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President Bush Faces Pressure on Middle East Policy; American Cardinals Gather at Vatican to Discuss Sex Abuse Crisis

Aired April 22, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington, where a pro-Israel lobby and its supporters are staging a conference and flexing their political muscle.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with an update on the pressure President Bush is facing over his Mideast policy, especially from the right.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Mann in Rome. I'll tell what American cardinals are saying as they gather at the Vatican to confront the crisis in the church.

NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Natalie Pawelski in Atlanta. On this Earth Day, critics of President Bush's environmental policy are taking him on with renewed energy.


WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. INSIDE POLITICS, this hour, one of the stories we will be covering is the arraignment in Los Angeles of actor Robert Blake. He's being arraigned in the murder of his wife, Bonny Bakley. When that arraignment happens, we'll bring it to you live. We'll also have extensive coverage and we'll have an exclusive interview with the sister of Bonny Bakley, the late wife of Robert Blake.

But first, we are here in Washington outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. We are outside because of all of the security on the inside. Inside, the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC.

They're holding their annual meeting this year, as you know, in the midst of a Middle East crisis. This powerful lobbying group is sending a message that U.S. political and financial help is important now, perhaps more important than ever. Meantime, scores of Palestinian supporters are expected to send their own message to the Bush administration when they hold another round of protests today, like these they held over the weekend.

Politics, religion and raw emotion are all in play here as they are in another big story this day that we are following. And that is the crisis within the Catholic Church. American cardinals are gathering in Rome. A two-day meeting, an extraordinary meeting, at the Vatican. Boston's embattled Cardinal Bernard Law says he believes the discussion of the scandal over sexual abuse by priests will be, in his words, "very significant."

For more on those meetings in Rome, let's go there now live to our correspondent, Jonathan Mann -- Jon.

MANN: Judy, if you squint a bit, that building over my shoulder looks a little like the U.S. Capitol. It isn't, of course. It is St. Peter's Basilica -- one of the sites in the Vatican that most visitors want to see when they come here.

The U.S. cardinals who have been summoned, the 13 princes of the church that Pope John Paul II has invited to the extraordinary meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, won't be going there. They will be going to the Apostolic Palace. It's the place where the pope lives and works -- the Vatican's equivalent, if you will, of the White House.

And the proximity that the pope will have to those meetings is a measure of just how seriously he is taking this scandal. Two days of meetings with the pope and some of his most senior Vatican officials. The church in the United States is in crisis and the Vatican wants to share its opinions.

The cardinals in the United States want to hear its guidance before they return to the U.S. to address the sex scandal, which is really tearing at heart of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The most senior cardinal of them all is Boston's Bernard Law, a man who has become a lightening rod for criticism, despite a life in service of the church.

He arrived in Rome this morning, even as word was spreading here of a report in the "Los Angeles Times" that says his fellow cardinals were to meet with Vatican officials this evening, even before the official meetings begin. Other cardinals were to meet with senior Vatican officials to seek Bernard Law's resignation.

Cardinal Law was in Rome about 10 days ago. The matter of his resignation came up in a private secret meeting with the pope. And Cardinal Law spoke to reporters this morning and said the matter is behind him. He thinks there will be other issues on the table.


CARDINAL BERNARD LAW, BOSTON: I think this is going to be a very significant meeting. I don't expect that we will be making decisions at this meeting, but I think it's part of a process. And it will put us in good stead for our June meeting at the Conference of Bishops.


MANN: And that really is the key. The cardinals are not expected to lay down any firm new policies or find a new way out of this problem. They are instead supposed to discuss the guidelines they'll set, as the bishops of the United States address the problem at their own conference in Dallas in June -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Mann reporting from Rome. Thanks very much.

And now we turn to the crisis in the Middle East. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has agreed to let Palestinians negotiate with Israel and a third party to end the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. An Anglican envoy says that Arafat gave the green light for negotiations during a meeting with assistant secretary of state, William Burns.

In Bethlehem about 200 Palestinians have been holed up inside the church for 19 days. Israel has demanded that anyone linked with the attacks against Israel stand trial or be exiled.

