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Charlton Heston Announces He Has Symptoms of Alzheimer's; Some Republicans Cautious on War with Iraq; Democrats Look to Attack Ads About Corporate Cronyism

Aired August 9, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: I'm John King in Washington. NRA President Charlton Heston makes a dramatic announcement. Will it have any impact on the gun control debate?
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill. I'll look back as Heston's role as a political activist, a part he says he's not ready to give up yet.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. Why are some of the cautionary voices against war with Iraq coming within the president's own party?

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brooks Jackson in Washington. I'll tell you about an exaggerated attack ad dealing with corporate scandals and how it worked.

KING: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week. In the movies, Charlton Heston is Moses, Ben Hur. Maybe you know him as Taylor in the "Planet of the Apes."

In politics he is president of the National Rifle Association, a colorful and sometimes combative advocate of the Second Amendment and a never shy critic of those who favor gun controls. We learned yesterday Mr. Heston planned to make a, quote, "life altering announcement." And in a videotaped statement released today, Heston revealed his doctors have told him he is quote, "suffering symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease."


CHARLTON HESTON, NRA PRESIDENT: I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. If I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway.


KING: A spokesman says the 78-year-old Heston will continue with his political activities and his acting. More looking forward on this announcement in a few minutes. But our Jonathan Karl has been looking back at Heston's political legacy.


KARL (voice-over): For the past four years, Charlton Heston (AUDIO GAP) visible role has been as president of the National Rifle Association, a part he played with as much gusto as any other.

HESTON: So as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice, to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: from my cold dead hands!

KARL: That was Heston in the heat of the 2000 campaign, one in which some of his admirers claimed he single-handedly helped tilt the scales towards George W. Bush. It's not as outrageous a claim as it may seem.

Heston took the helm of the NRA in the wake of the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting at a time when the organization was in decline, losing about 20 percent of its membership. Under Heston's leadership, the decline was reversed. The NRA added more than a million members, giving it political muscle for the 2000 campaign and critical ground troops for George W. Bush. But Heston's career in politics is almost as long and varied as a Hollywood career that includes movies as wide-ranging of the 1968 sci-fi film the "Planet of the Apes" and "The Ten Commandments."

HESTON: When the strong hand of the Lord leads you out of bondage...

KARL: Hollywood's Moses has not always been a Republican.

The first presidential candidate he worked for was Democrat Adlai Stevenson. In 1963 he led a group of artists in marching with Martin Luther King Jr. The following year he was in the Senate chamber watching as the civil rights act was passed, moments he still counts as his proudest.

Today his conservative politics are out of step with Hollywood's liberal elite but Charlton Heston was the longest serving president in the history of the Screen Actor's Guild, and in the early '80s he used his influence with Ronald Reagan to defend federal funding for the arts. Now as he faces the possibility of combating the same disease as Reagan, Heston says he's not ready to give up either acting or politics.

HESTON: I'm neither giving up nor giving in. I believe I'm still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew. But it's a fight I must some day call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure. Please feel no sympathy for me, I don't. I just may be a little less accessible to you despite my wishes.


KARL: For now Heston plans to stay on as president of the NRA until his term expires next April, and his spokesperson says that he will keep a busy schedule campaigning this year for NRA supported candidates -- John.

KING: Jon, this news just breaking in the last couple of hours, but any reaction yet from some of the NRA's big allies on Capitol Hill or any opponents for that matter.

KARL: Well, he's got a lot of friends up here and we've got a whole stack of statements from some of the biggest named political people on both sides of the gun control issue saying that Charlton Heston has been an important figure in this and I imagine we'll be hearing a lot more.

KING: Jon Karl on Capitol Hill, thank you very much. Among those expressing her support for Charlton Heston is Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan also hailing Charlton Heston's decision to go public with his diagnosis. It has been, you will recall, nearly eight years since Ronald Reagan disclosed that he has Alzheimer's. In a statement, Mrs. Reagan said quote, "our family knows all too well the cruelty of this disease and we pray that God will give the Heston family, especially Lydia, who will be the primary caregiver, the strength to face each day that lies ahead."

Joining us now, The National Rife Association's CEO, Wayne LaPierre. Wayne, thanks for joining us on what must be a difficult day. Charlton Heston and his spokesman says he will continue in the NRA job, his presidency runs through April of next year.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: That's correct.

KING: And they say he will continue to be active in this midterm election, a critical midterm election. He has made 20 to 25 personal appearances for candidates so far. We are in August. Election day in November, how active do you expect him to be?

