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Foreign Relations Committee Ponders War; Drug Bill Fails to Emerge; Torricelli Reprimanded but not Penalized

Aired August 3, 2002 - 19:00   ET



MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and in New York, Margaret Carlson.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee began hearings on the prospects of war with Iraq, with its chairman warning of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein must be dislodged from power.


SHIELDS: Experts advise not to underestimate Saddam's forces.


ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Only fools would bet the lives of other men's sons and daughters on their own arrogance and call this a cakewalk...


SHIELDS: Senators of both parties declared the need for public and international support for any military action.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The rhetoric seems to be far ahead of our capacity, administration we seem to be ignoring and dismissive of the need for friends and allies...

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The administration must be assured of the commitment of the American people in pursuing policies and actions in Iraq after focused and vigorous discussion and debate.


SHIELDS: As the Senate began its August recess, Iraq invited the chief United Nations weapons inspector to Baghdad for technical talks. The day before that move, President Bush's spokesman was asked about weapons inspection.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's level of skepticism is high. Saddam Hussein has entered into agreements before that he has immediately violated.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, is military action against Saddam Hussein still guaranteed?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, I think it's certainly more likely than not, and this week we saw very little disagreement about the mortal threat that Saddam Hussein poses. So I don't think the debate is going to be over what has to be done. I think the agreement is he has to be toppled, taken out.

The debates are going to be when and how and what happens to a -- what does a post-Saddam Iraq look like? And there are certainly risks involved in answering all those questions. But the risk of inaction, given what we know about the weapons he possesses, possibly even nuclear material, the risks of inaction outweigh those risks of toppling him.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, your take on the hearings. Do they guarantee military movement?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, for the first time, I'm beginning to wonder if it is guaranteed. I notice Kate didn't quite answer the question whether it was still guaranteed or not. I thought it was. I thought the president had said it's definitely going to happen.

I wonder a little bit. I would think the hearings were more interesting by what the senators said than what the witnesses said. And I think a lot of them really have misgivings. Is he a bad guy? Yes. Is he a mortal risk to the United States? I think there's some question about whether our national security is that much at stake.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson in New York, some of the senators struck me as being too timid to raise questions themselves, so therefore using the forum of the hearings to have experts raise questions they wanted to have expressed.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: You could see that some of this was fed to the senators, but in fact, I found Senator Lugar urging calm and deliberation in going forward. And while you might dismiss Senator Kerry as a presidential hopeful, Senator Lugar is like the pope of the Senate. His reservations cannot be dismissed. I find myself agreeing with Bob here on whether, you know, we're proceeding as fast as we were. The distance between us, Bob, is making me feel, you know, sanguine towards you.

The hearings were a speed bump here, because these reservations were raised. It's not checkers, as invading Afghanistan was. It's a chess game. And there are so many unknowns. Yes, he's a bad guy in a perfect world. Let's get rid of him.

This, this -- the weapons inspections could actually be a benefit to Bush which allows it to slow down, have really tough inspections, intrusive ones with -- in which it -- when you find them, you get rid of these weapons. And Bush could be saved from himself if actually the U.N. Security Council moves ahead and it works.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, it struck me in that, especially in that excerpt of Tony Cordesman in the setup piece, of saying that, you know, really criticizing, you know, condemning the arrogance of those who say this would be a cakewalk of a speed bump.

NOVAK: Well, that's our, that's our friend Ken Edelman.

SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, Ken Edelman and others, certainly Richard Perl have suggested it would just be a piece of cake. But...

Go ahead.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: I was going to say, I think these hearings are critically important, off to a very good start. I think Biden and Lieberman deserve tremendous credit.

And Kate, I think there's a consensus on a number of things. There's a consensus emerged just in two days that Saddam is really, truly evil, that he is clearly acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and that's going to be worse a couple years down, and he, in the past he's shown an ability, a willingness to use them.

Where the consensus breaks down, however, is, whether, whether there is a real threat that Saddam will use these weapons against others now, or use them as leverage, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what effect, if we go after Saddam, it'll have on other areas (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think it's a pretty bad bargain to topple Saddam and lose Pakistan and Jordan and Egypt.

And I'm not actually saying that'll happen, but that's the questions we raise. And thirdly, what kind of commitment are we willing to make afterwards?

I think the one thing that did come out of this is absolutely essential, before we do anything there, that there be a congressional authorization. I think it's constitutionally required. It's certainly politically required. And the foolish, most foolish statements of the week belong to Trent Lott.

