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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush To Redeploy Troops; Hurricane Charley And Politics; Interviews With Wesley Clark And Kay Bailey Hutchison; McGreevey Attacked By republicans And Democrats

Aired August 16, 2004 - 15:29   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: President Bush gives tens of thousands of U.S. troops new marching orders.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world has changed a great deal. And our posture must change with it.

ANNOUNCER: Will the shuffle help Bush's political position on Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just devastating, beyond belief.

ANNOUNCER: The Charley factor. As Florida hurricane victims face their losses, our politicians feeling their pain?

McGreevey's timetable: Even some fellow Democrats now want the New Jersey governor to step down sooner rather than later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Thank you for joining us. Judy is off this week. I'm Candy Crowley.

President Bush today formally unveiled a major shift of U.S. forces around the world, saying it will make the military more agile and flexible to fight the war on terror. But as you might expect in an election year, some Democrats suggest the announcement was politically motivated. We begin with our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, who traveled with the president to Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president came to this must-win state of Ohio to announce the biggest realignment of U.S. troops abroad in some 50 years. And he said it will mean that 60,000 to 70,000 troops will eventually be making their way home.

The Pentagon, the White House and Congress have been working on this plan for years, and it is to change the posture of troops abroad that are currently set up to respond to the threat of the Cold War. Officials note that this is something that will take quite a long time, perhaps a decade. Nevertheless, saying that troops will be coming home in an election year clearly is a political plus. That's something that was not lost on the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: More time on the home front and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: This is a major policy announcement from the sitting commander-in-chief. But this event was paid for not by the White House or the taxpayers but the president's reelection campaign. And it came at the end of a very intensely political speech by the president.

Now, it's important to note that this realignment does not affect the some 140,000 troops that are currently in Iraq. The fact that those troops are there, such a large contingent, has been a hot political topic on the campaign trail. And Senator Kerry suggested lately that perhaps some of those troops could begin to start coming home in the first six months of his administration if he were elected. That's something that the president said was not a good idea to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It sends the wrong signal to the enemy, who could easily wait six months and one day. It sends the wrong message to our troops that completing the mission may not be necessary. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people who wonder whether or not America means what it says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: This speech was given at a convention of the VFW, and veterans are a constituency that John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran himself, is pushing hard to court, particularly in the face of questions about Iraq.

So the president started this speech by talking about things that he says he has done for veterans during his administration in terms of health care and housing and funding. And the president also reminded members of the VFW that they supported a bill to fund the troops in Iraq, $87 billion in a funding bill that Senator Kerry and his opponent both voted against. That's something that's been a hot issue on the campaign trail, and Mr. Bush played that up big here.

Senator Kerry is going to get his chance to respond. He's speaking to this same convention here on Wednesday, and he's expected to talk about the fact that he believes the president has hurt the military by overextending troops around the world and about his plan to add 40,000 troops to the Army.

Dana Bash, CNN, Cincinnati, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Senator John Kerry is in Idaho today, taking some time off the trail. But he sent a high-profile ally out to criticize Bush's plan to restructure U.S. forces. Retired General Wesley Clark called it "ill-conceived" and says it will significantly undermine national security. I'll talk to Clark and the Bush campaign surrogate head.

There are at least two ways to look at the troop reshuffle in the context of history or through the prism of 2004 politics. Here's our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The Cold War ended in 1991. Now, some 13 years later, President Bush has decided to re-deploy U.S. troops in the world.

BUSH: Over the next 10 years, we will bring home about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel and about 100,000 members and civilian employees.

SCHNEIDER: That move itself is not deeply controversial. The war on terror has replaced the Cold War.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: They are re- deploying in terms of our national security interests and the new global war on terrorism, as opposed to the first Cold War period.

SCHNEIDER: Notice how President Bush talked about new locations.

BUSH: We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats.

SCHNEIDER: Policymakers are talking vaguely about "other places."

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: Our people will be more mobile and more available at other places all over the earth.

SCHNEIDER: A distant place.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: It's time to disburse that armor to other places in the world where it can be more maneuverable should it be needed at a distant place.

SCHNEIDER: Statements like that cause political antennas to go up. Could that distant place be, oh, say, maybe Iraq?

ROBERTS: No, he won't move the troops into Iraq, but he will bring them back to the states.

SCHNEIDER: OK. But listen to what the president says about U.S. troop strength in Iraq. BUSH: The other day, my opponent said if he's elected the number of troops in Iraq will be significantly reduced within six months. I think it sends the wrong signal.

