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Riot in House Committee; Interview With Senator Joe Lieberman

Aired July 18, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The ups and downs of the commander in chief.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I take responsibility for putting our troops into action.

ANNOUNCER: Is the post-war turmoil in Iraq a drag on the president's poll numbers?

The drive for NASCAR voters. How one White House hopeful is trying to stay in tune with a country kind of crowd.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bob Graham is what America needs today. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Remember this famous movie line?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love is never having to say you're sorry.

ANNOUNCER: Try telling that to some apologetic Democrats.

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


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

First up, it may be a good thing that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was a high school wrestler, because he is trying to referee an ugly partisan smackdown in the House today. Insiders say police were called, and they say during a dispute during a committee hearing led to physical threats, to name-calling, including a word you can't say on family television.

Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl is here with the play by play. Jon, I was up on the Hill today, and it was pretty hot.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The first thing you should know, Judy, is the House was in till after midnight. So clearly members came back this morning tired, tempers a little bit raw here, nerves a little bit raw.

And then you add the fact that this committee hearing was chaired by Bill Thomas. He's known as one of the most temperamental members on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, you have Pete Stark who's known as one of the most temperamental Democrats. And you had a mix for a real brew.

What was going on here is this is simply a markup of a pension bill, a rather dry, bipartisan effort going on here. When all -- well, I mean, really everything went south on this.

I wasn't to give you a sense for what happened here with some of the sound. Unfortunately, there were no cameras at the hearing at the time, but we've heard a lot about it on the House floor. Members very angry.

What happened -- what we know is that Bill Thomas, the chairman of the committee, called the sergeant at arms, called in the Capitol Police to do one of two things. Democrats say that he wanted to clear Democrats out of the room. Republicans say he called because he wanted to restore order. That there was a Democrat, Pete Stark of California, who was threatening with physical injury, a Republican.

Here's how it played out on the House floor.


REP. KENNY HULSHOF (R), MISSOURI: "... overwhelms me, Mr. Chairman, just like your intellect does. It is -- oh, you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you."

The transcript indicates in brackets laughter, to which then the minority member then said, "You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said, you are a fruitcake."

REP. JERRY KLECZKA (D), WISCONSIN: Here's the scenario. Here's a man in excess of 70-years-old, threatening a man 30 years his junior,. And the chairman was afraid that the 30-year-old junior was going to get beat up. Hello!

REP. SCOTT MCINNIS (R), COLORADO: We were within moments, frankly, myself and another member on your side of the aisle, were within moments of, I would guess, a physical engagement. And I considered that threat serious. I considered the threat, the bodily threat, not just the order of the committee, but to me, and I fully intended to defend myself.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: We will not be intimidated. We will not be immobilized. We live in a democracy, and not a police state.

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: Had I been in the chair when order was disrupted, when a physical threat was issued by a member of the minority party, and parliamentary rules preclude me from naming that member, although I can say it was a very "Stark" picture of a confrontation...


KARL: And that "Stark" refers to Pete Stark who made that comment, again, to read that rather alarming transcript that's come out. Pete Stark was saying at that hearing, "You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you. You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said, you are a fruitcake."

Keep in mind that Pete Stark is 72-years-old when he allegedly -- or when he apparently made that threat.

Now, Judy, Republicans are -- although they're saying they're standing by Bill Thomas publicly, many Republicans who I spoke to say that he went over the line when he called in the Capitol Police through the sergeant in arms. They say he should not have done that.

One committee chairman, a powerful Republican committee chairman I spoke to just a few minutes ago said that what he did, what Chairman Thomas, did was not a violation of the rules, but it was a violation of civility. They have tried to work out an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to have mutual apologies, an apology from Pete Stark, an apology from Chairman Thomas. That has not happened.

And just a few minutes ago, the House voted, rejecting a measure by Democrats that would have condemned Chairman Thomas for what he said -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly livened things up on what would normally be a quiet Friday afternoon.

All right. Jon Karl watching it all at the Capitol. Thank you, Jon.

Well President Bush has his own political troubles these days. Our new poll released this hour shows his approval rating at 55 percent, down to the level it was before the Iraq war. Now, this drop comes amid growing concerns about Mr. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. In the CNN/"TIME" magazine poll, 55 percent of those surveyed said Mr. Bush is doing a good job on Iraq. That is down 14 points from May.

Our White House correspondent Chris Burns is with the president in Texas. Chris, you know, it's not just this poll, but other polls we've seen in the last days showing the president's approval rating going down. What is the White House saying about all this?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, obviously, a source of concern for the White House. Where President Bush, whose father won the Gulf War I and ended up losing it on the economy, could President Bush here win the war, then lose the peace and lose on the economy? These are issues the president must tackle in the coming months.

