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Cheney Calls for Preemptive Strike on Iraq; Hatfill Takes on Ashcroft; Baseball Strike Averted

Aired August 31, 2002 - 19:00   ET



I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and in New York, Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is John Podesta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House. It's good to have you back, John.


HUNT: Thanks for coming.

Vice President Dick Cheney opened the week by calling for a preemptive military strike against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Time is not on our side. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network or a murderous dictator or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.


HUNT: Three days later, the vice president reiterated that message with a qualifying note about President Bush.


CHENEY: I am confident that he will, as he said he would, consult widely with our Congress, with our friends and allies around the world before deciding on a course of action.


HUNT: In Berlin, the German chancellor sounded off.


GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (voice of translator): Germany will not take part in the military intervention, not as long as I am in charge. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar visited President Bush at his ranch to repeat his opposition to military action. And how did President Bush respond?


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On the topic of Iraq, the president stressed that he has made no decisions, that he will continue to engage on consultations with Saudi Arabia and other nations of...


HUNT: Margaret, help us. What's the administration's real message this week?

MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: The message, Al, is, damn the allies, full speed ahead, with a slight qualifier from Cheney when Powell, I think, came forward and said, you know, he did not agree, not that that's new, that there would be consultations. Powell's gone further, which is to say we cannot go it alone, and we can't act as if we, quote, "don't give a damn" about our allies.

The lip service that Dick Cheney paid to consulting doesn't move the ball at all. It still sounds as if the message is, We're going there. And like somebody who tells a joke louder until they get a laugh, Cheney and Bush seem to repeat -- be repeating that Saddam Hussein is a mortal threat without answering the questions about why Saddam and why now.

HUNT: Kate, you and Margaret may disagree on consultation, but do you basically agree with her bottom line, that the message clearly was, We're going after him?

KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think the message was a couple of things this week by both Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. He -- the administration is committed to regime change, preemptive military action is justified, inspections are worth nothing, given (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the 10 years.

And I think when Don Rumsfeld said about whether or not, you know, our allies are going to be enthusiastic with us, he made the point that leadership in the right direction attracts supporters and allies. In contrast to Germany this week, we saw that reaction from France. How is France responding? They have not been supportive so far. They've now decided to say nothing.

In the face of U.S. resolve, if they think the U.S. is going to do it, they want to be in a position to reap the benefits when it's done. And the French foreign minister went so far as to say, about toppling Saddam Hussein, and now quietly going along, that Europeans certainly have learned a lesson of inaction in the face of fascism this century.

And I think there's much to be said for that.

HUNT: That's -- yes, the vice president did say that, and he said there's no point in going to the U.N. because if you try to go back to inspectors, Bob, that this guy Saddam is a master at cheat and retreat, and all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) endanger us more.

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, number one, I don't want to make this a debate on the French position, but I think -- I don't think you correctly characterized that position. They are not supporting this at this state. Who knows where they'll end up?

Secondly, the past inspections did learn a lot from Iran, and...

HUNT: Iraq.

NOVAK: From Iraq, and one thing we have learned is there is no evidence that they have a nuclear capability. And so when the vice president says flatly they have a nuclear capability, there's just no evidence that puts that out there.

When you have -- I -- we interviewed, Al and I interviewed earlier today the Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, senator, very -- I think a very savvy person, a very courageous person. And he said the only thing worse that he thought than the vice president coming out and serving as the spokesman on what the president ought to be saying was why, if he was giving something that was different than the vice -- than the president, which he isn't.

This is the, this is the position. But I think it is a very scary position with our allies, the secretary of state, and some substantial people in the Congress not on board.

HUNT: That suggests we've had a great debate, no question, Brent Scowcroft and Chuck Hagel and, you know, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Republican side. Democrats are just bystanding, don't, no interest in this?

PODESTA: Well, I think they're a little bit bemused at this point between the kind of -- the Freudian psychodrama that's been going on between Bush 41 and Bush 43, between Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft and the president's current advisers.

But I think they're also been out and talking about a different kind of regime change, one that deals more with the president's economic team, trying to get rid of Paul O'Neill and, and, you know, people like the head of the SEC. And they're thinking about what's going on here...


