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Analysis of the Effect of the Death of Yasser Arafat/Analysis of the Effect of Bush Cabinet Resignations/Analysis of Possible New Democratic National Committee Chairman

Aired November 13, 2004 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
AL HUNT, GUEST HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Margaret Carlson and in Austin, Texas, Mark Shields. Our guest is Republican senator-elect John Thune of South Dakota.

Congratulations, and thanks for coming in, John.

JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA SENATOR-ELECT: Thank you. It's nice to be here, Al.

HUNT: Good to have you.

The body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was returned to Ramallah, provoking scenes of chaos. In Washington, the British and American leaders met to renew efforts to create a Palestinian state.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state, and I intend to use the next four years to -- to spend the capital of the United States on -- on such a state.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is only if the two states that we went to see living side by side are, indeed, democratic states, where the rule of law and human rights are respected in each of them, that a justing (sic) peace could be secured.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I hope that President Bush, the Europeans and others (UNINTELLIGIBLE) show they're with us, and I call upon the Israelis and I urge them to leave our town.


HUNT: Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon did not join this effort but lay down the conditions under which he said diplomatic negotiations could be resumed.


ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): If after the end of the Arafat era a new, serious and responsible leadership comes into being which will implement and realize its undertaking under the road map, stopping incitement, putting an end to terrorism...


HUNT: Margaret, does the death of Yasser Arafat alter President Bush's Mideast policies?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Well, it alters it to the extent he now needs to have one in the absence of Arafat and in the presence of Tony Blair, who's given up so much for Bush and was asked the dreaded poodle question at their joint appearance on Friday, which he said, What have you gotten -- what has he -- what has Blair gotten out of this relationship? Bush thinks that the road to Jerusalem is through Baghdad, and it's not. The road to Jerusalem is through Jerusalem.

And he now has an opportunity. He's not going to do as much as Blair wants, but he's going to start dealing with "old Europe" and come up with some kind of conference that Blair wants. Bush may not send an envoy yet, but if elections are held and the United States doesn't taint it by supporting one candidate over another -- although I think they'll be in favor of Abbas -- this is a -- this is -- this gives him a chance not to unblinkingly support Sharon and to join with "old Europe" and Tony Blair.

HUNT: Bob Novak, two smart guys about the Middle East, both sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, both knowledgeable, you and Jim Zogby. Jim Zogby says Arafat's death may be a setback, and you say, in fact, it's the other way around.

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, anybody is an improvement over -- over Arafat, and the Palestinians I talk to privately say that it was a disaster. The problem is that no matter how good the successor will be -- and it will be better than Arafat -- we still have a situation where these terrorists want to kill Israelis, want to prevent the peace process. And that is an excuse for Sharon not to do anything.

So the question is, Will President Bush put the pressure on Sharon to really negotiate and try to create a Palestinian state, which, in his heart, he doesn't want? The president has a lot of leeway now. He's not running for reelection. He doesn't have to worry about the Jewish vote. So I would say that it's really in George W. Bush's corner, in many ways.

HUNT: John Thune, do you think the president will use some of that political capital he alluded to to pressure the Israelis and Ariel Sharon, even though some of his own constituency in America may not like that?

THUNE: I do. I think that, you know, this is heavy lifting under any circumstances just because of the history that exists there and the terrorism and the pattern of the past. But I do believe what the president said the other day was sincere. I believe that the Bush-Blair two-state vision is what the president wants to see happen, and I think he is going to take the steps that are necessary to make that happen. And it's going to be -- it isn't going to be an easy process and it's not going to be a quick process, but I do believe that the intentions are there. I think that was stated at the news conference the other day, and now it's a matter of moving forward and actually following through with that commitment and doing the things that are necessary to make it happen.

HUNT: Mark Shields, on the Palestinian side, doesn't -- for anyone to have credibility to succeed Arafat, don't they really have to be democratically elected? You can't tap anybody who really can get anything done and have any credibility with the Palestinians, can you?

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: No, there's no question, Al, it has be democratically elected. Of course, you know, let's be very blunt about it. Arafat was elected, and Arafat was the symbol to the Palestinian people of that change. But I think beyond that, what you have to say is whoever is elected does need -- I mean, the president has laid out, to his credit, and like no president before him, the vision of two independent states living side by side.