SCHNEIDER: Critics put two and two together and say an open- ended commitment in Iraq, plus re-deployment of troops to "new locations," and they wonder, does that equal the dreaded "Q" word?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you do put more troops in, then you sink deeper into that terrible word, quagmire, and it is not unlike what we found in Vietnam over years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Administration critics see a shell game. You bring troops home and suddenly more troops are available to go to Iraq. Remember, we're in a heated campaign. Every international mood -- move, rather, that the president takes is going to be filtered through the hottest issue in that campaign, Iraq -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, out in Los Angeles. Appreciate it.

Now to the fallout in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Charley. The death toll rose to 17 today, while survivors struggled to get food, water and power, and to pick up the pieces of their lives. The amount of aid and comfort they get from the Bush administration could influence their outlook, not to mention their votes in November.

Our Bruce Morton has been tracking the politics of disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: What I'm telling them is that there's a lot of help moving into this part of the world. It's going to take a while to rebuild it, but -- but the government's job is to help people -- help rebuild their lives. And that's what -- that's what's happening.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush in Florida this past weekend with victims of Hurricane Charley. He is good at this, meeting the victims, showing that he understands what's happened to their lives. Remember him at Ground Zero after 9/11, shaking hands and talking to cops and firefighters, and then when somebody shouted, "I can't hear you..."

BUSH: I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

(CHEERS)

MORTON: One of the strongest moments of his presidency. It matters politically because people don't just vote because of where the candidate stands on an issue. They vote on, is he good guy, do I trust him, does he care about us average folks? Things like that. Bush is good at these situations, and that's a political plus for him. His father, here at Hurricane Andrew in 1992, wasn't. He came across stiff.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president ought to show what he feels in his heart. And what I feel in my heart is I care about the people and I want to at least let them know we're going to try to help.

MORTON: He lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton, who, like this president, was very good at letting Americans know, "I feel your pain." Here, he hears a loud bang while talking to flood victims in North Dakota.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's up there. Anybody hurt? Well, we've had a fire, a flood, a blizzard.

(CHEERS)

CLINTON: I guess we can take it, god.

MORTON: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are good at this part of being president. Al Gore often seemed stiff, ill at ease. John Kerry, what do you think?

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Turning to New Jersey, Governor James McGreevey is back at work at the statehouse today, four days after announcing he would resign because of an affair with another man. Some top Democrats are joining Republicans in calling for McGreevey to step down sooner than November 15.

Among other things, they fear a federal investigation into his relationship with former aide Golan Cipel will expose new and politically damaging details.

Cipel's lawyer says his client has not yet decided whether to go ahead and file a sexual harassment lawsuit against McGreevey. He denies allegations Cipel tried to extort money from the governor. We will have a live report at the top of the hour.

Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily," the anti-Bush political group Moveon.org has launched a TV ad in response to the recent anti-Kerry spot created by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The MoveOn ad questions Bush's family connections and his service in the National Guard.

It also quotes Senator John McCain, who called on the White House to condemn the Swift Boat ad which questions John Kerry's Vietnam service. The anti-Bush ad starts airing tomorrow in the same three markets where the anti-Kerry ad has aired. A new poll finds the presidential race has tightened a bit in John Edwards' home state of North Carolina. The Research 2000 Survey gives Bush a three-point edge over Kerry, 48 to 45 percent. A poll taken this time last month gave Bush a five-point lead.

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is filing a lawsuit today in Arizona, challenging the state's ballot access law. Nader failed to meet state retirements to get his name on Arizona's ballot. His lawsuit challenges the state's deadline for gathering petition signatures and its rules that require petition gatherers to be state residents who qualify to vote.

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel says he may run for president in four years. The often outspoken Republican has confirmed comments he made to his home state "Lincoln Journal Star" over the weekend. Hagel says he's considering a White House run, but he won't say when he plans to make a decision.

And Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is off and running when it comes to fund-raising. "Roll Call" reports that Senator Clinton raised $1.8 million between April and June of this year. That is more than double of the amount raised by any other senator up for reelection in 2006.

President Bush's plan to re-deploy thousands of U.S. troops already is being targeted by critics. Up next, retired general and Kerry ally, Wesley Clark, shares his critique of the Bush plan. And Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will fire back for the Republicans.

Also ahead, the Bush camp's new ad slamming John Kerry's record on intelligence. Does it tell the truth or stretch it?

Plus, in our convention countdown, do Republicans have a platform fight on their hands?

