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Inside Politics

President Bush Dedicates Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial; President Clinton's Defense of Marc Rich Pardons Leaving Many Democrats Unconvinced

Aired February 19, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Overcome evil, and you have suffered with courage. And for that, your nation is grateful. God bless.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A presidential tribute to hope, healing and a new museum remembering the Oklahoma City bombing.

As the former president's pardon problem continues to rile Congress, is it helping him on the speaker's circuit? Plus, on this Presidents Day, are there parallels to draw between the Clintons and the Lincolns?

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

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

Well, if there is one thing Bill Clinton can attract, besides controversy, it is a crowd. In about an hour, he is due to give a speech in New Orleans that is underscoring his continued star power, a day after his attempt at self-defense in the probe of the Marc Rich pardon.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor is in New Orleans for the former president's speech -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is certainly a draw, and he's proving to still be a draw, despite this controversy. Oracle officials told me that, in fact, the applications for attending this conference spiked when people heard that the former president was going to speak. They say it's a historic opportunity to hear the former president speak.

Now, this is despite fact he went out in this op-ed piece and talked about the legal arguments and the reasons behind his pardon for Marc Rich. He was hoping to put that case, the controversy, behind it. He basically said that the reasons that he pardoned him was that the legal indictment was flawed; that it was on criminal charges instead of civil and tax charges; that similar cases against other companies that had done similar transactions to Rich's were settled on civil charges.

He also cited three Republican lawyers who had worked for Rich and who had made that same argument to U.S. attorneys in trying to settle the case, go to a plea bargain, and he also said that prominent Israelis had swayed him with tales of Rich's charitable deeds. But despite all of this, Republicans and even some Democrats say that this defense raised more questions than it answered.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: To me, there is no excuse for pardoning a fugitive from justice. You can't let somebody opt out of the system by running away and then opt into the system by being pardoned. Doesn't matter how weak the case.


O'CONNOR: Now, the Oracle, again, officials here are saying that this has not been a deterrent. Aides of the former president were out in force yesterday on the Sunday talk shows reinforcing that argument. They'd hoped, Judy, with the op-ed piece and with the arguments made by the former aides, again, to put the controversy behind them. They had hoped that this way they could -- he could transition to life as a private citizen at this APPS World Convention.

There's going to be 10,000 people -- now, we're not sure how many people are going to hear the speech. I've talked to some people who are involved in the writing of the speech. They say that the former president, Mr. Clinton, is not going to address the Marc Rich pardon directly, certainly not in the early drafts of the speech.

There is one lone protester that we can see here thus far, and many of the people, as I said, that we've spoken to here say that really they wanted to come hear the former president. Some of them were not necessarily Bill Clinton supporter, one of them told me that, you know, he leans toward the Republican side and votes Republican, but he said it's still interesting to hear a former president speak, to hear about his insight, his inside knowledge, and that, too, Judy, will help the president in making money.

As you know, he has so many millions in legal bills, and he was hoping to follow in the footsteps of other former presidents who did speaking engagements, who sat on corporate boards, and who also were be able -- able to get into business deals.

Now, some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) agents say that they believe this controversy will actually help the former president. Others, though, say that it could hurt him with certain trade group, but his aides say that the offers, again, are still pouring in -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Eileen, how much do the people around the president think he's being hurt, simply because he is no longer in the White House. He doesn't have the platform, he doesn't have the megaphone that the incumbent president would have?

O'CONNOR: Well, that's definitely a problem for them. You know, last week a lot of them, an informal circle -- they don't like to use the words war room, because they said it wasn't a war room. It was really just friends calling around trying to strategize and come up with a strategy to get this behind him.

And as you saw, first part of the strategy -- that op-ed piece that he wrote, and it was gone over by David Kendall, his attorney and John Podesta helped into it. And also, you had John Podesta and Joe Lockhart on the talk show circuit.

Again, the president has the problem -- he doesn't have the rose garden. He can't look presidential. He can't make other news to change the subject. So political analysts say, pretty much he is stuck with it, and that, really, has been a problem for him in getting over the controversies.

And also, as some political analysts say, you see all those Democrats out there, Judy, attacking him on this. And some political analysts say it's because while he's president, he has to command their respect. He's the head of the party. But a lot of them, they say, feel that, you know, hey, we gave at the office. And I've talked to a couple on Capitol Hill who said, look, I defended him for eight years, and I just think this was still a problem, and it's indefensible, and I'm not going to continue to defend him.

So, that too is another problem that the former president has.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Eileen, how many more speeches coming up in the days and weeks to come? Do we know what his speaking schedule is?

O'CONNOR: No, we don't. I mean, we do know that in the early part of spring, there are some major speeches coming up, that they're talking to people, they're negotiating for.

Some political analysts are saying the best thing that Mr. Clinton could do, in fact, would be to take a long European vacation, try to get this behind him. Maybe do some speeches overseas and just, basically, get out of the United States where he's, you know, giving the opportunity for the press to come and ask him questions and be seen every day by cameras -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Eileen O'Connor, covering former President Clinton in New Orleans. Thanks very much.

And we are joined now by E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post" and Bill Kristol of "The Weekly Standard." They are the editors of a new book, "Bush versus Gore", and we're going to talk about that a little bit later.

But first, let's talk about Bill Clinton and the Marc Rich pardon. Bill Kristol, did this op-ed column that the president wrote in the "New York Times" yesterday, did this help or did it hurt him by raising more questions?

WILLIAM KRISTOL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, you know, Clinton always has to defend himself. I mean, if he just said, look, I made a judgment call, maybe I didn't take certain things into consideration as much as I should have -- the fact that he is a fugitive. I did it, it's the plenary power of the president, let's move on. I think a lot of people might have said, OK, finally, we can move on.

But instead, he hauls out these phony explanations. Foreign policy considerations required him to do this. That's the eighth of his eight points. He says, importantly foreign policy considerations, as if pardoning Marc Rich would help the Middle East peace process. And sort of blaming Israel almost, because Rich had all those philanthropic donations there, and Jack Quinn got various Israeli leaders to write Clinton on Rich's behalf.

I mean, it really is -- so I think Clinton dug himself further in with the op-ed.

WOODRUFF: E.J., are all of these explanations as phony as Bill is saying?

E.J. DIONNE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I mean, the truth is none of us knows which is phony and which is real. We don't know what happened between him and Israel. And in fact, I think in the long run that may be the one that the Clintons bring out more and more, because it's the hardest one to deny. Some of it's rooted in relationship.

WOODRUFF: The Israeli connection?

