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Bush Takes First Steps Toward Assembling Administration, Healing a Divided NationAired December 17, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Americans want progress, and we must seize this moment and deliver.
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BLITZER: As President-elect George W. Bush dives into administration plans, we'll talk to his chief of staff, Andrew Card, about Cabinet picks, healing a divided nation and more.
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SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Going to bring a different atmosphere and a different attitude to Washington that'll be very positive.
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BLITZER: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott savors the first Republican White House in eight years, but will he overcome a 50-50 split in the Senate?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House will be in order.
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BLITZER: On the other side of the Capitol, a narrow margin means compromise is key. Congressional whips Roy Blunt and David Bonior debate legislative agendas.
And were minority voters disenfranchised in this presidential election? We'll ask Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell.
The year 2000 was filled with remarkable people, but who will be "TIME" magazine's "Person of the Year." Managing editor Walter Isaacson explains the choice. Plus, our LATE EDITION round table, Steve Roberts, Susan Page and David Brooks.
And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on the next step for President-elect Bush making good on a promise to unite the country.
It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Rome and 8 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this two hour LATE EDITION.
We'll get to our guests shortly,but first, let's check the hour's top story.
President-elect George W. Bush is preparing to make more White House staff announcements later today.
CNN national correspondent Tony Clark joins us now live from Austin, Texas with a preview -- Tony.
TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at 2:30 Eastern time, President-elect Bush is expected to name Condoleezza Rice as his national security adviser. Ms. Rice is no stranger to the Bush campaign. She was the international policy adviser to George W. Bush throughout the campaign. She was also a top adviser to his father, President Bush, a member of the National Security Council back in 1989 to 1991, and a senior fellow and professor at Stanford University.
Condoleezza Rice, her background and as national security advisor, is expected to urge the president to have a powerful armed forces, but she does not believe the U.S. military should be what is described as a 911 global police force. She doesn't want the United States to be blackmailed by other countries, and so she urges the -- will urge the administration for a strong nuclear strategy. She has blamed the Clinton administration for never defining the national interests of the United States. She believes in humanitarian intervention, but with certain guidelines.
And a couple of other interesting notes. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement -- in fact, knew one of the young girls who was killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
Her appointment as national security advisor is a signal from the Bush administration reaching out to African-Americans, a group that was lost during the election.
One other group the Bush campaign wants to reach out to is Democrats, perhaps for a Bush Cabinet position. Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt talked about that this morning on the talk shows.
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RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would expect that there will be somebody of the other political faith in the Cabinet. REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think the policies that we follow are going to be just as important as the people that are picked. And again, we need honest compromises with everybody at the table, not just cherry picking a few Democrats to make something look bipartisan.
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CLARK: President-elect Bush leaves for Washington this afternoon. It will be his first trip to the nation's capital since being elected the next president of the United States.
Tomorrow on tap, a meeting with Alan Greenspan to talk about the economy, also to meet with Congressional leaders about his legislative agenda. Then on Tuesday, a meeting with President Clinton and Vice President Gore before returning back to Austin -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tony Clark in Austin, thank you very much.
And of course, stay with CNN. Later today, CNN will carry President-elect George W. Bush's news conference, when he is expected to make his newest appointments, including that of Condoleezza Rice. That's coming up in about two and a half hours, 2:30 p.m. eastern, 11:30 a.m. pacific.
And earlier today, I had the chance to speak with the presidential transition adviser and the incoming Bush administration White House chief of staff, Andrew Card.
BLITZER: Andrew Card, thanks for joining us and congratulations on your win. I know that it was probably a lot more difficult in the end, after Election Day, than you ever thought it would be. But I'm sure you're very happy, and president-elect is very happy as well.
ANDREW CARD, BUSH WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: President-elect Bush is very happy and I'm very grateful, and I feel honored to be part of his team. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's begin with that team. Yesterday, the president elect announced that Colin Powell would be the next secretary of state. Later today, we're expecting word that Condoleezza Rice will be the national security advisor, Alberto Gonzalez the White House counsel.
Is the fact that two African-Americans, one Hispanic, is there a message you're trying to send out in these early announcements?
