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INSIDE POLITICS

Bush Energy Bill; Iraq Conflict; Rahm Emanuel Interview; Roy Blunt Interview; Abramoff Questioned

Aired June 22, 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: A coordinated attack on Iraq. Democrats plan ways to make the most of the Bush administration's vulnerabilities.

Power and the president. Mr. Bush keeps pushing an energy bill and acknowledging its limitations.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope you recognize that when I sign that bill, your gasoline prices aren't going to drop.

ANNOUNCER: A political high roller under scrutiny on the Hill. Will the probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's casino connections embarrass some top Republicans?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Today's hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed. It's simply and sadly a tale of betrayal.

ANNOUNCER: Who's sorry now?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: I am sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust.

ANNOUNCER: Can Senator Durbin put his controversial Nazi remark behind him?

Now, live from Washington, CNN's INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. I'm Ed Henry.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are turning to a basic yet often effective attack strategy. When you see an opening, pounce. In about an hour, Senate Democrats will go behind closed doors for a special meeting on Iraq. A response to waning public and even Republican support for the president's policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Democrats are getting more aggressive in their attacks on President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: There is a credibility gap, a credibility gap that exists between the rhetoric the American people are hearing and the reality of what is happening on the ground. That does not mean the gap cannot be closed. But absent closing that gap, the American people are not, in my view, going to be prepared to give the president the support and time he needs to get it right in Iraq.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Each passing day confirms that the Iraq War has been a grotesque mistake.

HENRY: The tough talk comes amid sliding support for the war. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows only 39 percent of the American public favors the war, down eight points from March. And Democrats believe the president is on the defensive, with some House Republicans starting to call for a timetable to bring U.S. troops home and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel contending about Iraq, quote, "Things aren't getting better. They're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

Republican leaders sharply disagree.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MAJORITY WHIP: Look, I think we're doing well in Iraq. We know that we have a serious security problem in the Sunni triangle. The rest of the country is in relatively good shape, much better than it was under Saddam. And very, very importantly, the democratic process is going forward and they're going to have a duly elected government by the end of this year. I think that's something to applaud.

HENRY: Senior Republicans privately say they're not worried about political fall-out because overall, they still score much better than Democrats on national security issues. And the Republican National Committee is launching a counterattack, charging the Democrats' rhetoric is extreme and trying to tie Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to Hill leaders like Pelosi and Dick Durbin.

DURBIN: ... by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags...

HENRY: In fact, Durbin on Tuesday night was forced to apologize for comments last week comparing the actions of U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay to Nazi Germany.

DURBIN: Some might believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Look for even more pressure from Democrats on the House floor tomorrow night, when Democratic congressional campaign committee chairman Rahm Emanuel plans to read the names of all the 1,700-plus U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll talk with Rahm Emanuel in a few minutes.

Right now, let's bring our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill, can the Republicans turn the table on the Democrats here and make them the issue?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not if the Democrats keep the focus on Iraq rather than on themselves. Columnist Harold Meyerson makes an interesting point in today's "Washington Post," that Americans have turned against the Iraq War in the absence of a mass anti-war movement. The Republicans can't demonize radical protesters, he writes.

Democrats have to remember what happened in 1972. By then, Americans were strongly opposed to the war in Vietnam, so Democrats nominated an anti-war candidate and what happened? George McGovern got clobbered. Why? Because he became the issue more than the Vietnam War.

HENRY: So do you think Democrats need a plan of their even? there are some saying that perhaps somebody like Joe Biden should come out and actually argue for more U.S. troops on the ground, to come up with a Democratic plan.

SCHNEIDER: Actually, no. What they have to do is demand that the president come up with a plausible plan for success in Iraq, including an exit strategy. Again, a little history. When Americans were exasperated by the stalled Korean War in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower won with a simple promise: I will go to Korea. In 1968, Richard Nixon was depicted as having a secret plan to get the U.S. out of Vietnam, even though he actually never said that. But the idea of a secret plan was enough.

Next year's election is a midterm. Americans are not going to be electing a new president, but they will have a chance to send a message.

HENRY: Bill, I want to shift gears quickly. Another issue, obviously, that will be big in 2006, Social Security reform. We got some signals from the White House yesterday that perhaps the president -- perhaps, might be moving away from private accounts. White House official say he's not, but some Republican senators thought maybe he was. Do you think Democrats now need to come up with their own Social Security plan? Because Republicans are suggesting if they do pull back from private accounts, it's time for Democrats to come to the table.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, so far, Democrats have been doing pretty well without one. Most Americans do not see the Social Security system as facing an immediate crisis. There is a crisis, but it's somewhere down the road. The Social Security problem actually ranks fairly low in polls of voters' concerns.

They want someone to protect the Social Security system more or less the way it works now. that could include tax hikes and benefit cuts, just as happened in 1983 as a result of a commission report without causing a big political backlash. What voters don't like is politicians trying to make Social Security a political issue.

HENRY: OK. Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst, thanks for your insights.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

HENRY: President Bush did not say much about Iraq today, turning his attention instead to domestic issues he believes Americans are concerned about.

Let's now bring in our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ed, President Bush is focusing on a domestic issue, a piece of legislation that political observers say he could actually succeed and could actually get through Congress. As you know, it is the energy bill. There are various versions of the energy bill that are now being worked out in the House and the Senate. It's expected that they could vote on this, of course Congress, on Friday.

Now the main highlight here, the centerpiece of the energy bill, that is encouraging the increase in nuclear power, as well as building nuclear power plants. Earlier today, President Bush toured the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland. That is where plans are underway to possibly build a nuclear power reactor there. Now, a nuclear reactor has not been built in the United States in some thirty years, since that tragic accident at Three Mile Island in the 1970s.

