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Interview with Trent Lott; Senate Filibuster Fight Continues; Harsh Words from DNC Chairman Howard Dean

Aired May 16, 2005 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: What's cooking in the filibuster fight?
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, (R) NEW MEXICO: If he works hard, he might be able to cook something like it.

SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) TENNESSEE: Give me some credit.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NEVADA: I don't know what the goose was, but it was good.

The day after a bipartisan dinner, have senators found a recipe for compromise or disaster?

Should "Newsweek" take it back? The magazine acknowledges errors in a stories that inflamed the Muslim world, and the White House wants an explanation.

The power of blogs -- online pundits get together in person to discuss their influence on American politics.

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

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. Judy is off today. I'm Candy Crowley.

To put it bluntly, this is the week all hell could break loose in the U.S. Senate. The fight over filibusters of judicial nominees is on the brink of going nuclear, and both Republicans and Democrats contend they will win. We begin with congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, the negotiation continues and so does the attempts at persuasion. One thing you can say, it's going on both behind the scenes and fully out in public. Twice today, the Democratic leader called on six Republicans to become profiles in courage.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: I address my remarks now to Republican senators. We only need a handful. We only need a handful to stand up and say, what is going on is wrong. We have three separate-but-equal branches of government. We believe in a system of checks and balances. And we are not going to let the White House run the Senate. And therefore, I'm going to vote against the nuclear option. We only need six profiles in courage. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Obviously, Republicans would like six Democrats to come over to their way of thinking. The question is whether and when it will happen. Both sides, of course, as you noted at the top, are claiming that they do have the votes if and when a showdown occurs on the Senate floor. But there are a lot of mixed feelings. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana demonstrated that in an interview on CNN on Sunday.


SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: I believe that we are skating over very thin ice here with regard to the continuity of life in the Senate as we've known it. I'm opposed to trying to eliminate filibusters simply because I think they protect minority rights, whether they're Republicans, Democrats or other people.


JOHNS: Now, what's going on behind the scenes? Well, Democrats are circulating some language of a proposed deal that would essentially translate into Democrats permitting votes on a number, perhaps most of the appellate judges being filibustered. However, Democrats would reserve the right for filibusters in extraordinary circumstance. Behind the scenes, intense negotiation, as I said. Some of the attention centering right now on Senator John McCain, the Republican of Arizona of course, and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. As you said also at the top, Candy, there was a lot of talk over the weekend that perhaps these two sides could come a bit closer together after a dinner at Senator Bill Frist's house, the majority leader's house. Of course, no indication that there was any movement from either side.

Back to you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Joe Johns on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Moderate Senate Republicans considered key to the outcome of the filibuster fight are being targeted in new ads by the pro-Democrat group People for the American Way. The group says it plans to spend roughly $1 million in the coming week to air the spots in Pennsylvania, Alaska and Maine, as well as on national cable and here in Washington.

And the Democratic National Committee has e-mailed an Internet ad to more than 3 million supporters accusing Majority Leader Bill Frist of trying to rewrite Senate rules to put a handful of right-wing judges on the federal bench.

The filibuster showdown is a hot topic for pollsters. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been looking over the results of various surveys and equally important, the wording of the questions.

Bill, how does the public feel about the filibuster issue? BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you described it as a war in Washington, but according to a Pew Research Center poll just released on this issue, the public is pretty much disengaged. Only a third of Americans say they've been following it. The poll finds the public is inclined to oppose changing Senate ruling to stop the use of filibusters against judicial nominees -- 28 percent favor ending the filibuster; 37 percent are opposed; 35 percent have no opinion. But over on the right, among the one third who say they have been following the issue, opinion is more one-sided, and a majority opposes ending the filibuster.

CROWLEY: Our Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

We are looking now to Senator and former Majority Leader Trent Lott -- sorry, we're going to have Trent Lott after a break here. We will be right back.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. We were talking with our Bill Schneider before I so rudely interrupted him. Sorry about that, Bill. You were talking about the Pew poll. That seems consistent, I think, with other polls how people feel about the filibuster. Is it consistent?

