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Trouble Between Friends?; The '06 Factor; A Fading Star?

Aired February 23, 2005 - 15:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: Another day of buddying up by President Bush in Europe. Will his next stop be the toughest, when he looks into the eyes of his old pal Vladimir Putin?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to talking to him about his decision-making process.

ANNOUNCER: Another close-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Are his days of being Mr. Popularity numbered?

An affair to remember. Everyone's talking about Charles and Camilla's wedding plans, including the British government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't want a fuss being made. So why are you all making such a nonsense of it?



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

President Bush looked for common ground with yet another European leader today. Meeting in Mainz, Germany, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the two put their bitter feud over the Iraq war behind them, at least publicly, and turned their attention to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. One day after sending mixed messages on the Iran problem, Mr. Bush tried again to ease European fears that Iran might be America's next military target.


BUSH: Iran is not Iraq. We just started the diplomatic efforts, and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead. And we will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions.


WOODRUFF: Later, President Bush visited with U.S. troops in Wiesbaden, Germany, delivering another spirited defense of the Iraq invasion. But many Germans remain angry about the Iraq war. Thousands of protesters matched in the streets of Mainz, carrying signs and banners that made their opposition to Mr. Bush clear. At this hour, Mr. Bush is in Slovakia for his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow. While most of his European tour has been about fence-mending, the president may need to turn off the charm during this final stop.

Our senior White House correspondent John King looks at the pressure on both the U.S. and the Russian president.


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): June, 2001, a picturesque walk in Slovenia, and a first impression that has defined U.S.-Russia relations since.

BUSH: I looked the man in the eye, I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.

KING: Four years later, the man Mr. Bush calls Vladimir is widely seen as halting, if not reversing Russia's path towards democracy.

NATAN SHARANSKY, AUTHOR, "CASE FOR DEMOCRACY": There is no blood (ph), no KGB. But it is right to be very concerned by some of the restrictions.

KING: So as he prepares for Thursday's meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, Mr. Bush faces pressure to reconsider his early verdict.

RICHARD PERLE, FMR. PENTAGON ADVISER: When you gaze into souls, it's something you should update periodically, because souls can change.

KING: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Russian counterpart earlier this month and raised concerns about shutting down media critics and Kremlin prosecutions of Putin foes. The White House also is frustrated, among other things, with Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran and missile sales to Syria.

And Senator John McCain says Mr. Putin must be pressured to keep a promise to pull Russian troops out of neighboring Georgia.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Sooner or later, he has got to realize that the path that he's on is one which will eventually bring his government down. I mean, you can't continue this kind of consolidation of power and not expect to be eventually isolated, at least to some degree, in the world.

KING: The meeting comes a month after an inaugural address linking support of freedom and human rights to strong relations with Washington. A critical time, as Senator Joseph Lieberman puts it, to talk turkey.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I think it is in that sense a test of this president's foreign policy credibility when he meets with Putin. And I'm confident he's going to meet the test. KING: But White House officials also stress an upside, calling Mr. Putin a strong ally in the war on terror. And in much of Europe there is less concern than Mr. Bush hears back in Washington.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: On the fundamental question, is Russia moving away from us or against us, we don't think so. We think Putin has the right instinct.

KING: The meeting will test Mr. Bush's view that a close personal bond helps most when there are problems in a relationship. U.S. officials concede that bond is now strained and the relationship drifting, and say Mr. Bush will make clear to his friend that it is up to him to set it back on course.

John King, CNN, the White House.


WOODRUFF: From the president's meetings overseas, we turn our attention to the 2008 election cycle in today's "Political Bytes."

A new Zogby poll is the latest to find that Senator Hillary Clinton is the top choice among potential Democratic presidential contenders. John Kerry was second, followed by the party's 2000 nominee, Al Gore. John Edwards and Howard Dean round out the top five.

Speaking of Howard Dean, the new DNC chairman is on the road, making good on his stated plan to cultivate the grassroots. Today he's in Ithaca, New York. Tomorrow he heads to Kansas. And he has a speech scheduled next week in Mississippi.


JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's a double-edge sword for Dean. He needs to do this. He needs to go into these states and confront this idea that Democrats can't win in red states. But Democrats in those states are divided over his trip and his message. His sort of grassroots appeal, I think, is in danger of being overshadowed by that division.


WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney is facing claims he contradicted his position on gay marriage during Monday's speech to Republicans in South Carolina. Romney told the audience he opposes both gay marriage and civil unions, even though last year he urged the state legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage, but would have permitted civil unions.

A spokesman for a gay Republican group responded by saying, "What happened to the Mitt Romney who ran for governor supporting employment nondiscrimination, hate crimes legislation, domestic partnerships, and civil union-like benefits for gay couples? We don't need another flip- flopping politician." In response to his critics, Romney said he has always opposed both gay marriage and civil unions. But if Massachusetts is going to have one or the other, he said, "I'd rather have civil unions."

For more on Mitt Romney and other potential White House hopefuls in 2008, I spoke yesterday with Chuck Todd. He's the editor in chief of "The Hotline, an insider's political briefing produced every day by the "National Journal." I started by asking Chuck about the challenges facing potential candidates who face elections next year in 2006.


CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": The problem is, as we always talk about, the presidential campaign starts sooner than ever before. Every cycle we say this.

It's more of a reality than it was -- that it was this time than it was even four years ago. Howard Dean, for instance, he was the first one to announce in 2004. He did so in May of 2000.

Well, now let's think about 2008. There are a bunch of people having to run in 2006 elections, in some cases very closely-contested races, and so it's hard to balance running for office in your state and then all of a sudden also at the same time running for president, when many of your primary opponents also get to run full time for president.

It's a -- it's a very difficult situation. It's why Bill Frist, for instance, isn't seeking re-election and instead focusing full time on running for president.

WOODRUFF: Well, you've got a number of people in that -- who fall in that category. One of them is the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. We've been reporting he was down making a speech in South Carolina over the weekend, but he's in this fix, isn't he?

TODD: His is the most interesting situation because he's got -- you know, he's obviously the neighboring state of New Hampshire, so he lives in the Boston media market, gets to see all these guys come and visit New Hampshire all the time. He's in a re-election bid that is no guarantee that he can win.

If he loses, forget running for president, he's done in politics. So -- and then to win in Massachusetts as a Republican, you have to move to the center. That's no good for a Republican presidential primary. So he's in a real fix, which is why many smart people don't believe he's going to run for re-election.

WOODRUFF: Who are some of the others, Chuck, who have to go -- really jump over the '06 hurdle before they can get in '08.

TODD: Well, ones that potentially have these are -- and they have nothing to gain by it -- Hillary Clinton. She's up in 2006. George Pataki, he's up in 2006.

George Allen in Virginia is up. Mark Warner is somebody who might challenge George Allen in that Virginia Senate race.

And all these folks have really nothing to gain by running for re-election, because if they don't win as expected, either win outright or win big, then suddenly the presidential luster falls, they get dragged into a competitive race, it takes time off the trail in 2008 in other states. You know, Mitt Romney was in South Carolina, for instance, and not in Massachusetts campaigning. So it really -- it really messes up a schedule.

WOODRUFF: And it accelerates everything.

TODD: It accelerates it, makes it do or die. And, you know, in some cases some of these guys don't even -- if they run in '06 and win, the worst case for them is losing, but the worse case could be winning. And Mark Warner, does he really want to be a U.S. senator and then immediately run for president?

WOODRUFF: And then you've also got the double-edge sword. You've got the media attention, but you've also got the media attention.

TODD: Right. It's not -- it's not an easy situation.

The only one that has even a remote chance of seeing upside is a guy like Bill Nelson, who's not considered a presidential candidate yet. He's up in '06, he's running for re-election in Florida. Katherine Harris' opponent, most likely.

She could raise his profile. And if he beats her, and suddenly he, being from the most important state in presidential politics right now, suddenly could be helped by '06. But for the most part, '06 is hurting these guys, not helping.


WOODRUFF: Chuck Todd of "The Hotline." "The Hotline" is an insider's political briefing produced daily by the "National Journal." You can go online to for subscription information.

