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Inside Politics

Presidential Candidates United in Condemning Attack on USS Cole and Israeli Soldiers

Aired October 12, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Tension in the Middle East explodes with attacks on two fronts. Israel strikes back against Palestinian targets.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And terrorists are suspected in an attack on a U.S. ship docked in Yemen. America's political leaders seem to agree on the response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will not rest until the perpetrators are held accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There must be a consequence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If their intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail utterly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. We begin with an update on the twin crises in the Middle East.

The Pentagon now says that at least five U.S. sailors were killed, 36 wounded and 12 are missing after that suspected terrorist attack on the Navy destroyer, the USS Cole. Officials say the ship was on a routine refueling stop at the busy port of Aden in Yemen when a small boat came up alongside it with two men aboard. Their boat exploded, opening a large hole in the Cole's hull. Meantime in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has ordered an end to helicopter strikes against Palestinian targets in Ramallah and Gaza on the West Bank. At least 32 people reportedly were wounded in today's attack.

We have some disturbing pictures of the incident that prompted the Israeli assault. Two Israeli soldiers were beaten and killed by a mob of Palestinians in the West Bank after the soldiers had been taken into custody by Palestinian police. One Israeli military officer called the attack a "lynching."

SHAW: For the Clinton administration reaction to all this, we go now to our senior White House correspondent, John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, senior aides calling this among the president's most frustrating and disappointing days in his nearly eight years in office: just a few months ago, full of high hopes, of course, thinking the Israelis and Palestinians were on the verge of a peace agreement. In addition to the renewed violence in the region, word this morning while the president was still up in Chappaqua, New York of this apparent terrorist attack on U.S. naval destroyer, the USS Cole.

Mr. Clinton returned to the White House, spent most of his day in the White House situation room. The defense secretary, William Cohen, on-hand for more than an hour. The secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in on the briefings as the president received updates from around the world and throughout the administration.

Later, he came into the Rose Garden to speak to reporters and to the American people, Mr. Clinton voicing sorrow and his prayers for the victims of this attack, promising a thorough investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who is responsible and hold them accountable.

If their intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail utterly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: White House officials, including the president, obviously horrified by those pictures we just showed of the attack on those Israeli soldiers. Mr. Clinton after that event we just saw in the Rose Garden, since then, has spoken to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, King Abdullah of Jordan, and the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. In each of those calls, we're told, the president urging the leaders to do all they can to step down, to step back from this climate of violence. He also delivered that message in the public event outside the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: Now is the time to stop the bloodshed, to restore calm, to return to dialogue, and ultimately to the negotiating table. The alternative to the peace process is now no longer merely hypothetical. It is unfolding today before our very eyes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But still quite a sense of urgency and alarm here at the White House. Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, Mr. Berger, the national security adviser, among the senior officials watching inside here just a short time ago when Mr. Barak, the Israeli prime minister, did a live interview on CNN.

He angrily and publicly demanded that the White House come out here and point the finger of blame at Mr. Arafat. Mr. Barak obviously very upset, looking for the White House now to choose sides in this dispute. That, of course, a troubling development here at the White House. While aides have put the onus of burden on Mr. Arafat throughout the week, they know if Mr. Clinton is to do that, it certainly would create a huge obstacle to ever getting these parties back at the bargaining table.

Again, a great sense of frustration and urgency here. It was just in late July Mr. Clinton thought these parties were on the verge of a historic peace agreement. Right now, he's working the telephones, urgent telephone diplomacy, trying to keep this from escalating into even more bloodshed -- Bernie.

SHAW: John, what are the vice president's movements in this?

KING: Mr. Gore, Bernie, returned early from a political trip. He was in Wisconsin today, this the day after last night's debate. The vice president flew home urgently aides said because he wanted to come here and get an update on the situation. He will meet with the president in the Oval Office about 45 minutes from now, we're told. White House officials saying that he has not been part of the minute- by-minute deliberations on this, but that his national security adviser, the vice president's top national security aide, Leon Fuerth, has been part of those discussions.

