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California Democrats Face Dilemma in Recall Battle

Aired August 21, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: At the ruins of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad an explosion for safety's sake. Are President Bush's attempts to show leadership in the region imploding too?

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: This recall is larger than just California.

ANNOUNCER: And Gray Davis' problems extend beyond what he calls a "GOP power grab." Is he getting a new kick in the shin from his fellow California Democrats?

Could the recall possibly need any more celebrities? Move over Arnie (ph). A political superstar wants a piece of the action.

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks for joining us. I'm John King. Judy is off this week.

More signs of trouble this hour for the embattled Democratic governor of California, Gray Davis. California's Democratic Congressional Delegation still wants voters to vote "no" on the recall effort, but the delegation also decided today to support Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante to replace Davis if in fact the governor is ousted. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is expected to talk about this decision this hour in California.

CNN's Bob Franken is with us now live from Los Angeles covering what appears to be a growing Democratic dilemma -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A real dilemma, real split on the party. The decision to support Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, in addition to voting against the recall, the call coming from the members of the Congressional Delegation, flies right in the face of wishes expressed just a couple of hours earlier by the woman who is acknowledged to be the leading Democratic officer holder in the state, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was appearing here at an event, here being the Los Angeles Police Department.

She was appearing with Governor Gray Davis to promote a furtherance of the assault weapons ban that has to be renewed by Congress. But while she wanted to talk about that, the conversation was really more about the recall. And she was very clear. She said that there should only be a vote "no" on the recall, that there should be no support for Bustamante or any other candidate.

As a matter of fact, she said that in the two-part ballot she would only vote on one part, the part against the recall. She would not vote for any candidate on the other side of the ballot. And that would, of course, include Bustamante.

But she also included some ire for a Republican candidate, the leading Republican candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In response to a question, she brought up the violent movies that Schwarzenegger has made, movies that have had a lot of violence and use of assault weapons, she said. And she believed that Schwarzenegger was setting a bad example.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't look like a 98-pound weakling. And you add his physique, you add his voice, you add some of the most powerful military weapons on earth, and you have an extraordinarily intimidating figure in movies. And I'm one that believes there is too much violence in movies and that violence begets violence, and that you become a role model for someone of lesser maturity out on the street to try to imitate what you do in a movie. So I don't consider those kinds of things terribly healthy for society.


FRANKEN: She also called on Schwarzenegger to support her efforts to continue the assault weapons ban in Congress. No comment from the Schwarzenegger camp. But the Democrats right now have their own problems; Schwarzenegger being just one of them. The big problem, John, being an obvious split within the party -- John.

KING: Bob Franken live for us from Los Angeles. A difficult day for Governor Davis.

And a new poll out today offers more evidence that the governor may be in dire straits. Like other recent surveys, this PPIC poll shows the majority of California voters are prepared to vote "yes" on the recall. In the race to replace Davis, the survey shows Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger would get 23 percent support from likely California voters. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, gets 18 percent. A Field Poll last week showed Bustamante had a slight edge over Schwarzenegger.

And as the actor-turned politician appears to gain ground, California's Republican chairman tells me that at some point, some of Schwarzenegger Republican rivals may need to bow out of the race.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may come a time, John, where what may be in the best interest of the state is for one or more of these candidates to put their personal ambitions aside for what's in the best interests of the state. And just like Darrell Issa, a few weeks ago bowed out of the race, I'm confident that if other people are in that situation, they'll do what's right for California.


KING: An East Coast political star is about to join the West Coast recall action. CNN has learned that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani plans to stump the Republican candidate Bill Simon next month and cut a couple of adds for Simon too. On the stump today, the conservative Simon pledged not to raise taxes as part of his plan to balance California's budget. And Simon took a swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger and his big-name team of economic advisers saying, "The governor's chair has room for only one person. There's no room for committees or commissions."

A group called the Republican Leadership Council is refusing to confirm or deny a report that it plans to run ads in California beginning next month advocating Davis' ouster. But the RLC is blasting the source of the report about its alleged plans, saying if it did plant anti-Davis plans, "it certainly wouldn't announce it through the good offices of Terry McAuliffe." Terry McAuliffe is the national Democratic chairman.