In another development, the United Nations has announced the formation of a fact-finding team to investigate the devastation at the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. Now let's in bring our senior White House correspondent, John King. John, any reaction there to this news that Yasser Arafat is now willing to negotiate over the situation of the Church of the Nativity?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Judy. White House officials and other administration officials saying that is, in and of itself, a positive development. But senior administration officials also describing that as a very tense meeting. One senior official saying -- quote -- "we're not hearing or seeing anything that gives us hope that there will be a new boost or a change here."

But the same official saying that, in the views of the administration -- and it should be quite obvious they view it as critical that they resolve the situation -- the standoff around the Church of the Nativity and, more importantly, around Arafat's compound in Ramallah; they believe no progress will come on any of the other tracks, including security or convincing people to get back into a political dialogue, until the two of those are resolved.

Some very difficult negotiations ahead. Ambassador Burns, Secretary Powell left him behind in the region to head up those negotiations. They continue to hear at the White House a great sense of frustration and certainly not any optimism. Or certainly, very little optimism -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, any sense of what effect this could have on the overall situation in the Middle East?

KING: We will get a test of that. The president himself gets involved firsthand this week. He meets with King Mohammed of Morocco here at the White House tomorrow. He meets later in the week with the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.

What the big test here is what the president had hoped to do, is to try to reach a consensus on some sort of a political dialogue. Whether that be a new international peace conference, whether that be some new peace initiative, the president wants to focus on that. But we are told he is likely to hear, both from the king of Morocco and the Saudi crown prince, continued complaints from the Arab world that this administration is not doing enough to get the Israelis in line, in the view of the Arab nations, especially against the Israeli troops.

They have pulled out of most of the Palestinian territories. But we are told that, especially from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah that the message will be no progress can come on the political front until those troops end the siege around Arafat's compound.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King reporting from the White House. Thank you, John.

Well, as the Bush administration grapples with the situation in the Middle East, conservatives are leaning hard on President Bush. For more on that, let's turn to our Candy Crowley. She's also helping hold down the anchor desk -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Judy, over the weekend a number of political pundits said that last week was the worst President Bush has had since the September 11th attacks. Now, at the White House, they had probably expected that the ship of state would be rocked from time and again. What they might not have expected was who is making the waves.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.


CROWLEY (voice-over): The post 9-11 aura of a president in full and clear command of foreign policy is over. These days, George Bush is being pummelled for a Middle East policy called "incoherent, inconsistent and muddled." And that's his friends talking.

MARSHALL WITTMANN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The president has to be clear about who Yasser Arafat is. Yasser Arafat is a terrorist. He walks like a terrorist, he talks like a terrorist, he quacks like a terrorist. And the difficulty here for the president is that he's been reluctant to say that clearly.

CROWLEY: The most vociferous critiques are from the president's right. The grassroots talk about it on conservative talk radio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your contention is that George W. Bush is hurting himself by not being more pro-Israel in the approach in Middle East right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the long run, yes.

CROWLEY: The marquee conservatives talk about it to each other.

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: There's only one group that the president is really irritating and making really angry with all of this. And that's his entire political base. A firestorm is starting to build, a firestorm of criticism.

CROWLEY: In a letter to the president, some of the country's leading conservative thinkers wrote: "It can no longer be the policy of the United States to urge, much less pressure, Israel to continue negotiating with Arafat." Conservatives think the president is violating his own doctrine on terrorism by not condemning Yasser Arafat and more fully supporting Israel's incursion into the West Bank as an attempt to root out terrorists.

Their criticism is part of the push and pull they believe now occupies the White House. On the one hand, there is Colin Powell and the State Department, who believe, like it or not, Arafat is a player and must be part of the peace process. And then there are conservatives like Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who believe Arafat is essentially a terrorist.

Like-minded conservatives think the president's heart is with them and they know his politics are.

WITTMANN: The first commandment of this administration is: Thou shall not alienate the conservative base. So clearly there would be a price to be paid if conservatives felt they were not being taken into consideration.


CROWLEY: With friends like that, who needs Democrats? And Democrats, by the way, freely admit that all this criticism from conservatives has made it a lot easier for Democrats to join in the fray -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy. And now we want to go back to the story we mentioned at the top of the hour, and that is the expected arraignment in Los Angeles of 68-year-old actor Robert Blake. And for that, let's go to Frank Buckley. He's outside the courthouse in L.A. -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, we have the copy of the criminal complaint that is being filed today against Robert Blake and his handyman, bodyguard Earle Caldwell.