And after speaking to him this morning, most specifically about the suspected attack on the USS Cole, the vice president thought it was his place to come back here to the White House. Again, he will meet with the president in just a short time.

SHAW: John King with the latest from there .

Mr. Clinton's would-be successors, Al Gore and George W. Bush, echoed his response to this latest Middle East violence. It was another example of the areas of agreement on international policy that they demonstrated in their second presidential debate last night.

CNN's Jonathan Karl is traveling with the Gore campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Gore told a boisterous post-debate rally in Milwaukee to take a breather from politics with a moment of silence for those killed and injured on the USS Cole.

GORE: We still don't know all of the facts, but a number of lives have been lost, a number are still missing. Several are -- many are injured, and some seriously. And our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been killed and those who are missing and those who are injured and with the injured.

KARL: Echoing the statements of both President Clinton and George W. Bush, Gore called for swift and decisive action.

GORE: Any terrorist should know that whoever is responsible for something like this will be met with a full and forceful and effective retaliatory response from the United States of America. We will not leave this matter.

KARL: International developments eclipsed what was to be a big political day as Gore hit battleground Wisconsin following the second debate. Before leaving North Carolina, Gore made a statement about the killing of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob.

GORE: I want to call on Chairman Arafat to issue instructions to those who have been perpetrating this violence to cease and desist.

KARL: Gore steadfastly refused to politicize the latest developments, but with election day now less than four weeks away, political implications are clearly on the minds of his top aides. One said the instability highlights the experience gap between Gore and Bush, saying -- quote -- "One candidate has 25 years worth of international experience; the other has none. End of story."

Developments in the Mideast, however, did not bring the campaign to a total stop. Echoing his sharpest attack during the debate, Gore took on Bush's record on health care in Texas.

GORE: Today Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in health care for children, 49th out of 50 in health care for women, and is still dead last, 50 out of 50, in health care for families: first in industrial pollution, but last in health care for families.

KARL: Bush had no direct answer to that during the debate. But now his campaign says he inherited Texas' low rankings from his Democratic predecessor, Ann Richards.

Since Bush has become governor, his aides claim, the rate of uninsured in Texas has declined at a time the uninsured rate has risen nationally.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: As you heard John King report, the vice president abruptly leaving the campaign trail to go to the White House to meet with the president and the national security team: Gore's aides making it very clear going to the White House in his role as -- as a member of the National Security Council.

Now, for Gore, who has for months been saying that his role as a candidate for president is more important than his role as the vice president, it's his first trip to the White House, first time he will step foot in the White House since early June -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl in Milwaukee -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And now, to the Bush campaign and the governor's response to deaths in the Middle East crisis. Here's our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD (singing): God bless America

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Bush courted America's greatest generation in suburban Philadelphia, pausing first to honor sacrifices of a younger generation.

BUSH: Before I begin my remarks, I do want us to join in a moment of silence for the United States military sailors who lost their lives on the USS Cole near Yemen.

Please for a moment of silence.

(PAUSE)

May God bless them and their families.

CROWLEY: The deaths of U.S. sailors and age-old divisions running fresh in the Middle East have brought unanimity to the final days of the U.S. campaign trail.

BUSH: It's time for our nation to speak with one voice. I appreciate the administration's efforts to bring calm to that troubled part of the world.

CROWLEY: "This is an enormously tense time," said a senior Bush adviser. "We don't want to throw fuel on the fire."

Neither does the Texas governor want to give PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat any reason to delay compromise because he thinks he could find more comfort in a Bush administration.

BUSH: Chairman Arafat must stand up and call upon the people he represents to put down their rocks and arms. He must -- he must take a leadership role to quell the violence. It's time for him to be a statesman.

CROWLEY: Do not expect to see any daylight between George Bush and Al Gore on this explosive issue. In fact, after agreeing on many international policy issues during Wednesday evening's debate, the two issued similar statements on what Yasser Arafat must do about the violence on his doorstep and what the U.S. will do about the apparent attack on the USS Cole. BUSH: I -- I hope that the -- we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action. There must be a consequence.

