CNN CAPITAL GANG
Republicans Regain Control of Senate; Gephardt Steps Down as House Minority Leader; U.N. Adopts Iraq Resolution
Aired November 9, 2002 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG.
I'm Al Hunt with the full GANG, Margaret Carlson, Kate O'Beirne, and, in San Francisco, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.
President Bush claimed a mandate from the midterm election. Republicans regained control of the Senate with a net gain of at least two seats, and kept control of the House with a minimum five-seat pickup.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll work with new Congress to pass new growth and jobs packages early next year.
If there is a mandate in any election, at least in this one, it's the people want something to get done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Senate Republican leader Trent Lott prepared to become majority leader again a year and a half after losing that status.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: I've learned from experience. I'm getting a second chance to do this job. I hope I will do it, you know, better than last time and learn from some -- from those experiences...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Kate, with his narrow majority in the Senate, how can President Bush expect to break the gridlock?
KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think, Al, unlike 1994, the last GOP takeover, this vote was a big vote of confidence in President Bush. It wasn't fueled by a revolutionary spirit like 1994. And I think he sees this mandate as to wave an aggressive war on terrorism, and to stop the Daschle dam (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Senate, the department of homeland security, confirmation of judges, or even at least permit some floor votes. And even though it was a huge win for him, the first Republican president to take Congress, have Congress, since Eisenhower, you didn't see a Bush triumphant on display. He hasn't overpromised. And I don't think he's going to be pushed by his conservative base to do too much.
I think they're counting on the fact that a whole bunch of Democrats are up in 2004 and have the lesson of this yea, blocking the president, and they're counting on the fact of not being overly ambitious and being able to hold even a minority Democratic Party in the Senate responsible to some extent.
HUNT: Margaret, you agree?
MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: You're not going -- you didn't have a Contract With America, you don't have a trash-talking Newt Gingrich. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the press conference was as statesmanlike and smooth a performance as I've ever seen at one of those. And indeed, there's no gloating and there's no crowing and there's no, you know, pounding out with what he's coming forward with.
We heard John Sununu on "EVANS AND NOVAK," or "HUNT AND SHIELDS," or whatever the gang without the girls is called, a show I'm going to miss, being very conciliatory about what was going to take place.
Bush does have a mandate, I think, since he did this brilliant thing, which was, he didn't want a homeland security bill, he then wanted a homeland security bill, and used the homeland security bill to club two senators out of power, Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan.
And the Democrats will not stand on collective bargaining to block it any longer. I think he does have a mandate to get that done, along with the war on terrorism.
HUNT: Bob Novak in San Francisco, you agree, the right wing is basically putty in the president's hands and he can get most of what he wants?
ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the president is a conservative president. I think, as I understand it, the same people who said that the Republicans would not win the Senate, and I was the only one on the show last Saturday night who predicted they were, nobody else...
HUNT: Thank you for reminding us.
NOVAK: ... was going to say it, so I might as well say it, that now they're saying it doesn't make any difference that he won the Senate, he can't get what he wants, and he doesn't want anything anyway. That's wrong.
He's going to push for permanent tax cuts, there's going to be new tax cuts. I think there's going to do -- they're going to do Social Security. And I do believe that the president is a -- has had a remarkable validation by the American people in this, in this election. This is a great personal triumph. And I guarantee you if he had not won the Senate, that you people would be there trashing him and Karl Rove, his political counselor.
O'BEIRNE: Not me, Bob.
NOVAK: Instead there's not a word about Rove.
HUNT: Mark, I'm sure you're not one of "you people" that Bob is referring to, but is George W. Bush really the FDR, Reagan-type colossus that Bob describes?
MARK SHIELDS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Al, I am one of "you people," I have to admit that. But I just was fascinated in your setup piece that Trent Lott said he had learned a lot from, you know, being in power last time. He'd hoped it chased (ph). I guess that means he's got to put a 24-hour tail on Lincoln Chafee, the senator from Rhode Island, so he doesn't have any secret lunches with Democrats.
But I guess the thing one has to acknowledge, in our politics, the victor gets to outline what the victory meant. And George W. Bush won last Tuesday. He put a, he put a lot of his own prestige on the line, he took a chance for his party, and it was a big chance.