Blake is to be formally charged with four counts. One count is murder with a special circumstance of lying in wait. He'll be charged with two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy. His handyman, bodyguard Earle Caldwell, is also to be charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a crime, the crime being murder.

This complaint also lays out in fairly great detail what they call overt acts which led to this criminal complaint. Some of the highlights, that there were two attempts to get two different people to commit murder against Bonny Lee Bakley. Robert Blake involved in those attempts to solicit directly, according to the criminal complaint.

It also says that Earle Caldwell kept a list of items that were to be used by Blake and Caldwell to commit murder against Bakley. That list, reading here from the complaint, included -- quote -- "two shovels, small sledge, crowbar, .25 auto." It says, "Get blank gun ready." "Old rugs, duct tape, Drano, pool, acid, lye and plant."

It also says in this complaint that Blake himself was the person who shot Bonny Lee Bakley using a World War II vintage German-made 9- mm pistol. We expect to hear more about these allegations later. Again, so far, no comment yet from Harland Braun, the attorney for Robert Blake -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Frank Buckley. And I know we'll be coming back to you a little later when that arraignment gets under way.

Coming up next, an Israeli journalist will go "On the Record" about the influence of AIPAC and the crisis in the Middle East.

Also ahead, there's a stunning political upset in France, represent a victory for anti-Semitism.

In our "Taking Issue" segment, the Catholic Church crisis. Will the cardinals meeting at the Vatican make a difference?

And, cold facts about the Bush environmental record. We'll have an Earth Day interview with interior secretary, Gale Norton. This is INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: About 5,000 AIPAC members are attending this conference by the pro-Israel lobbying groups, conference under way in the hotel just behind me here. The speakers include a number of members of Congress, including earlier today, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, reports now on AIPAC's influence in Washington.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taking the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tom Daschle did what political leaders in both parties have been doing for years: declare unwavering support for Israel.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Israel has always had fair-weather friends. But what it needs now is foul-weather friends. And as long as I'm the majority leader of the United States Senate, we will be a friend to Israel in fair weather and in foul.

KARL: Foul weather has caused absolutely no erosion of support in Congress for Israel. And that is in large measure a tribute to the amazing clout of AIPAC. Before this three-day conference is over, about 50 U.S. senators will attend.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: AIPAC's done a terrific job of building a nationwide grassroots organization of people who are passionately committed to making sure that Israel is secure, and that we continue with a very positive and productive U.S.-Israeli relationship. KARL: Congressional wannabes attend, too. Artur Davis is running for Congress in Alabama.

ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA CONG. CANDIDATE: We've gotten very strong support from the national Jewish community. And I'm honored to have that support. And I looking forward to developing that relationship if I get elected to Congress.

KARL: AIPAC doesn't donate directly to candidates. But the organization helps its friends tap a lucrative network of pro-Israel donors across the country. During the 2000 election cycle, pro-Israel donations to federal campaigns totalled $6.5 million. Sixty-six percent of that went to Democrats, 34 percent to Republicans.

AIPAC itself spent $1.12 million on lobbying and got tremendous bang for the buck. "Fortune" magazine's "Power 25" listing of lobbying organizations put AIPAC in the top four, a more powerful lobbying force that the AFL-CIO, the trial lawyers and the Chamber of Commerce.

AIPAC's critics say the group is too powerful, stifling pro- Palestinian voices in Congress.

JAMES ZOGBY, ARAB-AMERICAN INSTITUTE: I have a club that I like to talk about. It's called the "I'm really with you, but," club.

And there are many members of Congress who have over the years told me, "We're with you guys." And, "you're right. But we're afraid of bucking the other side, and so excuse what we say or do on this issue." I think it's shameful. I think it's hurtful to the political process.


KARL: Senator Daschle used his AIPAC speech today to announce his support for a pro-Israel resolution drafted by Joe Lieberman. And that certainly won't be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. AIPAC claims that it helps pass about 100 pieces of pro-Israel legislation every year.

Of course, Judy, they also help every year maintain support for the $3 billion a year in aid that Israel gets from the United States. This year they'll be looking to boost that aid by about $200 million -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl reporting for us in Washington. Thanks.

