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Red State Tour; Trip Questioned; Battle Heats Up; Blogs Worry Over FEC Regulation

Aired March 10, 2005 - 15:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: Selling Social Security in Red America.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm traveling a lot. I'm going to Alabama and Louisiana and Tennessee this week.

ANNOUNCER: Is President Bush changing his strategy as he pushes his reform plan?

Is air travel safe from terrorism? Pilots give airline security dismal grades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a very pretty report card. And the American public should be very concerned.

ANNOUNCER: Bill Clinton undergoes surgery again. We'll have a report on the former president's prognosis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is awake. He is resting comfortably.



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

President Bush is taking his Social Security reform message into supposedly friendly territory with stops today in two of the so-called red states. Mr. Bush arrived in Alabama a little while ago after a noontime event in Kentucky. He is scheduled to promote his plan to an audience in Montgomery later this afternoon.

CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with more on the strategy behind the president's message.

Hi, Dana.


And, you know, each time we see the president out trying to sell this Social Security overhaul, we see him tweak his message slightly to reflect what the White House is hearing from members of the Congress, what they're seeing in the polls and in their focus groups. And today what we saw is Mr. Bush continue to do something he started at the end of last week, which is to put much more of an emphasis on Social Security and making it solid, fixing the system, rather than putting that much of an emphasis on personal accounts. Personal accounts being something that polls show the more people hear about them, perhaps the less enthralled they are with the idea.

Now, the president was interrupted several times at his first event today in Kentucky by hecklers protesting the idea of what Mr. Bush is trying to do. And eventually the president used them to try to make the point that there are several different points of view, but from his point of view, the important thing is to get all sides to sit down at the table and deal with this issue now.


BUSH: If you see a problem, a member of Congress, regardless of your party, you have an obligation to come to the table. You got an obligation to sit down and come up with a permanent solution. We don't need a Band-Aid solution for Social Security.


BASH: Now, the president has been trying to make the case essentially since his State of the Union, about six weeks, that people 55 and older will not see their benefits change. But seniors, the White House says, because of well-organized opposition, are still scared. And because they're scared, that means that members of Congress are still scared about what this could do to them politically.

So the White House did also try to step up their effort today to try to reassure seniors that their benefits won't change. And to that end, the president changed that town hall format you're looking at slightly by sitting down not with baby boomers or with younger workers, but with grandfathers and granddaughters, having them make the point of view from the point of view from the grandfather that they know that their benefits aren't going to change, as far as the president is concerned, and that they want their granddaughters to have Social Security and to have personal accounts.

So essentially what the White House is trying to do with these staged events is to perhaps turn the tables a little bit on what has traditionally been generational warfare on Social Security -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Dana, we know the White House picks the places the president goes with great care. What can you tell us about the itinerary, the stops that he's making?

BASH: Well, you mentioned it earlier, very red states. The president is going today and tomorrow to four states, all states he won handily in November.

Today, in Louisiana and in Kentucky, he is visiting pockets that actually did go for John Kerry within those very red states. But they have Republican congressmen who do need that political cover that we hear so much about within this debate. But tomorrow is perhaps the most curious and perhaps the most telling of the president's challenge here. He is going to the state of Alabama, and that is a state he took by 62 percent in November. But of the nine members of the Alabama delegation, only one has said that he supports wholeheartedly the president's idea of personal accounts. That's Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. All other members have said that they are going to take what they call a wait and see approach -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And that's gotten the White House's attention. Dana, we appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Meantime, on Capitol Hill today Republican leaders are reacting to a report that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accepted a trip to South Korea paid for by a registered foreign agent. The story was first reported in today's "Washington Post."

The newspaper quotes documents which show that in 2001 a group called The Korea U.S. Exchange Council paid for the trip, which included DeLay, his wife and two other GOP lawmakers. House rules bar members from accepting travel expenses from foreign agents.

With me now for more on this, our congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

Hi, Joe.


The group in question here registered as a foreign agent just days before that trip to South Korea. And, as we're told, long after the members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, actually decided they were going on the trip. We're told apparently the members were not told of this change potentially affecting the House rules.

The question is whether there should be an inquiry into this by the House Ethics Committee. Speaker Hastert, asked by CNN that question today, said, "What we need to do is get all of the facts clear first. That's what I hope to do."

A Republican lawmaker also telling CNN today that Ethics should look at it. "If there is an effort to stop any inquiry on this," he says, "I think you'll actually see Republicans and Democrats say no."