And it came up sevens for him. And a historian friend of mine, Alan Ginsberg (ph), points out that George W. Bush did not have a honeymoon after his victory in 2000, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that long, questionable period, that he may very well get that honeymoon now, especially in view of how the press and politicians have responded to that victory.
O'BEIRNE: Yes, Al, this president has long benefited from being underestimated, beginning when he first ran for governor in Texas. And I agree with Mark about how Washington, D.C., should respond to this big win on Tuesday.
It seems to me that the president won the popular vote in 2002 in state after state, through the proxy of candidates he campaigned for, that he didn't win in 2000.
CARLSON: Al, he's been on a foreign policy honeymoon since 9/11, and now he gets a domestic honeymoon as a result of this vote.
HUNT: Bob, you have a final word?
NOVAK: Yes, I would say, keep your eye on Social Security, because the Republicans -- and there were many, many in competitive races who campaigned for reform, that they are going to push for it. And I guarantee you, the president is going to push this in the next Congress, and this is the great -- this is putting Social Security reform in front of a liberal is like putting the cross in front of a vampire.
(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Reform is not privatizing.
HUNT: Boy, I'll tell you, every place I went, with one or two exceptions, they were ducking like mad, and they all said it was cost- free, cheap, you could do it without raising taxes or cutting benefits or costing the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That'll be a real trick.
THE GANG of five will be back with a post-election soul-searching by the Democrats.
HUNT: Congressman Richard Gephardt reacted to the fifth straight election producing a Republican majority in the House by saying he would not seek another term as Democratic leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: We got to get some exciting, optimistic, forward-looking ideas out in front of people to excite people, to get back involved in political life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: That set up what appeared to be a contest between minority whip Nancy Pelosi of California and caucus chairman Martin Frost of Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't think they chose me as an outspoken liberal, as you say. I think they chose me as a person who can lead the caucus to victory.
REP. MARTIN FROST (D), TEXAS: I believe our party must occupy the center if we are to be successful, if we're to come back in the majority, and not move farther to the left.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: However, Congressman Frost abandoned his candidacy the next day because, he said, he didn't have the votes. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- A junior congressman, Harold Ford of Tennessee, announced his candidacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Nancy, as much as I respect her, and as much as I find her endearing, I just believe that she would offer the same kind of leadership that we've been used to, the same old ways of the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: In the Senate, Tom Daschle announced he would stay as Democratic leader. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I think we were deficient is clearly and effectively pointing to an alternative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Margaret, where, oh, where is the Democratic Party going in the wake of this election defeat?
CARLSON: Well, not to hell in a handbasket, as Bob would like it. It's -- there's still a party there. Nancy Pelosi will be called a San Francisco Democrat by Republicans, but she will not behave like one, because, as Harold Ford says -- or Martin Frost says, they have to occupy part of the center, which Bush has vacuumed up for himself.
Nice that Harold Ford called Nancy Pelosi "endearing." How belittling of her. His attempt will go nowhere. But, you know, it's good to have young talent coming forward.
The Democrats will go with Bush where they can, homeland security, terrorism. On tax cuts, they'll put forward, let's have a one-time rebate to stimulate the economy, give it to people who are going to spend it, as opposed to just this wealthy tax cut. And they'll get jobless insurance extended, and that will be a good thing for their base, and I think Bush will go along with that.
HUNT: We've got some San Francisco Democrats. Mark Shields, let me ask you, is the party in deep trouble, and is Nancy Pelosi the answer?
SHIELDS: Al, we'll find out if Nancy Pelosi's the answer. But let's get a couple of things straight. The family values crowd ought to love Nancy Pelosi. This is a woman who stayed home, raised five kids, didn't run for office until she was 47 years old. And she -- yes, she is from San Francisco. That's a liberal city. She represents her constituency.
And at the same time, she's throughout her entire career has been a consensus builder and a party builder. I mean, she really, you know, was state party chair. This is somebody who's been, as -- much to Bob's displeasure, on the Appropriations Committee, a very effective legislator working across party lines.
So I think, I think the desire to pigeonhole her as Hillary Rodham Clinton or Ted Kennedy or whatever is probably good for direct mail, but the test will be, where are the Democrats in the next two years, and where are they two years at election night from today?
HUNT: Before we get back to our other San Francisco Democrat, Kate O'Beirne, I see you shaking your head.
