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Inside Politics

Supreme Court Rejects FDA Control of Tobacco; Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Elian Gonzalez's Father; McCain Returns to Washington

Aired March 21, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for the Republican Congress and George W. Bush to show their independence from big tobacco.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: New political fire over tobacco after the Supreme Court rejects the administration's main anti-smoking initiative.

Will a federal court ruling in the case of Elian Gonzalez make the 6-year-old boy even more of a presidential campaign issue?



CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain is back to business, but it is not business as usual.


SHAW: Chris Black with a day in the life of the Senate's newest celebrity.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. Judy is on assignment today.

We begin with tobacco politics generating new heat today because of a United States Supreme Court ruling. In a 5-4 decision, the high court said the Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to regulate tobacco products.

As our CNN White House correspondent Major Garrett reports, it was a major setback for the Clinton-Gore administration's efforts to curb teen smoking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton got the bad news overseas, a stinging defeat in his administration's five-year battle with big tobacco.

In a statement, the president tried to shift the focus from the court to Congress, saying: "If we are to protect our children from the harms of tobacco, Congress must now enact the provisions of the FDA rule." That would allow the FDA to regulate the way cigarettes are sold and marketed.

BRUCE REED, CLINTON DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: Under pressure from the tobacco industry, Congress ducked this issue two years ago, they can't duck it any longer.

GARRETT: But the White House is now back to square one, with meager legislative options, and the prospects for compromise with the Republican Congress even in an election year bleak. To revive efforts to regulate tobacco, the president is asking Congress to take up legislation John McCain authored in 1998. The tobacco industry, aided by Republican leaders, killed that bill, and McCain is pessimistic about trying again.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Having encountered the influence of the special interests, especially the tobacco companies and their clout before, a $50 million campaign, I have to tell you I am not optimistic that we'll be able to get that done.

GARRETT: In a rare occurrence, Senate majority leader Trent Lott found himself agreeing with McCain.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm sure that if they said that the FDA does not have that authority, there will be those in Congress that will suggest it should have. I'm not one of those.

GARRETT: On the campaign trail, Vice President Gore took up the administration's theme.

GORE: It is time for the Republican Congress and George W. Bush to show their independence from big tobacco and do the right thing.


GARRETT: No response from Governor Bush. The White House and fellow Democrats will now try to turn a legal defeat into a winning political issue. That didn't work before, but that's all the White House has to go on now -- Bernie.

SHAW: Major Garrett, thank you, at the White House.

As Major reported, John McCain weighed in on that Supreme Court ruling on tobacco regulation as he stepped up his reorientation to life in the Senate.

Our Chris Black now reports on McCain's public remarks and private reunions with his colleagues. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK (voice-over): John McCain is back to business, but it is not business as usual. Tourists cheered the Senate's newest celebrity and a media mob tracked every step and recorded every word.

SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), TENNESSEE: Goodness gracious. God, what if we had won? How many would we have had?

BLACK: Though McCain did not win the Republican presidential nomination, he is trying to bottle the magic of his campaign and use it to push his favorite policies, including campaign finance reform.

MCCAIN: But I intend to do what I can, working with my congressional colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to help bring about the changes to the practices and institutions of our democracy that they want and deserve.

BLACK: During a wide-ranging press conference reminiscent of his Straight Talk Express, McCain blasted big tobacco, Vice President Al Gore, and the corrupting influence of money, but chose for his first formal remarks on the Senate floor to speak about U.S. policy in Kosovo days before the first anniversary of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

MCCAIN: The American people will not tolerate indefinitely Europe's inadequate commitment to peace and stability in their own backyard.

BLACK: He spoke to a near empty Senate chamber, perhaps a metaphor of his maverick status in the Senate. Senators, including friends, later said they did not know he would be speaking. But at the weekly Republican lunch, he received a standing ovation from his colleagues behind closed doors, drawing kind words even from leaders who have bristled at McCain's independence.

LOTT: We gave Senator McCain a senator's welcome. The Senate is an unusual place, and we have personal relationships that transcend presidential campaigns.


BLACK: But one issue McCain hopes will transcend his own campaign is campaign finance reform. With Senate hearings beginning Wednesday, McCain says he will confer with Senator Russ Feingold, the Democratic co-sponsor of his legislation, to figure out ways to push their proposals in a still hostile Senate -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Chris Black.