Meanwhile, the group that paid for this trip at this juncture today, in fact, is saying it may have made a mistake by registering as a foreign agent in the first place -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. And Joe, on a different topic, bankruptcy legislation heading for a vote in the Senate. Bring us up to date on that.

JOHNS: Well, as you know, is this a bill that will make it harder for people filing bankruptcy to get a fresh start and wipe out all their debts. It also puts in place a means test, a number of other provisions there that favor the creditors and make it harder for debtors to get rid of their debts.

This bill, of course, is expected to clear the Senate sometime later this evening, possibly around 7:00 or so. It then goes, of course, to the House of Representatives, where we're told the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jim Sensenbrenner, plans to bring it up in a markup next Wednesday. That means it could be on the floor of the House in about two weeks after the spring recess -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. We're looking at, we are told, largely -- votes largely along party lines. All right. Joe, thank you very much.

The battle over steroids in sports has arrived on Capitol Hill, and some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball may soon find themselves testifying before Congress. A House committee held a hearing today just months after baseball created a new testing policy for steroid use, a policy that critics say doesn't go far enough.

Today's hearing also lays the groundwork for a scheduled hearing next week which lawmakers say they hope will include testimony by current and former players. Former league MVP Jose Canseco, who admits steroid use and has accused others, he has been subpoenaed, along with retired slugger Mark McGwire.

Current players Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa all have also been summoned. Canseco is expected to testify, but Major League Baseball attorneys say that they're going to fight the subpoenas facing their players. Congressman Henry Waxman, whose Government Reform Committee will be holding those hearings next week, tells CNN that his committee is exploring ideas of granting immunity as one way to persuade the subpoenaed players to testify.

On the CNN "Security Watch," safety in the skies. An airline pilots group has issued a report card on airline -- on airline security, with a lot of failing and near-failing grades. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Association gives airlines and the government low marks in a range of areas, including credentialing, crew self-defense training and missile defense measures.

On a more positive note, the group awarded B grades for tougher bag screening and stronger cockpit doors and a C rating for the use of federal air marshals. Be sure to stay with CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Former President Bill Clinton is out of surgery after a successful operation to remove scar tissue and fluid that built up after his heart surgery last September. Clinton arrived before dawn at the same New York hospital where his heart surgery was performed. Last hour, his doctors held a news conference to discuss the procedure and the former president's expected recovery time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. JOSHUA SONETT, SURGEON: Everybody's recovery time is variable. However, a normal -- normally, we quote people four to six weeks of recovery, or four to six weeks before somebody goes back to work if their work does not require significant manual labor. So that is the kind of recovery we expect.

It could be faster, it could be slower, depending on how he progresses. And a full functional recovery with not only no limitations, but improved function is expected.


WOODRUFF: The doctors do say the former president is expected to remain in the hospital anywhere from three to 10 days.

And one more medical note to report. Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, underwent a lumpectomy on Monday. In an e-mail to supporters, John Edwards said doctors removed the cancer from his wife breast. And, in his words, "The prognosis continue to be very positive."

Selling Social Security reform. Should President Bush be pushing private accounts or stressing solvency? I'll ask political analyst Ron Brownstein when we return.

Plus, who says Democrats and Republicans can't get along? I'll talk with a political odd couple that's proving the skeptics wrong, maybe.


WOODRUFF: President Bush is set to appear, as we've heard, in Montgomery, Alabama, in about an hour to push his plans for Social Security. Back here in Washington, the White House top economic adviser is rejecting bipartisan proposals that the administration put aside individual investment accounts as part of the plan.

CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times" joins me.

Now, let's back up a little bit, Ron. Already we've had Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying it's a strategic mistake for the White House to focus, for the president to focus on these personal investment accounts. Did the White House underestimate the opposition?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LA TIMES": I think they did, but I think Lindsey Graham is only half right. I mean, clearly, by starting out with personal investment accounts, which is part of the package that is most objectionable to Democrats, President Bush probably made it easier for Democrats to unify in opposition to what he was doing than if he started out talking about creating greater long-term solvency for the program which might have had more appeal for centrist Democrats.

On the other hand, Judy, it's the individual accounts that are the fuel in the engine for the Republicans. If you're talking about closing the long-term financing gap in Social Security, all you've really got are unpalatable options: raising taxes and cutting benefits. There really isn't a lot there for politicians to run -- you know, run toward. It's the individual accounts that generate the public interest. So it would be hard for the president to completely shelve it.