LAPIERRE: Well, he's told us he intends to remain very active. There are 4 million NRA members out there that are happy he intends to serve out his term, and I'm looking forward to seeing him out in the campaign trail. He's always been active. He's just an amazing American patriot.

KING: You are the CEO of the organization. You run the day-to- day affairs and decide most of the decisions about where to spend the political action committee money and things like that. But obviously as a fund-raiser, as a spokesman, Charlton Heston is an icon in this country and certainly an icon to NRA members. How do you replace somebody of that stature and that caliber of a public speaker, if you will.

LAPIERRE: I'll tell you, they broke the mold with Charlton Heston. It'll be a long time before America sees another Charlton Heston. You showed just a minute ago, gunner on a B-29, marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, marched on Washington with Dr. King. President of the Screen Actor's Guild, set up the meetings for Dr. King to integrate the unions in Hollywood, entertain the troops in Vietnam, went to Ethiopia during the famine, and his latest role is the president of NRA. But what an extraordinary commitment to public service. KING: I assume you have to be a bit nervous about how active he is in the fall campaign, given your obvious personal concerns for his health.

LAPIERRE: Well, I -- my dad has Alzheimer's. And the doctors have told me with him it's very important for someone to remain active. And I know that Charlton Heston intends to do that. It's been the core of his existence. You know, there is nothing about his leadership role with the NRA that's defined by his ability to maybe sign a legal document or something.

His role goes into leadership, inspiration, motivation, moral guidance. And we'll continue to look to him for all of that as I believe many people all over the country will.

KING: If we look at the organizational chart of the NRA, the next person would be Kayne Robinson. He is well known among gun owners, a former police chief in Des Moines, Iowa, an activist, a political activist in that state, not of course as well known nationally -- how could you be as Charlton Heston?

Do you expect it will be Kayne Robinson who steps up and assumes the presidency or will you look for somebody more high profile?

LAPIERRE: No, I expect it will be Kayne Robinson. He's the former police chief out in Des Moines, Iowa and he has a lot of supporters around the country and I would expect it will be Kayne.

KING: I want to talk to you a little about the gun debate so far in campaign 2002. In the 1998 midterms, the Democrats were talking about guns. They thought it was a big issue. They were going after the NRA, arguing for more gun controls, criticizing candidates who are NRA backers, supported by the NRA.

A much more quiet debate this year. You don't hear as much about it. But we did hear about the gun debate in the Michigan primary. Democrat against Democrat, Lynn Rivers against the veteran John Dingell. Sarah Brady's group, the handgun control group, ran an ad against John Dingell. We want to play a snippet of it.


BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE AD: When it comes to reducing gun violence, Mr. Dingell has let Michigan families down. John Dingell voted against the assault weapons ban.


KING: John Dingell won pretty big. How important was the NRA in that race?

LAPIERRE: He did well. I think the NRA is all about people, and the people in that district, they'd owned firearms, believed in their Second Amendment rights, I think made a difference. What's happened on the gun issue is simply this: the Democrats did everything they could to center the gun issue for the 2000 election and they did that to make it a big issue.

What they found out is out there in the heartland of the country, gun ownership among union members runs from a low of 48 percent to a high of 70, 80, 90 percent in states like Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas. And in that election up to 50 percent of the union households that had a gun in it ended up voting for Bush over Gore based on the gun issue. And this was the election. And the Democrats have taken notice of that. It's a new day now and they're supporting the Second Amendment much more.

KING: I was going to say funny you mentioned Tennessee and West Virginia. Al Gore wins either of those states, he's president of the United States. Look forward from August through November. Give us a race or two where you think the NRA can make a difference.

LAPIERRE: I think NRA, again, is people. But the fact is, I think that there are races out in Minnesota, the Wellstone/Coleman race. There are other races around the country that where you have members of Congress that have consistently voted against the Second Amendment rights of citizens, and I think that they will find as in 2000, that's not good politics.

KING: Let me bring you back quickly to today's announcement. One quick anecdote from you on your personal relationship with Charlton Heston.

LAPIERRE: You know, just a great guy. I also remember him walking into the shareholders' meetings of Time Warner when they had that song out about Ice-T about killing cops. And they were trying to say it was a First Amendment issue. And Charlton Heston looked at the management and said, come on. I have been in this business a long time he said. If it was, you'd print every record from every struggling artist. You'd print every movie strip from every writer. Now when you guys do it, it's about making money. So let me read the words of what you've decided to make money off of -- and you could see the heads bow in the room.

