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Ashcroft Confirmed as Attorney General as Democrats and Republicans Alike Claim VictoryAired February 1, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I hope that this vote sends a very strong message to the president of the United States.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: They trashed John Ashcroft. And even those who did not participate in the trashing who voted against him, they knew it.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The spin is on after the divided Senate vote to confirm John Ashcroft.
As tensions rise in Israel, what's at stake in next week's election? Our Bill Schneider is there.
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ROY ROMER, L.A. SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT: The politics of this place. I mean, I thought I was in politics when I was chair of the Democratic National Committee. That's backyard politics compared to L.A. Politics.
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WOODRUFF: Roy Romer talks to Ron Brownstein about the challenge of running L.A. schools. And one political dynasty bonds with another at the movies.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.
At this hour, John Ashcroft is expected to be sworn in as attorney general at the U.S. Supreme Court by Justice Clarence Thomas. After some delay and sometimes angry debate, the Senate today voted 58-42 to confirm Ashcroft's controversial nomination.
CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on the partisan wrangling before and after the vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate gives its advice and consent.
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush got his man for the Justice Department, but Republicans were outraged at what it took to get him there.
HATCH: I resent the calumny that they've heaped on John Ashcroft. I resent the unfair tactics. I resent the distortions of his record. And, boy, it's been it's been distorted. And I think we ought to all resent it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
KARL: Looking around the Senate floor, Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch added -- quote -- "And there are plenty of sinning around here."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Daschle, no.
KARL: In the end, 42 senators, all Democrats, voted against John Ashcroft, the second highest number of no-votes for a successful Cabinet nominee in American history and the most in 30 years. Democrats said the stronger-than-expected opposition sends a message to the new president.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It's a shot across the bow in terms of the Justice Department and how it conducts itself. It's a shot across the bow in terms of Supreme Court nominations. It's a shot across the bow in terms of the push and pull within the Bush administration: to be moderate and bipartisan or to play to the hard right.
KARL: The 42 no-votes means Democrats may have had the votes to prevent the Ashcroft nomination from coming to vote, a tactic several Democrats said they may use against future Bush Supreme Court and other nominees. The Democrats voting no included a long list of potential presidential candidates, including Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
All of the those Democrats also voted against Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Bush's other controversial nominee. Voting against the controversial nominations allows potential presidential candidates to curry favor with the powerful Democratic interest groups lined up against Ashcroft. Not surprisingly, Republicans see things differently.
HATCH: I would not vote for anybody for president that basically had to kowtow to that type of a routine.
KARL: Literally any minute now, Ashcroft will be sworn in as attorney general, as you mentioned, Judy, by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It will be a closed ceremony. There are no cameras allowed in.
And there will be another swearing-in, a ceremonial swearing-in at the White House next week -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jonathan, why Clarence Thomas? How did that come about?
KARL: Well, a good question, Judy. And some Democrats were immediately raising their eyebrows about that, seeing that Clarence Thomas is somebody on the right side of the Supreme Court. They thought that was not necessarily the best gesture. But there is a background to this story -- a background story. And that is that Clarence Thomas and John Ashcroft are longtime friends.
As a matter of fact, the two of them worked together at the State Attorney General's Office in Missouri, again, in the 1970s, both working for then-Missouri Attorney General John Danforth, who of course is a former senator from Missouri.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jonathan Karl at the Capitol.
And we should tell our audience that it's our understanding that John Ashcroft may be arriving any moment now at the U.S. Supreme Court. And we'll try to show you a picture of his arrival if it's available to us. Thanks again, Jon.
WOODRUFF: A short while ago, John Ashcroft issued a statement, saying he is grateful for the opportunity to serve as attorney general. And he said he wants to send a clear message that he will confront injustice, free from politics. And he says -- I'm quoting now -- "The Justice Department will vigorously enforce the law guaranteeing rights for the advancement of all Americans."
For reaction now from the White House, let's go now to CNN's Major Garrett -- Major.
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, first of all, the White House the very pleased with the developments on Capitol Hill. And CNN has learned that President Bush, shortly after the vote was concluded -- confirming John Ashcroft as the next attorney general -- the president called him at the Bush-Cheney transition headquarters.
The two spoke for about 10 or 15 minutes. Those very close to the confirmation process say that the president not only congratulated Mr. Ashcroft, but also said he would make a fine attorney general and underscored his need for the attorney general to, as he said in his statement, vigorously enforce America's civil rights law.
A couple of other points those close here at the Bush White House to the confirmation process point out about this entire wrangle on Capitol Hill: One of them is this that was not so much a test of this new era of civility or bipartisanship for this White House. It was primarily a test of party discipline, making sure no Republicans broke ranks. And early on, Democrats figured out that they were not going to get any Republican defectors. It essence, they were not going to win this confirmation battle.
Once that became an iron understanding among Democrats, this process moved along with a little bit less rancor than this Bush White House at first feared. Thirdly, the Bush White House is acutely aware that this fight does presage -- as many Democrats have already said -- future fights over, for example, who will lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, who will be appointed by the federal bench via this president and, of course, who will be appointed to the Supreme Court.
They also know, because they held rigorous party discipline among Republicans, on future votes for these positions and perhaps on issues such as abortion rights, some Republican moderates will have to break away to prove their ability to represent their constituents on other of these matters, knowing that they first and foremost had to stand with the president in this very first fight with the Democrats -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: So, Major, given the fact the White House understands this message, then, that the Democrats say they're trying to send, or shot across the bow, as Senator Chuck Schumer put it -- Democrat of New York -- does that mean that the president will respond by being careful not to send nominees who are too conservative?
GARRETT: It will be a factor in all White House considerations. They know that this is a very high vote in opposition to any Cabinet nominee. And they also know it's a very high vote for a former colleague of senators. When John Ashcroft was initially nominated, some in the Bush White House thought: Well, since he's a member of the club, he'll get a little bit less of a rough going-over.
Well, that's not exactly what happened. They understand that this many votes against a former colleague sends a very strong signal. It will be a factor they will weigh. But, of course, no White House would concede that a vote like this will deter them from looking at all various options and all potential candidates. But it certainly will be a factor -- a political one -- they will weigh every step of the way -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Major Garrett at the White House, thanks very much.
A short while ago, I spoke about Ashcroft's confirmation with two Senate Judiciary Committee members: Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Jon Kyl.
I spoke first with Senator Kyl. And I began by asking him, as an Ashcroft supporter, if he is disappointed by the 42 votes against confirmation.