WOODRUFF: Well, now you've got Allan Hubbard, the president's economic adviser, saying there is no way we're going to take personal retirement accounts off the table. Democrats are coming at it from the opposite position. They're saying, if you leave them on the table, we're not going to talk. So where is the compromise, Ron, here?

BROWNSTEIN: There is a fundamental ideological gulf here. The Democrats believe that carving out individual accounts from the payroll tax will lead to the long-term destabilization of Social Security, the end of its role as a guaranteed safety net, and the transformation of it into something fundamentally different.

They are willing to talk about it, at least in the past have been willing to talk about investment accounts added on to Social Security, but funded with a new source of revenue. And most conservative view that, as Al Hubbard said, as a nonstarter because that's an expansion of the entitlement state at a time they're trying to roll it back.

WOODRUFF: So where is the compromise?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's very hard. I mean, it's very hard to see how you merge these what are fundamentally different goals here.

I think the president -- the Democrats are interested in perhaps long-term solvency of Social Security with some investment component as an add-on. For the president and many Republicans, the core goal here is to change the nature of Social Security into something more of an investment program. And it's hard to see how you put those disparate interests together.

WOODRUFF: Well, you know, it's not only Alan Greenspan who, last week, went before the Hill and said the focus here, the urgency is on the long-term financial soundness or solvency of Social Security. You've had others making that point. If the president had started, not by focusing on these personal accounts, but by focusing on the long- term solvency, would he have gotten any further?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it would be a very different debate. It would be a very different debate.

There would certainly be centrist Democrats who are open to the idea of changes in benefits. For example, the idea of indexing the retirement age to the growth and longevity is something that probably would have appeal among Democrats. And certainly, as the AARP and Lindsey Graham have talked about, raising the cap on Social Security taxes, would also have appeal.

But, again, if you would have started from that direction, a lot of Republicans would of said there is nothing in it for us. What they are trying to do here is create these individual accounts out of Social Security that the possible deal would be to have an add-on account, plus benefit changes and tax increases to deal with solvency.

You might be able to get a majority for that, but with a lot of opposition from the edges of each party. And this president rarely has been willing to take that -- build that kind of coalition.

WOODRUFF: So much, much left to be...

BROWNSTEIN: Tough choices ahead for him someday about whether to take that kind of risk.

WOODRUFF: OK. Ron Brownstein, we're watching it. Thanks very much. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, they say politics make strange bedfellows. And we're seeing a lot of that lately. Some Democrats and Republicans are forming friendships and business partnerships. We'll talk with one such odd couple after the break.

Stay with us.


WOODRUFF: You could say some political odd couples have been making news lately. Form presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton have become good friends. And senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain each recently observed that the other one would make a good president.

Well, now another Democrat and Republican are joining forces. Steve Elmendorf and Jack Oliver join me to talk about their new venture.

So, Steve Elmendorf, you've worked for Dick Gephardt for years and years. You worked for John Kerry's campaign.

Jack Oliver, you're -- both of you are from Missouri, I should say. Jack, you've worked for John Ashcroft, for George Bush for a number of years. You're coming together to work for a lobbying firm. Why? How? How did this happen?

STEVE ELMENDORF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Judy, it happened sort of interesting. After the election, I went to see George Bush's brother-in-law, Bobby Koch, who is a Democrat and married to Doro Bush and who is...

WOODRUFF: That's right, there is a Democrat in the president's family.

ELMENDORF: ... and who used to work for Dick Gephardt. And I said, "I need a job, Bobby. I'm not going to be going to the government," which I was hoping for, and he said, "You should go see Jack Oliver. He's a great guy, he's a serious person, and you two should go have a drink and get into business together."

WOODRUFF: And what did you think, Jack? Did you ever think you would want to work with a Democrat?

JACK OLIVER, GOP STRATEGIST: Well, sure. I did think I wanted to work with a Democrat. I was really excited about being able to join with such a great law firm from Missouri, which is my home, and have the opportunity really to take the campaign strategies and lessons and opportunities we've learned in campaigns and apply them really in this business venture for strategic consulting and government affairs here in Washington. So...

WOODRUFF: Yes. Help people understand who look at Washington and they see Democrats and Republicans seemingly fighting each other all of the time, why is it that a firm -- and this is a business venture.

