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Senate Squabbles Escalate

Aired April 21, 2005 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: The gavel comes down in the divisive battle over judicial nominees.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...confirmation...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She certainly deserves...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: be confirmed...

ANNOUNCER: With today's committee votes, is the Senate closer to a nuclear war?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes politics gets in the way of doing the people's business. Take John Bolton...

ANNOUNCER: President Bush stands behind his embattled nominee to the ambassador to the U.N. Are his fellow Republicans listening?

A new school anthem in Utah and some other states. Why do they want to leave the presidents's education reform law behind?

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


CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, GUEST HOST: Thank you for joining us. I'm Carlos Watson. Judy Woodruff is off today.

On Capitol Hill, a lot of people are muttering the F word today -- filibuster that is. After a pair of votes by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans pushed ahead two of the president's disputed judicial nominees, and on to the full Senate.

Now both parties may be closer to a bruising historic political fight, but as our Congressional correspondent Joe Johns reports, some senators are floating new ideas on how to avoid that.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, known for his fierce independence, today likened the impasse over judges to the cold war nuclear standoff and proposed a way to avert all-out partisan warfare.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: These threats rival the U.S./USSR confrontation after World War II, the confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union being designated as being mutual assured destruction.

JOHNS: Specter, who is undergoing cancer treatment suggested that the Senate might be able to diffuse the situation by confirming some of the president's least controversial judicial nominations including William Meyers. But he did not mention Priscilla Owen and Janice Rodgers Brown, two highly controversial appellate court nominees who had just been approved on party-line votes by Specter's committee and who Democrats vowed to block on the Senate floor.

Brown attracted the toughest assessment from Democrats. She's been named to the D.C. Circuit court of appeals, often called the second highest court in the country.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: They're push for a nominee who would do the bidding, I think, of the radical right. Janice Rodgers Brown is a prime example of a nominee who sees the federal bench as a platform to advance her own extremist views.

JOHNS: To break that opposition, Republicans are considering the so-called nuclear option, a procedural maneuver to force the judges through on a simple majority rather than the 60 votes now needed. But if the Republican leadership does go nuclear, Specter suggested they can't count on his support.

SPECTER: I have not rendered a decision on how I would vote on the constitutional "nuclear" option, but instead having working to break the impasse by confirming or rejecting the previously filibustered nominees by an up or down votes.


JOHNS: And one conservative activist we talked to today said he would not consider any deal that did not give the president an up or down vote on all of his judicial nominations. The man who has the ultimate decision on whether to go nuclear, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has to balance the conservative passion against internal poll numbers which we are told show a majority of Americans want to preserve the filibuster. Frist talking to CNN today said he is still trying to work something out, but he agrees the guiding principle should be an up or down vote -- Carlos.

WATSON: Joe, is there quiet talk that Frist is actually moving back the time to lengthen the time during which he has to make a decision?

JOHNS: Well, one thing does seem clear, there has been talk in the halls of Congress that the Senate might move to a highways bill next week, which would suggest he might not want to move immediately to the issue of nuclear option and judicial nominations.

However, the timing is in the hand, purely, of Senator Bill Frist. He gets to decide. And so far he has kept information pretty close to the vest, Carlos.

WATSON: I also thought, Joe, it was interesting that Terrance Boyle, a third judge who was supposed to be discussed today got taken off the conversation. Is there a sense of when his nomination will be discussed in committee?

JOHNS: Well, there are some people who tend to be held over when they can't come to any agreement. And of course, the committee has the right to hold over certain nominees for a week. So this is all sort of part of the process. We did expect, of course, today Janice Rodgers Brown, who is key in all of this debate, at least we've been told, Carlos.

WATSON: Joe, thank you very much. We'll obviously be following that story tomorrow and the days ahead.

In another Capitol Hill showdown, President Bush entered the fray today over John Bolton, defending Bolton as, quote, "the right man," unquote, to be the next ambassador to the United Nations. But those words of support underscore just how much the nomination is in trouble, not just with Democrats, but significantly with some Republicans as well.

For a peek at what's going on behind the scenes, here's our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.


BUSH: I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Bush trying to save his embattled nominee, briefly put aside his prepared Social Security speech to fight for his man.

BUSH: He is the right man at the right time for this important assignment.

MALVEAUX: The comments come amid growing signs Bolton's nomination may be in trouble. Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided to delay voting on Bolton's nomination to investigate a growing number of allegations from subordinates who say Bolton mistreated them.

