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Republicans at Odds on the Hill as Congress is About to Return to Work

Aired April 25, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Republicans divided? The president's party heads into challenging times on the Hill with members at odds and two Senate leaders on the defensive.

Will Georgia lawmakers get tripped up by the state flag again? They're talking compromise, while the clock runs down.

Tastes great, less filling? Before you order a Bush light, you'll want to drink in the political play of the week.

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Well, after several days of side-stepping questions about Rick Santorum and his views on the rights of homosexuals, the White House went on the record today with a presidential endorsement of the GOP senator. It came as Republicans sort out their political priorities and problems before Congress gets back to business next week.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): The White House is clear. Rick Santorum is no Trent Lott.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has confidence in Senator Santorum, both as a senator, as a member of the Senate leadership.

WOODRUFF: The comments indicate the president will stand by the powerful senator in the wake of Santorum's controversial comments on gays. The Bush blessing is also sweet relief for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who surely doesn't need another battle on his hands when the Senate reconvenes on Monday after a two-week recess. Frist is under pressure to get his troops in line after a handful of Republican senators struck a hush-hush deal to slash the $726 billion Bush tax cut plan by more than half.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA), FINANCE CHAIRMAN: Let me remind you that extremism in tax policy at the expense of no budget resolution is a vice. Moderation in tax policy and pursuit OF budget resolution is a virtue.

WOODRUFF: House Republicans who had approved a much larger $550 billion tax cut felt blindsided.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: We need to have a meeting, clearly, with our friends in the Senate and see either what we don't understand about what appeared to have happened, or what we didn't understand about what we thought they were telling us.

WOODRUFF: So, when Congress returns, Frist is going to have some explaining to do. He's already apologized for failing to keep his House counterparts in the tax cut loop, marshalling Senate moderates behind a larger tax cut will be a tougher task.


WOODRUFF: Well, is it merely a difficult task or is it mission impossible? Ahead, Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile will chew on the challenges for Senators Frist and Santorum and their party.

Now, we head to Georgia and what could be a banner day in a long running political battle. In the final hours of the state legislative session, members are scrambling to resolve their differences over a new Georgia state flag. But that may not be so easy.

CNN's Brian Cabell is in Atlanta.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The old Georgia flag, complete with the Confederate battle emblem, hasn't flown here officially for more than two years, but that hasn't prevented some legislators and their constituents from trying to bring it back.

TYRONE BROOKS, GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: The Confederate battle flag today is the official international symbol of hate. It is the symbol of the neo-Nazis in Europe. It is the official symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

CABELL: There is outrage here, particularly among African- Americans over the flag talk. But new governor Sonny Purdue declared during his campaign that Georgians deserved a chance to vote on their state flag even, if it meant reverting to the old controversial one.

NIEL BOORTZ, WSB RADIO: This is a very vocal minority that has the governor scared to death. But most Georgians don't care if we don't even have a flag.

CABELL: A possible return to the battle flag, which was first raised by a segregationist state legislature in 1956, baffles much of the nation.

MERLE BLACK, EMORY UNIVERSITY: I think it just kind of reaffirms the south is still refighting the Civil War, unresolved issues from the Civil War.

CABELL: The flag isn't about refighting the Civil War, say flag supporters. The flag represents Confederate heritage, they insist, and not racial division or hate.

RUSTY HENDERSON, HERITAGE PRESERVATION ASSOCIATION: It has been misused in the past by very small and vocal racist organizations. And we deplore that.

CABELL: Black legislators don't accept that legislation, not for one minute, especially not in a state that was Martin Luther King's birthplace and is now his resting place.

(on camera): In fact, civil rights activists here guarantee if the old flag returns, they would stage a boycott in Georgia in an effort to cripple the state's economy.

(voice-over): A similar boycott remains in effect in south Carolina because the battle flag still flies in front of the capital. It damaged tourism there initially, but officials say that state has recovered. But the business community in Georgia fears a stronger reaction. Conventions could be hurt, so could the professional sports franchises. So the debate over the flag, the old one, or the current one or a proposed one, is not just about symbols, it's about money as well.


