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Bush Cuts Deal with Congress on Judges; Will Gas Pump Prices Influence November Elections?; Political Writer Analyzes South Dakota Special Election

Aired May 22, 2004 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is Tad Devine, senior adviser to the John Kerry campaign for president.

Thanks for coming in, Tad.


SHIELDS: Thank you.

In Baghdad, Iraqi police, with U.S. support, raided the home and the political headquarters of Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile previously supported by the United States.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I certainly was not aware that there was going to be a raid on a home, if, in fact, there was. The -- my understanding is that the Iraqis are involved in this.

AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL: Let my people go. Let my people be free! We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq, but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs.


SHIELDS: Meanwhile, new photographs were published showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Earlier, the senior military commander in Iraq had testified before Congress.


LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, COMMANDER OF U.S. GROUND FORCES IN IRAQ: I accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, and I accept as a solemn obligation the responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, what does the raid on the home of Ahmad Chalabi and himself tell us now about the status of the United States occupation in Iraq? KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, Mark, it seems to me among the things it tells us is that the State Department is firmly in control of the civilian side of the occupation, that the occupation is winding down, looking towards June 30, so time is running out for payback. For years, a lot of political agendas in Washington have been fought out over how one views Chalabi, this controversial figure. And he's made some really powerful enemies here in Washington. To his credit, he is -- does favor a secular democracy in Iraq. That makes him a very important figure. He's been viewed suspiciously, however, as someone who's been exile so long.

Given that the -- another suspicion about him is that he's a puppet of the Americans, maybe the raid will wind up positioning him, as the new Iraqi leaders have to start appealing to Iraqi voters.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, he had some powerful friends, too, some of whom almost described him as the George Washington of Iraq. What happened?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: He is a creation of the neocons, and Republicans -- senators will say that, that they were warned that he was of dubious ethical quality, that he had ties with the Iranian regime. This information came from the State -- not only the State Department, Kate, but the CIA. It came from the king of Jordan. It came from just about everybody but the gang over at the -- the civilians over at the Pentagon, but not the military. The military people I talk to at the Pentagon thought he was a bad actor from the start, this was a terrible mistake.

And the question right now is that the civilians who put this guy in a position of power at the Pentagon, who were also culpable in this disaster on the prisoner abuse, are they going to be held accountable for this? There are Republican senators -- Republican senators -- who say the should be held accountable.

O'BEIRNE: I bet I know which ones!

SHIELDS: Tad Devine, who's right here?

DEVINE: I think Bob's right. I think there should be a responsibility...

NOVAK: Well...


DEVINE: I know -- I know you're shocked when you hear that, Bob, but I think you're absolutely right. But I think -- I don't think you've gone up far enough. Listen, this is just the latest chapter in the mess in Iraq that's been caused by this president's policy. It began when he rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. It continued through announcing "mission accomplished" a year ago on the deck of an aircraft carrier. A better banner would have been "mission just begun." You know, it's continued through the prison abuse scandal, and now we have this. I think the responsibility in this goes all the way to the top. The president used to say that the buck stops here on his desk. President Bush seems to think it stops with a buck private.


AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, when Chalabi said, "Let my people go," I thought he was talking about Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz and Don Rumsfeld. Those are his people.

This was a guy who did great harm to America. He was the one that gave us the bum intelligence about the weapons of mass destruction that we, unfortunately, believed. I mean, Bob Novak is absolutely right. He had an associate named "Curveball (ph)," who was the guy who gave us the dope -- the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) steer about the -- about the so-called mobile labs. So he -- he really has been a huge, huge problem.

And the reports now in my paper and others are, Kate, he was giving U.S. intelligence, or his camp was, to the Iranians. If so, who gave it to him? Will that person -- will those people be held accountable? This is really a serious story, and I hope it's pursued.

O'BEIRNE: Here we go again! Our evidence on weapons of mass destruction that the entire world believed to be the case, that the U.N. and Bill Clinton and John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, was not single sourced to Ahmad Chalabi. Every foreign intelligence service in the world thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

And the liberal -- when I hear liberal Democrats so anxious to smear the military over those seven soldiers in the cells, maybe it does go up -- maybe it implicates some intelligence officers, but I don't know why Democrats are so anxious to have it implicate our senior military leadership and smear our other good guys in the field! I don't understand that!