And now, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Thomas Hubbard, tells CNN he's comes forward to set the record straight about Bolton's combative statements in peace talks with North Korea saying he was counterproductive. But White House officials dismiss all complaints as unfounded.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: John Bolton is someone who has a long record of getting things done. And sometimes that's going to make people mad when you are someone who gets things done.

MALVEAUX: On the Hill both sides of using the hearing's delay to ratchet up the case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president believes that we need to reform the U.N. Yes, we need to reform the U.N. And John Bolton has the ability to do that.


MALVEAUX: Now, despite all these questions around the nomination, White House and senior administration officials today saying that the White House is full speed ahead on this, that despite these problems, that Bolton still remains their guy -- Carlos.

WATSON: We saw a surprise this week when George Voinovich, the senator from Ohio, who people didn't expect might come out against Bolton actually did. Are there other surprises that you're hearing about? Other Republican senators who may speak up against the nomination?

MALVEAUX: Well, so far the White House certainly wants to make sure that that does not happen. It is very interesting, Carlos, it was just 48 hours ago we heard from White House officials saying that the level of discussions that were taking place with Republicans on that Senate committee were staff-level conversations. Now we are hearing that they're having conversations at the highest levels.

We're not saying President Bush is yet involved in those conversations, but they say that it's certain to up the ante. They want to make sure that there are no other defectors.

WATSON: Suzanne, yet another fire on the stove here on Capital Hill. Thank you very much.

Turning the page now, Congress is responding today to one of the latest high-profile child abductions. Jessica Lunsford's father was on hand for the introduction of a bill that would require the state to contact sexual offenders twice a year to verify their location. Officials say 9-year-old Jessica was raped, bound and buried alive in Florida. A convicted sex offender is charged in her death.

Over the past ten years, the abductions of Megan Conca and Elizabeth Smart prompted Congress to pass laws at thwarting child kidnappings and tracking sex offenders.

Senator Edward Kennedy, turning to another story is in a not so unusual position these days as a player in some of the hottest fights and the hardest to reach deals. Up next, I'll talk to the veteran Democrat about everything from judicial nominees, to Social Security reforms and rumors about a quiet compromise.

And later, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter -- I'll ask him about what he's doing to prevent the so-called nuclear option from exploding on Capitol Hill. And new fuel for the gay marriage debate gives Donna Brazile and our Bay Buchanan something else to argue about. All that straight ahead.


WATSON: Welcome back. As we mentioned, the stage is now set for a Capitol Hill showdown over some of President Bush's judicial nominees, a showdown that could lead to changes in the Senate filibuster rules.

Earlier I talked about this and other issues with Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a member of the judiciary committee. I began by asking him if he risked losing credibility with the American people in supporting filibuster, since he opposed the practice some 40 years ago, when it was used to try to block civil rights legislation.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I don't really see it that way. This is basically about the changing of the rules. It's basically about one party that controls the executive, controls the Senate, controls the House of Representatives, and now wants to control the independent judiciary. ' We have approved 96 percent of this president's nominees. I've voted for just about all of those, and they were many of those who had a different philosophy than I had. The issue here now is about an arrogancy of power, abuse of power, to carry out an extreme agenda.

WATSON: Senator Kennedy, let me ask you. Senator Reid said previously that if they're ultimately -- if you do shut down the Senate, that he would do it with the exception of essential items. In your mind, what are some of the those essential items? For example, immigration. If there's a major immigration bill, would that be an essential item that you would allow business to move forward on?

KENNEDY: Well, the basic point is there's no interest in obstructing for obstruction's sake. The fact remains we have seen now under Republican leadership, the denial, for example, in conference committees to include Democrats in a conference. That is the first time in the history of this nation that we have seen...

WATSON: What about...

KENNEDY: Please.


KENNEDY: We're talking about abusing the rules of the Senate, and we're talking about abusing the understandings of the Senate that have been there since -- for 228 years, and this is the kind of an attitude that we saw with Newt Gingrich and the contract of America. This was excessive abuse of the rules that is in conflict with what our founding fathers. We are the envy of the world, our democracy, because we have checks and balances, we have free and open debate. We are not a rubber stamp. This administration would like us to be a rubber stamp. We are not a rubber stamp for this president.

