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Bush Defends Domestic, International Record; Arnold Keeping Mum on Political Aspirations

Aired July 30, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The president spells it out for the nation.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now that they've realized I'm going to seek re-election, expect me to seek re-election. They expect me to actually do what candidates do.

ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush defends his domestic and international record, and lays out an agenda for four more years. We'll sort through today's presidential news conference.

Happy 56th, Arnold. The birthday boy's keeping mum on his political aspirations as Golden State Democrats try to stay united behind their embattled governor. We'll bring you the latest on the California recall.

Who's the top dog in this crowd? Less than six months until Iowa, and no frontrunner yet in the Democrats' '04 sweepstakes. Does this year's model break the mold?

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


CANDY CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: Hello. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington, sitting in today for Judy Woodruff.

As Democrats and Republicans in California plot their strategy in the recall election, President Bush takes some of his own election issues for a spin around the Rose Garden. A lot going on today, on both the East and West coasts.

And we begin at the White House, where Mr. Bush held a rare formal news conference this morning. Out senior White House correspondent, John King, joins us now.

John, he pretty much covered the waterfront, but is it safe to say that we got a bit of a preview of '04?


The president himself making clear that his priorities as he heads into the re-election year will be winning the overall war on terrorism, including, of course, the post-war period in Iraq and convincing the American people that he has the nation on the right course in terms of reviving the economy.

The president took 17 questions over 52 minutes. He rebutted the main criticism on Iraq on two fronts. One, the president said the overall case for going to war was strong and that the intelligence was strong. And number two, he rebutted those critics who say the administration didn't have a plan to win the peace. The president says this is going to take some time. In his words, he didn't expect Thomas Jefferson to suddenly appear in America within 90 days of the end of hostilities.

Some interesting comments from the president on the economy. Democrats have been saying for months that the Bush tax cuts are one reason the federal budget deficit is growing so quickly. The president conceded the point today. He said, yes, his tax cuts are contributing to bigger deficits. But the president says the economy needed them.


BUSH: I made the decision to address the recession by a tax cut. And so part of the deficit, no question, was caused by tax -- about 25 percent of the deficit. The other 75, 50 percent caused by lack of revenues and 25 percent caused by additional spending on the war on terror.

Now we have laid out a plan which shows that the deficit will be cut in half over the next five years and that's good progress toward deficit reduction.


KING: Now the president knows full well the nine Democrats trying to run against him are criticizing him on a near daily basis, so no apologies at all, Candy. This president is going to raise $170 million, perhaps even more, for the primary season, even though he has not Republican opposition. Asked how he would spend all that money, the president smiled and said, "Just watch."

CROWLEY: Well, John, about those nine Democrats. They've also been really after the president about those 16 words in the State of the Union address which turned out to be questionable, at least, from the U.S. standpoint, information from British intelligence. He talked about that. Does the White House think this has been cleared up now?

KING: They think diffused. They do not think it will go away. And the early reactions from Democrats support the point that some Democrats will continue to try to make a point over this.

But the president said he takes personal responsibility for everything he says, including that now that discredited claim that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials, specifically uranium in Africa, as what the administration said was an effort to revive its nuclear program.

The president also vigorously defended his national security adviser. Remember, Condi Rice initially said it was the CIA's fault that that made it into the State of the Union address. She now acknowledges and others here now acknowledge that the CIA warned the White House that information was dubious. So the president believes he made the case today, anyway, that put the uranium debate aside, that he had strong enough intelligence to support the cause for war. But he also did, Candy, make this significant point -- he said he understands to satisfy some they will have to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the president, despite the lack of any evidence so far, says he is confident in time that evidence will be found.

CROWLEY: Back on a domestic issue, it's always interesting to me to watch this president, who's built himself as a compassionate conservative, walk the line on social issues. Today, it was about gay marriage.

KING: And some of his supporters in the religious right probably not happy with everything they heard from the president today on that issue. He was asked his views on homosexuality and the president started with an answer that was quite tolerant. He said all of are sinner, and he said that Americans should be tolerant of all individuals, including, implicitly, homosexuals.

The president then went on to say, though, that he makes this distinction -- that Americans should be tolerant of everyone, but that he would support an effort -- he called it the sanctity of marriage. Mr. Bush said he will support an effort to pass some sort of a law, some have said a constitutional amendment might be necessary down the road, defending marriage as between a man and a woman. So the president says, be tolerant of homosexuals and others, but he says, as well, that he will support a key conservative legislative plank. That is a law saying gays cannot get marriage or enjoy the benefits of marriage and that marriage should be between a man and a woman. The president says his lawyers are looking at the best way to do that -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Look for this issue on a campaign trail near you. Thanks so much, John King at the White House.

