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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Iraq and Public Opinion; Special Prosecutor Asks Bush About CIA Leak; "Fahrenheit 9/11" Fallout: Outrage on the Hill

Aired June 24, 2004 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: New attacks across Iraq. Amid the bloodshed, our new poll reveals an important shift in American opinion about the war.

RON REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S SON: My father really didn't know George W. Bush from Adam.

ANNOUNCER: Ron Reagan unplugged. The 40th president's son talks candidly about his eulogy for his father and Republicans' efforts to wrap themselves in the Reagan mantle.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: Members of Congress, this is Michael Moore.

ANNOUNCER: The anti-Bush film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," is raising temperatures of critics and fans on Capitol Hill.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: If we are going to be banned from showing documentaries advertising anything between now and the election, guess what? We're going to win anyway.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

The Bush administration appears to be trying not to flinch on one of the deadliest days in Iraq in the past year. A new wave of insurgent bombings and ambushes left up to 92 people dead in several Iraqi cities. Among the dead, three American troops, bringing the total U.S. death toll since the Iraq invasion to 851. A group linked to terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the simultaneous attacks just six days before the handover of power in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is an affront and a challenge to the transition to -- to sovereignty to the Iraqis. This is, I think, meant to be a challenge to the new Iraqi government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: In another blow to the war against terror, at least four people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in two bomb attacks in Turkey, where President Bush and other NATO leaders hold a summit early next week.

Americans have seen horrific images from Iraq day after day, for months and months now. And that has taken a heavy toll on public opinion in this country. And we have dramatic new evidence of the fallout today. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has the results of our just released poll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): For more than a year, Americans have felt that the U.S. did the right thing sending troops to Iraq. As recently as two and a half weeks ago, a majority rejected the view that the war in Iraq was a mistake. No longer.

For the first time, most Americans now believe the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to Iraq. What's driving the disillusionment? Two things. The Bush administration always defended the Iraq engagement as part of the war on terrorism.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The killers know that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

SCHNEIDER: At the end of the war, most Americans said they thought it had made the U.S. safer. They still felt that way after the capture of Saddam Hussein last December. No more.

Now, most Americans feel the war in Iraq has not made the U.S. safer. Moreover, this month, the 9/11 Commission reported finding "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." Democrats who are having second thoughts about Iraq are in sync with public opinion.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is clear that the president owes the American people a fundamental explanation about why he rushed to war for a purpose that it now turns out is not supported by the facts. And that is the finding of this commission.

SCHNEIDER: The turn against Iraq is happening at the very same time things are beginning to look up for President Bush on the economy. The president's approval ratings on the economy had been increasing this month: Iraq down, economy up.

Where does that leave the presidential race? Statistically tied. Bush 49 percent, Kerry 48 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The Bush-Cheney campaign has spent $67 million this year. Much of it aimed at creating a negative impression of John Kerry. What do they get for all of that money? Opinion of Kerry is 58 percent favorable, slightly higher than it was at the end of the primaries in March. Favorable opinion of President Bush? Fifty-three percent, slightly lower -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

And we will have more of our new poll numbers ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

Even as the Bush administration grapples with new setbacks in Iraq, the president spent time this morning with a special prosecutor. The subject of the interview, whether anyone in the administration leaked the identity of a CIA officer. Let's go to the White House now and CNN's Elaine Quijano.

Elaine, hello.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Judy.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush was not under oath at the time of that interview. It took place this morning in the Oval Office just before 10:30 Eastern Time, and it lasted about an hour and 10 minutes.

Now, McClellan says present at that interview, of course, besides President Bush, was a special prosecutor, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, in charge of the CIA leak investigation, along with members of Fitzgerald's team. And a private attorney, Jim Sharp, who was recently retained by President Bush.

Now, McClellan says the president has directed the White House to cooperate fully with those in charge of the investigation. He says the president was pleased to do his part to help the investigation move forward, and that "no one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the president of the United States."

Now, at issue, as you said, is whether anyone in the administration leaked the classified name of a CIA employee. That person is the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who believes the White House leaked her name in political retaliation.

