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Legislative Battles Between White House and Congress Taking Shape

Aired August 15, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington. The fall legislative battles between the White House and Congress are taking shape, and Senate majority leader Tom Daschle tells us where he'll draw the line.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace in New Mexico where the president is playing up one of his big themes and preparing for the battles to come.

BRUCE MORTON, I'm Bruce Morton in Washington. I've been imagining what Al Gore is saying in his political workshop.

KING: Also ahead, will the Teamsters endorse Al Gore again? We'll talk politics with union president James P. Hoffa.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

KING: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week.

We begin with the August warm-up to the expected political showdown in September. The president and congressional Democrats are using their summer break to promote their dueling agendas, to plot strategy and to fire warning shots at one another. Mr. Bush is an Albuquerque, New Mexico, the latest side trip during his working vacation. Our White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace, is there, too -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Well, John, with this being the beginning of the school year in New Mexico, it is no surprise that President Bush is focusing on the issue of education. He announced $6 million in new grants for magnet schools here in Albuquerque. And along the way, he's showing a little bit of his softer, more personal side.



WALLACE (voice-over): On the first day of classes in Albuquerque, President Bush had a story for some second graders...

BUSH: I like watermelon when it's hot. Don't you?

WALLACE: ... and a message for Congress to finish work on a plan requiring annual student testing.

BUSH: We're not guessing in New Mexico whether or not children are learning to read. We know because your state is bold enough to adapt a policy that says, "Show us whether or not the children are learning before any child gets left behind."


WALLACE: The president using part of his working vacation to tee off his fall agenda and lay off some markers.

BUSH: I can assure you when we get back this fall, if they try to bust the budget, you'll have a president who will veto those budget busting bills.

WALLACE: In September, Mr. Bush says he'll press for his energy plan, including oil drilling in parts of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, a Patients' Bill of Rights with limits on lawsuits, and a proposal giving tax dollars to religious groups to provide social services. But political observers say the president faces an uphill battle.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Simply put, the president has a numbers problem in the Senate. Tom Daschle controls that body. The Democrats have the majority, and moderate Republicans will not support the Bush agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you a good student in fifth grade?


BUSH: In fifth grade? I'm glad you qualified that for fifth grade. Yes, I was a good student in fifth grade.

WALLACE: Hoping to influence the debate, Mr. Bush is trying to connect with everyday Americans, taking his so-called heartland tour to Colorado and New Mexico, with stops next week in Wisconsin, Missouri and Pennsylvania -- all states that were close in the 2000 presidential race and could be important for 2004.


WALLACE: And a big part of this visit to New Mexico reaching out to Hispanic voters, this White House viewing that voting block as very important for the next presidential election. And so just a few minutes from now, the president will be attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new job training center, an initiative sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce -- John.

KING: Well, Kelly, I understand you have information the Democrats taking issue with the site chosen by the president.

WALLACE: That's exactly right. Democrats saying that this job training center was created based on grants put forward by the Clinton administration; basically, part of the Housing and Urban Development's economic development initiative. This all coming out of the community development block grant program. And Democrats are saying today that the Bush administration has gone ahead and slashed that very program that led to this center by an amount of as much as $400 million. Well, White House aides see things very differently. They say that the president is proposing the same amount for this community block development program, about $4 billion as the Clinton administration did. They are saying that lawmakers went ahead and added $400 million for so-called pork barrel projects, and that is just what they are against -- John.

KING: And, Kelly, while at that site, we expect you are told the president to raise one of those issues he expects to fight with the Congress with this fall?

WALLACE: Absolutely. We expect him to say in very strong words that he would veto legislation that would come to his desk. That would impose safety standards on Mexican trucks crossing the border, this part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The president saying that the U.S. must have good relations with its neighbor. White House officials also saying that a majority of the Hispanic community support this initiative, allowing these trucks to come into the United States.

Democrats are saying there are legitimate safety concerns about these trucks, that they are looking into it, though, again. But they do believe that if the president talks about this being something that Hispanic support, that he is in some way using this for political purposes. And they say he should not do that -- John.

KING: All right, Kelly Wallace joining us from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thank you very much.

Now the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, is back home in South Dakota but preparing when back in Washington to lead the charge against some of the items on the Bush agenda and to press ahead with issues high on the Democrats' priority list. I spoke to Senator Daschle earlier today about both domestic and international policy.


