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Bush Draws Fire for Favoring Extension on Assault Rifle Ban

Aired May 8, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: President Bush, drawing fire from one of his top supporters, the NRA. In the crosshairs, extending the assault weapons ban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think President Bush would be for this bill if he thought America was against it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush's tax cuts for the rich have meant less money for education. So they have to sell their blood to raise money for their children's school.

ANNOUNCER: In the battle over tax cuts, both sides take to the airwaves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush knows tax cuts create jobs and that helps balance the budget. But Senator George Voinovich opposes the president.

ANNOUNCER: Reaching out. But are Republican attempts to attract more black Americans more talk than action?

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


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

Well, at first glance a Republican president and a GOP Congress would seem to present the best of both worlds for gun rights advocates. But a looming battle over extending the 1994 assault weapons ban has caused a split between President Bush and the politically powerful National Rifle Association.

CNN's Bob Franken has more on how the NRA plans to handle its dispute with the president it worked so hard to elect.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even though the National Rifle Association has political adversaries running for cover, gun control groups are still firing back. Not only that, but one of the NRA's best friends, for the moment at least, is supporting the other side. That friend of the president of the United States is on record as favoring an extension of the assault weapons ban. So the NRA is going to try and get its Congressional friends to make sure that the president has no new legislation to sign.

CHRIS COX, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: It is really not an issue that the president hopefully will have an opportunity to discuss.

FRANKEN: Gun control advocates agree the ban can get bottled up in Congress, unless the president is aggressive.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Now, we need the president to not just say he supports it but to work with us.

FRANKEN: Will the president work for it? Certainly no clear-cut guidance from the White House.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has made his position known. And during the course of the debate, I imagine that people will refer to the president's position and cite it, and I will continue to repeat it. The president, watch his actions and judge for yourself over time.

FRANKEN: Congressional Democrats want a ten-year extension. The ban makes 19 different types of weapons illegal. Gun control is a political hard sell these days. In fact, the NRA opposing gun control stands the chance of winning a huge victory with passage of legislation that would grant weapons manufacturers and dealers legal protections against lawsuits. Even so, there are complications. National Rifle Association wants an emergency stay of last week's court decision upholding parts of the campaign finance law, the part which restricts political ads by special interest groups. Arguing the ruling will prevent the NRA from running "a series of 60-second radio ads in crucial states whose senators have yet to decide where they stand on the legislation that would limit lawsuits."

COX: We need to be able to communicate with our members and to the gun owners in any given state. And to suggest that we can't do that for risk of being thrown in jail is simply outrageous.

FRANKEN (voice-over): The National Rifle Association, the opponents of gun control, would seem these days to be on top of the political world. But as we know, it can be tough at the top.

Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And one more note on that campaign finance court decision that Bob Franken just referred to. The law's major sponsors, including Senator John McCain, said this afternoon that they will join the NRA and others in requesting a stay of the decision until the Supreme Court can rule on the case. McCain said he does not think it is fair for fundraising rules to be changed several times during an election cycle.

Republican leaders in Congress have embarked on a new strategy to garner political support among African-Americans. Today's occasion centers around the ongoing effort to restore the home of the abolitionist Frederick Douglas. The event is also meant to highlight the party's long-term goals.

Joining me now for more on all this CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Hello, Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Republican leaders in the House and the Senate gathered on the porch of the home that Frederick Douglas called home in the late 1880s. It was an event rich in symbolism as they gathered to announce $1 million in spending to refurbish the home of the most prominent African- American of the 19th century. As they also went out to announce an agenda that they believe will reach out to African-Americans here in the 21st century.

Now, this, obviously, is part of the Republican effort to undo the damage that was done in the wake of the Trent Lott controversy that, of course, resulted in Lott's ouster late last year, largely pushed by Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator who was very critical of Lott, and has said the party needs to do more to get the message out and to recruit more African-Americans.

Now, After this event was announced and taking place, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, dismissed it as just an elaborate photo op.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The Republicans are heavily into cosmetics. Let me do something at the museum, while I do nothing to make sure you have a job. Let's rehab the museum while we do not invest in education and expand opportunity for minorities in our country.


KARL: But the Republicans did announce more than simply the $1 million to repair the Frederick Douglas home. They also talked about an agenda that they said would reach out to African-Americans with such things as reaching out and spending more money on historically black colleges, and also more traditional conservative themes, like school choice, vouchers and tax cuts. And after the event, I asked speaker of the House Hastert to respond to that criticism from Nancy Pelosi.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: People can call names and make excuses. I think we're actually doing something substantive. This is a symbol of what we're trying to get done. And, you know, I can't help what Miss Pelosi says.


KARL: And it was a particularly powerful symbol today because in standing on the porch of the Frederick Douglas home, they were at the home not only of somebody who was considered really the father of the civil rights movement, but also one of the very first Republicans and somebody for his entire life was a Republican. But, of course, Judy, it was a very different party back then.

WOODRUFF: That's true. Still some parallels. All right, Jon Karl at the Capitol, thanks very much.

And we'll have more on the GOP outreach to African-Americans a little later in the program when I'm joined by Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile.

The state of Georgia has a new state flag, its third in just over two years. The new banner was raised above the state capitol this morning after Republican Governor Sonny Purdue signed a bill making it official. The new flag replaces a design forced through the legislature in 2001 as a replacement for the racially divisive banner featuring the Confederate battle emblem. State voters, though, will have the final say. They will choose between the new flag and the banner that was adopted in 2001.