Now, McClellan would not go into detail on today's session. He said it was an ongoing investigation and referred all further questions to the officials in charge of the investigation. But, Judy, this marks the first time that President Bush has been questioned in a criminal probe involving his administration -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Elaine, separately, I want to ask you about those new poll numbers we just heard about from Bill Schneider. Among other things, he said for the first time since the start of the war, a majority of Americans say they now think sending U.S. troops was a mistake, troops to Iraq. What are you hearing from the Bush campaign?

QUIJANO: Well, Bush aides say what they have said all along, and that is, this is a presidency very much affected by events on the ground in Iraq. And this is simply a reflection of the bad news, the heightened violence, the negative images that are coming out of Iraq.

They say that is what these poll numbers represent, not necessarily disagreement with President Bush's policies in Iraq. They reiterate that the president is not going to change course just because of this bad news. And they say the bottom line, they believe the president has demonstrated he has the leadership to move forward, and they believe the voters will see that as well -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Elaine Quijano with the latest from the White House. Elaine, thank you very much.

Well, Al Gore is again taking it upon himself to make the Democrats' case against Mr. Bush on Iraq. In a speech at Georgetown University, Bush's 2000 rival had sharp words about the administration's insistence that there was a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. If he actually believes in the linkage that he asserts, that would, by itself, in light of the available evidence, make him genuinely unfit to lead our nation's struggle against al Qaeda.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The Republican National Committee hit back with this statement -- quoting now -- "Al Gore's history of denial of the threat of terrorism is no less dangerous today in his role as John Kerry's surrogate than it was in the 1990s in his role as vice president, a time when Osama bin Laden was declaring war on the United States five different times."

Well, some of the president's strongest critics in Congress teamed up today with the darling of the anti-Bush crowd, filmmaker Michael Moore. Our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns, has the latest on the controversy over moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As if there weren't enough controversy already, Michael Moore arrived on Capitol Hill accusing his critics of trying to censor his new movie.

MOORE: It's a blatant attempt on the part of a right wing Republican-sponsored group to stop people from seeing my movie.

JOHNS: The movie is "Fahrenheit 9/11."

BUSH: This is an impressive crowd, the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.

JOHNS: A political documentary so sharp in its criticism of President Bush that opponents are talking about boycotting it. Conservative activist David Bossy (ph) just filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging broadcast ads for the film featuring pictures and sound clips of the president qualify as electioneering communications that by law should be shut down July 31, 30 days prior to the Republican National Convention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I disagree with the content of the movie. Make no bones about that. I strongly believe in his right to show it. OK?

I don't have a problem with theaters showing the movie. I have a problem with the advertising for it.

JOHNS: But the film supporters claim some theater owners have been pressured to keep it off the screen, period. Though others are scrambling for rights to show it. The film premiered with record crowds in New York, according to Moore. A showing in Washington was seen by a healthy number of Democrats, one of whom later argued it's wrong to try to keep it off the screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a violation of American values. That's just like telling that -- the movie actor that he can't show "The Passion of the Christ" because some people were offended. You know, this is America. We ought to have a discussion and availability of all ideas of all kinds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: But as you might imagine, some top Republicans are not giving Moore's ideas such a great reception at all. Former President Bush has called Moore "a slime ball," and Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has said, in his view, the movie "Shrek" is probably more factually accurate -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. That's pretty graphic. All right. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Well, it is one thing for Bush and the Republicans to be attacked by the left. It is another to be criticized by the son of a conservative icon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Well, I couldn't join a party that frankly tolerates members who are bigots, for one thing. Homophobes, racists. You know, there's no way I could be a part of a party like that. Just no way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: My candid interview with Ron Reagan coming up next.

Plus, is Senate candidate Jack Ryan thinking of calling it quits after sensational reports about his personal life?

Later, John Kerry's star-studded day. Find out why he also can count some felons among his allies.