OLIVER: Right.

WOODRUFF: Why do you need both Democrats and Republicans?

ELMENDORF: Well, you don't fight about everything, Judy. You know, when I worked for Dick Gephardt, we worked very closely with George Bush on a whole host of issues.

You know, we opposed him most of the time, but post-9/11, we spent a lot of time working with the administration. And there are a whole bunch of issues that come through town that you need to have both parties involved and people on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue involved in finding solutions.

OLIVER: Solving solutions is what this is all about, and solving problems. And to do that, you've got to really understand the system, understand the impact that the communications has, that the grassroots has, and to be able to communicate and put together strategy so people understand what is really a complicated place, Washington, D.C. And having representation on both sides of the aisle really serves the client's best interest.

WOODRUFF: So this a money-making venture, clearly.


WOODRUFF: But why doesn't something like this translate to what we see on the Hill and around this town? This place looks pretty divided right now.

ELMENDORF: Frankly, I think it's too divided. I mean, I worked in this business for 20 years. I was in the government for 16 of those years. And I think, unfortunately, you know, the Congress is bitterly divided and too partisan.

And, you know, the campaigns, you know, we had very long, hard -- this presidential campaign lasted a long time. And everybody is happy it's over. And when -- there has to be some time in between the campaigns when we can try and work together and get some things done.

WOODRUFF: Do you agree the town is too divided, Jack? Because you both have friends who are partisan.

OLIVER: Well, I -- sure, I have great friends very partisan. And I'm a partisan. It's in my heart.

But I do believe that it's important for people to agree upon problems and work together to find solutions. To try to do what's in the best interest of the American people, and that's clearly what people understand is in the best nature of the political system.

WOODRUFF: But what we hear so much in this town is it doesn't matter unless you win. And you don't win unless your side prevails, and the way you prevail is by holding out till the end.

OLIVER: Well, you win by making sure the American people are with you and understand what you're trying to accomplish. And really to move the ball forward, you've got to do that, and you got to communicate, not only here in Washington, but you have to get out among the states and talk to people and their constituencies and try to make sure they understand and try to influence Washington back. Because that's where -- that's what this is all about, is making sure you represent your constituents' interest, whether it's for a campaign, whether it's for a member of Congress, or whether it's for a business venture.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about something that's very much on the agenda right now, Social Security. Steve Elmendorf, do you think President Bush is going to get the Social Security reform that he wants?

ELMENDORF: No. No, and I think, you know, from listening to your previous guest and watching this closely, the most interesting thing is that the people who are raising questions about President Bush's approach, there are a lot Republicans raising questions. Lindsey Graham, there are like 30 House Republicans have indicated a problem with his response.

OLIVER: Well, I would respectfully say that the president has been extraordinary in showing leadership on this issue. For years and years and years, no one would talk about Social Security. And what the president has done is he's gone around Congress and with Congress and gone out into the country to talk to people and make sure they understand the...

WOODRUFF: But do you think he's going to get what he wants, which is carve out personal...

OLIVER: Yes, I think the president is going to do what he said he was going to do, which is fix Social Security, to make sure that it's there for this generation and for the next. And that would not have happened if he would have not taken the political risk understanding that he had to communicate to the American people to make them understand the importance of fixing Social Security.

WOODRUFF: Jack Oliver thinks it's going to happen, Steve Elmendorf isn't so sure.

ELMENDORF: We disagree on this one.

WOODRUFF: OK. All right. But they're working together. Great to see you both. Thank you for coming by.

OLIVER: Judy, thanks so much.

ELMENDORF: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Credit card debt, it is a common problem for many Americans. But are some members of Congress also facing large bills? That story when we come back.

Plus, making a pitch for black America. Are Republican efforts to court crucial Democratic voters paying off? We'll get the take from the left and the right.


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

Hi, Lou.


Blue chips erasing some of yesterday's steep losses. With the final trade still being counted, the Dow Jones industrials are higher, up almost 40 points. The Nasdaq is trading slightly lower.

Oil prices down sharply and around a profit-taking after crude oil hit near record highs yesterday. Also, fears are subsiding that OPEC would cut production in its meeting scheduled for next week. Crude oil tumbled more than a dollar, settling below $54 a barrel.