Just ahead, the president and the polls. New approval numbers on President Bush before and after his trip to the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Jimmy Buffet gets in a plug for Florida's favorite son running for president.

And later, Howard Dean makes good use of the meet-up phenomenon. How to organize via the Internet in today's edition of our "Campaign News Daily."


WOODRUFF: From coast to coast, President Bush has been stumping for his tax cut plan, taking his message straight to the people. Is his campaign having an effect with Americans? We'll gauge the pulse of the people. We're back in 60 seconds.


WOODRUFF: The Senate Finance Committee is still haggling over a compromise $430 billion tax cut package that would fall short of President Bush's goal. The president wants to abolish taxes on stock dividends, but the compromise would just limit those taxes. Meanwhile, a group called has launched a campaign to defeat the Bush tax cuts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush's tax cuts for the rich have meant less money for education. So they have to sell their blood to raise money for their children's school. Now Bush wants to cut $9 billion from education to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. Is this the America we want to live in? George Bush, putting rich people first.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: But a leading pro-tax cut organization, the Club for Growth, is reintroducing ads in Ohio and Maine. Republican senators from those states are trying to hold down the size of the latest Bush tax cuts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Senator George Voinovich opposes the president. Ohio has lost thousands of jobs and President Bush has a plan to help. Tell George Voinovich to support the Kennedy, Reagan, Bush tax policy that will bring jobs back to Ohio.


WOODRUFF: Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president and Senator Edward Kennedy, his brother, sent the Club for Growth a letter complaining about the use of Senator John Kennedy's -- rather, Senator John Kennedy's name in the ad. They called it politically irresponsible, among other things.

President Bush's tax cut proposal seemed to be gaining public support, but it appears that controversial tailhook landing on the aircraft carrier neither helped nor hurt his job approval rating.

Our political analyst Bill Schneider has the latest poll results. Bill what are they showing?


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Last week, President Bush played top gun and the box office was steady. Seventy percent job approval before the president spoke aboard the Abraham Lincoln, 69 percent after. The president's job ratings have held steady at about 70 percent approval since the war in Iraq started, like he reached his upper limit and stayed there. The president's also been playing top tax cutter, with more impact. Two weeks ago, the public was inclined to think president Bush's tax cuts were a bad idea. Support has jumped 10 points. Most Americans now think the tax cuts are a good idea.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just describe to you what it means to the family of four making $40,000 a year. It means their taxes would go from $1,178 a year to $45 a year.

SCHNEIDER: But do most people think the president's tax cuts will reduce their taxes? No. They do, however, think it will increase the deficit. So what?

BUSH: I'm concerned about the deficit, but not as concerned about the deficit as I am about people trying to find work.

SCHNEIDER: The president appears to be making headway with this argument.

BUSH: Our motto is this. If tax relief is good for Americans years from now, it is even better when the American economy needs it today.

SCHNEIDER: The number of Americans who believe tax cuts will help the economy has gone up. So has the number who think tax cuts will hurt the economy, but not as much.


SCHNEIDER: Republicans are solidly behind the tax cuts, and Democrats oppose it by two to one. And independents are split down the middle. So on the tax issue, the top gun has a partisan recoil -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, if that's what the poll is showing about the president's standing, what does the poll show about the Democrats running for president?

SCHNEIDER: The Democratic campaign, what campaign? Americans are not paying much attention. In a new poll by the Pew Research Center, only 27 percent of the public say they're following the Democratic nomination race either very closely or even fairly closely. Now that compares with 36 percent a year before the 2000 campaign and 42 percent a year before the 1996 campaign, when President Clinton wasn't even being challenged. Who can keep track of nine candidates when there's so much else going on, like SARS, which 78 percent of Americans say they're following. And Laci Peterson's murder, 62 percent. And tax cuts, 61 percent. Well, no wonder only 27 percent are paying attention to the campaign. It's competing with death and taxes -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And we on INSIDE POLITICS will be here to cover it, regardless.


WOODRUFF: OK, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, singer Jimmy Buffet is in many ways synonymous with flamingos and Florida. And he recently made a public service announcement to raise awareness for the endangered Florida manatee. He also managed to work in a mention of Florida Senator and presidential candidate Bob Graham.


JIMMY BUFFET, ENTERTAINER: Hi, I'm Jimmy Buffet. Back in 1981, my friend, Senator Bob Graham and I cofounded the Save the Manatee Club because manatees were in trouble. And they're still in trouble. Now, more than ever, it's important to build community partnerships with boaters, fisherman all of us who love our waterways to help secure a safe future for our aquatic friends.


WOODRUFF: The announcement is currently running on Florida television stations. Well, the teamsters decide they want more say over where their political money goes. Up next, why the union, led by James Hoffa, wants to share the wealth when it comes to campaign donations.


WOODRUFF: We are waiting the start of a news conference any moment now by the climber who amputated his own arm after being pinned down by a large boulder. The hiker recovering now at a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado. That news conference just now getting underway. And we're going to go there now live.


WOODRUFF: A simply remarkable story from 27-year-old Aron Ralston who had to cut off his own arm, right arm, below the elbow after he was pinned while hiking in the mountains of Utah. You've just been hearing his story, a remarkable story. An, obviously, incredibly brave young man.

We'll have much more on the story about doorsman (ph) Aron Ralston at the top of the hour on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

For now, that's it for our coverage. We're going to take a very quick break, and then it's right on to "CROSSFIRE." I'm Judy Woodruff.



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