With 131 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Ron Reagan, the son of the late president and former first lady, Nancy Reagan, has never shied away from controversy. He raised eyebrows at the former president's funeral in california by speaking critically of politicians who he said wear their faith on their sleeves in order to gain political advantage. Well, earlier today, in a wide-ranging conversation, I talked with Ron Reagan, and I started by asking his opinion about the enormous public outpouring in reaction to his father's death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Reagan: Well, obviously, a lot of it was just affection for him. So I give some credit to my father. I think also that the funeral came at a moment where it sort of caught the crest of a wave of dissatisfaction and dismay in this country over where some of our government's policies are, particularly involving Iraq.

I mean, you've seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib. We've heard about the memos seeking to, you know, end run the Geneva Convention around torture. And I think that the public was just hungry for somebody that they could feel, you know, unalloyed respect for, a good man. And that was my father.

I think a lot of people don't feel so good about their government right now. And with some justification, I must say.

WOODRUFF: What is it that -- is it the war that bothers you the most, or what? I mean, about what's going on right now.

REAGAN: Well, there are plenty of things to -- to bother anybody, I think. I don't think that any American feels sanguine about seeing their country trying to devise ways to torture enemy combatants. We may not like these people, they may be the enemy, but America is not supposed to be a torturing nation.

So that -- that bothers me. It shames this country. And doing it, and seeking to justify it, endangers the lives of men and women who are over there in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

There are reasons we signed on to the Geneva Convention, and, you know, the treaties involving torture. We don't want our own people to be tortured. We want to hold the moral high ground that way. And so this has been very disturbing these last few weeks. WOODRUFF: Was it hard for you to be around? I mean, you have been critical of president's policies, President Bush. Was it hard for you to be around him on the day of your father's funeral?

REAGAN: No, not in particular. I -- that -- those days, that week, was for me about my father. It wasn't about anybody else.

So, no, it's not hard for me to be around him. I may not agree with his policies. But I have no personal animus towards him. I don't know the man. He might have found it hard to be around me, I'm not sure.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Well, he -- you know, the people around George W. Bush have compared him to your father. Many of them have said he's much closer to your father than he is to his own father in terms of his politics. What do you think about that?

REAGAN: Well, if you want to make political comparisons, I suppose that's fair enough. They both have an interest in cutting taxes. Although my father realized at a certain point his tax cuts weren't working, and he raised taxes again.

I don't think my father would have gone into Iraq because it was an unnecessary and optional war. We still haven't been told by this government why they were actually doing it, although I'm sure they do have their reasons.

I bridle the comparisons between the two men as men, because from what I've seen, at least -- and again, I don't know Mr. Bush personally -- but from what I've seen, they're just two very different people.

WOODRUFF: The Reverend Jerry Falwell was quoted a couple of days ago, a few days ago, as saying your father really -- or rather that -- yes, that your father served as, you know, as a mentor to George W. Bush, that George W. Bush was a protege.

REAGAN: No, that's not true. My father really didn't know George W. Bush from Adam. He met him, of course. He was the son of his vice president.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you something about what you said at your father's burial service in California at the library. You started out by saying, "Dad was also a deeply unabashedly religious man." And then here's what you said.

REAGAN: ... but he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage.

WOODRUFF: A lot of people thought you were referring to George W. Bush. Were you?

REAGAN: There was only one person I had on my mind when I delivered that eulogy, and that was my father. I hadn't been watching much TV after that. And -- and so a couple of days later, people told me that this, you know, little storm had erupted in Washington of people saying that I was talking about George W. Bush.

And I didn't really understand it at first. I hadn't mentioned him, of course, by name. I was talking about my father's faith, what it was, and what it was not, which was a political tool in his mind.

Now, people close to Mr. Bush assumed that I must be talking about him. And since they know him better than I do, perhaps I was and I just didn't realize it. I thought that was all very telling, frankly.

WOODRUFF: Do you think they were upset about it? Did -- were people -- did people let you know they were upset about it?