A quick update now on two other potential White House candidates. Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton are part of a Senate delegation that has made stops in Iraq and Afghanistan. After a meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai yesterday, Senator Clinton said she would like to see more cooperation between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

McCain took it a step further. He said he favors permanent U.S. military bases inside Afghanistan.

Elected officials tend to have their share of political headaches no matter where they are or who they are. That includes California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. As our senior political analyst Bill Schneider reports, Schwarzenegger's star power may not be quite what it used to be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): "The Terminator" is take some hits. The latest Field Poll shows a big drop in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's job rating among California voters.

In September, 65 percent of registered California voters gave the governor positive marks. Now, 55 percent do.

Schwarzenegger is embroiled in some real political battles. He's in a showdown with the California legislature over the state's budget deficit. He's denounced both teachers and nurses as special interests.

When he faced a group of protesting nurses at a women's conference, Schwarzenegger ridiculed them. The state nurse's association turned the incident into an ad.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Pay no attention to those voices over there, by the way. Those are the special interests, if you know what I mean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You referred to us as a "special interest group." Yes, that was very insulting.

SCHNEIDER: Schwarzenegger has said the special interests don't like him because, "I am always kicking their butts." In the past, he has denounced his political opponents as "girlie men." In the 2003 recall campaign, Schwarzenegger faced allegations of groping and sexual harassment.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I know that there have been some issues raised today about my behavior towards women.

SCHNEIDER: Teachers and nurses include a lot of women. Has Schwarzenegger's woman problem come back?

Actually, no. Women in California still give Schwarzenegger positive marks. Yes, he's lost support among women over the last five months, but he's lost support among men too at about the same rate.

Where has he lost the most? Democrats. In September, Schwarzenegger drew positive ratings from California Democrats. Now, Democrats have turned against him.

Disapproval of the governor among Democrats has jumped 20 points, from 34 to 54 percent. Teachers and nurses are organized in unions, which usually align with Democrats. The California legislature is dominated by Democrats. Schwarzenegger wants to govern as a populist.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It will be the governor with his partners, the people of California, against the legislators. We will be against the politics as usual.

SCHNEIDER: But the evidence suggests that by picking battles with Democratic legislators and Democratic unions, the governor's image is becoming less populist and more partisan. (on camera): Losing Democrats is a danger for Governor Schwarzenegger because California is a strongly Democratic state. Schwarzenegger got elected with a lot of Democratic support, and he can't survive without it.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bill.

Well, when well-known politicians lend their name and voice to a cause, it can make a big difference. Up next, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson talks about the battle against breast cancer, a battle that his family is all too familiar with.

Also ahead, making wedding plans can be complicated, but when you're Prince Charles, it's truly a matter of state.

And later, the 2005 campaign for and against Social Security reform. We'll watch one senator join the action back home.


WOODRUFF: When he was secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson could no doubt pick up the phone and consult with America's best medical minds. But it turns out, like any other person with a family member suffering from cancer, Thompson had to take the fear, the anger and the sense of helplessness one day at a time.

He spoke with CNN's Paula Zahn about his thoughts when his daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer not that long ago. The same diagnosis his wife had faced years earlier.


TOMMY THOMPSON, FMR. HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: You always believe, you know, your children, you know, are going to be healthy and are going to be able to carry on. And why should a child, you know, that's early 30s come down with breast cancer?

First, I was governor when my wife came down with it. Now I'm secretary of Health and Human services, the head of all of the doctors and medical care, and I can't do anything about it. Why am I failing my daughter in this regard? Why haven't we been able to find a cure?

It was one of not madness or being angry, it was just being upset and frustrated that we haven't been able to come full circle to find a cure for breast cancer.

PAULA ZAHN, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Did you ever share your anger with your daughter, Tommy?

THOMPSON: Well, not really, because, you know, your wife was there and you thought, sure, you've won it all, you've been able to defeat this disease. And she's been now cancer-free for 11 years. And then get hit, you know, almost in the stomach by the knowledge that your daughter is coming down with breast cancer. It's very difficult.


WOODRUFF: You can hear more of Tommy Thompson's very personal story on a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW: Breast Cancer Survivor Stories." That's tonight at 8:00 Eastern here on CNN.

A very different sort of family drama ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. The British royals trying to put the best face possible on the Charles-Camilla wedding with a little help from the British government.