HUNT: ... subject replacement rather than regime replacement.

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think they'd like to see, they'd like to see some focus on the things that, that they're hearing back, about back home. But you saw Joe Biden hold extensive hearings. You didn't see Carl Levin hold extensive hearings. And I think the Democrat voices will be in there. Dick Holbrook has advised them to go to the U.N. I think he's a credible Democratic voice.

But again, most Democrats right now, I think, are concentrating on what's going here at home, what's going on with the domestic economy, and they're really quite worried about it.

HUNT: Let me, let me turn to Margaret just for a second. You mentioned Colin Powell. Colin Powell put out to a few allies this week that he was blindsided by the Cheney speech, had no idea it was coming and didn't agree with it.

I remember the time Cyrus Vance some 12 years ago resigned when the policy was against, against what he believed in. Is Colin Powell at that point where he just accept whatever they do, Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, this is -- for Colin Powell, this is -- it's almost like resigning for him to put this out, because he's a team player, he's a military man, he's worked behind the scenes, he's the least likely person to make a public storm over this.

Yet I think he was really pushed to the brink this week by Cheney going out there, and ignoring all the opinions on the other side within the administration and within the former Bush administration.

HUNT: Well, let me...

CARLSON: And he answered no questions. I mean, he's -- they've answered Powell's objections.

HUNT: Let me just bring one thing else up to you, Kate, Dick Cheney also said that he envisioned a post-Saddam Iraq that would be a democracy, that would respect human rights. If it's good enough for Iraq, isn't it good enough for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East?

O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. You're asking the right girl, absolutely.

HUNT: Is that where we're headed?

O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. Iran, Iran is waiting to drop like a ripe fruit, given the enormous democracy demonstrations going on there against their regime. So this could have dramatic effects.

Margaret, questions will be answered this fall. Administration witnesses will be appearing in both the Senate and the House. They'll be fully answered.

And it amuses me that people think Colin Powell thinks that Cheney has a heck of a nerve speaking on behalf of the administration. Look, our allies, I think Colin Powell was going to sell the administration's final decision to the allies, and they got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) typical position Europeans about the United States, can't live with us, can't live without us. And I am predicting, not being able to live without us, we'll win out.

NOVAK: Let me just say one thing to John. John, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this is a serious matter. I wish the Democrats would get serious about it, engage in this debate, because this has really, I think, vast implications for what kind of country we're going to be, if we're going to follow Kate's pass (ph) and decide we're going to control the whole world, when we're overextended now, the further extension, and I'm very sorry that you think...

PODESTA: Well, no, I agree with -- you know...

NOVAK: ... that cheap politics in 2002 is more important than this.

PODESTA: Well, look, I think we're going to have plenty of time to debate this. T he president said he's going to send his people up to the Hill, and I think that, that, that he, he has the obligation right now to explain to the American people what's his strategy, where is he's going. He can't really just leave that to the Democrats.


NOVAK: ... Democrats have an obligation...

PODESTA: And he's got to get out there and explain it.

HUNT: Final word, John Podesta.

THE GANG will be back with a person of interest in the anthrax killings.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former government scientist, has been described by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a, quote "person or individual of interest," end quote, in last year's anthrax murders.

Dr. Hatfill called a press conference to speak out against the attorney general.


DR. STEVEN HATFILL, FORMER ARMY SCIENTIST: I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, I am not the anthrax killer. I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime.

I have never met Mr. Ashcroft. I don't know him, I've never spoken with him. And I do not understand his personalized focus on me. My lawyers can find no legal definition for "a person of interest."


HUNT: Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI replied. But on the next day, the FBI conducted a new investigative search of a building in Boca Raton, Florida, that was the target of one of last year's fatal anthrax attacks. Kate, what is the FBI up to in this investigation?

O'BEIRNE: It seems to me that the treatment of Steven Hatfill, it -- to me it smacks of desperation on the part of the FBI, that they would so abuse their power by so abusing him, because they are desperate to make it appear this investigation of theirs is going someplace, when it appears it's really not going anywhere much.