CARD: Well, first of all, President-elect Bush is picking the very best people to be part of his team, his Cabinet team and his White House team. So he's not doing this based on any quota or any expectation like that. In fact, he's picking very competent, qualified people.
And there isn't a person in the world that doesn't recognize that Colin Powell is highly qualified to be secretary of state, and he'll be a great secretary of state. And when the president-elect decides to name Condoleezza Rice, that's not a surprise. She's been part of the national security advisory team for President-elect Bush during his entire campaign, and she is extremely well-qualified to take on that role of national security advisor.
BLITZER: So it's all coincidental, he's not deliberately trying to make a statement to minorities in America?
CARD: Well, he does want to show that he is going to be president of all the people, and he's made that commitment, and he will follow through on it. As governor of Texas, he brought people together. He had people in his Cabinet that weren't expected to be in his Cabinet. He had Republicans and Democrats. He had people from all walks of life in Texas, and I think you'll find the same thing happens as he puts together his team to lead America.
BLITZER: But, you know, he tried to do that during the campaign as well, and everybody remembers in Philadelphia, and you were the chairman of that convention, how aggressive he was in making sure that minorities were up on the podium, up on the stage. Yet in the end, nine out of ten African-Americans voted for Al Gore. He must be very disappointed in that large block that voted for Gore.
CARD: Well, I would say he was a little disappointed, but he, again, is committed to being president of all of the people, and he had tremendous support from the African-American community in Texas when he ran for re-election as governor. He's had support from the Hispanic community in the past, and I think that he will demonstrate to America that he will be the kind of leader that they can respect and like and work with, and he'll work with Republicans and Democrats to make things happen for this great country.
BLITZER: Mr. Card, you know, this program is seen live around the world, and there's a new cover of the Economist, the British publication --I don't know if you've seen it -- but the headline is "The Accidental President." Apparently, a lot of Europeans, people around the world, don't know George W. Bush and they're skeptical, they're a little nervous what they're about to get. How do you deal, overcome that kind of a problem?
CARD: Well, first of all, when they come to know him they'll really respect him. He does his homework; he is very dedicated to the task ahead. He knows that there are challenges around the world and he wants America to be the leader around the world, but he'll lead in partnerships.
I think the selection of Colin Powell as secretary of state will help to address some of the concerns you've articulated, but I don't think those concerns are justified, because President-elect Bush is ready to be president of the United States, and he's ready to take the role of being the leader of the free world.
BLITZER: You've heard the criticism; he's only been overseas a handful of times. He really doesn't have a whole lot of international experience, and on that level, he may delegate authority to Colin Powell, who's going to be the secretary of state, or Dick Cheney, former defense secretary, he's going to be the vice president. But what about the president: Isn't the president going to have to make the ultimate national security decisions?
CARD: George W. Bush, when he's president of the United States on January 20 at noontime next year, he will take the responsibility seriously and will be making the important decisions for this country. He'll have a great leadership team of Colin Powell and Vice President Cheney and others to help him, but the decisions will be his.
And he will bring that leadership, I think, to respect and credibility in Europe and in Asia, in Latin America, in South America. Now, he understands the task at hand; he's traveled much more than you think, Wolf. And he knows the world, but most importantly, he knows America and he knows what America stands for and how America has a responsibility to provide guidance and leadership, not just in this hemisphere, but around the globe.
BLITZER: How close is he to naming a defense secretary?
CARD: Well, he'll be interviewing potential Cabinet members this coming week when he travels to Washington, D.C. In fact, he goes to Washington, D.C. tonight, Sunday night, and he'll be talking with potential Cabinet members, and I think you're going to find some decisions be made very quickly.
BLITZER: You know, the speculation, and you probably don't want to get into it, but I'll ask anyhow, that Colin Powell is pushing for Governor Tom Ridge, but Dick Cheney is pushing for former senator Dan Coats of Indiana. You do you want to get into that game of who's up and who's down?
CARD: Well, the choice will be President-elect Bush's, and he's listening to advice from a number of camps and he's going to be talking to potential candidates, but the decision will be his and it will be the right decision for the country.
BLITZER: The other criticism that's been leveled on editorial pages, pundits, others, have suggested that you, who served in the Bush administration, transportation secretary, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, that the new Bush administration is almost going to be a replay of Bush I.
