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Tony Blair Receives Back Treatment; Senate Showdown Continues

Aired May 19, 2005 - 15:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sustain them during today's challenging labors.

ANNOUNCER: A prayer for compromise? The Senate countdown to meltdown continues, with private talks, public protests and photo-ops.

The filibuster fight in black and white. African-American lawmakers take a stand, remembering history and seeing irony.

Laura Bush as goodwill ambassador. A trip to the Middle East takes her political role to a new level.

"SUPREME CHANCELLOR PALPATINE," STAR WARS CHARACTER: All who gain power are afraid to lose it.

ANNOUNCER: A familiar force. What does the new "Star Wars" film say about politics now?

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. It could be the last best hope for avoiding all out war in the Senate. CNN has obtained a draft of a compromise aimed at ending the stand-off over the president's judicial nominees without the battle going nuclear.

Our congressional correspondent Joe Johns is here with all the details. Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Well, to start off right now on the Senate floor, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey -- we've seen a number of people out there, including former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry just a little while ago. Meanwhile, those off-the-floor negotiations continue. The stakes here are just so high. In large part, of course, because the people in that room, if they're successful in agreement, they could be laying down the terms of debate for the next Supreme Court nominee.

Of course, it's very hard to tell what's going on here. Pendulum swings just within the last hour. We've had people telling us they're very close, other people telling us there's simply no way they can see for a deal to be reached out of what they're working with. An example of that, of course, Senator Ben Nelson, the Democrat who's been pushing very hard, talked a little while ago about how tough it is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN NELSON, (D) NEBRASKA: The general guidelines are the same. Don't give up the store. And that's the key to try make sure that at the end of the day, that this is a mutual agreement, not unilateral, and that's what I think we'll all be working to do. I'm sure we have the same feelings from the other side. They've certainly expressed them that way.


JOHNS: So what's on the table? We did get an unsigned draft of one of the proposals that was floated yesterday. It would allow some of the most controversial judges through, including Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen, whose nomination is on the floor right now.

At least two would be blocked under that proposal we saw, William Myers and Henry Saad. But one Republican we spoke with said the problem is not line-up of judges any longer, it's the other stuff, it's the political stuff, including the fact that two Republicans told CNN within the last 24 hours that they're under extreme pressure from conservative groups and they're very concerned that if they go a way the conservatives don't like, they'll pay politically.

One other note. We have been told that there is a possibility of the debate to go late into the night or through the night Monday. That would lead up, of course, to a showdown test vote Tuesday or Wednesday on the Senate floor -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Joe, there's no real sign of a breakthrough here?

JOHNS: We haven't seen a sign of a breakthrough. We've had some aides and some senators telling us everything from we think it could happen in the next hour or two, to telling us they think some senators are simply in the negotiation room, trying to get an idea of what the other side is saying with really no plans on negotiating at all. So the reactions and the descriptions of what's going on in this room vary wildly and it's very difficult to put your finger on the pulse of most of the people in the room, consensus, if you will -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Johns trying to follow it all up on the Hill. Joe, thank you very much.

Well, the word "filibuster" may be on practically everyone's lips here in Washington, but remember when Social Security reform was the talk of the town? Well, President Bush apparently does. He traveled to Milwaukee today. So did CNN's Ed Henry.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With judicial nominations dominating the debate in Washington, President Bush came here to the shores of Lake Michigan in order to try and breathe new life into his Social Security reform plan. This is the president's 32nd Social Security event in his 26 states, but national polls show it's still a tough sell. So a tiny shift in emphasis. While the president normally showcases seniors, today was all about young workers. He started with a roundtable discussion with 20-something's at an edgy Web company. It almost looked like a set from "Friends," the president sitting on a leather couch with a laptop and latte mugs nearby. Once youngster even called the president's private accounts "awesome."

Then the president came to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, where he said he wants to save Social Security for future generations.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES If we're going to sit down at table, let's get it done forever. Let's say to a younger generation of Americans, we're going to permanently solve the Social Security issue so can you grow up with peace of mind.


HENRY: But Democrats today are pouncing on comments by Robert Posen, one of the president's advisers on Social Security, suggesting that the president may need to back away from private accounts in order to get his overall plan through Congress. Yet another sign that this will be an uphill climb.

Ed Henry, CNN, with the president in Milwaukee.

