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Inside Politics

Parties in Elian Gonzalez Case Continue Legal Maneuvering; George W. Bush Offers `New Prosperity Initiative'

Aired April 11, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: New legal and personal appeals in the Elian Gonzalez case amid questions about the story's political implications.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What is Al Gore up to? That's what people have been asking ever since he broke with President Clinton over the Gonzalez case?


WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider looks at Gore's possible motives.

Plus, consultant Ralph Reed says he's sorry about work he did for Microsoft, aimed at one of his other big clients, George W. Bush.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

We begin with new overtures in the Elian Gonzalez case. Even as the Justice Department prepares to order the boy's handover to his father, Attorney General Janet Reno is reaching out to Cuban-Americans in Florida who oppose Elian's return to Cuba. Meantime, Elian's Miami relatives are making an appeal of their own.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): Six-year-old Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, asked for a private meeting with the boy's father in South Florida and promised to bring Elian. The terms: Juan Miguel Gonzalez must agree not to take his son with him after the meeting and must agree to talk privately with the great uncle before he sees the boy.

MANNY DIAZ, ATTORNEY FOR ELIAN'S MIAMI RELATIVES: It is imperative that at that meeting it be strictly family, that there be no government intervention from either government, that there be no lawyers present and no media present.

WOODRUFF: The Miami relatives evidently hope that once free of Cuban government influence, Juan Miguel Gonzalez may rethink his stated desire to go home. In Washington to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno, Miami's mayor said U.S. authorities are giving Fidel Castro too much control.

MAYOR JOE CAROLLO, MIAMI, FLORIDA: I have never seen a situation before in the history of our country where our government has allowed a foreign government, in this case Cuba, to be fully controlling an individual on American soil like they are doing with Juan Miguel.


WOODRUFF: In a statement, Attorney General Reno called her meeting with city of Miami Mayor Carollo and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas "productive." Now she plans to go a step farther in her efforts to work with the Miami community.

For details, we go to CNN's Mark Potter in Miami -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. As the family and the protesters await quietly here in Miami for the Justice Department letter that could come perhaps later today detailing when and where Elian is to be transferred to his father, there is news that Attorney General Janet Reno will be coming to Miami tomorrow. She will meet with Cuban-American political leaders and with others in the community, including federal officials, and sources say the purpose of her visit is to stress that this transfer will take place and to ask that everyone involved try to make this a peaceful event with as little trauma as possible for young Elian.

Meanwhile, Lazaro Gonzalez, the -- Elian's great uncle, is also saying that he too would like to meet with the attorney general. He is very much opposed to the transfer of the boy to his father. The Justice Department has said that Janet Reno would be willing to meet with him, although it is not confirmed yet that that would happen tomorrow.

As for that meeting that you were talking about between -- that Lazaro Gonzalez is asking for between himself and Elian's father, a source says the government's position on that is that a family meeting should be arranged by the family attorneys, not by the government, and that it would have no bearing on the Justice Department's position that the transfer of the boy should happen as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, the attorneys for the Gonzalez family are indicating that they believe that that letter which is coming will not have the force of law, meaning it will likely be fought over in federal court.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Mark Potter, reporting from Miami, thanks.

Well now, the political ramifications of the Gonzalez case for Vice President Al Gore. Our Bill Schneider has been going over Gore's latest comments and doing some reading between the lines -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Judy, what is Al Gore up to? That is what people have been asking ever since March 30 when the vice president broke with President Clinton over the handling of the Elian Gonzalez case. What's he trying to do?

Well, that's exactly what a voter asked the vice president yesterday in Ohio.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's showing us he's his own man. Is this -- my question is, is this that you're really going to show now that Al Gore is the man to lead this great nation of ours?

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My strength as vice president became a weakness as a presidential candidate.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The job of a vice president is to be a follower. The job of a president is to be a leader. That's why every vice president who runs for president has to figure out some way to say to voters, I'm my own person. Hubert Humphrey did it in 1968 a few weeks before the election when he gave a speech in Salt Lake City breaking with President Johnson's Vietnam policy. Al Gore is doing it with the Elian Gonzalez issue, but he's doing it by taking the unpopular position, endorsing legislation allowing the boy and his family to stay in this country when most Americans want him reunited with his father immediately.

Why is Gore doing that? Gore does not repudiate the goal of reuniting the boy with his father.

GORE: The father's opinion is likely to be decisive, as is always the case if a parent is fit and there's only one surviving parent. Everybody acknowledges that.

SCHNEIDER: He just wants the case handled differently.