But the president argued more nuclear power reactors, more nuclear power, would essentially make the United States less dependent on foreign sources of oil, providing a cleaner, cheaper and safer source of energy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Nuclear power is one of America's safest sources of energy. People right here practice a lot of safety. They're good at it. You got nuclear engineers and experts that spend a lot of time maintaining a safe environment. Just ask the people that work here. You wouldn't be coming here if it wasn't safe, I suspect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, there's some environmentalists who are still expressing some skepticism about all of this. And of course, it's a very political -- hot political issue. Democrat Steny Hoyer, as you know, the congressman who represents Calvert County -- that is where the president was visiting -- basically said that he does not agree with the president's approach and that he doesn't believe the president is even addressing the issues that Americans are really concerned with.

Having said that, of course, the president being beaten down on Social Security and Bolton, the White House, certainly relieved that the president is putting forward a plan, a piece of legislation, Ed, that is likely to move forward.

HENRY: Suzanne, you mentioned Social Security. We heard a lot yesterday about the president's comments to Republican senators, offering some encouragement for a piece of legislation that does not include private accounts. Then today, House Republicans introduced a Social Security reform plan with scaled back private accounts. What are they saying at the White House about whether or not the president is moving away from that signature part of the Social Security plan, private accounts?

MALVEAUX: Well, here's the White House strategy. Publicly, of course, they're saying that he is sticking with his plan, that he is behind those private investment accounts and that he is not moving away from that. Of course, privately, what they're trying to do is embarrass the Democrats, put them on the spot, and basically call their bluff. Say, if you say that you're not willing to move forward, then you want the private investment accounts taken off the table and then you'll talk about Social Security reform, well, then, let's see it. Bring your ideas to the table.

HENRY: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thank you very much.

New movement today on a political hot-button that routinely gets pushed here in Washington. The House approved a Constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to ban flag-burning and other forms of desecration of the stars and stripes. The vote was 286 to 130. The House has approved the amendment six times in the past 10 years, but for the first time, activists on both sides say it finally stands a chance of passing in the Senate, as well.

Back on the Hill, the subject of debate keeps coming back to Iraq. Up next, I'll ask Congressman Rahm Emanuel about the Democrats' sharpened attack strategy and his role in it, and I'll ask House Majority Whip Roy Blunt if Democrats are helping or hurting Republicans and themselves.

And later, an intriguing cast of characters -- and a good bit of politics -- in what's being billed as a campaign to save public broadcasting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: As we just reported, Democrats are getting more aggressive on the issue of Iraq. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went so far as to call the war a "grotesque mistake." With us is now, live from Capitol Hill, is Congressman Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Welcome, Congressman.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D-IL), CHMN. DEM. CONGRESSIONAL CMPGN. CMTE.: Thanks, Ed. how are you?

HENRY: Good. On Thursday, you're planning to go to the House floor and read the names of the over-1,700 U.S. servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why are you doing that?

EMANUEL: Well, Ed, first of all, we're doing Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not just one war, or one theater of the war. Second, it is -- you know, we're coming up to the 4th of July. We talk about independence. We talk about our freedom, the hard-fought sacrifices we've made, and here are individuals who gave the ultimate in sacrifice, that gave their lives for the country. Now, many times, in the well on the floor, or back in the district, a member will invoke the sacrifice of our troops.

This is a time not only to invoke the sacrifice but to put a face and a name to that sacrifice, individually, and to give them the recognition in the well of the people's House what they have done. As you know, Ed -- you've been to my office -- for over a year-and-a- half, I have actually had the pictures and my own little memorial outside my office for these troops.

HENRY: But, Congressman, you're also chairman of the House Democrats Campaign Committee. You're a former political aide in the Clinton White House. Republicans think this is going to be a publicity stunt. You're trying to score political points. It's coming at a time when Democrats are stepping up attacks on the president.

EMANUEL: Well, there's nothing I can do to deal with what they think is my motivation. I've done this for over a year-and-a-half outside my office, as you know, and I've had people write cards to the individual family members. It's interesting that, as we talk about their sacrifice, we're always willing to invoke their sacrifice. This is an attempt to recognize them by individuals for their sacrifice.

The other thing I'll say is, we in Congress -- throughout my time here, I've supported every financial request to support the troops, over $350 billion now to support the troops. This is a time in the people's House to give them that sacrifice. They may -- Republicans may want to say what they want to say. We've invited them to join. There will be people there to support the war, people who don't support the war. It won't be about the war. It will be about the troops and that's what we're going to do.

HENRY: Now, what about this more aggressive strategy? You're very experienced in the political arena. Republicans up on the Hill are privately telling me, fine, let's get it. They basically say, this is their turf, national security, and they believe that John Kerry made a mistake in the last campaign by focusing too much on the War on Terror, too much on Iraq, and that you're falling into the same trap again because Republicans score better on this issue. What do you say?

EMANUEL: Well, first, that's taking the war just in a political context, but look, I mean, whether it's discussion of the stewardship of a war in Iraq and the cost to this country, both in treasure as well as in lives, whether it's on Social Security, we're going to have a discussion about all these issues and the stewardship of the country's economy, the stewardship of our foreign policy, as well as the stewardship of how we treat the men and women who fight this country (SIC) and then come home, and don't provide them the health care they need, don't provide them the education they need. We'll have all that discussion. That's proper.

Tomorrow night, we're going to talk about their -- we're going to just -- merely read their names into the congressional record, which has yet to be done. It's been done for certain individuals. We're going to do it for all 1,900. HENRY: You just mentioned Social Security as an issue. Yesterday the president signaled he might be interested in this Republican bill in the Senate that does not include private accounts. As you know, today, House Republicans unveiled a plan that has scaled back private accounts. Are you ready to declare victory for the Democrats that you've won on this issue?

EMANUEL: It's not about winning as Democrats. It's about winning what's right for Social Security, to make sure it's there for generations to come. I find it interesting -- and I said this on the floor this morning -- now they've all of the sudden come to the notion of -- which is what Democrats have always said -- save Social Security first.

(CROSSTALK)

Ed, but let me say this: what I find interesting, after having taken out, ripped out, stolen, whatever adjective you want to use, $800 billion from the Social Security trust fund, we have all of a sudden these new converts that Social Security surplus should be used only for Social Security.