WOODRUFF: That was an economist who had been advising the president. Ed, thank you very much.

Well, the Senate fight over filibusters has at least this much in common with the "Star Wars" saga: It helps to understand the jargon. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has a definition of terms.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Big political battle going on in Washington. What's it about this time?

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MINORITY LEADER: The filibuster is far from a procedural gimmick. It's part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate.

SCHNEIDER: Sounds important. Let's see what it means. A filibuster is the right to unlimited debate. A senator who opposes a measure can speak as long as he or she wants, or until their lungs give out, to keep the measure from being voted on. How do you shut them up?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (D) CONNECTICUT: We need to save the super- majority rule.

SCHNEIDER: Super-majority to the rescue! To stop a Senate filibuster, you need more than a simple majority of 51 votes, you need a super-majority of 60 votes. There are now 55 Republican senators. To get a 60-vote super majority, Republicans have to attract some Democrats. Republican leaders say they shouldn't have to do that to confirm a federal judge nominated by President Bush. Democrats say, oh yes? Let's talk.

REID: ... sit down and talk through this issue and see if there is a way that we can resolve this, short of this so-called nuclear option.

SCHNEIDER: Nuclear option? No, not that. It's the new rule Republicans are threatening to pass that would prohibit Democrats from filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees. If Republicans do that, Democrats say they will shut down the Senate. Thermonuclear war! Republicans call it...

REP. STEVE KING, (R) IOWA: This is the tyranny of the minority against the will of the majority and the express direction of the Constitution.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans say it's tyranny for the Senate minority to hold up nominations. Democrats say democracy means majority rule and minority rights. What's the real issue here?

BUSH: And we will defend the institution of marriage from being redefined forever by activist judges.

SCHNEIDER: Conservatives say activist judges pass new laws from the bench, like laws allowing same-sex marriages or abortions. Liberals say those judges are simply giving people more rights, like the right to die in the Terri Schiavo case. Is that the real issue? Or is this whole thing a proxy fight for when President Bush nominates someone to the Supreme Court?


SCHNEIDER: The idea that this is a proxy fight is widespread, as we heard from Joe Johns, and people are expecting this to be a rehearsal for the real showdown, which could come after the Supreme Court ends its term in June -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Bill, back on this whole issue of jargon, the word filibuster, the nuclear option, as they call it. How does the use of these terms by the media and by the politicians affect the ability of either side to make their case to the American people?

SCHNEIDER: Well, of course, they're -- both sides use words that they think people will respond to. Democrats have largely succeeded in conveying the term nuclear option as something Republicans want to do that will blow everything up. So Republicans have counteracted by calling the nuclear option, which would prohibiting filibusters, the constitutional option. They're using a friendly word to say, no, we're just exercising an option if we pass this rule that would protect the constitutional mandate for the Senate to confirm or deny President Bush's judicial nominees. So each side chooses a word that they think will be friendlier in public relations.

WOODRUFF: Bottom line, words matter.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, they do.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider. Thanks very much.

Well, interest groups on both sides of the Senate showdown are making their arguments in new television ads. A spot from the conservative group Progress for America features testimonials about judicial nominee Priscilla Owen.


ADVERTISEMENT VOICE-OVER: For 200 years, the senators and the fair judges were keepers of peace and justice in the republic, until...



BETSY WHITAKER, TEXAS BAR ASSN, FRM. PRESIDENT: Justice Owen is a fine, outstanding jurist who's earned the highest rating by the American Bar Association.

LINDA EADS, PROFESSOR OF LAW, SMU: I've served under Republican and Democrat presidents. I'm a constitutional law professor. And I find Justice Owen to be extremely well qualified.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS, TEXAS ENERGY COMMISSIONER: What we're hearing in the media is coming from people that have a political motivation...


WOODRUFF: The second part of that ad is the part that we're referring to. Progress for America says it is spending $3.6 million this month on ads and on activities promoting an up-or-down vote on the president's judicial nominees.

Meanwhile the pro Democratic group took more creative liscense with it's new ad, a Star Wars spoof that portrays Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as being on the dark side. Here it is again.


ANNOUNCER: For 200 years, the Senators and the fair judges were keepers of peace and justice in the Republic, until, one Senator, seduced by a dark vision of absolute power, seeks to destroy this fabled order, replacing fair judges with far right clones. To do this, he's ready to use a nightmare weapon known as the nuclear option.


WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, MoveOn says it's spending $150,000 to air this ad nationwide on CNN, beginning tomorrow. So a long held secret finally has been revealed. We're now going to know how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. Is there any message there for President Bush? More "Star Wars" politics ahead.

Plus, Hillary Clinton plans an open house that could help her in 2008. Who will be her special guests?

And later, the mayor-elect of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa tells me why he thinks he won in a landslide.


WOODRUFF: With me now, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.

There's a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll out that shows disapproval of Congress' performance is higher than it has been since 1994. Bay, how much of this has to do with the fight over judges?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT AMERICAN CAUSE: Well, it's the fight over judges, it's Social Security. It's the fact that Congress can't seem to get together and come and work out problems and solve them and pass legislation. It happens all the time. Every time that the two sides start where they fight and bicker and don't accomplish anything, that the polls go down. That's why you see right before an election, you'll see a lot of legislation passed.

DONNA BRAZILE, FRM. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: But the last time we saw these numbers Judy was in 1994. And we all know what happened that year, Democrats lost control of the Congress. The Republicans have experienced an 11 percent drop, two-thirds of the American people are upset, in fact, angry at the Congress for not doing enough on jobs and the economy. So I think this is a warning signal to those in charge of Capitol Hill perhaps to lay aside their partisan bickering and begin to focus what the American people want them to do.

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you where Democrats have a problem, though, Donna. If the Republicans can make the case that your their obstructionists next year going into the election. That you caused it. Where we couldn't accomplish anything, because you held it up, not us.

BRAZILE: Bay, you have enough members in the House to do a lot of things. But you're not doing what the American people want you to do. And that is to lower their gas prices and also find jobs.

WOODRUFF: And Bay, in fact, as I read this poll it says the greatest erosion in congressional approval has occurred among self- described Republicans. It talks about the Democrats holding a 47-40 percent edge, when you ask people who should control Congress after the 2006 election?

BUCHANAN: Well, I'll tell you where you some of that emotion, is coming, Judy is conservatives. They feel the conservatives in Congress, the Republicans in Congress did not hold back on the size of government. It's much, much too large. The spending is out of step. That they aren't solving the Social Security, they're not coming up with a plan, they're not moving ahead on it. And great concern over what Congress has done.

So, I think conservatives themselves are upset. Nothing being done on immigration, for instance. Another big issue in this country. So, I agree with Donna, jobs is another one. People expect to see Congress address some of these problems that they feel in their everyday lives.

BRAZILE: This poll revealed, Judy, that seniors are dissatisfied with this Congress. And we all know in midterm elections, which by the way, is 536 days from now. When you're in the minority, you always count. But seniors are very concerned that this congress, of course, wants to touch their Social Security. And, of course, cut their benefits.

BUCHANAN: But I'm convinced that the Democrats are in worse shape going into next year's election than we are if they don't start playing the -- accomplishing something.

WOODRUFF: A worry for the White House referring to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, about 49 percent to 12 percent Americans say the president and his administration are putting too much emphasis on Iraq, and by 65 to 1 percent is putting too little emphasis on the economy.

BRAZILE: When they see Congress debate, rightly, because we need to send money to protect our troops and make sure they get out of harm's way, but when they see members of Congress pass yet another big whopping spending bill for Iraq, they're saying what about us? So look, Bay, I know you're going to try to blame it on the Democrats, we're not in control of the Congress. We want to get back control of the Congress, but right now, they don't believe that the people's agenda is taken care up on Capitol Hill. Instead, the special interest is running Washington, D.C.

BUCHANAN: There's no question, if the economy continues to falter out there, and the people don't have a sense of security about where it's going, it will hurt Republicans. There's just no question about it, I can't argue otherwise. So -- and when Iraq is off the table.

Iraq helps when people concerned about terrorism, that helps Republicans. People are feeling that the Iraqi war, it's almost time for us to start coming home.

I agree with Donna, jobs is going to be a key issue in next year's election. And Republicans are going to have to have answers.

