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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

First Lady in Egypt; Senate Stalemate Continues; President Bush by the Numbers

Aired May 23, 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: The cots are out on Capitol Hill. Senators are bracing for an all-night debate over judges, and a possible political nightmare the day after.

Are lawmakers behaving like spoiled children? In our new poll, Americans offer their verdict about the battle over judges.

First Lady Laura Bush moves on, after a close encounter with hecklers in Israel. Is she paying a price for getting more involved in her husband's business?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: And Israel is a democracy, and people can speak out, and they can say whatever they want, and I respect that.

ANNOUNCER: Outrage online over word that convicted sex offenders are getting Viagra, and the government is picking up the tab.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST "INSIDE POLITICS": Thank you for joining us.

You might think the prospect of a political train wreck would provide more than enough tension in the Senate, but both sides are going for an added dose of drama today, with a marathon debate, an 11th hour TV ad, a flood of petitions, and desperate attempts at compromise. We begin with our congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy.

In the event there is a Supreme Court retirement this year, many view this as the first battle over a new Supreme Court nominee, and it has gone pretty much according to a script that was laid out for us weeks ago by conservative activists. There's a lot of emphasis right now on the notion of protracted debate, the ceremonial arrival of the cots here signaling the intention of the leaders to hold an all-night debate, though it's not clear at all who, if anyone, will be using those cots through the evening.

Conservative activists predicted weeks ago that Frist would now, and he has, begin reciting with specificity the amount of time the Senate has debated the nomination of Priscilla Owen, pointing out how long it has taken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: And today marks the 20th day of Senate floor debate on Justice Owen's nomination. We have spent more floor time on Priscilla Owen than on all the sitting Supreme Court justices, combined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: But, of course, part of the script has not been written yet. There is the issue of negotiations that continue to try to head off a vote over whether judicial nominations can be blocked by Democrats. There's also the question of who will win if it comes to a vote. Right now, clearly too close to call. There's also the question what Democrats may do if they lose. Senator Harry Reid, talking just a little while ago in the Capitol, suggesting that the Asbestos Liability Bill and the Central American Free Trade Agreement could be two early legislative casualties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: The Senate working at its best is a very delicate, slow moving body, and that's the way our Constitution provides. I think that can you kiss asbestos good-bye. CAFTA, I think it was kissed good-bye a long time ago.

I would hope that something can be worked out but I think each day that goes by the possibility is less. I think the odds of something being worked out now are very, very remote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Underscoring the Democratic stakes in this debate, Reid has taped a television ad to run on local Washington television, as well as the cable networks, including CNN, between 7:50 and 8:00 this evening. Negotiations are expected to pick up once again later today.

Of course, Senator John McCain, one of the people involved in the negotiations, has said, in his view, this could be the very last chance. Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Joe, is it assumed that Senator Frist is going to call this thing for a vote as soon as he thinks he's got the vote?

JOHNS: That's a good question. There is some obvious suggestion that he will have that number or know what the numbers are sometime tomorrow morning. There's also a suggestion that the vote could come later in the afternoon. No clear word from him. His colleagues have said they believe they will have the votes when it is time to go and vote in the Senate floor.

As far as we're concerned, though, it's really a question of who's right? Both sides claim they have the votes, and we just don't know for sure because of a handful of Republican moderates who are not disclosing what their positions are going to be.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Johns at Capitol. Joe, thank you very much.

In this high-stakes game of chicken in the Senate, anything could happen, but our new poll suggests that Democrats may fare somewhat better with the public than Republicans: 48 percent of those surveyed say they favor Democrats in the debate over judges and filibusters; 40 percent said they favor Republicans.

When asked to characterize the behavior of Senate leaders, 58 percent of Americans said Republicans were acting like spoiled children; 54 percent said that about Democrats.

Well, President Bush made yet another appeal today for an up-or- down vote on his judicial nominees, even as his up and down approval rating took a new turn south. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Hi, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi Judy.

Well, you heard Joe talking about the script on Capitol Hill. The president stuck today to a very carefully crafted White House script on this issue, very careful not to publicly weigh in on anything that has to do with Senate procedures, Senate rules, careful not to even use the word filibuster at all in public.

