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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Senate Showdown Begins; Women in Combat; Syria and the War on Terror; Villaraigosa Wins Los Angeles Mayoral Election
Aired May 18, 2005 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The curtain rises on a long-awaited duel. Not the "Star Wars" movie, but the battle over judges in the Senate.
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) TENNESSEE, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Let's do our duty and vote. Judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote.
SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NEVADA, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice their concern in this body of the Senate.
ANNOUNCER: Who's figuring into the big fight on the Hill? We'll talk with major players and profile one of the judges who has the Senate so stirred up.
A political landslide in Los Angeles pushes the mayor out and gives his challenger a bigger mandate than many expected.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES MAYOR-ELECT: I accept this victory, knowing that the challenges ahead are very big.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. It is D- Day in the U.S. Senate. The long-expected showdown over judicial nominees is now underway. Members have been debating for hours about one of the president's most controversial choices. But so far, the trigger has not been pulled on what Democrats call the nuclear option and Republicans call the constitutional option.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Joe Johns -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, this debate has been pretty bitter at times through the morning and now into the afternoon. Of course, on the floor, under consideration, the nomination of Priscilla Owen for an appeals court position. Right now, you can see Senator Max Baucus talking. Within the last hour, Senate Democrats joined with some of their House colleagues on the steps of the United States Capitol, a show of solidarity, essentially.
Now, on the debate, some of the language has been almost harsh, by standards. Senate Majority Leader Frist speaking of votes to cut off debate on judicial nominees, comparing it to killing an assassination. And Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois tried to call him on it...
JOHNS: ... on the Senate floor.
WOODRUFF: Joe, we're going to have to interrupt and quickly go over to another part of the Hill, where the defense secretary is talking to reporters.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There's a couple of things that are unusual right now. One is that there isn't a battlefield line. It's an asymmetrical battlefield. And so there are not clear lines where a battle's taking place on one side and not on the other.
A second thing that's unusual is that the Army is in the process of reorganizing and moving capabilities from the division level down to the brigade and the battalion level.
So those two moving parts create a situation where the Army is reviewing how they do things, and they're working with the Congress and they're working with the battlefield commanders to find an appropriate way that's consistent with our country's view on that subject.
There's a law. There are rules and procedures. And the question is: How do they apply with these two new moving parts?
QUESTION: How would it affect Army operations if women were removed from the forward support...
RUMSFELD: I don't think I'm going to get into the hypotheticals. I'd rather wait and see how the Army sorts that out.
QUESTION: We're dealing with a real-life crisis, it's not a hypothetical. What do you think would be the impact of this if you took women away that are serving honorably and courageously?
RUMSFELD: You are presuming that could happen. And what I'm saying is the Army is considering these things as to how best to do it, and at some point they will have a written declaratory statement that presents their conclusions in a manner that will be understandable by certainly the people in the Army and certainly the people outside the Army.
QUESTION: So you're going to wait and see?
RUMSFELD: I'm not just sitting around waiting. I'm having meetings with them and discussing it.
QUESTION: What you are telling -- when you are talking to Chairman Hunter, what is your position on this issue?
RUMSFELD: My position is that I want to learn and get better informed so that I can participate in the discussion on the thing in an intelligent way.
QUESTION: Have you seen reports that Abu Zarqawi had a meeting about a month ago with his lieutenants in Syria, and does that account for the current surge in violence right now that's going on?
GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I saw the reports.
I can't really confirm or deny whether the reports are correct.
But clearly, we do know that there are activities that are taking place in Syria, not with the collusion of the Syrian government, but that are activities that are insurgent-inspired that are taking place over there.
It's very important that the Syrian government do everything within its power to keep violence from migrating or being planned in Syria into Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Syrian government is doing enough?
ABIZAID: No, I do not think the Syrian government is doing enough.
QUESTION: Have you been briefed on the latest Zarqawi recording that's been released? Have you all heard that?
ABIZAID: Yes, I have.
QUESTION: How do you respond?
ABIZAID: I have no response to it. It's the same old thing. He says that it's OK to kill Muslims and that's it's an Islamic duty, and he's incorrect. That's not true.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Think about it -- what he says is it's OK for Muslims to kill Muslims, and not just any Muslims but innocents, men, women and children.
And that's what he's been doing. If you look at the statistics over the last couple of weeks, a lot of Iraqi men, women and children have died because this violent extremist is trying to convince others to do it.
I mean, that's a -- talk about a guy that just has absolutely no moral foundation. It's an outrage.
QUESTION: What's he up to? Is he trying to provoke a civil war?
MYERS: Absolutely. He's already said it.
He said he's trying to provoke a civil war. He's trying to keep freedom from happening in the Middle East.
