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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Room for Compromise; Measuring the Drapes?; Interview With Governor Mark Warner; Fla. Sheriff Updates Reporters on Missing Girl
Aired February 28, 2005 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm coming to your states. I'm coming to a lot of states between now and whenever Congress decides to take this issue head on.
ANNOUNCER: The state of the Social Security debate. Is the president's push for private investment accounts coming to shove?
Guess who's coming to dinner? Were some of the nation's governors measuring the drapes at the White House? It's part of our race to '08 update.
CHRIS ROCK, HOST, OSCARS: You know, a lot of people like to bash Bush. I'm not going to bash Bush here tonight.
ANNOUNCER: Oh, really? Hollywood's big night may have given new ammunition to conservative critics and others who think Tinsel Town leans too far left.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.
Fresh from his charm offensive, as some have called it in Europe, President Bush has scored some points with Americans here at home. Our new poll show's Mr. Bush's overall approval rating has inched up to 59 -- rather 52 percent from 49 percent three weeks ago. Still within the margin of error, but up.
Whatever may be driving this uptick, it does not appear to be his push for Social Security reform. Because 35 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the way the president is handling Social Security. That is down from 43 percent in early February.
That may help explain why Republicans seem to be talking more about the possibility of compromise. Here now, our White House correspondent Dana Bash.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the world stage, the president returns to his biggest challenge on the home front, selling his Social Security overhaul. While Mr. Bush was on his self-described European listening tour, members of Congress were back home listening to often skeptical constituents about the Bush plan for creating private accounts in Social Security.
SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What do you get in exchange for it if we do nothing?
BASH: Republican Senator Rick Santorum spent all week in town hall meetings pushing the idea. He insists it's still early but admits the president is short support.
SANTORUM: Right now they're not there. But, you know, like I said, you're asking me whether I'm going to win the game and I'm two minutes into the game.
BASH: Several Senate Democrats critical to any compromise say they back retirement private accounts but only outside Social Security. Some Republicans are starting to signal compromising on personal accounts may be inevitable, but the philosophical divide runs deep.
SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: This proposal of privatization is a radical shift in the covenant that we have laid down with regard to Social Security one generation to the next.
SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I don't think a bill will pass that doesn't include personal accounts for younger workers, at least giving them the option.
BASH: Still completely unresolved, how to achieve the president's state goal, ensuring Social Security's solvency. The White House concedes personal accounts alone won't do it. And Democrats are seizing on that.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D) DELAWARE: ... American people begin to understand there's no correlation between, "fixing Social Security" and private accounts.
BASH: The president is careful not to take anything except raising payroll taxes off the table. Republican sources say compromise options for keeping Social Security out of the red include cutting benefits deepest for the wealthy while letting low-income beneficiaries do better than raising the $90,000 payroll tax cap, though most GOP leaders call that a tax hike and a nonstarter.
BASH: And GOP sources concede that their lawmakers did hear a mixed bag from their constituents when they were home last week during recess. But as one Republican operative said, they didn't expect to go home and click their heels and find ruby slippers.
And to that end, the strategy still, Judy, is to repeat over and over it is very early in the process. And the White House again today said that almost everything is on the table as they continue to search, of course, for that compromise. And they hope here a political victory -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Dana, let me turn you to international developments. The government of Lebanon has quit. What are they saying at the White House about that?
BASH: Judy. they were very quick to come out and react to that. The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, didn't wait for reporters' questions. He came right out and made a statement, saying it's an opportunity for free and fair elections, the White House hopes, in Lebanon.
He said elections, that they want to be free from foreign interference. That, of course, means Syria. And the White House would do what it takes to make that happen.
It's noteworthy also that they didn't really seem to give an inch when it comes to Syria. Perhaps some perceived attempt by that country to show that they are willing to work on some of the things the U.S. has problems with. But over and over, Scott McClellan said that they still need to do things like stop funding Hezbollah, stop getting involved in Iraq, and, of course, get out of Lebanon, at least in terms of their troops.
WOODRUFF: And Dan, are they saying that this is connected to their Iraq policy? I mean, do they even see it as a vindication of that?
BASH: It seems to be a little bit of a no-crow zone here, Judy. Scott McClellan was asked a few times about whether it's vindication for what the president says all the time, which is that he thinks that democracy is possible, that his policies, he believes, will get to democracy in the Middle East, not just because of what we saw today in Lebanon, but other events.
