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Bush Down in Polls; Dick Gephardt Interview; Carlos Gutierrez Interview; Mike Leavitt Interview

Aired June 17, 2005 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: More voices calling for a U.S. plan to get out of Iraq. How will the White House respond as it tries to convince lawmakers and the public that it's too early to set a timetable for troop withdrawal? We'll speak with a well-known Democrat who says he agrees with the president on this issue.

DICK GEPHARDT, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: We've got to succeed in Iraq, put aside the whole debate about why we're there and even how we went there.

ANNOUNCER: Meanwhile, critics, including some members of Congress, demonstrate their unhappiness with the way the president led the country into Iraq.

On the Senate floor, strong words of condemnation for Senator Dick Durbin and his remarks about Nazis in relation to Guantanamo Bay.

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R) VIRGINIA: It seems to me that was a grievous error in judgment.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: And I honestly believe the senator from Virginia, whom I respect very, very much would have to say if this indeed occurred, it does not represent American values.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, we'll look at how the Clintons are responding to a new book about Hillary.

Now live from Washington, CNN's INSIDE POLITICS.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm John King. It is, to say the least, a difficult political period for President Bush, who seven months after he was elected to his second and final term, is having a hard time selling much of his agenda. So it is no surprise, perhaps, that Mr. Bush was out the road again today, this time in Minnesota. The official topic was Medicare, but the subtext was the president's lagging poll numbers.

Here's CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A familiar scene. The president in the heartland to rally support.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Medicare, we've strengthened the system. We've modernized the system.

BASH: Medicare reform? That's already law. The White House is still trying to get credit for last year's successes while this year's agenda languishes. Bush aides are well aware public confidence in his leadership is waning. Only a 42 percent approval rating in this latest poll.

Even after 35 Social Security events, his top domestic priority is on the thinnest of ice. And just six months into his second term, some fellow Republicans quietly say the president's agenda is misdirected. Some are openly critical.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) MAINE: They have concerns about that because if you carve out for personal savings account, that does erode a defined guaranteed benefit as we know it under Social Security.

BASH: On Iraq, some GOP lawmakers are calling the rosy picture the White House paints unrealistic, even harmful. .

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: The idea that the war has gone on this long, with this many casualties, surprises people.

BASH: Others say enough is enough. Bring troops home before our next election.

REP. WALTER JONES, (R) NORTH CAROLINE: After 1700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded, and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate...

BASH: So the bush communication shop is shifting to damage control mode. Message, we get it.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president recognizes that this is a concern that's on the minds of the American people.

BASH: Announcing a series of speeches with a sharper focus on Iraq over the next two weeks to try to calm anxieties. And it's not just Iraq. Americans are most concerned about the economy. Sky high gas prices, major layoffs at companies like G.M. Republicans want that to be the president's focus.

DAVID WINSTON, GOP POLLSTER: If you're in a leadership position in terms of the government and you're not addressing the number one issue, you're just inviting a problem.


BASH: And White House aides do concede that they have to talk up the good news when it happens more often on the economy and that is what the president, they say, will do. And Bush aides are admitting, John, that they are retooling the communications strategy, but again insisting today that it is just that. It is their P.R. strategy, not the policy on Iraq or on the domestic agenda. What they say is that they understand there's a disconnect between what Washington is talking about, what Americans want to hear, and that's what they're going to try to correct -- John.

KING: All right, Dana, we want to ask you to stand by at the White House and rejoin our discussion in just a moment. First this programming note. Former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt will be joining us a bit later with his take on the situation in Iraq and the president's domestic agenda.

But for more now on the problems facing the president, we're joined here in the studio by John Hendren of "The Los Angeles Times." Over at "The Washington Post" newsroom, Charles Babbington. And back to the White House, our Dana Bash, still with us.

And Dana, let me begin there. You talk about the problems the president is facing on both the domestic front and when it comes to the war in Iraq. Is there a single political dynamic to which aides at the White House or Bush allies to attribute this?

BASH: Well, I can tell you that there was an article by your former colleague, Ron Fournier in the A.P., that probably capsulizes the biggest frustration here and the reason for it. And that is, you know, during the campaign, the president had a foil. It was John Kerry. And, you know, often times I would talk to campaign aides, saying, you know, yes, the president's numbers are bad during the campaign, but perfect isn't on the ballot.

And they did a very good job of painting John Kerry as somebody who simply isn't up to the challenge and is not as good as George W. Bush. So that is a key problem for this White House. They don't have a foil anymore. That's why earlier this week you saw the president go out and make a political speech calling the Democrat and Congress obstructionist. It's like he's trying to make the entire Democratic Congress his foil now.

KING: And from that big picture umbrella, let's move on to some specifics. And let's start with Iraq. Chuck Babbington, in Congress, you're beginning to hear more and more criticism. Even a few -- they're lonely right now -- but a few Republicans saying let's set a timetable for bringing the troops home. I assume on Capitol Hill folks would say this president has lost the initiative, if not the argument, over the war.

CHARLES BABBINGTON, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think, John, you're right that those are somewhat lonely voices or a small number of voices. You have a couple of Republicans in the House -- Walter Jones, who is conservative, you have a Texan who is really more a Libertarian. The interesting thing will be to see whether those numbers grow.

I think the other thing to watch is going to be some tangential issues, such as the debate over Guantanamo Bay. The detainees that are held there, they are products, if you will, of the war on terrorism. So that even though that's not directly related to the war in Iraq, you are seeing more assertiveness, I think, on the parts of mainstream Republicans who are saying this is not going well and we can't wait for the administration to fix it. We think Congress needs to be more assertive there.

KING: And John Hendren, as you wander the halls of the Pentagon, I assume not only the civilian leadership, but maybe even moreso the brass, is worried when they hear about the president's declining poll numbers, declining public support for the war. They're not so much concerned about the political debate here in Washington. Their concern would be...

JOHN HENDREN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": They're definitely concerned about public support out there in America, which is why you had General -- Lieutenant General James Conway yesterday at the Pentagon, talking about how worried people at the Pentagon were about the lack of public support. And he did something which is almost unthinkable these days at the Pentagon -- he brought up the specter of Vietnam.

You might recall that Secretary Rumsfeld used to bat down any suggestion that there was a quagmire in Iraq. Well, now you've got a general with the joint chiefs bringing up Vietnam and talking about the need for public support. It's the kind of thing -- this is the first time this has happened and I think it's affected largely by the poll numbers you've seen coming out.