MYERS: He is a violent extremist aligned with UBL. That's all clear, well documented. And that's clearly what they want to do -- and they'll go to any lengths, they'll run into the World Trade Center or they'll kill several hundred Iraqi men, women and children in the last couple of weeks.
It's an absolutely outrageous. He's a criminal for sure. Probably worse, if we had a...
QUESTION: ... these tactics that he's using might actually be making some progress in moving that country too close toward a civil war, which is obviously...
MYERS: Me, personally, no. The Iraqi government is strong, and the Iraqi public, in the recent polling, shows that they're strong as well and understand what this is all about.
The Iraqi public is as outraged as the world is -- and should be -- against his tactics and his methods.
ABIZAID: People like Zarqawi and bin Laden are regarded by the whole region as being extremists. The people out there don't want them to win. They have no vision of the future. It's just a dark, dark way ahead. People don't believe in them and they don't want them to win.
They want to enable their own government to win the battle, and that's why the Iraqis are going to win on their own.
RUMSFELD: It may not be newsworthy, but the reality is that, in many parts of that section of the world, moderates are prevailing.
And in the struggle between the extremists and the moderates in that faith, if you look in Afghanistan, you look in Iraq, you look in other parts of the region, the Palestinian Authority had an election -- there are things happening that are encouraging that suggest that there is a movement toward moderation, as opposed to extremism.
QUESTION: General Abizaid, we are in a tough fight in Iraq. Wouldn't it have a devastating effect on the Army to remove women from forward-support companies?
ABIZAID: I really can't comment on that at all. I have just come from the region. I'm not involved in the debate right now. We're looking at it. I'll have to wait to get my instructions from the department.
MYERS: The fact is, it is a debate. There is a policy.
MYERS: We're following the policy as it stands. There's a debate going on. We all want to become better informed. And so that stuff is a ways off. QUESTION: General Myers, can you put your finger on the Afghanistan riots, what caused them? Do you think it was the Newsweek article? Do you think there were other factors involved?
MYERS: I have not talked to General Eikenberry since. But what I said was that his initial thoughts, based on what he knew at the time -- and there was lots of caveats there -- that he thought that the political unrest had been previously planned as was more about internal Afghan politics.
I think we can obviously go on to say that it was probably fueled. But you'll have to ask him. I think he'd probably say that once it gets going, of course, anything can fuel unrest like that, and perhaps that article did. I don't know for a fact. I just don't know.
It certainly wasn't helpful. Inaccurate reporting like that is not helpful in that part of the world when we're trying our best and we have our men and women in uniform and our DOD civilians and State Department people and people from Treasury and Justice trying to help people have a better life. It's not helpful when you have inaccurate reporting that incites people to violence. It's just not helpful.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about what you're doing here and what you may have discussed earlier today over at the White House?
RUMSFELD: We had a meeting, General Abiziad and General Craddock and I and General Myers had a meeting with the president. We do that every week, I do. And we obviously talked about this hemisphere and we talked about the Central Command's AOR.
QUESTION: What's on the agenda today?
RUMSFELD: Well, I meet with the members of the Senate and the members of the House every period of weeks, five, six weeks.
And General Myers and I generally brief. And when General Abizaid is in town, he comes along. Last time, I think General Barno came along and talked about Afghanistan.
And there are always 50, 60-plus members of the United States Senate who ask questions. And we have a chance on a classified basis to discuss things that are important to them and important to the country.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, nobody says anymore -- has any progress been made in finding Osama bin Laden?
RUMSFELD: I will make sure we let you know when we find him.
QUESTION: Any progress being made at all?
RUMSFELD: When you're hunting for someone, and you haven't found them, you haven't found them. And at some point, we will find him. And at the moment, we haven't. ABIZAID: Mr. Secretary, if I may -- let me just say, we've made an awful lot of progress against al Qaeda as an organization. That's a very important point for people to understand.
And when I say "we", I mean we the international community, we with our Pakistani partners, we with the United States military and the interagency of the United States.
WOODRUFF: We've been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and also General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, answering reporters' questions at the Capitol, after they met with Senators and members of the House, answering questions primarily about Iraq and also about Afghanistan.
Now, we want to turn back to the story we are following today on Capitol Hill, and that is the president's judicial nominees -- nominees to the federal courts of appeals. There has been an effort to come up with a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. So far, that has not resulted in success, but right now we want to talk to one of those who's been involved in trying to reach an agreement. He is Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Senator, thank you very much for joining us.
SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Thank you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Senator, where does everything stand? Now that they are debating on the floor of the Senate, the nomination of Judge Priscilla Owen, that would seem to suggest that efforts to work out a deal have failed?
NELSON: No, I don't think so at all. I think the efforts are ongoing, even as we speak, at the moment. I've stepped out of a meeting so that we could give you an update. We continue to talk, to dialogue, also to wordsmith, to try to find areas of agreement. I can't tell you we're real close, but I can tell you we continue to get closer with every discussion.