REAGAN: Oh, I heard from other people that there were folks that were saying some -- some things that weren't terribly flattering. But I don't really worry about that. Again, my only concern was doing right by my father. And I hope I did that. You know, I -- the last thing I had on my mind, believe me, was George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: You have said, Ron Reagan, that you are not a Republican. Were you ever a Republican?

REAGAN: No, I've never joined any political party and have no plans to do so. I'm fully Independent.

WOODRUFF: Why not? Why not be a Republican?

REAGAN: Well, I couldn't join a party that, frankly, tolerates members who are bigots for one thing. Homophobes, racists. You know, there's no way I could be a part of a party like that. Just no way.

WOODRUFF: You've also said, I think, that you did not vote for George W. Bush in 2000. You haven't made secret of that. What are you going to do this year?

REAGAN: I'll vote for the viable candidate who is capable of unseating George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: And presumably, that's John Kerry.

REAGAN: That's how it looks right now, yes.

WOODRUFF: So John Kerry? I mean...

REAGAN: Well, he would be the viable candidate, yes.

WOODRUFF: What -- what do you think -- I mean, have you talked to your mother about this? Does she -- what does she say about it?

REAGAN: Well, we don't talk about politics all that much, particularly electoral politics. We talk about stem cell research, for instance, embryonic stem cell research, which she's very involved in and I think will continue to be very involved in. This is something she takes very seriously, something I take very seriously, too. And it's shameful this administration has played politics with an issue that is -- you know, this could be the biggest medical breakthrough in history. This could be bigger than antibiotics.

This administration is pandering to the most ignorant segment of our society for votes and throwing up roadblocks to this sort of research. It's absolutely shameful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: More of my interview with Ron Reagan coming up a little later on INSIDE POLITICS, including more of his comments about whether his father would support embryonic stem cell research.

A new poll finds Ralph Nader could make a difference in a pivotal showdown state. Up next, the survey numbers that highlight Nader's potential to affect the outcome of the election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily," a new poll from the showdown state of Pennsylvania finds Ralph Nader could hurt John Kerry in the Keystone State. The new Quinnipiac University Survey gives Kerry 49 percent to 43 percent for Bush in a head-to-head match-up. In a three-way race, Kerry, though, has 44 percent, Bush 43 percent, and Nader 7 percent. Nader has until August 2 to turn in the more than 25,000 signatures needed to get his name on the state ballot.

Colorado GOP Senate hopeful Pete Coors says the legal drinking age should be open for debate. The former CEO of Coors Brewing made his comments in a debate with party rival, Bob Schaefer. Coors said the drinking age should have been decided by Coloradans without coercion by the federal government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE COORS (R), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, we got along fine in this country with an 18-year-old drinking law. And here in Colorado, for a 3.2 beer, which worked pretty well. It's kind of like a learner's permit in driving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: In Illinois, GOP Senate hopeful Jack Ryan has canceled a trip to Washington and is said to be "assessing his options." Ryan was scheduled to hold a fundraiser today with House speaker Dennis Hastert. But Ryan's campaign says Hastert canceled because he had to attend a meeting on terrorism.

The Ryan campaign was shaken this week by disclosures of embarrassing sex allegations contained in his divorce records. A top strategist tells CNN that Ryan is "weighing his options based on the current environment." In the last presidential election, Lee Iacocca supported George W. Bush. Will he stand with the president this time around? The answer when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

Plus, more pressure on Ralph Nader to drop his bid for the White House. Are some of his closest supporters telling him to call it quits?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: From Iraq, to the war on terror, to the economy, to the race for the White House, we've got new poll numbers out this hour.

Keeping secrets? Can the White House keep details of Vice President Cheney's energy meetings sealed? The Supreme Court says yes, for now.

From behind bars to your house, are hired felons going door to door, trying to get you to vote come November?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

While candidates often publicly dismiss the latest polls, you can be pretty sure their strategists go over the numbers tooth and comb, looking for signs of hope and trouble spots to work on. While our new poll raises more red flags for the president on Iraq in the Bush v. Kerry horse race, you could say the survey is a wash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Who gets the House? It's too close to call. Heading into summer, the electorate is divided evenly between George W. Bush and John Kerry. And the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows gains and losses for both candidates. The president's approval rating mirrors his showing in the horse race, holding steady at just under 50 percent with a roughly equivalent number of voters giving him a thumbs down.

