CNN CAPITAL GANG
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas Pleads For Israeli Restraint; Does The U.S. Need More Help In Iraq; More Troops?; Bill Simon Pulls Out Of California Race
Aired August 23, 2003 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG.
I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and, for the first time, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." Thank you, Ron.
RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Thanks for having me.
HUNT: Our guest is Congressman Marty Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts.
Marty, it's good to have you back again.
REP. MARTIN MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good to be back.
HUNT: Thank you.
A Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 people on an Israeli bus, violating a ceasefire in effect since June 29. While condemning the bombing, the Palestinian prime minister pleaded for Israeli restraint.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I hope that Israel will act wisely, because this retaliation will not be in the interests of the peace process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: After Hamas claimed credit for the bus bombing, Israel used an airborne missile to kill one of the group's political leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GIDEON MEIR, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: It might be the end of the peace process. We don't know. But the responsibility falls all on the shoulder of the Palestinian Authority.
ELIAS ZANANIRI, PALESTINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY: The Palestinian security forces were about to start a very serious campaign, a protracted, even, campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The assassination in Gaza today just blew up the whole thing...
(END VIDEO CLIPS) HUNT: The United States came down hard against Hamas but tried to keep alive the peace process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If people want there to be peace in the Middle East, if the Palestinians want to see their own state, they've got to dismantle the terrorist networks.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Call on Chairman Arafat to work with Prime Minister Abbas and to make available to Prime Minister Abbas those security elements that are under his control.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HUNT: Bob, does this kill the road map to peace?
ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, it is in very bad shape, Al, and that is to the delight of the Palestinian extremist groups, and it's also, I think, to the delight of the Israeli government. When Foreign Minister Meir says peace process (UNINTELLIGIBLE) may be dead, I didn't see him in a mourning mode.
This is a catastrophe. It is a situation where it is a cycle of violence denied by the Israelis, they say it's all on the Palestinian side. I think you could make the point that these assassinations broke the truce before we had the terrorism by Hamas breaking it. And then the Israelis, I think, they say, Well, one Hamas leader is the same as the other. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pick the guy who had negotiated the ceasefire.
I don't know how you put this thing back together, particularly when the president and the administration is so one-sided and not very even-handed in blaming it all on the Palestinians.
HUNT: Kate, are you as pessimistic as Bob?
KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: I certainly don't see the cycle Bob sees. Let's realize what happened on Tuesday. As is typical, Hamas targeted civilians, killing 21, including five Americans, including babies. So much for the ceasefire. It was actually the third attack in seven days during the ceasefire.
The Palestinians themselves admit they used the so-called ceasefire to rearm, regroup, and train and recruit.
Look, we target terrorist leaders. That is the Bush doctrine. The Israelis have every right to target terrorist leaders themselves. These men so willing to die for their cause send 16- and 17-year-old boys and girls to do it for them.
A year ago, the president said there can be no peace if Arafat remains in charge. This week we have Colin Powell appealing to Arafat because he remains in charge.
HUNT: At the president's behest, I assume. O'BEIRNE: He -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- well, the reality is, of course, that he is still in charge, despite our conviction that there can't be any peace with him. Hamas rejects, unlike Israel, a two- state solution. Their charter calls for the elimination of Israel. They cannot be partners. And it's about time the White House froze the assets of Hamas.
Let's see whether or not Saudi Arabia, supposedly so much more cooperative in the war on terrorism, directly funds Hamas. Let's see if the administration gets Saudi Arabia to stop directly funding them.
HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the -- there also cannot be peace without a White House active involvement. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now (UNINTELLIGIBLE), there may not be peace if there is an active involve. Does the White House have the wherewith, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they have the will, and the political guts, really, to stay deeply involved in this...
BROWNSTEIN: I think they are committed now. I mean, look, we -- this is the part of the world where the undertow is very strong, and the lesson of the past several decades is, if you're not moving forward, it's not long before you're backward. I mean, that's exactly what we see here.
Both sides felt that the other was not doing enough to advance the peace process, and you very quickly go from stall to free fall. And you see the return of the cycle of attack, retribution, and attack again.
The only force that keeps it going forward, I think, is the recognition that the alternative is simply even worse. And if you look at the past few years of unbounded violence, I don't think that's a scenario that either side really wants a return to. And that provides some forward momentum for the White House to work with.
HUNT: I agree with everything that Ron just said, Marty, and yet we -- only two or three months ago, we had such optimism. It seems to me we now are right back to where we were then.
MEEHAN: It seems that we are. But we have no choice but to move forward and try to redouble our efforts. Not only is it important for that region, but it's important in the war against terrorism nationally. There is no way that we are not going to be at risk to terrorist attacks unless we do something to try to come to some kind of an agreement here.