WATSON: Senator Kennedy, turning the page just a little bit, in terms of Social Security, have the White House approached you at this point in terms of trying to work out a bipartisan agreement on that?

KENNEDY: No. I've -- have contacts with some people that are at the White House, but other than just general kind of comments and statements about it, I have no real interventions about trying to -- it isn't really complicated. All this president has to do is drop the privatization and come to the leaders of the Congress and say let's work it out.

I've been in the Senate in 1997, 1983. That's what was done and we worked it out and we worked it out in very, very satisfactory way, Republicans and Democrats supported. That's all that is necessary for this president to do. Just give up the privatization, which I think undermines and destroys Social Security, and say let's try and work it out, we'll get it worked out.

WATSON: And let me understand. If the president were to drop private accounts, you would cooperate with him, be a leader, if you will, in crafting a bipartisan agreement, as you did on education and other issues?

KENNEDY: I welcome the opportunity to work out what needs to be done. I think it's important to understand that the fiscal conditions of Social Security are secure to 2042, but they are -- there are needs beyond that. We ought to be able to work that out, as we did in '77 and in '83. I was a part of that whole process. I would welcome the opportunity to do so now.

WATSON: Let me turn to something different. You did work with president on No Child Left Behind. We saw this week that Utah, a very Republican state, seemed to reject No Child Left Behind. Several other states or districts, at least, have lawsuits. Are you worried about the sustainability of No Child Left Behind? And what do you think happens going forward?

KENNEDY: Well, I am. I think what -- there was the understanding of those of us who participated in a bipartisan way with the administration and the White House, is that we would have reform and we would work out the reforms, but also we would fund those reforms. Money without reforms was not the best way to go, and reforms without resources weren't going to work. And that's what we have at the present time.


WATSON: That was my conversation with Senator Ted Kennedy earlier today. We'll get the other side of the judicial nominee battle when I talk with Senator Arlen Specter later in the show.

But next, many Americans have been leaving their local gas station with a bad case of sticker shock. How are soaring gas prices playing politically? And could the worst be yet to come?


WATSON: Some mixed news about gay unions in today's "Political Bytes."

Civil unions for same-sex couples will be legal in Connecticut beginning October 1st. After Governor Jody Rell signs a landmark bill in the law yesterday, the state is the first to approve civil unions without court pressure. There's mixed reaction within the gay community, with some activists disappointed that the state did not legalize gay marriage. Meantime, here in Washington, city officials have been warned that Congress might come down hard against any move to recognize gay marriage in the nation's capital.

The "Washington Post" reports GOP senator Sam Brownback raised a red flag in his role as chairman of the subcommittee on the District. Mayor Anthony Williams reportedly acknowledged that the city could put its budget agenda in jeopardy, along with domestic partnership benefits, if it mishandles the issue.

With me now, two good friends to discuss that issue and many more, Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile. Bay, let me start with you. It seems like we're seeing gay issues return in a number of forms, whether it's what's going on in Texas, with the ban on gay adoption, maybe passing, Connecticut -- we also saw something in Oregon. What do you make of all this?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's clear the direction it's going: gay marriage does not look like it has any kind of strength whatsoever as a movement. Even in Connecticut, where you saw gay unions accepted, they put an amendment, I believe, on that bill, which will pass, which prohibits gay marriage. So, it's clear that 40 states now have some type of ban on gay marriage. I think you'll see a few states pick up and do something along the lines of civil unions, but I think there will be very few.

WATSON: Donna, do you think we're going to see more of this? Do you think we're going to see more initiatives and more movement by legislatures to change the rules regarding, either gay civil unions or gay marriage?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I would hope so, because, look, after all, the 14th amendment guarantees equal protection under the law. We shouldn't have any second-class citizens in our country, and I applaud Governor Rell of Connecticut for taking the steps that she's taken to sign that bill. Now, let's see what other initiatives that we can get through these legislatures to ensure that no American is discriminated against, whatsoever.

BUCHANAN: And, Donna, you know very well that the Constitution does not, anywhere in it, suggest that there is -- gay marriage should be acceptable, or constitutional.

