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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Fall of Saigon Still Affects U.S. Veterans, Policies; Senate Judicial Standoff Continues; Ethics Committee Function Discussed

Aired April 29, 2005 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: From primetime to the day time, President Bush promotes more detailed version of his Social Security plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the job of a president is to recognize reality.

ANNOUNCER: But has he made any new headway with Congress or with the public?

Blasts from the past. The wartime ghosts that haunt American politics to this very day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a sadness that it doesn't go away.

ANNOUNCER: You could call it the birds of a feather effect. Find out who's flocking together in the political play of the week.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. House Republicans are backing up President Bush's latest call to action on Social Security by offering a timetable. Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas today announced plans to draft legislation by June. He calls it a retirement bill, a sign that he expects some form of personal accounts to be in the mix.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILL THOMAS (R), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS CHAIRMAN: I applaud the president. He delivered phase one. It's now our responsibility to follow through legislatively and we will do it in as short a time as possible so that we can get this done this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The president pressed his case at an event in Virginia today, a follow-up to primetime emphasis on keeping Social Security solvent, in part by curtailing some benefits. More on the plan and the politics from our White House correspondent Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's been trying to convince Washington Social Security's no longer the third rail of politics. You touch it, you die. In his retooled sales pitch, he's now grabbing that third rail with both hands, for the first time embracing benefit cuts to address the system's spending problem.

BUSH: I have a duty to put ideas on the table. I'm putting them on the table.

BASH: The plan, known as progressive indexing, would peg higher income workers to inflation, effectively cutting their benefits. But low income workers' benefits would be based on their wages, as they are now, so they would be protected.

BUSH: If Congress were to enact that, that that would go a long way toward making the system solvent for a younger generation of Americans.

BASH: Embracing benefit cuts is a huge political risk, but Mr. Bush believes a necessary one as he tries to advance a debate he has staked so much on. 52 percent disapproved of the president's plan in February. Now 60 percent of Americans dislike his proposal. That, despite months of travel, in 20-plus states, mostly focusing on his controversial plan to offer younger workers private investment accounts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing?

BUSH: Pretty cool. So-so.

BASH: Mr. Bush isn't backing off personal accounts, but acknowledges they don't deal with the long-term solvency issues. Some conservatives worry talk of trimming benefits would only add to Mr. Bush's political worries, and Democrats quickly called it an attack on the middle class. But the president and his allies say shaking up the debate, while risky, is a way to force Democrats to come up with their own plan.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FMR. W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: Democrats can't just say no. I mean, the old Nancy Reagan, just say no, you can't do it. Put something on the table. Where are your suggestions?

BASH (on camera): The White House doesn't like the term benefit cuts, saying future benefits will fall even more if Social Security goes into the red. And since Congress is moving forward now on legislation, Bush aides say it was finally time to offer specifics to solve the problem after spending months trying to convince Americans that there is one.

Dana Bash, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Dana. Well, President Bush's vision of a Social Security overhaul is taking clearer shape, but there are still many blanks to fill in and obstacles to overcome.

We're joined now by White House communications director Nicolle Devenish. Thank you very for joining us.

NICOLLE DEVENISH, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me, Judy.

WOODRUFF: First of all, the president's remarks last night, primetime news conference, are the dynamics changing as a result of that?

DEVENISH: Well, you know, I think the president always welcomes and appreciates an opportunity to speak directly with the American people about the efforts he's taking and making and leading here in Washington to address their concerns. You know, Judy, 70 percent of the American people understand that there are real problems facing Social Security, not for current retirees or those nearing retirement. They're going to get their checks and the system remains unchanged. Because anyone my age and future generations are looking at a guaranteed cut in our benefits if this Congress fails to act.

WOODRUFF: But the Democrats, as you know very well, are saying the president still is focused on what they call privatization, what the president calls personal accounts. And they're saying as long as that's the case, he's not addressing the solvency problem.

DEVENISH: Well, you know, Judy, as well as I do that the American people are very smart. And what the American people see the president doing is leading, leading on an issue that they understand is a problem. Now what the president has proposed is that we get almost all the way to the solution by changing the way we calculate benefits. For those seniors who need it most, their benefits will grow the fastest. For those who are little better off, their benefits will grow a little more slowly.