KING: We want to move more to the domestic front in just a moment with our reporters roundtable. We ask you to stay with us. INSIDE POLITICS will be back in just a moment.


KING: And still to come on this addition of INSIDE POLITICS, the Bush administration's domestic programs face mounting opposition. Can the president prevail? We'll talk it over with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

A Republican has a change of heart on Iraq. Bill Schneider will tell us if that turned out to be the "Play of the Week."

And is the Central American Free Trade Agreement in jeopardy? We'll ask the commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez.


KING: Medicare, Social Security, the Terri Schiavo case, all making headlines again and providing more hot topics for our "Reporters Roundtable." John Hendren is with the "L.A. Times." Charles Babington with the "Washington Post" and our Dana Bash at the White House.

Dana, back to you on the domestic issues. The president out talking about Medicare today. That was something that was supposed to be a signature achievement in the last campaign. Many saying this president is going to have to accept the fact that he's not going to get what he wants when it comes to Social Security especially those private accounts. Are they willing to make the concession at the White House yet? BASH: No. The short answer is no, not publicly at least. Look, this has sort of been the rub, if you will, between -- one of the many rubs -- between Republicans on the Hill and the White House. They certainly appreciate, even applaud, the fact that he is somebody who sticks to what he believes in, somebody who is very decisive, very focused and not willing to give up.

But at the same time, he's not on a ballot the next time around, even if ever at all. And they are. And they are the ones who are going to have to really push this through, really make compromises. And right now there simply aren't the votes for what he wants, private accounts.

So, it's really some Republicans in Congress are simply saying it's just a matter of when that this White House actually concedes and moves on beyond private accounts.

KING: Well, and Chuck Babington, how do the Republican leaders take it on Capitol Hill when the president says give me my private accounts. They have the opinion, if you talk to Chairman Thomas or Chairman Grassley, they are trying to help the president in the end declare victory even if doesn't get everything he wants. Are they a little anxious, if you will, for the White House to give them a green light?

BABINGTON: I think they're frustrated, John. Part of what's happened all along in this Social Security debate was that problem that was set out by the president and others, which is the long-term solvency problem of Social Security, was not really addressed by the solution or the main proposal that he had, which was these private accounts. That made it easy for the Democrats and other opponents to say we don't like this idea. We're totally against it.

And without any Democratic concessions at all, the Republicans really weren't able to get any momentum on that side. And I think that's been the frustration the Republican leaders have felt all along. And they have not been able to get any momentum whatsoever to overcome that in the months that have gone by.

KING: It may seem a bit of an odd question, John Hendren, but does the president's declining standing on these domestic issues play at all in the conversations you have at the Pentagon where for much of the administration they were lucky, if you will, in that the president's greatest strength was the security portfolio, and therefore they felt emboldened that the president was going to get whatever he wanted. Does his weakness on the home front affect his standing over there in the political environment?

HENDREN: It definitely make as difference. People in the Pentagon, people in the military enjoyed having a president who is popularity really played with the American people whenever he brought up the war. It was his strongest issue.

Now that you have got those numbers coming down, that concern, I think, is really increasing, especially when you see Congress reacting. This wasn't a nascent anti-war movement, it's been going on for two years. Congress has got on board, and when that happens, you can be sure the train has already left the station.

KING: Well, you mentioned Congress. It would be unfair to just say the president's numbers are in decline, Congress has a pretty poor poll standing. And many think one of the reasons that the American people don't think much of where Congress stands right now is that detours to other issues, among them the federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.

I want to listen to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked yesterday would he do it again if faced with that same choice today. Here's what the majority leader said.


SEN. BILL FRIST, (R-TN) MAJORITY LEADER: We tried to handle the case respectfully in the United States Senate. Would I do it over again, yes I would do it over again. The courts acted. It was brought to resolution.


KING: Chuck Babington, you spent some reporting time on this. Privately, does the majority leader mean it as much as he made to seem to believe in public?

BABINGTON: Well, I won't challenge his words, but I know a lot of other Republicans, and certainly a lot of other Democrats,wish that they hadn't done it. They felt that this was a segue into an issue that Congress should have stayed out of. And it obviously did not play with the public.

The other thing that Bill Frist was saying a whole lot yesterday was this is over, let's move on. I think he really would like to move on and get this story off the headlines.

KING: Well Dana, the White House would like to move on, but as you noted a new P.R. initiative not a new policy portfolio, they believe they are not wrong. They have done nothing wrong. They just need to talk about it better?

BASH: Well, that's what they are saying. That is certainly what they're saying. But on the sort of disconnect, it's interesting to hear, Chuck talk about Terri Schiavo, you know, when the White House says well, there's clearly a disconnect what they are talking about in Washington and what Americans want to hear. The first question is well the president has been out talking about Social Security. Are you saying, are you admitting the American people don't want Social Security? That's not what they care about?

They say, no, that's not it. We have been talking about Terri Schiavo and we've been talking about these arcane Senate rules in Washington that people don't really understand. Of course, not mentioning the fact that just like Bill Frist, George W. Bush flew across the country to put his stamp on that, to sign that in the middle of the night. And of course on the arcane Senate rules, they are debating the fate of his own judges. So, it's a little bit -- it's interesting to hear the way they try to describe the disconnect that they claim is there.

KING: On this Friday we need to call it quits there. Chuck Babington of the "Washington Post", John Hendren of the "Los Angeles Times" our own Dana Bash at the White House. Thanks to all three of you.

President Bush's poll numbers are down. Does his domestic agenda stand a chance? Coming up a chat with the secretary of health and human services, Mike Levin.


KING: President Bush's visit to Minnesota today was aimed at promoting one of his domestic proposals that's already been approved. Starting November 15, 42 million Medicare recipients will have the option of signing up for prescription drug benefits.


BUSH: I hope you got the message. The message is, there's good help coming. The law has been passed. I proudly signed it.


KING: Supporters hope events like today's will help bolster the president's lagging poll numbers. In a new CBS/New York Times poll, only 42 percent of those questioned said they approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job, 51 percent say they disapprove.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt is here to talk more about the president's domestic agenda. And let's begin with this Medicare education campaign. On the one hand, pretty easy to understand. It's a big program. Millions and millions of Americans need to decide how to handle this new benefit. You know what some of the critics say, though, is that you need this education campaign because what you have created, while an admirable benefit, is this confusing and arcane program -- looks something like "Hillary healthcare," some say.