DIONNE: ... with intelligence services. I think people who wanted to be convinced were convinced, and most everybody else wasn't. Because the core argument was, well, the case shouldn't have been brought against him in the first place, and an awful lot of people, as you saw with Senator Schumer, a lot of Democrats who say, no, this probably wasn't a flawed indictment, and even if it was, you shouldn't pardon somebody who's never faced the music.

WOODRUFF: Why does this story persist? I mean, Eileen was touching on this, Bill. I mean, you've got -- you've got a new president in the White House, talking about education, tax cuts, some very important issues, and yet Clinton's pardon just hangs on?

KRISTOL: Here we are talking about it.

WOODRUFF: Here we are.

KRISTOL: But it's too much fun not to, first of all. But -- two reason, seriously. Clinton pardoned people -- other presidents have pardoned people. Clinton made 62 pardons on December 22nd, including former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. That was the sort of standard Christmas batch of pardons, they went through the Justice Department, they went according to form.

And Clinton seems to have decided, you know what, I want to pardon a whole bunch more people, and he pardons 175 people on his last day in office, two hours before leaving.

About a quarter of them did not go through the Justice Department. It turns out "TIME" magazine this week has biographies of three or four more of them: extremely questionable characters about whom the basic research that the Justice Department normally does wasn't done.

So, the first point -- this really was unusual, this is not -- it's not true that other presidents have done this kind of mass pardoning, and the second reason the story has legs is it is of a piece of Clinton's general attitude toward the office, which was a certain disrespect for the presidency, a certain sense that he was above the law. If he wanted to pardon these people, he could do it, and he wouldn't be answerable to anyone.

WOODRUFF: If that's the case, E.J., what is it going to take for him -- for the story to disappear, or is it going to disappear?

DIONNE: Well, one -- either time, on the one hand, or Clinton coming out doing a news conference and answering questions and trying to put it to bed.

I think at some point -- I don't think they're going to get the goods on him and proving that somehow somebody bought this pardon. That's going to be very hard to prove. And from there, it's not clear where it goes.

Bill was very candid -- I liked his magazine cover this week, very honest, conservative magazine cover -- "Why move on, this is too much fun." Clearly, there are a lot of conservatives who would like to talk about Bill Clinton for the next eight years, but I also think the problem is a lot of Democrats looked at this and said, this isn't like impeachment. That's a case where there were abuses on both sides, they could argue. This isn't like campaign money -- every party raises money.

This is something Bill Clinton himself did that seems so unnecessary, and that's why I think the Democrats left him on this issue.

WOODRUFF: But is there a certain amount of piling on, Bill Kristol? I mean, the "New York Times" had a story the other day about Tommy Thompson as governor pardoning a Republican state senator's son, convicted of cocaine. Christie Whitman pardon a woman on gambling charges whose nephew worked for the state gambling commission. Aren't there going to be stories like this wherever pardons exist?

KRISTOL: Some of the liberals and the Democrats are the ones piling it on, and I think -- some of us conservatives thought this was Clinton's character for a long time. But I think they feel a little guilty. They defended Clinton, they thought they were doing the right thing. We'll stipulate when they defended himself against Ken Starr and the House Republicans, but they know, deep down, that he's not -- not everything he's done is defensible -- they're certainly admirable, and they're happy to have this occasion to distance themselves from Clinton. I actually disagree with that. I don't think it's out of guilt. I think it's genuinely the Rich pardon itself. I think most of these folks, including Schumer and Frank and all the others, would still do what they did on impeachment. I think it's specific to the Rich pardon.

WOODRUFF: All right, we'll come back to the two of you about your book in just a moment. We'll leave you for now. Stay with us.

George W. Bush may have felt Bill Clinton's shadow today as the new president dedicated a museum devoted to the Oklahoma City bombing, and tested his skills as an inspirational and empathetic speaker. Here is our senior White House correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One-hundred and sixty-eight seconds of silence. One for each of Oklahoma City's victims.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your loss was great, and your pain was deep, but far greater and deeper was your care for one another. That is what lasts. And that's what brings us back to this place on this day.

KING: The president recorded his thoughts -- God bless all, he wrote -- as he toured a new interactive museum at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Faces young and old line the Gallery of Honor. Tour guide Janine pointed out a photograph of her daughter, and the Bushes paid tribute to Alan Wicker (ph), Secret Service agent who once protected the president's father.

It was nearly six years ago now, just after 9:00 a.m., April 19th, 1995, when a bomb gutted the Alfred Murrah federal building. No mention of convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh. But one lesson, Mr. Bush says, all Americans need to be alert of the warning signs of violent behavior.

BUSH: In every family and in every school, we must teach your children to know and choose the good, to teach values that defeat violence.

KING: Everyone here had a memory. Some, of a loved one lost. Some of the horror and the heroism.

KARMEN PONDER MOORE, BOMBING SURVIVOR: I remember watching on television and seeing how all of the people were helping each other. No matter what color they were, because they had a mission.

KING: Among those on hand for the dedication were survivors who hoped the museum helps others understand and remember.

CALVIN MOSER, BOMBING SURVIVOR: It's really an overwhelming experience. But I really feel very strongly that it's also going to make a real valid impact on the general public, and it certainly gets the story across in a very profound way that this is a type of event that should never happen again.

John King, CNN, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


WOODRUFF: In light of Mr. Bush's remarks in Oklahoma City today, our Bill Schneider has been thinking about the role that presidents play in times of national tragedy -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You won't find the word "empathy" in the Constitution. It's not part of a president's job description. But at a time of national tragedy, presidents are expected to feel the nation's pain, and speak to it.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In the television era, national tragedies are immediate, shared experiences, when a president must speak for all of us, as President Reagan did on the day of The Challenger explosion in January, 1986.

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

SCHNEIDER: Or in October, 1983, when the 241 U.S.troops were killed in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. President Reagan recounted this story, told by General Paul Kelley, after he visited critically injured Marines at an Air Force hospital.

REAGAN: He spoke of a "young Marine with more tubes going in and out of his body than I have ever seen in one body. He couldn't see very well. He reached up and grabbed my four stars, just to make sure I was who I said I was. He held my hand with a firm grip. He was making signals, and we realized he wanted to tell me something. We put a pad of paper in his hand, and he wrote, Semper Fi."

SCHNEIDER: Former president Bush was not as good at feeling people's pain. He was bred in the "stiff upper lip" school of emotional display, as he showed when he addressed the nation in May 1992, following the Rodney King verdict and the ensuing violence.

GEORGE BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To Americans of all races who were shocked by the verdict, let me say this: you must understand that our system of justice provides for the peaceful, orderly means of addressing this frustration. We must respect the process of law, whether or not we agree with the outcome.