BLITZER: What do you say about that kind of criticism?
CARD: First of all, I love President Bush and Barbara Bush. I love them. But my support for George W. Bush is independent of my love for his parents. I learned to have great respect for Governor Bush as he was a leader in Texas and what he's done as a candidate for president of the United States, and quite frankly, what he's doing as president-elect. He's been remarkable in how he does his homework and he's been decisive in this period of time, and he's going to be a great president.
This administration will be George W.'s administration. It won't be retreads from his dad's administration. He's picking the very best people for this country. He's going to have a Cabinet that will be different and exciting, but it will reflect the principles and philosophies that George W. Bush believes in. And President-elect Bush, when he takes office on January 20 at noontime, he will start off as a great president, I believe.
BLITZER: How far behind is he, though, because of the five weeks that you missed in terms of the transition because of the vote counting in Florida?
CARD: Well, it's a real challenge. We had 36 days after the election where we didn't know who the president-elect was going to be. I mentioned before when I talked with you, Wolf, that he has worked responsibly to put together a White House staff and to think of names of people to be in the Cabinet, so we're in pretty good shape in terms of being able to start rolling out some of these decisions.
But clearly, the long time that it took to bring finality to this election process did make the transition more of a challenge. But we'll be ready. We may not be ready on December 22nd, as we originally hoped, but we'll be ready, I think, to make sure that the Senate has names to consider when they come back to town the first of the year.
BLITZER: Are you hoping that even before January 20th, the Senate, which will be then a Democratic majority at least until the 20th, are you, thinking that some Cabinet members could be confirmed even by the 20th?
CARD: I don't think they'll be confirmed by the 20th. The history has shown they're likely to have hearings. And as you know, all of the Cabinet -- potential Cabinet members -- have to go through the Senate to be confirmed and have hearings by responsible committees.
And we hope that some of those hearings will start before the president-elect becomes the president, so that confirmation can come the following week, and we'll be working hard to meet that timetable. We've had good cooperation from the Senate leadership, both Democrat and Republican, and we know that the short period of time when there is a 50-50 split, and the Democrats are in charge, that we'll have to work with them as we prepare to be president. But I think that we'll have candidates whose confirmation processes will start early in January.
BLITZER: Some people are saying already, given that 50-50 split in the Senate, the narrow Republican majority in the House, you're going to have to work with moderate centrists, Republicans as well as Democrats, and that's apparently causing some nervousness among the conservative wing of the Republican party. I want you to listen to what Gary Bauer had to say on Crossfire earlier this week. Listen to this.
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GARY BAUER, FORMER LEADER, CHRISTIAN COALITION: We've got a new conservative president taking office; he ought to fight as hard for conservative governing principles. If he does, he will be a two- term president.
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BLITZER: Some people say you're going to have more problems with the conservative wing of the Republican party than you might even have with Democrats. Is that a concern?
CARD: Well, first of all, President-elect Bush has never been one to put labels on people. He works with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and moderates and liberals, to do what he thinks is best for the country.
He is a conservative and he has a good, strong conservative agenda, but it's an agenda for America. It's not a conservative agenda just for conservatives. He talks about tax cuts, the need for tax cuts. He talks about education reform and leaving no child behind. He talks about Social Security reform. We'll be working on those particular issues, and we think there will be broad support from Congress, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and moderates, and liberals to do what's right for the country. But it will take strong leadership.
CARD: The good news is, President-elect Bush will provide that strong leadership, and he is a good, strong, conservative leadership that reflects the reality of concern in America, and how we want to bring solutions to reality so that people can have what they need -- more decisions made back in local levels, but a good education system where there's accountability so that no child is left behind.
And a tax cut that will help us to bridge any economic problems. Our economy is pretty fragile right now, and we think tax cuts will help to make sure that we have an economic recovery that holds.
BLITZER: Well, on that issue of tax cuts, one of your fellow New Englanders, Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican senator from Maine, told me earlier this week that she didn't think that there was enough support for that $1.3-trillion ten-year tax cut, on which Governor Bush, now President-elect Bush, ran during the campaign, and it's going to have to be dramatically scaled back if it's going to get through this new House and Senate.