We have more now on what is ahead for McCain, specifically his role in election 2000. That story from CNN's Jonathan Karl.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His presidential bid is over, but John McCain is already planning to hit the campaign trail again, this time in a supporting role.

MCCAIN: I have had requests now from some 40 House members, as I understand it, to campaign for them and I will look forward to campaigning for a number of House and Senate candidates.

KARL: McCain has quickly emerged as the point man in the Republican effort to retain control of the House. Initial plans call for him to raise money, especially through direct mail, for House Republicans.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We're going to sit down and map out a strategy of -- where John can get the best thing for the party's vote.

KARL: McCain is in especially high demand from Republican challengers in places he did well, including: Felix Grucci, running to unseat Mike Forbes in Long Island, New York; Mike Rogers and Chuck Yob in Michigan; and Mark Nielson in Connecticut.

To help pay for all that campaigning, McCain is expected to publicly announce the formation of his own political action committee on Wednesday. The effort is a chance for McCain to re-establish his credentials as a loyal Republican.

Aides say he'll only campaign for Republicans, while helping the party reach out to independents and conservative Democrats who supported his presidential candidacy. McCain's most vocal supporters also see the effort as a way to position McCain for another bid for national office, possibly as a vice presidential nominee.

GRAHAM: If you look at potential match-ups, Bush-McCain on our side of the aisle has a tremendous star power. The independent voters two and three to one voted for John. We're going to need those votes in the fall.

QUESTION: Could you accept the vice presidential nomination if offered by Governor Bush?


QUESTION: You would not?


KARL: But many of McCain's top supporters aren't ready to accept that answer.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Now, as far as McCain accepting it, if he is offered it, he said he would not. I surely would encourage him in the interests of our country to reconsider that.


KARL: McCain has also long said that he would not run for president again, but many of his top supporters have said that his work this year on behalf of Senate and House Republicans would set him up for another bid for the White House in four years -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl on the Hill, thank you.

In an echo from his days as a presidential hopeful, John McCain was asked to comment on another story in the news today. A federal judge in Miami refused to block efforts to return 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. He dismissed a lawsuit by Elian's relatives in Florida seeking a political asylum hearing for the boy.


MCCAIN: I believe that he should have the opportunity to enjoy what his mother gave up her life for and that is the opportunity for freedom, and again, I would urge the Cuban government to allow his father, with no strings attached, to come to Miami and then announce his intentions for the future of Elian Gonzalez.


SHAW: Well, the boy's relative in Miami agrees. They plan to appeal today's ruling, which may help keep the case in the political spotlight.

Our Bill Schneider has been looking at Elian as a possible presidential campaign issue -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Bernie, Elian Gonzalez is not supposed to be a hot button issue. He's a 6-year-old boy, for goodness sake. But he is. And Florida is not supposed to be a hotly contested state. It's got a governor named Bush, for goodness sake. But it could be.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Gonzalez issue is now in the hands of Attorney General Janet Reno, who made her position clear today.

JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It is time for this little boy who has been through so very much to move on with life at his father's side.

SCHNEIDER: Will little Elian Gonzalez be a partisan issue in the presidential campaign? Is Fidel Castro a communist? George W. Bush issued a statement today saying: "I urge Attorney General Janet Reno to reconsider her plans to send Elian back to Cuba, back to the place his mother died trying to escape"; while Vice President Gore took refuge in the legal process, which now seems set to send the boy back to his father in Cuba.

GORE: I think that what we still need is a full and fair court hearing based on due process where all the parties can present the facts, not based on politics, not based on diplomacy.

SCHNEIDER: For most voters, this is not a big political issue. They just want the authorities to do what's best for the boy, even if that means returning him to Cuba to be with his dad. But it's a serious issue for Cuban-Americans.

A poll of south Florida residents taken in December shows Cuban- Americans overwhelmingly of the view that Elian should stay in the U.S., 88 to 5.

If Reno sends the boy back, there could be big political repercussions among Cuban-Americans. And in Florida, with 25 electoral votes, the fourth-largest total of any state, that could spell trouble for Al Gore.

Wait a minute: Does Al Gore have a chance of winning Florida? The governor is Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother.

