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George W. Bush Celebrates a Week of Political Victories

Aired August 3, 2001 - 17:00   ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Frank Sesno in Washington. This is INSIDE POLITICS. Ahead, the political impact of this extraordinary week at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Major Garrett at the White House where President Bush vows to build on this week's legislative victories and move forward with his political agenda.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill where the president scores major wins but Senate roadblocks may lie ahead.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Los Angeles. A lot of hard work and some unlikely allies make for the political play of the week.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

SESNO: And thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

On the day before the president and members of Congress leave this town for extended time off, President Bush made sure to take advantage of what's been a remarkable week by any measure here in the nation's capital. Just a few hours ago, Mr. Bush welcomed fellow Texan and Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong to the White House. This is the kind of scene presidential image makers live for: a bona fide winner on the stage with president of the United States after a week of key political victories.

Earlier, Mr. Bush took stock of his successes, and he cautioned those in Congress who would block his agenda.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans come September will be watching. They want us to be principled not partisan. They want us to look for agreement instead of looking for fights and arguments. Americans know obstructionism when they see it, and when necessary, I will point it out.


SESNO: So our coverage, what has been accomplished and more importantly, what lies ahead now with Major Garrett at the White House, Jon Karl on Capitol Hill.

Jon, so much of the action was your area of real estate. Why don't you start us off?

KARL: Well, clearly, some major victories here for the president, but he faces some difficulties when Congress comes back from its August recess in September. Not only will he be battling Democrats in the Senate on those issues that he had his big victories -- energy and Patients Bill of Rights -- but also he'll be battling with Republicans, especially when it comes to controlling the rate of government spending.

I spoke with Senator Trent Lott just a couple of hours ago about one issue, one sleeper issue, which may emerge as a major thing -- focus of battle in the Congress ahead, which is the question of base closings. The Pentagon wants to have another round of military base closings. Trent Lott said the initial plan that he sought, in his words, quote, "totally unacceptable." Here's what else he said.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: What about all those excess bases that we have now and all those trips we have in Europe? Europeans are big enough, wealthy enough to defend themselves. And what are they defending themselves against? I just think it's time we take a look at bases overseas, also.

KARL: So the president -- Pentagon would have a lot of groundwork to do here in the Senate before talking about another round of base closures.

LOTT: Right. The first indications of what they would put in the base closure legislation was not good. The briefing that was received this past week was unacceptable.


KARL: So some victories to savor on Capitol Hill for the White House. Battles ahead. That's going to be one sticky one, and other spending issues, because Republicans up here like to spend, in many cases, as much as Democrats -- Frank.

SESNO: All right, Jon, well, they may be looking at battles ahead up on Capitol Hill.

But for the moment, anyway, for just a few moments, Major, they're savoring some victories of the last several days.

GARRETT: Absolutely, Frank. You know, the iron rule or one of the many iron rules of presidential politics is if you're going to achieve a legislative victory, you've got to make sure, one -- House or the other -- support your position. Well, six or seven weeks ago, it did look like the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, the president's very own party, would stand with him on the question of energy or on the Patients Bill of Rights. The White House knew they had to change that dynamic. They had to get victories in the House in order to give them an essential lever when dealing with that Democratic Senate. Well, defying expectations yet again, some White House aides would point out, the president has done just that this week: House support of the energy bill and narrow House support, nevertheless, of the Patients Bill of Rights puts the president in the game on both fronts. The White House feels very good about that.

SESNO: And their FBI nominee, Major, was approved unanimously. And even though their nominee to head the Consumer Safety Product Commission went down to defeat, that's not taking the glare off?

GARRETT: That's not taking the glare off, but look, there are a couple of big nomination fights ahead. And the White House in September is going to start bringing very close attention to two of them: John Negroponte, who's been nominated by the president to be the United States ambassador at the United Nations. Still no hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee on that. White House is not pleased about that. Also, John Walters to be the new drug tsar. The White House is not happy that that nomination hasn't been dealt with either. And in September, a marker is going to be laid down: The United States Senate, if you're serious about the United States maintaining strong international posture, send our ambassador to the UN, and if you're serious about the drug war, approve this new drug tsar.

SESNO: Major, Jon, the White House feeling pretty good, but the Democrats determined not to let that good feeling sit for too long or go unchallenged. The Democrats' leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, had this to say.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: The cycle has its ebbs and flows. We had a lot of momentum with the passage of the Patients Bill of Rights, and we said that we had a number of things we wanted to accomplish and we did. But the president had a victory last night, unfortunately, at the expense, I think, of virtually everybody who has an insurance policy in this country. But I think it was a pyrrhic victory.


SESNO: So, Jon, in terms of tone, is that where we're going?

