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Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty in Avila Case; President Bush Signs New Abortion Bill

Aired August 5, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King in Washington. "INSIDE POLITICS" just ahead. But we want to take you now though, we are waiting the beginning of a news conference in Santa Ana, California. Orange County prosecutors holding this news conference to announce whether they will seek the death penalty for 27-year-old Alejandro Avila. He is the man charged with kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. The decision is to be announced, again, at this news conference by the district attorney, Tony Rackauckas. Runnion was kidnapped from her home in Stanton, California on July 15. Her body was found less than 24 hours later, some 50 miles away. Let's listen in to the district attorney.


TONY RACKAUCKAS, ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Good afternoon. With me here today are Chief Assistant District Attorney Chuck Middleton (ph), assistant district attorney in charge of homicides, Lou Rosenbloom (ph), Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy (ph), Deputy District Attorney Camille Hill (ph), Deputy District Attorney Jim Malbroau (ph), chief of investigations, Don Blankenship (ph) and District Attorney Investigator Carol Mona (ph).

We have now completed the special circumstances committee process in the Samantha Runnion murder case. As part of that process, I have independently reviewed the evidence. I have met with Samantha's family. I met with a member of Mr. Avila's defense team and finally, I have considered the recommendations of the special circumstances committee. The committee is made up of Chief Assistant District Attorney Chuck Middleton and three veteran attorneys from my office with considerable death penalty experience.

Today, as Orange County district attorney, on behalf of the people of the state of California, I announce my decision to seek the death penalty as to Mr. Alejandro Avila for kidnapping, forcibly committing lewd acts upon and murdering Samantha Runnion. Before making this decision, I followed the special circumstance process that we use in the district attorney's office and carefully considered the following questions: Should we seek the death penalty for this crime, considering the facts and circumstances and strengths of the evidence, the seriousness of the crime, the damage to the community; and would justice be served by seeking the death penalty as to this defendant.

There is no question in my mind that the person who kidnapped, molested and murdered 5-year-old Samantha should face the death penalty. We took into account that Samantha was a stranger to her assailant. As an innocent child, she was extremely vulnerable. Mr. Avila is charged with molesting Samantha. He is charged with forcibly snatching Samantha from a location, a courtyard just steps away from her home and then brutally molesting her and then killing her.

This crime has shocked and outraged our community, our nation, even other nations. If there was ever a case where justice would be served by seeking the death penalty, this is the case. Any mitigating circumstances are not even remotely outweighed by the callous and depraved crimes with which Mr. Avila stands charged. I'll take a few questions.

QUESTION: Did Mrs. Runnion have a major impact on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

RACKAUCKAS: Her input was of course considered, and it was factored in. It is part of the opinion and it certainly does have an impact on the entire process.

QUESTION: Did she tell you she wanted the death penalty -- she was sort of lukewarm on that on the "LARRY KING SHOW." Can you go over that details?

RACKAUCKAS: You know, I'd think I'd leave it to Mrs. Runnion to talk about what it was, but I don't feel that it would be proper for me to discuss the details of the conversation that we had. But I can tell you this, that I told Mrs. Runnion that I would not rest until justice is served in this case.

QUESTION: Based on the evidence, Tony, how convinced are that you a jury will convict Mr. Avila?

RACKAUCKAS: I'm sorry, based on the evidence...

QUESTION: convinced are you that a jury will convince Mr. Avila?

RACKAUCKAS: Well, I think we have a compelling case as I've said before and we're going to put the best resources of the office on the case. And I believe that if we do that, we'll reach a successful result.

QUESTION: Do you know the magnitude of the publicity on this case? Is there discussion this early about change of venue or anything like that?

RACKAUCKAS: That's a motion that of course might come up and certainly it is something that is something that's been discussed. But we will just handle that motion when it comes up.