WOODRUFF: Change the subject. The new Star Wars movie coming out. I don't know if either one of you've seen it, but there have been early releases. There are moviegoers who are saying maybe the man behind this movie, George Lucas, is trying to compare George Bush, President Bush and his handling of the Iraq war, trying to make a point about all this. What do you think? BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I want to go see the movie. Bob Novak promised to take me. I promise to cook, of course. But there's a line in the movie that, you're not with me, you're my enemy. I guess that comes with Darth Vader. And people are comparing that to what George Bush said when he said, if you're not with me, you're against me in terms of the war on terrorism. I don't know if there are any other parallels between this movie and Iraq, but if there are, I hope it's a truthful rendition of it.

BUCHANAN: It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. Line they keep referring to wasn't originally George Bush, it was originally the Lord's. I believe it goes back to the old testament. So, I don't think you can really make a case that there is some political statement. If there is, who cares. Because millions of people...


BRAZILE: ...who can be against me. That's in the old book. I understand that one.

WOODRUFF: By the way, Mr. Lucas says that the movie was written before the war in Iraq.

BRAZILE: I'm sure it was.

BUCHANAN: Well, that should pretty much take care of it.

WOODRUFF: That doesn't stop us from talking about it.

BRAZILE: I'm waiting for Mr. Novak to take me to the movie.

WOODRUFF: We want to hear about that when it happens.

BUCHANAN: That's right, and I want to know why I wasn't invited.

BRAZILE: Oh, because you're too conservative for Bob.

WOODRUFF: All right, we'll leave it there. Bay and Donna, thank you both. We appreciate it.

Rudy Giuliani is the featured speaker, so one high-profile guest has decided to cancel. Up next, we'll tell you where Giuliani is speaking tomorrow and who won't be there to hear what he has to say.


WOODRUFF: An apparent shift in public opinion leads off our "Political Bytes." A new Gallup poll finds support for the death penalty has increased since last year: 56 percent of those polled say they support the death penalty over life in prison, without parole for convicted murders. A year ago, 50 percent supported the death penalty when asked the same question. The poll also found a significant decrease among those who think that innocent people have been executed in the U.S. in the past five years.

Some news of note involving potential White House candidates in 2008. Senator Hillary Clinton is planning a fund-raiser with her supporters from Iowa. The event, officially designed to boost her Senate re-election campaign, will be held at Clinton's Washington home.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the commencement speaker tomorrow at Loyola College of Maryland, but Cardinal William Keeler of the archdiocese of Baltimore will not be attending. Keeler has informed the Jesuit school that he will skip the event because of Giuliani's support of abortion rights.

And a quick trip doesn't necessarily make one a potential presidential candidate, but we couldn't help but notice that former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts is headlining a Republican fund-raiser in Concord on June the first. The event is being held to raise money for New Hampshire statehouse candidates.

He made history this week in Los Angeles, and now he is one of the Democrats' new rising stars. Coming up, I'll speak with L.A. mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa on his future and where he disagrees with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

She is one of the two judges in the congressional cross fire. We'll take a closer look at controversy surrounding Janice Rogers Brown.

Plus, Laura Bush gets ready to wave the flag. Will her trip to the Middle East help repair America's image in the Muslim world?


WOODRUFF: A little before 4:00 in the afternoon, and as the -- on the East Coast -- and as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York, with "The Dobbs Report." Hello, Kitty.


Stocks only slightly higher on the date. Blue chips, though, still more than 350 points ahead for the week. Let's take a look right now -- Dow Jones Industrial's adding a -- slightly -- and the NASDAQ is about half a percent higher.

There is a new rule for internet phones. They now have to provide 911 service. That's within the next three months. Up until now, you could get 911 help from a land line or a cell phone but not always from an internet phone. The problem came into focus after several families complained that they couldn't get help during an emergency, including one case where a murder was about to be committed.

Well, Teflon -- it has a rep of being nonstick. Sometimes Teflon is used as a synonym for problems dropping away, but for the maker of Teflon, a subpoena from the Justice Department won't drop away. DuPont has been asked for documents on the chemical it uses to make Teflon. The Environmental Protection Agency has been investigating that chemical since 2003; says it could cause health problems. New technology for credit cards -- both J.P. Morgan, Chase and American Express, launching new credit cards this summer. The cards are read by waving them in front of a special reader. No signature required.

Coming up on CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," the Bush administration is scrambling to reverse the damage from a flood of cheap Chinese imports following the expiration of textile quotas, but the government will now put a limit on imports. Is it enough?