He walked out of the room and said -- you know, and there were hundreds of police officers there -- said, I will probably get another -- never get another movie script from Time Warner, but I bet I never get another traffic ticket either.

KING: Wayne LaPierre, we thank you again for joining us. Must be a difficult day for the NRA.

LAPIERRE: It is. We're all praying for him.

KING: As are we. Thank you very much.

Now we turn to the political debate over a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. In Texas today, President Bush said again, he has no timetable for deciding whether to order a military strike against Baghdad. And he said he might not make a decision on the matter this year. House Majority Leader Dick Armey caused something of a stir yesterday with a blunt warning against launching an unprovoked attack on the Iraq President Saddam Hussein. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD ARMEY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Let him bluster. Let him rant and rave all he wants and let that be a matter between he and his own country. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack of resources against him.


KING: At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about Armey's remarks.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Dick Armey's a fine congressman and a good friend and I think it's important for people to say what they think on these things. And that's the wonderful thing about our country. We have a public debate and dialogue and discussion on important issues.


KING: Senior Pentagon and State Department officials are meeting today with Iraq opposition leaders here in Washington to discuss efforts to oust Saddam Hussein. CNN also has learned that tomorrow the vice president, Dick Cheney, will address that group via a secure video conference from his home in Wyoming. Jeff Greenfield will have more on Republican disagreement about a possible strike against Iraq a bit later.

Also ahead, Rumsfeld and Cheney circa the 1970s, an anniversary today gave our Bruce Morton a flashback.

Also ahead, Hillary Clinton down on the ranch. Some partisan takes on the senator angling for an invitation.

And up next, the president and the politics of corporate corruption. We'll discuss a new poll the Democrats are taking to heart.


KING: When it comes to corporate misconduct, we may have seen a glimpse of the political future in a recent Tennessee primary. CNN's Brooks Jackson has more in his latest ad zapper.


JACKSON (voice-over): Enron, WorldCom, the political effect of corporate scandals may be just starting. It showed up in a Democratic House primary this week.

DAVIS CAMPAIGN AD: Corporate executives out of control, even in Tennessee.

JACKSON: When Lincoln Davis ran this attack, his race was rated by some as dead even, a toss-up.

DAVIS CAMPAIGN AD: Millionaire Fran Markham's company, false claims, fake invoices, big fines.

JOHN ROWLEY, DAVIS MEDIA CONSULTANT: That ad had a devastating impact. You had CEOs being taken out in handcuffs and it just turned the dynamic of the race on its head.

JACKSON: Before the attack ad in June, only 14 percent of voters who knew of Markham rated her unfavorable in Davis' tracking polls, but after the ad ran for a few days in July, her unfavorable rating shot up to 31 percent. When asked which candidate shares your values, before the ad, only 25 percent said Davis. After the ad, 42 percent said Davis.

(on-camera): The attack ad was based on fact, but it took liberties. When it first ran, we at CNN pointed out was not the whole story.

(voice-over): Markham's company, Micro Craft, had been in a billing dispute with the government. The loss to taxpayers was put as $152,000 and it was settled amicably without any lawsuit being filed. But Davis's ad made that sound like a multimillion dollar crime.

DAVIS CAMPAIGN AD: Criminal investigators caught CEO Fran Markham's company red handed, wrongly billing taxpayers $7 million.

JACKSON: An exaggeration to be sure. But also politically effective. On Tuesday, Davis won with 57 percent of the vote. So, the successful attack in this Democratic primary could be a model for future attacks against Republicans in November.

ROWLEY: In 1994 when the Republicans were swept in on a wave, big government is what they hung around our neck. Well abuse of big business is who they're identified with. And you know with a six-seat majority in the House, Democrats don't need a tsunami. We just need a little swell and this may well be our swell.

JACKSON: Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


KING: More now on the corporate corruption debate and its impact on campaign 2002. The Democratic National Committee is meeting this week in Las Vegas to plot strategy for the mid term elections and a new party poll says Democratic candidates should focus on the economy and corporate scandals. Joining me now from Las Vegas to discuss the election landscape is Mark Mellman, who worked on that new Democratic poll. And here it in Washington, Republican Ed Goeas, no doubt will take issues with some of the findings. Mark, let me start with you.

It is your survey. You are telling Democrats out there that in this survey of 1,000 likely voters across the country by a 47 to 37 percent margin, voters believe that Bush cares more about large corporations. Also in your poll, yes, 47 percent, no 33 percent. Voters you say are worried more about the Republicans protecting big corporations than they are about Democrats being so much in favor of regulations that they will go out and hurt economy. Synthesize this for me, Mark Mellman meeting with a candidate, go out and say this to the voters.

