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A Showdown over Filibustering President Bush's Judicial Nominees was Averted By 14 Senators; House Approves a Bill Extending Federal Funding of Stem Cell Research

Aired May 28, 2005 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Mark Shields, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is Democratic congressman Charlie Rangel from New York, one of our favorite guests.

Thanks for coming in, Charlie.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Good to be back, Al.

HUNT: Good to have you.

A showdown over filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees was averted when 14 senators of both parties agreed on a compromise.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We have kept the republic -- we have signed this document in the interest of the United States Senate, in the interest of freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate. And I say thank God.


HUNT: However, leaders of both parties disagreed on whether the so-called "nuclear option" to force a majority vote on nominations would be used against future judicial filibusters.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: If the other side of the aisle acts in bad faith, and if they resume that campaign of routine obstruction, the constitutional option's going to come out again. I will bring it out once again. And once again, I will set a date to use it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NE), MINORITY LEADER: I support the memorandum of understanding. It took nuclear option off the table. Nuclear option is gone for our lifetime. We don't have to talk about it anymore. I'm disappointed that we're -- there's still these threats of nuclear option. It's gone.


HUNT: Mark, who won this fight?

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: Al, we're not going to know that for a while, but I will say this. Fourteen United States senators, whatever you think of them, stood up to the most powerful political bosses and to the most powerful interests in each party, on both the left and the right, and came together. And John McCain put it well. It did pull the Senate back from the precipice.

And I'll be very blunt, Al. Compromise is the life blood of any legislature, and those people who mistake it for capitulation, on both the left and the right, I don't think understand it or wanted it to work.

HUNT: Act of courage, Kate?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: I'll tell you what I think of those 14, Mark. The high-flown rhetoric was so silly! We've kept the republic. We looked into the abyss. It is so foolish! This has nothing to do with extending debate. Bill Frist offered to allow 100 hours of debate. This has everything to do with a frustrated liberal minority who can't win elections wanting to maintain whatever kind of control of the courts they can. That's what the debate's all about.

And these 14 -- well, it seems to me that the Democrats certainly on Monday night got more than they gave up. They got these seven Republicans to sign on for the proposition that filibusters can be legitimate in the Senate in an extraordinary circumstance, when, in fact, it's an extraordinary circumstance in the history of the Senate to filibuster judges with majority support. And they also got these seven Republicans to urge George Bush to adopt this extra- constitutional consult with the Senate -- not in approving judges, in nominating judges!

On the other hand, it was a big guilty plea on the part of the Democrats. They're now letting three judges that they've been vilifying through because they -- they're admitting -- which is an admission that they were unfairly vilified and the fate of the republic does not demand they be kept off the bench.

HUNT: Charlie, how's it look from the other side of the Capitol?

RANGEL: I'm proud of the -- of the Senate. Of course, if you have any idea how polarized the House is, the whole idea that they would talk to each other -- I mean, they didn't make good judges bad or bad judges good. The filibuster is still alive and well. But I don't think the country wins at all in the House of Representatives. A handful of people get together, they go into a back room, and whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, they don't tell you what's in the legislation. We don't discuss it.

And I've been saying lately on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, only one Republican has ever brought it up with me, and I'm the ranking member of the committee. And on Social Security, only a half a dozen less-senior members, certainly not the chairman of the committee, has. And it's that way throughout the House. Pelosi doesn't talk with Hastert, and we -- I think the country and the Congress loses that way.

HUNT: Isn't it good, then, that senators are talking to each other, Bob?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Don't be so silly.

HUNT: I'm sorry.


HUNT: Me or Charlie?

NOVAK: This was a -- you.



NOVAK: This was -- this was a such a power play by the Democrats, by -- we had my old friend, Teddy Kennedy, sitting here. He engineered it to use these filibusters to have a litmus test. No conservative judges. They didn't say, We want fewer conservative judges, We want no conservative judges! They were killing them all!

And they run out of the string (ph). They were in danger -- nobody knew how this vote on the nuclear option was going to come out, but they could have lost it. Republicans could have lost it. And that's why a lot of people were glad they made a deal because of fear, not knowing how it's going to come out.

The interesting thing is -- they have already confirmed Justice Owen from Texas. Janice Rogers Brown from California is going to be confirmed under this deal. Judge Bryant (ph) from Alabama is going to be confirmed.

HUNT: Pryor.