With 78 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: President Bush's plan to realign thousands of U.S. troops already is facing skeptics out on the campaign trail. With me now to discuss the issue is retired General Wesley Clark. He is the former supreme commander of NATO and an adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

A couple of things struck me about your written statement, General. One of them being that you thought this would undermine the war on terror. Why is that?

WESLEY CLARK (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, one of the things we have to do in the war on terror is bring allies on board. And yet this is a plan that consolidates or pulls troops back to the United States. It undermines relations with allies in Europe and it weakens our bargaining leverage against North Korea. One of the things -- the second thing we want to do on the war on terror is we want to prevent the terrorists from gaining access to nuclear materials. Now, the most likely source of those nuclear materials is probably North Korea. But at the very time we should be negotiating and working to reduce that threat from North Korea, we're undercutting our leverage by pulling troops off the Korean Peninsula. It doesn't make good sense.

CROWLEY: Well, General, when I've talked to others about this, they've said, look, you know, we need to re-deploy to some other allies, maybe the newer members of NATO, where we would be, number one, more welcome. It's not as though all the troops are leaving Germany, or even the bases are closing. And the same with South Korea, where they're really worried about those troops being really within the city.

Now, what is wrong with taking some of those troops and re- deploying them to areas where they might be more agile and more able get places in faster time?

CLARK: Well, first of all, they are very agile when they're located in Europe. That's why they were left there at the end of the Cold War. And their agility was well demonstrated when they deployed to Iraq.

There's nothing wrong with using training facilities or putting a few troops out in Romania, Bulgaria, training in Poland. That's fine. But that can be done without bringing the families back to the United States.

Moving the troops back to the United States and then leaving the families there, and sending the men on hardship tours over to Eastern Europe, that doesn't make for a strong alliance. That's not what alliances are built on.

They're built on the glue of America's unbending commitment to be there. And that's the commitment we've had since really the 1950s in Europe. That's what holds that alliance together.

So when we continue to pull troops out of it, it weakens it. And it weakens it at a time when we desperately need our European allies, including our so-called old allies, on board with us.

CROWLEY: But if they're going to send them to other places where new allies are, where we are more wanted than South Korea or Germany has seemed to indicate, what would be wrong with that?

CLARK: Well, first of all, we are wanted in Germany and we are wanted in South Korea. But, more importantly, that's where our troops are needed.

We need the leverage in Europe, and we need the leverage in South Korea, the diplomatic leverage that those troops provide. So sprinkling a few troops out in Eastern Europe, where they already vote with the United States and help the United States, doesn't give us diplomatic leverage. It reduces our leverage with the rest of Europe. So it's a step in the wrong direction in terms of the geo- strategy of alliances. It's a move that doesn't make any sense militarily, because they're just as flexible where they are, in Germany. And, in fact, most of those troops right now are in Iraq, or just returning from Iraq.

CROWLEY: General, they pulled up from me in research a European "Stars and Stripes," when you were still NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, where you agreed with the premise that there's a need to shift U.S. and NATO troops southeastward.

CLARK: That's right.

CROWLEY: Why is that any different than this?

CLARK: Because what I was doing was taking the troops that -- and leaving the bases in Europe and wanting to deploy temporarily into places like Hungary and the Balkans. That's a plan I favor. I don't favor bringing the families back and reducing our commitments in Europe. That's what's behind the Bush administration plan.

CROWLEY: General Clark, we really appreciate your being with us. We have to leave it there, but I'm sure we'll be discussing this in the future. Appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, supporters of President Bush are speaking out in favor of his plan to reshuffle American -- the American military forces around the world. We will hear from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: While Wesley Clark and other critics have come out against President Bush's troop reshuffling plan, the proposal has its supporters as well. With me now, from Dallas, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Senator, you know, let's talk a little bit about the timing. This idea of taking some troops out of Europe or out of Korea has been floating around for two or three years while they looked at it. We're now, what, three, four months away from an election. Why announce this now?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think actually they did make a preliminary announcement months ago when they were talking about bringing troops back from Europe, particularly Germany. This has been in the planning stages, it hasn't been a secret. But it takes planning. And one of the things that I've heard the critics say is this is pulling out when we need allies.

We have been negotiating with our allies. They have had plenty of notice. We're working with them to do this in a way that doesn't disrupt their countries. But this is long time overdue, Candy. We should have started doing this 10 years ago, looking at after the Cold War where our troops would be better able to be trained and better able to be housed.

CROWLEY: And what of the suspicions that, you know, the president wants to bring more troops back here so he has more troops to send to Iraq? Can you cut that thread?