WOODRUFF: But, now that Judge Owen is before the Senate, aren't you inevitably going to face -- I mean, she's going to be filibustered by the Democrats. There's going to be a call for a so-called cloture vote to stop the debate, to stop the filibuster, and at that point, aren't you facing the so-called nuclear option, changing the rules by the Republicans?
NELSON: Well, that could happen, but I don't know that that will happen. I think that the whole effort on getting an agreement is to get up or down votes wherever possible. And that's certainly going to be the commitment with respect to the previous judges as well as new judges, and that's what the agreement is all about, to try to find a way to get more up-or-down votes, except in extraordinary circumstances, and I'm not sure that for enough individuals, she would constitute an extraordinary circumstance for -- to vote for the filibuster to vote against cloture.
There probably will be quite a few votes against her, but that's different than the filibuster.
WOODRUFF: Has -- have enough Republicans now agreed that they're willing to let some of these judges go by the wayside, some of the seven who have been proposed?
NELSON: Well, I don't know that anybody is going to go by the wayside. There may be some names that don't come forward. There may be names that don't come out of the committee. I think those are all decisions that are going to be made by others. But I don't know that there's a belief here that anybody's going to go by the wayside. There just may be some that aren't brought forward. I don't think we know at this point in time.
WOODRUFF: Well, how is this going to get decided, Senator?
NELSON: Well, I think it's going to get decided because there is going to be agreement for more up-or-down votes based on the fact that filibuster will be only used in extraordinary circumstances.
On the other hand, the -- we will agree that there will not be a vote for the nuclear option where rules change, a constitutional change, whatever their description is, as long as we continue to work together and try to get up-or-down votes. I think there will be a suspension of any effort on the up-or-down -- or, the nuclear option.
WOODRUFF: So, bottom line, it looks like, I mean -- every, all the reports we're seeing are that four of the president's seven judicial nominees, the Democrats are about ready to let that many go through. Is that right?
NELSON: Well, I can't tell you the details of it right now because they're not finalized. When they are finalized, I think it will be fairly apparent that there are agreements of that -- of a similar kind. But I can't confirm the number or the identity of any of the judges in that category.
WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Ben Nelson who's been heavily involved in trying to work out a compromise. We thank you very much for talking to us.
NELSON: Thank you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Thank you, and I know we'll be seeing you in the days to come.
At the top of the hour, we want to let everyone watching know that we'll be talking with a Republican involved in some of these efforts at a compromise, Senator Arlen Specter of the state of Pennsylvania.
Well, if Senator -- If Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats aren't feeling the heat now, the White House is warning they will, if they pursuit filibuster fight to a point they are slowing down Senate business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it would have consequences for the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate, if they continued to hold up progress on the important priorities for the American people. American people elected us to get things done. The American people want to see us work together on important priorities. The president has reached out across partisan lines in order to find solutions to our pressing priorities. Senate Democrats have been standing in the way of progress on some of those important priorities and that's the president's view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Hours before the fight over judges was set into motion today, President Bush used a Republican party gala to again plead his case for his nominees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: And speaking about judges -- in the last two elections, the American people made clear they want judges who faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. I have a duty to nominate well-qualified men and women to the federal judiciary. I have done just that and will continue to do so. The Senate also has a duty to promptly consider each of these nominees on the Senate floor, discuss and debate their qualifications and then give them the up-or-down vote they deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: President Bush, making his case at last night's Republican party fund-raiser where they raised at least $15 million. So, let's go back to the Hill, quickly, now, to our Joe Johns.
And Joe, I'm so sorry we had to interrupt to you a few minutes ago to listen to the defense secretary and others. They were on the Hill talking about Iraq. We just heard from Senator Ben Nelson. What is your sense of where things stand?
JOHNS: Well, the first thing I think you have to say is it's been rough stuff out on the Senate floor, really interesting to hear senators and their tone, the kind of language they're using. As an example of that, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on the floor, speaking of cloture votes, the votes to cut off debate, compared it to assassination and killing of these judicial nominees, and was confronted on that on the Senate floor by Dick Durbin, the senator -- the Democratic senator from Illinois.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRIST: The issue is that we have leadership-led, partisan filibusters that have obstructed not one nominee but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, in a routine way. The issue is not cloture votes, per se. It's the partisan, leadership-led use of cloture vote to kill, to defeat, to assassinate, these nominees. And that's the difference. SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: When words are expressed during the course of the debate that those of us who oppose these nominees are setting out to kill, to defeat or to assassinate these nominees, those words should be taken from this record. Those words are inappropriate. Those words go too far.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: On balance, do you have to say some of the toughest rhetoric on the Senate floor today has come from Democratic senators like Barbara Boxer of California, also Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
A couple of other notes -- you had Senator Nelson on just a couple minutes ago. We have a bit more intell on that: we're told, about 11 senators inside a meeting in the office of Virginia Senator John Warner, the Republican. Seven Republicans, five Democrats. The goal, obviously, to come up with a bipartisan compromise that 12 senators could sign, presumably, six Democrats, six Republicans, to try to head off this showdown over the nuclear option and to allow through a certain number, still undetermined, of the president's judicial nominees. Judy?