NOVAK: Breyer (ph). I'm sorry. And these are the worst -- these are the worst judges, in the opinion of -- of the -- of the Democrats. What they have said in this deal is it's OK to have an ideologue conservative judge because we're going to confirm three of them. Now, the only question, Kate, is, is if the -- if the president is intimidated by this and does consult with Chuck Schumer, say, Chuck, who do you think I can put on the Supreme Court, or even call up Charlie, Who do you think I should put -- he's not going to do that! He's not going to name any -- any -- like his father did, he's not going to name any -- any -- anybody like the old (ph) president did.


HUNT: May I just say -- Bob totally confused me. I'm not sure if he liked or disliked what happened in that...


NOVAK: No, you mentioned my name!


HUNT: I'll yield back to you. I'll yield back to you just a minute...

NOVAK: No, just a minute!

HUNT: ... because I want to say, I think...

NOVAK: Just a minute, Al! You -- you made a comment...


NOVAK: ... that I had taken both sides, and I...

HUNT: (INAUDIBLE) because you confused me.

NOVAK: Well, I didn't mean to confuse you. I think it was a defeat for the Democrats.

HUNT: Oh. Well...

NOVAK: Sorry.

HUNT: On that one, I think, you know, once you've now explained your position, I think you're right. I happen to think that, probably, the Republicans got the better end of this, Kate, because they got the three judges that you and other people really care about, and I think if it comes to a Supreme Court nomination, if you -- if they name a Scalia, for instance, the Democrats have no option but to go along.

O'BEIRNE: Just a quick point. They've only so far gotten -- 10 have been blocked, a third of all the president's appellate judges. This is only 3 out of the 10. Secondly, Bob's assumption is that Bill Frist did not have the votes for the nuclear -- so-called "nuclear option."

NOVAK: He might not have.

O'BEIRNE: OK. Senator Frist and Senator McConnell believe they did, and both Senator DeWine and Senator Graham said but for the deal, they would have voted for it.

HUNT: He's doing better than Bill Clinton did with those three, isn't he, Mark.

SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, the "advise" part of it -- I mean, Bill Clinton advised -- sought the advice of the Senate before he submitted Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg, and they both were overwhelmingly approved. There's nothing wrong with a Justice of the Supreme Court being -- being confirmed, Al, with 60-plus votes. That augurs very well, witness Clarence Thomas's disastrous...


HUNT: And a wise counsel...

NOVAK: You think Bill Clinton...

HUNT: And a wise counsel...

NOVAK: You think those...

HUNT: ... that was. Just a minute, Mr. Novak, because you know what? We've run out of time, even for you.


HUNT: Charlie Rangel and THE GANG will be back, as the Senate throws up a roadblock to John Bolton's confirmation.


HUNT: Welcome back. After the Senate reached an agreement on judicial nominations, they began debate on the nomination of Undersecretary of State John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. One Republican declared his opposition, and Democrats demanded information involving Bolton's use of intelligence.


SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think he's a lousy leader, and there are 100 to 150 people up there that have to be led. They have to be led well. They have to be led properly. And I think in that capacity, if he goes up there, you'll see the proof of the pudding in a year.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We have no other choice but to demand the information and to use the possibility of a cloture motion, rejection of a cloture motion, as a way of getting the documents.


HUNT: A motion to end debate on the Bolton nomination did not get the necessary 60 votes. All but three Democratic senators voted no, and the Senate left for the Memorial Day recess.


REID: It is not the fault of the Democratic caucus. We're not here to filibuster Bolton. We're here to get information regarding Bolton. The information, we're entitled to that.

FRIST: The very first issue we turn to, we got what to me looks like a filibuster. You know, shortly after we thought we'd had things working together in this body again, we got another filibuster, this time on another nomination. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Bob, is Bill Frist right? Does this violate the agreement on filibusters?

NOVAK: I don't think it technically violates it, but I think he violates the spirit of it. I think he's right there. I think there was a feeling that this was going to go through. And I'll tell you, one of the -- that Bill First had more of a feeling -- Harry Reid told him there was going to be 60 votes. And then Chris Dodd and Carl Levin and Joe Biden came up to him and said, No, no, no, Mr. Leader. Harry Reid doesn't have control over this whole situation. I feel sorry for him. They said that...

O'BEIRNE: How sorry do you feel, Bob?

NOVAK: Not that sorry.