AUGGIE TANTILLO, AMTAC: The administration needs to develop a comprehensive approach to the China problem that doesn't simply address one category here and one category there, but begins to deal with their currency manipulation, their state-sponsored subsidies and other unfair trade practices.


PILGRIM: Also, tonight, for the first time in five months nuclear talks were held before the United States and North Korea. We'll have a special report.

Plus, Reverend Jesse Jackson joins us to discuss his meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox. That's after Fox made comments that insulted African-Americans.

And Pat Buchanan of the American Cause will explain why he says, quote, "the conservative movement has passed into history," unquote. We'll have all that and more, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," but for now, back to Judy Woodruff. Judy?

WOODRUFF: Kitty, thanks very much, and we'll be watching.

Right now, back to INSIDE POLITICS.

While a small group of lawmakers tries to hammer out a compromise, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is planning to take the showdown over judicial nominees to the next combustible stage. Frist's office says Republicans are considering around-the-clock debate on judges on Monday night. Now, that would likely be followed by a Tuesday vote on Judge Priscilla Owen's nomination. Within just the last hour, Senator Frist held another event to press for an up or down vote on the president's judicial nominees.

Meantime, the Congressional Black Caucus took a more high profile role today in the fight over judges, defending the Democrats' right to filibuster. Some members acknowledged a certain irony to their actions as our national correspondent Bruce Morton explains.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Congressional Black Caucus delivered a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist urging him not to change the filibuster. All 43 caucus members signed it. REP. MELVIN WATT (D), CONG. BLACK CAUCUS CHMN.: We requested a meeting with Senator Frist to deliver the letter and we were advised that he would not be available to meet with us. So, we delivered the letter to his office anyway.

MORTON: Every black caucus member knows, of course, that filibusters were used again and again against blacks, against civil rights bills. The filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act lasted 57 days. Caucus members see the irony in what they did today.

WATT: How ironic would it be that a rule that throughout history has been used to the disadvantage of African-Americans, would now be changed in a way that would be disadvantageous to African-Americans and we wanted to make that point.

MORTON: Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate to Congress, read the letter to reporters.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C.: Violating Senate rules in order to overturn Rule 22 is especially unacceptable to us today in light of the repeated and disproportionate use of filibusters against the nominations of blacks, Hispanics and women who were nominees in the judiciary committee during the prior administration.

MORTON: House members can't vote in the Senate, of course, and the letter may not change any senator's position on this issue, but it may resonate with some voters, as the Senate wrestles with an issue that may welcome up often in the election of 2006.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bruce.

One of the most controversial judges being blocked by Democrats, Janice Rogers Brown, is African-American. Let's talk more about race as a possible factor in this fight. I'm joined by CNN chief national correspondent John King.

John, there's been some suggestion maybe the president has played the race card with Judge Brown's nomination. What have you found on that?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly some of the opponents, especially in the traditional African-American civil rights organizations, which tends to be more aligned with the Democratic party, tend to be more liberal -- they think the president made her among the first put to the floor in this fight because they want to essentially dare the Democrats to vote down an African- American woman as one of the president's nominees.

Race is without a doubt a factor in this, in part because of her compelling story. She was born in Laverne, Alabama. That's about 50 miles outside of Montgomery, the daughter of a sharecropper. A very tough childhood she had. She was inspired by the Rosa Parks story -- watching Fred Gray, Rosa Parks' attorney, that inspired her to become a lawyer. She went on to do that as a single mother, and it was during that time she moved from being a liberal to a conservative.

Personal responsibility is key to her, and she has said some things that, frankly, anger liberals. She called the New Deal, which created Medicare and Social Security -- she called that our, quote, "socialist revolution." She also has spoken out repeatedly about the welfare state, saying that it has created a new slavery. Her chief of staff says that is what motivates he, that she believes that all of these government programs, perhaps designed to help, have actually hurt African-Americans.

WOODRUFF: So, you know...


BILL MOUNT, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF: She believes something of a wrong turn was taken maybe half a century ago when the welfare state grew, and I think she thinks that the national experience of African- Americans has been, in some ways, regrettable.


KING: "Some ways regrettable," her chief of stay says it's her view, on the experience of African-Americans and many of these civil rights groups that are opposing her and many conservatives say it's simply because they cannot stand the fact that you have a well- educated, intellectual African-American woman challenging what they believe in.