SCHNEIDER: Well, generally it is, Candy. Five public nonpartisan polls have asked about the filibuster issue over the last two months. Now each of them shows more people who want to keep the filibuster than end it. Three of the polls here show high levels of support for keeping the filibuster -- 66 percent in the "Washington Post"/ABC News poll; 59 percent in the "Time" poll just out this weekend; 57 percent in a March "Newsweek" poll. All three mentioned that the filibuster would be used to stop President Bush's judicial nominees.

Two other polls show slightly smaller majorities in favor of keeping the filibuster -- 52 percent in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll and 50 percent in the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll. In both of those, 40 percent want to end the filibuster.

Now these two polls and the Pew poll I mentioned earlier don't talk about President Bush as part of the final question or just before they put the question. It appears that when you mention blocking President Bush's judicial nominees, support for the filibuster is just a little bit stronger.

CROWLEY: So when Republicans look at these polls, Bill, do they think they're fair, because they all seem to sort of run against where the Republicans are headed?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Republicans have done, not surprisingly, their own polls. Here's what Senator Richard Lugar had to say on CNN's "LATE EDITION" Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LUGAR: Well, Republicans have polls that indicate that 44 percent of the people believe that you ought to have an up-and-down vote on candidates as opposed to 43 percent who oppose. So it depends how you phrase the question.


SCHNEIDER: Well, actually, the Pew poll asked a similar question. Should President Bush be able to appoint anyone he wants to the federal courts if a majority of senators agree? And 53 percent of Americans said yes, he should. But Pew also asked, should the minority party be able to block some of the judges that they feel strongly about because federal judges are appointed for life -- 62 percent said yes. So it does depend how you ask the question.

CROWLEY: It's all in the question. Thanks so much, Bill Schneider. Appreciate it.


CROWLEY: Senator and former Majority Leader Trent Lott has been involved in talk aimed at finding a filibuster compromise. He's joining me now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, is this going to come to a showdown? Will there be a vote, or is there any hope for a compromise?

SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R), MS: It looks like it will come to a vote. But from my experiences in the Senate, there's always some opportunity for a compromise. It could still happen. But I don't see how any compromise can be reached without allowing these seven judges that were blocked last year and the year before, the seven renominated judges, from getting an up-or-down vote. Now, one or two of them may not get the necessary majority vote.

But Candy, I want to emphasize a couple of misimpressions that are being used to try to block this process, particularly being used in the media. First of all, this is not going to end the filibuster. The filibuster will still be there on substantive and legislative issues and nonjudicial appointments. But it would say that on judicial nominations, a 51 vote and an up-or-down vote would be all that would be required.

The other misimpression is that we're changing the rules. As a matter of fact, this just puts in rule -- back in place that would continue -- the tradition is that federal judges would not be filibustered. They would get an up-or-down vote.

CROWLEY: Senator, Joe Johns -- I don't know if you heard him -- mentioned one of the compromises that I thank has been out there for a while, which is that the Democrats would agree that most appellate judge nominations would come up for a vote, but that they would withhold in really extreme cases? Is that all right? Is that an acceptable compromise?

LOTT: I have been working on some possible compromises, really for a year and a half. The rules committee that I chair actually reported out one way we could resolve would be to go through a long process of reducing numbers that would be required to confirm a judge, eventually getting to 51. Senator Ben Nelson and I came up with a second compromise.

The one you're talking about is a third one. The problem with what you're talking about is, if you use the word extraordinary or extreme circumstances, you know, how would that be defined, and by the way, who would make that determination? That's very difficult to do. But that probably could be worked out if something can be worked out: one, that we are not going to have this continued pattern of filibustering men, women and minorities who are highly qualified, and if we can figure out a way to deal with the seven that are still pending from the previous Congress.

CROWLEY: Senator Lott, I don't know if you have been reading your press lately, but the word "troublemaker" has come up in a couple of them. I wanted to ask you -- obviously, you and Senator Frist have somewhat of a history. He replaced you as majority leader. A lot of people are suggesting you set him up for the fall here?