BRAZILE: I said equal protection. I -- look, I'm (INAUDIBLE) equal protection clause on the 14th amendment, Bay. None of us deserve to be second-class citizens, no American, and that's what I'm arguing for today. WATSON: You know what, Donna and Bay, one of the things that I think about a little bit is, will we see a significant regional difference here? You know, you have Vermont and you have Connecticut, now, both in the northeast, making a move seemingly in one direction -- Massachusetts as well -- but states in other parts of the country -- I wonder whether we'll see a big regional factor.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think you've hit it. You know, there's going to be a few states -- and I do believe they'll be in the northeast -- that will have some kind of movement towards this gay-union type of thing, but you -- if you looked across the states, as they put the ban -- any type of ban, some of them being constitutional bans -- in these states that came up on initiatives, they've always passed, they've always passed in the legislature, as well. There -- the movement is to make certain this condition does not in any way condone gay marriage or accept it.

WATSON: Donna, I'm going to turn the page a little bit and talk about economics. We've seen some tough news, lately, whether it's been retail sales, unemployment numbers, interest rates rising, stock market plunging. Do you think the economy is going to return as a major political issue? And if so, what should Democrats be talking about here?

BRAZILE: There's no questions. Democrats should continue to put focus on the economy. James Carville, after all, was right, it is the economy, stupid. I mean, stagnant wages, you see more Americans falling behind -- you know, in the "Washington Post," poll today, well over 48 percent of the people think that we're not doing anything on the economy. They're telling Congress, it's time to get your house in order, give us our jobs, secure our own country, make us prosperous again and leave all this other pandering to the right behind us. It's time to bring the jobs back, and that's what the American people want to talk about.

WATSON: Bay, is that true? Do you think we'll see big movement on economic issues in Congress when they return?

BUCHANAN: No, you'll see some talk. They're not going to get too panicky over it. We're going to see what the administration does to try to turn this around. We're in a soft patch, we're not in a recession.

But Donna has a point here. We are 18 months out of an election. If this were to continue into next year and Republicans haven't done anything to make it start to turn around and become stronger, to give people more opportunities out there, make them feel a little more secure, then this is going to become the issue -- I would suggest immigration and jobs will be the two issues in next year's elections, if something is not done.

WATSON: Very different set of issues, you're saying, versus 2004?

BUCHANAN: Well, yes, they will be much hotter, because the Democrats tried to make jobs and the economy an issue last year, but they were not successful, because the economy was coming back. But it's not as strong as it should be, and -- but the Republicans have plenty of time. If the Republicans turn this around and are strong, this will be an issue and it will be a plus for the Republicans next year.

WATSON: Got to watch...

BRAZILE: And healthcare -- don't forget healthcare, Bay. That's another issue that's caused a lot of anxiety.

BUCHANAN: You guys -- you keep trying to make healthcare an issue, Donna. It doesn't work.

WATSON: Donna, Donna, let me go overseas just for a quick second. I want -- and we only have about a minute left -- I want your final thoughts on the new pope and how this transition is going, and kind of your thoughts, in terms of political impact, here in the U.S., in terms of the Cardinal Benedict -- in terms of Cardinal Ratzinger becoming Pope Benedict XVI?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, let me congratulate this pope. I am a church-going Catholic, and been a Catholic all my life. You know, yesterday, I think he extended an olive branch, said he wanted to continue to dialogue, and I accept that, as a Catholic and as a christian. I wish him the very best. And, you know, I will change my little saying every week, when I go to confession, bless me father, I have sinned, I won't do it again. With this pope, I think I better learn how to rehearse that a little better.

WATSON: Bay, what do -- what do you think, because, you remember that when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he played a key role in John Kerry not receiving communion...

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

WATSON: least, that being the sense. Do you think he'll continue to encourage political participation?

BUCHANAN: I do. I think you see a very conservative pontiff here, someone who does believe that the church has certain standards and certain principles and beliefs, and that we expect all Catholics to stand up to those. And Donna, I think he might crack the whip on you American Catholics back here, so get ready.


WATSON: Oh, you know what, I wish I had the whole show to spend with you guys. We've got to leave it there. Our two good friends, Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, thank you both very much. Have a great weekend. We'll see you next week.

BRAZILE: Thank you all.

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

WATSON: We've been talking about the "F" word this afternoon, but just what are filibusters? When did they start and what do they do? Our Bruce Morton takes a look when we return.

And later, the fight over the president's judicial nominees. We heard from Senator Ted Kennedy, but coming up, I'll talk with Republican Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the judiciary committee.


WATSON: If you're getting frustrated by the stock markets, relief may be in sight. I'm joined now, with the insights on that and more, by Kitty Pilgrim, with "The Dobbs Report."

