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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Military Releases List of Prospective Base Closures; Senator Kennedy Talks about Senate Standoff

Aired May 13, 2005 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
MICHAEL WYNNE, DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR ACQUISITION, TECHNOLOGY AND LOGISTICS: We are recommending the closure of 33 of the 318 major military installations in the United States

ANNOUNCER: D-day in the battle over base closings. We'll take a looked at the political winners.

SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: This is a great day for Massachusetts.

ANNOUNCER: And losers.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: This is, in my judgment -- it's a bad decision. The Pentagon was dead wrong.

ANNOUNCER: Tom DeLay hammers away at the Democrats.

REP. TOM DELAY, (R) TEXAS: No ideas, no leadership, no agenda. And in just the last week, we can now add to that list, no class.

ANNOUNCER: We'll get the inside story on last night's tribute to the embattled house majority leader.

ANNOUNCER: Who will be the next "American Idol?" The vote could be colored in a way by presidential politics.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

It may not be the easiest argument to make for an administration that often touts its commitment to America's troops, but today, the Pentagon recommended closing 33 major military bases across the country. It is part of a realignment that will cut thousands of jobs in hopes of saving billions of dollars.

As you might expect, some politicians whose states are on the losing end of the proposal are fighting mad. Let's begin our congressional -- our coverage with our congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. A service honor guard started fanning out around the Capitol complex early today, of course, delivering the report to each and every office of members of Congress on Capitol Hill. And for some, the news was not good.

Maine, with its two Republican senators was hit hard -- of course, recommended for closure there, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Mississippi -- also home to two influential Republican senators -- was hit, too. They're recommending for closure Pascagoula Naval Station there.

Also of interest, the decision to close Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Senator John Thune, who beat former Democratic leader Tom Daschle, ran part of his campaign on saving Ellsworth.

But it wasn't all states with Republican senators. Connecticut, of course the home to two Democratic senators is facing the possible closure of New London Submarine Base. A little while ago, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, talked about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (D) CONNECTICUT: We're in the middle of a war. And we're facing an enemy more brutal and willing to strike our homeland than ever before. So this has got to be about military necessity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Of course, many of these complaints are emotional and heart felt. A good example of that is a statement put out earlier today by Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. It said in part, "today's decision by the Department of Defense is nothing short of stunning, devastating, outrageous, a travesty, strategic blunder of epic proportions on the part of the Department of Defense. It's entirely beyond me as to the basis on which they made their recommendations, but it certainly was not logic or reason."

So, those are the kinds of statements we're hearing now. Of course, it begins a process. This is only the very beginning of the process. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee talked about that earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R) ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: Our members of Congress will roll up their sleeves, get with their communities. And, in hearings and in analysis, make their best argument to this commission that their particular bases that are slated for closure or realignment have military value that justifies keep them open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Of course, this is not the first time it's happened. And a lot of members of Congress realize they are facing an uphill battle to try to get their naval bases and military bases of other sorts off the list -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe, thanks very much. We want to ask you to stand by, because there's another story that we're going to ask you about about in just a moment.

But right now, there are some political figures who are embracing the Pentagon's plan, as Joe just said, or parts at least the parts of it that help their home states and their constituents's job security. Massachusetts and Georgia are among the states that would actually gain military jobs if the Pentagon's proposals are approved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: Senator Kennedy and I have great news. Thanks to the work of this extraordinary team, Hanscomb is going to grow, Massachusetts is going to see literally hundreds of new direct military jobs and potentially thousands more jobs in the private sector.

GOV. SONNY PERDUE, (R) GEORGIA: Well, we think how good is good overall for Georgia. Georgia is a net gainer, actually the No. 2 gainer of military personnel and missions in the nation. We think that's good news. We're here at Fort McPherson, which we're not satisfied with the decision here. And we'll vigorously defend Fort McPherson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well meanwhile, as you heard, Republican John Thune of South Dakota is vowing to lead the fight in the Senate to delay this round of base closings. The Pentagon's plan would put South Dakota's Ellsworth Air Force Base on the chopping block along with more than 3800 jobs.