Instead, the president simply did what he has done as this debate has really escalated: reminded members of Congress that he is the president, he campaigned on this issue, campaigned for his judicial nominees, judicial picks and that he believes members of Congress have a responsibility to issue an up-or-down vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: The last two elections, the American people made clear that they want judges who faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: There you heard the president speaking last week. He said virtually the same thing, Judy, today in the East Room at a meeting that you saw there with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Essentially, as I mentioned, in public they are being very careful, but, I can tell you that in private, the White House is very much involved in what is going on on Capitol Hill. The vice president, we're told from Republican sources has been involved in meetings with Republican senators on how this is going to proceed in the Senate. We know, of course, that when two judges who are up on the Hill were in Washington, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, they were escorted by -- were here at the White House and escorted up to Capitol Hill by White House aides.

We know Bush aides have participated in strategy sessions, even phone calls with outside groups on how to deal with this, but privately they are also concerned how this is all going to play out, and, Judy, there is very good reason why, and we have a new poll that perhaps illustrates that. Take a looked at president's new approval rating. It is now 46 percent. That is down four points from just earlier this month. Now, when you talk to Bush aides here, and they say that there are a whole host of reasons for that, the economy, energy prices, gas prices, still very high, but they also understand that perhaps there is a growing disillusionment in general with Washington and watching what is going on in Congress. This fight over filibusters certainly is not helping, and perhaps it is not helping the president's approval rating either, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Dana Bash, thanks very much. We're going to have more on those new poll numbers coming up in the second half hour of INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you, Dana.

First Lady Laura Bush is in Egypt today, winding up her five-day trip to the Middle East, and still talking about the demonstrations against her in Israel. The White House is calling the weekend protests "a little commotion." Mrs. Bush also played down what happened when she spoke one-on-one today with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: What was going on through your head or through your heart at the moment when there was that hostility that was expressed towards you?

L. BUSH: Well, I mean it was a very small moment, and I was surrounded by people who were very, welcoming. It's not the first time. It certainly happens. We know -- we knew when we came here that these are places of great emotion.

The Holy Land is the birthplace of three different great religions. There're wonderful Christian sites there and obviously, the sites that mean the most to the Jewish people. And then at the Dome of the Rock, which is very important to Muslims. But, of course, there are tensions there. But that's part of the purpose of the trip, and part of the purpose of working for peace.

MALVEAUX: Did you speak with the president about it? Was he worried for you?

L. BUSH: Sure, after he saw your coverage, he was a little worried.

MALVEAUX: What he did think? What did he...

L. BUSH: Well, I called him to -- he called, actually, to find out and I told him that we were fine, that I felt like it had been a little bit built up.

MALVEAUX: Now since you've come here, I mean, obviously you're promoting peace and democracy. The U.S. really has suffered somewhat of an image problem here.

L. BUSH: Sure.

MALVEAUX: I mean, since you've been here, you've had the "Newsweek," the fallout of that, the false reports of desecration of the Koran. You've had Saddam Hussein, pictures in his underwear. How difficult is this mission for to you to project and to convince people that they need to rethink America's image?

L. BUSH: It's difficult for all Americans, for a handful of people to have committed humiliation, abuse. It's not the way all of our troops are, by any means. The great, great, great majority of our American troops are very helpful. They're serving with distinction in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: First Lady Laura Bush speaking with our Suzanne Malveaux.

When asked if there is one thing she'd like people around the world to know about her husband, Mrs. Bush spoke of his commitment to building stable and secure democracies.

While Mrs. Bush often talks up her husband and his presidency, his approval rating is, as we've seen, in a slump. Still ahead, more new poll numbers and how they add up for the president.

Up next, how is the Senate showdown over judges playing in the politically important states of Iowa and New Hampshire?

And later, find out what Howard Dean and Warren Beatty have in common?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we reported, the Senate fight over judges and possibly changing filibuster rules is nearing the boiling point. With me now to talk about the battle and its political impact in the important states of Iowa and New Hampshire, our David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register and in Manchester, New Hampshire, Dick Bennett. He's president of the American Research Group. Gentlemen, good to have both of you.