SCHNEIDER: When President Bush visited riot-torn Los Angeles a few days later, residents let him feel their pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to do what he's been doing the last four years! Nothing!

We want justice! We want justice! We want justice!

SCHNEIDER: Empathy was Bill Clinton's specialty. He felt our pain during the last recession, when President Bush seemed hopelessly out of touch. When the nation felt pain with the students and families of Columbine High School, President Clinton was there to share it.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I see here today that you have decided not to give your mind and your heart away. I ask you now to share it with all your fellow Americans. We love you and we need you.

SCHNEIDER: President Clinton was also there to heal the nation after the Oklahoma City tragedy. Six months after suffering a political setback in the 1994 midterm election, President Clinton proved he was, indeed, relevant.

CLINTON: You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything, and you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.

SCHNEIDER: Is the new president Bush up to that part of the job? He was asked that question in a presidential campaign debate last fall.

G.W. BUSH: It broke my heart to go to the flood scene in Del Rio, where a fellow and his family just got completely uprooted. The only thing I knew to do was to get aid as quickly as possible, which we did with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family, and cry with them. But that's what governors do.

SCHNEIDER: That's what presidents do, too.


SCHNEIDER: Presidents must know how to speak to the nation ex officio, in an inaugural address or a State of the Union speech. but at a time of tragedy, they must know how to speak for the nation de profundis, from the depths of sorrow. And that is the greater test -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider. Thank you very much. Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: the Bush presidency to date, and the circumstances of election 2000. E.J. Dionne and Bill Kristol will be back to talk more about Bush v. Gore.


WOODRUFF: For more on the Bush presidency, we turn once again to E.J. Dionne and Bill Kristol. The two of you edited a book titled "Bush v. Gore," which is a compilation of commentaries on the Supreme Court decision that ended the presidential race, and a few other decisions that came down the line late last year.

Let me start with you, E.J.; what caused the two of you to get together to do this? Why do you think this book was necessary?

DIONNE: I think there are certain court decisions in our history that live for a long, long time afterwards, whether you want to talk about Roe v. Wade or the Dred Scott decision, or Plessy v. Ferguson, and this was one of those cases. And not only that, but there are certain political moments that live on for a long time. For conservatives, it's the Bork hearings.

So we thought it would be useful to take the five weeks when the country went through this, and collect the arguments made at the time. Collect the court case, the key court cases and the arguments people made at time so we could revisit it and perhaps carry the argument forward about what should happen in the future.

WOODRUFF: Bill, with the benefit of two months hindsight, what jumps out about what the Supreme Court ruled and the rulings leading up to it?

KRISTOL: What jumps out is the whole beginning of the process; November 7, 8, 9, -- right after Election Day; no one expected to send up to the court, and there were efforts on both sides -- I shouldn't say no-one, but most people thought, surely, cooler heads will prevail. This will be worked out somehow through the normal recount process and we'll have a winner.

The fact that it got into the courts, on my view with the Florida courts especially, intervention which made it a judicial matter which then had to be corrected by the Supreme Court. That's really unique in American history, and I do think, therefore, the whole five, six weeks raises interesting issues about the relations of the court's through the Democratic process, how the courts should interpret the Constitution, how we need to conduct future elections. There are a lot of issues, in other words, raised in those five weeks that aren't now. They aren't past issues, they're really present and future issues.

WOODRUFF: Were there fateful decisions, E.J. -- we're looking at a picture, I should say, about President Bush back at the White House after his trip from Texas to Oklahoma City for today's memorial in the opening of that museum.

Were there fateful decisions during that November-December period that made it inevitable that the Supreme Court was going to be the final arbiter?

DIONNE: I don't think that was ever inevitable, and indeed, if, you know, you look at the pieces I picked for this book, there are an awful lot of people that said, for the courts to intervene for this particular majority, violated everything -- or most things -- they said about state's rights. Now, there are arguments about that in the book. So that was a -- that was a surprise.

But I think that you go back to the time when this all started -- what struck me, collecting the commentaries, is Gore did not have a whole lot of support in those first two weeks and I think his decisions were conditioned by the fact that he had to hold on to his party; he had to hold onto a lead opinion. It really took a couple of weeks for opinion to rally around Gore for his own side to rally around Gore and say hey, you shouldn't decide this election without a recount, either in full or in part in Florida. That's when he gained the momentum. He had the most momentum on the day the Supreme Court shot that count down.

WOODRUFF: Bill, you agree? No really fateful moves that made it inevitable it would end up in the Supreme Court?

KRISTOL: Yes, I think the fateful move was the intervention of the Florida Supreme Court -- the first one, which was by no means necessary. The whole thing would have ended cleanly in my view -- partisans would have been unhappy -- but you would have had the normal certification process by the secretary of state. Suddenly the Florida Supreme Court comes in, throws it into the judicial arena and, in my view and the view of the people, I picked -- E.J. picked mostly the pro-Gore, pro-Florida court, anti-U.S. Supreme Court contributors to the book. I picked the law professors...

WOODRUFF: As one would expect.

KRISTOL: Yes, that's why we did it together. Fair and balanced book, if I can put it that way.

WOODRUFF: As we're looking at these pictures of President Bush, E.J., what is it about the way this election was resolved that affects this presidency? Is it different because of the way he became president?

DIONNE: Well, he is saying no, and I think an awful lot of other people are saying yes.

WOODRUFF: He, meaning President Bush?

DIONNE: He, meaning President Bush. I think it's different in two respects. One: even if you put aside the whole Florida issue, the fact he lost the popular vote by over a half a million says he didn't come in with a mandate for his program, as Ronald Reagan could legitimately claim in 1980. So, that, I think, is important.

And secondly: there is still a kind of anger out there among, not just the core Democratic base, but an awful lot of Democrats who say it shouldn't have happened this way. Bill and I agree on one thing, that the courts shouldn't have decided it but we disagree on which court had it wrong, and the Florida court had, I think put it exactly write, when they said this election should be determined by a careful examination of the votes of Florida's citizens, and not by strategies extraneous to the voting process. And I think the critics of the way it came out, say, this was decided by PR and the Supreme Court decision that should never have happened.

WOODRUFF: Bill, how do you see it affecting this presidency?

KRISTOL: That's a key question. Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist now in the White House, gave a speech to the -- to a conservative conference here in Washington Friday night, which he explicitly compared Bush to Reagan. Bush's strategies in his first year is very much like Reagan's in '81. Bush is going to govern the same way Reagan was going to. Rove was sure that these conservatives would, of course, revere Reagan, so this was an intelligent thing to say to conservatives.