But then it's up to all of us here in Washington to make sure it's a better deal, that we have more money in our retirement and that's what personal retirement accounts are about. You know, when you go to the movies and you order popcorn and a coke and they give you the candy for free, you don't have to take the candy. That's the same idea. You don't have to take a personal account. It's optional, it's voluntary, and it's for people, again, my age and younger who decide that they want to take control and take ownership of their retirement.

WOODRUFF: Let me change the subject to fuel prices, the energy situation. The president said last night no easy fix for high gasoline prices. We heard him say that, no -- and I guess my question is, you know, where is that are going? We read today the economy is slowing, primarily due to high fuel prices. Is there anything the president can do?

DEVENISH: Well, Judy, we hope it's going straight to the president's desk. He called on Congress last night to get a bill to his desk by the summer driving season to address the root causes of our dependence on foreign sources of energy. You know, he's been real clear, he's been real direct on this. If he could wave a magic wand and lower the prices at the pump, he would do so. But you know, this country hasn't had an energy policy in place for decades and the president is, again, leading on this issue that is very important to all Americans.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask also to listen to one of the president's comments last night on his nominee to be the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Here's what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt. John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We're talking with Nicolle Devenish. Nicolle, it's clear the president mentioned John Bolton's personality, but it's not just that. It is, among other things, a former CIA chief saying that Mr. Bolton tried to fire a national intelligence officer who thought Bolton was exaggerating evidence on Cuba. The president didn't address that part of Mr. Bolton's problems.

DEVENISH: Well, you know, the president isn't alone in thinking John Bolton is an accomplished diplomat, a straight-talking diplomat with a real record of getting things done on behalf of the American people. You know, the United States Senate has confirmed John Bolton four times, and I think the very same committee that's considering him for the U.N. post confirmed him, you know, just a couple of years ago.

So he has been looked at and it's the job of the United States Senate to ask questions and it's our job to answer them. But that process is complete and I think it's really only the partisan wrangling that's keeping some of demagoguing of this nomination alive.

WOODRUFF: Finally, on when American troops might begin to come home in large numbers from Iraq, the president said he didn't have a timetable. When do you think the president will give the American people more reassurance on that?

DEVENISH: Well, I think the president has been incredibly clear about why we can't give a timeline. He's explained to the American people that the enemy is waiting for us to lay out a timetable so they can plan their attacks for the day we leave. And that's not how this president's going to lead a country at war. And he has said that as soon the Iraqis have their security forces trained and are able to completely transition to providing their own security, that our troops will come home with the honor and respect that they deserve.

WOODRUFF: All right, well, we thank you for your time.

DEVENISH: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Nicolle Devenish, White House communications director. Thank you very much.

DEVENISH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, as you would expect, many Democrats say they didn't like what they heard from the president last night. Ahead, I'll talk with Senator Charles Schumer of New York about Social Security reform and more.

Democrats may be looking to a higher power to strengthen their ranks in the U.S. Senate. Minority Leader Harry Reid suggested yesterday that it would take a miracle for his party to reclaim control of the Senate next year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: I would like to think that a little miracle would happen and we would pick up five seats this time. I guess miracles never cease.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Some politicians of both parties were taken aback by Reid's remark, but his spokesman suggests that Reid remains hopeful about his party's chances in 2006, noting to "The Washington Times" that the minority leader said he does believe in miracles.

From '06 to '08, next, the latest on some possible presidential contenders, their comings and goings and a deadly proposal.

And later, a Republican White House veteran weighs in on the fight over judicial nominees and whether Democrats opposing the president have a point.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We check in on some of the potential White House candidates in '08 our Friday "Political Bytes." Senator Hillary Clinton is on the road in Wisconsin where she's the keynote speaker at tonight's banquet for Wisconsin Women in Government. The "Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel" reports that Clinton will hold a private fund-raiser for her Senate campaign tomorrow in Milwaukee.

New York governor George Pataki is in California this weekend. He speaks to a group of moderate Republicans called the New Majority today in Newport Beach. And he meets with San Bernardino Republicans this afternoon. Tomorrow Pataki makes a speech to Orange County Republicans.