CABELL: There are now eight hours left in this legislative session, eight hours to decide the flag issue. So far, there is wrangling going on over the flag, but it's all taking place behind the scenes, it's not actually taking place on the floor. That might not happen until a little later. I can tell you, though, there was a poll taken about three weeks ago among Georgians. They were presented with three possible flags, asked which one they preferred, the battle flag was among those. It came in dead last, though, Judy, with only 18 percent of the vote. Clearly, Georgians aren't crazy about this flag, but the debate rages on inside here -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Fascinating. Fascinating. Brian, you say this is just about the end of the session, the state legislative session. They have to adjourn today. What if this doesn't get resolved?

CABELL: If it doesn't get resolved, we stay with the current flag, which some have likened to a restaurant place mat. That will stay in place until they decide to vote for another one. That could happen in a special session.

WOODRUFF: And we don't know when that would be?

CABELL: It will be maybe in a month, maybe in a couple months. It's all up to the governor. He will set the agenda. He will set the time. And he might not even decide to bring the flag issue back up. But that's entirely up to him at this point.

WOODRUFF: All right. Brian Cabell, of course, referring to senator -- or rather Governor Sonny Purdue, who ran, among other things, on the issue of changing the state flag back to include a Confederate emblem. Well, a related flag issue leads our Friday "Campaign News Daily." Senator and presidential hopeful Bob Graham says that South Carolina should remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol because, he says, many people find it offensive. A similar Confederate banner flew over the Georgia statehouse while Graham served as governor, but he says the issue is not the same. Graham tells the Gainesville, Florida "Sun" that Florida's flag, which featured a smaller battle emblem on a white field flew alongside other flags to symbolize Florida history. Governor Jeb Bush had the flag removed in 2001.

Florida's freshman Congresswoman Katherine Harris apparently has not ruled out a run for Bob Graham's Senate seat. When asked if she might join next year's Senate race, Harris told the "Miami Herald," quote, "I would never say never."

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is celebrating his decision three years ago to grant gay partners in Vermont the same legal rights as married couples. The Dean campaign is organizing dozens of fundraisers nationwide this weekend to mark the anniversary of that law. Dean signed it while serving as Vermont's governor.

Still ahead, why is a congressional Democrat railing about witch burning?

Plus, can President Bush forgive Bill Frist? And what about the Senate majority leader's Republican colleagues? Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan will face off on that.

On the Hill, the doors are open again to the public. We'll check out the scene and the security.

And wedding bells will be ringing at New York's Gracie Mansion in a ceremony featuring not one, but two mayors.


WOODRUFF: President Bush went on the road to push his tax cut plan. And Rick Santorum didn't back down from some controversial comments. But neither of them won our political play of the week. Well tell you who did coming up later on INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: A Democratic house member today issued some of the strongest criticism yet, targeting Senator Rick Santorum and his recent statements about homosexuality. Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip in the House said, quote, "Such thinking is reminiscent of witch burning and hanging for heresy. His party if it does not share those views should find them disqualifying for leadership."

Senator Santorum's comments along with Republic discord over the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are among the items in our "Taking Issue" segment. With me former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. Welcome to both of you. Good to see you again now that the war is behind us for the most part. Bay, have we heard the end of this business over Rick Santorum and what he said, or is there another shoe to drop? Will you have more people calling for him to resign his leadership post?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: I think it is over in the sense that Rick Santorum will respond, or the president's going to respond or Republicans are going to say anything. The Democrats will try to keep it going, as Steny Hoyer obviously is. But it's a dead story. He's not going to apologize. These are his beliefs. This is what he truly believes. And honorable men fight for their beliefs, and they die for them. They don't apologize for them, Judy. And I believe that the president is, more than likely, in total support with him privately. He'll not say anything, of course. But this is not an issue. It should be no surprise to Democrats this is what he believes. He's always been a social conservative and this is the position of social conservatives.

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: But Bay, if Senator Santorum wishes to preach morality, he should go to go to seminary school and get out of the Senate. But the fact is the Republican party has a bad case of foot in mouth disease. And they should take a chapter from the Democratic party and repudiate the offender, as well as apologize, repair relations with the gay and lesbian community, and then rebuild the big tent that President Bush is trying to establish on the Republican side.

BUCHANAN: It comes a time when the big tent doesn't apply. We welcome everybody in the tent, but these are our beliefs. You cannot sell out the beliefs. And why, Donna, even you would agree. You don't ever apologize for your beliefs. This is something that he feels very, very strongly...