O'BEIRNE: I, I, I don't believe he needs to get such approval, but I think he'd be wise to get it. It's clearly the most consequential issue facing Americans, and we ought to have a big debate about it. And I think he would get overwhelming approval. And I think it would be helpful politically, because it'll stop the harping once these members of Congress, you know, saying, Let's be careful.

Nobody's talking about -- there's no evidence the administration's moving rashly. But to put them on record as supporting military action, I think, would be very valuable to the president politically...

SHIELDS: I will say...

O'BEIRNE: ... and I think they'll be there.

SHIELDS: I will say this. The 1991 experience, the debate of the Congress before we move to, the nation moved against Iraq then, was crucial, was a great moment. It switched public opinion. Public opinion had been evenly divided on that issue. It moved in support of the president's policy, and...

O'BEIRNE: Public opinion now, of course, already supports the president on Iraq.

SHIELDS: ... and -- and -- Well, an informed public opinion. And I don't think, I don't think you -- anyone, even the most ardent hawk, could argue that this is an informed public opinion, because when you toss in, as "The Wall Street Journal" did in its poll, if it requires up to 200,000 American troops, immediately support begins to melt.

NOVAK: Al and I, on "NOVAK, HUNT, AND SHIELDS," interviewed Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a very smart guy who I usually disagree with, but he is a very smart guy.

He used the word 200,000 troops (UNINTELLIGIBLE) acting. But the thing that really interested me was something that was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) seldom heard many people talk about it, that it's very unlikely that as a survivor, Saddam Hussein would use his weapons of mass destruction unless he thought he was cornered.

I mean, I think the danger of using whatever weapons he has, and we still don't know exactly what he has, he certainly doesn't have nuclear, I think the danger will probably be enhanced at a time of war. I can't imagine he would make a strike of his own which would seal his death warrant.

HUNT: Well, yes, I, you know, I think the other critical element is, do we do it alone, or do we do it with important allies? A few in the region, and certainly our European allies. The danger of not doing it with allies, which makes it harder, the danger of not doing it is the effect it has on the region, and if you're not -- if they're not there with us in the beginning, they're not going to be able, we're not going to be able to call on them when it's over.

O'BEIRNE: Unclear. They might well be there at the end once he's gone. I mean, his immediate neighbors certainly aren't going to be...


O'BEIRNE: ... leading any parade to be getting rid of Saddam Hussein, given the threat he poses...


O'BEIRNE: ... so once he's gone, they're not going to be...


O'BEIRNE: ... mourning his passing.

HUNT: I'm talking about supporting a post-Saddam Iraq with the billions and billions of dollars it will cost.

SHIELDS: Well, I mean, and let us forget, let us not forget that in 1991, Japan picked up enormous as (ph) part of the burden then. That's not going to be the case this time. We're talking about a $60 billion, $70 billion price tag...

NOVAK: Well, this was -- this is going to be an American show.

SHIELDS: ... for the United States. American show. And I think the key thing that should not be overlooked is that the resistance is coming from the three stars and four-star generals of the American military who are the ones who have to implement...

NOVAK: And that's another...


NOVAK: ... that's another thing that Chairman Levin said. He said he wishes the president would listen very closely to the uniformed military at the Pentagon, and I would too.

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) apparently opinion is split, and of course we do pay them to be cautious. It's not surprising that they're cautious about the use of military force.

SHIELDS: And because they're the ones that have to write that next-of-kin letters.

CARLSON: Hey, Mark, it's not surprising that they're cautious, but it is surprising that they've leaked, because the military doesn't usually do that. And it's just a -- it goes to show you just how worried they are about this that they leaked the memo on what it will actually take.

SHIELDS: Good point, Margaret Carlson and the last word.

THE GANG of five will be back with the death of a prescription drug bill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SHIELDS: Welcome back. As the Senate prepared to adjourn for the month of August, four separate prescription drug bills fell short of the 60 votes required under the Senate rules.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: How many of us are willing to face our constituents when we go home in August, knowing that we have secure coverage for 75 percent of all of our drug coverage, but we reject proposals that do even less for our fellow citizens?

SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: I hope people who are following this debate realize that we're having a debate about politics, that this is a debate about the next election, that this is hardly a debate about Medicare.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is failure to act before the August recess a political win for the Democrats?

NOVAK: Well, that's the conventional wisdom. It was also the conventional wisdom eight years ago, the failure to pass Clinton care would kill the Democrats in the 1994 election, which turned into a Republican landslide...

SHIELDS: The Republicans. Would kill the Republicans in the '94 election.