But to achieve that, you really do need tangible, concrete progress for the new Palestinian leadership. I mean, right now, 80 percent of the youth in the Gaza strip are unemployed. This is a people that have no control over their borders, over their economy, over their own government. It's an occupied land. And I think the question is, What is the president's relationship going to be with General Sharon and the Israeli government? Are they going to show and allow that kind of investment that a new leader can gain legitimacy before he rushes to the bargaining table?

HUNT: John, would it be a good idea to have a Mideast peace envoy, special -- special envoy?

THUNE: I think that's -- that's an important step, and I think that...

HUNT: Any candidates?

THUNE: Well, not off the top of my head, but I think that -- give the president time. I mean, this is very fresh, and obviously, there's still, I think, digesting and processing what the next step should be. But I think the discussions have to begin with the Sharon government, and also, we have to demonstrate our commitment by getting somebody there that's going to devote themselves full time to this.

CARLSON: Once the elections are held, Blair wants a Middle East envoy. It should be Bill Clinton. If he can't swallow that, it should be George Mitchell.

HUNT: What do you think, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, you know, you really don't need Bill Clinton. I mean...

HUNT: Who would you pick?

NOVAK: Almost anybody else because...

CARLSON: He's so identified with...

NOVAK: Well, he -- he is -- he is...

HUNT: You wouldn't take it, would you?

NOVAK: I'm -- I'm -- I've got a broken hip.


CARLSON: And a few other broken things!

HUNT: All right, on that note, John Thune and THE GANG will be back with the Bush cabinet shuffle.


HUNT: Welcome back. Three Bush cabinet members announced they will not be around for a second term: attorney general John Ashcroft, secretary of commerce Don Evans and secretary of education Rod Paige. The departing attorney general blasted judicial encroachment against the executive branch.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These encroachments include some of the most fundamental aspects of the president's conduct of the war on terrorism.


HUNT: President Bush's selection as the new attorney general, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, sounded a different tone.


ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: The American people expect and deserve a Department of Justice guided by the rule of law, and there should be no question regarding the department's commitment to justice for every American.


HUNT: Bob, what is the change at the Justice Department suggest about the second Bush term?

NOVAK: I don't think it's a sign that he's going to be -- make the mistake his father made and talk about a "softer, gentle" kind of Republicanism. But there is some problems in the Justice Department. There's no question that John Ashcroft was a disappointment to a lot of people who are not liberals, by any means. He came over as very harsh. I think the administration of Justice with the U.S. attorneys was inadequate. And the -- I think the -- there are a lot of Republicans -- you may not believe this, Al -- who believe in civil liberties, and...

HUNT: Oh, I know there are. NOVAK: ... and I'm -- and I'm...

HUNT: You're one of them.

NOVAK: ... one of them. And I think that Alberto Gonzales is a -- ought to be a plus in that direction. The benefit is that maybe if naming him attorney general, he's not going to be named Chief Justice, and that would be a very good thing for the pro-life movement because they don't want him on the Supreme Court.

HUNT: Mark Shields, is the change -- the change is certainly symbolic. Is it also substantive?

SHIELDS: I think it is substantive, Al. I don't think there's any question it has stronger political overtones than anything else. I mean, first of all, there was dissatisfaction in the Bush White House with not only John Ashcroft's conduct -- he was never close to the president personally -- but he was a Lone Ranger. I mean, this is a guy that held press conferences in Russia to announce acts in the United States not even directly which he was involved, I mean -- so there was a little bit of the hot dog about him, just at a straight political level, which they won't get from Gonzales at all.

And I think -- I think what you're getting, as well, is you're getting somebody very important politically. Let's be very blunt about it. The constituency that showed the most improvement for George W. Bush in the past election against John Kerry was Latino Americans. Al Gore carried them better than 2 to 1. John Kerry only carried them by 11 percent. This is symbolically a very important move politically.

HUNT: Margaret, the Alberto Gonzales story is inspiring, and we heard him -- I thought he was very impressive. But some of the record troubles some people, and I think it's both conservatives and -- and liberals. He was the one that drafted the order that gave the president a blank check to basically seize enemy combatants, overturned by the Supreme Court. He was the one that basically said the Geneva accords was "quaint." He was the one who said there's unlimited rights to torture, basically, in a time of war. Is that going to be a problem for him in confirmation?

