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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Clinton Heart Procedure; Abortion Vote; Sen. Hagel Outlines Social Security Plan

Aired March 8, 2005 - 15:28   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: A return to the operating room for Bill Clinton. Six months after heart surgery, the former president heads back to the hospital.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a routine sort of deal, and it'll knock me out of commission for a week or two.

ANNOUNCER: We'll examine the procedure and talk about his prognosis.

The next race for the White House. It's never too early to look at the horse race. We've got some new poll numbers.

It's a decades-old tradition, a widow replacing her late husband on Capitol Hill. Is Congress turning into a family business?

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We seem to like that brand name, whether it's in the House or whether it's in the Senate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

Former President Bill Clinton is heading back to the hospital this week for a procedure related to his recent open heart surgery. As CNN has been reporting throughout the day, Clinton will have the procedure on Thursday at the same hospital where his heart surgery was performed last September.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Bill Clinton spent the day rushing around Washington, rushing into the State Department...

CLINTON: I feel great. I'll talk about it when I leave.

WOODRUFF: ... out of the State Department, and on to the White House, where the former president finally stopped to talk about his latest round of surgery. CLINTON: It's a routine sort of deal and it'll knock me out of commission for a week or two, and then I'll be back to normal. It's no big deal. And, you know, I felt well enough to go to Asia to try to keep up with President Bush, and we're going to go play golf tomorrow. So I'm -- I'm not in too bad of shape. I feel good about it.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You should have seen him going town to town, country to country, Energizer Bunny here. He killed me. So this thing, whatever he's got, if it knocks you out, it hasn't got to him yet.

WOODRUFF: Clinton will check into New York Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday for an operation to remove fluid and scar tissue from his chest cavity, a procedure his doctors call elective for what they call a rare effect of bypass surgery.

DR. ALAN SCHWARTZ, CARDIOLOGIST: This is not an emergency. This is being done to assure that he is able to continue to maintain a highly active lifestyle.

WOODRUFF: "Highly active" a good description of Clinton's convalescence since his quadruple bypass in September. Just a few weeks after surgery he was back, back on the campaign trail giving his all for John Kerry, back in Arkansas presiding over the dedication of his new library.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush, President Clinton...

WOODRUFF: Back on the world stage, serving as the public face of America's tsunami outreach, making headlines by striking up a warm friendship with a former rival. Was it all too much for Clinton's heart?

SCHWARTZ: The short answer is no, that it's not -- this type of complication is not known to be related to activity in any way.

WOODRUFF: Clinton's doctors predict the indefatigable president will be hospitalized for three to 10 days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: With me now from New York to talk more about the procedure facing Bill Clinton is our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, tell us exactly what the doctors are going to be doing, the surgeons, on Thursday.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're doing a procedure called decortication, Judy, a fancy name. Basically, what it means is either opening the chest all the way or opening the chest a little bit and inserting a little catheter and some instruments in there to remove scar tissue.

They call it a peel. Around the lungs you have a layer called the pleura, and sometimes scar tissue builds up on this. That scar tissue can cause fluid to also accumulate in the lungs. They need to remove that scar tissue, they need to drain the fluid.

As you can see there, Judy, the procedure does require general anesthesia. And as you mentioned already, he is expected to stay in the hospital three to 10 days. This scar tissue, most people ask about that. Most likely it's the consequence of his operation, his open heart surgery that he had almost six months to the day -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, Sanjay, we heard the doctors say that this is pretty rare. If that's the case, what happened? Or did -- did something go wrong with the surgery?

GUPTA: No. You know, a lot of doctors talking about that. It is a fairly rare occurrence after bypass surgery.

Dr. Craig Smith, who performed this operation, was asked this question. He said, listen, I've performed about 6,000 of these bypass operations and had about 10 occurrences like this. What happens is for some reason, Judy, and we don't know exactly why, some people tend to form a lot of scar in the chest cavity after that bypass operation.

Again, I talked to his cardiologist in September right after his first operation and he mentioned to me at that time that President Clinton did have a little bit of fluid buildup at that time, but it wasn't particularly concerning. As this fluid builds up, and as the scar builds up, it starts to cause some pressure on the lung.

He had some discomfort. He had something that doctors call exercise intolerance, meaning he just became short of breath, and that's why he's having the procedure.

WOODRUFF: And Sanjay, they also used the word "elective," as if this was something the former president chose to do. Is it truly elective?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, that's a very good question. You and I talked about this with respect to the pope as well with regard to that tracheotomy.

You know, it's difficult. It was a scheduled operation. I think that's as far as most doctors would go in describing it.

