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News Conferencer-In-Chief; Bush Strikes Oil; Twist in Social Security Language

Aired March 16, 2005 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: From Social Security to Iraq, President Bush suggests he's up to the challenge. We'll bring you the headlines and best lines from his news conference.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't have much time to sit around and wander lonely in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, "How do you think my standing will be?"

ANNOUNCER: A lightning rod set to move from the Pentagon to the World Bank. What was the president thinking when he tapped Paul Wolfowitz for the job?



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

President Bush took something of a detour today in his campaign to sell Americans on Social Security reform. Instead of taking the message directly to the people, he took it to White House reporters. In the process, he showed a willingness to hold news conferences that he didn't always display in his first term.

We begin our coverage with our White House correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president came before reporters to urge homebound lawmakers to start looking for permanent solutions to keep Social Security out of the red.

BUSH: I think it's important for them to talk about a permanent fix, something that will last forever.

BASH: But Mr. Bush still refused to offer his own ideas to make the system solvent, even as he concedes the crux of his plan doesn't do the trick.

BUSH: Personal accounts will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever emerges as a Social Security solution. BASH: Bush aides admit it's a crucial time for his top domestic goals. Members of Congress will be home meeting with constituents and facing a well-organized opposition already buoyed by polls showing the president's plan in trouble. Mr. Bush wants reforming Social Security for his legacy. The Iraq war still defines his presidency.

He tried to downplay a signal from Italy's prime minister, a staunch ally, he'd start with drawing troops, saying the two spoke.

BUSH: Any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and would be depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves.

BASH: The president hailed the first meeting of the Iraqi National Assembly as a bright moment for the region and again pressed for free elections in Lebanon, but walked a fine, even precarious, line on the possibility of Hezbollah -- which he again called a terrorist group -- winning power at the polls.

BUSH: I think people who generally run for office say, "Vote for me. I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes."


BASH: And Mr. Bush also defended a post-9/11 policy to arrest suspected terrorists and send them back to their countries of origin. And, Judy, back on the political front, the president defended and said he had full confidence in the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, even as he faces ethics charges in the House.


WOODRUFF: OK. CNN's Dana Bash. Thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president today also tapped an architect of the Iraq war to take over as head of the World Bank, and then began notifying potentially wary world leaders about his choice of Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Bush says Wolfowitz has the experience for the job as deputy Defense secretary and in past diplomatic positions.


BUSH: Paul is committed to development. He's a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job in the World Bank. And that's why I called leaders of countries and that's why I put him up.


WOODRUFF: Wolfowitz has been a prime target of criticism about the Iraq invasion and other defense policies.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The president's selection of Mr. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank is hard to understand. As one who served as the ranking Democrat on foreign operations for years and worked closely with the World Bank, I don't see a match in commitment to the vision of the World Bank.


WOODRUFF: That was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. She suggested Mr. Bush may have chosen Wolfowitz for the World Bank as a way of honoring calls for his removal from the Pentagon. The president's nominee still must be ratified by other World Bank members.

The president scored a long-sought victory for his energy policy today when the Senate gave a green light for oil drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. Let's go right now to Capitol Hill and our congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

Hi, Joe.


This is a big victory for the president of the United States. The question, of course, is whether it will last.

This provision allowing drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge has been blocked by Democrats for the better part of a decade. But today, supporters of the provision found the votes to narrowly pass it through on a budget resolution. Of course that's because it assumes revenue in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion for oil leases. The vote today was to take the drilling provision out of the budget, and it failed.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: This all begins at the beginning with the Bible and the instructions that God gave to Adam and Eve that they should both work and guard the garden, the Garden of Eden -- which is to say that they should both develop and cultivate it, but also protect it because we're here for a short time.


JOHNS: Supporters of the measure said it was needed in order to improve the situation with energy in the United States and to create a national energy strategy.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: We have an opportunity today to open up a very tiny portion of Alaska's coastal plain to exploration opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to focus on energy security, economic security and environmental security. The price of oil just bumped up to $56 a barrel this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: After all this talk and effort, of course, there is still no assurance that the underlying bill, this drilling provision it's being attached to, will in the end pass the Congress. Republicans on the House side are making noises that they want to tighten things up as far as federal spending is concerned, suggesting they may not go along with the Senate's ideas on the budget. That means there may not be any budget resolution at all this year.


