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Will Bush Veto Patients' Bill of Rights?; Does Pat Robertson Give Death Penalty Opponents Ammunition?; Should U.S. Stop Bombing Vieques?

Aired June 23, 2001 - 19:00   ET



MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

It's great to have you back, Chris. It's been too long.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you for having me back.

SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

The Senate's Republican minority slowed considerations of the patients' bill of rights, prompting the new majority leader to threaten to cancel the Fourth of July recess.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: We will cancel the recess if we have to, but this bill will be completed before we leave. If it takes the 1st, 2nd, 3rd of July, I'm prepared to stay here and complete the work.


SHIELDS: The Senate agreed to take up the bill and Republicans began a barrage of amendments and rhetoric.


SEN. JUDD GREGG (R-NH), HEALTH COMMITTEE: The problem that we have with the McCain bill is that it is essentially a gross expansion of the ability to sue.

The bill just was written for lawyers by lawyers and of lawyers -- trial lawyers.


SHIELDS: As the Senate debated the bill, the White House issued this official statement. Quote: "The president will veto the bill unless significant changes are made to address his major concerns," end quote.

Kate O'Beirne, is either Senator Daschle or President Bush simply bluffing?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Mark, I think there's a little bluff on both sides, but there's also resolve on both sides. The new majority leader, I think he was exactly right to exercise the prerogative of the majority leader and say, "We'll stay for a recess if we have to." And a lot of conservatives would have welcomed it had Trent Lott been more prone to threaten such things.

Of course, if he were to do such a thing, he'd have trouble on both sides of the aisle, if members had to cancel or postpone recess plans. But he's determined to move this bill. Of course, the Republicans only stalled a couple of days. The Democrats stalled for two weeks on the education bill.

And the opponents of McCain-Kennedy Patient Protection Bill welcomed the White House written statement that the president would veto such a bill. Plus, they're not 100 percent sure that the resolve is really there. Apparently, an early draft of that message didn't even use the "V" word, and they were hoping the president would reiterate that if the bill would lead to too many people losing insurance -- and the estimate is McCain-Kennedy would lead to at least 1.3 million losing insurance -- he simply couldn't support it.

SHIELDS: Mr. Dodd, I find it fascinating that the administration is really concerned about 1.3 million to 3 million people hypothetically losing their health insurance when 43 million people, who actually don't have health insurance, go unaddressed.

DODD: And that's up 4 million from about six years ago. It was 39 million.

Tom Daschle's serious. I don't think it'll come to that. I think we'll get the bill done next week. There aren't that many amendments they've got to come to terms with. I think there's more than a -- the vote the other day on this sort of a killer amendment that would have shoved the bill into the Finance Committee lost pretty easily. So I think the opposition to this wants to get through the Senate fairly quickly.

I don't think he'll have to exercise the threat. If he does, however, Tom Daschle is not prone to engage in hyperbole. And if he says this, I promise you, my colleagues are prepared for it -- announced it to the caucus last week -- we will be in next week and the recess will be canceled with the exception of the Fourth of July."

I think the president, on the other hand, has got to be very careful. This is a proposal, a patients' bill of rights, which is supported by well over 60, 65 percent of the American public. I've seen numbers as high as 80 percent.

He's already in trouble, as every survey has indicated in the last week or so. He takes on this issue and confront it, and decides to veto this bill, he could find himself in deep, deep trouble before six months of his first administration.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": And I'd hate to see that.

DODD: I'd hate to see that. That just would be terrible.


SHIELDS: But Bob Novak, the White House could not have been reassured by the news from the speaker of the House that he, under certain circumstances, would accept what had been previously unacceptable and that is that cases being brought in state courts.

NOVAK: Yeah, but that's just one piece of the proposition. I think -- I think the president is serious, because this is -- this so- called patients' bill of rights and what they're arguing about is a bonanza for the trial lawyers. And the right of going into emergency rooms, the right of putting a leash on the HMOs, that's in the other legislation. So, that's all they've got to do, is control the lawyers. And of course, the Democratic Party is in such hoc (ph) to the trial lawyers they won't do it.

So I think you may end up with a veto.

Vetoes aren't the worst thing in the world. The election isn't tomorrow.

Now Tom Daschle -- this is no more Mr. Nice Guy. This is a guy who wanted -- this is a guy who wanted democracy. He was going to have everything nice. There was no hearing, there was no mark-off. They bring it out to the floor. He says, "I've given..."


NOVAK: Just a minute. Let me finish. He says: "I have given enough. No more compromises."