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, even more striking, John is the fact that by 2-1 American voters say that the Republicans are more likely to, the Republicans in Congress are more likely to care about protecting corporate interests than average families and by 2-1 they say the opposite about Democrats, that we're more likely to care about protecting average families and not corporations. The public right now is extraordinarily concerned about the economy. They see the face of the economy in two ways. First of all corporate accountability. Are people being treated unfairly, that is to say not being held responsible, not being held accountable for their actions.

And are their pensions and 401(k)s threatened because of this irresponsible corporate behavior that's been aided and abetted by the Republicans. Second thing they're concerned about from an economic point of view is healthcare and healthcare costs. Democrats have put forward any number of plans to provide coverage for prescription drugs to do, to take some other steps to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs, reduce cost of healthcare. Republicans fought that every step of the way. That's going to be the central issues of debate.

KING: OK, Ed Goeas, is Mark Mellman right? Are you worried as a Republican pollster or Republican consultant, are your candidates in trouble on the economy and corporate corruption?

ED GOEAS, GOP POLLSTER: No, especially on the economy. George W. Bush has a much higher job approval rating on him and the economy than Democrats in Congress. I also believe that if you look at this issue, we were in the field a few weeks ago and asked the question about corporate scandals and the American public has it right as opposed to the politicians in Washington: 68 percent blame the corporate executives, where if you look at George W. Bush or you look at Democrats in Congress, Republicans in Congress, they're all in the single digits. I would also say, Mark's poll is from two weeks ago. There were two polls released today also that were conducted this week.

And we see some reversal of the numbers that Mark's talking about in fact, the question about looking out for individuals interest versus corporations is now dead, even as opposed to the seven to eight point deficit that Mark cited.

KING: Let's talk about that. If the numbers are moving about, this is a very fluid debate, Mark Mellman, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, big speeches on the economy this week. President Bush next week, an economic forum in Texas designed to show the voters this is a president who will be watching and caring about economy. Is Ed right, is the president's activism making a difference to help the president and the Republicans.

MELLAN: Well the president may help himself without helping Republic congressional candidates in November. I don't think the president is really helping himself very much. Right now he's getting negative job performance ratings on the economy. That's striking because overall his job performance rating is positive. But it's extraordinarily negative on economy and on dealing with these corporate scandals.

Republican congressional candidates in '02 are going to be held accountable for their votes and for their actions. And these Republicans have voted or up for election and reelection in '02 have voted over and over again, to reduce the regulations on corporations, to make them less accountable. They've reduced the enforcement. They've taken away the cops on the beat trying to enforce these regulations. And they've allowed these corporations who after all, are their biggest supporters, to run roughshod over the rights of average American families.

That's what these Republicans in Congress are going to be held responsible for. And President Bush having an economic summit or the appearance of an economic discussion in Texas isn't going to do much to change that record established by Republican congressional...

KING: Ed, I want to give you equal time to jump in. I want to bring in one more number from Mark's poll, though, just as we close the debate. On the issue of prescription drugs, another issue that, Mark, you mentioned in the first question. In your poll it shows who do you blame if there's no drug benefit passed by Congress this year for the elderly: 29 percent the Republicans, 22 percent the Democrats, 29 both parties. Is this, Ed Goeas, is this issue a wash?

GOEAS: At least to this point. It was very unfortunate that the tripartisan bill on prescription drugs did not go through the Senate. I think that would have been a real positive. But prescription drugs is going to be there as an issue. We watch it very closely. It's a major concern of the voters out there and in fact you're going to see a lot more seniors voting this year and pre-retirees that are very focused on that issue.

So the debate on the issue is not over.

But it's going to be an issue about how much is enough, not a debate over does one party or the other care about the issue.

KING: For today we need leave it there. Mark Mellman, I'm sorry, we need to leave it there for today. Mark Mellman in Las Vegas, Ed Goeas here in Washington. Thank you very much for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS.

And more on the political impact of corporate misconduct ahead in our taking issue segment. Up next, the "News Cycle," including an update on today's arraignment in the Samantha Runnion murder case.


KING: Checking the stories in our "Newscycle." Actor and gun rights activist Charlton Heston says his doctors tell him he has symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease. Heston said he plans to continue working. He made today's announcement in a videotaped statement.


HESTON: I'm neither giving up nor giving in. I believe I'm still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew. But it's a fight I must someday call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure.