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, no, I'm very pleased that John Ashcroft is now the attorney general at this moment. He probably has already been officially sworn in. I just talked to him a few minutes ago. He said: "I've got a lot to do. And I'm really looking forward to going to work."
And I know the president is pleased to have his entire Cabinet in place now. So from that perspective, we are very, very happy. And I know that Senator Ashcroft is as well. And I guess I'm going to have to start now saying: Attorney General Ashcroft. There is one aspect of this that could be somewhat disappointing. And that is to the extent that some Democrats have apparently been talking about the fact that they wanted to be sure they had at least 41 votes against him to send a signal about future judicial nominations.
I would be very disappointed if that really were the basis for their effort because...
KYL: Each individual confirmation is supposed to be on the merits of that individual. And, in fact, you saw several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee making that very point: that each person -- whether it be Bill Lann Lee or Judge Ronnie White or Senator Ashcroft -- all had to be evaluated on their own merits and nothing else. Therefore, to the extent that anyone was trying to line up votes to send a signal rather than basing their vote just on the merits of John Ashcroft, it would be very inappropriate.
WOODRUFF: But to the extent, Senator, that Democrats are saying, "When this president sends us very conservative nominees, we want him to know that he can't take it for granted he's going to get these nominees through the Senate," are you saying this is not appropriate thing for them to say at this point?
KYL: No, it is not an appropriate thing to say at this point or to base actions on at that time. Each nominee is supposed to be judged on the basis of qualifications and ability to do the job. There is not supposed to be ideological test. You heard my Democratic colleague saying over and over again in this nomination that ideology should not be a test.
They were somewhat critical of John Ashcroft because they thought that he had used ideology as a test with a couple of Clinton nominees. And so they made it very clear that they didn't think that was appropriate. It would, therefore, be quite inappropriate for them to be suggesting that the president had to send up more moderate or liberal nominees or else they would face defeat because there are more than 40 Democrats willing to vote against them on that basis.
WOODRUFF: Well, what about the statement of some Democrats? Senator Chuck Schumer said today, "It's a shot across the bow" in terms of the Justice Department and how it conducts itself. Is this a warning, do you think, of some sort? Or does it put limits, I should say, on John Ashcroft in terms of what the Justice Department can do?
KYL: Well, it may suggest that he is going to be under very close scrutiny and that Democrats will be very quick to criticize him. I suspect that that is the case. And I suspect they will feel justified in quickly reacting to and criticizing him. I think, to some extent, that's also unfortunate, because one should be given a little time and space to do one's job. And, certainly, the president should have some leeway in his nominations, as well as the way he wants to conduct his business.
WOODRUFF: But do you think it means that he cannot push very far to the right in terms of abortion, in terms of gay rights, in terms of civil rights because of what's happened during this process?
KYL: It is going to be important for Senator Ashcroft to do exactly what he said he would do during the confirmation hearings. And to the extent that he strays outside the bounds of what he testified he would do, Democrats will certainly be coming after him. But I have confidence that John Ashcroft knows well the bounds of his office and the commitments that he made. And he intends to keep those commitments.
WOODRUFF: And pushing to the right on the issues I mentioned?
KYL: Well, it depends. That's a very broad phrase, pushing to the right. I think you would have to define, in each individual case, exactly what the issue is and what the policy options are and what he testified to, what settled law is. All of those circumstance would bear upon the decision he would make.
And, of course, since most of his job is acting as an attorney and not as much of it is policy, the policy part will be driven primarily by the Bush administration and what President Bush himself wants the attorney general to do.
WOODRUFF: All right, fair point.
KYL: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Senator Jon Kyl, we thank you very much for joining us -- appreciate it.
WOODRUFF: And now my interview with Senator Dick Durbin. I began by asking him if he is disappointed that he and some other Democrats lost their battle against Ashcroft's confirmation.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I'm disappointed in this respect. I think that the president could have chosen a nominee who would really have met his goal of uniting this nation. It is very clear that with the controversy surrounding John Ashcroft, that very many Americans have serious doubts as to whether he can do that.
WOODRUFF: Well, let me just read to you part of a statement, Senator, that he has issued just in the last few minutes. He said: "Let me send a clear message today. I will confront injustice by leading a professional Justice Department that is free from politics, uncompromisingly fair," so forth and so on. Does this, in any way, reassure you?
DURBIN: Well, I will take John Ashcroft at his word. The very best thing for America is if John Ashcroft proves all of his critics wrong, if he does an excellent job as a professional enforcement of the law at the Department of Justice, and if he's fair and impartial even on the laws that he has disagreed with during the course of his political career.
WOODRUFF: Senator, I'm sure you are aware one of your Republican colleagues in the Senate, Senator Bob Smith, yesterday referred to the Democrats engaged in character assassination, going way overboard. Many of your Republican colleagues feel the same way. How do you respond to that?
DURBIN: I think that statement was unfortunate. I think it is very clear that the only thing -- the only thing -- we considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee was the public career and the public record of John Ashcroft.
There was no question about his personal or private life, nor should there have been. And, frankly, he was given every opportunity to express his point of view on his issues and what he would do as attorney general. We asked tough questions. We invited witnesses both for and against Mr. Ashcroft. And when it was all over, I think he received a full and fair hearing. And for those who are crying foul, I think they should look at the committee record more closely.
WOODRUFF: And what about this notion -- one of your Democratic colleagues, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, is saying that this was a shot across the bow in terms of what the Justice Department can do, in terms of the kind of nominees the president can send forward to the Supreme Court from now on -- and other judges?
DURBIN: Well, the election on November 7 clearly shows that America is politically divided. And I think they're looking for leadership that is centrist and bipartisan. What we heard from John Ashcroft is that, as attorney general, that's the way he would run the Department of Justice.
Many of us will hold him to that standard when it comes to choosing assistants and the important divisions there and professionals who will literally serve this nation in that capacity. I think it says to the president and to all who watched the debate that there are certain rights and certain things that we fought for in this country over many decades which we're going to fight to protect.
WOODRUFF: You are saying you expect Senator Ashcroft to be centrist. And yet you know some of your Republican colleagues in the Senate are saying the president has every right to send up conservative nominees who reflect his own thinking.
DURBIN: Well, you are so right. And I can tell you, even this morning, a very right-wing member of the House, a Republican member of the House was bemoaning some of the statements made by John Ashcroft during the hearing. He didn't want to hear him say these moderate things. But that's what he said. That's a standard he held himself to as attorney general.