WOODRUFF: So this is still up in the air, Joe. But what was the impetus for today's vote?

JOHNS: Well, one of the things, of course, is they have the budget resolution. They know it's one of the trains running.

There is another point as well. They were able to take this ANWAR resolution, which has been so controversial for so long, out of the energy bill, which they hoped to bring along later, passing it separately. That means some Republicans think it increases the chances that the larger energy bill can pass down the road.


WOODRUFF: Boy, for those who are students of parliamentary procedure, that explanation helps us out. OK. Thank you, Joe Johns. We appreciate it.

Well, Senate Democrats teamed up today with the MoveOn organization to press their case against the president's judicial nominees. The MoveOn PAC is launching a new ad campaign accusing the Bush administration of trying to stack the courts with extremist judges.


ANNOUNCER: For 200 years the U.S. Senate has had the same confirmation process for judges. Now Dick Cheney is threatening to do something no vice president has had the arrogance to do, ignore tradition and overturn the rules, turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for corporate judges. These judges are biased.


WOODRUFF: That television ad starts running tomorrow on CNN and on Washington cable outlets at a cost of $100,000. The ad echoes the message of Democrats who are threatening to slow down the Senate if Republicans prevent them from filibustering judicial nominees, the so- called nuclear option.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN, MAJORITY LEADER: We cannot tolerate the unprecedented filibusters of a judicial nominee that has majority support that were demonstrated in the last Congress.


WOODRUFF: Majority Leader B ill Frist. The Senate moves closer to a final show down over the so-called nuclear option tomorrow when a committee vote is expected on a previously rejected judicial nominee, William Myers.

When it comes to Social Security and other programs like Medicaid, the debate is not always a partisan one. Coming up, we'll hear from two special interest groups who bill themselves as unlikely allies on some thorny political issues.

Also ahead, Congress prepares to investigate alleged steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. We'll tell you which players are headed to Washington.

And later, Ted Kennedy and other senators get ready for St. Patrick's Day on a grim note.


WOODRUFF: A coalition of what some might consider unlikely allies joined forces recently to oppose potential cuts in federal spending on Medicaid. The leaders of the Service Employees International Union and the AARP represent two of the seven organizations that have signed a letter urging Congress to block potential cuts and to create a bipartisan commission to study Medicaid funding.

SEIU President Andy Stern and Bill Novelli, who leads the AARP, are both with me here in Washington.

Andy Stern, to you first. Medicaid, the federal budget, huge deficits, $330-some billion. Medicaid has become unsustainable, many people believe. In fact, it's hard to find somebody who thinks it's in good shape.

Why shouldn't the president be talking about a 2 percent cut over the next decade?

ANDY STERN, PRESIDENT, SEIU: Judy, a quarter of a million of our nurses went to work today at the bedside in hospitals in America. A half a million of our members went to take care of our parents and grandparents in nursing homes. And they see there's a different crisis out there.

People are getting older. Employees are providing less health insurance, and we need a new blueprint, a new vision, a new way to go about doing Medicaid. But across-the-board cuts make no sense in a time of increasing need.

WOODRUFF: Well, that sounds like it makes sense. But, Bill Novelli, the Bush -- here's what the Bush administration says. They say, all we're doing is shutting down loopholes and stopping accounting gimmicks. And they talk about seniors, you know, the senior citizens transferring their assets to their grown children so they can go into these Medicaid nursing homes. BILL NOVELLI, CEO, AARP: Medicaid needs reform. I don't think anybody disputes that.

What it doesn't need are just arbitrary cuts. We need to look at the situation. We need to close loopholes if any exist.

Most people are not spending down assets on purpose just to dodge or game the system. And it would be a good idea to study this thing. And that's why the commission is a good idea.