For example, over the weekend Egypt saying that they would allow multi-party elections, Palestinian elections recently. But Scott McClellan -- perhaps because they realize that things do change very, very quickly in the Middle East, that things that look one way today might look quite different tomorrow -- simply said that what we saw today was the fact that people in Lebanon and around the Middle East want to see democracy flourish. And what we heard over and over again, of course, from the president is that they believe that freedom is on the march -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: OK. Dana Bash at the White House in the snow. Thank you.
Separately today, the president met with the nation's governors, and he addressed the issue many of them are worried about, Medicaid. Mr. Bush wants to cut tens of billions of dollars in federal funds for the health care program for the poor even as costs are soaring.
He told the governors it's time to talk about reining in state Medicaid accounting practices which he said cheat taxpayers. If Medicaid reform was the headline, the 2008 presidential election was the subtext, you could say, to the gathering of governors here in Washington.
BUSH: Many of our presidents have first served as governors.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): Follow my lead, said the president, addressing an ambitious group in Washington. The nation's governors are in town. They were guests at the White House last night, and more than a handful are hoping to take up more permanent residents.
BUSH: My six years as governor of Texas have been invaluable to me.
WOODRUFF: On the other side of the world, another former governor was touting a senator for the nation's top job. Bill Clinton in Taiwan boosted his wife Hillary, saying she would make an excellent commander in chief.
BIDEN: I think she would incredibly difficult to beat.
WOODRUFF: On the Sunday talk shows, Senator Joe Biden talked up a Clinton candidacy.
BIDEN: I think she is likely to be a nominee. She would be the toughest person. And I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States.
WOODRUFF: That said, Biden is still weighing a run of his own. On the GOP side, John McCain appearing on "Fox News Sunday" said the field's wide open.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have already indications a lot of highly qualified people will be running.
WOODRUFF: Will he be one of them? McCain wouldn't say.
MCCAIN: I think Republican voters will have a great luxury because they'll have a lot to choose from.
WOODRUFF: But one big-name Republican says the time may not be right. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says there's no reason to rush a constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens to assume the highest office in the land. He made his comments on ABC's "This Week."
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Sometimes you can't push those things too quickly. It's the same thing with gay rights and all of those things. It always takes time. New ideas take time to nurture along.
WOODRUFF: So one colorful could-be candidate appears to take himself out for this round, leaving plenty of others to jockey for position. (END VIDEOTAPE)
WOODRUFF: I'll talk with the chairman of the Governors Association, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, about the '08 presidential race, about Medicaid reform and more in just a few minutes.
Checking the "Political Bytes" on this Monday, the liberal 527 group Campaign for America's Future is joining the debate over Social Security. The group is running a TV ad this week in the district of Louisiana Republican Jim McCrery. He's chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee.
The ad says McCrery accepted campaign money from Wall Street firms which could benefit from the president's plans for private investment accounts. In a statement, McCrery called the ad, "pitiful" and said he will not be deterred in his effort to help the president reform Social Security.
A group of Hollywood activists are raising money to oppose Rhode Island Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin, who is being recruited by party leaders to run for the Senate. "The New York Times" reports that the donors, including the wife of actor Dennis Hopper and actors Christine Lahti and Cameron Mannheim, oppose Langevin because he is against abortion rights.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean delivered some tough talk over the weekend in Kansas. "The Lawrence Journal-World" newspaper reports that Dean made his comments at a backyard fund-raiser, where he said Democrats have an opportunity to attract Republican moderates.
Dean was quoting as saying, "Moderate Republicans can't stand these people, conservatives, because they're intolerant. They don't think tolerance is a virtue." And then he added, "I'm not going to have these right-wingers throw away our right to be tolerant." Dean concluded his speech by saying, "This is a struggle of good and evil, and we're the good."
Overseas there are new signs of democracy in action. Still ahead, Lebanese demonstrators are celebrating now that the pro-Syrian government has called it quits. Will they cheer President Bush as well?
And later, strutting their stuff. Did Hollywood show its true colors at the Oscars last night?
WOODRUFF: With America's governors' meeting here in Washington today, let's talk with the chairman of the National Governors Association. He is Mark Warner of Virginia, he's been mentioned, by the way, as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.
Governor, I am going to get to the governors' meeting, but I have to ask you first, how much time are you spending thinking about running for president? GOV. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I have more than a full- time job as governor of Virginia. This is my last year. I'm really proud of what we've been able to accomplish. But I'm only focused on fulfilling that obligation.
WOODRUFF: Somebody -- the man who ran your '01 campaign, Steve Jarding (ph), was quoted over the weekend saying you are the hottest -- one of the hottest, if not the hottest star, in the Democratic Party.