WOODRUFF: So, Joe, that would work if they just had that number?
JOHNS: Well, it apparently would work, because, you know, the point of it is, if you have to have a certain number of votes to get anything done on this, and you need 51 votes, presumably, to go forward with the nuclear option, six Republicans saying no would take away the 51. That's the main thing, of course. And then Democrats on the other side would be able to say, well, we're not going to filibuster. And there's some type of an agreement in there, they hope.
But final language is the big question. And Senator John Warner -- it's very interesting that he's involved, of course. Republican from Virginia. He has stood up to the Republican leadership here before.
WOODRUFF: Bottom line -- I know we all get caught up in these numbers -- bottom line is each side wants to have its say over which judges get confirmed. All right, Joe Johns, thanks very much. Joe at the Capitol.
Well, if Minority Leader Reid is trying to assess any fall-out from the fight over judges and filibusters, he might want to check out some new poll numbers from his home state. A Mason Dixon poll shows 56 percent of Nevada residents approve of the job Reid is doing in the Senate. But just over half of those they say disapprove of Reid's leading role in blocking some of the president's judicial nominees.
At the center of the Senate battle, a soft-spoken judge who also teaches Sunday school. Why is Priscilla Owen such a lightning rod? The answer ahead.
And later, a true Hollywood story. Some of the hottest young stars are rallying behind a would-be presidential contender. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOODRUFF: As we've been reporting, Republicans have put the spotlight on Texas Supreme Court justice Priscilla Owen, in the looming Senate showdown over the president's judicial nominees.
Our chief national correspondent John King joins me with more on Priscilla Owen's record and on her background. Now, John, I understand this judge has some connections with this Bush White House?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that is one of the reasons this fight is so personal. In a word, it's about Texas. In two words, you might say it's about Karl Rove. She doesn't really know the president all that well. But back in 1994, she was an underdog at beginning of the race running for the Texas Supreme Court. They elect judges in Texas. Well, there was another underdog running for governor. His name was George W. Bush. No one thought he could beat Ann Richards at the time.
Priscilla Owen and George W. Bush shared one thing: Karl Rove. He was their political consultant in both of the races and he, of course, is a larger-than-life figure here in Washington, as well as in Austin. Owen's supporters say his role is exaggerated in her nomination. But Democrats will tell you, if you look at all judges in play, her record is not really much different than any of the others. One of the reasons they think it would be advantageous for them to take her down in this partisan fight, is, they say -- it is Texas, it's about Karl Rove. They think it would be a clear shot to the White House.
WOODRUFF: He's still a factor in her career. You took a look at Judge Owen's rulings on abortion, which is clearly a big part of this debate. What did you learn?
KING: Well, it is a fascinating debate. And if you read all the press releases put out by interest groups on either side, many of them have what I would call distortions, both sides. In the sense that she has ruled in a handful of cases all about the Texas state law about judicial bypass for parental notification if a minor wants to get an abortion. Now in one of those cases, she had a bit of a fight with Alberto Gonzales, then a colleague on the court, now the attorney general of the United States.
She would say that all of her positions are consistent and in many cases, she actually adopts the exact language of Sandra Day O'Connor and other U.S. Supreme Court justices in the ruling. She adopts the exact language. The critics say that what she was trying to do is that she was looking for tougher language, because she wanted to be more restrictive on those minors than the Texas legislature intended. But she has said, in her public testimony, that she does not legislate from the bench and that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and she understands that. But her critics say that once on a higher court, they think she would change her view.
WOODRUFF: Well, something else you hear from the critics about Judge Owen's ruling, they say they are excessively pro-business. What do you -- what have you learned about that?
KING: Well, she has the misfortune, if you will, of ruling in a case involving Enron, which has become a nuclear term in politics because of collapse of the company, especially its retirement program. She did issue a ruling in a Enron case that helped the company save money on taxes. She received some campaign contributions from Enron, pretty modest amount, actually. And to her credit, she has said that judges in Texas should not be elected. She thinks that puts too much politics in the system.