NOVAK: But they have -- but they have a situation where you had -- had the -- Chris -- Chris Dodd's been looking for some reason for -- to fail to get the 60 votes, to get -- because -- because Undersecretary -- Undersecretary Bolton -- Bolton is a foe of Fidel Castro and...

RANGEL: Oh, my gosh!


RANGEL: What an imagination.

NOVAK: That is what the whole situation is about. Everybody knows it. But I'll tell you this. The -- the papers that they won't give them, it is not Karl Rove's decision, was John Negroponte's decision, the -- the non-political head of intelligence decides you cannot spread these intercepts around the Senate.

HUNT: A previous speaker has said this is all about Fidel Castro? Mark?


SHIELDS: You know, I can't...


SHIELDS: I can't address what the previous speaker had because it's a non-compos position. But let's just get one thing very straight, Al. This -- John Bolton is a disastrous choice. Republicans know it and Democrats know it. And this is the first chance, really, that Democrats, who are frustrated and angry because they were rolled on this war, this indefensible war, militarily, intellectually and diplomatically indefensible, and you can feel their frustration on this guy going to the U.N.. And I think that really explains it. Was it a violation of the agreement? Of course it wasn't. Bill Frist -- the agreement was they're going to vote on three senators. (SIC) They already said that.

HUNT: Judges. Judges.

SHIELDS: ... three judges -- excuse me -- on Pryor and Janice Rogers Brown. He's the one that short-circuited it and brought Bolton up, hoping to sneak him by before the Memorial Day recess.

HUNT: Kate, Bill Frist also tried to get the White House to -- to put out this intelligence information, thinking that -- that it would grease the way to quick passage.

O'BEIRNE: Al, they're on a -- the opponents of John Bolton are on a fishing expedition. They want to kill this nomination. They don't want him going to the U.N. I disagree with Bob. Senator Dodd might have his own interest and history with respect to Cuba and John Bolton, but I think Mark's closer to the truth. It's about Iraq. Even though they're fighting it on the grounds of Syria and Cuba intelligence, when it comes to John Bolton, it's about Iraq. He's a handy victim. They're angry and frustrated, and they're taking it out on John Bolton.

You do see that the Democrats are very nervous about looking obstructionist, though, and they should be, it seems to me. They won't call this filibuster a filibuster, but that's just what they're doing, of course.

HUNT: Charlie Rangel, what do you think?

RANGEL: Biden has indicated that they'll have a vote as soon as the information is given to them. I think that Bolton is a total disaster for America. I can't see how any Republican can be proud of what he will be presenting in the international community, no matter what contempt they have for the United Nations.

NOVAK: I have to say that John Bolton is a -- has been a dedicated public servant. I think he has done a very good job as undersecretary in an extremely difficult area, in the question of arms control. And it's -- and he is a conservative, and all the -- the liberal left-wing congressmen and their acolytes in the news media are attacking him because of ideology! It's a -- it's strictly an ideological attack.

And I'll tell you, Charlie, they are never going to get that information. It's not going to come out...


NOVAK: So there is a -- there is a problem right now, and the -- whether the nuclear option, which is supposed to be for judges, can be used on this, if there's a filibuster, is going to be interesting to see.

HUNT: Great record on arms control? North Korea, Iran? Mark, tell me about it.

SHIELDS: Of course he doesn't. Of course he doesn't, Al. Let's -- this guy is a very, very flawed nominee. I mean, they could not get any other job -- Condoleezza Rice would not take him at the State Department. Rumsfeld would not take him at Defense. So they gave him this -- the U.N. as a consolation prize. Unfortunately, the United Nations's more important than that. But Al, where Bob Novak -- excuse me -- a previous speaker is absolutely wrong is not simply on Chris Dodd. What he's -- what he's wrong is that if the same information can be shown to Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, why the hell can't...


SHIELDS: Why the hell can't Joe Biden...


O'BEIRNE: I have an answer!

HUNT: Kate's going to answer it.

O'BEIRNE: I have an answer. They have shared intercepts with named -- with names of agents blocked to both Pat Roberts and Rockefeller, to a committee that is not notorious for leaking information, which is not something you could say -- everything in the Bolton investigation's been leaked.

And look, he's been successful at the U.N. in the past, when he served in the U.N. in the past and got the U.N. to repeal "Zionism is racism," and he's been successful in negotiating non-proliferation agreements. He has, Mark.

HUNT: He will be confirmed...

SHIELDS: Look at North Korea. It's just a real success.