Florida did vote to re-elect their father, President George Bush, in 1992. But then, Florida was one of only two states to switch from Bush in '92 to Clinton in '96. The other was Arizona. Florida and Arizona? Sounds like retirees. Not entirely. Hispanic voters had a lot to do with it.

Florida's Hispanic vote is heavily Cuban-American. Cuban- Americans have always been staunchly anti-communist and staunchly Republican. Ronald Reagan was a hero in little Havana.

Lately, however, things have been changing. In 1992, Cuban- Americans tilted Florida to President Bush. In 1996, Florida's Hispanic vote was much closer. Bob Dole barely out-polled President Clinton.

Clinton's big breakthrough came among Hispanic women, whom he actually carried in 1996. But remember, 88 percent of Cuban-Americans want Elian Gonzalez to stay in the U.S. The figure among Cuban- American women: 90 percent.


SCHNEIDER: But if Elian Gonzalez goes back to Cuba, Cuban- Americans may go back to the GOP en masse. That would probably put Florida out of reach for Al Gore, even if Gore were to put Democratic Senator Bob Graham on the ticket, whom Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for twice -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Bill Schneider.

And still ahead here on INSIDE POLITICS, inevitable or irrelevant? Perspectives on a McCain endorsement of George W. Bush with Al Hunt and Kate O'Beirne.


SHAW: Joining us now to talk about some of the day's key issues, Kate O'Beirne of "The National Review" and Al Hunt of "The Wall Street Journal."

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain returns to the Hill, one might think, triumphant -- Kate. KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, he was welcomed back today by a -- there's a weekly lunch of his Republican colleagues. And they used the occasion today to give him a standing ovation. And a number of the leaders on behalf of the Republicans said, we are so happy to have you back here. And that's completely sincere, Bernie, because it gets him off the presidential campaign trail, where they think he's been directing too much friendly fire toward fellow Republicans. So in that sense they're happy to have him back.

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": There was a surreal quality about that lunch today, Bernie. John McCain sat with the four Republican senators who endorsed him, and with the party chair Jim Nicholson and Dick Lugar, who is a friend who did not endorse him.

Trent Lott went -- who really despises John McCain, went through the motions of saying welcome back, John.

The contrast to the House is interesting, though, because the House Republicans, as Jon Karl's report made clear a few moments ago, John McCain they think is their meal ticket toward continuing control of the House of Representatives. And they have mapped out plans for him to go into 25 or 30 districts, ranging from New England all the way to California. And there are a whole lot of House Republicans who are counting on John McCain to help them keep control, no matter what they thought of his presidential campaign.

O'BEIRNE: That's true. And there are a number of House Republicans who have endorsed John McCain's style of campaign finance reform. And I assume he'll go into districts and try to help them.

SHAW: But how is this going to look for the Republican Party? If McCain is out there in the congressional districts campaigning for these guys and his fellow party members in the Senate won't have a thing to do with him? How is that going to look for the Grand Old Party?

HUNT: It'll look like politics, won't it, Bernie?

SHAW: Yes, wonder of wonders.

O'BEIRNE: Well, he'll of course endorse George Bush at some point. I think the more interesting test is going to be in the fall when Al Gore starts quoting John McCain about George Bush, either about George Bush's risky tax scheme that favored the rich, like John McCain accused him of, or alleging that he's not experienced enough for the job, as John McCain alleged during the primaries. How will John McCain respond? I think that's what Republicans will be watching to see.

HUNT: But you know what: The strategy section of top McCain advisers yesterday, one of the advisers urged McCain to endorse Bush early and to do it forcefully, because he said it's important not just for the party but for you. And John McCain turned back on him and said -- he said it would hurt you otherwise. John McCain said: How much did it hurt Ronald Reagan in 1976 when he gave the speech at that Republican Party convention and never mentioned Gerald Ford and campaigned for the platform in the fall?

O'BEIRNE: But Ronald Reagan didn't have the same problem with the party's base John McCain has. There are clearly going to be some McCain supporters who would be just as happy if George Bush doesn't win in November, because it vindicates their point: that John McCain was a stronger candidate in the fall and that we were right about the fact that we should have nominated John McCain.

HUNT: I agree.

SHAW: Now, Kate, you say that McCain is going to endorse Governor Bush. But will he do it with passion, fervor, commitment, enthusiasm?