I for one think the entire thing could be misdirected, because early in the game, they dismissed the notion that it could be a foreign source. I for one am not at all convinced that this source is domestic. Would that the FBI had a track record of being able to go back and challenge those early assumptions and redirect the investigation. But they get -- they become to -- so bullheaded, they self-justify whatever they're doing, that I expect abuses like this to continue, unfortunately.

John Ashcroft is not responsible, he's not running the investigation. But if people at the FBI are not priored (ph) for this kind of abuse, then John Ashcroft will be responsible for that.

HUNT: John, you served during the Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee debacles. The FBI just up to its old bad tricks again?

PODESTA: Well, I hope this isn't a case of, you know, Oops, I did it again. But I, I, I, I think I agree with Kate. I mean, I think they, they came to the end of the line after a year, they had not much going on, and they have obviously focused on Dr. Hatfill. Now, you know, maybe they know something that, that, that we don't know.

But when you see him out there, he, you know, he kind of smacks of credibility. When he has to come forward this week and tell them that there's a test you can do for anthrax or anthrax vaccination, and he'd be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) willing to volunteer (UNINTELLIGIBLE) after anthrax exposure, I mean, that -- you got to kind of wonder what this investigation's up to at this point.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I think John's got a good point.


HUNT: You had a good column on this, by the way, this week.

NOVAK: Thank you. It's the FBI at its worst, strong-arm tactics, why they trashed his apartment, his girlfriend's apartment. But I -- you know, as somebody who strongly supported John Ashcroft for attorney general, and I did, I'm very disappointed in him, and I'm very disappointed in his lack of interest in civil liberties in this war against terrorism.

And I believe that this calling somebody an individual or a person of interest in public is, is just absolutely reprehensible.

HUNT: Margaret Carlson, what do you think?

CARLSON: I wish I could come to the defense of the FBI so I could differ from Bob here. But in this case, it is impossible. It's not that they're heavy-handed, it's that they're ineptly heavy-handed in what they've done to this person, who, as John points out, had to tell them how to go about doing tests that, that might clear him.

And to me, it looks like Jose Padilla, where they made such a huge to-do over the dirty bomber, who's, you know, not a threat to anybody but, you know, maybe his next-door neighbor, in order to obscure the fact that the war on terror and the trying to find the anthrax killer are quite stalled.

Steven Hatfill is a guy with a colorful past, no doubt, and a few coincidences. But other than that, they seem to have nothing on him to, to, to justify this harassment.

HUNT: Yes, I'll just add, Steven Hatfill's a guy who probably, you know, has done some things we might, might find distasteful in the past. But that doesn't make him guilty of a crime like this.

And Bob, I want to associate myself totally with your remarks about John Ashcroft. I think this is the most insensitive...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talking about that, Al.

HUNT: ... this is the most insensitive attorney general to, to basic American liberties. You got to go back to Mitch Palmer.


HUNT: He is the man, the buck stops at Attorney General...

O'BEIRNE: This is typical FBI behavior.

HUNT: ... Ashcroft, and next on...

O'BEIRNE: Unfortunately.

HUNT: ... and he is the boss of the FBI, the buck stops with him.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, baseball does not strike out.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Hours before the strike deadline, major league baseball averted disaster.


BUD SELIG, BASEBALL COMMISSIONER: Major League Baseball's 30 clubs and the Major League Baseball Players' Association have today reached an historic agreement and that all games will be played as scheduled.

It represents for the first time in baseball history that we have reached a collective bargaining agreement without the loss of a single game. We also believe that this agreement will make significant contributions to restoring competitive balance.


HUNT: Bob, has the national pastime been saved?

NOVAK: It's averted a disaster, but not salvation. Baseball is in big trouble. I mean, it would have been absolutely horrible if they had gone on strike, and I think the players apparently have given in some, and they, and they realized it.

Bud Selig keeps talking about restoring competition. How does he explain how one of the teams he wanted to contract, the Minnesota team, twins, is having a terrific year? So I think that's a lot of baloney too. It's a -- it's the socialism of the owners against the capitalism of the players, and -- but they're both wrongheaded people, they're all wrongheaded people.

HUNT: Margaret, who do you side with, the capitalists or the socialists?

CARLSON: You can't root for anybody here. They just both come across as, as, as, as terribly greedy and self-centered. Baseball's soon going to be like smoking, it's going to be too expensive for anybody to do.