In his campaign for the Senate, Thune has suggested his ties to the White House would help keep the Ellsworth base open. Senator Thune joins us now from Rapid City, South Dakota.

Senator, thank you for joining us. Did you get any advanced warning about this announcement?

THUNE: We didn't know with finality until this morning when everybody else got the list what was going to be on it, Judy. We had some hints along the way, as I think a lot of people did about the impacts that their states might feel. But this obviously came as a great shock to a lot of people in South Dakota.

WOODRUFF: What would this mean for your state?

THUNE: Well, Ellsworth Air Force Base is the number two employer in South Dakota, right behind the state of South Dakota. So the economic impact is profound.

And I have to say, I think that the Pentagon was dead wrong, and made a grave error in judgment with respect to military strategy. What we have effectively done is we're going to put all our eggs in one basket. We're now going to put all our bombers and put them in one place in Texas. And it seems to me, at least, that that puts us in a very vulnerable position. So -- but in terms of the economy of South Dakota, I can't emphasize enough the impact that it will have.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just quote to you -- I'm sure you're familiar with what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said. He said, "our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st Century challenges."

THUNE: Well, we've looked at what the Brac Law said that they had to examine and evaluate. The military value criteria, the economic impact criteria. This base matches up extraordinarily against all those criteria.

And frankly, I have no idea, there are teams of analysts at the Pentagon who do all this, make these assessments. I'm going to be very anxious, as is everybody in South Dakota next week, when these details actually come out, to see how they went about ranking these various bases.

This is a base with an extraordinary record. And again, I think the Pentagon made a grave error in judgment, because I don't think it makes sense to put all our eggs in one basket and have all our bombers in one location. That puts us in a very vulnerable position.

WOODRUFF: Senator, you ran of course, and defeated the former Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle. Among other things, you said during the campaign, that your relationship with the White House was going to put you in a stronger position to help Ellsworth Air Force Base.

You said it puts Ellsworth in a lot stronger position than having someone who is going to be in the minority and someone who doesn't have a relationship with the president. Were you wrong about that?

THUNE: Well, Judy -- and that is true. When it comes -- if there is a political component in this process, we had the base covered. But frankly the law is very clear and very plain that this is insulated from politics. This administration took a very hands off approach, allowed the military to make these decision.

As the process moves forward, obviously, Congress will be heard from. The president ultimately has to sign off on these recommendations. I'm going to make the case everywhere I can.

I've been making that case. I've had access to the administration officials and the Pentagon people who, I think, are in a position to do something about this. But up until this point, there's been very little margin for political involvement or political interference in this process.

WOODRUFF: So are you saying the decision should be based more on politics than on military strategy?

THUNE: No, the law says it has to be based on military value and economic impact. Those are two criteria on which we have very compelling arguments. We are going to, at some point, obviously, the Congress and the president, look at this. Because we have to sign off on it, have to approve it.

We're going to make the argument to the Brac commission, because we think that right now is the right place to win this argument. And like I said before, I think we have very compelling arguments when it comes to military value and when it comes to the economic impact.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we are going to leave it there. Senator John Thune of South Dakota. Senator, thank you very much for your time.

THUNE: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And now we turn to the fight over filibusters in the Senate. The big question is when will the full Senate attempt to vote on some of the president's judicial nominees? A move that could lead to a legislative meltdown. Let's go back to our Joe Johns on Capitol Hill for a new development. Hi Joe again.

JOHNS: Hi, Judy.

Well, the short version is not long ago here on Capitol Hill, the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist put out a pretty stark statement on paper saying that after the highway bill, which is now on the floor of the Senate, the Senate will turn to the issue of judicial nominations.

Now, what Bill Frist says also is that the nominees of focus will be, as expected, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. No indication as to whether one will be before the other or both will come at the same time. He's flatly saying that after the highway bill, they will now turn to the issue of judicial nomination. And if he does not get what he wants, which is an agreement of up to 100 hours of debate on each followed by an up-or-down vote on the nominees, they'll have a fight over whether the filibuster is in order on judicial nominees -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, all right, so we're marking next Tuesday, June 17th on our calendars with a big red star.