WOODRUFF: But doesn't the president, though -- is my question -- have the right to send up conservative, even very conservative nominees who reflect his thinking?
DURBIN: It's a president's right to send whomever he chooses. But when he sends someone who is so far out of the mainstream that they won't protect the basic rights -- as John Ashcroft says, the settled law of the land -- then I think they're going to run into opposition in Congress.
WOODRUFF: And, in the future, if the president sends to the Congress nominees to the Supreme Court, judges, other federal judge nominees, you're saying they have to tote to a certain ideological line?
DURBIN: Well, I think we say this. We'll review their qualifications very carefully to make sure that they have the intellect that is necessary, the integrity. And, frankly, there will be questions about their commitments to values that are important to all Americans. I don't expect the president to be sending us the most liberal nominees for any position.
But I do hope he has read the American electorate and read it well. And I hope he'll stand by a lot of rights: the human rights, the civil rights and the rights that we consider just basic now to America.
WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Dick Durbin, we thank you very much for joining us today.
DURBIN: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Coming up next: an inside view of the president's meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Did he begin to heal any political wounds?
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DONNA BRAZILE, FRM. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Let me quote a song from Tina Turner, "What's love got to do with it?" This is pure politics. The president has reached out to Democratic leaders across- the-board. But let's see what happens once the budget get up on Capitol Hill.
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WOODRUFF: Former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, echoing the skepticism many African-Americans have expressed about President Bush's efforts to reach out to Democrats. We are joined now by one of the Congressional Black Caucus members who met with Mr. Bush at the White House yesterday. He is Democrat Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois.
Congressman Rush, thank you for being with us.
REP. BOBBY RUSH (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you, Judy, for the invitation.
WOODRUFF: What happened in that meeting?
RUSH: Well, the meeting was a very serious meeting, very substantive. We peppered the president with more than 20 hard-hitting questions. The meeting was an introductory meeting. He was introduced to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and to a great extent, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus was introduced to him. His comments were that we were very forthright, very serious and we have some very substantive questions that we put to him.
WOODRUFF: It's been described as mainly a listening session on his part. Is that accurate?
RUSH: Yes, he did most of the listening because we had real concerns, real issues that our community, that this nation is confronted with and we wanted to make sure that he heard us.
WOODRUFF: Can you summarize for us those concerns?
RUSH: Well, we spent a lot of time on John Ashcroft. We let him know in no uncertain terms that John Ashcroft was repugnant to most of our constituencies, that he represented things that our constituency were for, and that he certainly did not represent the kind of attorney general that we felt as though we could rally around that would be fair and that would be open-minded, and his record clearly flew in the face of an attorney general that would really use the office of attorney general to represent the entire nation.
WOODRUFF: Well, now he is -- I was going to say now he is the attorney general. It's a fact of life?
RUSH: Well, it's a fact of life and we're still disappointed. Bitterly disappointed. But I might add we'll see how he operates. He won't get any kind of honeymoon, particularly as it relates to the Congressional Black Caucus nor to American citizens in general, I believe.
We also spent a lot of time on electoral reform. We wanted him to go on the record with us to be in favor of broad-based electoral reform, and frankly, he said that he would consider that -- some of our general concepts and general ideas. He did not commit himself to any specifics and we did not anticipate that he would commit himself to the specifics.
WOODRUFF: Did he say -- excuse me, congressman. Did he say anything that surprised you or that you didn't expect him to say?
RUSH: Well, I think that probably the most surprising moment came when he really was more aggressive than we would have expected on issues as it related to Africa in terms of debt relief, expansion of the debt relief efforts in Africa; in terms of making sure that the AIDS in Africa was dealt with more forthrightly, and with much more commitment from the American government.
He also surprised us in terms of his position on trade in terms of -- to Africa, that he was in favor of some real trade negotiations and relationships with people in Africa, and I think that those things are kind of surprised us somewhat. And we were very pleased with those.
WOODRUFF: But anything on the domestic front that you found positive?
RUSH: No, I think that on the domestic front that's where he was most lacking, and we're still -- again, this was just an introductory meeting. We're still going to wait and see just what he does and how he engages us.
WOODRUFF: Do you view him as a legitimately elected president now?
RUSH: Of course not. I can't say that. No one in my community, no one in the district that I represent, the 1st District of Illinois, feels as though he's a legitimately elected president, and he's going to have to prove a lot to us, and this was just a...
WOODRUFF: But did this session -- excuse me for interrupting, did this session go some way toward his proving himself to you, if you will.
RUSH: I think that there was some groundwork laid here. I think that there was a beginning. It was a very, very cautious beginning. I think it's a very fragile beginning, but I think that there is a beginning, and I think that the president is going to have to really go out of his way to prove to members of the Congressional Black Caucus and to the American people in general. Certainly, to the black Americans all across this country that he is a president who's concerned about specific issues that they are confronted with on a day-to-day basis.
WOODRUFF: Who asked for the meeting?
RUSH: Well, the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to him, and I was one of the signatories on that letter. We sent a letter to him requesting the meeting. So, we requested the meeting about three weeks ago.
WOODRUFF: And it happened.
RUSH: It happened.
WOODRUFF: So, from that standpoint, you're pleased?
RUSH: Well, we're pleased to have had this type of meeting. Again, it was a very honest, very forthright, very frank meeting, and it began with some tension in the room, but that tension soon evaporated.
WOODRUFF: All right. Well, Representative Bobby Rush, we thank you very much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.
RUSH: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Thanks again.
And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.
Still to come:
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not just an election about people. It's an election about concepts of how to make peace.
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WOODRUFF: The ideas driving the candidates in the Israeli election. Our Bill Schneider joins us live from Jerusalem.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We searched very hard for evidence to support this emerging conventional wisdom and simply did not find it.
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WOODRUFF: And this is the scene -- we'll show you in just a moment. This is the scene at the United States Supreme Court building. John Ashcroft having just been confirmed today by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 58-42, arriving at the Supreme Court to be sworn in, we are told, by U.S. Justice Clarence Thomas.
The two have known one another for years. They worked together in Missouri back in the 1970s. And it is Clarence Thomas, Justice Thomas who will officially swear in the new attorney general, former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft. We're also told that he'll be sworn in once again in front of cameras tomorrow at the White House.