WARNER: Well, that's kind of Steve to say, but I -- there's an awful lot of good potential candidates out there. But I think what we have got to do as Democrats is, you know, keep bringing the party back to the center and be able to reach across an awful lot of party lines in the way we have in Virginia in terms of getting tax reform through, in terms of making Virginia now the second fastest-growing state in the country.
WOODRUFF: You would leave office this year. You can only serve one term. There's a lot of speculation about whether you would run for the Senate.
A poll came out the other day showing you would beat the incumbent Republican, George Allen. Is that a possibility?
WARNER: Judy, again, if I want to have options after I finish, options in politics after I finish this job, I don't want to mess up this last year as governor. So the people of Virginia hired he me for four years. I'm going to stay focused on that. The future will take care of itself.
WOODRUFF: No answers right now anyway.
WOODRUFF: All right. Governor, let's talk about what the meeting, the governors' meeting today was all about.
A lot of focus on Medicaid. We know the president, the administration's proposing to cut something like $60 billion out of Medicaid over the next 10 years or so. The administration argues this is -- this is money that absolutely should come out, it's waste, fraud and abuse.
WARNER: We categorically disagree with that. The fact of the matter is, Medicaid now provides health care for 53 million Americans, more Americans than are on Social Security. And if Social Security may or may not go bankrupt in 2042, let me assure you, unless we can fix Medicaid, it's going to bankrupt the states long before that, probably within the next decade.
So what we've got to do is we understand that Medicaid as it's currently structured has to be -- has to be changed. We can no longer allow the kind of cost shifts, the way the president is proposing, moving $60 billion down to the cost of the states, or the way that employers continue to cut off health insurance for their employees, pushing them onto Medicaid, or the fact that seniors -- and Medicaid is not about poor people anymore -- 60 percent of seniors who are in nursing homes are on Medicaid, continue to divest of their assets to go on Medicaid. So we've got to make those changes.
WOODRUFF: Well, that's an example of abuse, isn't it? And, I mean, isn't it right to look at that and say let's end it and save money that way?
WARNER: Well, I think looking at how we can avoid seniors divesting of their assets before they go into long-term care absolutely ought to be discussed. But is it discussed in a way where we've got to -- we get back into a budget number, or can we engage with the administration?
And let me say, Mike Leavitt, the new secretary of Health and Human Services, is the best news possible in terms of getting Medicaid reform because he understands the problem. But can we back into an issue like divestiture of assets in a way that says can we provide tax credits for people to buy long-term care insurance? Can we look at look-backs? Yes, but can we also perhaps allow seniors to keep something to pass on to their kids and grandkids?
So the devil's in the details on all of these issues.
WOODRUFF: But frankly, if you're a citizen sitting out there and you're not personally receiving Medicaid, and you can be a little bit objective, you say, what difference does it make whether you back in because of a number or whether you plan it some other way? I mean, they just -- the argument is, let's get the money's worth here.
WARNER: Because what we're talking about is 53 million Americans and a growing number who receive their basic health care from Medicaid. What we've got to do is we're willing to engage with the administration on Medicaid reform. And I think for the first time in a long time governors in both parties absolutely realize the system's got to change.
But what it shouldn't be driven by is a budget number that's in a congressional reconciliation process that has to happen within a couple weeks. What we want to do is work with the administration on their ideas for reform, some of the ideas that we as governors are going to put forward.
Part of those are our greater flexibility, part of those may be tax credits. But that discussion is going to take place over the coming weeks.
WOODRUFF: But meanwhile, you've got the president doing most of his public speaking these days on Social Security.
WARNER: Again, one of the concerns that a lot of us have that says we wish -- we think the president maybe has picked the wrong crisis. The immediacy of the crisis in Medicaid, the fact of the matter is in Medicaid right now nationally, Medicaid costs outdistance education costs at the state level. So what we've done now is we've put governors in the position where they've got to pick between grandma and the grandkids in terms of state priorities. So we do need Medicaid reform, but it ought to be driven through a reform process, not by a budget number.
WOODRUFF: OK. We're going to leave it there. Governor Mark Warner, who's the chairman of the National Governors Association.
WARNER: Thank you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Right next door from Virginia. Thank you very much, Governor. It's good to see you.
WARNER: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.
Still ahead, Howard Dean's new role as a party insider. Will he stay on message with the party line? It's just one of the items in Bob Novak's "Reporter's Notebook."