LOTT: I think this issue needs to be resolved. I think Senator Frist would tell you I've been trying to be helpful. What I've tried to do is to see if we could find a compromise to get through this, to make sure that those that really were uncomfortable with moving forward with it knew that every possible avenue had been explored to see if there was a possible compromise. And then, the other alternative is if you actually find a way to get something agreed to, that's fine. My goal is an end result. Some people are critical and they say you're not paying attention to the ends. Look, if we can stop this -- which is becoming a regular thing after not being the case for 214 years -- of filibustering judges, if we can work out a way to stop that, I think we ought to look at all options

I don't -- maybe some people view it as a troublemaker, others might say that I'm trying to do the right thing for the institution and for the people who've been nominated.

CROWLEY: Okay, we'll leave that one to the scribes.

LOTT: All right.

CROWLEY: I wanted to move you on because we have less than a minute left. I wanted to ask you about Iraq. They're finding assassinated -- dead bodies, some 50 of them now. There have been a number of roadside bombings. Does something have to change at the Pentagon or in U.S. policy in the wake of what seems like an escalation of insurgencies?

LOTT: I think probably it's better than it seems like, if you look at, you know, incidents like today. When you talk to people that are over there, they tell you it has gotten better.

But I must say this to you, Candy: the problem here is apparently in hearts and minds of the Iraqis. They're the ones who've got to understand if they want to continue to live this horrible life of suicide bombers and cutting off people's heads -- do they want peace and democracy and opportunity, or do they want chaos and dictatorship? We're doing everything we can to help them, but at some point, they're going to have to decide if they want to govern themselves or they want to stop killing each other. That is the looming question right now.

CROWLEY: Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, always good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

LOTT: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: President Bush hit the road today with gas prices on his mind and presumably a "Newsweek" report the secretary of State calls appalling -- both stories still ahead.

Plus, DNC Chairman Howard Dean lets loose with talk of jail time for a political rival.

And we'll meet a mayoral candidate who wants to make history and move a southern town beyond its bitter past.


CROWLEY: President Bush is back on the road promoting his energy bill -- in particular, his call for the development of alternative fuels like biodiesel and ethanol. Mr. Bush toured a biodiesel plant in West Point, Virginia, today, where he saw how a fuel made from soybeans is produced. The substance costs more than regular diesel fuel but it burns much cleaner. The president told his audience that fuels like biodiesel are one way to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil.

As for the president's overall approval rating, a new "Time" magazine poll finds a familiar divide: 46 percent Americans approve of the way the president is handling his job; 47 percent say they disapprove.

When "INSIDE POLITICS" continues, a Mississippi woman is running for change. We'll have the story of her attempt to make history, and how it could help change the image of her hometown.


CROWLEY: Turning to the Monday political bites, DNC Chairman Howard Dean is at it again. He laid into Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over the weekend at the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think Tom DeLay ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence down there courtesy of the Texas taxpayers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Moments after he made that statement, Dean called on Republicans to stop what he described as their, quote, "ugly, nasty dialogue." Democratic Congressman Barney Frank heard Dean's comments about DeLay, and he was not pleased. Frank told the "Boston Globe," quote, "The man," that is Tom DeLay, "has not been indicted. I don't like him. I disagree with some of what he does. But I don't think you, in a political speech, talk about a man as a criminal or his jail sentence."

Retiring Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords told his home state Burlington Free Press newspaper over the weekend that he is taking medication to help his memory. A Jeffords spokesman tells CNN today that while Jeffords has acknowledged suffering from the normal health problems of a 71-year-old man, he has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Senator Jeffords leaves office in January of 2007.

A report from Massachusetts says that openly gay former Congressman Jerry Studds is among those who have gotten married in the Bay State following the legalization of same-sex marriages. The "Patriot Ledger" newspaper says Studds married his longtime partner last year just days after the state legalized such marriages.

Meanwhile, the new "Time" magazine poll finds that a majority of Americans do not think gay marriages should be legally valid. Fifty- six percent oppose the recognition of same-sex marriage; 39 percent say they support it.

A retired schoolteacher is taking a step that has already made history in her Mississippi hometown. Best known for a trio of murders more than 40 years ago, Philadelphia, Mississippi, has a chance to change its image in the coming months, and one of the ways is through her campaign for mayor.


NETTIE A. FOSTER COX, MAYORAL CANDIDATE: These are the stickers, bumper stickers.

CROWLEY: Nettie A. Foster Cox is running for mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, population, 7300 -- 56 percent white; 40 percent black.