BRAZILE: But when you offend a group of Americans, a large segment of the American population, people who honorably serve our country, who pay taxes, who bear children, and who live by just the same set of rules that all of us live by, then you should not -- this is not a belief. This is an ideology.


BRAZILE: This is basically taking a group of American citizens and saying, hey, you don't fit in the mainstream, so I'm going to denigrate and demonize you.

BUCHANAN: That's is what the liberals are trying to say, they're trying to say those things that millions and millions of American believe, that that is their belief. We are going to say that believing that is somehow bad. It is not bad. Those beliefs are wholesome, and good and they should be allowed to have them. It is intolerance to suggest that expressing your beliefs should not be allowed in America. And you should apologize for that.

BRAZILE: But President Bush also believes in equality for all citizens. Right before Senator Lott stepped down, well, gays and lesbians don't enjoy the same equality as all Americans. And they should have the full rights of the Constitution, like every other citizen.

BUCHANAN: Mr. Santorum does not believe in discrimination, nor do I.

WOODRUFF: Well, let's move on to the president's tax cuts. Disagreement among the Republicans, another non-controversial subject. Big-time disagreement among Republicans in the Senate. There was also some disagreement within the House, but the story was in the Senate, where you had a deal that was worked out. Bill Frist is a Senate majority leader, didn't tell his House counterparts. They're still upset with him, many of them. Is he going to be able, Donna, to get the Republicans in the Senate in line, supporting the president's number? It's $150 billion.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. First of all, I think he's a novice, and he's not up to speed yet, but he's a good old country doctor. And I know with the right prescription, get in the White House and the House leadership, perhaps he can pull it all together and work a miracle, so to speak. But right now, I think, people are criticizing him because he's really not up to speed with the Senate rules.

BUCHANAN: There's no question the senator made a major mistake here. I think the White House has some concerns, the Republicans in the House are very upset, and they should be. But the key is, they're all in the same team. They're going to forgive him his mistake. But his problem is not his relationship with other Republicans, but how is he going to turn this around? He made a deal with these fellows, these Democrats.

WOODRUFF: How is he going to be able to turn it around.

BUCHANAN: That is where his real problem is. He is going to have to get in there and say, fellas, I made a mistake and I no longer stand by this. And I think he's got an uphill battle. If he pulls this off, his repetition is going to go straight up.

BRAZILE: That's a recipe for disaster. If he goes back on his word now, and not honor the deal that he gave.

WOODRUFF: Which is to go to 350?

BUCHANAN: He can't stay there. The president is opposed to that. Obviously, he's the president's man and he's going to have to reverse that.

BRAZILE: OK. Let me just say this. Olympia Snowe, George Voinovich, come over to the Democrat side, get Tom Daschle back in the leadership seat, and you won't have these problems with honoring ones agreements.

BUCHANAN: Yes, that's right.

WOODRUFF: So, bottom line, the prediction is, is President Bush going to get the $550 billion out of the Congress that he says is the minimum that he'll accept on the tax cut. BUCHANAN: He is going to use every bit of his clout to do it. This is key to his being considered successful in the next six months. And I believe there's a chance, but it is going to be very, very tough.

BRAZILE: I don't believe he'll get it. I think the moderate Republicans are strong on this position. The tax cuts have though not produced jobs. It's hemorrhaging our states. And I think these Republicans should stay the course.

BUCHANAN: There's going to be some pressure, lady.

BRAZILE: From the French?

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. We're going to leave it there Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, great to see both of you this Friday. Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair stood shoulder to shoulder, as we know, before and during the war in Iraq. But a published report says Mr. Blair also consulted a former U.S. president in the weeks before the war. Details on their secret meetings when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: President Bush will do a little bonding with sailors onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln next week. Mr. Bush plans to spend the night on board the aircraft carrier as it approaches San Diego on its return voyage from the war in Iraq. The Abraham Lincoln has been at sea for almost nine months, longer than any carrier group now on duty.

President Bush, as we know, had no stronger ally in the war than British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But it turns out Mr. Blair was also consulting former President Bill Clinton. The British newspaper the "Guardian," reports that Mr. Blair met with Clinton at least three times to discuss the possible war, including a meeting as recently as March 8th.