RACKAUCKAS: Of course. QUESTION: The defense attorney you met with, Denise Gregg (ph), what was her position? What did she say? Were there any mitigating circumstances that she offered?

RACKAUCKAS: I'd leave that to Ms. Gregg (ph). She's a very accomplished and competent attorney and we had a brief discussion and considered her input.

QUESTION: We understand that you've received hundreds of letters, not only from this community, but from around the country and even outside of the country. Can you tell us what people have said to you?

RACKAUCKAS: You know, you're right. We have received hundreds of letters, including many e-mails and from all over the country and from other countries and in general, the overwhelming sentiment has been to seek the death penalty.

QUESTION: Was there unanimous agreement among real consultants about the death penalty and secondly, based on your description of this crime, why was there a need to consult, to decide whether the death penalty should be sought?

RACKAUCKAS: First of all, as to your first question, whether or not there was overwhelming or whether or not there was unanimity among the people on the committee, the answer is yes, there was. And with respect to the second part of the question, we have a process and it is a fair process, and I thought it would be important to go through that process in this case as with other special circumstance cases.

QUESTION: At this point, do you expect this trial to be tried in Orange County?

RACKAUCKAS: The question is, whether or not I expect the trial to be tried if Orange County. Yes, I do.

QUESTION: You have completely shut, take the death penalty off the table if he pleads guilty? Any chance of that?

RACKAUCKAS: In other words, Dave, you want to know whether or not I'd consider some kind of a plea bargain in this case. The answer to that is no,

QUESTION: Under no circumstances.

RACKAUCKAS: Under no circumstances.

KING: We're listening here to the Orange County, California, district attorney Tony Rackauckas announcing he will seek the death penalty against 27-year-old Alejandro Avila. He is the suspect in the kidnapping and killing of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, who was kidnapped from her home in California on July 15.

We want to bring in now our CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin in New York. Jeff, any surprise at all that the prosecutor would decide in a case like this to seek the death penalty? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Boy, the only surprise would be if he did not seek the death penalty. Given the enormity of the interest in this crime and the awfulness of it and also the fact that it involved kidnapping and sexual assault, which are specifically listed special circumstances that can qualify for the death penalty, this decision really did seem pretty much preordained.

KING: You heard the district attorney talk not only about the lewd conduct, that's his word, the callous and depraved conduct in this case, but also about the outrage, not only in the community but across the country because of the media attention focused on this case. Additional pressure, I assume, that would just slam the door shut on his decision in your view, said he went through the process out there but he's under a lot of pressure obviously.

TOOBIN: He was. And it's worthwhile to remember that Tony Rackauckas is a elected official. He's got to answer to the voters and this is going to be a very popular move with the voters. He's of course got to win his case. But given all of the interest in this case, and all of the outrage, he could hardly have decided otherwise, I think.

And the fact that there are no mitigating circumstances that anyone has really become aware of. It's not like there is anything in Mr. Avila's background that would suggest some sort of justification or explanation or mitigation which means it was a pretty obvious call.

KING: Jeff Toobin, we want you to stand by. Bring you back in just a moment on "INSIDE POLITICS" as we continue discussion about another controversial legal issue, that being President Bush weighing into a political debate he has at some times avoided, the debate over abortion.

In Pennsylvania today, the president signed a largely symbolic bill guaranteeing certain federal rights to a fetus born alive during an abortion. The measure was sought by anti-abortion groups concerned about potential mistreatment of infants delivered during such procedures.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A child who is born has intrinsic worth and must have the full protection of our laws. Today, through sonograms and other technology, we can see clearly that unborn children are members of the human family as well.


KING: Also, in Pennsylvania today a judge overturned an unusual injunction temporarily barring a woman from having an abortion and he dismissed a lawsuit by the woman's ex-boyfriend seeking to force her to carry that pregnancy to term. I want to bring back in now immediately our analyst Jeff Toobin.