WOODRUFF: But, Andy Stern, again, the administration says these are not arbitrary cuts. The secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, says it's time to make a decision. He talks about the states. He said the states have become so sophisticated in their Medicaid bookkeeping, he said they're hiring consultants to find loopholes to get more money out of the federal government.

STERN: Well, here's the good news about Medicaid. It's actually a lot more effective and low cost than private insurance. It's actually taking care of a lot of kids and senior citizens.

And sure, it needs a new blueprint, it needs a new vision. But we're talking about, you know, taking a couple of cases and making across-the-board cuts that are going to hurt children, that are going to hurt senior citizens. We can do better than in America.

WOODRUFF: But you're not saying it doesn't need some cutting?

NOVELLI: We're saying that it needs reform. And we're very eager to support a commission to find the way to do reform.

I've talked to many governors about this, and Medicaid is a huge problem for the governors. If they just cut at the federal level, it's going to have a kind of effect where the governors are going to get the pain. It's going to cause uncompensated care for hospitals and doctors.

There's just going to be a chain reaction. It's going to end up with employers and employees having higher premiums. We need to look at it.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about Social Security. The president -- the big focus of the president right now, he had a news conference today, he said he's making progress persuading Americans that this is a program that's in trouble. He said he's open to all ideas except for raising taxes.

Are you prepared to work with the president on Social Security?

STERN: We want to make Social Security secure, obviously, for all Americans. It's sort of the basic and most fundamental way that people can, you know, retire with dignity. So we'll work with anyone to do that. But that isn't what the president really has been talking to up to now.

He's been talking about cutting it and borrowing money and making it less secure for people. And no, we're not for those kinds of changes. But we are for a strong, viable, long-term Social Security policy that gives people a chance to retire with dignity.

WOODRUFF: What about the AARP, Bill Novelli? I mean, you've made it clear you don't like private retirement accounts, but the president is saying I'm open to all ideas.

NOVELLI: Well, you know it would be interesting to see if we could have a really good debate in this country. Right now, unfortunately, the debate is focused on carving private accounts out of Social Security, which is really -- it introduces risk into a system that doesn't have any risk in it.

It's hugely expensive and it's unnecessary. There are many other ways to do this, and we will look forward to talking about those ways.

WOODRUFF: And are you prepared to put forward your own plan, Democrats? You know, we're asking the Democrats. I asked John Kerry yesterday, and everybody seems to be waiting for the president to do that.

NOVELLI: Well, the president is basically saying I'm not putting forth the plan. The Democrats are waiting. Everybody's waiting. And what we need to do is to get the two sides together. But bipartisanship is lacking right now.

WOODRUFF: As you know, AARP, Bill Novelli, has been criticized by the conservative group USA Next. They say your organization is so liberal that you don't have the interests of seniors truly in -- at heart. And they talk about how the AARP, they say, makes millions of dollars selling financial accounts to your members. Therefore, you're not an impartial player in this argument.

NOVELLI: Well, they've also accused us of supporting gay marriage and being against our troops in Iraq. You know, we're having a good national debate on Social Security. But that outfit is not part of it.

They're not a serious group. They're beyond the fringe. And so we're willing to enter into discussions with anybody, but not somebody that really is way out there.

WOODRUFF: Let me finally ask you, Andy Stern, about the labor moment. There's been a lot of attention on that recently. You talked about the need to modernize, but there seems, at least to those of us on the outside, to be a big split in the labor movement. Is the movement at risk of losing a lot of political clout?

STERN: I think what's great is the movement is having the kind of discussion we're having about Social Security and Medicaid. How are we going to value and reward work in the 21st century? Where are new ideas, new visions, new blueprints and new partnerships?

We're not going to keep going in the same direction and get to a different place. We need to reward working America and we need a new labor movement, we need a new Medicaid system, we need a way to have secure retirement for all Americans and affordable health care. That's the debate going on all over America, and it's a timely one.

WOODRUFF: But do you thing Americans are listening?

NOVELLI: I think they are. You know, what's happening right now is that the boomers are coming closer and closer to retirement. From our perspective, the big question of the day is, can America afford to grow older?