CROWLEY: Beyond not wanting to make a horrible situation even worse, George Bush actually differs with Al Gore only on the fringes of Middle East policy.

(on camera): An international crisis and the death of U.S. military personnel may tend to focus voters on the fact they are about to elect not just a president, but a world leader. This reminder comes after a debate evening on Wednesday in which the Bush campaign and many of the pundits believe George Bush showed he is capable of playing on both the domestic and the international scene.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And for more on global hot spots and the presidential race, our Bill Schneider joins us from Atlanta -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Bernie, "Why are they spending so much time on world affairs?" a lot of viewers wanted to know during last night's debate. Well, we got the answer today. The crisis in the Middle East instantly raises the stakes in the presidential contest. This isn't a school board election anymore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Today's events are beyond political controversy. Americans are united in outrage over an apparent terrorist bombing of a U.S. naval vessel. Americans are united in the view that the U.S. has a vital interest in the Middle East.

Last night, the candidates reflected that consensus on Israel.

GORE: Our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives. They are historic, they are strong, and they are enduring.

BUSH: I want everybody to know, should I be the president, Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel.

SCHNEIDER: And on the peace process:

BUSH: This current administration's worked hard to keep the parties at the table. I will try to do the same thing.

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: They want to base their vote on differences between the two of you as president, how you would handle Middle East policy. Is there any difference?

GORE: I haven't heard a big difference right in the last few exchanges. SCHNEIDER: So will any of this affect the campaign? An international crisis makes the presidency look bigger. That could be a problem for George W. Bush, who has far less experience in world affairs than the vice president, which is exactly why Bush used the world affairs discussion last night to minimize the distance between himself and the Clinton administration. Like other governors who have run for president -- Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 -- Bush has to reassure Americans that he's big enough for the job, or at least that he'll have people around him who are.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: He went with the vice president toe-to-toe for, I counted, close to 25 minutes on the various foreign policy issues that are before the nation and before the world.

SCHNEIDER: On world affairs, Bush is selling continuity. So is Gore. When Bush occasionally hinted at the need for change...

BUSH: I am worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use.

SCHNEIDER: ... Gore said, me too.

GORE: I would certainly also be judicious in evaluating any potential use of American troops overseas.

SCHNEIDER: Both candidates are betting that Americans want continuity in world affairs and change on other issues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: If Americans are still satisfied with President Clinton's world leadership a month from now, then Bush is hoping he can neutralize the issue, convince voters he's just as safe a choice as Gore is. But if Clinton blunders, then both candidate are going to have to shift gears and show the voters how they will offer change -- Bernie.

SHAW: Bill, another subject, the Dow dropping nearly 400 points today. Is this likely to affect the presidential race?

SCHNEIDER: Well, unless the situation deteriorates further, I think it probably won't, and there are a couple of reasons for that. One is people understand the reason why the Dow dropped. There's an international crisis and investors get very nervous at a time like that.

And second of all, we've seen in the past when the stock market has dipped even further than this, that the investment community in this country has a lot of confidence in the national economy and they've rebounded very sharply. So I think just this drop today is probably not going to have serious repercussions.

SHAW: Bill Schneider, thank you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the candidates and today's Mideast events, international policy advisers from both campaigns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: This is a very dangerous and perilous time, and emotions and feelings and passions are running very high. I think that all of us need to do everything we can to make it clear we stand firmly behind Israel and that we will do everything to impress upon Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians they must end the violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: In New York today, U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton joined thousands of people demonstrating their support for Israel even as new violence erupted in the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton was jeered by some in the crowd while her opponent, Republican Rick Lazio, was given a warm welcome.

WOODRUFF: Joining us now with the latest from the Middle East, CNN's Mike Hanna. He's in Jerusalem.

Hello, Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy. Well, a day on which any hopes that negotiations could resume now lie completely in tatters. It was a day on which two, possibly three Israeli soldiers were killed by a crowd in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The soldiers reportedly getting arrested by Palestinian police. They were plucked from the Palestinian police station by the crowd and beaten to death on the streets of the city.