GORE: Let the entire family, including the Florida relatives, talk with one another without people from the U.S. government or the Cuban government or lawyers on either side. Just get together as a family and make the decision.

SCHNEIDER: The Gonzalez case has attracted an enormous amount of public attention. Gore would have looked voiceless and ineffectual if he had refused to say anything.

Why not just endorse the administration's policy? Because the public, by a 2-to-1 margin, disapproves of the way the government has handled it. Moreover, removing Elian from his relatives' home could still prove a public relations disaster.

The safest thing to do was take the same position as Governor Bush: strike a distance from the president without giving your opponent an opening. In other words, neutralize the issue.

The downside? Gore's move has upset a lot of minority voters because they feel he's giving special treatment to Cubans. "You have angered Latinos and African-Americans, including many members of Congress," New York Democrat Jose Serrano wrote the vice president. But it's unlikely many of them will vote for Bush.

Has it helped Gore in Florida? No, but it doesn't seem to have hurt him either. The latest Florida poll shows Bush running just a few points ahead of Gore.


SCHNEIDER: The biggest cost to Gore is probably something he didn't calculate: that his move on Elian looks too much like a political calculation. Two-thirds of South Florida residents, including two-thirds of Cuban-Americans, say they don't think Vice President Gore is being sincere. They think he's doing it to get votes.

Instead of distancing himself from Clinton, Gore's move may have the opposite effect. It could make him look too much like Clinton: totally driven by politics -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well,now we turn to something of an embarrassment for the Bush campaign: revelations about Bush consultant Ralph Reed's work for Microsoft, work that has raised questions about a conflict of interest.

Let's go for that to CNN's Financial News reporter Steve Young, who is in New York -- Steve.

STEVE YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, it appears that both Microsoft and Governor Bush feel it is OK for political consultant Ralph Reed to serve both masters simultaneously, this after the embarrassing disclosure in The New York Times today that the Reed organization had been asking for Bush supporters to contact the governor on Microsoft's behalf to urge Governor Bush to go easy on a company that a court judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, has labeled a predacious monopolist.

Embarrassment it was, and Reed's organization, Century Strategies, today came out with an announcement saying -- quote -- "Neither Ralph Reed nor any other Century Strategies employee has ever contacted the governor or his staff, and asked him to take a position on the Microsoft litigation."

The Reed people went on to say in a full apology: "We should have been more sensitive to possible misperceptions, and it is an error that we regret."

We caught up with a Bush campaign spokesman, Mindy Tucker, in Austin who said that the campaign in effect said to Ralph Reed you've got to make a choice between Microsoft and Governor Bush.


MINDY TUCKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: He's agreed and said today that he will no longer encourage anybody to contact Governor Bush on Microsoft's behalf. He has eliminated Governor Bush from the agreement that he has with Microsoft. He's not going to do any lobbying toward Governor Bush or his staff on Microsoft's behalf.


YOUNG: However, you'll note that the Reed organization is saying there that it's continuing to be employed by Governor Bush with the proviso that it did not directly lobby Governor Bush on this issue.

Both Microsoft and the Reed organization say that the time sequence shows there's no conflict, because, after all, they say the company, Microsoft, employed Reed back in the fall of '98 when the governor was not an announced candidate. But that does not wash with one of the most active states which successfully sued Microsoft, Iowa, and its Attorney General Tom Miller.


TOM MILLER, IOWA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Bush may not have been officially a candidate then, but everybody knew he was going to be a candidate. Everybody knew that he was going to be the candidate in the Republican Party. So the same problem is there: to try to use influence to get away from a decision in court.


YOUNG: When the story first hit the newspapers this morning, Microsoft told me that this was not even news, that it had been previously reported. But several attempts since then have been unsuccessful to get any documentation as to where it was previously reported. Microsoft also says that after all, other companies employ lobbyists. One political consultant I talked to said that actually, the more damaged party here may not be Microsoft at all, but Governor Bush, who claims through a spokesman that he did not know that Ralph Reed was also representing Microsoft. Many say that if he didn't know, he should have knew, and that anything he says in the future about Microsoft, as candidate or as president, will be under intense scrutiny -- Judy.

YOUNG: All right, Steve Young reporting from New York, thanks very much.

And joining us now, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson, and general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Ed Rendell.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.


ED RENDELL, DNC CHAIRMAN: Judy, thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: Jim Nicholson, to you first, is this an embarrassment for Governor Bush? Should he have known about this?

NICHOLSON: No , I don't so. I mean, Ralph Reed is a very smart, well-known, confident fellow who advises a lot of different people, and for him to have other clients and who all they are I don't think wasn't something that Governor Bush should know -- should have known. I think the important thing here is that when Governor Bush found out what was going on, he said to Ralph, you have to make a decision, and Ralph also apologized. He's a very honest guy as well as being very bright.