HENRY: I'm going to give you...

EMANUEL: I'm fine for that. Put the $800 billion back first.

HENRY: But let me give you 10 seconds. You just said you want to save Social Security. Where is the Democratic plan? The White House is saying that if they signal flexibility, why won't the Democrats come to table? Ten seconds.

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, I have a whole plan on what to do on retirement security. I'll give you my fax number and they can fax me the president's plan. He has yet to put a plan out, and he said he wants to lead on this. We want his plan. Remove privatization. We can get a serious discussion like in 1983 when Reagan took privatization off the table. We had -- there was an agreement, bipartisan, for over 75 years on it's solvency. The president has not removed privatization and he has yet to produce a plan. I'll give you my fax number. You fax over his plan.

HENRY: We'll get that fax number over to the White House. Thank you very much, Congressman Rahm Emanuel. We appreciate it. Thank you for joining us.

We've heard what a leading Democrat says about Iraq. Straight ahead, a Republican view. We'll hear from House Majority Whip Roy Blunt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: As we discussed earlier, Democrats are stepping up their criticism of the situation in Iraq. With me now with the Republican view, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt.

Welcome to the show. REP. ROY BLUNT (R), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Well, it's good to be with you, Ed.

HENRY: Congressman, I wanted to start by asking you: Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat from Illinois, just came on and said that tomorrow night he's planning to go to the House floor and read the names of the over 1700 U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who have died. Do you think this is a serious tribute by the Democrats or is this a little bit of a political?

BLUNT: You know, we've had members do that before, I think. I know we've had members read names. I remember we had the names read of the 3,000 people that were killed in the attack on our country on September the 9th on the floor -- September 11th rather. If that's what he wants to do, that's his time on the floor to do that. Every one of those lives is precious, just like every one of the lives that terrorists took in our country, every one of the lives that terrorists took when they attacked the "USS Cole," every one of the lives that terrorists took when they attacked our two embassies in Africa.

Those are all precious American lives and we have an important decision to make about how we're going to protect all of those lives in the future. I think the president made the right decision, and this Congress is supporting him on that.

HENRY: And you were sharply critical this week when the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had said that the war in Iraq is colossal mistake. You charge that she's emboldening the enemy with a comment like that, but in effect, the latest CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll suggested only 39 percent of the country currently supports the war.

Are you being a little defensive here by going on the attack, that maybe you're a little nervous that the president is losing support?

BLUNT: Well, I think you've got to take Nancy's comments in the context of all the outrageous things that have been said in the last few days and the last few weeks by Howard Dean and others about Republicans generally, about our efforts in Iraq, about comparing our treatment of prisoners to the treatment of individuals by Nazis and by Stalinist dictators. Those were all way, way outside the bounds of either reality or proprietary and it does encourage what I think is a very, very small minority -- very small minority of Iraqis and a slightly larger number of people that have come in from outside of Iraq who are fanatical terrorists who want to disrupt this move toward freedom and democracy.

And everything we say about being a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein, being a mistake to perpetuate the first Democratic elections in the history of Iraq, all those things that we say if those were a mistake, we clearly encourage that radical element that's still trying to stop this great movement in Iraq from happening.

HENRY: OK. But if you think that encourages the terrorists, what about a statement from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who said this week that, "Things aren't getting better, they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along." He said, "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." You did not put out a press release about that. I have a feeling if a Democrat said we're losing in Iraq, you would say that they're aiding and abetting the terrorist.

How do you react to what Senator Hagel said?

BLUNT: Well, I don't know that I would say that if just any Democrat, in any context said that and you'd be hard-pressed to find any comments I've made about that, about most Democrats during most periods of time. But this has been extraordinary, I think, in the excessiveness of language. It's interesting, I haven't been to Iraq since December, but it's interesting when you see people coming back that roughly go at the same time, you have these vastly different views of what's really happening there and I -- my view is that we are making progress and that we're moving in the right direction, not the wrong direction.

HENRY: Congressman, speaking of vastly different views, let's talk quickly about Social Security. Democrats are basically saying that you're losing that war, that the bottom line is: The president is retreating from private accounts. True?

BLUNT: We just had four of our member who's have been on pretty -- had pretty different views of this announce today a bill that they intend to file that would take the Social Security surplus that has been being spent, for decades now, for other things and invest that surplus in individually owned accounts.

I think that's a good step in the right direction and once Americans under 55 begin to get that quarterly or bi-annual report about how much money is in their account that would go to the people they care about if something happens to them prior to retirement, I think they're going to move dramatically in the direction of private accounts, as that concept would be a reality.

HENRY: Congressman Roy Blunt, we have to leave it right there. Thank you for joining us.

The Senate is holding a made-for-TV hearing today concerning a lobbyist with ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and a lot of other lawmakers in both parties. We'll tell you what was disclosed and what's at stake.

And: New evidence to the battle over the next Supreme Court justices already underway and it's not pretty.

More INSIDE POLITICS ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: As the markets get set to close on wall street, I'm joined by kitty pilgrim with "The Dobbs Report" -- Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ed. Thanks.

(MARKET REPORT)

PILGRIM: Here's a gas price shocker. Now, according to one trade group, more drivers are pumping and running off. Drive offs cost filling stations $237 million a year. Look at this tape. It's a tape of people allegedly stealing gas as obtained by CNN from surveillance cameras.

Another big story, Airbus trying to get an edge on Boeing. The European aerospace company says plans to build a new factory on U.S. soil in Mobile, Alabama. It wants to make refueling tankers there.

It's pretty good news for Alabama. It's up to 1,000 jobs created, but the bad news is for Boeing, having operations in the United States will help Airbus better compete for Pentagon contracts.

Coming up, CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" genetic testing is raising ethical dilemmas. Now, who should decide which tests a pregnant mother should undergo. How much is too much?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL WATSON, AM. COLLEGE OF MED. GENETICS: We have the potential really to do thousands of tests. And it would be financially impossible probably to deliver every possible genetic test to a couple who was considering pregnancy or to a fetus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Also tonight, "Broken Borders," U.S. lawmakers are pushing to expand detention facilities for the flood of illegal aliens. We'll have a special report from Del Rio, Texas.