David Yepsen, let me start with you. And before I ask about who's pressuring whom, let me as you how much people are paying attention in the state of Iowa. David, the polls we've seen today show something like 57 percent of Americans say they're either not following this filibuster fight at all or only a little. What do you find in Iowa?

DAVID YEPSEN, DES MOINES REGISTER: Yes, I don't think the average Iowan is paying that much attention to the filibuster fight. The activists in both parties are paying a lot of attention. But the talk on the street, friends, conversations in bars, it's not about the filibuster fight.

WOODRUFF: And Dick Bennett, what about New Hampshire?

DICK BENNETT, AMERICAN RESEARCH GROUP: It's the same here. They are much more concerned about the weather or gasoline prices.

WOODRUFF: So let's talk, David, about who's making themselves heard/ The Manchester -- I'm sorry, the Iowa newspapers have reported -- you've been writing recently about different conservative groups that have made their voices known. Talk about who they are, and what they're expecting.

YEPSEN: Well, the last week -- late last week, a group of very important religious and fiscal conservatives sent a letter to, quote, prospective presidential candidates saying that they would be letting their members know how individual Republican senators voted on this coming filibuster fight. And they clearly aimed at John McCain and Senator Hagel, two guys who are thinking about running for president. And the message is pretty clear, that if those two senators do not back their party on the filibuster question, that there will be a price to pay if they run for president in the Iowa caucuses.

WOODRUFF: And Dick Bennett, in New Hampshire, you've got Union Leader weighing in. Tell us about that?

BENNETT: Well, you know, it's supporting, but New Hampshire isn't the Republican state it used to be, and, you know, I think John McCain, whatever he does, he'll probably be one of the only winners out of this.

WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

BENNETT: Well, the independent voters look at this and say government isn't working and John McCain is attempting for a compromise. And I think that, you know, he can point to this and say, see, government doesn't work.

WOODRUFF: What about that factor in Iowa, David? I mean, are there enough independents or moderate Republicans, if you will, that it's possible that some of the conservative Republicans who want to run for president could be hurt? Or how do you see it working?

YEPSEN: Well, no, I think in the caucuses and the electorate in a caucus is different than it is in the New Hampshire primary. Up in New Hampshire, they have -- independents can vote. In the caucuses, that's a party event. You have to be a registered Republican. It tends to favor the activists. And in the case of the Republicans, it's the most conservative activist, the religious conservatives, the economic conservatives.

I saw -- remember some figures from four years ago, Judy, that maybe a third of the people who show up at the caucuses go to church more than once a week. So it's a big deal to them, and I think that a candidate, a Republican presidential candidate who does not side, stand with his or her party on the filibuster vote is going to pay a price in the Iowa caucuses.

WOODRUFF: But Dick Bennett, it sounds like you're saying it's a different story so far in New Hampshire?

BENNETT: Well, so far, because basically the whole filibuster issue is just an example of government -- of the Congress not working the way voters think it should be working. And I think that John McCain has tremendous appeal here. He has problems in Iowa and further down the road in the primary season, but that's why New Hampshire looks good for him.

WOODRUFF: Who else are voters in New Hampshire talking about right now, Dick?

BENNETT: Well, I don't know if they're -- I think --

WOODRUFF: Or are they talking?

BENNETT: Almost every senator, Republican or Democrat, would like them to be talking about them in New Hampshire. But, you know, we saw people come in before the election, basically both Republicans and Democrats, to start to campaign. Senator Frist has been here. It hasn't been -- he wasn't that well received. But everybody wants to run. Bill Clinton was here, had a private luncheon to sort of keep his troops in shape for Hillary Clinton. You know, it's going to be interesting.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Dave Yepsen, this poll question we found so interesting. People were asked if members of the Senate acting like spoiled children or responsible adult, and in the cases of both the Democrats and the Republicans, more than 50 percent of those asked said they think they're acting more like spoiled children?