And of course we say yes. But we've got to address all these entitlement programs, the kinds of things Andy was talking about. I think -- I think these are absolutely critical issues. And the public is beginning to engage.

WOODRUFF: But it looks like there's still some distance, a lot of distance between where you are and at least where the Bush administration is right now.

NOVELLI: That's true.

WOODRUFF: So we'll keep on looking at all of this. Andy Stern, Bill Novelli, thank you very much. It's good to see both of you.

STERN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

NOVELLI: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: The man credited with reviving interest in baseball makes a decision about testifying before Congress. Up next, we'll tell you if retired slugger Mark McGwire plans to attend tomorrow's hearing on steroid use by professional athletes.


WOODRUFF: On the eve of a congressional hearing into steroid abuse in baseball, CNN has learned that the major league stars who will be witnesses have not been granted immunity. Committee aides tell CNN that former Oakland player Jose Canseco is the only subpoenaed witness who asked for immunity, and he was turned down. His lawyer says Canseco will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.

Meantime, an attorney for Mark McGwire says the former St. Louis Cardinals star plans to attend tomorrow's hearing, putting to rest lingering questions about whether he would comply with the subpoena. All six of the subpoenaed players apparently will show up tomorrow, including Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, of the Baltimore Orioles.

A new poll shows most Americans, 64 percent, think that Major League Baseball should enforce rules against steroid use. Only 30 percent say that's the job of the federal government.


REP. TOM DAVIS (R), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: Our purpose at the end of the day is to stop this steroid epidemic from destroying a generation of young athletes. But it's got to start at the top, and Major League Baseball is -- has basically turned a blind eye to this for the last 15 years.


WOODRUFF: Congressman Tom Davis.

President Bush said today that he's glad Congress and Major League Baseball are paying attention to the problem, and he refused a second-guess lawmakers motives for taking on the issue.

Wolf Blitzer will take on the steroids controversy when he interviews Jose Canseco. That's on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" at 5:00 p.m. Eastern today.

When it comes to selling Social Security reform, does President Bush have a separation strategy? Coming up, our Bill Schneider investigates.

Plus, their brother was killed in a bar fight in Northern Ireland. Now the McCartney sisters come to America and bring their plea for justice to Capitol Hill and the White House. Their story when we return.


WOODRUFF: It's just before 4:00 on the East Coast. And as the markets get set to close as they do every day at this time on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim. She's in New York with "The Dobbs Report."

Hello, Kitty.


We're looking at some sharp losses today. Final trades are still being counted. But let's take a look.

The Dow industrials dropping 107 points on the day. The Nasdaq is 1 percent lower.

Now, a big part of those losses on the Dow is GM stock. It lost 14 percent today. It's warning it will post a substantial loss in the first quarter.

Oil prices soared to an all-time high today, up $1.40 to more than $56 a barrel. That's for the first time. There's a big worry about supply. Today, a government report shows supplies of heating oil and gas fell sharply last week.

The price at the gas pump has been climbing. Regular average gasoline averages more than $2 a gallon. That's shy of a record high and experts say it's headed higher, possibly even this week.

Toys R Us reportedly received two separate buyout bids from private investment firms, both $5.5 billion. The company was originally looking for a buyer for its toy stores only, but now its Babies R Us unit may be part of the deal, too.

And the upscale department store Neiman Marcus says it's also exploring its options, including a possible sale of the company.

Coming up on CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," the Commerce Department says the nation's current account trade deficit rose to a record last year.


ROBERT SCOTT, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: This is another terrifying report. We are importing 5.7 percent more than we're producing. You have to borrow that much money. It amounts to $2 billion every working day in the economy.


PILGRIM: Also tonight, illegal aliens are abusing U.S. sanctuary laws, and the practice is hurting Americans. We have a special report...

Our face-off now tonight, assault on the middle class. We take a look at what's behind the rise in personal bankruptcies. We talk about that with law professors Elizabeth Warren of Harvard and Todd Zywicki of George Mason University.

Plus, America's bright future. You'll meet four incredible teens who plan to make a difference in the world with their incredible math and science abilities. And a lot more, tonight, 6:00 Eastern.