MIKE LEAVITT, SEC. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This truly is an important moment in American human service history. It's been many, many years since we had a benefit this important being rolled out to this many people. And it is going to be a big job to educate people about it.

KING: And you dispute the argument that it's confusing? Is this easy?

LEAVITT: Well, healthcare is, on its face, difficult. All of us know that. We go to the drug store. We get our health insurance. But we've made this as simple as possible. There will be choices that people have to make. They'll have to decide what plan is best for them. But the good news is, there will be choices. We are now talking about people who have had no choice having a choice of multiple plans with multiple drugs in every category. And we'll have a robust marketplace for prescription drugs for the first time. That's good news.

KING: I want to ask you about another issue that falls into your portfolio, which is embryonic stem cell research. As you know, the House has passed legislation that would reduce the federal limits, if you will, ease the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The president opposes that. But in the Senate, the supporters of doing this say they clearly have a majority. The question is, whether they could break a filibuster if the majority leader, Bill Frist, decided to stage a filibuster.

Is that an appropriate tactic, to filibuster to block this bill? Or is it the administration's view that Congress, if it has the votes, should send it to the president's desk, where I assume he would veto it?

LEAVITT: Well, it is a contentious issue, and on that a lot of people have an opinion on, among them, the president. The president's made what he thinks to be a moral decision. He is defending it. I defend it. I believe it's the right decision. And the Congress will do what the Congress will do. But the president's made very clear, he opposes it. He doesn't think we ought to be creating life just for the purpose of destroying it. He doesn't think as well that a person -- that we ought to be taking life just to preserve one that already exists.

KING: Top aides to Nancy Reagan made it known yesterday she will get involved in this debate trying to help lobby support in the Senate. Must be difficult to be in a political debate when you're fighting Nancy Reagan.

LEAVITT: Well, this isn't an issue that necessarily falls upon -- along partisan lines. People have different views. It is a moral decision people make. It's a defendable position on both sides. The president's made clear how he feels. I feel as the president does.

KING: I want to ask you to step back and forget about your current title, secretary of Health and Human Services. You've also been administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. But you were for many years the governor of Utah, active in the Republican Governors Association; active in the National Governors Association. You get the ebbs and flows of politics. I want your assessment of where we are. We're about five months into the president second term, almost six months, and his poll numbers are down. There's doubts about Social Security. He's putting off tax reform a little bit. Rising questions about the war in Iraq. Help me from a political standpoint, as a veteran, where are we? And how much of this is the president's fault, if you will, from a political standpoint?

LEAVITT: I look back upon the time I spent as governor, and it's clear to me that many of the things that I proposed in my first term or implemented took until tend of my second, and in some cases, I had a third term, which made it even better, and the benefit of the things we began working on didn't mature until late.

This is -- the Medicare a very good example. In 2003, the Congress and the president took what was a very important leadership step to solve a fundamental problem. We are now at the point of being able to roll it out. We'll have 41 million Americans who will be affected in a very, very positive way. Not only do I believe that will improve the president's political health short term, but it will clearly be a major part of his legacy.

KING: There are some who are saying the bill is finally coming due, if you will. That this president has been elected in two very close elections, but he has claimed a mandate and governed quite boldly and overreached, the critics would say.

LEAVITT: The president governor governs a nation that is divided fundamentally, but the election bore that out. But he is leading decisively and clearly, and I believe that history will ultimately be rewarding. I was at a Cabinet meeting not long after the first election -- or the second election, and he was talking about Social Security. He said a lot of people wish we hadn't brought this up. It's a hard issue. But it is a hard issue, he said. But history will reward strong leadership. And we're going to keep going.

And the truth is, we're having a conversation about something that this nation deeply needs to deal with. And that is leadership. And time will in fact reward strong leadership.

KING: We will see if that's the case in time. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt. Thanks for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you, sir.

He was the leader of the House Democrats and a supporter of the Iraq war. What does Richard Gephardt think now? We'll ask him, coming up.

Also there's been a verdict in the trial of the former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski. Kitty Pilgrim will have that just ahead in our business update.


KING: With the market set to close on Wall Street this Friday afternoon, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "The Dobbs Report" and the latest on a verdict in the Tyco case. Kitty.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: That's exactly right, John. Big story today. We have a Tyco verdict. It's guilty. Former CEO Dennis Kozlowski, CFO Mark Schwartz -- they're found to have stolen more than $150 million. The charges: grand larceny, conspiracy, securities fraud, eight of the nine counts of falsifying business records.

Kozlowski's attorney reacting just now.


STEPHEN KAUFMAN, KOZLOWSKI ATTORNEY: We have one very clear and complete statement. We're disappointed with this verdict. We are disappointed with this verdict, and we're appealing.


PILGRIM: This is the second time they've been on trial. There was a mistrial last year. The government wants the max: 15 to 30 years in a state prison. And both men were released on bail until their sentencing later this summer.

Let's turn to the market.



PILGRIM: Coming up on CNN 6:00 p.m. Eastern on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, what can the hospital ask when someone comes in the emergency room? Can they ask if the person is an illegal alien? We'll have a full report on that.

Also tonight, our special report on "Heroes." The story of a Marine who put himself in the line of fire to protect his platoon.

Also, more cars are stolen in Arizona than any other state. Now, are the hot cars being used to fund terrorism? We'll tell you.

Plus, author Clyde Prestowitz tells us why global wealth and power shifting from the west to the east.

All the and more tonight, 6:00 Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," but for now, back to John King in Washington -- John.

KING: Thanks Kitty, have a great weekend.

And now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

When Richard Gephardt was the House Democratic leader, he supported the decision to war in Iraq, no some of Gephardt's old colleagues in congress are calling on President Bush to establish the time table to begin withdrawing the troops. The president says no.

Today I talked with the former congressman and I asked him what he thinks.


GEPHARDT: I think I agree with the president on this. We've got to succeed in Iraq. Put aside the whole debate about why we're there and even how we went there. I've been critical of the president and the way he went without the U.N. But now that we're there, if we leave arbitrarily before we've gotten a good result, we're going to buy ourselves lots more security problems here in the United States. We'll have terrorists galore in Iraq. And we'll send a message to the whole region that we don't clean up our messes and we don't do what we say we're going to do.

So, I don't think this is a good idea. I think the discussion of it in a democracy, legitimate. And I admire the people that want to talk about this. But, you know, we're not sending the right message when this is becoming the dialogue here in the United States.

KING: Then how do you have the responsible political debate about the administration's policy without, as you say, Democrats going too far, even some Republicans going too far in demanding a date and timetable?