The White House faces some enormous new pressure to declassify part of the Congressional report on the 9/11 hijackings. An influential Republican senator has joined Democrats in pushing for the public release of that information.

With us now, we want to turn to CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, a significant new development here. That Republican Senator is Sam Brownback of Kansas, a conservative Republican, usually quite a party loyalist. He has signed on now to a letter, in fact co-authored a letter with, Chuck Schumer, who has been one of the leading critics of the president on this very issue regarding those 28 -- or the 28-page section regarding Saudi Arabia in the September 11 report.

CNN has obtained a copy of the letter which has not been released publicly yet. It's still circulating, gathering information. It reads, in part: "The decision to classify this information makes it appear as if elements of the Bush administration desire to keep the role of Saudi Arabia and 9/11 private. This impression damages the credibility of the government in the eyes of the American people and sends the wrong message to the evetters (ph) of hijackers by implying there will be no penalty for their complicity."

A very tough letter calling for the release of those -- of that 28-page section now signed by a very influential Republican, Sam Brownback, and by Chuck Schumer. The letter has not been released publicly yet because the senators are circulating it among their colleagues. Their goal is to get 51 of their colleagues signed on this, 51 senators. If that were to happen, that puts enormous pressure on the administration, because 51 senators is enough senators to override a decision of the president to classify this information and for the Senate to release it on its own. So a lot of pressure.

Another development here, Candy. CNN has learned that the two top senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, Democrat and Republican, are talking to CIA Director George Tenet about coming before their committee again, this time to explain why those -- why that 28-page section has been classified. They want to see here his reasons on that as they explore whether or not the committee itself will override the president's decision which would be an extraordinary step that has never been taken by the Intelligence Committee, to release the information on their own.

So really quite a day of developments up here. There are not at least three Republicans on the record saying the president should release this material. Sam Brownback's the latest, and, as you know, Olympia Snowe and Richard Shelby have also said the same thing.

CROWLEY: You know, Jon, anything that comes under the umbrella of national security is always risky business, I think, when you look at voters and the public and how they feel about that sort of thing.

What are the sort of political ramifications of this, if there are any, of pushing the president?

KARL: Well, certainly Democrats see this as an opportunity to show this has been an administration that has been too big on secrecy. Has been too much -- have done too much in the way of covering things up. That's the Democratic mantra on this.

But the reason why this would be such an extraordinary step is it would be, if the Senate would go through and force the declassification of this material, it would be going toe-to-toe with the president, saying that the Congress knows no more about national security and knows more about what could and could not be released without jeopardizing national security.

So it would be an extraordinary step. It's still far from clear that there would be 51 senators that would go that far to challenge the president that directly on a measure of a national security. After all, this is a president that has got very high marks from the American people when it comes to national security.

CROWLEY: Just the threat of it is amazing, though. Thanks a lot.

KARL: Yes.

CROWLEY: Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.

So, why mark the 38th birthday of Medicare? Well, as any serious pol knows, it's the issue that could win or lose the senior vote for either party next year.

For his part, the president took note of the day by calling on Congress to reach an agreement and produce a Medicare reform bill he can sign.


BUSH: Both houses of Congress have passed Medicare improvements that include prescription coverage. Now the House and Senate must iron out the remaining differences and send me a bill.


CROWLEY: The Senate's top Democrat says only involvement by the White House will produce the deal the president wants.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, we met with the president a few days ago and he urged us to reach some conclusion. I wish he would have weighed in more heavily in regard to the need for our Republican colleagues to work with Democrats to find that bipartisan compromise.


CROWLEY: A recent poll gives Democrats the edge on handling the prescription drug issue. Minimal progress was made by Medicare conferees before House members left for the summer recess. They won't meet again until September.

In the recall effort in California, advisers to Arnold Schwarzenegger say he is leaning against getting in the race to unseat Governor Gray Davis. And they say the political novice who turned 56 today will decide by the end of the week.

Here in Washington, President Bush performed a rhetorical Texas two-step when he was asked at his news conference to comment on the race. The president says he was -- "Thank heavens that they didn't have recalls in Texas," where, of course, he was governor.

Davis is trying to cast the effort as a coup-like maneuver by rightwing insurgents. But as Bill Schneider reports, he may face defections within his own camp.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will California Democrats hold the line for Gray Davis? That was the question on the agenda Tuesday when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown called party strategists together for a summit meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is sort of like the consigularies of all the Democratic families coming together here in San Francisco.

SCHNEIDER: Queue "The Godfather."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I's just people coming together who have skills and abilities about how to save the governorship for a Democrat.

SCHNEIDER: The pressure was on Davis operatives to lay out the plan, showing how the governor can beat the recall.

GOV, GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Forty-three percent of the people say that they are prepared to keep me in office; 51 percent say they are not. So all we have to do is change 5 percent of the vote.