KING: Senator Daschle, thank you for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. It looks beautiful there in Rapid City. I want to ask you first about the continuing crisis, the developing crisis in the Middle East. Obviously, tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the rise. On this program yesterday, a Republican colleague of yours, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, suggesting that it's time for President Bush to do more because of the deterioration of the situation there. Before I get your views, I do want you to listen briefly here to what the president had to say about this crisis a little earlier today.


BUSH: I'm confident that the leadership there will understand that war is avoidable and we'll work to bring peace. The parties must, must make up their mind that peace is preferable to war. Suicide bombings have been -- have increased, too many of them. And Mr. Arafat must do everything in his power to discourage the suicide bombers. And the Israelis must be restrained in their response.


KING: The president, senator, calling for restraint there. Must he, in your view, do more? And if so, what specifically should he do?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, John, I agree with the president. I do believe that we have to see more restraint. I think it's critical that the United States become more engaged, that we provide more leadership. Obviously, we can't pick up where we left off six months ago. A lot has happened over the last six months, but I think that personal engagement is absolute necessity. There's a void there that has to be filled. I believe it's only the United States that can do it, bringing both sides together, engaging in dialogue, doing the most that the we can to see if we can start a constructive way with which to begin ending the violence and putting a peace process in place.

KING: Does that mean you do not think the president has done enough so far?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't think that we have been as engaged, and I think we're going to pay a price. I think it's critical for us to, at the highest levels, be as involved as we can be. That's the only way we're going to bring this violence to an end and begin a dialogue that could end up with a constructive solution. But clearly, if we don't do it, I don't know anyone else in the world who can.

KING: Let's look ahead now to some of the fall legislative battles shaping up. Number one, let's start with the Patients' Bill of Rights. The president twisted some arms in the House. One passage of a piece of legislation there in which he says he's made a number of compromises. That bill allows for damages if you sue your HMO of up to $1.5 million. The Senate bill, as you know, calls for damages of up to $5 million. Now the president said he's gone as far as he can go. Will you move his way on this legislation?

DASCHLE: Well, the president said that the Senate bill was 90 percent to his liking. If he's more happy with the House bill and with the process there, it seems to me that there ought to be a way to find real common ground. I think we've come too far to give up completely. We've got to find a solution. He has to be able to give in order for that solution to be realized. There has to be give on both sides. We've done a good deal of giving. I think he ought to participate as he has been and give a little bit more. We'll find that solution.

KING: And if he says the bottom line is 1.5 million, will there be a bill this year?

DASCHLE: Well, I hope he isn't saying that he'd veto a bill if he doesn't have it exactly his way. As I said, we've already reached a situation where it's over 90 percent to his liking. So vetoing a bill under those circumstances would be inexcusable. I'm hopeful, as I said, that we can continue the discussion. We ought to be able to find the remaining common ground to get the kind of solution here legislatively we're all looking for.

KING: Now you sent the president just today, I'm told, a letter. Obviously, one of the biggest battles when Congress returns will be the appropriations debates. And the Democrats increasingly making the case in their view because of the Bush tax cut, not enough money to fund important spending priorities. What was in that letter specifically? And what are you trying to get from the president?

DASCHLE: Well, John, our letter simply stated the fact that the projections just as we said they would be are way off. And because they're way off and because the tax cut was so large, we virtually have no room to do all of the other things that we need to do to run the government. We are going to be dipping into Medicare, and most likely Social Security trust funds for the first time in years. That to me is wrong.

The Bush economy is souring and we've got to find a way to resolve these issues prior to the time they get any worse. The only way we're going to do that is to talk about them and find some way to resolve them before they do get worse.

KING: Well, you say talk about them. Has the president reached out to you at all over this break? Do you plan to meet with him right after you come back?

DASCHLE: I do hope we can meet. I talked with Senator Lott yesterday, and we had a very good conversation. I've not had any conversations with the president for some time, but I'm hopeful that when we come back, in the most constructive and bipartisan way we can begin addressing these issues. There's no time to waste. The end of the fiscal year is almost upon us.

KING: Another issue you will have to deal with when you come back, the very emotional issue of embryonic stem cell research. In advance of the president's decision, you said that you hoped that he would endorse federal funding for research that would actually remove stem cells from existing embryos. Now the president stopped short of that. He endorsed federal funding on existing stem cell lines. Many Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the Senate want to do more. Do you think the Senate will debate that or do you think for now that Congress should embrace what the president has said?