Now what I love about the Senate -- I've been watching the Senate for 44 years. They adjourn for the weekend at 3:30 -- 3:15 on Friday afternoon. That's bankers' hours, gone for the weekend, and they say, if you don't pass this bill, we won't have a Fourth of July weekend.

I think he's got himself in a little box there, because the Republicans are going to put up some more amendments, and they want to talk. So they're going to test Mr. Daschle's resolve.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt...

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Boy, how the views of the Senate have changed on the part of some people with just a simple transformation of one vote.

But let me say, first of all, it is utter, complete nonsense that this is a trial lawyer's bonanza. It is emphatically not. As a matter of fact, if you look at the cost, they say they're going to add less than one-fifth of the added cost is supposedly because of the liability section. There have been all kinds of state -- there have been a number of states -- several states have had tough laws. The state of Texas for four years, 17 suits in all, that's all. California, none over the last seven months. So it's not that.

I think clearly the Republicans are on the defensive, some of the Republicans. The White House is on the defensive here.

George Bush just hates this issue. Health care doesn't interest him. He hates it. He vetoed a bill in Texas six years ago that had nothing about liability in it, because it gave patients more rights. He does like HMOs, and that's a losing proposition.

SHIELDS: Let me just say, I think the Democrats are terrified that George Bush will compromise and sign this, and if he does, he'll preempt the middle, and if he does the same thing on campaign finance and he does the same thing on prescription drugs, George Bush's numbers will go up and Democrats are scared about 2002.

NOVAK: And when Clinton signed the welfare bill, he cut the ground out from under the congressional Democrats...


O'BEIRNE: But Bill Clinton -- Bill Clinton...


O'BEIRNE: Bill Clinton vetoed the welfare bill twice, and when he eventually signed it, he took credit for it. So I suppose George Bush would do the same thing with patients' bill of rights.

SHIELDS: Let's hear Chris Dodd.


DODD: ... you're right, Bob, that he's going to veto this...


DODD: ... based on the political skills demonstrated in the first four months, I'd indicate that you're probably right. But I think he makes a huge mistake, and I think he's...

HUNT: Oh, he's bluffing. He was bluffing in Texas.

SHIELDS: Last -- last word. Last word, Chris Dodd.

Chris Dodd and the gang will be back with George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin together on "The Soul Train."


SHIELDS: Welcome back. This was President George W. Bush's reaction after his meeting in Slovenia with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy, and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. He's a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.



COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: George Bush is a warm person. He likes to make friends. And from what I had heard of President Putin, he was an approachable gentleman who would be warm and open as well.


SHIELDS: Are they dating?


Back in Moscow this week, President Putin gave his version.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I said to President Bush that I'm glad that we, Russia, have an opportunity to explain ourselves to the United States, to start our relationship with a clean sheet of paper.


SHIELDS: But the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was not happy.


SEN. JESSE HELMS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Mr. Putin is far, in my judgment, far from deserving the powerful political prestige and influence that comes from an excessively personal endorsement by the president of the United States.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, do you agree with Senator Jesse Helms that George Bush went overboard?

HUNT: Mark, I looked in Bob Novak's soul and I saw his eyes.


HUNT: I hate to do this to Jesse Helms -- for twice -- for two weeks in a row, I agree with Chris' friend, Jesse Helms. I think he's absolutely right. I think what Bush said was just silly. Putin was equally silly when he said that the one thing impressed him about George Bush was that this is a man who studies history. I don't know if these sort of personal banalities matter or not. There are larger issues involved, and maybe they don't, but certainly, I don't think we can be happy that this ex-KGB apparatchik is a man who -- that our president calls "trustworthy."

Kate O'Beirne, are you going to join the troika of Helms and Hunt? Do you think the president went overboard?

O'BEIRNE: Well, I want to be a little more understanding. You know, "April in Paris," "June in Slovenia"...


O'BEIRNE: You know, a young man's heart.


O'BEIRNE: So I'm going to allow...



O'BEIRNE: Exactly, exactly. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

It was a little wince-inducing, but I certainly understand the impulse for him to have such an open, friendly meeting with Putin. The European allies, of course, were using Putin as their reason why we shouldn't be pursuing missile defense, because he was so upset by it. And before he arrived to the meeting, he was very firm on NATO expansion right up to the borders of Russia and he was very firm on missile defense. So I can see why he wanted the atmospherics for the meeting with Putin to be so friendly, because he didn't give an inch on policy.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Jesse Helms, there's no stronger admirer of the senator from North Carolina than the man on my immediate left. Was he right or harsh?