Now, I think the administration has to redouble their efforts. I hope that they're committed to doing that, because I don't think there's any other choice at this point.
I also think that it's natural that even when things look positive, in trying to foster peace in a region like this, you're going to have -- take step backwards before you can take a step forward. That's just the way these things go all of the time. We have to keep with it.
HUNT: Bob, has the administration bowed to reality with Arafat now and done a 180?
NOVAK: No, they haven't at all. And let me defend Secretary Powell on this. Secretary Powell, what would he was saying was that he wanted Powell to hand over the security assets of Prime Minister Abbas so he didn't have this bifurcate...
HUNT: You mean Arafat (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Arafat to hand over the...
NOVAK: To hand -- I'm sorry. He wanted Arafat to hand over his security assets to Prime Minister Abbas so you didn't have this bifurcated thing (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He wasn't saying that he was trying to bring Arafat back in the picture.
There are a lot of people in the administration and out, the neocons, and I hope Kate isn't part of that, who want to undermine Colin Powell at every opportunity.
The thing that worries some prudent people, including some in the administration, is whether the -- Sharon, thinking he can do anything with this administration, starts moving on Syria and spreads this conflagration.
Because I really believe that Sharon, like Bismarck, thinks that the way to cure this problem is with blood and iron.
O'BEIRNE: ... I didn't say the secretary of state wanted to bring Arafat back in. I said Colin Powell recognizes he hasn't gone anywhere, he hasn't left, that he still runs the Palestinian Authority. And as long as he does, as the president said a year ago, there can be no peace.
How can we possibly play a role as the United States post-9/11 specifically in sponsoring the creation of another terrorist state in the Middle East? Which is what a Palestinian state under Arafat would be.
HUNT: Well, Ron, look, I think Kate is absolutely right. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and we have to recognize that. But isn't it also true that by killing this guy, that the Israeli action may make it harder for Abbas to crack down?
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. Look, I mean, the problem you've got here is that each side feels, as I said, the other is not doing enough to meet their concerns. And each time Sharon takes an action like this, he strengthens the radicals, which undermines Abbas's ability to do what Sharon wants him to do.
On the other hand, to simply turn the other cheek after an attack of this magnitude is unthinkable. This is the kind of problem that you manage, you don't solve. There may be no enduring solution. But what you need is at least a process that puts some restraint on both sides. And that may be the best we can hope for.
HUNT: Marty, we have about 10 seconds. Are you optimistic about the next (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
MEEHAN: No, I'm not optimistic. But I think maybe the next few weeks, people are going to see how bad it will be without some kind of a peace process, and hopefully that'll help change minds.
NOVAK: One thing I'd like to add is that Hamas is so popular because of what they do on education and health. So it's just to say, well, they're a bunch of terrorists, I don't think gets to the problem.
O'BEIRNE: But they are a bunch of terrorists.
HUNT: Well, both of you have the last word now.
Marty Meehan and THE GANG will be back with what the U.N. bombing in Baghdad means for Iraq.
HUNT: Welcome back.
Five hours before the bus bombing in Israel, a truck bomb smashed the United Nations complex in Baghdad, killing 22, including the senior U.N. official in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: We must carry on. We must also return to our mission with keen determination to succeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Does this mean that the U.S. needs help in Iraq?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We do need and welcome more foreign troops into Iraq, and there will be more foreign troops into Iraq.
I've always said the United Nations ought to have a vital role, and they were playing a vital role in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Kate, is the Bush administration willing to surrender any control over the Iraqi occupation in order to get more support from others?
O'BEIRNE: Well, Al, it seems to me whether or not there are going to be major tradeoffs in order to get those troops will depend on how badly needed the troops were.
General Abizaid was here this week briefing in Washington. He's, of course, the commander in Iraq. And he explains that he doesn't need more troops, even U.S. troops. He wants a different kind of troop. He wants lighter, more agile forces, like the 82nd, rather than the heavy Army divisions.
He also said his number one need is intelligence, and presumably they're beefing that up.
It certainly wouldn't help. It was thought that to internationalize the occupation force would really be a major help with respect to our enemies in Iraq. Well, that was proven untrue this week.
If the U.N. was attacked, people only there, they're not occupiers, they're not oppressors, only there to help the Iraqi people. So internationalizing the force doesn't seem to appease our enemies in Iraq. An infidel is an infidel is an infidel.
HUNT: But Ron, I mean, seems this administration is being incredibly stubborn, it's saying they're not acknowledging that they underestimated the scope of the problem, and many people say we do need not only better but more forces.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, if to change direction would impose the most immediate short-term pain, because it would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) require them to implicitly acknowledge that they miscalculated in some ways to begin with. But to stay the course probably leaves them on a trajectory that's just not politically acceptable to them, steady American casualties, rising violence.