Has President-elect Bush already accepted the fact that he's not going to get the sweeping, across-the-board tax cut that he wants?
CARD: Well, we'll be working with Congress, both the House and the Senate, to bring that tax cut to reality. We know that it is very important to have a tax cut. This economy, again, is fragile, and there are a lot of economists around the country that recognize that the best way to have us keep an economy that's moving forward is to provide a little more stimulus to it. And that could come from a tax cut, and it should be across-the-board and pretty broad. We'll work with Congress on a strategy to bring that to reality.
BLITZER: John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, says he wants campaign finance reform to be one of the first issues right out of the box. Although, yesterday, I noticed on Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the number two senator in the Republican leadership, he said this; he said, "I think President Bush would veto McCain-Feingold." Would President-elect Bush, once he takes office, veto McCain-Feingold?
CARD: Well, we'd want to take a look at the final legislation that passes the entire Congress. It's not just the Senate acting. It's got to be the House and Senate together.
And President-elect Bush supports campaign finance reform, but he wants it to be responsible. He doesn't want it to be an advantage for one segment or another. He wants responsible campaign finance reform.
And he's also going to take a look at election reform. But I think it's premature to say what he would do with one particular piece of legislation, because we don't know what the process would produce.
BLITZER: On another controversial issue, so-called partial-birth abortion legislation, the late-term abortion procedure, very controversial, President-elect Bush, during the campaign, said he would sign that into law, the ban on that procedure. Do you want Congress to move quickly on that? Or do you think maybe Congress should wait a little while and deal with education, tax cuts, other issues before that comes up?
CARD: Well, the top priority is clearly education, and we want to move quickly with education reform. I would point out that some of the legislation that has been pending, sponsored by Senator Breaux and even Senator Lieberman, has elements that we think are important. And we think education reform should be the first issue addressed by Congress, and we'll be working hard to make sure that happens.
We also want to start the process of Social Security reform, Medicare reform with prescription drug element to it. So, those will be the top priorities. But President-elect Bush is pro-life, and I think he would sign that ban on partial-birth abortions if it were to pass Congress again and reach his desk.
BLITZER: I know that you've been on the road for a long time. You're looking forward to coming back the Washington?
CARD: I miss my wife. I'm anxious to get back and see her in Washington, D.C.
BLITZER: Well, you'll be flying back tonight, and presumably you'll be here for a while. Andrew Card, thanks again for joining us on LATE EDITION.
CARD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And when we return, the Bush administration will work with the United States Senate that is split right down the middle. We'll talk about how a 50-50 Senate will be able to get things done with the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott.
LATE EDITION continues right after this.
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SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: With the vote for president essentially ending in a tie, the Senate split 50-50 and the House nearly even as well, that puts a special burden, not just on Governor Bush, but on all of us here in Congress, to work on a bipartisan basis and in a cooperative spirit.
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BLITZER: Former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, who returned to the Senate this past week.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
We're joined now by the man who will lead the new Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi
Always good to have you with us on LATE EDITION.
LOTT: Good to be back with you, thank you.
BLITZER: You just heard Andrew Card, who is going to be the White House chief of staff, say start off with education, maybe tax cuts, but controversial issues like so-called partial birth abortion legislation, maybe leave that on the sidelines for the time being.
Is that OK with you?
LOTT: I think that President-elect George W. Bush needs to think about the agenda, the things he wants to focus on, and the ones he wants to focus on early.
I think it makes good sense to pick two or three really good items that are simple, the American people agree with and understand, and try to move those first. Obviously education is one that's broad. Everybody wants their children to have a better education, or their grandchildren when they get ready to go to school. He's got some good ideas on it.
You know, there's broad support for things like the Coverdale education savings account, accountability for teachers and academic excellence and, you know, teaching every child to be able to read. There's broad agreement there, and so, that could be one place to begin.
And there's some areas in the tax code that are clearly unfair and across, depending on the economy too, the across-the-board tax cut looks more and more attractive.