A majority of voters find him more equipped than Kerry to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief. But for the first time, more than 50 percent call the Iraq war a mistake and most say it has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism. The poll has some good news for the Democrat. Voters give Kerry a 58-percent favorability rating, a five-point jump from last month. His numbers continue to rise, despite an onslaught of negative advertising from the Bush/Cheney team.

Kerry also scores well on a top election year issue, the economy. A significant number of voters trust him more than the president when it comes to controlling the nation's purse strings. But even so, there is a silver lining for Bush. The recent economic gains are finally registering with voters. 47 percent now approve of the president's handling of the economy, up six points from just two weeks ago. And nearly half find themselves better off than they were four years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

That's the poll, and on another front, the Bush administration has something to celebrate. The Supreme Court refused today to require Vice President Cheney to release internal files from the Energy Task Force that he headed. CNN's Bob Franken has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a victory for the vice president and the administration. But a temporary one. By a 57-2 margin, the court decided, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, special considerations applicable to the president and vice president meant that Cheney did not yet have to publicly release documents accumulated by his Energy Task Force, documents critics charge would show policy was secretly influenced by corporate interests. The justices bought the vice president's arguments.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're setting a terrible precedent. We're saying the vice president cannot have confidential meetings.

FRANKEN: Justice Kennedy described it as a paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was a case in which there's substantial agreement on the court, it's a 7-2 victory in this respect.

FRANKEN: Lower courts can still ultimately order the documents released under an open government law, but not for a while.

DAVID BOOKBINDER, LEGAL DIRECTOR, SIERRA CLUB: In the Bush administration's eyes, keeping things secret as long as possible is a victory and so they will be pleased by the court's decision, because it does delay the ultimate day of reckoning.

FRANKEN: Justice Antonin Scalia had added to the controversy by refusing to remove himself after disclosures he had accepted an invitation to go duck hunting with the vice president. He ruled in favor of Cheney.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: A ruling that makes it probable that these documents will not see the light of day at least until after the election -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Franken reporting for us today. Bob, thank you very much.

The Kerry campaign released this statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling, quote, "the Nixon legacy of secrecy is alive and well in the Bush White House. Americans shouldn't have to rely on court orders to learn what special interest lobbyists are writing White House policies." End quote.

Senator Kerry is in the midst of a celebrity-filled day in California. He picked up the endorsement of former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca who backed George W. Bush in 2000. Iacocca introduced Kerry at San Jose State University, where the Democrat called for a greater commitment to technology innovation in America. Kerry heads to Los Angeles this evening for a star-studded concert and fundraiser featuring an array of celebrities including Ben Affleck, Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro and Willie Nelson.

A conservative advocacy group is launching a new anti-Kerry ad apparently trying to fill a commercial void with the Bush campaign about to take a break from airing broadcast TV ads. The recently formed Project For America Voter Fund is going up with a $1 million, three-week ad buy in the showdown states of New Mexico and Nevada. The spot features images of President Bush after 9/11 and questions whether Kerry could have shown similar leadership.

Meanwhile, Kerry is picking up support from some long-time supporters of Ralph Nader. Part of the group often referred to as Nader's Raiders. Nine former Nader backers whose ties to Nader go back to the late 1960s have issued an open letter calling on progressives to unify behind the Kerry campaign. They say that a split on the political left will lead to another victory for George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD ANNOUNCER: 9/11, a leader showed strength and compassion. President Bush. He held us together and began to hunt down terrorist killers. But what if Bush wasn't there?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We're using the sound from the Bush spot and we meant to show you some comments on Ralph Nader. Perhaps we can get that back in a minute.

Meantime, this group, we want to let you know, has posted its concerns on a website. They're calling it Naderfactor.com.