NOVAK: I think he was wrong. I seldom disagree with Senator Helms, but I think what the senator felt was -- and I feel -- that I never knew a professional secret policeman of the Soviet Union who had any soul. That's not their quality. They have other qualities: ruthlessness, viciousness, but not soul.

But what they -- what they had in mind for the president -- and it was very thought-out -- was a change in the policy with Russia, that we -- unlike the bleeding-heart people in the Clinton administration, who wanted to turn Russia into Iowa and have caucuses...


NOVAK: ... and have everything very nice, they were saying this is an important country and we have a lot less problems with them than we have with China, and we're going to make an arrangement.

And President Bush went a little bit overboard. But I thought -- I disagree with you on one thing, Kate: I think there was a change in Putin. I thought he was measurably softer on the national missile defense.

So I think it's good policy. I think the left-wing media, whatever the president does, they're going to ridicule him. But I thought it was a pretty good performance.

O'BEIRNE: No, I meant there wasn't any change in policy on Bush's side.


O'BEIRNE: There may have been a little softening on Putin...

NOVAK: I think there was.

SHIELDS: Chris Dodd, it would not be the worst thing that happened in the world if Russia was more like Iowa, but that having been said, give us your take on...

DODD: Well, I just -- whatever you say about President Clinton -- I know you didn't -- at least he used to engage, adversely, our enemies. Here, this administration seems to attack our friends and embrace our -- people who are a lot more adversarial.

I mean, here we are going after the Europeans on Kyoto, on missile defense, disagreeing with them, and then we go with Mr. Putin. And all of a sudden we have words that go a little excessive.

I'm willing to give him a break, because it's his first foray in the international arena. But he needs better advice if he's going to continue this.

The missile defense issue is a major problem area, not just -- this is not Republicans versus Democrats. It's a major concern. A major concern among our allies...


DODD: No, not entirely. No, there are a lot of people who are worried about this, and you're going to hear more from them. But this is -- I don't think we should get too caught up in the rhetoric here. But it is somewhat interesting that this president seems to have more problems with our historic friends and engaging more -- on more friendly terms those who've been more historically our adversaries.

NOVAK: But this was a calculated plan to change the tone with Russia, because there were all -- Chris, the Clinton people would tell me they're so worried about whether he was a "Democrat." Maybe they wanted him to go with Terry McAuliffe and raise some money...



NOVAK: ... democrat -- but I think they meant a small "d" democrat.

SHIELDS: I think so, Bob.

DODD: Yeah.

NOVAK: But...

HUNT: He's not. He's not, and we know he's not.

NOVAK: But why -- why -- why worry about that?


NOVAK: That isn't what we should worry about.


DODD: ... about Gorbachev, "I think I can work with him," that's understandable. But to look in his eye and say, this is a trustworthy individual...

NOVAK: So he went a little overboard, so..


DODD: He was the head of the KGB.


HUNT: The former U.N. Ambassador Dick Holbrooke said, but you know, look at the substance. And this meeting with Putin was bookended by Putin in Shanghai and Belgrade engaging in rhetoric and actions that were hostile to the United States' interests.

NOVAK: Can I ask you a question? Why do you always quote Clinton apparatchiks as an objective viewpoint of what the Bush administration is doing?

HUNT: Because you told me Dick Holbrooke's been a good friend of yours for 40 years, that's why.


HUNT: That's why I wanted to quote him.

SHIELDS: That's the last word. Bob Novak only has nonpartisan sources.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, was the official election result in Virginia really that special?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SHIELDS: Welcome back. In a special election in Virginia's 4th congressional district to fill a vacancy caused by the death of 10- term Democratic Congressman Norman Sisisky, Republican Randy Forbes defeated Democrat Louise Lucas by four percentage points.


REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY), CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: Randy Forbes talked about Social Security and he ran far away from his privatization scheme.



REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA), NATIONAL CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: The Democrats got about a half million dollars tying him to Bush's plan, and Randy didn't run away from that.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, you've seen a few special elections. Was this or was it not the first test of the Bush Social Security...

NOVAK: It sure was. Nita Lowey can try to say that he ran -- that Randy Forbes ran as a Democrat. Nonsense. This was a -- both -- both sides put in national campaign positions, and Randy Forbes won in a district which -- now the Democrats are saying, oh, this was a -- this was a meaningless district, because it was so strong Republican.

It was held for 18 years by a Democrat. It was carried by Bill Clinton twice. It was lost by George Allen, who -- when he -- when we was elected -- the Republican, was elected to the Senate. So it's a tough -- very tough, very close district.