NOVAK: ... which would -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would hurt the Republicans, and it turned into a Republican landslide instead.

It is just about politics. Senate majority leader Daschle geared this so it was bound to fail. It's a win-win situation. If they win without a compromise on the big comprehensive bill, they win. If they lose, they can blame the Republicans.

And I am not so sure that we're so blatant and it was so gerrymandered and so jerry-rigged, I should say, and engineered for failure that I think yo don't really have to be sophisticated to know that it was the -- it was just a set as -- it was a setup.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, it just strikes me that I dissent from Bob Novak here, in the sense that Republicans can go to the electorate this fall and say, Look, we passed in the Republican- controlled House a prescription drug bill. It was the Democratic Senate that didn't pass it. I mean, isn't that a pretty persuasive argument for Republicans?

CARLSON: It would be if the House hadn't passed what's recognized as a weak bill that benefited private insurers and the drug companies. And, you know, we've got this terrible situation where you have minorities in both houses that prevail and don't want anything to happen. You know, I partly agree with Bob, this could be a pox on both your houses, in that they go empty-handed. And I -- the compromise bill was a good one. Even though, you know, people say, Don't make any Medicare benefits means tested because we want to keep it a universal system, this is a different time. It's just the prescription drugs part. We're at war. The tax cut has taken away all the money that might be spent on it.

And so it got drugs to low-income elderly, and then had a catastrophic provision.

Maybe when they come back, they can means-test the catastrophic part of it and get it through.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, I think you're right, I think the Republicans have successfully blurred the lines on this one by backing a prescription drug plan like they did in the House, and so I think they've inoculated themselves.

What's troubling about that is what prescription they've adopted politically for themselves, that if we adopt Democratic light policies, and push for just big government, $300 billion bill, but not as bad as theirs, we'll survive politically.

And that is a really bad sign when it seems to me you -- they should be making a case on the merits against a bill that's going to bankrupt Medicare, lead to prescription -- to price controls for prescription drugs, this miracle industry, saves enormous health care costs, and that we'll have virtually no spending restraint.

But you don't see Republicans making those arguments any more.

SHIELDS: Al, one thing about it was that even the Republican bill would have been the biggest extension of Medicare since the program was created in 1965.

HUNT: But Mark, I don't think the Republicans have inoculated themselves in the fall. I think when certain issues become dominant in a campaign, if it, if the Congress doesn't do anything in the fall, they just help certain parties. If tax cuts is the dominant issue, it's going to help Republicans. Most voters out there instinctively know Democrats are going to be better for them than -- give them more on prescription drugs than Republicans.

So to the extent it's an issue, it will help the Democrats.

It was interesting that senators -- the GOP senators, facing the toughest election, Tim Hutchinson, Gordon Smith, potentially Susan Collins...

O'BEIRNE: Susan Collins.

HUNT: ... all voted for that last bill. But I have an idea. What they ought to do, both sides ought to just have a debate. Let's have a generous prescription drug bill, or, let's instead have a permanent repeal of the estate tax and cut the top rates. And debate those two. They cost about the same over the next five or 10 years.


O'BEIRNE: ... with the market and the economy and the war on terrorism, you don't imagine prescription drugs is going to be a top issue in November.

HUNT: Oh, I think that's wrong. I think with senior citizens, who vote heavily, I think they vote heavily...


HUNT: ... that would be a very big issue.

NOVAK: I've got deja vu, because I did hear the same arguments in 1994 that this was going to kill the Republicans because they wouldn't let the Clinton care pass.

But I'll tell you this, the difference about this, in my opinion, Kate, is why it's not just another bail-out by Bush as on campaign finance reform and education, is that this is a new kind of health, a major medical care for the elderly. It isn't surgery, it isn't hospitalization. The big thing is prescription drugs.

And if you made that decision with Medicare in 1965 for better and for worse, it's just crazy not to have a drug component in now. And what a great presidential -- Senate leader, like Lyndon Johnson, would do is try to figure out a way to get a consensus on both sides of the aisle, which is really possible if you wanted to do it.

But Tom Daschle wanted to make the point, he wanted to push through that, that the dominant bill against the compromise bill and have the issue in this campaign.

HUNT: Oh, I think the idea Republicans were the statesmen here while Tom Daschle played politics just doesn't...

O'BEIRNE: Can't fly that, huh?

HUNT: ... just doesn't fly, no.


O'BEIRNE: ... is right, there could have been this more modest bill.