They're really going to have no choice, I think, but to increase the troop level. They don't have the troops at home to do it, which leaves them really no other alternative but to go back to the United Nations and find some power-sharing agreement that would give cover for other nations to come in in force.
NOVAK: But the problem with that is that the French and the Germans, but particularly the French, are so nasty, they just want to stick our nose into it and demand U.N. control. We're not going to give them control of 130,000 American troops.
So it's a real conundrum...
HUNT: But Bob, the Turks (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this week say we're send 10,000 but only if they're under our control.
NOVAK: Well, that is -- I mean, the Turkish...
NOVAK: ... that is more satisfactory than under a U.N. control.
BROWNSTEIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) haven't been able to work out power-sharing agreements in Bosnia and Kosovo on the both political and the security grounds that have been acceptable to the American military. There should be something there if the will is there to find an agreement.
NOVAK: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
O'BEIRNE: Well, we're fighting a guerrilla war, though, in Iraq...
O'BEIRNE: ... which is certainly not the case in Bosnia.
HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Marty, you're going to go tomorrow morning, I believe, to Iraq.
MEEHAN: I am, yes.
HUNT: What do you expect to find, and will you be able to see everything you want to see?
MEEHAN: Well, I hope so. I'm going with 10 other members...
MEEHAN: ... of Congress, and I think, given the fact that we're spending a billion dollars a week there, $4 billion a month, and estimates are going up, I think we have to get more troops there. I think General Shinseki was correct when he said several thousand -- several hundred thousand troops is probably what we're going to need in order to get stability and peace and rebuild Iraq.
Paul Wolfowitz and others, including the vice president, criticized him for that. I think he was probably right.
I hope they're not American troops, I hope that similar to Kosovo and Bosnia, where we have about 20 percent of the troops, or even Afghanistan, where we have about 50 percent of the troops, we have to get more countries involved in this.
It looks to me is that it's getting -- it's going to get worse before it gets better.
HUNT: Bob, let me ask you another question about authority. The American, the head of the American mission over there, Jerry Bremer, this week says the Iraqis have to take more responsibility. The provisional government came back and said, You got to give us more authority, then. Is that feasible?
NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think that's, it's going to be, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there are, there are, there are people who are not wild people who think that we're going to declare victory and get out of there by the end of the year. I think that's going to happen.
NOVAK: I don't think it can happen. O'BEIRNE: ... the priority...
HUNT: I think that would be a disaster...
O'BEIRNE: ... the priority...
HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
O'BEIRNE: ... for the, for the coalition forces, rather than foreign troops, is Iraqi troops. And what the Iraqis have to appreciate is, which they now know, of course, if we cooperate with the Americans, we could get killed, because that, of course, is the agenda of the jihadists in Iraq.
But if we don't, there won't be any reconstruction, and we won't take things into our own hands in the short term, and that's a major choice the Iraqi people have to make.
HUNT: Kate, you alone had the last word in this segment.
Next on CAPITAL GANG, is the Terminator coming out on top in California?
HUNT: Welcome back.
Beginning his campaign for governor in the recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger finally revealed something about his economic policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We must immediately attack the operating deficit head on. Does this mean I'm willing to raise taxes? No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: And the Republican actor chastised his economic adviser, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, for advocating higher property taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHWARZENEGGER: I told Warren, if he mentions Prop 13 one more time, he has to do 500 sit-ups.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, attacked the recall but praised the voters who wanted it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (D), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think that the recall is a hijacking of democracy. The people who signed that initiative were sending a real strong message to Sacramento.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Today, Bill Simon, the 2002 Republican nominee for governor, pulled out of the race. And a poll released by "The Los Angeles Times" shows only a 5-point margin against Davis on the recall, a significant improvement over previous surveys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: This recall is larger than just California. It's something that's been going on nationally for some time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Ron, you just returned from California. Are the tides running in Arnold's favor?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think most people would agree, he's had a pretty strong debut as a candidate. But he faces a fundamental structural problem. California is a Democratic leaning state to begin with. And even with Simon out of the race today, you have three viable Republicans still in the field, and only the one Democrat, Cruz Bustamante.
You see the impact of the math, that math, in the poll "The L.A. Times" is going to be releasing tomorrow morning. It shows Bustamante leading Schwarzenegger 35 to 22 on the replacement ballot, largely because Bustamante is winning two-thirds of Democrats, and Schwarzenegger is only attracting about 40 percent of Republicans.