You know, the public suffers every time they get to this point, but it's, it's -- each time, it seems a little bit worse, and they go a little bit lower.

And by the way, they didn't do anything about the, the -- really towards fixing the problem with taking of the steroids, which was part of these negotiations. I mean, some of these players look like horses grazing in, in center field. And the testing provisions are worth nothing.

And it calls into question like the, the home run statistics when you have steroids as rampant as they are.

HUNT: I love it when Margaret talks about baseball. John, John Podesta, President Bush dodged a bullet, though. It would hurt him if there'd been a strike.

PODESTA: Absolutely. I think that just as I think it probably hurt President Clinton in 1994 when they did go on strike. It sours the mood of the, of the public. And I think that especially this year, when there's so much focus on, on corporate governance, the governance of baseball, I think, would have caught the attention of the American public and would have put people in a down mood, and President Bush doesn't need any more of that. He's got plenty of it right now.

HUNT: Kate, we'll see you at the ball park this weekend, right?

O'BEIRNE: Well, I was just going to tell Margaret how happy I am for her that the strike was settled. I know how you've been looking forward to the post-season, games Margaret. So...

CARLSON: I'll be there.

O'BEIRNE: ... congratulations, I know you're awfully happy.

CARLSON: Thanks, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: I reject this nonsense, the view of 1994 elections, that it was motivated by angry white men. Bill Clinton did plenty that had nothing to do with baseball to account for, in that first year, to account for the Republican win in November.

This one challenges me as a conservative. Clearly you have to increase competition. In order to do that, you have to introduce socialism. So I have a difficult time...

HUNT: No, I can understand why.


HUNT: I think the -- I want to tell you, it's hard to sympathize with the players here, but I think 90 percent of the blame rests with the owners. Are the players overpaid? Yes, they are. So are CEOs, so are rap singers, so are NBA players...

O'BEIRNE: But not TV pundits.



PODESTA: The owners set the scale (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: ... rap singers or NBA players make two-thirds more. But my favorite, my favorite illustration here is Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers, gave a newspaper interview last week in which he talked about, We have to control these labor costs.

Where did he give it from? His yacht. This is the -- none of these guys are going to back off.

NOVAK: And let me...

HUNT: And he's the guy who paid Alex Rodriguez, a wonderful baseball player, $252 million. No labor union made him do that.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and the other side, Barry Bonds, great home run hitter, says, when he says, Will the fans be mad if there's a strike?, he says, Don't worry, they'll always come back. That's the arrogance.

HUNT: That's that -- there's no question there's arrogance, but...

O'BEIRNE: Hasn't that been true, though, in the past? They do come back.

NOVAK: Yes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) come back from '94 completely.

HUNT: Edward Bennett Williams one time said that the only thing -- what was it -- the only thing dumber than a smart football owner is a -- No, the only thing dumber than a dumb football owner is a smart baseball owner.

O'BEIRNE: Smart baseball owner, right.

HUNT: I think that says everything about major league baseball.

But we'll be back with our CAPITAL classic, Bill Clinton butting into baseball.


HUNT: Welcome back.

In the late winter of 1995, the strike that killed the 1994 baseball playoffs threatened to also kill the '95 season.

President Bill Clinton offered to intervene, but the newly installed House speaker, Newt Gingrich, disagreed. THE CAPITAL GANG discussed the situation on February the 11th, 1995.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, February 11, 1995)

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: Bob Novak, is baseball a political winner for President Clinton and a political loser for Newt Gingrich, who obviously is a great fan?

NOVAK: He tried hard to pull off a coup, and he failed. You don't call everybody in unless you know the deal is set. Now, the point of the matter is, the president has no business messing around with this. This is not the railroad strike with Lyndon Johnson in 1964 where the fate of the economy is at stake.

CARLSON: It seems to me the president had a duty to go in even if he was going to strike out and give it his all. You know, when there's no baseball season this year, the president can at least say, I tried.

HUNT: On economic grounds, you can't justify, you know, any kind of federal intervention. There are far more important economic issues. But it does to the fiber of what this country is. It's the morale of kids around America.