O'BEIRNE: Well, that's what the Republican base is waiting to see, because that's what the suspicions are about John McCain. And if he's ambitious nationally on behalf of himself in the future, he's going to have to reassure the Republican base.

SHAW: What do you think, Al?

HUNT: I think he'll do it with all the fervor that Ronald Reagan did it in 1976. And I think that...


HUNT: ... if he is able to make the difference for 20 or 25 Republicans in the fall -- I don't know if he can, but if he is able to -- I think that will do wonders for the Republican Party view of John McCain.

SHAW: Gun control: This town has reverberated with that subject. What about gun control, and John McCain's position and Governor Bush? Is Governor Bush still about to step up a little further or is he where he's going to be the rest of this campaign on gun control?

O'BEIRNE: He now has endorsed trigger locks.

SHAW: Trigger locks.

O'BEIRNE: Although he's made the argument that he doesn't think they'll do much good, but by the same token, it won't do much harm. Many guns are already sold with trigger locks.

I suspect on the policy, he won't go too much further than that. And here's an issue where John McCain could be very helpful. He's so articulate, he has such a following in the media: Is John McCain willing to make the Republicans' case on gun control? We'll see.

HUNT: You know, I think George W. Bush is moving slowly -- almost every day depending on what incident occurs on gun control. I think he'll probably move a little bit more, because I think what's happened here, Bernie, what the Democrats think has happened over the last 10 days in particular -- Kate used to make the point I think very, very correctly that all the passion on the gun control side was with the anti-gun control people. I think with these spate of murders and with kids being -- and cops coming into the issue, that that's changed. There's at least a neutral passion quotient, if you will.

SHAW: But isn't Vice President Gore likely to beat Governor Bush severely about the head and shoulders with this issue?

O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. The Democrats clearly think this issue helps them. As Al correctly points out, it hasn't in the past. In the past, the people who vote on the issue tend to be gun owners. They're the ones who are really mobilized on the issue.

The conventional wisdom on the part of Democrats is, oh, that hasn't changed, given some recent publicized -- highly publicized events. We're not sure that has changed. Al Gore is banking on the fact that it's changed.

On the other hand, NRA membership is way up. They're on a track to have 3 1/2 million members. Three million people have permits to carry concealed weapons.

In a recent Gallup poll of women voters, gun control wound up being the 15th issue on an issue of priorities for them. It tends not to mobilize people who just broadly think that maybe some new controls would be OK.

HUNT: Except it kills -- kills Bush in a state like California. I mean, concealed weapons is just a, you know, a terrible issue for him out there. Certainly doesn't hurt him in the South and much of the Midwest. But a place like California, it really...

O'BEIRNE: Well, if people begin voting on it, the gun control tends -- begins to motivate for the first time voters that might well be so. But we haven't yet seen that.

SHAW: Nor have we heard the end of the issue.

O'BEIRNE: Oh, you'll hear plenty more about the issue.

SHAW: Exactly. Kate O'Beirne, Al Hunt, thanks very much.

There is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come...


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If they really mean what they say about enforcing the law, they will be at the next press conference here.


SHAW: ... the new buzzword in the battle over gun control. Which side is using "enforcement" to its advantage?

Plus, questions of money and influence: a look at what critics are saying about the Pioneers of the Bush campaign.

And later...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Inaugurals are happy times for presidents, but if you want to have two, history has a warning: Don't let the economy turn sour.


SHAW: Our Bruce Morton on the lessons of candidates past and whether they apply this time around.


SHAW: We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now this look at some other top stories. Pope John Paul II is in the Holy Land renewing his call for peace in the Middle East. The pontiff is spending the night in Jerusalem.

Earlier at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, he called for better dialogue between the religions.


POPE JOHN PAUL II: Christians and Jews together must make courageous efforts to dissolve (ph) all forms of prejudice. We must strive always and everywhere to present the true face of the Jews and Judaism, as likewise of Christians and of Christianity.


SHAW: The pope is on a week-long pilgrimage, retracing the footsteps of Jesus. Tomorrow, he will visit Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus.

Here in Washington, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are opening a new round of peace talks. The negotiations at Bolling Air Force base will cover final status, such as Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and the future of Jerusalem.

The United States and the Palestinians caution not to expect any breakthroughs.