Senator and former Democratic hopeful John Kerry is also heading to the Golden State. Tomorrow he plans to endorse Antonio Villaraigosa for Los Angeles mayor. Villaraigosa was an early supporter of Kerry's presidential campaign. He faces a runoff against incumbent L.A. mayor Jim Hahn May 17.

And back here in the East, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wants to return capital punishment to the Bay State. Romney filed a bill yesterday that would bring back the death penalty with provisions for DNA testing and other safeguards. Massachusetts is one of a dozen states that does not permit capital punishment.

Bob Novak joins me with some inside buzz. Hello, it's always good to see you.

BOB NOVAK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: First of all, the decision by House Republicans to go back on the ethics rules, what happened?

NOVAK: They kicked that around for two weeks, Judy, until finally the speaker, Dennis Hastert, didn't take a poll, didn't take a vote, he just said OK, I've decided we're going to go back to the old rules.

Now Deborah Pryce, chairman of the House Republican Conference said we've got to put some changes, in some modifications, speaker said no, no, Deborah, that will give the people a chance to blast Tom DeLay on the floor, we've got to retreat all the way. Tom DeLay was in the meeting, didn't say a word.

WOODRUFF: Didn't speak up.

Another topic, the vote on the new parental notification law. What is that doing to the House?

NOVAK: Well, there was 45 Democrats voted for, so you might think we got bipartisanship, but in fact it was very bitter. The House Judiciary Committee report on the bill talked about amendments by Democrats permitting sexual predators to get away with it. And Democrats on the floor just went bananas, particularly Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York, he said the only reason he referred to the chairman of the committee, Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, was because under procedure you have to refer to the chairman who's distinguished but he wasn't distinguished.

WOODRUFF: OK. Another piece of legislation to shield reporters from prosecution, not getting much support?

NOVAK: I love this story. The very distinguished and popular senator from Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, put in this bill co- sponsored with Chris Dodd, asked for cosponsors. He only got three co-sponsors, all Republicans, a companion bill in the House by Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana only he got 24 cosponsors, 14 of them Republican.

The fact is, Judy, the members of Congress, particularly the Republicans, just don't like reporters very much. And in fact, one of the Republicans told me they just as soon see him go to jail if they don't testify before a grand jury.

WOODRUFF: I guess that's a surprise.

NOVAK: Big surprise. WOODRUFF: You always like to talk about money in this segment. The Senate Democrats we're learning have opened up a fund-raising lead, but what are the Republicans opening up?

NOVAK: Usually Chuck Schumer is a phenomenal fund-raiser. He raised $5 million in April alone. But the Republican Senate committee trying to get even had a secret fund-raiser on Wednesday in the northwest Washington home of Majority Leader Bill Frist. The president was there. It wasn't on his schedule. He spoke.

Republicans from all over the country came to the fund-raiser. It wasn't cheap, though, Judy. If you wanted to go, it was 25,000. If you wanted to bring a spouse, you paid another $25,000. It was $50,000.

If everybody there paid, they raised over $1 million at one little fund-raiser in Bill Frist's house.

WOODRUFF: Why do they keep it secret until now?

NOVAK: I guess it isn't very good publicity, all these fat cats coming in and paying $50,000 to have a...

WOODRUFF: But Bob Novak managed to find out.

NOVAK: I did.

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak's notebook. Thank you -- inside buzz -- thank you.

And you can be sure and catch Bob this weekend on the Novak Zone, that is tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

The Vietnam War, three decades later. Up next, our Bruce Morton shares his thoughts about the end of the war and the anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Three decades have passed since Saigon fell. But here in the United States as we know very well, the political battles of Vietnam are far from over.

Our Bruce Morton who covered the Vietnam War has thoughts on tomorrow's anniversary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It ended 30 years ago, Americans scrambling to board the helicopters taking off from the embassy roof in what was still Saigon. Vietnamese tanks rolling into the city. It ended and yet it didn't end. Look at the campaign hostility towards John Kerry who came home from the war to protest the war. The Vietnam Veteran waiting at a book signing to spit at Jane Fonda angry over her foolish visit to Hanoi all those years. Ended -- David Halberstam covered the war and wrote about it.