CARLSON: I think he'll be confirmed. Abu Ghraib will come up, and those memos did open the door to what happened there. Remember, Gonzales was on the supreme court in Texas and responsible for briefing and writing the memo to George Bush on executions in that state. And the number of executions, 150, is a near-term historical record. So there were -- there will be some questions about him, but his story is so good and he is a Hispanic, and he's actually soft- spoken, as opposed to John Ashcroft, who seemed that way but is actually very hard-edged and very much of a headline-grabber and turned out to be about zero for 3,000 arrests versus actual convictions.

HUNT: John Thune, we want you to comment on all of the above, but do you agree with Bob Novak that it's a good thing if Alberto Gonzales doesn't go to the Supreme Court? I know you're a pro-life Republican.

THUNE: Well, there are -- there are folks in the -- conservatives who might take that view. I think that...

HUNT: Are you one of them?

THUNE: Well, I'll reserve judgment...


THUNE: ... until I hear all the questions asked. I think he's going to get tough questioning from both the left and the right when he comes up. But I agree with you, I think he will be confirmed. And he does have the trust and the confidence of the president. And these -- some of these issues are going to be raised. There's no question about it. But I think that he is someone who has a great personal story, and I think it's very compelling, and I suspect that when it's all said and done that he'll get the votes. But he will undergo some very difficult...

NOVAK: There is so...

THUNE: ... questioning on the subject that you raised earlier.

NOVAK: There is so much in politics that is -- is image and how you look, and -- and John Ashcroft always looked like he was -- he was -- he was mean. He was...

HUNT: Angry, yes.

NOVAK: ... he was angry. And I think you can be strong and against terrorism and trying to protect the American people without looking like you're...

CARLSON: Look at you!

NOVAK: ... the bad cop.

CARLSON: Look at you! You manage it so well.


CARLSON: But listen, the question is whether Justice Department is training wheels for the Supreme Court, and conservatives really -- really do hope not because they worry that he's a little squishy.

HUNT: Mark Shields, Alberto Gonzales a little squishy?

SHIELDS: I don't know if "squishy" is the right word, Al. You know, one of the nicer aspects of him -- I think the -- I think the record is open to -- to real concern and real questioning, no doubt about it, especially the connection with Abu Ghraib and calling the Geneva convention "quaint." But this is a man who is one of eight -- eight offspring, only one in his family to go to college, and at the same time, Al, maintains close relations with his siblings, is -- never forgot where he came from. I think -- I think an awful lot of Americans will find that appealing. And John Ashcroft -- let's give the man credit. As a consequence, we can sleep better knowing that there are no bared bosoms...


SHIELDS: ... on the statues at the Justice Department. And that -- that in itself is a signal accomplishment.

CARLSON: Maybe Alberto will take them off.

HUNT: I want to just say one thing about Don Evans, the outgoing commerce secretary. In a town where there is too little civility, too little comity, he was a man who practiced it all the time while maintaining total loyalty to the president. He's a guy whose standing is higher than when he came, and that is no small achievement in Washington.

CARLSON: Bob's bored to death...

SHIELDS: I agree, Al.

HUNT: I know. Bob -- Bob...

CARLSON: Bob is just bored to death by this.

HUNT: Is that -- is that the kiss of death of Don Evans?

NOVAK: No, I'll tell you...


NOVAK: I'll tell you who's going to miss Don Evans, and that's George W. Bush...

HUNT: Yes.

NOVAK: ... because they talked a lot...

CARLSON: They can hang out.

NOVAK: ... and they -- and they -- and he advised him and -- and Don Evans was not a leaker. He didn't divulge what went on. And he was -- he was a gem. I would have -- I'd like to have seen him as the White House chief of staff. I thought he'd be ideal for that job, but he -- he wanted to go back to Texas.

HUNT: But he commanded respect, too, from the other side of the aisle. And I think, again, that's impressive.

Mark, a quick final word.

SHIELDS: Well, Al, I just think the thing about Don Evans that always impressed me was political opponents were political opponents, they weren't enemies. And you know, maybe that didn't serve him well at certain quarters, but you're right, he leaves behind him a very positive legacy. HUNT: OK. Final word, Mark Shields.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the Democrats search for new leadership.


HUNT: Welcome back. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean emerged as a possible candidate to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman. He analyzed the impact of President Bush's reelection.


HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fifty-one percent is not a mandate, and we're not retreating and we're not giving up and we're not going to stop fighting because we're going to stand up for ordinary Americans, even though this president doesn't.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: I saw that Howard Dean said that we should never move towards the center. Well, the center is where most of America happens to be.


HUNT: Iowa governor Tom Vilsack indicated he, too, is interested in being party chair, and former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen was also mentioned prominently.

Meanwhile, the House Democratic leader assessed the election returns.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We went after some incumbents. Our candidates did well. Many of them stand ready to go again.


HUNT: Mark, who's in line to become DNC chairman? And does it matter?

SHIELDS: Al, I've got the answer right here. No! I don't know, Al. Four hundred people make that choice, and I don't know what it will be. I do -- I do hope fervently that the Democrats will first take a deep breath before they, you know, go into the breast-beating and self-flagellation which has been so prevalent in the last couple of weeks. But they have to really come to grips with this, Al.

Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts made a great observation, and that is that the separation of church and state is not the separation of church and society. And I just remind my good liberal brethren and sisteren that the greatest domestic achievement of the American 20th century, that is, the emancipation of this country from official segregation, was led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, by the Reverend Andrew Young, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and that in the anti-war movement in Vietnam, important American milestone, it was priests, rabbis, nuns, ministers, just as in the 19th century, Al, slavery was abolished in the leadership of Protestant men of the cloth.

I just think that's so important to know that we just can't say that when clergy are involved on issues that we don't like or we oppose that they have no right to be heard.

HUNT: Excellent point, Mark Shields. John Thune, take off your partisan hat for a moment, put on your adviser's cap. What would you tell the opposition party right now? What should they do?

THUNE: Well, I think when you talked about the various people that they're considering, I think a Midwestern centrist. I mean, clearly, the Democrat Party, at least in the view of most Americans, had drifted too far to the left in this last election...

HUNT: Right.

THUNE: ... at the presidential level, congressional level. And you know, people in this country are concerned about that. They're concerned about it with respect to the courts. And I think that, you know, the model for Democrat success nationally has been, you know, in the middle. And I think that in the Clinton vein, in the Carter vein, the people who've succeeded as Democrats in this country, that's kind of what they've -- they've found that middle ground. And I think that if they're going to get their footing back and get back on track and be competitive, they're going to have to seek out some of that middle ground. And I think that means appealing, in a way, to the people in the red states, and I think that was really what was missing in this last election.

HUNT: Does that suggest Tom Vilsack, Bob?

NOVAK: I think Tom Vilsack is the logical choice. I think he's going to get it. Friends of Vilsack's say that he was very worried about Howard Dean getting a head of steam and becoming chairman, which would be an absolute disaster for the Democrats. So I wouldn't be surprised to see Vilsack get it and get it quite -- quite easily.

Now, I just would like to say to Mark that I don't think there's been sufficient self-flagellation by the Democrats.


NOVAK: A lot of them said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) switch 50,00 votes in Ohio, we elect -- elect Kerry. That -- and that's not the point. I thought -- I like Nancy Pelosi, and -- but she could be a stand-up comedian because she gets out there and says, We did very well against incumbent Democrats -- I mean, incumbent Republicans. I'm sorry. There was only two incumbent Republicans, Phil Crane and a guy down in Georgia, Burns...

HUNT: Burns.

NOVAK: ... who lost. Only two in the whole country! What a -- what a disaster going into the second decade of Republican rule! And these people are in denial that anything -- anything is really bad. I think the Democrats are the minority party in the country, and they're going to be the minority party for while.

CARLSON: You know, Bob...

HUNT: I am so relieved, Bob. I thought you were going to take on Mark for suggesting the Emancipation Proclamation...


CARLSON: ... was a good thing.

HUNT: ... were more important than tax cuts.

CARLSON: I'd like...

HUNT: Anyway...

CARLSON: Listen, I'd like to...

HUNT: ... Margaret?

CARLSON: I'd like to hark back to Mark saying -- you know, bringing up those days when, you know, "I have a dream" was the Democrats' cry and not, I have a plan. And you know, the Democrats need to have some overarching message this next time around. You know, I wonder if Vilsack will pledge not to run because I think that's one of the issues about who's going to lead the DNC. For Howard Dean, it seems such a bad idea for him personally, in that he's not a party hack. He's a guy...

NOVAK: He's worse!