The more emotional case people focus on is a tragic case involving a young man named Willie Circe (ph). He was 14 years old, he was paralyzed in a car accident. His family won $30 million against the Ford Motor Company, saying it was a defective seat belt. Owen reversed that case and sent it back for trial. Now, that angered the family, that she reversed the verdict in the first place. But what angered them more is that it took 16 months to get her opinion, and the family the whole time trying to come up with the money to keep this young man on a ventilator.
Now, the attorney for the family says he believes that Owen and others in the majority decided at the beginning they were going side with Ford Motor Company and that it took them 16 months to come up with a reason that could withstand the law. Now Justice Owen's critics fiercely dispute that. But it is interesting to note that the chief justice at time, again, who sided with her in the case, reversing this verdict, called it not the court's finest hour. And the justices unanimously said after the fact that they should have handled that case much more quickly. Critics use that case to suggest she does not have compassion.
WOODRUFF: Very strong views on both sides.
KING: Very strong.
WOODRUFF: OK, well, it's clear in some respects why she was chosen first. Because this is where we're going to see, at least whether -- at least get a sense of whether this nuclear option comes into play.
KING: It is interesting, Judy, lastly, in that she was defeated once. That's what also makes this more emotional. The Democrats did defeat her once and the president renominated her. So this is a test of will.
WOODRUFF: John King, thank you very much.
And we want to ask you to please tune in tonight when John is going to have more on where Judge Owen stands on the issues and a closer look at her life. That is coming your way at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on "ANDERSON COOPER COOPER 360."
He is a crucial player in the Senate showdown over judges. Coming up next, I'll speak with judiciary chairman Arlen Specter about where he stands in the fight over filibusters. Plus, Howard Dean takes another dig at Tom DeLay. We'll tell you what the Democratic chairman said and how the House majority leader is reacting.
And later why is Al Sharpton heading south of the border? Find out in our "Political Bytes."
WOODRUFF: And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with the "Dobbs Report."
KITTY PILGRIM,CNN: Hi, Judy. Thanks
We have a really nice rally on Wall Street. We have the Dow Jones Industrial up about 129 points; NASDAQ more than 1 percent higher. Part of that is oil. It's now at a three-month low and the price is nearly $2 down -- just about $2 -- to just above $47 a barrel. That's after some reports of increased supply today.
Stocks also got some good news on inflation. If you take out energy prices, consumer prices were unchanged in April. Of course, the energy cost is the problem and energy prices jumped 4.5 percent.
In corporate news, General Electric dealing with charges of race discrimination. Marc Thomas, the chief of the aviation unit, claims GE pays African-American managers less than white managers and fails to promote them.
He does want this to be a class action suit for some 4,500 employees at GE; $450 million in damages he's asking. GE denies the charges.
And potentially good news for comparison car shoppers. The Senate passed a bill yesterday for more safety data on new cars. It calls for the window sticker to have crash-test and roll-over ratings; that's in addition to price and fuel efficiency numbers. However, this measure is part of a much larger spending bill that President Bush has threatened to veto.
Well, coming up, CNN 6:00 p.m. Eastern, "Lou Dobbs Tonight." Jesse Jackson and Mexican President Vicente Fox met today to talk about negative comments President Fox made about black Americans.
JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We have reasons to build a coalition and to choose connection over confrontation. I'm concerned now that as we move in the season that Mexican-American workers do not become pawns and African-Americans scapegoats.
PILGRIM: Also tonight, the leader of the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization joins Lou to discuss President Fox's comments.
Also, the Army is having a tough time securing recruits and Major General Michael Rochelle discusses that issue.
Plus, Senator Barbara Boxer fighting to preserve the filibuster. She'll explain why tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "Lou Dobbs Tonight."
But for now, back to Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Kitty, thanks very much and we'll be watching.
Right now, back to "Inside Politics."
At this hour the Senate fight over judicial nominees is moving on parallel tracks. Senators have been debating the nomination of one of the president's most controversial choices, Priscilla Owen. Some of the rhetoric has been harsh.
Meantime, behind the scenes, negotiations are taking place to try to avoid the worst-case scenario. Republicans have threatened to ban filibusters to block judicial nominees and Democrats have threatened to retaliate by throwing a wrench into Senate business.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee says most senators want to prevent this fight over judges and filibusters from going nuclear in so many words. Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is with me now.
Senator, we appreciate you being with us.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: Nice to be with you,Judy. Thanks for the invitation.
WOODRUFF: Do you think a showdown can be avoided? The Senate is already debating Judge Owen. Both sides seem to be digging in their heels.
SPECTER: I think a shutdown can be avoided. I'm hopeful. We're still working on it very hard.
We had a meeting of the so-called moderates from both sides with both leaders yesterday afternoon.
There are four judges in contention, Judy.
And Senator Reid has said that he would let us pick two of the four. One of the Democrats at the meeting had an interesting twist; add one of the judges from Michigan and said you take three and drop two or you take two and drop three.