In response, says the Israel -- it launched attacks into the West Bank town of Ramallah striking at the police headquarters where this attack took place, striking, too, at other targets in the town, as well as targets near the Gaza City, the very heart of the Palestinian Authority.

As we speak now, still reports of violence from various areas in the West Bank, reports of shooting in the West Bank town of Hebron, where the mayor of that town says Israeli helicopters are firing within the last hour. Reports, too, from Jericho of possible violence under way in that West Bank town.

Ehud Barak earlier talked to CNN's Christiane Amanpour and he issued yet another warning to the Palestinian Authority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I expect them to put an end to violence that they have initiated and are responsible for. We have this morning -- we had a lynch of three Israeli reservist soldiers who -- people came from their home -- and were lynched, then mutilated and burned. It's something that no government on Earth could accept, and Israel is ready to look open-eyed at the situation. Understand that we are living in the Middle East, not in North America and not the Midwest, and this is a place where you cannot expect anyone to respect you, you cannot expect your own people to trust you if you cannot respond to such an event. And we responded in a very focused manner, very clear signal that we will not have this kind of violence continue forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNA: A tough-talking Ehud Barak, who says as well he'll consider forming an emergency government of unity, if not in the next day, at least within the next three. This would involve the opposition Likud Party, a step which would lay waste at any attempts at getting peace talks together. The opposition Likud Party -- and in particular, its leader, Ariel Sharon -- rejected completely by the Palestinian Authority.

As to Mr. Barak's warning to the Palestinian Authority, well, they have been consistent throughout the past two weeks of violence that it is not they who have the power to end this ongoing conflict. It is Mr. Barak and in particular his security forces.

Diplomatics are still under way to try and repair the damage that has been caused over these two weeks, and in particular, on this particular day, the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, at Jerusalem at present, we understand, and still no certainty whether he'll hold any further talks with Ehud Barak or indeed with the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat.

And on this day, Judy, if possible at all, the violence, the conflict, escalated to an even higher level, placing a strain on the whole diplomatic process, placing a strain on those attempting to get the leaders together in an attempt to create a cessation of hostilities.

But such attempts now exceedingly unlikely given the rise of anger, given the amount of hostility, and given the threat by Ehud Barak to form a government of national unity -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Mike, just quickly to clarify, you said Secretary- General Annan has tried, is not doing anything right now. We know President Clinton is talking to the leaders. Are you saying there is no effort at communication right now between the two sides?

HANNA: Well, there are efforts at getting the two sides together by the intermediaries. Although U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as I said, is here in Jerusalem, we do know that his special representative for the region has been in Gaza City, where we understand that he has held talks with Mr. Arafat.

But in terms of actually getting the leaders to talk to each other, well, there's been no signs whatsoever of any luck in that particular direction, and it appears as though, while the intermediaries continue to do their work, they are being frustrated in an attempt to get the two leaders to denounce the violence and to agree together to begin to attempt to end the conflict, Judy. WOODRUFF: CNN's Mike Hanna reporting. Thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: And for more on the Middle East and its political impact, we turn to our guests: Gore senior international policy adviser, Marc Ginsberg, and Bush international policy adviser, Dov Zakheim.

Let me ask this question of both of you gentlemen. What does your candidate do to persuade the American voter that he can handle the situation that confronts President Clinton?

DOV ZAKHEIM, BUSH INTERNATIONAL POLICY ADVISER: If you're talking to me first and you're talking about Governor Bush, the best way to convince the American voter is to show that on this issue he supports the president.

This is not one that you score political bonus points on. This is one where you demonstrate that on a bipartisan issue we stand together as Americans: We want peace in the region. We want Mr. Arafat to tell his people, to exert leadership, that they have to stop the violence. We, of course, have to stand by Israel.

But most important of all, we have to get that message across that we as Americans -- not Republicans or Democrats -- we as Americans are pushing and will continue to push for peace in the region.