GEPHARDT: Well, in a democracy, you always have these debates. And that's part of the health of our democracy. And you know, some people will read it wrongly, but that's the price of having a democracy.

I have no problem with having the debate. I just hope that we make the decision that we're going to stick it out, try to get the Sunnis involved in this government. Try to get the Iraq security forces to be beefed up enough so they can do the security without us. And then get our people out at the right time when we've achieved the result that we set out to achieve.

The whole world is watching this. And you know, we need to hang in there. I do also though think the president's got to be more clear with the American people about the costs that we all have to bear to make this a success.

War is an ugly thing. This is tough stuff. We need people. We need money. And the American people have to be behind this effort, and the president's going to have to be very clear about why we're doing this, why it's important that we succeed, and then leading the American people, which is what his job is.

KING: Let's move on to the domestic front and the conduct of your party in the Congress in opposing this president. The president this past weekend at a big Republican fundraiser, he said this. He said, "on issue of an issue, they stand for nothing except obstruction.", They being, of course, the Democrats in that case.

There are some Democrats in Washington who think that's the right strategy, say no when it comes to Social Security, say no when it comes to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, say no on other issues and take that into the midterm elections a little more than a year from now. Is that enough, sir? Or do the Democrats need to be more articulate about what they would do in the alternative.

GEPHARDT: Well, John, you know, there's an old saying it takes two to tango. And I'm afraid that applies to this political situation. You know, the president does need to gain the cooperation, not only of his own party, but the opposite party in the Congress.

But to do that, you've got to reach out to people at the earliest moment when a debate really begins and try to collaborate with them, listen to them, respect their views, even if you don't agree with them, and then try to find common ground.

He's never done that on Social Security. He's not done that really on health care. He's not done that on a lot of the issues that are before the Congress now, the energy bill. You can go down the list.

KING: Assume nothing changes in the dysfunctional -- to use a kind word -- relationship between the president and Democrats at this moment moment, your party has underestimated this president and his political team many times in the past. Let's just take Social Security, is it enough for the Democrats to say we don't like his plan, his plan is bad? Or do they need to go to the voters and say here's what we would have done in the alternative?

GEPHARDT: Well, they're very right, I think in saying, look, if you want to get a collaborative solution, let's sit down, put everything on the table, let's throw off the table what neither side can live with, and let's figure out a solution.

Let me take you back to 1983. I know history's boring, but you've got to look at it to learn.

KING: Let me ask you I question about Howard Dean, the man who leads your part. You just tried to take me back in history to the 1980s. I'll take you back to the last presidential campaign. He was one of the Democrats seeking the nomination. Many would say he has a habit of his tongue getting out ahead of him, saying things that get quite controversial. Is he doing a good job as chairman? Does he need to reign in some of the more controversial things he has said of late?

GEPHARDT: Well, let me first say that Howard is a very talented individual. I have high hopes for his leadership in the Democratic Party. My personal opinion is that some of the comments aren't helpful. But I think he at the same time is motivating some in our base and he's also, I think, working hard to build the structure of the party at the grass-roots level.


KING; Congressman Dick Gephardt, former Congressman, a bit earlier today.

Now voicing dissent is a regular occurrence here in Washington. But people took more notice when a Republican broke ranks with the Bush administration. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is here with the details -- Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John, it's rare for a politician to have a change of heart. When that change of heart sends a powerful political signal, it's also the "Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina is a conservative Republican. In 2002, he voted for the war in Iraq. He demanded that the House cafeteria relabel its French fries.

REP. WALTER JONES, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: Whenever anyone orders freedom fries, I hope they will think about our men and women are serving this great nation.

SCHNEIDER: Congressman Jones thinks about those men and women a lot. He has three major military bases in his district. He has written over 1400 letters like this one to families who have suffered losses. He displays photographs of fallen soldiers outside his congressional office. And he has had a change of heart.

JONES: After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded, and $200 billion dollars spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion on this resolution.

SCHNEIDER: The resolution, cosponsored by two Democrats and an anti-war Republican, calls for the United States to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by October 1, 2006. The White House argues a timetable for withdrawal would send the wrong message to the insurgents.

Asked to respond on ABC News this week, Congressman Jones said...

JONES: I disagree with that. Let me explain. I believe that once we train the Iraqi people to defend their country, then it should be their fight. How much can we do?

SCHNEIDER: Jones is deeply religious and deeply humanitarian. Congressional staffers once voted him the kindest member of Congress. His change of heart was personal.

JONES: When I attended Michael Biss' (ph) funeral in April of 2003, a Marine who left three children, twins he never saw, and when his wife read the last letter word for word at his funeral, on the way back to my little town of Farmville, North Carolina, I was emotional for 72 miles.

SCHNEIDER: But beyond the emotion...

JONES: Above that, I began to start reading, I began to start researching. And now, I am proud to stand here with these three men and know that we are -- had the courage to start the debate.

SCHNEIDER: A powerful message. And the "Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Will other Republicans follow Jones? Well, last week, the House International Relations Committee voted 32-9 to call on President Bush to develop an exit strategy in Iraq. 13 Republicans on the committee voted for the resolution.

KING: This debate to continue. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

And the battle is on: President Bush is fighting to save another controversial free trade treaty. We'll talk with one of the president's field generals leading that charge in just a moment.


KING: The United States is deeper in debt. America's demand for foreign goods, services, oil has pushed the trade deficit to an all- time high. New figures out just today put it at more than $195 billion.

And then, there's the CAFTA issue: The Bush administration facing stiff opposition in Congress to this critical trade agreement. We'll talk about those issues and more with the commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: Thank you, it's good to be here.

KING: Let's start with CAFTA, which to many will sounds like NAFTA, which was ten years ago -- the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now you have the Central American and Caribbean Trade Agreement. Supporters in Congress, including Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican who backs this -- as I said -- said the administration is AWOL in this debate.

Why aren't twisting arms to get the vote? Fair criticism?

GUTIERREZ: The president has been very vocal about his support for CAFTA and how important it is as part of his agenda to keep our economy growing. CAFTA is a very sound free-trade agreement. Everything coming in -- just about everything coming in from Central America, about 80 percent, comes in duty free.

Our exports go into Central America paying a duty. CAFTA eliminates those duties over time so it levels the playing field. So from an economic standpoint, it is very well thought through and very logical.

KING: You make that economic -- excuse me for interrupting you -- but you make that economic argument. You understand the political environment. We can go back to Ross Perot on NAFTA and the giant sucking sound, to today's debate: Many hear about these trade agreements and they say: outsourcing, loss of U.S. jobs to Mexico, to China, to elsewhere -- when will it stop?