KARL: Well, you know, there was a late development on the nomination question, which leads to some questions of tone. Right before the Senate closed for its August recess, the Senate has a procedural thing regarding nominations. Whenever the Senate goes on recess for more than 30 days, any presidential nominees that are pending must be renewed. They cannot -- otherwise they will automatically be sent back to the White House. It's simply a thing that happens: a pro forma motion is passed, unanimous consent. But that did not happen in this case, because Senate Democrats wanted to send back to the White House and not renew the nominations of Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and also, Mary Sheila Gall. So what happened is they sent back all of the nominations. The Republicans refused to allow just two exceptions, so you had more than 100 nominations from the president sitting in the Senate that were supposed to be renewed over the recess. Those have gone all back to the White House. It's just a little bit of back and forth. The White House will send them right back to the Senate in September, but it's a sense that the tone, the tone is not quite changed. We had a couple of big victories for the Republicans in the House, but in some sense, that only strengthened the Democratic resolve over here in the Senate.

SESNO: So let me throw this one back at both of you. I was speaking to a Republican strategist not long ago just earlier today who said the White House and Republicans -- he's saying of his fellow Republicans -- have to be careful that they don't proclaim too much victory too son. He said Republicans tend to be sort of hot and cold in terms of claiming too much or not enough, that it's the boom and bust days they have to be careful of of Newt Gingrich, he said.

Jon, what do you make of that? Then Major.

KARL: Well, you know, there are some conservatives that are concerned that legislative outlook ahead is actually very bad for conservatives because of the nature of the issues that will be brought up especially in the Senate, things like a minimum wage increase, Medicare prescription drug benefits. These are issues that could put Democrat -- Republicans, especially conservatives, in a box over here. Not necessarily the issue that they will be, you know, in the high grounds. So they do want to be careful, not raise expectations too high.

Keep in mind, also, Frank, that the two victories in the House, nothing has sent yet a bill down to the president to sign.

SESNO: Major?

GARRETT: Frank on a couple of points. First of all, the White House likes to point out that from January until July going even into August, the president's composite approval rating has been about 55 or 56 percent on the upside. That, even though the first two quarters of his presidency have been terrible economically. They say that is a sign that the country is standing with the president, more importantly as those numbers are shown and members of Congress are reminded they stand with the president and saw that week in the House on energy and on the Patients' Bill of Rights. And as these issues move forward, the White House feels the president will get a stronger economy underneath him, stronger popularity ratings, and that Senate Republicans will stand with him.

One other point: The White House doesn't feel it can win on this whole subject whether he's up or whether he's down. They say that the president is very even keeled on all this, but as they were looking over the morning papers today, all the headlines were, yes, Bush wins in the House but tough battles ahead. So the White House has sort of sent around a little joke. It's reminiscent of a bumper sticker a lot of us saw in 1992. That one said, "Annoy the Media, Reelect Bush," a reference to George W. Bush's father. Well, the joke around the White House this morning was: "Annoy the Media, Pass Legislation."

SESNO: All right, Major Garrett and Jonathan Karl, thanks very much.

We're going to hear from the view from -- on the view from inside the White House from a presidential counselor, Dan Bartlett. He'll be with us in just a few moments.

The back-and-forth negotiations over the Patients' Bill of Rights we were just talking about occupied key players in this town night and day. The House -- White House, rather, wanted a deal very badly, and Congressional point man Charles Norwood found himself right in the center of attention after making the deal with the president or would return to the Capitol where he faced skeptical colleagues who were not pleased by developments. Now our Kate Snow says Democratic Congressman Marion Berry told Norwood, who often drives a sport utility vehicle with Ducks Unlimited stickers, quote: "Where I come from, you don't stick around for a bad deal. You just get in your pick up and leave." Later, Senator Ted Kennedy was heard asking Congressman Berry, "Hey, where's your pickup?" Stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.


KARL: You going to have to hold your nose to...

SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: Well, listen, I hold my nose a lot. That happens.


ANNOUNCER: The next stop in our subway series. Texas senator Phil Gramm on the Senate prospects for the Patients' Bill of Rights and his own political future. Also, Ralph Nader returns. The former Green Party presidential candidate joins us to discuss his party, his issues and his nationwide political forums.

Plus, remember this man? He has new plans to return to the political scene and a new look you'll want to see. Details in our weekly political roundtable.

Live from Washington, Judy Woodruff brings you more of INSIDE POLITICS straight ahead.


