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Who Will Be The Next Karl Rove?; How to Survive a Housefire

Aired May 25, 2005 - 13:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Here's what's happening "Now in the News." Operation New Market, they call it. It's about 1,000 American and Iraqi troops together working to roust out insurgents around the very unsettled city of Haditha, that's west of Baghdad. It started before dawn. A U.S. marine colonel telling CNN he believes they achieved what he calls total surprise.
Amnesty International pulling no punches in its annual report on the state of human rights. The document, released today, singles out the United States as the world's top offender, calling the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay "the Gulag of our time."

And oil is flowing today, westward from Azerbaijan. Why should you care? Because it's a pipeline project backed by the U.S. It aims to cut down U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. It's the first direct link from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

And a filmmaker forever associated with the big costume drama has died, Indian-born Ismail Merchant. He co-founded the Merchant/Ivory film company in 1961. He died today at a London hospital. We know very few details. Awaiting a statement now from his family. He was 68.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, now we're going inside the beltway, way inside, for a look at some of the political players who are in the shoot to become the next Karl Rove. Rove, the longtime Bush adviser, strategist and deputy White House chief of staff, wields a huge amount of political power and has the kind of presidential access that only a few can claim.

CNN's political analyst Carlos Watson joins us now with Rove's possible successor and five people to watch. Carlos, good to see you.


PHILLIPS: All right. Well, interesting group of individuals that you have selected.

Starting with Sara Taylor, probably the youngest White House political director, right?

WATSON: Ever. At age 30. And appropriately, she's Karl Rove's right hand. She's one of his deputies. She's been very involved in both of President Bush's presidential campaigns. And she'll have a major hand with every significant 2006 race, whether that's a Senate race or a gubernatorial race that the White House is interested in. Interestingly enough, although she's 30, she arguably has decades of experience. Why do I say that? Because she got her start working with her dad, Ray Taylor, a former Iowa state representative, as they went from one house in one county to another, helping various candidates run campaigns.

PHILLIPS: Now she was -- she got interested in politics at a really young -- didn't she influence her parents? Didn't you tell me something about that a while back? She actually kind of kept her parents involved in it?

WATSON: Very much so. In fact, you know there have been nice pieces in the "Des Moines Register" and other papers there that talk about how her dad got her started, but these days, it's Sara Taylor with a lot of interesting insights. And so she's definitely one to watch. Again, the youngest White House political director ever.

And remember, these White House political directors go on to a number of different things, not only advising candidates, but sometimes they become candidates themselves. Two current governors, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, are both former White House political directors.

PHILLIPS: All right. Another interesting pick here, the internationalist, I guess you could say, Jeremy Rosner.

WATSON: Jeremy Rosner. Parter in a major strategy firm, Democratic strategy firm. Former adviser to President Clinton. But what is so interesting about him -- I call him the internationalist with a 007, if you will, of political consulting -- is that he travels the world helping candidates. He's advised candidates, or rather head of states, in eight different countries. Just helped Tony Blair win re-election to a third term.

And here's a guy who's significantly -- Kyra, a lot of times when you hear about political consultants, they're pollsters, but here's a guy with a very significant policy background. He's getting his PhD right now as we speak, he's a PhD candidate. He's also a former high- level foreign policy expert for President Clinton, among others. So Jeremy Rosner, whether you're in Poland, whether you're in other parts of South America, he's certainly one who lots of heads of states turn to.

PHILLIPS: All right, chief of staff to Senator George Allen. This is another one of your picks, Dick Wadhams.

WATSON: I call Dick Wadhams the hot hand. He may be the hottest hand today in GOP politics. He's helped John Thune upset Tom Daschle to win the Senate seat in South Dakota. Remember, that was the first time a sitting Senate minority leader lost re-election in 52 years. So pretty big deal.

This Colorado native actually has helped candidates not in one, not in two, but in three different states. He's 6-1 lifetime in major races. And interestingly enough, this is a guy who is a lifetime political junkie. Guess how old he was when he became county chairman of the Republican party in Colorado?

PHILLIPS: How old?

WATSON: 19 years old.

PHILLIPS: Oh my gosh.

WATSON: Kyra Phillips, what were you and I doing at 19?