HUTCHISON: Well, certainly, the president wants the troops back here because it will save hundreds of millions of dollars to be able to house them here in our country and not have them traveling back and forth, cut down on the number of bases that we are supporting over there, with very little support in Germany, by the way. They only give about 25 -- 20 to 25 percent support for our troops. The rest is on us.

So it's going to save a lot of money, but it's also, more importantly, going to give better training space. We have training constraints on many of our foreign bases so that our troops are not able to be up and ready to go where we need them. So I think this is going to be better training facility and also better housing, and much more effective operation for the taxpayers of America.

CROWLEY: Well, one of the reasons that the president and the Defense Department has given is, look, this is a new war, we don't want static basis, we've got to, you know, spread this out so we can move quickly. But if you bring the troops back here, how does that make things move more quickly if there's, you know, something that happens across the world? Wouldn't they be better off in Germany or in South Korea?

HUTCHISON: Actually, no. We can get our troops deployed more quickly from here, where we control every rail space and every railroad and every highway. In Germany, we couldn't get the troops through Austria, not by land or air, when we tried to go into Iraq.

So we had to maneuver around that. It was costly, and we had to make alternative plans.

The same thing happened when Turkey decided that we would not be able to forward deploy from there. And we had to do it a different way, it was more expensive. So having the total control of our ability to lift out of America will actually cut back on our costs and time and be more efficient.

CROWLEY: Last question, quickly, on South Korea. What sort of message does it send, now that we are worried about nuclear capabilities in North Korea, to be pulling U.S. troops out of there? Does that affect that at all?

HUTCHISON: Well, absolutely. Once again, we are working with the government of South Korea. They know what we are planning to do.

There have been problems with the base right in Seoul for a long time, and the Korean people have wanted us not to be there. So we're moving south. That will make us much more agile, much more able to deploy to other places.

But we will have a significant presence in South Korea. Probably 23,000, 25,000 troops will still be in South Korea, very much on call so that North Korea knows we are committed there.

CROWLEY: Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. Thanks so much for your take on things. We appreciate it.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS, political turmoil in New Jersey. We'll get the latest on the fallout over Governor James McGreevey's shocking resignation.

And we'll find out how Senator John Kerry is connected to such famous figures such as Richard the Lionhearted and Ivan the Terrible.

Stay with us. There's much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Under pressure...

SEN. JOSEPH KYRILLOS, NEW JERSEY GOP CHMN.: Resign now.

ANNOUNCER: ... that's what Republicans want. But now, even some Democrats are calling for New Jersey's governor to step down immediately. We'll have the latest on the McGreevey sex scandal.

The ad wars...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings.

ANNOUNCER: Taking on John Kerry over intelligence. Are the charges true?

The GOP raises its curtain in New York two weeks from today. Are Republicans all on the same page? Our convention countdown is underway.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CROWLEY: Welcome back. I'm Candy Crowley sitting in for Judy this week.

It's difficult to imagine the scene inside the New Jersey statehouse today other than to assume it's anything but business as usual. Governor James McGreevey is back at work for the first time since his "I had a gay affair and I'm going to resign" announcement.

As CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports, McGreevey's bombshell has not entirely eased the legal or political pressures on him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Jersey Governor James McGreevey had no public events Monday. Instead, he was sequestered in the statehouse with high-level staff. One aide telling CNN, "He's focusing on an overview of the next 90 days."

The governor's planning to leave office November 15th after his bombshell admissions last week that he had an affair with a man.

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: I am a gay American.

FEYERICK: But the man in question says he is straight. Golan Cipel, through his lawyer, telling CNN he is not gay. The former Israeli Navy officer was said to file a sexual harassment suit against the governor. Cipel, telling the Israeli paper, "Yedioth Ahronoth" that McGreevey, "started up with me again and again -- I reached a point where I was afraid to be alone with him."

Aides to the governor have accused Cipel of extortion. And federal authorities in New Jersey are investigating. Cipel's lawyer denies blackmail. Cipel, telling the Israel paper "Haaretz," the governor pressured him to step down from a $100,000-a-year job, not because he was unqualified, but because "I refused his advances."

McGreevey has been surrounded by campaign finance scandals. But a poll taken after the announcement gives the governor his highest job approval ratings in two years: 45% approve compared to 34% in January.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Now, McGreevey is planning on holding on to the reins until November. But now, even his own Democratic party is making waves to hold a special election, perhaps, even running New Jersey's popular Senator Jon Corzine.