DEVINE: Well, I can tell you it's not John Kerry smearing the military or the soldiers. He said that 99.9 percent of the soldiers in Iraq have nothing to do with this, OK? He stood behind soldiers. You know, he's a veteran who believes in supporting them. So you know, I mean, this is just an indication of how big the mess in Iraq has gotten. And these stories -- I agree with Al, they're a very serious story.

NOVAK: Kate, let me just say that -- that the thing that bothers me is that Bush bashers like Tad and Al are just able to pound on the president because -- using this Chalabi thing, and -- and the -- and the terrible management of the prison. There has to be some accountability. And I'll tell you, the people I talk to in the Pentagon, the military officers, are just furious with Rumsfeld for being taken in by Chalabi and the neocons.

HUNT: I also -- there's a poll this week, an Iraqi poll which we, you know, actually participated in, that showed that 9 out of 10 Iraqis, Kate, think we're -- we are occupiers now. And the second most popular figure in that country is that crazy Shi'ite cleric, al Sadr. Why? Because people think he's taking on Satan, which unfortunately, is us. I mean, that really is not where we were told we were going to be.

O'BEIRNE: I totally appreciate why the Iraqis don't want us to stay a minute more than we must, and George Bush has said countless times we have no intention on staying a minute more than we must.

SHIELDS: Last word, Kate O'Beirne.

Tad Devine and THE GANG will be back with President Bush and Senator Kerry playing gas pump politics.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. As U.S. gasoline prices soared over the $2-a-gallon level for the first time, Democrats blamed George W. Bush.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: He's been silent on the issue. He's been unengaged and showing absolutely no leadership. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve continues to be the source of controversy.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not play politics with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That petroleum reserve is in place in case of major disruptions of energy supplies.


SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry met over dinner privately with Reform Party candidate Ralph Nader.



RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have very serious differences with John Kerry, not as many as with George W. Bush. And I was trying to get him to join in a common effort...


SHIELDS: A day later, President Bush went to Capitol Hill to deliver an unusual pep talk to Republican members of Congress.

Bob Novak, is the Bush reelection campaign now seriously in big trouble?

NOVAK: Yes, it is. He has two advantages. One is the election isn't until November, the last I heard. Secondly, the second advantage is John Kerry is not a very attractive candidate. Those are the only things he's got going for him. The pep talk on the Hill was a disaster. I talked to several members afterwards. He didn't take any questions. He was supposed to take questions, the president was, and he didn't, kept meandering on.

The one thing I would say is he shouldn't worry about gasoline prices. They're going to go down by the fall. This is -- this is a silly story that we go through every -- every time prices go up. We're still -- prices are still very low historically and in comparison with other countries.

SHIELDS: Tad Devine, on the question of Ralph Nader -- Ralph Nader -- I mean, it's tough to differentiate the product differentiation and George Bush on Iraq. I can't figure it out. I mean, you know, he wants to internationalize faster and bigger. But if Nader (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bring the boys home, which is a growing movement in this country, doesn't that cause the Kerry campaign some real problems in places like Madison, Wisconsin, and Iowa City, Iowa, and Minnesota?

DEVINE: I don't think it does, Mark. I mean, I think people got an object lesson in voting in the year 2000. Everyone understands now that even if 100 million people vote in the next election, or more, that a handful of votes in a handful of places may decide it. I think people are going to look really seriously. And people who want to change the direction of this nation, that John Kerry and Ralph Nader agree on, that simple goal, I think they're going to make a choice to vote for someone who can beat George Bush in the election, and that's John Kerry.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: I think John Kerry's in a tough spot on this one, with respect to the war on Iraq. He voted, of course, to authorize the war. He knows he had to say that, even though he disagrees with things -- decisions George Bush has made, we have to see it through. He appreciates how extraordinarily damaging it would be to us if we don't.

But they have a Democratic base, a large portion of which wants us to pull out. That's why John Kerry was describing himself as, I'm the anti-war candidate, when John -- when Howard Dean was getting so much mileage out of being anti-war and said it was one of John Kerry's flip-flops. Well, he's back to now supporting the war, but he's got Ralph Nader and he's got the liberal base that wants to bring our troops home.

DEVINE: He doesn't support the president's policies in Iraq at all. He thinks they've been a failure. And he thinks Iraq is a mess, and I think every day, the American people are agreeing with John Kerry and disagreeing with the president.