O'BEIRNE: Well, the family values crowd wouldn't be crazy about Nancy Pelosi's endorsement of gay marriage. She's a complete San Francisco liberal on cultural issues too. The Republicans will win yet another race next week when Nancy Pelosi becomes minority leader. Ever since 9/11, the public's been reminded it's a dangerous world, and people are trying to kill us. The threshold question for the national Democrats is, can they be trusted with national security? Until they answer that to the satisfaction of voters, they're not going to much care what Democrats have to say about prescription drugs.
Ironically, Dick Gephardt answered that question correctly. He shouldn't be stepping aside. Congressmen Bonior and McDermott, who went to Baghdad, thereby portraying the Democratic Party as trapped in the '60s, to make Saddam Hussein's case, are the ones who ought to be stepping aside.
Just like during the cold war...
HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bonior is, he resigned.
O'BEIRNE: ... the public would not trust the Democrats, national Democrats, with national security during dangerous times. And it promises, under Nancy Pelosi, because the bulk of her caucus, that's where they are, anti-Iraq war, weak on national defense, they promise now to, like they did during the '80s, be in favor of higher taxes, anti-tax cuts, and weak on defense.
HUNT: Bob Novak, you're out there in San Francisco. What do you think?
NOVAK: Oh, I tell you, it's a big story out here. I tell you, there's nobody more happy about Nancy Pelosi's rise than the Republicans, as Kate said. The dilemma for the Democrats is profound. If they were to go the route of Martin Frost, he says a part of the country's moving to the right, and the Democrats should move to the center. They would be a me-too party, they would lack any kind of power.
But the alternative they're taking, and, and Margaret, Nancy Pelosi doesn't know anything except how to be a liberal, they are moving to the left. And the danger of the Democratic Party, the party of Andrew Jackson, is that it's going to be the party of the feminists, it's going to be the party of minority groups, and the party of trial lawyers.
Now, that is, that is a non-winning combination. And unless they find somebody to -- or else some catastrophe, they hope for some national catastrophe where the public turns to the Democrats, this is a party in serious political trouble.
HUNT: Boy, Mark, it looks like Bob's worried about the Democratic Party.
SHIELDS: Al, did you ever notice that the true believers in one party always encourage the middle-of-the-roaders and Margarets in the other party? I mean, Democratic liberals always like...
NOVAK: That isn't what I said. SHIELDS: ... liked Howard Baker, and they always had -- they had nothing but disdain for those who stand up for its ideological principles on the other side.
As far as Kate's observation is concerned, I mean, I thought the Sermon on the Mount said something about blessed are the peacemakers. And as far as the patriotism of Mike Thompson and David Bonior, I'll put it to the test of anybody else on the Republican side. And they made an effort. You know, was that wrong to seek peace? I think that's what the president was doing, if I'm not mistaken, the last time I checked at the U.N. was trying to back off from (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
NOVAK: Just, I just, I just want to...
HUNT: OK, wait a minute, I -- Bob...
NOVAK: ... correct that -- Just a minute...
HUNT: Bob, Bob, Bob...
NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
HUNT: ... we have to come back.
NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
HUNT: I'm sorry we're going to...
NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
HUNT: ... get at, we'll do it next segment, because we have to take a break now, because next on CAPITAL GANG, the U.S. wins at the U.N.
HUNT: Welcome back.
After eight weeks of negotiation, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Iraq to disarm or face serious consequences.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: I urge the Iraqi leadership for the sake of his own people and for the sake of world security and world order to seize this opportunity and thereby begin to end the isolation and suffering of the Iraqi people.
If Iraq's defiance continues, however, the Security Council must face its responsibilities.
BUSH: The outcome of the current crisis is already determined. The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq will occur. The only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how. (END VIDEO CLIPS)
HUNT: Bob, is this U.S. diplomatic triumph a step back from demanding a regime change in Baghdad?
NOVAK: I don't think it -- I don't think there's any doubt that it is. This is a great triumph for the United States to get a 15-to- nothing vote of the Security Council with a hard deadline on Saddam Hussein. It's also a great triumph for President Bush, and most particularly for Secretary of State Powell, who was, all the smart guys in Washington were writing him off as being completely stymied by the Pentagon and by the neocons, who really wanted a regime change.
They wanted a change in the balance of power in the Middle East in Israel's favor. Now it's out -- the ball is in Saddam Hussein's court. He has to, he has to agree to these, to these conditions on inspection, and the world community is on the United States' side.