The Pentagon is postponing a test of a new anti-missile defense system. A third test, planned for April, is scheduled for June. This delay may affect President Clinton's ability to make a decision on the project before he leaves office.

Former Black Panther H. Rap Brown says it is a conspiracy. His lawyer says he's innocent in the killing of a sheriff's deputy in Atlanta, Georgia.

Brown fled to Montgomery, Alabama following a shoot-out that left one deputy dead and another injured. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.L. CHESTNUT, ABDULLAH'S ATTORNEY: He did not shoot anybody, he said, in Atlanta. He denies all of that. He's been fighting the system since he was 16 years old, and this system has been trying to kill him.


SHAW: Brown, now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, is fighting extradition. U.S. Attorney Redding Pitt explained why federal charges of unlawful flight have been dropped.


REDDING PITT, U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, he'll have the opportunity to be heard if the governor of Georgia -- we expect will issue an extradition warrant. We expect the governor of Alabama to sign it. And he'll have the opportunity to be heard from. It could be anywhere from a day or two or longer, but he will have an opportunity to be heard.


SHAW: Federal agents say Al-Amin opened fire on them as they closed in on a shed in which he was hiding.

Sport utility vehicles are being redesigned in an effort to make the roads safer for everyone else. Modifications will include lowering the vehicles so they don't careen over car frames in accidents.

SUVs cause more damage and are nearly three times as likely to kill other drivers in a crash.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, Rudy Giuliani on the defensive after sharp new criticism from Hillary Rodham Clinton.



HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The mayor has hunkered down, taken sides and further divided this city.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK CITY: I am doing my job as the mayor. What she did last night is entirely political.


SHAW: New fireworks in Giuliani versus Clinton, stemming from the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American man named Patrick Dorismond during an attempted drug sting in New York last week. Mayor Giuliani accused his likely Senate rival of playing politics when she criticized his handling of the Dorismond case last night. Mrs. Clinton and others accuse Giuliani of attacking Dorismond's character by releasing his past police record.

Here in Washington, a very different kind of political tug-of-war over police, guns and violence. Some congressional Democrats joined the fray today, invoking a new buzz word in the battle over gun control: enforcement.


SHAW (voice-over): The old debate over gun control is being reframed around the issue of enforcement. For the gun lobby and its allies, enforcement has long been the favored alternative to new gun laws. It means aggressive enforcement of existing laws to bring gun criminals to justice, a position stated forcefully by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre last week.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXEC. VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: People are dying, and this administration won't do anything about it.

SHAW: And by NRA president Charlton Heston in a series of TV ads.


CHARLTON HESTON, NRA PRESIDENT: Under Bill Clinton, federal gun prosecutions are half -- half of what they used to be. Laws don't make you safe; enforcement does.


SHAW: To some extent, the enforcement argument appears to be in line with public opinion. Even before the NRA ad campaign, a CNN/"USA Today"/ Gallup poll showed that Americans were about equally divided on how best to answer gun violence, with 47 percent saying new laws were needed, and 41 percent calling instead for stricter enforcement.

Another measure of enforcement's appeal, the anti-gun forces are now attempting to co-opt it. Today, the leading gun-control Democrats on Capitol Hill announced the introduction of a new bill, the Effective National Firearms Objectives for Responsible Commonsense Enforcement Act, an unwieldy name that boils down to a punchy acronym: ENFORCE.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This bill puts the NRA's sincerity to the test. If they really mean what they say about enforcing the law, they will be at the next press conference here, advocating the enforce law.

SHAW: But enforcement means something very different to the gun rights advocates and these Democrats. While the gun lobby wants strict enforcement of existing laws, the Democrats are proposing more cops, 1,000 new prosecutors and 500 new agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, an agency that's widely reviled among gun groups. All the while, the Clinton administration is making an end run around the impasse on the Hill, cutting side deals with gun manufacturers to make the weapons more child-proof and to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

Last week, it was Smith & Wesson. Now a spokesman for the gun manufacturer Glock says the firm is close to a decision on whether to accept the White House terms.


SHAW: A closer look at the twist in this gun debate and how they are playing with the public. A short while ago, I spoke with independent pollster John Zogby and Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin. I began by asking them if either party has the upper hand on the gun issue.