DASCHLE: Well, I give the credit to the president for getting this effort under way. He could have made an entirely different decision and he didn't. And you've seen some of the harsh criticism he's taken from some elements within his own party and certainly on the far right. But I don't think you can avoid having a further debate about this issue. It is as you said, John, far too important.

KING: Energy another issue, the House passed legislation that allows limited exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You are a critic of that. Some Democrats have threatened to filibuster the bill in the Senate. The president says give it t a vote. What say you?

DASCHLE: Well, I think there'll probably be a vote of some kind. It may be a vote on cloture. It may be a vote on the issue itself. But there will probably at least procedural votes in the Senate. My feeling is that there is so much we can do together, Republicans and Democrats. We ought to take those most emotional and very, very confrontational issues off the table if we want to get comprehensive energy policy passed. This is too controversial. And frankly, I just don't think there's any possibility that in the Senate the requisite number of senators will agree. But that's remain to be seen. I'm very hopeful that we can put comprehensive energy policy high on the priority list as we take up issues this fall.

KING: Now you're home this weekend, this week in South Dakota. We have seen in Tennessee the reemergence of the former vice president Al Gore. He has accepted an invitation to come to your neighboring state, Iowa, for the Jefferson Jackson dinner in September. A lot of speculation not only about whether Al Gore will run again, but whether Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, and others will run for president in 2004.

You have said you might seek reelection, you might retire, maybe you'll run for president. Any thoughts, any closer to a decision now that you're out of Washington for a few days?

DASCHLE: No, I haven't made any -- any other decision. I'm not going to make a decision until after this next election. There are too many things we've got to focus on. I love being majority leader. I'm honored to have that position and title. I think it's critical that we make the most of our time in the majority and in governing the country. That means working together and trying to find common solutions. And I intend to do just that.

KING: You're talking politely today voicing hope for bipartisanship when you come back. But, obviously, there are some collisions if you match up the president's agenda -- he wants his education bill, his faith-based initiative -- against the Democratic initiatives: a prescription drug plan, raising the minimum wage. Where do you see the collisions ahead in the weeks ahead?

DASCHLE: Well, you don't have to look hard to find potential collisions. I'm hopeful that we can work things out on education, clearly, the whole appropriations process and what we do with trying to protect Medicare and Social Security, what happens on energy policy and the question you raised about ANWR. There's an array of issues involving stem cell research. And we want to get in the prescription drug benefit. And oh, by the way, there's also minimum wage. So we don't have any shortage of opportunities here to lay out opposing views.

What I do hope is that we can find common ground. There's -- the American people expect it. We ought to find it. And I think they have every right to be disappointed in us if we don't.

KING: All right, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle joining us from Rapid City. Time requires us to wrap up at this point. We hope you enjoy the rest of your recess. We'll see you back in Washington, and we thank you for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS.

DASCHLE: Thank you, John.


KING: We want to continue now our discussion about the debates and the fights just ahead with CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Obviously, money is going to be a major issue here. Major business of the Congress to do the appropriations bills. Clear from Senator Daschle that the Bush tax cut might be law but that debate is not over, is it?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. You have -- there was eight appropriations bills left to be done. This will fund everything the government does. Big battles over whether or not Congress can keep to that limit, keep to the spending limit that they put forth in that budget resolution that made that tax cut possible. But by the way, Republicans want to come back and talk about more tax cuts, because one of the first thing that the Democrats are going to do is come forward and push a minimum wage bill. You heard Daschle talk about it. It's one of obviously Ted Kennedy's top proprieties.

Republicans are saying, "If we're going to do the minimum wage, we've got to have tax cuts." They want to have tax cut to capital gains, small business tax cuts saying, "Looking into a possible recession, you don't just impose something that's costly on business. You've got to do something to get us out of this economic slump."

KING: But there will be a new dynamic to this debate, will there not? Everyone expecting the congressional budget office and the president's office, a man who's in budget to release new numbers in the next week or so saying, "Guess what? The slowing economy means a small surplus which means less to spend."