Now to presidential politics. Mr. Bush is out raising money again for his campaign today. And in his early campaign speeches, leadership and the war on terrorism are staples, as the president tries to build support. But his efforts to rebuild Iraq and bring peace to the Middle East were dealt serious blows this week when bombs exploded both in Baghdad and Jerusalem.


KING (voice-over): The president's ambitious plan to remake the Middle East is literally under attack. Fresh bombings in Iraq and Israel raising questions about both the administration's goals and its strategy.

In Iraq, the bombing at the United Nations headquarters is bringing calls for more troops and fresh assertions that the Bush White House grossly underestimated the post-war security challenge. Defense Security Rumsfeld says those critics are wrong, and the commanding general in Iraq says more troops don't guarantee less terrorism.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CENTCOM COMMANDER: We have over one million people under arms in the United States of America, and it didn't protect us from what happened on 9/11.

KING: Yet the administration is looking for help. It won't cede military control to the United Nations but wants a new Security Council resolution that would encourage other nations to offer troops to help.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're looking forward to language that might call on member states to do more. KING: And this scene, Israeli troops on patrol in the Palestinian territories, underscores the other major Middle East challenge, somehow salvaging the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after Tuesday's deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem.

Mr. Bush has heaped praise on Mahmoud Abbas, but administration officials say the Palestinian prime minister now must quickly prove he is prepared to crack down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups. The war on terrorism is Mr. Bush's defining issue, a central theme as he raises money and gears up for re-election.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrorists declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.

KING: Yet his approach and more and more under attack, mostly from Democrats, but even from some Republicans, who suggest in some cases, like targeting terror groups in Syria and southern Lebanon, Mr. Bush is too timid.

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Valley just beckons to us to go in there and drop a few bombs and see if we can't get a few people out of the way.


KING: Many members of Congress are now joining in this debate on this question: do we need more troops in Iraq? Among those is Senator John McCain. He is back in Iraq today as part of a congressional delegation. And he says there appears to be a need for many reinforcements. I spoke with Senator McCain yesterday and asked him if the White House should pursue the creation of a U.N. security force in Iraq.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's not the route to go in my view. I remember vividly the failure of the United Nations in Bosnia, and we had to go in NATO. I would obviously like to see our NATO allies contribute more. NATO has just taken over the peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. I think they can play a much greater role.

The United Nations is very good at peacekeeping, not very good at peacemaking. Also, when I say we need more troops, I think we may need people of skills like civil affairs, counterintelligence, et cetera. But also it's very important, I think, for us to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. I think that will cure a lot of the problems we're facing.

KING: You remember, Senator, very well the debate before the war. General Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, said he thought it would take several hundred thousand troops. Secretary Rumsfeld and the CENTCOM commanders said no. There's about 140,000 U.S. troops there now, and Secretary Rumsfeld is saying again after this bombing that he believes that is enough.

Is Secretary Rumsfeld wrong?

MCCAIN: I don't know. My point is, first of all, that I think we need a larger Army because we have commitments in Afghanistan where we don't have as good a control as we should, to say the least, outside of Kabul. We may be in Liberia. I just think we need a larger Army. And a lot of military I talk to say the Army is about a division or two short.

In Iraq, I think we may need more military, but I think the specialties count more than the numbers. We need linguists, we need civil affairs people, we need counter-intelligence people so that we can do a better job of tracking down these terrorists.

Look, you've got unhappy people because they have no electricity or water. And our first priority should be restoring those services. We have the Ba'athists and criminals who are exacerbating the problem and, of course, then we've got people coming from outside.

I think we're doing a good job. We cannot fail. We must not fail, and we cannot fail, and we won't fail.


KING: Senator John McCain there of Arizona.

Still ahead, are the president's foes getting ideas from watching the free-for-all in California? This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


KING: President Bush left his ranch in Texas today to travel to the Northwest. He's holding a campaign fund-raiser this afternoon in Oregon. About 500 people are attending the event on the University of Portland campus at a cost of $2,000 a plate.