Continental Airlines could face charges of manslaughter related to the Air France Concorde crash that killed 113 people outside Paris in 2000. A French magistrate has opened a formal investigation into whether a Continental aircraft dropped a piece of metal on the runway that ultimately led to the crash of the Concorde. That investigation is one step short of a charge being filed against Continental. Continental says it's confident that the evidence will show it is not responsible.

Delta Air Lines may be headed towards bankruptcy. The airline told the SEC it doesn't have enough money to pay it's debts, and can't find any more financing. Delta also said it expects to post a substantial loss again this year, on top of last year's $5 billion loss, the worst year ever for any U.S. airline.

Coming up tonight here on CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," violence along our borders. Mexican drug cartels fighting for control over the area near the Rio Grande, where they smuggle people and drugs into our country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK FLORES, SHERIFF of WEBB COUNTY, TX: It's no longer in the infancy stages, it's full blown. Now, the violence is already spilled over to our communities and we've had several incidents where they've used drive-bys and actually have gone and assassinated people in their homes.


DOBBS: Tonight, we look into what the U.S. government and local law enforcement are doing or not doing to keep American citizens safe.

Also tonight, a House subcommittee held hearings on illegal immigration today, with the focus on border security. I'll be talking with Congressman John Hostettler, the chairman of the committee, about what he says needs to be done to secure our borders; then Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the ranking Democrat on that committee, about how many more patrol agents are needed along our borders, and the difference between immigration issues and border security issues.

And the bankruptcy-overhaul bill that will make it more difficult for Americans to file for bankruptcy and to start over with a clean slate is nearing approval in the Senate. Senator Ted Kennedy will be our guest to talk about why working Americans are in for more pain.

All of that and a great deal more coming up tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. Please, join us.

Now, back to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Lou, we understand your "Broken Borders" series got an airing on Capitol Hill today at that House hearing on immigration. What is your take on the congressional proposals that are out there and what do you think the prospects are for passage?

DOBBS: In just talking recently with Congressman John Hostettler, the chairman and, we'll be talking tonight on the show, he thinks it's probably going to take two attempts to pass legislation aimed at improving internal security, dealing with the illegal alien issue, criminal illegal aliens in this country, that is twice- criminals for having crossed our borders illegally and criminals because they have broken laws once inside this country.

That's a shame because the House leadership is, frankly, Judy, playing games with immigration and with border security, and the expectation is broad on Capitol Hill that the Senate will defeat any legislation that the House passes. That is offering a fig leaf on the issue and some cover for congressmen who will be up for election in 2006 while doing absolutely nothing to secure our borders or enforce immigration laws.

WOODRUFF: All right, Lou, I know you're going to have more at 6:00 and we will be watching.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: Congress is about to make it a lot harder for you to file for bankruptcy protection. The bill is a victory for President Bush, but will it put those who lost their jobs or face huge hospital bills in dire straits?

Do you miss the race for the White House?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I can do a better job of waging a smarter, more effective war on terror.

BUSH: I signed the Homeland Security Bill.

ANNOUNCER: Thought you would have to wait until 2008? Well, wait no longer. Our Bill Schneider on the presidential campaign of 2005.

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


WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

With the bankruptcy bill we have been telling you about likely headed towards passage in the weeks ahead, the president and Republicans will achieve a long-time goal on their legislative agenda. But even if the bill becomes law, the debate over its impact on consumers not likely to end.

With me now to talk about that and other issues, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause

Bay, this legislation would make it harder for someone to declare bankruptcy. Who's helped and who's hurt by this?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE PRESIDENT: The purpose of bankruptcy is to help those in real need, and all this does is closes a loophole that's allowed fraud and abuse to the system. There's going to be a means test now so if you have an income over about $60,000, that's who it is going to affect. So, if you're getting $60,000 or more a year, you still have the ability to pay some of that debt -- that's who will be impacted. Those making under that median income will not be affected, 80 percent of those filing.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, who benefits? The credit card companies. They've made a lot of profit over the last 30 years and charging enormous fees to poor people, middle-income people, 90 percent of the people who file for bankruptcy in this country file because they lost their job or because they can't pay their medical bills. They are not out shopping for Guccis, they're not out running up enormous debt, they're trying to make ends meet, and unfortunately, they had to turn to credit card companies to try to find relief. WOODRUFF: Not only what Donna has just said -- let me just quickly quote Senator Ted Kennedy. He said, "This bill is mean- spirited and unfair." He said it's "a bonanza for the credit card companies which made $30 billion in profits, a nightmare for the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak."