KARL: Yeah, absolutely. And Democrats are already, you know, getting worked up about this possibility. And, you know, they want to blame the Republicans for dipping into the Social Security and Medicare surpluses. Expect that to happen. But again, Republicans are going to be saying, "Look, we've got an economic downturn. Perhaps more important than worrying about the surplus right now is getting the economy going again." That's why you're going to hear a lot less defending of the surplus from Republicans in the months ahead.

KING: And this debate over Mexican trucks, it has become, has it not, much more than whether we are bound to do this by the North American Free Trade Agreement as the president says, or a safety issues, as critics of this proposal say. Politics to this as well?

KARL: Well, certainly. I mean, certainly, there's no secret Republicans look at that growing Hispanic voter population. They want to get more of it. But something to watch for: First week in September, you've got the Mexican president, Vicente Fox, coming to the White House to meet with President Bush. That's exactly when we'll be talking about this issue on Capitol Hill. Look for Republicans again to start talking about, "Hey, Democrats are against free, you know, on this Mexican truck issue because they are anti- Hispanic." It's a line that Lott used several times last month. Look for that to come again pretty hot and heavy in September.

KING: All right, CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl, thank you here in joining us here today.

And we'll talk more about the politics of stem cell research later with conservative radio host Charles Colson. Stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.


JAMES HOFFA, TEAMSTERS PRESIDENT: I think that's sad to be talking and playing a race card.


ANNOUNCER: Teamsters president James Hoffa on Mexican trucks, politics, and his union's relations with the Bush White House. Also ahead...


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Summertime. And for most kids, the living is easy. Don't tell it to the kids here in Chicago.


ANNOUNCER: Ron Brownstein takes us to summer school, ground zero in education reform. And Bruce Morton tries to get into the head of political workshop leader, Al Gore.


MORTON: I can so give this talk. I won the popular vote, remember.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, there's more of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff straight ahead.


KING: The Teamsters Union is playing a key role in several of the early political battles facing the Bush administration. And even though the Teamsters endorsed Al Gore, the union has shown a willingness to work with the new president. Earlier, I spoke with Teamsters president James Hoffa, and I asked him about keeping Mexican trucks off U.S. highways and if Teamsters' allies in the Congress have the votes to override a threatened presidential veto.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HOFFA: I think we do. We had 70 votes for cloture with 65-35 on some of the votes with regard to cross-border trucking. So we think we're OK. But the key thing right now is the conference committee to make sure that we keep the protections in the bill that goes to the president. We're going to -- I hope that the president doesn't do this because we're talking about safety on American highways. Why would we compromise that? Why would we have one standard for American trucks and Canadian trucks and then a lower standard for Mexican trucks? That's not right. We want to have -- make sure that the American driving public is protected and that's what this bill does.

KING: You make the safety argument, but many of your critics say this is much more about pride and about jobs. Some have called your position anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic. How do you answer that?

HOFFA: I think that that's sad to be talking and playing a race card. We've come too far in this country. We're talking about safety. And we're joined by people from the Sierra Club. Are they racist? Are the Friends of the Earth, are they racist? And are all the people in the House and the Senate, are they racist? No. The answer is: We've got a legitimate question here that both the Mexican government and the United States government have not addressed. And what they've got to do is to make sure that we up the standards for the Mexican drivers, and most of all, for their protection. We want to raise the standards for our Mexican brothers. We want to make sure they have safer trucks. We want to make sure they have the training so they can drive on our highways. I think that's the answer. And they haven't done anything, and we're not going to compromise our safety standards here in the United States just so we can abide by some trade agreement. This is not a pact that's a suicide pact.

KING: You have raised, Mr. Hoffa, quite a few eyebrows working so closely with the Republican administration in this energy debate. No secret that back in campaign 2000, the Teamsters were late to the table in endorsing Al Gore for president. If you face that today and had to recommend Gore or Bush to your executive committee, who would it be?

HOFFA: Well, we can't make that choice. We don't know who's running. That's three, four years away. The most important thing that we talk about in the Teamsters is that we have an agenda for working families and Teamsters. That's my constituency. And we talk about what's good for us. We can't put our policies on hold for four years because President Bush is in there. We have to reach out to this administration. We find common ground with them as we do on ANWR and we work together. And there's going to be areas that we don't agree with which is cross-border trucking. But the answer is we're talking to them. And I think that's healthy for America. Let's work together to make sure we find out areas of agreement, let's develop this country. Let's make sure we move ahead. Let's have jobs in this country, and let's make sure we start rebuilding the United States.