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, do we have some relief from that, Carlos. We had a big rebound on Wall Street today. Right now the Dow Industrials are jumping about 203 points, best one-day gain in more than a year. Do you remember the Dow has fallen more than 100 points in four of the previous six sessions? Taking a look at the NASDAQ -- it saw more than 2 percent higher also. Nice broad-based rally.

Behind today's rally, we have strong corporate earnings, good economic news, and an unusual merger on Wall Street -- the New York Stock Exchange says it will buy electronic-trading operator Archipelago, and then go public. Now, for more than 200 years, traders have exchanged shares by calling out prices across an open market. The new public company will begin using more electronic trading. That's in order to stay more competetive.

In corporate news, Time Warner and Comcast won a joint bid to buy up the assets of bankrupt cable company Adelphia, a deal valued at $18 billion in cash and stocks. As part of the complicated deal, Time Warner Cable, which is a unit of Time Warner, will spin off a separate publicly-traded company.

And Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned the Senate Budget Committee today our nation's budget deficit could lead to economic stagnation. Now, Democrats have long blamed the budget shortfalls on President Bush's tax cut four years ago. One Democratic senator challenged Greenspan about why he gave the green light to those cuts back then.


ALAN GREENSPAN, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: I did not support a specific tax cut. People assume that I did, but you will not find anywhere in the public record they supported the tax cut.


PILGRIM: Now Philip Morris reportedly close to signing a deal with the Chinese government to allow Marlboro cigarettes to be made and sold in that country. China is the world's largest cigarette market, but it has closed off western tobacco makers for years.

Ford is also looking to cash in on the Chinese market because of weak sales in North America. Ford plans to team up with Mazda and a Chinese automaker to open up a new engine plant there. Well, coming up tonight at 6:00 p.m., LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, "Broken Borders." We'll look at efforts by Senator Orin Hatch to prevent illegal aliens from abusing the appeals court in this country.

And then we also have Congressman Joe Barton and John Dingell join us to discuss their opposing views on the energy view. Also Senator Evan Bayh tells us why he's threatened to block the president's trade rep nominee. All that and a lot more 6:00 Eastern, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT.

But for now back to Carlos Watson -- Carlos.

WATSON: Thanks, Kitty. It sounds like a great show.

Just moments ago, President Bush's choice to be the very first national director of intelligence was confirmed by the United States Senate. Senators approved John Negroponte's nomination unanimously.

The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq now faces considerable challenges in reforming America's spy agencies in his new job created in response to the September 11 attacks.

The ultimate Senate showdown over President Bush's he judicial nominees could come within weeks after the Judiciary Committed voted along party lines to send two controversial nominations to the full Senate. Democrats blocked the nomination says of Texas judge Priscilla Owens and California judge Janice Rogers Brown during the president's first term. Now, once again, they're threatening to filibuster and Republicans are threatening to change the rules so they can't.

Democrats in turn are threatening to retaliate by effectively shutting down the chamber.

The filibuster has a rich tradition in the Senate as the best political weapon in the minority party, but the rules that have evolved over the years. Our national correspondent Bruce Morton takes a look back.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over: Originally, the Senate had unlimited debates, but in 1917 after a handful of senators successfully filibustered a bill to arm U.S. merchant ships, President Wilson charged that a little group of willful men have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.

The Senate changed its rules if two-thirds voted to cut off debate voting for cloture, it's called, debate ended. The Senate used the rule to end the filibuster against the treaty of Versailles which ended World War I.

In 1975, the Senate changed the number needed to invoke cloture down to 60.

Filibusters through the years, Jimmy Stewart was the good guy filibusterer in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

JIMMY STEWART, ACTOR: No matter what his race, color or creed.

MORTON: Huey Long of Louisiana did the gourmet version in 1935 offering recipes for potlucker, that's what you cook the greens in, and fried oysters. Longest by an individual? South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1957: 24 hours and 18 minutes.

But the big one was the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act which ended segregation in the South. Relays of southerners spoke for 57 days. Senators sleeping in shifts, stumbling in from midnight quorum calls. But in the end it passed and changed America.

Filibusters against judicial nominees? Yes. Republicans when Lyndon Johnson tried to name Justice Abe Fortas as chief justice in 1968, a cloture vote failed, Johnson withdrew the nomination.

Majorities hate filibusters, minorities don't.

SEN. JESSE HELMS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: It's not a filibuster when you do it. It's a filibuster when the other fellow does it.