OK, Joe, thank you very much.

Well, about an hour from now, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is scheduled to appear at Ellington Airfield in Houston, Texas to talk about the proposed closing of an army national guard reserve center in his political backyard. DeLay is back home the day after fellow conservatives toasted him here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Last night, the man they called the hammer got a big old hug. He hammers in the morning. Embraced by the leaders in the right at a tribute organized in part by the American Conservative Union.

DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: When one of our own is unfairly attacked we have an obligation to ourselves and to the values we fight for to stand up for him.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: And I think the message tonight is that if they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us.

WOODRUFF: A message aimed at members of DeLay's own party. Republicans who have stood on the sidelines as the majority leader's been pilloried in the press, walloped by the Democratic opposition. Last night's crowd put those Republicans on notice. Desert DeLay and feel our wrath.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, PRESIDENT, EAGLE FORUM: We're not going to run away from this fight.

WOODRUFF: But did the message sink in? Few Congress members turned up at tribute. There were no shows on the speaker list. No message from the president. The chairman of the Republican National Committee did sit on the dais, but didn't address the crowd. Those who did insisted conservatives are used to being in the line of fire.

SCHLAFLY: (INAUDIBLE) Betty Friedan said she would like to burn me at the stake. You've had it easy, Tom.

WOODRUFF: DeLay, for his part seemed touched by the show of support.

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX) MAJORITY LEADER: This is a very humbling event.

WOODRUFF: But the hammer didn't sound humble for very long.

DELAY: Our opponents have offered nothing. Nothing. No ideas. No leadership. No agenda. And in just the last week, we can now add to that list no class.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: All from last night's dinner. We'll get more on the conservative defense of DeLay ahead from a reliable source who was at the DeLay dinner last night. Our own Bob Novak.

Also, ahead, the latest twist in the John Bolton confirmation battle. And Senator Edward Kennedy's take on the nomination.

And later, the "American Idol" phenomenon. Are fans seeing red?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has one additional obstacle to overcome. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California has placed a hold on Bolton's nomination. A move which could prevent or at least delay a vote by the full Senate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to send the nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation.

The Bolton nomination is among the topics I discussed yesterday with Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. In part two of our interview, I noted comments by some Senate Democrats who say it is possible they'll try to filibuster the nomination. I asked Senator Kennedy if a Bolton filibuster is a real possibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KENNEDY: Well, it's possible. I think it's premature to make that judgment. I'd be opposed to John Bolton. I think there's no question now in the result of the hearings that he has been involved in tampering with intelligence to get a political results. I think that's unacceptable. What we have learned after the whole Iraqi experience, we cannot afford to have a person like that in a position, in leading the United States at the United Nations. I think he's disqualified himself. I'll vote no.

WOODRUFF: Senator Kennedy, let me also ask you about the issue coming before the Senate of judicial nominees. The president's nominees, as you know, Senator Frist is saying he wants to bring that to a vote next week. Do the Democrats have the votes now to prevent Senator Frist from going ahead with the so called nuclear option, doing away with a filibuster right.

KENNEDY: Well, I would hope so. But in this situation where there's so much involved, it's a little difficult to know those last two or three vote. And I think it will down to probably two votes. I think, this is -- should be put in a framework where the founding fathers wanted the United States Senate not to be a rubber stamp. They wanted members of the United States Senate to exercise their own informed judgment, and not to be stifled by a seize of authority and power. I respect the fact that the Republicans have won the presidency, they've won the House of Representatives and the Senate, but they can't just think they can extend that to owning the independent judiciary. That's really what's at stake here. And the president, obviously, has received 95 percent of his nominees. But at a certain time when there matters that are dealing with constitutional rights -- that we have fought for, civil rights, Voting Rights Act, Americans with disability, family and medical leave. There has to be a time when members can stand up and express themselves. Republicans want to roll over us. It's a grab for power. It's an abuse of power. We ought to play by the rules, and the rules say that we ought to be able to speak. They have since the founding of the country, we'll stay with that.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying you don't think there's hope for compromise on this filibuster question?