"On the Record" today, Ehud Ya'ari. He is the Arab affairs correspondent for Israel Channel 2. Ehud Ya'ari, you were speaking at a panel here at the AIPAC meeting earlier today. What is the sentiment, would you say, among many of these delegates, these people attending this conference, with regard to the Bush administration policy in the Middle East?

EHUD YA'ARI, ISRAEL CHANNEL 2 TV: Generally, people are extremely positive about the way the Bush administration is handling the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. The general sentiment, my impression -- and I'm a guest here -- was that some more steps should be taken vis-a-vis Chairman Arafat.

And the delegates were informed of five new pieces of legislation submitted over the last week to Congress, such as the Arafat accountability act, the Syria accountability act, which are aimed at increasing the heat own both Chairman Arafat, Syrians and others, to decide which side of the terrorism divide they are on.

WOODRUFF: Well, presumably the Bush administration -- well, obviously the Bush administration is listening to these arguments. Presumably they're not going to be able to do everything this group would like. How far would you say your sources, here and in Israel, are prepared to let the Bush administration go in working through this situation in the Middle East?

YA'ARI: Well, I think that what we have witnessed over the past few weeks is a closer coordination between the U.S. administration and the Sharon government in Israel than most people would have assumed was possible in the beginning. The Bush administration has basically allowed the Israeli army to complete its operation in the territories, aimed at blocking out terrorists, those who are responsible for the production lines.

WOODRUFF: They've argued against it, or they've said you need to wrap it up quickly. But they haven't -- as you say, they haven't made the Israelis pull out.

YA'ARI: No, the language was that the president initially ask the Israelis to halt incursions, which they basically did, and to begin withdrawing, which by now is almost completed. I think that the degree of understanding is much higher than what people assume here in some of the statements in the beginning.

WOODRUFF: Yasser Arafat, this administration has said we have to deal with him. To what extent can the Bush administration deal with Yasser Arafat and still remain in the good graces of the people at this conference and most of the people in Israel?

YA'ARI: Well, Mr. Arafat has failed so many final tests with the American administration and others, that one may decide to give him a chance as another final test. Basically, the sentiment is, both in the administration and in the corridors here, that probably one has to think about Chairman Arafat in the same way that you are considering that the U.S. is considering Saddam Hussein -- a change of regime.

This is not something easy. It's not immediate. It's quite problematic. But the sentiment generally is that people are reaching the conclusion that in order get a deal between Israel and Palestinians, in order get to a Palestinian state, maybe Chairman Arafat is an obstacle, and not as useful as people wanted to believe a few years back.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ehud Ya'ari, thank you very much for joining us. It's good to see you. Thank you very much. Coming up, Interior Secretary Gale Norton will be with us.

Next on INSIDE POLITICS, we will talk about the renewed criticism of President Bush's environmental policies and the political implications.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. We'll be back with Judy in just a few minutes.

On this Earth Day, 2002, shades of election 2000, as President Bush finds himself under fire for his stands on the environment. Mr. Bush's response today was to take a hike, as CNN environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski reports.


PAWELSKI (voice-over): A rite of spring, although it might look more like winter: the annual Earth Day presidential Earth Day outing. On a visit to the Adirondacks, Mr. Bush touts an air pollution initiative he says will curb the acid rain that's killing area lakes.

BUSH: We can expand our economy for the good of all of us, while also being good and conscientious stewards of the environment.

PAWELSKI: But in a pattern so common it's almost a cliche, many green groups attack the president's plan as an environmental fig leaf, too pro-business to be truly effective.

DEB CALLAHAN, LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS: The Bush administration represents a new way, a different way. They're a friend of the corporations. They're not so much a friend of the average American, who would rather see stiff environmental standards and better corporate behavior.

PAWELSKI: Environmentalists raised some of the same issues when it comes to the administration's push to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Green groups see it as a sop to big oil from an oil- friendly administration. The White House says it's all about energy independence, and promises that, with new technology, drilling won't hurt the wildlife.

JERRY TAYLOR, CATO INSTITUTE: Environmentalists seem to be against any development of any kind whatsoever on any public lands, wherever they might be.