I think what we really ought to be looking at is the relationship between the vice president and Maria Hsia, the woman he had a relationship with who was convicted of five felonies, and the day she was convicted, he said, she is my friend, she's a confidante, and that is an embarrassment.

WOODRUFF: On this, the Reed story, though, there was a considerable amount of criticism during the campaign on Governor Bush's part directed at John McCain, saying his campaign is crawling with lobbyists. Is this an instance of Bush having as a consultant someone who makes a good part of living as a lobbyist?

NICHOLSON: Well, I don't know what part of Ralph's living he makes as a lobbyist and what part is a political consultant. He's a very smart political strategist, and I know he advises a lot of campaigns -- people running for state legislatures as well as people running for the presidency.

WOODRUFF: Ed Rendell, does this story have legs? Are we going to hear more about this story later on?

RENDELL: Well, I don't think it does have legs, Judy. I am willing to accept what Jim says about Governor Bush not knowing anything about it. But just think about how crass it was. Reed was going to get $300 for every letter sent to Governor Bush on behalf of Microsoft. What it shows is that we have to change this system once and for all. And we have to get rid of soft money. We have to have genuine campaign reform. And I would repeat that my offer to the governor, to Governor Bush, and to Jim, that we will stop using soft money as soon as -- if they declare at 4:00 in the afternoon that they won't use soft money, we will stop using it at 4:01. In fact, we haven't used soft money -- you've notice we have not put on any issue ads.

WOODRUFF: Is there any chance that may happen, Jim Nicholson?

NICHOLSON: I'd like to know, Ed, does that include taking any money from the labor unions, when you talk about that?

RENDELL: Sure. That's in the category of soft money. We will not use any Treasury funds. That's in the category of soft money. And, Jim, we are sincere about this. Jim and I have talked about doing some things in our joint role that will really benefit America. And the question I ask again is, Jim -- and I know it's not Jim's to answer -- is the governor ready to eschew soft money? And if does it at 4:00 -- and again, we have not used any of the soft money we have raised yet because the vice president has told us not to, and we're waiting to see what happens.

WOODRUFF: I want to move our lead story, in effect, today, the Elian Gonzalez story. Ed Rendell, has the vice president hurt himself with the positions he's taken on this?

RENDELL: Well, I think there's some misconceptions about what the vice president has done. I've seen all the stories about political expediency. You know, the vice president's a very smart man. Even Jim would say that. He's a very smart guy. And he knew the polls, that two out of every three Americans thought that Elian should be reunited with his father. So he was taking what was a difficult position politically across the country, number one; and number two, Governor Bush has taken the exact same position, and Steve Largent of the Republican Party has said that that's the wrong position, that we ought to be for family values; and number three, only the Florida Republicans have tried to make -- take advantage of this. They sent out a fund-raising request based on Elian Gonzalez. And even Governor Jeb Bush had to discredit that.

WOODRUFF: Jim Nicholson -- let me give Chairman Nicholson a chance to weigh-in here.

NICHOLSON: The difficulty the vice president has on this issue is the same he has on so many others, Judy -- he tries to read the political winds. I think Al Gore is a pretty smart guy. He may be too smart, because he -- he's always trying to be politically expedient and...

RENDELL: So is Governor Bush trying to be politically expedient?

NICHOLSON: And he read the winds, just like he's done flip-flops on tobacco, on abortion, on the nuclear test ban treaty. People don't know who Al Gore is, what he stands for, and they don't know they can trust him. And that's why, by the way, your network today released a poll, a CNN/Gallup poll that shows Governor Bush beating Gore by nine points. And that's above -- people likely to vote, by the way.

WOODRUFF: What about that poll that came out?

RENDELL: Before I answer the poll, most importantly, is George Bush being politically expedient on Elian, because he has the exact same position?

NICHOLSON: It was consistent right from the beginning -- staked it out, stuck with it.

RENDELL: This is the first time he's made a public statement. So if he's being politically expedient, so is Governor Bush.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about that poll. We did put out a poll yesterday, released a poll, that shows Governor Bush nine points now, beyond the margin of error, ahead of the vice president.

RENDELL: And there was a poll last week showing the vice president two points ahead by a reputable pollster. These pollsters are all over the lot, number one. Number two...

NICHOLSON: No, they're not, Ed. The last 12 polls, Bush has won in 10 of them. And there was a poll the day before yesterday by a competing network that shows Governor Bush beating Al Gore by eight points. That was the day before yesterday.