PHILLIPS: You know what, I probably can't say that on national television.

WATSON: Let's not say it. It was fun, but let's not say it.

PHILLIPS: That is true. No regrets. Live every day like it's your last. Let me ask you a quick question about Wadhams, though. You mentioned Senator Thune's upset over Tom Daschle, but then you've got the issue of the base closings. Because a lot of that campaign was based on, hey, there won't be any bases -- military bases closed in our area, and that helped defeat Tom Daschle. Well, now you've got the proposal with these base closings in that area. Could that affect Wadhams', you know, future?

WATSON: I don't really think so. I think so often the campaign and, frankly, the governance is seen as separate. And today, Dick Wadhams is chief of staff to another senator, George Allen, from Virginia who, as you probably know, is considered a very serious candidate for the presidency in 2008.

And, by the way, a lot of people say George Allen, do you want another George in the White House? Right, another southern George in the White House? And certainly Dick Wadhams, being close to George Allen, may not only help with his 2006 re-election race, but if that ultimately goes well, perhaps help him on the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

PHILLIPS: All right, taking on the terminator. Jude Barry.

WATSON: Jude Barry. Probably one of the smartest minds in politics I know. I call him the start-up because he lives, if you will, at the intersection of technology, on one hand, and politics on the other. For example, he helped Howard Dean last year, he worked with Joe Trippi and others to help Howard Dean ride that Internet wave. Right now, as you said, he's advising one of the candidates who hopes to take on the terminator. He'll have a difficult Democratic primary, but if they get past that, they ultimately may get a shot at Arnold in 2006.

And remember, the way George Bush got to the White House and the way Karl Rove got to the White House was by defeating a popular incumbent governor. Remember the Ann Richards' race in 1994. So if Jude Barry is able to help his candidate win the primary and get all the way to the general, could be a name you hear a lot about. And guy who, again, also, not only has national experience with Dick Gephardt and Ted Kennedy, but also was a chief of staff on the local level to the mayor of San Jose. PHILLIPS: All right, your final pick for the possible next Karl Rove, Michael Whouley.

WATSON: Michael Whouley, probably the hottest name in Democratic field politics. If you were a serious candidate for president, you want to talk to him.

PHILLIPS: Well, I wish we could say the hottest face, but obviously he's chosen to keep himself pretty much a mystery.

WATSON: Well, see, that's part of his mystique. Notoriously publicity shy, but was extraordinarily important in helping John Kerry turn around Iowa. You remember, John Kerry almost lost Iowa, and Iowa was where he regained his footing in 2004, went on to the nomination.

He's the one, by the way, Kyra, who famously called Al Gore in 2000, after Gore had already called George W. Bush, to say I concede and said, hey, hold on, those numbers in Florida aren't right. In effect, he prompted the recount. He's worked on five major presidential campaigns. He's a Boston native, though, so he knows how to mix it up a little bit. And certainly someone people turn to.

PHILLIPS: Now, he's going to have to get past getting shy if he takes on a role like Karl Rove.

WATSON: Well, certainly, we're going to have to get a photo of him. You know, I'm tempted to offer a dollar for anyone who's got a photo of Michael Whouley. But I'm going to -- I'm not going to do that, because I'm sure I'd get a lot of e-mails in. But he's very highly respected. And as I said, got his start in the early '70s working in local -- late '70s, rather, working in local Boston politics, and has become well-regarded as someone who could organize that get out the vote effort, Kyra. So making sure people actually show up and pull the lever or push the button or do whatever they need to do in order to vote for his candidate.

PHILLIPS: Or demand a recount, like he did.

WATSON: Or demand a recount, even.

PHILLIPS: All right, Carlos Watson, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

WATSON: Kyra Phillips, we also should let people know that they can see some of this online at

PHILLIPS: "INSIDE POLITICS," the next Karl Rove, there you go. Did you write a column? Did you do this yourself?

WATSON: I did. You know I did.

PHILLIPS: All right, Carlos. I'll look it up. I didn't know about that. I'm turning to it. Thanks, Carlos.

WATSON: Giving you the heads up. Good to see you.

PHILLIPS: OK. It's good to see you, too.

WATSON: Take care.