HUNT: But Bob is right on the whole concept of prescription drugs. I mean, frankly, Medicare probably covers some surgical procedures that shouldn't be covered. But prescription drugs are far more important to seniors than they were 40 years ago.


HUNT: And they ought to be covered.

O'BEIRNE: Seniors are far more fluid than they were 40 years ago. They are now the highest per capita income group in America, which was not the case back in the '60s. And why shouldn't the seniors who can afford it pay for it?

HUNT: Well, a big chunk of them who cannot afford it are not getting it now.

SHIELDS: All right, last word, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the ethics verdict on Senator Bob Torricelli, the Torch.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The Senate Ethics Committee, quote, "severely admonished," end quote, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey for accepting gifts from campaign contributor David Chang and said he must repay Chang, who is now in prison, for many of the gifts.


SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), NEW JERSEY: I want my colleagues in the Senate to know that I agree with the committee's conclusion, fully accept their finding, and take full personal responsibility.

I want to apologize to the people of New Jersey for having placed its seat in the United States Senate they have allowed me to occupy, to be placed in this position.


SHIELDS: With Senator Torricelli's race for reelection tightening up, Republican senators demanded the Ethics Committee release its investigative files.

Margaret Carlson, was this a slap on the wrist or a death blow for Bob Torricelli?

CARLSON: Mark, if he had a stronger opponent, it, it, it might be a death blow, but so far the race is tightening, but it doesn't, it, it doesn't seem totally in jeopardy at the moment.

Senator Torricelli would do himself a great favor if he would go back and look at what Senator John McCain did during the Keating Five, and then he would apologize, apologize, and apologize, until he becomes known for apologizing.

And Senator McCain, who's asked that the records be released, he put everything out there, and it went away, and he became a kind of a hero rather than a scoundrel after the Keating Five.

Torricelli just made an ad in which he apologizes a little bit more, but I think he's going to have to do more. And by the way, stop calling David Chang "a friend." Even in Hollywood, they don't expand the term that much to include a guy like David Chang as a friend.


HUNT: Mark, I think this is much more devastating. I think incumbents rarely recover from this kind of censure from their colleagues. I think that New Jersey Senate seat has gone for a probable Democrat to a tilt Republican, and it may keep moving in that direction. They're likely to lose it.

The problem the Torch has in this is that he has a whole history, a long history, of commingling special interest money and public policy.

John McCain made a mistake in judgment with the Keating Five. This guy really did some very, very sleazy stuff. One of his colleagues once said of the ambitious New Jersey lawmaker, "Torch, we know you're going to the house, we just don't know if it's the White House or the Big House."

And I think that's the -- that is the Torricelli problem. But for him not to release these files, for these files not to be released is absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable.

SHIELDS: Just so people understand, the files we're talking about is his testimony before the Senate Ethics Committee, which he, which he gave...

NOVAK: And the report from the Justice Department.

SHIELDS: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and the report from the Justice Department (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: And people have a right to know.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, and even the federal judge who sentenced his former -- Torricelli's former friend found Chang's testimony credible and material, and apparently the people of New Jersey won't get a look at it.

When you -- when I watched the clip just now of the senator, I wondered, who paid for that suit? So you'd think that, if that's a primary concern when you see Bob Torricelli, given the gifts he's taken over the years, that should be fatal to a politician.

And at least one major newspaper in New Jersey has called on him to resign, making the point that New Jersey has suffered enough from sleazy politicians.

But there's a certain what-the-traffic-will-bear quality in New Jersey, and they might not mind reelecting this guy despite his chequered past. SHIELDS: Bob Novak...


SHIELDS: ... I have just one question for you, and that is, I agree the Charlie Cook's political report's very authoritative, political report, Jennifer Duffy, their Senate expert, moved it from leaning Democrat to toss-up the day of the event.

But I wanted to ask you, hasn't New Jersey become an incredibly Democratic state? The last 10 Senate races, Democrats have won in New Jersey. Both Gore and Clinton carried in in landslides. I'm just wondering...

NOVAK: Yes...

SHIELDS: ... it's uphill for Republicans.

NOVAK: I think it is. But let me say a word or two good for Bob Torricelli, because he's been battered so badly here. First of all, I think it's a pretty good senator compared to most. He's -- takes positions which are against the grain of the liberal grain. He has understood the value of tax reduction.

And I think that this -- I just try to look at the terrible federal sin he committed by taking some gifts from this guy and getting him into a meeting with the Korean prime minister. I tend to think that these people are treated too harshly.