I think this is a tremendous victory for Colin Powell.
HUNT: Mark, does it lessen or heighten the prospects of war in Iraq?
SHIELDS: I think, I hope, Al, that it lessens the prospects of war in Iraq. And just a political observation to begin with, first of all, George W. Bush enjoyed on Tuesday the highest support from his own party of any president in history, 96 percent of Republicans approve of him.
Now, there's a division within Republicans, and Colin Powell's on one side and Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz were on the other side. They all disdained, had nothing but contempt for inspections. Colin Powell brought the president around, and then prevailed in the United Nations, took them, insisted on going to Congress and in going to the United Nations.
I think that's a positive step, and the fact that the president was not talking about regime change, the only thing I think, the dark side for him politically potentially is that the blood lust of that Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd and their supporters, I wonder if they may be a little upset at the prospect of Saddam Hussein actually complying.
HUNT: Kate, I want you to address that, and also address the question of whether there's any concern that this will enable Saddam just to play his cheat-retreat delay game.
O'BEIRNE: I think that is the concern, and I don't think there's been any change of position, most importantly on the part of President Bush. This administration, including President Bush, does not believe he can disarm Saddam Hussein through inspections. However, they've gone the U.N. route in order to help show the slow learners at the U.N. that it's going to be impossible to do this.
The risk is, Saddam Hussein, under these weaker requirements, can play footsie with the inspectors and not give a concrete, visible, flagrant violation that would satisfy the Security Council. And the other risk is that Hans Blix, the top weapons inspector, as a Swedish international civil servant, will be unwilling to blow the whistle on the flagrant violation we can bet is coming...
HUNT: So what happens if that occurs?
O'BEIRNE: That -- I think the president has insisted on freedom of action. He went to the Security Council, he bucked them up. There never would have been that vote if he hadn't made clear that he was willing to go without them. He is free to declare a material breach, I think. I hope we don't have to have just Hans Blix and the Security Council agree and vote on what the heck constitutes a material breach.
The president insists on our freedom of action, as does Tony Blair.
HUNT: Margaret, I get the impression, though...
CARLSON: You know, we...
HUNT: ... that he -- that there was sort of a wink and a nod that we'll come back to the U.N. if we plan to take step two, namely, go into regime change.
CARLSON: Right, in order to get this vote, yes. You know, let's just say for the moment that it's -- that Saddam Hussein has smartened up. George Bush's unilateral hawkism turned into multilateral hawkism has brought a lot of people around. He's got a world body behind him. And he now looks like a multilateral hawk, whether or not he truly believes it.
He is proceeding that way, but he scared Saddam Hussein in a way that, had we simply gone to the U.N. initially without all that warlike talk, we wouldn't be -- the United States would not be where it is. And it's actually been a good cop-bad cop within his administration that has gotten us to this point that could turn out to be a great achievement on Bush's part...
O'BEIRNE: You think Saddam Hussein...
CARLSON: ... which is...
O'BEIRNE: ... might surrender all of his weapons?
CARLSON: ... I think Saddam Hussein...
NOVAK: If I, if I could just get a word...
CARLSON: ... is actually frightened this time...
CARLSON: ... by how Bush has brought...
HUNT: ... we're going to come to...
CARLSON: ... this around. HUNT: ... Bob, Bob Novak, you've got a word or even two or three.
NOVAK: Yes, the -- I think it was fascinating that Kate now is blaming the inspectors, that if we don't, if we don't have a regime change, it's the U.N. inspectors' fault, because it really -- this -- I really do believe that Israel and its friends in the neocon movement in the United States were not really interested in weapons of mass destruction, they were interested in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, in changing the balance of power and the oil realities in the Middle East.
So that if, if, if is -- if Iraq submits to the U.N., which I think it's going to, this is the worst kind of news for them.
O'BEIRNE: Bob, Bob, how naive is it to think that Saddam Hussein is going to, after all of these years, the billions of dollars he's passed up in order to get his hands on these weapons, he's now going to surrender all of his weapons of mass destruction? It's not going to happen, Bob.
NOVAK: I don't think he has that many weapons of mass destruction.
HUNT: We're going to have lots of time to talk about that in subsequent weeks. But we're going to take a break now. But when we're back, we'll have our CAPITAL GANG Classic, why Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterm election.
HUNT: Welcome back.