HUNT: Yes, really is. And Iran, too.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: President Bush vows a veto on stem cell research.


HUNT: Welcome back. The House passed a bill, 238 to 192, allowing federal funds for embryonic stem cell research despite warnings from President Bush.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that the use of federal monies that end up destroying life is not -- is not positive. It's not good. And so therefore, I'm against the extension of the research -- of using more federal dollars on new embryonic stem cell lines.

I will be vetoing the bill they send to me, if it were to pass the United States Senate.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I don't like veto threats, and I don't like statements about overriding veto threats. But if a veto threat is going to come from the White House, then the response from the Congress is to override the veto, if we can.


HUNT: In the House, 50 Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill, while 14 Democrats opposed it.


REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: We lost, they won. But they did not win by enough votes to overcome a certain presidential veto. Today's loss has laid the foundation for tomorrow's victory. As we prepare to support the moral leadership that President George W. Bush brought...

REP. JAMES LANGEVIN (D), RHODE ISLAND: To me, being pro-life also means fighting for policies that will eliminate pain and suffering and help people enjoy longer, healthier lives. And to me, support for embryonic stem cell research is entirely consistent with that position.


HUNT: Meanwhile, a new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows President Bush's approval rating at an all-time low on handling specific issues: 40 percent on the war in Iraq, 40 percent on the economy and 33 percent on Social Security.

Kate, is this prospective veto only going to decrease the president's popularity further?

O'BEIRNE: I don't think it would harm him to an extent that lower gas prices couldn't fix. But look, if the -- those on the opposite side of the president's position portray him as opposed to promising cures, standing in the way of scientific inquiry, promising scientific inquiry, then it's a problem. That's what John Kerry's campaign tried to do last year. Remember Ron Reagan talking at the Democratic convention. It didn't take.

The president is, in fact, the first one to permit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on existing stem lines. There's private funding for this research. California, Massachusetts and New Jersey are all doing the research. What the president's doing is -- is defending a very important moral principle: We do not take human life in order to save human life. And what we all have to grapple with, given the promising other sources for -- for cures, adult stem cells, umbilical cords -- what we all have to grapple with is, What are the moral parameters, as we investigate these possible cures.

HUNT: Charlie, you were one of those, what, 238 members voting for this measure. RANGEL: It was an eloquent debate, and people were very serious and concerned about the moral issue that you talk about. But I think the president is moving so far to the right, being challenged by scientists, researchers and those throughout the world, that I wonder if you went to Genesis, whether or not the president would take us back to Adam and Eve in terms of how the universe was created.

I think when it comes to people taking in consideration all of the things, the moral values in the cutting of Social Security, the moral values in seeing the deficit increase, the moral values seeing health care being set back, that sooner or later, this is going to catch up with the president, and the people are going to say that they need someone that can meet the challenges of the current times.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I think that the political fall-out on it -- the president would have been hurt a lot more -- a lot more on this -- he's going to make somebody mad, whatever he does -- if he had said, Gee, I think I might sign this bill. It isn't that important. Of course, he does have a base in the party that believes this is, as I do, a struggle against science against -- against spiritual values. A lot of people don't believe that, and there's a debate going on in the country. I think there's a lot of nonsense put out about the -- how much -- how many diseases could be eliminated, how many wonders, miraculous things can happen.

It -- it is, but there are -- there are a certain kind of people, scientists, politicians, who really like the idea of cloning, the whole idea of man above God, which is really what a lot of our political dialogue has been for the last -- the last century. So I thought it was -- it was the only thing the president could do, and I think he's going to -- he's going to do, on balance, the best -- the best outcome for this that he could have.

HUNT: Mark, to be consistent, then, those opponents should oppose morning-after pills, in vitro fertilization clinics and the like, shouldn't they?

SHIELDS: I think a lot of them do, Al. I mean, I think there is a consistency on some people's part. But this is fascinating to watch politically. You had 50 Republicans cross over and vote with the Democrats. Now, these -- led by Mike Castle of Delaware, a great friend of Bob's. And these are people who are motivated for all sorts of reasons. But a remarkable number of them have been touched personally by an illness in their family or something (INAUDIBLE) You got Orrin Hatch in the Senate, for example. And let's be very frank about it. Kate touched on it. There's a big industry out there. I mean, there's...

O'BEIRNE: A huge industry out there!