GEOFFREY GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I would say right now the Democrats have the better part of the argument, because we are dealing with something that the voters don't really see as an either-or opposition, that is, should we have stronger laws or stronger enforcement? That's not a sensible question to most people. They say, we ought to have both. And the president, and the vice president and other Democrats agree, and said, we ought to have both, and the NRA and their allies are out there saying, no, let's just have strong enforcement, and that doesn't make sense to people.

JOHN ZOGBY, INDEPENDENT POLLSTER: I think in the battle for the independent voters and for the soccer mom, the Democrats have the upper hand. And I think the upper hand is on the basis of their rhetoric, by Wayne LaPierre. He has driven the issue into the hands of the Democrats.

SHAW: What has really done it? What has really aroused the people there?

ZOGBY: Well, I think it's a sense that LaPierre went over the line, crossed the line when he accused the president of favoring a certain level of violence. That got people really riled. Now on one hand, he and the NRA can show that it has created higher intensity for their membership, in fact even brought some new members in. Of course, this is an election year, and in the battle for public opinion, for votes, right now we're seeing a slight edge with independents and soccer moms heading more toward the president.

SHAW: Has the Republican Party become tainted by the NRA's very outspoken positions of late?

GARIN: Well, I think it's interesting, because Republicans have told Wayne LaPierre to back off. Tom Delay, who's not known for his moderation of his language, has said, look, I wouldn't have said it that way. And if Wayne LaPierre were smart, he would have said, you know, maybe I misspoke, and let's focus on the issue. Instead he bulled his way forward, and he's made himself a liability to the Republicans, being seen as an NRA ally when the NRA is being perceived as extreme and over the line isn't going to be helpful to the Republican at this stage.

ZOGBY: You know, Bernie, there's a false impression here, is that the intensity that drives NRA supporters into the NRA camp is being interpreted as broad public support in the electorate, and nothing could be further from the truth.

SHAW: What are your numbers showing?

ZOGBY: My numbers are mixed, but they show some common ground. On one hand, we asked people, are new laws needed, or should we just enforce existing laws? And they say enforce existing laws. That's the NRA position and they're for it. On the other hand, when we asked about trigger locks, and about licensing and about closing loopholes at gun shows, seven to eight out of 10 support those, and say let's try it.

SHAW: So who has best framed this argument, Democrats, Republicans?

ZOGBY: I say the Democrats are winning right now.

GARIN: I think they are, too, and the bottom line is the public just doesn't understand why you wouldn't go ahead and close the gun show loophole. Even people who are in the NRA say a majority of them oppose the gun show loophole, and they don't get why the NRA is so adamant against that. And the fact that they are against it, that they're putting up a stone wall of resistance, makes them seem extreme and makes them a liability to the Republican Party.

SHAW: Well, on this issue, is the ice cracking beneath Governor George W. Bush?

GARIN: Well, it's interesting, he's been pretty silent on this. It's not that he's taken a stand one way or the other on Wayne LaPierre's rhetoric, but I think at some point, he will. I remember as a Democrat, Democratic candidates always being held accountable for what Louis Farrakhan said, you approve or disapprove. Someday, somebody is going to ask George W. Bush, do you approve or disapprove of the way Wayne LaPierre is talking about this, and that's going to be a problem for him, because if he says, I disapprove, it'll be a problem with the NRA members, and if he says he approves, it's going to be a problem with everybody else.

ZOGBY: Let's look ahead to the fall, and let's look at suburbia, where this battle will be won and lost. Let's look at some key congressional districts, where this will all be won and lost, and it's very easy to use that kind of rhetoric against the NRA. And so at some point, you know, George W. Bush is going to have to get off the fence here.

SHAW: So in sum, if you agree in your judgments that the Democrats are winning this argument? Is indeed the bully pulpit mightier? ZOGBY: Well, it's the best of being president, is the bulliest of all pulpits, and to have the bully pulpit and the high ground is a great combination, and right now, Bill Clinton has got both of them.

GARIN: Wayne LaPierre should cut his losses and probably cut his losses in the interest of helping the Republican Party, which in the final analysis, is in the same interests of the NRA.

SHAW: Thank you.

GARIN: Thank you.


And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: the politics of counting, a look at Al Gore's effort to use the census as a campaign issue.


SHAW: Governor George W. Bush is taking a break from the campaign trail today, but Vice President Al Gore is busy with stops in New Jersey and New York.