The president's visit to Oregon is no accident. The White House believes the state's seven electoral votes could be in play next November. Mr. Bush lost Oregon to Al Gore in 2000, but very narrowly, just by a half percent. Vice President Gore won the state by just 6,700 votes.

A new group hoping to defeat Bush leads the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily". Several Democratic operatives are taking a page from the California recall with a new political action committee. A group calling itself the Fair and Balanced Pack has launched a Web site called The president cannot be recalled, of course, but the pack hopes to raise money through a petition drive to run ads against the president. The group's founders include former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

Democratic Senator John Kerry plans a round of serious fund- raising after his official campaign kickoff next month. "The Boston Herald" reports Kerry plans 25 fundraisers nationwide, including a handful of large-scale events featuring 800 or more people. Events are also planned for his wife, Teresa Heinz, at Kerry's Nantucket mansion and the Kentucky compound in Massachusetts.

Senator John Edwards, meantime, plans to face some face-to-face campaigning next week in South Carolina. Edwards will hold three town hall meetings in the Palmetto State. One in Charleston on Monday, followed by Tuesday meetings in Columbia and Greenville.

CNN takes you inside the presidential campaigns of two Democratic contenders later tonight on "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN". Jeff Greenfield traveled the campaign trail with Senator Edwards and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean for a firsthand look at their campaigning.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: What's the theory of the case for John Edwards?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That the people that I grew up with, my own family, the people who have worked with my father and with my mother, the people I represented for two decades as a lawyer, and that I have fought for in the Senate, are the people who are most being hurt by George Bush's presidency. And because it is what I've been about my entire life, that I'm the best person to make the case against him.



GREENFIELD: One of the things that some of my colleagues like to do is ask you if you know the price of a quart of milk.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. I don't know the price of a quart because we buy it by the gallon, but it's $2.79.

GREENFIELD: But does it matter? I mean, do you think Franklin Roosevelt knew the price of a loaf of bread?

DEAN: It matters if you get asked it and you get it wrong and you don't have any idea.


KING: For more, in fact all of Jeff Greenfield's road interviews with the candidates, Edwards and Dean, tune in tonight, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. That's "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN".

Still ahead here on CNN, the dilemma facing California Democrats. Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan share their analysis when we return.


KING: Joining us now for our weekly dose of analysis and fun, Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile. I want to begin by saying hands above the table. Last time you two were here 50 million people lost their lights. Keep your hands up here. DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: That's right. No blackout today.

KING: As we speak, California Democrats have decided yes, they still want people to vote "no" on the recall, but, oh, by the way, they're going to endorse Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.

Donna Brazile, you're a Democrat, you do strategy. They're pulling the plug on Gray Davis.

BRAZILE: No, I don't think so. I think it's important that the California Democratic leaders continue to stress "no" on the recall, and overturn and not overturn Governor Gray Davis. At the same time, I think it's important that the leaders educate the voters at what's at stake and the Republicans' attempt to overturn yet another election. But I still believe the bottom line is "no" on the recall.

KING: Bay, one second first. As you speak, Bay's starting to jump in, you're seeing a live picture of Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader, a congresswoman from California. She is among those who voted today to say, yes, the Democrats better get behind Cruz Bustamante.

Bay Buchanan, you think this means...

BAY BUCHANAN, FMR. BUCHANAN CAMPAIGN CHAIRWOMAN: Well, I think it's obviously the wisest strategy is to try to get all of the people or as many as you can who vote against the recall and then you go ahead and vote for the Democrat. That's very, very smart; something I suggested many weeks ago. But the key is Gray Davis thinks this is pulling the rug out from under him.

He feels very strongly that you can't move and support a Democrat that does suggest, indeed, that he should be recalled. So that's the real problem. But there's all kinds of tension between those two camps, their staffs are at each other's throats publicly and privately.

In addition to that, Bustamante is running a campaign that's different, calling for different policies than Gray Davis. So there really is going to be some difficulty selling that message today.

KING: Forty-nine days until the election. Yes or no, so we can move on, yes or no, would you tell Gray Davis if in two weeks 60 percent, 58 percent of Californians still say they're going to vote to oust him from office, would you tell him, look, get out, give Cruz Bustamante a chance to be governor temporarily?