WOODRUFF: CNN has been following the story of a missing 9-year- old Florida girl. We want to let you know that at the top of the hour, 4:00 Eastern, we're going to be carrying live a news conference by the sheriff in Citrus County. This is Homasassa Springs, near where 9- year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford disappeared from her home on Wednesday.
There's just been a news conference by the family. We are expecting the sheriff at 4. And CNN will carry that live.
Back to INSIDE POLITICS now. Bob Novak joins us with some "Inside Buzz."
First of all, Bob, what is this about a pep rally for the president's Social Security plan?
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Last Thursday, Judy, the president called in about 200 business lobbyists to a closed-door meeting in room 450 of the executive office -- over at the Executive Office Building next door to the White House. They had some big-time cheerleaders there, political adviser Karl Rove, economic adviser Al Hubbard, to say let's really get out and help the president pass this thing.
The problem is these business lobbyists haven't been working very hard because they don't really think that the Social Security reform helps the interests of their clients. They came out of the meeting kind of feeling that it was a -- it really didn't accomplish much, and they sure didn't get many more details on how the president's plan works.
WOODRUFF: But the White House is reaching out to them...
NOVAK: That's right.
WOODRUFF: ... you could say. All right. Moving over to the Democrats, Howard Dean, you've been doing some reporting on what's he up to.
NOVAK: Since he was elected Democratic national chairman, he has been -- they've been keeping him out of the national spotlight. No major television interviews on national networks are scheduled for the next couple weeks, I'm told, and maybe the reason is that they've got to really get Howard under control.
He spoke at Cornell University last week, and the only paper that covered this was "The Cornell Daily" student paper, and he said, yes, Social Security has a big problem. Over the years it's going to lose about 80 percent of the benefits. That, Judy, is not the Democratic line. The Democratic line is there is no problem.
So Howard Dean says what he thinks is the truth. Often it is the truth. He's going to be a lot of fun as national chairman.
WOODRUFF: And we just reported what he said over the weekend in Kansas about good and evil and how the Democrats are good. We may be hearing more about that one.
WOODRUFF: Somebody many of us know, he's a Republican consultant, Mike Murphy. You're learning he may have a choice to make for the '08 presidential race.
NOVAK: Yes. Mike is a very hot consultant. You know, he did the Schwarzenegger for governor race. And there's been a rumor, Judy, around Washington for a couple weeks that Mike Murphy has signed on to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential race.
He had helped him in his governor's race a couple years ago. So I called up Mike Murphy, and he says he has two potential clients, presidential clients. He's advising both of them.
One is Senator John McCain -- he's also supported him in his previous presidential race --- and the other is, indeed, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Doesn't know which one or either one is going to run, but he's advising both for now.
Now, the question is, what if they both run? Which way does he go? He isn't saying that.
WOODRUFF: Finally, you've learned that some members of the Congressional Black Caucus concerned with McCain-Feingold campaign finance.
NOVAK: Not only concerned with what it does to the treatment of PACs -- and a lot of the African-American congressmen do rely on PACs in their districts -- but they have been sitting down privately with some conservative Republicans to see if there might be an easing of McCain-Feingold. A lot of the black congressmen didn't like McCain-Feingold in the first place. Congressman William Lacy Clay of Missouri said that he was forced to vote by the party leadership under duress. And a lot of his colleagues feel that way too. So there's been a feeling by the conservatives that they could get some help on changing McCain- Feingold from the black congressmen.
WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, "Inside Buzz." It's always great to have you on.
NOVAK: Thank you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: We'll see you later this week, too.
So, do you like President Bush's ideas on partially privatizing Social Security? We're going to take a look at some new poll numbers. And I'll speak with a Republican congressman who has his own plan to reform the system.
Plus, protesters help bring down Lebanon's pro-Syrian government. But does the White House deserve some of the credit? We'll see what they're saying in the blogs.
WOODRUFF: Once again, following the story of that missing 9-year- old Florida girl. This is the sheriff in Citrus County, Florida.
SHERIFF JEFF DAWSY, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA: ... analysis, search. They're actually calling it a search and rescue team. And there's a gentleman coming from as far away -- he lives in Alaska, but he was in Utah -- that the center is flying down upon our request to put these 20 people out here to do some searching in a radius of three-quarters of a mile.
Not looking for Jessica per se -- that may happen, we may find her -- but really looking for some specific clues that we may have overlooked because we're just not trained in that particular area of it. That's the reason why the command post is staying here.