DAVID HALBERSTAM, AUTHOR: It some times seems to me that it is the second American Civil War, Bruce, us against ourselves as much as it was us against the VietCong and the North Vietnamese. And that there are opportunities both because of class, generation, whatever, to -- for political reasons to exploit those tensions. And so there's a sadness that it doesn't go away.

MORTON: We learned from it, some practical things with echoes today in Iraq.

HALBERSTAM: We subtracted the most important part of political background which was the French/Indochina War, and therefore we imposed ourselves in another country's historical process. Its own war of liberation.

MORTON: Defense Secretary Robert McNamara visited years later with Vietnamese, including General Vo Nguyen Giap. We couldn't understand he marveled, how you could stand those heavy casualties. The answer simply, it was our country, and, of course, it was. And one more lesson. Vietnam for America was the end of innocence. If G.I. Joe's were good guys in World War II, the Americans in Vietnam were grumps and they didn't get killed. And they didn't get killed, the word they got was wasted. There was much waste. And good guys we learned in time about a massacre in Hamlet called My Lai. American troops, a platoon commanded by Lieutenant William Calley killed many, unarmed men, women, children and babies along a trail in a ditch. And army photographer took pictures. Calley at his court-martial testified, they were all the enemies, sir. They were all to be destroyed.

And the pilots dropping bombs never knew who they'd hit. It was the relationship we wondered between altitude and reality. There is a memorial park at My Lai now, I visited it on assignment for CNN 10 years ago. One of the things they have is a book visitors can write in. One American wrote, that he had been in Vietnam during the war. The lesson he wrote was, we need to realize we are all one, we all carry with us the potential to be the killer and the victim. Not good guys only, but good and bad all mixed up like everybody else. A hard lesson and one we have just been taught again at a place in Iraq called Abu Ghraib.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And we'll never finish having our national conversation about Vietnam. Thank you, Bruce.

Putting his cards on the table, President Bush reveals details about his plan to overhaul Social Security.

How are the Democrats responding?

I'll speak with senator Charles Schumer when we come back.

Plus it was a very busy week in politics. So, who gets the play of the week? Bill Schneider reveals the winner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's a little before 4:00 in the east. And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "The Dobbs Report."

Hello, Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy, thanks.

We had a late-day rally and that sent shocks -- stocks sharply higher. Let's take a look. Right now, the Dow Industrials is up about 108 points. Nasdaq 1 percent higher. And in stocks Microsoft reported third quarter profit nearly doubled more than $2.5 billion. The shares rose 3 percent on the day.

Let's look at oil, and it's been a big story. Oil prices tumbled more than $2 ending below $50 a barrel today. Now, oil inventories are up. President Bush made a proposal to lower energy costs and the economy appears to be slowing. That might weaken energy demand. So for the week, oil tumbled 11 percent.

Lets talk about income. American's got the best increase in income in three months. Now the commerce department says incomes rose by half a percent in March, but consumers spent more too. Spending rose six tenth's of a percent. And that, as you know, is because of higher gas prices.

Housing prices, absolutely, going through the roof. A research group found the number of low to moderate income families paying more than half of their income for housing. It's jumped 76 percent in just five years. And the study also found that immigrant families are playing -- far more likely to pay the majority of the income for housing.

An outsourcing story for you. Dell Computer, increasing it's operations overseas. The company will hire another 2,000 workers in an office in India, making that location it's hub for software development. By the end of this year, Dell's stuff in India will number 10,000 workers.

Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," intelligence analysts are trying to find out whether North Korea has a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM WALSH, MANAGING THE ATOM PROJECT: We're trying to read the tea leaves, but North Korea is a black box. It's the most closed country on the planet today. We're not even sure whether they have zero nuclear weapons, two nuclear weapons or eight nuclear weapons. They're all sorts of guesses.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PILGRIM: Also tonight, New York state is giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs, even if they're outsourcers. In our special report "Exporting America," we'll tell you how one lawmaker is fighting that.

And we'll also talk to Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the Immigration Border Security and Citizenship Committee. He'll discuss the real I.D. legislation that prohibits illegal aliens from obtaining driver licenses. And we'll find out whether that will win Senate approval.