Plus Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has new ideas to increase security at our nation's border. And she's out guest tonight.

Also senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman talk to us about the energy legislation they co-authored.

All that and more, 6:00 Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." But for now, back to Ed.

HENRY: Thanks, Kitty. Now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Senator John McCain calls it a tale of betrayal. The Republican is chairing a hearing today into the activities of so-called super lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He and a business partner are accused of bilking millions of dollars from casino rich Indian tribes. But his ties to top Republicans that makes the investigation so politically charged.

Here's our congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The unlikely star witness in a multimillion dollar money trail investigation, David Grosh: construction worker, bartender and former lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware -- describing how a top Washington public relations man set him up in business at this house a couple blocks from the beach.

DAVID GROSH, FORMER ABRAMOFF EMPLOYEE: Do you want to be head of an international corporation? A hard one to turn down.

JOHNS: Grosh agreed to put his name on a corporation called the American International Center.

GROSH: I asked him what I had to do, and you know, he said nothing. So that sounded pretty good to me.

JOHNS: Unknown to him, it was part of a web of questionable entities created by Washington super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and PR man Mike Scanlon now under investigation by the Senate and the Justice Department.

Senators accuse them of allegedly siphoning off millions of dollars in lobbying fees from Indian tribes that run casinos in a complicated series of transactions and kick-back schemes they called "Gimme Five.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: According to January 8, 2002 e- mail from Mr. Abramoff to Mr. Scanlon, the two had charged the Mississippi Choctaw $7.7 million for projects in 2001. Of that amount, Mr. Scanlon spent 1.2 million for the efforts. He and Mr. Abramoff split an astounding $6.5 million.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: As expected, some of the associates of Abramoff and Scanlon have invoked their privilege not to testify considering all the investigations going on. One of the central allegations that seems to be emerging is that some of this money at least was channeled through tax exempt organizations that Abramoff or Scanlon had an interest in. So there's that.

There's also some suggestion at least that some of this money may have been passed through the Cayman Islands. Ed, back to you.

HENRY: Thank you. Joe Johns from the Capitol.

In recent months, I've done some reporting on Jack Abramoff and his lobbying practices. Here's a closer look at the allegations against him and his ties to some of Washington's biggest power brokers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Jack Abramoff hit the jackpot, according to Senate investigators, when he and an associate raked in more than $80 million to lobby for the gambling operations of six Indian tribes. But the lobbyist once known as "Casino Jack" may have seen his luck run out.

ROSCOE HOWARD, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: If the things I've seen in the public record pan out even to some degree, it's going to be a very long fall for him.

HENRY: A federal grand jury is now looking into allegations he defrauded his own clients.

Abramoff charged top dollar. His close ties to the most powerful Republican in Congress, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, didn't hurt. A relationship the lobbyist touted when he was riding high.

JACK ABRAMOFF, REPUBLICAN LOBBYIST: But Tom DeLay is who all of us want to be when we grow up.

HENRY: These days, Abramoff is much less willing to talk about Majority Leader DeLay, or indeed, anything at all. Despite repeated efforts by CNN.

(on camera): Hi Mr. Abramoff, can we talk?

(voice-over): In addition to the grand jury, Abramoff has John McCain breathing down his neck with Senate hearings focusing on his lobbying activities on behalf of the tribes.

MCCAIN: Today's hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed, it's simply and sadly a tale of betrayal.

HENRY: According to Senate investigators, Abramoff worked with one tribe to shut down a casino in Texas owned by another tribe: the Tigua. Then turned around and charged the Tigua over $4 million to try to get the same casino reopened.

In that case, e-mails released by McCain show Abramoff boasting to a colleague, "I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah."

In other e-mails, the lobbyist refers to tribal leaders, his own clients, as "monkeys" and "morons." A former mentor of Abramoff says this is a sad, but far from unique story.

MORTON BLACKWELL, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: Many a conservative comes to Washington believing that it's a cesspool and before long concludes it's a hot tub.

HENRY: Morton Blackwell has fond memories of Abramoff from Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. As a college student, Abramoff helped deliver the state of Massachusetts.

BLACKWELL: Jack took his Orthodox Jewish faith seriously. He kept Kosher. He wouldn't travel on the Sabbath. He deplored profanity and vulgarity. He was a sterling character and had a terrific reputation.

HENRY: After his success on the Reagan campaign, Abramoff was tapped to chair the National College Republicans. But he was restless and headed to Hollywood, producing movies like "Red Scorpion" starring Dolph Lundgren.

But friends say Abramoff never stopped thinking about politics. And in 1994, he saw a business opportunity when Republicans won control of Congress.

JOHN FUND, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: There was a real supply and demand mismatch. People needed Republican lobbyists who could talk to the Republican leaders. And there weren't very many of them.

HENRY: Abramoff allegedly used some of those hefty lobbying fees to give lawmakers improper gifts such as lavish trips, like a journey to Scotland he reportedly arranged for Tom DeLay with a stay at the legendary St. Andrews golf course. A trip now expected to be probed by the House Ethics Committee.

DeLay says he followed House rules. A spokesman for Abramoff's attorney, Abbe Lowell, says his client is being singled out for actions that are common in Washington and has done nothing wrong.

Abramoff knew the dangers as he himself noted during his appearance with Tom DeLay two summers ago.

ABRAMOFF: When people ascend to power in this town, the culture of this town, the establishment in this town -- the Washington Post, the New York Times, all of these liberal institutions take them over. And they become people who want to be popular and are willing to sell out their principles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Jack Abramoff was speaking there to the College Republicans, the group he ran when he was young and the future was bright.

In today's "Political Bytes," new evidence that Republicans and their allies are getting a head start on a potential Supreme Court battle. An ad by the group Progress for America targets would-be Democratic critics of any future Bush nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Republicans never made an honest living in their lives. President Bush is a loser and a liar. So you know what the liberals will say about any Supreme Court nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The ad will air today through July 1 in Washington and on national cable news networks at a cost of $700,000.