KING: What about the coming debate on immigration? The president reviewing proposals to perhaps give residency status to millions of Mexican-Americans and others partly in the United States illegally? Where do you stand personally in the Teamsters Union on that debate.

HOFFA: We have passed resolutions by our executive board that they are for amnesty and then for really making sure that people that have been here for a long time can have the protections of our laws especially in organizing. What we're finding is that some of the people that have been here from Mexico have been here 10, 20 years, and then they try and organize a company, and the employer calls the INS on them. That's wrong and we've taken a position against that. I think it's very important that we have legal immigration of this country, we make sure that we have people coming to this country at all times, and we're for basically opening the borders to the extent that we have legal immigration and that people have the rights that other people have with regard to organizing.

KING: Any contact with the former vice president at all since the election? He has had a bit of a reemergence into politics this week leading a workshop for Democrats in Nashville. He's going to Iowa in September for a fund-raising dinner. Any sense behind the scenes with you personally or other union leaders that the vice president is calling around and saying, "Hey, I haven't made up my mind yet, but can you stay on the sidelines? You might be seeing me back out there again in 2004"?

HOFFA: No, we have not had any contact like that from the former vice president. I think -- I met with him several times. But you know, like we said, we've got President Bush in there right now. If he wants to call us, we'd be more than happy to talk about the issues that face the United States today.

KING: What's your sense of what would happen if you had a Democratic field that had a Gore, a Gephardt, perhaps a Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Joe Biden, perhaps a Tom Daschle? Where would the labor vote go in a crowded field like that?

HOFFA: I think that it's too early to talk about that. You know, there's a lot of choices. Let's see what happens with this president. Let's see where we're at four years from now. You really can't have a crystal ball and talk about issues. We don't know who's running. We don't know who's going to show up, who's going to have a good program. We don't know what the issues are going to be. But I will tell you this: I think we should be talking about trade bills that take jobs out of this country. We should be talking about having good jobs, the United States, developing and raising the standard of living of the average American. And I think that's been forgotten by both parties. I think we have to get back to making sure the United States is strong, and any trade bill that we have that guarantees making sure that we have labor rights for the country we're dealing with. And also, that these labor -- these trade agreements do not cause jobs losses in this country. That's the most important issue. And we can't seem to get that through to either the Democrats or the Republicans. We've got to get that issue across.


KING: Up next, a check of some of the day's other top stories, including late developments in the scheduled execution of a Texas inmate.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the cornerstones of the bill says that we're going to hold people accountable for results.

I love coming into a school district where I hear the superintendent and the principals say, "Go ahead and measure us. We're confident that we've got the right curriculum. We're confident we've got the best teachers possible. We're confident that we're teaching our children the skills necessary to become productive citizens."


KING: More of President Bush's education message today at a New Mexico elementary school where he repeatedly called for mandatory testing and other key planks in his education reform plan.

The president is scheduled to appear at a job-training center later this hour, and we plan to take you there live when it happens.

While the president is out selling his education plan, House and Senate staffers are meeting during the summer recess trying to reconcile different versions of a major education bill. One key issue: tough new tests that will serve as a benchmark for whether a school is determined to be a success or a failure.

Chicago is one school district already embracing tougher testing. CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" went there for a ground zero look at what it takes to get scores up. The answer: two words every kid hates to hear, "summer school."


RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Summertime. And for most kids, the living is easy. Don't tell it to the kids here in Chicago. This summer, over 140,000 kids in the Windy City are spending part of their day in a classroom, wading through reading, long division, and fractions, while their friends are diving into the pool or the lake.


BROWNSTEIN: It's the nation's most ambitious effort to use the summer months to help struggling students get back on track.

ARNE DUNCAN, CEO, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Who wants to be on my team?


DUNCAN: I'll get the two little fellows. BROWNSTEIN: The man at the helm is 36-year-old Arne Duncan, Mayor Richard Daley's surprise choice this summer to head the massive Chicago public school system.

DUNCAN: Good shot. Give me some. Good shot.

BROWNSTEIN: Duncan has been a tutor, the school system's deputy chief of staff, and a professional basketball player in Australia. Now he's at ground zero of the search for the new ways to make the public schools work 12 months a year.

(on camera): You have almost half of your 430,000 kids in some sort of a summer school. Why such a big commitment to keeping schools -- kids in school in the summer?