It was scheduled, as opposed to urgent or emergent. But it's certainly something that needed to be done.

If he didn't have it done, this fluid would continue to accumulate, the scar tissue may continue to grow. It's already putting some pressure on his lung. That pressure would probably get worse and he would become probably bedridden or maybe even have some difficulties with his lungs, and specifically his heart. So "elective" may be a little bit of a stretch, a little bit of an over-extension.

WOODRUFF: Yes. It sounds like something he needed to have done. Finally, Sanjay, what's the long-term prognosis here? Once they go in, we assume they can clear it up and no problems after that?

GUPTA: Yes. Despite the fact it is a relatively rare occurrence, there is a lot of data to show how patients do after this type of operation. They do well.

His exercise tolerance will go up. You showed a video of how much he's getting around. He should be back to that level at least, maybe even better. And probably not have any shortness of breath when he's getting around.

Also, more importantly, I think, is that relatively low chance of recurring, low chance of getting that fluid coming back if all that scar tissue is removed. That's another concern of doctors. But I think he should do rather well this with -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Once again, Bill Clinton will go back in for surgery this coming Thursday in New York. Sanjay, thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Meantime, on Capitol Hill today, Republicans came out on top in the first big abortion-related vote of the new Congress. The vote came on a Democrat-sponsored amendment to major bankruptcy legislation. CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry joins me now with more.

Ed, what's the latest?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, before the vote, Democrats were saying that this would be a major test of how abortion- related legislation will face in the new Senate. The Republicans have a much stronger majority this year. And now that the roll has been called, Democrats clearly have to be stunned and concerned by these results.

This was an amendment to the bankruptcy reform bill. It would have barred protesters who use violence at abortion clinics. It would have barred them from filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid paying court judgments. But the amendment failed by a 53-46 vote despite an impassioned plea from Democrat Chuck Schumer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It only affects, frankly, those on the far right or the far left who feel they are so morally superior to all of us that they can avoid this constitutional democracy and with violence take actions into their own hands. Anyone who violently or misguidedly blocks access to services, whether in the name of the pro-life movement, the animal rights movement, the environmental movement, or any other movement, would lose the ability to hide behind the bankruptcy code.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Only four Republican senators broke from their party's leadership to vote for the amendment, Lincoln Chafee, Olympia Snow, Susan Collins and perhaps most interesting, Arlen Specter, the new Senate Judiciary chairman. A lot of people watching his voting record very closely. But the vast majority of Republicans and two Democrats voted against the Schumer amendment. Here's Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Let's don't add this amendment and perhaps take a step, I submit with all seriousness, that could curtail protests and freedom of expression in America. Sure, the protesters have lost every time. I believe they should have lost every time under the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: This comes after yesterday's contentious debate over two amendments that would have lifted the nation's minimum wage. Both of those amendments were defeated.

So now the defeat of the abortion-related amendment clears the way for smooth passage of the bankruptcy reform bill in the Senate later this week. That legislation -- that -- yesterday this follows the fact that minimum wage amendments also went down. Now the fact that abortion-related amendment goes down, this clears the way for smooth passage of the bankruptcy reform bill.

It's a bill that a lot of consumer groups say is unfair to people who have large debts, it's going to make them harder -- it's going to make it harder for them to file for bankruptcy. But the bottom line here is that it's not just about the bankruptcy reform bill. This shows that the Republicans have a lot more muscle coming out of the last election, Judy, and they're starting to show it on abortion- related amendments, but also on something like the bankruptcy reform bill, which has been stalled in Congress after Congress.

WOODRUFF: But just quickly, Ed, you said Democrats were surprised on this. But given the numbers, given they are clearly in the minority, why shouldn't they have expected this to happen?

HENRY: They were hoping to get some more people from across the aisle. They were also hoping to maybe keep some of their own folks in line. They lost Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska and Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. But the new climate on the Hill, this shows it's very difficult for the Democrats.

WOODRUFF: Ed Henry, thank you very much.

In today's "Political Bytes," yet another new poll spotlights the field of potential White House candidates in 2008. In the Marist College survey, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads the Republicans with 25 percent. Senator John McCain is a close second. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got 14 percent, followed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Clinton was out front with 39 percent, followed by 2004 nominee John Kerry, with 21 percent. Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, was also in double digits, followed by Senator Joe Biden and retired Army General Wesley Clark.

New DNC Chairman Howard Dean has been spending time raising money for state parties in red states like Kansas and Mississippi. And the National Party has also seen an influx of cash since he took over. The DNC reports that it has raised $3.4 million since Dean was elected chairman in mid February. That is a record for that time frame, according to the party.