Meantime, the Chicago Tribune reports that the White House has narrowed its list of candidates for the high court in anticipation of Chief Justice William Rehnquist's possible retirement. The Tribune reports the administration is eying a hand full of federal appeals courts judges and has interviewed some leading contenders. The White House says it's premature to talk of filling a post that's not yet vacant.

In the race to 2008, a Democratic consultant in Iowa is calling Hillary Clinton and John McCain the 800-pound gorillas of their respective parties. Jeff Link says those senators have the clout and financing to hold off on announcing a White House bid, but other hopefuls should start running now.

In New York, a new pole shows Mayor Michael Bloomberg's approval rating has climbed to a three-year high despite suffering a setback in his bid to bring the Olympics to the Big City.

The Quinnipiac poll also shows the Republican mayor now leading his likely Democratic opponent Fernando Ferrer by 13 points. A recent Maritz poll had shown Bloomberg and Ferrer neck and neck.

And fresh from his roll in the Terri Schiavo controversy, anti- abortion activist Randall Terry today announced he's running as a Republican for the Florida state Senate. He had served as a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents in the weeks before her feeding tube was removed.

In Europe today, a rare agreement on Iraq: Representatives from the United States and the European Union agreed that Iraq's rebuilding must succeed.

Coming up, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sits down with CNN's John King to talk more about that issue.

And on Capitol Hill: A battle with PBS caught in the middle. We'll find out why some Republican lawmakers are angry with the Public Broadcasting System.

And in our "Strategy Session," we'll talk about an apology made by a U.S. senator after he angered some of his colleagues with comments about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, "the people of Iraq deserve the world's support as they work to rebuild their country." Rice attended a conference in Iraq today -- on Iraq today in Brussels, Belgium, that involved more than 80 nations and organizations. She sat down with CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, to talk about the meeting and its goals.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING (on camera): The goal of the international summit here in Brussels is obviously to get new political, financial and moral support for the new government in Iraq. But for Secretary of State Rice, it is also an opportunity, she hopes, to prove wrong many of the president's critics back in the United States.

In recent days and week, the Democrats: More and more emboldened. Public opinion polling showing opposition to the president's policies in Iraq on the rise. Just in recent days, the House Democratic leaders saying the war was quote, "A grotesque mistake that has not made the United States safer."

Leading Democrat in the Senate, Joe Biden, saying that Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney have been far too optimistic in their assessment of the fight against the insurgency and their assessment of the political transition underway in Iraq.

So, Secretary Rice promising more support to the Iraqi government here and also saying that she hopes the American people get from this conference, back home, words that will convince them, many of the president's critics are dead wrong.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I thought the Iraqi foreign minister said something very interesting. He said, "I'm not here essentially to paint a rosy picture, but I am here to say that Iraq is going to succeed."

And so you can be optimistic about the future and still be realistic about the challenges that they have. They are engaged now in a political process that day by day, more Iraqis are involved in and where Iraqis see their future, on the political side, not with the people who are it getting off suicide bombs against innocent Iraqis.

KING (voice-over): In the months ahead, many of the problems facing the new Iraq will be problems dealt with by the United Nations, where the United States, at the moment, does not have a permanent ambassador. Secretary Rice telling us in an interview that even while traveling overseas, she has been making calls back to Washington to try to help the president make his case for his controversial nominee John Bolton.

(on camera): Twice the Senate Democrats have blocked an up or down vote on Mr. Bolton. The president is considering whether to use his extraordinary power of making a recess appointment once Congress adjourns this summer. Secretary Rice repeatedly refused to say whether she would recommend that dramatic step by the president, but she also made clear Mr. Bush and the entire administration is not ready to give up the fight.

RICE: My view of the hunt for Osama bin Laden is that on the day that I get the phone call that he's been found, that will be a very important day, but close is not good enough. We just have to -- there's a very active campaign to get him. His world is clearly gotten a lot smaller.

KING: At the we beginning of the year, Rice's predecessor, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, said it should be possible to start bringing home U.S. troops by the end of this year, by the end of 2005. Asked about those comments today, Secretary Rice said she could make no such commitment; acknowledging the insurgency was still quite strong in Iraq and saying it was far too soon to even think about a timetable for bringing home U.S. troops.

John King, CNN, Brussels. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Democrats and Republicans slug it out over last year's presidential vote in Ohio.

Plus: Senator Durbin's apology about Guantanamo -- was it enough? We'll go inside the blogs to find out what the buzz is

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: A scandal in Ohio is one of the hot topics for bloggers. Plus, there's a lot of buzz -- lot of anger, also -- over Senator Dick Durbin's apology for his stinging comments about Guantanamo Bay. We check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Ed.

Yes, Ohio's got its fair share of scandals lately, and we're finding that more and more blogs on left are taking note and keeping track. One that's been a good source all along is AmericaBlog.com. They continue to link to "The Toledo Blade," who is vigilantly following these stories.

First, there was "coingate," where about $10 million of state funds went missing when they were invested in rare coins. Then there was the bad hedge fund investment where a couple hundred million was lost. Now Bob Taft, the governor of Ohio, has gone and gotten himself a lawyer. It turns out there were some golf outings that he didn't disclose in his disclosure in his annual financial disclosure forms. That is a first-degree misdemeanor.

We should also add that a couple of the news stories that are being linked to also allege that one of his golfing partners -- follow me now - Tom Noe, the guy in the middle of the coingate scandal. It gets confusing, but a lot of progressive bloggers are all over it.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: They've really been pushing it, and they've also been wondering why this hadn't been getting more play nationally, why the Democrats haven't been pushing these various stories. Also, wondering, those progressives in Ohio itself, why the local Democratic party hasn't been pushing more.

But that might have changed. This -- HypotheticallySpeaking looks at government and politics in Ohio saying, "Flash -- a pulse may have been found in the Ohio Democratic party. Good god, it may be alive." They seem to be finally picking up on this, linking over to the Democratic party's home page, where they have a TV ad that they started running yesterday on the various scandals.