Those punch card ballots, continuing revisited. We're going to go to a break. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: This was the scene just outside the United States Supreme Court building. Just moments ago, John Ashcroft having just been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, arriving at the Supreme Court building, again, just a few moments ago, in order to be sworn in by his longtime friend, Justice Clarence Thomas. And we are told that, at a later date, in the next few days presumably, there will be another swearing in before cameras at the White House.
We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories:
A cable car collision in Los Angeles has killed 1 person and injured 14 others. According to initial reports, an overhead cable may have snapped, allowing one car to slide down a steep track and hit another cable car. Five of those injured are reportedly in critical condition.
Layoffs are said to be looming at General Electric. Without discussing numbers, a GE spokesman confirms the corporate giant will cut its work force over the next two years. "Business Week" is reporting the number of cuts at 75,000 or more, but the GE spokesman says the number being reported is "way too high." The layoffs are said to be prompted by the company's purchase of Honeywell, which has a work force of 120,000. CNN will have more on the GE layoffs on the "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
The former head of the CIA, John Deutch, was cleared today by the Spy Agency and the Pentagon of jeopardizing national security. An investigation concluded that secret information stored by Deutch on his home computer did not leak out, even though the computer was linked to the Internet. Deutch is one of the people pardoned by President Clinton during Clinton's final days in office.
Airline delays across the nation hit an all-time high last year. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, more than 450,000 flights did not leave the gate on time. That is 20 percent more than in 1999. Among the causes: volume. The FAA says more than 1/4 of all volume-related delays occurred at New York's La Guardia airport.
The number one cause? Bad weather. It was blamed for more than 2/3 of all delays. The agency cites unusually disruptive thunderstorms from late spring into the autumn. The FAA also said that runway and taxi way construction and repairs contributed to delays at Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Phoenix.
All six inmates who escaped from an Alabama prison are now back in custody. The fugitives were captured today in a rural area about 50 miles west of Nashville, Tennessee. Five of the men were captured this morning, and the sixth, convicted murderer Gary Scott, was captured a short time ago. Police were called after Scott was seen crouched under a bridge. Several of the escapees, as we see in this surveillance photo, were spotted last night buying sandwiches at a convenience store near the area where they were captured. The inmates escaped Tuesday through a faulty electrical fence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN HAMM, ALABAMA DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS: These are the instruments -- homemade instruments that the inmates did use to breach the fence, they used these to get up underneath the fence and to -- and to prop it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: The prison had been having problems with that fence since 1996. Straight ahead: the latest on Tuesday's election from Israel. We'll go live to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider in Jerusalem.
And we will take a closer look at how the recent Mideast violence has shaped public opinion among Israel's Arab neighbors.
WOODRUFF: Live pictures of the Supreme Court building -- inside, John Ashcroft just confirmed this afternoon by the United States Senate, is being sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas. The former senator from Missouri arrived at the Supreme Court a few moments ago. We are told it won't take long, and we expect to see him coming out shortly. We're also told, he begins his job at the Justice Department Monday and next week, there will be another swearing in -- a ceremonial swearing in at the White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called off a proposed meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat today, after two Israelis and a Palestinian were killed in separate incidents. Barak's decision comes just days before he faces Ariel Sharon in Tuesday's election for prime minister. Joining me from Jerusalem with a preview of Tuesday's vote is our own CNN Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, you know the drama in Israel's election next week is not so much of a, which candidate is going to win, but how much is at stake for Israel and for the United States?
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Israelis must choose between Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the conciliator, and General Ariel Sharon, the tough guy. Two approaches to peace.
DORE GOLD, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: This is not just an election about people, it's an election about concepts about how to make peace. What we've had for the last two to three years is a peace concept that hasn't been working.
SCHNEIDER: Israelis have become disillusioned with the peace process. What's behind the disillusionment? Yasser Arafat. Remember the Yasser Arafat who shook hands with Israel's leaders on the White House lawn? GOLD: Many people thought that Yasser Arafat was like Nelson Mandela, some kind of figure who was involved in armed struggle on behalf of his cause, but who is now changed in some kind of fundamental way and was ready to make peace.
SCHNEIDER: No more. Not after the Palestinian intifada. Four months of terrible violence.
DAVID MAKOVSKY, INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST PEACE: Yasser Arafat has in some way decided this election already, and by supporting this intifada, he has demobilized Israeli moderates who would have been the main cheerleaders for a deal and he's thrown the election to Sharon.
SCHNEIDER: Last year's peace negotiations left the two sides further apart.
GOLD: By truly unmasking the positions of the parties, we found that many of these positions were unbridgeable, and that can lead people to positions of despair about diplomacy.
SCHNEIDER: Is Ariel Sharon the candidate of despair? No, his supporters say. He's the candidate of a new realism.
GOLD: What we have to do is we have to begin thinking about new types of interim arrangements that allow us to live together, that remove friction.
SCHNEIDER: Even Sharon's critics concede that's something he could deliver.
MAKOVSKY: There's been a feeling with Barak that he couldn't deliver the public. I think Sharon will be able to deliver.
SCHNEIDER: But the dangers are great. Sharon is, after all, the architect of the war in Lebanon; the man held indirectly responsible by an Israeli tribunal for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians; the man who provoked Palestinian rage by visiting the Temple Mount last September.
MAKOVSKY: As soon as he's elected, there could be a frenzy in the Arab world.
SCHNEIDER: The stakes are high for the U.S. as well.
MAKOVSKY: The nature of this conflict is that you're sitting on a volcano, and basically, if this thing begins to deteriorate, there could be the danger of a regional war where vital U.S. interests are at stake, and therefore what the U.S. needs to realize is to make sure that there's not a meltdown.
SCHNEIDER: The Israeli election is not a rejection of peace. It's a rejection of illusions about peace. The Israelis voters are giving up their illusions, and many Sharon supporters here in Israel believe Americans would be wise to do so as well -- Judy. WOODRUFF: Bill, do many people think that this election could be so close, it could be reminiscent of our own Florida recount here in the United States?
SCHNEIDER: No chance of that. There are paper ballots. There are no punch cards, no chads. They'd and probably be called khads here in Israel. Also, they do have exit polls and the exit polls managed to get it completely wrong in 1996.
One other thing, there is no absentee ballots here in Israel. If you're an Israeli, unless you're in diplomatic service, you have to come home to vote. And in 1996, planeloads of Israelis charted by both political parties brought people home to vote.
Well, so many people are frustrated and angry over the choice of contenders this year, that there reports that flights out of Israel Tuesday are already heavily booked.