WOODRUFF: This story just in to CNN from California. In the trial of actor Robert Blake, accused of murdering his wife, the Blake defense team has now rested without calling Robert Blake to the stand. We are told he was able to tell jurors his story in a videotape of a television interview that they played in court.

After the defense' presentation, which featured some 38 witnesses, the prosecutor says she will put on a rebuttal case, calling more prosecution witnesses. And that begins tomorrow. Again, the defense has rested in the Robert Blake murder trial without calling the actor himself to the stand.

To Great Britain now, where the British government weighed in today on the upcoming marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, determining that it is legal for them to have a civil, rather than a religious, ceremony. That is just one of several reasons that British tongues are wagging about this wedding, as CNN's Paula Hancocks reports from London.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the run-up to a wedding worthy of a soap opera. Six weeks to go, and the last- minute hiccups for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles are bordering on the absurd.

Last week, Charles had to move the venue from the magnificent Windsor Castle to the local town hall after he realized the castle didn't have a wedding license. And if it got one for the next three years, any commoner could marry there.

He's breaking with tradition by having no best man. It took the royal family a while to decide what Camilla's title would be once married to the heir to the throne. And now his mom, better known as the Queen of England, has decided not to attend the actual wedding ceremony.

ARTHUR EDWARDS, ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHER: This is a funny blessing when you say, yes, we're really pleased for our son and Mrs. Parker Bowles, and then you say in the next minute -- you turn around and say, but we're not going to the wedding. HANCOCKS: But Buckingham Palace has denied it is a snub, saying the queen is just respecting the couple's desire for a low-key affair. The British government even got involved on Wednesday to try and silence constitutional experts who say the couple aren't even legally allowed a civil wedding. The lord chancellor, who is head of the judiciary, says it's fine.

The British media is having a field day with the royal nuptial disasters. The left-leaning "Guardian" says all that's needed now is a fight at the wedding.

ROBERT LACEY, ROYAL BIOGRAPHER: Marriage and wedding ceremonies, with their tight deadlines and all the emotions and human relations involved, actually bring out the truth about family issues. And we're getting to see that about the House of Windsor.

HANCOCKS: But royal defenders say even if the queen misses the civil ceremony, she will still go to the religious blessing at St. George's Chapel in Windsor. And she's hosting the reception at Windsor Castle.

So, as the pop star Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain't bad.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, London.


WOODRUFF: Thank you, Paula. And we'll see just how low key that wedding is.

Taking it to the people. Democrats and Republicans in Congress return home to present their views on Social Security reform. But can they make their cases to an often skeptical public?

Plus, is President Bush making his case to a tough European audience? We'll hear what they're saying online when we go "Inside the Blogs."


WOODRUFF: It's 4:00 in the East. And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Lou Dobbs in New York with "The Dobbs Report."

Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Judy. Thank you. Stocks today rebounding after yesterday's huge selloff. Blue chips yesterday suffering the biggest decline in 20 months. As the final trades are now being counted, the Dow Jones industrials up just over 67 points, the Nasdaq trading modestly higher. The dollar today strengthening against both the yen and euro after a steep decline yesterday. And while oil prices remain above $51 a barrel, they did cool slightly today after soaring nearly $3 yesterday. More and more U.S. business travelers are now headed to China and they'll have more flights to take them there. Continental won the right to fly directly from Newark, New Jersey, to Beijing. And American Air will be allowed to fly between Chicago and Beijing. As the world's fastest growing economy, China has become a magnet for U.S. countries.

But travel to Asia could again come with advisories about a deadly bird flu. A new warning from the World Health Organization says the outbreak of the avian flu in Vietnam could lead to a worldwide pandemic, killing, by the estimates of the World Health Organization, as many as 100 million people. We'll have much more on this developing story at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN tonight.

Also tonight, our special report, overmedicated nation. A shocking 25 percent of all first-time prescriptions are filled incorrectly, sometimes with fatal consequences. Using the Internet could greatly improve accuracy. So why are so many doctors resistant to e-prescribing? We'll have the special report tonight on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

And the United States is now worried that Europeans will China the latest technology to boost its military. We'll have a special report for you. And in exporting America tonight, exporting jobs financially destroying the city of Buffalo, New York. The reason, a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs to cheap overseas labor markets. Now the city is facing a tax revolt.