I thought the whole Keating Five were treated too harshly. I certainly thought Dan Rostenkowski, who went to prison, was treated too harshly. I thought Bob Packwood, who just couldn't resist the girls, was treated too harshly.

And so I think...

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Traficant was treated too harshly.

NOVAK: Well, that gets to the edge...


NOVAK: But Packwood...


O'BEIRNE: ... wasn't women throwing themselves at him, Bob.

NOVAK: No, but I would say that Senator Torricelli, I don't -- let him alone, let the people of New Jersey decide on the merits between him and Mr. Forrester, who seems to have pulled close to him. But -- and I don't think anybody wants to read all these Justice Department documents. I wouldn't trust the Justice Department anyway.

SHIELDS: Margaret, what's your take on that?

CARLSON: I never knew Bob was such a forgiving guy, and I applaud the Christian gesture there.

People do want to know, and once it's out, that reduces, you know, the curiosity about it, and it just never fails. It's not the crime, it's the coverup. Get it out there, and then let the people of New Jersey decide.

O'BEIRNE: But let's remember what climate his Democratic colleagues have given him such a slap on the wrist under. They're all expressing such moral indignation over corporate scandals up in New York...


O'BEIRNE: ... and Halliburton and Harken, and yet they all rally and jump to the support of Bob Torricelli. Certainly it should sort of dent the moral high ground...


SHIELDS: Jim -- Tom Daschle was the only person I heard...


O'BEIRNE: Well, Tom Daschle, right.


HUNT: ... that's a devastating thing to do. And the problem with Bob Torricelli, Bob, is so much of what you would consider his, his, his contributions to the Senate, whether it's tax cuts or whether it's his support for Cuba, usually you see a link to campaign contributions. It's rare that you can find anything that Mr. Torricelli...


HUNT: ... did because, he did it because of the virtue...


NOVAK: ... you're a suspicious person, Al.

HUNT: I apologize.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, that's the last word. We'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG classic, the first President George Bush sparring with Saddam Hussein over U.N. weapons inspections.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Ten years ago this week, Saddam Hussein let U.N. weapons inspectors into the Agriculture Ministry in Baghdad after a three-week delay. And the first President Bush made a prediction.


GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's going to do it. He may not know it, but he is going to live up to those resolutions.


SHIELDS: THE CAPITAL GANG discussed the situation on August 1, 1992. Our guest was Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, August 1, 1992)

HUNT: Margaret, who won this face-off, Bush or Saddam?

MARGARET WARNER, "NEWSWEEK": I think Saddam won in two big ways. First of all, we forget that he intimidated the inspectors into leaving that building in the first place. When they finally got back in, there was nothing to find.

NOVAK: You know, a case can be made the U.N. was -- inspectors made a mistake on going into the Agriculture Ministry, that they were wrong in the first place, and that Saddam was right.

On Friday, General Scowcroft met with the resistance fighters from Iraq. Are we going to start a contra-type operation that people like my friend John Kerry did so much to attack and to undermine when it was going on?

KERRY: This is a very dangerous week, and it really underscores another weakness in the Bush front, which is foreign policy. What has happened is that since the war, Saddam Hussein has violated every single one, not one, not the agriculture industry, but every single one of the requirements of the U.N. resolution. I think it's a terrible failure.

WARNER: We bombed all the targets that were worth bombing during the war. It won't have any effect on him, it won't work. So that's not the option. What we have to be thinking of...

NOVAK: Where is the option? What's the option?

WARNER: The option is exactly what you said, Bob, it's a -- it's helping the guerrillas who are already there, helping the people within Iraq who would like to overthrow him...


SHIELDS: Al, was it a mistake 10 years ago not to take a tougher stand against Saddam Hussein?

HUNT: Mark, it was a lot tougher then. The coalition that was assembled for the Gulf War did not include going to Baghdad. In retrospect, it clearly would have been better if we could have taken Saddam out then.

More importantly, I think there are a number of people in this administration who also served in Bush One who think that. There's a little bit of a atonement for Daddy's sins at work, I think, in the current debate.


NOVAK: I was interested, John Kerry for attacking Bushes on foreign policy. He just -- I guess he's got his old speeches out for the new Bush. I was interested that -- I didn't realize I was taken in by the business about the guerrilla fighters were going to undermine, take over...


NOVAK: ... I had...


SHIELDS: ... Iraqi National Congress kind of thing.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, it's a reminder that Saddam Hussein has been playing hide and seek and largely winning the game of hide and seek with the international inspections community for years, until he kicked them out finally.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: This time, however, he seems to be more frightened, because of the saber-rattling, and won't get away with the cat and mouse if inspectors get in and are intrusive and demanding.