Jeff, this case in Pennsylvania, first an injunction, then it lifted. The woman can now go ahead and have the abortion. Will it be a blip quickly forgotten, or is it a sign of men trying to assert their rights in such cases?

TOOBIN: It may be tried again. But, you know John, I usually try to hedge my bets on which way a court is going to come out. But given the law of abortion, which has been very extensively litigated since Roe v. Wade in 1973, it was completely clear that there was no justification for this order. That may be right or wrong morally but just in terms of what the law is, it is clearly a woman's choice, not a father's choice. The only area where the courts have allowed any sort of restriction on a woman's right to choose abortion is when she is a minor where the parents can potentially be involved or in the third trimester of the pregnancy. Here you have an adult woman in the 9th week of her pregnancy. It is simply not a man's place, father, husband, anyone to stop her from exercising that right.

KING: CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin in New York. Thank you.

We want to bring now in the debate and continue our discussion, Ken Connor of the Family Research Council and Mary Jane Gallagher of the National Abortion Rights Reproductive Action League. Ken, let me start with you. You were happy this morning that a judge had issued such an injunction. Now it has gone away. The woman can proceed and have this abortion if she so desires.

Do you see as a case that is something to build on if you will for those who assert that A, abortion is wrong as you do, but B, that fathers, men should have some right.

KEN CONNOR, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Oh, indeed, John. The cases raises a profoundly important issue, and that is, does the father have any right at all with respect to his child. And the law sadly has been, the abortion law has been, Jeffrey got it right is that the law doesn't take into account the rights or standing or a father as it relates to his unborn child.

Now, if the woman decides not to have the abortion and raises the child, he has an obligation to support the child under the law. But what the effect of the law is is to reduce the status of the father to nothing more than a mere inseminator. It completely depersonalizes the father's contribution to the development of the child. It emasculates his relationship to the child and it leaves him out of the equation altogether. I think that's profoundly unfair.

KING: Mary Jane Gallagher, when the injunction was issued, outrageous was the cry by abortion rights supporters who say the Supreme Court has spoken. Why would a lower court judge bother stepping into this ground at all. Do you see it as part of a some significant attack or a blip?

MARY JANE GALLAGHER, NARAL EXEC VICE PRES: I think it's a blip and I'll tell you why. This is the United States and for the last 30 years, women have had the right to choose. It would be Ken in a perfect world, where the couples could work out what their decision is. But when there is a conflict between the father and mother, the law is clear, and as an attorney you know this, the law is clear that the woman bears the burden of pregnancy. And, you know, there is a lot of effort out here right now to have judges influence the law, when in fact judges have to follow the law.

CONNOR: The law is clear, John, but the law is wrong. It is wrong to say that a father has no standing to protect the best interests of his child. That simply doesn't make good sense.

KING: Let me ask each of you each quickly. In the president signing this legislation today, first and foremost, is there anything in the legislation itself that changes the political and legal dynamics of the abortion debate and when you hear the president speak words that said, because of the technology now available, sonograms, he says we can see a fetus and the president said it is clearly an unborn child is clearly a member of the human family, in the president's view, a life.

CONNOR: And he's absolutely right. The sonogram leaves no mistake about it. The president was right to sign that bill. Now I hope he'll call on the Congress to pass a ban on partial birth abortion. To show you how extreme the National Abortion Rights Action League is, they oppose the passage of the born alive infants protection act.

GALLAGHER: Not true at all, Ken. We, in fact, did not oppose this bill. There's a clear legal difference now between a fetus in utero versus a child that's born. And when a child is born, they deserve every protection that this country can provide them.

CONNOR: I have the July 20, 2000 press release in which NARAL opposed this bill when it was originally put into play by Representative Kennedy the first time.

GALLAGHER: And what you've got is old news because we did not oppose this bill.

KING: Let me ask you politically. Some in the anti-abortion movement have said that this president steps into this debate too infrequently in their view. He spoke strong words today, said in his view a fetus is a life. Should he be doing this more often in your view.