E.J. raises another question. Can Bush do this, given that he lost the popular vote and only squeaked into the presidency by 500 or 600 votes in Florida and by a divided court decision. He thinks he can. I think he's probably right to take the gamble, but he doesn't quite have the position that Reagan did with 380 electoral votes.

WOODRUFF: In his shoes, better to assume it than not to assume it. KRISTOL: Yes, but sometimes assuming it makes it so, right?

DIONNE: And sometimes, assuming it creates opposition that will get in your way when you get into trouble later on. And I think that's the balance here.

WOODRUFF: All right, we appreciate the two of you. Good to see you both. Bill Kristol, E.J. Dionne, thank you very much, and we'll read the book cover to cover.

KRISTOL & DIONNE: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: "Bush v. Gore; the Court Cases and the Commentary."

There is much more to come on INSIDE POLITICS. Still ahead:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's talk about something pleasant. How do you like George Bush as a president?


WOODRUFF: The differences between father and son. Why conservatives see this President Bush as one of their own. And later:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was a gentle lady, and he was one step up from a rube.


WOODRUFF: The turbulent life of Abraham Lincoln. From a lob cabin to the White House. A new film examines his complex personal life, against the backdrop of the Civil War.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up. But now, a look at some other top stories. Two teenagers accused of killing two professors at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College are in custody after they were tricked into a meeting with police. Seventeen-year-old Robert Tullick (ph) and 16-year-old James Parker were arrested near New Castle, Indiana. A sheriff's deputy monitoring a C.B. radio transmission heard a trucker ask for a ride for two teenagers. The officer then radioed that he was a trucker and arranged to meet the two boys at a local truck stop.


SGT. BILL WARD, HENRY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: They appeared to be very surprised. They didn't expect us to move in around them so quickly. I had radioed the other two officers to come on up in the area on the outside chance that these would be the two gentlemen that were being looked for. And they were standing outside of another truck trying to get a ride when Officer Newkirk (ph) and Officer Dean (ph) came in around both ends of the truck and cornered them and by the time I got there, they already had been -- they were searching the two subjects when I approached.


WOODRUFF: Again, the two teenage suspects arrested.

An autopsy has shown that stock car legend Dale Earnhardt died of massive head injuries in yesterday's crash at Daytona. With the stock car world in a state of shock, doctors who treated Earnhardt say he died instantly when his car hit the wall head first on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Among those sharing their thoughts today, the man who won the race at Daytona, Earnhardt's close friend, Michael Waltrip.


MICHAEL WALTRIP, DAYTONA 500 WINNER: And in victory lane, I just couldn't wait. I won the race and I was telling everybody about it and I just couldn't wait till I got that big grab on the neck and the big hug. I just knew any minute Dale was going to run into victory lane and say that's what I'm talking about right there. But that wasn't to be.

My belief is that in the twinkle of an eye you're in the presence of the lord and that's where I think Dale is. And so instead of patting me on the back and having a party with me, he's up there hanging out with my dad. So that ain't a bad thing either.


WOODRUFF: Michael Waltrip famous racing brother will be a guest tonight on LARRY KING LIVE. Daryl Waltrip was calling the race at Daytona as a television commentator. That's LARRY KING LIVE, 9:00 P.M. Eastern.

As we mentioned, the world of stock car racing is in mourning today, and so is the legion of NASCAR fans. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED RACING FAN: I don't know if I can watch racing again. I mean it's because of him that I started watching and it's just not going to be the same.

UNIDENTIFIED RACING FAN: He was just a dynamic racer. He gave his all every time out there. He didn't ever give excuses, you know, for when he did bad or when he did good. He was always constant. You knew exactly what to expect out of him and he exemplified the NASCAR scene.

UNIDENTIFIED RACING FAN: I knew that he was a fast driver and that he would never give up.

UNIDENTIFIED RACING FAN: I'm still in shock. I mean this man was an icon of the sport and this sport will never be the same, absolutely never.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Everybody deals with this in their own way and we appreciate everybody's support. I mean it really, really means a lot. It makes a big difference when you see the reaction from hundreds and hundreds of people like we have already and, you know, we just, we appreciate everybody's support in this, this tough time.

UNIDENTIFIED RACING FAN: He's a legend and nobody will ever replace him, I don't believe.



WOODRUFF: President Bill Clinton's eight years in office were not an easy time for many conservatives. But judging by the mood at last week's CPAC conference here in Washington, George W. Bush has given activists something to smile about.

CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl examines the view of those on the right.


CHARLTON HESTON, NRA PRESIDENT: For the first time in quite a long while I can say President without dreading the name that follows.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the annual Conservative Political Action Conference was any indication, the stalwarts of the right haven't been so upbeat since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

SEN. JESSE HELMS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Let's talk about something pleasant. How do you like George Bush as a President?

KARL: Conservatives have been gathering at CPAC for 28 years to see a who's who of the conservative movement -- Helms, Heston, Tom DeLay, Oliver North. Back in 1981, Ronald Reagan made a triumphant appearance at CPAC, giving one of his first speeches as President. This year, a straw poll of CPAC attendees found George W. Bush has quickly emerged as a conservative hero in his own right with a favorability rating of 96 percent, bested only by his Vice President, Dick Cheney, who is viewed favorably by 97 percent.

But a decade ago, Pat Buchanan was the star and CPAC was a hotbed of discontent with another President Bush, who many conservatives saw as a tax hiking sellout.

PAT BUCHANAN (REF), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a new American revolution here in the United States and I'm sorry, I know there's some Bush-Quayle people here, but we have to do to George the First, the big government Republican, what our forefathers did for George the Third and his big government Tories.

KARL: Times change. Buchanan is now viewed unfavorably by nearly 60 percent of the CPAC crowd and Bush the Second is a star. This year's straw poll also showed Bush's top issue is tops with this crowd. Twenty-three percent said tax cuts is the single most important issue, outpolling everything else, including banning abortion, which only eight percent called the top issue.

Representing the President, Vice President Cheney talked up tax cuts but he avoided hot button issues like abortion and gun control.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This President and his administration are going to change the tone in the City of Washington.

KARL: The conservative message to Bush is changing the tone cannot mean compromising principles. Stepping into character as Andrew Jackson, Heston offered some advice.

HESTON: Mr. President Bush, stand firm as a mossy oak tree. Remember, one man with courage makes a majority.

KARL: And Jesse Helms warned about the dangers of bipartisan compromise.

HELMS: You love America and you refuse to go along with those architects of compromise who always want to get along by going along.