SHIELDS: There's some profit -- there's some profit to be made, and I think you'll find that some of the most conservative members of the Congress who've opposed this have taken money from the very people who are all -- making the profit from this business. HUNT: We only have about 10 seconds. I just want to say I've talked to a number of doctors and medical researchers, and they don't say there's any great panacea out there. They don't say that something's going to happen tomorrow. What they say is that this is very, very promising, and it's very promising on a whole host of diseases. And that's why the stakes are so big.

Charlie Rangel, you really are one of our favorite guests. And thanks so much for joining us.

RANGEL: I hate to see this program going away...


HUNT: Charlie -- Charlie, we're building. We start with one!


HUNT: Coming up next in the second half: How serious is John McCain about trying again for the presidency? We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Moscow, where the verdict is out on Russia's top oligarch, and our "Outrages of the Week," all after the break.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Carol Lin. More of CAPITAL GANG in just a moment, but first, a look at what's happening right now in the news.

Despite reports to the contrary, former President Clinton is not stopping his tour of tsunami-ravaged South Asia. That is according to his former White House chief of staff. An earlier report said he had canceled the rest of the tour because he was exhausted.

Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone is out of a California jail after posting bond over DUI and drug charges. Beverly Hills Police say Stone showed signs of alcohol intoxication at a DUI checkpoint last night. They also say they found unspecified drugs in his car.

That's what's happening right now in the news. I'm Carol Lin. Back to the CAPITAL GANG.

HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. In a "New Yorker" magazine profile, Senator John McCain, by reporter Connie Bruck, conservative former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is quoted as explaining his 2000 support for McCain. Quote: "I wanted a commitment from either George Bush or John McCain that if elected, he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. Bush said he had no litmus test, and his judges would be strict constructionists. But McCain in private assured me he would appoint pro-life judges," end quote.

McCain was asked about this in an interview which will air tomorrow on CNN's "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: First of all, it was a private conservation, and I won't talk about it. But I can tell you that there would be no litmus test for a judge if I were president of the United States, and obviously I'm going to wait a couple of years before I even make that decision.


HUNT: McCain also was asked if he wants to be president.


MCCAIN: I'd love to be president of the United States. The question is, is do I want to run for it?


HUNT: Kate, is John McCain a viable candidate for 2008?

O'BEIRNE: Al, I think this is so interesting, 2005 compared to 2000. When John -- where John McCain won in 2000, he did it on the strength of both some Democrats and independents -- I mean, outside of Arizona. Republicans rejected John McCain in 2000, when they had a chance to, even though then his voting record was much more conservative than it is now.

Since 2000, he's voted against the Bush tax cuts twice. He opposes an amendment on gay marriage. He's embraced global warming. He's flipped his position on embryonic stem cell research.

So he seems to be moving to the left, policy-wise, and yet still thinks that he can make himself attractive to Republicans.

All I can figure is, he figures if Hillary Clinton is the opposition, Republicans will forgive him anything, and give him the nomination.

HUNT: One thing John McCain is, whether you like him or not, Mark, is a straight shooter. It's rather strange that Gary Bauer was the one person was the one person who seemed to have this private pledge in 2000.

SHIELDS: I like Gary Bauer, and I don't know if perhaps Gary feels it's necessary now, at this point, because of the changes that Kate identified, to defend his endorsement, because he was on the wrong -- the losing side of that election.

But Al, I get a kick out of this, because in 2000, that election was really unprecedented. You had a non-incumbent candidate, George W. Bush, who had the total support of the Republican establishment, financial and political, throughout the country. In South Carolina, John McCain got 43 percent of the vote where only Republicans could vote. Now, there's not going to be any equivalent of that in 2008. I mean, George Allen or Sam Brownback or Rick Santorum or any of these people, and 43 percent, if John McCain can get it, is enough I think probably to win South Carolina easily. It's a question, Al, of whether Republicans want to confront the reality of their times, and that is that they have saddled their children and grandchildren under pro-family talk, with debt, because they refused to pay the obligations that they've incurred with the war and tax cuts.

HUNT: Your grandchildren are being saddled, Bob.

NOVAK: In the first place, I know Gary Bauer too, and I like him as well. He's not a liar. Doesn't lie. Doesn't tell untruths.

SHIELDS: I'm saying he may be perhaps -- I'm not suggesting he lied. I am saying perhaps Gary remembers things differently.

NOVAK: Can I...


NOVAK: Can I finish my sentence?


NOVAK: I appreciate it. Helps to get the meaning out when you're not interrupted.