SHAW: Marc Ginsberg?

MARC GINSBERG, GORE SENIOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY ADVISER: Al Gore has now 25 years of battle-tested foreign policy experience. He's worked extensively on Middle East matters. Last night's debate demonstrated, I believe, the depth and breadth of his experience.

The agreements that were reached and that Governor Bush demonstrated -- I counted at least 14 areas of agreement that Governor Bush said he's in accord with, with Al Gore, and that demonstrates to us that he's given Al Gore an A in the conduct of foreign policy.

And given his experience and given Al Gore's leadership, and given the accord and the approval that George Bush has given this administration's foreign policy and Al Gore's leadership, I think that sends a strong signal to the American people over what type of commander in chief and leader Al Gore really is and can be as president.

SHAW: Your reaction to that?

ZAKHEIM: I don't want to play politics. I mean, clearly, there are disagreements between Governor Bush and Vice President Gore. Massive disagreements over Iraq. We've had a tragedy today in the Gulf.

We believe that Iraq policy has been very, very poorly handled in the last eight years. We know that although Mr. Gore constantly talks about his voting for the military action in 1991, we know that in 1992 he did not support getting rid of Saddam -- quite the contrary and he said so.

And in 1991, he supported sanctions in November of '91 at a time when we already had forces in the region. He did that in front of the Senator Armed Services Committee.

Sure, there are disagreements. My emphasis, our emphasis in response to your question is not about the disagreements, not about who gets an A or not, but how this country does its best to support peace in the region. And I believe Governor Bush has been very statesmanlike in saying, yes, we back the president on this one.

SHAW: Are you concerned -- again, a question for each of you -- are you concerned that Chairman Arafat might think that he could get different treatment from either of your candidates than what he's getting from the White House?

GINSBERG: Well, let's be clear: There's certainly, given the statements that Vice President Gore has issued today -- this is both following the attack on the Israeli soldiers, the attack, of course, on the U.S. naval ship in Aden -- there is no daylight's worth of difference between the two candidates. I think both have stood steadfastly on behalf of what is right.

And Al Gore has said in yesterday's debate, and as well as today, that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians are going to have to do all that is necessary to quell the violence, and that he should not expect a different deal from Al Gore in the White House. On the contrary, Al Gore has resolutely and steadfastly stood by Israel throughout all these years.

SHAW: And lastly, in the face of events, is the experience gap underscored?

ZAKHEIM: I think I need to answer your previous question, because it's a very, very important message to Chairman Arafat.

SHAW: OK, please do.

ZAKHEIM: There will not be any change. He better not wait until January to hope for a better deal. Governor Bush has said exactly what President Clinton and Vice President Gore have said on this one.

Arafat wants to be called a leader, he has claims to leadership. Fine, lead your people to stop the violence.

SHAW: Gentlemen, we are regrettably out of time, and I apologize.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

And INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: There is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. SHAW: Still ahead on in the next half hour: the latest on the conflict in the Middle East and its potential impact on presidential politics. Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a walk on the mild side, with no more than the usual ration of exaggeration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Brooks Jackson fact-checks the debate arguments.

And later:

SHAW: Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook on the presidential candidates and the state of the race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: More now on the stunning series of events in the Middle East today: an Israeli airstrike in response to a mob attack by Palestinians in the West Bank and the apparent terrorist attack on a U.S. Naval destroyer in Yemen.

Here is what happened, hour by hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): 4:15 a.m. Eastern time: A harbor boat pulls alongside the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen. The Pentagon says two men on the boat took a line from the Cole to help it dock. The men stood at attention. And the harbor boat blew up, ripping a 20-by-40 foot hole in the destroyer's hull. Five U.S. sailors are confirmed dead. More are missing.

5:00 a.m. Eastern: A horrific scene unfolds in Ramallah in the West Bank. A Palestinian mob murders two Israeli soldiers at a police station. A cameraperson films one soldier's body being thrown out of a window and beaten in the street.