So far this year, the party reports raising $9.6 million.

We'll return to Capitol Hill straight ahead and the debate over Social Security. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan joins me next to share his views.

And later, I'll talk with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who has unveiled his own plan to reform Social Security.

The widow of an incumbent congressman runs for her husband's seat, and history shows she has a good chance of winning. Bruce Morton takes a look at the family connections in American politics.

And later, an update on today's election in Los Angeles. Crime is down and the economy is growing. So why is the mayor in danger of losing his job?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Democrats and their allies continue to pound away at President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security. But is their message one that Americans are identifying with? Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota is with me now from Capitol Hill. He is the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee.

Senator Dorgan, good to see you.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Hi, Judy. How are you?

WOODRUFF: Senator, first of all, the president has been saying the Social Security system is in crisis. Democrats are saying it's not in crisis.

Have the Democrats been wrong not to at least acknowledge that there is a long-term fiscal solvency problem with Social Security?

DORGAN: Well, Judy, we've indicated that we will need some adjustments to Social Security in the long term, but it does not require major surgery. The Social Security system is not in crisis. It is not bankrupt. It is not flat-busted or broke, as the administration has said over the recent months. That's just not the case.

WOODRUFF: Well, you have said that -- I believe these are your words -- necessary adjustments can be made to Social Security so that it will continue to pay out 100 percent of its obligations for the next century. What are just -- what are those modest adjustments that need to be made? DORGAN: Well, first of all, I think we need to understand that if no adjustments are made under any circumstances, including conservative growth rates for the economy, according to the Social Security actuaries we will pay full benefits until 2042. The Congressional Budget Office says 2052.

I mean, we're not going to negotiate with ourselves. But what the president wants to do is he wants to take a portion of the Social Security money and borrow a lot of money to do it, $1 trillion to $5 trillion, put it in the stock market, and then cut benefits at the same time, and then hope somehow in the end things come out all right. We just don't support that.

We're willing to work with the president to make modest adjustments over time, and that can be done, as I said, without major surgery at all. But we really don't believe that the Social Security program, which is an insurance program, should be changed to create private accounts. We think that's exactly the wrong thing do.

WOODRUFF: Let me cite to you what some of your fellow Democrats -- this is the polling and consulting firm of James Carville and Stan Greenberg, the Democracy Corp Group. They are saying the Democrats would have been far better off if they had acknowledged that there was a problem and then begin to express what you Democrats want to do about it, rather than deny that it exists.

DORGAN: Well, look, the first obligation that we have is to try to head off this issue of borrowing trillions of dollars and then sticking part of that into the stock market, and then taking apart the Social Security program. Our first obligation is to stop that. The first thing you do is prevent harm, do no harm. That's what we're trying to do here.

At some point, if the president backs away from this private account idea -- and incidentally, let me just say this.. all of us have private accounts, or most of us do, and support private accounts in the form of IRAs and 401(k)s. But that is not the same as trying to turn the Social Security into a private account system.

So as soon as the president moves away from that, then we'll talk about whatever modest adjustments are necessary for the long, long term. We do have a bona fide crisis in Medicare, we have a bona fide crisis in health care costs, we have a bona fide crisis in our trade deficit, in our fiscal policy deficit, but there is not a crisis in Social Security.

WOODRUFF: But the point that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Carville -- Stan Greenberg and James Carville are making, is that at this point one would expect the president -- the president's plan to have collapsed in public opinion. He said -- they say that hasn't happened, and they say they've looked at the polling and basically, they say, voters believe the Democrats lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy, and so on.

DORGAN: Oh, I don't agree with that at all. Look, we appreciate their advice. I would suggest to James, go ahead and run for the Senate and join us here in the caucus. But we appreciate their advice, but the fact is I don't agree with it at all.

I mean, we are doing what we feel strongly in our soul needs to be done at this point: prevent the president from taking apart the Social Security system by borrowing trillions of dollars, sticking it in the stock market and reducing Social Security benefits. That's what he wants to do. We think it's exactly the wrong course.

WOODRUFF: You don't think there's a danger the Democrats could get caught -- at the point the public believes there's a problem, but they don't see a solution coming from the Democrats, you don't think that's a pitfall?

DORGAN: What do you mean -- look, the solution here has always been coming from the Democrats. It is the Democrats that created Social Security and the Republicans resisted all along the way.