SHIELDS: I think as far as the baseball strike is concerned, Bill Clinton deserves enormous credit, I really do. I think it is so important, I think it is critical to -- resolution...

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: Kate, seven years later, I know this is something you've thought about a lot. Who was right, Clinton or Gingrich?

O'BEIRNE: Something I'm actually rather expert on. When either one of them talked about baseball, it just didn't ring true. I think it was just inauthentic, and I, as I said, recognized as being an inauthentic baseball expert myself.

I think the American pastime had passed by the both of them, they're either (ph) kids or adults, and I think it showed.

HUNT: John, Bill Clinton would have solved a basketball strike, but he wasn't much of a baseball fan, was he?

PODESTA: Well, he's a great sports fan. But I think you could draw a straight line from that day to Newt Gingrich's resignation in November 1998 when he was kind of straight down from there.

HUNT: Oh, we miss him, though, I'll tell, you, John.



HUNT: I miss him a lot.

Margaret Carlson, how does it look to you with the benefit of hindsight?

CARLSON: Well, it is the national pastime. I think a president should jawbone on it, possibly. And in fact, it's a coincidence, perhaps, but Scott McClellan used to be with the Texas Rangers, I think the managing partner, and now he's a spokesman for Bush. And he did jawbone, saying that he hoped there wasn't a strike because it would hurt the national spirit at -- so close to September -- the memorial of September 11.

SO we know where, we know where Bush was on this.

HUNT: Bob, I think Bush was awfully, was awfully lucky, because he couldn't intervene, he was a former owner. But I think it would have hurt American psyche if there'd been a strike.

NOVAK: Let me tell you (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I think that the president and the government ought to get involved in many less -- fewer things than they get, than they're involved in now, around the world, Kate, and in this country.

I think they ought to take hands off. President Clinton had no business messing around, and I'm just very happy that George W. Bush didn't follow, maybe, his temptation and get involved in this nonstrike.

HUNT: Well, we're glad that there'll -- we will be yelling Play ball! this weekend. And thanks for being with us, John Podesta. You can play ball with us any time. PODESTA: Absolutely.

HUNT: Thanks a lot.

We'll be back with the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Our Newsmaker of the Week is labor leader Andy Stern. Beyond the Beltway looks at the Florida election for Democratic governor, with "Miami Herald" political reporter Tyler Bridges. And our Outrages of the Week, all after the latest news following these messages.



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

I'm Al Hunt with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and in New York, Margaret Carlson.

Our Newsmaker of the Week is Andy Stern, president of America's largest labor union, the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU.

Andrew Stern, age 51, residence Washington, D.C., religion Jewish. B.A., University of Pennsylvania. Left Wharton School of Business to become a social worker. Rank and file member and later president of SEIU local. SEIU executive board at age 29, elected SEIU president in 1996 to succeed AFL-CIO president John Sweeney.

Earlier this week, I sat down with Andy Stern.


Unions haven't enjoyed a lot of success lately in the political arena. Only about 13 percent of the workforce is a member of unions, down from one third 50 years ago. Is the American labor movement in trouble?

ANDREW STERN, PRESIDENT, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION: I think the labor movement right now is holding steady. You know, we've had 13 million members, we had to organize 3 million new members just to say even. We're beginning to see, though, the kinds of responses from workers out there when we talk to them, who say that in this era of corporate responsibility, they want protection, they want guarantees.

And I think they're beginning to look at unions afresh.

HUNT: Your union added 80,000 members last year. What are you doing differently than others?

STERN: Well, I think what we're doing, which a lot of people are trying to do, is actually going out and talking to people about issues. You know, in this environment, you know, the need for health care, the need for guarantees in your pension plan. HUNT: You mentioned the corporate fraud issue. Has the government moved sufficiently? Should more be done to protect not just shareholders but employees too?

STERN: I don't think the government's done very much. You know, we've talked a lot about, you know, new accounting standards. But what people want is, they want the people that stole their money to go to jail, and they want their money back.

And it's not just changing laws or changing regulations. We need to find a way, whether it's taking Gary Winnick's house with its 26 bathrooms and selling it off, whether it's starting to put a cap on this millionaire's tax and putting some of the money back to working people...