9:00 a.m. Eastern: Israel takes its revenge in a series of helicopter rocket attacks on Ramallah, some witnessed by CNN correspondents.

SUSAN GHOSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: I'm in the middle of a residential area. This police station, unlike the other one, which was mainly in a business area, this police -- I just heard another bomb. I see the two helicopters now. I just heard another bomb -- as we are speaking.

WOODRUFF: Outside of town, Israeli tanks stand poised. Inside, Palestinian police are on high alert. Diplomats warn, the situation could spin out of control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: At least 32 Palestinians reportedly were wounded in the Israeli attack.

SHAW: Now, for more on the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, we go to the Pentagon and our CNN military affairs correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, the United States is vowing to track down any terrorists responsible for today's deadly attack on the destroyer, USS Cole. The Pentagon says, at this time, five sailors are dead, 12 are missing, and 36 are injured after a small boat exploded punching a 40 foot hole in the side of warship while it was preparing to refuel in Yemen.

The blast came as a complete surprise, because the ship that blew up appeared to be taking part in the routine operation of helping the boat moor. The Pentagon is dispatching an investigative team, as is the State Department and the FBI. But at this point, Pentagon officials say they have no evidence to link this to, say, terrorist -- accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. And there has been no claim of any responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM COHEN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We really don't have enough information to make any judgments at this point. We do know that terrorists are operating throughout the region, not just in Yemen but throughout the entire Middle East. It's pretty fluid. There are various groups who move in and move out. And so it's generally a high-alert area for virtually every area in the Middle East. But I think it's just premature to make any link between Osama bin Laden or anyone else at this point, until we have more information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: The destroyer Cole was en route to the Persian Gulf, having come from the Mediterranean. Its stop in Yemen was in part because the United States is trying to engage more countries in the region and improve religions about with Yemen. The chief of naval operations today said that, given the extraordinary scenario of events, he didn't think it was possible to have done anything to prevent it.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, live at the Pentagon -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Jamie.

And just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: We return to the presidential race and the post-debate politics. Judy will talk with Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one place Texas has the most clean air is in the speeches that Governor Bush makes, but not in the reality, unfortunately, of the air that you are breathing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: With 26 days remaining in the presidential race, Joe Lieberman is in Texas, taking issue with George W. Bush's record there. Al Gore also made Texas an issue during last night's debate, as he sparred with Bush. How accurate were the charges and counter- charges?

Our Brooks Jackson checks the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACKSON (voice-over): It was a walk on the mild side.

BUSH: It seems like we're having a great love-fest now.

JACKSON: With no more than the usual ration of exaggeration, Gore overstated his proposal for educational standards.

GORE: I think that we should require states to test all students.

JACKSON: That was not Gore's position before. He called for testing a sample, not all students. And Bush stumbled a bit talking about hate-crime legislation.

BUSH: And guess what? The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death.

JACKSON: Actually, only two were sentenced to death in the Byrd dragging-death case. The third man convicted was sentenced to life in prison. When they tangled on health insurance, they were both right.

GORE: The facts were right about Texas ranking dead-last in families with health insurance and...

JACKSON: Gore has a point. Census Bureau figures show Texas leads the nation in the percentage of persons with no health insurance. Bush didn't argue that, but came back with this.

BUSH: Our rate of uninsured, the percentage of uninsured in Texas has gone down, while the percentage of uninsured in America has gone up.

JACKSON: And that's just barely true. Since Bush took office in Texas, the percentage of persons with no health insurance has edged down from 24.5 percent in 1995 to 23.3 percent last year, according the census. And in that same period, the national rate has gone up the tiniest bit, from 15.4 percent to 15.5 percent.

Gore waffled when Bush brought up his past support for raising taxes on fuel.

GORE: He's right that I'm not in favor of energy taxes. JACKSON: In 1992, Gore wrote, in his book, "Earth in the Balance," that -- quote -- "higher taxes on fossil fuels is one of the logical first steps toward a more responsible approach to the environment." But that was then, and now is now. Bush may have stretched a point when he said he supported the administration on Kosovo.