SCHNEIDER: Simple, yes? Well, maybe. If the other candidates are obscure conservatives, then Democrats will probably stick with Davis.

PHIL MATIER, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": We've got a public game face here that says they're united behind Davis, that this is the right wing of the Republican Party, spoilers trying to take back the state.

SCHNEIDER: But suppose Republicans come up with a candidate who has broader appeal. If not Arnold Schwarzenegger, than former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan. He'd have Schwarzenegger's support. Davis, a Democrat, is so fearful of Riordan, he spent $10 million last year to discredit him in the Republican primary.

Mention Riordan and the Democrats' game face disappears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn off the microphone, get people behind closed doors and they are worried.

SCHNEIDER: Two House Democrats have already broken ranks.

REP. CAL DOOLEY (D), CALIFORNIA: Well I have come to the conclusion that, you know, placing all of our chips on a bet that Gray Davis can beat the recall is a, you know, high-risk gamble. And I'm not prepared to take it.

SCHNEIDER: Congressman Call Dooley and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez have called on democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, according to polls the most popular politician in California, to run for governor. Not to defeat Davis, but, they say...

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: As a fallback, as a Plan B. If I was Diane I'd say, you know, vote no on one, Plan B is me.

SCHNEIDER: Bottom line: if Riordan gets in, all bets that Democrats will hold the line for Davis are off. PHIL MATTER, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Politics is a business and business requires someone at the head. You don't throw out the company to save the president. It just doesn't happen.


SCHNEIDER: Remember the line from "The Godfather", "This isn't personal, this is business"? Democrats will do what they have to do to save the business -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Still ahead, he's got whiskey for his men, beer for his horses and an endorsement for one Democratic presidential candidate. We'll tell you who in a moment.

Plus, at this point in past election cycles, there has always been a clear front runner. Why is this year different?

And will a new state budget help embattled California Governor Gray Davis jump start his career? You're watching INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


CROWLEY: Country music star Willie Nelson is taking to the airwaves in Iowa to push for support for Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. The ads are starting to air this week on a number of radio stations in the lead off caucus state.



WILLIE NELSON, ENTERTAINER: Hey, Iowa, this is Willie Nelson. I don't usually get too involved in politics, but this is more about getting involved with America. I've looked through candidates for president, and I think the best person for the job is Congressman Dennis Kucinich.


CROWLEY: On the Kucinich for President Web site, Nelson says he also plans to do concerts to benefit the campaign. Iowa's caucuses are less than six months away. INSIDE POLITICS WILL BE RIGHT BACK.


CROWLEY: Joining us now for more on the move to oust California Governor Gray Davis is Carla Marinucci of "The San Francisco Chronicle." Carla, thanks for joining us.


CROWLEY: It's good to have you. let me tell you, it's a great story out there and we're jealous. But it occurs to me that the Democrats can probably do much more harm to Gray Davis at this point than any of the Republicans think about getting in.

MARINUCCI: Absolutely, Candy. And this move by Representative Cal Dooley and Loretta Sanchez yesterday really caused waves here. It was the first crack in the armor.

And Sanchez went even farther. She said, Look, if Dianne Feinstein doesn't get in, I might have to. And she did not rule it out, I talked to her yesterday. She may be the first of many. And there's a lot of talk going on here, Mayor Willy Brown very strong this morning in his criticism of Governor Gray Davis.

But I tell you I have covered this guy's campaign for eight years, Gray Davis. He has been ruled out many times before. And he is here in San Francisco today. He's going to battle this one hard. So it's going to be very, very interesting.

CROWLEY: So is this just -- really not -- the whole thing about putting all their eggs in one basket, because we started out, OK, no Democrat's going to run because they'll just see there's, you know, a bunch of nutty Republicans and they'll vote for Gray Davis. Now that -- what made -- what broke that barrier?

MARINUCCI: Well, you know, if I can return to "The Godfather" analogy, originally their whole strategy was never side with anyone outside the family. And yet this seems to be collapsing. I mean they really felt like if they kept a strong line, if they made this about the recall and a stolen election by the Republicans, that they could keep California voters in line.

And that may still happen. But, you know, Dianne Feinstein is so popular here. And the feeling is among many Democrats that not having a Democrat on the ballot, and already there's 60 people who have taken out papers in this election, is something like a suicide pack for the Democrats. They're putting a lot of confidence in Davis. And, let's face it, his poll numbers are very, very low.

But the Davis people say this is as low as it's going to can get. It can't get any lower, to be honest. And from here he comes back. After all, polls show only 51 percent of the Californians out here would vote to support the recall. So that means that he can fight hard and he can battle this, especially if voters feel this is an expensive and unnecessary election. And that's certainly how the Democrats are going to try to play it.