CONNOR: In my judgment he should and I hope he will. I think the American people think that President Bush is an imminently reasonable person. He talks about this issue in non-inflammatory language that people can understand and identify with and he stands very strongly on the side of protecting the life of the innocent child. I wish Ms. Gallagher and her colleagues would as well.

KING: Where does this debate go from here in the terms, Congress comes back in the fall. The president has complained the Congress has not acted, the Senate has not acted on enough of his judicial nominees. Do you have a case where an injunction is issued, quickly lifted but it raises the profile of father's rights.

You have the president saying the fetus is alive. Do you see the debate, we haven't talked about abortion much. This is an election year and it has not been a big story if you would. Do you see that changing between now and November? GALLAGHER: Look, we have a pro-life president. We know that. But in America, we are pro-choice overwhelmingly. So, yes, this is a divisive issue. No one's in favor of abortion. What we are in favor here is a woman's right to choose. Thank God it is the law of the land.

CONNOR: A woman's right to choose to kill her innocent child with no choice on the part of the father.

KING: Thank you both, and stop there, Ken Connor the Family Research Council, Mary Jane Gallagher of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Al Gore is defending his people versus the powerful approach in campaign 2000. Up next, organized labor's view of Gore and populist politics. I'll talk to the AFL-CIO's Rich Trumka.

Israel helicopters have launched missiles on Gaza after the latest round of Palestinian led terror attacks. We'll have an update on the middle east crisis.

And later, after Mr. Bush's weekend of R and R in Maine, our Bruce Morton looks at presidential vacation spots. Which is more popular, the beach or the ranch?


KING: "On the Record" this Monday, the Democrats and their political message. Over the weekend, former Vice President Al Gore used a column in the "New York Times" to defend his populist campaign rhetoric from the last election. In Mr. Gore's words, quote, standing up for the people not the powerful, was the right choice in 2000 and in fact it is the Democratic party's meaning and mission. The suggestion from some in our party that we should no longer speak the truth, especially at a time like this, strikes me as bad politics and wrong in principle.

Gore's former running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, takes a different view. Last week here on "Inside Politics" he questioned the wisdom of the populist rhetoric Gore used in the last campaign.

Earlier today, I discussed this controversy and the Democratic search for the right political message with Richard Trumka. He's the secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO. I began by asking if there was a tug of war of sorts between the Democratic left and the more pro- business factions within the party.


RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO SECY-TREASURER: I think it is a healthy debate about where the Democratic party goes. I think they've sort of lost their way in the years past. I think if you go on back all the way to Mondale, when candidates, Democratic candidates have run on a populist message saying that they were going to stand for working people and do what's right for working people, they've surged ahead in the poll. Every time they become pabulum and move to become cheap imitations of the Republican party, they subside in the polls. So, I think it's very very healthy for the Democratic party to have a debate on how in fact their candidates should run.

KING: You say lost their way in the past. When do you believe the party lost its way? Obviously the party held the White House for eight years under Bill Clinton. The party did suffer in Congress during the years when the Republicans took control. When did the party lose its way?

TRUMKA: I think probably in the early 90s, whenever the message got sort of distracted as the Democratic party stopped standing for working people, as clearly as they should have. I think that took a toll on us. And I think John, all you have to look at is the number of the people in the country that don't vote. Fifty-two percent of the American public don't vote. When you ask why, they say it doesn't matter. So it's up to the Democrats and the Republicans quite frankly to define themselves so that we can re-attract that 52 percent of the people, let them know that it does matter what you stand for and why they should vote.

KING: So do you believe Al Gore is right it criticize the DLC and right to criticize his own running mate Joe Lieberman here to identify them as being perhaps too pro business or at least certainly not as populist?