Also, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gives words of support to the Minutemen project. That's the civilian project patrolling our borders against official border patrol wishes.

We'll have all of that tonight, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. But for now, back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Kitty. And we'll be watching. Now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Except for a passing reference by a reporter, President Bush escaped any questions last night about House majority leader Tom DeLay's troubles, or the GOP retreat on ethics rules. That probably sat well with the president, given the fact that the Democrats came out on the winning end of that controversy this week.

Here now, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this week, the beleaguered minority enjoyed a rare victory in American politics, rare enough to make it the political play of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): You might call the minority party in the House of Representatives the most oppressed minority in American politics. Unlike the Senate minority, which can bottle up legislation, the House minority has no power -- except on the House Ethics Committee, where both parties have equal representation. In January, Republicans changed the Ethics Committee's rules in an apparent move to protect beleaguered Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Democrats were outraged.

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: Well, four months ago when they thought no one was looking, the Republican majority of the House passed a rules package that gutted the House Ethics standards and effectively neutered the House Ethics Committee.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats refused to allow the committee to organize. That put off any investigation and kept DeLay's troubles on the front pages.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: And as long as we were to stalemate, that's all that is in the press today, is the ethics stalemate. SCHNEIDER: On Wednesday, the Republicans gave in and repealed the rules changes.

HASTERT: Well, I'm willing to step back.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats were triumphant.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The issue became too hot for them to handle. They simply had to reverse their ill-advised opinion.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans tried to put a positive spin on their retreat.

REP. DOC HASTINGS (R), ETHICS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Because I believe it is damaging to this institution to allow one side of the House to shut down the Ethics Committee, I have concluded that we must return for now to the rules of the past Congress.

SCHNEIDER: The GOP leadership distributed talking points, one of which said, rather than let the Democrat my way or the highway strategy drag on, House Republicans have elected to take the high road. Highway or high road, it was the only path to resolution of the Tom DeLay matter.

HASTERT: I think that there's a member, especially on our side, that needs to have the process moved forward so he can clear his name. Right now we can't clear his name.

SCHNEIDER: The long-suffering minority Democrats held fast. For them, it was a moment to savor.

REP. ALAN MOLLOHAN (D), ETHICS COMMITTEE: For those of us who have opposed these rules changes from the outset, it's been a long, difficult effort, and it is gratifying to see it finally succeed.

SCHNEIDER: It is also the political play of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now that the Ethics Committee can function again, there is some concern over the possibility of an ethics war, with each member of every party filing charges against members of the other party. So last week, a lot of House members were rushing to amend their travel reports just in case.

WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, there are those who have predicted that this may come back to bite the Democrats. That number one, Mr. DeLay may be found innocent of these allegations, these charges. And number two, as you just pointed out, some Democrats may end up getting pulled into this Ethics business.

SCHNEIDER: All of that is true, and that is exactly the risk the Democrats are taking, that some of their members, including possibly leading members, can be charged with ethics violations because Tom DeLay says, everybody does it. Well, we'll see about that. WOODRUFF: How much time of the business -- or out of the business that Congress is supposed to be doing does all of this ethics business take up, do you think?

SCHNEIDER: Well, when there is a serious ethics investigation of a House leader like Tom DeLay, the press will tend to focus on that. And what press does is really set the agenda. So unless and until DeLay is found guilty, cleared, admonished, whatever happens, it's going to be the focus of a lot of press attention. That's exactly what Speaker Hastert was talking about. That's all the press is reporting on.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, play of the week. Thanks very much.

Senate Democrats also are trying to keep it together on a variety of issues. Up next, Senator Chuck Schumer defends his party's stands on Social Security, judicial nominees and more.

Also ahead, a Republican take on the Senate filibuster fight and whether the so-called nuclear option will be triggered.

And later, when we go "Inside the Blogs," online reviews of the president's news conference. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Many Democrats are accusing President Bush of planning to sock it to the middle class now that he has publicly endorsed the possibility of cutting some Social Security benefits.

We're joined now by the senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer, good to see you.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Nice to talk to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Senator, now that the president has laid out his plan, or more of his plan on Social Security, isn't it incumbent on the Democrats to do more than just say no to everything?