SHIELDS: Al, have you ever seen a president try and do what the president did this time? Is that reminiscent of 1980, when Jimmy Carter went up to the Hill, with George Bush?

HUNT: Well, I don't recall an incident where Jimmy Carter did that as poorly. Gave a speech that didn't go over very well, but you know, we say sometimes a broken clock is right twice a day. Bob Novak has been right now twice in a row, and I'm a little bit stunned. First time since '89, Bob. But you're absolutely right about the reaction to that -- to that presentation. Not even did he not take questions, but he didn't even address the prison scandal, the embattled secretary of defense, the budget deficit, anything that -- this was not a confident commander up there talking. And I think it's really almost reached a point where, Mark, that George Bush's reelection depends on unanticipated events or a John Kerry nosedive.

NOVAK: See, that's -- the interesting thing is that -- I don't think this campaign is doing very well, the Bush campaign, and I think all the events are going against him. And yet the election is still pretty close. You've got to say that there is real voter resistance to John Kerry. I think the more people see of John Kerry, the less they like him. And what...

HUNT: Have you ever seen a challenger who was ahead in May?

NOVAK: Oh, don't give me that historical crap!


NOVAK: I get so sick of that business. I can give you a million precedents one way -- one way or -- one way or the other. That isn't...

HUNT: There aren't any...

NOVAK: That isn't -- that isn't...


NOVAK: Yes, I saw a challenger who was ahead in May. Ross Perot was ahead in May.



HUNT: George Herbert Walker Bush was ahead.


HUNT: We did the polls. He was ahead...


O'BEIRNE: I haven't seen an incumbent face weeks and weeks of really serious bad news, given what's been going on in Iraq. We're at war, and no incumbent president's faced that in some time. The stakes are much higher. But despite these terrible weeks of publicity and events that George Bush has faced, John Kerry's unfavorability is up 10 points and his favorability...


NOVAK: You're criticizing me for my analysis. You think John Kerry's a good candidate? HUNT: I think he's a better candidate, who got more votes...

NOVAK: Oh, come on!

HUNT: ... in the last election. No, that's the best I can say, Bob.

DEVINE: Bob, this is the fact. No challenger to an incumbent president has been in as strong a position as John Kerry is this early in the process, ever. And no incumbent president has ever won reelection in the shape that George Bush is in today. I know history is a little tough sometimes...

NOVAK: The problem -- the problem...

DEVINE: ... but you know, you're going to have to live with that history...

NOVAK: The problem...

DEVINE: ... in November, I'm afraid.

NOVAK: The problem is that George -- that George W. Bush is in -- is in very dangerous shape. He is on the edge...

DEVINE: I agree with that.

NOVAK: ... of a precipice, and he might fall off the precipice. It has nothing to do with John Kerry! Not the slightest thing! So when you say he's in good shape, what you really mean is, in your heart, Tad, is that George W. Bush is in bad shape.

DEVINE: He's in very bad shape, and we know it.

SHIELDS: I can remember in the election of 1980, when people had grave doubts and misgivings about a challenger from California with prematurely orange hair, and he ended up winning by 10 points over the president.

NOVAK: I thought he was great!

SHIELDS: I know you did. I know you did. Well, there's a lot of people think John Kerry's great, too, and most of them...


SHIELDS: Most of them served in Vietnam with him.

NOVAK: Oh, boy!

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, the Bush administration takes a little harder line toward Israel.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RA'ANAN GISSIN, ADVISER TO ARIEL SHARON: This is a war zone. It's been a war zone for three-and-a-half years, and we have to conduct these operations. With all the care that we take, sometimes the loss of life is unavoidable.

AHMED QOREI, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): These crimes that are being committed daily against our people do not show a will for peace from this Israeli government.


SHIELDS: A massive Israel military operation in the Palestinian city of Gaza, leaving 42 dead, generated a mixed reaction in Washington.


BUSH: I will continue to speak out about the need for all parties to respect innocent life in the Middle East.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe the activities of the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza in recent days have caused a problem and have worsened the situation.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Let the dust settle here and investigate it before we go passing judgment. The world is always too ready to condemn Israel.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, does Secretary Colin Powell's criticism of Israel really represent the -- President Bush's position?

HUNT: Not before November 2. Ariel Sharon is playing to the right wing of the Likud Party, and knows for 165 days, at least, he can do so without fear of sanction from George W. Bush, who knows he can take that position without fear of censure from John Kerry.