PHILLIPS: Well, in the early 1990s, Boris Yeltsin was a face to watch on the world stage. As part of CNN's anniversary series "Then and Now," we look back at the Russian president's story and his life today.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He'll always be the man astride a tank, facing down a hard line coup in 1991.

Boris Yeltsin remains a creature of contradiction, a communist who helped destroy communism, a democrat who opened fire on his own parliament, a man who seemed on the verge of dying so many times, who, now nowadays looks healthier than ever. In 1980, Yeltsin was a Communist Party boss in the Urals Mountains city of Sverdlovsk. Ten years later, he was a president of the Russian Republic. The Soviet Union was about to collapse. When it did, Yeltsin moved into the Kremlin. At the height of his powers he told CNN.

BORIS YELTSIN, FORMER RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I am not thinking about history at all. And I'm not planning on thinking about it. I am thinking about deeds.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: But in 1999, in the New Year's address, Boris Yeltsin shocked the world, announcing he was stepping down as Russian president, handing the reigns of power to Vladimir Putin. Years of heavy drinking and heart attacks took their toll. But in retirement, Yeltsin is following a healthier life style surprising the world with his resilience and unpredictability.



O'BRIEN: House fires claim thousands of lives each year in the U.S., and although they may not always be preventable, there are things you can do to make them survivable.

CNN's Rick Sanchez shows us how to get out alive.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is one of our worst nightmares, a stranger who arrives uninvited into our most private place in the dark of night, leaving us often in a panic. It happened to George And Trellene Benning.

GEORGE BENNING, FIRE VICTIM: I was sitting right here. Right there. Sitting right there in that chair right here.

SANCHEZ: This is what George and Trellene are left with. The burned out shell of a place they used to call home. It all but vanished in just moments one night when they saw smoke coming from their vents, then more smoke, then flames. In a panic they ran outside. But suddenly Trellene realized she had to go back.

TRELLENE BENNING, FIRE VICTIM: And so when I got here, they had -- like my daughter, this is her bed. She can't walk. She just sit. This is my mother's hospital bed.

SANCHEZ: Blinded by the smoke she had to negotiate the turns by feel. Until she found her way to the back bedroom, where her daughter and her mother were screaming that the house was on fire. They were literally trapped.

(on camera): Your mother is 92-years-old.

T. BENNING: Sure is.

SANCHEZ: Your daughter is an invalid.


SANCHEZ: And you some how were able to get them both.

T. BENNING: Yes. Yes.

SANCHEZ: And you dragged them out of the house.

T. BENNING: Yes, I did.

SANCHEZ: With a fire inside burning.


SANCHEZ: How did you do that?

T. BENNING: I don't know. I don't know.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): It's almost hard to imagine as you look at how little is left of this house, how George and Trellene could have done just about everything wrong, according to fire officials, and still survive. What's more they got two more people out of the house. We took their case to a fire college to find out how it supposed to be done.

Lesson one, an item that can cost just five but in a fire, priceless, a smoke detector.

LT. SCOTT DODSON, COBB CITY FIRE: It's the number one most important thing for life safety for you to have in your home.

SANCHEZ (on camera): What happens if you don't have a smoke detector.

DODSON: If you wake up and you realize there's a fire, you may -- have two to three minutes to get out of the house. Depending on if the fire has cut off your primary exit, your front door that you're normally coming out of.

SANCHEZ: You said if you wake up. You mean, if you don't have a smoke detector you could die in your sleep?

DODSON: Absolutely. Happens all the time.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): And here is how it can happen, and how fast it can happen. In just one minuting the curtains have caught fire. At two minutes the smoke is banking and you can see how the upper part of the room is filling first. The window we used to be able to see in the background is still visible, but fading. By three minutes it's half covered, then the smoke begins to darken. And as it fills the room, it gets almost impossible to see anything. Here's another vantage point. This one from a camera placed in the living room. It takes just minutes for the wall to catch fire then the lampshade ignites. Four minutes into it, a billowing blanket of smoke rolls across the ceiling. Eventually the entire room fills with smoke. An area in your own home you may be perfectly familiar with, could suddenly become a maze. You can't see and the gases and the smoke may be poisonous.

DODSON: First thing we recommend is that you sleep with your door shut. What that's going to do is keep smoke -- the majority of smoke out of your room.