BLITZER: So the issue of the abortion rights and partial birth abortion issue, put that off for the time being? LOTT: I don't want to start suggesting what the schedule should be. That, I would like to talk to the president, hear his suggestions. I think there's no doubt there will be a vote on the question of partial birth abortion. I think it will get broad bipartisan support, and I think President Bush will sign it into law. But we could do that
BLITZER: Andrew Card did say he would sign it.
LOTT: Yes, we could do that in the summer or in the fall, but just rest assured, I believe it will be done.
BLITZER: On the top priorities, Newsweek has a new poll, and it follows what you're saying: Bush's top priority should be education, 29 percent say that should be the top priority; Social Security reform; prescription drug benefits for seniors; tax relief is number four on that list.
LOTT: Sounds like a good agenda. Let's go with that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about education, which is the number one priority for President-elect Bush. The issue of school vouchers: decisively defeated in Michigan in the referendum, decisively defeated in California in the referendum. Is the American public saying to you hold off on the school vouchers to help kids go from public schools to private or parochial schools?
LOTT: Well, I think maybe the word is part of the problem. The media keeps using that word "voucher" because it perhaps has some negative connotation. Maybe the word should be scholarship.
But here's the point, whether than the words you use: What can we do to help failing schools improve, and if they don't improve or won't improve, what about the children, and the parents who would like to be able to put the children in a different school, perhaps even a public school? They all assume they're going to wind up in a parochial or a private school. Well, maybe not.
You know, here in the District of Columbia, I understand there are some terribly bad failing schools, and not very far away are some pretty good schools. Why shouldn't a parent be able to move that child over to the better school, that maybe is not as drug infested and dangerous and has better academic qualifications?
Look, it's not about the terminology. It's not about, you know, the teacher. It's about the child. What can we do to help our children get a safe, better education? We should do whatever it takes.
And by the way in the Senate, we came very close to having an agreement this year with leadership coming from Slade Gorton, senator from Washington state and, by the way, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. They were that close to coming up with a bill that would have had almost unanimous Republican support and a minimum of Democrats, around 12.
BLITZER: And so you will try to revive it sooner rather than later?
LOTT: That's a good place to begin.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about tax cuts a little bit. I notice in the new issue of Time magazine, President-elect Bush is asked about the size of a tax cut. Remember, he ran on a $1.3 trillion tax cut over 10 years. A lot of Republicans are saying that's probably too ambitious of a tax cut.
BLITZER: We heard Dennis Hastert...
LOTT: And I suspect -- well, I suspect they really haven't even looked at that. They don't even know what they're saying. They're saying...
BLITZER: You're talking about Republicans.
LOTT: I'm saying that.
BLITZER: All right.
LOTT: They probably don't even know what 1.3 tax cut means. They're just saying, oh, that must be too much. Well, why? As compared to what? Clearly we want to continue to reduce the national debt. Clearly there's some unfairness of the tax code; it's got broad support if we eliminate the marriage penalty tax and the death tax.
But across the board, rate cuts is what you need to affect in a fair way the largest number of people and the economy. And look, there's no question the American people are now overtaxed, and that begins with the low and middle income people, it's not about the upper income people. It's about the working men and women.
BLITZER: In the Time magazine interview, he's asked, are you ready to compromise on that 1.3 trillion number, and Governor Bush, President-elect Bush says, well I'm not prepared to compromise. I think it's the right size.
LOTT: The number is not the key. It's the results and the principle that really matters. I mean, when you get through adding all this up with changing economic numbers, maybe the number is 1.295, or perhaps it's 1.4.1. Forget the number...
BLITZER: But with the economy...
LOTT: ... The principle is to reduce the tax burden on working Americans, to have a fairer tax code, and to help the economy keep growing, and rate cuts is what you need to do that.
But I think we're getting, everybody is saying, well, can you show us a little daylight between the Congress -- or the Republicans, and President-elect George W. Bush. Let's give him a chance to get in there, let's take a look at the economic situation, let's hear his plan, and let's see what we can come together on.
BLITZER: You know, John McCain, your senator, Republican senator from Arizona, was on ABC earlier this week on Good Morning America, and he was asked about his, of course, favorite project, project number one as far as he's concerned, campaign finance reform. And he said, he wants to begin it, quote, "immediately; we have 60 votes," he says, "in the U.S. Senate in order to cut off debate," meaning he wants to push campaign finance reform right away.