COX: It's a very unique little place, but it's a place of hospitality, too -- Southern hospitality.

CROWLEY: She is doing what candidates do: distributing literature; giving local interviews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come over just a little bit.

COX: There are so many things that need to be taken care of.

CROWLEY: A retired teacher, community activist and Philadelphia native, her platform is education and economic development. She is running against a popular incumbent Republican. She is running into Philadelphia history.

COX: Being the first lady to ever run for mayor, I believe -- and a black lady at that.

CROWLEY: A black lady at that. It seems like an aside, but it is so much more. Google this tiny town, and you will find almost 40,000 references -- little to do with Southern hospitality; more to do with the summer of '64. The church burning. The Klan. The murders of three civil rights workers, an act of raw racism that convulsed the country and defined the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

JIM PRINCE, EDITOR, NESHOBA DEMOCRAT: It's the Pearl Harbor of the civil rights movement.

CROWLEY: Nettie was 24 when James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, registering blacks to vote in the South, went missing.

COX: I knew that they were dead. I mean, it was just a feeling that you had and the way things were that you just knew that. So I felt like the Klan had actually stopped them.

CROWLEY: It would be 44 days before they found the bodies, shot and buried in an earthen dam on private property.

COX: It was very tense. It was very tense. You really didn't know who to talk to.

CROWLEY: The FBI and time changed things. The city seems a peaceful mix of blacks, whites and Native Americans. There are remnants, but the Klan has long since lost its ability to make a town cower.

COX: I felt that, you know, we've outgrown that. We need to move on. And what better way to move on than to have a mayor -- a lady mayor.

CROWLEY: The biggest force around is the Philadelphia Coalition, an interracial group dedicated to honoring the murdered men and seeking justice.

COX: Changes are beginning to come, you know. It's been a long time, but they say, better late than never.

CROWLEY: It was 41 years before the state of Mississippi filed any charges in the case -- three counts of murder against a local part-time preacher. Edgar Ray Killen, now 80, denies the charges. He goes on trial in Philadelphia in June, the same month of the election.

Nettie A. Foster Cox is not expected to win, but she expects to leave a mark.

COX: I know that I'll have some white votes. I know that I'll get some other nationalities of votes. But to really see exactly how they feel about it, it will be a living testimony for me to look back on years later.

CROWLEY: If Philadelphia is changing, she says, we'll see how much.


CROWLEY: The mayoral race in Philadelphia, Mississippi, scheduled for early in June. The trial will take place in mid-June.

"Newsweek" says it regrets a report that sparked anti-American protests across the Muslim world. But is the president satisfied with the magazine's response? We will go live to the White House and find out.

Plus, there's a new plan out today on Social Security reform, and it's from a Democrat. We'll talk with the congressman behind the new proposal.


CROWLEY: The markets are getting set to close on Wall Street. You know what that means. I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with the Dobbs Report. Kitty?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Candy. Before we got to the markets, let's tell you this story: Wine lovers will certainly toast the Supreme Court today. Up until now, in 24 states, it was a crime to buy win directly from vineyards in another state. But now, the high court has ruled that states may not stop wineries from shipping across state lines. The court says those laws are discriminatory and anti-competitive, and wine lovers are surely celebrating the decision. It could lead to lower prices and a far greater selection of wine.

Now on Wall Street, we have a nice event. Ray Romano and the cast of the long-running sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," ringing the closing bell to toast the last episode which airs on CBS tonight. And the Dow Industrials, for that occasion, up more than 100 points. Nasdaq about 1 percent higher on the day.

In corporate news, U.S. Airways and America West may announce a merger this week. Reports say America West would buy U.S. Air, which has been in bankruptcy. And the combined company would use the U.S. Airways name. Now the companies have confirm they're talking. They won't comment further on that.

Coming up on CNN 6:00 p.m. Eastern on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, broken borders. Mexican President Vicente Fox refuses to apologize for insensitive remarks he made this weekend about African-Americans.


VICENTE FOX, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO, (through translator): There's no doubt that Mexicans filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States.


PILGRIM: Also tonight, a look at America's bright future. We'll meet some of the young men and women competing for the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search Award.