Four years ago, in President Bill Clinton's second midterm election, Republicans lost five House seats and made no gains in the Senate. THE CAPITAL GANG discussed the disappointing GOP showing on November 7, 1998. Our guest was former Republican congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, November 7, 1998)
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, why did the Republicans run so poorly on Tuesday?
HUNT: Let me count the ways, Mark. They overreached in the Clinton scandal, they botched up the congressional session, they had no agenda, for starters. If this campaign had been fought on the issues, I think the Democrats would have won the House and gained seats in the Senate, and they were denied that because of President Clinton's recklessness.
NOVAK: I do believe that if there had been no admission by the president of guilt, there's a very good chance that the Democrats would have won the House of Representatives, and won, and won seats in the Senate, but not because the Republican agenda of tax cuts and school reform was bad, it's because they didn't, there was no record in the Congress backing it up, and the, and the base didn't come out.
VIN WEBER (R), FORMER MINNESOTA CONGRESSMAN: The problem was, we didn't run on a substantive agenda. Where we did run on tax cutting as an agenda, we did pretty well.
O'BEIRNE: Republicans in general thought history, incumbency, and their superior money-raising was going to do the trick, and they felt that the Lewinsky scandal took the place of actually needing an agenda to appeal to their base.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Mark Shields, looking back on what we said in 1998, did it take George W. Bush to set a Republican agenda?
SHIELDS: Well, he certainly -- Al, I think that if you listen to the post-mortems then and the same ones we've heard earlier in this hour today, they sound very similar, lack of agenda, inability to inspire, excite the party's base, in both cases contributing to the defeat.
But I think in 2000, George W. Bush represented a change of leadership rather than a change of direction. Once he was in office, he offered a change of direction in 2002, and I think there was more of an agenda in this election than the last one.
HUNT: Bob Novak?
NOVAK: I think you talk to any Republican leader today, and they will go back to '98 and say that Newt Gingrich ceased being a pit bull, became an accommodationist, and they had surrendered, and that's why they lost. You have to have an agenda, and I have to repeat again, that's the Democratic dilemma, they have to have an agenda, but their agenda, the dogs won't eat the dog food.
HUNT: Oh, boy. Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a prescription drug plan is not an agenda against a commander in chief, and Democrats did not have anything to go against a commander in chief with. They didn't have an alternate plan for the war on terrorism or Iraq.
And what Kate said about Republicans applied to Democrats this time around, Kate was precisely right.
HUNT: You want to say it again, Kate?
O'BEIRNE: Well, in 2000, I would argue George Bush did have an agenda in contrast to Al Gore's, of, you know, tax cuts, rebuilding the military. Frankly, a lot of Republican candidates in this cycle didn't have much of an affirmative agenda, but they benefited from the national security issue and from the fact that George Bush is the face of the GOP.
HUNT: And the fact that the opposition didn't have any agenda at all, or any coherent one, at least. OK. We're going to take a break now, but coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is the same Vin Weber. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the changing of the guard in communist China with CNN's bureau chief in China, Jaime Flor-Cruz. And our "Outrages of the Week." All after the latest news following these messages.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.
I'm Al Hunt, with Margaret Carlson and Kate O'Beirne, and in San Francisco, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.
Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Republican activist Vin Weber.
Vin Weber, age 50, residence Alexandria, Virginia, and Walker, Minnesota, religion Roman Catholic.
Chief Minnesota aide to Senator Rudy Boschwitz, 1978 to 1980, member of Congress from Minnesota 1981 to 1993. Co-founder of Empower America, currently Washington managing partner of Clark and Weinstock lobbying firm.
Earlier this week, I sat down with Vin Weber.
Right after Paul Wellstone's tragic death, when it was clear the DFL was going to tap Vice President Mondale, your gut instincts, was it going to be easier or harder for Norman Coleman?
WEBER: Harder. I believed, by the way, that Norm Coleman was going to beat Paul Wellstone, going to be a close race. But the wave of sympathy that came across Minnesota for Paul Wellstone really was strengthening the Democratic Party, and it would have strengthened Vice President Mondale or any other candidate.
HUNT: Then they had the memorial service with partisan overtones. Was that what turned it all around?