And Florida Department of Law Enforcement has assigned two investigators that have worked missing children before. And somebody asked me earlier in the week if it was somebody from the Holly Brucey (ph) case. Yes, it is. OK?
We have asked them to assign some people. We have brought in additional crime analysts from Florida Department of Law Enforcement who are going to help us take this tremendous amount of data and put it in some sort of understandable information to us.
As you all know, the FBI has been working for us, they have added a couple more agents. So we are really, I think, at full speed.
And from there, I'll turn it over to any questions you may have.
QUESTION: Can you talk to us about the focus of the investigation? Are you aiming in on any particular thing? I know you have said that the profilers have told you to look close.
QUESTION: Can you explain where you are and what that means?
DAWSY: Well, that means, as you know, we're looking at the neighborhood. We're looking at schools. We're looking at the affiliation with the church, any social group she's in, family members, any and everything.
And that's the information I've had from the center on the training, I've had from the center. That's where we start.
QUESTION: And where has that gone so far? And what can you tell us about what you might have found or concluded, at least preliminarily?
DAWSY: Preliminary, it hasn't led to anything specific. And that's what's kind of frustrating to us now.
QUESTION: Mark Lunsford told us that he was...
DAWSY: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Mark Lunsford told us that he passed his voice-stress test, but he didn't know anything about his father. Can you give us any information, if you told him he passed, what's up with that?
DAWSY: The stress test or the polygraph that we put him on?
QUESTION: He told us the stress test, but any information would be helpful.
DAWSY: He went through questioning with the bureau yesterday and none of his answers to questions set any alarms off, let's put it that way. We're still working with the family and talking with them. We are focusing on other areas. We've always been focusing on -- Don't think that we've become tunnel vision, because we weren't. We had a group of investigators going one way and a group of investigators going another way.
QUESTION: How about Mark's father?
DAWSY: Mark's father -- oh, Mark's dad. Okay. The grandfather. They'll be interviewing him this week some time.
QUESTION: So he had a voice stress test, didn't he?
DAWSY: Yes, and at that particular time, there was nothing alarming about it.
QUESTION: To be clear, who's had a stress test, who has had a polygraph test?
DAWSY: They both had. Mark and his dad. I got confused as to who we were talking. I apologize. Mark and his dad both had stress tests. Mark has had the polygraph and the stress test. It's just another tool that the bureau offered and we took them up on it.
QUESTION: Can you give us any -- Mark seemed to do well on both.
DAWSY: He did both well. On both tests.
QUESTION: And the father on the first test?
DAWSY: The first test seemed to be okay. Nothing alarming.
QUESTION: And will he face the polygraph, the father?
DAWSY: Yes, we've asked him to take it. Yes.
QUESTION: What is your working theory right now? Do you think someone went and took her out of the room? Do you think he left on her own?
DAWSY: I don't believe she left on her own. Whether or not somebody entered into the house has always been a question. And that is one of the things that's so mystifying to us is that we are still trying to get a true handle on -- Believe me, it's not because we haven't pulled every resource. I became frustrated with a group of investigators, not at them, but the amount of knowledge and the people I've got here between the Part (ph) team, there's one investigator that has worked 24 years alone. It's unbelievable. We have people from the Florida Department of Law Enfo -- We're all trying to find that little piece of the puzzle. That's the reason we're pulling all the stops out. We know it's here. It just hasn't been unearthed yet.
QUESTION: If you don't believe she left on her own, at what point do we look at this and think this is an abduction not just a missing person? What do you need before you call this a child abduction?
DAWSY: Well, I've got to have proof of that. I know it's mystifying to you, but there is actually a definition that we use, you know, the difference between the Amber alert and the missing children. I don't consider this a run away or a walking away. You know, there's a lot of words that can be used out there, kidnapping. And maybe, I look at it as just a very serious situation like I've been very honest with people. Once I can get a handle on it, I assure you, I'll be running down here and I will share it with you.
QUESTION: What about the feeling of whether she's in this immediate area still or whether she's elsewhere, after all your searching?
DAWSY: My gut feeling is to tell you that I hope she's in here. You know. I don't know what else to tell you, really, honestly.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you're going to find this little girl alive? We're getting past that critical time that all law enforcement agencies talk about. What do you guys think? You're professionals. You've done this before.
DAWSY: You never think negative when you do this. We are professional people. You won't hear that word in any of our briefings about not bringing Jessie home alive.
QUESTION: Do you get nervous as these days tick by?
DAWSY: I was nervous two hours into this when I knew I had that. And if you ask my wife, she'll tell you I haven't slept well since. Believe me.