RENDELL: This is silly, because the American people don't care about polls, Judy. There was a poll just 10 days ago showing Al Gore six points ahead. We don't care about polls. They care about issues. They care about things like health care. They care about things like education. They care about things like gun safety. And in the end, that's the discussion we're going to have.

NICHOLSON: They call about opportunity, and that's we're talking about.

RENDELL: Jim wants to be as negative as he can be and not talk about issues like those, but when we do talk about issues like those...

NICHOLSON: I'd like to talk to you about issues. Let's talk about opportunity. Let's talk about what we're doing to try to fix the schools and half the children in America, and reform Social Security.

RENDELL: I am happy to talk about that.

WOODRUFF: I think we just have a few seconds left.

Jim Nicholson...

RENDELL: We shouldn't be talking about polls.

WOODRUFF: ... some changes at the RNC, new people coming in at the request of Governor Bush. Does that affect your position, the position of others?

NICHOLSON: It effects my position because it makes us stronger. We brought in reinforcements. We had a very good conference call yesterday afternoon, Governor Bush and I did, with the members of the National Committee, and we have announced that a fellow named Fred Meyer (ph), a very experienced political leader who's coming into the RNC to be the chairman of our Victory 2000 Campaign. And we really welcome him. He's a good man.

WOODRUFF: Change the DNC, Ed Rendell?

RENDELL: Sure, I think we're going to have some changes, same way as Jim's. I think the campaign has tried to add bench strength and reinforcement.

WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, thank you both. It's always exciting when you're here.


WOODRUFF: Ed Rendell, Jim Nicholson, thank you both.

NICHOLSON: Thanks for having me. WOODRUFF: And when INSIDE POLITICS returns: George Bush looks to give a leg up to millions on the edge of poverty. But back in Texas...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We say that the "W" in George W. Bush stands for Waldo, not George Walker Bush, but George Waldo Bush, as in where's Waldo?


WOODRUFF: ... critics call Bush a no-show at home on a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.


WOODRUFF: George W. Bush calls it his "new prosperity initiative." It is designed to help the so-called "working poor" join America's middle class. The cost, nearly $42 million. Bush unveiled his plan in Cleveland today.

CNN's Candy Crowley was there.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He seeks to be seen as a different kind of Republican with an agenda that remembers those the soaring economy has forgotten.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On the outskirts of both poverty and prosperity, they live paycheck to paycheck, with little savings, no health insurance. They are found in rural areas, small towns and big cities. Their finances are fragile. A job is lost, a husband leaves, and they are weeks from poverty.

CROWLEY: Speaking in a culturally diverse, low-income section of Cleveland, George Bush outlined what he calls a "new prosperity initiative." The health care portion of it includes refundable health care tax credits, up to $2,000 per family, and increased access to lower-cost insurance for small businesses.

BUSH: We will not nationalize our health care system. We will and must promote individual choice. We will rely upon private insurance. But make no mistake about it: In my administration, low- income Americans will have access to high-quality health care.

CROWLEY: Bush policy advisers believe the credits will provide up to 90 percent of the cost of health insurance and reach about 18 million of the estimated 44 million who are currently uninsured. Bush also addressed a fundamental in the American dream, a home of one's own.

BUSH: Looking at today's construction boom, it's easy to forget that many Americans are still waiting for this experience. The home ownership amongst whites is -- in America is 73 percent. Among African-Americans and Hispanics it is 47 percent.

CROWLEY: To close the property gap, Bush proposes allowing the use of government rental vouchers for down payment on a first home, and for those not eligible for federal housing aid, Bush proposes a billion dollar downpayment assistance program. He also offers an effort to increase savings.

BUSH: Those in the lowest 20 percent of income usually have savings of less than $1,000. Many coming off welfare have never had a personal bank account, but money in the bank builds confidence. It makes us agents of our own destiny.

CROWLEY: Under the plan, banks that match the savings of low- income customers, up to $300 per year, would get a tax credit, an initiative Bush says would result in over a million new savings accounts. Savers could withdraw their money for home purchases, education or to start a business.

(on camera): Democrats scoffed at what they see as an intrusion into their territory, suggesting that Bush's agenda for the nation is at odds with his record in Texas. A spokesman for Vice President Al Gore says in most lists, Texas is at the bottom in health care as well as home ownership.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Cleveland.


WOODRUFF: Health care reform has been a battle cry of the Bush campaign. Today, the governor's stance on the issue may have received a boost. One of the nations largest HMOs, Aetna U.S. Healthcare, agreed to stop rewarding doctors who deny certain care and penalizing those who give it. Texas had sued Aetna and five other HMOs, alleging patients' rights were being violated. State officials say today's deal could become a model for HMOs across the country.