SCHUMER: Well, let me say first, he hasn't laid out a concrete plan. We're awaiting in the Finance Committee a legislative proposal. They haven't even been called up to testify. We have the outlines of what president wants and they're not very good. He was in a hole when he talked about privatization and now he's digging the hole a bit deeper by talking about these dramatic cuts to even middle-class people on Social Security.

It's our view that the president was the one who called this a crisis. Social Security is going to be in good shape 'til 2042. That doesn't mean we wait till 2041, but it doesn't mean we need to do something by this summer. And if he feels that it's incumbent, that it's a crisis, send us a detailed plan on what he believes and then will react to it.

But we're not going to, on the basis of one press conference and one speech, come out with our detailed plan, particularly in light of the fact that, again, we don't believe it's a crisis. We believe Social Security needs some changes, but we want to keep it basically the way it is. We're not recommending dramatic overhaul.

WOODRUFF: Let me read to you one of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Ben Nelson of Nebraska said. He said, "while the president did not lay out a complete plan to address solvency," he said, "I'm pleased that he did present one idea for us to consider as part of a solvency solution." And that of course is referring to the proposal to protect benefits for low-income workers and the benefit cuts for others.

SCHUMER: Right.

Well, couple of things here. He did talk about in general terms the plan that Mr. Posen had out together. But we don't know the details. And as you know the devil is off in the details.

Second, what he has talked about we don't find -- I think the vast majority of Democrats -- don't find to their liking. And privatization would entail such a dramatic overhaul of Social Security, fundamentally it's destruction as we know it from an insurance policy to an investment policy, that we believe he has to take that off the table before we sit down and negotiate.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president is saying also though, senator. He said I'm willing to listen to good ideas from either party. The American people look at this and they see the Democrats not even willing to come halfway. Not even willing to engage in a conversation. Why couldn't that come back to hurt the Democrats?

SCHUMER: Well, because I think most of the American people believe we are defending a program that they love. And the president is trying to radically overhaul a program that they recommend. And that's why he's in so much trouble. The more he speaks about it, the less happy they are with his plan.

And there is a simple solution. We brought it up a lot of times. First, the president has to take privatization off the table. We believe privatization's equal to the destruction of Social Security as we know it. Then, my view -- and this is the view of many Democrats -- he could do just what Ronald Reagan did. Put together a grouch of respected Democrats and Republicans who would make the adjustments, twist the dials if you will, and preserve Social Security for this generation and for future generations.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about judicial nominees. We know now that the Republican leader in the senator, Senator Frist, has proposed a compromise that would include having -- allowing Democrats to block lower court nominees if you would agree to give up the power to block nominees for the appeals courts, to the Supreme Court. Now, Senator Reid has said no way in effect. But again if the Republicans are giving in here, why shouldn't the Democrats?

SCHUMER: Well, they're not giving in. We haven't blocked a single-lower court nominee. And in fact Orrin Hatch just unilaterally took the power from senators to block these nominees which we had until a few years ago, it was called the blue slip.

The real issues are decided in the Supreme Court and the court of appeals. How about we ask Senator Frist to reverse it? We won't filibuster on lower court nominees if he gives us the right do it on court of appeals nominees and Supreme Court.

We have proposed a real compromise. Compromise means everyone gets hurt. And the plan that Senator Reid has outlined, which talks about giving up a few judges who they don't like and changing some of the rules is a real compromise. The two things that Senator Frist has talked about. One, long -- delayed -- longer debate. Well, that's slow death rather than fast death. And now this one.

We haven't blocked district court judges. It's the court of appeals and the Supreme Court that is where it's at. So he's really not proposing compromises at all.

Now, I know what's going on here. The hard right, very far out, people way at the extremes. Senator Frist can't buck them. But most Americans, again, quite surprisingly are on our side on this. We didn't expect that, but they seem to understand, we are preserving checks and balances and they're overreaching.

WOODRUFF: All right, senator, we are going to leave it there. Senator Charles Schumer of New York. We thank you for joining us -- from New York.

SCHUMER: Judy, nice to talk to you.

WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

Well, next, a Republican perspective on judicial filibusters, that's when we return. As the Senate leaders continue to debate issue, I will talk with former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray about why he opposes the Democrats' strategy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I have nominated. I certainly hope my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. They deserve an up or down vote. I think for the sake of fairness, these good people I've nominated should get a vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: That was President Bush, last night of course, talking about the filibusters being used by Senate Democrats to block some of his judicial nominees.

Yesterday here on INSIDE POLITICS I spoke with the Democrats' former Senate leader George Mitchell about the strategy behind those filibusters. With me now to offer an opposing view is C. Boyden Gray. He was White House counsel for the first President Bush. He is the founder and chairman for the Committee for Justice. Boyden Gray, great to see you.

C. BOYDEN GRAY, COMMITTEE FOR JUSTICE: Good afternoon.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much for being here.

Not only -- it's not only George Mitchell, but Chuck Schumer and others, the Democrats, are saying Republicans tell us that we're not letting the president's nominees get an up-or-down vote. But as Senator Mitchell said yesterday, out of 216 judicial nominees, 206 of them had been approved. And almost all of those did get an up-or-down vote. So what's the complaint?

GRAY: The key issue not over the district court appointees, nominees who come primarily out of the Senate really. It's over the appellate nominees. And this is all a run-up to the Supreme Court opening, which isn't necessarily going to occur, but probably will this spring.

And as to the appellate nominees, this president has had the lowest confirmation rate for his appellate nominees of any president in history. And that's where the problem is.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president said -- I'm sorry, I'm going to get back to what Senator Schumer had to say first. He said the compromises that Senator Frist have offered -- we just heard him say, they're not real compromises. He said a real compromise is when both sides make a sacrifice. And he said this is a very lopsided proposal.

GRAY: Well, there is really no way to compromise on the notion of filibustering, or trying to reject a judge by 60 -- by asking for a 60 vote plurality. The filibuster has been used for legislative purposes for many, many decades to force a compromise on legislation. But there's no way to compromise a nominee. You can't cut a nominee in half, you can split the difference with a nominee, you can't get the nominee to recant his views on X, but not on Y. It's the up or down, that the way it's always been. And all the Republicans are asking for is a restoration of what has been the practice for over 200 years, which is you get the up or down vote on a nominee because there is no other way to compromise out any particular candidate.

WOODRUFF: But there are some Republicans like Virginia Senator John Warner who is saying, he doesn't want to see this rule change because he said when -- some year comes down -- some year in the future, the Republicans will be in the minority, and they'll want the ability to do the same thing that Democrats are trying to do now. He was saying, here is the last bastion, an institution that protects the right of the minority. He said I have been here when the Republicans were in the majority -- the Democrats in the majority and the Republicans again. His point is, that it's a mistake to do this because history turns.

GRAY: Well I don't think Senator Warren has finally made up his mind. But fact of the matter is, we know in the past from Senator Byrd doing this very same thing himself, four or five times in the '70s and 80s, that the minute the Democrats got in the majority again and the Republicans tried do this, they would change the rules. I mean, you just know it's going to happen. And then they'll say, we didn't mean anything when we said 10 years ago that. And the press would be all behind them, and let them get by with it. And then we'd have -- we'd have a situation that existed for the last 200 years. So, the so the Democrats get it both ways. And they will change the rules if they get back into the majority.

WOODRUFF: Do you favor -- are you worry at all if the nuclear option as it's been called is implemented, that there's not -- there's going to be fallout that's going to hurt the ability of the Senate to get its work done.

GRAY: I really seriously doubt that the senators -- the Democratic senators will slow down the Senate. I think it would hurt them badly, if they did. I would almost say, be my guest. And I think privately they'll tell you they are not going to do it. Imagine slowing down an energy bill with gasoline price the way they, with our dependency on Middle Eastern oil. I don't think they would have -- I think it would be really, really suicidal for them to try to block the Senate energy bill, for example, in a time like this.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. C. Boyden Gray, it's always good to have you on the program.