KENNEDY: Well, I think everyone -- we all want to see work -- worked out in a way that's going to respect the Senate traditions. I mean, I'm open within that framework. We're glad to try and sort of see what happens. But you can't -- you don't want to diminish the right of individuals to be independent in terms of make their judgments and expressing their conscience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Senator Edward Kennedy talking to me just yesterday.

Just ahead, rallying support for Tom DeLay. Bob Novak joins me next with a first person account of last night's salute to the House majority leader.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak joins us with some "Inside Buzz." So, Bob, you were at the Tom DeLay tribute dinner last night. What did you notice?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there was an outsider -- the Senate Democratic campaign had a camera crew taking shots of people who...

WOODRUFF: The Democratic crew?

NOVAK: Democratic. I figured they were looking for Republican Senate candidates or Republican senators, but the only one I could find was Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. And he had already just been elected to a new six-year term last year. So they were probably out of luck.

But there were protesters giving out cashmere bouquet soap saying, help Tom DeLay clean up his act. And I got a little bar of soap, I thought I'd show it to you.

WOODRUFF: Wow. OK. Good to collect these items at these big dinners. I assume a number of people got those.

All right. Separately Bob, there had been speculation that DeLay's congressional district was going to be hit by one of the military base closings. What happened?

NOVAK: Everybody is announcing that there's a realignment -- there is realignment at the Ellington Field, Air National Guard. But you look at fine print and there is the loss of zero military personnel and only three civilian military personnel. That's a pretty light hit when some of those realignments, hundreds of thousands of workers are going to be relieved. So, I thought DeLay did OK.

WOODRUFF: OK. Something we talked about from time to time about closing fund-raising loop holes. The so-called Shays/Meehan Bill on those so-called 527s. Where does that stand?

NOVAK: The Democrats are really losing interest in that, Judy. They've taken a look at figures, and in the last election cycle $600 million in soft money came through this loophole. About Two to one of it Democratic. So of the eight Democratic sponsors of Shays/Meehan, four have dropped out -- withdrawn. Bishop and McNulty of New York and Barbara Lee and Becerra of California.

WOODRUFF: So again, the 527's, these independent commissions...

NOVAK: Soft money things.

WOODRUFF: Soft money committee.

Last but not least, Social Security reform. We've heard a lot about it, but not as much in the last few days. What's going on?

NOVAK: The earlier year, the House Republican leadership said they didn't want to be BTU'd on this. Now, to the insiders, that goes back to the Clinton days when the House passed the presidents BTU tax and they killed it in the Senate and the Democrats in the House were left holding the bag.

But the Republicans in the House are afraid they would pass Social Security and it would get killed in the Senate and they lose, so they'd wait for the Senate.

But there's been a change. Mike Pence, the leader of the conservatives in the House made a speech where he said the House should go first with a Republican bill, no tax increase, no graduated indexing. And the majority leader, Tom DeLay, I'm told, is with the conservatives on this.

So, I think you're going to find the house moving first with a very Republican bill. Maybe not as much a Bush bill as a Republican bill.

WOODRUFF: All right, we heard it here first. Bob Novak, thanks very much. Have a good weekend.

NOVAK: You too.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate. Bob Novak's "Inside Buzz."

And be sure to join Bob tomorrow on the "Novak Zone when he'll be joined by teenage soccer sensation, Freddy Adu -- we're going to have to watch that. That's tomorrow at 2:30 Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, a major ruling on gay marriage, and some new polling on Hillary Clinton. It's all part of today's "Political Bytes."

It's Friday, and that means it's time for the play of the week. Our Bill Schneider will reveal the winner.

Plus tapping voters, a local candidate finds a tasty way to campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Just before 4:00 on the East Coast. And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Christine Romans in New York with the Dobbs report. Hello, Christine.

(MARKET REPORT) CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, the Chinese government is trying to limit the sales of U.S. software in China. And we'll have the latest on CAFTA. Why are thousand happens of people in Central America protesting against this trade agreement?