And I think -- I guarantee you this: that they would, the Democrats, would be beating their breasts and saying this is a turnover election, this is a precursor of 2002 if Louise Lucas had won.

SHIELDS: Before Bob Novak describes it as Berkeley or Madison, this is a district that George W. Bush carried, that George Allen carried for Governor...


SHIELDS: ... that Jim Gilmore carried for governor.

NOVAK: It's a swing district.

SHIELDS: I mean, but let's not make it sound like Cambridge.

NOVAK: It's a swing district.

DODD: This is -- I wonder what Bob would be saying had Mrs. Lucas won this race. SHIELDS: Yeah.

DODD: You had 38 percent turnout. That means about 19 percent of the eligible voters in that state chose the new congressman. This -- Norm Sisisky was a wonderful, good, strong Democrat, a moderate Democrat to a conservative Democrat. We worked together on a number of issues.

I don't think you can read a national message into this race. She ran a very good race. Outspent 2 to 1, Bob, with the dollars coming in the Republican coffers. The president, the president's mother were on the phone down there, working this campaign.

I congratulate him, he won, but to suggest somehow this is some referendum on national politics. I think the poll this week taken that shows where this president is on his tax policy, on health care policy -- those are the numbers the president ought to be worried about. He ought not to be sitting back confident in a race in Virginia about his presidency.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, how significant was this?

O'BEIRNE: Well, Chris Dodd probably would have told this two weeks ago that he couldn't read very much into it. But plenty of other people are reading a lot into it. "The New York Times" called it a bellwether. "The L.A. Times" said it's an early indicator of voter attitudes toward Bush. And had the Democrat won, you can bet she would be on the front page of all those newspapers...

NOVAK: You better believe it.

O'BEIRNE: ... that is somehow said something about the Democrats' ability to take back the House.

I don't think it tells us very much, Bob, even about the Social Security issue. Had it gone the other way, because the media would have so overinterpreted and so trumpeted it -- the Social Security private accounts issue -- it probably could have scared off some Republicans.

But he was labeled a Bush Republican and that wound up not being that unpopular in what really is a Democratic district. It's not terribly liberal. It is a Democratic district.



HUNT: Well, look, Kate and Bob are right in the sense that Democrats would have been claiming a big victory if they had won.


HUNT: It would not have been a big victory if they had won. Special elections tell you, Mark, a great deal about that district and that's all they ever tell you. In this particular case, a white -- a white male beat a black woman, and the district is two-thirds white. That'll happen nine times out of 10.

NOVAK: This district...


SHIELDS: I agree with Al, but I dissent just on one thing. The only time you see a pattern is when you see a string of these, as you did in 1974 when Jerry Ford's district went to the Democrats, Nixon's under impeachment. They lost the Republican seat in Cincinnati. They lost the Republican seat in Western Pennsylvania. At that point, you could see consternation in the ranks.

I will say this: that the only Republican president I know who lost the first three seats that were up for special election in his first year in office was Richard Nixon, who got reelected carrying 49 states.


NOVAK: And just one thing, this district is a 39-percent black district, which is a very high...


NOVAK: ... which is 33rd-ranking in the number of African- Americans in this country. This is -- you've got more African- Americans than any other district represented by a Republican, and the turnout in the black vote was 67 percent...

DODD: No, no, no. It was about 48...


DODD: Forty-eight percent, believe me.


SHIELDS: We can argue about that and we can argue about the fact that Jim Gilmore scheduled it very conveniently one week after the primary. If it's scheduled in the same day of the primary, different results follow.

NOVAK: Oh please.

SHIELDS: We'll be back with a "CAPITAL GANG Classic," looking at the state of the Clinton health plan -- care plan at this point in 1994. Absolutely true.


SHIELDS: Welcome back, and now for our "CAPITAL GANG Classic." Seven years ago this week, Senate moderates unveiled a compromise version of President Clinton's health care plan. Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that the president would veto such a bill.

This is what your CAPITAL GANG said on June 25, 1994. Our guest was Chris Dodd's junior colleague from Connecticut, a senator named Joseph Lieberman.


NOVAK: Well, contrary to what the first lady says, the president will sign this, this pitiful little thing that the moderates put together on Friday afternoon.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: But this is not a crummy, pitiful little bill. This is substantial reform that will do the thing that most people in this country want us to do, which is make sure that the insurance company can't take their insurance away from them if they get sick.