WOODRUFF: So, what is the turnout expected to be like?
SCHNEIDER: Well, it's going to be lower than the typical 90 percent of Israel's resident population. But you know, many voters are considering casting blank ballots, they're called white ballots here in Israel, as a kind of protest, a lot of Arabs. They're about 12 percent of the voters. They voted 95 percent for Barak last time, but now their leaders are urging them to cast blank ballots.
The same thing may happen with Russian immigrant voters, who voter heavily for Barak last time. It's a way of showing discontent. The blank ballots are counted, but they do not affect the outcome. They're a way for Arabs and for Russian immigrants to say to Barak and the Labor Party don't take us for granted.
WOODRUFF: And Bill, Barak's chances as bleak as some have been predicting?
SCHNEIDER: Look, I cannot find a single Israeli, whether it's a commentator or a cab driver, who believes that Barak is going to get reelected.
Right now, the polls are showing him running 17 to 20 points behind. But the polls show Sharon's support at 51 percent; Barak at about 34. That means a lot of people are declining to state a preference. Well, in the last four days of the election, Barak is hoping to mobilize the roughly half of the voters who don't seem to want to support either candidate, and he thinks they'll come around to supporting him.
So, there's still a chance that it could be very close. But everyone agrees, it would take a miracle to reelect Ehud Barak. But you know something, Judy, we're in Jerusalem.
WOODRUFF: Where miracles have been known to happen. All right.
SCHNEIDER: They have.
WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, we are glad you're there. Thanks very much.
WOODRUFF: Israel's Arab neighbors, meanwhile, are keeping a very close eye on Tuesday's vote. In Cairo, CNN's Ben Wedeman reports that many Arabs say they are disappointed in Prime Minister Barak, but many are also worried by the prospect of a Sharon victory.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I hate Israel, croons pop singer Shaben Abdrahrheim (ph) to a family audience at Cairo's Feronic (ph) village. Crude lyrics, but they seem to strike a cord in the first Arab country to make peace with Israel.
"I Hate Israel" is one of the most popular songs in Egypt today. Four month of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis have battered Egyptian faith in the peace process and left many wondering whether it makes any difference who wins the Israeli election.
Looking at the violence, few have much good to say about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
ABDEL MUNEIM SAID, ANALYST: Finally, we have an intifada in which he dealt with it in the most vicious way, ferocious way, using methods of war and separation that was not used even by Netanyahu.
WEDEMAN: But while Barak has been a disappointment for the Arabs, his main opponent, Likud leader Ariel Sharon, inspires Arab alarm, especially among those who remember his role as architect of Israeli's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
ISMAT ABDEL MAGID, SECRETARY GENERAL, ARAB LEAGUE: He's a war criminal. He's a criminal, as -- what he did in Sabra and Shatila. I mean, his records are very clear to us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the choice was Israeli people to have Sharon with the blood as its hand, it will show that body politic of Israel is not ready for peace.
WEDEMAN (on camera): Posturing and rhetoric aside, Egyptian officials quietly acknowledge the Arabs have few options but to pursue the peace process, regardless of who emerges victorious from the Israeli elections.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.
WOODRUFF: Up next on INSIDE POLITICS, the reeducation of former DNC Chairman Roy Romer. CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein talks about the Bush reform plan with the new Los Angeles school superintendent. And for a died in the wool Democrat, Romer's perspective may surprise you.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: And we can report to you that John Ashcroft has been sworn in as the new attorney general of the United States. He has now, evidently, left the Supreme Court building where his friend, Justice Clarence Thomas, was to have sworn him in. We don't have pictures, but we are told that the swearing in his taken place.
Last summer, after three years as head of the Democratic Party, Roy Romer surprised the political world by quitting the job to take on another as superintendent of the vast and troubled Los Angeles School System. While Roamer may have escaped party politics, he has landed smack in the middle of what may be the defining issue of George W. Bush's first term: Education reform.
"Los Angeles Times" columnist and CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein ventured to ground zero of the education issue interview Romer and get his take on the Bush plan.
ROMER: What's your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lilly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mine's
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they put
ROMER: That's right.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Thirty years as an elected official, the last 12 as Colorado governor, chairman of the Democratic National Committee: It's the kind of resume you'd expect to find in the corner office of a heavyweight law firm. Instead, at 72, Roy Romer has started a second career here as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
ROMER: All right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a president? Are you a president?
ROMER: No, no, no, no. I am just the guy who that runs the schools.
BROWNSTEIN: Year after year, polls show that improving education is American's top priority. Year after year, big-city school districts like Los Angeles show why it is so difficult to do: overcrowding, poverty, crumbling schools, union rules that inhibit reform. And now the challenge of making it all work is in Roy Romer's lap.
(on camera): Does looking at it from this angle change your perspective on what it takes to improve student performance from all the years you were looking at it from...
BROWNSTEIN: It does?
ROMER: Absolutely. Now, I have -- I still have a theoretical framework, which I had -- it was sound. It's still the same one. But there are many different things -- the politics of this place. I mean, I thought I was in politics when I was chair of the Democratic National Committee. That's backyard politics compared to L.A. politics.
I mean, the politics here is very local but very intense. And it will just eat you alive if you're not on top of it as a school superintendent.
Go and put your hands down.
BROWNSTEIN (voice-over): Like all big-city superintendents, Romer knows the answers to his problems have to be found mostly at home. But he also knows his decisions in Washington will shape the options and the resources available to him.
(on camera): President Bush has made education his top legislative priority. He says states should have to test every student every year from third through eighth grade in math and reading. States that show progress should get bonuses. States that don't show progress should lose money. Does this make sense?
ROMER: On basic direction, it makes sense. Let me comment about it. Being his first priority, that makes sense. That's good. Helping us on testing, that's good. Testing every year, that's good. But the tests ought to be diagnostic so that you know what it is that a student doesn't know and you can fill it in. In making awards or punishment for schools that aren't showing progress?
Yes, I think it's good to reward. And I think it's also good to hold accountable. But you have got to be smart about that. Look, in L.A., we got a lot of places that are very overcrowded and students who are way behind the eight-ball. We need to make progress. You ought to hold us accountable. But you ought to be understanding of the condition we face. What he ought to also do is to help us build some buildings out here.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, now that you've been out here, you've compared the federal paperwork to the ropes that the Lilliputians used to lash down Gulliver. Is Bush right on the other half of his trade? He says: Look, if the states agree to be more accountable, we should give them more flexibility and freedom on how they spend the federal money? Is that basically in the right direction?