CALLAHAN: Previous administrations have said these are places we want to save for future generations. The Bush administration says these are places where there's a lot of oil and gas.

PAWELSKI: Another economics-vs.-environment debate centers on efforts to change long-standing pollution rules for old, relatively dirty power plants. Where the White House presses for what it sees as a more workable, effective approach, environmentalists see a betrayal of the Clean Air Act. (on camera): During the president's first eight months in office, he faced a steady drumbeat of criticism from environmentalists. After September 11, green groups -- like so many other presidential critics -- backed off. But now that truce may be over.

(voice-over): Earth Day protesters march in Florida in advance of an environment-themed appearance by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.


ANNOUNCER: Big corporations are asking the Bush administration for exactly what they want.


PAWELSKI: And on television ads and in newspapers, new ads attack the administration's record.

JERRY TAYLOR, CATO INSTITUTE: The environmental movement now is, more or less, an arm of the Democratic Party. And I don't think there is any way the administration can please these folks.

PAWELSKI: Politics as usual once again, with each side claiming it has got the Earth's best interests at heart.

Natalie Pawelski, CNN.


CROWLEY: President Bush told reporters he is not paying attention to Al Gore's renewed attacks on his environmental record. But that has not deterred the former vice president from accusing the Bush White House of sabotaging environmental protections. In an Earth Day speech in Nashville today, Gore spelled out his current criticism of the president, even as he hearkened back to their dispute of the past.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He won the election. And he is our president. But he ought to be a little bit more careful about claiming that a majority of the voters endorsed his policy payoffs to polluters who pressured him to break his promises to the public.



CROWLEY: Gore also charged that polluters are -- quote -- "pretty much in charge of the energy and environment policies of this administration."

Now for a little more on Earth Day, we're going to go back to Judy, who is, appropriately, outside braving the elements. WOODRUFF: Well, braving a little wind here on this April Washington afternoon, Candy.

Joining us now: the interior secretary in the Bush administration. She is Gale Norton. She joins us from Fort Lauderdale.

Secretary Norton, thank you for being with us.

Do you and others in the administration view this criticism as pure politics, as we just heard in that report from Natalie Pawelski?

GALE NORTON, INTERIOR SECRETARY: Well, there certainly is a lot of politics behind it.

I think, if you look at our record, you can see that, for example, the president has proposed $44.4 billion for environmental and natural resource programs. That is the highest amount ever proposed. We have record increases for the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. We're working hard to build a cooperative conservation initiative. And that approach, I think, is going to bear fruit.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something that former Vice President Gore said in an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" over the weekend.

He said: "The Bush administration's environmental and energy policies," in his words, "are completely dominated by a group of current and former oil and chemical company executives."

NORTON: Well, that is almost laughable when you look at the makeup of my department.

I have eight bureau heads. They are the ones that are in charge of places like the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and so forth. Out of those eight, six of those heads came directly from state government. The other two came from federal service. And so, it is an organization that is really built around trying to work cooperatively with people. All of them have a history of building cooperative conservation projects, bringing people together in partnerships for the environment.

WOODRUFF: At the same time, we know -- and this has been reported, Secretary Norton -- the president has nominated over 30 former industry executives to serve in top posts in the administration. And the environmental groups -- it's not just former Vice President Gore -- it's environmental groups who are saying they have really too often allowed their former friends and colleagues in the industry to dominate, if not completely determine administration policy.

NORTON: There are over 500 presidential appointees in the administration. And the people that I have worked with throughout my department and others are people who really care about the environment and who want to build cooperative ways of protecting our environment. We're launching what we call a new environmentalism that is based not on conflicts, not on name-calling, but on getting people to sit down together. We had environmental groups stand with me when we announced this new project. It is something that will try to get the environmental groups to sit down with farmers and ranchers, with local governments, with industry, with everybody who ought to have a role in trying to solve our environmental problems.

WOODRUFF: There is another argument that former Vice President Gore makes. He says that President Bush's so-called clean-skies initiatives would actually make air pollution worse than it is now by allowing more toxic mercury, nitrogen oxide and other elements in the air.

How do you respond to that?

NORTON: Well, that program is designed to reduce by 70 percent three main pollutants that come from our power plants and other facilities. And so it goes beyond any other presidential proposal in making our skies clean. And so it is something that this administration feels will very substantially reduce air pollution in this country.