HUNT: I think the odds are probably 51-49, Mark, that there will be a bill. And I don't -- look, I don't think this compromise is enormously impressive, but it keeps the ball rolling, and that's what you have to do. It sets a firm target for something approaching universal coverage eight years out.

NOVAK: This little bill is such a far cry from the massive rewriting of the health care industry that Mrs. Clinton's original task force had. So it's a tremendous retreat.

SHIELDS: I don't think that is probably going to be the bill that's passed through the Congress. It certainly comes out of a conference report.

I think that the president's one dramatic gesture in this whole debate was brandishing his pen and saying that without universal coverage, universal access, I will veto it.


SHIELDS: Kate, the GANG was wrong, saying some kind of health care bill would pass. Why did it fail?

O'BEIRNE: Well, Mark, I think you were right about how significant it was that Bill Clinton said, without universal coverage, I will veto it. I don't -- I wish I had been there to witness you being right, Mark.

DODD: Oh, you're so sweet, Kate.


O'BEIRNE: Because then -- then once he said that -- and he's a famous trimmer, so I can only imagine -- I think we realize it was Hillary who was insisting on everything her way or no bill at all. I guess you were -- you were underestimating the resolve on Hillary's part.

SHIELDS: Chris, why were we wrong?

DODD: Well, it was obviously one big bill. They were down at the White House, people didn't know what was going on. But you know, you don't show the part here where you see major parts of that bill are the law of the land today.


DODD: And so the pieces involving portability of insurance, children's health care, about 60 percent of that bill is today the law of the land, and that is very good news for America. And I would give a piece of advice for George Bush here, that he ought to get on board and try and create a bill here rather than threatening vetoes. That doesn't help his cause.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Chris just let the cat out of the bag; that's the strategy. You take the terrible parts of this terrible bill and pass them one by one. We have one on the floor right now.

I thought it was -- I thought the obtuseness of the whole GANG was tremendously -- in this little incident, we were all talking about what kind of bill was going to come out, when in fact no bill was going to come out, because you couldn't pass that big thing. You had to cut it up in little pieces.


HUNT: And I missed by two points.

Yeah, but for some reason, I'm not able to think it's a terrible thing that they passed subsequent legislation that gave more health protection to little kids...


NOVAK: Oh...

HUNT: ... that allowed workers when they left their jobs, workers who didn't have Bob Novak's enormous wealth to be able to carry their health insurance with them.

NOVAK: Karl Marx raises his head again.

HUNT: I didn't know it was Marxist to say people ought to have health insurance. Health care in this country is a right, not a privilege.

SHIELDS: Thank you very much, Al. Thanks for being with us this time.

We'll be back -- we'll be back in our second half hour with our "Newsmaker of the Week," conservative Pat Robertson, talking about the death penalty. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the Vieques bombing controversy with CNN reporter Bill Delaney, and our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after a check of the hour's top news.


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG. SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our newsmaker of the week is conservative leader Pat Robertson. M.G. Pat Robertson, age 71. Resident Virginia Beach, Virginia. Religion, Baptist. Graduate of Yale Law School; an ordained minister; Korean War Marine Corps veteran; candidate for 1988 Republican presidential nomination; founder of Christian Broadcasting Network, the Christian Coalition and Regent University.

Al Hunt interviewed Pat Robertson from Virginia Beach about the death penalty.


HUNT: Dr. Robertson, last year you called for a moratorium on capital punishment. That, of course, didn't occur, and there have been now federal -- the first federal executions in several decades. Do you still think it would be appropriate to have a moratorium?

REV. PAT ROBERTSON, FOUNDER, CHRISTIAN COALITION: Al, I definitely believe it would. We've found so much exculpatory material on these convicted death-row inmates. The DNA testing has been conclusive in exonerating a number of them, and we've also found a number of those who have been tried and convicted who had terrible counsel, almost inadequate council.

HUNT: If I understand your position, you say you still are pro- capital punishment. There is a biblical justification for it. You've said that mercy should triumph justice here.

Could you foresee a day where you would oppose all capital punishment?

ROBERTSON: I don't think so, because a heinous crime -- let's take this Tim McVeigh case. This was a brutal killing of a number of innocent people, innocent women and children. Justice needed to be done on that. A killer of McVeigh's stripe would go and do this again. He had a vendetta against the government and anybody who stood in his way. And I think society has a perfect right to take somebody like that out of the picture.

HUNT: So what is the prime justification? Is it -- is it deterrence or is it vengeance?