WOODRUFF: She has been described as out-spoken. What are some of the other things that she has said?

KING: This is in part what makes her so unique. Many judges don't give public speeches. Janice Rogers Brown has given quite a few over the years, including to groups that make the liberals worry, the Federalist Society. That big "Justice Sunday," when Bill Frist gave the big speech to a Christian conservative group about the filibuster, Justice Brown was in Connecticut speaking to a church organization.

And she has given a number of speeches, including one that many considered an audition. She came here to the nation's Capitol in May 2003. It was the commencement address at the law school at American University, and in that speech she talked about the new slavery, again, her view that government is too big, and she also made clear that, given a choice between government and her faith, she would choose her faith. Let's listen.


JUSTICE JANICE BROWN, CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT: Scientists and philosophers have spent the last 300 years trying to organize society as if God did not exist, and the last two centuries seeking to reshape society through industrial development, social engineering and various forms of wealth creation. This process was supposed to bring forth the new man, a new and improved humanity. The project, though, was a miserable failure.


KING: She also has spoken, Judy, of a war between those who believe in God and secular humanists and liberals, who, she believes, are trying to divorce the country from its religious roots. So, what makes her unique in part, it's not only her judicial rulings the critics go through and her supporters, but also the many, many speeches she has given over the years.

WOODRUFF: I'm sure she realizes that everybody is watching and listening to everything she says, because she was going to be a nominee or is a nominee. Why has she still chosen to be outspoken?

KING: It's a great -- it's a great question. I sat down last week with Steve Mercimer, a veteran Sacramento attorney, active in Republican presidential campaigns, active in campaigns in the state, and he's a good friend of hers. He says his advice for her is, Janice, please stop giving all these speeches. But he says it's who she is. He says she's an intellectual. She reads Shakespeare. She reads poetry, and that she does this on purpose. Her chief of staff said the same thing to us. She does this on purpose to stir intellectual debate.

What they say, though, is, she understand the difference between a speech and her job as a judge, and her rulings are perfectly fine, they say. They say, sure, she gives provocative speeches, but her rulings are based on interpreting the law. The critics, of course, disagree. But, her outspokenness, all these speeches, are what makes her one of the more fascinating stories here.

WOODRUFF: Certainly is. All right, John King, we appreciate it.

In Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa still is basking in his huge victory over the incumbent mayor. What will he do for an encore? I'll talk with him about his agenda ahead.

Plus, the first lady on a mission in the Middle East. What does she hope to accomplish?

And, when we go "Inside the Blogs," those online pundits can't get enough of the new "Star Wars" film and its political subplots, some would say.


WOODRUFF: Quickly, a developing story we want to tell you about. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been to the hospital today to be treated for what is described as a slipped disk. Went to a London hospital today. He left the hospital after treatment to go to his country residence. And officials say he was not expected to require further treatment. They also say his work schedule should not be disrupted.

Again British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 52-years-old being treated today for a slipped disk. Having complained of back problems recently.

INSIDE POLITICS continues in just a moment.


WOODRUFF: Antonio Villaraigosa defeated incumbent Los Angeles mayor James Hahn in a runoff yesterday by a commanding 18 point margin. Villaraigosa takes office on July 1 as the first Hispanic mayor in 133 years. Instead of yesterday I meant Tuesday.

I spoke with Antonio Villaraigosa a little while ago. And I started by asking him if his victory is a sign of rising Latino political power?


ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) LOS ANGELES MAYOR-ELECT: Well, it's an indication that Los Angeles is going to judge its leaders by the content of their character, by their plans for the future, by what they are going to do. And I'm very proud we won among every ethnic group across the entire geography that is the greatest city of Los Angeles.

And I think what it says is that Los Angeles is ready for a leader who is going to focus on the problems that are facing this great city. This is the city of America's hope and promise. It's the place where we come from every corner of the Earth to live out the American dream. But it's also a place with many, many challenges.

The highest poverty rate in America, the highest hopelessness rate, the worst traffic, dirtiest air, too much gun and gang violence. And schools that frankly still aren't performing the way we would like them to.

WOODRUFF: Well, the problems are huge. And some observers are saying that it's going to be hard for you once you start to take specific positions on the issues on how to solve these things?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, I have taken specific positions in the past. As you may know, I was speaker of the California State Assembly with responsibility for $100 billion budget, authored the largest initiative to rebuild and modernize schools in U.S. history, the largest expansion of healthcare. Since MediCal, 700,000 children have healthcare. The biggest investment in parks and open space. And the toughest assault weapons ban in the nation.