SCHECHNER: The obvious step from here is taking a look at what this might do for Ohio in 2006 and 2008, and someone looking at that is Chris Bauers (ph) at MyDD.com. He's got a round-up of the Dem opportunities of 2006, Ohio now being one of them.

We also wanted to bring you the news of Dick Durbin and the comments he made about a week ago on the floor of the Senate. Last night he issued a apology. Many on the right had been asking for that a week now. Now, that they've gotten in, how did they react? Well, a lot of the big bloggers -- PowerlineBlog, HughHewitt.com, CaptainsQuarters -- not impressed. They say it was a weak apology. You could pick your slew of adjectives there. They are just not happy with it.

TATTON: And some of those big bloggers were also the ones that we've seen over the past week really supporting Guantanamo Bay and what's happening there, linking to CafePress.com where they these "I heart Gitmo" t-shirts. We've seen a few of the big conservative bloggers linking to that.

But some of the conservatives out there are saying enough already. It is time to move along. This apology is fine. It's the best we're going to get. That's what we're getting from Citizen Smash, which is the IndiePundit.com. He says that maybe he thinks he's in the minority by having this opinion, but be gracious, accept the apology. Chalk it up as a victory if you like, and just move along.

SCHECHNER: Now, we should also mention that now there's outrage on the left because they say that Dick Durbin had nothing to apologize for and they're mad at him for being weak on this issue. One of those doing a little parody is Greg over TheTalentShow.org. This is cross- posted at Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World, and he basically parodies, with an analogy that has to do with a statement saying, if I read this to you and didn't tell you it was a U.S. senator speaking, who would you think it was? So, a little play there, but they're not happy on the left, now, with Dick Durbin. Ed?

HENRY: Thank you, ladies.

Citizen Smash, a good segue to a big battle underway on Capitol Hill over public broadcasting. House Republicans want to cut funding for PBS and National Public Radio, blaming the federal deficit. Democrats insist it's an effort by conservatives to clamp down on points of view the Republicans just don't like. Our Bruce Morton looks at the politics and the programming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIG BIRD, SESAME STREET CHARACTER: (SINGING)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Big Bird in trouble? Well, maybe. Public broadcasting, not for the first time, is under attack. The House cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget 25 percent; cut overall funding for public broadcasting 45 percent. Opponents held a rally and hope the Senate will restore the cuts.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We have, in front of us, the signatures of 1 million Americans who, on one week's notice, are saying to the Republican Congress and the Republican White House, keep your hands off of PBS and NPR and the children's programming.

MORTON: But there's a political side this time, too. Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Ken Tomlinson thinks PBS's public affairs programming is tilted to the left. He hired a consultant to monitor Bill Moyers' "Now" who labeled segments pro-Bush or anti-Bush. Moyers has since left. The corporation helped fund the broadcast by conservative Tucker Carlson who has since moved to MSNBC.

CLIFF KINCAID, ACCURACY IN MEDIA: But, the fact is, the public broadcasting establishment is political. In fact, the law under which the whole thing was set up says that all the programs funded by the CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, should be produced with strict adherence to objectivity and balance.

MORTON: The corporation provides less than 10 percent of PBS's budget, less than 1 percent of NPR's, but it also funds stations. Small stations might have trouble replacing that money, and it provides seed money for programs: "Washington Week in Review," "The News Hour," and yes, "Sesame Street," which has had some distinguished visitors over the years.

BIG BIRD: Mrs. Bush is here today to read us a storybook.

MORTON: How it ends? This isn't the first Republican attack on public broadcasting. Newt Gingrich tried to kill it in the 1990s.

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON POST: I've been through a lot of attempts to cut the budget of public television and public radio, and it seemed that once the defenders trot out Big Bird and Clifford the Big Red Dog, that it never seems to go away. But, I think Ken Tomlinson has succeeded in putting on the radar screen the question of whether these organizations are too liberal, even though he himself now is being criticized as too political by Democrats.

MORTON: The money fight now moves to the Senate where Republican Arlen Specter chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee that will take the first vote on the issue.

Bruce Morton, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: The president says he's going to keep calling for the tough choices on Social Security. He wants an end to partisan bickering and a way to fix a system that he says is going broke. Will he find that way? That's coming up on the "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS and our "Strategy Session." With us today, CNN political analysts Paul Begala and Robert Novak. Today's topics: Republicans are looking at Social Security plans without the president's proposed personal accounts. The Democrats are meeting right now to map out a policy on Iraq, just as the GOP tweaks them for not having any goals. And the controversy over detainee treatment at Gitmo. Is it time for an independent commission to investigate?

President Bush spoke out on Social Security this morning and says he'll keep speaking out until something gets done. So far, neither the public nor Congress has shown a lot of support for the president's plan. Republicans in the House and Senate are looking at legislation without the president's personal accounts. The president says though it's time to get moving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I put some ideas on the table. And I expect people from both parties to put ideas on the table and so do the American people. They're tired of this partisan bickering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Paul, it sounds like the president yesterday maybe was waving the white flag of surrender on Social Security?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's going to have to do better than that. You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The president went out again today. Yesterday he gave some hint that he might support Senator Bennett's proposal -- I saw you interviewing him -- to cut Social Security benefits without creating private accounts. That's a nonstarter, as well.

He's got to -- well, who am I to advise the president? It would seem to me, he ought to sit down honestly with the Democrats and say look, I understand I don't have the votes for my private accounts. Let's kill them. Bury what's already dead, and now let's talk about Social Security security. But he seems unwilling to do that.

HENRY: Is he waving the white flag of surrender, moving away from private accounts?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he is definitely moving away from personal account. But it's a strategy, I am told, that if he takes -- temporarily says, okay, we can have a plan to sustain the viability of Social Security without personal accounts, that that will get the Democrats to the table. And then they'll negotiate. I can't understand that strategy at all. I think the president has been very unskillful in the way he handled it. There was more support for personal accounts when he started this massive campaign than there is now. I think he would have been well advised to have started off with a plan rather than just putting it out there as an amorphous blob, as it's been.