YEPSEN: Well, Judy, that's one of the things that's happened in American politics in the last few years. The game in politics now is you whip up your base, you drive up your core supporters. And in order to do that, you've got to take some pretty extreme positions and use some pretty extreme rhetoric. To the centrist American voter, it looks like spoiled little children. But to base voters, to the activists on both sides, that's the red meat they want to see.

WOODRUFF: So the question is, which is the root to success. It's early in the process. We've only begun to talk about it. David Yepsen, thank you very much. Dick Bennett, we appreciate it.

YEPSEN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you both. Thank you.

So, do you think Howard Dean is doing a good job steering the Democratic party? We polled Americans about Dean, and we'll take a look at the new numbers when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Howard Dean is the headliner in today's "Political Bytes." Our new poll shows that Americans are split about the DNC chairman with, 35 percent viewing him favorably they say, and 33 percent saying they view him unfavorably. Dean has been criticized recently for suggesting alleged ethical lapses by Tom DeLay would likely land the House majority leader in jail. Dean refused to take back his words during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: This gentleman is not an ethical person, and he ought not to be leading Congress, period, and it is endemic of what happens in a Congress when one party controls everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll be watching to see if Howard Dean makes more waves when he joins us for an interview tomorrow, right here on INSIDE POLITICS.

Another famous Democrat has been offering up a harsh critique of a top Republican. Actor Warren Beatty used a Sunday commencement address to slam California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BEATTY, ACTOR: The government is not a joke, and despite what he says, it's not a movie, but he's going to have to listen. He's not stupid. He knows I'm a private citizen just as he was a year ago. I'm an opponent of his muscle-bound conservatism with a longer experience in politics than he has. And although I don't want to run for governor, I would do one hell of a lot better job than he's done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Actor Warren Beatty spoke at the University of California at Berkeley.

Well, with the United States Senate on the brink of all-out war over judicial nominees, Americans are delivering their verdicts on the president and the Congress. Our new poll numbers straight ahead.

And, a story about Medicaid and Viagra that has many taxpayers wondering what they're paying for? More INSIDE POLITICS in a moment. -

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We're taking you directly to Houston, Texas, where the U.S. attorney there is announcing the arrest of a man allegedly -- who allegedly tried to build and sell a bomb to an undercover agent. Let's listen.

MICHAEL SHELBY, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT: Mr. Grecula appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Calvin Botly (ph) to answer a single charge he was attempting to assist and provide material support to agents of a terroristic organization, specifically al Qaeda. That charge is serious. It carries with it a possible penalty range of up to 15 years in prison without benefit of the parole and a possible fine of up to $250,000.

Mr. Grecula will make his next appearance for a detention hearing on Thursday, the 26th of May, here in federal courthouse in Houston, Texas.

Now, a copy of the affidavit and the charge against him have been made available to each of you, and you find it goes into great detail specifying the activities of Mr. Grecula over the last several weeks that led to the arrest on Friday by the FBI and led to today's charges. But, basically, and in sum, those allegations allege that Mr. Grecula at one point served as an inmate in a prison in Malta while he awaited a extradition back to Pennsylvania to answer charges of kidnapping.

While in that prison, he met another gentleman that he befriended and had a series of discussions with that gentleman, indicated that he had the ability to create high explosive device that could be used by any organization to take down buildings anywhere in the world. That individual later became a cooperating source for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and through a series of remarkable investigative activities by agents all over the United States and all over the world, they were able basically to make contact again with Grecula, to determine his exact intentions to assist al Qaeda in building such a bomb, to interdict that, to record a series of conversations with him where he expressed his intent, and then ultimately, he followed through with those conversations by traveling here, to Houston, last Friday, where he laid out exactly how he would create this bomb, what the bomb could do, and the fact that he knew that the bomb would be used by al Qaeda, if necessary, or any group that was willing to pay his price.

Mr. Grecula, through the series of conversations, made a number of statements about his loathing of the United States of America and everything it stood for. And these federal agents from the FBI took him into custody last Friday evening.

Again, the charges are serious. We take them serious. The very first priority of this administration and this Department of Justice is to stop another 9/11 attack. And this is a success story in that effort.

You got any questions?