Also tonight, recent comments about women by Harvard president Larry Summers have caused an uproar in some quarters. Tonight we focus on the issue of women and men, differences in gender and capacity and aptitude. Do men have a more natural aptitude in mathematics and science? And why does this topic incite such anger among so many? Joining me tonight, three of the academia's very best and brightest. Also the author of "Why Gender Matters." All of that and more coming up tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Please join us.

Now back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And I want to hear that discussion, Lou. But let me ask you in the meantime, you mentioned the president's trip to Europe. He has been saying all the right things on this trip to try to get relations back on an even keel. But what's your sense? Do you think this is window dressing or do you think there's a real determination there to get better relations?

DOBBS: I think this is real politic, if you will, Judy. The president, this administration, is acknowledging that there must be a multinational effort on so many challenges that are facing the United States and, indeed, much of the Western world, whether it be the emerging military and economic might of China, whether it appears to be the slippage of Russia back from the great progress that had been made in its democratic reforms, or the issue, of course, central issue of Iraq, Iran, and now Syria. So this president is pursuing a real change, I think, in basic policies. WOODRUFF: OK. Lou Dobbs. We'll be watching you at 6:00.

DOBBS: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. And before we go back to INSIDE POLITICS, this story just in to CNN from Florida. A judge has extended for another 48 hours the emergency stay that keeps a feeding tube attached to a brain-damaged woman, Terri Schiavo. You see her pictures here. This means that the decision on whether or not to pull that feeding tube has been post appointed at least until Friday.

A circuit judge in Pinellas County made this decision after a hearing based on a request by Terri Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler. They will be pursuing additional legal challenges. And of course, CNN will follow that story in all of its twists and turns.



ANNOUNCER: The hard sell on Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we're out here in 2005, OK, 2005, we have a chance to steer the ship, where if we wait to the end, we're going to have some awfully big pain.

ANNOUNCER: Republicans in Congress head home to take the president's case on privatization to the people.

The growing controversy over this ad. Did it cross the line? We'll hear from both sides.

John Kerry, a guest at the Bush White House? We'll tell you why last year's rivals are getting together at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next week.

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


WOODRUFF: Welcome back. It may seem like stating the obvious to say that the American people and members of Congress still are pretty skeptical about Social Security reform. But when Treasury Secretary John Snow says it, as he did today, it speaks volumes about the state of President Bush's push for reform. So some top Republicans are following the president's lead and staging their own Social Security road shows. Here now, our congressional correspondent Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has all the trappings of a political campaign. Signs, chants and true believers on both sides, disagreeing on whether younger Americans would get a burden or a benefit from private retirement accounts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want them to have to worry about Social Security, worry about whether the stock market's going to go up or down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a lot better than getting nothing, which, if we don't do anything, that's what's going to happen.

JOHNS: It's Drexel University in Philadelphia, day two of a week-long Social Security state tour by Republican senator Rick Santorum, pitchman for the president's plan. College Republicans show up to support him. They're trying to persuade people that there is a genuine crisis in Social Security and that the program needs to be modernized to survive. But at one point, it sounds more like they want to scrap it.

CROWD: Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security's got to go!

JOHNS: Not exactly the message the president is trying to send.

Inside the well-attended town hall meeting, Santorum works the crowd. He has slides and charts and shows a grasp of most of the numbers.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If we're out here in 2005, OK, 2005, we have a chance to steer the ship, where if we wait until the end, we're going to have some awfully big pain.

JOHNS: And he's careful to say several times that people over 55 will keep their existing benefits.

SANTORUM: No Republican, no Democrat, no president, no one is suggesting or will put forward anything that will affect benefits for older workers.

JOHNS: But some of Santorum's arguments seem to defy the notion that there's an urgent problem.

SANTORUM: Medicare is a much bigger problem. It is six times the problem of Social Security.

JOHNS: Many in this crowd are on the fence. And the protesters, some on point, some on the fringes, disrupt Santorum's lecture more than once.

SANTORUM: Anybody knows what happens in 2008?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush will be out of office.