Gary Bauer is not a liar. I believe that that is what John McCain told him. I know John McCain pretty well, and if this were untrue, John McCain would have said, "I never said that." Instead, he said, I'm not going to discuss a private conversation.

Maybe he got a little overenthusiastic, because the conventional, the school solution answer is, "I don't do litmus tests, for anybody." Maybe he got a little excited.

Secondly, John -- I never like to say never about any politician, I've been wrong too often about them, but I don't see any possible way that John McCain can get -- can get nominated by the Republican Party. He -- his role on the judges' solution which we just had adds to the feeling in the Republican ranks that he is against the interests of Republicans on a lot of things. Actually, he votes a lot more conservative than his image is on the right, but I -- and another thing, when he has the Mark -- Mark Shields and the Al Hunts of the world as his biggest boosters, it doesn't do him any good. When you're out there saying that he's one of the great guys you ever say, they say, "I knew there was something wrong with that guy," and as a matter of fact, his biggest boosters in the press corps are a lot of left-wing journalists.

HUNT: Kate, you want to add anything to that? Because I want to tell you something, Bob, you -- excuse me, previous speaker, has just given the most inside-the-Beltway analysis I've ever heard. If there is a single voter in South Carolina or New Hampshire or in the state of Washington who says, hey, I like this guy because Mark Shields is with him, or I dislike him because Al Hunt -- I have never met him.

O'BEIRNE: Except -- except... HUNT: That is an inside-the-Beltway, Washington cocktail party chit-chat.

O'BEIRNE: Conservative critics of John McCain's -- and he had plenty of them in 2000 -- had a focus on things like campaign financial reform, because his voting record was pretty darn conservative. It is profoundly less so now. As I said, gay marriage, taxes -- two very important issues. He's got to be very careful that he doesn't look like -- on pro-life issues, having flipped on embryonic stem cell research, and he's never shown any interest in judges -- that he doesn't begin to look like he wants it both ways on the pro-life issue, because that would certainly be against the image that he'd like to have.

HUNT: Of all the politicians I know in America, I can't think of very many who less try to have it both ways than John McCain, compared to George Bush, compared to some of these others...

NOVAK: I can...


SHIELDS: Let me just say this about John McCain, whether -- I do like him, I do admire him. I respect what he's done. He's been a great patriot of this country, and I think what he's done in the public life has been important and helpful. But you know, my -- my admiration for him has nothing to do with whether in fact he becomes or doesn't become president or the nominee of his party.

The reality is, Al, that this is a man who has not hesitated, unlike the other people seeking that nomination, to stand up to very powerful interests time and time and time again, especially the biggest money that call the tune in the Republican Party.

HUNT: Well, we'll see what happens the next three years.

Coming up next, the CAPITAL GANG classic. The president, the pundits and the politics of stem cell, nearly four years ago.


HUNT: Welcome back. Four years ago, the president met with the pope just before revealing his decision on embryonic stem cell research.


POPE JOHN PAUL II: A free and righteous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, I'll take that point of view into consideration, as I make up my mind on a very difficult issue confronting the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: THE CAPITAL GANG discussed this on July 28th, 2001. Our guest was Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, did his visit with the pope influence the president's decision on stem cell research?

NOVAK: I think it just made it more difficult. It looks like he's either knuckling under the pope or he's offending the pope.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: If he goes for not having stem cell research, it's to get the Catholic vote and to get the very religious vote in his base. That makes the decision look political.

SHIELDS: The president is feeling pressure on this decision from both sides, and he is going to come down on one side or the other. It's going to offend some pretty influential folks.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I think this president is, in fact, struggling with this. I have spoken plainly, directly to him. He is working it through in his own mind, as he said, ethically, morally in every way to try to frame up the perspectives of the consequences of this decision.

HUNT: He's got himself in one heck of a mess here. Because if you listen to what he said, he clearly is a man looking for some kind of a middle ground, a compromise. I mean, basically if you think that it's murder, you don't look for a compromise. You say, you know, that's what the pope honestly believes.


HUNT: Mark, what was the impact of the pope's meeting with President Bush?