I think if we were to move ahead taking three and dropping two, which as I say a Democrat had suggested, that we might do whip check. That's when we poll the Republican members. I think that Senator Frist is right. It ought not to be up to him to throw somebody overboard. But a whip check would signify how Republicans are going to vote. And from time to time enough moderates join with the Democrats to give the Democrats a win. So we might be able to resolve it that way.
WOODRUFF: So which judges are not going to make it -- are likely not to make it here?
SPECTER: Well, that's impossible to say. But when we do a whip check, that means each senator indicates in advance...
WOODRUFF: Checking with each senator...
SPECTER: .. how he or she intends to vote. If you turn up that six senators are opposed to two of those judges, then we could all make the point.
What this is really all about, Judy, is saving face. Listen, the institution of the Senate, protection of minority rights is more important than confirmation of the whole group. One of the senior Democratic senators has been saying that very emphatically for some time.
WOODRUFF: But, you've also got your Republican leader, Senator Frist, and the president saying every one of these judicial nominees deserves an up-or-down vote. How do you guarantee everybody an up-or- down vote if you preserve the right of the minority to filibuster?
SPECTER: Well, I think if it were left to individual consciences Democrats wouldn't want to filibuster. I say that based on having talked to many, many on the other side of the aisle. Similarly, on the Republican side, if we were left to our conscience -- party-line straitjacket was taken off -- people wouldn't want the nuclear option.
But the suggestion made yesterday by the Democrat about taking three and rejecting two, with a whip check, could give everybody an up-or-down vote.
WOODRUFF: I hear you. But I'm still focused on what appears to me to be an inconsistency. On the one hand you have the president and Senator Frist saying every one of these individuals deserves an up-or- down vote. But you are saying and other Republicans are saying that you don't agree; that, yes, that's nice theoretically but in reality the Senate should preserve the filibuster right.
SPECTER: Well, the proposal made by this Democrat at the meeting yesterday would give them all an up-or-down vote. We would just know in advance how the vote was going to come out. You know, all 45 Democrats are going to vote one way. And if you knew how the Republicans were going to vote, and you could determine and you might not...
WOODRUFF: That's not the same as an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.
SPECTER: Oh, yes. The whip check is a preliminary determination as to how people are going to vote. If Senator Reid was assured that we'd get three and he'd get two, on an up-or-down vote, he might go that way. Listen, Judy, the filibuster has a place providing that it is used sensibly. The Democrats used the filibuster in the last Congress in an unprecedented way on a pattern of attack. I've been on the Judiciary Committee for 25 years and we confirm circuit judges routinely without this kind of a battle.
I can give you some specifics. Where if it weren't for -- if the fact that it all started where the Democrats slowed down Reagan and we turned down 70 of Clinton's judges, this is payback time. This is not about these judges on their confirmation.
WOODRUFF: Is it fair to say that both sides are the guilty party here?
SPECTER: Yes. I said that on the Senate floor earlier today. Both sides are at fault. It got started in the last two years of Reagan when they slowed thing up and during Bush one. Then when Clinton's nominees came up, we stopped 70 of them from going forward. Then the Democrats went to the filibuster and the president went to the interim appointment. So this is payback time. We have routinely confirmed circuit judges who are no better than those under fire right now.
WOODRUFF: We hear you. Senator Arlen Specter is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It's very good to see you.
SPECTER: Nice being with you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: A test vote on Priscilla Owen's nomination not expected until next week. That could trigger the next phase of this fight.
Our national correspondent Bruce Morton explains how the filibuster battle could play out.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The only way to end unlimited debate, the filibuster is -- under Senate rules -- cloture. It takes 16 or more senators to propose it and the vote comes two days later.
Yes, but Senate Republicans may try to change the rules so you can't filibuster judicial nominations. But how will they do that?
The rules say it takes a two-thirds vote to change the rules. There aren't enough Republicans to do that. Yes, but the Supreme Court has ruled that each Senate is equal to any previous Senate and can, in effect, start over.
Quote, "Every succeeding legislature possesses the same power as its predecessor, the same power of repeal and modification which the former had of enactment, neither more or less." So how would it work? The Senate majority would get a ruling from the chair; Vice President Cheney, no doubt. Rule 12, the one covering filibusters, does not apply.
The Senate would then debate whether Rule 12 applied; the Democrats perhaps threatening a filibuster. The parliamentarian might rule that, yes, they could filibuster. But Cheney in the chair would then recognize a nondebatable motion to table.
The Republican majority would vote to table -- a majority is all it needs -- and then they move on toward a simple majority vote on changing the rule.
It's complicated but that's what happened the last time they changed the rules back in 1975 when a Democratic majority voted to change Rule 12 so that it needed only a three-fifths vote instead of two-thirds to end debate.