Still, some Democrats say that Bush's health care record leaves a lot to be desired.

CNN's medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor has the story.


BUSH: I am going to talk about -- a lot about health care over the course of the campaign, health care when it comes to the uninsured, health care when it comes to reforming Medicare.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the campaign trail, George W. Bush insists his views on health care reflect his campaign slogan: he's a reformer with results.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While Washington was deadlocked, he passed a patients' bill of rights.


O'CONNOR: But as governor of Texas, his record on health care reform has come under fire, primarily by Democrats who say he's done little, if anything, to improve quality and access to health care for the 20 million citizens of his state.

GLEN MAXEY (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: We say that the "W" in George W. Bush stands for "Waldo" -- not George Walker Bush, but George "Waldo" Bush, as in, where's Waldo? He has never been a leader on health care reform.

O'CONNOR: Take, for example, that patients' bill of rights. Bush vetoed a bill in 1995 that would have imposed strict penalties on HMOs that failed to pay for emergency room visits or that encouraged doctors to deny expensive treatments to patients. Bush said the bill contained too many special interest loopholes and instead asked his state insurance commissioner to find other ways to crack down on HMO excesses.

DAVID SIBLEY (R), TEXAS STATE SENATE: The fact is he put so much of it into law through promulgation of rules, I think that essentially Governor Bush by himself put the patients' bill of rights through in 1995 as well.

O'CONNOR: In 1997, Bush refused to sign a part of the revamped legislation, a bill allowing patients to sue their HMOs for punitive damages if they are unfairly denied treatment by the HMO. The bill became law without his signature. Bush's defenders say his refusal to sign that bill stemmed from concern that the cost of potential litigation would raise the price of health care for most Texans.

But beyond protections for citizens who have insurance, critics point to the millions of Texans who do not.

(on camera): One person out of every four in Texas has no insurance, 1.3 million of the uninsured are children, yet Texas was one of the slowest states to pass legislation allowing it to access millions in federal funds that would expand coverage to children.

(voice-over): CHIPS, as it's called, is a federal health care program for poor children. It offers $3 in matching money for every $1 invested by the state. Despite his slowness in joining, Bush boasts about his state's involvement with the CHIP program.

BUSH: We're expanding CHIPS here, which is Children Health Insurance Programs for children whose families are at 200 percent of poverty or below.

O'CONNOR: But even Bush backers say the governor was not originally a supporter of the program. He wanted to cap eligibility at 150 percent of the poverty level, which would have left approximately 175,000 children in Texas uncovered.

Dr. Susan Briner works at a Dallas clinic that treats about 50 uninsured children every day. She says the state needs to take greater advantage of CHIPS and explore other federal programs to help the uninsured.

DR. SUSAN BRINER, FARMLAND MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: It does seem like the programs that are out there aren't captured, that they could be used, and that's all I can make of it.

O'CONNOR: But Governor Bush takes a different philosophical and budgetary stand. He and many state legislators have called on the private sector to come up with cheaper plans targeted to the working poor.

SIBLEY: If we can get private insurance for poor children and have the private sector take care of them, we think they'd be better off than if you had a large government bureaucracy actually administering health care.

O'CONNOR: To help the elderly pay for prescription drugs, Bush favors an overhaul of Medicare, the public health plan for the elderly. He has proposed greater flexibility for insurance companies to offer prescription drug benefits to seniors rather than introduce a government-funded plan.

Bush and his advisers are developing an overall health care reform proposal, which he will announce in the coming months, but his critics say the proposals he's made so far and his record as Texas governor have done little to help the working poor.

MAXEY: It's about a failure of our state government with George Bush as a leader to make programs accessible. We put impediments in the way. We make a mom go to a welfare office to sign up for health insurance in person. There's no other states that do that.

O'CONNOR: Both Democrats and Republicans in the state House admit the number of uninsured are driving some hospitals out of business, a situation they say no one can afford.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Dallas.


WOODRUFF: And there is much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

Organized labor prepares to send a message to Congress and test its political clout in the process.

And later...


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... went back to school in Columbus, Ohio, from the classroom to the boiler room.


WOODRUFF: ... Patty Davis on an education photo-op that is becoming a staple of the Gore campaign.



HOWARD KURTZ, CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES": As Gore racks up the frequent-flier miles in his presidential campaign, there's one group he is quite clearly stiffing.