I happen to think that personal accounts are a tremendous idea. I'm all in favor of them. And I think that a lot of members of Congress are in favor of them, but they don't think -- they think that the political climate has gotten worse.

And by the way, I think -- with all due respect, I think your run-up was wrong on the House Republicans. They have not moved away from personal accounts. They have kind of trimmed it down and sculpted them, but Congressman Ryan and Senator Sununu are still trying to get personal accounts. HENRY: But the House Republican plan unveiled today is not going to use payroll taxes -- the money from payroll taxes for private accounts. Instead, they're going to use Social Security surplus. And a lot of Republicans admit privately, that's a far cry from where they started.

NOVAK: It's not a far cry. It's an accountant's argument, and you're know an accountant, I know. And of course, it still is -- you still end up with personal accounts, if they could get that through. I don't think they can get that through right now because support has faded for it. I think it's a shame. But the idea that sitting down and negotiating with the Democrats -- Democrats don't want to negotiate because any negotiation would have a decline in benefits. Believe me, that's the only thing you can do. You must have a decline in benefit. Democrats don't want to sign up with that.

HENRY: Paul Begala, I know you're probably not a CPA either, but I know you're a...

BEGALA: And I'm not going to play one on TV.

HENRY: ...a shrewd political strategist. What is it? What about that? The Democrats still won't come to the table.

BEGALA: No, no, they'll come to the table. The Democrats ought not cut benefits. The last thing the minority party needs to do is give the majority party cover to cut benefits on the most popular issue that the Democrats have. It would be insanity. And I doubt that they will do that.

I think what they're going to do instead is have an alternative on retirement security. I think Democrats would be wise to have a proposal, but not on Social Security per se, but rather on pensions, private savings, prescription drugs, the things that in the real world are actually bothering seniors today rather than Mr. Bush's mythology that in 2042, the system will go bankrupt, which happens to be false.

HENRY: Bob, let's take a step back from Social Security itself and just look at the broader view. I heard from you before, what you seemed to be saying is you think that the president has not really helped his own plan with his public campaign. Has he also burned a lot of political capital on this that can hurt him on other issues like Iraq?

NOVAK: Well, I don't think the fact that he's not sold personal accounts means that people feel more badly about people dying in Iraq. I mean, that's not an accountant's argument. That's a political reporter's argument, who are even worse than accountants.

HENRY: But after the election, he came out so hard for Social Security. Should he have gone for tax reform or some of the other issues?

NOVAK: Well, I -- I don't see anything wrong with going for it. He just didn't do a very good job at it. And I think he should have come out with a plan. It's not like he was pressed for time. They had a commission so many years ago. I'll tell you what one of the great tragedies was the death -- for him, was the death of former Senator Moynihan, who was all for personal accounts. And he would have been a stalwart advocate on this commission. That's just an aside. But I think the president's done a very poor job on this.

HENRY: Paul, bottom line, do you think Democrats will capitalize in 2006 in the next election?

BEGALA: Oh, yeah. I mean, the one thing Democrats know how to do, it's win elections on Social Security. And they have played this wisely. There was a lot of pressure on them in the beginning. Put their plan on the table. Put the president's plan on the table. The president resisted putting a fully fleshed-out plan on there. So did the Democrats. And so the only thing out there was the president's idea on private accounts. And as Bob notes, the more that was debated, the less popular that has become. So the Democrats here, you got to give Senator Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, the Democratic leaders, credit. They held their party together in a disciplined way. That's what the opposition has to do.

HENRY: Let me challenge that one second. In the last election, the Democrats used Social Security and they didn't win that one. So how do you say that they always win the election...

BEGALA: Well, that's post hoc ergo propter hoc. In other words, I don't think they used Social Security worth a flip. I literally am writing a book in part about what went wrong in 2004. And I don't think the debate over Social Security was all central to the '04 election.

NOVAK: Let me disagree with Paul on that. I don't think -- I think the Republicans, most Republicans are scared to death of it. I don't think it's carried any election in memory.

HENRY: The Democrats are holding their own strategy session trying to come up with a plan for Iraq. At the same time, the Republicans go online to poke some fun at what they see as the decline of the Democratic Party. That's coming up when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: The "Strategy Session" continues now on INSIDE POLITICS with Paul Begala and Bob Novak. Recent polls show sliding support for the war in Iraq and a growing desire for U.S. troops to start heading home. Can that information help the Democrats? Top Democrats are meeting right now, in fact, to coordinate the party's policy on Iraq.

But earlier today, the Republican National Committee released an online ad tweaking the Democrats over the lack of a game plan.

What about that, Paul Begala? The Democrats still don't have a plan on Iraq. They have been throwing stones at the president, but they haven't come up -- they've just been throwing stones.

BEGALA: Absolutely. And the president of the United States has no plan in Iraq. And it's a hell of a lot more important what the president of the United States -- commander in chief thinks.

The Democrats I think, are getting it right on Iraq, which is, they're now supporting all the president's requests for funding. A lot of that money is being wasting. There was a story today that $8.8 billion is unaccounted for. But that's not congress' job. They need to just write the checks and support the president and support the troops.

But they're asking I think reasonable questions. And when you have people like Chuck Hagel, a Republican who may run for president in fact, a senator from Nebraska, saying that we're losing the war. And when you have Republicans like Curt Weldon from Pennsylvania, a very hawkish Republican, coming back from Iraq and suggesting that the president and his team are not really engaged in reality, the Republicans are the ones that are...

HENRY: How about that? In addition -- we already knew Nancy Pelosi was against the war and other Democratic leaders. But in fact, now, you're starting to have some Republican senators like Chuck Hagel say we're losing the war in Iraq.

NOVAK: Well, I think the American people would love to end this war. They would love to find some way that they could feel that we were leaving as soon as possible with honor, that we weren't bugging out, we weren't making the world less safe. There's people in the administration who would like to do that right now. Believe me, because I talk to them, but they don't -- that is not the president's view and that's not the majority view.