The Iraqis start to run their own country in less than one week. Are they ready? And why are Americans now saying the war was a mistake? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile are standing by to take issue on President Bush's Iraq policy.

Later, part two of my talk with Ron Reagan. The former president's son talks about the controversy over embryonic stem cell research.

Plus a voter registration drive stirs up a controversy. Just who is knocking on doors?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Vice president Dick Cheney apparently lost his cool on the floor of the United States Senate yesterday. For the latest on this story that we're just learning about, let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, there's been an unrelenting Democratic assault on Vice President Cheney mostly over his ties to the company Halliburton, that he used to run. This spilled over, it looks like it might have gotten to Vice President Cheney a little bit on Tuesday. CNN congressional producer Steve Turnham has confirmed that Vice President Cheney used the F-word as he confronted Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor Tuesday.

This occurred when all 100 senators were taking the official Senate photo. It was supposed to be a happy occasion but the smiles turned to snarls. What we're told happened is that Vice President Cheney went up to Senator Leahy who has been leading this assault about Halliburton and said that he was not happy with the investigation. Leahy responded that Mr. Cheney once called him a bad Catholic. To that, Mr. Cheney used the F-word right back to Leahy. This has been spreading around among senators.

Senator Leahy confirmed to CNN. Let me read very quickly what he told us. Quote, "I think he was just having a bad day and I was kind of shocked to hear that kind of language on the floor." Now we also have a statement from the vice president's office. Spokesman Kevin Kellems, he tells CNN, quote, "that doesn't sound like the kind of language the vice president would use, but I can confirm that there was a frank exchange of views." Bottom line, Judy, as if we needed another sign this presidential campaign is underway, tempers are flaring, nerves have frayed. This is just yet another example, Judy.

WOODRUFF: A very frank exchange of views.

HENRY: You can say that again.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ed Henry, thanks very much. More INSIDE POLITICS right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. Let's talk first about these poll numbers. The most striking numbers, I think, come out of asking people whether it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq. The percentage who say it was a mistake has jumped from 41 percent, just a couple weeks ago, in early June, to 54 percent now. Bay, what does that tell you?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: Well, it's clear the public has changed their position on this. Once they had supported this war and the president's losing that support. The president's going to have to reach those people and let them know what he's doing and bring them back aboard or he's going to have a problem come November.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They're distancing themselves, Bay, because they now know the truth, that America had no reason to go into war with Iraq at a time we were fighting a war on terror with Afghanistan. They're going to continue to distance themselves from this president on the war in Iraq, as well as his handling the war on terrorism until they see proof that he's up to fixing the situation, and stabilizing Iraq and provide some type of security so our troops can come home.

BUCHANAN: I think he's doing just that. It's all in the process. There's been a lot of bad news night after night, and that's what's hurting the president. Next week, 80 percent of the people in this country approve of this transfer of power. This is something they are going to like. Sure, there's a lot of problems around it but we are moving to transferring this power and responsibilities to the Iraqi people and I think the American people are going to come in line and be more supportive.

WOODRUFF: Do you think it will be perceived as a clean break after the 30th?

BRAZILE: No, no. It's not a clean break.

BUCHANAN: It's not a clean break so we can't perceive it as that, I don't believe.

BRAZILE: Because we can't cut and run. We have to stabilize security, we have to train people to take over the positions that we now hold in the country. We also have to restore in the Iraqi people some confidence that we know what we're doing.

BUCHANAN: And I think one of the benefits that the president is going to have is this new prime minister of Iraq, who has just been very tough, especially today, saying that he's going to get in charge of the terrorists. He's gone to rein them in...

BRAZILE: Slit their throats, I mean, we're getting too much of that.

BUCHANAN: Whatever -- if he can accomplish that, some control there of the country and start bringing some peace and stability to it, that again will be of benefit to the president and John Kerry is not benefiting from any of this. He's completely flat because he doesn't offer an alternative.