Mark, in the category of we all look alike, the last time we did a Margaret Warner clip, I got a letter from a viewer asking if I'd changed my name.

SHIELDS: We'll be back with the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Our Newsmaker of the Week is Judge Robert Bork. Beyond the Beltway looks at Tuesday's Michigan Democratic primaries with political analyst Bill Ballenger, and our Outrages of the Week, all after the latest news following these messages.



SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and in New York, Margaret Carlson.

Our Newsmaker of the Week is Judge Robert Bork.

Robert H. Bork, age 75, residence Washington, D.C. Undergraduate and law degrees, University of Chicago. Professor, Yale Law School. U.S. solicitor general. Judge, U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. Author of "Slouching Toward Gomorrah."

Earlier this week, our own Al Hunt sat down with Judge Bork in Washington.


HUNT: Judge Bork, post-9/11, should conservatives be optimistic? George Bush is very popular. Or pessimistic with the creation of agencies like the homeland security agency, with more emphasis on big government?

JUDGE ROBERT BORK, FORMER U.S. CIRCUIT JUDGE: Oh, I think conservatives find it a mixed bag. The -- international, in terms of foreign policy, I think conservatives are quite happy. In terms of domestic policy, I don't think this has been a very conservative administration.

We've had the steel tariffs, we've had the campaign finance bill. We've had a lot of things, the education bill, a lot of things that make conservatives unhappy.

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) during the campaign, you were a little skeptical of the credentials of George W. Bush, who took a shot at the title of your book, "Slouching Toward Gomorrah," in 1999. But after a year and half, I was wondering how Professor Bork would grade George W. Bush.

BORK: You, you, you insist upon that, eh? Well, C, C-plus.

HUNT: How about Attorney General Ashcroft, a favorite of most conservatives, but recently we've read reports of grumbling that he's been too willing to embrace expanding government powers. Paul Weyerich, a conservative activist, for instance, said, and I quote, that some of the antiterrorism measures, quote, "have less to do with catching terrorists than increasing the strengths of government," end quote.

Is that a fair criticism or not?

BORK: I don't think entirely it is. You know, we're facing a unique situation, and it may be that some of the responses are not that, not that focused. But I'm sure over time they'll work it out. I don't think this administration has any designs on doing away with our civil liberties.

And I'm sure they'll focus more and more on things that work to defend against terrorism.

HUNT: Judge, the battle over the federal judiciary raitches (ph), Republicans charge that Democrats are sabotaging Bush nominees. It used to be Democrats charged Republicans with sabotaging Clinton nominees. Should there be a ceasefire on both sides in these fights, or are the stakes so large that that's not feasible or maybe even a good idea?

BORK: Well, it's a good idea, but the stakes are too large for it to be feasible. What you're seeing in the judicial nominations is an aspect of the culture war, and Democrats tend to be on the side of the emancipationist ethos of the 1960s, the Republicans are not, they're more traditionalist.

And both sides are fighting for control of the judiciary. Now, I happen to think that what the people Bush has been nominating are centrists, they're standard, good lawyers, extremely good lawyers, but they are not activists, which is what I think Pat Leahy and Teddy Kennedy and that crowd want, people who are activists to the left.

HUNT: In a fascinating interview with "The American Spectator" this summer, you were critical not only of the American intelligentsia, but even somewhat of the American public. You said, and I want to quote, "Once you remove the restraints, middle America is capable of slowly being corrupted"...

BORK: We all are.

HUNT: ... end quote. What type of restraints do we need, then on average Americans?

BORK: Well, it may be too late, but he kind of restraints I was talking about was restraints on obscenity and pornography. You know, when you have the Supreme Court saying that kiddie porn is all right so long as no actual children are used, they're overlooking the major part of the corrupting effect of child pornography. It's almost to censor anything.

So you get a television show, I mentioned, in which the F-word is used 30 times in 30 minutes, apparently on the thesis that we all talk that way when we're in private. We don't, but they're pushing us that way.

HUNT: Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, isolated incidents of rotten apples, or is this -- there some sort of systemic breakdown of ethics and morality in American capitalism?

BORK: Oh, I don't think it's a systemic breakdown. It's -- there's certain incentives that have been put in place that are wrong. But original sin, you know about original sin.

HUNT: Sure.

One final question, if Chief Justice Rehnquist were to step down, who would be the ideal successor?

BORK: From my point of view?

HUNT: Yes, sir.

BORK: Clarence Thomas.

HUNT: Interesting.