DUNCAN: I think it's something that, you know, clearly is not just an issue here but throughout the country that -- and urban areas especially that the -- agrarian economy is a thing of the past.

And I grew up as part -- my mother has run an after-school program for the past 40 years. I grew up being a part of that, you know -- you know, seven days a week, 52 days -- 52 weeks a year, and I think all of our kids need the opportunity to learn and to grow, you know, 11, 12 months out of the year.

I think it's just a -- a very different -- you know, different age, different era.

Let's head inside.

BROWNSTEIN: Mr. Duncan, your efforts to end social promotion here in Chicago really are one of the most dramatic examples in the country of high-stakes testing. There's a backlash developing in some parts of the country against tests with these kinds of consequences. Are you at all reconsidering pinning so much on one exam for these students?

DUNCAN: Our goal is to help our kids fulfill their tremendous potential, and I've seen throughout my life working in very, very difficult neighborhoods how much, you know, the potential these kids have when given real opportunities to succeed.

And I've seen kids from -- you know, again, from very, you know, disadvantaged, you know, communities do very well on these tests. I have friends who grew up in those areas who are now brain surgeons, so -- you know, who are now leading educators. They did well on tests.

I don't think we just -- you know, we shouldn't make excuses. We shouldn't lower the bar, and we definitely shouldn't exempt our kids from those things that they're going to have to do well on in order to fulfill their dreams. It's absolutely counterintuitive.

BROWNSTEIN: As you know, they're trying to finish up the education bill in Washington, and really the biggest dispute at this point is how do you determine what is a failing school. Is it realistic to set the same bar for urban schools as you do for suburban schools?

DUNCAN: Right. It absolutely is and, again, I -- to make excuses or not expect the high standards or have the highest expectations for our students or for our schools handicaps them -- we have tremendous pockets of excellence in the heart of the inner city, south side of Chicago, west side of the city.

What we need to do is replicate it, grow upon some just tremendously strong models of schools, of principal leadership, of teachers that exist here within our system.

BROWNSTEIN: I was saying, as part of this debate in Washington, they're envisioning that when schools are deemed to be failing, there's going to be massive intervention in them, you know, removing the principals and the teachers in some cases, bringing in an entirely new staff. How difficult is it to really turn around a school in that way?

DUNCAN: I think that's the greatest challenge of -- in urban America, of how do we turn around, you know, difficult, you know, schools you know, the -- primarily in inner-city communities. Progress is never going to be linear.

My challenge is -- you know, I would love to have test scores improve every year. That's not realistic, you know, for me to say that. That's not realistic for the CEO of any, you know, company to say to their stockholders or their shareholders the profit's going to grow, you know, each year incrementally.

My challenge is to put in place the building blocks, the strategy, the plans, the infrastructure that long term will help us succeed and help us grow. That's what I should be judged on, and that's my job.

BROWNSTEIN: Arne Duncan, thank you.

DUNCAN: Oh, thanks so much. I appreciate it.


KING: Ron Brownstein there with the Chicago schools' CEO, Arne Duncan.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're making progress on -- in Washington on -- on education matters. First, I want you to understand I always remember where I came from. Local control of schools is the best way to make sure every child receives a good education.


It's important that we trust the local folks. KING: President Bush speaking live there in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the opening of the Barelas Job Opportunity Center in -- again in New Mexico.

Now the president's decision to allow limited federal funding of stem-cell research disappointed many of his conservative allies. But not all of them. Charles Colson is the founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries and the host of a daily radio commentary. A little while ago, I asked Mr. Colson how his listeners are reacting to the president's stem-cell decision.


CHARLES COLSON, PRISON FELLOWSHIP MINISTRIES: Well, it's been overwhelmingly positive to the president, and I think the more people think about it, the more they're going to realize that he did the only thing he could do, and he did it in a -- I thought in a very thoughtful, deliberative, prayerful way.

He did the only thing he could do because he was going to get rolled by the Congress. If he had said there will be no embryonic stem-cell research of any kind, including stem cells presently available, there wouldn't have been a shadow of a doubt that he'd have been voted down in the Congress of 2 to 1.

So prudence is a great political virtue, and I think the president acted very prudently, and I think he's drawn the line in the sand, and it's -- it's where it needs to be, that we're not going to take life and we're not going to use life as an expedient means to help others.