SESNO: As the president and his staff relish their victories in the House, still other battles loom when Congress returns after the summer recess. I'm joined now by White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

And good to see you, Mr. Bartlett


SESNO: Just fine. So let's start where we should, which is your response. And we'll point out to our viewers that you spent some behind-closed-doors time today with the president. What's he saying? BARTLETT: Well, the president is obviously very pleased with a very successful week and a very successful six months. And today was good news as well that the emergency spending for America's farmers was passed out of the Senate just as the president had proposed, which speaks to a larger issue, and that's the issue that we've seen responsible budgeting so far in the process here in Washington. That's something that the president made a priority. He sent a budget to Congress that's being respected, and that's a culmination of a very successful week where the House of Congress -- the House of Representatives acted on his energy proposals. And last night, we broke a six-year log jam when it comes to the patient protection. So the president is very pleased. He is in good spirits today, looks forward to spending some time with his family. So it's been a good week.

SESNO: We talked about the victories on the program today and some of the challenges that lie ahead. What is the principle challenge as you contemplate the battles still to come on this Patients' Bill of Rights, the energy and so many of the other things that lie out there, main challenge?

BARTLETT: Well, I think it's not as much a challenge, but we're looking now is opportunities. We're very close when it comes to the president's No. 1 priority being education. The House has passed it, the Senate has passed it. He's met with Senator Kennedy, Senator Greg and Chairman Boehner. They're going to work diligently over the course of this recess to get education done early on in the school year.

On Patients' Bill of Rights, there's been a lot of history here, a lot of deep divisions on this issue. But finally, we've broken the log jam. We've passed the bill in the Senate. We passed a bill in the House. They're going to come together in the fall and the president looks forward to signing a bill. So he hopes that the two parties can come together and get an agreement.

SESNO: Democrats have staked out some very specific, very tough ground, specifically with reference to the energy bill, specifically, any notion of drilling in Alaska. Is that your toughest hurdle?

BARTLETT: It propose unique challenges but again...

SESNO: How do you get over it?

BARTLETT: Well, this is exactly what they said when it came to the House of Representatives. No one ever thought that we would pass the -- that portion of the energy bill in the House of Representatives, but a unique coalition of people concerned about our energy needs, including the labor unions and such, will bring the same kind of energy to this issue in the Senate. So we think that through the president's commitment, through the help of key legislators and those that know it's important to have a long-term energy strategy that we'll be to overcome those obstacles as well.

SESNO: Some of the unions unlikely allies with the Republican White House lined up behind drilling in Alaska because of the 700,000 jobs that they contend that flow of oil could create nationwide. Do they provide the linchpin and can they convince very firmly entrenched Democrats in the United States Senate?

BARTLETT: Well, I think time will tell on that front. It was a very important constituency. I think they understand the importance of having a sound energy policy, one that makes energy -- that promotes energy security in the United States. We've become less dependent on foreign crude. So it was an important, critical element to the energy policy in the victory, but the credit goes to many members in the House of Representatives. And that same type of unique combination of outside organizations and legislators making the case as well as obviously the president of this administration. We think it will make it successful in the Senate as well.

SESNO: Dan Bartlett, looking forward, the president in his remarks today said in September when he comes back, he's going to also have some initiatives that go to the sort of moral structure of the country, family, immigrants that sort of thing. What's he talking about? What's he going to do?

BARTLETT: Well, those who remember the president even as governor of Texas and even in the early parts of his campaign has run as a compassionate conservative, a person that wants to help those who can't seem to help themselves, to enlist the help of faith-based charities, help parents make better choices when it comes to their children. So the president is going to really focus this fall on those type of policies that can help parents do their job, that can help rally the armies of compassion. He's going to visit America in different types of communities and different types of companies to talk about civic responsibility, talk about the duty we have to help our neighbor when in need. So the president is really going to speak often and quite loudly about our duties as citizens. So it's a very important part of his agenda and it's one he looks forward to talk about more in the fall.

SESNO: Dan Bartlett joining us from the White House. Thanks very much.

BARTLETT: No problem.

SESNO: You get some vacation time yourself. We hope that you enjoy it.


SESNO: All right.

Well, that August recess bell is ringing on Capitol Hill as well, and senators and House members are headed to their planes, trains and automobiles for some vacation time. Just before the Capitol emptied out, our Jon Karl landed one last interview with Texas Republican senator Phil Gramm in transit on the underground subway. Topic one in the latest installment of our subway series: the Patients' Bill of Rights and whether conservative senators will get behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KARL: Do you like this compromise? I mean, this goes 90 percent of the way the Democrats wanted to, doesn't it?

GRAMM: Well, I think on the key issue, which is trying to see that we try to heal people in hospitals and clinics and in outpatient care rather than hoping a cure will come in the courtroom, I think that was a dramatic improvement. Is this a perfect bill? No. But you've got to understand that George Bush came in as president in the middle of this debate. And I think given the hand he was dealt, he produced in the House as good a bill as he could have possibly produced.