HUNT: There is a perception among some of the public of sort of entrenchment and entitlement in the labor movement. In an act of heresy for the house of labor, you have advocated term limits for union executives. Why?

STERN: I just think at times you need to shake the system up. And I'm not sure term limits is the only answer to it. But I think what we see is that in any institution, we saw it in WorldCom, we see it in Enron, when things get too big and leaders get too entrenched, and boards don't really provide the kind of oversight, in the end, people get hurt.

And the labor movement, fortunately, are democratic institutions. Our members get to vote.

HUNT: Labor and politics, the Service Employees, one of the most progressive forces in American politics. But this year you're siding with some Republicans, your local New York endorsed Governor Pataki. Has labor been too much in the Democrats' pocket?

HUNT: Oh, I think we've been much too beholden to the Democrats. And when people like George Pataki do what's right for working families, we have a responsibility, and our members believe that we should endorse them and stand behind them.

And I think you're going to see that more and more of new independent, nonpartisan issue-based programs for the labor movement.

HUNT: Immigration reform. You led the AFL-CIO to turn around on the issue. You worked very closely with President Bush. But since 9/11, it looks like immigration reform is dead for he foreseeable future.

STERN: Well, I think as long as there are elections and as long as Latino voters vote, I think it is never going to be dead. More and more what we're seeing is hard-working, tax-paying immigrants who are using the electoral process to try to make their issues known. We're seeing in certain states like Texas and New York, where Latino voters are big swing voters.

And I think in the end, people understand that this country, if we're going to believe in democracy, if we're going to remember September 11, if we're going to believe in liberty, has to allow hard- working, tax-paying immigrants a right to become citizens.

HUNT: I spoke to you about this a year ago, and you were very laudatory of what President Bush was trying to do. Has he really dropped the ball?

STERN: Oh, I think he's really dropped the ball. I think what- you know, after 9/11 and after kind of the new Vicente Fox-Bush relationship, I think he's really run away. I think he's pandered to the conservative wing of his party. He's become photo opportunities with Latinos. But I think on the issues of substance, about health care or education or immigrants' rights, President Bush has really fallen behind.

HUNT: Finally, a quick assessment of 2004. At this early stage, what Democrat is making the most waves for union people?

STERN: Interestingly enough, one of the people who's making the most waves is Howard Dean, and basically because he's talking about universal health care. And in this era, when you see so many people without health care, and so many people losing their health care, and, you know, the candidate who says, I did it in Vermont, I want to do it for the whole country, I think that's opening people's eyes.

This is going to be a campaign about issues, and I think Howard Dean's taken a good start on it.


HUNT: Bob, considering what he said about George Pataki, do you think Andy Stern is ready to shed labor's total reliance on Democrats?

NOVAK: Shocking that Andy has lost faith in George W. Bush, isn't it? I mean, really, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going to get anything from a left-wing unionist like Andy Stern, except a few (UNINTELLIGIBLE) adapt a token Republican, George Pataki, following the last token Republican, Nelson Rockefeller.

You know, I don't even know how much even more conservative unionists are going to ever help the Republicans. Maybe the White House ought to reconsider focusing themselves against compulsory unionism rather than trying to woo unionists.

HUNT: Kate is nodding. We finally have a Novak-O'Beirne alliance tonight?

O'BEIRNE: Well, look at what the George Pataki way looks like in order to win that endorsement in New York, because he was worried, as governor facing reelection, that the unions are in the pockets of the Democrats. He climbed into the pockets of the union, $1.8 billion in pay raises in exchange for that union endorsement.

Look at the field for 2004. The only one liberal enough for the unions is Howard Dean, not Kerry, not Gephardt, not Gore. Now, they have a boatload of money. They send their workers into the field at election time. But the way George Pataki is wooing them is no way for the Republican Party to, to follow suit, especially given that 40 or 50 percent of union members vote Republican.

HUNT: Margaret, 15 seconds.

CARLSON: Bob, it's a little hard for Republicans to get labor when Republicans fight a minimum wage while the CEOs are getting $100 million in, in their pay packages.

I liked Andy's idea for going after the 26 bathrooms of Gary Winnick. Let labor lead the restitution, get these guys in orange suits until they pay the money back.