LOTT: We all know that he cares about that a great deal, he's serious about it, and he'll have his day and we should have campaign finance and overall election reform, but it needs to be much broader than just that one issue. It's not just about soft money, it's about sewer money, it's about money that's not reported by anybody, it's about all these terrible negative ads that are dumped on people from both sides that you don't even really know who's paying for it or where it's coming from. So, it needs to be a little bit broader.
But look, you were reading the list of things that people care about: Education, Medicare reform, perhaps prescription drugs, protecting Social Security for the future, tax relief, strong defense.
BLITZER: But you're saying campaign finance reform (OFF-MIKE).
LOTT: Was it on your list?
BLITZER: It was not on that particular list, but I'm sure...
LOTT: We'll get around to it and we're going to do it. and hopefully we'll do it right, in a way that President-elect George W. Bush can sign.
So, if our colleague (ph) has calmed down, and we'll find a way to get it done in due course, and I'm not saying it won't be done early, and I know he's serious about, you know, moving aggressively early on, but I would hope that he would at least give our new president a chance to get in office, get some of his nominations confirmed, have some input on the agenda and the schedule. Can't we at least do that?
BLITZER: Your colleague, Don Nickles, the number two Republican in the Senate, predicted yesterday on CNN that if McCain-Feingold were to pass in its current form that President Bush would veto it. Do you think he would?
LOTT: Well, I thought the chief of staff designee, Andy Card, handled that pretty well. I don't think he wants to start laying down markers. It would depend on what final form it's in. Anything that goes through the Senate this next year probably would be modified some by the House; it has to go to conference. The bill probably wouldn't be just that one thing; it probably have other items; it would depend on the final form.
BLITZER: It's very interesting: There's a whole notion of power-sharing, as you well know, in the U.S. Senate. There's going to be 50 Republicans, 50 Democrats. For 17 days, the Democrats will be in the majority, as you know, until January 20, and then the Republicans will be in the majority, and Vice President Cheney will break the tie. Senator Daschle, who's the Democratic leader in the Senate, was on ABC earlier today. I want you to listens to what he said he thinks should be the situation in the Senate, given this 50-50 split.
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SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: All we want is a real effort at, and a recognition, that the membership in the Senate itself, 50- 50, ought to be reflected in the membership of the committees, ought to be reflected in the way we handle our legislative process, ought to be reflected in all the other aspects of the Senate operations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that acceptable to you?
LOTT: Well, Senator Daschle and I have had several conversations, and are going to have some more, and I think we've made a lot of progress. You know, different times call for different procedures, and the Senate is going to be 50-50 plus one, the vice president, 51-50.
LOTT: And there is going to have to be a greater equity in how things are handled, and what money is available to do the committee work, all of that. But the most important thing is...
BLITZER: Should there be the same number of Democrats and Republicans on committees?
LOTT: Well, we're going to have through that. You know, the key is, we don't want to set up a situation that's guaranteed to fail. The Senate, on occasion, has risen to a level of, I think, fairness and equity and responsibility when we've had to. And I think a lot of people are going to look at us and say, hey, can they deal with the situation? I think we can.
BLITZER: Should they have the same number?
LOTT: Oh, I think we can deal with the situation and come up with a process that allows us to get results. You can't have a situation that is guaranteed to produce nothing. You can't have a situation that -- where you can have a totally deadlocked budget resolution, to where the whole government...
BLITZER: On the issue of chairmen of committees, you will insist that all chairmen would be Republicans?
LOTT: You know, I would prefer to take the same approach that Senator Daschle did. I don't think we ought to be saying right now exactly what we're going to do. But I think you've got to have, you know, some process that gets results and somebody's in charge that will give us an opportunity to come up with a fair budget and deal with these issues like education and defense.
The American people are going to say, what is all this arguing about your perks? Work this out and move on with the issues that we understand and really care about.
BLITZER: I take it there has been some legal question that you've been looking at. What happens if in the next few months or years, one Republican member of the Senate retires or passes away, what happens then? Then the Democrats have 51, assuming there's a Democrat named to replace the...