A nuclear option, maybe out of deference to the big new movie in town; they should call it "The Revenge of the Frist." No light-sabres allowed on the Senate floor, of course.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bruce, for that live footage from the floor of the Senate.
Well, I assume politicians would agree that winning is good. If so, they would say winning big is even better. Up next, the Los Angeles mayor-elect -- our Bill Schneider explains the secret of his success.
Plus, Hillary Clinton's big-name fans and Howard Dean's big-name adversary, and when we go "Inside the Blogs," find out who is fired up by Donald Trump.
WOODRUFF: A Los Angeles city councilman named Antonio Villaraigosa has won a rematch in that city's mayor's race. He defeated the incumbent mayor, James Hahn, the winner in 2001, by a wide margin -- 59 percent to 41 percent -- in yesterday's run-off. Our Bill Schneider is in Los Angeles. He takes a look now at the incoming mayor and the keys to his election.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Tuesday, Los Angeles voters fired their mayor after just one term. Sound familiar?
HARRY PACHON, TOMAS RIVERA POLICY INST.: We've really been in an anti-incumbency mood here in California for the past couple of years. The governor can well attest to that issue.
SCHNEIDER: L.A. Mayor James Hahn made the same mistake as former California Governor Gray Davis -- he lost his base.
JOEL KOTKIN, URBAN AFFAIRS EXPERT: When Gray Davis started having scandals and problems with his administration, there was nothing there, no reservoir of support.
SCHNEIDER: The irony is, Hahn had a pretty good record.
MAYOR JAMES HAHN (D), LOS ANGELES: ...47,000 new jobs here, $11 billion in new investment. That stuff just didn't happen, it just didn't magically happen.
SCHNEIDER: When scandals began to emerge involving city contracting, Hahn had no base of support to sustain him. By comparison, President Bush paid a lot of attention to his conservative base. Unlike Hahn and Davis, Bush got re-elected.
If the California losers, Davis and Hahn, had something in common, so did the winners, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Antonio Villaraigosa -- star quality. Hahn was not a rock star. Villaraigosa says...
VILLARAIGOSA: I'm going to be a mayor that doesn't hide under a rock.
SCHNEIDER: Villaraigosa did not get elected as the candidate of Latino power. Mexican-Americans are less than a quarter of the voters.
VILLARAIGOSA: I'm an American of Mexican decent and I'm proud of that, but I intend to be a mayor for all of Los Angeles.
SCHNEIDER: Virtually all of Los Angeles voted for him.
VILLARAIGOSA: It was clear that we did well in just about every community.
SCHNEIDER: The message of this election was not "Latinos are taking over," the message was "it's time."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a sense of inevitability in this...
SCHNEIDER: OK -- is there -- so the punch line in this election (ph), in politics you have to have a base. Your base are the people who are with you when you are wrong, and that's what Antonio Villaraigosa has. That's what George Bush has, and you know what, it didn't hurt to have a little star power, as well. Judy?
WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, yesterday we were talking about whether there was going to be any evidence at all of an anti-Hispanic, anti- ethnic sense, coming out of this vote. Is there any sign of that in these results?
SCHNEIDER: Not really. He got -- Villaraigosa got overwhelming support from both white, Anglo voters, particularly in the valley where a lot of them had been upset with Mayor Hahn. He did very well among African-Americans. There was a view that, how -- would they be reluctant to support a Latino mayor because they already had a mayor, Tom Bradley, for many years. Both groups supported Villaraigosa in very large numbers.
WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, and by the way, we are going to be talking to the new mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, and we'll be talking to him about his historic win and his plans for his administration. Bill Schneider, joining us from Los Angeles.
Well, Senator Hillary Clinton is heading to Hollywood. Up next, we'll tell you which celebrities are hosting a fund raiser for the senator's reelection campaign.
WOODRUFF: Checking today's "Political Bytes," Howard Dean is again criticizing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Dean told the "Arizona Republic" newspaper quote "there's corruption at the highest levels of the Republican Party. And they are going to have to face up to that one of these days, because the law is closing in on Tom DeLay" end quote. Dean went on to say he thinks DeLay is quote "guilty of taking trips paid for by lobbyists and of campaign finance violations." end quote.
A DeLay spokesman responded by pointing to Dean's comments during the 2004 Democratic primaries in which he said he would not prejudge the guilt of Osama bin Laden.
A reminder, Howard Dean will join me next Tuesday, May 24, right here on INSIDE POLITICS.
Senator Hillary Clinton is headed to Hollywood for a star studded fund raiser for her Senate campaign. Clinton will attend a June 1 event sponsored by Christina Aguilera, Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson among others. You may recall that the finance director of Clinton's first Senate campaign is currently on trial accused of underreporting the cost of a Hollywood fund-raiser back in 2000.