TRUMKA: Well, I think if you look at the numbers it sure seems like he's justified. In the past, Democrats were favored over Republicans to take care of ordinary people over big business. That number's slipped substantially. The DLC has a habit of claiming every victory and denying every defeat. What they ought to do is have a real debate and say, how can we get the 52 percent of the people that don't vote, to vote. How do we attract them rather than looking to gain a percent or two in the middle by making themselves an imitation of the other party.

KING: Al Gore last week had what his aides describe as a fence mending luncheon with major labor leaders including AFL-CIO chiefs. Why did he have to mend fences if he's right in saying he ran as the populist and if he ran again, he believes the party should run on that message. What fences needed to be mended?

TRUMKA: There wasn't any fence-mending. It was just a lunch with old friends. I mean we got together. I think it was a very very useful lunch. We got to discuss a few issues. He got to talk a little bit about what he is doing and where he sees himself going. And so I think it was a very very useful lunch. I mean he had been off the playing field for a while.

KING: Any doubt in your mind Richard Trumka, that Al Gore is positioning himself to run in 2004 right now?

TRUMKA: I don't know. I don't know whether he's going to run in 2004 or not. We're so focused on 2002 right now, we're not even thinking about 2004. 2002 is the election that is going to determine working family's future, whether they get prescription drugs and health care, whether there is good corporate governance, whether we get reform of the bankruptcy laws, whether working people get put at the front of the line or at the end of the line. So, 2002 is our focus right now.


KING: So, Al Gore is standing by that populist message and many Democrats are standing by Al Gore. A new Zogby poll finds Gore the choice of 41 percent of Democrats to be the party's 2004 nominee. Senator Lieberman is second but he's far back with the support of just six percent. Other potential party contenders are tied with 5 percent.

With me now to talk more about the Democratic party message and other topics is our analyst Ron Brownstein at the "Los Angeles Times." We went through this in the late '80s. The left fighting with what you would call the Democratic right. They call themselves the center, the DLC. You would make the case though that in this case Al Gore fighting the DLC much ado about nothing.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It really is in this case, a lot more heat than light in this argument. If you look back at 2000, the overwhelming evidence from the exit polls is that the populism, Al Gore's populism didn't do what either its supporters or its critics claimed. The populism was aimed mostly at working class voters and Gore clearly was more populist than Clinton was in 1996.

Gore ran behind Clinton's margins, with the people that it was targeted at in 2000. He ran behind Clinton with working class voters. On the other hand, the DLC argument that Gore's populism drove away upper income voters seems equally hollow. Gore ran ahead of Clinton among voters earning $100,000 or more. This was an election determined more by cultural than economic factors. It was more about values than interests and those were really the decisive dividing lines in the 2000 election and maybe even (AUDIO GAP) for Democrats, especially if you look at the Senate continues to be to reconnect with rural voters who really abandoned the...


KING: ... to deliver a major speech on the economy. President Bush planning to leave the ranch during his quote working vacation in Crawford to go out and talk about the economy as well. When President Bush took office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was above 10,500. The market, several tumultuous weeks we have had, closed down today 273 points at 8,039. As they prepare this new counter offensive, the administration has to look at those numbers and worry (ph).

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean the president's approval rating remains very high because in the eyes of most people in the country, he passed the premier test that he faced, which was responding to the aftermath of September 11th. And I suspect those numbers are going to stay high for a very long time because a snapshot was taken by the public of him and as I said, he passed the test.

On the other hand, the sense of optimism about the country's direction is really declining. The share of people who say the country is on the right track which many pollsters think is the single most important number in shaping the political environment has really cratered along with the Dow in the last few months and that has to make both the White House and congressional Republicans nervous because when things, when people don't think the country is on the right track, almost always the party in power, the party holding the White House, pays the price.

KING: The inevitable comparison has been to Bush in '41 (ph), this president's father, President George Bush, who lost election after winning a war, because of a down turn in the economy. Pictures of the two men together here, you see them in Kennebunkport, Maine over the weekend. Is it a fair comparison? Do you see similarities and where might there be differences between these two president's Bush?