WOODRUFF: Howard Kurtz on Gore's distant relations with the news media.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

President Clinton cannot get Congress to pass gun control legislation, so he made it a point to be on hand when Maryland's governor signed a new gun bill into law today.

CNN's Judy Fortin has more.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his gun bill stuck on Capitol Hill, President Clinton is hitting the road to encourage state action on firearms safety. Today the president made the short trip to Maryland's capital of Annapolis to witness the signing of a first-in-the-nation law requiring locks on handguns. The president had praise for Governor Parris Glendening and state lawmakers for taking the initiative.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Maryland legislature once again has made history, and I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I came up here today more than anything else to say thank you.

FORTIN: Among other things, Maryland's law calls for built-in gun locks for all new handguns by 2003. All handguns must have external trigger locks by October.

The National Rifle Association calls the Maryland measure "a bad law." The NRA says locks can fail and they can interfere with the proper operation of firearms by their legitimate owners.

Mr. Clinton said he hopes Congress is paying attention to Maryland's action. He says every day lawmakers delay, 12 children die from gun violence.

Tomorrow, to support his call for background checks for gun buyers at gun shows, the president travels to Denver to campaign for a similar Colorado ballot initiative. At one time, the president had challenged Congress to pass his gun safety measures before next week's anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. It appears that target will be missed. The White House is now aiming for passage before year's end.

Judy Fortin, CNN, reporting.


WOODRUFF: Tonight, President Clinton will turn his attention to the Middle East peace process. He will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who arrived in Washington early today. They will discuss Israel's talks with the Palestinians and Syria. and Israel's plans to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon.

Two special visitors may be coming to the nation's capital. The National Zoo says it has a tentative deal with China to receive two more rare giant pandas. The zoo's panda house has been empty since last year, when the last of its two pandas had to be put to sleep. Currently, there are only five giant pandas in the United States.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, we will talk with Teamsters President James P. Hoffa about a big labor rally tomorrow, presidential politics and union clout in campaign 2000.


WOODRUFF: From Capitol Hill today, word that Vice President Gore has begun quietly to lobby undecided House Democrats to support permanent normal trade relations with China. This, according to the congressman who is leading push for the legislation on behalf of the White House.

Democratic Representative Robert Matsui says Gore began making those phone calls last week. Gore had been accused by some of being reluctant to lobby for the China trade bill because it might offend organized labor, a crucial Democratic constituency.

Here in Washington tomorrow, union leaders plan a major demonstration of their opposition to that trade bill as CNN's Jonathan Aiken reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really want to stress that it's important to get started just as soon as the meeting is supposed to begin.

JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lobbying 101 for AFL/CIO state delegation leaders, in town to deliver a message to Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trade union movement in America never threatens a member, we never beg, and we never forget.

AIKEN: Organized labor expects more than 13,000 people to rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday and then drive home opposition to normalizing China's trade status in follow-up meetings with lawmakers.

RICK BLOOMINGDALE, STATE TREASURER, AFL/CIO PA: This is a fundamentally moral issue, and we're talking prison labor, we're talking child labor, we're talking people who could be shot for trying to organize unions.

AIKEN: Union organizers expect every member of Congress to be lobbied up to four times by the rank-in-file Wednesday. State delegations, like the 600 people coming from Massachusetts, are focusing on key votes.

(on camera): How many guys are you targeting?

KATHLEEN CASAVANT, AFL/CIO MASS. STATE TREASURER: Three. Congressman Markey, Congressman Meehan and Congressman Neal have yet to commit to vote against permanent trade relations with China.

AIKEN: The rally is only part of organized labor's efforts on the China issue. Television is also part of the mix.


ANNOUNCER: Wei Jingsheng endured years of torture for challenging a brutal system of slave wages and sweatshops through which Chinese workers are exploited and Americans lose jobs.


AIKEN: Americans have amply demonstrated their preference for a steady supply of low-cost, imported goods. Union leaders, though, say their fighting for American jobs.

This rally will be a test of labor's political clout on a subject that hasn't resonated yet as a major campaign issue.

BRINK LINDSEY, CATO INSTITUTE: Organized labor is a major funding source and can either withhold the power of the purse or it can deploy it against their opponents. And so organized labor must be listened to by Democratic members of Congress and by Democratic presidential candidates.

AIKEN (on camera): The Congressional component of that could be key. With the balance of power at stake in the House of Representatives this fall. Organized labor hopes that it can sway votes on the China issue and maybe change the majority of at least one house of Congress come election day.

Jonathan Aiken for CNN, Capitol Hill.


WOODRUFF: And joining us now in our Washington studio, a major figure in organized labor president, Teamsters union president James P. Hoffa.