SHIELDS: Well, I don't know long-term, Al. I think it's fair to say that Chuck Hagel probably had it right, I mean, in the sense that if the president was struggling, I'm sure he was, he has worked his way through. He has come to the conclusion. I think he's pretty firm where he is right now.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: He has a bright line. I think it's completely defensible. You do not take innocent human life in order to serve utilitarian ends. What he's saying is, federal government shouldn't fund the taking of an innocent human life to serve those ends. And I think the public, if they properly understood, would agree with him, and millions of taxpayers appreciate that their tax dollars won't be used for this purpose.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: Well, I think the president's visit with the pope did, over a period of time, firm up his position in opposition to that. I think it's very straight. You know, it's interesting to listen back to these false analyses that we made, but with all due respect, Al, you were more on than anybody, you know, that he was in such a pickle on this situation. Sometimes, reporters put the public servants in -- saying they're in a terrible pickle, and really they're just -- give their opinion, and they survive much better than you would think.

HUNT: I just think it's unfortunate that Bob doesn't understand the president's position, because he's not opposed to embryonic stem cell researches. He's just opposed to most embryonic stem cell researches. He limits it. He doesn't -- he doesn't -- he doesn't eliminate it. And so, Bob, when you get that position understood, I think maybe you'll then see what's really happened here.

NOVAK: I think I understand it, Al.

HUNT: I'm afraid you don't, but I'll give you a copy of what the president said in August of 2001.

NOVAK: Oh, (INAUDIBLE) copy...

HUNT: Next on CAPITAL GANG, we can go "Beyond the Beltway" to Moscow, to find out if it's capitalism that's on trial.


HUNT: Welcome back. The trial of Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky dragged on to the conclusion, with the reading of a 1,200-page verdict. It indicated the three-judge panel viewed him as guilty, with severe consequences that have been predicted by his international legal team.


ROBERT AMSTERDAM, KHODORKOVSKY'S LAWYER: This is also a pretext for a further attack on business, by not only the Tax Ministry, but others. And I think that's something that every foreign investor needs to be concerned with. They are not only burying Khodorkovsky with this judgment, but they're burying their hopes for developing foreign direct investment.

All of those who say this country is moving to democracy, come to Meshchansky Court. See the troops, see the dogs, and then tell us the real meaning of managed democracy.


HUNT: Joining us now from Moscow is CNN international correspondent Matthew Chance.

Matthew, is this just a case of President Putin using the power of the state against a political critic?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's certainly what the supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky would have us believe. There's not really much of a debate about what crimes he's said to have committed. He doubtlessly made vast amounts of money from the privatizations in Russia in the early 1990s, some of that through very dodgy deals. He didn't even say himself, his defense team didn't argue that, you know, he didn't pay all of the money that he should have done in taxes. His argument has been all along that it was what everybody else was doing.

And if you look at the situation as it is today in Russia, there's still a lot of people out there, a lot of other so-called oligarchs that are operating pretty freely in Russia now, that did nothing other than -- you know, did the same thing as Mikhail Khodorkovsky did, but haven't been dragged through the courts.

And so, people have been looking around as to reason why he was singled out. They see that he's been critical of the Kremlin and of Vladimir Putin's policies. They see that he's been backing opposition parties. And so people are homing in on that as the reason why he's been singled out for this special treatment -- Bob.

NOVAK: Matthew, Moscow is now a city where you can pretty much find what the man on the street is thinking, where he's coming from. Do they have some sympathy for this guy, as a colorful character, or is there a lot of public sentiment against him? He is Jewish, I believe, and that is considered possibly a reason for him being less than popular in Russia.

CHANCE: Yeah, I think he probably is amongst some people, but I think the real reason that most people in the Russian public at large don't really have much love for this -- this man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is because he's one of this elite group that is fabulously wealthy, these oligarchs that benefited from these privatizations of the national industries after the collapse of communism, and many people feel that they benefited unfairly, and at the expense of ordinary people in the country. And so, from Vladimir Putin's point of view, sort of hitting these oligarchs, whether it's Mikhail Khodorkovsky or anyone else, is incredibly popular amongst the voters, because they have no love for these people whatsoever. They see them as criminals, and they essentially believe this kind of thing, you know, taking the assets back of -- of these oligarchs is the right thing to do. They want to see it done to all the other oligarchs as well, and Vladimir Putin knows this very well.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Matthew, as I understand the Russian court system, this trial has gone on for over a year, during which, during the trial the prosecutor read 393 volumes of evidence out loud. Now, the judges are spending days reading a 1,200-page verdict, and apparently the prosecutors are talking about new charges. Should lawyers who charge by the hour be heading to Russia?