KARL: Speaking of compromise, John McCain is somebody who you've been locking -- your old friend, you've locked horns with a lot more than you've worked over the last year or so or even more. What's it been like working with him again, I mean, side by side in this battle over Mexican trucking?

GRAMM: Well, we're old friends. We've been very close friends. I've enjoyed it. John McCain supported me when I ran for president. He was in a very select minority of people in doing so. When he ran, I supported George Bush, so that's hard to accept. I mean, we try not to let our personal feelings get involved but they do. But I personally love John McCain. I don't always agree with him, but I enjoyed working with him on the truck issue, and I hope it's the beginning of many issues that we're going to work on together.

KARL: Rick Perry, who's going to be running for governor of Texas, just in the middle of taking some Spanish immersion courses. And the conventional wisdom now is anybody who wants to run for office in that part of the world, that part of the country, better know Spanish because of the rising Hispanic population. How's your Spanish?

GRAMM: No comprende.


No, look, I took Spanish in graduate school, and when I do events with Mexican parliamentarians where, say, I'm in Mexico for a week, my Spanish picks up. But if you don't use it every day, you've got to be very careful, because instead of asking people for their vote, you can end up asking them for their chickens.

KARL: So you're up for reelection. And there's been some speculation now that Democrats are in control, maybe you won't run again. Are you going to retire? You going to run again another six years here or retire?

GRAMM: Well, some day I'm going to retire. The alternative is to eventually retire or die in office. I don't think I want to be around here when I can't do the job, but it's my plan right now to run again. I think I'm at the peak of my influence in the Senate, and so I'd rather be in the majority than the minority, but there are thing you can do in the minority. So I played offense, I played defense. I like playing both. I think Texas deserves a person who can give it 100 percent. I think I'm still capable of doing that. I think I'm doing as good a job as I can do, and I intend to keep doing it.

KARL: All right, well, Senator Gramm, I thank you very much for joining us on the subway.

GRAMM: Thank you.

KARL: Take care. Have a good August recess.


SESNO: We're going to give Jonathan Karl frequent rider miles for all that time on the subway this week.

Well, joining us now with his reporter's notebook, Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times."

Bob, a lot of goodwill over at the White House right now, but I understand there's some bitter feelings in various places over that Patients' Bill of Rights compromise.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Yes, Frank, of course. A lot of the Democrats are just furious with Charlie Norwood for making the deal with the president. Charlie was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Republican for the Democrats for the last five years.

But what the real anger is the Republicans, although they're delighted they won at the White House against Greg Ganske, Republican congressman from Des Moines, Iowa -- he's a surgeon, thinking of running for the U.S. Senate, and they just don't like the way he's handled himself: the fact that he's been critical of the president, said to his colleagues that the president's threats to veto the bill were nothing -- never, never came along on the compromise. And the word is that they have told him, "Dick Cheney just may not be available to campaign for you or give you any help when you run for the Senate next year." Things will cool off but are pretty hot right now.

SESNO: A little hardball now. Elsewhere, some hard feelings as well with respect to the Democrats perhaps and the Teamsters Unions.

NOVAK: This is a fascinating story. Democratic senators tell me that when they went to the Teamsters over the Mexican trucking restrictions a couple of weeks ago, they found that the Teamsters, it's their issue. They want to hold down the Mexican trucks but they wanted to go slow. They didn't want to really fight the Republicans and the administration on it. And now it becomes clearer that the Teamsters were working hand in glove with the administration on a lot of issues, including the oil, drilling in the Alaska -- in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This -- that a little of a taste of a little bit of a political relocation on labor with the Teamsters and the building trades unions getting out of the Republican -- out of the Democratic camp entirely with one pinky toe into the Republican camp.

SESNO: Bob Novak, another topic that we all follow here in Washington closely: campaign finance reform. The devotees in the House of Representatives want to bring it back for another vote. That requires something called a discharge petition. They have to get 218 signatures. How are they doing?

NOVAK: Not so hot. They have so far 191 signatures and they only have 18 Republican signatures. They're going to have to do a lot better than that. But the Republicans are showing a lot of discipline. Unless there is a really -- a break in the Republican members toward signing the discharge petition, I don't think they can get it on the floor. And Republicans solidarity and morale in the House after their victories this week is so high it may not happen.

SESNO: And give us a little status report on the newfound pals of Tom Daschle and James Jeffords, fellow senators.

NOVAK: Well, Tom Daschle is not -- is usually a pretty smiley guy. Wasn't too smiley today because he wanted a farm legislation to extend the Northeastern Dairy Compact beyond the August 31st -- I guess the September 31st extension date. Tom Daschle was -- just about promised Jeffords that they could get that dairy compact passed, which is the biggest thing in Jeffords' political life. And Jeffords was on the floor of the Senate today with a long face. So, that's something that's going to just hang over until after Labor Day when they come back on it.