BUCHANAN: Listen, if you owe money and you can pay, you have an obligation to pay. That's who it impacts, is those people who can actually pay some of that debt down. What Kennedy says, he's just blowing smoke. He just doesn't like big corporations, but if you owe a big corporation a legitimate fee and you have the money to pay, you should pay it.

BRAZILE: Bay, they're trying to pay, but when you're not making enough money -- they try to raise the minimum wage and the Republican Congress said no. They try to exempt certain people who are paying enormous medical bills. Luckily they exempted some of our military troops today. But the truth is, this is a bad bill for consumers and I think when the American people figure out that the credit card companies are getting away with more fees, more profits...

BUCHANAN: Those fees are so high because there is fraud in the system.

BRAZILE: A minor amount of fraud, Bay.

WOODRUFF: It's not just Bay, you've got Senator Orrin Hatch saying those who can pay their bills should pay their bills. He said it's the American way.

BRAZILE: Congress should apply that to themselves because they're running up a bunch of debt, consumer debt, and one of the reasons why the American people are having such a hard time paying their bills is because corporations are keeping wages stagnant. These individuals -- they're outsourcing our jobs.

WOODRUFF: Donna...

BRAZILE: We need to have a level playing field for all Americans.

WOODRUFF: You're off topic.

BUCHANAN: The key here is, those who can pay should pay.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BUCHANAN: Then you agree with the bill.

BRAZILE: But the means test will also hurt families. I'm sorry, Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's all right.

Different subject here, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, making good on a promise to go after African- American voters to try to pull them in to the Republican Party.

Donna, you know, right now he is saying that he feels good about the way this is going. Should Democrats be worried?

BRAZILE: Well, absolutely. I warned Democrats two years ago that the Republican Party were making significant in-roads. Not a lot to cause worry, but enough to cause people like myself that understand just the -- they're not just dynamics in the black community -- that Ken Mehlman is on a mission to attract black voters to the Republican Party. I don't believe he will attract as much as Dwight Eisenhower did in 1956, but what George Bush and the Republicans are doing is trying to enlarge their tent, and it's something that Democrats and progressives should be alarmed about.

BUCHANAN: And they've been very successful. In this last election, we got up to 16 percent of the black vote in Ohio and I believe it could have very well have delivered that state and presidency back to George Bush.

But, the key is, we have much to offer the black community. On issues it's choice, it's the marriage amendment, it's Social Security. These things are good for the black community, and we have role models in Condi Rice and Colin Powell. There's much to offer to this community.

BRAZILE: But what they're looking for...

WOODRUFF: It is true, Donna, a lot of this is a social agenda. It's abortion, it's gay rights, and some of these issues that Democrats have traditionally been in lock-step on, members of the black community don't agree.

BRAZILE: Well, some prominent ministers are feeding this new frenzy in the black community, to go support the Republican Party, but, by and large, Democrats are going to continue to get the majority of black votes because Democrats deliver on jobs, they deliver on health care, they deliver on things that are important for the quality of everyone's life, not just what Bay just said.

BUCHANAN: But the fact that the ministers, which is key to reaching the black communities, have started to work with Republicans, that is where I think we'll have enormous success. And it's real. This is not pandering. We really have something to offer them.

WOODRUFF: Do you want to pick a percentage of the black vote that the Republicans can get in the next presidential race?

BUCHANAN: At least we got 11, went up to 11 percent. All you need is a couple more percentages and the Democrats going to have a hard time winning a national election.

BRAZILE: I think Democrats will be able to maintain 85 to 90 percent of the black vote, with credible issues and good leaders.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Did we write those numbers down? OK, Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, thank you both. So, back to the bankruptcy bill. As the legislation nears passage in the Senate it turns out some lawmakers aren't exactly model managers of their own bills. A survey by The Hill newspaper shows more than 40 members of the House had $10,000 or more of credit card debt in 2003 and parts of 2004. The three who owed the most, according to financial disclosure reports, Bobby Scott, Democrat from Virginia, Duncan Hunter, Republican from California and Gary Ackerman, Democrat from New York. It's all over the country.

She's keeping quiet on any possible White House bid, but pollsters aren't. Coming up, a look at how Hillary Clinton would fare in some hypothetical presidential match-ups.

And if you can't wait until 2008 for the next race for the White House, no worries. Our Bill Schneider will tell you about this year's presidential campaign.