HUNT: Boy, that's really interesting. Bob, it looks tome, though, like the Terminator has almost terminated most of the right- wing opposition in California.
NOVAK: Well, what he had to do, he had to get right on the tax issue. I know that hurts you doesn't it, to know that that's an important issue. If he was going to be pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and antitax cut, he was dead. So his billionaire stock picker (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Mr. Buffett, he had to put in his place.
Now, he shouldn't even have him there. I don't think he gets him anything. But at least that made him pragmatic. Conservatives can say, OK, he's not right on the social issues, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But those poll figures are very tough for him.
MEEHAN: Put some pressure on the other (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BROWNSTEIN: You know, there's still a little bit of turbulence on taxes, Bob. You have Tom McClintock out there on his right, saying that he assigned the pledge, the Americans for Tax Reform, that Grover Norquist promotes, not to raise taxes under any circumstances. Schwarzenegger hasn't done that so far.
And McClintock, in our poll, is emerging as a serious competitor for conservative Republican votes. That's something that Schwarzenegger's going to have to figure out how to deal with. It is going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bustamante is beginning to consolidate the Democrats.
HUNT: And I think that Warren Buffett you just referred to is probably the most successful and maybe learned economic...
NOVAK: He's a liberal Democrat too.
HUNT: Kate, let me ask you, Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was a good debut, I agree. But he is not going to, he's not going to increase taxes, he's not going to cut the education budget, which is over 50 percent of the California budget. And yet he's going to address a $12 billion deficit. Do people care that the details will be provided later?
O'BEIRNE: I -- he can probably get away without, I think, the real details. Bustamante's not coming up with too many himself. He did say he'd raise taxes by $8 billion, Bustamante. But beyond that, nobody's saying what gets cut.
I think he helped himself this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with economic conservatives. He reiterated his strong support for Prop 13, meaning no increases in property taxes. He said the number one problem in Sacramento is spending. Economic conservatives want to hear that.
But there are going to be some who aren't persuaded, based on all of the issues, and some suspicion about him on economics. And as Ron said, as long as that's split, it's sort of tough.
And then I see a co-dependency going on. If conservative voters really wanted to see Davis out of office, can't bring themselves to split Schwarzenegger, and don't think their guy, if he's still in the race, can make it, maybe they don't show up to vote against Davis.
You know? I mean, there are so many moving parts here, it's really difficult to predict.
HUNT: Marty, what are the stakes for your party to keep the governorship of California?
MEEHAN: Well, aside from the party, I mean, 3.5 million Californians voted in November for Gray Davis for better or for worse. And now you're going to have...
O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) worse.
MEEHAN: ... and now, and now you're going to have someone with a much smaller amount -- number of people who are going to vote, and potentially elect a new governor.
This -- it's wrong to have a recall right after an election like that. I know a lot of people signed the petitions, a lot of people got paid a lot of money to go get the signatures. But don't politicians pander enough to the public?
Now we're going to say, anyone is open to being recalled. I just don't think it's a very effective way to govern, particularly when there are -- were 41 states across the country that have serious economic problems and fiscal issues right now that they're trying to deal with.
NOVAK: Of course, there are professional politicians like you, Marty, just hate the, hate to have the people have that power in their hands.
HUNT: I don't think you'd want to have a recall...
HUNT: ... in the state of Georgia right now, though, would you, Bob, for instance?
NOVAK: Any time, anything the people want is OK...
HUNT: Well, let me ask...
NOVAK: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) me.
HUNT: ... Ron, let me ask Ron about the Democrats and about Gray Davis. It seems to me there's a very complicated mixed message here that they're trying to get out, or the -- most of the Democrats are, vote no on recall, but if it happens to pass, vote yes for Bustamante.
Two questions. Is -- can you have that mixed message for the next six weeks? And will Gray Davis really go along with it?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think Kate used the phrase co-dependency. I think you're going to see that on the Democratic side. Yes, I do think that is going to be the message the Democrats are coalescing around. You saw the congressional delegation this week say that was the message they wanted to pursue.
The state AFL-CIO is going to be meeting next week and is likely to move in that direction as well. And I think Davis is facing increasing pressure, despite his enormous unhappiness with the fact that Bustamante was on the ballot at all, to accept the idea that a no-recall, yes-Bustamante message helps them generate turnout and really helps them on both ends of the ballot.
NOVAK: The problem is, the Latino votes that Bustamante is bringing in, can they really say, Boy, I want Bustamante to be my governor, I'm going to vote against the recall? Do you think they can really turn that corner? That's -- who knows what they'll do on election day?