SANCHEZ: Here is what else can save your life.

DODSON: When you hear your smoke detector roll out of the bed and get on the floor closest to the ground. That's where the fresh air is. You want to go to the door -- the wall, find your way to a door or window. If you find in your door, you want to test your door with the back of your hand to see if there's any heat on the door. If that door is hot, then it tells you that there's smoke and flames on the outside of that door, so, you don't want to open it. Open your window, crawl out the window, if you are on the second floor you either want to have a knotted rope or ladder.

SANCHEZ: Those on the basics. We wanted to see how it's actually done. How to find an exit in a room filling with smoke. You can see how it layers from top to bottom. This smoke is not lethal. But you can still see how it clouds your ability to see anything.

(on camera): I'm going to try and find an exit. Although the smoke makes you feel extremely disoriented. And you don't know in which direction you are going.

(voice-over): Fire officials say the key is to stay low, but it seems even down here everything looks the same.

(on camera): I can't even see more than a couple feet in font of me. The smoke does seem to fill you quickly. I remember being told that I should feel the door, see if there's any heat coming from it. And then look for an exit. However, the door doesn't open. I'm not familiar enough with how it works. I can see how in a panic victims can become confused and disoriented. I need to find a window. And I have found just that. And what I'm going to do now is just try and get out of here to avoid the fire and the smoke.

(voice-over): Finally I'm out. And I can see how it can be a harrowing experience. As it was for George and Trellene Benning.

(on camera): Have you ever had anything more frightening happen in your life?

T. BENNING: No, sir, oh, no.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Atlanta, Georgia.



PHILLIPS: Well, not since Gsa Gsa Gabor smacked a Hollywood cop has there been such a showbiz ruckus. This time, Burt Reynolds hoisting the palm, and a freelance TV producer on the receiving end.

O'BRIEN: All right, now, I've got to warn you folks, we can only show this once. There's all kinds of restrictions on us using this video because it comes from WCBS. So when it comes time, you've got to watch it, watch it carefully, because I can't show it to you again for you to make a proper evaluation of what happened.

Set the scene for you, premiere of Reynold's latest flick, "The Longest Yard," I guess two, right, remake of the...

PHILLIPS: Second one.

O'BRIEN: ... classic of '74. Why you'd try to remake that great movie -- anyway, apparently that was part of the problem. A producer for WCBS hadn't done his homework.

Now watch.


QUESTION: Can you tell us more about the movie and your role in it?

BURT REYNOLDS, ACTOR; Well, you don't know anything about the movie? what -- well then, what the hell are you asking me for?

QUESTION: I just want to get your point of view on it.

REYNOLDS: Did you see the original?

QUESTION: I haven't.

REYNOLDS: What the hell kind of guy are you? The guy's never seen the freaking original, and he asks me to tell him about the picture. He's standing here in a shirt that needs ironing. The man works for CBS. I'm embarrassed. I like the guy. He's nice guy. He's a tough guy. He want to go home now, he can't, because he's under contract, but we'll meet later if you want.


PHILLIPS: Where's the slap?

O'BRIEN: I missed it.

PHILLIPS: Where's the slap?

O'BRIEN: We can't show it to you again, but I think it happened there before that little explanatory thing.

PHILLIPS: I heard a little tap.

All right. Well, Reynolds' spokesperson Jeff Lane issued a statement saying the actor, quote, "playfully tapped him on the cheek," as if to say, well, that's not really nice. He was kidding.

O'BRIEN: Kind of a "read the hand" kind of thing.

All right, that's the end of that segment of high journalism.

We'll take a break. Back with more in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Well, it's more than the beginning of the end for the Michael Jackson trial. We just got word from our people there in the courtroom that the defense has finally rested in the Michael Jackson molestation trial. That's not the end of what we'll be hearing from. Of course the prosecution will have a day or two for rebuttals. And then of course there's closing arguments and so forth. But there's light at the end of the tunnel.

PHILLIPS: A number of big names, Jay Leno yesterday, and Chris Tucker, and now we'll continue to follow the drama once things resume.

O'BRIEN: Anyway, we'll keep you posted. We've got some more guests planned for you on this subject at the top of the hour. Stay with us for that.



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