SANTORUM: That's one thing. Very good. Anybody else?

JOHNS: The questions are mostly adversarial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I was lying on a psychiatrist's couch and he would say the word "Wall Street," I would say, "Las Vegas."

JOHNS: Santorum has more at stake here than the president's plan. He's up for reelection in 2006 and Democrats believe they have a candidate who can beat him. Taking on Social Security has been politically risky in the past and Santorum knows it. SANTORUM: No one ever accused me about worrying about the political ramifications of anything I do. I think whether you like Rick Santorum or you don't Rick Santorum, you know, I try to do what I think is in the best interest of the people of my state and the country. And I let the chips fall where they may.


JOHNS: It could be a tough sell for Santorum in Pennsylvania. He has a total of ten events this week, mostly on college campuses, which he and his staff admit can be very unpredictable -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now that event that you covered, Joe, in Philadelphia, what about the Democrats? They're out on the road. What are they saying? Where are they going?

JOHNS: There's no question the Democrats are activated right now. In fact, they planned almost 100 town hall meetings over the next week or so during this recess. Virtually all congressional Democrats remain opposed to the president's idea for private accounts. In Maryland, Congressman Steny Hoyer held an event this week. He, of course, is a member of the House Democratic leadership. Hoyer has been arguing that the plan, of course, will lead to deficit spending.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: We need to stop the privatization plans, in my opinion, that would dismantle Social Security through benefit cuts and by diverting trillions of dollars from the trust funds, which will exacerbate the national debt.


JOHNS: Hoyer also said he'd like to see former presidential candidate Ross Perot do TV infomercials stressing the need to head off government deficits. Senate Democrats, including minority leader Harry Reid, are planning to continue their campaign on Social Security a week from Saturday, heading to four states, including Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania.

WOODRUFF: It would be interesting to see Ross Perot get involved.

JOHNS: Certainly would be, after all these years of infomercials. We remember them.

WOODRUFF: We do, we do. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

The Social Security debate has prompted another debate over a new web ad. Up next, did a conservative group cross the line by featuring a soldier and a gay couple in its video attack on the AARP? That question still burning up the blogs. Our blog reporters will tell us what else is up for discussion online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: As we reported, a conservative lobbying group called USA Next is planning, in fact, has begun an ad campaign against AARP. The focus will be the powerful seniors group opposition to the White House plan to make private accounts part of its Social Security reforms. This USA Next Web ad was temporarily posted on a conservative Web site this week, featuring a photo of a U.S. soldier and a gay couple. After a few seconds, an x appeared over the soldier and a check appeared over the gay couple, an apparent attempt to link the AARP with the issue of gay marriage.

The Web ad has sparked criticism from across the political spectrum, including a veterans group and the libertarian Cato Institute, which happens to agree with USA Next on the wider issue of private Social Security accounts. With me now to talk about all this, Charlie Jarvis, he's the chairman of USA Next, and Michael Tanner, he is the director of the Cato Institute's project on Social Security choice.

First of all, Charlie Jarvis, USA Next, funded by whom?

CHARLIE JARVIS, CHAIRMAN, USA NEXT: We receive our funds from our base of 1.5 million individuals. Also we aggressively go after the support of very strong pro-free market businesses, business groups, associations, we're pretty aggressive about looking for free market supporters.

WOODRUFF: What exactly were you trying to say with this ad, showing a soldier and a gay couple, then the red x over the soldier and the check over the gay couple? What were you trying to say?

JARVIS: Well, first of all, AARP is the largest left liberal lobbying organization on the planet. And we stand against them on every single issue whether it's taxing Social Security benefits or Social Security personal accounts. And we are going after them very aggressively to make sure that they are just honest about their positions publicly. And we wanted to make sure that we tested an issue that they made a stand on in Ohio through the ad and to find out if the blogs would overreact to the ads.

WOODRUFF: Which issue are you referring to?

JARVIS: That's the issue of their fight against the marriage referendum in Ohio.

WOODRUFF: In one state, in the state of Ohio.

JARVIS: In the state of Ohio.

WOODRUFF: And what about the soldier?

JARVIS: And the soldier was there because they do not take a position on veterans and combat veterans health and support in expansion of their assets. And we do.