And on "Broken Borders," should a separate state police force separate California's border with New Mexico? All that and more on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." For now, back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Christine, thanks very much. We'll be watching. And now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

We know that President Bush is standing by his controversial choice to be ambassador to the United Nations. But is he going the extra mile to make sure that John Bolton gets the job?

The White House confirmed today that Mr. Bush called Republican senator George Voinovich on Wednesday to stress how much he wanted a full Senate vote on Bolton. The Foreign Relations Committee did vote yesterday to send the nomination to the Senate floor, but without an endorsement. In large part because of Voinovich's strong concerns about Bolton.

Voinovich produced a bit of drama. That said a lot about the Senate. Here now, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well you know, mavericks have rights in the United States Senate. And this week, they got something else -- the political play of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democracy means majority rule, and something else.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The promise of democracy is fulfilled by minority rights.

SCHNEIDER: In American politics, the House of Representatives enshrines majority rule. The Senate has a different tradition.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: It's forum for minorities, where we can have dissent on the part of the minorities.

SCHNEIDER: Robert Byrd, the dean of the Senate, lectured Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about Senate traditions.

BYRD: No, I have the floor. I have the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

SCHNEIDER: Specifically, the filibuster.

BYRD: Over here, a man, a woman may stand on his or her -- as long as their lungs, their brass lungs will carry their voice, and they can object.

SCHNEIDER: The maverick tradition was also in operation on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the same day where a Republican senator voiced opposition to President Bush's United Nations' nominee.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH, (R) OHIO: And it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.

SCHNEIDER: He persuaded his fellow Republicans to send the nomination to the Senate floor without committee approval. Voinovich's colleagues were dumbfounded, and respectful.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) CONNECTICUT: We don't have them every single day around here. But we had one this morning. We had a senatorial moment.

SCHNEIDER: Later this day, Senator Barbara Boxer of California exercised her prerogative to put a hold on the Bolton nomination until the State Department releases more information about the nominee's record. Three Senate mavericks in one day. The minority had a message for the majority -- tamper with this Senate tradition at your peril.

BYRD: The leader and his party may some day be on the same gallows that we in the minority find ourselves on today.

SCHNEIDER: Senate mavericks don't rule, but they do get rights. And they get the political play of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Brutal majority rule is for the House of Representatives. Republicans suffered under it for 40 years, and now it's the Democrats' turn. A lot of senators on both sides are worried about turning the Senate into another House.

WOODRUFF: Hm! I wonder what that would look like.

SCHNEIDER: Well, they don't think it would look very good.

WOODRUFF: They don't think so.

OK. Bill Schneider we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Well, speaking of mavericks, there is a Democrat in the House of Representatives who is getting out front on the issue of Social Security reform. For the very latest on that, let's go quickly to the Hill. And to our Ed Henry. Hi, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Judy. I'm at the White House today. And CNN has learned that Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida on Monday is going to introduce a Social Security plan. It's going to raise taxes on upper-income Americans in order to try to extend the solvency of Social Security. The plan would basically impose a 3 percent tax on earnings over $90,000. As you know right now, there's a 6.2 percent tax that only applies to the first $90,000 that someone earns. The bottom line, and what's interesting here, is that White House officials here are telling -- they're telling us that the president has a generally positive reaction to this.

As you know, very few Democratic plans have been put forth. While the president does not agree with raising payroll taxes, White House spokesman Trent Duffy told me a few moments ago that the president welcomes all ideas, sees this as a positive step forward, that a Democrat is finally putting a plan forth.

And what's even more interesting, is that Bob Wexler's fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill are very upset about this. They're privately giving him grief, because they feel that he is playing into the Republicans' hands by calling for a tax increase, exactly what Republicans will hammer away at.

Now a Wexler spokesman told CNN's Ted Barrett a little earlier that basically Congressman Wexler believes the Democrats have done a good job of basically demonizing the president's private accounts. But it's finally time for the Democrats to put a plan on the table. That's something the president has been saying, as you know, for months now -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And I noticed, Ed, in Wexler's statement that his district has largest number of retirees of any Democrat in the House.