And Judy, the memorandum that was leaked from the White House by the chief strategist on this subject in the White House said this, says, "We have for the first time in six decades the opportunity to win on Social Security." What does that mean? We know what it means. They never liked Social Security, and they'd like to take it apart.

So the solution to Social Security has always come from the Democrats, not the Republicans. And it will always be that way. We're the ones that will nurture and protect and help this system along. It will be around for a century and more because of us.

WOODRUFF: Senator Byron Dorgan, he is the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee. Senator, good to see you. We appreciate it.

DORGAN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

Some political names stay in the news for generations. There's a long history in American politics of wives, sons and daughters following husbands and fathers into office. Bruce Morton and brand- name politics when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Twelve candidates are competing today in a special election in California to fill the seat of the late Democratic Congressman Bob Matsui. If no one gets 50 percent, a runoff will be held May 3. Matsui's widow is favored to win, which would extend a tradition in Washington, as our Bruce Morton reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doris Matsui is running for her late husband Bob's seat in Congress. If she wins, she'll be the third widow representing a California district, along with Republican Mary Bono and Democrat Lois Capps.

The Center for American Women in Politics says 45 widows have replaced husbands in Congress since 1923. Some briefly, some like Lindy Boggs stayed for years.

Maine's Margaret Chase Smith was elected to the House after her husband died, then elected to four terms in the Senate with enough prestige to challenge Joe McCarthy's anticommunist witch hunts in the 1950s. But it isn't just widows.

In today's Senate, six members had fathers who were senators: Evan Bayh, Robert Bennett, Lincoln Chafee, Chris Dodd, Lisa Murkowski, Mark Pryor. Two more, Judd Gregg and John Sununu, had fathers who were governors. Mary Landrieu's dad was mayor of New Orleans. Jon Kyl's served in the House.

Elizabeth Dole's husband was a senator, Olympia Snow's a governor. Hillary Clinton's was a president.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's father was a congressman and mayor of Baltimore. And New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen is the sixth Frelinghuysen to represent the state in Congress. A string dating back to 1794.

American politics is a family business.

HESS: The Constitution says no title of nobility shall be granted, but the American people have issued their own titles of nobility. And about, oh, 17 percent typically of a Congress is full of people whose husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandfathers had preceded them in Congress. We seem to like that brand name whether it's in the House or whether it's in the Senate.

MORTON: Maybe it figures. If your dad's a cobbler you probably learned how to fix shoes.

HESS: If you're sitting around the table like young John Quincy Adams and you're hearing Abigail and John talk about having had dinner with Thomas Jefferson, it's pretty heavy -- heady stuff. So you might very well end up as president of the United States.

MORTON: Just ask this president. He got into the White House knowing where the Oval Office was. His dad had spent four years in it.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Speaking of which, three presidents in one room, you don't see this sight every day. But Bill Clinton steals the spotlight this day from the two Bushes. We'll go live to the White House in a moment.

Plus, saving Social Security. Chuck Hagel's plan includes raising the retirement age by one year. I'll talk with the senator about his proposal when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hello, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Judy.

Stocks on Wall Street today are moving lower. A disappointing forecast from Texas Instruments weighing on technology shares as the final trades are being counted.

The Dow Jones industrials down just over 26 points. The Nasdaq is off nearly a percent on the day.

Oil prices continue to rise, however, briefly jumping about $55 a barrel on supply concerns. Crude oil closing at about $54.60 a barrel.

Consumers are already paying an average of $2.00 a gallon at the pump. And these gains in crude oil prices will surely send gasoline prices even higher.

Japan accusing Intel of antitrust violations. Japan's Fair Trade Commission issued a warning to the chip maker demanding it stop pressuring its Japanese clients to buy Intel products. The commission did not impose any fines, but said it could prosecute Intel if the company doesn't back off its sales practices.

Intel maintains its business practices are fair and legal. It has 10 days in which to respond to the Japanese government warning.

Outsourcing American jobs isn't working for a number of American companies. A study by research firm Gartner says 60 percent of companies outsourcing their customer service operations may face hidden costs or lose clients. Gardner says those risks outweigh the savings and suggest that contrary to popular belief, outsourcing doesn't always cut costs.

Coming up here on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, China threatening Taiwan again as it reaches for independence. Tonight on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," we look into the communist country's military intimidation of its island neighbor, what it could mean to Asia and the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD FISHER, V.P. INT'L ASSESSMENT & STRATEGY CENTER: There is a real danger that China's leadership is considering a real war in the next few years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Also tonight, illegal aliens and drugs flooding into this country despite heightened border security. We investigate the struggle in our special report, "Broken Borders." And one nation, several languages. Congressman Steve King will be our guest tonight to tell us why he says it's necessary to mandate English as the official language of the United States. And the National Institute of Health is cracking down on health experts who are also on the drug industry's payroll, but a group of senior government scientists fighting those new rules. All of that and a great deal more coming up on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" at 6 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. Please join us.