ROMER: Yes. Yes, it's in the right direction. They ought to relax it. They ought to group some of those things. They ought not to be so pigeonholed with their funds. But they ought not take all those things off because they're trying to focus this on low- performing children or children who have poor circumstances. He's very right. So you ought to keep enough of those directives that you use it for the right purpose.
BROWNSTEIN: Make sure it's getting to the people who really need it.
ROMER: Get it to the people who need it. But let me tell you, when you come back down out of where I was as a governor, dealing with policy at a high level, to a school building like the one we're in, it's a different world. You see it differently.
First of all, the overcrowding out here is really a problem. Secondly, the lack of qualified teachers is really a problem. There aren't enough people in the field. You got to pay over a time more to get more people in this field. And third, just the pure challenge of taking youngsters from many different economic and cultural backgrounds and enticing them to have inquisitive minds, it takes real skill.
BROWNSTEIN: Now, the president is saying if we put more money in, we want more accountability at the back-end. One of the ways he wants to enforce that is, he says that if schools fail to improve the performance of low-income kids for three years, the parents ought to be given vouchers they can use for tutoring, after-school programs, or, in the ultimate circumstance, leaving the public school for the private school.
ROMER: It doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense to give somebody a $1,500 voucher. It isn't enough to pay for school. That costs $5,000-plus. And there's no place to go. It just doesn't work.
BROWNSTEIN: Isn't there a point, though, where you have to say to a parent -- where a parent has to be able to say: Look, the public school simply hasn't produced for my child; it isn't producing results?
Can you just ask them to stay there forever?
ROMER: No. I think that you ought to give a parent an option to move within the public school system. If the public system is totally unable to provide it, then I'm willing to look at alternatives. But, let me tell you, though, the one...
BROWNSTEIN: What would alternatives be? What would alternatives mean, though: charter schools? Would it mean some kind of voucher, ultimately?
ROMER: Charter schools. Charter schools. And I think that if you had the right kind of a voucher program for a select group of students, I could take some private-sector participation in helping to do this job.
But anything I have seen so far, it just undermines the system. Let me get at one other thing. Everybody says: Hey, you have got to hold them accountable. There are thousands of people in this educational business that want to do the right thing and don't know how. It doesn't make any sense for me to hire you and say: I'm going to hold you accountable when you don't have the skills to do the job I've hired you to do.
Now, look, both on the principal level and on the teacher level, we have got to give them more skills. We simply have a whole lot of people in the field of education who are new to it, who are inexperienced. And they need help.
BROWNSTEIN: Nationwide, the lifespan of this job -- the job security of these superintendent jobs is -- would be below, I suppose, even party chairmen after losing elections. How long are you committed to doing this? And how long does it take to make a difference? Are cities too quick to move through superintendents?
ROMER: Yes. This is something that hasn't changed overnight. I've been here six months. I think I've made some difference. I got -- I'm supporting everybody is in their school district that calls their shots straight. I'm going to be there to support them. There isn't going to be any politics local that is going to undercut them.
You see, that's one good thing I bring here. I have got very thick skin. And I'm not going to let political currents affect the ability of these superintendents and teachers and principals to do the right job. So one thing, you know, at age 72, I don't need another new job. I'm free. I'm free to do the right thing. That's helpful. But you do need to be patient. But let me tell me, you don't need to be too patient.
If people don't do the right thing, you ought to have them up and out.
BROWNSTEIN: Roy Romer, thank you.
ROMER: All right.
BROWNSTEIN: All right.
WOODRUFF: That's a man with a lot of energy: Los Angeles school superintendent Roy Romer talking with Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."
And next here on INSIDE POLITICS: John Ashcroft's former colleagues confirm his nomination. We'll also hear from Bob Novak on what the Democratic opposition means for future Bush nominees who come before the Senate.
WOODRUFF: He is Attorney General Ashcroft now. But will hard feelings about his confirmation battle linger? President Bush proposes new steps to help disabled Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIRTEEN DAYS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.
BRUCE GREENWOOD, ACTOR: Well, maybe you hadn't noticed, you're in it with me.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Those damn Kennedys are going to destroy this country if we don't do something about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: A film about the Kennedys prompts a unique family gathering at the White House.
Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.
Attorney General John Ashcroft still is trying to reassure his critics that he will run a Justice Department that is fair, defined by integrity, and dedicated to the rule of law. Ashcroft made that promise just before he was sworn in a short while ago at the U.S. Supreme Court by Justice Clarence Thomas. Earlier today, the divided Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 58-42.
All the no-votes were cast by Democrats, concerned, they said, that Ashcroft's conservative stands would hinder his ability to uphold laws he disagreed with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DURBIN: The best thing for America is for John Ashcroft to prove his critics wrong, for him to become an attorney general who clearly will enforce and administer the laws of the United States fairly and with the sort of equanimity which we expect of a man of his stature and his position.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: I actually thought there should have been many more Democrats that were willing to stand up and vote for the man they knew, John Ashcroft, who served as a senator. I don't know who this guy was they were talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: For more on Ashcroft and the Senate vote, here is our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.
Jonathan, any surprises among the for or against votes?
KARL: Well, Judy, there were a few surprises. First of all, let's take those that actually voted for him, the Democrats that crossed party lines and voted in favor of Ashcroft. In some sense, there were some predictable senators in there, conservatives like Zell Miller or John Breaux, clearly centrists in their party who had been already reaching out to the Bush administration.
But you also had in that group of eight Democrats two of the most liberal members of the Senate. One of those we knew for quite some time. Russ Feingold voted no -- I mean, voted in favor of Ashcroft. But so did Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Chris Dodd, usually a team player here in the Senate, one who votes almost entirely with his party, came out and voted in favor of Ashcroft, really surprising some of his closest friends in the Senate, including Senator Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy worked very hard on Chris Dodd right up to the vote to convince him that he should vote against Ashcroft. But, for Dodd, in the end, it came down to, he said, giving the president a chance with his nominees. And, by the way, I spoke with Dodd in the hallways here right after the vote and he said that one thing that stuck in his mind was his vote against C. Everett Koop to be the surgeon general. Of course, Koop was Bush's choice to be surgeon general. He voted against him. And then he felt that Koop went on to become a very good surgeon general.
And five years after that, he actually apologized to Koop for his vote. So he didn't want to have to do that again with Ashcroft.