KARL: George W. Bush is more popular with conservatives than his father because they believe his moderate rhetoric is balanced by conservative actions.

DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: He has selected a cabinet that is as conservative or more conservative than the early Rich cabinets.

KARL: A nearly unanimous 98 percent of the CPAC audience approves of the Bush cabinet.

KARL ROVE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: When John Ashcroft was nominated for Attorney General the left came unglued. KARL: Ashcroft made a splash at CPAC three years ago as the first Senator to call for President Clinton's resignation when the Monica Lewinsky story broke.

JOHN ASHCROFT: If these allegations are true, you have disgraced yourself, you have disgraced this country, you have disgraced the office and you should lave.

KARL: This year, CPAC had an award for Ashcroft that Jesse Helms accepted on his behalf. Ashcroft's spokesperson said the Attorney General didn't go because "he does not want the Justice Department to be perceived as political."

(on camera): Bush's popularity among conservatives comes as he is proposing an agenda they like. Far less certain is whether it will last if he has to compromise to get that agenda through a Congress where Republicans hold only a narrow majority.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.


WOODRUFF: And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, Bob Novak joins us with his reporter's notebook.

And later, a new film on one of the nation's greatest political leaders and how his wife influenced his path to greatness.


WOODRUFF: Joining us now with his reporter's notebook, Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun-Times."

Bob, we were hearing just a little while ago in Jonathan Frankel's report that John Ashcroft was not attending the CPAC dinner last week. You know a little bit more about all that. What's it about?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES", CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, the ethics organization, the ethics committee at the Justice Department told the new Attorney General it would not be fitting for the Attorney General to go to this political conference. So that's a little strange because a past Attorney General, Ed Meese, while he was in office, addressed the conference.

They kind of hushed it up at the CPAC meeting but it might have been a mistake on the Attorney General's part. These are his supporters and it isn't the lawyers at the Justice Department who are his supporters.

Actually, I got the feeling that CPAC is much higher on the Bush administration and the Bush administration is high on the -- on the conservative movement.

Except for Dick Cheney on Thursday night, and he kind of spoke and ran, there was really no presence by the administration, although Karl Rove the next night, on Friday night, made a very good speech. But I think they want to keep, the Bush administration wants to keep its distance from the conservatives, who are their strongest base of support.

WOODRUFF: Interesting given what Jonathan was saying about how popular this administration is.

NOVAK: Well, they're popular with the conservatives. I'd just say the conservatives aren't that popular with this administration.

WOODRUFF: Obviously you're talking to people a lot on the Hill. Growing concern about the state of Senator Strom Thurmond's health.

NOVAK: People tell me that he is, he is 98 years old and he is really in failing condition. People are very worried about him and nobody's more worried, I think, than the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, because at any moment he can become the Senate Minority Leader if Senator Thurmond were to pass away.

The passage would be absolutely instant, Judy. It would, immediately, it would be no transition, it would become a Democratic controlled Senate and a lot of things would change.

WOODRUFF: Because the State of South Carolina has a Democratic Governor?

NOVAK: It has a Democratic Governor. He would name -- he says he's going to name a caretaker, but he will still -- not somebody who would run for the office in two years from now in '02, but it would -- or next year, I should say, in '02, but it would still be, the caretaker would still be a Democrat and would tip the balance of power.

By the way, Lindsey Graham, if you remember him, the congressman from South Carolina...


NOVAK: ... impeachment manager, he appears to have done just about the impossible. He has gotten an unopposed nomination, it appears, from any serious opposition, for the nomination for the Senate in 2002. But that doesn't affect the state of the Senate right now. So there's great concern about Senator Thurmond, who is failing.

WOODRUFF: And we should point out at this moment he is still coming to work and is at his office every day.

NOVAK: He's at his office every day. But people -- I am just reporting what the people, the people are very worried about him and they certainly hope that he does survive, but there's great concern.

WOODRUFF: Bob, finally, some Republicans not happy, concerned about the new Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill's comments on Capitol Hill last week.

NOVAK: He testified before the House Ways and Means Committee and I'm telling you not what the, some of the far out supply side right-wingers are saying, but the very strong friends of the Bush administration were very concerned about Secretary O'Neill on two scores.

One thing, he cannot bring himself to say that this tax cut is going to help the economy. He keeps saying it won't hurt. But that's not quite good enough.

But what really bothers them is that he just about told them that if the Congress increases the size of the tax cut beyond the estimated $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years that he recommends a veto. Well, that is not what they wanted to hear from the Secretary of the Treasury. You know, he is a former bureaucrat. He was a very successful CEO at Alcoa. People wonder whether he was a political, politically adept and so far he's having a little trouble fitting in as a politician.

WOODRUFF: You're not criticizing bureaucrats though, are you, Bob?

NOVAK: Me? Only for about 44 years.

WOODRUFF: All right, I just wanted to be straight about that. Bob Novak, thanks very much.

Up next, America's 16th President and his First Lady, a look at the Lincolns as one of Washington's earliest power couples.


WOODRUFF: On this President's Day, a new Gallup poll shows Ronald Reagan the top choice in a ranking of American leaders. Eighteen percent picked Reagan as the greatest President, followed by John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton.

Reagan's support in previous polls registered in the 12 percent range. He has received increased media attention of late because of health concerns and the celebration of his 90th birthday. When respondents were asked if they would rather see Washington or Lincoln in the White House today, Lincoln won by a wide margin.

Well, historians have analyzed and studied Abraham Lincoln perhaps more than any other American leader. And 135 years after his death, Lincoln still captures the nation's interest and imagination.

A new three part film titled "Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided" begins tonight on PBS. And it uses Abraham Lincoln's relationship with his wife to better understand Lincoln the President and Lincoln the man.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: He was the great emancipator. She was the daughter of a slave owner. Together, they lived, loved and struggled through personal tragedies, brutal war and a heartbreaking descent into madness. Tonight, the epic story of Abraham and Mary Lincoln begins.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: She was a gentle lady and he was just one step up from a rube. She had position in society and he didn't. He was still a wannabe.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Despite their differences, they share a powerful political ambition.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It's no accident that she fell in love with Abraham Lincoln. She sensed both his ambitions and his capacity to realize those ambitions of which she would be a part.


WOODRUFF: Well, for more on Abraham Lincoln and his personal and political life, I'm joined by the PBS film's producer, director and co-writer, David Grubin. Nice to have you with us.


WOODRUFF: Why the focus on Abraham Lincoln through his wife, through his marriage, his personal life? For so long it seems like all the focus on him has been on anything but that.