WOODRUFF: So, you are saying that it is just not the case that these elements, mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur and so forth, will be greater than they are now?

NORTON: Well, it is EPA that is in charge of the air pollution issues. And so I am not the technical expert on it. But it is to reduce by 70 percent three of the main pollutants.

WOODRUFF: One other question I want to ask you about: You wrote an op-ed article for "The New York Times" over the weekend in which you essentially argued that individual citizens should take greater responsibility for conserving the land in this country. Are you basically arguing that we should move back to a time when the government had no or little oversight over the protection of our lands?

NORTON: We want to change the government's role from being the policeman who comes in and says, "You must do this or that," to having the government encourage cooperative efforts. We would like to see a nation of self-motivated stewards of our environment. And so we want to build situations where people will be actively involved in taking charge.

For example, we have a landowner incentive program to encourage landowners to protect the habitat of threatened or endangered species. And so it involves farmers and ranchers and others in helping us with protecting endangered species. So, we think that that is going to go a long way towards encouraging farmers to adopt endangered species on their property.

WOODRUFF: Interior Secretary Gale Norton, we thank you very much. Appreciate your being with us.

NORTON: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And coming up next: American cardinals and Vatican leaders prepare to meet face-to-face to talk about the sex abuse scandal involving U.S. priests. As these meetings get under way, the debate over the crisis goes on -- a closer look when we return.


CROWLEY: Checking the stories in our INSIDE POLITICS "Newscycle": Actor Robert Blake is expected to be arraigned a short time from now in Los Angeles in connection with the killing of his wife. CNN has learned the district attorney's office has charged Blake with four counts, including murder. Bonny Bakley was shot to death nearly a year ago.

In the Middle East, there is new hope today for ending a standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. An Anglican Church envoy says Yasser Arafat has agreed to let Palestinians negotiate with Israel and a third party to end the standoff. Israeli soldiers have ended their occupation of West Bank towns, except for Bethlehem and Arafat's compound in Ramallah.

And a crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States is getting the full attention of the Vatican. American church officials are preparing for talks with Vatican leaders, including Pope John Paul II, on the sex abuse crisis involving priests in the U.S.

For more perspective now on this crisis in the priesthood, we turn to Patrick Scully, director of communications of the Catholic League. He's in New York; and here in Washington, Deal Hudson with "Crisis" magazine, which offers a Catholic perspective on culture and politics.

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.

Let me go first to you, Deal, and ask you, over the weekend, all I have been hearing from some of those who are going to this meeting is: "Well, don't expect too much. We don't expect a lot to happen."

What do Catholic expect will happen?

DEAL HUDSON, "CRISIS": Well, Catholics want a lot to happen.

I am afraid, though, the Vatican moves rather slowly when it comes to these kinds of issues, because this is an issue that has been brewing for 30 years in the church. We have had larger and larger enrollments of homosexuals in our seminaries and going out into the priesthood, because we can see that 80-90 percent of these sexual abuse incidents are homosexual in nature, not pedophilia.

And so this is going to that is going to take years, if not decades to clear up. I expect the Vatican will issue a kind of zero- tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse cases. I expect they will raise the standards of admittance to seminaries, screening out more and more homosexual applicants. And I expect they will address what I call the clerical management style of bishops, which has been cover- up, save the reputation of the diocese if at all possible, instead of looking at the criminality of the priests' actions.

CROWLEY: Patrick, let me ask you directly. Do think that Cardinal Law will leave as a result of whatever is going to go on in Rome?

PATRICK SCULLY, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Well, it is certainly not for the Catholic League to say what Cardinal Law should do. That is between he and the pope. Obviously, there is speculation all over the place. This morning, there was an article in "The Los Angeles Times" saying that some of the cardinals, his fellow cardinals, may in fact put a move afoot to have the cardinal resign or be removed. I don't know.

But I will say this: I agree with Mr. Hudson, on the most part. But I would like to see -- as a young Catholic who wants to raise a family in the Catholic Church -- I want to see something said about the victims. I think that is where we need to start and go from there. But I also would caution against wild expectations from this. What we'll see, I think, is maybe many different topics being floated in internal meetings.