As a council member, I settled the MTA strike here in Los Angeles that had the city paralyzed. I brought -- I helped to bring $800 million light rail line to the East Side that was on life support when I got elected to the city council.

WOODRUFF: So you reject the notion or the observation that you haven't been specific?

VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely. I mean, look, people in a campaign, what you do is you talk about in general terms, you know, the issues that face people. You usually have a minute to open up a debate, 30 seconds to respond. I like to say people aren't looking for vision in those opportunities, they are looking for a sound bite.

WOODRUFF: You are speaking in a couple of weeks to a group here in Washington, the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal group. They are saying your candidacy is about more than just winning back city hall. They say it's about building a movement to change America. So is this part of a national effort you are embarking on?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I'm going to focus on Los Angeles, make no mistake about that. I want to be mayor of this city. I want to focus on the specific challenges that we face here in Los Angeles.

But our ability to address how we revitalize our city is going to go a long way to being an incubator for innovation for what we do in cities around the country. We have got to revitalize and make cities, places where the middle class want to live again, places that are safe, places with good schools. Our ability to address these problems will have an impact all across the country. Make no mistake about that.

I have said to whoever is running for president, and as you know I was national co-chair for the John Kerry campaign and the co-chair of the platform committee for the Democratic convention. I've said that we have got to have an urban agenda that focuses on people in our cities. And so I guess that's why they want me to speak at their conference.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about an issue in California making headlines. The governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying he favors armed border patrol guards to deal with a rising number of illegal immigrants. Is that a good idea?

VILLARAIGOSA: No, it's not, Judy. We need our Department of Homeland Security, which patrols the border, both borders, to address the issue of security at our borders. That's a federal function. It's not a function for private citizens.

We have an old saying from the days of the wild, wild west, that leave your gun outside of the city limits. It doesn't make any sense for people to take the law into their own hands. That's not the function of private citizens, that's the function of law enforcement.


WOODRUFF: Antonio Villaraigosa just elected this week to be the next mayor of the city of Los Angeles.

Up next, the first lady prepares to leave for the Middle East. We'll preview her planned stops in three countries over five days and think about what she hopes to accomplish along the way.


WOODRUFF: First Lady Laura Bush leaves later today on a five-day trip to the Middle East. She plans stops in Jordan, Israel and Egypt including a speech to the World Economic Forum in Amman.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux will be traveling with the first lady. Suzanne, hello.


WOODRUFF: What is it that the first lady wants to accomplish? What's the purpose of the trip?

MALVEAUX: Well really, she is going to act as a goodwill ambassador for the United States. She is going to promote the agenda of her husband. You know, her husband not very popular among some of the regions that she's going to be travelling.

She is going to talk about democracy, she's going to talk about women's rights, particularly education. She is going to be traveling to Jordan first, than to Israel as well as Egypt. She'll be visiting some cultural sites, education sites.

The highlight, the centerpiece of course, is when she addresses the World Economic Forum before a group of business leaders. And again, she will highlight the importance of women's roles and really try to stress the administration's push for democracy. It is hopeful that her message, perhaps, will be received a little bit better than her husband.

WOODRUFF: You were just telling me this trip has been planned for a long time. But coincident with the timing this week, there's this flap we have all been paying attention here in the U.S., "Newsweek" magazine had reported that the Koran was desecrated by U.S. officials at Guantanamo Bay. Now they've retracted the story. It's gotten a lot of attention all over the world. What is the connection with the trip?

MALVEAUX: Well, there's actually no connection in the sense that this was planned a long time ago as you had mentioned. But of course, it's hopefully it'll be very advantageous for the Bush administration to give that kind of picture, that warm picture of the first lady coming to say, look, you know, we extend our goodwill to this region.

There are a lot of problems with perception, U.S. perception. As you'd mentioned, Abu Ghraib, as well as the "Newsweek" scandal, of course. The riots that occurred in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. A place where she's visited several times.

There's also a report that came out today the Council on Foreign Relations that talked about the increase in anti-Americanism in the region. They said that the large perception is people don't like who we are or what we do. But it's not just about changing U.S. policy, the report also says it's about stressing the kinds of things the United States does. The kinds of reform it takes with education, the type of aid that occurs.