WOODRUFF: Michael Shelby is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. He's talking about the arrest of a Michael Grecula -- I'm sorry, a Ronald Allen Grecula -- my mistake -- who has been arrested in -- for allegedly trying to build and sell a bomb to an undercover agent who he thought was a member of al Qaeda. We just heard the U.S. attorney saying this is a serious case.

Well, now back to INSIDE POLITICS and the story we've been following here in Washington. President Bush probably has had better days. The Senate likely is on the brink of a meltdown that could further stall his agenda. And his poll numbers are down, to boot.

So what is a commander-in-chief to do? Well, for one thing, he can make yet another pitch for his embattled judicial nominees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said I'll pick people who are -- will bring great credit to the bench. And that's exactly what I've done. I've been consistent with judicial philosophy in my picks, as well as the character of the people I pick.

And I expect them to get an up or down vote. That's what I expect. And I think the American people expect that, as well. They ought to have a fair hearing, and they ought to get an up-or-down vote on the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The trouble on Capitol Hill is just one part of the president's problem. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, takes a closer look at Mr. Bush by the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Bush's numbers continue to drop. The president's current job approval rating, 46 percent. Half the public disapproves of the way President Bush is handling his job. That's the president's worst rating in over a year. What's the problem?

BUSH: We're going to permanently solve the Social Security issue so you can grow up with peace of mind.

SCHNEIDER: Not working. Fifty-nine percent now disapprove of the president's handling of Social Security. Eleven points higher than in early February, when the President started his Social Security campaign.

And on the economy?

BUSH: The economy is getting better. Today we got some good news. We added 262,000 new jobs last month.

SCHNEIDER: Not much celebration. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of the way the President is handling the economy, the worst all year.

How about Iraq?

BUSH: And I'm confident we're making great progress in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: The public is not. Fifty-six percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq.

Does President Bush get a positive rating on anything?

BUSH: America is answering new dangers with firm resolve.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. The President continues to get high marks for his handling of terrorism. But terrorism may have faded in importance.

A whopping 57 percent of Americans say they disagree with George W. Bush on the issues that matter most to them. That number has never been higher than 51 percent.

President Bush won't be on the battle again. Congress will. And the Senate is facing the great filibuster debate.

Most Americans do not want the Senate to change its rules. Republicans say that's not the issue.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The issue is not cloture votes per se. It's the partisan leadership-led use of cloture vote to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes it is, say Democrats.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: The Senate's tradition and its rules protect debate and guarantee that we can't be trampled upon.

SCHNEIDER: Advantage? Democrats. By 48-40 percent, the public favors the Democratic over the Republican side in the filibuster debate.

Asked whether the country would be better off if the Republicans or the Democrats controlled Congress, the public gives the Democrats an 11-point edge. The last time people gave the Democrats that big an edge was in December 1998.

What did the GOP Congress do in December 1998? They impeached President Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Back in 1993 and 1994, the Democrats controlled everything, the White House and both hows of Congress. They overreached. It looks like people think Republicans may be doing the same thing now.

WOODRUFF: And Bill, we keep hearing that the Republican leadership is focused to a great extent on that conservative base that they count on to help them win elections. If that's the case, how much do even polls like these matter to them?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they are trying to rally that conservative base. The problem is there are still swing voters out there, people who aren't hard-core Democrats and hard-core Republicans. And right now they don't like what Congress is doing, particularly because they think that the Congress is getting too aggressive in trying to cross the line that separates the legislative from the judicial branch.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider with all the numbers. Thank you.

So now let's talk more about the Senate showdown over the president's judicial nominees. I spoke just a little while ago with CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." I asked him if he thinks a deal can be reached, and, if so, who is going to make it?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": The two sides that have been negotiating, the Democrats and Republicans, are pretty close on substantive grounds. The differences between them don't seem big enough to deny making a deal if the will is there to make the deal. And I think that's the big question, Judy.

Right now you're in an environment in which there's enormous pressure on both sides not to make any concessions. All the interest groups on both sides are gearing up for this fight. And I think in that environment it's going to take extraordinary acts of really statesmanship on the part of those involved in this to come together and try to prevent this kind of confrontation tomorrow. You'd have to say on balance the odds are against them, but it's not inconceivable that they could pull it off.