SESNO: We'll keep watching that. And very quickly before we're out of time, anything new on those '02 Senate races we're all watching already?

NOVAK: Couple of things. Both sides -- Democrats and Republicans -- tell me that Republicans Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who everybody thought that was fairly safe, is really an endangered species. She's going to have a tough race. And Jean Carnahan, the new senator from Missouri, will have to run in 2002. A lot of people wondered if she's going to run. She has raised over $2.3 million. Only Bob Torricelli of New Jersey has raised more. You don't raise that kind of money, Frank, if you're not going to run.

SESNO: Bob Novak, thanks. Have a great weekend.

NOVAK: You too.


And coming up, an East-West spy dispute coming to a close when an American student released after six months in a Russian jail. We'll tell you all about it. And Tropical Storm Barry is being felt in Florida. We'll give you the very latest, along with details on some of the other day's top stories just ahead.


SESNO: Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader is headed out on the trail again, this time promoting what he calls his People Have the Power tour. The forums are designed to promote environmental and social justice concerns. The issues echo Nader's campaign themes from last year. And while he received less than five percent of the vote then, some say he took enough support from liberals to cost Al Gore the presidency.

Ralph Nader joins me now here in Washington. And good to see you.


SESNO: All right, what are you trying to do with these tours? You've got another one coming tomorrow in Portland, Oregon.

NADER: Right. We've got 150 groups with tables at the Rose Garden Arena. People have the power means that if you, if people want living wages for tens of millions of Americans, they've got to mobilize and go for it. If they want solar energy, as President Truman recommended many years ago, they've got to go for it. If they want universal health insurance, as Truman recommended 51 years ago to the Congress and we don't have it, they've got to go for it.

That's American history. Every social justice movement is preceded by a mobilization of the many disciplining and holding the few accountable.

SESNO: You're trying to get your Green Party the required stature and level to get recognized federal recognition. What do you need?

NADER: Well, you have to, by federal law, get over five percent of the vote.

SESNO: Which you didn't?

NADER: No, which we didn't. These rallies are civic rallies. They're not Green Party rallies. But I do want to help build the Green Party. I think they're going to have maybe a thousand local and state candidates come next November. They're going to have more candidates running for Congress. It's a wakeup call to the Democrats and moderate Republicans.

For now, the Green spillover vote helps some Democrats. It helped definitely elect Maria Cantwell in Washington State, which brought the Democrats 50-50 in the Senate and set the stage for Jim Jeffords. But that's not going to last for long as more and more Green candidates compete for a clean politics and an accountable government.

SESNO: You are credited or blamed, depending on someone's political point of view, with the electoral outcome, as I mentioned earlier. As you look at George W. Bush in the White House for six months, your assessment?

NADER: Just what we expected. I called him a corporation running for president disguised as a human being. I think a conservative put it very well last December when he said on television that the people who own the country have come to run it. And the difference between Clinton and Bush is that Clinton used proxies to take the marching orders from big business, which is running roughshod over this town, Bush brings in corporate executives. So I think...

SESNO: Well, if you call him a corporation disguised as a politician, a corporation that has been asked to spend billions of dollars, or over a billions of dollars to dredge the Hudson River for PCBs might not agree with you.

NADER: That was a smart move. I think the Republicans are making a bit mistake if they take on...

SESNO: So you give him, but wait a minute. You give President Bush credit for that?

NADER: Yes. Yes.

SESNO: And that's an environmentally friendly move, in your view.

NADER: Yes, and Governor Pataki, who pushed it earlier. Yes. I think the Republicans are going to learn that you just can't jam things down the throat of taxpayers and give all the corporate subsidies and welfare to these big companies. You can't jam things down the consumer and not have law and order for corporate fraud and abuse. And you can't leave tens of millions of Americans working every day without a living wage. I mean there are millions of Americans making less today in real inflation adjusted dollars than in 1973.

SESNO: President Bush came to Washington pledging to change the tone here and he talked about that again today when looking over the week's legislative successes. In fact, there are no investigations right now of his administration. It does seem to be somewhat more genial. Would you give him credit for that as well?

NADER: No, because what he's done is he just pushed through the house an HMO immunization bill. I mean it wasn't a patients' rights bill. And he's shoveling huge tax loopholes to an already over profit glutted fossil fuel and nuclear industry. I mean they're charging people enormous money for electricity, gasoline and oil. Why do they need even more taxpayer subsides?

So I think more and more the Republicans going to have to sit down and say are we going to completely turn this government over to big business and still expect to win election in the year 2002?