GRUBIN: He's such a great figure. He's such a looming presence up there on the Lincoln Memorial, larger than life. But what better way to get to know a man than to get to know the woman that he loved, the woman he was married to for 23 years?

WOODRUFF: What brought them together?

GRUBIN: Well, I think they did share a keen political ambition but you also have to remember that Mary Lincoln was a very smart woman. She was really the catch when they met, not Lincoln. She was well educated. She had a very good French accent. She was witty. She had many beaus, politically connected, and he was a kind of a rube from the back country and she was determined to polish him up a bit.

WOODRUFF: And so what affect did she have on him and was she able to polish him up?

GRUBIN: I think she did polish him up some. But I think it tells you something about him that he would choose a woman like this and that together they would share this ambition and together rise to the White House. She certainly helped his political career. She loved politics. Unusual for a woman of that time. And the tragedy was that when they got to the White House, they had their dream, he was President, she was First Lady. There was no country. The country had split into two.

WOODRUFF: And there was, David Grubin, as you speak about, in the film coming up in the next three nights, it wasn't just the political enormous tragedy of the Civil War. They also experience terrible personal tragedy. GRUBIN: Well, they do. They lose their child Eddie before they get to the White House and then they lose Willie when they're in the White House. And this really is a devastating blow to both of them. Mary is bowed down in a grief that she finds it very, very hard to get out of and who could blame her, the loss of a child, now the second child. This is the favorite child.

Lincoln, too, suffers terribly. But Lincoln is the President of the United States and he looks out to other Americans and he sees that this is a civil war. Americans everywhere are suffering and he finds the words to speak to them and to articulate their suffering, to give meaning to it. That's what the Gettysburg Address really is about. That's what the second inaugural is about, that he finds a way to redeem the suffering, to give us a new birth of freedom.

For Mary, a woman in the White House, there wasn't anything she really could do and she turns to shopping. She buys 300 pairs of gloves, looking for something that will hold. She does visit hospitals. She does try to get beyond herself, help slaves that have come to freedom.

But in the end, she can, she's just broken by it.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying, David Grubin, that he was a great President despite her?

GRUBIN: I don't think so. I think that they loved each other and he got to the presidency with her support and her help. I think I'm really saying is that you can see that she's more like us. The death of a child is so tragic and so terrible. There was something great about this man that he had the capacity for empathy, to feel the -- feel what all Americans were feeling. And I think seeing the way she reacted and the way he reacted tells us something about his greatness as a man.

WOODRUFF: Did you come away from this project, you were just telling me it took you a little over three years to put these films together, did you come away from this with a better understanding of Lincoln as a person and as a leader?

GRUBIN: I think I did. I really could see what it takes to be a great President by watching him. You know that you need to be able to communicate to the American people. Well, he was a great communicator. He wrote his own speeches. He didn't have a speechwriter. He wrote "With Malice Toward None," "With Charity Toward All." That came out of his own heart. And he was a great politician. We forget that side of him. You need to be a great politician to be a great President. Certainly Franklin Roosevelt was a great politician. And Lincoln was a great politician, a word that's often used in the negative sense. But you need that quality.

And, of course, he had the vision, the vision thing. He had a vision for America. He puts it all together.

WOODRUFF: We're always looking, of course, for parallels. We have a sort of a hunger, I think, to connect the past with the present. Do you see any parallels between them and leaders now?

GRUBIN: Well, I think that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest President because he put together all of these qualities. I'm not sure he could have been elected today. You know, he didn't, he wasn't very handsome. As a matter of fact, he didn't get the, as you know, he didn't get a majority of the vote. He got to be President because the Democrat Party split.

But he was able to come to Washington and convince people that he could be their President and that's a great, you know, a great feat.

WOODRUFF: David Grubin, producer, director and co-writer of the series "Lincoln: A House Divided," tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday nights on Public Broadcasting. Clearly a President many of us wish we could have covered.

David Grubin, thanks very much for being here.

GRUBIN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: There's even more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. In the next half hour, 30 days down, 70 more to go, a look at the Bush presidency so far. And what's still in store during the crucial first 100 days. We'll talk with Ron Brownstein, Karen Tumulty and Frank Sesno.

INSIDE POLITICS will continue in just a moment.


WOODRUFF: Bill Clinton in the Big Easy to speak to high-tech types. Will he address his pardon problem again?

President Bush remembers the Oklahoma City bombing.

And we'll look back at his first month in office.

Also ahead...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President's Day, one of those Monday holidays celebrating no one is quite sure what.


WOODRUFF: ... Bruce Morton wonders if this day really has anything to do with presidents.

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


Cameras have been barred from the speech Bill Clinton is set to give this hour at a software convention in New Orleans. But the former president is hardly in need of any more publicity as the controversy over his pardon of financier Marc Rich plays out.

(inaudible) Eileen O'Connor is covering Clinton's speech and the pardon fallout.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "An historic opportunity," that's how Oracle is billing the speech by the former president to its annual Expo this year in New Orleans. Some attending agree, it's a draw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man spent eight years in the White House, and (inaudible) there's still a lot of controversy around him. And, you know, boy, I can't wait to hear what he has to say.

O'CONNOR: But speeches aren't making the controversy over fugitive financier Marc Rich go away. Mr. Clinton explained in an op- ed piece in "The New York Times" his legal reasoning for the Rich pardon, that the indictment was flawed, that even some Republican lawyers had represented Rich and argued against the legal merits of the indictment, that Rich had the backing of prominent Israelis for his charitable deeds.

This defense, some Democrats and Republicans say, wasn't enough.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: There is no excuse for pardoning a fugitive from justice. You can't let somebody opt out of the system by running away and then opt into the system by being pardoned.

REP. DAN BURTON (R), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: We want to find out is why he did it, he -- this editorial does not explain it. And we want to find out if there was a quid pro quo. If there was a quid pro quo, that's a felony.

O'CONNOR: Mr. Clinton denied donations of any kind influenced his decision. Some Democrats are calling this whole thing a vendetta.

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we know now is that the president decided this based on the legal merits and that any suggestion that fund raising or anything improper is absolutely false.

O'CONNOR: Mr. Clinton was hoping that by taking the case to the people, he could get on with his post-presidential life as a lecturer and author. But some analysts say this might not be so easy.

CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": However much he makes on the speaking circuit will be a lot less than it would have been had he not pardoned Marc Rich and taken those gifts.

O'CONNOR: The one group that really wants to hear from him, it seems, is Congress.

(on camera): The speaking offers are pouring in, his aides insist, but, they say, they and Mr. Clinton never expected such a rocky road from the White House.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, New Orleans.