ROBERTSON: I think instead of vengeance, I'd call it justice. Deterrence is a part of it, but in order for the deterrence to work it has to be swift and certain, and these cases usually drag on the courts for years on end.

HUNT: Well, is your greatest concern about the way capital punishment is now, is now administered: Is it fairness? Is it morality? Or is it the horrible possibility that an innocent person could be executed?

ROBERTSON: Well, Al, it's fairness. I -- it falls disproportionately on the poor, primarily African-Americans. If you look at the number of people on death row, invariably the percentage of whites is much lower than that of the black people.

And when you see the defense that's offered to them, they get a public defender who's hurried, who doesn't prepare the cases. They take these guys in and plead them guilty without them really understanding what's happening. It's inherently unfair the way it's being done.

HUNT: Well, the Justice Department last week said there is no racial bias in the administration of capital punishment in this country, and yet, as you noted, the disproportionate number of blacks are executed: 85 percent of those on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana are minorities. Juan Garza gets executed, but John Gotti doesn't.

So is it your feeling that despite that Justice Department study that there still is a racial factor here?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know, the current attorney general is a dear friend of mine and I would hesitate to take issue with him, but on this one, I think he's wrong if he -- if that's his statement. Of course, Gotti could afford the very best lawyers, with all the motions and procedures and summary motions that he wants. And he walks where these other people are executed.

HUNT: Do you think someone who's mentally retarded, an IQ of 70 or 75, but who legally is found to know the difference between right and wrong, should that person under any circumstances be executed?

ROBERTSON: It may depend on the circumstances. I wouldn't want to make a flat statement, but I honestly believe that in most cases somebody who was truly mentally deficient should not be executed. But I think we ought to err on the side of caution on that one.

SHIELDS: Dr. Robertson, "Newsweek" magazine said this week that you feel there's been very little appreciation in the White House for all the help you provided George W. Bush last year. Why is that, do you think?

ROBERTSON: I don't know whether it was too much Bob Jones University or whether they're trying to pitch to the moderates and don't want to say we're too closely aligned with what has been labeled the religious right.

Hey, I got a number of letters and telephone calls from Bush Sr. when he was in office, and we were very good friends. I frankly have not heard one word of thanks from him or from this administration, although there's some real good people in there and they're putting in policies that I agree with. In terms of saying, "That a boy, you did a good work and you spent all this money and worked that hard," I haven't had any appreciation whatsoever.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, does Pat Robertson's position reflect second thoughts among conservatives in general about the death penalty? HUNT: I hope so. I'm with Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson this week, Mark. I think when he talks about the inadequate counsel, the unfairness, the disproportionate effect on the poor, he's quite eloquent.

The politics are changing. That affects conservatives too.

It was only nine years ago that Bill Clinton dashed back from the New Hampshire primary so he could fry Ricky Rector, who was mentally retarded. Today, even some conservatives are horrified that the governor of Texas vetoed a bill that would prohibit execution of mentally retarded people. So I think the politics are changing. They're changed in the context of Timothy McVeigh, who people despised.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: They don't change on Timothy McVeigh...

HUNT: No, no, I didn't mean that, Bob. I didn't mean they changed on McVeigh, but that's the -- even with that context. I apologize.

NOVAK: What's going on is that people with bleeding hearts who are against capital punishment, against the death penalty have just found in Governor Ryan of Illinois and in Pat Robertson some unexpected allies. And really the whole question to me is irrelevant whether there's poor people, whether there are people of color. You find a lot of poor people and people of color who commit crimes. So naturally they're on death row. I don't think there's any prejudice. I think the Justice Department is right.

The one thing I have to say is that the people who have abused Pat Robertson for years, called him a bigot, an anti-Semite, a fascist, but now they're sucking up to him because he has said -- come out for a moratorium makes me a little bit sick.

SHIELD: Bob, Pope John Paul II is on the phone for you, among those bleeding hearts.

Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, I do think there are conservative second thoughts on the death penalty, but I don't think Pat Robertson exactly expresses those second thoughts. I think he has sort of an idiosyncratic position. He favors a moratorium but he'd have a moratorium on his moratorium in order to execute Timothy McVeigh, and he's not willing to just oppose death penalty outright.

The majority -- a strong majority of the public still supports the death penalty, but it's quite a bit smaller than it was several years ago. And I think those people who are rethinking are -- it's based on the morality of the death penalty. They see it as immoral even if it's infallible, and that's really not what Pat Robertson is.

SHIELDS: I just have to say in conclusion that I found truly fascinating his statement that perhaps President Bush had not called him, hadn't heard a word from the White House, that too much Bob Jones University is somehow -- George W. Bush was trying to isolate him...