SHIELDS: Let me ask you about John Kerry, Tad Devine. I mean, the Bush administration, 14-to-nothing vote, U.N. Security Council condemning Israel's actions, where children were killed. The Bush administration abstained. Would a Kerry administration abstain? And has he ever said anything critical of Likud or the policies of Ariel Sharon?

DEVINE: Well, I think he probably would have. I mean, I don't know if he's made that statement publicly yet, but I suspect he will.

SHIELDS: Would have abstained.

DEVINE: Sure. And I think -- I think he recognizes -- listen, anybody's who's been to Israel -- and I spent a lot of time there in 1999 when I worked for Ehud Barak -- understands how close the parties are to one another in that country, how difficult and dangerous the situation is every day. Israel has a right to defend herself. It's a very, very difficult and deadly situation. And I think the difference between John Kerry and George Bush on this situation is understood very clearly. When Bush became president of the United States, he turned his back on the Middle East peace process. And it wasn't until 9/11 that he reengaged in it and understood the consequences of separating himself from that dangerous and deadly part of the world. The president has a road map for peace. The road map for peace has led to nowhere. Until we have a president who is capable of exercising presidential leadership, we're going to have -- the United States will not be a player in the peace process.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin differed pretty profoundly from the policies of Ariel Sharon.

NOVAK: Absolutely. You know, Tad criticized the president for the wrong thing, not that he didn't get involved, it's just that he -- he capitulated for political purposes to Sharon this year. But he can't criticize him because Kerry is just as bad. Kerry has not said one word on this outrageous behavior by Israel, this outlaw behavior, acting like an outlaw nation, going through there and Gissin saying that, Well, we've got to have a little loss of life -- you know, it -- you got to -- you got to -- when you make scrambled eggs, you break the eggs, or something like that. It is -- it is just an absolute -- absolutely outrageous behavior! And I give -- I gave Colin Powell credit for going as far -- as far as he did. And I'm so disappointed in Joe Biden, who knows better than to say the world is too hard on Israel.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, give us -- give us your analysis.

O'BEIRNE: Look, Sharon wants to pull out of Gaza, not to have it become a terrorist stronghold. They've got to remove weapons and stop the smuggling route in from Egypt or it becomes a totally sanctuary for terrorist. If the terrorism stopped in Gaza, Bob, and if there were no weapons there, there would -- the Israelis would be gone by now. What they are doing there, as a matter of self-defense, is far different than what happened to the Jewish mother two weeks ago, pregnant mother, who was shot at point-blank range in the head, along with her four children! That's what they're up against.

NOVAK: Do you think Sharon really has a plan? I mean, I think he's...

O'BEIRNE: I think he plans to pull out of Gaza!

NOVAK: I think -- well, he -- he was rejected by his own party. I think he's going berserk on -- on this -- on this operation. You can't approve of -- of that -- that kind of an operation and that loss -- indiscriminate loss of life!

O'BEIRNE: I don't know that it is an indiscriminate loss of life! You're calling that, Bob! I didn't hear any -- I didn't hear you upset about this pregnant mother and her four children shot at point-blank range!

SHIELDS: But the administration -- would Senator Kerry -- President Kerry have been on the side of Colin Powell in rebuking Israel's razing and destruction of houses in the -- Gaza?

DEVINE: I think if Colin Powell were secretary of state in a Kerry administration, he -- President Kerry would probably follow a lot of his advice, unlike President Bush. You know, for example, when Colin Powell said, You break it, you own it, about Iraq, I think that was very good advice. It's advice the president should have followed.

NOVAK: But Tad, your man hasn't said a word about this! I mean, let's get real! He hasn't said one word about this outrage! He's afraid to, isn't he!

HUNT: I want to...

DEVINE: No, he's not afraid at all.

HUNT: I want to commend...

DEVINE: That's ridiculous.

HUNT: ... Tad for taking on Joe Biden the way he just did. I think that was really good.


DEVINE: I agree with Senator Biden.