BORK: Second, maybe Scalia.


SHIELDS: Al, did Judge Bork sound to you as though he thinks his side is actually winning the cultural war?

HUNT: No, Mark, I think he actually fears that his side is not winning the cultural war.

I tell you, Judge Bork, tough grader on President Bush. I'd be interested in whether Professors Novak and O'Beirne are as tough graders as Judge Bork.

SHIELDS: C-plus, Bob, gentleman's C?

NOVAK: Incomplete. And I would say that Judge Bork, very frankly, I just indicated tonight that George W. Bush (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Antonin Scalia is the top of his hit parade. Bob Bork is very close to the top of my hit parade, and I'm -- I just -- every time I see him, I just think what a shame it is the meanspirited, vicious liberals kept him off the Supreme Court.

O'BEIRNE: When he was kept off the court, he was probably the single most qualified person in 1987 to sit on the court, and I agree with what a travesty that was. And I'm also a huge fan of Judge Bork's. The man talks about original sin, I just love it when he talks like that.

His specialty is the hard truths. He's absolutely brilliant, and it's too bad we didn't get his service on the bench.

And I do think conservatives are broadly as he describes them. George Bush is worth supporting but disappointing about some things.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, are you disappointed?

CARLSON: Well, Kate and I are in agreement, I'm very pro talking about original sin, and the Seventh Amendment -- I mean the Seventh Commandment when it comes to corporate crime.

Judge Bork was absolutely right on television, you cannot watch television with your family from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and absolutely wrong on Judge Thomas. He's the least impressive Supreme Court judge. He should not become chief justice.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at Tuesday's Democratic primary in Michigan with Bill Ballenger of "Inside Michigan Politics."


SHIELDS: Welcome back. In next Tuesday's Democratic primary in Michigan, 23-term congressman John Dingell, the senior member of the United States House of Representatives, faces the toughest challenge of his career since his election in 1955. He faces four-term Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Rivers.


ANNOUNCER: Two candidates, one big difference. Getting things done for working families. Prescription drugs for seniors, Dingell wrote the bill. Patient's Bill of Rights, Dingell passed a bill. Health care for children, John Dingell passed a law. The Clean Air Act, Dingell's law.

Lynn Rivers? She's never offered a single piece of legislation that's been signed into law.



REP. LYNN RIVERS (D), MICHIGAN: I respect John and the job he's done in the past. But sadly, his campaign has turned nasty. That's the old politics. I'm focused on the future, fighting to give everyday people a voice.


SHIELDS: In a three-way Democratic race for governor, a new poll for "The Detroit News" shows State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm 16 percent points ahead of former House Democratic whip David Bonior and former governor Jim Blanchard. Bonior has been gaining ground after a poor start.


REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), MICHIGAN: Straight shooter? You bet. Jennifer Granholm is attacking me, saying I was one of 25 in Congress to vote against a, quote, "pension bill." You bet I was. That bill was supported by Wall Street interests who wanted to leave behind families making under $75,000.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from East Lansing, Michigan, is former state senator Bill Ballenger, now the editor and publisher of "Inside Michigan Politics."

Thanks for coming in, Bill.


SHIELDS: Bill, in the congressional race, is there really a danger of John Dingell, Mr. Chairman here in Washington, losing next Tuesday? BALLENGER: Yes. But I believe he'll pull it out, albeit narrowly.

SHIELDS: And what would you bet on it?

BALLENGER: Well, I'd bet a considerable sum, but I think if you're looking for percentages, let's say 54-46.

SHIELDS: OK. Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Well, John Dingell has a unique qualification, he's been in Washington even longer than I have, and so I'm -- I've been an admirer of Dingell's, and I just watched a tape of their July 27 debate, Lynn Rivers and Dingell. And I thought he was really not very good in that debate, and she just looked like she was wiping him up, just -- I don't know how many people saw it. This was before the AARP. Is she outcampaigning him?

BALLENGER: I don't think she is outcampaigning him, in terms of energy and organization. He has put together a colossal effort. He's pulled out all the stops. But I think you put your finger on something, Bob. His age is showing, I think, compared to hers, obviously. There's the gender gap. There's a values gap here.

We're talking about a social-cultural difference between two candidates. It's an image war, and no matter what his accomplishments in the past, no matter how enviable his record, he's having a hard time explaining to voters why they want to continue on with a 76-year- old congressman for an indefinite period of time.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson in New York.