The other thing is, I wanted, I think we ought to say that Gray Davis's use of the Hillary Clinton vast right-wing conspiracy, that Republicans are stealing elections is just a kind of. I think just somebody ought to say it's a mean and nasty way to play politics (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BROWNSTEIN: And a good way to pick up his Democrats vote, which is what he's done significantly this week.
O'BEIRNE: Arnold Schwarzenegger's...
HUNT: Kate, Kate, let me ask...
O'BEIRNE: ... particularly popular, as you well know, among young Latino males. Now, I don't know if they vote in very large numbers, but he has a real base of support in the Latino community.
HUNT: Ron, let me give you a final question. If McClintock is in double figures, and you -- administration Ueberroth...
HUNT: ... and Ueberroth is at, what, 4, 5?
HUNT: Seven, that's 20 percent. Will they get out of the race before...
BROWNSTEIN: I think they...
HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Republican Party be able to get (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
BROWNSTEIN: Look, there was clearly pressure on Simon, there's clearly pressure on McClintock, the thought of maybe trying to bring him into a Schwarzenegger campaign. I think they're going to resist for a long time on ideological reasons. But if you get to the end and Bustamante is still ahead, that pressure is going to come enormous, especially on McClintock.
HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Marty Meehan, thank you so much for being with us...
HUNT: ... Marty Meehan...
HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MEEHAN: ... if the Republicans win this thing, the Democrats can have another recall. We can be recalling in California for the next four or five years.
HUNT: Poor Bob Novak would... (CROSSTALK)
HUNT: Coming up on the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our Newsmaker of the Week is Attorney General John Ashcroft. Beyond the Beltway looks at the Alabama Republican governor's big tax increase with "Mobile Register" reporter Sally Owen. And our Outrages of the Week, all after the latest news headlines.
(COMMERCIAL AND NEWS BREAK)
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.
I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."
Our Newsmaker of the Week is John Ashcroft, attorney general of the United States.
John Ashcroft, age 61, residence Washington, D.C., religion Pentecostal. Yale undergraduate, University of Chicago Law School.
Missouri state auditor and state attorney general, governor of Missouri 1985 through 1993. United States senator, 1994 through 2000.
Earlier this week, Kate O'Beirne sat down with the attorney general at the Justice Department.
O'BEIRNE: You believe that the attacks on 9/11 taught some lethal lessons. Like what?
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, that we need to be better prepared to fight against terror, that terrorists use this high technology, it uses disposable telephones, it uses modern communications techniques that, frankly, weren't available in the fight against terror. And we needed to be prepared to stop additional terrorist attacks.
O'BEIRNE: How important has the PATRIOT Act been in preventing additional attacks?
ASHCROFT: Well, the PATRIOT Act did about three things. One, it took a number of authorities that we had against other kinds of criminal activities, say drugs and organized crime, and made those authorities available to fight against terror.
Number two, it gave us the ability to have the kind of technology against terror that would match the technology of the terrorists, so that we could use digital surveillance techniques to surveil digital communications.
And number three, it took down the wall of separation between the CIA intelligence capacity of the country and the FBI, the law enforcement capacity, so information we learned in the intelligence world could be used to prevent additional terrorist attacks.
O'BEIRNE: Now, the Patriot Act passed Congress six weeks after 9/11 by a vote of 98 to 1 in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House. Why is it apparently more controversial now than it was back then?
ASHCROFT: Well, I really can't say, unless it is that the country is less focused on the need to interrupt the kind of violent terrorist attacks that really galvanized our attention. There was a vigorous debate for the full six weeks we were focused on this. We had a proposed act ready to go within six days, but it took the kind of careful inspection to which the Congress (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gave the act in order to pass it in six weeks.
But I hope that we don't lose our focus.
O'BEIRNE: Last month, a provision that permits delayed notification of warrants was effectively repealed by a large margin in the House, including over 100 Republicans. Does that tell you that even the president's supporters have now become critics of the act?
ASHCROFT: No, that was a late-night amendment that hadn't been debated, it hadn't been before committee. There were people on the floor saying, I don't know what this does. People were told that this was some kind of novel intrusion into the civil rights of Americans.
Judicially supervised delayed notification has been part of our law for decades. And it allows us to, under the supervision of a court, to make certain kinds of searches and delay giving notice, so that we don't tip off the criminal or the person who is, who is, who is being examined.
This authority has been available against organized crime and against drug dealers and the like, certain kinds of fraud...
O'BEIRNE: Another specific. Under the act, can federal agents conduct wiretaps, seize property, or make arrests without warrants?
ASHCROFT: Absolutely not. Now, a warrant to get records under the PATRIOT Act has to be approved by a federal judge, so is that -- there is that layer of case-specific examination by a federal judge to see to it that it's proper and appropriate, and then, of course, ultimately, the twice-yearly reports by the Justice Department on the PATRIOT Act to the Congress, they provide another layer of oversight in the congressional branch...