LOTT: Well, I would probably want to put that in a different way. Suppose some Democrat leaves office. And by the way, I think the media has been highly irresponsible and morbid in making such suggestions. I mean, we've had, unfortunately, two senators that have passed away in the last year and a half.
BLITZER: We hope nobody passes away.
LOTT: And so that -- you know, I get very uncomfortable...
BLITZER: But somebody retire or somebody might...
LOTT: But the same would happen either way.
BLITZER: But in a theoretical nature...
LOTT: If it goes -- if it becomes 51-49 Republican or 51-49 Democrat, then there would be some modification, modulation of the -- of who's in charge.
BLITZER: So there could be a restructuring?
LOTT: It could be. I hope that we wouldn't go through -- have a situation where -- you know, the last time there was a similar situation, nine senators died in two years. So are we going to have, you know, Republicans in charge one month, Democrats in charge the next month and back and forth?
Not to say, again, that you should -- you have to deal with the realities of the numbers. But hopefully we can get some cooperation and some agreement so that it won't be flopping back and forth the next two years.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Lott, stand by. We have to take a quick break.
Up next, while it may be smooth sailing through the Senate for Colin Powell, are there confirmation battles ahead for other Bush administration nominees? We'll talk about that and much more with the majority leader of the United States Senate, when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: We'll get over these difficulties that we have seen in recent days, and we'll come through this a stronger, greater nation, on the way to that more perfect union that we always dream about. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Secretary of State nominee Colin Powell speaking to reporters yesterday after President-elect George W. Bush announced his appointment. If General Powell is confirmed, and that is expected, it will be the third straight presidential administration in which Powell has served in a senior position.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
We're continuing our conversation now with the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott.
Senator Lott, on this whole issue of confirmation, some speculation, and obviously speculation, that if President-elect Bush were to nominate someone who supports abortion rights for a key position like Health and Human Services or Labor, something like that, that it might not necessarily sail through the Senate for confirmation -- specifically, someone like the New Jersey governor, Christine Todd Whitman, who's rumored to be in line for some sort of Cabinet position. Do you think that would be a problem?
LOTT: Well, two or three thoughts in answer to your question. Number one, I think Colin Powell was an outstanding choice. This is a tested warrior, but he has a real desire for peace. That's a good combination for a person to be secretary of state. And I think that his selection sends all kind of messages, domestically and internationally. So, I'm very pleased with that.
Now, with regard to the name you mentioned, the governor of New Jersey, I think she's an outstanding governor. She's a very strong candidate to be considered for a position in the administration, and I don't want to start immediately second-guessing President-elect George W. Bush's choices for the Cabinet. I think that his Cabinet nominations are going to receive very positive response right across the board.
I think that, obviously, there will be people that would prefer to see a governor in one position as opposed to the other. I mean, you have strengths and weaknesses. I don't want a position; I've got a job where I am. But, for instance, I mean, clearly, I have more experience in transportation than I do in housing and urban development.
So you have strengths and weaknesses, where I think that George W. Bush would look at a governor and say, well, he might not to be the right fit here, but he's perfect over there, or she may be. So, I think, right now, we don't want to start second-guessing what he might choose.
BLITZER: We only have a little time left. A question close to your heart -- Pascagula, Mississippi. There's a shipyard there. That's where the USS Cole is about to be repaired, the naval ship that was bombed, that was attacked a few weeks ago in Yemen, a port of Yemen. If President Clinton, in these final weeks of his administration before January 20, comes up with hard evidence -- U.S. law enforcement authorities come up with hard evidence -- who was responsible, perhaps someone associated with Osama bin Laden, would you support decisive U.S. military retaliatory action even before January 20? Or do you think that should wait until President-elect Bush takes office?
LOTT: Well, first of all, that ship is in my hometown. It'll be off-loaded off of that vessel that brought it to Pascagula December 23, so I will see it next week. And, you know, you can't help but feel a lot of sadness for what happened there, and for the families and sailors that were involved.
Having said that, I would want to know that the evidence is good and hard, but if we could identify clearly who was responsible, and we could seize them or take them out or act aggressively, I would support that, even in this administration. Because we have said that when you do this kind of terrorism, domestically or in international arena, if we identify or we're going to find out who did it, and we are going to deal with them very harshly and very swiftly. And I would support it.