How do you counter that?

GUTIERREZ: I think we have to look at the facts and we need to be thoughtful, we need to be strategic. There's too much at stake. Our economy is growing at almost four percent. Last year we grew at 4.4 percent. That's one of the fastest growth rates in the world and the fastest growth rate of any industrialized economy.

Unemployment is 5.1 percent. The president said we're not complacent, we're not satisfied and we won't be complacent until every American, who wants to work, is working. Now 5.1 percent is below the average of the past three decades. More Americans are working today than ever before in our history. Household income, average household income is up 17 percent since the president took office. That wouldn't be happening if our free trade agreements -- if the president's agenda weren't working and a big part of that agenda has been to open up markets for exports and continue to drive free trade around the world.

KING: And yet, the president's standing on domestic issues is down. And even the White House concedes it needs to do a better job communicating what it would say. And you have just said: They are the president's successes on the economy and other issues.

One key issue for this president in the second term was supposed to be tax reform. You're pushing this trade agreement right now. The president wants a Social Security deal and he has concede he will at least push back his timetable for major tax reform. Critics and even some allies say that's a sign of political weakness.

GUTIERREZ: I have never seen any political weakness on the part of the president. He has an agenda, he has had an agenda from day one. He knows what he wants. He's not going to pass the buck to future generations. He's not going to skirt the issues. We are on CAFTA today. We're going to take things one by one, and the president is going to continue to lead, which is what he's been doing since he took office. Think about what we've been through: The president inherited a recession. Then we went through 9/11. Then we went through a wave of corporate scandals and here we are with the most vibrant, industrialized economy in the world.

I think we should feel very good about that. We should stay on plan and continue to drive our economy forward.

KING: Take a number that's on the business page and translate it to the kitchen table: $195 billion trade deficit. Critics would say that proves that this country doesn't produce enough goods here, and that we have this insatiable appetite for cheaper goods from overseas. Flip it for me, you would argue, I guess, that that's not a sign of weakness at all.

GUTIERREZ: Not at all.

Let me -- the trade deficit is an important number, but it's not the only number. Our economy, as I mentioned before, is growing at four percent. This is a great place to do business. The president, all along, has said let's make the U.S. the best place in the world to do business. That's what we have: Everyone wants to invest here. Everyone wants to sell their products here because we're growing, because we have a vibrant economy.

We look overseas to our trading partners, the European Union is growing at 1.6 percent. Japan is growing at 1.2 percent. Those are our large trading partners. We would like to see them adopt the types of policies that the president has adopted here in the U.S. so that they can grow faster and we can sell them more. That's the solution. The solution isn't to make the U.S. less attractive by growing less.

Let me give you an example: Germany. Their economy is growing, perhaps, one percent. Their unemployment is getting close to 12 percent, but they have a trade surplus. Would we trade our economy for Germany's because they have a trade surplus? The trade deficit is not the only important number.

KING: We will continue to track this and other debates. When will CAFTA make the president's desk?

GUTIERREZ: CAFTA's going to pass, it's just a matter of getting the right time table; CAFTA will go through. The momentum is in favor of CAFTA, the facts are in favor of CAFTA and frankly, the arguments against CAFTA are getting weaker and weaker.

KING: We'll keep that prediction on file.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you.

KING: Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, thank you, sir.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you.

KING: And: Free speech pitted against big bucks and you won't believe whose finger is hovering above the delete key. Our bloggers are checking out today's web surfing.

That's just ahead on the other side of this break.


KING: And now our "Political Bytes."

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is taking a stronger stance against gay marriage. Romney says he'll join a citizen-led effort to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts, the only state where it's now legal.

Another possible Republican presidential candidate, Florida governor Jeb Bush is keeping the Terri Schiavo controversy on the front burner. He's asking a prosecutor to find out why it took Michael Schiavo so long to call 911 after she collapsed.

Florida congresswoman Kathrine Harris may have competition in her bid to win the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate. A spokesman for Florida House Speaker Allan Bense says Governor Bush and the White House are encouraging Bentz to run against Harris who gained national attention, of course, as Florida secretary of state after the 2002 presidential election.

Iranians voted today in a tightly contested presidential election that President Bush dismisses as greatly flawed. Seven candidates are on the ballot to succeed Muhammed Khatami, a reform minded cleric barred from seeking a third term. Opinion polls indicate no clear winner with former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani expected to advance to a runoff against either a reformist candidate or a conservative allied with the country's powerful Shiite hierarchy.

Causes of democracy heating up the web: Iran's election and Chinese bloggers encountering censorship from a most unlikely source. We check in now with our CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECNER, CNN BLOG CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Nice job with Rafsanjani's name.

The Internet is playing a bigger and bigger role in politics in Iran and more specifically, in this particular election. We found that all of the major candidates have Web sites and one actually has his own blog. It in Persian and it's at That is the leading reformist candidate that you were talking about. And he actually has pictures of himself voting today. It's tough for us to read, because it's in Persian. But there are the photographs of him casting his ballot.

One of the best known Iranian bloggers out there is Hossein Darakhshan who is based in Canada. He has a blog Hoda is the name he goes by. His blog is in English and it's in Persian.

Now, he was a journalist in Iran up until 2000, moved to Toronto. And from there in 2001, he posted this how to build a Persian blog site, a how to guide for people to set up their own blog in Persian. Widely credited, because of this, with the boom in blogging started in the Persian language, upwards of 70,000 blogs in the Persian language right now.

Now, some of them, like this one created in 2003 is an example. Some of them are particularly interesting. This one is the personal Web site of Mohammed Ali Aptahi, a former vice president in Iran who used to amuse his readers by posting photos that he would take with his cellphone of fellow cabinet ministers. You can't really imagine Vice President Dick Cheney doing this.

SCHECHNER: Now, going back to Hoder, he is back in Tehran for the elections. And when he first got over there, he was only posting that he was there on his English language side of the blog, wasn't posting it in Persian and got upset that other bloggers started talking about it in Persian.

But as the comment section notes on Hoders blog, does he think the Iranian government doesn't speak English or does he think they're not going to recognize the photographs he's taken and posted of himself in Tehran? The feedback on the blog coming through.

Also noting today, as he's following the election, he doesn't understand why the mainstream media sees Rafsanjani as a winner or possibly being the winner. He thinks the blog community is supporting the other reformist candidate instead.