WOODRUFF: Meantime, President Bush, President Clinton's successor, is back at the White House after a somber and somewhat emotional trip to Oklahoma City. He dedicated a museum devoted to the 1995 bombing there.

CNN's Tony Clark has more on Mr. Bush's visit, the museum, and the memories it evokes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES (singing): ... and the home of the brave.

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The museum dedication comes nearly six years after the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States. President and Mrs. Bush toured the memorial's museum with its photographs, artifacts, and remembrances of the 1995 attack, then joined survivors, rescue workers, and families of those killed in dedicating the center to the 168 victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please join me for 168 seconds in memory of those who were killed and those who survived and all of us changed forever.

CLARK: It is a long time, those gathered were told. There were many, many lives.

GOV. FRANK KEATING (R), OKLAHOMA: On April 19, 1995, this was a place of unspeakable horror and tragedy.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, April 19, 1995)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on Murrah Federal Building public address system): Good morning...


CLARK: The museum takes visitors back to that sunny April morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... receive information regarding...



CLARK: The horror and chaos of the hours and days that followed come rushing back. In one display case, the tattered briefcase of victim Susan Ferrell. DON FERRELL, BOMBING VICTIM'S FATHER: Like all who lost loved ones, I too come here to remember and to celebrate a life that was ended needlessly, that was snuffed out that promising spring morning almost six years ago.

CLARK: One hundred forty-nine adults and 19 children were killed in the blast.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your loss was great and your pain was deep. But far greater and deeper was your care for one another. That is what lasts.

CLARK: The words of President Bush. Oklahoma City is a place where the worst and the best came to pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES (singing): Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.


CLARK: Over the past four days, before the dedication today, the museum was opened to bombing survivors, rescue workers, and family members of the victims, and many of them left saying it was very powerful, very emotional, but also was a sign of hope for the future.


WOODRUFF: Tony, you covered much of the aftermath of that terrible event. You've now seen the museum. What do you take away from it?

CLARK: I'll tell you, Judy, it was tough going in there, hearing the explosion, seeing the displays of the rubble, the artifacts of the victims there. It was tough to go through the things.

But there are so many good memories of people that were involved, the people that I've had a chance to meet over the past six years that I think the message that we received here today from the president and others, that there is hope that comes out of this for the future that this would not happen again.

I think that's what it leaves you with.


WOODRUFF: All right, Tony Clark reporting from Oklahoma City. Thanks, Tony.

Straight ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, our political round table takes up President Bush's first month in office and the eventful exit of Bill Clinton.

Plus, which presidents really deserve the honor of Presidents' Day? Some thoughts from our Bruce Morton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: The political march through President Bush's first 100 days is proving to be an eventful journey. For an early progress report on the first month of the Bush presidency, I'm joined here in Washington by Karen Tumulty of "Time" magazine and CNN's Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno. And joining us from Chicago, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, let me begin with you. So many analysts are giving President Bush high marks for these first four weeks. How much of that is his own doing and how much of it is due to the bad publicity that his successor is getting because of the way he exited the White House?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Boy, President Bush could not ask for a better backdrop, could he, than all the problems that former president Clinton has had upon leaving office.

Well, I think much of it is deserved. Bush has had a very smooth first month in office. For my money, the comparison is really not against Clinton's first month out of office but for the first weeks of Clinton's presidency, where he had a lot of problems, gays in the military, other issues.

Bush is showing the same kind of discipline and the same kind of strategy that he did in Texas, which is to focus in on a relatively small number of issues that he campaigned on and to really try to avoid getting sidetracked into anything else. He's having a lot of success, I think, at changing the terms of debate.

But Judy, I would add that one thing we've seen over the last week or so is that there are clear limits to that. He has not repealed the laws of political gravity.

In a 50-50 Senate and narrowly divided Congress, things like school vouchers, Medicare reform, the size of his tax cut, all of those he's had to give some ground, perhaps, in the last few days. And it's a sign that it's not going to be that easy for him, given the underlying political divisions in the country.

WOODRUFF: But on the positive side, Karen Tumulty, is it frankly that he was able to focus on a few things, and the subject of the week, that has given him the leg up that he seems to have?

KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: He just seems to be charmed. I don't -- is it must me, or has his syntax improved? Everything seems to be going right for him, and it's not just President Clinton, it's the fact that Alan Greenspan, in his first week in office, gave him this gigantic gift, which was, you know, saying that the economy could, in fact, benefit, possibly, from a tax cut.

And that totally changed the political wisdom in this town on its head, on what was supposed to be the single biggest and hardest problem for Bush to tackle.

WOODRUFF: And Frank, how much of it do you think is that he was underestimated coming in, given the messy election? FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: He was underestimated. The Bush people have played the expectations game throughout the campaign. Remember going into the debates, what a terrible debater Bush was supposed to be? And then when he didn't fall flat on his face, he triumphed.

The expectations game again with us. In fact, this very concept of this discussion, the 100 days that the media are so happy and foc -- happy to talk about and focused on, well, the Bush White House says, Don't count the 100 days, it's really 180 days, because to get anything through, you got to get the Congress on board, 180 days is a better measure.

So it's more in the expectations game and keeping expectations lower rather than higher has served George W. Bush very well.

WOODRUFF: And Ron, the -- as you pointed out so aptly in the beginning, the challenges, though, are already beginning to rear their head. You mentioned the tax cut. It's already clear that he's going to have to give ground on that.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, if you look -- Judy, if you look across the border, what happened in the last week, I thought it was kind of interesting. I mean, he is having a very good start, I don't want to minimize that. But the fact is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee basically said it, emphatically said that they could not take up the fundamental rewrite of Medicare that President Bush wants because they simply don't have the votes for it.

His chief domestic policy advisers have been making very clear that they are going to have to move away from the kind of voucher plan that Bush offered in the campaign toward a compromise that Senators Lieberman and Bayh are offering, because they don't have the votes right now for it.

And similarly on taxes, you had two Republican moderate senators question the size of the tax package, the $1.6 trillion. Bush may get a much bigger tax cut, as Karen said, than seemed possible, but he may have to give ground on the estate tax, because he wants to accelerate the rate cut.

So I guess what I -- the -- my feeling is that he is changing the boundaries of debate. We would not be having the discussion about taxes or education or any of these things in the way we are if Al Gore was president. But there are still real limits imposed on him by the underlying political situation that his success and charm cannot by themselves repeal.

WOODRUFF: But none of this, Karen Tumulty, is a mystery to the new president or to people like Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, some of the people around him in the White House. Do they already, at this point, have a plan for how they're going to overcome what is built-in disadvantage of a 50-50 Congress?