O'BEIRNE: Can immigrants now be held indefinitely without the right to attorneys?
ASHCROFT: Absolutely not. Immigrants cannot be held without a reason to hold them. Now people who are in violation of the law can be held. They are always given notice of their right to an attorney.
O'BEIRNE: Do you have the necessary tools now, or do you need additional legislation to continue the success in preventing another attack? ASHCROFT: Well, I think we're always going to have to be sensitive to the fact that the terrorist evolves. He changes his operation to try and avoid the techniques and the capacities we have. So we should always be open to finding ways to protect American lives, American liberties against terrorism.
Let me give you another example. People who commit violent crimes or people who are major drug dealers, there is a presumption that they should be detained while their case is being adjudicated. It's not a -- not automatic, but there is a presumption that they wouldn't be sent out on bond.
We don't have that presumption about terrorists.
O'BEIRNE: Some of these changes would fit into a PATRIOT II?
ASHCROFT: We know that there is a continuing threat, and that it's an evolving threat, and that we ought to be sensitive to doing what's necessary to protect the lives and liberty of Americans. And if it needs -- if we need to ask the Congress to act again, I'm confident that the Congress will. They acted wisely, it's been a success, it's been a substantial part of our ability to protect America.
HUNT: Kate, is Attorney General Ashcroft ignoring the now bipartisan reservations in Congress about the PATRIOT Act?
O'BEIRNE: No, he's traveling in order to counter this disinformation campaign about the PATRIOT Act.
Look, I am as distrustful of the federal government and recognize federal law enforcement is a fearsome thing as the next card-carrying conservative. But there is so much misinformation about the PATRIOT Act.
The ACLU, fine, they object. They object when these tools are available against the Mafia and drug dealers. They're certainly going to object to terrorists. Having the same tools now available with respect to terrorism, in some cases, even a higher burden investigating terrorism.
So, as I said, the attorney general, I wanted to give him an opportunity to answer the specific charges. These are commonsense provisions that have clearly (UNINTELLIGIBLE) us and made us safer in two and a half years, not a further attack, despite the fact that al Qaeda remains active here, and it remains overwhelmingly popular in the polls with the public.
HUNT: Ron, you're taking the attorney general's travels around the country?
BROWNSTEIN: No, Al, I'm out with the Democratic presidential candidates. It's always a huge applause line to be condemning the PATRIOT Act and John Ashcroft. And there is a left-right coalition, skeptical here in Washington. But my instinct is that the public is going to give the administration a lot of rope for anything they present as making it less likely to have another 9/11.
NOVAK: Ron, you're 100 percent correct. John Ashcroft, though, has a deaf ear on civil liberties, as many attorney generals have going back to Mitchell Palmer in the Woodrow Wilson administration. The problem is that the American people will go along with the attorney general on violating their own civil liberties, as they did in the Wilson days.
And it is up not only to the media and reporters, but it's up to conservative Republicans, who are suspicious of government, to keep him in check. It's a hard thing to do.
HUNT: Right on, Brother Novak! Whoa!
O'BEIRNE: But the act is not doing that, Bob.
HUNT: The act is not doing what, Kate? The act...
O'BEIRNE: Violating civil liberties.
O'BEIRNE: ... all you have to do is say to Bob, What in particular? And you'll have no answer, because...
NOVAK: I have the, I have an answer...
O'BEIRNE: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) particulars.
NOVAK: ... but we don't have time.
HUNT: I think he has an answer, but time doesn't permit right now, but we'll come...
BROWNSTEIN: ... Edwards, Bob Novak coalition.
HUNT: And we will come back to it later.
O'BEIRNE: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Bob.
HUNT: Coming up, THE CAPITAL GANG Classic, a terrorist bombing six years ago that threatened the Middle East peace process.
HUNT: Welcome back. Just short of six years ago, three suicide bombers left seven people dead in a crowded Jerusalem mall. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yassir Arafat was to blame and added that he feared for the future of the peace process.
THE CAPITAL GANG discussed this on September 6, 1997. Our guest was Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, September 6, 1997)
HUNT: I think the peace process is in perilous shape. These two leaders, Arafat and Netanyahu, are both men lacking in any vision, lacking in any boldness.
NOVAK: I don't think Arafat has behaved well at all. But they said to Arafat, you have to condemn terrorism. He has condemned terrorism. What they want him to do now is to have a vicious crackdown on the terrorists. He's not even going to do this. This is going to give Netanyahu the excuse to really come down very hard...