HENRY: That's right. That's why it's going to get some notice. And obviously the White House is going to pay close attention. They want Democrats to start coming forth with details of their own.

WOODRUFF: OK. Ed Henry who is at the White House today, thanks very much.

HENRY: Turning now it our Friday "Political Byte." Senator Hillary Clinton is collecting more contributions to her re-election campaign. She's attending a fund-raiser this afternoon in downtown Atlanta. But the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" reports that the state's two top Democrats, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of State will not be in attendance.

Tomorrow, Senator Clinton delivers the commencement address at Georgia's Agnus Scott College.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, a new poll finds Senator Clinton leading Governor Mitt Romney among bay state voters in a hypothetical match up for president in 2008. The State House News poll gives Clinton 54 percent to Romney's 38 percent.

And in Nebraska, the state attorney general says that he will appeal a federal judge's ruling yesterday that struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. The judge rule that the law amounted to punishment. And that it went far beyond a simple ban on same-sex marriages. 70 percent of Nebraska voters approved the constitutional ban back in 2000.

A long-awaited vote now is just weeks away. Coming up, the campaign to be the next "American Idol." Is there a southern strategy?

Also ahead, debating the politics of proposed base closings. Are the winners and losers clear-cut?

And when we go inside of blogs, online pundits spoof one of their own.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: You won't be surprised to hear that the bloggers are tracking reaction to the military base closing story. Let's check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jackie Schechner our blog reporter. Hi, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Judy.

One of the word we've been hearing about today is BRAC, and it's an acronym. And some people might not know what is means or they haven't learned it yet. We found this blog, jenniesoulberg.blogs.com (ph), who had posted last Friday when she says that she got a sneak peek at the BRAC List. She says it stands for base realignment and closure. And is the most dreaded acronym to all thousands of people living in the vicinity of small to moderately-sized military installations throughout the country.

Something that we're seeing echoed throughout the blogs today, as people talk about this. Outsidethebeltway.com, James Joyner covering it in full. The latest post he has is the community perspective what this means for people living close to these bases.

But another interesting post that we saw over there a little bit earlier was from Richard Gardner, who is a retired navy officer. And he only wanted -- not only wanted to bring attention to the bases that could possibly be closed, but also to the ones that would possibly be realigned. And he says that that will cause job lost as well. So, if you go over to the site, he's got a list of the base and then the number of people that would lose their jobs. An interesting take, also noting that some changes will come about as that happens.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: We also checked in with some of the state local political blogs out there. This is Connecticut local politics. And they're wondering about the possible closure of New London Submarine Base. They're saying that the submarine base is a matter of pride out there. Making the following point, that I don't need to tell you about the economic impact. Of course, it will be devastating. But the emotional impact of seeing the base shut its doors may very well be worse.

Now, over to Maine, as well. Maine has three installations on the list there today. Mainelite, how is your Friday the 13th, ours is not good. They're not happy with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld there. Also going on, again in Maine, to Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine -- wondering about her political chances in 2006.

This is Slublog. This is Peter Cook, a blogger, who is a constituent of Senator Snowe's. Snowe's chance is part two. Senator Olympia Snowe's chances to win re-election just took a massive hit, he says, over there with the publication of this list today.

SCHECHNER: Well, also went over to southdakotapolitics.blogs.com, because of the announcement is Ellsworth Air Force Base is up for closed or at least up for closure. And this is a conservative blog that was prominent in the South there -- South Dakota Senate race. And they say, what needs to be done now is concerted action by our delegation, our state leaders and Rapid City Officials to convince the BRAC Commission that Ellsworth is vital to our national security.

TATTON: There's still a lot of discussion today about Bush's nomination to the U.N. ambassador, this is John Bolton, of course. Yesterday conservative bloggers were angry at Senator George Voinovich of Ohio today. They're also angry at Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.