KING: The man accused of kidnapping and killing 5-year old Samantha Runnion pleaded not guilty today in a California courtroom. Alejandro Avila faces first degree murder charges. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

Here in Washington, the Bush administration has requested a stay of a judge's order requiring the government to reveal the names of people detained after September 11th. The government says about 700 people have been detained under U.S. immigration laws. Last week a federal judge ruled that the detainees should be identified publicly.

KING: With us now Mindy Tucker, communications director for the Republican National Committee, and Jennifer Palmieri, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.

Ladies, I want to continue our discussion about corporate corruption and the effect on the midterm elections scandals. First, a bit of history about some money. In the past dozen years Enron has given $6 million to federal candidates and federal PACs, about two- thirds of that went to the Republicans. WorldCom now bankrupt, about $7.6 over the past dozen years again to federal campaigns and committees, a little more than half of that to the Republicans.

Sam Waksal, he's the CEO of ImClone indicted just yesterday on corporate corruption charges, about $100,000 to the Democrats in the past two years and as Hillary Clinton was reminded today by a newspaper article in New York, about $20,000 of that money from Sam Waksal given, there you see the headline, a not so flattering headline, about $20,000 of that money from Sam Waksal given to Hillary Clinton and committees supporting her.

Let me start first with Jennifer Palmieri.

These companies have gone bankrupt. They are part of the angry debate in America right now. Why not give back the money?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DNC PRESS SECRETARY: Well, with political donations, I think the question should always be -- it's not about what these companies have given. It is what they get in return.

And, on the Democrat side, when donations are given to us, what people are buying into is an agenda that is about sustained economic growth, the Democratic agenda that is for passing a good prescription drug bill, for protecting Social Security, for providing money for education, protecting the environment. When you buy in on the Republican side, it is literally an investment, in many cases. And the companies that give money to Republicans are paid back in tax policy and energy policy, and, as we learned today, getting a seat at the very exclusive economic forum in Waco. So, I think that the problem -- and Democrats have been clear about this -- the problem isn't about the money that people get, but it is what they give back to companies in return.

And the body of evidence is such that we have much more of a problem of Republicans giving favors back than is on the Democrat side.

KING: Mindy Tucker, I assume you disagree with that?

MINDY TUCKER, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, what Jennifer just illustrated is how people are taking this and trying to create a partisan advantage for themselves out of something that shouldn't be political.

What we're facing here is economic problems that we need to deal with. And it doesn't matter who took money from what. What the focus should be is, how do we deal with them? We could sit here all day and pick through people that you don't like on the Democrat side that gave the Democrats money and you don't like on the Republican side that gave the Republicans money. But what matters is what they do in office.

And what we're seeing is, Republicans create an atmosphere where businesses flourish. And what the Democrats are going to realize real fast is, you can't anti-business and pro-jobs. What we need to do is focus on the things that matter.

PALMIERI: There is no party that knows more about economic growth than the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, under Clinton and Al Gore


TUCKER: That's why you opposed tax cuts and important things that helped the economy?

PALMIERI: We had the most -- the longest sustained economic growth in the history of our country. We created 22 million new jobs.


TUCKER: But you consistently oppose things that will help the economy, like tax cuts. I don't understand how can someone say that they're pro-economy, yet they don't want to do the very thing that people, economic experts are saying helped reduce the amount of the recession that we're feeling.

PALMIERI: Well, economic experts are saying a couple things.

And one thing that they are saying and one thing that Vice President Cheney said in his speech on Wednesday is that they credited the tax rebate that was passed by the Congress as helping to bring back the economy. And I just need to point out that that tax rebate was a Democrat-proposed bill that the administration -- it was not included in the administration's packet.


TUCKER: Let me get this straight. The Democrats are now going to take credit for the tax cut that President Bush passed and that you guys have been opposing.

PALMIERI: We will absolutely take credit for the tax rebate.

TUCKER: Have you checked that with Tom Daschle? He's very opposed to it.

PALMIERI: For the tax rebate that provided $300 to $600 for families that could use the money, that spent it, and having a stimulative effect, that was a Democrat proposal. What is not a Democrat proposal was the long-term tax cut that ate up the rest of our surplus. And we will differ on that.

TUCKER: Which shows, again, that Democrats don't understand how to create an atmosphere where businesses can flourish. You don't just throw money out there once and not allow people to plan for the future. That's common-sense business.

PALMIERI: Mindy, the record is clearly on our side.


TUCKER: I'm amazed. I hope Tom Daschle is not watching. I'm amazed that you're going to support that tax cut now.