President Bush here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- spending nights in Crawford, but also going off to fund raise. Today he's off in Dallas. He just went to the YMCA to talk about physical fitness. As an avid jogger he's going to be running the marathon to be re-elected. He's going on to another fund raising event tonight in Dallas and then on to Houston as well for more fund raising. But will that fund raising, will that war chest translate into votes in the ballot box? And that is the big question in the coming months. And that, in part, is why the Bush administration is so intent on trying to put to bed these -- this controversy over prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. So they are pushing very hard on that.

And, of course, keep in mind some of these other poll figures that we've seen -- on this CNN/"TIME" poll in fact that 53 percent of Americans say that they would vote for the president, but that, if you include the 3 percent margin of error, it's a dead heat. Independents are also 50/50 on this as well -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Chris Burns covering it all from Crawford. Thank you very much, Chris.

Well, our new poll also shows the percentage of registered voters who say they are likely to vote for President Bush in 2004 is down slightly from May. Still 66 percent say they expect that Mr. Bush will win re-election.

As for his Democratic rivals, the CNN/"TIME" poll shows Joe Lieberman leading the pack followed closely by John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean. The rest of the candidates still in single digits.

Both Lieberman and Kerry expressed -- addressed economic issues today with Kerry talking about the jobs gap in Iowa and Lieberman speaking at a high-tech manufacturing company in New Hampshire.

Senator Lieberman joins us now from Manchester. Senator, good to see you.


WOODRUFF: You're talking about -- thank you. You're talking about the manufacturing sector today. And we know that this is, in a way, a shrinking part of the overall American economy, but it's very important in these early voting states, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, among others. Does that have anything do to do with why you're putting this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's really important to America. I mean, the fact that our manufacturing sector is shrinking is bad for the economy. We're never going to be a great economy providing the jobs we want for our people if we're not making things here.

And the reality is that we are hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. It is a crisis within the generally stagnating economy. And the Bush administration doesn't seem to even recognize it. We've lost more manufacturing jobs in the last three years than any similar time since the end of the second world war.

We've got to put the government behind manufacturers and manufacturing workers, and we've got to support trade to open up new markets in the world, but we've got to make sure that's fair trade. Because some countries like China are taking unfair advantage of us in many ways. And as a result, taking jobs from American workers.

WOODRUFF: Senator, not only, though, are you going after the president here, you said you didn't want to build walls around the American economy, as some other Democrats would do. Your staff said you're referring to Dick Gephardt. Checking with his campaign, they turned around and said though that you have supported trade policies which have sent millions of jobs overseas.

LIEBERMAN: Well, the question is, do you recognize we have a crisis? We do. We're bleeding manufacturing jobs.

How do you deal with it? I think you've got to reject the old answers. Protectionism doesn't work. You can't put up a wall in the modern economy. We've got to, as President Clinton used to say, who supported those very agreements, promoted them that Dick Gephardt is opposing, used to say, We've only got 4 percent of the people in the world in America. There's only so much we can make and sell to each other. We've got to open up markets abroad to sell to the other 96 percent. That's what trade is about.

But the Bush response, which is laissez faire, stand back, don't do anything to help American manufacturers or get tough with countries like China that are not playing by the rules, that doesn't work either.

We've got to have the confidence in American workers to go out there and compete in the world market. But we've got to make sure we give them a fair playing field. And that means getting tough on Chinese knocking off of American patented, copy righted products, and this terrible manipulation of their currency.

WOODRUFF: Senator, I also want to ask you about your last-minute trip this week to Miami to speak to the NAACP, to apologize to them for not speaking earlier in the week. There are some Democrats out there who are saying this looks like the worst sort of pandering to a Democratic interest group. Is that what it was?

LIEBERMAN: Not pandering at all.

Look, in a presidential campaign, it's a big country. You can't be everywhere all the time. And my staff made a judgment that I couldn't be at the NAACP original candidates forum.

When it sent out a message of disrespect for the organization or even worse, opposition to what they stand for, I wanted to take the opportunity they gave me to come down and say, you know, I'm sorry I missed the forum. This is a great organization that's fought for the best of American principles, which is equal opportunity.

I accepted responsibility for a judgment my staff had made. That's something that George W. Bush hasn't done and with regard to the deficit or the 16 words. That's what leadership is supposed to be about. WOODRUFF: But what about those Democrats? And I'm not talking about Republicans here, Senator, but Democrats who say that members of their own -- of your party are going around and, in effect, bowing down to these interest groups, moving further and further to the left, which potentially hurts a Democrat in the general election.