HUNT: Margaret, I don't know why you want to take on the needy rich, but I'll tell you this, Andy Stern is right, health care is going to be a sleeper issue again this year.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at pre-primary politics in Florida with "Miami Herald" political reporter Tyler Bridges.


HUNT: Welcome back.

In their only debate, the Democratic candidates in the September 10 primary election for governor of Florida did not fire at each other but targeted Republican Governor Jeb Bush, including his comprehensive test for Florida students.


BILL MCBRIDE (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The use of this FCAT (ph) test has been the centerpiece of Bush's program, and it's been a disaster. The governor's been a failure on that, because he's not a builder.

JANET RENO (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think the FCAT has been a miserable failure in terms of what the governor has tried to use it for.


HUNT: Governor Bush ignored the early favorite, former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, and aimed at lawyer Bill McBride.


ANNOUNCER: He borrows money to recklessly expand his law firm, then he leaves to run for governor, just before 230 workers lose their jobs. Corporate lawyer Bill McBride, trick accounting at his campaign, reckless management at his law firm. Just too much fancy footwork for Florida.



MCBRIDE: I'm Bill McBride. You're probably wondering why Governor Bush is running negative ads against me now. I haven't even won the Democratic primary yet. I think it's because he knows I'd be the toughest Democrat to beat...


HUNT: Joining us now from Miami is "Miami Herald" political reporter Tyler Bridges. Thanks for coming in, Tyler.


HUNT: Tyler, is Jeb Bush correct in ignoring Janet Reno and taking out ads even before the September 10 primary attacking Bill McBride?

BRIDGES: I think so. Bush's own internal polling suggests that McBride is going to defeat Janet Reno. McBride's own poling showing, shows that he's gaining, and every single political pro that I've talked to in the state thinks that McBride would be a tougher general election opponent than Janet Reno.

HUNT: Bob.

NOVAK: Tyler, granted that that's very interesting that now it looks like McBride's going to beat Janet Reno. I could never understand how the voters of Florida, even the Democratic primary, could vote for Janet Reno. But, but acknowledging that, do you think it is now a real horse race between McBride and, and, and, and, and Bush, not just that he's a better candidate than Reno?

BRIDGES: I'm not certain exactly where McBride and Bush would face, how they would face each other. But it's clear that McBride is definitely gaining on Reno.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Tyler, regardless of what their polls were showing them, have the Republicans flirted with a backfire by running ads against Bill McBride, given that an awful lot of Floridians didn't even know who he was, and now the sitting governor looks nervous about him?

BRIDGES: It's a very interesting question. Obviously they were trying to pull a page out of Governor Davis's playbook in California, where he knocked out Mayor Riordan in the Republican primary.

But there was a risk in doing that, which is raising the name recognition of Bill McBride, and they -- making people think that he was the guy that Jeb Bush really feared to take on.

HUNT: Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: Tyler, did Bill McBride miss a moment the other night at the debate? It was such a sunny debate in a sunny primary in the Sunshine State that in only one debate that Janet Reno agreed to, he didn't come out and, you know, go after her, or differentiate himself in any way.

BRIDGES: That's a very interesting question. Certainly in most debates, the status quo is good for the front runner, in this case Janet Reno. But McBride's strategy going in was that he was gaining on Janet Reno, so all he needed to do was to maintain the status quo. So he very deliberately did not take a shot at Janet Reno, because he believes that he get -- just keeps doing what he's doing, he's going to beat her.

HUNT: Tyler, as I understand it, it was the Florida Republicans that changed the law down there. It used to be, you had a runoff between the top two candidates, and they, and they, if someone didn't get 50 percent. And they changed it because they thought the Democrats would always end up nominating a south Florida liberal.

If this happens, and if McBride wins this time, is this a classic case of unintended consequences?

BRIDGES: You make a very good point. I think it's exactly like that. The Republicans did make that change because they thought Reno would be the Democratic nominee. So it could very well turn out that way.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: Tyler, what, what, how would you assess the political position of Jeb Bush right now? A lot of people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he was in pretty solid shape. But he's had so much trouble with these child cases, and this school testing under attack. Would you say he is now a vulnerable incumbent?