PALMIERI: That was Daschle's tax cut, the tax rebate, not your tax cut. This is our tax cut.

TUCKER: He opposed it.

PALMIERI: Not the tax rebate.

TUCKER: He voted against it. He's on record.

PALMIERI: This was our -- this was the tax rebate that the Democrats


TUCKER: Oh, I get it. See, this is what we have a lot in Washington. They support their particular


KING: OK, ladies, I'm going to wrap you. I am sitting here in the studio. I have to tell you, I'm having a technical problem, so I can't interrupt you...

PALMIERI: I wondered why you let this go on for so long.

TUCKER: We were enjoying it.

KING: ... and interact with you as much as I would have liked.

But we need to end the segment here. One of you has managed to cut me off, so that I can't get involved in the debate. I don't know who would have pulled that off. The investigation will begin shortly.

I'm not even going to let -- Jennifer, we're going cut your mike, so don't even try it. We're going to end it there. My apologies that I couldn't be a better referee and host. More next time, I promise.

And we'll get into a New York state of mind next on INSIDE POLITICS and get the "Inside Buzz" on parking tickets disputed at the highest level; and a conversation with Senate candidate Ron Kirk. Does a Democrat really have a chance in the president's home state?

Stay with us.


KING: New York's top Republicans today urged their party to hold its 2004 convention in the Big Apple. Members of the Republican National Committee site selection committee are in New York, which is competing with New Orleans and Tampa-St. Petersburg.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: My message today to the RNC is that it is time. And the Republicans have never had their convention in New York City. And we think that it would be great for the Republican Party and obviously great for New York City if they were to do so in 2004.


KING: Mayor Bloomberg also acknowledged that some high-level diplomacy on his part seems to be paying off. He and Secretary of State Colin Powell had a phone conversation yesterday about a tense standoff over diplomatic parking.

Hours later, city officials and the State Department reached a tentative agreement to stop tow trucks from hauling away diplomatic vehicles because of unpaid parking tickets. Bloomberg says the State Department agreed to dramatically reduce the number of consular license plates it issues. And it promised to help New York City collect some of the $22 million in diplomatic parking fines the city says it is owed.

Bloomberg also defended his new plan to ban smoking in all New York City restaurants and bars. When reporters pressed the mayor about how many years ago he had quit smoking, his predecessor, who was standing by at the news conference, got a little nostalgic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I miss the blue room. I mean, I always loved being asked questions like that.


GIULIANI: I miss it. I want it. It probably says that I have some deep psychological problem, but I enjoy being here. And I miss you guys a lot.


KING: Now to one of the hot Senate elections of election 2002: In Texas, Democrat Ron Kirk and Republican John Cornyn are vying for the seat now held by retiring Republican Phil Gramm. Cornyn has the full backing of the White House political machine, which is hardly surprising, since a victory by Kirk could seal the Democrats' control of the Senate.

Kirk was here in Washington for a fund-raiser yesterday. And we talked about his campaign.


KING: The polls today show Ron Kirk is ahead in the Texas Senate race. A national audience might find that hard to understand. Texas is the state of George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey.

Does a Democrat really have a chance?

RON KIRK (D), TEXAS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, yes. It is the state of them, but it's also is state of Ann Richards and Pete Laney and Charlie Stenholm and Ron kirk.

I mean, we are a plurality state. And I know it is a little bit difficult for people outside of Texas to understand. But the same state that would give George Bush 65, 67 percent would also reelect Charlie Stenholm or Jim Turner or Martin Frost.

KING: I, believe it or not, made a few phone calls to prepare for this interview. And I called a Republican I've known for a long time who lives in your former city, Dallas, who said: "Yes, the guy has got a chance. He is a leader who happens to be African-American, not an African-American leader."

What's the difference and why does it matter?

KIRK: Well, because the reality is, I'm running in a state that has a need to elect a United States senator who is going to look out for everybody, first of all, no matter what their ethnicity.

But, also, I'm not foolish. I ran for mayor of Dallas at a period of time our city was really fractured. And what I said to people was: Don't put me in the box of being a black mayor. Challenge me to go be the best mayor I can, because, first of all, that's my job. And, secondly, that's the way I'm going to be elected.

And I did that. I've done that twice. And I'm going to have to do the same thing in this Senate race.

KING: You say that should not be a motivation and will not be a motivation for the voters of Texas and it can't be a centerpiece to your campaign. But what about in the back of your head and in your heart? Is it a motivation for you personally to be the first African- American to work right there in that building in the United States Senate?