SESNO: The view from Ralph Nader. Thank you. Appreciate your time.

And we're going to discuss the week's political highlights, some of which you just heard Ralph Nader touch upon on our Friday roundtable. That's coming up.

Also, Bill Schneider returns from his vacation with his political play of the week.

And later... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Calvin Coolidge used to go trout fishing. Harry Truman loved Key West, Florida. Gerald Ford, a natural athlete, golfed in California, skied in Colorado.


SESNO: How presidents spend their summer vacations, still ahead.


SESNO: Bill Schneider is back from what he calls a working vacation and even as he televised, Bill kept a close eye on events back here in Washington. Bill joins us now from Los Angeles with his thoughts on this week in the Capitol, a few thousand miles away -- hello, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Hello, Frank.

You know, a week ago the story line everyone was preparing to write on the Bush presidency was frustration and failure. It went like this. As the president goes on vacation, he must contemplate the question what went wrong?

Well, you know, they say a week is a lifetime in politics and sure enough, this week the Bush presidency was born again. What happened? The political play of the week, that's what happened.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This week, everything fell into place for President Bush. The House of Representatives passed his energy plan and gave him a big win on the patients bill of rights. "The Washington Post" reported the president's job rating up to 59 percent. The question we must contemplate is how did he do it? Was it luck?

No, it was work. The president worked hard for those wins. He lobbied members of Congress.

REP. CHARLES NORWOOD (R), GEORGIA: I think the people of America should be very, very grateful for the hard work he's put in, the arm twisting he's done.

SCHNEIDER: He was open to compromise.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congressman Norwood came into my office and he said Mr. President, would you like to talk about the possibility of reaching an agreement on a patients bill of rights? I said, you bet.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats see Norwood's willingness to deal as an act of betrayal. That's not the way the president sees it.

BUSH: He was practicing the art of what is possible. SCHNEIDER: So was the president, who knew exactly what he brought to the deal -- power.

BUSH: I'm offering to sign a bill and not veto it and that's pretty powerful incentive for someone to try to come up with an agreement.

SCHNEIDER: It was powerful enough for Norwood.

NORWOOD: Is we want to change the law and the last time I looked, that's pretty difficult to do without the presidential signature.

SCHNEIDER: On the energy bill, too, the president found an unlikely coalition partner, labor.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Exploration in ANWR will mean three quarters of a million jobs to America, over 40,000 right here in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, good jobs, union jobs.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly one year ago today, the president signaled his willingness to deal in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

BUSH: I worked with Republicans and Democrats to get things done.

SCHNEIDER: He couldn't have gotten the energy bill through the House this week without the help of Democrats. Compromise, coalition building, lobbying, that's called politics. It's also called the political play of the week.


SCHNEIDER: Suppose President Bush had lost those House votes this week? He would have been branded a loser. The press would have gone into a month long feeding frenzy. Congress would have spent the month figuring out how to roll him.

But he won, and that changes everything. So, relax Mr. President and have a good vacation -- Frank.

SESNO: What a difference a week makes. Thanks, Bill. Have a good vacation, or what's left of it, yourself.


SESNO: Well, joining us now with our regular Friday roundtable, Les Payne of "Newsday," Robert George of "The New York Post" and CNN's Take 5 Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

And Ron, we're going to start with you and go right around the horn and let you all have your political play of the week. Is it going to be unanimous here? Are you all going to say George W. Bush? RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES," CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't pick (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Garcia for his triumphant return from the disabled list on Sunday? No, if I can't, I have to pick President Bush, though with an extra aside for Speaker Hastert in the House. Because what happened here was not only the White House twisting arms. It was House Republicans making a calculation they have a better chance of maintaining their slim majority in 2002 if they hold together, if they hang together.

Very different from what Democrats did in the first two years of the Clinton presidency when they all looked to maximize their advantage at home and in the process ran into the ground a lot of his key priorities. When he sank, so did they. House Republicans are betting on Bush.

SESNO: All that yammering about can Hastert keep DeLay in line and can they keep the moderates in line, forget it? They've

BROWNSTEIN: Well, not forever, but the moderates on the big things have decided they need to be with Bush.

SESNO: All right, let's go to Robert George. Your take?

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": I'm going to have to agree and obviously since George W. Bush was a former Major League baseball owner, would have to, in a sense, say it's a triple play. You take a patients bill of rights. You take energy and also slightly overlooked today was a big vote on farm aid. The Democrats tried to add an extra $2 billion in spending and Bush said he was going to veto it and he got the lower spending that he wanted.

So it's, you know, one, two, three and he has a, he's got a great month ahead of him.

SESNO: And Les Payne? We're not hearing much about the Democrats here.