SHIELDS: ... and trying to distance himself from the religious right, which I found...


SHIELDS: Well, no, but Pat Robertson certainly gave that strong hint...


NOVAK: ... distance himself from Pat Robertson...

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the U.S. Navy bombing in Vieques.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the Vieques island firing range in Puerto Rico. Despite the Bush administration's announcement that the Navy will stop the bombing in two years, demonstrations continue in Vieques. The law requires that a referendum, of the island's residents be conducted in November.


SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Quite frankly, I never believed, that after George Bush got elected that this problem would come up. Nonetheless, the law is in effect: There is going to be a referendum, and I've talked to the people in Vieques. They're going to vote in favor of keeping a live range open.



ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The position of the administration is there's no need for a referendum any longer, but it is the law of the land, and unless a change is made, there will be a referendum, but the administration does not see the need for it.


SHIELDS: But what if the voters approve the bombing?


DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If they give a referendum and we win it, then obviously we would not leave. If there is a referendum and we lose it, which is the deal that that government made, then we would leave.


SHIELDS: Bill Delaney, who has been in Puerto Rico covering the story for CNN, joins us now from Boston where he is the CNN bureau chief.

Thanks for being with us, Bill.


SHIELDS: Bill, did you get the same sense as Senator Inhofe that the residents of Vieques would vote to continue the bombing?

DELANEY: No, I did not get that sense at all, Mark. I got quite the opposite sense. We did a lot of kind of anecdotal reporting over a period of three or four days, talking to a lot of people on the island, and we hardly ever heard that people wanted the Navy to stay there.

This is a -- this is a long problem on Vieques. We hear about cancer rates caused by the munitions left after 60 years of using the place as a bombing range. But what you really get down there is just a sense kind of grievance, a long sense of disrespect by the Navy toward the people on Vieques. That's what you hear about over and over again, as much as you hear about cancer rates and that sort of thing: a sense that this behemoth is down there and has been down there for a long time and has just somehow disrespected the people.

The Navy controls, owns two-thirds of the island, and it's just a long sense of -- there were some alleged rapes in the '70s. But folks, though, down there don't get much more specific. They just kind of want the Navy out. They feel like, if you will, that Latin phrase, "La Dignidad," the pride...


DELANEY: ... has been injured over the years by the Navy. The Navy's done kind of a lousy PR job down there, as much as anything else.

So you know, no, I think every indication we had is that the vote would be for the Navy to leave Vieques.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what -- your own sense of what this means?

NOVAK: Well, you know, I've always felt that the Puerto Ricans have a wonderful deal. They don't pay this terrible federal income tax and they get a lot of benefits. If they really don't like the responsibilities of citizenship, like the people at Fort Sill in Oklahoma have, they ought to go independent.

They can be independent any time they want and if they really don't want to be citizens.

But I'm -- I'm confused about a lot of things, because the White House, the White House has said that the reason they quit the bombing is because of the referendum. The referendum is going to pass, and therefore, we get out.

As I understand Secretary Rumsfeld, who was a little bit cryptic, he says, if the referendum doesn't pass, we stay. I thought that we were getting out.

I think this is one of the most screwed-up operations I've seen by the Bush administration.

SHIELDS: Bill, do you -- Bill Delaney, do you think we will stay? I mean, if the referendum did turn the other way?

DELANEY: Well, if the referendum turned the other way, as I understand the deal brokered by the Clinton administration, there would also be $90 million involved for the people of Vieques.

Now, if that word really got out clearly enough, I think, to people on Vieques that that much money might be at stake, who knows? In the next several, next few months, that could turn things around. I mean, sure.

I guess, if the referendum did happen, if Congress did not change the law and the referendum went through, and Vieques voted to keep the Navy, yeah, I guess we'd stay. But there'd be tens of millions of dollars to be turned over if that happened, as the Clinton administration deal had it.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, the White House really seems taken aback by the backlash of this decision. I think they underestimated the support the Navy has on Capitol Hill. And it certainly does smack of politics, dubious politics.

It seems to me, although within some parts of the Puerto Rican community this has become a huge issue -- very often not based on the merits. But the Independence Party down in Puerto Rico is exploiting this issue to promote the cause of independence for Puerto Rico, so it's become a football.

The way to appeal to Hispanic voters, of course, is to promote a strong national defense and protect our men and women in uniform, you know, because they're not a monolith.

But I understand, even though the White House is looking at exit polling from precincts 60 -- 91 on the Island of Vieques, I understand only 6,000 Vieques residents will vote in November -- only 6,000.