WOODRUFF: Koop being the choice of former President Bush, Bush the father.
WOODRUFF: Jon, any surprises in the vote total: the 58-42 vote?
KARL: Well, it was certainly a much stronger showing than pretty much anybody anticipated up here, in terms for the Democrats, against Ashcroft: 42 votes, all but eight voting -- you know, this, Judy, is the most no-votes that we have seen for a successful nomination in more than 30 years.
In fact, it's only the second -- it's the second most we've ever seen in terms of no-votes for a successful Cabinet official. So that was clearly a surprise. And you also, interestingly, in terms of who voted against Ashcroft for the Democratic side, you had all these Democrats that are up for reelection in the next round in '02. And this includes Democrats who are from states that were overwhelmingly carried by George Bush.
I mean, look at this, Judy. We had, for instance, Tim Johnson of South Dakota voted against Ashcroft despite the fact that Bush carried his state by 60-38. Max Baucus is another one who voted against Ashcroft. Baucus is up for reelection. And Bush carried his state by 58-34. So this clearly could become an election issue for some of those Democrats up for reelection.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jonathan -- oh, Jonathan Karl, one other question: Does this mean that the bipartisan honeymoon that the president has been enjoying for the last 10 or 11 days is coming to an end?
KARL: Well, Judy, I think you alluded to the fact that Senator Kennedy is at the White House tonight watching a movie with President Bush, watching the new movie "Thirteen Days," a sign that -- Kennedy, of course, was probably the most vocal and harsh critic of Ashcroft's in the Senate. And he's already back at the White House meeting with the president in a social setting.
So I think the honeymoon may not yet be over. Clearly, there's a lot up here in the Senate side and in the House on the Democratic side of the aisle who say that they want to work with this president, and certainly will on the first initiative. And that is education.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jonathan Karl at the Capitol, thanks very much.
And we're joined now by Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun-Times."
Bob, what are conservatives saying now that this battle over the Ashcroft nomination is over?
ROBERT NOVAK, "CROSSFIRE": Republican senators are very bitter, Judy.
They feel that this was a classic case of taking a confirmation -- a nomination -- Senator Ashcroft didn't have a handful of votes when it started -- finding things in his record, going over every word he ever wrote or said, getting the liberal pressure groups and then building up this tremendous vote to cast -- to establish a measurement that if there is an Ashcroft-type nominee for the Supreme Court, he will get the same treatment. Only this time, we won't hold back. We will actually defeat him.
Of course, they will find, I think, the Supreme Court nominees without the paper trail that Robert Bork or John Ashcroft had, people that they can't figure out what they thought. I want to -- what they really think. Let me say something about the Chris Dodd vote, if I could. I wasn't that surprised. I think Chris Dodd, in my interpretation, is very much affected all his life by the censure of the Senate of his father, Senator Thomas J. Dodd, which he feels was unjust. And he's very careful about making judgments against members of the Senate.
Remember, he supported John Towers' nomination for secretary of defense when he was defeated.
WOODRUFF: All right. Bob, another political matter very much going on this weekend: The president's going to be speaking at two Democratic congressional retreats -- Senate retreat, congressional retreat. Is he going to get an earful?
NOVAK: He's going to get an earful at the House retreat from some of the African-American and Latino members. They're going to say: Mr. President, if you are really want to reach out to the minority groups, why are you opposing us on the census, when we want sampling which would increase the strength of minority groups?
The reason, of course, is it's not good for the Republicans. But that is going to be a hard one for the president to answer.
WOODRUFF: Is he going to say anything about it when they talk to him about it?
NOVAK: I think he has to.
WOODRUFF: Terry McAuliffe expected to be chosen chairman of the Democratic Party in the next few days: What's the Democratic buzz on that?
NOVAK: Judy, I've talked to a lot of Democrats today. And they really are very concerned about what lies ahead on this. Terry McAuliffe is a great money-raiser. He's a wheeler-dealer in Washington in finance and real estate. And he has two pending cases against him: a civil case in the Labor Department, and -- not against him -- in which he is involved, at least -- and a case in the Justice Department.
I think there's a possibility that these cases may be raised by the Republicans -- at least, the Democrats are very worried. Now, Tony is an outspoken -- Terry is an outspoken guy. And he came out with some very interesting interviews on National Public Radio yesterday and "The New York Times" today, when he was very tough and cocky and says: Let them throw it at me.
A lot of Democrats are uneasy whether they are taking on a big risk in picking the choice of Bill and Hillary Clinton for national chairman.
WOODRUFF: Finally, John McCain: Is he riling up his fellow Republicans again?
NOVAK: Oh, he sure is. He went to Little Rock, Arkansas with Senator Feingold, his Democratic co-sponsor of campaign-finance reform, for a town meeting in Little Rock. And this was considered a real jab at Senator Hutchinson, who faces -- Republican Senator Tim Hutchinson -- who faces a tough run for reelection next year. And Hutchinson is a foe of campaign-finance reform.
Now, Senator McCain said it had nothing to do with Hutchinson. But Hutchinson and many Republicans in the Senate think otherwise. They didn't like the fact that Congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas was on the stage with McCain. And Barry could be Hutchinson's opponent in the campaign next year. So John McCain has a flare for riling up his fellow Republicans.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, you never rile us up! It's always good to see you. Thanks, Bob.
President Bush today added another page to his compassionate conservative agenda by unveiling a multi million dollar plan to aid disabled Americans. CNN's Major Garrett is covering the Bush White House in its first 100 days.
GARRETT: The path of progress for America's disabled is one familiar to all modern presidents.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I have enjoyed most about my new job is the walk I get to take every single morning, up the colonnade from the residence to the Oval Office. I say up because the path rises just slightly. It's been that way since they took out the steps so that Franklin Roosevelt could make it to his place of work.
GARRETT: Mr. Bush's father signed the first civil rights act for the disabled. Now, his son wants to take the next step, one designed to improve the lives of Americans such as Doris Ray.
Doris is blind, as her mother and grandmother were. Special magnifying technology helps her read, allowing her to continue working. It's a freedom and sense of purpose her elders never knew.
DORIS RAY, DISABLED AMERICAN: My mother and grandmother were smart enough to do these jobs, but they just didn't have the technology, and it's opened a whole world, a vast world of other jobs that people with disabilities are able to do.