CARLSON: Bill, hasn't she to some extent almost overplayed her hand on the woman thing? I know she got Emily's List (ph) to back her. She leads a little bit with women. But in that debate that Bob referred to, she seemed to be saying, Vote for me because I'm a -- I was a teenaged bride and a young mother, and I've suffered.

Isn't that just a lot to ask of people?

BALLENGER: Well, I agree with you, Margaret. I really didn't find that a very appealing approach. But when you look at it from Lynn Rivers' point of view, she really had no other choice. She had to take that kind of a tack, I think, in this particular campaign against somebody with the credentials of John Dingell and his record. That's what she had to do.

And she has just milked it and played it to the max, and we'll find out on Tuesday whether it worked or not. I don't think it will. But she's come a lot closer than anybody ever thought she would a year ago.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Of course, Bill, John Dingell isn't just any 76-year- old senior member of the House of Representatives. Should the Democrats take back the House, he would become chairman of the all- powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Now, that counts for a lot inside the Beltway.

Is it possible that we overestimate how much that matters to real voters in his district?

BALLENGER: I think we probably do overestimate it. But I got to tell you, here in Michigan it's sent paroxysms of fear through the auto industry that if John Dingell doesn't make it on Tuesday and the Democrats regain the majority, Henry Waxman will become chairman of that committee. And they are scared to death of that happening.


HUNT: Bill, let me turn to the governor's race for a moment. I talked to several Republicans in Michigan over the past couple weeks, and what they basically say is, If Jennifer Granholm wins the Democratic primary, she is unbeatable in the fall. They have no chance. But they might have a shot against either Bonior or Blanchard. Give me your assessment of that.

BALLENGER: I think that's a pretty good way to sum it up, Al, I honestly do. I think people have felt that way, believe it or not, for about a year now, and I don't think anything has really changed.

I think Jennifer Granholm does have not only an insurmountable lead over the almost certain Republican nominee, Dick Posthumous (ph), who is the lieutenant governor in the general election. But she has a widening lead over Bonior and Blanchard in the primary now, and I think she'll win pretty easily on Tuesday.

SHIELDS: Hey, Bill, Bill Ballenger, you've been a terrific guest and enormously informative. Thank you very much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the Outrages of the Week.


SHIELDS: Now for the Outrage of the Week.

Conservative politicians are generally suspicious toward reporters, whom they mostly consider to be closet lefties. One exception was Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who was always open to the press and enjoyed quite positive press coverage.

Not so today. During the vice president's campaign trip to Iowa, reporters were barred from covering his arrival or his departure, from asking any questions, were kept 50 feet away behind a rope from the podium. And the final insult, reporters could not even go to the public rest room unless escorted for fear they might question the VP.

Is this stonewalling on Halliburton?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Liberal politicians and journalists have been demagoguing for years about American businessmen who legally seek to reduce taxes through offshore operations, slandering them as traitors and corporate Benedict Arnolds. That's an old outrage.

The new outrage is that President Bush has joined the mob, and with him enough Republicans for a Senate vote barring federal contracts for companies with offshore operations.

Until now, the Republican answer to offshore operations has been correct. Reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate, which now is regrettably the fourth highest in the world.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, remember Katherine Harris, the secretary of state of Florida, who kept her day job while working to elect George Bush? Aggressively and in-your-face partisan, she was fortunately overturned when she declared her guy the winner before the recount was complete.

She's done it again. This time Harris got confused and failed to resign her post before running for Congress. This is against the very law she was supposed to enforce. The only people who should want this incompetent official in Congress are Jay Leno and David Letterman.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Score one for the U.N.'s utopian feminists. A Senate committee sent a controversial international treaty on women's rights that's been hanging around for 20 years to the Senate floor for possible ratification. The U.N.'s radical Treaty Compliance Committee criticizes countries that celebrate Mother's Day, demands international abortion rights, and backs legalizing prostitution.

American women enjoy the greatest opportunities and rights in the world. A woman's rights treaty signed by Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan is a fraud the U.S. should reject.


HUNT: Mark, here's what we know. Charles Polk, a St. Louis attorney, has been a big supporter and close friend of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Polk has tried to sign up families of Oklahoma City bombing victims to get benefits comparable to the victims of 9/11.

He claimed he had influential friends in Washington who would help.

Ashcroft claims he did not know his good friend was shaking down these people. And this is supposed to be a Justice Department, in contrast to Clinton's, that restored ethics and propriety.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

If you missed any part of our show, come in off the ledge, catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at 4:00 a.m. Eastern. Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: HOUSE OF WAR, THE UPRISING AT MAZAR-E SHARIF."


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