CHANCE: I think that would be -- they probably wouldn't get the kind of hourly rates they'd expect in the States, but yeah, it's been an absolute farce in some ways, the trial has, in that it's been, you know, very, very heavily weighed in favor of the prosecution. The defense lawyers have had trouble getting their case across, getting access to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the person they're defending, and all that's been heavily criticized. Then, for the past couple of weeks, we've been subjected to what is almost a punishment, cruel and unusual punishment in itself, having to listen to the reading out of the sentencing, essentially a summing- up, with the court indicating that it believes that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is guilty of all these things. A document some 1,200 pages long. They're reading out every single word on those pages. It's about, you know, five inches thick, this document is, and they've still not finished it. And it's turned into -- into quite a marathon. One of the reasons for that, say the lawyers of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is because they're attempting to get the media disinterested, they're attempting to get the media bored with the proceeding. So when the eventual sentence comes, which we're expecting to be over the next few days now, or next week now, then, you know, the news media would have lost its appetite for covering the story.

Whether that's a policy, a strategy that will pay off or not we'll have to wait and see.

HUNT: Mark.

SHIELDS: Matthew, you've described a win-win situation politically for Putin, and that is going after this mega-rich plutocrat, who's not popular with ordinary people, appears to have profited at public expense even, and is apparently a politically unpopular folk -- fellow. First of all, why stop there if you're Putin? Isn't it a nice way to divert attention? Why not more of these guys, put them in the dark? And secondly, what are the long- term implications for business, private business in Russia if this is the pattern?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, something the business community is very concerned about. They're not really worried about what happens to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whether he goes to jail for five years or 10 years. But they are worried about if this is going to happen again, who's the next -- who's the next Yukos?

Now, this may well be affecting foreign investment. It's very difficult to measure that. Certainly Vladimir Putin has been very public in saying that this is a one-off sort of incident. He's called on the tax authorities to be less aggressive in investigating other people in the future. He said there will be no investigations or further investigations into the privatizations of the 1990s. Very much that this is a one-off, you know, incident that -- the bringing to the courts.

But what he has succeeded in doing, I think, very, very effectively indeed, is saying to the business community, look, it's OK to operate inside Russia, it's OK to make money in Russia, even to invest in these sort of dodgy deals from the 1990s, so long as you don't step into the political arena. If you do that, they're holding up Mikhail Khodorkovsky's head now as a warning.

HUNT: OK. Hey, Matthew, thank you very, very much. THE GANG will be back with our "Outrages of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HUNT: And now, for the "Outrages of the Week."

I am uncomfortably pro-choice. Whatever its flaws, it would be a disaster to repeal Roe v. Wade. But my outrage is directed against Democrats and their interest groups who pretend a looming Supreme Court battle is all about abortion, which deeply divides the country. They raise money off this issue, but ignore disabilities rights, civil rights, and worker protections, all at risk with a different Supreme Court, and all, unlike abortion, command the support of most Americans. That's dumb policy, and it's dumb politics.


NOVAK: Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, wanted legislation to restrict women soldiers in combat. He backed down this week under Pentagon pressure.

Why would the generals ally themselves with the feminists on this issue? Not for a good reason. Army recruiting is lagging because of the war, and the brass worries about discouraging female recruits. They also want to use women under dangerous conditions because of the manpower shortage.

No other country uses women in combat, and the American people don't want us to start.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: You're right, Bob.

United States is apparently ready to reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia that includes our support for their entry into the World Trade Organization.

Shouldn't this big carrot be used to encourage the Saudis to merit membership? After all, a murderous ideology remains one of their chief exports; they're among the world's leading human rights violators, and they give a safe harbor to abductors of American children.

The Saudis can be doing more to help in our fight against terrorism. What exactly are they being rewarded for?

HUNT: Mark.

SHIELDS: Al, the late U.S. Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois is my personal hero. Following Pearl Harbor, when he was both a University of Chicago professor and a Chicago alderman, Paul Douglas enlisted as a private in the United States Marines. He was twice wounded in combat against the Japanese, won the Bronze Star at Okinawa.

Heroic? When he enlisted to fight, Paul Douglas was 50 years old.

Today, the all-volunteer Army has an acute shortage of volunteers. One solution? Let's have a Paul Douglas brigade, so all the tough guy neocons who deliberately avoided the draft in their own youth, could fill those gaps in Iraq.

HUNT: Interesting, Mark.

This is Al Hunt, saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG, and thanks for joining us.


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