It's really going to be interesting to see, because her role has really as you know taken on a much greater profile. We saw it with French President Jacques Chirac in her trip a couple of years ago. Front and center at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Also plan to get a one on one with her in front of the pyramids, perhaps, on Monday.

WOODRUFF: Very good. We will be watching for that. But you are right, her role much more prominent in the last few months. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Have a successful trip.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: Well the force has some people fuming online. Up next, let's check in with our blog reporters to find out what people are saying about the politics of the dark side.


WOODRUFF: Perhaps, like everywhere else, it seems the newest Star Wars movie is a major topic in the blogosphere. Let's check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton. And Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter. Hi, Jacki.


It's a case of "Star Wars" ate my blog today on many of the political blogs.

We start at where Will Collier is posting on what he calls geek week day four. He actually went and saw the movie. He has a full review of it and was kind enough to put all the spoilers in the extended entry. So, if you want to take a look at what he thought, you can do so over there.

Not just guys, Michelle Catalano, at calls herself a level 2 fan. A level one fan being someone who can enjoy the movies and talk about them, but in any extensive detail. A level- three fan being somebody that dresses up her dog like Darth Vader. She finds herself somewhere in the middle.

What she is doing, though, is posting a carnival of the force, a list of bloggers who are also talking about the movie, the list keeps growing and getting longer. She has got the reviews down at the bottom.

ABBI TATTON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: But is the movie anti-Bush? That's one topic of discussion in the blogosphere, has been all week, especially with some of the conservative bloggers. And especially after director George Lucas made some comments earlier in the week which some interpreted as comparing George Bush's America with the Empire.

Those comments inspired this post here from Arthur Crankoff, Crankoff, This is a blogger in Australia. He's in Brisbane, Australia. His is a widely read conservative blog mostly about international affairs. Now, he says that all his life he thought the Empire referred to the Soviet Union, but now perhaps it is the United States.

And he's not too happy about this comparison. He says to George Lucas, if in your mind it's the United States that has slowly transformed itself into an evil empire and therefore, logically all those who stand up to it are our story's true heroes. Then, I have to say that the dark side is very strong. And I have crossed over a long time ago.

It goes on to say prepare a black helmet and uniform for me, too.

SCHECHNER: Over at (ph), Jesse Taylor says "oh, that's just sithy" saying that he is a political blogger, so he feels the need to comment. "Saw the movie." He says, "whatever politics it holds are on the same level as an inattentive wanderer through a political rally."

TATTON: Patrick Ruffini at definitely sees the politics in this one. Photoshop contest, Darth W. Vader. Patrick was the web master for the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign last year. And now is a blogger, maintains this site here. He wants people to send in their depictions of all the characters as Republicans.

Here you go, Darth Vader with his links to, a conservative site. And also with a sign here W '04.

SCHECHNER: Another one on the same site we liked was Jacob Morris' entry as the vice president as the valiant defender of peace and justice in the old republics, calls him Obi-Dick.

So, just a cute little Photoshop contest.

TATTON: Another big thing out there. It's been out there all week. We have to mention it, this is the retracted Koran story from "Newsweek" magazine. Bloggers on the left and right have all come down with very strong opinions about this. It seems that everyone has to give an opinion. Those that haven't so far even feel pressure to do so.

This at Oxblog, this is a group of current and former Oxford University students. What they say is, "I was very much hoping to avoid this business, but the blogosphere seems to be getting so polarized so fast that pleading the fifth no longer seems like an acceptable option."

SCHECHNER: And also on Balloon Juice, real quickly, a -- pointing to David Brooks' op-ed piece in the "New York Times' saying that there has been some overreach. And that, Judy, is a topic in the blogs that people are talking about that maybe everybody has gone a little too far.

WOODRUFF: Well, we're not going to draw that conclusion here, we're just going to listen to you all describe what they're talking about. Abbi and Jackie, thank you both. And we'll see you tomorrow. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Before we let you go, we wanted to let you know that we are looking for a news conference in just a few minutes with the father and the uncle of the two missing children in Idaho. There were multiple murders, now two young children are missing. CNN has been following that story. When they're news conference gets underway, CNN will carry it live.

For now, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.



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