Also, AFL-CIO Leader Richard Trumka says CAFTA will devastate American workers who are struggling and he'll explain why.

Also, debating our origins. Did a higher being create the universe and should that be taught in class? Well, one Pennsylvania town is fighting the issue. So join us for that tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT.

But for now, back to Candy Crowley in Washington.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: Thanks, Kitty. We will be there.


The Bush White House calls it puzzling that "Newsweek" magazine is refusing to retract a story that helped spark anti-American riots in the Muslim world. "Newsweek" now admits errors in a report alleging U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Koran. CNN's Ed Henry is at the White House with more on the "Newsweek" report and the fallout.



That's right, the White House is working furiously the spread the word in the Muslim world about this "Newsweek" apology hoping that it will cool tensions and also lessen the damage already done to the U.S. image abroad. Earlier today, President Bush himself was at an energy event in Virginia. He was asked about this "Newsweek" controversy and declined to comment. But a short while ago I interviewed White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and he said that he is, in fact, puzzled at the fact that "Newsweek" has apologized but has stopped short of an actual retraction.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Damage has been done and what this report did was provide people who are opposed to the United States and who are on the other side of the war on terrorism with the ability to go out and exploit this report for their own purposes. They've used it to incite violence. Violence that has led to the deaths of individuals. Some 15, 16, 17 individuals have lost their lives in the aftermath of this report.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENRY: Given the anger and violence that this has incited in the Muslim world, some Republicans are going much further than that. In fact, on Capitol Hill today Congressman Bob Ney charged on the House floor that ""Newsweek's" behavior is not merely unfortunate, it's criminal." White House officials clearly not going that far but they say they're concerned that Islamist leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere are planning to go ahead with already-planned protests over the original "Newsweek" story despite this apology. That's why, in fact, the White House says it has kicked into high gear a press center it already had in London to deal directly with the Muslim world, trying to spread the word about this apology but McClellan and other officials say it may be too late to get this genie back in the bottle.


CROWLEY: Ed Henry on up the street at the White House today.

Thanks so much, Ed.

More thoughts now on the "Newsweek" story and the fall-out for journalism and for international diplomacy. Here's our National Correspondent Bruce Morton.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The old editors question to reporters is, do you have two sources for that? "Newsweek" said it did. One who told them about the alleged Koran abuse in a government report and one who read the first draft of the story and changed one part but not that part.

The trouble came when the first source decided he wasn't sure he'd seen the abuse story in the report he was talking to "Newsweek" about. Now "Newsweek" says, we regret we got any part of our story wrong.

Violence erupted and 17 people died, or maybe 16. Those facts are hard to pin down too. What this is really about is the enormous gap between the Muslim culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan and the United States. It's happened before and it didn't even need the news media.

In 1857, the British East India Company maintained an army in India. British officers, Indian troops called Sepoys. Dissidents spread a rumor that the new cartridges for a new rifle were greased with beef fat. Cows are sacred to Hindus, and pig fat. Pigs are anathema to Muslims. Outraged, the Sepoys rebelled, captured cities, killed Britains. The British counter attacked and thousands died. The grease rumor start a war which was really about the desire of many Indians to be free.

And this rumor is probably linked to many Muslims wish to see the U.S. leave. If they knew that Islam was the fastest growing religion in America would matter? Or that it's OK to deface a Koran or burn a U.S. flag because that counts as free speech here? Hard to know. The cultural gap between over there and back here is very wide.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


CROWLEY: Democrats have shown remarkable solidarity in opposing the president's plan to overhaul Social Security. But now one Democrat is going out on a limb in the fight with Republicans to the dismay of members of his own party. I'll be talking to Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida next.

Plus, did bloggers help sway the '04 presidential vote one or another? We'll have a live report from a blogger convention. Who knew.

And we'll go inside the blogs to find out if the flawed "Newsweek" report is stirring up new anger at the mainstream media.


CROWLEY: In the fight over Social Security reform, Republicans have accused Democrats of bashing the president's plan without offering any alternatives of their own. Now one Florida Democrat is laying out proposals and some of his fellow party members reportedly are not happy about it. Congressman Robert Wexler wants to help make the system solvent by imposing a 6 percent tax on income above $90,000 a year, half from workers, half from companies, on income that currently goes untaxed. I spoke with Congressman Wexler earlier and asked him no matter what he calls it, aren't we talking about a tax hike?


REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) FLORIDA: It's the lifting of the taxable earning cap. That certainly is. It will raise substantial money. And the reason for doing it is to avoid benefit cuts, to avoid privatization schemes, to avoid having to increase the retirement age for Americans. What we see on the one hand is the president offering a plan which requires significant benefit cuts. And what I wanted to show the American people was that we could resolve the Social Security shortfall without benefit cut, without raising the retirement age and without engaging in risky market privatization projects.

CROWLEY: Well I take it you think your party is wrong when it says, we're not going to negotiate with the president or put anything on the table until he takes privatization off?

WEXLER: Well, I've been unified with the Democratic Party and oppose ...

CROWLEY: But you have a...

WEXLER: The privatization scheme. But I think, you know, the president has traveled around the country for months. The American people have digested the president's offer with respect to Social Security and effectively have rejected it. And I think now is the time for the Democratic Party to offer alternatives to the president's plan so that the American people know that we can solve Social Security without benefit cuts. I think it's incumbent upon the Democratic Party to offer that alternative and that's what I hope to try to do today.

CROWLEY: Do you also disagree that this is - a number of Democrats have said this is not a crisis. Do you believe Social Security is in crisis?

WEXLER: No, it isn't in crisis. There is a shortfall. It will take many years to get to that shortfall. But it would be responsible, as the president has addressed the country, for us to take this opportunity to put Social Security on sound footing for another 75 years. The Democratic Party gave birth to Social Security. We have all the credibility in the world to tell the American people how to fix it, to show them how to fix it without benefit cuts and I think we ought to take that opportunity.

CROWLEY: Why go up against what your party wanted you to do, which is not put anything up there on the table. If it's not a crisis, if your party didn't want you, right now, to put something on the table, why did you do it?

WEXLER: I don't think the American people win if the Democratic Party by default does not address the Social Security shortfall. We have spent months showing the American people that the president's plan will require benefit cuts, it requires a risky privatization scheme, it diverts one-third of Social Security's revenue away from Social Security. And I think we add to our credibility by offering an alternative, particularly one that does not require benefit cuts. The American people want to know, how do the Democrats stand on Social Security. And now that Congress has begun its hearings, I think it's important that Democrats speak up.

CROWLEY: I'm curious to know if the Republicans have reached out to you after this?

WEXLER: Well, the White House has issued statements and I think everybody is being very polite. And I will certainly work with those that share in the desire to increase the revenue for Social Security. I will do that.

CROWLEY: And how about your leadership? What did Ms. Pelosi have to say?

WEXLER: I respect Mrs. Pelosi enormously. We had two conversations. She is very committed to her plan and I respect that. I felt that it was important that I offer a plan and I hope that more Democrats over time will come up with their own ideas so that we can have a robust debate. And I believe the more the American people understand that there is an alternative to the president's benefit cutting plans, a privatization plan, that they will see the need for ideas like the one I put forth today.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: Just ahead, more on the fight over filibusters. I'll talk with Political Analyst Ron Brownstein next about the upcoming showdown in the Senate.


CROWLEY: With me now to talk about the looming Senate fight over filibusters, Political Analyst Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times."

Ron, who's got the most to lose in this battle, which surely is coming to a head?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": You know right now, as you look at the way the public is reacting to this here in Washington, I think everybody is on the hook. This is very, very dangerous for both parties.

Candy, here are three numbers from this new Pew poll that just came out this afternoon, 43, 39, 35. The first is the approval rating for President Bush -- the lowest they have had in his presidency. The 39 is the approval rating for Democrats in Congress -- almost the lowest they have had in the Bush presidency. The 35 is the approval rating for Republicans in Congress, which is as low as it was during the budget showdown in 1995 and the Clinton impeachment fight leading into the 1998 election. In this kind of environment, to trigger this kind of partisan conflict, you'd have to say has a lot of risk for both parties and especially the incumbents on the ballot in 2006.

CROWLEY: I was going to say, makes 2006 really interesting.