BRAZILE: That's not true. John Kerry has moved up. George Bush is moving down, but John Kerry has moved up, because the American people now are comfortable with him being an alternative to George Bush on fighting the war on terrorism. John Kerry spent 11 days laying out a concrete plan, his steps for how to secure Iraq and how to win the war on terror with regaining America's allies and regaining respect in the world. So he's in a much stronger position today on fighting and handling the situation in Iraq than he was two months ago thanks to George Bush. BUCHANAN: The overall number of people in this country feel that George Bush is more suited to be commander-in-chief, that he's a much stronger leader than John Kerry. That's this week, Donna, that's this week, and they're in a dead heat on handling Iraq.

BRAZILE: But I wouldn't take that to bank, Bay, because the check will bounce because everybody knows that George Bush will be coming off.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, the economy. People are asked who better to handle the economy, Kerry, they said 53 percent. George W. Bush, 40 percent. I look at these numbers, they haven't changed since March. Should the Bush people be concerned that the good economic situation hasn't caught up with these people?

BUCHANAN: You know, I read the ABC poll this week also and that shows enormous movement there where the president is doing better on the economy than he was 30 days ago and he's got four more months. The economy is getting stronger and stronger. I heard from people in Ohio now saying this economy is really in a rebound. People in California doing much better. I think this is all good news for the president. Reality is the economy is getting stronger each day and that's going to help the president.

BRAZILE: First of all, Bay, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) news for people who are looking for work and people who are trying to make ends meet. We want good news for them but we also want a president that you can trust to handle the budget, a president who understands what's fiscal austerity is all about. A president who understands America's priorities. So that's why, again, John Kerry can make an incredible case on what he can do to bring back, not just jobs, but the economy so the engine is roaring again and not sputtering along.

WOODRUFF: Why do you think these numbers are not keeping up with the state of the economy?

BRAZILE: I think it's because that news is not getting out there. Every single night, the main focus of the nightly news is Iraq. And rightfully so in many regards so I don't think that it is moving and I think that...

BRAZILE: They don't feel it in their wallet. It's not the news. It's because they don't feel it in their wallet. They can't buy and shop and get gas and go out and play.

BUCHANAN: Gas numbers are coming down.

BRAZILE: Not for my car.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. They always leave us smiling, even when they disagree. Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, thank you both.

Just weeks before Ronald Reagan's death, former First Lady Nancy Reagan questioned the Bush administration's opposition to embryonic stem cell research. In a minute, I'll ask Ron Reagan, her son, about his parents, about science and the ongoing political controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A new poll in the showdown state of Florida shows the race there between John Kerry and George W. Bush remains neck and neck. American Research Group telling us its numbers are John Kerry 47 percent, George W. Bush, 46 percent, Ralph Nader, 2 percent. Again, this poll done earlier this week.

More now from my interview with the late President Reagan's son, Ron. On May 8, less than a month before her husband's death, former First Lady Nancy Reagan called for easing of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research which some scientists say will lead to treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Recently Reagan administration national security adviser William Clark wrote in the "New York Times" that there is no doubt Ronald Reagan would be urging the country not to move ahead with this kind of research because he said the former president felt so strongly about the sanctity of life. A little earlier today I asked Ron Reagan if William Clark was right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON REAGAN, SON OF FMR. PRESIDENT REAGAN: No, he's wrong. William Clark has no right to speak for my father. My father is not here to speak for himself. I'm not going it speak for him. I can speak for my mother, who knew his mind pretty well. I showed my mother that article when it came out and I asked her what she thought about it. She thought that William Clark was absolutely wrong. She thought that her husband, my father, would be all behind embryonic stem cell research. He was a man of some nuance and depth and could distinguish between, let's say, aborting a late-term fetus and conducting research on a collection of cells in a petri dish. There is a big difference there. I would remind people, too, William Clark among them, that if they're going to be intellectually and morally consistent with this issue, then they need to come out against in vitro fertilization. And you'll notice that the administration hasn't done that. Thousands of embryos are discarded every year in vitro fertilization clinics. Why aren't they complaining about that? Because it's a political nonstarter so that's, you know, moral inexactitude, to say the least.

