But one thing you know, as long as George Bush is sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, taxes will be going down, not coming up because that's what the president thinks we need to do to grow our economy, to grow jobs and to make sure there is more prosperity in this country.

WOODRUFF: Two other quick things, how is Howard Dean doing?

MEHLMAN: I think Howard Dean's doing fine. I think, interesting, what you saw last night, I would think that the Iraqi people, for the first time in years, had free elections would disagree with his characterization of how he handled Saddam Hussein, the fact that Saddam Hussein is in jail and not in power, the fact that Saddam Hussein's sons are no longer torturing the Iraqi people, the fact that we had those historic elections. I think that's where things really are in Iraq and Howard Dean may have gotten a lot of applause last night from the shoe-throwing crowd, but I don't think that really describes where things stand in the country.

WOODRUFF: Condi Rice, we just heard from...

MEHLMAN: Condi Rice for president. WOODRUFF: ... a lot of people out there who are interested in seeing her run. Is she potentially a contender?

MEHLMAN: Condi Rice will do whatever she wants. She is incredibly talented. She's incredibly effective. She is focused now on being secretary of state. Although hearing that Condi Rice theme song, who can resist it?

WOODRUFF: We noticed that. And finally, Ken Mehlman, I have to ask you about the blogs. We're doing a look at the blogs everyday this week. Do you have time to look at the blogs, some bloggers?

MEHLMAN: Sure, absolutely. And we, as you know, that's a big part of our effort. One of the things that I think the blog world offers is an opportunity to provide another source of information. And sometimes the bloggers, in fact, have corrected the networks, as we know from the famous CBS incident.

So it's an important part of not only what I look at every day, but something we encourage supporters of the president and Republican to be very much involved in.

WOODRUFF: We can all use a little humility.

MEHLMAN: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: OK. Ken Mehlman, thanks again for being with us.

MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot.

WOODRUFF: And congratulations...

MEHLMAN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... on your appointment. We appreciate it -- election, I should say, election, thank you.

And by the way, we've offered Howard Dean an opportunity to come on the show and we look forward to talking to him as well.

A proposed change to the Constitution leads our "Political Bytes" on this Friday. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has introduced a bill with bipartisan support that would repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. That is the amendment that limits a president to only two terms. Hoyer, a Democrat, calls the amendment undemocratic. He also notes that his measure would not retroactively apply to George W. Bush.

Hollywood executive and activist David Geffen is known for supporting Democrats in general and Bill Clinton, in particular. But he appears to be making a break with the Clintons. Last night in New York, The New York Daily News quotes Geffen as saying Senator Clinton should not run for the president because, quote, "she can't win and she's an incredibly polarizing figure," endquote. Geffen also reportedly said, quote, "ambition is just not a good enough reason." You just heard from the new RNC chairman, Ken Mehlman, and our Bob Novak is now standing by with inside buzz about the Democrats' new leader. Howard Dean has a knack for quotable comments, but is he trying a change in strategy? Bob will join me to explain it all next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, Bob Novak joins us now from the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University with some inside buzz.

So Bob, President Bush has been out on the road, we know, pushing Social Security reform. How do you think it's playing in the Congress?

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, you know, when he said that he would go for a tax increase for taxing people over the $90,000 on Social Security, it really shocked some conservatives, but privately members of the House Republican leadership were delighted because they believe they can get the bill through the House. But to get it through the Senate they're going to have to have some Democratic support, maybe even Senator Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. And this is the kind of thing that might be able to break the logjam on it.

WOODRUFF: So they think raising the cap could make the difference?

NOVAK: Yes, they do.

WOODRUFF: OK. Why are we not seeing much of Howard Dean? We just showed him making a speech or being in a debate last night in Oregon, but what about in terms of interviews on television?

NOVAK: Well, he got in trouble with his statement that the only way that Republicans can get minorities into a room is if they use the hotel employees, didn't go over well at all. So they have very carefully not scheduled him since he was elected chairman for any national TV. He's not on the Sunday shows.

And in fact, before the actual voting, when the candidates met the members of the DNC, they let the reporters in for the last 20 minutes to question the candidates and Dean was gone.

So, I think they're trying to reprogram him to try to say, hey, you're national chairman now and you can't say some of those wild things. But he's off national TV for a while.

WOODRUFF: Well, I want to point out again that we do have an invitation to him to come on INSIDE POLITICS as soon as we can work it out. So that's a standing invitation.

So Bob, the House Republican leadership, you have got some evidence that they're playing hardball.

NOVAK: The Hill newspaper had a story this week that Charles Taylor, congressman from North Carolina, may be kicked off of his subcommittee chairmanship on appropriations because he hasn't shared the wealth on his committee -- on his fundraising. But it's more than that, he's just not a team player. And the House Republican leadership demands you be a team player. They kicked Chris Smith off of the -- as chairman of the House Veterans Committee, and they kicked off Ernest...