Thank you very much for being us.

JAMES P. HOFFA, TEAMSTERS PRESIDENT: Nice to be here. WOODRUFF: Thirteen thousand union members on the Hill, Teamsters among them -- will these efforts be successful to stop this legislation?

HOFFA: Well, I think we've got a moral issue here, and we are for annual review to see if this is a good deal, is China going to live up to this deal? And number two, are they going to stop persecuting their workers, persecuting people who are of faith, like the Falun Gong, like religious leaders and union leaders. We need this check on this, and I think that we're going to be successful in getting a vote in the House to stop permanent status and have annual review.

WOODRUFF: Is -- we were just talking about this before we came on for this interview, is President Clinton weaker now because he's a lame duck, on this issue?

HOFFA: Well, you know, he has taken a position for permanent review, and I think he is wrong on this. I don't want to see whether he's stronger or not, but he doesn't have the time that he had like he had with NAFTA, which was in 1993 I believe, and he had rest of his term, so he has a shorter period of time to deliver here.

But I think that we have to get back to the moral issue, which is the fact that people are being persecuted. We have to make sure this is a good for the American worker as well as the Chinese worker, and we have to have enforcement. That's why we want annual review.

WOODRUFF: Presidential elections -- will the Teamsters be active this year in the election?

HOFFA: Eventually we're going to be active, you know. But I like what Vice President Clinton told us in New Orleans.

WOODRUFF: Vice President...

HOFFA: Vice President Gore -- Vice President Gore said that if we were negotiating a trade agreement, it would have basic labor rights in it, and we're going to hold him to that, and we think that that's what he should be doing.

WOODRUFF: He is clearly seeking your endorsement. There are Republicans who think that you're union is friendlier to Republicans. Which is it?

HOFFA: Well, we're going to wait and see. We're not going to make any move. We're going to wait until after May 22, when we have the vote on this important bill, and then we'll look at making a decision after that.

WOODRUFF: Will you, is it fair to say that the Teamsters will be campaigning for both Democrats and Republicans?

HOFFA: Well, right now, we're...

WOODRUFF: I mean, I'm talking about congressional races as well as the presidential.

HOFFA: Absolutely. We are bipartisan. We are supporting a number of Republicans and a number of Democrats across the board with regard to this coming race. We support people who support our values, which are those of the American worker, and where we find those people, whether they be Democrat or Republican, we'll support those people.

WOODRUFF: But at this point, Al Gore -- it's been reported in the "Wall Street Journal" that Al Gore called you, called your union last week, seeking an endorsement, and was told not now.

HOFFA: Well, we have talked to Vice President Gore. We're going to continue to talk to him. We're not ready to endorse. We're not ready to endorse him or anyone else at this time.

WOODRUFF: Speaking of whom, Pat Buchanan you have invited to speak at this big rally tomorrow. What can he do for this cause?

HOFFA: Pat Buchanan is probably the only person -- Gore doesn't talk about it; Bush doesn't talk about it -- he's the only person that has is right with regard to trade, and it's important that he be given a chance to express his views, and I think that he can articulate what's wrong with this treaty and why we need annual review.

WOODRUFF: Could the Teamsters endorse Pat Buchanan for president?

HOFFA: We're not ruling out anybody in or anybody out.

WOODRUFF: What does that mean?

HOFFA: Well, we're not making a decision either way. We're not making a decision who we're going to keep, endorse. We'll make that decision After May 22.

WOODRUFF: But as you just said, Pat Buchanan is closer to your position on this issue than any of the other candidates out there. Why isn't it an automatic that the Teamsters would want to ally themselves with Pat Buchanan's candidacy?

HOFFA: It's not an automatic because there is a broad spectrum of issues with regard to Pat Buchanan. I have a lot of respect for Pat Buchanan, and he speaks out on the right issues, with regard world trade. He's the one guy that has it right. Both Bush and Gore are in line with saying that any trade deal is good, and that's what is wrong with their position. Maybe for other reasons, maybe for domestic politics, we're not going to be endorsing him right away. So we're going to wait and see. We are going our powder dry. We're going to wait until after May 22, and then we'll decide who we're going to endorse.

WOODRUFF: All right, James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union. We'll be anxious to know what the answer is when it comes.

HOFFA: Thank you. WOODRUFF: And there's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, including how Al Gore spent his day. Here's a hint: Recess at Avondale Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio will never be the same.


WOODRUFF: Aiming to demonstrate he's in touch with the needs of education, Al Gore spent the day at an elementary school in Columbus, Ohio.

CNN's Patty Davis says the vice president hopes the lessons he's learning will give him a straight A with voters.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore went back to school in Columbus, Ohio.