Plus, what are people talking about online? We'll go "Inside the Blogs" to find out.


WOODRUFF: Checking the "Political Bytes" on this Thursday.

The Democrats may have lost the presidential election last year, but a new poll finds Senator Hillary Clinton running a very strong race in a hypothetical match-up for president against either Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. In a one-on-one with the former New York mayor, Giuliani received 44 percent to Clinton's 43 percent in a Quinnipiac University survey. In a head-to-head with Senator McCain, Clinton trails by two percentage points, 43 percent to 41 percent.

Meanwhile, in New York state, we will be keeping an eye on an unlikely pairing on stage tonight at the University of Buffalo. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter and former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno will square off over current issues and they will take audience questions. It's all part of the university's distinguished speakers series.

The blogosphere is full of Americans making their voices heard. Today a lawmaker joined the crowd. What's he got to say? We'll tell you coming up in our check of the blogs.


WOODRUFF: Well, it turns out that bankruptcy is big in the blogosphere today and a senator posts his first ever Web blog. Joining me a look at the big topics online are Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter, and CNN political producer Abbi Tatton.

Jacki, what are you seeing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Judy. We're going to start out today with the fact that the blogs are still talking about the possibility of a Federal Election Commission crackdown on political activity on the blogs. It's something that came up a little while ago. Bradley Smith, a Republican FEC commissioner, had gone on CNET and done an interview saying this is something that we might have to worry about. Well, then Democrat Ellen Weintraub went back on CNET and posted an article saying don't worry about it, the title was "Bloggers, Chill Out Already."

Senators McCain and Feingold, the authors of the actual act that would affect this, also posted a statement. We brought you the statement first on Tuesday, saying, don't worry about it, it's not going to happen. But not everybody's convinced, especially the bloggers and now we hear that Representative John Conyers is circulating a letter among his colleagues, calling on the FEC to carve out an explicit exemption for Web reporters. This would be very similar to the press exemption that is not appreciated, or used, by the mainstream media.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Right, so Senator Russ Feingold had gone out and tried to get some trust from the bloggers. He posted a statement on this. Well, today he goes one step further and he blogs about it. The senator blogging here at MyDD for the first time today. Interesting, he points out that it's easy to do. He says he's not a technology whiz and he still managed to get online today, saying that his kids even accuse him of not even being able to use a toaster.

But then he goes on to address this issue: "Online journalists should be treated the same as other legitimate broadcast media. I don't see any reason why the FEC shouldn't include legitimate online journalists and bloggers in the media exemption rule." Goes on to say here, "We must let this town square, which has added a significant dimension to our political process, continue to flourish."

SCHECHNER: Over Daily Kos, a very political site, left-leaning site, he says, "this looks good," talking about the Feingold blog entry, except for the part where the senator talks about legitimate bloggers and online journalists. He says, "how that and by whom that is defined ultimately is crucial to whether such regulations truly protect bloggers. And then real quickly, over at The Kerry (ph) Spot on National Review, here is a short version of what's going on. "McCain, Feingold, Weintraub to bloggers: Trust us. Bloggers to McCain, Feingold, Weintraub: We don't and that's why we're up in arms."

TATTON: Now a Washington story all over the blogs. This evening the Senate votes to overhaul bankruptcy laws in this country. The law that it's supposed to clear the Senate tonight, everyone thinks it's probably going to get through. This is going to be a victory for Republican lawmakers, not a victory for the bloggers, though. Bloggers on the left and the right and the center, there was a lot of opposition to the bankruptcy legislation. They're saying that it benefits credit card companies and banks and not the little guy.

Here, at Just One Minute, it talks about this unusual alliance of bloggers on the left and the right. Atrios here on the left, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit on the right. Even though it looks like the law is going to pass tonight in the Senate, people are still doing a call to arms here. Bankruptcy protests, a coalition at (ph), call your senators.

SCHECHNER: Over -- I'm sorry, just over at Just One Minute, a couple things he talks about why he thinks that the action up till now hasn't succeeded, things like they took up action too late, time was against them, frankly, money talks, it's going to pass no matter what.

But Pandagon had an interesting point that we wanted to show you. It will pull up in just a moment, I think. It says, "why didn't our massive power stop this," massive being sort of a sarcastic comment there. He says, "the short answer is that the blogosphere is good at pushing stories which have a malicious act, a malicious actor, and a clear path from act to discovery, not so good at the whole pushing national consensus thing."