QUESTION: There's been confusion about the reward. What can you tell us?
DAWNS: I think what happened is, there was some correspondence with the family. It started to get out of control. I put parameters into it. As we know, Mike and Catia Hampton, who are locals, offered $25,000. We've had numerous inputs on -- when it comes to rewards. I have to tell you, I threw the $25,000, and I received zip in reference to that. But in not letting any stone get unturned, we are going to open up. But we are going to control it. We want to validate these as valid sources. We want to make sure it's not bad money. There's a lot of things that we want to verify that's accurate. We will start bringing in, I would imagine you will see it go up and it will go up well over the six-figure mark that I've been told. I'm not giving you an amount, anybody out there listening, if this stirs you, please, it will be more than $25,000.
QUESTION: Did you stress test anyone else besides the father and the grandfather?
QUESTION: Did you get any information on the computer?
DAWSY: No, there was no correspondence between her and a bad guy out there. As a matter of fact, she only used it -- they've only had it for six weeks. So they really weren't proficient in the use of a computer.
QUESTION: Is there only one computer in the house?
DAWSY: Yes, and it was really in the right location. It was in the family location.
QUESTION: We understand photos of an adult nature that might have been on there.
DAWSY: There was some -- I'm not going into depth with that. But there were some things more of an adult nature, let's put it that way.
QUESTION: Do they present any concern to you?
DAWSY: We've questioned, right now, they're not a flag, but they're an element out there that we're looking at. Again, if I had a flag, I'd be running with it right now.
QUESTION: Have you had any success with the K-9 teams at all?
WOODRUFF: Sheriff Jeff Dawsy talking with reporters about the missing Florida nine-year-old girl, Jessica Marie Lunsford, missing since last Wednesday. Probably the most significant thing you heard the sheriff say is that he does not believe that Jessica Lunsford left on her own. He says he does not have prove or evidence to say definitively for sure that she was abducted, that she was kidnapped. He said they're looking for important clues. And he did talk about a reward. He also clarified that her father has taken both a stress test and a polygraph. He seems to have cleared that test fine. Her grandfather has taken the stress test and will be taking the polygraph. And he said at this point, nothing alarming.
CNN will continue to follow that story. You can see the numbers on the screen. Numbers you can call if you have any information about this missing girl, Jessica Marie Lunsford.
Now, we want to turn to another story CNN is following. The United States has some new information about threats to the United States. This has just come into CNN and let's turn to our correspondent Jeanne Meserve for the very latest.
Jeanne, what is going on?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, as you said, new information regarding threats to the U.S. which one Homeland Security official describes as credible but not specific. According to two officials, the information was picked up recently from an intercepted communication believed to have been between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi who is spearheading the insurgency in Iraq. We do not know who started the communication and whether or not it was received, that a line of communications can be contaminated, that is, although it may have once have been used exclusively by two peoples, others may begin to use it as well.
One Pentagon official said the recently intercepted communication focused on efforts to carry out attacks on the U.S. There is nothing startling hearing that al Qaeda would like to strike inside of the U.S., officials describe it as a reiteration or a reaffirmation. Officials stress that there is nothing specific to indicate when, where or how any attack might be carried out. One official called it vague and nothing unique. A classified bulletin went out from Homeland Security advisers on Friday afternoon. Judy?
WOODRUFF: Jeanne, how can something be intercepted between bin Laden and al Zarqawi when they don't know where either one of them is?
MESERVE: Well, there's been some belief in some quarters that the two have had communication. We don't know what form this communication might have been. There are very few people who believe that Osama bin Laden would be walking around using a cell phone in the current environment. But there are other forms of communication. Perhaps one was intercepted. We don't have any specifics on what the form of communication was.
WOODRUFF: OK. Jeanne Meserve bringing us the very latest on this story. CNN, I know you'll be continuing to follow it. As CNN will continue to follow it in the hours to come. Of course, to our audience, you can stay tuned to CNN day and night for the latest information on your security.
Continuing now with INSIDE POLITICS, the White House may be wary of overstating its possible influence on developments in Lebanon. But some Bush supporters are apparently more willing to connect the dots between the fall of the pro-Syrian government and Mr. Bush's push for democracy in the Middle East. Our national correspondent Bruce Morton looks at the recent chain of events in the region, and whether President Bush's best hopes might be realized.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Beirut crowds angered by the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri chant for the Syrians who occupy the country to leave and two weeks later, the pro-Syrian government resigns. Palestinians elect a new leader. Saudi Arabia holds modest municipal elections, men only, of course, but still. And Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak says there will be multiparty elections for president. Is President Bush's vision coming true? Is democracy breaking out in the Middle East? No, but there are hopeful signs. Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 he could easily have a system that would re-elect him. But ...