TATTON: There are other bloggers there on the ground in Tehran who are blogging the events as they're going on. A day in the life of the voters out there. This is the adventures of Mr. Behi. Mr. Behi is a 27-year-old resident of Tehran who is a technology professional. He's been talking about -- you get great insight from this site what's going on. He's in a taxi talking to the taxi driver who's furious at him for voting saying there's no point. This isn't going to change anything.

He's also saying about the extension of the vote that's been reported today. The election is extended to 11:00 p.m. This always happens regardless of the number of voters so it makes it look big, something you may not be hearing from anyone else. He's also posting some of the pictures, the line in front of the men's entrance as he went there to vote today, talking about that he voted for the reformist candidate, Moin, as well as his wife did. Also posting a picture of the ballot there.

So, just a different insight that you're getting from some of the Iranian bloggers out there -- John.

KING: All right. Ladies, thank you both. We'll see you later in the program.

When we come back, the debate over Gitmo. Sharp words exchanged on the Senate floor over that U.S. prison camp in Cuba. Just one of the topics coming up in our "Strategy Session."


KING: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS and our "Strategy Session" on today's hottest political topics. With us today, two of the best young minds in politics, Jack Valenti, former aide to President Lyndon Johnson and CNN political analyst Bob Novak.

Today's topic, the Gitmo debate. Rhetoric over the U.S. military prison camp heats up. The Bolton vote: A showdown looms over the president's nominee for United Nations ambassador. And the new Hillary book: conservative activists pushing the book, hope it might derail a 2008 presidential bid by the controversial New York senator.

First, the debate over Gitmo. It's still sparking strong emotions on Capitol Hill. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois refusing to back down from controversial remarks. The Illinois Democrat compared U.S. interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba camp to the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge. Both the White House and Republicans on the Hill are demanding an apology.


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: But to say that the interrogation techniques here are the kind you would expect from a repressive regime, I do not believe is an exaggeration. They certainly do not represent the values of America.

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R) VIRGINIA: For you to have come to the floor with just that fragment of a report and then unleashed the words the Nazis, unleashed the word Gulag, unleashed Pol Pot. I don't know how many remember that chapter, it seems to me that was a grievous error in judgment.


KING: Bob Novak, too far? ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I've been watching the Senate since Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in 1957. I happened to be watching that last night on C-SPAN. That was really gripping. I have seldom seen such drama in the Senate.

John Warner is such awesome figure, he's a magisterial figure, not partisan at all. And Dick Durbin just went too far. And there comes a time for a politician, you say, hey, I miss -- I overstepped my bounds. I shouldn't have said it. But he dug in. And said some silly things.

He said these were repressive regimes he was comparing it to. They weren't repressive regimes, they were genocidal regimes. And say that they're interrogation was bad, they didn't interrogate anybody, they killed them right now.

And so it was a huge, huge, huge mistake. But it was really sheer drama, John, to watch it.

KING: Let's start with the point about Senator Durbin. A huge, huge, huge mistake? Do you agree with Bob?

JACK VALENTI, FRM. AIDE TO PRES. JOHNSON: Well, I happen to think, as Bob said, that John Warner is one of the great giants in the United States Senate. He's fair-minded. And his remarks made a great impress on me.

It may be that Senator Durbin might have gone just a tad too far. But he did bring up something that I need needs to be debated, and that is the interrogation techniques.

We know about Abu Ghraib, what happened there. And if it hadn't been for those pictures, we wouldn't have known anything about it.

One of the questions that I was curious. Has any congressional delegation gone to Guantanamo Bay to observe and monitor interrogation techniques? Have any press gone down there to check on the interrogation techniques? Do we know what's going on?

So I think that's a legitimate issue. It may be that his use of Nazi and Khmer Rouge and something might have been a little over the top, but I think Dick Durbin has brought up an issue that needs to be talked about by the Congress of this count.

KING: I believe there is a codel going down soon -- a congressional delegation. Whether they'll see interrogations, I don't know.

NOVAK: They go down often.

KING: Some of us have requested to go from our business who are waiting for answers.

Let me -- Dick Durbin down there talking about Nazis, Pol Pot. You know, Rick Santorum mentioned Hitler in the debate over judicial nominees. NOVAK: I'll tell you something -- at either side of the fence, when you use these Hitler analogies, you almost always get in trouble. Politicians shouldn't do it.

This man killed millions and millions of people. These things are not comparable. We're not killing people down there. Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who's been there says they give them honey-glazed chicken on Sundays. They have the prayers signals. They're treated pretty well. I think they went over the top on some of those.

KING: What is it, Jack, about today's politics that the rhetoric has turned up.

VALENTI: Well, I'm going to tell you what I think. I don't know about Bob. I think this debate is a mere exemplar and symptomatic of what is happening in the Congress in the last several years. I've been in this town for almost 42 years. I've never seen such palpable hostility. There's an awful squinting in Congress today toward pure hostility. There's a rigidity of view -- and by the way, blame on both parties. No one gets off Scott free here.

But the word compromise has almost been put into exile. It's not an ignoble word. This is the way a government functions. It's almost vanished from the debates in the Congress today.

NOVAK: Well, I think hyperbole is a part of the American way of life, and particularly politics. I remember once when Bob Kerr -- you remember Senator Kerr...

VALENTI: I remember him very well.

NOVAK: He called a Republican senator, Homer Capehart, a rancid tub of ignorance, one of the great lines I ever heard. But -- so that's part of the system. But I think -- I really do believe that the -- some of these senators, Jack, either they write it themselves or they got these young speech writers that they ought to edit themselves a little bit more.

KING: I think I used that term once without attribution. I think I may have used the term once in a meeting here without attribution. I have to go back and get it.

We're going to take a quick break, gentleman.

John Bolton is back on the Senate calendar. Republicans have scheduled another vote on President Bush's controversial pick to be the U.N. Ambassador. More on the "Strategy Session" straight ahead.


KING: And our "Strategy Session" now continues on INSIDE POLITICS.

Still with us, Jack Valenti, former aide to President Lyndon Johnson and CNN's own Bob Novak. Let's move to the Bolton vote. The high stakes standoff over President Bush's choice to be the United Nation's ambassador is reaching a climax. Republicans have scheduled a second vote on John Bolton for Monday. Administration heavy hitters are weighing in.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's time to get an up and down vote on John Bolton. He has answered questions. They have debated it.


KING: An up or down vote. Will it happen Monday, Bob?