SHIELDS: Tad Devine, thank you for joining us on THE CAPITAL GANG. There's much more ahead on the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. Our "Sidebar" story, the president's agreement with Congress on judicial nominees, or is it White House surrender? We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to South Dakota, where the race to fill the state's only House seat is getting tighter by the day. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these important messages.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll get you back to THE CAPITAL GANG in just a moment, but first here's a check of the hour's top stories. Kufa, Iraq is the latest hot spot in the battle between U.S. troops and forces loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. CNN's Jane Arraf is embedded with U.S. forces and reports hearing the sound of mortar fire and artillery rounds from both sides of the conflict.

Jane Arraf is going to join me live in our primetime show at 10:00 Eastern.

In the meantime, back in this country, firefighters in New Mexico are trying to get the upper hand on a massive wildfire that's burned more than 2500 acres. Strong winds today are making their job much more difficult. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

And volunteers and prison inmates are helping clean up tornado damage across parts of Iowa. The farming town of Bradgate, nearly every building was damaged or destroyed by yesterday's storms. At least 15 people were injured.

And those are the headlines, now back to THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Senate Democratic leaders have blocked confirmation of all federal judicial nominees for more than two months, ever since President Bush used a congressional recess to place on the appeals court two nominees that had not been confirmed by the United States Senate.

This week, the Senate Democratic leader announced that the deadlock had been broken.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: The White House has given me assurances and will be prepared to do so publicly that there will be anymore recess appointments for the balance of this Congress.


SHIELDS: The White House announced, quote: "The president believes it is important to fill judicial vacancies in a timely manner and this agreement is an important step in meeting that objective." End quote.

Bob Novak, was this an agreement reached or was it a surrender by President Bush?

NOVAK: Total surrender. There is absolutely no way that the president and the Republican leadership can figure out how to counter this anti-constitutional, unprecedented partisan attempt by the Democrats to decide they will decide that you need 60 votes for confirmation in the case of conservative judicial nominees.

This is all preparation for when, if there is a Supreme Court nominee and George W. Bush is president. Now the two recess appointments, they're only going to serve a short amount of time. So they've got them on. They can them an appellate judge. But the Democrats have won. They said we won't -- we -- outrageous, we won't even confirm anybody.

And so the president just put up the white flag. And...

SHIELDS: No way, Bob, I mean, he's a strong, resolute leader. Why did he do it?

NOVAK: Because he cannot play the dirty, mean game that Tom Daschle plays.

SHIELDS: That's it, Al.

HUNT: We return to regular order. Bob is wrong again of course. This is such a sham issue, just a few inconvenient facts. The vacancy rate on the federal bench is the lowest it has been since 1990, where they have already confirmed 176 Bush judges, with this deal they'll confirm almost 200, more than the first Reagan administration, more than the first Clinton administration.

Compare it to Clinton, though, that's interesting. Under Clinton, the Republicans sandbagged, didn't allow a vote, didn't even allow a vote on 60 judicial nominations compared to eight here. In 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, Bob, I didn't hear your outrage that Orrin Hatch did not allow a single circuit court judge to come up for a vote.

NOVAK: You know, Al, I'm very ashamed.

HUNT: Are you? I thought you were ashamed of your performance in '96.

NOVAK: No, I'm ashamed of you, but go ahead.

O'BEIRNE: The judges that Senate Democrats are blocking do have majority approval if you permitted a vote on the floor. The Democrats -- it is unprecedented to decide that some number of judges must have 60 votes.

I think this deal does look like a capitulation on the part of the White House. The president has given up his extremely important ability to make recess appointments in exchange for Senate approval of consensus nominees. So it does appear that when Tom Daschle pulls his breath and turns red in the face, that the White House will cave.

Now their explanation is the president had no intention of making any more recess appointments anyway, that they really haven't given up anything in that regard, that they do get these 25 consensus nominees approved and that it is still an issue for them, because the White House remains convinced that Senate unprecedented blockage of judges really helped win some Republican Senate races in 2002.

SHIELDS: What about the two appointees who were recess? Do their recess appointments just expire?


NOVAK: Right, that's right. They will go back to civilian life. And there is absolutely -- they have been unable -- and I have talked to these people, they have been absolutely unable to find a way to get by the 60 vote requirement. The only way you can do it is win a lot of seats in the fall, which is -- I don't think is very likely.

The one thing that they found -- the one advantage they found, they found some e-mails of the plot administered by your friend Teddy Kennedy where he -- they had absolutely decided that this was a concerted plot with the left wing pressure groups to stop judges from being confirmed. And I can't believe that the Republican leadership, Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist, have made this a matter of gentlemen don't read each other's letters.