What changed Senator Boxer? This is the blog of Scott Tibbs, a conservative, who is digging up the congressional archive. And he makes the following point, saying that this is what Senator Boxer said in 1997. According to the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates and the Senate shall provide advice and consent. It's not the role of the Senate to obstruct the process. This is Senator Boxer who last night put a hold on the nomination.

SCHECHNER: Now, something else interesting we wanted to show you at danieldrezner.com. He's got a guest poster today on the whole Bolton issues. It's Suzanne Nossel, who's a senior fellow at Security Peace Institute. She worked at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in 1999- 2001, has an informed take on Bolton -- saying that she was hired to push though a historic package of financial reforms at the organization. And says what they don't need right now is a stream roller, and that's exactly what Bolton is. It take's patients and timing to get it right at the U.N.

TATTON: One thing to show you quickly is huffingtonstoast.com. Arianna Huffington, of course, launch her celebrity studded blog, The Huffington Post, on Monday of this week and the spoof sites are flooding in. This one's definitely worthy of note. Lots of fake posts by bloggers out there. My favorite from big time blogger Andrew Sullivan, not really by Andrew Sullivan, it says. He's there representing the gay pseudo Republican Disgruntled Catholic Former Hawk Community. Lots of good stuff on huffingtonstoast.com. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Huffingtonstoast. What they won't do with these names. All right, Abbi, Jacki, thanks very much. And we'll see you both on Monday.

Straight ahead, more on the battle over John Bolton. I will talk with political veterans Jack Valenti and Ron Kaufman about the looming showdown in the Senate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With me now to talk about some of the day's top stories here in Washington, Republican strategist Ron Kaufman. And in Austin Texas, Jack Valenti, a former advisor to President Lyndon Johnson. He's in Lyndon Johnson territory right now.

Jack, let me turn to you first on this base closing story. How much of -- are these politicians who are worried and wringing their hand, should they be worried?

JACK VALENTI, FMR. AIDE TO PRES. JOHNSON: Yes, they should. This happens about every five years. I remember we went through this in the Johnson administration. When Robert McNamera and the Pentagon in one of their periodic fits of cost control wants to shut down bases. And you would think that the children were being strangled in their cradles as a result of the outcry from Congressmen and senators. There's nothing that gets them stirred up than one of these base closing, because it can deleterious effect on your reelection. So, yes, it's a big deal.

WOODRUFF: Did these decisions get made for the right reasons, Ron?

RON KAUFMAN, GOP STRATEGIST: I think now, Judy, this is one of the few times in Washington when they have actually a really good law that works. And the base closing law really works. And the system is up or down. You can't save one base because it's your friend or not. You have the whole list. The president -- in the Senate and it is this a yes or no on the whole list. And the system works.

And listen, no one likes to close a base, as Jack knows well. But the truth is, in this changing world of ours, you have to change your resources around.

WOODRUFF: But I -- just for example, interviewed Senator John -- the new senator from the state of South Dakota, John Thune and he says it's completely wrong for his state, because he said Ellsworth Air Force Base is the second largest employer for South Dakota.

KAUFMAN: I'm sure it's wrong for South Dakota. And I'm sorry for those folks, but there's a bigger picture here you have to consider. And this changing world is so dangerous, Judy, you have to make sure the resources go to the right places.

WOODRUFF: Jack, Democrats or Republicans hurt more by this? Or do you really think it's even?

VALENTI: Oh, I think it's incumbents who are hurt by this more than anything else -- Democrat and Republican. I think that you're talking about people losing their jobs. Next to death, I suppose that's the most fatal thing that can happen to you. And people don't take that kindly.

So, yes, I think it's a major deal. And as I said about every five or six years this goes on, because some of these bases are antiquated and out of date and no longer useful.

WOODRUFF: Ron Kaufman, let's talk about John Bolton, the president's nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He may well get through to the floor next week, but he's taking quite a bruising. Is the president going to end up being helped or hurt by all of this?

KAUFMAN: Listen, Secretary Bolton is tough. He is smart. And he is very tenacious. And he's got the full faith and confidence of the president. And quite frankly, the U.N. is sadly in disrepair. It's unethical. In fact, any of Jack -- if Tom DeLay had the same ethical problems that Kofi Annan, did Jack would be asking for Tom's head versus him leaving the Senate.