WOODRUFF: You and I were talking earlier about the role of moderates in this, John McCain Republican, Ben Nelson the Democrat of Nebraska. How -- talk about their role and how different it is from, say, what the role of moderates would have been a decade ago.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the Senate is becoming more like the House. I mean, traditionally, when we thought of the Senate we thought of this bipartisan middle on many issues reaching out, finding ways to work things together, in part because of the pressure of the filibuster and the need, in many cases, to get a super majority in order to get things done.

Well, that's eroding. In both parties there is more pressure for kind of an absolutist win, win at all cost kind of mentality, more like the House. And so these moderates have been isolated, their influence has been reduced. And I think this is a critical moment for them.

If they can pull this together and make a deal that prevents the kind of confrontation we would see otherwise tomorrow, they may be in a position to go forward on other issues like Social Security and so forth become a bridge between the parties. But if they can't, I think it will really underscore how difficult it is for moderates -- even the moderates in the two parties to come together in an environment where both parties seem to be speeding away from each other so rapidly.

WOODRUFF: Is there general agreement that Senator Bill Frist is largely driven now by presidential ambition? Or what?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, there are a lot of critics who see -- who think that Frist is taking such a hard line on this, demanding the vote, in part because he does not want to allow any potential challenger to get to his right for 2008. If he makes a deal with Democrats, the argument goes, a George Allen, a Rick Santorum, a Sam Brownback, all of whom might run in 2008, they can criticize him. I think it's larger than that, though.

I think it's too simplistic to assume that if the majority leader wasn't running for president he would be ale to make this deal, because the confrontation caucus on both sides, especially in that Republican Party, is very large. And even if Bill Frist was not running for president, there would be a lot of voices in that cloakroom saying do not make a deal, force this to a head.

WOODRUFF: Which party is more on the line here, Ron? I mean, we've got this new poll out today, CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup, the country would be better off if Congress were controlled by Republicans, 36; Democrats, 47 percent.

Are the Republicans getting hurt more?

BROWNSTEIN: By definition I think most analysts in both parties believe that the party holding the majority has the most at risk if the public turns on Congress. And Republicans are in the majority now, so they are probably the most on the hook.

It's important to understand what is and isn't happening here. The public is not necessarily buying the Democratic argument that President Bush is nominating "extremist judges."

There was a poll out today, AP, a slight majority, 52 percent of Americans said they trusted President Bush to make reasonable nominations to the Supreme Court. But the idea of changing the rules has been consistently unpopular out of the fear perhaps that one party would have too much control over this process.

And the big risk to the Republicans, I think many strategists on their side believe, is -- is not so much the specifics of this fight but the opportunity cost. The sense that they are focusing on an ideological dispute at a time when they don't seem to be making progress on the bread and butter concerns of average Americans. And that in the long run may be the biggest risk for the GOP out of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, political analyst from the "Los Angeles Times."

So once upon a time, partisanship on the Hill wasn't quite so bitter and black and white. Coming up, a flashback to a more civil Senate.

Also ahead, the election never really ended. Months after they counted the votes, the Washington governor's race is in the courts.

And we go "Inside the Blogs." Has "Newsweek" magazine done anything to quiet its critics online?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, the U.S. Senate continues to approach a showdown over judicial nominations and the use of the filibuster. Our Bruce Morton looks at a -- how the split in a body known for its conviviality will change things for a long time to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): However it turns out, the filibuster debate will mark the end of what the Senate used to be, a civil kind of place, a club in a sense, whose members knew one another and respected one another. Conservatives and liberals who actually liked one another; people who might disagree fiercely on issue A but vote together on issue B a week later. People who knew the opponents weren't awful or wicked or bad.

Back during Vietnam, when passions certainly ran high, George Aiken the tweedy Vermont Republican, and Mike Mansfield of Montana, the Democratic leader, had breakfast together most days. No politicking. They just liked each other.

Democrat John Kerry, a Vietnam vet, and Republican John McCain, Vietnam POW, could work together and convince most of their colleagues that, no, there weren't any more U.S. prisoners in Vietnam, and, yes, diplomatic relations with the old enemy was a good idea.