The senator's been raising money and campaigning to help the Democrats win back the Senate this fall. A spokesman for the senator says he's had conversations with his staff, but that Mr. Corzine is not part of any group trying to push a special election -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Deborah Feyerick, keeping on top of events in New Jersey. No easy task these days. Thanks, Deborah.

Two top officials -- one Democrat, one Republican -- join us ahead to debate the timetable for McGreevey's resignation, as well as the political fallout.

In the presidential race, John Edwards is the top Democrat on the trail today with John Kerry enjoying some downtime in Idaho. Edwards is in the showdown State of Missouri. On his agenda today: a visit to a cattle and hay farm to talk about the rural economy. This evening, he'll attend a rally and a fundraiser in the Atlanta area. Some Kerry/Edwards allies are criticizing President Bush's plan to redeploy thousands of U.S. troops, saying it will do nothing to ease the strain on overstretched military forces. Today, the president announced that up to 70,000 troops stationed in western Europe and Asia will be brought home over the next decade, a move that does not currently affect U.S. forces in Iraq. The president sees it as a recognition that fighting terror is a priority in the post-Cold War world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers, and so we can be more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: We want to talk more about the troop redeployment and the politics surrounding it with Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times."

OK, Ron, what are the politics of this? I mean, what votes do you gain by saying, "Within the next 10 years, we're going to remove 70,000 troops from Germany and Korea"?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think when you look at the electoral and political impacts, both narrowly and broadly, the narrow impact, I think the most direct answer to you question is military families who have been under a lot of strain under this presidency, especially in the war in Iraq, the Guard, the Reserve, the active duty military.

I mean, there's some question about whether Bush might see some erosion in a traditionally Republican-leaning constituency. This is obviously something they hope will be popular with them.

In the broader sense, what you have here is an argument that comes down to two words: visionary or unilateralist. The White House wants to portray this as part of an overall restructuring of America's defense posture in the post-9/11 world.

However reluctantly at first, they did reorganize the Homeland Security apparatus in the Department of Homeland Security. They have embraced intelligence reform, even if Democrats say it's sort of at the point of a gun. And they can add this to it and say, "Look, President Bush is rethinking the entire big picture to lead us to a more secure future." Democrats -- as you saw, Wesley Clark just now with you -- want to say, "This is a Republican severing our ties with our allies. Here's more evidence in that case."

CROWLEY: So, in effect, they're both kind of arguing their positions: one, John Kerry saying, oh, no, look what we're doing to our allies; and George Bush saying, wait, we have other allies, we need to move into other places -- especially some of those, I guess, that are helping us in Iraq they're talking about. BROWNSTEIN: One of the Republican strategists, Candy, today said to me this was a reformer with results, bringing back a phrase from 2000. You know, I think in many ways what you see often from the Bush campaign is a belief that there are assets for him that go beyond the actual decision made -- decisions that are made.

The people respond to him as a leader around words like decisive, big picture, taking the long view. And that they can sort of package these ideas, whatever people think about the individual ideas, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. I think this is another example of that where they think they can tie this to some of those other changes we talked about and present the president as someone who's taking the big picture.

CROWLEY: Let me move on to something that you wrote about today and I wanted to talk about. And that is the danger in -- specifically focusing on Iraq now. In -- the president pushing at Senator Kerry about, well, would you have voted, you know, yes for this war?

Where is the danger for the president in that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think for both of them. I mean, what we're seeing here is a debate that is exposing really I think the weakest flank in some ways of both men.

What the president is doing by so dramatically and emphatically, as he did again today, reaffirming that "I did the right thing, I would not do anything differently today" -- what he's trying to do is expose what, to many voters, is probably one of the least attractive aspects of Senator Kerry, this idea that he vacillates too much, he splits hairs.

He's trying to force Kerry to say yes or no, would you have invaded? Senator Kerry is sort of resisting that.

Now, the down side for the president is that, by doing this, I think he's underscoring what many voter have hesitation about him, that he's too dogmatic, that he doesn't adjust the changing circumstance. Would any reasonable person have no second thoughts after all we've experienced in the past 15 months?

So, this is a little bit of a kamikaze strategy. The White House feels like they are causing some damage to Senator Kerry. Some Democrats worry that, as well. But it's not without risk for the president at a time when at least half the country in polls say the war wasn't worth it. To be basically drawing that line in the sand and saying I would not do anything differently is, to some extent, poking a stick at those voters.