KIRK: Listen, I am not -- I can't tell you how powerful it would be for me to have the chance to be the first Democrat to hold the seat last held by LBJ, knowing that he was a president, and, as a United States senator, that empowered my parents to have the right to vote, that he passed laws that empowered a whole generation of kids like me to have a chance, so that I could run for office and say I have a law degree from the University of Texas, and I've served as secretary of state, and I've been twice elected as mayor of Dallas.

KING: The national Democratic message in this election is that, A, theme No. 1 should be the economy, and, B, the Democrats say that George Bush and Dick Cheney are not the guys to lead the fight for the little guy, the hard-working American, because they're former CEOs; they're not the right champions even of this corporate corruption, corporate reform debate.

I assume you would agree that the economy is a big issue right now. It must be pretty hard for you, in the president's home state, though, to go after him on the economy.

KIRK: Well, I'm not running against him. And it's not hard. And, believe me, I'm aware of the president's popularity. I'm aware of my party's stand. But I'm not running as a national Democrat. And this isn't a referendum on Bush. This is about what's best for us.

People are concerned about the economy and the war, because they understand that what we have to do to divert funds from addressing issues of health care and education are going to be necessary to prosecute this war on terrorism, and that the sooner we can return to a balanced budget and disciplined spending, the better chance we may have to address some of these other issues.


KING: Direct connections between the 38th president and the current White House occupant later on INSIDE POLITICS.

And up next: Jeff Greenfield on the emerging debate over Saddam Hussein within the Republican Party.

Stay with us.


KING: More divisions and more questions today in the ongoing debate over U.S. policy toward Iraq, and some of the newest dissent comes from within the president's Republican Party.

CNN's Jeff Greenfield has more in today's "Bite of the Apple."


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: There aren't many rules that govern politics, but here is one that is pretty reliable. For a president, disagreement inside his political party is always a lot trickier than disagreement between the political parties. That can be particularly true when the subject is war and peace, which is why the cautionary notes coming from some prominent Republicans are so intriguing.

(voice-over): The latest case in point: the comments last night from House Majority Leader Richard Armey. Speaking to reporters in Des Moines, the No. 2 House Republican, who will be retiring after this year, had this to say about a potential war with Iraq -- quote -- "I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation."

Armey is not the only Republican skeptic. Senator Richard Lugar, perhaps the key Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed his doubts about whether the administration has adequately explained either the justification for an attack or the consequences. Nebraska's Chuck Hagel has urged the Bush administration to try and make any effort against Iraq a coalition effort rather than unilateral reaction.

It's not that partisan criticism is unknown to wartime presidents. During Korea, Truman was assailed by Republicans for a so-called no-win policy. And when Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of his command in Korea, the general came home to cheering crowds and to a GOP campaign aimed at discrediting President Truman.

On the other hand, when the Vietnam War escalated, President Johnson's first critics came from within Democratic Party ranks: Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, Arkansas' William Fulbright, and then the 1968 primary challenges from Senator Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.

And while most congressional Democrats voted against the first President Bush when he was asking for backing for the war against Iraq in 1991, 86 Democratic House members and 10 Democratic senators provided Bush his margin of victory. Those votes included Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.

(on camera): Now, we're still in the early rounds of debate over a potential war with Iraq. And it's all but certain that the vast majority of Republicans will stand with the president if war happens.

But even now, any dissent within the Republican Party makes life more complicated for Mr. Bush. At the least, it makes it much harder to talk about partisan criticism when some of the critics are in your own house.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.


KING: Twenty-eight years ago today, political history was made and the seeds were planted for a new generation of government leaders, back in power today. Up next, our Bruce Morton remembers.


KING: Today marks another anniversary of one of the seminal events in modern political history.

Our Bruce Morton revisits that turning point and how it is still making a mark on the White House.



RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Richard Nixon resigned the presidency 28 years ago. Gerald Ford replaced him, the only unelected president -- he had been appointed vice president after Nixon's original V.P. resigned -- we've ever had. He was a breath of fresh air.

"Our long national nightmare is over," he said. "And I am a Ford and not a Lincoln." But he lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. Is there a Ford legacy? Maybe not, but it's interesting that three veterans of Ford's short presidency hold high office in George W. Bush's government. Vice President Dick Cheney was assistant chief of staff, then chief of staff to Ford. Don Rumsfeld was chief of staff, then secretary of defense. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was No. 2 man in the Office of Management and Budget.

Does it matter? Other Bush officials -- Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, among others -- worked for Ronald Reagan or the first President Bush.