GARRETT: But access to new technology and new opportunities is not universal. The president's plan will try to narrow this technology and opportunity gap. It will increase federal support for assistive technology research, increase aid for the disabled to purchase homes, provide tax breaks to allow the disabled to work at home, and increase aid to small businesses that have not complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Democrats applauded the president's emphasis, but are waiting for the legislative follow through.
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: It's a lot of nice words and a lot of nice proposals. That's good. Now we have to fill it in. Will he work? Will President Bush work with us to get the legislation necessary? Will he work with us to get the funds necessary? Those are the two big questions.
GARRETT (on camera): During the campaign, the Bush team estimated the cost of this plan at $1.1 billion. The White House says the president will fight for every penny of it, building on a foundation of disabled rights that Franklin Delano Roosevelt first came to know here at the White House, one that Mr. Bush's father helped to extend to all disabled Americans. Major Garret, CNN, the White House.
WOODRUFF: What to do about those problematic chads -- hanging, dimpled or otherwise? Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: the latest moves in Florida to overhaul punch card voting systems.
WOODRUFF: The voting system that sparked so much controversy in the presidential election in Florida may be headed for major changes. Members of a task force on election procedures voted just about an hour ago to recommend Florida counties eventually do away with punch cards ballots. They are recommending that the punch cards be replaced by one of two electronic systems they deem more reliable. Governor Jeb Bush appointed the bipartisan group to look into voting systems around the state, and then make recommendations for changes. The task force report goes to the Florida legislature when it convenes in March.
Our Brooks Jackson has more, now, on the issue of punch card ballots and just where they are used nationwide.
BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Those Florida punch card ballots, they became a civil rights issue. Many said they disenfranchised minorities and the poor not only in Florida, but across the entire country. But now, it turns out, Florida is not typical.
STEPHEN KNACK, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND ECONOMIST: We searched very hard for evidence to support this emerging conventional wisdom, and simply did not find it.
JACKSON: A new study -- the first to look at all 50 states -- produces a surprising finding.
KNACK: It turns out that in the majority of states, whites and the non-poor and Republican voters are more likely to live in the punch card counties than are Democrats, the poor, and African- Americans.
JACKSON: The study's authors gathered data for each county in the U.S., including the type of ballots used, and U.S. census data on the race and income of residents, and the votes cast in past elections. And it found Florida is one of only eight states where the poor are more likely than non-poor to be saddled with punch card ballots: states with 150 electoral votes.
But in 21 states the poor were less likely to live in punch card counties: states with 203 electoral votes. The remaining states either don't use punch card ballots at all, or use them everywhere, treating rich and poor equally. And what about minority voters? Again, a similar finding: in only 11 states were African-Americans more likely than whites to live in punch card counties. In 18 states, they were less likely.
And nationally, voters who favored Republican Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential campaign were slightly more likely to have used punch cards than Clinton voters. 31.2% of Dole voters lived in punch card counties, 31.0% of Clinton voters.
KNACK: If some fluke event like this happens again, it could just as easily or maybe more than likely be in a state where Republicans are disadvantaged by the geography of punch card machines.
JACKSON (on camera): Scientists sometimes caution students, don't CONFUSE anecdotes with data. And these data suggest Republicans just may lose more votes to mangled chads than Democrats. Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Former Teamster's president Ron Carey pleaded not guilty to charges he made false statements and committed perjury during an investigation in his 1996 reelection campaign. Carey entered the plea today in a New York courtroom. He was indicted last week on charges of lying to officials, investigating a scheme to divert union money to special interest groups, which then donated the cash back to the Carey campaign. If convicted, Ron Carey faces up to five years in prison on each of the seven counts against him.
An update now on the $5 million defamation suit against Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy we told you about earlier this week. The case was declared a mistrial today after jurors gave the judge a note indicating they could not reach a verdict. The suit was related to Liddy's recent claims that the Watergate break-in was not about politics, but instead, was related to information he said about a call girl ring. Jurors outside the court said that they were split, 7-2, in Liddy's favor.
Still ahead, two American families on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Bruce Morton will tell us about the event bringing the Bushes and the Kennedys together.
WOODRUFF: President Bush has invited several members of the Kennedy family to the White House tonight. The occasion: The screening of a movie about the most dramatic challenge of John F. Kennedy's presidency.
Our Bruce Morton, now, with more on the Bushes and the Kennedys and the movie that is prompting this unique White House event.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are America's two most famous political families. The Kennedys: grandfather a mayor; father an ambassador; three sons in the Senate, one of whom went to the White House, and younger Kennedys in Congress and lieutenant governor of Maryland.
The Bushes: grandfather a senator from Connecticut, father and son both presidents, and a brother governor of Florida. Do the families know each other? Like each other?
RICHARD SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's interesting that George W. put Kennedy's desk into the Oval Office, because until now, nobody had suspected that he was a secret member of the Kennedy fan club.
MORTON: The elder Bush's presidency saw the Berlin Wall come down. As president, he marshaled the alliance which drove Iraq's invading Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The movie "Thirteen Days," which the Bushes and Kennedys will watch, is about President Kennedy's most serious challenge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIRTEEN DAYS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What is it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: On Sunday morning, one of our U-2's took these pictures. The Soviets are putting medium-range ballistic missiles into Cuba.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Kennedy tape-recorded staff meetings during the Cuban missile crisis, and those tapes are now public knowledge. So, the movie is on solid ground showing some generals angry at the young president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIRTEEN DAYS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, maybe you haven't noticed. You're in it with me.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Those damn Kennedys are going to destroy this country if we don't do something about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHENKMAN: I think we were very, very close to nuclear war. The public didn't understand just how close we were. Now that the archives in both the Soviet Union and the United States have been opened to historians, we came just so close.
MORTON: The Cold War is over now. Would George W. Bush have been elected president in more tense international times? Experts argue. And there's one other difference between these two long- running political dynasties: Murder.
SHENKMAN: John Kennedy's death and then Robert Kennedy's death; there was this almost Irish saga of the tragedy of power. With the Bushes, there doesn't seem to have been any price of power. They have prospered. They have wealth. They've had long, long lives.
MORTON: So the Bushes, New England aristocrats who moved to Texas, host the Kennedys, Irish pols who've moved to lots of places. Just a social evening, according to the Bush White House. Though Washington, of course, always looks for something more.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: And we'll all be interested to know how the evening goes.
That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com; AOL key word, CNN. This programming note: Senator Patty Murray and Congressman David Dreier will be discussing the vote on John Ashcroft to be attorney general tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
I'm Judy Woodruff. "MONEYLINE" is next.
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