BUSH: I thought that the president made the right decision in joining NATO in bombing Serbia. I supported them when they did so.

JACKSON: But back in March of 1999, Bush's support was slow in coming and heavily qualified.

BUSH: Although I share the concerns and misgivings of many Texans and Americans, our prayers are with the American soldiers. And I wish them success.

JACKSON: But that was then, and now is now.

(on camera): It wasn't really a love-fest. Bush and Gore disagreed deeply. But for 90 minutes, they stuck about as close to the facts as politicians are able.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: In our post-debate poll of Americans who watched the debate, nearly half of those surveyed said Bush did the best job. Slightly more than a third of the registered voters surveyed said Gore did better. Heading into last night's race -- face-off, rather - our daily tracking poll of the presidential race showed Bush and Gore dead-even. But it is important to note that more of those in our post-debate survey identified themselves as Bush supporters than identified themselves as Gore supporters, suggesting more of the governor's backers watched the debate.

They would be more likely to give their candidate a good review. In the coming days, we'll get a better sense of overall voter reaction to the debate, as several news cycles and spin cycles play out. And we will resume reporting the tracking poll once it includes some interviews conducted after the debate.

Joining us now, Stu Rothenberg of the "Rothenberg Political Report" and Charlie Cook of the "National Journal."

Let me ask you both, starting with you, Charlie: How do you assess the performances last night?

CHARLES COOK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think there are five groups that are uniquely unqualified to judge debates: partisan Democrats, partisan Republicans, journalists, political analysts and children under 10.

I think we all have a horrible record of saying this was a win, this was a loss, and it turning out to be a win or a loss. So I don't know. I think we'll -- just as -- as you just suggested in the lead- in, we will know in a few days. I think Bush has helped himself, because they had a lot of voters that did have reservations about whether he was big enough for the job. He clearly has helped himself in the debates. I think Gore has hurt himself a little bit. But we will have to wait and see.

WOODRUFF: What is your assessment?

STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think -- well, Charlie is certainly right that we need a few days to go by before we get a handle on how the race has been affected. But I think just looking at the debate, looking at the candidates, they each accomplished, to some extent, what they wanted to.

Bush did look more presidential, more substantial and substantive. I think he -- he looked more confident. Gore, I think, was -- looked more natural. He looked less like a plastic, phony politician and more like a real guy. People complained that he didn't attack enough. And then -- and he was too reticent and that was bad. I think he needed to compensate for his initial debate performance, which was too much of the typical politician. I think they both did pretty well.

WOODRUFF: Today, terrible news coming out of the Middle East. In a situation like this, does it -- Charlie, does it almost wipe out what happened in last night's debate, in terms of people's consciousness of this race?

COOK: Well, certainly people will be thinking a lot less about the debate and watching the news very closely. I mean, this is the kind of thing where, on the one hand, you could say: Well, it happened on the Clinton-Gore administration's watch, therefore maybe it hurts them.

On the other hand: heightened foreign policy tensions, which is certainly -- foreign policy is not president's -- is not Governor Bush's strong suit -- doesn't necessarily play to his benefit. I don't think we can tell. I think we are just going to have to wait and let itself play out.

ROTHENBERG: I think -- I think the governor is lucky that he had a good debate performance yesterday, and particularly a good one on foreign policy. But more than anything else, I think it just freezes the race as it is, as people turn to other things, personal tragedy, at the crisis facing the country. I think they take their mind off the presidential race. That doesn't mean they forget about what happened the day before. It just means that they're going to suspend judgment on politics for a few days.

WOODRUFF: And makes the third debate even important, the same?

ROTHENBERG: Well, I think the third debate is certainly important. It's also important as to whether or not Gore can make this criticism of the Texas record -- of Governor Bush's Texas record stick. COOK: You know, interestingly, you saw, after the first debate, it was the spin cycles a couple -- the next day or two or three after that that hurt Gore so much. And you are not going see that happen now, because people are not going to be -- you know, after Brooks Jackson's piece, you know, the debate is going to be ancient history until the next debate. So you are not going to see that cycling go around.