LES PAYNE, "NEWSDAY": Well, as long as we are using the sports metaphor, I guess we'll have to give him -- and we all talk in politics -- I guess we have to give him the perfecta. Within 24 hours he got his comprehensive energy plan and the patients' so-called health plan.

I think he's had a good week, there's no question about that. I think in terms of where things are going now it remains to be seen. Ralph Nader was interesting in the piece that was done before. He seemed to think that the American people are losers, but we'll see.

SESNO: And so you're giving the play to George W. Bush as well?

PAYNE: If you're talking politics, I think it has to be that because it -- where the rubber meets the road, that's it.

SESNO: He's three for three here, then, with you gentlemen.

Today in the Rose Garden, the president attributed the successes that he's had this week legislatively to what he called, and I'm quoting, "the new tone, clear agenda and active leadership."

Ron Brownstein, has he got it about right, new tone, clear agenda, active leadership?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know so much about the new tone. I mean I really think that what happened this week was, first of all, only the first stage in the process, Frank. Now we have to go to House-Senate conferences and by the House Republicans holding together so firmly, in some ways they paradoxically make it less likely that we get a final deal because the distance between the House and the Senate is going to be bigger.

But what's been frustrated is the Democratic hope that they could isolate Bush, who'll pushed the ideas through the Democratic Senate, peel off enough Republicans, moderate Republicans from swing districts in the House, force Bush to either sign bills that he doesn't like on patients bill of rights or campaign finance reform or veto them and risk alienating swing voters.

I think what's clear after this week is that while they may be able to do that on some issues, they're not going to be able to do is consistently because those House Republicans, the moderates have decided they need, their chances in 2002 are better if Bush is strong. And that really is a key breakthrough for the White House.

SESNO: All right, gentlemen, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll have more with this Friday roundtable plus a peek at the new Al Gore. For those that have been e-mailing us, we'll hear what some of you have had to say, so don't go away.


SESNO: And now more of our Friday roundtable with Les Payne of "Newsday," Robert George of "The New York Post" and Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." Les Payne, let's come back to you and then to Robert and then back here to Ron on the subject of Bill Clinton. He was back in the news this week and in Harlem opening his offices out on the street. I think we have a picture of him. And he was pumping the air, looking triumphant.

I was talking to one seasoned political pro earlier today who just put it as bluntly as he could. He said Bill Clinton doesn't want to be an elder statesman, he wants to be a rock star.

Your take?

PAYNE: Well, he had a pretty good setting for it. And I think the interesting thing about his appearance up in Harlem is that I think he did what I can't think of no other former president being able to do, that is to go to Harlem and to get that kind of reception.

Imagine Reagan doing it or Bush, Sr. or, to say nothing of Nixon.

And so I think that the interesting thing is that on the one hand it may politically be nice to be accepted in Harlem, but one has also to be accepted in Simi Valley. In terms of the way the country is going, I think that he made a pretty impressive statement up there with an audience that obviously is his constituents who obviously were very enthusiastic but who obviously had some say in the way things are going.

SESNO: Robert?

GEORGE: I'd have to agree with that. There was a rap song a few years ago, Frank, that went "don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years." And that's basically it with Bill Clinton. He went into a little bit, he went, he just televised overseas. He did a lot of speeches for six months, let the furor over the pardons die down and this was really his reintroduction into the public stage.

The day afterwards he announced an arrangement to create a foundation to fight AIDS in Africa with the singer Babyface and so forth.

It's very, very clear that he's going to use his celebrity and the political capital that he still has to create a really unique role, a really unique role for himself on the political stage and it's something that neither...

SESNO: Ron...

GEORGE: It's something that neither...

SESNO: I'm sorry.

GEORGE: It's something that neither George W. Bush or, for that matter, Al Gore, can ignore.

SESNO: So, Ron, on the role and the legacy, which both essentially were rolled out this week, where, in your view, does this go?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the one absolute with Bill Clinton is that there are no last acts. Whenever he seems to be on top of the world, he tumbles. And when he seems absolutely beyond redemption, he begins clawing his way back. And I think we are in the middle of one of those cycles, frankly.

He left office, you know, as he entered office in sort of a hail of scandal but now that some time has elapsed, he is beginning to find ways to reenter the public stage. And what was very clear in talking to him shortly before he left office is that he envisioned a very public post-presidency. Whether he runs for office again someday, you know, I tend to doubt. But I think he does want to be a behind-the- scenes adviser to the Democratic Party and in front of the camera as a spokesman for the causes he cares about.

So I suspect we are in the midst of another turn back toward Clinton into the limelight.

SESNO: And speaking of another turn back to the limelight, Al Gore, too. He's been traveling around and the new new Al Gore unveiled today with a picture that shows facial hair. A beard. What's going on, Robert?