James Carville, who is an adviser -- you know him well -- to Democrats, says that what you have is Democrats doing this while Republicans don't operate that way. He said, quote, "The NRA, they're smart. They'd understand what it takes to win an election. They don't make Republican presidential candidates go up and hold assault weapons up in the air."

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Look, the point is, what do we stand for? I think anybody who knows my record knows that I'm an independent-minded Democrat. I've stood just recently and supported the war against Saddam Hussein even though it wasn't popular in my party. I went to the floor of the Senate and spoke out against the president who I supported when I thought he did something wrong personally.

I think the people don't judge you by where you go, but what you say. And my values and platform are in tune with the majority of Democrats, and the majority of Americans. I'm confident I'm the one Democrat who could beat George Bush because I'm an independent, centerout Democrat, strong on security, pro-growth and socially progressive.

That, I think, is my record.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there. And you know we're going to be talking to you again. Senator Joe Lieberman...

LIEBERMAN: Look forward to it, Judy. Have a good weekend.

WOODRUFF: ... on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Thanks very much for talking to us from Manchester.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, the stars are coming out. Ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, which presidential candidate is getting bucks from Mr. Margaritaville? We have an update on celebrity donors.

What are Dick Gephardt's friends and supporters buzzing about? Bob Novak has the inside scoop.

And later...


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Graham, presidential longshot, former Florida governor, three-term senator, is out for the good-old-boy vote.


WOODRUFF: Bruce Morton watches the race for the White House go country.


WOODRUFF: Attention political junkies: the new edition of the Almanac of American Politics hits bookstores next week and we have a political trivia preview. Do you know which Congressman once won the Mr. Tight Jeans contest? Or which lawmaker is a five-time winner on "Jeopardy!"? We'll have the answers later in the show.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," Democratic hopeful Al Sharpton is headed to Africa this weekend to focus attention on the violence in Liberia. Sharpton plans to meet with President Charles Taylor as well as Liberian opposition groups. The civil rights leader tells CNN that the Bush administration does not have a plan to end the bloodshed in Liberia. Sharpton also says he wants to ensure his fellow Democrats do not ignore Liberia or the African-American vote.

A closer look at campaign finance reports uncovers more famous faces taking sides in the presidential race. Eagles' frontman Glen Frey has donated $2,000 to the John Edwards campaign. Singer Jimmy Buffet, no stranger to the Sunshine State or to Democratic politics, put his $2, 000 behind Florida Senator Bob Graham. And New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner has donated $2,000 to President Bush, his one-time colleague in the ranks of baseball owners.

Well, Bill Schneider's with me now to talk about a major political power play -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the NAACP sent Democrats a message this week: don't take our votes for granted. And they made sure the Democrats got it in the most forceful way possible, with "The Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Democrats running for president have become a kind of traveling road show. This week they showed up at the Human Rights Campaign to showcase their support for gay rights. Then they were summoned to address the NAACP convention in Miami Beach. Summoned is the correct term.

Six of the nine Democrats showed up on Monday and paid their respects, some by dissing president bush.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's willing to go to South Carolina and play Jefferson Davis on the Confederate flag.

SCHNEIDER: And some the Democratic Party.

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running because there's still an ax handle mentality in some parts of the Democratic Party.

SCHNEIDER: Three Democrats skipped the forum. They had scheduling conflicts. President Mfume didn't take too well with that.

KWEISI MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT: In essence, you have become persona nongrata, and your political capital is now the equivalent of Confederate dollars.

SCHNEIDER: Ouch. So on Thursday, the three missing Democrats somehow found time in their schedule to go down to Miami Beach and explain....

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, the Republicans called the vote on Medicare.

SCHNEIDER: And apologize.


SCHNEIDER: And apologize.

LIEBERMAN: I was wrong. I regret it, and I apologize for it.

SCHNEIDER: Is it good for Democrats to be seen groveling before constituency groups? Jesse Jackson complained that the apologies were getting overplayed. But it certainly was good for Mfume, who got to show off his clout.

MFUME: It's like a political mistress, being held by the party and kissed by the party and wined and dined in darkness and then in the light of day, you don't want to be seen with this group.

SCHNEIDER: This week, the mistress got apologies and candy and flowers and respect and "The Political Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: Democrats have a problem with pandering. It looks very unpresidential. On the other hand, interest groups, like mistresses, can be very demanding, I'm told.

WOODRUFF: Hmm. All right. We'll leave it at that.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, we will.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.


WOODRUFF: Just ahead, why Iraq's administrator, Paul Bremer, will soon be headed to Capitol Hill. Details on that story and other political buzz next from our Bob Novak.