WEBER: I believe it made a -- it basically returned us to the status quo ante. The Republicans had been agonizing over the simple question of, how do you start a campaign again when the state is in mourning over the death of Senator Wellstone? Can you give speeches? Can you run advertising? Can you have debates? Things like that.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, the Wellstone memorial service answered all those questions. They said, the campaign is on right now, it looked overtly political to the whole state of Minnesota. I have never seen a single event so transform the political landscape over a couple of hours. HUNT: Not just in Minnesota but all over the country, New Hampshire, Georgia, Colorado, there was a final breeze at the end that tilted close races into the Republican column. Why?
WEBER: President really deserves a lot of credit. He was all over the country, mobilizing the public to turn out. That helped do another thing, which was to put national security again closer to the forefront of people's minds. I've seen polling on both sides of that question, but my sense is, with terrorism still a threat and the imminence of a possible war in Iraq, national security was more on voters' minds when they went to the polls on Tuesday than most of us had thought it would have been, have been even a week or so before...
HUNT: Well, I mean, what was the mandate? Can we describe the mandate?
WEBER: To the extent that there's a mandate, it is essentially what this president talked about when he was first elected, which is, Let's get something done in Washington. I think that the agenda is not a particularly partisan agenda, Al. This is nothing like when the Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994. This president wants to pass a prescription drug benefit. He wants to pass an energy bill. He wants to pass a homeland security bill, all of which can be done in a bipartisan way.
And I think that he's going to want to talk about modernizing Social Security, which was the hot button issue in the last election, but which, let's face it, can't be ignored forever because of the demographic time bomb that's ticking underneath that program.
HUNT: Do you think in the next two years that some kind of partial privatization, private accounts of Social Security, is a realistic possibility?
WEBER: I don't think you can ignore that issue forever. I understand that it's politically difficult. I think that the Republicans ought to step up to the plate over the next couple years and talk about that issue.
At the end of the day, everybody wants the same thing. They want Social Security to be strengthened, and they want the retirement incomes of people of our generation to be enhanced. We ought to be able to figure out how to do that in a bipartisan way.
HUNT: Is there any danger here that the right wing of the Republican Party will make overreaching demands this time too?
WEBER: I doubt that very much. President Bush is today given the same level of credit for the first Republican government since, I believe, 1953, and I believe his credit and capital with his own Republican Party is just about unprecedented in our lifetimes. And I don't think you're going to see a rebellion from the right, if you will, against his agenda, which I would call a very centrist agenda.
HUNT: The Democrats are dispirited, gloomy, these days. Take off your Republican hat for a moment and put on your analyst's hat. Are they in as bad shape as they think?
WEBER: Probably not. I'd like to think that they were in every bit as bad shape as they think they are. But all of us have been up and down in politics, and it'll come back for the Democrats eventually. They should have won in this off-year election, that's what history tells us. This president, I think, is in a very powerful position, as we've talked about, and if whatever happens in Iraq turns out well, and the economy rebounds, he's a pretty strong favorite for reelection. That's not good for the Democrats.
But the period of soul-searching that a party has to go through after they lose, as we went through it in the Republican Party after Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, is not necessarily a bad thing.
HUNT: Mark, do you agree with Vin Weber's analysis of a centrist America supporting a centrist Bush agenda?
SHIELDS: Well, a centrist Bush agenda as outlined by Vin Weber, Al, included homeland security, which the president fought tooth and toenail until May, and now it's become the litmus test of his presidency, it was authored by Democrat Joe Lieberman and maverick Republican John McCain, and prescription drug for seniors, which has always been a Democratic plan.
I agree that that represents political cross-dressing. I guess it is a centrist plan.
HUNT: Political cross-dressing, Bob Novak?
NOVAK: I don't think it's political cross-dressing, I think this is a conservative president, and he looks more conservative next to Nancy Pelosi. I would just, I do believe this, that when you find an event, a seminal event like that memorial service-pep rally, it really has impact. It -- I believe it elected a Republican governor of Minnesota as well as Norm Coleman. And I can't prove this, but I believe it had -- just my phone calls, it had effect all over the country...
NOVAK: ... with the people who were really undecided until the last moment.
HUNT: Margaret Carlson?
CARLSON: A centrist agenda, does it not include privatizing Social Security? He uses the word "reform," and that is what will happen.
O'BEIRNE: I think he has a conservative agenda on taxes, foreign policy, and defense. The public likes it. And just when the Democrats look like they're reliving the '80s, they trot out Walter Mondale. It did not help.