But for right now, back to Judy Woodruff.


WOODRUFF: We'll be watching all that at 6:00. Kitty, thanks very much. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Personal accounts do not solve the issue.

ANNOUNCER: A change of strategy? What's the president up to when it comes to pushing his Social Security overhaul plan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came to tell our story for a (INAUDIBLE) murder.

ANNOUNCER: Their brother was killed in a Northern Ireland bar fight, allegedly by members of the IRA. Now five sisters bring their plea for justice to Congress and the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we cannot rebuild our lives unless these people are brought to justice. ANNOUNCER: Now live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Welcome back. President Bush is acknowledging that personal retirement accounts will not solve Social Security's future financial problems. That is not exactly a retreat on his part, but it is strategic, as our senior political analyst Bill Schneider explains.


BUSH: And you can decide what you want to...

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Bush is trying a new tack on Social Security.

BUSH: Personal accounts do not permanently fix the solution. They make the solution more attractive for the individual worker.

SCHNEIDER: It's the separation strategy. Separate the issue of personal accounts from the issue of solvency. Democrats have been arguing for some time that personal accounts will not save Social Security.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: There's no correlation between quote, "fixing Social Security" and private accounts. The private accounts only make Social Security -- the solvency -- more difficult, not easier.

SCHNEIDER: The Democratic National Committee has greeted the president's separation strategy with a claim. "Personal accounts is not the permanent fix? We couldn't agree more." Democrats hope this means personal accounts will go away. But the president has a different idea. He quoted a poll.

BUSH: What I read the other day, it said people liked the idea of personal accounts.

SCHNEIDER: The poll asked about allowing people to invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market. The response? Positive -- 56 to 41 percent. What happens if you tell people personal accounts would reduce guaranteed benefits? Negative. 60 percent to 36 percent. So the president is separating the two ideas. What does he propose doing to save Social Security? He claims he's being bold.

BUSH: I think I'm the first president ever to say all options are on the table and named a series of options.

SCHNEIDER: When did he do that?

BUSH: If you've got some idle time on your hand, you might want to read the previous State of the Union address and see if that's true.

SCHNEIDER: OK, we did. It is.

BUSH: Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options. Some have suggested limiting benefits for wealthy retirees, of indexing benefits to prices rather than wages, increasing the retirement age, changing the way benefits are calculated.

SCHNEIDER: Those fixes are controversial. Is the president proposing a plan? Not exactly.

BUSH: And I stood up in front of the Congress and said, bring your ideas forward.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush is saying to Congress, you go first.


SCHNEIDER: Congress proposes a difficult and painful plan to save Social Security. President Bush proposes a popular and innovative plan to introduce personal retirement accounts. That's how separation works.

WOODRUFF: So separation. But how do the two come together, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's later. That comes later. He's asking Congress to come up with a plan to make Social Security solvent at the moment.


SCHNEIDER: But they want to know, where is your plan?

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something different, and that is Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. Yesterday New York Senator Hillary Clinton challenged the Fed chairman for his support back in 2001 for President Bush's tax cuts. Now, this follows by two weeks the comments by the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who, in very strong language, called Greenspan a political hack. What is going on here? And that was in the interview that I did with Reid.

SCHNEIDER: What's going on is the Democrats are criticizing Greenspan as a partisan figure. You know, he's served under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But he's made a lot of comments that are favorable to President Bush's economic and Social Security policies and a lot of Democrats resent it and they're depicting him in partisan terms. What he said yesterday is back in 2001, when he supported President Bush's tax cuts, he said, we have to reduce the surplus. And now he says, when they projected those surpluses into the future, we were all wrong. Senator Clinton said, no, we weren't. Not all of us were wrong. Some of us said this may not work.

WOODRUFF: But in Greenspan's defense, wouldn't he say, well, I've all along said that big deficits are bad, and we need to look at cutting spending. SCHNEIDER: That's right. He has talked about cutting spending. So a lot of Democrats saying, why is he talking so favorably about these personal retirement accounts? Well, he has an interesting argument about that. He says, the personal retirement accounts will take money out of Social Security, and that's good. Why? Because it will increase the pressure on Congress to deal with the deficits. The money in the Social Security trust fund, which is now a surplus, won't be there for Congress to spend. It's a kind of convoluted argument, and the Democrats say they're wising up to it.