The Democrats say, we've got the votes. Republicans say, we've got the votes. Do you have any feel for that?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think either side knows whether they have the vote. And the most intriguing question is whether there's a third alternative that might have the votes. As you know, there have been some discussion between some Republicans and some Democrats trying to create an option that would effect deny both sides the votes they need to continue this confrontation. If you could get six Republicans who would say they would vote against banning the filibuster and six Democrats who would vote against routinely using the filibuster, you would have not a majority and not a filibuster.

That is what people like Ben Nelson, Trent Lott, others have been talking about. Can they come up with a compromise? It's very difficult in an environment where the bases of both parties really want to see this brought into head but there is still some stirring, last stirring among the traditional Senate center trying to avoid this confrontation.

CROWLEY: And John McCain is involved in these.

BROWNSTEIN: John McCain as well.

CROWLEY: Now, you know, it seems to me that I've heard most of those compromises. They've been floating for weeks. What makes them look more palatable this week than they have in the past?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, the prospect of hanging tends to concentrate the mind. I mean I think if they're - I'm not saying there can be a solution. I mean it may be that the centrifugal force that we are seeing in Washington really for almost a decade now is making this kind of fight inevitable where each side is under so much pressure from its base that any compromise looks like capitulation. But there are enough institutional voices, people who have been around the Senate for a long time, who realize that if you do this, you change the character of the Senate, you lead to sort of more - you intensify the partisan conflict in a way that may endanger both parties. So they're still searching for a solution. But again, with such centrifugal force, so much push for polarization in Washington, it may be very difficult to get there.

CROWLEY: And in the end, when you look at this, do you think that come November of next year people are really going to go, you know how bad they were on that filibuster thing?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think...

CROWLEY: Does it have that kind of legs?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I don't think -- the history is that no single issue decided this far in advance is likely to affect an election. What could affect the election, though Candy, I think, is the fall-out from the issue. And if we have such an intensely antagonistic atmosphere between the parties that very little can get done between now and November 2006, those approval ratings for both side may stay low and, in fact, create a very uncertain environment for both countries. So it's not so much the immediate effect of this as I think it would be the aftermath and the way that it further intensifies the partisan antagonism that we've seen ratchet up really, I think, since about 1997 almost without break.

CROWLEY: Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times." The newly married Mr. Brownstein. Congratulations.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thanks for postponing to honeymoon just to come talk to us. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: What could be better than (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Thanks, Ron.

The White House says it's puzzled. What are they saying in the blogosphere. We'll check in with our blog reporters for more on "Newsweek's" decision to back away from printed claims about events at Guantanamo Bay.


CROWLEY: Time now to go inside the blogs. Our blog reporter, Jacki Schechner, will join us from New York in just a moment. But first, we want to check in with CNN Political Producer Abbi Tatton.



Now dominating the Blogosphere today is that "Newsweek" Koran story. Blog is left, right and center linking to article on it, cartoons on it. Here's a popular cartoon making the rounds from Cox & Forcom (ph). ""Newsweek" Credibility Flushed." Now the bloggers are focusing on the journalism here. One good example is at More on "Newsweek's" bloody shirt is the post that he did there yesterday. He's predicting harsh implications for "Newsweek" magazine. "This is journalism at its most insidious and dangerous. "Newsweek" may end up having to fire some of its editorial staff, as well as the reporters involved."

Now bloggers like to go off to the mainstream media when they mess up. And today just adds fuel to the fire. Robert Cox blogs at the Robert Cox is also the president of the Media Bloggers Association. And in this role he gives a lot of interviews to journalist who ask him about blogging and irresponsibility blogging and inaccuracies. And today he has this post. "Why is it that journalists are so quick to label all bloggers as irresponsible and so unwilling to overlook the patent at fault or inaccurate stories from CBS News and in this past week "Newsweek" magazine."

Now we heard earlier in the show from Ed Henry that the White House is focusing on "Newsweek's" journalism today as well. Some liberal bloggers saying be careful, watch out, that this is a smoke screen. At Escaton (ph), this is (ph) where Duncan Black (ph) usually blogs. Today he has some guest bloggers in. They say that this is a distraction from the fact that things in Afghanistan are a mess and they're a mess because somebody thought heading (ph) off to Iraq was more important than finishing what we started in Afghanistan.