HUNT: Well, I agree with Bob Novak and Vin Weber that the memorial service transformed that race. It defeated Fritz Mondale. But I tell you this, I have no doubt in my mind, at least, that Paul Wellstone would have won that race if it hadn't have been for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) polls show he's not only ahead, but a committed base unlike Democrats elsewhere.
We'll never know.
HUNT: Next on CAPITAL GANG...
NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
HUNT: ... "Beyond the Beltway" looks at China after Jiang Zemin with CNN's Beijing bureau chief, Jaime Flor-Cruz.
HUNT: Welcome back.
China's communists on Friday opened a congress in which Jiang Zemin is expected to step down as president. In his opening address, President Jiang welcomed capitalist investment but rejected Western- style democracy. He said, quote, "To lead the Chinese society into a well-off and well-rounded society, we have to stick to the principle of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. We have to develop the socialist economy, the socialist democracy, and advanced culture," end quote.
Joining us now from Beijing, where he's covering the congress, is Jaime Flor-Cruz, CNN's Beijing bureau chief and dean of the foreign press corps in the Chinese capital.
Thanks for being with us, Jaime.
JAIME FLOR-CRUZ, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Glad to be with you.
HUNT: Jaime, let me ask you, will there be real change emanating from this congress, or is this just rearranging some chairs and titles?
FLOR-CRUZ: I think it's a mix of script and substance. The script is what we've been hearing, the speeches, for example, in public, they're all scripted. But the substance will be a transition in personnel.
Now, the people, the leaders waiting in the wings are a bunch of technocrats and not revolutionaries, so don't expect any major changes or upheaval after this congress, because these people grew up, they were in their 20s during the Cultural Revolution some 30 years ago, and therefore their instinct and their training is to keep the status quo rather than do any major changes or radical changes.
CARLSON: Jaime, if their instinct is the status quo, how does China proceed with so much economic liberalism -- I saw a picture of not just McDonald's but a Starbuck's in China -- without having more political democracy? How do you keep the lid on that in China?
FLOR-CRUZ: Well, first of all, there are two Chinas. That is the one China that you described, that's mostly in the cities, in the coastal areas of China. And there's the other half of China, which is still pretty poor and backward, especially in the western part. But it's true that China has developed reactively, economically as well as socially, in the past 20 or so years.
And the question really is, can China sustain this development? Can China keep changing its economic base without making any changes in its political structure?
Now, orthodox communists say they don't need to, but there are more liberal communists, even, who say that perhaps down the road, they will have to tinker with the political structure to adapt to this modern world.
O'BEIRNE: Jaime, the need to address North Korea's nuclear program provides an opportunity for cooperation with China. Is that an opportunity they welcome? And what kind of influence can we expect China to have with North Korea?
FLOR-CRUZ: Indeed, China welcomes this chance to show that they can be responsible members of the world community. The Chinese tried to downplay their influence on North Korea, but there is an inherent influence that they wield. They can influence North Korea, first by example. They have been -- they have invited President Kim Jong Il to China tomorrow times to show Shanghai and Beijing and the changes that they've done.
And with a wink-wink, I think they're trying to tell them that maybe you can try this out too. Diplomatically as well, China influences North Korea in a more subtle way. And in the talk as well, the Chinese have been quite supportive of the talks between the North and the South and with Japan as well.
So the U.S., I think, is quite happy with the role that China is playing on the North Korean issue.
HUNT: Mark Shields?
SHIELDS: Jaime, certain neutral diplomats have reported from Beijing that prior to China's support of the United States in the U.N. on the Iraqi resolution, that some Chinese leaders had suggested that this may give them at least a flashing yellow light, if not a green light, in dealing with Taiwan. Can you address that, whether, in fact, China's getting just a little bit more confident in its dealings with Taiwan? FLOR-CRUZ: In fact, in President Jiang's speech in the opening ceremony, he said that there is only one -- that there's only one China in the world, and that Beijing or China, the mainland and Taiwan, are both part of this one China. Now, that is -- there is a subtle change in that formulation, because in the past, the Chinese used to say, There's only one China, and the People's Republic of China is the sole representative of that one China.
So I think there is an attempt at the top to tinker with the formulation and bring in more accommodation to Taiwan. Now, whether that will be good enough for Taiwan is another question.