Bill Plante has covered those White Houses.

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: I don't think you can pigeonhole the philosophy of this White House in any of those past Republican administrations, not Ford, not Nixon, and not Reagan. It's probably closer to the Nixon model of practical politics and pragmatic politics than anything else, but it does not seem to share the darker aspects of the Nixon legacy.

MORTON: Rumsfeld, Cheney, O'Neill were then and are now tough, old-school Republicans.

PLANTE: They come to their positions which they occupy now with 30 years of experience. And we have to presume that they have changed and grown in those 30 years. But they are still basically the same guys they were in the Ford administration.

MORTON: One other change: Washington may be as partisan, as party-conscious as ever, but Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were perhaps our most paranoid presidents. "Who's out to get me?" was the question they worried about -- not so true now.

PLANTE: The landscape of American politics since Richard Nixon's resignation has been very different, because, in the time since then, politics has grown to be more open, more inclusive in both parties and in all respects.

MORTON: Gerald Ford began that openness. Maybe that is what he will be remembered for.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


KING: A public beach or a private domain? Bill Schneider ponders that question after the break.

But first let's take a look at what's coming up on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Miles O'Brien is sitting in for Wolf, not having (r)MDNM¯nearly as much fun as I am having sitting in for Judy -- hello, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Oh, I don't know about that. We can talk about that later. I think we are both having a good time this week.

John, thank you very much.

He played Moses and Ben Hur. Now a legendary actor has made a stunning announcement about his health, a disease that affects millions of Americans. We'll speak to a member of the Reagan family who knows about the struggle that lies ahead for Charlton Heston. Also, is one of Martha Stewart's friends potentially harmful to her? I will ask one congressman who's looking into allegations against the gourmet guru. And friends don't let friends drive drunk, but what happened to the one friend police say did? A jury's judgment and the victim's family, who is coming to terms with it, we'll hear from them up next on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."


KING: Like Judy and Wolf, Bill Schneider is on vacation this week, so there will be no "Political Play of the Week." But before he left, Bill spent some time in California examining a political conflict involving beachgoers.

Here's Bill now in Malibu.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The doctrine of public trust, which says beaches shall be open to public use, dates back 1,500 years to the Roman Emperor Justinian. But Justinian never had to deal with Hollywood mogul David Geffen or other beach front property owners here in Malibu.

(voice-over): It all comes down to this locked gate. It's on the property of billionaire film and record producer David Geffen. On one side of the gate, paradise -- the fabulous Malibu beaches, playground of Gidget and the Beach Boys. On the other side of the gate, the Pacific Coast Highway, busy and dangerous.

Can the state force Mr. Geffen to open that gate? It can, says a public activists.

STEVE HUYE, ACCESS FOR ALL: Because with a little landscaping and the key to those gates, we could open up that tomorrow. And that's what I'd like to do. And that's currently why we're in court, because he's trying to stop me.

SCHNEIDER: It's an outrage, say Malibu homeowners.

JODY SIEGLER, MALIBU HOMEOWNER: Nobody would knock on your door as an apartment dweller or a homeowner and say that, you know, it's a really pretty view over there, we would, you know, love to set up some picnic blankets.

SCHNEIDER: Who owns the beach? Thirty years ago, California voters passed a law that answered the question. The people do. And property owners must not interfere with the public's access to the beach. But they do, with warning signs and fences and locks and fees and unlabeled entryways.

How can they do that? Because politically there's an imbalance. Beach property owners are likely to be wealthy and influential, like Mr. Geffen. Their opponents drive them nuts.

SIEGLER: They have sort of latched on to this rabble rousing rally cry that is supposed to have a popular appeal, which it does. And if you can get to say it in 30 seconds, which they do, sure, why not? You know, what's the big problem? Swing open a door, let the public go. Homeowner, you know, where's the beef? I mean how could you possibly object to that?

SCHNEIDER: But the public has not rallied around the issue of beach rights. Why not? Because the beach going public is blissfully unaware.

HUYE: They basically can go to the beach anywhere they like. What I aim to do is tell them, because they don't know that.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): More than half of the U.S. population now lives and works within 50 miles of the nation's coastline and almost 70 percent of that coastline is privately owned. Put those two facts together and you've got a conflict that's likely to last a long time.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Malibu, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: That's not a bad deal: to get paid to go to the beach before you go on vacation.

That's it today for INSIDE POLITICS. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is up next.

I'm John King. Thanks for watching. Have a good weekend. Hope you come back Monday.


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