Now back to Judy Woodruff in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lou, you know, we now find several senators on both sides of the aisle who say they're looking for a compromise on overhauling Social Security. What's your sense of what's possible there? I mean, what, in particular, what's your read on whether Congress could agree to raise the retirement age?

DOBBS: Well, Judy, as you know, like you, we're all talking with a number of these senators and congressmen who are talking, along with the White House. The fact is, politically, it does not at least, to me, seem to be possible to move ahead on Social Security reform of any kind this year.

The ideas that are being put forward are disparate, they're not centered on actually changing the arithmetic and the structure of Social Security and, frankly, I hope because these ideas, at this stage, frankly seem to me just to put it in straightforward terms, they're half-baked. We need thoughtful, analytical approaches to this if we are to change it because too many millions of our seniors depend on Social Security for politically-motivated so-called reforms on the part of either party.

WOODRUFF: Well, I think I said this to you a few weeks ago, but it looks to me like we're still early in the process.

DOBBS: We are that and we may be going for some time, as you know.

WOODRUFF: All right, Lou, we'll see you at 6:00.

DOBBS: Got a deal, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Two former presidents show up at their old office to talk about tsunami relief efforts and a certain heart procedure.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT: You should have seen him going town to town, country to country, Energizer Bunny here. He killed me. So, if this thing, whatever he's got, if it knocks you out, it hasn't got to him yet.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: It's not a matter if we reform Social Security, it's a matter of when and how we reform Social Security.

ANNOUNCER: And he's got a plan to do it. We'll talk to Senator Chuck Hagel about his proposal.

There's a hot race in Hollywood. No, not that one. That one's over. This one. Election day in Los Angeles finds the city's mayor fighting for his political life.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. Former President Bill Clinton is here in Washington today, but his official business has been overshadowed by word that he will soon undergo another surgical procedure. A short time ago Mr. Clinton joined former President George H.W. Bush at the White House for a meeting with the current President Bush.

Our senior White House correspondent John King, who covered the Clinton White House, joins us now with more. Hi, John.

JOHN KING, SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Many of these gray hairs came back then, Judy. Bill Clinton back in this White House four years and about six weeks since he moved out. But as you noted, he was very much the story as he, the 42nd president of the U.S. and the 41st president of the United, George Herbert Walker Bush, were here to brief the 43rd president of the United States on their efforts to help raise money, raise awareness and hopefully improve the view of America around the world in the wake of the devastating tsunami.

As the two former presidents came here to the White House -- of course, word had leaked earlier in the day that Mr. Clinton needs to go back into the hospital. He will go on Thursday to have some fluid and some scar tissue removed from his chest. This a complication of the heart surgery he had several months back. But Mr. Clinton and the first President Bush came into the Roosevelt Room to take questions from reporters. Mr. Clinton saying don't worry about him, he feels fine and the former president saying that on their recent trip to the tsunami areas, the former president showed no ill effects at all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: It's a routine sort of deal and it will knock me out of commission for a week or two and then I'll be back to normal. This is no big deal. You know, I felt well enough to go to Asia to try to keep up with President Bush and we're going to go play golf tomorrow, so I'm not in too bad of shape. I feel good about it.

G.H.W. BUSH: You should have seen him going, town to town, country to country, Energizer Bunny here. He killed me. So if this thing -- whatever he's got, if it knocks you out, it hasn't got to him yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you think it's odd that these two former rivals from the '92 campaign have struck up such a friendship, consider the scene then when it moved on into the Oval Office. Mr. Bush also -- the current president, Mr. Bush, who was no fan of Mr. Clinton when he defeated his father in 1992, welcoming them into the Oval Office, welcoming their report on the tsunami relief effort and also making a joke about Mr. Clinton's health condition, noting that his father and former president Clinton are leaving the White House to head to Florida for a golf tournament. The current president says that ought to tell you something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G.W. BUSH: President Clinton and President Bush are going to play golf tomorrow to raise money for the tsunami victims. It goes to show how sick he is.

Thank you all.

CLINTON: There goes my excuse. Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Everyone here laughing about it, but still, the doctors say it is a serious procedure, although the risks are relatively low. Earlier today, Judy, on CNN Senator Dianne Feinstein of California saying she's worried. She thinks perhaps Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to put the wraps on her husband. I can tell you that is, based on my experience here and many years covering Bill Clinton, most unlikely to happen.