MORTON: In the House, majority rules unimpeded -- debate always limited, up and down votes when the majority wants them.

The Senate was meant to be more deliberative. George Washington called it the saucer where passions cool. If the filibuster is abolished will that change?

DAVID BRODER, WASHINGTON POST: The right of unlimited debate, though it's rarely been invoked, has been one of the distinguishing features of the Senate and it's one of the characteristics that sets it apart from the House of Representatives.

MORTON: Will they get rid of it? A test could come very soon.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WATSON: Very soon, indeed. In fact, we'll talk to Arlen Specter about that later.

In the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert is the fighting fire with fire. He's accusing Democrats of blocking the Ethics Committee from organizing to protect some of their own from ethics investigations. Sources close to House GOP leaders saying Hastert was referring to possible probes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Representatives Jim McDermott of Washington, Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania.

Democrats calls Hastert's charge quote, "absurd." They accuse Republicans of gutting the Ethics Committee to protect embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

And coming up next, Republican Arlen Specter is warning his colleagues of mutually assured destruction in the United States Senate. I'll ask the Judiciary Committee chairman if he really thinks he can prevent a nuclear explosion of sorts over filibusters and the president's nominees to the bench.

Also ahead, President Bush made education reform one of his early political priorities, but now some states are rebelling against No Child Left Behind.

Now are bloggers being civil about Connecticut's approval of gay unions? Find out when we go inside the blogosphere.


WATSON: This story just in from the Associated Press. A military jury of North Carolina has convicted Army Sergeant Hassan Akbar of murder and attempted murder in a grenade attack on his comrades in Kuwait. The U.S. Army sergeant was on trial for the 2003 deaths of two of his colleagues in Kuwait. A prosecutor said the attack was carried out to achieve, quote, "maximum carnage," unquote.

We'll have more INSIDE POLITICS in just a moment.


WATSON: Well, welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. We have more now from the latest round in the fight between Republicans and Democrats over some of President Bush's judicial nominees. Joining us on the hill, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Senator Specter, thank you for joining us.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you. Thanks for inviting me.

WATSON: You had a speech on the floor of the Senate today where you said we might expect a vacancy on the Supreme Court very soon. Do you think it could come this summer?

SPECTER: The expectation is that there will be a vacancy. And we've already started our study. And one of the concerns we have is that if you had a vacancy, the way the court splits five to four and you had a 4 to 4 vacancy and the Senate unable to fill that vacancy, you could have a dysfunctional court with a tentative (ph) circuit standing and a lot of splits in the circuits. So there would be, really, quite a major problem.

WATSON: Senator Specter, you're a lawyer and a former district attorney and obviously, you've been a part of the Judiciary Committee for a number of years now. What kind of nominee would you like to see the White House send up to be the next justice of the Supreme Court?

SPECTER: I would like to see a nominee who has excellent education qualifications, who has good professional credentials in the practice of law, really involved in the practice. I think it would be helpful to have somebody who's familiar with the political process.

I do not think it is indispensable that the nominee be a circuit judge or a judge from any other court. I think we need to go broader, frankly, than the District of Columbia Circuit which has been sort of a ground for moving up to the court. But someone who has a very, very broad view of the law.

WATSON: Very interesting. So in saying that you'd be interested in someone who's got a political background, maybe, are you opening up the door for Earl Warren type? Someone who maybe served as a governor or a senator? I know we talked about George Mitchell a decade ago or so. Is that the kind of person you would be interested in?

SPECTER: Well, we talked about during the administration of President Clinton about Bruce Babbitt, a former governor and a cabinet officer. I wouldn't want to name any names, or I wouldn't want to get involved in the political ideology. But I think that it's very helpful to have someone on the court who has broad experience.

WATSON: Senator Specter, do you -- turning the page just a little bit back to the filibuster issue -- do you think we're going to end up having a shutdown Senate? Is that your expectation? Where do you think we're headed?

SPECTER: Well, it's a very much an open question. And there are many of us who are working very hard to try to avoid that.

Since I became chairman of the committee, I have been working hard to get the confirmation of judges like William Meyers who had been solicited to the Department of Interior, and two Democrats voted for cloture. We're very close to getting cloture, that is to cut off debate to vote on him.