I think the trouble with the Democrats is that when they have a meeting and say we're going to get tough on Iraq. And say OK, we're going to fund it, but these people have really screwed it up, they are not yet to the point of saying we are the people that we will get out now -- the Dennis Kucinich plan, we're going to get out immediately. They have not reached that point. They think it's too risky. And so therefore, there's something flat about the whole debate, because nobody has viable alternatives.

HENRY: But you seem to be saying people at the White House who are more nervous than they're letting on publicly.

NOVAK: People in the administration will say -- who think that Iraq is never going to be Iowa, and it's -- we're going to have to get out. And if the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds are having a civil war, we've done the best we could, and we have to keep it in their hands.

And the counter argument to that is, well, it's not just a civil war, it's the center of the terrorist movement in the world. And I think it's a debatable thing. But there are -- believe me, there are a lot people, a lot of conservatives who think that we should get out by the end of the year.

HENRY: Paul?

BEGALA: This thing has been a disaster for the country -- for our country. And the president seems to be disengaged from reality. The debate in Washington, I think among those who are observing this, with respect is, is the president and his team, are they purposefully misleading us? Do they understand what a debacle it is, but they are lying? Or are they so delusional that they think that we're winning this thing? I have no idea which it is. But I'd like to know. I mean, maybe there are two camps, there are the reality based people who understand that we're losing but lying to us and then there's the delusional wing who just won't...

HENRY: Bob, you've been covering Washington for a long time, do you think people like Chuck Hagel it's just a pebble in the water? Or do you think there's building Republican concern on the Hill?

NOVAK: There's building Republican concern on the Hill and in the country. I go out around the country a lot. And I take a very critical position on the prospects there. And I don't get criticism from conservatives.

I think -- I don't agree that it's either delusional or reprehensible. I think you it's -- you get into this bureaucratic mode where the military say oh, boy, we can't leave. The Iraqi forces can't cut it. We've got to stay.

And it's very hard to bite the bullet. If we had pulled out of Vietnam in 1968, which I was violently against, that was a super hawk, if we had pulled out in '68 the situation of the communist tyranny over Vietnam would not be any different than it is today. And we would have saved a lot of American lives. But it's very hard to pull that trigger.

HENRY: The calls are getting louder for a probe of how detainees are being treated. When the "Strategy Session" returns, should there be an independent commission and an investigation?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, that Utah Cub Scout who was lost for four days is recovering from his ordeal. He's expected to attend a family news conference at the top of the hour. We'll bring it to you live.

A disturbing report from the CIA: Iraq may actually be a better training ground for terrorists right now than Afghanistan ever was.

And she ate crow over her Michael Jackson conviction, but not backing down from her outspoken opinions. We'll talk live with CNN's Nancy Grace.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

HENRY: The "Strategy Session" continues now on INSIDE POLITICS. And Paul Begala and Bob Novak are here today.

An idea gaining steam as an independent commission to review allegations of prison abuse at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And after a week criticism, Democratic senator Dick Durbin gave an emotional apology for comparing the treatment at Gitmo to Soviet and Nazi prison camps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Some may believe my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Bob Novak, what kind of problem was this for the Democratic leadership? It lingered for a week that Durbin wouldn't apologize -- a lot of criticism.

NOVAK: It was a big problem. It was a stupid thing for him to say. A lot of people use the ridiculous Nazi analogy in both parties. It's always very damaging to the person who says it. But he wouldn't apologize. He's a very stubborn, arrogant man. And he just couldn't -- you know, it's so silly, Ed, because he kept referring to these regimes as repressive regimes: the Nazis and Pol Pot and the Gulags -- they weren't repressive, they were genocidal. And he talked about -- comparing their investigative techniques to our investigative techniques. They didn't question anybody. They killed them. They killed the Jews. They didn't question them.

HENRY: Well, how about that?

There are legitimate questions about were there abuses.

(cross talk)

But there are legitimate questions about whether there have been abuses at Guantanamo. Does this undermine the Democratic argument about those abuses?

BEGALA: Yes and I think that's unwise. Democrats stepped in it on this. It was a huge mistake. For one thing: Republicans were leading the charge on Guantanamo, on criticizing the Bush administration's performance there. Mel Martinez, a Bush cabinet member, now a Senator from Florida, said, "We should close down Guantanamo." Now Lindsey Graham, a Republican -- a very conservative Republican Senator from South Carolina says we should have an independent inquiry.

The Democrats should have listened to the old Napoleonic edict: Never interrupt your opponent when he's destroying himself. They should have hung back and allowed the Replublicans to carry that criticism and instead, they looked for a minute -- I think Democrats ought never look like theycare more about 500 Arabs trapped in Guantanamo and a lot more about 140,000 Americans trapped in Iraq. That's where the real problem is.

NOVAK: Let me say one thing: Durbin, very stubborn man. He wasn't going to apologize. He said, "it's the right-wingers and the talk shows and Rush Limbaugh who was attacking him. Do you know what made him apologize?

HENRY: No.

NOVAK: When the mayor of Chicago criticized him. Richard Daley has a son who's a private in special forces and the mayor was furious over this. He came out publicly and the Durbin staff telephoned the mayor's office. They were all upset. By the way, on the independent commissions, I thought we elected 435 members of Congress, a president and a vice president who named people -- are we going to have government by appointed commissions? Whenever there's a problem you say we can't deal with this. We have to have an appointive commission?

HENRY: Paul, what about it though -- if we go back to the politics of Gitmo and what Senator Durbin had to apologize for. Here you have the president of the United States, right now, having difficulties on Social Security, difficulties on Iraq, questions about what's going on at Gitmo and the Democrats step in it. Is this symbolic of -- hang on second, I'm sorry, we're going to have to interrupt.

We have to go to Bountiful, Utah. There's going to be a press conference here. You can see right now the 11-year-old boy, Brennan Hawkins, who so miraculously was found yesterday in Utah after being missing since Friday. He went four days without food and water. Let's listen in.

END

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