CROWLEY: Carla, let me ask you, you've also covered Senator Dianne Feinstein for a long time, most popular politician. She sort of said no before, she has a bad taste about recalls. But do you think there's even a possibility that she'd say, OK, I'm in?

MARINUCCI: Part of what's kind of fueling this -- I know she's been very strong saying she's against the recall and feels it to be very unjust. But there seems to be a feeling that she's left herself a little wiggle room never saying never on this one. And I've spoken to her strategist, Bill Kreack (ph) who says Look, she just doesn't have the taste for a recall. But on the other hand, some people were suggesting that the Dooley and Sanchez statements were something like trial balloons going up trying to see how other Democrats would take this idea. And whether the movement was going to start, the avalanche would start to really ask her to get in.

If the polls show that Davis is just unsalvageable, there is going to be a very, very strong effort to get her to take this over and to save the party here in California. It's a very big gamble.

CROWLEY: That's why we love California here. Always so much fun to hear politics out there. Carla Marinucci, thank you so much, from "The San Francisco Chronicle." We will be back to you, I'm sure.

Still ahead, a disappointment for the Republicans. One well- known Floridian does not see a 2004 Senate run in her future. We'll tell you who it is when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


CROWLEY: We want to bring you some breaking news now out of Concord, New Hampshire from the Associated Press. You will recall the story of the 44-year-old father who was arrested because police suspected that his children, ages 14 and 11 who had disappeared, had died as a result of his killing them.

We are now told by the Associated Press that, quote, "court documents show that Manuel Gehrig admitted he shot his two children in southern New Hampshire and then drove for hours with their bodies in his van." Again, according to the Associate Press, Gehring told investigators he said a payer, made duct tape crosses on the chests of his children, and hurled -- buried them into shallow graves in the Midwest. Those documents according to the Associated Press, again, released today.

Now checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily." Congressman Dick Gephardt and his wife Jane have joined Parent Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG. Gephardt's daughter, Chrissy, recently came out publicly as a lesbian. She now works fulltime for her father's presidential campaign. Dick Gephardt will be PFLAG's featured speaker at a conference in October.

Howard Dean is rolling out his prescription for the country's economic ills in Iowa today. The former Vermont Governor called for boosting the minimum wage and funneling more federal dollars to the states. Dean would also repeal the Bush tax cuts, a proposal that triggered sharp words from another '04 hopeful, Senator John Kerry.

Kerry favors keeping some of the tax cuts and today said that, quote, "real Democrats don't walk away from the middle class."

And this "Campaign News Daily Extra": Florida Republican Congressman Katherine Harris says she has no interest in running for Bob Graham's Senate seat. Although not ruling it out totally, Harris likened the odds of her running to a rare astrological phenomenon. Senator Graham is running for president, but has not ruled out seeking re-election to the Senate.

It's an unusual situation to say the least, there was only six months to the first primary. And among the nine Democrats running, there's still no front runner. Why not? Bruce Morton will take a look when we return.


CROWLEY: Three hundred and sixty-two days and counting until the Democratic National Convention begins next July 26 in Boston where Democrats will pick someone they think can beat George W. Bush. Bruce Morton explains we're a long way from knowing who that will be.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There they are, nine of them. But where's the front runner? You can spot some backrunners, Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, but where is the frontrunner? We usually have one. Ed Muskie in 1972 until he choked up announcing a newspaper publisher for attacking Muskie's wife.

ED MUSKIE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's watching for him. He's not on this platform beside me. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MORTON: Did he cry? It was snowing, but choking up was bad form back then. George McGovern became the nominee.

1976, Jimmy Carter came from obscurity, won Iowa and never looked back.

1984 Walter Mondale was the frontrunner but Gary Hart almost caught him until Mondale attacked Hart's so-called new ideas with a slogan a hamburger chain was using.


STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL PROJECT: We usually have a favorite until the first contest, and then that favorite is confirmed or overthrown, whether it is Ed Muskie or whomever. The first test, there normally is a favorite. This will be a strange year if we go into Iowa without a clear (UNINTELLIGIBLE) favorite.

MORTON: In 1988 Hart was probably the favorite until he ran into Donna Rice and a boat called "The Monkey Business."

1992, Bill Clinton, maybe. But then he ran into accusations about draft dodging, about an affair with a woman named Gennifer Flowers. Clinton finished second in New Hampshire, claimed he was the "Comeback Kid" and went on to win.

Last time Al Gore led from the start, Bill Bradley never won a primary. This time is different. ROTHENBERG: I think that right now the sense is that any of three or four candidates could eventually emerge as a Democratic nominee.

MORTON: What not having a frontrunner this time probably does is make the early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, even more important.

ROTHENBERG: Yes, there's no question. Iowa and New Hampshire remain the biggest deal.

MORTON: They've been running hard for months and no one is ahead. But we know that will change. It always does.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


CROWLEY: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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