Now it should be noted that this is a big media story out in the blogosphere. But before the "Newsweek" story got really, really big yesterday, there was another media story out there that lots of people were linking to. That on a CBS report that aired last week in which former Independent Counsel Ken Starr appeared to side with the Democrats on the issue of the filibuster. Ken Starr then came out and said that his quotes were used out of context. Lots of conservative bloggers were focusing on that on Friday and Saturday. Here's one of them from Right Pundit. But now it's very hard to find that CBS story at all. The "Newsweek" story dominating.


CROWLEY: Abbi Tatton. And as promised, we want to turn now to New York where members of the blogosphere have gathered for a major conference. One of the things they're talking about is a new study about the influence of blogs in last year's presidential campaign. Our blog reporter, Jacki Schechner, is among those at the conference.

Jacki, I'm tempted to ask you why can't bloggers have a conference in the blogosphere but it's New York, so any opportunity to go there. What's going on up there?

JACKI SCHECHNER, BLOG REPORTER: Yes, who wouldn't want to come to New York. Actually, that's one of the things we wanted to talk about is, why get together at a forum like this. The Second Annual Personal Democracy Forum expected a good turn-out. They got 250 more people than they were counting on. Made for a very long lunch line. But it did give them the opportunity to talk about where the blogs had been, where they stand now and where they're going.

As for where they've been, we want to talk about that Pew internet research study. It was presented this morning and it had to do with the fact the blogs may have been just as much trend follower as they were trend setters in the last 2004 election. We asked Dr. Michael Cornfield (ph) what he thought about the reaction to the study and he hadn't gotten a lot of feedback yet. He expected the bloggers to take that study home, to read it and then to blog about it. So he expected to read about that online in the next 24 to 48 hours.

As for what's going on here today, there has been pod casting, there has been live blogging. You should look at the room. There are people with laptops everywhere. There is a chat that's going on up here in the control area where we are. People are moderating that chat room. And most importantly is bloggers coming together in person to talk to each other. That turns out to be the most important part of this.

Now bringing in with me now or joining me now, rather, is Bob Brigham who's in from California. He came out for the forum. He's part of They're organizing a lot of local blogs online.

But first we wanted to ask you, why come out for a forum like this?

BOB BRIGHAM, BLOGPAC.ORG: It's priceless to be able to meet the people in person that you interact with on line. And the friendships that are cemented with real world interaction will have consequences for decades to come.

SCHECHNER: Now we were talking a lot about where blogging is heading in the future. There's been a lot of talk of national politics. But you've got a particular interest in local politics. How do you think that's going to play out?

BRIGHAM: In 2004 the buzzword was nationalization with the blogs. In 2006 the buzzword is going to be localization. People are working locally, bloggers are organizing locally. is organizing school district by school district. In Philadelphia, the bloggers are organizing around a candidate for D.A. Seth Williams (ph) and bloggers are beginning to interact with the people geographically they live closest to and work together as a team.

SCHECHNER: Now a forum like this you think that you're preaching to the choir. That it's a lot of people who are into the same thing. But you think there's some untapped potential out there. Who do you think are the most interesting political bloggers or who could be the most interesting political bloggers who aren't actually blogging right now?

BRIGHAM: There's a lot of great talent in the blogosphere currently. But as we see more and more people begin to blog, people with institutional knowledge who have been following local politics for years, who might have worked a campaign or two in college, as they begin to blog, with that institutional memory, I think we're going to see even more of an explosion in the dialogue.

SCHECHNER: Well, Bob, thank you very much.

And I think that what's also really interesting is after the success of a forum like this, I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of these not only here in Manhattan but all over the country.

Candy, back to you.

CROWLEY: Jacki Schechner, always planning your itinerary. Thanks a lot.

And finally today, should tax payers pay for enhanced male performance in the bedroom. Starting next year, impotence drugs, such as Viagra, will be covered by Medicare and that's got Congressman Steve King up in arms. The Republican from Iowa says paying for the bills -- paying for the pills will cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion over the next ten years.

King is pushing a bill that would ensure that Medicare resources would be protected for patients with true lifesaving prescription needs.

That is it for "Inside Politics."

Judy is back tomorrow. I'm Candy Crowley.

"Crossfire" starts right now.



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