CARLSON: ... who was -- who was doing it in a different way. And to become chairman of the party and travel 300 days a year looking for money from fat cats and talking to county chairman -- that's not Howard Dean. He's an outrider.

HUNT: Mark Shields, do you agree with that assessment of Howard Dean, it would be a disaster?

SHIELDS: I don't, Al. I don't know who's a disastrous chairman. I think that whoever the chairman's going to be, it's going to put a face on the party, I mean, because Harry Reid, the new Democratic leader in the Senate, is not a well-known national figure or somebody who courts the media, in a large sense. So it's -- he's going to occupy, to some degree, the position (UNINTELLIGIBLE) face of the party.

I'd just say to my good friend, Bob Novak, yes, there is something to that fact that a 140,000-vote switch...

NOVAK: Oh, boy!

SHIELDS: ... in Ohio, and John Kerry would have been president, even though he lost the popular vote by three million. And all you apologists for the Electoral College would be hard-pressed to defend that antiquated system, Bob.

CARLSON: Oh, wait...

NOVAK: Let me just -- let me just...

CARLSON: I have to say something!

NOVAK: ... say that the last Democratic national chairman, Terry McAuliffe, was a disaster, and I think the...

SHIELDS: He was not.

NOVAK: ... shortening the system led to the reelection of George W. Bush.

CARLSON: OK. I didn't say Howard Dean would be a disaster for the party, I said the job would be a disaster for him because it's out of his...

HUNT: All right, you stand corrected. And John Thune was the one that first said Tom Vilsack would seem to fit the bill. We want that on the record.

John, thank you so much for being with us.

Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar" story of the week. Is there new life in the Bush immigration reform plan? We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Fallujah, where embedded CNN reporter Nic Robertson gives us the latest live update. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these messages and the latest news headlines.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Carol Lin. CAPITAL GANG will continue in just a moment, but first I've got these headlines.

Vice President Dick Cheney has left a Washington hospital and aides say he feels fine. He spent part of the day undergoing tests after experiencing shortness of breath. Initial results showed nothing abnormal. Cheney has a history of heart problems.

And Iraq's interim prime minister says he won't be deterred by the kidnapping of his relatives. Ayad Allawi made the remarks today while visiting Nasiriyah. The group claiming responsibility for the capture is threatening to behead the hostages unless all Iraqi prisoners are released and the assault on Falluja ends.

And U.S. troops wounded in the assault on Falluja have begun arriving at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. The troops are being taken to a nearby U.S. military hospital for treatment. The Pentagon says at least 22 U.S. troops have been killed and 170 wounded in that battle. And a somber mood in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where a steady stream of mourners paid their final respects to the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Palestinian leaders laid wreaths at the gravesite after prayers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

That's what's happening right "Now in the News." I'm Carol Lin.

Keeping you informed, CNN is the most trusted name in news.

Now back to Al Hunt and THE CAPITAL GANG.

HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG.

Presidential political adviser Karl Rove revealed that President Bush is reviving his immigration reform. And the secretary of state, speaking in Mexico, confirmed that.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform as a high priority in his second term, and he will work closely with our Congress to achieve this goal.

HUNT: Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a critic of the administration's policies, responded, "Their amnesty plan was dead on arrival when they sent it to the Congress in January. And if they send the same pig with lipstick back to Congress next January it will suffer the same fate."

Bob, is the Bush immigration reform dead on arrival?

NOVAK: Pretty close to it. I think, regrettably, in my opinion, Congressman Tancredo is right there. It really creates enormous animosity, but this is something that's been a problem with America.

Of course your -- your family came -- came over in about the 10th century, but my grandparents were immigrants and nobody -- nobody wanted them to come. And the people here always look upon immigrants with suspicion. It's one of our problems even though we are a nation of immigrants.

I think the president's plan makes a lot of sense in -- these are guest -- these guest workers, creating a permanent niche for them because somebody's got to do this job. And it's good for them, and it's good for the country, but he's got a lot of work to do on the Hill to turn this around because there's a lot of emotional animosity on both sides of the aisle against it.

HUNT: Margaret, I think Bob is actually right on this one. And I -- but isn't there a -- you know, a dangerous side to this for the Republicans? They did, as Mark said earlier, greatly increase their -- their Latino vote this time. And if they are seen as the anti- immigration party, that could reverse that progress. CARLSON: Well, it could, but this particular proposal is -- is pro-businessman. It's not pro-immigrant. It's to indenture people who are working because they have to stick with the same employer, they can't say anything about their jobs. It's for six years, and it doesn't meant that they will get resident status here.