WOODRUFF: OK. Well, you did watch him for eight years. John, separately today, President Bush made a speech. He talked about what's been happening in Lebanon recently. He talked about the overall war on terrorism. Give us some of the details.

KING: A very important speech on several fronts. One step back for a minute. The president gives these speeches about every six months, update on the global war on terrorism. Most of them in the past have been dominated by military assessments. This time the president said look around the Middle East, look at the elections in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Palestinian territories. Recent municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, promises of open presidential elections in Egypt. Mr. Bush saying that freedom is on the march in the Middle East and that he believes, ultimately, that is the greatest and most powerful weapon in the war on terrorism.

More immediately though, the president did again today issue his demand that Syria get all of its troops all of its troops, all of its intelligence personnel out of Lebanon before the May elections, saying the current redeployment of Syrian troops within Lebanon is unacceptable. The president called it a delaying tactic. So keeping up the pressure on Syria; new pressure on Iran, as well.

But an effort, mostly, Judy, by the president to step back and say he sees a great period of hope in the Middle East, so long as democracy can be encouraged in the countries where it is already beginning. And he promised to stand by reformers in those other countries. And again, notably speaking and nudging two allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to do more.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King. Running the landscape for us at the White House. Thank you, John.

So, returning now to the Social Security debate. Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska yesterday unveiled his ideas for reforming Social Security. Senator Hagel joins me now from Capitol Hill to talk about his proposal. Senator, you're a loyal Republican. Why not just stick with President Bush's plan?

HAGEL: Well, Judy, thank you for allowing me a couple of minutes to explain my plan. First of all, I'm going to get to our friend Lou Dobbs, the specifics of my plan. I heard your exchange with Lou and he said all the plans out there are half-baked. My plan is a very complete, comprehensive plan that gets Social Security and solvency within 75 years. It makes some fundamental changes, it adds up. The Social Security Administration ran all the numbers, scored all the numbers, so I'm going to send Lou my numbers so I can enlighten him.

But to your question, first, my bill is the first actual piece of legislation that's been laid down in the United States Senate. My friends Senators Sununu and Graham and Bennett, I'm sure will lay down their bill, they've been talking about different plans, but I think it's time we start to focus on the specifics of how do we reform legislation here and Social Security because as I said earlier, it's not a matter of if, it's when and how. The fact is we are in debt in Social Security over the next 75 years at the tune of $3.7 trillion, meaning, we have $3.7 trillion in obligations that we can't fulfill, we don't have enough money for.

And I have a plan that, first of all, doesn't affect anyone over the age of 45. It does three basic things. It shifts the full benefit retirement age from 67 to 68 for those under 44. Number two, it indexes life expectancy for the first time in the history of Social Security because we're living longer, meaning we're taking more out of Social Security. And the third thing it does, keeps the early retirement age of 62 at 62, but it takes those benefits down from 70 to 63 percent. I include voluntary personal accounts, if that's what some of our people would like to do, and a number of other specifics that actually get us solvent within 75 years and beyond.

WOODRUFF: Senator, a lot of focus on the raising of the retirement age. Now, granted this is for people who are under 45 now, but why raise from 67 to 68. Where did you get the number one-more- year. Where did that come from?

HAGEL: Well, I looked at many, many plans and ideas, Judy. I talked to Alan Greenspan. I talked to literally tens and tens of people and organizations over the months. I have been at this, by the way, for 10 years and when I first ran for the Senate in Nebraska 10 years ago, I was talking about this issue, Social Security reform. How did I arrive at 68? We're living longer, Judy. The life expectancy, dynamic today...

WOODRUFF: But, why not 69 or 70?

HAGEL: Well, I think you don't need to do it beyond 68. I think one year add-on is enough to help make the program solvent. There are people who would like to retire early. And now it's going to be 67. So, 68 fits. It works as well as the other pieces.

WOODRUFF: Senator, how much of a reduction in benefits would your plan mean?

HAGEL: Well, first of all, as I said, I keep the early retirement age at 62, but I reduce the benefits there, if you take early retirement, which are now 70 percent of full benefits, down to 63. The second thing I do, as I said, is I index life expectancy at the time the base amount of the retiree Social Security figure is determined.

Obviously, the reason I do that, not only are we living longer and better, but the longer you live the more Social Security money you're going to take out. Most Americans today get more out of the Social Security system than they ever put in it. So the longer you live, you're going to get more out of it.