TATTON: One fun story that we wanted to get to that's doing the rounds today is about Swedish furniture giant Ikea. Ikea is in trouble with the Norwegian prime minister because apparently in its instruction manuals to assemble the furniture it only depicts men assembling the furniture. The Norwegian prime minister accusing them of sexual discrimination. Ikea says, we did it so as not to anger Muslims, but now promises to update their -- to introduce women as well. Lots on the blogs about this one.

This is a fun one right here, "some people saying this is PC madness." I like this one, "instead they should have a picture of a woman at the end of every assembly procedure with a cartoon bubble over her head saying, 'it doesn't look like the picture.'"

SCHECHNER: Over at my favorite blog name of the day, real quickly, want to give you that, it is Canadian Honky-Tonk Bar Association. And the quote was: "This may be some by-product of a Norway versus Sweden feud that I'm not aware of."

Judy, some funny stuff on the smaller blogs out there today.

WOODRUFF: So nothing predictable about what you're finding today. OK, Jacki Schechner, Abbi Tatton, we'll see you tomorrow. Appreciate it.

So, imagine a presidential election where you like both candidates.


ALAN ALDA, ACTOR: I think what this program tends to try for is to show what could be.


WOODRUFF: Recognize him? Well, next, our Bill Schneider looks at the presidential campaign of 2005.


WOODRUFF: This story just into CNN from Santa Maria, California. The judge in the Michael Jackson case has now revoked the bench warrant that he prepared this morning after the pop star failed to show up on time for court and then missed a deadline set for him to get to the courthouse.

Jackson showed up about an hour-and-a-half late after complaining of back problems and going to a local hospital. This decision means that Jackson's $3 million bail will be continued. He will not be jailed for the remainder of the trial. That was something that was in jeopardy because of what happened this morning.

Well, Washington is already eyeing candidates for the 2008 presidential race. You've been hearing us talk about that every day. Not so fast, decision '05 still needs to be made and who will end up in the West Wing is a big deal on the small screen.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider has the story.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Ready for the 2005 presidential race? The likely contenders, moderate Republican Senator Arnold Vinick from California.


ALDA: The president can't get me the job I want.


ALDA: His.


SCHNEIDER: OK. It's really only television, but this guy sure does have experience.

ALDA: I've been to the Oval Office a few times. Once I was there trying to kill the president. I might do that, if the other guy gets elected.

SCHNEIDER: Moderate Democratic Congressman Matt Santos is from Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Truth is I can't think of one thing I've done to make this your campaign and not some cookie cutter Beltway hackathon.

JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR: Oh I can think of one. You put me in it.


SCHNEIDER: Jimmy Smits has been involved at the grassroots.

SMITS: Before I even ventured into acting I was involved in community action programs and education programs. SCHNEIDER: NBC's "The West Wing," now in its sixth season, is a behind-the-scenes look at politics by people who actually like it.

ALDA: The people who work on the show, the writers certainly do love politics.

SCHNEIDER: That's reflected in the characters.

SMITS: Most people that you guys deal with on a daily basis, they would aspire to be what these guys are.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Imagine a presidential election where you like both candidates, where you feel genuinely torn because you could vote for either one. That's the election we did not get in 2004. But we could get in 2005 on "The West Wing."

(voice-over): A race with two moderate, likable candidates. That's politics the way people who love politics want it to be.

ALDA: I think what this program tends to try for is to show what could be.

SCHNEIDER: Writer Lawrence O'Donnell, a former Senate staffer, sees the show as an experiment.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, WRITER/PRODUCER, "THE WEST WING": What happens with a candidate with a Giuliani-style profile, if you send him into national Republican politics?

SCHNEIDER: He claims politics is not that hard to figure out.

O'DONNELL: As a mental exercise, I hate to confess this to the audience, but it's relatively easy.

SCHNEIDER: Well, so is show business. They may not be all that different.

ALDA: My character is trying to pick a vice president, and that reminds me very much of casting a movie. When I direct a movie and I have to cast a movie, there will always be somebody who says -- somebody at the studio usually, this person, this actor is not necessarily right for the movie, but if you put this person in the movie, you'll sell tickets.

SCHNEIDER: Life is compromise, in show business, just like in politics.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Hollywood.


WOODRUFF: Now, that's a race I want to cover. Thank you, Bill. And thank you, the cast of "West Wing."


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