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Until there is better cooperation from Arafat with the Israeli security forces, and a sharing of information, take, sharing that you have to have if you're going to any way have a chance to stop terrorism, nothing's going to happen, nothing's going to work.
MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Netanyahu has done very little to help the process, and if Rabin had lived or somebody else had won the election, we'd be further along. Arafat would have behaved better. Instead, the handshake on the South Lawn of the White House has been replaced by kissing a Hamas leader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Bob, is it deja vu all over again? Is there any real difference between what was said and...
NOVAK: Well, you...
HUNT: ... done in 1997...
NOVAK: You can take that...
HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
NOVAK: ... and just put it on the segment we had earlier in this program. There wouldn't be anything changed.
But one thing has changed, and that is that General Sharon is a lot tougher (UNINTELLIGIBLE) than Netanyahu, and he was -- he is much more willing to use force. And I think that makes it less likely, if it's possible, that we'll have a culmination of the peace process, and more oppression of the Palestinian people, more deaths on both sides.
HUNT: We have...
HUNT: ... a new Palestinian prime minister...
O'BEIRNE: I think, I think...
HUNT: ... does...
O'BEIRNE: ... something's changed. I think Bob looks more foolish in 2003 when he talks about how Arafat has condemned terrorism, just before he declared a new intifada, Bob. And I think 9/11 changed things. It's not an isolated problem over there in the Middle East. It's not that Israel and Palestinian conflict fuels terrorism. Terrorism fuels the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
BROWNSTEIN: The other thing that's changed is there's probably less optimism that there's some sort of absolute enduring solution. What you've got is a situation of permanent tension, and the only question is, can you make it manageable and livable for the people who have to endure it?
NOVAK: Well, I think it is...
HUNT: You're not, you're not an optimist, I know.
NOVAK: No, I'm not, I'm not an optimist, because the president of the United States has to decide, I think he has decided he wants this road map, he wants this peace plan. He also has to decide that he is going to tell the prime minister of Israel that he can't have settlements, and that he can't have assassinations...
O'BEIRNE: ... look, this president has endorsed a Palestinian state unambiguously. But he knows it cannot be a terrorist state.
HUNT: Well, I agree with that, but the problem is that this new prime minister, the Palestinian prime minister, doesn't have much support among the people. And that is a real problem for him to be able to deliver on anything.
Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at a conservative Republican governor raising taxes in Alabama with "Mobile Register" reporter Sallie Owen.
HUNT: Welcome back.
In May, Alabama's newly elected conservative Republican governor, Bob Riley, unveiled a massive new tax reform and tax increase.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: I have spent most of my life fighting higher taxes. No one wants to raise taxes, especially me. And I don't like being forced to do it now. But I believe we have no other choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Republican state chairman Marty Connors recently said, quote, "This is a -- this is not a tax increase any longer. This is a massive redistribution of wealth. We are the Republican Party of Alabama. If a Democrat had proposed this, we would be burning down cities," end quote.
Today, the state Republican Party met and formally opposed the governor's plan.
The citizens of Alabama will vote in a tax referendum September 9.
Joining us now from Montgomery, Alabama, is Sallie Owen, a reporter in the "Mobile Register"'s capital bureau.
Thanks for coming in, Sallie.
SALLIE OWEN, "MOBILE REGISTER": Thank you so much for having me.
HUNT: Sallie, I'm struck by Chairman COnnors' particularly inappropriate comment about burning down cities in Alabama. But, but, but apart from that, is there any way that the governor can win this referendum?
OWEN: Well, it certainly hasn't been the week he would have hoped for. Last Sunday, we published an independent poll showing that the opponents had 52 percent of the vote. Those numbers have been holding steady over the last month.
In addition, midweek, "The Philadelphia Inquirer" published a story quoting the governor's policy director as saying that Alabama voters are too stupid to understand how this plan would benefit them. And then today, it just kind of capped things off.
There's 17 days to go, and I'm sure this is not the position that the governor hoped he would find himself in.
HUNT: Bob Novak.
NOVAK: Sallie, in his campaign for election, and I knew Mr. -- Governor Riley as a very conservative House member, did he give any hint that he either wanted to increase taxes or redistribute income in the state?
OWEN: Throughout his campaign, he talked about his record in Congress, the fact that he had never voted for a tax increase there. But he stopped short of signing a no-new-taxes pledge, which his opponent, Democratic Governor Don Siegelman (ph), did sign, and challenged him to sign as well. At the time, the governor said it would be irresponsible to do so, and it would tie his hands as far as how to handle future financial crises should he be elected.
So a lot of voters who supported Governor Riley, I think, feel betrayed, they feel like they've gotten something that was not what they voted for.
But had they listened closely, they would have found that there -- in fact, he didn't promise never to raise taxes.