It basically means you can come here and do our dirty work, but we're not going to protect you. You are really answering to your employee for whatever privileges you have while you're here.

HUNT: Mark, politicians always look at election returns. Arizona two weeks ago approved an anti-immigration which sounded reasonable. All it said was that you had to provide proof of -- of citizenship when you showed up at the polls, or in the emergency room, if you will. But it really was, you know, a scary proposition to a lot of people, including John McCain and Governor Janet Napolitano, because it required state employees to turn in suspected -- suspected immigrants.

Is that all -- does that all presage an increasingly ugliness in this issue?

SHIELDS: I think it probably does, Al. I think looking at Arizona you had the Democrats against the proposition, you had the Republicans joining the Democrats. You had business and labor united against it, and yet it carried, as you pointed out. And I think Congressman Tancredo, who perhaps doesn't appeal to the better angels of human nature or American nature, probably has put his finger on something.

Bob Schieffer, who was doing the -- one of the presidential debates, invited suggestions. The most overwhelming suggestion he had from people, just people in the street who felt that neither party was addressing the issue, was that of illegal immigration and the fact that the borders are open. And I think both parties quite cynically for their own constituencies have looked the other way on this issue.

I mean, the Democrats in hopes of getting votes, quite frankly, up until perhaps this past election. And the Republicans, the business community liking the fact that eager, willing, docile and submissive workers who would not complain about conditions would be available as a labor pool. And I think it was sort of an unholy alliance between the two parties on this issue.

NOVAK: Well...

HUNT: Bob, the president is talking about...


HUNT: Let me as you this, though, and you can answer anything you want. But the president is talking about using political capital and having selective bipartisan measures up on the Hill. Isn't this a golden opportunity?

He gets liberals like Andy Stern, the Service Employees Union. He can get a bunch of Democrats and he can pressure some Republicans.

NOVAK: Well, I don't know if he's going to get that many eligible Democrats. I was very disappointed in both Margaret and Mark because they're voicing the Democratic line, which is to disguise jingoistic pleasures with this crap about this being a good thing for business and indentured servants.

Let me tell you this, my grandfather was a virtual indentured servant working on an assembly line. It was required for eight years and it was tough, and there was no unions and no complaints. But he had four sons who got college degrees. And this is a ticket into America that these people want. And all these bleeding-heart liberals who say, "Boy, they're indentured servants," they make me a little sick.

HUNT: We feel like an indentured servant working for you some of these times.

CARLSON: But, you know, here's what happens. Governor Wilson has the guest worker program, and then Governor Schwarzenegger then moves to take away drivers licenses of these people who are in this country working. What kind of program is that by Republicans...

HUNT: Bob -- Bob -- I'm sorry, Mark.

SHIELDS: Al, let's get one thing very clear between us. And Bob, let's not go back to those days when workers had no rights when your grandparents arrived here.

The reality is -- and you know it -- that the people who pick are vegetables and our fruits, who park our cars and change our beds and clean our tables, they are, in many cases, are people who are living here terrified of official repression at any moment for being here without any worker protection. Do they get worker protection under your plan, Bob?


HUNT: Well...

CARLSON: No, they don't. Yeah, Mark.

HUNT: Well, all right. Margaret, you have the last word.


HUNT: We'll continue this debate, though, I'm sure in the future, because coming up next in THE CAPITAL GANG "Classic," will be John Ashcroft confirmed to be attorney general four years ago. That was our "Classic."


HUNT: Welcome back.

Four years ago, the Senate confirmed John Ashcroft to be attorney general by a 58-42 vote along partisan lines after a bitter debate. THE CAPITAL GANG discussed Ashcroft's confirmation on February 3, 2001. Our guest was former GOP presidential hopeful Gary Bauer.


CARLSON: When it came to answer the questions before the committee, John Ashcroft sounded like a moderate. It could have been Janet Reno answering those questions. You know, it was a complete personality (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Do we have the man that was nominated, or do we have the laundered John Ashcroft?

NOVAK: They're not -- they're not going to turn him around. They are going to clean up that mess there. And there's going to be a lot of people, a lot of cases that have been buried that are going to be brought to light.