WOODRUFF: The president has said -- the White House has made it clear since your father's death, the president does not plan to change his position on embryonic stem cell research. Is your mother going to keep at this issue?

REAGAN: Oh, you bet. You bet she will. She takes this very seriously. This wasn't just something to do while she was taking care of my father. She knows that this is a good thing, an unalloyed good thing. It's the right thing to do. And I tell you, these people want to stand in her way, that's fine, but they're going to have her cleat marks running right up their chest.

WOODRUFF: Do you think she's going to make speeches...?

REAGAN: I'm not sure what she'll do exactly. She's going to think about it for a little while. She's very effective, sort of quiet, behind the scenes. I'm sure she'll continue to do that. Whether she makes speeches or not, goes around the country, I'm just not sure.

WOODRUFF: What about -- let me just finally ask you, Ron Reagan, how is your mother doing right now?

REAGAN: She's doing pretty well. You know, it's been a long haul for her. It's ten years or so since he was diagnosed. She was -- they were together for 53 years and it's just not easy to lose somebody after all that time. But she realized that the time had come. He wouldn't have wanted to stay like he was. And so I think she'll be fine. There are going to be some lonely moments, I'm sure. The house is very quiet, very still now. She'll rebound. She's got another chapter left in her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Ron Reagan, son of the late president. I talked with him a little earlier today. I still have that mental image of Nancy Reagan's cleat marks running up the chest of anybody who disagrees with her on stem cell research.

Many convicted felons are not allowed to vote but some are working to register new voters. Up next, an independent group's voter drive stirs some controversy as felons goes door to door in search of new voters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: An independent political group supporting John Kerry is registering new voters by paying some convicted felons as part of a group canvassing neighborhoods door to door. Republicans are criticizing the practice. The Kerry campaign says it has nothing to do with the group's efforts. CNN's Susan Candiotti has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is an $8- an-hour canvasser hired by a Democrat-friendly group trying to help John Kerry's campaign. Some of its members are convicted felons.

JODEE WINTEROF, ACT POLITICAL DIRECTOR: ACT has not knowingly hired people that we thought would be any threat to the communities in which we're working.

CANDIOTTI: Some of the surveyors reportedly did time for sex crimes, assault and burglary. They work for a group supporting Democrats called ACT, America Coming Together, in Florida, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. We watched them work a neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Florida, last month. ACT workers can also register voters, which can give them access to personal information. Republicans wonder what ACT could be thinking.

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I believe in giving people a second chance. I think that's important. But I also think there's a question of judgment about hiring and recruiting convicted felons to gather Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and other sensitive information.

CANDIOTTI: Election law experts say the practice apparently is legal, and ACT insists there have been no problems. ACT says less than 10 of 170 workers in Florida are ex-cons. But after the Associated Press broke the story, ACT immediately changed course. Background checks are underway. Those who lied on job applications will be fired. No violent felons, the rest decided on a case-by-case basis. ACT accuses the GOP of inciting fear among those who may vote for Democrats.

WINTEROF: They're scared of the success that we're having on the ground. That is very clear.

CANDIOTTI: Coincidentally, this week, President Bush in a speech called "A Conversation on Compassion" spoke in favor of giving ex- felons a break.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems to make sense to me to spend taxpayers' money to help these prisoners realize a better tomorrow when they get out of prison. Give them a second chance.

CANDIOTTI: ACT is pumping up the Democratic vote. 25,000 on a recent weekend in two Florida cities. ACT insists it will rise above the controversy adding the majority of its workers are grandmothers, college students, and those committed to getting out the vote, preferably, in their view, the Democratic vote. Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And very quickly, an update on a story we told you about yesterday. Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz criticizing or at least saying reporters in Iraq afraid to leave Baghdad and publishing rumors. Today, the office of Secretary Wolfowitz issuing an apology. He said, "I extend a heartfelt apology. I hope you will accept it." He said, "I pray that you all may return safely." Again, Paul Wolfowitz apologizing.

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

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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