BRIDGES: He's beginning to look like that, it's a very good point. It's -- he made an appointment to head the Department of Children and Families, a man who is a Christian conservative. That will help him with the -- with his base, but the working women, particularly in the I-4 (ph) quarter in central Florida, Tampa Bay region, Orlando, they begin to get nervous when, when they hear those sorts of things.

Nineteen ninety-four, Governor Lawton Chiles successfully defeated Jeb Bush very narrowly because he succeeded in demonizing Jeb Bush, who had been running as a more conservative candidate. Again, particularly working women in the central part of Florida, the I-4 quarter, got nervous and voted for Governor Chiles. In 1998, Lieutenant Governor Buddy McKay was unsuccessful in demonizing Bush.

So I think Bush has given the Democrats an opening with his appointment here of the very conservative head of the Department of Children and Families.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: Tyler, Cuban-American voters in south Florida could have been expected to enthusiastically vote against Janet Reno. Is that an important vote now, a pro-Bush vote, or would a Bill McBride be competitive for Cuban-American voters?

BRIDGES: I think most of them will probably will ultimately vote Republican, but undoubtedly, if McBride is the Democratic nominee, he'll be able to pick up some of those votes, because as you know, Cuban-Americans really do not like Janet Reno.

HUNT: Margaret?

CARLSON: Tyler...

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: ... is -- Tyler, is anger over the 2000 Florida recount going to be a factor in the general election?

BRIDGES: I think that's pretty much gone away. There's only one constituency where it might matter, and that's with African-Americans.

HUNT: Tyler, final question. Did Sharon, General Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, coming to, to, to help Jeb Bush, did it help him?

BRIDGES: You know, he's not coming here. Perhaps Jeb Bush got a bit of a bump with some Jewish voters with the idea that Jeb Bush would have been on the same stage with the prime minister.

HUNT: OK. Thanks for being with us, Tyler.

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


HUNT: Now for the Outrage of the Week.

I first met Lamar Alexander a quarter-century ago. He was a great governor, esteemed university president, secretary of education. He twice lost a quest for the presidency, and then decided winning counted more than character. Bored, he's running for the Senate, and this week charged his opponent, Congressman Bob Clement, with political pandering and scare tactics for holding hearings on problems in veterans' hospitals.

Unlike Alexander, Congressman Clement is a veteran and merely doing, as Republican GOP gubernatorial candidate Van Hillary said, what a congressman should do -- Bob.

NOVAK: Who is the world's most outrageous tyrant inflicting untold misery on his own people? Not Saddam Hussein. The gold medal goes to Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia. He has caused the murder of white farmers and confiscation of their land. He has persecuted his black political opponents and rigged his own election.

He's transformed a once-prosperous Rhodesia into a land of poverty and starvation. And not a word of protest from the Congressional Black Caucus, which once was so concerned with blacks in Rhodesia.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I think there's a tie for the gold, Bob.

HUNT: Close call.

O'BEIRNE: When delegates to the U.N.'s World Summit on Development meeting in South Africa aren't running up huge tabs sipping the best wines in five-star hotels, they're blaming the United States for the ills of the third world. But with 5 percent of the world's population, we produce 25 percent of the world's output, to the enormous benefit of poor nations.

In fact, great progress has been made in nutrition, health, and education, not by repressive socialist regimes, but owing to the American way of free market capitalism.

HUNT: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Al, President Bush has had no time for interviews on Iraq, did take time to reveal to "Runner's World" that he works out just about as long every day as Richard Simmons. The president's happy to be running so much faster since the war. However, he is distressed the White House track is so small.

Quote, "It's one of the saddest things about the presidency," unquote.

Senator Chuck Hagel recently blamed too many John Wayne movies for the administration thinking it can, quote, "drop the 82nd Airborne on Baghdad and finish the job," unquote.

How about too much flexing of the presidential abs?

HUNT: Ooh, Margaret, flexing.

This is Al Hunt saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG and wishing you all a happy Labor Day.

If you missed any part of our show, you can catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, or join Bob Novak in watching it at 4:00 a.m. Eastern time.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Sixteen Acres: Ground Zero."


on Ashcroft; Baseball Strike Averted>



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