BRAZILE: No. I would tell him to stay and fight. Stay and fight. Never surrender, and to take this ballot initiative to the people and let them know why it's a mistake, it's a national disgrace. And if we allow the Republicans to overturn another election, this is going to continue indefinitely.

BUCHANAN: That argument doesn't work anymore. Poor Gray Davis is out there still calling it a right-wing coup. That's a terrible thing.

But the people are the ones that voted for a recall, they're the ones that support it, and they are finding this argument to be nothing but fueling the recall. To even suggest it's a right wing with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead is absolutely laughable.

KING: Let's move on to the president and the Middle East/ This week, literally blown up, his plans. He talks about a democracy in Iraq, a democratic Palestine, these beacons of hope in the Middle East. We have seen major problems, of course, setbacks in both areas.

Some are now saying the president should go back to the United Nations and say you take over inside Iraq. This is a letter from two senators, Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel, respected members on the Foreign Relations. They say go to the United Nations.

"It is worth enhancing the role of the Untied Nations because it will allow us to share the huge risk and expense of securing, policing and reconstructing Iraq, tasks that will take tens of thousands of troops and tens of billions of dollars over many years."

Bay Buchanan, should the president give in and go to the U.N.?

BUCHANAN: I wouldn't suggest it's giving in. I think what the president clearly wants to do is move ahead with that governing council in Iraq, try to put together as much as they can, that structure that can give them a democratic government. But at the same time, the smartest thing for him to do, and he did it today with Colin Powell, is making certain that the U.N. stays there and starts to build forces there and to start turning some of this over to the U.N. Because we need to get out as quickly as possible, doing both two things, getting someone else to take our place, but at the same time allowing the Iraqi people a chance for democracy.

BRAZILE: I think Bay and I agree on this point, that we should broaden some of the authority of the U.N. to help us secure that country, bring in more troops, give the U.N. or give those countries who need the U.N. cover whatever they need in terms of some assurances that they will have a role in the rebuilding of Iraq. Give the coalition on the ground more power, the provisional government, the Iraqi people, more power so that they can protect and secure their own country.

KING: Has all this tarnished the leadership glow, if you will, of this president? This was supposed to be his issue. Democrats can't touch him, war on terrorism?

BUCHANAN: You know I think -- I do not believe for one minute this is hurting Bush. Sure, obviously his policy has been set back. But his leadership, his perception as leader has not.

In fact, it's nothing but enhanced. He's out there; he's very strong, he's tough.

And what are the Democrats doing, John? They are just criticizing him and saying, listen, he shouldn't have gone there, he didn't plan wisely, things are going all wrong. But none of them have come out and said what we should do other than these two. But most of the presidential candidates are just criticizing him and not giving what we should do.

BRAZILE: Well, that's not true. Joe Lieberman...

BUCHANAN: Lieberman is an exception.

BRAZILE: ... John Kerry and Bob Graham, they have all indicated what they would have done before going into Iraq so that we would have a plan.

Look, John McCain and Chuck Hagel are Republicans. And they have criticized the administration's handling of post-war Iraq. The Bush administration has totally mishandled the situation, and now we have a new front in the war on terrorism. We now have all these assorted jihads and all these assorted murderers coming into Iraq now taking aim at innocent people.

BUCHANAN: Well, there's nothing new about that. I mean, I think that was...

KING: We need to call a timeout here. Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, interesting analysis. And I think we can report, best I can tell, nobody lost their power.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

KING: And just when you may have thought the California recall couldn't get any spicier, it has. We'll pass along the details. Salsa on the side when we come back.


KING: Tough to keep track of the California recall with 135 candidates. There are, of course, those traditional polls when the pollsters call you up at home and ask your preference. Today, word of a new preference test, a taste test.

The folks at Taco Bell today invited Californians of all ages to put their vote where their mouth is. For instance, if you buy a crunchy beef taco, it counts as a vote for, who else, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A soft chicken taco registers a vote of support for Governor Davis. And a grilled stuft burrito means you back one of the 134 other candidates on the ballot.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today.

Tomorrow, I'll speak with California's first lady, Sharon Davis, on her role in trying to help her husband, the governor, survive.

I'm John King. Thanks for watching.


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