TUMULTY: Well, actually, there's a lot of fear on the part of Republican strategists that they really haven't prepared the public, they haven't laid the rhetorical groundwork for the size of the -- what happens when their tax cut meets their budget.

However, if you look at Bush's history in Texas, what he does when he gets into a situation like this is essentially he gives in, cuts a deal, and then gets out in front of the parade and says this was his idea all along.

And certainly that's what he did with tax cuts in Texas, and it worked. It moved him into a -- you know, an astounding reelection.

WOODRUFF: Frank, is that likely to work here?

SESNO: Well, probably. You know, it's very interesting, Judy, I was talking to a Democratic pollster last week who said, you know, Bush's success is more built on the absence of negatives, according to this particular take, than the preponderance of positives. That is to say that there haven't been any big blunders here.

And to come back to what Ron Brownstein was saying earlier, if you do compare this with the early days of Bill Clinton's administration, you think of all the controversies -- think of some of the unexpected things that have come up.

And I was having a conversation with someone at the White House just a little while ago, and they were pointing out, look at the Linda Chavez issue, look at the flap over the AIDS office, look at the Marc Rich pardons issue itself, where someone from the Justice Department, Bush's Justice Department, suggested there might be some kind of reexamination.

On all of those issues, Bush himself said, No, we're not going to get drawn in on that. There was discipline. They turned the page and deprived those issues from becoming stories. They did not become negative drags on George W. Bush.

So to the extent that he can lead the parade now, Judy, that's the key, because if he's going to really survive and succeed and thrive, he's got to build positives and build constituencies for these other initiatives.

WOODRUFF: Frank, you mentioned the early days of the Clinton presidency. Let's talk for just a moment here in the last couple of minutes about the waning days of the Clinton presidency...

SESNO: Oh, yes, let's.

WOODRUFF: ... the pardon that doesn't seem to go away. What is it going to take, Ron Brownstein, or will it -- will -- is there anything out there that can make this story go away for President Clinton, or does he just have to suffer through it for a long time to come?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think at least in the short run, there isn't. I mean, the history of these scandal accusations are that they run a long way, and that as long as there are people on Capitol Hill with subpoenas and as long as there are legitimate questions -- I think what he did yesterday in his op-ed piece was for the first time try to give Democrats some rationale for why he did this.

And I thought John Podesta's line on television was probably the best of what he's going to get in his defense, which is that I don't agree with his decision. Faced with the same facts, I wouldn't have made the same decision. But at least you can see a rationale for why he made it on the facts, as opposed to it simply being a quid pro quo. And I think that's where you'll see a lot of Democrats going as this goes forward.

But no, I don't think, based on history, that it's going to go away any time soon.

WOODRUFF: Does that -- Karen, is that basically where Bill Clinton is stuck? I mean, with an explanation that most people are saying they just don't accept?

TUMULTY: That's right. He did try to justify it yesterday in his op-ed piece in "The New York Times," but he didn't offer any new information. He didn't offer anything that was out there, and he created some more problems for himself.

What a lot of Democrats wanted him to say was, You know, I'm sorry, I did the wrong thing. This wasn't a good idea. And he could -- he didn't bring himself to do that.

And the main reason, quite frankly, that it's going to drag on now is that there -- he is once again in the sights of a federal investigation. And that means that whether this turns up anything or not, and it probably won't, he's going to be -- this is going to be part of his life and part of our life for months and even years to come.

WOODRUFF: So Frank, the president -- the former president has no choice but just to stick it out until it's over?

SESNO: Yes, and neither do we. You know, there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing, the people in the media can't let this guy go, and that it's our insatiable desire, our addiction to Clinton scandals and to the addiction of the Clinton haters to pursue the investigations.

But I think as Karen and Ron just said, this is out there. There are those who are calling for investigations. There are a number of questions. And he hasn't got any real support.

I think the most telling thing that I've come across, I was talking to a ranking Democrat last week who just said, He's not our responsibility any more. So who's going to defend him?

WOODRUFF: But he is taking attention away from some of the things the Democrats want to do.

SESNO: For sure.

WOODRUFF: All right. Frank Sesno, Karen Tumulty here in Washington, Ron Brownstein in Chicago, great to see all three of you. Thanks very much.

And when INSIDE POLITICS continues, the holiday and the history. Bruce Morton on the great men and the not-so-great men who held that top office.


WOODRUFF: As we observe this day set aside to honor America's presidents, our Bruce Morton reminds us it's not just Washington and Lincoln we are honoring, but some pretty average leaders as well.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans used to celebrate George Washington's birthday, victorious general in the Revolution, first president, who set precedents still followed today. He deserves celebration.

In the North, at least, Americans celebrated Abraham Lincoln's birthday. He led the country through a civil war, after all, deserved celebration.

But over time, their days turned into Presidents' Day, one of those Monday holidays celebrating no one is quite sure what. Does Millard Filmore get equal time with Washington and Lincoln? History records that he had a stroke while shaving. James Buchanan, who slept in the White House hallway once because too many guests came visiting with the prince of Wales?

How about Calvin Coolidge, whose memorable sayings include, "When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results"? Not exactly Alan Greenspan, but hey. Or William Howard Taft, a big man, so big he had to have a special bathtub built in the White House?

Not exactly all Washingtons or Lincolns, average men, you might say, but, of course, most presidents were average men.

And their day isn't really their day, it's another Monday holiday like Memorial Day, like so many, which are really not about what they're named after but about money. You're supposed to use these three-day weekends to consume.

Buy, baby, buy. Do what these folks are doing, find a mall, look for the discounts -- there are always discounts -- and consume. Credit cards, cash, all are welcome. It keeps the economy going, if the economy is still going -- the experts seem to disagree about that now. Anyway, get out there and spend.

And if you do want to think about presidents, the average ones, the not-Washingtons and not-Lincolns, consider Chester Allen Arthur. He was a vice president who became president when James Garfield was killed. He did not like the job, and he did have what you might call a genuine sense of privacy. "Madam," he said once to some inquisitive woman, "I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damn business."

Wow. Have a ring to it? I'll bet some of his colleagues would put him in the White House hall of fame just for that one line.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Can't say that any more.

All right, Bruce Morton, thanks.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course you can go online all the time at CNN's, AOL keyword CNN.

These programming notes -- Democratic strategist Victor Kamber and Republican strategist Mike Murphy will be talking about the Clinton pardons and other political matters tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. And tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, we will have the national political party chairmen, Governor Jim Gilmore for the Republicans, and Terry McAuliffe for the Democrats.

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



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