GARY BAUER, FMR. GOP PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL: I don't think he's going to be intimidated, although I do think that was one of the purposes of this confirmation hearing.

HUNT: We learned something about John Ashcroft's political character and his veracity, which gives -- gives a lot of people not very much confidence that he's going to clean up anything over there.


HUNT: Mark, did we underestimate how polarizing Attorney General John Ashcroft turned out to be?

SHIELDS: Probably, Al, but what should have been revealing to us, I guess, was that 42 of his colleagues, you know, stood up and voted against him, which was really rather remarkable. And I'm just, you know, glad that he's gone now. I have to be very frank with you. And now he can spend more time with his family, not dancing and not watching "Desperate Wives" on Sunday nights.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I was disappointed in John Ashcroft as attorney general. I thought he would be a good attorney general. I'm not always correct. And I certainly was incorrect...

HUNT: That's the headline tonight.

NOVAK: Yes. I was certainly incorrect in thinking that he was going to dig into some of the bad stuff that went on in the Clinton administration. Of course he got kind of overwhelmed by -- by 9/11. But I thought that the -- I was interested how -- how -- how deceived Margaret was by his imitation of Janet Reno.

HUNT: Were you deceived, Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, he was a stealth nominee in those hearings. He was very soft spoken, and it was not at all hard-edged. And I join Bob in admitting that I was wrong.

HUNT: Oh, boy. Two out of three tonight.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at a week of fighting in Falluja with CNN's embedded reporter, Nic Robertson.


HUNT: Welcome back.

U.S. and Iraqi forces on Monday launched their mass ground assault on Falluja.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At the request of the Allawi government, and alongside of Iraqi troops, coalition forces are now moving into Falluja to bring to justice those who are willing to kill the innocent and those who are trying to terrorize the Iraqi people.


HUNT: U.S. military officials announced today that American troops have occupied the entire city of Falluja with no more concentrations of insurgents still fighting. A new audiotape believed to be the voice of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi urges insurgents in Iraq to press on and to "burn the earth under the invaders. To the heroes of Falluja, I pray to god to give you victory in your jihad."

Joining us now from Camp Falluja is CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who has been embedded with the Marines in the heart of the action.

Nic, did the Falluja operation go according to plan?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It went according to plan. It went quicker than the initial plan.

Forty-eight hours to achieve the initial objectives was the estimate. That was done in more or less 12 hours.

What has happened, insurgents have fallen back in behind the troops as they've moved quickly, and Marines quickly, into the center of the city. But the initial phase is -- and the phase to control the whole city, that is in place. That has happened almost completely now.

HUNT: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Nic, what -- what did the U.S. military command learn about the insurgents they didn't know before? Was there any surprises that came out during the fighting?

ROBERTSON: I think one of the surprises talking to Marines and Marine commanders is that the civilian population left the city, making it perhaps easier for the Marines to find the insurgents because they were pretty much the only people in the streets of the city. What they discovered is that the insurgents went to ground in some places when the Marines first came in, and then popped up again behind them.

The issue that the Marines face now, the insurgents are fighting in groups of perhaps four to six, commanders say. The insurgents know the city well. They are choosing the time and place that they will target the Marines.

That's the problem for the Marines at this time. Marine commanders, though, say that they dominate in terms of tactics, in terms of numbers, in terms of bringing firepower to bear.

But what they've learned about the insurgents here is that many have left the city, that those that are there are willing to -- willing to hold their ground, willing to hide under very intense and firepower, and then pop back up at places of their children. And that's what's happening right now.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Nic, one of the problems -- or two of the problems is that, you know, the new insurgents replace old insurgents. It seems to grow and the makeup seems to change. And they fall back and then pop up someplace else, like Mosul, as they did this week.

What is the -- what are the troops doing about that?

ROBERTSON: Well, some troops that were involved in the operation around Falluja that have come down from Mosul -- the Mosul area were indeed pulled back to Mosul when trouble flared and tension escalated there. What will happen to these Marines when they finish in Falluja, will they go up and then have a similar operation in Mosul? That's not clear.

Will the current well-trained Iraqi force that has gone into the city be pulled out as well to go north? What is -- what are the implications for the follow-on force, the Iraqi forces expected to follow on inside Falluja?

The well-trained Iraqi forces are still in short supply. So what quality and what number of follow -- Iraqi follow-on force will be left behind in Falluja? And how will they be able to keep the insurgents from coming back into Falluja?