The Democrats, to their credit, have relented at least on preliminary indications with no filibuster plan as to Thomas Griffith or Judge Terrence Boyle if we get those two confirmed. There are intensive efforts made to liberate three circuit judges in Michigan for the sixth circuit. I think if we were to be able to confirm quite a number of judges, it would take a lot of pressure off.

And we really, in the United States Senate know how to compromise. That is the art of politics. So we're working to try to avoid the nuclear option which would really be devastating to the Senate.

WATSON: And Senator Specter, just to be clear, is there -- beside, just working on individual judges, is there actually a different filibuster policy that could be a middle ground policy that's being discussed right now?

SPECTER: Well, no one has been able to come up with one which is satisfactory. There have been some suggestions. I issued a protocol several years ago that so many days after submission, the committee would have to report out, but that didn't handle what happened on the floor.

And there had been a proposal by our leader, Senator Frist that the first vote would be 60, the second vote would be 57 and downgrading but that could end up at 51 which has been unsatisfactory to the Democrats. So a compromise along that line while articulated a possibility hasn't really reached anywhere near fruition.

WATSON: Senator Specter, we appreciate your time today. Quick question, we know you're undergoing cancer treatment. How is that going? How are you feeling?

SPECTER: Well, the treatments are going very well. The tests on the CAT scan and the PET scan showed market improvement. They're tough for the few days following, but I find that as I'm heavily engaged, as long as I do one of three things I'm fine. If I sleep, if I play squash, or if I'm heavily engaged in Senate business. And I played squash this morning and yesterday and the day before and on the weekend. I'm doing fine. Thanks for asking.

WATSON: I'm sure you would beat me, sir. Thank you for joining us. And have a great end of the week.

SPECTER: Thank you. Nice being with you. Thank you.

WATSON: Turning a page a bit, going on the attack against one of President Bush's major legislative achievements. Coming up, Bill Schneider, on why even some red states are turning against the No child Left Behind law.


WATSON: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Carlos Watson sitting in for Judy Woodruff. We have got an update on a story we told about you about just moments ago. John Negroponte who has just been confirmed as the first Director of National Intelligence was confirmed 98 to 2. We had previously had said it was unanimous. The 2 dissenting votes were by Ron Wyden of Oregon as well as Tom Harkin of Iowa

Turning to a slightly different topic, it's a measure that initially got strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, now many are turning against President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Our Senior political analyst, Bill Schneider looks at what's going on and why.



BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: A grassroots rebellion is underway against one of President Bush's signature legislative achievements, and it's starting in, of all places, Utah, Bush's best state in last year's election, at 72 percent.

DAVID COX (R), UTAH STATE HOUSE: Our duty is to stop the federal encroachment that has been taking place for the last 40 or 50 years.

SCHNEIDER: At issue, the "No Child Left Behind" education law passed with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans in 2001. The law aims to make schools more accountable, by requiring them to show adequate yearly progress in student achievement, measured by annual tests. What about the tradition of local control of schools, some parents are asking.

JULIE AUSTIN, UTAH PARENT: I think that's really hard for people in Washington in all week, to know what's best in Utah for our students.

SCHNEIDER: Who's going to pay for all those tests? The law says, no state or school district can be forced to spend money for costs not paid for by the federal government. This week, the National Education Association joined with school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont, in a suit, claiming the feds have not come up with the money. Have so, the secretary of education insisted on the "News Hour with Jim Lehrer."

MARGARET SPELLINGS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: But the general accounting -- accountability office has found that "No Child Left Behind," and the requirements as it relates to the additional assessments that states must do, are very adequately funded.

SCHNEIDER: More than a dozen states are considering challenges to the "No Child Left Behind" law, but Utah, the reddest of the red, was the first state to act. On Tuesday, the Utah legislature voted to ignore provisions of the "No Child Left Behind" bill that are not fully funded by the federal government, and to give Utah's own school standards priority over federal standards.

MARGARET DAYTON (R), UTAH STATE HOUSE: We will just pursue our own accountability and educational efforts here.

SCHNEIDER: Defiance of the Bush administration in Utah! Where it will all end?

DAYTON: I think the federal government, here, has overstepped its bounds by going into a state's rights issue, and I think we need to realign the division here between state control and federal involvement.


SCHNEIDER: So what if Republicans control the entire federal government? States still don't like being told what to do.

WATSON: Now, is this the only issue, Bill, that we see the states rebelling on, or is there more?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, well, of course, they've been complaining about Medicaid reimbursements. They say that they're being forced to share bigger amount of Medicaid costs. The governors were in town, complaining bitterly about that.