So there's a lot of problems there. And you need a tough leader that the president respects. And that's John Bolton.

WOODRUFF: You said the U.N. is unethical.

KAUFMAN: Yes. Unfortunately, sadly, it's mismanaged. There's tons of problems. There are scandals. And it needs to be rehauled. And the best person to do that from our perspective is John Bolton.

WOODRUFF: Jack.

VALENTI: Well, I disagree. I do not know Secretary Bolton, so I can't speak personally of him. All I know is what I have read and have heard. And it seems to me that he is a diplomat who is mostly undiplomatic.

And while I think a strong leader in the U.N. on our side is wonderful, but in order to change the U.N., you have to get a majority of the people, particularly on the security council as well as the assembly, to want to make these changes and that does take some diplomatic skills.

If you come barreling in there, you are going to stiffen the spine of everybody. Nothing will happen. Things will get worse.

So I think, on the other hand, though I do believe a president ought to have the right to have his U.N. Ambassador confirmed, but the Senate is a different body. It has unlimited debate, which I think is wonderful and ought not be changed. And therefore, you have to go through this gauntlet of fire. I think in time, before it's all done, he probably will be confirmed.

WOODRUFF: But did the president underestimate what he was facing here?

VALENTI: My judgment...

WOODRUFF: Let me ask Ron.

VALENTI: Excuse me, Ron.

KAUFMAN: I don't think he cared whether or not this caused some political storm or not. I think he decided he wanted somebody, at this point in time, that had Secretary Bolton's background and that he trusted to go in there and make some tough decisions.

WOODRUFF: You think it is worth for the president to go through this kind of...

KAUFMAN: Absolutely. As Jack said, I think he will win. And you know something, Judy? Winning always works.

WOODRUFF: Even with George Voinovich's comments you, you are saying?

KAUFMAN: Even with George Voinovich's comments. I love the Senator, but even with his comments yes, ma'am.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Ron Kaufman, Jack Valenti, it's always great it see you. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you.

A $14,000 shotgun is quite a gift. And it is just one of the expensive and unusual presents President Bush received last year. According to financial disclosure forms released by the White House today, Mr. Bush got the shotgun from a California man.

Other gifts included a $2700 mountain bike from a bicycle company. And more than $300 in workout clothes from Nike.

Well, the president knows a thing or two about close and contested votes. So could he possibly relate to the contestants on "American Idol?" The answer ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: President Bush's said he's not much of a television watcher, so he's probably not a big "American Idol" fan. But he apparently has something in common with all those would-be pop stars who compete on the mega hit reality show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): A farm girl with a flair for country music, Carrie Underwood is the "Idol" contestant to beat if you believe the oddsmakers. And "Idol" judge Simon Cowell has a politically-charged explanation for that. Cowell told "Entertainment Weekly" that he thinks "American Idol" has quote, "always been a red state competition. With a special appeal for southerners."

The ratings back up Cowell's judgment to a point. Nielsen Media Research averaged the ratings for the first three season premiers and found "Idol" was the biggest hit in Atlanta followed by Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Memphis, and then the Greensboro-High Point-Winston- Salem market in North Carolina. Three out of five of those markets are in southern red states. But D.C. And Milwaukee are basic blue.

All the past "Idol" winners have been from southern, red states. So they'd be more likely to pull in ratings and votes from those regions. And the 3 remaining finalists this season are from red states.

Millions of Americans in both red and blue states tune into "Idol" and cast votes every week undeterred by controversial, upset candidates, surprise losses and even scandal. It's something perhaps for politicians to think about before voters choose the next American president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: So the lesson is, watch more television. And one last note, this one about politics and, well, beer. A woman running for a judge's post in Philadelphia's court of common pleas is placing ads on pint glasses in the city's taverns. The glasses feature her campaign Web address. Linda Carpenter got the idea from her husband, who is the owner a local microbrewery. He often uses custom beer glasses to promote his product. We're not surprised.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS this Friday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

END

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