But I think, when it comes down to it, the bishops will get a marching order to come out, the cardinals to come out, and that the bishops' meeting in Dallas in June is when we will see the nuts and bolts put forth as to what guidelines we're actually going to follow. So, I think we have be a little careful about the speculation about what is going to happen and give them a chance to sit down and meet.

I understand that the pope is meeting individually with the cardinals today and then collectively throughout the rest of the week. But, again, Mr. Hudson is right. This problem did not occur overnight. It is not going to be solved in a week's time. A number of different things have to be done to make sure that the confidence -- and that is what we need. There is crisis of confidence in the people in the pews. And we need to put that back.

CROWLEY: Well, Deal, let me ask just ask you, it is hard for me to believe that any other institution in the United States could go on this long having suffered this kind of public-relations problem, legal problems, and have people say: "Well, you know, it moves really slowly. Don't expect anything until June."

HUDSON: Well, there are 45,000 Catholic priests in The United States serving 60 million Catholics. So, there is a lot of moral and spiritual capital that the church has built up, not only in this generation, but in all the generations of this country.

And so we have a lot of capital to spend. Unfortunately, we're spending a whole lot as time passes. This has become perhaps the third greatest crisis in the Catholic Church in the last 100 years. I am putting at one the Vatican two meeting, which, of course, revolutionized many of the Catholic teachings, but also the election of John Paul II itself. I think this goes right on that list. And I think that, if this issue is not resolved, at least in some sort of reasonable period of time, the legacy of the holy father himself will be tarnished. CROWLEY: Deal Hudson, "Crisis" magazine, thank you so much. Patrick Scully of the Catholic League, sorry, we're going to have to leave it there -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Coming up next: We will get some "Inside Buzz" from political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." Today, he has something to say about President Bush and the Middle East.


WOODRUFF: We're here at Washington Hilton Hotel, where the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, is holding its annual meeting -- much for them to discuss on Middle East, the situation that has unfolded there in last few weeks.

From time to time, you will hear helicopters overhead, a lot of security in this area, because there are protesters not far from here. They are trying to carry out what they call a peaceful protest. They are pro-Palestinian. They argue the Israelis are to blame for what has happened to the Palestinian people. And they are very critical of Israel's role the last few weeks.

Well, as we listen to protesters and we cover the conference inside this hotel, let's bring in CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, we have talked about it a little bit this on the program, but the president is getting unusual criticism these days from conservatives, from his own people in the Republican Party, over his handling of the Middle East. Just how serious is this criticism?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's pretty persistent and pervasive among conservatives, really two different -- as we've talked about before -- two different strains of conservative thinking both targeting him, along with some Democrats as well.

On the one side, you've got the so-called neoconservatives, the foreign policy intellectuals who came to the party around the time of Ronald Reagan: very strongly pro-Israel, many of them Jewish and Catholic. On the other side, you have got a very strong movement among Christian conservatives that have become staunchly pro-Israel. And a group of them wrote him a letter about 10 days ago complaining that he was leaning too hard to Ariel Sharon.

In fact, Judy, almost all of the pressure from the political system for President Bush since he issued his call for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank has been to criticize him for making the request in the first place -- a rather extraordinary turn of events for the president of United States to ask for something like this, essentially be ignored, and then be criticized for making the request in the first place.

It is, I think, a little bit of a trip wire, a warning out there that there is lot of resistance in his own party especially, but also in the Democrats -- who, to some extent, have to keep up here, I think are being pressured to keep up with the Republicans, that as he moves forward, pressuring Sharon or doing anything that is seen as legitimizing Arafat, is going to cause him some domestic difficulty. The problem, of course, is that any peace process probably has to do a little bit of both.

WOODRUFF: Ron, I want to ask you. The White House is saying that these critics -- they're calling them a conservative elite or the conservative intelligentsia, in trying to silence some of them and dismiss it. Is the White House correct that this is really the elite of conservatives doing most of the talking?

BROWNSTEIN: I think so.

Look, first -- in several ways -- first, Bush's approval rating among Republicans overall is as high it ever gets. One recent poll had it at 99-0. I have never seen a zero number in a poll ever in my life covering politics.