WOODRUFF: So in other words, it would force cuts down the road?

SCHNEIDER: It would at least put pressure on Congress. Whether it would force them or not remains to be seen.

WOODRUFF: Remains to be seen. OK. Bill Schneider, thanks very much. A man of all seasons, a man of all subjects. Thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Well, over on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans held dueling news conferences today to make their cases for and against personal retirement accounts. House Republicans came up with a prop, a Model T, circa 1935. That was the year Social Security was born. Their message? The retirement program can be refurbished, just like a vintage auto.

A more somber note today on the Hill as senators meet with the sisters of a Belfast man allegedly killed by the Irish Republican Army.

Also ahead, a rival of Arnold Schwarzenegger makes less than kind comments about the California governor's Austrian roots.

And when we go "Inside the Blogs," the buzz about President Bush's choice of Paul Wolfowitz to head up the World Bank.


WOODRUFF: Time once again to check in on the blogosphere. With me now are Jacki Schechner -- she's our blog reporter -- and CNN Political Producer Abbi Tatton.

Now, Jacki, I understand the president's choice to head up the World Bank is generating discussion on the blogs?

SCHECHNER: As you might imagine, Judy. We're going to start off with Two guys who went to school together. Their top headline, "Wolfowitz Nominated as World Bank Head." They don't talk about what their political lean is outright. I wasn't able to find it. But they are in favor of Wolfy, so I think that's where we're heading on this one. "Paul Wolfowitz has fought the entrenched bureaucracy of the Pentagon and helped to show there is a better way. Now hopefully, he can do the same at the World Bank." That's one perspective.

The other one, kind of more humorous, over at Chapati Mystery. And they're talking about -- they call it "As the Wolfowitz Turns." And they're talking about the "L.A. Times" nomination of Bono, the U2 frontman, as the head of the World Bank. In their eyes, he would be a good choice. And they said that would have the White House scared. And what they're saying is that Bono would have forgiven all loans to Africa or something. And in Wolfowitz, they found someone who won't just raise the interest rate, but he'll invade Africa.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: More on this story. Across the pond at The "Guardian" newspaper. The "Guardian" just recently started its own blog. The "Guardian" newspaper is a left-leaning London newspaper. And they're blogging today about this bombshell of a nomination and wondering why Wolfowitz would take the position. "True, the World Bank stewardship is an influential position, but cannot really compare with being number one at one the world's most powerful organizations, the Pentagon."

Now on to Italy. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced yesterday he hopes for a partial withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq come September. Now President Bush this morning in his news conference this morning was keen to assert that this didn't represent a shift in policy. But some bloggers are making the connection between this announcement from Berlusconi and the shooting earlier this month of an Italian journalist and an Italian intelligence officer, as well.

Over here, this connection is made at Fresh Politics. Fresh Politics is a group of students who are blogging about politics and other issues. "European nations acting like children," they say. They say that this timing seems "eerily suspicious here of this announcement." And they say that "European powers have more leverage than they perhaps deserve. European nations are too eager to rise too quickly from the shadows of American parenthood."

SCHECHNER: A hefty post over at Critical Montages. That's Yoshi posting over there. And he's got a lot going on. He's first got an Associated Press chart, for lack of a better word. And he's got the troops in Iraq now, how many there are from each country, countries that have withdrawn and the size of the former contingent. He also says that to him, Berlusconi's decision makes sense. The U.S. troops' wounding of Giuliana Sgrena being the impetus for that, he thinks, in his mind.

The other thing is he makes the connection between Spain's withdrawal -- he calls with the Spain scenario -- Spain's withdrawal last March and the political change that happened in Spain right after that. He sees the upcoming elections in Italy and thinks that Italy's impending withdrawal will affect the Italian political landscape over there. So lots of stuff going on at Critical Montage.