O'BEIRNE: Sallie, the governor's proposing the largest tax increase in the state's history, twice as large as the budget deficit. Is it a simple vote, though, in September, up or down on taxes, or is it more complicated than that?
OWEN: Well, it's very complicated, but everything is tied to that one referendum, a single yes or no vote on the ballot. It was -- the package was put together during a special session, and altogether, it's nearly 20 different pieces of legislation. About half of them are tax related and about half of them are reform or budget reform, some sort of accountability measure.
But the whole package is incredibly complex. Both sides, the opponents and proponents, who are out there trying to tell people what to do, they even get a little confused about some of the details.
For example, the property tax changes for a homeowner who wants to figure out if they're going to pay more or less, they're -- one thing's going up, but two other things are going down. With that many moving parts, you have to whip out a calculator and get out your tax bill from last year to try to figure out how it's really going to impact you.
BROWNSTEIN: Sallie, listening to you, it sounds as if, appropriately enough for Alabama, the governor is facing a monumental challenge to get this through. What's plan B? What happens if the referendum is rejected next month?
OWEN: All indications are that plan B is cut. The governor's finance director was quoted this week as saying that without a -- without the referendum, some nearly 4,000 state employees will lose their jobs. There is no sentiment among legislators to pass the kind of tax increases they could that wouldn't require a referendum, particularly if a statewide vote has -- people have just said loudly, We don't want our taxes raised.
And the governor himself, his finance director has said that the administration would not propose any statutory tax increases if the referendum is turned down.
The only silver lining, if you can call it that, is the federal aid. The state has been promised about $270 million. But that's one- time money. The congressional delegation has been clear that they don't think that money will be available in future years.
So as the finance director put it, it's grim. He described it as something that Dr. Seuss's "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" would have...
OWEN: ... dreamed up.
HUNT: ... Sallie, just a quick final question, we got about 20 seconds left. Alabama has a reputation, apart from the budget crisis, has a reputation for dreadful public services, well behind Southern states like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in areas like education. Is that right? Is that at all at issue here?
OWEN: It is an issue. But accor4ding to some of the people I'm talking to, that is not resonating. People are worried about their pocketbooks. They're scared of something they don't know. And they're finding it hard to trust the unknown of this terribly complicated package.
HUNT: Sallie Owen, thanks for being with us.
THE GANG will be back with the Outrages of the Week.
HUNT: And now for the Outrages of the Week.
Due to the Pentagon's disastrous postwar lack of planning, there is little good news out of Iraq these days. One exception, however, was the capture this week of Ali Hassan al-Majid, or Chemical Ali, to his friends.
In 1988, this Saddam henchman killed over 5,000 Kurdish men, women, and children with poison gas, and arrogantly bragged about it.
Let's hope that some of the Kurdish survivors of his victims get to face this monster.
NOVAK: In South Dakota, the Rushmore Policy Council is running newspaper ads against Senator Tom Daschle calling on the Senate Democratic leader to permit votes on President Bush's judicial nominations and contending that Tom Daschle won't let America drill for oil at home.
That's permissible criticism under the First Amendment, isn't it? Not in the opinion of Senator Max Baucus, the Finance Committee's top Democrat. He has written the IRS commissioner attacking the Rushmore Policy Council's tax-exempt status. Will the senator demand the same of labor unions? Don't be silly.
O'BEIRNE: The French haven't lectured us lately about our need to be better, more caring international citizens, because most of the nation is on their traditional August vacation. They have also left behind their elderly relatives, at least 5,000 of whom have died during Europe's heat wave.
When informed of the death of their lonely, vulnerable relatives, some families have asked that bodies be kept on ice while they continue soaking up the sun on the Riviera.
Americans treat strangers better than the French treat Grandma and Grandpa.
BROWNSTEIN: Taco Bell, the fast food chain, is weighing into the California recall. You can vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger by buying a beef taco, or Gray Davis with a chicken taco. The problem is, this Mexican restaurant couldn't even spare an appetizer for Cruz Bustamante, the leading Mexican-American in the race.
Bustamante puts food at the top of his culture. "I love the food," he said this week. "Look at me. I really love the food."
So come on, Taco Bell. Share the love. Let's give Cruz his own place on the menu.
HUNT: I think Cruz has spent some time on that menu, however, huh?
HUNT: Thank you.
Listen, this is Al Hunt saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.
Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Seeds of Terror." At 9:00 p.m., "LARRY KING WEEKEND" invites columnist Dear Abby, Jean Phillips, and fitness guru Denise Austin. And at 10:00 p.m., the latest headlines. All that and much more right here on CNN.
Thanks for joining us.
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