NOVAK: I don't know. Right now, they don't have the votes, but there's negotiations going on. Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, met with John Bolton for an hour and-a-half yesterday. And they were trying to negotiate the question of these document withdrawals.

The whole thing, John, is so silly because it isn't a matter -- they're not debating John Bolton's merits anymore. It's all a matter of the Senate prerogatives and demanding intelligence matter. And I think that's what Senator Dodd wanted. He wanted to make this an issue on that and try to derail the nomination that way. But right now, they don't have the votes, but I think they're going to negotiate over the weekend and try to get them by Monday night.

KING: It may not John Bolton's call as to whether those documents, or that information is shared and released.

You've worked in a White House, this White House has drawn a pretty hard line when it comes to these issues.

VALENTI: It's very true, they have. My judgment is though that if the way I would trump the Democrats would be for the White House to say OK, you wan to see the papers. Here they are. And once those papers have been assayed and if there's nothing in there, then all of the opposition to Bolton melts away. And then he gets a free vote. And he'll be confirmed.

I don't know why there is this singular defense against making these papers available. I don't know what's in them, but the more they want to keep them under wraps, the more people say ah ha, what is in those papers.

NOVAK: These are NSA intercepts. And they've always been very sensitive on that sort of thing. And, of course, Senator Roberts, chairman of the Intelligence Committee on Thursday actually released the names of the people, said they're not -- people that the U.S. officials, that Bolton was accused of intimidating is not in those intercepts. And Senator Dodd, who is determined to defeat Bolton, came up with the -- he's demanding now, 36 names. So, he's raising the bar. I think Senator Dodd is trying to -- has been trying to defeat this nominee from the beginning. And Senator Dodd is a very crafty, clever Senate maneuverer and he's been much more successful than I thought he would.

KING: The president has a choice -- an option -- if he doesn't have the votes, he can wait for Congress to go home, July 4th recess, and he can give a recess appointment that would put John Bolton at the United Nations for probably about a year. Many conservatives say go for it, Mr. President, stick it to them.

What do you think, Jack?

VALENTI: I'm opposed to recess nominations because I think that means that you can't get it through Congress, so you go around the backdoor. Whether it's a Republican or Democratic president, I don't think that's a wise thing to do.

NOVAK: A lot of conservatives think it would be a bad idea, John, that I talk to, because they feel it would really make the president liable for just the kind of accusation that Jack said of a backdoor approach. It would also, I think it would -- Bolton would be coming into the U.N. with a little bit of a cloud as a conservative -- he was a conservative who couldn't even get a confirmation vote by the Senate. I don't think that's a sure deal that if they can't get him confirmed, they will recess appointment. That has to be the president's decision.

VALENTI: There is the underpinning, the underbelly here is the temperament of this man. I do not know him so I can't speak personally. But as I talk to senators, they believe that this is the wrong temperament for somebody at the United Nations to have. Not only his distestation (sic) of the United Nations but the way he handles people around him. So that has to be factored in too.

NOVAK: Let me say, I know John Bolton. I've known him since -- for 20, 25 years. And he is a terrific public servant. He has held many -- he has spent his whole life in public service. This is just a terrible character attack on him. He is -- we need a tough guy at the United Nations. And why don't we debate that? Do we need a tough guy at the United Nations? Should you confirm a guy who is going to stand up for this country at the United Nations? I think he would be a terrific ambassador.

KING: Let's step back just a little bit and view this in the context of the politics of the moment. The president's poll numbers are down, he's having a tough time -- public standing on Iraq, tough time on Social Security -- just had the commerce secretary on trying to get this free trade deal through. There's a snowball effect here in Washington. If they lose Bolton, is there a broader political impact, or should we take them one at a time?

NOVAK: That's inside baseball. I don't think --

VALENTI: I agree with Bob on that. I don't think that has any long-term merit to it. But to me -- I'll go along with Novak. He's pretty wise about these things. But there must be something that so many people feel that Bolton has been churlish with intelligence material being brought to him and dealing with subordinates. I don't know, Bob, but...

NOVAK: He is a tough guy. You know, I think -- you know, as I get older my memory is not so good -- I think he used to work for a tough guy who was tough with subordinates and he was a hell of a public servant, wasn't he?

VALENTI: Well, I guess you're right. I'm not going to argue that point with you.

KING: Well, on that point of agreement, we will move on to one more break -- a new book about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Is it a right-wing smear or the truth about the former first lady? Our strategy session continues and we'll search for answers just ahead.


I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour: al Jazeera says this is new video of al Qaeda's number two man. We'll take a closer look. What's going on?

Another arrest in the Natalee Holloway case: how is all the negative publicity going to affect Aruba's tourism-centered economy?

Hundreds of thousands of people homeless in Zimbabwe: the result of a government campaign. A shocking story.

All that coming up -- much more only minutes away on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Now back to "INSIDE POLITICS."


FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM CLINTON: Mrs. Bush introduced us, and she said that she had taken to calling me "Son." This just shows you the lengths to which the Bushes would go to get another president in the family, and I wish I could get them to adopt Hillary.


KING: Will the Bushes adopt Hillary? Hmm -- there's a topic as we continue our "Strategy Session" here on "INSIDE POLITICS." Still with us here -- I think I owe them a drink or dinner at least by now -- Jack Valenti and Bob Novak.

A new book about Hillary Clinton is coming out and it's not complimentary. It's called "The Truth About Hillary -- What She Knew, When She Knew It And How Far She'll Go To Become President." The book is being heavily promoted on conservative web sites, among (INAUDIBLE). Tell me here, Bob, is this book being treated seriously?

NOVAK: Yeah, I think it's being treated seriously. It's a reputable guy. He's a journalist, he's not just a -- and he's got a lot of new material in it that the -- the advance thing that everybody is seeing ran in "Vanity Fair," an advance chapter, and it produced something that I knew for a long time -- I never wrote it -- is that Liz Moynihan, the late senator, Pat Moynihan's widow, detested Hillary. And the Moynihans had a very bad relationship with her. That's what this chapter is all about.

It's got a lot of inside information. I don't think it's going to change anything, but it's good reading. And I think it does kind of underline the fact that Senator Clinton is a very controversial, polarizing figure.

KING: Very controversial, very polarizing. Late in the Clinton presidency, many said it didn't matter what was said anymore, that people had made up their mind and sort of picked their camp. Is that true about her, or is she still...