CROWLEY: In the end, though, isn't the president -- and for that matter, the senator -- in for a penny and for a pound? I mean, is there any -- he can't run away from Iraq at this point.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, the president cannot run -- that is one argument: The president cannot run away from Iraq. But the question is -- for example, today in his speech, he ridiculed Senator Kerry's idea that we could reduce the number of troops in the fist year of the Kerry presidency -- again, trying to show strength and resolve.

The downside is he's sort of sending a signal that it may be unrealistic to expect much change if he is reelected at a point when polls show that people do want a change, you know, on that front.

So again, as in many politicians, the strength and the weakness are the flip sides of the same attributes. What this is line between resolve and rigidity between strength and being -- strong and being dogmatic? The president, I think, faces that question.

For Kerry, it's the flip side. I mean, you have one candidate who seems to slow to reconsider his position, and one candidate who's slow to really reaffirmly (ph), unequivocally camp out a position. I mean, Americans may be Goldilocks option.

CROWLEY: Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times." Always enlightening.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: The president made today's troop announcement in Ohio, a key showdown state. Canton, Ohio, will be the site of a CNN town hall meeting Wednesday. CNN's Paula Zahn and her live audience will focus on voters who remain undecided and could determine the outcome of the vote this November. That is Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

A new Bush campaign ad is airing today in Ohio, another showdown state, blasting Kerry's record intelligence. Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" looks at the ad's claims and how it departs from the Bush camp's commercial tone in recent days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): After months of hammering John Kerry on the airwaves, President Bush this month seemed to be taking a kinder, gentler approach, such as with this upbeat Olympics ad that might be called "Morning in Athens."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics? There will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes.

KURTZ: This spot, which is also being piped to sweating jocks at 250 fitness centers in battleground states, gets a gold medal for casting the war in Iraq as an Olympic-style victory and sidestepping the fierce debate over the continuing violence there.

But today, the Bush campaign moves from soft focus swimming to two-fisted boxing, challenging Kerry's contention that he will reform U.S. intelligence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, really? As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings. In the year after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Kerry was absent for every single one. KURTZ: That's true, as far as the public hearings are concerned. The Kerry campaign says the senator had a far higher attendance rate if all the committee's work sessions, and not just hearings, are counted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That same year, he proposed slashing America's intelligence budget by $6 billion. There's what Kerry says, and then there's what Kerry does.

KURTZ: There's that flip-flop charge again. Kerry did propose those cuts in 1994 after Cold War against the Soviets had ended as part of a package to reduce the budget deficit but the cuts are not as large as the commercial makes them sound. The senator wanted to slice $1 billion a year from intelligence for six years, not $6 million all at once. Still, 75 senators including Ted Kennedy, voted against Kerry's amendment.

(on camera): The intelligence ad leaked out three days early, after it was mistakenly aired allowing the Kerry campaign to denounce a spot that most viewers hadn't even seen yet. But it shows the president's determination to keep scoring points against Kerry, even during the Olympics. Kerry is off the air for August to save money letting his liberal allies such as Moveon.org fight back with a spate of anti-Bush ads. Howard Kurtz, CNN's "Reliable Sources."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: To say that New Jersey politics is unsettled right now is an understatement. Up next, state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle debate the fallout from Governor McGreevey's resignation announcement and whether now is the time for him to go.

Plus, are gay Republicans ready to put up a fight at Madison Square Garden? That question in our convention countdown.

And later, who has bluer blood? Bush or Kerry?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Returning now to the political scandal involving New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. With me to talk about the fallout and what lies ahead, Democratic Assemblyman Neil Cohen. He's in Secaucus and from Princeton, Joseph Kyrillos Jr., the New Jersey Republican chairman.

Thank you, gentlemen, both for joining us. Mr. Kyrillos, what is keeping, in your mind, the governor in office, until the 16th of November? Why is he there until then?

JOSEPH KYRILLOS JR., N.J. REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: Candy, first of all, as I've told everybody, I really feel for Jim McGreevey on a human level, feel for his family. All of America does. The folks that watched him stand out there last Thursday. But he should have gone beyond his announcement. I feel strongly he's manipulating this political process at this point to stay in office...

He's not manipulating anything with all due respect.

Let me finish, Neil, if I could. To stay in office beyond the date of which there would be a special election. We want the people to be able to choose their own governor, choose their own leader at a free fair election in New Jersey, America 2004. We don't think that's too much to ask.

CROWLEY: Neil Cohen, let me bring you in here as well. Obviously you don't think that this is politically motivated. Why is he staying until November 15. Mr. Cohen?