HUNT: Well, of course, they didn't find those, they stole them. But...

NOVAK: They found them, they didn't steal them.

HUNT: ... they keep using terms like unprecedented. How about the 60 Clinton judges that they wouldn't even let come for a vote.

NOVAK: There was a majority against them.

HUNT: There was not a majority against them. They wouldn't even -- was there a majority against Allen Snyder, the Rehnquist clerk?

NOVAK: Sure.

HUNT: There was not. There was not. Was there was a majority against Judge Pias (ph) who for four years they wouldn't let -- and was filibustered on the floor, was there?

O'BEIRNE: Judges are typically held up in the last months of every single president's term...

HUNT: Sixty?

O'BEIRNE: ... when there is going to be a ...

NOVAK: These were held up in the first week, the first week.

HUNT: 1996 not a single Clinton circuit court judge was allowed to go for a floor -- this is not unprecedented, this is not nearly as bad as it was back then.

SHIELDS: Last word Al Hunt. Coming up on "THE CAPITAL GANG Classic," gas pump politics in the last presidential campaign.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. In the middle of the 2000 presidential campaign, with fuel prices surging, the Clinton administration asked OPEC to boost oil production. Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on April 1, 2000. Our guest was Gore campaign strategist Bob Shrum.


NOVAK: This administration hasn't done any of the real things that should be done by producing new oil and not worrying so much about sick polar bears and walruses and going into the Alaskan reserve and getting some oil out of that.

O'BEIRNE: This is an opportunity to remind people that Al Gore has called the internal combustion engine a mortal threat. He wants us all on trains and bicycles. In fact, high gas prices is an essential tenet of his environmental policies. So I think there's an opportunity for the Republicans to now make that case about Al Gore.

MARGARET CARLSON, THE CAPITAL GANG: The only time congressional Republicans talk about energy policy is when the price of gas goes up. The minute the oil shock was over, all attempts at alternative fuels or conservation just went out the window. Here we are a country that spends $4 for a latte and complains bitterly when it costs $1.75 to put a gallon of gas in the tank.

BOB SHRUM, ADVISER TO GORE CAMPAIGN: Al Gore was right. He was 10 years ahead of his time. He said we had to come up with revolutionary new cars that were going to get more fuel economy. We're headed for fuel cell cars and cars that get 80 miles to the gallon. Gore was right, Kate is wrong.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, did we go overboard on the political impact of gasoline prices in the 2000 presidential campaign?

HUNT: Mark, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by the narrowest of margins, and gas prices wasn't one of the top 10 or 15 issues, it won't be in 2004 either.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, two questions. One, what is a latte, have you found out in the intervening four years?

NOVAK: I did, I've grown in the last four years.


SHIELDS: All right. And we used -- did you say, sick polar bears or six polar bears?

NOVAK: Sick, sick polar bears.

SHIELDS: Sick polar bears.

NOVAK: Throwing modesty to the winds, I was -- I've got to admit that I was right on target on my comment that the real problem is we've had to pump more gas. We've got to go up to the Alaskan reserve and we've got and we've got to build some refineries. It doesn't have anything to do with what -- much to do with OPEC.

SHIELDS: Not much to do with OPEC, but our percentage of gas that we import has gone up, oil imports have gone up in the past four years.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, we ought to be doing more development of domestic sources of oil. My dear friend Margaret Carlson, what a latte liberal. Who the heck cares about the price of gas? I think the problem is going to be this, there is no evidence that the public is any way blaming George Bush, but with the strong growth and good job numbers, I think this gives A, the Democrats something to be talking about, and B, it could contribute to sort of the sour mood of the public even though they're not holding George Bush responsible.

SHIELDS: I will say where it really hurts are places like Maine where people drive 60 miles back and forth to work, people of ordinary income. And they are paying -- and now it's up to $3 a gallon in Santa Barbara, Bob, where your people live, that could really be a problem. NOVAK: Do you think Bush is going to carry California?

SHIELDS: I don't think he's going to carry California, and I don't think he's going to carry Maine, either. But we'll find a state.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway," a special election to fill South Dakota's only House seat gets closer. Political writer David Kranz joins us from Sioux Falls.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. The latest "Argus Leader"-KELO poll shows that the race has become tighter to fill the congressional vacancy created in South Dakota when Republican Bill Janklow was convicted of manslaughter.