WOODRUFF: Very, very quickly, Senator. Senator Edward Kennedy said over the weekend your plan doesn't work in his mind because he said it would add so much to the deficit. What do you say to him?

HAGEL: That's just not true. Let's start again. Actuarial, factual, we're now $3.7 trillion in debt over the next 75 years. That's real, that's not my number, that's Social Security Administration's number. I can -- with my plan -- these are Social Security Administration numbers, they ran my numbers -- get us to full solvency within 75 years and beyond for less than the $3.7 trillion debt that we're already in.

WOODRUFF: Senator Chuck Hagel, we're going to leave it there. Has his own Social Security plan out.

Senator, thank you very much.

HAGEL: Thank you very much, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, between deadly downpours, the Michael Jackson trial and the Academy Awards, have Angelinos had any time to think about today's election? OK. Up next, we'll tell you why L.A.'s mayor may be knocked out of office.

And later, he wouldn't be the first actor to make it to the White House, but he'd be, as he might put it, the jiggiest. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Voters in the nation's second-largest city are casting ballots for mayor today. And James Hahn, the current mayor of Los Angeles, faces some stiff competition. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider takes a closer look at the race and Hahn's struggle to win a second term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a hot race in Los Angeles. No, not that race. That's over. Clint Eastwood won. This race for mayor. Five major candidates, all Democrats, including incumbent Mayor James Hahn. We found a lot of excitement at a Los Angeles dog park. But not among voters.

(on camera): Have you been following the race for mayor for L.A. at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have not.

SCHNEIDER: Have you been following the race for mayor for L.A. at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what, I haven't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, politicians are all the same to me really.

SCHNEIDER: The candidates for mayor of Los Angeles are all trying to break out of the pack, but the voters in this city are easily distracted by the scent of scandal and celebrity.

Do you have any view of the Michael Jackson trial?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think he's guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's guilty as hell.

SCHNEIDER: Polls show a virtual dead heat between three leading contenders for two spots in the likely May runoff. Hahn is fighting to be one of them.

MAYOR JAMES HAHN (D), LOS ANGELES: As your mayor, I've made some tough decisions. I fought hard to keep L.A. together. And I brought in a new police chief who shared my philosophy of community policing.

SCHNEIDER: Those decisions were politically costly. He lead the fight to keep the San Fernando Valley from seceding from the city. Now a lot of Valley voters say, no way are we voting for that dude.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH")

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: I have been thinking about this, Mr. Hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: African-Americans are mad because Hahn's new police chief took the job from a black man. Then there's the personality factor. Hahn does not have a strong, personal connection to voters, unlike some other California politicians. So his opponents are touting their personal appeal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Antonio Villaraigosa, hands on leadership straight from the heart. SCHNEIDER: And Bob Hertzberg's so called "Bobzilla" ads/

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought the Hertzberg -- the "Bobzilla" ads were funny and, you know, I thought they were kind of dumb.

BOB HERTZEBERG (D), L.A. MAYORIAL CANDIDATE: I think you deserve a mayor who thinks big for a change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they really did turn the public opinion around for him or sort of help create a momentum, which was pretty great.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Some people compare Mayor Hahn to former California Governor Gray Davis, another lackluster politician. Davis got fired by California voters in 2003. But with a budget crisis and an energy crisis, the state was in much worse shape then than the city of Los Angeles is now -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I'm still focused on those "Bobzilla" commercials. We haven't seen those in the presidential race, have we?

SCHNEIDER: No, they were pretty successful here because they propelled Hertzberg into the run-off -- not into the run-off, we don't know that yet, but he is in a statistical tie with the other two candidates and they and they seem to propel him. The voters found those ads very fascinating.

WOODRUFF: Well, I know you are going to be watching the results.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, you may not find President Bush winning many popularity contests in Europe, but, now, a leading British newspaper is asking whether Mr. Bush was actually right in going to war in Iraq. We'll talk about that issue when we go "Inside the Blogs" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: An article today in a British newspaper The Independent asks a question that critics of President Bush may have a tough time answering or considering. With winds of change blowing through the Middle East, the newspaper asked, was Bush right after all about the war in Iraq? That is one of the big topics for bloggers today. And with me now, Jacki Schechner, she's our blog reporter, and CNN political producer Abbi Tatton.

Hi, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Some days the left and the right both have topics they both like to talk about. Today, not so much. We start out on the conservative blogs. And they are talking about that article in The Independent. And they're actually taking the front page of The Independent and putting it up on their blogs because they love that title. "Was Bush Right After All?"