But where we have these stem-cell lines already available, we're going to use them. I -- it was a Solomonic decision. I -- I applaud him for it and his courage in doing it.

KING: You say prudent, but there's a great deal of disagreement about this in the conservative community. Let me bring you some of that criticism.

On the Rush Limbaugh Web site, for example, Mr. Limbaugh writes, "Why is it becoming axiomatic that the federal government, meaning taxpayers, "pay for this stuff, especially when there's a lot of disagreement out there, much of it on religious and moral grounds?"

And on another conservative radio program, this one hosted by the Concerned Women for America, this reaction, this sharp criticism of the president earlier this week. Listen in.


MICHAEL SCHWARTZ, GOVERNMENT RELATIONS VICE PRESIDENT, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: I think what the president tried to do was to uphold the principle of respect for life by saying that we're only going to allow experiments on people who've already been killed and, at the same time, throw a bone to science and not stand in the way of scientific progress. He tried to have it both ways, and I think he was sincere in that.

But, you know, when you're up against good and evil, you just can't have it both ways.


KING: So I guess the question, Mr. Colson -- obviously, a spirited debate among cultural conservatives, among conservatives about this decision -- is that debate healthy to have, and could it be politically hurtful to this president?

COLSON: I don't think it will be politically hurtful at all.

We were involved in a press conference last Friday. "The New York Times" reported that we were against the president. They were wrong. They still haven't corrected themselves.

But the fact is we've listened to all these arguments, and I have to say that they'll help -- they'll help the president in the long run because what have you is some social conservatives taking the purist line.

The purist line is "We not only won't kill future embryos for research, but we won't even use those that are presently available that have been killed before because, in principle, we're opposed to embryonic cell -- stem-cell research," and some people take that argument with very good concerns that, in the future, it -- it will simply be a matter of time before we then have new embryos being killed.

So they're -- they -- they don't want the floodgates opened at all, and, obviously, all of us would have preferred that, but it simply wasn't politically feasible.

I think what the president has done is to draw the line where it is politically feasible, where it's prudential, and the debate help because all those fellows like you just heard talking are going to present that case and show the -- those who would have unlimited stem- cell research that there's a -- there's a line beyond which you can't go.

It helps the president to have a little bit of controversy on both sides. Neither side is fully pleased, and that maybe means it's a good political decision.

KING: Well, this debate will move next to the Congress. Many Democrats and some moderate Republicans have said they wish the president had done more, and they promise to push legislation that would allow embryonic stem-cell research on existing embryos. The president, reacting to those comments earlier this week, had this to say. Listen in.


BUSH: The statement I laid out was what I'm -- what I -- what I think is for America, and any piece of legislation that undermines what I think is right will be vetoed.


KING: We have about a minute left, sir. Do you think the president will, indeed, draw that line in the sand, I believed you called it?

COLSON: Yes, I do, and I worked with him when he was governor of Texas. We worked in putting a prison in Texas that he gave his permission to do that we run as a Christian prison.

He is a guy who sticks with his word. He has deep convictions, and he said he'll veto that, and I believe him, and I trust it. He's kept his campaign promise about embryonic stem-cell research, and I think we can trust him on this one.

What we've got to do, social conservatives, is stop quibbling with each other and get busy and build a consensus in this country where people understand the value and dignity of human life and then will give the president the support he needs as these people in the Congress who are simply playing politics, wanting to appeal to people who have got Parkinson's and other terrible diseases and -- with -- with something that's unproven and something you could get with placenta stem cells as well.

They'll demagogue this issue, but I think the president's going to draw the line. We've got to build a consensus to help him support it when he does draw that line.

KING: All right. We're short on time, so we need to end it here. Thank you so much for joining us. Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship, host of the radio...

COLSON: Thank you.

KING: ... program "BreakPoint." Thanks again for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS.

COLSON: Good to be with you.


KING: In Nashville, Al Gore is training young Democrats behind closed doors. What's he telling them? Who knows? But our Bruce Morton is willing and eager to speculate, when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


KING: House Democratic leader helped -- whip - - excuse me. House Democratic Whip David Bonior has officially launched what may be an uphill battle for Michigan governor. With Bonior's announcement today, he joins a large field seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed term-limited Republican John Engler.

Early polls show Bonior is significantly trailing his most prominent Democratic rivals, former Governor James Blanchard and Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. But Bonior says he doesn't put much stock in the polls.


REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: If we're going to go by underdog and running third, I can tell you that right now that Jim Blanchard would be a senior U.S. congressman and Governor John Engler would be back in Beal milking the cows. I mean, you know, these polls mean very little at this time.


KING: Bonior's run for governor comes as his congressional district in Michigan is expected to be redrawn in the Republicans' favor.

In Colorado, two Republicans up for reelection next year have a little more money in the bank today, thanks to President Bush. Mr. Bush raised more than $1.4 million in Denver last night for the campaigns of Governor Bill Owens and Senator Wayne Allard.

Allard, in particular, may need the president's help. Polls suggest he faces a tough race against Democrat Tom Strickland, who got fund-raising help of his own from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle a day earlier.

Mr. Bush capped his Colorado visit by taking in his favorite pastime watching the Colorado Rockies beat the Atlanta Braves at Coors Field.

Tossing around political ideas is, apparently, Al Gore's idea of a good time. The former vice president is continuing his week-long workshop for young Democrats in Nashville. The event is closed to the media. But what if our Bruce Morton were a fly on the wall? Imagine what he might hear Gore saying.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "I can so give this talk. I won the popular vote, remember? OK. Some tips. Get your candidate to talk to the voters in language they can understand."

UNIDENTIFIED VOTER: I have a presentation. It is a book called "How to Talk Yankee."


MORTON: "Hey, it worked. I won the New Hampshire primary, didn't I? Of course, I maybe got carried away, lost my Tennessee accent, if I ever had one. Lost my home state in the fall. That hurt.

"What else? Well, earth-toned clothes are good. Bad, though, if the voters find out you paid a consultant $15,000 a month until we cut it back. Paid a consultant to tell you how to dress. People think you should just know, I guess.

"Babies are good, though, you don't want to let them take over."

GORE: You know, you're stealing the photo op.

MORTON: "Then there's kissing. Seemed like a good idea at the time. The convention, remember? I liked it. I thought Tipper did, but a poll showed only about half the people who saw it thought it was genuine. Almost as many thought is was just a political ploy.

"What to say about the other guy? Attack, attack.

"What to say about your guys? That's harder. I mean, he was my president, and they did impeach him, but I really didn't approve of everything. I may have been a little overboard here."

GORE: What happened as a result does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.

MORTON: "I don't know. He won me some votes, sure. Maybe he lost me some.

"Well, one sure tip: If your guy's in a debate with the other guy, don't -- whatever you do -- don't let him sigh. I just got bored listening, but it hurt.

"Get out the vote. Now that's a key. We did that well in 2000. Even in Florida, we got people out. Of course, the Republicans did it well, too. Got out the vote in the one place where it mattered most. Just nine votes fewer than Dixville Notch in New Hampshire, but they beat us 5 to 4. If a couple of Republicans had had bad colds that day, who knows?

"Anyway, there are some tips, some do's and don'ts. It's a great ride. Nothing else like it. The real question is: Would anyone want to do it more than once?"

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


KING: A Massachusetts lawmaker says he has a solution to one baseball great's painful legacy. Up next, the latest attempt to rid Boston of the curse of the Bambino.


KING: Never underestimate the power of politics. A Massachusetts lawmaker hopes to wipe out baseball's mythical curse of the Bambino with an official statehouse resolution.

Representative Angelo Scaccia is sponsoring a bill that will officially recognize Babe Ruth's retirement, and he plans to present the resolution to Ruth's 84-year-old daughter. Babe Ruth started his career in Boston and led the Red Sox to the World Series title back in 1918. But Boston then sent him to the New York Yankees, and as long-suffering Red Sox fans are well aware -- all too well aware some might say -- Boston has not won a World Series since getting rid of the Babe.

More proof that sports and politics sometimes go hand in hand. Remember Kerri Strug, the gymnast who helped the United States women's team win Olympic gold at the '96 summer games in Atlanta and who tore two ligaments in her left ankle in the process? Now she's vaulted into the world of politics. Find out what she's doing, when we talk to Kerri Strug, tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

And remember every Friday, our Bill Schneider awards a political play of the week, and we want your nominations. E-mail your ideas to, and tune in on Fridays to see if you picked the play of the week.

That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go on line all the time at CNN's, AOL keyword: cnn. Our e-mail address is: I'm John King. Thanks for watching.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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