WOODRUFF: OK. Michael Tanner, you are with a group, the Cato Institute, that agrees with the president as does Mr. Jarvis, that there should be private accounts. But what do you think of this ad and the approach it takes?

MICHAEL TANNER, CATO INSTITUTE: Well, we're very disappointed in this ad. The essence of the whole idea behind individual accounts is about individual choice, about freedom for the individual, about giving people more control and dignity in their own lives. And we believe that this ad actually condemns AARP for one of the very few times in which it takes the position in favor of individual dignity. We don't think that we should be going down the road to in essence a bigoted approach to gay rights or things of that nature in order to sell the very positive approach that we have for individual accounts.

WOODRUFF: And I want to point out here, we did ask the American Association for Retired Persons to appear on the program, they declined but we did offer them the opportunity to appear. Charlie Jarvis, what about the point that Mr. Tanner just made. He called this a bigoted approach. He said it's not necessary.

JARVIS: Michael and Cato are totally open about their support for an option like this on gay marriage. AARP needs to be completely open about what they did in Ohio and where they stand on this issue and every other issue. And we're going to make sure they are held accountable.

WOODRUFF: But what does that have to do with Social Security reform?

JARVIS: Well, what it has to do with Social Security reform is that AARP, being the largest left liberal organization in the world, is going to take positions against the majority of their members on many different issues. We want to make sure those members know that we agree with them and AARP disagrees with them on many issues including the issue of marriage.

WOODRUFF: What is wrong with that approach?

TANNER: Look, there are many good reasons to criticize AARP in this fight. They have been remarkably hypocritical, talking about investment in the markets as gambling while at the same time selling investment products. They certainly have not reflected the best interest of grandparents who need to worry about their grandkids on this issue. They are simply wrong on the facts and wrong on the issue of individual accounts. But we don't need to drag in things like gay marriage. We don't need to criticize...

WOODRUFF: Why not?

TANNER: Well, look, Social Security reform should be about getting individuals more control over their own lives. It's about the individual. This is about individual rights.

WOODRUFF: What about that?

JARVIS: I think we have to have an open, energetic debate in the public square. This is a legitimate issue. AARP has not told their members where they stand on these kind of issues. We're going to make sure their members do know. WOODRUFF: He says it's a legitimate issue.

TANNER: Well, we simply disagree. We think that if we should be talking about the importance of Social Security reform to young people, about giving workers ownership and control over their money, about giving people real inheritable wealth, we don't think we should be talking about issues like gay marriage.

WOODRUFF: Charlie Jarvis, is USA Next going to run this ad some more? Why did you only have it up for one day?

JARVIS: We were testing to see whether left liberal groups would overreact. And they did. The hypothesis was that they would focus on one single tiny image on one Web site.

WOODRUFF: And it worked.

JARVIS: It worked. By the end of yesterday, to show you how crazy the left liberal groups are and that they have a death wish on Social Security, they literally were having people call television stations all over the country to pull the ad that didn't exist. Remarkable.

WOODRUFF: Well, we're going to leave this discussion here. But we thank you both for giving us a glimpse of what is going on inside the debate, the arguments over Social Security. Charlie Jarvis and Michael Tanner, we thank you both for being with us.

Once again we did offer an opportunity to AARP to talk with us on the program, and they declined. We'll continue to give them that opportunity.

More on this debate straight ahead when we go "Inside the Blogs." Plus, a look at what bloggers are saying about President Bush's trip to Europe. When INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: Let's check in on what is being discussed on the Web blogs today. Our blog reporter Jacki Schechner is standing by, along with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton.

So Jacki, more on Social Security?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were going to start with something else, Judy. But after your interview, we had to bring this up. Yesterday the blogs were not talking about Social Security so much as they were talking about the ad and how they felt about the ad itself, and how it really didn't have anything to do with Social Security. So that's where we wanted to start for you today.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: So yesterday everyone was talking about the AARP ad there. Charlie Jarvis just -- Judy's guest from USA Next, this organization. Today the blogs are looking into that organization. Here is Joshua Micah Marshall's site, Talking Points Memo. And he delves into the organization... SCHECHNER: We should mention it is left-leaning...