Secondly, Judy, public opinion about what is going on in the Middle East is a little more divided than the political system reflects. If you look at the CNN/Gallup/"USA Today" poll, also the recent CBS poll, there is enormous antipathy toward Arafat and toward what the Palestinian terrorists have been doing, but there is a lot more ambivalence among the public about Sharon's intentions, about whether the invasion of the West Bank or the reoccupation of the West Bank was appropriate, than we see from political leaders.

So, the public, really I think is a little more divided than the political system, where you have really both parties now being very staunchly, not only pro-Israel, but pro Sharon's version of what it takes for security. That is a change. The left of the Democratic Party and, to some extent, the right of the Republican Party, which might have been critical in the past, have both been sort of marginalized.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much. We're going to leave it there with you and turn it back over to Candy.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Judy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Judy.

We want to take a quick look at the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Bill Clinton is on a money-raising mission for Democrats in Connecticut this evening. The former president will address the Jefferson Jackson Bailey dinner in Southington. His visit is expected to bring in about $300,000. Senators Chris Dodd and Joseph Lieberman also will attend the dinner.

After a long delay, Massachusetts is making a move to put its Clean Elections Law into action. Proceeds from a court-ordered auction of state vehicles will help fund the Clean Elections Law. That auction could take place as early as this week. Voters approved the law in 1998, but a legislative impasse has held up its funding.

Vice President Dick Cheney is having to get around on crutches on a campaign fund-raising swing through Florida. Cheney has an inflamed Achilles tendon. A spokeswoman says he banged his heel on the corner of a table at the vice presidential residence on Saturday before leaving for Orlando in today's stop in Fort Lauderdale.


WOODRUFF: France's President Jacques Chirac faces an unexpected challenger in next month presidential runoff in the form of extreme right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Our Jeff Greenfield has some thoughts on that in today's "Bite of the Apple" -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Judy, this was one time when the headlines did not exaggerate. It was, indeed, a bombshell, a shocker. The perennial candidate of the French far right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it into the presidential runoff, knocking out the socialist prime minister.

How could it happen? Well, let's put it into an American context. And, while we're at it, let's not confuse the candidate of the right with conservatism.


(voice-over): Le Pen ran as he always has: on a blunt anti- immigration platform. He linked immigrants to France's rising crime rate. While he shied away from past flirtations with anti-Semitism -- he once dismissed the Holocaust as a mere historical detail -- he did run once again as a strong nationalist, attacking the Europeans, who he said were undermining France.

Any of this sound familiar? It should. Back in 1968, Alabama Governor George Wallace, running for president on a third-party ticket, won more than 13 percent of the vote. His target? Crime and disorder, as well as a blunt appeal to white Southern segregationists. But Wallace also attacked American pointy-headed intellectuals who couldn't park a bicycle straight, and liberal foundations as well.

It's the kind of appeal that falls flat when voters are more or less content, as Pat Buchanan found out on his 2000 campaign. His anti-immigration, anti-elite message...


GREENFIELD: ... won him barely half of 1 percent of the national vote.

Now, this sort of message is clearly on the political right, but conservative? Not really. It is rooted instead in a politics of resentment, of suspicion of a powerful "them." And "them" can also big, faceless corporations, or bodies like the World Trade Organization or the World Bank, who are out to undermine national sovereignty. That part of the message can just as easily come from the left, as it did during the 2000 campaign from longtime corporate nemesis Ralph Nader. It has very little, if anything in common with, say, the conservatism of Ronald Reagan, who was strongly free trade and pro- immigration.


GREENFIELD: Indeed, the central message of this sort of politics again: resentment -- resentment against people not like us, whether ethnically, financially or socially, who are out to do us great harm, sometimes the rich, sometimes the intellectuals, sometimes the Jews, sometimes simply the elites. We'll know on May 5 how strong that sentiment is in France. As far as the U.S., it seems to be about as weak right now as it has been in decades -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: An important distinction to make.

Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much.

More INSIDE POLITICS to come, but now let's find out what is just ahead on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Judy, we are following a developing story: He's been behind bars for the weekend, but actor Robert Blake is about to make a major appearance. We'll be live in Los Angeles. We'll also be at the Vatican. Do a cardinal's colleagues want him to step down?

It is all coming up right at the top of the hour after INSIDE POLITICS.



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