Democrat Stephanie Herseth now leads Republican Larry Diedrich by 9 percentage points.


STEPHANIE HERSETH (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Pass tax credits for families and small business. Expand coverage of uninsured children. And support more health care clinics and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LARRY DIEDRICH (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Stephanie Herseth opposes making the tax cuts permanent. That's the key difference between us, less spending, lower taxes.


SHIELDS: A debate this week included this exchange over abortion.


DIEDRICH: I've been fortunate enough to have been supported by groups like the Right-to-Life and Concerned Women of America that are certainly groups that support pro-life. I think it's a huge difference between the candidates.

HERSETH: To suggest that I favor partial birth abortion is absolutely wrong. I favor bans on that procedure with exceptions.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is David Kranz, the chief political reporter for "The Argus Leader" of Sioux Falls.

Thanks for being with us, David.


SHIELDS: David, is South Dakota going to elect a Democratic woman to the United States House of Representatives?

: Politics is a day-to-day sport, but if we were voting today I think that Herseth would win by probably 5 -- between 5 and 7 points. Mr. Diedrich is doing a lot of heavy campaigning, you know, getting more issue-oriented about differences, and he has closed the gap. But as of today, she's been able to hold on to the lead that she's held in the last couple of weeks. But he has made great inroads, there's no doubt about that.

SHIELDS: Robert Novak.

NOVAK: David, reading over the debate, and you were one of the questioners in the debate, and looking at the ads and everything, she looks like she is really a very marginal Democrat. She doesn't have a big, strong Democratic positions. But what's the story on that? She'll vote with like Tom Daschle if she gets to Washington, won't she?

KRANZ: She's not really sending that message out here. There are a couple of things that have happened. She makes at every turn, the most frequently mentioned phrase is that she would be a member of the Blue Dog Democratic Caucus, which basically is more of a conservative group. She always stresses that she will reach across the aisle to compromise or to work with Republicans also.

Another couple of things, too, where she has really become more conservative. Number one, she's very supportive of the president on the war and she also surprised a lot of her supporters when she said she would support a constitutional amendment on marriage. Those things have moved her to the center probably in a more conservative light so she wouldn't be called your traditional Democrat right now. That's true.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: David, what does this candidate's unwillingness to be linked to closely with Tom Daschle say about Tom Daschle's own prospects in South Dakota come November?

KRANZ: Well, our polls continue to show that he leads and he certainly had a cut in his edge in this last poll that we did, down to a 49-47 margin when it has usually been about 7 or 8.

But she seems to be very independent in what she has done. You haven't seen Tim Johnson a lot out there with her either. It's not just Daschle. She's had very few people trickle into the state to do heavy lifting for her as where Mr. Diedrich has had people like Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney, Dennis Hastert here virtually every week.

She really is taking an independent, I'm-going-to-do-this-myself position. Mr. Daschle and Mr. Johnson will both campaign at a rally for her tomorrow night, but that will be really one of the very first visible appearances with them all together.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: David, as you certainly know, South Dakota in recent decades have probably sent more Democrats than Republicans to Washington even though it's primarily a Republican state. But I think it goes -- you have to go back 30 years to see a delegation that was all Democratic. Is that going to have any impact either on this special election June 1 or in the general if Herseth should win and she and Daschle will both be on the ballot in November?

KRANZ: That's really one of the side conversations in this whole election. Our polling shows that people are not completely opposed to sending Senator Daschle and Herseth to the House to join Senator Johnson again, to have all three Democrats.

You know, a lot of wise politicos from the East say that's going to really be a tough one. But South Dakotans are really an independent spirit when it comes time to sending people to Washington. They elect conservatives to be governor and they elect - they always support a conservative for president.

But they seem to like people who know how to drive the pork truck back to South Dakota. And Democrats can do that best. So it wouldn't surprise me if they were electing three Democrats in November.

SHIELDS: David, tonight in Sioux Falls, at the Minnehaha County Republican dinner, the Lincoln Dinner, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is going to kind of break precedent and go in and campaign on behalf of John Thune against Tom Daschle, his counterpart across the aisle. What does that tell us?

And I guess the other thing is, the fact Mrs. Cheney and Mrs. Bush have both gone in for Diedrich suggests that the Republicans are a little worried about the women's vote?