Now, we go into the article itself just to take a look real quickly. Written by Rupert Cornwell in Washington, it does discuss what you were talking about. It talks about the change in the Middle East and how much President Bush is or is not responsible for that change.

The quote I wanted to point at, and you have got to scroll down a little bit for it, bear with me, there it is: "The 2003 invasion of Iraq may have been justified by a giant fraud, but that and above all the January election to which it led, transfixing the Arab world, has proved a catalyst."

If you go over to memeorandum, there's an extra E in there, meme, M-E-M-E. It says: "Was Bush right after all?" And it has got a roundup of what some of the conservative blogs are saying, including Dean Esmay's site which says, yes, he was.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Now a big political story that was all over the blogs today and yesterday is the nomination of John Bolton to be United States ambassador to the United Nations. A lot of the liberal blogs not happy about this. ThinkProgress here yesterday was talking about some of the things he said in the past, now saying: "looks like Bolton is in for a bumpy ride during his confirmation hearings," bringing you Senate reactions here from a number of key senators.

Now John Bolton was the person that said that if the United Nations building lost 10 storeys it wouldn't make a bit of difference. So we wanted to see what the United Nations' own blog was saying about this, wondering if they had any fighting words for this nominee. Unfortunately no fuss (ph), they are being very, very diplomatic here, saying Secretary-General Annan welcomed the choice. But they do link to a number of bloggers both pro and anti this nomination. You can go to one of them here, Mr Minority, who is a conservative blogger who says: "We don't need another appeasing wimp, we need someone to tell it like it is and stand behind the president. And if the U.N. doesn't like it, too bad."

SCHECHNER: Over on the more liberal side we have got Donzelion under the title "U.N.-hater elevated to U.N." And he says with sarcasm: "This will help spread that Bush magic that makes the world love America so much."

So, for our favorite blog name of the day, we did go across the pond to Chicken Yogurt, which Abbi will pronounce for you.

TATTON: Yog-hurt, Chicken Yoghurt.

SCHECHNER: And it is from Brighton, the United Kingdom, under the title "Scary People in Important Positions." And the quote they have here down at the bottom, see if you can follow me, is: "So, Bolton's putative appointment leaves Bush's recent pronouncements of a new era of transatlantic unity sounding very hollow, indeed. Not happy with the Bolton nomination. Now a story that we brought you last week was in regard to the possibility that blogs might be regulated by federal election campaign regulations, for lack of a better word. And it had the blogs on the left and the right all up in arms. What would this mean for them? Today at cnetnews.com, an article by Ellen Weintraub, who's a Democrat and she is the federal elections commissioner, another one. And she is talking about the fact that this is just not true. It says: "Bloggers, Chill Out Already." And she says, quote: "It would be ironic, indeed, if in the name of campaign finance reform, we were to try to squelch inexpensive online grassroots political rabblerousing. So this is supposed to calm down the blogosphere and says not an issue.

Over to and Off the Cuff where he says: "works for me, color me mellow."

TATTON: Now this theme of chill out already on this issue is also echoed in a statement today from Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, of course, the authors of the 2002 campaign reform act. They say that this is just opponents whipping up fears. "There is simply no reason, none, to think that the FEC should or intends to regulate blogs or other Internet communications by private citizens. We'll see if this is enough to calm down the blogosphere on this issue.

SCHECHNER: We'll see what happens. And then, real quickly, from OK (ph) department (ph), DC's Inside Scoop picked up some comments by Lindsey Graham, Senator Lindsey Graham, and he was talking at a Lincoln Day dinner in Tennessee. He's actually a Republican from South Carolina, and he says, quote: "We don't do Lincoln Day dinners in South Carolina, it's nothing personal, but it takes a while to get over things." The blogosphere is picking this one up and having some comments on it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And I was noticing how much we're reading, as you put it, the blogs across the pond. It would be interesting to see how much reading we do back and forth. OK. Abbi and Jacki, thanks very much.

Will the Oval Office be occupied by a fresh prince one day? Straight ahead, actor and singer Will Smith talks about his political future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Will actor and singer Will Smith follow Ronald Reagan's path from Hollywood to the White House? Well, The Washington Post says that Smith weighed in on his political aspirations while on an overseas tour to promote his new movie "Hitch." He reportedly told several news outlets quote: "I really, truly believe I could be the president of the United States if I wanted to. There's a weird naivete that I have that I truly believe it."

Well, you know what they say, if you believe, it can come true. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS, thanks for joining us this Tuesday. I'm Judy Woodruff. "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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