BROWNSTEIN: Similarities and differences. I think the big difference is that the war on terrorism is considered an ongoing threat in the way that the Persian Gulf was not and so the fact that Bush passed this test with the public, will maintain relevance much longer going into the future. I think it's going to be part of the way people view them all the way through the 2004 election.

The similarity is as I said, when the sense of optimism about the country's direction, when that sense of right track, declines, inevitably it is gravity and it will pull down the president's numbers and it will make this a more competitive political environment. If we are still, two years from now, having this conversation and 35, 38 percent of the people are saying the country's on the right track, no matter how well they think he ran the war on terrorism, Bush will be in much more trouble than appears possible.

KING: Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times." Thank you very much. More on the day's developments in the political debate over abortion after the news cycle. First, there's been more violence in the middle east within the last hour or so. A live update from Jerusalem when we return.


KING: We begin today's Newscycle" in the Middle East.

You are looking now at exclusive CNN video of an Israeli helicopter attack on targets in Gaza City, this video taken a little more than an hour ago.

With me now to discuss this latest violence in Jerusalem is CNN's John Vause -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we know that the Israeli helicopters launched at least three missiles into the southern end of Gaza City, into an area called Zeitouni.

Now, that is a known area where Hamas militant leaders are. It is also where Israel says there were bomb-making workshops, a steel factory. A statement faxed to CNN from the Israel Defense Forces reads in part that: "Israeli helicopters attacked a steelworks factory Gaza. The factory was used to manufacture weapons. The IDF will continue to attack and destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and in every place where there is terrorist activity against Israeli citizens."

Now, Palestinian sources on the ground in Gaza City tell us that there were at least four casualties, although they were only lightly wounded, one of those a 14-year-old teenager. Now, the attack lasted only about 15 minutes, as the helicopters did in fact circle the city for about 30 minutes before launching the three missiles into that part of Gaza, the southeastern end of Gaza City.

Now this, of course, comes two weeks after an F-16 dropped a 1- ton bomb on an apartment building in Gaza City, killing a senior Hamas (AUDIO GAP) And what has followed has been a bloody cycle of violence here in the Middle East. It followed the Hebrew University bombing in Jerusalem, and then another bombing on Sunday in Northern Israel, a bus where nine people were killed. In this airstrike in Gaza, a number of buildings were damaged. One of them was set on fire. We know that these buildings were located near a mosque.

Now, this could be part of what Israel has promised as being a swift military response to this recent spate of terrorist of attacks in Israel. There has been something like 13 Israelis killed in the last 24 hours, starting with that bombing in Northern Israel.

And an interesting development here: Palestinian sources tell CNN that a meeting between senior Palestinians and the Israeli defense minister and the head of the Israeli security services, that meeting actually began before the airstrike in Gaza. And we are told it ended only about five 15 minutes ago, so that meeting taking place while Israeli forces were launching an airstrike on Gaza City.

That meeting, we understand, was to discuss security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as easing conditions on Palestinians in the West Bank -- John.

KING: John, you mentioned that meeting going on, perhaps some hope of optimism that the two sides can at least speak during this crisis. But prior to this latest weekend of violence and this obvious Israeli ongoing response, there had been some easing of the restrictions (AUDIO GAP) sense on the ground now that Israel will keep those restrictions in place, and any word from the IDF as to whether what we see happening in Gaza now is an isolated Israeli response or whether there will be more?

VAUSE: Well, the indications that we're getting is certainly this is going to be part of an ongoing Israeli military response to that spate of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens.