WOODRUFF: So where are we now, looking ahead? Both of you have taken a close look at the electoral vote. Where -- in which states is who ahead, is who behind, and what, Charlie?

COOK: Well, Michigan, it looks like Vice President Gore's lead has dropped down to maybe two, three, four points, something like that. Pennsylvania, he has got a lead there. But again, it's smaller than it was before. Florida is still hanging tough -- very, very, very close. I think Michigan, Missouri, Florida are going to be the three states I will be watching the most.

ROTHENBERG: I think Bush is actually ahead narrowly in Michigan. We have a disagreement. I think the Pennsylvania race has closed dramatically, Gore having just a few-point lead. Missouri looks like it's flipping back and forth -- same with Florida. I think the race nationally is even, so it shouldn't be surprising that, in a lot of these key battleground states, it's close. It's even close in places like Illinois, where Gore still has a considerable edge, but it's not quite the blowout as it once was.

COOK: You probably have one 160, 170 electoral votes right now that are too close to call.

WOODRUFF: What a campaign. All right. What an election. Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, thanks very much.

Just ahead: an update on the Mideast crisis. Plus: the political repercussions with our own Jeff Greenfield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Returning to the crisis in the Middle East: President Clinton is promising a firm response if an attack on the U.S. Naval destroyer docked in Yemen proves to be a terrorist act, as suspected. That sentiment is shared by presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush. A small boat pulled alongside the USS Cole today and then exploded, opening a large hole in the destroyer. At least five U.S. sailors were killed, at least 36 wounded, 12 missing.

And in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has ordered an end to helicopter strikes on Palestinian targets in the West Bank: a response to the mob-killing of two Israeli soldiers today. Barak tells CNN he rejects Palestinian assertions that the air strike was tantamount to a declaration of war.

SHAW: Joining us now, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, given the news from the Middle East and the deaths of our American sailors, what is your first impression of the political impact? And how this might affect the presidential race?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: My first impression is that, last night, we heard some people after the debate commenting that it was really unfortunate that so much time had been spent on world affairs, international affairs, that Americans really didn't care.

I think that what happened today -- two separate things: is a reminder that the next president -- whichever one of these fellows it is -- sooner or later is going to have to deal with the world, Cold War or not. I also think -- to be blunt, politically -- it was -- as Stu Rothenberg said -- it was very unfortunate for Governor Bush that these events happened after he had given what looked like a pretty strong performance on foreign affairs last -- in Wednesday night's debate, as opposed to what happened a week ago.

SHAW: But doesn't any international crisis influence voters to stay with the more experienced hand?

GREENFIELD: You know, you would think so. But if -- you know, you think back to 1980, when, in fact, the inability of President Carter to get our hostages out, and the year anniversary of the hostage-taking on the eve of the election reinforced the sense of failure. But I want to broaden that out a bit.

We have had four elections in the last six cycles where an incumbent president or vice president has faced a governor. And in every one of the elections, one of the implicit or explicit issues has been the lack of experience in foreign policy affairs of that governor. Three of the four times -- Carter beating Ford, Reagan beating Carter, Clinton beating Bush -- the governor beat the incumbent. And so it doesn't always look like the fact that the voters put a lot of stress on an incumbents's ability to deal with world affairs.

SHAW: So does this mean that this news won't have influence?

GREENFIELD: Let me be bluntly evasive, and that is to say that we don't know yet. Clearly, the fact that a number of Americans were killed in this apparent suicide mission, that's the one kind of an event most likely to put international affairs before the American public, which generally these days doesn't much care.

And I certainly think, once again, that it does make it important that Governor Bush not have any serious stumbles or mistakes in the area -- in the arena of international affairs, because it now seems to matter much more than it did even 24 hours ago.

SHAW: Jeff Greenfield, thanks very, very much.

GREENFIELD: OK.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you again tomorrow when George W. Bush will be on the campaign trail in Michigan. Al Gore will be campaigning in Iowa and Michigan.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.

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