From the classroom...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: "Dear mother Earth, we will pick up trash. We can take care of our town."

GORE: Great job!

DAVIS: ... to the boiler room:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the fall and in the spring, the heat is a little too much to bear some days.

GORE: Yes, yes. And does that interfere with teaching a little bit?

DAVIS: Gore used his visit to this elementary school located in a low-income Columbus neighborhood to push his ideas on education, detailed in the campaign's new education blue book.

GORE: I think we should greatly expand Head Start and then go to universal preschool. I think dollar-for-dollar, that's the single most valuable investment our country can make.

DAVIS: Gore's so-called "school days" have become a regular feature on the campaign trail.

The hands-on visits have given the vice president a novel and attention-getting way of battling Texas Governor George W. Bush for the education mantle and of showing he's a regular guy. They're full of made-for-television photo opportunities, including the vice president eating his hot dog lunch in the school cafeteria, along with hundreds of boisterous grade schoolers, many of whom get free lunches. For Gore, though, there is no free lunch when it comes to winning the White House, especially here in Ohio, a key swing state whose voters are up for grabs in the fall election.

(on camera): That's one reason Gore has campaigned in the state six times so far this year, this time trying to make his mark on education a defining issue for many voters.

Patty Davis, CNN, Columbus, Ohio.


WOODRUFF: And up next on INSIDE POLITICS, Al Gore press conferences and Bill Bradley vanished almost in unison from the campaign trail: Coincidence or political magic? We'll take a look.


WOODRUFF: Believe it or not, it's been almost two months since Al Gore has held a news conference. In contrast, his Republican opponent in the presidential race, George W. Bush, answers reporters' questions regularly.

Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" examines Gore's reluctance to meet with the media.


GORE: This school is an excellent school.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES": Al Gore is speaking to just about everyone these days: to middle school students in Michigan, to seniors in Philadelphia, to labor union leaders in Washington. But as Gore racks up the frequent-flier miles in his presidential campaign, there's one group he is quite clearly stiffing: the reporters who follow him around.

He hasn't taken questions from the traveling press corps for seven long weeks, not since February 19th in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Most presidential candidates meet regularly with the media. George W. Bush holds a session with reporters, known as a press availability, virtually every day. John McCain talked to journalists every hour of every day. And the vice president did much the same...

GORE: We're going to do one press avail here...

KURTZ: That is when he was running neck and neck with Bill Bradley. When the Bradley challenge faded, Gore began keeping the press at arm's length.

Campaign aides say Gore has granted plenty of individual interviews: with The New York Times," "USA Today" and "The Today Show" among others, and the vice president speaks to local reporters when he visits their states.

CECI CONNOLLY, "WASHINGTON POST": You can anticipate a different set of questions from, say, a reporter in Ohio or Missouri or Pennsylvania or Florida who's only going to tune into the campaign maybe one day a month and isn't necessarily following each twist and turn. KURTZ: But Republicans say Gore is afraid to submit to the free- wheeling, no-holds-barred questioning of a news conference with national reporters.

(on camera): The Gore strategy, his advisers privately admit, is all about message control. By ignoring the press, the vice president gets to pick his theme of the day and to shield himself from annoying questions.

The Gore team believes that if journalists get to ask about missing White House e-mails or his apparent change of views on the Elian Gonzalez case, then the media will be setting the agenda.

(voice-over): Ever since John Kennedy staged the first live televised press conference...


QUESTION: Would you say it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) work tonight?


KURTZ: Even presidents who didn't much like the press -- Richard Nixon, for example, and Ronald Reagan -- held regular sessions with reporters. Bill Clinton often rambles on for an hour or more.

Would a President Gore end this tradition when times get tough, the way President Clinton did during the impeachment drama? Or is this former reporter -- Gore once worked at "The Nashville Tennessean" -- only comfortable with reporters when his words can't be quoted.

CONNOLLY: Sometimes he'll come back on the plane and have a beer, although that's usually off the record, which means that we can't tell the rest of the world about any of these interesting, funny things that we see from him. But he's also a very cautious man, and he's often suspicious of showing himself, whether it's to reporters or to the public.

KURTZ: When a candidate won't engage with the press, journalists are left with prepackaged soundbites and pretty pictures, which may be precisely what the Gore folks have in mind. But in the long term, Gore may be paying a price in terms of tensions with the press, one that may one day come back to bite him.

This is Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."


WOODRUFF: Well, that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow when we will have reports from Bruce Morton on the battleground state of Ohio and from John King on swing voters in Missouri. And of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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