As Patty Davis reports, on the issues of fund raising and the census, Gore is pointing a finger at the positions of Bush.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore visited this Head Start program in New York City.

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: I see some pretty pictures here.

DAVIS: But Gore painted a grim picture: Minorities undercounted in the U.S. census, he said, means states don't get billions in federal assistance for programs like this one. He attacked Texas Governor George W. Bush for opposing changes to the census.

GORE: I'd like to say to Governor Bush that if you really believe that every American counts, it's time to stand up to the political operatives in your own party and support a census that counts every American.

DAVIS: Gore is taking every opportunity to criticize Bush. He's also trying to deny Bush the independent voters who backed Arizona Senator John McCain by painting himself as a reformer following in McCain's shoes. It's a claim John McCain says Gore will have to work for.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If the vice president is serious that he has the passion for campaign finance reform, as he describes it, then his first and most important step is to see that a full and complete investigation takes place of the incredible abuses of the institutions of government and every ethical standard concerning campaign finances that were orchestrated by the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996.

DAVIS: McCain also called on Gore to unilaterally renounce soft money. Gore has called for a ban on soft money, but his offer to halt all Democratic Party issue ads funded by soft money is contingent on Republicans doing the same.

A Gore campaign spokesman said -- quote -- "The only one standing in the way of a complete ban on soft money is George W. Bush."


DAVIS: In the meantime, Gore tomorrow begins three days of fund raising for the Democratic National Committee, raising the kind of money, soft money, he says he so abhors. But his campaign says that is not about to unilaterally disarm on the soft money front: that is at least until the Republican Party and George W. Bush does -- Bernie.

SHAW: Patty, you mentioned soft money. What about hard money?

DAVIS: Well George W. Bush has several events planned today, a couple that have already taken place, a couple more this evening in Englewood, New Jersey, set to raise today in hard money $400,000.

Now, George -- I'm sorry. Al Gore says he really feels justified in raising as much money as he can for his own campaign. He's nearing his limits, at least in terms of what he can raise for the primaries. And that's because George W. Bush has no limits. He has refused federal matching funds and he can raise as much as he wants to -- Bernie.

SHAW: OK, thank you, Patty Davis in New York.

Well, Mr. Gore may be talking about soft money, but some critics are calling attention to hard money and raising questions about Governor Bush's fund-raising tactics. At issue: the supporters and lead fund-raisers known as Bush pioneers.

Charles Zewe reports.


CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the stump, Texas Governor George W. Bush likes to talk about the thousands of people around the country who have written him small checks.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've got nearly 150,000 people that have joined my campaign, have contributed to my campaign, no more than $1,000 a person.

ZEWE: But analysts say as much as half of Bush's nearly $74 million war chest may have actually come from the people the campaign calls "pioneers."

Each pioneer -- and there at least 400 of them -- has raised more than $100,000 for Bush, primarily by bundling $1,000 contributions from corporate, industrial and trade association leaders and lobbyists.

While not illegal, critics charge the practice effectively skirts laws that ban corporate donations and limit checks to $1,000 apiece.

CRAIG MCDONALD, TEXANS FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE: I think Bush has shown that he's a hypocrite on many of these campaign -- campaign finance issues.

ZEWE: Craig McDonald's group, the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, has analyzed who's giving money to Bush in this campaign. Its conclusion: Some of the richest, most influential people in America are pioneers.

Campaigning, Bush doesn't talk much about his big donors, acknowledging only...

BUSH: Pioneers are friends of mine, people who have stood up and said, we want to help this man.

DONALD EVANS, BUSH CHIEF FUND-RAISER: You ask friends to call friends.

ZEWE: Oil man Donald Evans is Bush's longtime buddy and chief fund-raiser.

EVANS: Behind every check that we receive there is a willing heart. There is somebody that cares about America.

ZEWE: 207,000 people have contributed to Bush's campaign so far, but critics contend the pioneers' effort represents what they call a political "pyramid scheme" in which Bush moneymen recruit 10 friends willing to write checks for $1,000 apiece, and they, in turn, get 10 more friends to do the same.

MCDONALD: That money is coming from a small circle of king- makers. Some of the same people who made him governor through the power of their checkbooks alone are trying to make him president.

ZEWE: The study estimates that energy, banking and business leaders have given the most.