WOODRUFF: Istook.

NOVAK: Istook, Istook, from Oklahoma, as a subcommittee chairman on appropriations because he wasn't a team player. And so, they are saying it's "my way or the highway" and that's kind of a tough line they're putting out, but nobody is complaining much.

WOODRUFF: And Bob, defining a team player, you define it as the party line...

NOVAK: Not only that, it's sharing campaign contributions and not voting too much for veterans or too little for Amtrak.

WOODRUFF: Finally, Bob, the newly elected senator from the state of Oklahoma, Tom Coburn. Some ethics charges involved here?

NOVAK: Yes, when he was in the House they had an ethics charge on him that he went home every Monday or every weekend and delivered babies. He's a doctor and they said that was an ethics charge. He said, hey, if I can't do that I'll quit Congress. So they eased it up.

Now, the same staffer who brought these accusations against him in the House is on the Senate committee. The Senate rules are much tougher, they are intended to prevent senators from practicing law, not practicing medicine, but he is in a little bit of trouble on this.

There are people who think he is going to wind down his medical practice now that he is a senator representing the whole state. But I think it's very odd that they consider that a conflict of interest, delivering babies if you're a member of the Congress.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak with inside buzz. Thank you, Bob, good to see you. We'll see you on "CROSSFIRE"...

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... Eastern.

Former Senator turned actor Fred Thompson is Bob's guest this weekend on the edition of his edition of "The Novak Zone," that's tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Up next, the art of perseverance. Bill Schneider tells us what it takes to triumph at city hall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As anyone who's tried it can tell you, shepherding a project through city hall takes a certain amount of skill and a lot of perseverance.

Our Bill Schneider is here to explain -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they say you can't beat city hall, but sometimes if you keep trying, you can. You can even get the "Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This week "The Gates" opened in New York, an influx of immigrants, a new Broadway play? No. "The Gates" is an art installation in Central Park by artists Christo and Jeanne- Claude.

You may have heard something about their previous work, like when they wrapped the German parliament in Berlin in silver fabric and installed a running fence of white fabric up and down the hills of Northern California.

And now, "The Gates'': 7,500 panels of orange fabric suspended on vinyl poles, floating and fluttering across 23 miles of Central Park.

It's certainly impressive. But is it art? Ask the artist.

CHRISTO, ARTIST: Now the fabric panel moves in all the directions very whimsically, very sensually, reflects the serpentine character of the walkway system.

SCHNEIDER: Oh. OK.

Visitors are flocking to New York in what is normally a slow tourist season because the whole thing lasts just 16 days.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: So the project will generate more than $80 million in economic activity for our city.

SCHNEIDER: The full title of the project is "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005.'' That's the 26 years it took the artists to get the city to approve the project. They had to scale it down and figure out a way to do it without creating any lasting damage to the park. There are no ads on the panels. So who's paying for it? Not the taxpayers, the artists themselves, partly by selling drawings and models.

JEANNE-CLAUDE, ARTIST: We pay for it with our own money because it's very natural that every mother and father will pay for their own child.

SCHNEIDER: The breakthrough came when Mayor Bloomberg, an art collector and long time admirer of Christo's work, got the project approved. You can't give a politician credit for art. But you can give artists the "Play of the Week" for finally beating City Hall.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: A woman quoted in The New York Times said about the artists: "They waited so long. It's almost like Camilla and Charles.''

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: I even went up to New York to see them and very much worth seeing. Bill, quickly, some criticism of "The Gates."

SCHNEIDER: Oh, plenty. This is New York, after all. Critics say -- some say it looks like shower curtains or vinyl curtains from a construction site, or even, in the local vernacular, thousands of schmatzes (ph) hanging from a clothesline. But, you know what, they're going to come down.

WOODRUFF: Schmatzes?

SCHNEIDER: Rags.

WOODRUFF: OK. All right. They're going to come down. Another story, I want you to stay with me very quickly because in honor of President's Day on Monday, there is a new Gallup poll out that asks Americans to rate the nation's greatest presidents. Ronald Reagan comes out on top with 20 percent, followed by Bill Clinton, and then Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy next at 12 percent, with George W. Bush and George Washington at 5 percent.

Now Bill, what do make of this?

SCHNEIDER: When people are asked, who do you regard as the greatest president, they tend to give you answers of people they're most familiar with, people from their own lifetimes, people they have strong feelings about. I'm surprised Elvis didn't make the list. But he's the king.

WOODRUFF: So but people were not given the names here.

SCHNEIDER: They were not given the names.

WOODRUFF: Just think of the names of the presidents that you most admire.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. And those are going to be the ones they knew.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, his name wasn't on the list.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill, thanks very much.

So, that's it for this Friday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Have a great weekend. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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


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