(on camera): Senators don't socialize as much nowadays. They spend more time fund-raising, they say, less getting to know their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. And another thing. Over half the members of the Senate came from the House, many of the Newt Gingrich-era House, where the partisan atmosphere was much stronger. Don't think, the House rule often seems to be, just do what the House whip says.

(voice-over): Rick Santorum, now in his second term, came from the House. When Mark Hatfield, a thoughtful moderate Republican, voted wrong on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- and doesn't that sound quaint now -- freshman Santorum said let's take away Hatfield's committee chairmanship. Senior colleagues said no, but Hatfield saw the writing on the wall and retired.

Lots of thoughtful senators, Sam Nunn, John Danforth, Bob Kerrey, decided the Senate wasn't where they wanted to work anymore. There are some good minds left, of course, but not as many as there used to be.

It would be nice if the Senate could resolve the filibuster debate with a compromise and scramble back toward the civility that's been slipping away from the place. It would be nice, but don't bet on it.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We remember those days. Thank you, Bruce.

A political dispute in the Pacific Northwest takes a new turn. Coming up, the contested governor's election in Washington State is now playing out in a courtroom. We'll get the latest on the trial from CNN's Kimberly Osias.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: More than six months after Election Day, Washington State's disputed governor's race is back in the spotlight. A judge today began hearing a challenge to Democrat Christine Gregoire's election.

CNN's Kimberly Osias is here now with more on all this.

Hi, Kimberly. Welcome.

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.

Well, I tell you, Christine Gregoire, of course the Democrat, has been in the office, in the state's highest office more than a hundred days now, but the Republicans just aren't throwing in the towel, Judy. And that's because, quite frankly, the margin of victory was so small. Let's take a little flashback here to November 2004.

Republican contender Dino Rossi won the first vote by just 261 ballots. Democratic challenger Christine Gregoire asked for a recount. Rossi winning the first by machine, then Gregoire up by 129 in the final hand recount.

Starting today, the bell rings on round four. At the table before Eastern Washington Judge John Bridges (ph), Republicans, Democrats and the secretary of State. Experts say the issue has broader implications than just one of the state's highest office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN LICHTMAN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: At stake also is a precedent for the scrutiny of elections. If this election is overturned by the courts, I think it will open the door to challenges all over the country in close elections, and perhaps even more than is the case today, have the judiciary decide elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OSIAS: The trial's expected to run for the next two weeks. While both sides admit mistakes were made, Republicans are claiming out-and-out fraud. Democrats say the mistakes were innocent.

At issue, hundreds of felon votes illegally counted, provisional ballots not checked, and other ballots lost entirely. And in the end, it may all come down to sheer statistics as both sides try to estimate what these votes would have meant in that final vote count.

WOODRUFF: So Kimberly, what happens next here? I mean, if this court rules against the Democrats and Governor Gregoire, what does the state do?

OSIAS: I think that's a really good question, Judy. Obviously, I think we can expect the losing side to then appeal it to the state Supreme Court, the highest court in the state. What happens after that, certainly anybody's guess. I think they could simply leave things status quo or there could be another recount again, if you can imagine. WOODRUFF: Whoa. All right. Well, we'll all be watching. Thank you very much.

Great to have you with us. We appreciate it.

The embattled mayor of Spokane, Washington, says that he will not resign. James West faces accusations that he used his office to arrange sex with young men. He held a news conference a short time ago to announce that he intends to complete his term in office.

Earlier, the Spokane Chamber of Commerce called on West to resign. West says he expects to be exonerated.

In New York State, dozens of convicted sex offenders are getting Viagra, apparently, and taxpayers are footing the bill. When we return we'll go "Inside the Blogs" to find out what's being said about this controversial issue in cyberspace.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: According to a new report, dozens of convicted sex offenders in New York are taking Viagra, and Medicaid is paying the bill. The story is sparking a great deal of anger and getting a lot of attention in cyberspace.

Let's check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton, and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter.

Hi, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Judy.

What does this mean? It means a lot of high-level sex offenders are getting Viagra, and you are paying for it. It's outrage on all sides of the blogs.