NEIL COHEN (D), N.J. STATE ASSEMBLY: You're going to need some time, in terms of a transition of power and responsibilities, and you can't do that within a space of eight or nine or ten days. That would do a disservice to the citizens of New Jersey. The governor made his decision that he would leave on a November date, thereby giving the Senate president, Richard Cody, who would then become acting governor, at least eight weeks in order to put together everything necessary to make this constitutional change that's required by law.

CROWLEY: Well -- go ahead.

KYRILLOS: Candy, with all due respect to that argument, we don't have the luxury of a lot of time and a lot of time for a transition. This three month period would actually be longer than governors typically get or indeed, newly elected presidents.

COHEN: To the opposite, opposite, Joe. The time that's being permitted for there to be a transition under our constitution, it's about exactly how much a governor or president would need from election to the time that they raised their right hand and were sworn into office. New Jersey has a constitutional provision that takes into consideration these things where the Senate president then becomes the acting governor. And Richard Cody will do the same kind of good job that former Senate president acting governor Donald DiFrancesco the Republican did when Governor Whitman left office. This is nothing more than a constitutional transition.

CROWLEY: But Assemblyman Cohen, if I could just jump in here, you will concede to come out and say I'm resigning for the reasons that he specified, to have all of this still as a back story going on, it looks very political that he simply wants to make sure that this seat stays in the Democratic column until there is a chance for election next year?

COHEN: I'd have to disagree. Think of this as Senator Kyrillos said, you had an election in November either for president or for governor and you would have three or four months to go through transition in turning over the reigns of power and responsibility. To do so in such a short burst frankly I think is irresponsible and a disservice to the residents of the state of New Jersey.

KYRILLOS: Candy, we're getting off the point, if I may, on transition. Certainly, that's an argument, having a free election is my argument. Let's face it. The governor has admitted himself that he really can't govern effectively. Three months is a long time for a big large state government like ours, the ninth largest government in the country. If it were a country in its own right it would be a significant government in the world. New Jersyans frankly don't need to hear this painful episode and see it played out in television, and across headlines, it's too spicy, too saucy, it has nothing to do with him being gay. People can even forgive him an extramarital relationship but there was abuse of office here, abuse of his incumbency, abuse of power and we need a new person.

COHEN: You don't know what has or has not been abused in terms of what you've just gone through. We have a process now. And in order to serve the residents of New Jersey and move on with the issues that are of concern to them, whether their family is going to be employed, how our economy is going, our healthcare issues or property tax issues, those are all issues that people want to hear about now. They don't need to go through the salacious rumors going on. They want to know what's happening in their daily lives, and that elected officials act responsibly, in such a way that there will be a smooth transition of government and services. Our constitution provides for it the governor's abiding by those terms. There may be other political considerations that you may wish to have. Such as a...

CROWLEY: I'm sorry to have to interrupt you here. I'm sorry to have to interrupt you here just because I want to give Mr. Kyrillos 15 seconds so that we can wrap this up.

KYRILLOS: Listen, we all feel back for the governor and we also want to move on. The governor needs to move on with life, New Jersey needs to move on with its life. This has been a heavy load for the governor, not just this episode which is the most dramatic and it's going to play out in investigations or courts, there's a lawsuit that we hear about but a heavy load in terms of other problems. Other scandals, other nominations, other appointments. It's time for a new beginning for New Jersey. It's been a tough few years. It needs a fresh start. And I hope that we get it.

CROWLEY: Joseph Kyrillos, thank you so much for joining us. Neil Cohen, we appreciate it.

Security issues, platform fights and the role of military veterans. Up next, just two weeks to go, our John Mercurio updates the latest developments as Republicans prepare for their convention.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Final preparations are underway for the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York. The big party gathering gets started two weeks from today at New York's Madison Square Garden. With me now for the latest developments surrounding the convention is CNN's political editor John Mercurio. John, I'm pretty close to declaring this the year of the veteran.

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Join the club. Exactly.

CROWLEY: And the pushback from the Republicans at the convention will be what? MERCURIO: I think that the battle for the veteran votes continues just like you said. I think in some ways, they really are sort of the soccer moms of 2004. We saw a lot of veterans at the Democratic convention on stage. Today the Republicans are telling us that we'll see a lot of veterans in Madison Square Garden on the convention floor as delegates.

Now according to their numbers veterans and active duty personnel make up nearly one in five of the delegates in Madison Square Garden. That's about 18 percent of the total convention.