GRAY: My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

Blogosphere kept a close watch on the president's appearance in prime time last night. Up next, we'll see how the bloggers are reacting to what the president had to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Time now to find out what the bloggers were doing during the president's prime-time news conference. We check in now with CNN Political Producer Abbi Tatton and Jackie Schechner our blog reporter -- Jackie.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Judy. There was a lot less, here's what I think, and a lot more of what do you think going on in the blogs last night. We thought a lot of the blogs would be live blogging the press conference. Instead, many of them just posted open threads, and allowed the readers to do their own running commentary, more like a conversation. Over at DaFazio.com, one of the biggies, we did note they did have three separate open threads because they were starting to overflow. And we counted it up, it was close to 1,200 posts over the course of the press conference.

Over at outsidebeltway.com, James Joyner seemed to be the go-to guy for the extensive live blogging we were talking about. He's got his roundup down at bottom, when I scroll down for you. See it takes a while. But he says overall, despite my tongue-in-cheek transcription, I thought he did a mediocre job with the opening statement but quite good with the answer, talking about President Bush. ABBI TATTON, CNN PRODUCER: Now, liberal bloggers predictably picking up on Bush's proposed changes to Social Security, payments to retirees. Over to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, let me spell the URL for you so you can get their yourself -- X-N-E-R-G.blogspot.com. On this idea of means testing that lots of liberal bloggers are talking about today. A good post here, isn't the problem with means testing that it would run the Social Security, a welfare rather than a retirement insurance program. And wouldn't that undermine the widespread demographic crossing support the program has enjoyed for decades?

On to the right -- on to the conservative bloggers, here at powerlineblog.com, they have no problem with this idea of means testing. Why, because they didn't think they we're going to get any money anyway. First, I think some kind of means test is inevitable. More than 20 years ago, I began retirement planning on the assumption that all my Social Security payment have been a complete waste, and I will never get a nickel out of the program. I'm willing to accept that outcome in exchange for a system in which everyone, not just upper-income workers, can save money and accumulate wealth.

Onto another one from another conservative blog here -- Ankle Biting Pundits. Picking up on the fact that a couple of the networks left the news conference early in order to get to their programing. Ankle Biting Pundits here has a problem with that. Think about it for a second, I love football but after the Heidi game, the rule is that you can't cut off any NFL games until they're over, no matter how big of a blowout the game is. Yet, they have no problem cutting off the president. I wonder if they'd done that to Bill Clinton.

SCHECHNER: And finally, a note on the press conference, not everybody watched it. Barbara O'Brien over the Mahablog -- it's mahablog.com. She got all her information off of other bloggers and off of the Web, and did a really impressive roundup of reaction back and forth. Now, she has a left lean, so the argument she makes will favor that. But we thought that the compilation itself was impressive and worth mentioning?

TATTON: Now, on to a development in the blogosphere announced yesterday at rogerlsimon.com. This is the idea of trying to turn blogs into business. Now, as we go through our blog roundup each day, you see that some of the sites, some of the blogs do already have adverts on them. You can scroll down here for blog ads on rogerlsimon's. You can see a Pamela Anderson advert right there. But a lot of the blogs are just a place where people can post their ideas. They're not money making ventures. But Roger L. Simon, along with couple of other prominent bloggers want to change that. They want bloggers to band together, to form a kind of consortium where cooperate advertisers can go to place their ads on these blogs. They're inviting everyone to join them.

On the advertising end, any blogger, whether political or not, is welcomed. We'll be delighted to place ads on your blog. They're reporting a big response. They have bloggers all over the world -- UK, Iraq, Malaysia, India. E-mail is pouring in they're saying right now. SCHECHNER: Mark Reed over at lavoice.org is cautiously optimistic. He calls is a stunningly audacious two-pronged plan. The first prong being the idea of a group of blogs being able to court advertisers. The second part being a world wide blog news service, that they would hope would some day replace the wire services or the mainstream media as they call it.

The first part he says, a fat pipe for ad money has been what bloggers have been dreaming of for several years. He thinks that's attainable. The second part he says, he thinks that's going to take some time. The quote we pulled on this one was, "There is a vast gap between responsible reporting and passionately blogging, particularly when the blogospher, by-in-large, does most of it's reporter by standing on the work already done by the worlds reporters.

So, they're view Judy for this Friday. We will send it back to you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you. Will be interesting to see if the blogs start running big advertisements all the time. That will be an important development. OK, Jackie, Abbi thank you both. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" right now.

END

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