For more on the war in Iraq, you can always tune in for a CNN presents special "War Stories From the Front Lines." That is tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Well, the war is still very much a part of the political equation, but some candidates also know that they need to move on in order to make a big play. That brings us to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, Democrats are supposed to be testosterone challenged. You want bold, risky ideas, tax cuts, invasions? Try George W. Bush. But this week, it was a Democrat who displayed some swagger and made off with the political "Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Dick Gephardt this week.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I do not think we're going to defeat George Bush by trimming around the edges and, in effect, being Bush lite.

SCHNEIDER: Bush lite? Try Dick Gephardt last October.

GEPHARDT: In response to the president's desire for Congressional support and in keeping with our constitutional responsibilities, I have worked to draft a resolution.

SCHNEIDER: That was the resolution authorizing president Bush to use force in Iraq. Gephardt led the fight for it. Now he's running for president and that may not sit so well with Democrats who want a sharp, clear alternative to Bush. If that's what you want, why not try Dick Gephardt?

GEPHARDT: I think we've got to have bright line alternatives.

SCHNEIDER: Like a hugely expensive plan that would provide health insurance for virtually every American, and give states and cities much needed financial relief and pump money into the economy. How's Gephardt going to pay for all this? Brace yourself.

GEPHARDT: We pay for it by repealing the Bush tax cuts.


SCHNEIDER: Republicans wasted no time attacking Gephardt's plan as a $2 trillion tax hike. Gephardt was ready.

GEPHARDT: There hasn't been one job created by these tax cuts. There hasn't been anything good happen in this economy.

SCHNEIDER: The rap on Gephardt is that he's yesterday's man. He tried to run for president once before and failed. He tried to become speaker of the House and failed. This week, we saw the new Dick Gephardt, charged with testosterone.

GEPHARDT: I challenge every candidate for president to offer a healthcare plan that covers every American, stimulates the economy and creates jobs. And I challenge them to tell us exactly how they'd pay for it.

SCHNEIDER: As President Bush would say.


SCHNEIDER: For the political play of the week.


SCHNEIDER: But what about the deficit? Gephardt's answer, in essence, to hell with the deficit. If President Bush can ignore the deficit, so can I -- Judy. WOODRUFF: But we have a feeling he may be asked about it at some point down the road.

SCHNEIDER: I suspect.

WOODRUFF: OK, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

On Capitol Hill, the welcome mat is out for tourists again.

Coming up, Bruce Morton shows us the sights now that a Washington tradition is back in business.



WOODRUFF: Good news for visitors here to the nation's capital. They are welcome inside the Capitol building itself again. Now that the terror threat is back down a notch.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton shows us around.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 8:20 a.m., A line of people outside the U.S. capitol, waiting, playing cards. Public tours have started again. They stopped just over a month ago. Security worries because of the war in Iraq. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer is on hand for the opener.

CHIEF TERRANCE GAINER, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: You'll enjoy the capitol, one of the best places to visit in Washington, and certainly the safest.

MORTON: The visitors agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been here all week. We've had a wonderful week, it's a beautiful city and it's -- we couldn't have asked for a better time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not worried. If I were, I wouldn't bring my family.

MORTON: They start handing out tickets at 9:00 a.m.

This guide, Elise Roof (ph) is ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to start here in the main rotunda.

MORTON: People stare, take pictures. One of their cameramen spots our cameraman. The dome is a big hit. Then they move to Statuary Hall, each state gets two statues where the House used to meet, and where there's a funny spot, John Quincy Adam's old seat, where you can hear a whisper from across the room.

Then the crypt where George Washington might have been buried.

ROOF: He had requested in his will that he be buried at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

MORTON: The public tours are back. There's more security and the old system, the people's house opened to individuals as well as tours, those days are probably gone for good.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: We know there's a debate about it, but we think there's a lot of good to be said about Washington.

Well, finally, being a former New York mayor has its perks, particularly if you are Rudy Giuliani. When Giuliani marries Judith Nathan next month on May 24, his successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will do the officiating. And Bloomberg's office tells CNN that the ceremony will take place at the official mayor's residence, Gracie Mansion. A spokeswoman said Giuliani and Nathan are, quote, "ecstatic."

As people should be when they get married. Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Have a wonderful weekend. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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