WATSON: Wouldn't be surprised if we hear a little about base closures, too. You know, there's another round of those coming.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Another round of base closures, and that's bound to set off reaction in the states. The state-versus- federal conflict, it's written into the Constitution. It's always going to be there.

WATSON: And it's happening on a Republican watch. Very interesting. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

The fight over the filibuster on Capitol Hill: the bloggers are weighing in, fast and furious, on that issue and more. Our superstar blog reporters are up next.


WATSON: The white hot fight over the filibuster is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere today. For more on that, we turn to CNN political producer Abbi Tatton, and our blog reporter Jacki Schechner. Jacki, Abbi?


Yes, we are one step closer today in the final bout between the filibuster and the nuclear option in the Senate regarding Bush's judicial nominees, and some on the right, not entirely convinced that the nuclear option is going to win, although I suspect they would like to it to.

We start with Jayson over there at "elections and politics with a conservative bent" says, "the filibuster clock is at two minutes to midnight. Finally, mercifully," he says, "we're heading towards fish-or-cut-bait time," then saying, "we'll finally get to see if the GOP Senate caucus can muster 50 votes to eliminate that practice," meaning the filibuster, "in real life, as opposed merely to on paper or in the airwaves."

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: A lot of bloggers today linking to a report in "The Hill" newspaper, suggesting that Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania might be wavering in his support of the so-called nuclear option. A lot of conservative bloggers are weighing in on this, suggesting that Santorum should stand tall on this one, stay tough. -- this is Kevin Correnthal's (ph) site here -- "conservative news and views from Southern California." Kevin started this blog after mounting an e-mail -- a conservative e-mail campaign in both the 2002 and the 2004 elections in California. "Kill the filibuster and we will back you," he says today, warning Santorum. "A word to Santorum and others that are delaying the inevitable: stop it. Real Republicans support this option, and unless an acceptable compromise can be reached, we want this to happen."

SCHECHNER: At "The American Prospect" online -- that is -- Sam Rosenfeld (ph) posting over there, saying, "I suspect something else is going on here. A large number of Republican senators simply don't want to pick this fight." He thinks it has something to do with Bill Frist's personal ambitions as president, saying, "Frist is such an inept, stumble-bum strategist, and the spiral of wingnuttery that the Schiavo affair catalyzed, took on such a life of his its own that the majority leader ended up bluffing himself into a corner and now he's in a real pickle." TATTON: And we heard earlier in the show that, yesterday, Connecticut became the first state to legalize civil unions through legislation rather than through the courts and this is getting a lot of attention today. In particular, one post from I love this description here: "blogcasting from the worldwide headquarters of the not-so-vast gay right-wing conspiracy." Lots of great points in this post. "Twenty years ago, few, even in the gay community, recognized gay couples as a social unit, and now a state, not forced by a court and with an elected legislature has recognized gay unions. This is huge. Let me repeat, this is huge."

SCHECHNER: Over at -- the "Connecticut Compromise" is the post of -- it's Jay Reding with one D, dot com -- "conservatism with attitude." He says, "I remain somewhat skeptical, but, at same time, Connecticut did things right. No judge forced this decision down the throats of the people, and only time will tell how the compromise will work. But, at least this decision was made in the right way."

One more post on this we want to show you is Atomic Ballroom -- that's "The naysayers are missing the enormous nature of this law. Connecticut is the first state to voluntarily offer civil unions. This means the road, while not finished, is being paved."

So, Carlos, just a couple of the stories that we are talking about -- or, seeing them talk about -- on the blogs today.

WATSON: Jacki and Abbi, yesterday we heard big news that Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont is not going to run for reelection next year. Is there much in the blogosphere right now about some of these interesting 2006 races?

ABBI: Yes, there is on the -- in Vermont, for sure, and also in Pennsylvania, after Senator Santorum got some rather worrying poll numbers earlier this week. That's -- they've been focusing on those two, in particular. Good one here is the Great round-up- -- Thursday's political round-up -- of a lot of the states' governor's races, also Senate races, so that's a good one to see. Carlos?

WATSON: Thank you guys, both, very much. Tomorrow we've got a very special blog segment -- we're calling it "Blogs 2.0." We'll talk about how the blogosphere has changed over the last six months.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Carlos Watson. CROSSFIRE starts right now.



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