WOODRUFF: Bob Novak joins us now from the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University with some inside buzz.

All right, Bob, the man that President Bush put in charge of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, Paul Bremer, coming to Washington next week. What do you hear?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Coming back for the first time, Judy. As far as I know, there are no formal hearings scheduled, but there are private meetings with influential members of Congress, Senate and the House. And they have very tough questions for Mr. Bremer. These will be -- they really want to get some answers from him and want to know what lies ahead in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: All right. The presidential campaign. You're hearing that some Democratic friends of Dick Gephardt are worried.

NOVAK: They're very deeply worried. You know, these things, there's -- no election is being held. But things go up and down. And they're sitting on top of the world a couple weeks ago thinking Gephardt was a front runner, very worried now not only because he's not raising money very well, but Howard Dean has pulled even with him in Iowa. And a lot of concern if Gephardt does not win in Iowa, or it doesn't look good in Iowa, he's going to be gone. So this is a nervous time for Gephardt supporters.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's talk about Senate race. We know there's going to be a Senate seat up in the state of Georgia. Democrats are thinking about whom?

NOVAK: now this is very interesting. They are worried sick that they're going to lose Zell Miller's seat, Democratic Senator Zell Miller is not running. And there are prominent Democrats down there who think the only person who can win it in former Senator Max Cleland who just got beat for his seat last year. But if they could talk him into it, they think that Cleland would be their strongest candidate. He's on the 9/11 commission. He seems a little bitter about President Bush. And maybe he's ready to run again.

The Republicans running, leading Republicans are and Congressman Matt Collins and Johnny Isaacson.

WOODRUFF: May be a little bit of a grudge match there.

NOVAK: It could be.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bob Novak, and we'll see you in a few minutes.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Just ahead, Bob Graham makes a run for race fans. Is NASCAR the key to political victory lane? Our Bruce Morton looks at the Graham strategy when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: So now it's time to see just how big of a political junkie you really are. Did you know which Congressman once won the Mr. Tight Jeans contest at a local bar? Well, the answer is Republican Congressman Butch Otter of Idaho.

And what about the five-time "Jeopardy" champion now in Congress? The answer, Rush Holt, the Democrat from New Jersey's 12th district.

The next time you see either gentleman you have to congratulate them.

Well, political strategists have been talking about and trying to win over NASCAR voters for some time. But presidential candidate Bob Graham is taking it to a new level. Our Bruce Morton takes a look at Graham's efforts to stay in tune with a certain segment of America.



MORTON (voice-over): Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley (UNINTELLIGIBLE) song from his Grammy Award-winning album "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" but this Roanoke, Virginia event is not a concert, it's political.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to tell you that the next president of the United States, senator Bob Graham, is here.

MORTON: Bob Graham, presidential long-shot, former Florida governor, three-term senator is out for the good old boy vote. Same thing at an earlier event and autograph signing by NASCAR star Ward Burton. Graham is not the big attraction here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd come to see Ward Burton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I came to see Ward. Sure did. I can't wait to see him.

MORTON: But Graham isn't just shaking hands here. He's sponsoring driver John Wood in a series of truck races. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Wildlife Foundation is aboard, too.

GRAHAM: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the first two races.

MORTON: Graham is proud of his young driver, and Wood is impressed with the smooth-talking senator.

JOHN WOOD, RACER: You might just be a door-to-door salesman.


WOOD: If the presidential thing doesn't work out, I'll go into business with you and we'll sell...

GRAHAM: Jon, I think you just wrote the leading paragraph for these guys. MORTON: Bluegrass and NASCAR are not accidental. Virginia governor Mark Warner courted other Democrats have ignored. Some who worked for him and are now helping graham note that Warner carried the rural vote and say that's a lesson for candidates in this race.

GRAHAM: There's a lot of folks out in America who feel as if they've been forgotten and many of those are from small towns, they're farmers. I came from an agricultural background and we know that they're important and we're going to try to earn their votes.

MORTON: Graham signs autographs just like the NASCAR drivers. Most here know little about him, but some sign up for his campaign.

At the bluegrass event, the candidate doesn't just talk, he offers to sing. Dr. Ralph, seeing no threat, says sure.

GRAHAM: From the Atlantic to the Pacific, we all say he's terrific, Bob Graham is what America needs today. Thank you.

MORTON: And if America disagrees, if Dr. Ralph doesn't offer him a job singing, hey! There's always his race driver's idea, door to door sales. Kind of like campaigning, you know.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Roanoke, Virginia.


WOODRUFF: He's got several things he can fall back on.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.



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