As far as the easing of conditions, yes, it was certainly looking that way, at least a week or so ago, but now five major Palestinian towns in the northern part of the West Bank locked down, if you like, no one getting in, no one getting out. The only people allowed to move around will be for medical and humanitarian reasons. We are also seeing Israel moving in other directions as well: deporting family members of suicide bombers and those responsible for terrorist attacks, deporting them from the West Bank to Gaza. We have also seen them in recent days destroying the family homes of anyone who is responsible for a terrorist attack in Israel -- so increasing desperation, if you like, from Israel. And, certainly, this is what looks like to be the start of an Israeli military campaign against what it says is Palestinian terrorists -- John.

KING: CNN's John Vause, joining us live from Jerusalem, thank you.

Earlier this morning, before these airstrikes and indeed before a car bombing in Northern Israel earlier today, I spoke with the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, about the situation in the Middle East and the chances that the administration can do anything to end this latest cycle of violence.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We've just got to try and get everybody to calm down and get back to their responsibilities. There are things that are going on underneath that are hopeful, in terms of Palestinian reform, in terms of some easing of restrictions by the Israelis in the territories. But it's still a terrible situation. And we are just going to have to be working at it.


KING: Up next: our debate here on INSIDE POLITICS. And also, when we come back, a senator lets his kids do the camera-hogging -- when we return.

And how high can President Bush go? We will have an update on the money he has raised for Republican candidates.

Stay with us.


KING: As we discussed earlier, President Bush today signed a bill granting new legal rights to a fetus, including those born alive during an abortion procedure. The bill amends the legal definition of a person. The president said he hopes the law becomes a step on the road towards banning abortions.

With us now to discuss this and more: former Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste and Betsy Hart of the Scripps Howard News Service.

Betsy, let me start with you. Is this a step toward outlawing abortion?

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: Well, I look at it at the other perspective (VIDEO GAP) exactly a big step forward for civilization here. I'm not sure why that got such a big round of applause. The question is, why aren't we doing that


MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And when Democrats are given a chance, they look at the broader issues. I'll give one example: prescription-drug benefits. What's the issue? Whether we're going to have an HMO kind of plan that favors pharmaceuticals, which is what the Republicans favor, or a Democratic Medicare kind of plan that is going to give benefits to all Americans.

HART: OK, Maria has got the talking points.

But what it really comes down to is, when Democrats get ahold of issues, they tend to demagogue them, of course. And that's exactly what that op-ed was all about: class warfare. I think it's sort of something that Democrats are genetically born with. Interestingly, though, some Democrats realize that it doesn't work. It's not what got Bill Clinton elected. And that's what I thought was interesting about that piece, is, amongst all the sort of "Corporations are so bad" and all this kind of stuff, we got down to: "Bill Clinton in 1992 and I ran on sort of a sort of a kind of class-warfare agenda."

He's trying to say: "Hey, remember, folks, Bill Clinton and I ran on this. Maybe the class-warfare thing works." But Bill Clinton didn't. That's a selective reading of history. And Al Gore is not going to be able to convince people who aren't ready to use that rhetoric to jump back into that game necessarily.

KING: A final debating point: There is -- America beware -- another ballot controversy in Florida. The Democrats are asking the secretary of state to rewrite the ballot because it says "choose a pair" when you are talking about the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Democrats are concerned that people will vote for two candidates for governor. It is designed to say pick a governor (VIDEO GAP)

... raised money in 36 different states, bringing in $101 million for Republican candidates. And, as we noted, there are more ballot problems in Florida. The state Democratic Party has filed suit to change the wording on next month's primary ballot. Party officials are worried primary voters will see the phrase "vote for one pair" and choose two candidates for governor instead of one. The phrase refers to a combined entry for governor and lieutenant governor, but none of the candidates has chosen a running mate yet.

And from New Jersey, we have heard of dead voters coming to life on Election Day, but this is a new twist. The National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association is working on an effort to ferry voters to the polls on Election Day, using limousines belonging to funeral homes.

For many big-name politicians, giving a television interview can be ho-hum. But if you're a kid appearing, before the camera can be cool. After a TV appearance over the weekend, Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, let his boys have some fun in and in front of the interview chair. We got hold of the tape, had a little fun watching them have fun.