TATTON: Over to a story now on Harvard. Harvard President Lawrence Summers has been under attack in the blogosphere for the last couple of months about the things he said about innate gender differences. He said this in January. Lots of controversy over there at Harvard about this. Back in the news today because last night there was a vote of -- a lack of confidence vote from the faculty of arts and sciences. Now, one of the professors who was there at the vote yesterday, not voting with the rest of his colleagues, I should add, is blogging about it. His name -- and I hope I do this justice, is Lubos Motl. Something like that. My apologies if I get it wrong...

SCHECHNER: We looked it up. We think we got it right.

TATTON: I did look it up. He calls this a sad day for Harvard. He goes down to say, "Most of the faculty decided to support the misguided declarations based on flawed reasoning."

SCHECHNER: My blog nod today, not so much for the name, but for the creativity of the post. It's Joseph Kelly's (ph) site. It's called Life in This Low Country. He used to live in D.C. and moved down to the South and is adjusting, as he puts it. But he speaks of no confidence, talking about the lack of confidence vote in Larry Summers. And he says, "I have just put it to a vote and like Larry Summers, president of Harvard, it has been decided that I, too, have a lack of confidence." By the way, Judy, the tally of that vote was 1- 0.

WOODRUFF: OK. So they didn't get many people taking a look at that.

SCHECHNER: Just him.

WOODRUFF: Want to bring both of you, Jacki and Abbi, back to the question that you raised yesterday. And that is about how do you know which blog sites you're going to look at? We've talked about how there are, you know, millions and millions of people out there blogging. What, seven or eight million. But you guys have to pick which ones you're going to look at. How do you decide?

SCHECHNER: Well, there are lots of search engines, metablogs, aggregators, as they're called, ranking systems. And as we're finding out, is that they're not all by themselves an accurate perception of the blogosphere, an accurate picture. But together they're a good place to start. I'll show you a couple of them. is one. They've got a top 10 -- or Top 100, I'm sorry. And they rank their blogs by the number of sources that link to each blog.

Another one that we sometimes like to go to is The Truth Laid Bare. And this one, you'll go up in the righthand corner here. It says ecosystem traffic. And if you click on that one, it will give you your Weblogs by average daily traffic. Well, you go through the list, click on ones, find the ones that not only say the things you like but are also aesthetically pleasing. When you read it on the Web, the way it's laid out is very important.

WOODRUFF: And Abbi, what about you? I mean, do you have any -- I mean, do you get tips from people who use the blogs a lot?

TATTON: Absolutely. We sometimes get tips from people. We look at those. We try and read as many as possible, but, obviously, you can't read all eight million. There's another site here,, which is very good in that it has 30 notable Weblogs. And the ones that have been updated most recently float to the top, so you've always got fresh material there. Another way to do it, if you find a site, Judy, that you really like -- here, one, for example, Vodka Pundit. If you like what they're saying, go to their blog roll. This is where people link to their favorite blogs, the blogs they are reading. You can see here, down here, Vodka Pundit, whole list of them. Click through to one of those and you might find more that you're interested in.

WOODRUFF: OK, just giving some of us kind of an elementary lesson in how to know which blogs to begin to look at. Jacki and Abbi, thank you both very much.

TATTON: You're welcome.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you tomorrow.

Straight ahead, a potential opponent questions Arnold Schwarzenegger's style of governing. We'll tell you what the California attorney general has to stay about Austria and his own political future in "Political Bytes."


WOODRUFF: This story just in to CNN from Florida, where prosecutors say that the woman responsible for taking care of this 5- year-old girl, missing since 2002, Rilya Wilson, the woman has been charged with murdering the child. Geralyn Graham was already facing kidnapping and child abuse charges in the disappearance of Rilya Wilson. The girl's body has not been located, but police say they have found sufficient evidence to believe that the girl was dead at the time her disappearance was discovered. Authorities discovered the disappearance back in April of 2002.

Geralyn Graham, she has long maintained that she turned the child over to a Florida child welfare worker about 15 months earlier. State officials, however, said they had no record of anyone from the agency picking up the child. Still, Florida officials admit that they had lost track of this child, Rilya Wilson, in the state system. So prosecutors announcing that they have charged the caregiver with Rilya Wilson's murder.