We start today at MyopicZeal.blogsome.com. This is Eric, who is a programmer in the Midwest. Named his blog, by the way, for the phrase "myopic zeal" that came out in the Rather-gate report. But he has a roundup of blog reaction to issues, and today he links to one blog called ondogriver.net.

This is Mark Jones, who is a political Independent. He's a Navy veteran and has a story which he admits might be too much information, but says at one point he did need Viagra after surgery and he was unable to get it paid for because he's a veteran under the care of the Department of Veteran Affairs Medical. Says that his doctor did give him a private prescription, but wondering if this means that America's veterans are of a lower priority than convicted sex offenders.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Bloggers over at CitizensCommand -- this is citzcom.blogspot.com -- are also appalled. They sum it up with this headline: "Here is Your Sex Offender Registration: Ankle Bracelet and Your Viagra."

Over to a conservative here view from the right, this is Lawrence Ouster (ph). He's saying that this is liberalism run wild. "Under liberalism, the state becomes the all purpose facilitator of desire." Makes the point there that you shouldn't just be aggravated that the sex offenders are getting this, that the underlying point here is that Viagra is being paid for by Medicaid at all.

SCHECHNER: Somebody particularly interested in this is Shakespeare's Sister over at ShakespeareSister.blogspot.com (ph). Also cross-posted at BigBrassBlog.com.

She says she is the victim of a sex crime and is not in favor of spending money on tracking devices, saying that they're not preventive, all they do is catch somebody after they've already committed another crime. Says that instead of spending money on that, let's keep Viagra out of the hands of sex offenders, saying, "Because the last thing we need is a bunch of violent sexual deviants walking around with their hormones raging and the equivalent of a loaded gun."

TATTON: On to another thing that's been big in the last week, "Newsweek's" retraction on a story on alleged abuse of the Quran. Lots of people talking about this in the last week. They still are today, after the magazine yesterday in their issue announced a new policy where anonymous sources will only be given the go-ahead by a top editor.

This isn't enough for some of the bloggers out there who keep an eye on the mainstream media. RatherGate.com is a good example. This is a conservative blog that was set up in the firestorm surrounding the CBS-Dan Rather memo story.

They say that, "I somewhat cringe when a news agency caught with its pants down trumpets the solution of putting more editors on it. After all, the scandal would never have happened had the editors actually done their job."

SCHECHNER: Kevin Drumm at Political Animal, the blog of TheWashingtonMonthly.com, upset with "Newsweek" for another reason. Says, "Stop apologizing."

Another letter to the readers in the latest edition of "Newsweek" saying that, "In light of all of the alleged allegations of abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, what 'Newsweek' did was minor. It was pretty minor to begin with, and it's now about the equivalent of jaywalking against a busy city street, saying 'Enough is enough. 'Newsweek' and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back." A well-linked post throughout the blogosphere today.

TATTON: Last week, abortion rights group NARAL announced their first endorsement of the 2006 Senate race. That's to Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Now, liberal bloggers -- this happened on Friday. Liberal bloggers all over the weekend have been discussing this move. Some of them coming down very harshly against this endorsement.

Ezra Klein (ph) (INAUDIBLE), he's a UCLA student. He's also a well established liberal blogger.

He says, "I see where NARAL is coming on this, but by cutting pro-life Democrats off at the knees, they are keeping some Republicans in power. By doing that, they are helping to sustain Republican majority. By doing that, they are striking a grievous blow against their cause."

Now, over at Center Field, you can see more of this discussion. This is from the Centrist Coalition.

They are saying, "Well, what else would NARAL do in this situation? You wouldn't expect the NRA to back a Republican who is adamantly opposed to gun rights. So why would you expect a pro-choice organization to back a Democrat who is adamantly opposed to abortion rights? That discussion is still going on amongst the liberal bloggers -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wow. We're all over the place today. Well, we thank you both, Abbi and Jacki. And we will see you tomorrow. Thank you.

And that's it for this Monday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.

A programming reminder. Be sure to join me tomorrow when I talk live with DNC chairman Howard Dean.

Have a good evening. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

END

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