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: On the other hand, it's better to have this step in Egypt than to have the alternative. And it suggests that Egypt is listening to the United States and at least partially responsive. So I think, yes, as a tactical victory, you have to consider it something positive for Mr. Bush's vision.
MORTON: Secretary of State Rice canceled a visit to Egypt in a pro-democracy gesture over a jailed opposition leader. And in Lebanon, well, the Syrians aren't withdrawing from the country yet, but again ...
O'HANLON: The good news is Syria has not been able to clamp down on this. They haven't been able to use the tools at their disposal to suppress the demonstrations. And so, again, you have to think of this as a real step forward, even though we don't know the final destination just yet.
MORTON: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the Middle East lately, there have been some steps. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: In Iraq today, a reminder of the steep hurdles ahead for that fledgling democracy. At least 125 people were killed and more than 130 wounded in a suicide bomb attack on Iraq police recruits outside a government office in Hillah. It's the single deadliest insurgent attack on Iraqis since the U.S. invasion.
Amid continuing violence our new poll show 45 percent of Americans say they approve of President Bush's handling of Iraq, that was down from 50 percent shortly after the elections in Iraq a month ago but still slightly higher than the 2 percent rating Mr. Bush got in January. The early ratings are down on last night's Academy Award show. And once again, fewer viewers tuned in to see the glitz and the glamour. Still ahead, what sort of message did Hollywood send to those who did watch? Our Bill Schneider will weigh in from Los Angeles.
And our blog reporters will tell us if online pundits have anything good to say about the awards show.
WOODRUFF: Time now to check in on what people are talking about in the blogosphere this Monday. Joining with a look at the main topics online are Jacki Schechner, she's our blog reporter, and CNN political producer Abbi Tatton.
Hi there, Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy, how are you.
We're taking look today at what the international news was, of course, the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister. What the mainstream media is talking about, also what they're talking about on the blogs. We went to Caveman in Beirut. An interesting blog it's a guy named Rich on the ground there. He's been following the protests and over the last couple of days and then today with the big political news. Another one to take a look at for you is PubliusPundit.com. And up at the top it says, "Go Lebanon" and it's a good to go to not only for links to mainstream articles but for comments and then links to blogs, both here and internationally.
ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Now conservative bloggers are quick to connect the dots between the developments in Lebanon and also the policies of the Bush administration. Here is Roger L. Simon's blog. He's a mystery novelist and screenwriter who is conservative and likes to weigh in on politics as well. He mentioned Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, even Egypt and now democratic noises and a near fascist pro- Syrian regime has resigned in Lebanon. He says this is clearly the result of a strong U.S. policy.
Powerline blog, here, this is one of the big conservative sites, one of the conservative heavy hitters out there saying things are happening so fast in the Middle East that it's hard to stay on top of events, events in Lebanon are the direct result of the assassination of former prime minister, but more broadly, like, what's going on in that region. This is the positive fallout from events in Iraq.
SCHECHNER: Making that connection internationally. Moving back here, a story that was picked up on "Roll Call," the Capitol Hill newspaper, interesting story, Representative Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas, was speaking at a church and was telling a story about how he was talking to President Bush about Syria. This is a quote, "Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know I can fly an F-15, put two nukes in them and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore"
TATTON: And then the crowd roared with applause. Which is what it says here on Carpetbagger Report. Now Carpetbagger is a lefty blog. He has a few problems with this here. He calls it so twisted, it's hard to know where to start. One of the problems he has, that a sitting member of Congress is bragging about his desire to drop nuclear weapons. The Johnson shared his idea with the president or that the speech was delivered in a church.
SCHECHNER: Now, a story that we wanted to give you an update on. I'm having trouble with Daily Kos but we'll tell you about it anyway, the story was the conservative group USANext and they had put out an anti-AARP ad. There's a gay couple featured on the ad. You can see it up here on the screen. Now, that couple, according to Americablog.org, who I should mention, a liberal site, and he is acting as their publicist. The gay couple has gotten themselves a lawyer and they're sending a letter to USANext, accusing of stealing the photo.
We'll see if we can get that site up here. But basically what they're saying is they want a cease and desist. They want a public apology. They don't like being affiliated with the message, and by the way, we contacted USANext, who told CNN that they purchased the photo from a public source.