Turning back to politics now, we focus on two governor's races in our Wednesday "Political Bytes." In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine today kicked off his campaign for governor with several stops around the state. Current Governor Mark Warner, who is term-limited, planned to join Kaine for several rallies on today's itinerary.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer told reporters here in Washington yesterday that he will soon join fellow Democrat Phil Angelides in next year's race for governor. Lockyer went on to criticize current GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's governing style. In Lockyer's words: "I don't like to dwell on this, but it has a little bit of the sort of odor of Austrian politics. There's a sort of arrogance of power that bothers me. You know, Arnold is still an Austrian citizen." End quote. When asked if he was making a reference to Austria's Nazi past, Lockyer said, quote, "I'm just talking about the culture." End quote. Lockyer then went on to mention what he described as a long history of autocracy in Austria.

Coming up next, five sisters make their case for justice in Northern Ireland. Ed Henry reports from Capitol Hill on their high profile meeting with senators and how their story is influencing the Irish peace process.


WOODRUFF: Five sisters from Northern Ireland will be guests at tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House. The women are in Washington to publicize the recent murder of their brother in Belfast, allegedly by members of the Irish Republican Army. The killers remain at large, and the sisters say the IRA has frightened witnesses into silence. Earlier today, the women visited Capitol Hill, and CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry has the story.


ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Their story is so powerful that reporters from around the world descended upon the McCartney sisters. So many journalists squeezed into the sisters' meeting with Senator Edward Kennedy that the furniture had to be moved to a hallway. The sisters hope all of the attention will bring justice for their murdered brother.

CATHERINE MCCARTNEY, ROBERT MCCARTNEY'S SISTER: We hope that this does produce results on the ground for this family because until it does, we cannot move on, and we cannot rebuild our lives unless these people are brought to justice.

HENRY: Back in January at a Belfast bar, Robert McCartney got mixed up in a brawl with several members of the Irish Republican Army. He was brutally killed, his head pummeled by steel pipes and his stomach split open by a butcher's knife. The killers then locked down the bar and told all of the witnesses to keep their mouths shut. But they couldn't lock down these sisters, who are furious about the cover-up, as well as the crime. Now they want the IRA to cooperate with the investigation and give up the killers.

MCCARTNEY: We don't believe that peace and violence can co-exist in Ireland. And that Robert's murderers being brought to justice will be a clear signal to those in Ireland that they have chosen peace.

HENRY: Key Irish-American politicians are issuing blunt warnings to the IRA and have refused to meet with Gerry Adams, the leader of its political wing.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And that a Democratic party today, that a part of a Democratic West, do not and should not and cannot have private armies and cannot be involved in criminality and violence.

HENRY: Leaders of the peace process, like Congressman Richard Neal, are particularly frustrated that members of the IRA killed a fellow Catholic. U.S. REP. RICHARD NEAL: It's time to get all the guns out of Irish politics. It's time for the paramilitaries on all sides of the divide to march into history.


HENRY: St. Patrick's Day in Washington was supposed to be dominated by the Annual Speakers Luncheon. That's a bipartisan, nonpolitical event in the Capitol dating back to days of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan. But instead, the focus tomorrow will once again be on the McCartney sisters, who now head to the White House for a meeting with President Bush.


WOODRUFF: You know, Ed, as you pointed out, Gerry Adams, who's the leader of Sinn Fein, which is the political arm of the IRA, even though he was not invited to the White House this year, he's still in Washington. Where does all this leave him?

HENRY: He's meeting with some lower-level Bush administration officials, but it's important to note that President Bush, like Senator Kennedy and a lot of other top lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have refused to meet with Gerry Adams. They're infuriated by this case. They want the IRA and Sinn Fein to cooperate with the investigation. But it's also important to note that some other lawmakers, like Congressman Neal, are meeting with Gerry Adams tomorrow, but they are going to deliver a very blunt warning to him that it's time to dismantle the IRA.


WOODRUFF: OK. Ed Henry at the Capitol. Thanks very much.

That is it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts now.

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