MCDONALD: Again and again, there is a pattern of the highest donors to Governor Bush's campaign end up with policies that favor their economic interests.

ZEWE: Like the brothers Charles and Sam Wyly of Dallas, Texas billionaires who funded these ads slamming John McCain.


NARRATOR: Last year, John McCain voted against solar and renewable energy. That means more use of coal-burning plants that pollute our air.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZEWE: The Wylys contributed $200,000 to Bush's campaigns for governor. An investment firm they own later wound up with a lucrative contract to invest University of Texas funds.

Evans denies there's any quid pro quo, that anyone has been promised anything.

EVANS: What they get is good government. They get a better America.

BUSH: Thank you very much.

ZEWE: Since Bush has opted out of the federal campaign funding system, he can continue to raise many more $1,000 checks before his party's convention this summer.

(on camera): And critics say they will be watching closely to see if there really is, as Bush campaign officials insist, no quid pro quo, no connection between people who give Bush money and the policies he endorses.

Charles Zewe, CNN, Dallas.


SHAW: And there's this note. Just minutes ago, George W. Bush's presidential campaign released a statement on Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Congress, not the Food and Drug Administration, has jurisdiction over the sale and marketing of tobacco to minors.

Governor Bush appears to agree with that decision. His statement reads: "Governor Bush believes decisions about tobacco regulation should be made by Congress and state legislatures. He believes that Congress should pass tough laws to keep tobacco out of the hands of kids, similar to strict anti-teen-smoking laws he advocated and signed in Texas."

The Bush campaigns says, "Texas has some of the toughest anti- teen-smoking laws in the United States."

When we return, is the economy still a major political issue? Our Bruce Morton takes a look.


SHAW: The Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate by a quarter of a point today. It is the fifth increase since June, part of an effort to slow the speeding economy and keep inflation down. So, how will this affect the presidential race?

Well, our Bruce Morton has some thoughts.



WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, William Jefferson Clinton do solemnly swear.


MORTON (voice-over): Inaugurals are happy times for presidents, but if you want to have two, history has a warning: don't let the economy turn sour. Ask William Howard Taft. Ask Herbert Hoover, who presided over the start of the Great Depression. Ask Jimmy Carter, inflation soaring, interest rates up, unemployment up, victim of Ronald Reagan's question to the voters.


RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you better off than you were four years ago?


MORTON: The voters, of course, answered no.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: If you look at the track record in recent years, every time the economy is bad, the incumbent party gets kicked out. Every time, so far, the economy is good, the incumbent party gets rewarded, even if the incumbent isn't actually running for re-election, as in the case of George Bush and Ronald Reagan in 1988.

MORTON: Four years later, of course, Bill Clinton's motto was, "it's the economy, stupid," and he beat President Bush, who at one point blamed Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's efforts to slow economic growth for costing him the election. A lesson here for Al Gore?

HOLLAND: If you are the vice president, you may not get great credit for a wonderful economy, because you're not the president, but you surely are going to end taking some of the blame if things go bad.

MORTON: Gore knows that. He says something like this at every stop.

GORE: We need to have a continuation of this prosperity, as I said at the start, and make sure nobody is left behind, and take all the steps necessary to lift income so that families have an easier time.

MORTON: So is it true? Can mild mannered Alan Greenspan make or break the presidential candidate?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Economic actors, especially the chairman of the Federal Reserve, have a very real say in what happens to the state of this economy, that means, to a considerable degree, where goes Al Gore depends on where goes Alan Greenspan.

MORTON: But timing matters, too.

HOLLAND: We have some polling numbers that I took a look at. We asked people how well things are going in the country today, and every time more than 50 percent have said things are going well in the country in February or March of an election year the incumbent party has won.

Every time a majority say things are not going well in the country in February or March of an election year the incumbent party has lost. Today, we see record numbers saying that the economy is going well.

MORTON: So hang in there, Mr. Vice President. If the surveys are right, all you have to do is make it through another 10 days or so of prosperity and whatever Alan Greenspan does you will be OK.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


SHAW: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. You can go online all the time at CNN's

And this programming note: "CROSSFIRE" looks at John McCain's return to the Senate from the bruising campaign trail. Guests are House members Marty Meehan and Roy Blunt. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Bernard Shaw. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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