TATTON: A left-leaning very Washington political site here. In delving into the organization finds out a couple of interesting things. First of all, USA Next seems to go by many different names. Here are some of them, United Seniors Association. Second of all, they share the same address as this organization here. O'Neill Marketing Company who has a few Republican clients here you can see listed at the bottom.

Now, Marshall asks, on his blog here, is this really just a Republican Party front operation operating at the behest of Karl Rove. Karl Rove seems very busy according to the bloggers.

SCHECHNER: We have been talking about Rove a lot this week. We wanted to also send you over to who has a very interesting lampoon. It is an imaginary conversation. They call it "Rove's Brilliant Plan." It's Rove and his secret conspirators. It includes Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Gannon, Clarence Thomas, Ann Coulter and Hugh Hewitt.

TATTON: This is definitely a good read if you want a laugh. This takes place at the "Evil Rove Headquarters, located many miles beneath the earth's surface."

SCHECHNER: Like the next Austin Powers episode.

What we were going to show you originally first, which we really liked, and I wanted you all to see. We're pulling it up right now. It takes a couple of minutes. There we go. Is And we're always looking for sites that help to sort of explain the 8 million blogs that are out there.

And we like this one because it's sort of a one stop shop for the top blogs. It's constantly updating. It has got blogs on the left, on the right, some of them in between. And the freshest content floats to the top. It's got some up at the top now. We've heard of WizBang! before. But it has also got Little Green Footballs, InstaPundit. It's a good way to go. We found out through looking through this site that what was dominating some of the blogs today was David Ignatius' column in The Washington Post.

Let me click over to that for you. And that's opining that Bush may have won over some enemies in the Arab world. This was the article that people were linking to.

TATTON: Now this is on a lot of conservative blogs here today. The reason being it suggests that the Iraq war was a good thing for the Middle East. One of the things that the conservative blogs focus on is this person here, this quote from Walid Jumblatt. He's the leader of the Druze Muslims there in Lebanon who sees change in the Middle East. And the reason being here, let me highlight this for you: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." This is someone that didn't used to be pro-American in any way.

SCHECHNER: Now over at the National Review, on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) spot. It says: "If that isn't a quote that the Bush administration ought to be shouting from the White House rooftop, I don't know what is." Then the update just below it: "I am told the White House is now circulating the column, highlighting the comment." So catching on to that one.

Now speaking of Bush, another article that is catching the attention is the London Daily Telegraph article by Mark Steyn, it's talking about maybe the obsolescence of NATO and Bush being over in Europe and how it may be a lot of pomp and circumstance, but not a lot of substance. And the reason that people have been linking to it, one of the reasons, is this interesting little tidbit here. I'm going to highlight it and see if you can read it -- if I can highlight efficiently.

But it compares international relations to an ex-girlfriend. How you are deluding yourself into thinking you can get her back, you can meet for coffee once in a while. You can talk about some nonsense, but ultimately it's not going anywhere.

TATTON: This is a column that was in the conservative London Daily Telegraph, but it's linked to all over American blog sites here. There is no boundaries to the Web. This is one here from a very conservative, hardcore conservative commentary, Hennessy's View (ph). I'd highlight this for you but it goes bright yellow. "We find ourselves at once responsible for security throughout the world and without a true ally. To the left's chagrin it has nothing to do with Iraq."

SCHECHNER: So, continuing to follow what is going on in the blogosphere and there's a lot of it, Judy. We'll send it back over to you.

WOODRUFF: It sounds like it and tomorrow I'm going to ask you how someone who has never done blogs would know where to begin to find blogs.

SCHECHNER: We'll help you out with that. Definitely.

WOODRUFF: That's for tomorrow. Thank you both, Jacki and Abbi, we appreciate it.

Up next, John Kerry is going to the White House after all. His campaign fell short in November but we'll tell you why he still has an invitation to visit the executive mansion.


WOODRUFF: Senator John Kerry once hoped to be settled into the White House by now, but he will get to visit the executive mansion next week with his beloved Boston Red Sox. The World Series champions will attend a reception with President Bush. Last October the Red Sox brought home their first World Series championship since 1918. Go Sox. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS this Wednesday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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