The insurgents' advantage is that they're able to move around the countryside. And many of them, it's believed, left Falluja in advance of the fighting, perhaps went to Mosul, perhaps went to other towns in the region as well.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Nic, after the Marines -- during the Marines' very successful movement in Falluja, the president said, according to The Associated Press, "The United States support continues to grow internationally, the United States effort in Iraq." Now, this is on the heels of our learning that Hungary is joining the Czech Republic and Philippines, and some seven other countries in pulling out its troops.

What should we believe here? I mean, how strong and how deep is that commitment from our partners?

ROBERTSON: Certainly there are nations that are indicating that they want to pull out. The -- perhaps the nations that are contributing the largest numbers of troops at the moment, Poland and Great Britain, are still here inside Iraq, still supporting the U.S. forces.

Certainly the Iraqi government has been to Europe and pleaded with European nations for help reducing the debt, financial help for Iraq for reconstruction, and to continue and to step forward with forces to support the multinational force inside Iraq. For the Iraqi people, they just want stability. And for them, it's not important it seems who makes up that force.

They want a force that they can see as impartial, a force that will support the country and bring stability. The most important people -- the most important thing people tell us here in Iraq that they want is stability. And for them, it doesn't matter, the international makeup of that force. But they want somebody to do that, and they look to the international community.

HUNT: Nic, we have less than 30 seconds left. This appeared to be almost exclusively an American-U.S. Marine operation. Do we have any sense of how the Iraqi security forces performed?

ROBERTSON: They have -- according to Marines I've talked to, in some cases they performed well. They say -- Marines tell me that there are perhaps a smaller number of Iraqi forces that have the real -- really good skills, the good fighting skills, the stamina for battle.

What we see in Falluja right now, the Marines doing the heavy, hard dangerous work of going house to house. Iraqi forces perhaps doing security on a couple of buildings. Good, well-trained Iraqi troops have been at the forefront of some of the fight, but Marines tell us that quality of Iraqi fighter is still in short supply, still needing to be trained.

HUNT: Thank you so much for being with us, Nic Robertson. And please be safe.

The Gang will be back with the "Outrageous of the Week."

ROBERTSON: Thank you.


HUNT: And now for the "Outrageous of the Week."

The CIA has had its share of woes lately. But Porter Goss, the Republican politician tapped by President Bush to head the agency, has a solution, according to a riveting piece by two great "Washington Post" reporters, Walter Pincus and Dana Priest. Goss has brought in several political hatchet men from his Hill staff, and they are trying to make sure anyone who doesn't tow the party line is out.

Just what we need. With terrorist recruiting on the upswing and the threat greater than ever, a polarized and partisan CIA.

NOVAK: The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Monday begins hearings could put the United Nations and Secretary- General Kofi Annan at risk. Subcommittee chairman Norm Coleman has been staggered by corruption in the U.N.'s Iraqi Oil for Food program.

Hearings will show reports of a billion dollars in fraud are understated. The biggest outrage is the U.N.'s refusal to supply evidence to Senate investigators using former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker's internal inquiry to obstruct the Senate investigation. The U.N., so beloved by liberals, is drenched in corruption and deceipt.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Al, seven -- count them -- only seven incumbents lost seats this past election. That's a 99 percent reelection rate. Incumbents get all the money, win huge margins, scare off challengers and sometimes even run unopposed.

Currently, the system favors the GOP. Tom DeLay alone hijacked four seats in a power grab. But it's a bipartisan racket, generally, with congressmen protecting each other in drawing warped, distorted districts. What's good for Tom DeLay is not good for the country. If the founders had wanted America to have a house of lords, they would have provided for one.

HUNT: And from Austin, Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Al, aside from my time in college, in my college years, and my time in the Marine Corps, I have lived my entire life in the blue states of this country. The blue states, of course, as we know, vote Democratic and are out of touch with American faith, morality and values.

Wait. Thanks to "The New York Times" Pam Bellchek (ph), we learn that there are a lot more divorces in the red states of America, the church-going states, than in blue America. Red states with the highest divorce rates include Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas. And what American state has the lowest divorce rate? That's right, Massachusetts, which sanctioned gay marriage.

Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, your apologies will be accepted.

HUNT: Mark, you transcend color labels.

This is Al Hunt saying goodnight for THE CAPITAL GANG.


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