On Iraq, we -- I was also surprised that the China voted yes in favor of the revised version of the U.N. resolution, and I think it dovetails with diplomatic approach of the leadership now on foreign policy. They don't want to be isolated, they want to be viewed as a responsible member of the global community.
HUNT: You have about 45 seconds left. Bob Novak.
NOVAK: Jaime, I was stunned to read a poll by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that indicated that 91 percent of Chinese felt their judicial system is not just, and 80 percent would like elected officials. Do you see this authoritarian state having increasing trouble in coping with that popular democratic sentiment?
FLOR-CRUZ: Certainly. I mean, even the Chinese officials concede that the problem of social order and the justice system needs to be addressed immediately. The -- every year, the top justice officials make reports summing up the crime, the rape, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in criminality, corruption, and all those problems.
And China's rule of law is a big problem. It's part of this political reform that they speak of here. But the -- it's more of a ruled by law instead of ruled by men that they're trying to change. And the biggest problem here is that the justice ministries are all part of the government. They are not independent. Their lawyers are poorly trained, their judges are very corruptible.
And I think that's where the Chinese need a lot of help (UNINTELLIGIBLE), perhaps the United States can also export the lawyers and justices that they can help with in changing the justice system in China and improving human rights in China.
HUNT: Jaime, thanks for being with us. You really were a tremendous addition for this -- for THE GANG.
But we will be back with the "Outrages of the Week" in just a moment.
HUNT: And now for the "Outrages of the Week."
This was a petty campaign on all sides right up through the end. Outgoing Maryland Governor Parris Glendening on election night accused Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of running, quote, "the worst campaign in the country," end quote. Of course, the real reason she lost was that voters despise the governor, Mr. Glendening.
Two notable exceptions were the gracious and generous concession speeches of Republican Congresswoman Connie Morella and former Vice President Walter Mondale. They are reminders of a time when politics was a more civil business.
HUNT: Bob Novak in San Francisco.
NOVAK: I'm one of those responsible for this outrage. Politicians and journalists, especially conservatives, who insisted Elizabeth Dole was a poor candidate who might end up losing Jesse Helms' Republican Senate seat in North Carolina. We were wrong. She turned out to be a very good candidate, looking nothing like the flawed presidential hopeful of 2000.
She campaigned hard, adhered to conservative positions, and won comfortably over the well-respected Democrat Erskine Bowles.
So apologies and congratulations, Senator-elect Dole.
CARLSON: Al, is it possible to offend Jesse Ventura of the pink tights and boa feathers? I don't think so. But he claims he felt, quote, "violated" by the Wellstone memorial. Indeed, the memorial should have been more dignified, but he goes too far. His first act of revenge was to upstage the Mondale-Coleman debate by appointing an unnecessary replacement for Wellstone right in the middle of the debate.
But worse, he desecrated the man he called his friend by ordering flags flying at half-mast be raised early. Why punish Wellstone because his supporters went overboard?
Minnesota lost a great man. When Ventura goes, it will be rid of a mean and vengeful one.
HUNT: Amen -- Kate.
O'BEIRNE: One of our Arab -- While posing as a partner for peace in the Middle East, one of our Arab allies is serving up the seeds of violence on his government-controlled television during Ramadan. After their long-awaited evening meal, Egyptians will be settling down to a big serving of vile anti-Semitism when they enjoy nightly installments of a 41-part series inspired by that hate-filled forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Twenty other stations in the Arab world also plan to serve up this diet of ignorance and hate.
HUNT: And Mark Shields?
SHIELDS: Hey, Al, how about those conveniently amnesiac conservatives? Every mention by conservative pundits of former Vice President Fritz Mondale emphasized his age, 74, as though Mondale was a Spanish-American War veteran. Yet (UNINTELLIGIBLE) never once heard these same conservatives mention the advanced age of their octogenarian hero, Senator Jesse Helms.
And when Robert Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen, lost her race for Maryland's governorship, conservative wags stressed that this represented a rejection of the Kennedy legacy. Yet when then- President Ronald Reagan's late daughter, Maureen, lost a California U.S. Senate primary, I never once heard a single conservative suggest that vote constituted a rejection of the Gipper.
Double standards, anyone?
HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.
If you missed any part of this show, don't despair. You can catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again, stay up with bob Novak and watch at 4:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Wasted."
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as House Minority Leader; U.N. Adopts Iraq Resolution>