The Kerry campaign says veterans made up about 12 percent of the delegates last month in Boston. But the Kerry campaign, Democrats say Republicans are protesting too much. They say all this hoopla sort of just points to the fact that they were really successful in Boston sort of showcasing John Kerry's military credentials.

The spokesman I talked to today said, quote, "the fact that they're releasing this statistic shows how defensive they've become in regard to the military. We've made significant inroads with that community during the campaign and at our convention. And a lot of what you're seeing today from them is a response to the success we've had."

CROWLEY: OK. So there we are.

MERCURIO: The battle continues.

CROWLEY: I want to talk about two other groups because it's platform time up in New York. You have first of all Republicans who are pro-abortion rights and you have gay Republicans. How are they making their presence known?

MERCURIO: It wouldn't be a real Republican convention without a good old-fashioned convention fight and that's sort of I think what's shaping up today, a group of moderate Republicans that you just talked about is calling on the party to adopt a, quote, "unity plank." And this will be something new. The party has never had language in its platform that supports abortion rights, that supports gay rights. That plan that they're proposing would say, quote, in part, "we recognize and respect that Republicans...

CROWLEY: John, I have to interrupt you. We will be back in a minute. We want go to Santa Maria, California, because what we're seeing here, Michael Jackson having completed lunch onboard his bus is now out of the bus again and headed back into the courtroom.

I want to see if maybe we can find Thelma Gutierrez, who is out there. Thelma, do you hear me? A little noisy out there. But you're watching Michael Jackson. There you go. Go ahead, Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Candy. You can see that Michael Jackson is walking back into the courtroom and he's surrounded by his brothers and sisters, LaToya, Randy, Jackie, Jermaine and Janet, also his parents. Candy, as you had mentioned, for the last hour and half or so, the king of pop was sitting in his bus, having lunch, that's the same tour bus that brought him here earlier. As he walked in and out of that bus, I can tell you there are about 100 supporters outside here chanting Michael's name, also chanting "innocent," as they caught a glimpse of him -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Tell me what this particular hearing is about, Thelma. What's been going on this morning?

GUTIERREZ: Well, Candy, at issue today in this preliminary hearing is exactly how the district attorney Tom Sneddon went about gathering evidence against Michael Jackson. Now the criminal defense attorney Tom Mesereau says the D.A. went too far by investigating a private investigator who had been working for Jackson's former attorney, Mark Geragos and seizing videos, letters and files which should have been protected against the attorney client privilege. The defense attorney wants that tossed out. That is something which could seriously impact the prosecution's case.

And I should mention, Candy, that this is something that is quite personal for Michael Jackson. This has gone back to 1993, with Tom Sneddon wanting to prosecute Michael Jackson on molestation charges. Today, while he was sitting in court, Michael Jackson stared down Tom Sneddon from behind his dark glasses and he just wanted to make his presence known -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Thelma Gutierrez, out in Santa Maria, California. We have been watching members of the Jackson family come in. Most of the members dressed in white, except for the parent that we saw a little bit earlier in business attire.

We want to INSIDE POLITICS specifically, John, just to sort of reorient our audience. We were talking about how those with minority opinions within the Republican party are dealing with the Republican party and platform.

MERCURIO: They're calling on the party, the platform committee to adopt a specific plank. Again, it's a unity plank. It would be unprecedented. The party has never adopted pro-abortion rights or pro-gay rights language in their platform. The plank specifically that they're proposing states, quote, "we recognize and respect that Republicans of good faith may not agree with all the planks in the party's platform. This is particularly the case with regard to those planks dealing with abortion, family planning and gay and lesbian issues."

Now Patrick Guerrero who's the head of Log Cabin Republicans which is a gay rights group, he said he -- he was at the press conference today. He said he applauded the sort of primetime speaking roles that people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani are receiving at the convention but he said his party really needs to do more than talk. And let's hear what he had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK GUERRERO, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: It is not enough to have these inclusive voices be the face of the Republican party in primetime if the platform only represents the exclusive voices of Gary Bower, Jerry Falwell and Rick Santorum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MERCURIO: So I think what you're looking at is a platform committee having to make a decision by August 30, that's when they ratify the platform. A spokeswoman I talked to with the committee said that they haven't actually heard from Guerrero themselves so she really couldn't talk about the prospect of this language. So stay tuned.

CROWLEY: And you're right. The Republican platform, it's always fun to watch it come together or not come together.

John Mercurio, thanks so much. We appreciate it. We'll be right back on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. And "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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