A different kind of TV rating coming up next: Do Americans have any confidence in the news media? We hope so. Our Jeff Greenfield will have the headlines from a new poll.


KING: A question of trust in today's "Bite of the Apple."

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is in New York -- Jeff.


You will remember that surge in favorable feeling about the news media after September 11. Remember how most Americans gave the press high marks on patriotism, believability, good intentions. Well, I guess we can say here's another example that things have returned to a kind of normal. The public is once again less than ecstatic about the job we're doing.


(voice-over): Last November, 73 percent of the Americans called the news media highly professional. Today, just 49 percent pay us that complement. And only 31 percent say the media helps society solve its problems; 58 percent say the media gets in the way.

On patriotism, last November, 69 percent said the media stand up for America. Now it's 49 percent, the same as it was before September 11. Of course, there is an unspoken question here of whether the media should support patriotism or simply provide facts.

The same thing happened with the ever-present question of bias. Before 9/11, 59 percent of Americans said the media were biased. Last November, that number had dropped to just 47 percent. Now it's right back to where it was, 59 percent.

Now, from the department of self-interest, the highest-rated TV outlet on believability: CNN. Thirty-seven percent give CNN high marks on credibility, though not as high as they did four years ago, "60 Minutes" a close second, Fox News next to last, and lowest of all, National Public Radio, NPR. That may reflect a strong belief among many conservatives that NPR tilts left.

In print, "The Wall Street Journal" scored highest, "The National Enquirer" worst." On individual TV newscasters, the three (AUDIO GAP) newscasters scored highest. Geraldo Rivera was at the bottom.


GREENFIELD: Now, there is one bright spot for the media in general. By a hefty 54-32 percent margin, the public thinks the media keep politicians from wrongdoing, rather than keeping politicians from doing their jobs.

But that question may be skewed by one simple word: politicians. Even the press gets higher marks from the public than that category. It's possible that if the question had been asked about our leaders, we might have come off a lot worse -- John.

KING: Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much, although nice to be on top with that 37 percent. But if I got that grade as a child, might have gotten a spanking.

GREENFIELD: Yes, but, remember, it's a little lower than it was.

KING: Sand, surf and golf. Up next: vacations, presidential style. Where is the best place for a commander in chief to get away from it all?




MORTON (voice-over): ... for family occasions, a parent's birthday, say. Here he is fishing with his father. But his heart is at the Crawford, Texas, ranch. He even stopped to wrestle with a tree when he took reporters on a tour.


QUESTION: I was just asking, shouldn't you be doing that with an ax?

BUSH: No, that was Abraham Lincoln.

QUESTION: Oh, my mistake.

MORTON (on camera): Ranch guys, beach guys. I've been thinking, Judy, about that yacht, the Sequoia. Maybe CNN could buy it. You could cruise to the news, give a whole new meaning to the word "anchor."

Bruce Morton, CNN, in town, on shore.


KING: Judy is out of town, we hope (AUDIO GAP)

... "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Miles O'Brien is sitting in for Wolf this week -- hello, Miles.


We're set to drop anchor on Wolf Blitzer's program without Wolf. Targeting Saddam Hussein: Is the U.S. one step closer to taking on his Iraqi regime? Today, a man who is preparing for war is at the White House. We'll tell you about that meeting. And surgery: the complex and risky operation to save two sisters' lives -- those stories, plus another kind of operation taking place right now: pulling a Civil War relic from the sea off of Cape Hatteras. We'll see you at the top of the hour.


KING: On INSIDE POLITICS tomorrow, we'll look at the neck-and- neck House primary between two Michigan Democrats: 47-year veteran John Dingell and four-term fellow incumbent Lynn Rivers.

That's all the time we have today for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington. Thanks for joining us. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" begins right now.


Bush Signs New Abortion Bill>



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