VALENTI: I think that's true. If anybody was going to write a book that you want to destroy Hillary Clinton, I wouldn't bring it out in it 2005. In politics, 24 hours is an eternity. We've got '06 and '07 before the '08 elections. My judgment is, I've heard that it's mostly gossip, unconfirmed gossip, and maybe a few people who want to get in a few licks against Senator Clinton. But I think by the time the campaign starts, she will have devised a whole new persona that might appeal to a lot of people.

Right now, she has high negatives and that's -- I think if I were in her advisory camp, you want to soothe those negatives down. And that's what I think she's about.

NOVAK: It looks to me like a well-attributed book. It doesn't look like gossip to me. I think the problem with Senator Clinton is that, unlike her husband, she's not very likable. She is smart, she is tough. She thinks she'll be a better president than her husband was. But she's not a likable person, John.

KING: Well, her office is trying to swat this book down in the process, perhaps, generating a buzz for it among conservatives. But among the things her spokesman says is quote, "We don't comment on works of fiction, let alone a book full of blatant fabrications written by someone who writes trash for cash."

I remember covering Bill Clinton back during the whole Jennifer Flowers thing and that is a line straight out of 1992: Trash for cash.

NOVAK: That's...

VALENTI: Well, John, I think, though -- I think Bob may be right, but people see a candidate only on television. And on television, I think Hillary Clinton can be quite charming...

NOVAK: Is she likable?

VALENTI: ... And very engagible -- engaging, and I think, has a likable personality -- a persona on television. And that's where 98 percent of Americans make their estimates of candidates or want-to-be candidates. NOVAK: Let me tell you something that's changed in the last month John, and that is: Just even a month ago, the Republicans were just rejoicing that they got Hillary to run against and what a Godsend. In the last month, they're beginning to worry about: Maybe she is a tough candidate, maybe she gets the women's vote; she keeps all Kerry states and gets a few more.

So, I find the Republicans -- they doesn't know whether to rejoice or to worry about her and I think there's reason to worry about her.

KING: And what about the Democrats?

VALENTI: And this country is hopelessly divided. Now, there are only about six to eight percent of the voting population that really are the leaners or the ones you want to go after. Therefore, I think that those kind of people would find her kind of interesting and a compelling figure. But it all depends on who she runs against, for goodness sakes, because in the end, you're going to have two choices: the Republican and the Democrat.

But I would never sell her short -- never.

KING: But if you run into a Democrat around the water cooler or say, on a Friday afternoon, when you're free to just sit around a martini -- they think: Yes, good candidate or oh no, God, no?

NOVAK: Both. I think it's divided.

VALENTI: I think that there's a lot on both. But again, this campaign has not yet begun --long time -- and in the meanwhile, my judgment is: This very smart lady is going to be polishing and beveling her image so that when seven -- '07 comes around, she will have, I hope, an enticing and engaging manner, will make people like her.

NOVAK: Let me use one word: harsh. She's harsh and you can't change that. You know, not everybody is warm and cuddly like I am, and some people are just harsh.

KING: I've been here eight years, Bob, trying to become warm and cuddly just like you -- not quite there yet. You say the campaign hasn't started. We're going to have a long pre-season; that's why we have shows like INSIDE POLITICS.

Jack Valenti, Bob Novak, thanks for joining us, both, on this Friday afternoon.

VALENTI: Thank you, John.

KING: Have a good weekend, gentlemen.

KING: Among the other perks, it will have air conditioning and a gym: It's $30 million of your money, but where it's going is raising controversy. The bloggers are minding the Web looking up, down, right, left, all every-which way over the Web. They'll have the bottom line when we come back.


KING: Live pictures here, a developing story just into CNN. You're watching, from our affiliate in New York, WABC, pictures of a scene near the East River in New York. A helicopter completely submerged, we are told, in the East River.

The Associated Press says this scene is just south of the United Nations building in Manhattan. The second time this week a helicopter has gone down in the river. The previous was on Wednesday. Again, information just coming in and we will bring you more as we get it. But a chopper down in the East River in New York City. Reports say that it is completely submerged. As you see, rescue personnel including the fire department and the police department on the scene.

More on this story, as we get it in here on CNN.

And now back to INSIDE POLITICS and before we say good-bye on this Friday, we want to check in one last time with our blog reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton -- ladies?


Microsoft and its partner in China, which has government ties, have agreed to restrict what some people can post on their blogs that they create through MSN spaces. Obviously, a lot of the bloggers really upset by this limitation. That sentiment echoed at one: wondering why Bill Gates and Microsoft would do anything to sensor freedom on the Internet.

TATTON: And one blogger that wants to test this out was Rebecca McKinnon. She's a former TV correspondent, now a research fellow at Harvard Law School, where she's doing a project trying to create a global community of bloggers. She went to this tool and tried to set up an MSN spaces blog with the title: I Love Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and Democracy. She didn't get very far. She got an error message that said: The title must not contain prohibited language such as profanity, please type a different name.

Her response to this, " I guess Microsoft considers human rights, democracy and freedom of speech to be profanity.

SCHECHNER: Now, the general opinion was that I first told you about. But there -- not everybody agrees and there is a guy in Canada named John Watson(ph) who points out that the beauty of our planet is that we're all different and nobody has a right to dictate to any country what its rights and rules and regulations should be.

So, just an odd opinion, but there's a plethora of them out there.

TATTON: One place where there are no restrictions on what you can say online is right here in the United States. And when Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois earlier this week some made comments about interrogators at Guantanamo Bay -- relating them to Nazis and Soviet gulags -- the right side of the blogosphere erupted with a few choice comments for the Senator. Where else should you go?

Nowhere else but: -- yes there's a blog for everything. This has been going for about a year. A resident of Rockford, Illinois, calling the Senator the treacherous Dick Durbin and also linking to some of the big conservative bloggers out there, seeing what they're saying about it.

SCHECHNER: On a side-note, a funny little thing we found on this site is that he notes that if he lived in New York, he would name the site: Chuck Chuck, because he dislikes Chuck Schumer as much as he dicks -- dislikes Dick Durbin.

John, we'll send it, back over to you.

KING: All right, ladies. Thank you, both. Have a great weekend.

We want to update you now on a developing story. I believe we have live pictures, as well. Helicopter down in the East River in New York City. WABC providing us these pictures here. You see police and fire rescue workers on the scene here. The Helicopter completely submerged. Unclear from this distance exactly what is going on onshore, but reports say the helicopter completely submerged in the East River. This is the second time this week there has been a helicopter crash in New York. More information as we get it, here on CNN.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

Thanks for watching, have a great weekend.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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