GEORGE: Well, I guess this means Al Gore is, indeed, planning on running for president. But it looks like it's the president of Serbia. I mean it's a little bit different. But I hate to say this, you know, this, once again, shows the awkwardness of being Al Gore. He finally decides to emerge into the public spotlight and what happens? It's the same week that Clinton has his big Harlem Renaissance on Monday, and Thursday and Friday George W. Bush cleans up politically in the House and the Senate.

So I mean his timing, as always, is a little bit off.

SESNO: Now, Les, we went back into the history books and we looked to find when was the last president who had a beard and guess what? It was Benjamin Harrison. And we found something else out. As many may recall about Benjamin Harrison, he won a disputed election. He lost the popular vote and he won through the Electoral College. Could there be some subliminal connection here?

PAYNE: Well, I think that there are a lot of college presidents who wear beards and I think his beard looked particularly professorial and I think this is the career that he has found himself working now and I think it may very well be the one, unfortunate for him, that he may have his most promising future.

GEORGE: I think...


GEORGE: I think Al Gore has decided he's taken it on the chin one time too many.

SESNO: All right, well, for those of you who have facial hair and those of you who do not, thanks very much, Les Payne, Robert George and Ron Brownstein. Great to see you and have you here, as always. Have a great weekend.

GEORGE: Thank you, Frank.

SESNO: And time for a look at how some of our viewers responded to the stories we've been covering. Election reform sparked a number of e-mails. Betsy Lyde from Sherman, Texas writes, "Why not have early voting like we do here in Texas? Beginning two weeks before each election in every town the polls are open from 8:00 to 5:00 the first week, including Saturday and Sunday, and 7:00 to 7:00 the second week. It's so important to vote, why make it so hard on only one day?"

And Henry Zuill writes, "All primaries should be held on the same day in all states. That would prevent presidential nominee determination by just a very few people in several smaller states."

The compromise Congressman Charles Norwood made with President Bush on the patients bill of rights drew a strong response. K.M. from South Carolina writes, "Norwood sold his soul to the devil." Jo Getz of Vero Beach, Florida took issue with former President Bill Clinton reappearing in the news. Jo writes, "For eight years we grit our teeth and endured Bill Clinton and tonight you had the audacity to waste our time exalting Clinton again as he begins his orchestration of attempting to tear down President Bush and build up himself."

Some strong opinions. And you can always e-mail us your opinions and your observations right here on INSIDE POLITICS. We'll be back.


SESNO: Tomorrow, President Bush begins a month long vacation. Our Bruce Morton offers a few thoughts now on the tradition of the presidential getaway.


MORTON (voice-over): Some presidents are touchy about vacations. Theodore Roosevelt went to Yellowstone, announcing he wanted to be left alone. A reporter disobeyed, followed on horseback with his dog. Reporter arrested, horse confiscated, dog shot.

Calvin Coolidge used to go trout fishing, but reports say he wore white gloves and had Secret Service agents bait the hooks and remove any caught fish.

Franklin Roosevelt, who had polio, loved to swim in the warm water at Warm Springs, Georgia.

Harry Truman loved Key West, Florida. He spent 175 days there in seven and a half years as president, played poker, told stories, laughed.

Dwight Eisenhower loved golf. Spent 222 days of his eight years at Augusta, where they play the Masters.

John Kennedy sailed, threw footballs, watched his children grow at family compounds in Hyannis, Cape Cod and Palm Beach, Florida.

Lyndon Johnson went to his Texas ranch.

Richard Nixon worked, visited friends at San Clemente, California and Key Biscayne, Florida. Once walked the beach in a business suit. Vacations weren't really his thing.

Gerald Ford, a natural athlete, golfed in California, skied in Colorado.

Jimmy Carter, a tennis player, but he often sought solitude on islands off the Georgia coast. No reporters, just family.

Ronald Reagan went often with his wife, Nancy, to their California ranch, Rancho del Cielo. Reporters stayed in Santa Barbara, relaxed, no president to chase. One network cameraman liked it so well he bought his retirement home there.

The first President Bush went to the family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Speed golf, golf aerobics, some called it, 18 holes in under two hours, and used his cigarette boat.

Bill Clinton golfed more casually in Wyoming and here, at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Usually he'd stop, an instinctive politician, and shake a few hands in town. He liked local snacks at the Vineyard eateries, too.

BUSH: You see the cows lying down?

MORTON: And now the second President Bush will spend his first summer presidential vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He loves it, clearly. The White House press corps? Color them worried.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


SESNO: Oh, well. That's it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno. "FIRST EVENING NEWS" is next and here's Bill Hemmer.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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