And supporters of the Navy on Capitol Hill have petitions signed by up to 2,500 of them in support of the Navy staying, because a lot of the protesters are outside agitators.

Have you found that, Bill? That a lot of those who are engaging in this theater over Vieques don't live on Vieques?

DELANEY: No question about that, Kate. When I was there -- and I think it's important to point out that the Bush administration proposal did have an impact this week.

The big crowds that you saw in late April protesting down on Vieques weren't there. There were 30, 40 protesters, most of them sitting under awnings, a lot of them kind of playing dominoes and not doing much more than that, was about what the protest amounted to.

Then there was a core of 15 to 30, including Mrs. Jesse Jackson, who were breaking through the gates at various places, breaking through the fence and getting into the bombing range itself, and essentially making themselves a nuisance for the Navy, and indeed delaying, it seems, the bombing range -- use of the bombing range for a period of time.

But the crowds were smaller than expected. The Bush administration proposal did seem to keep some people away, leaving a hard-core, and indeed a lot of them union people and people associated with other groups, and an awful lot of them, certainly, not from Vieques. In fact, I would say most of them not from Vieques.


HUNT: Well, Mark, I'm just pleased, because if it is ended down there, I think Bob Novak has just volunteered Rehoboth Beach as to where we can start shelling to pick up the slack.

O'BEIRNE: How about Martha's Vineyard?


NOVAK: I like Martha's Vineyard.

HUNT: Well, yeah, he doesn't want it in my backyard.

This is a -- Kate's right. It was a political decision. It was engineered by Karl Rove, the White House political adviser.

I wonder how Colonel Rumsfeld feels about being countermanded by General Rove. I mean, can you imagine if James Carville had made a decision like this in the Clinton administration?

Now, my only question for Bill is, who down there who's getting shelled wants to keep getting shelled? I don't know who those people would be.

NOVAK: I don't think anybody's getting shelled, are they?

O'BEIRNE: No, they're not.

SHIELDS: Go ahead. Let Bill answer.

DELANEY: Well, of course, it's a tiny part of the island. About 3 percent of the island is used as a bombing range. It's eight or nine miles back behind a chain-link fence.

Tragically, of course, in April of 1999, a Puerto Rican working for the Navy was killed by an errant bomb. It should be pointed out that that man was outside of the observation post he should have been in. And if he'd been in that observation post, people down there will tell you even he would not have been -- would not have been killed.

So there's really no danger from the -- what are now dummy bombs being used in this bombing range. Of course, they do allege that cancer rates are 10 percent higher on Vieques than in the rest of Puerto Rico, and they blame that on the munitions left behind after 60 years of using...

SHIELDS: Hey, Bill Delaney, we thank you very much for being with us. THE GANG will be back with "The Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: Now for "The Outrage of the Week." Eight years ago, when then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's task force on national health care met behind closed doors and refused to disclose who was at the meeting, conservatives loudly objected. So did yours truly.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Vice President Dick Cheney, in charge of energy policy for the Bush administration, refuses to reveal those invited to his energy task force meetings and conservatives are now hypocritically silent.

The public has a right to know who's there in the room when public policy is being made.

Robert Novak.

NOVAK: The last gasp of the Gingrich revolution was heard on the floor of the House this week amid massive inattention.

The Republican-controlled House voted by 115 votes to increase -- yes, increase -- funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Remember 1995 when Republicans vowed to eliminate the entire NEA, which was not needed for the first 191 years of the American republic. Now the fancy people have bullied Congress into spending more taxpayers' money for blasphemous art and avant-garde music.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The administration has strenuously opposed price controls as a counterproductive response to soaring energy prices that won't increase supply or reduce consumption. Yet this week, the White House welcomed some price controls imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But the administration implausibly insists it hasn't modified its position, because, in the most outrageous spin of late, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, price controls are a "market-based, mitigation plan."

How's that for truth control?



HUNT: I agree with two out of three.

Mark, for five years, American Laurie Berenson has been in prison for allegedly helping leftist guerrillas in Peru and they want to keep her for 15 more.

Convicted on circumstantial, and by American standards, flimsy evidence by the corrupt Fujimori administration, she's been kept in a freezing cell 12,700 feet above sea level.

If the new Peruvian president-elect, Alejandro Toledo, wants to improve relations with U.S. and act like a decent man, he ought to pardon Ms. Berenson and send her back home.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. "CNN TONIGHT." Here's Stephen Frazier with a preview.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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