KRANZ: I think that's probably true. First of all, with Senator Frist being here, he's been here a couple of time already and been to Rapids City a couple of times. And he clearly sends a message that he wants somebody else other than Tom Daschle, or he doesn't want Tom Daschle in the South Dakota Senate seat. And that's perfectly clear here.

The women's issue is certainly there. When you look at the polling figures, she has a dramatic advantage of women, but by the same token there is some vulnerability there. We still have a lot of women in South Dakota who have told her face to face, we don't -- a woman's place is in the home. And that mentality still exists in some places here.

But the women's vote, they're high probability voters and right now you'd have to say that women's issues are to her advantage. One of the fastest growing demographics in South Dakota are the moderate Republican women who are pro-choice. And the Diedrich campaign is a little bit worried about where they're going to go on Election Day.

NOVAK: We don't have much time, but just quickly, David, from the debate there was a huge -- not a huge, but there was some disagreement on abortion. Is that really an issue, who is strongest anti-abortion?

KRANZ: They talk about that a lot here. But some people will tell you who have watched politics for a lot of years that it's an issue that doesn't move many people. You have 10 percent or 12 percent on either side of the issue that are always going to be there. And it takes some kind of a dramatic turn to bring new voters onto each side there to say, I'm a single issue voter, I'm voting for abortion or I'm voting -- or somebody who is anti-abortion versus pro- choice.

And right now it's kind of a wash at this point I would say, unless that moderate Republican women vote shifts, then you're going to see a different story on Election Day. Then that margin is going to be a little bigger than we're looking at right now.

SHIELDS: David Kranz, thank you for being the dean of South Dakota political writers, thanks for being with us.

And THE GANG will be back for the "Outrages of the Week."


SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week." Listen to Senator John McCain of Arizona on no civilian sacrifice as Americans die in Iraq. Quote: "Name one thing the Congress has told the special interests and their fat cat lobbyists to do without since the war began." Endquote.

An angry House speaker, Denny Hastert, then lost it.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda.


SHIELDS: John McCain has spent more time in military hospitals recovering from war wounds than the entire Republican congressional leadership has spent in uniform.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: If you fork over $25,000 you can host -- co-host, at least, an exercise in hypocrisy Thursday evening, at Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria. This is a fundraising dinner for the Democratic Governors Media Fund which despite its name is one of those independent 527 groups. It's really about as independent as Bill Clinton, who is the dinner's principal speaker.

This is a Democratic committee that raises soft money that was supposed to be prohibited by the McCain-Feingold Act. Bill Clinton, who was so enthusiastic about that bill, now is eagerly undermining it.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Fourteen years ago, Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage and is in a Florida hospice. Doctors disagree about her state of consciousness. There is also disagreement about she would want food and water withdrawn.

Her husband, now living with another woman and their two children, insists she would. Her parents fought in court to prevent her starvation and dehydration. The state stepped in to prevent her death.

Now her husband won't permit Terri's parents to visit. She deserves the presumption of life and her parents' care.


HUNT: I agree with Bob Novak's outrage. Mark, with the budget deficit approaching a half trillion and no end in sight, Congress adopted pay-as-you-go budget rules. But the House and the fiscally reckless White House want to limit it to a year and exempt some tax cuts.

The bipartisan Concord Coalition notes that that would gut the whole gut the whole purpose. Kind of like quitting drinking only for a week and exempting beer. This scam has been thwarted in the Senate because four Republicans, Snowe, Collins, Chafee, and McCain, have the political courage to say there is no such thing as a free lunch.

SHIELDS: I have already done an "Outrage" prior to this, endorsing that position, that Democrats who supported McCain-Feingold, raising soft money in 527s, are being hypocrites.

NOVAK: But they were never serious in the first place. Clinton wasn't, you were taken in by him, but I wasn't.

SHIELDS: I am serious about it. I wasn't take in.

O'BEIRNE: Is that in all modesty, Bob?



NOVAK: Modesty aside.

SHIELDS: Bob, you can't get rid of all your modesty.

HUNT: Bob, some time will you keep your modesty?


SHIELDS: You've got an endless supply of modesty, Bob, and for good reason. This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: 50 Years After the Brown Ruling." At 9 p.m., "LARRY KING LIVE," Cokie Roberts on America's founding mothers.

And at 10 p.m., the brother of Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer released Thursday, held in connection with the Madrid bombings.

Thank you for joining us.


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