Democratic activist Al Sharpton has accepted an invitation to meet this Friday with President Vincente Fox of Mexico. Fox has been criticized for his recent comment that Mexicans here in U.S. are taking jobs that quote "not even blacks will take."
The Reverend Jesse Jackson meantime met with President Fox earlier today in Mexico. Jackson told reporters that Mr. Fox expressed his regrets for the comment.
The bloggers react to a political landslide in California. Up next, I'll talk with our blog reporters about the big victory in yesterday's race for Los Angeles mayor.
WOODRUFF: The race for mayor of Los Angeles is apparently a big topic in the blogosphere. Let's check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner our blog reporter. Hi, Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Yeah, we're going to get to the mayor thing in just a moment, but we wanted to mention that debate has begun on the floor of the Senate with regard to one of President Bush's judicial nominees. A topic that's been followed in the blogs all along. And they will continue to do so, we are sure, in the days and weeks to come.
A good place to go for live blogging today, chargingRINO.blogspot.com. Jeremy Dibbell over there says it's been a tough day, but he thinks this is an important issue. And he will continue to follow it as best he can.
Now in regard to the LA mayor story we are talking about -- we wanted to show you this, because we thought it was cute. Martini Republic has become Margarita Republic just for the day in celebration of the first Hispanic mayor in more than 100 years.
ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: And moving away from politics. After Donald Trump today endorsed a plan to recreate the Twin Towers on the World Trade Center site in New York City, bloggers started weighing in on what they though about this plan.
This is archidose.blogspot.com, the site of John Hill, a Chicago architect who's been following plans for the site. He has a picture of the proposed Twin Towers there from Trump and also the Freedom Tower that Trump called an empty skeleton earlier today.
John Hill says that he's not a fan of recreating the Twin Towers there. What he says, an architect again from Chicago, money, politics and symbolism seem to be overshadowing good, urban planning.
But we wanted to check out what some of the bloggers in New York City were saying. We found this great site here, NYCbloggers.com that allows you to find 5,000 bloggers all together in New York City and search by location. Here clicking on Manhattan, you can go by subway stop and find the bloggers near you.
Going down here to the World Trade Center stop, eight bloggers there listed in the vicinity of that subway stop.
SCHECHNER: Another New York City blogger weighing in is Scott Salah (ph) over at slantpoint.com. He says he's all for trashing the Freedom Tower and letting Donald trump take over, because Donald Trump is known for getting stuff down. Because as for saying that letting the Freedom Tower be built is letting the terrorist win. He says Trump, that phrase is as tired and outdated as your comb over.
Another New York City blogger weighing in on this is ace over at Ace of Spades Headquarters, ace.mu.nu. He has got a lovely picture of Trump in front of the model of the towers he's proposing. And he says, if it takes a brash, cocky, tacky guy like Trump to get the job done, well that's America ain't it? Brash, cocky and tacky is what we are. Ace, a blogger we've mentioned before. He prefers to remain anonymous.
Judy, we know you had a question about that, actually.
WOODRUFF: I did. It's something we've been talking about, Jackie and Abbi, and that is, I'm curious, how many bloggers are there out there who are anonymous who don't give their names? And are there any rules about whether one has to disclose one's real name in the blogosphere?
SCHECHNER: Well, there aren't any rules that we know of as far as real names. There are blogs that earn their credibility and ones that people will read over and over again regardless of the fact that there's no actual name. But we asked Ace in particular why he wanted to stay anonymous. And he gave a couple of reasons that we thought were actually pretty universal.
One of them being that he doesn't want any real word harassment from somebody who may disagree with him online. Another one being that employers don't like controversy, specifically right wing controversy which is what he likes to drum up.
And the other thing is as a right winger he says that he's an aspiring screen writer and Hollywood being traditionally very liberal that he doesn't want to possibly affect his screen writing career if he makes it out in Hollywood.
TATTON: And there are some other more specific reasons for people wanting to keep their identity secret. The Mudvillegazette.com is the site of a military blogger, blogging under the name Greyhawk. He doesn't want to give his name. He spent 20 years in the U.S. military and he doesn't want anyone to think that the views he's giving out are official views. They are very much his personal views. So he stays anonymous.
His friends don't know who he is, even though the Mudville Gazette it's a very popular site. Only his wife who also posts at the site there, Judy, under the pseudonym Mrs. Grayhawk.
WOODRUFF: Oh. OK. Well, so much to learn, at least for me. Thank you very much, Jacki, Abbi. And we'll see you tomorrow.
And one final postscript just to clarify something in Bill Schneider's report about Antonio Villaraigosa winning the Los Angeles mayor's race yesterday, just to clarify, Gray Davis did win re- election as governor of the state of California in 2002.
So that's it for this Wednesday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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