TATTON: Coincidentally, we had luck. We Googled gay marriage in images and this one isn't hard to find, look at it right at the top there.
SCHECHNER: That is the image that comes up if we could get the image...
Did you watch the Oscars?
TATTON: I did not watch the Oscars. It doesn't matter because people were live blogging the Oscars. Live blogging is when an events going on and people start writing about it online. Captain Ed told us earlier before he started live blogging that he was going to do so. And he made up his mind that he wasn't going to enjoy this. I'm banking on Chris Rock to say something stupid. And he blogs about everything he said. This is a conservative site. Just like this one with Sean Barber (ph) here. She wrote all about it she said she didn't like Chris Rock at all, but she notes at the bottom, that she didn't actually watch it.
SCHECHNER: Over on Buzz Machine with Jeff Jarvis, a more left- leaning, liberal-leaning site, he talks about pre-censorship that went on by the network before the show, some of the jokes that you didn't hear and could have, and he talks about that it was dull and compares is to tapioca.
WOODRUFF: Hmm. Tapioca. Some people like Tapioca. All right. Jacki, Abbi. Thank you both. We'll see you tomorrow.
WOODRUFF: So, some people are asking, did Hollywood go too far last night. Our Bill Schneider was covering the Oscars and he joins us live from Los Angeles in just a moment.
But before we take a break, one other note, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld came up winners as Razzies over the weekend. These are awards which spoof the Oscars. They're given for the worst performances in film. The president and defense secretary won for the worst actor and worst supporting actor, respectively, for their appearance in Michael Moore's satiric documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." And California Governor Schwarzenegger was given a special prize since he has received the most nominations without winning a Razzie over the last 25 years. More INSIDE POLITICS in a moment.
WOODRUFF: Last night's Academy Awards featured the usual one- liners and emotional "thank you"s. Along with the increasingly common political statements. Here now, our political analyst, Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The Oscars are no stranger to political controversy, two words, Michael Moore. Moore was back this year, but only in spirit.
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: He basically reapplied for his job this year. Can you imagine applying for that job, and while you're applying for that job there's a movie in every theater in America that owe shows how much you suck at that job?
SCHNEIDER: Anti-war sentiment runs high in Hollywood. That invited this labored metaphor.
ROCK: Just imagine you worked at the Gap. You're $70 trillion behind on your register and you start a war with Banana Republic because they say they have toxic tank tops over there. You have the war, you finally take over Banana Republic and you find out they never made tank tops in the first place.
SCHNEIDER: Why did presenter Robin Williams show up with tape over his mouth. He felt he was being censored. Williams wanted to make fun of religious conservatives who have been criticizing cartoons for promoting liberal social values. So he did.
ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: They tell me that Spongebob is gay. Squarepants is not gay. Tight pants, maybe. Spongebob hot pants, you go, girl! What about Donald Duck a little sailor top, no pants. Hello?
SCHNEIDER: The show did try to take a jab at both sides.
ROCK: Oprah is so rich, I saw John Kerry proposing to her just an hour ago.
SCHNEIDER: The head of the Motion Picture Academy provide a moment that red state viewers, all Americans, in fact, can connect with it.
FRANK PERSON, PRESIDENT AMPAS: We dedicate the 77th Academy Awards services to the men and women in the armed services where are they serve with our gratitude forever for the sacrifices that they have made. SCHNEIDER: The biggest controversy was unmentioned. Some conservatives see a message about assisted suicide in the movie "Million Dollar Baby," which won best picture.
MICHAEL MEDVED, CONSERVATIVE FILM CRITIC: The message in the film is that someone who has full mental faculties, but is condemned to living life in a hospital bed or a wheelchair is having a life that's not worth living.
SCHNEIDER: Was Hollywood trying to make a political statement by honoring "Million Dollar Baby"? Probably not, after all, "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "the Passion of the Christ" were the year's most controversy movies and the Academy largely ignored them. Judy?
WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Come back to Washington quick.
INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.'
WOODRUFF: More evidence today that the president's plan for personal retirement accounts for Social Security has not caught fire with the public. A new Associated Press Ipsos poll shows 55 percent of Americans oppose the president's plan to permit younger workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in personal accounts. Thirty nine percent say they support it.
By the way, we're going to have the results of our own CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll on Social Security tomorrow and we'll also have my conversation with Congressman Clay Shaw of Florida, a Republican, who has suggested one alternative, and that is creating government subsidized savings plans outside of Social Security. That's for tomorrow.
That's it for this Monday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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