BLITZER: Senator Trent Lott, always good to have you on our program. Thanks again for joining us.
LOTT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you, and happy holidays to you.
LOTT: And you.
BLITZER: And when we return, the other side of Capitol Hill. The 107th Congress will begin with Republicans holding a very thin majority in the House of Representatives. We'll talk about getting through a legislative agenda with Republican Congressmen Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Congressman David Bonior of Michigan. LATE EDITION will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEPHARDT: President-elect Bush says he will bring a new spirit to Washington. There are still some Republicans in Washington who have not yet heard this message. We appeal to those who would remain committed to the my way or highway agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt promotes a bipartisan message to the new Congress.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Joining us now are two lawmakers who have leadership roles in the House of Representatives: Republican Congressman and chief deputy whip, Roy Blunt; he's in Springfield, Missouri; he's also President- elect George W. Bush's liaison to Congress; and joining me here in Washington, Michigan Democratic Congressman David Bonior; he's the House minority whip.
Congressmen, welcome both of you to LATE EDITION.
I just want to show our audience what the current lineup is in the U.S. House of Representatives. The old House had 222 Republicans, 210 Democrats, two Independents, one vacancy. The new House, the 107th Congress, has 221 Republicans, 211 Democrats, two Independents, one vacancy, a gain of one seat.
But Congressman Bonior, there are still about 25 or 30 so-called Blue Dog Democrats, conservative Democrats who very often vote with Republicans. So isn't -- aren't those numbers, the five- or six-seats majority, aren't those numbers a little misleading?
REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), MINORITY WHIP: They are. But you can mislead them on the other side, because we have perhaps as many as 25 or 30 moderate Republicans who will vote with us on social issues, sometimes on the environment and sometimes on labor issues. So it's still a pretty evenly divided House, Wolf.
BLITZER: Congressman Blunt, does that -- is that the accurate answer?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Well, it is a very evenly divided House, but it's about the same House that we generally worked with with good success in the last Congress. We did lose one seat, but we picked up a president of the United States in this process. And having an administration to help us and an administration to help set the agenda, I think, makes it easier for us to reach out to Democrats, not just the Blue Dogs, but any number of Democrats who are in agreement with Governor Bush, and soon to be President Bush, on a specific issue.
That's why I think you have to slice a lot of this legislation pretty thin to put together that bipartisan coalition, but a bipartisan coalition that is essentially in agreement with the message that was taken to the country.
BLITZER: Congressman Bonior, Dick Cheney was on "Face the Nation" earlier today. And he said, yes, they want to work with Democrats and Independents, but there's still a fundamental position that this president-elect will have. Listen to what Dick Cheney said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: The suggestion that somehow because this was a close election we should fundamentally change our beliefs, I just think is silly. These are not radical positions. These are good, solid proposals to address important national issues, and we'll continue to pursue them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Referring, in part, to the $1.3 trillion tax cut that was advanced during the campaign.
BONIOR: Well, let me say this: I mean, I respect people who hold to their principles. It's important that we do the same on our side of the aisle. We're not going to agree, for instance, on privatizing Social Security. We ought to be able to agree on a tax bill, though.
It seems to me that -- even the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, had said the $1.3 trillion is perhaps too much. We ought to be able to pare that down, so we don't have the problem with the national debt, which in fact is a tax on the American people. Let's be responsible in the way we handle the tax piece.
I would also say on the whole question, Wolf, of getting along with Democrats in the House of Representatives and in the United States Senate, that it's not going to be just enough to appoint, let's say, one or two people, Democrats to the Cabinet, or to pick off some Blue Dogs or some moderates occasionally to pass legislation. That's a recipe for inching towards warfare.
What we need, in fact, to do, is to sit down, Bush and Democratic leaders, and try to figure out where we can move on issues that we have some agreement on.
BLITZER: Congressman Blunt, there seemed to be some conflicting signals from Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, and President- elect Bush on the size, the scope, what should be achieved in the early rounds of tax cuts. Where do you stand in this debate?
BLUNT: Well, at least on the House side -- and I don't pretend to suggest what can happen on the Senate side; I really do think the speaker, the leader and the administration have to sit down and come up with a strategy that gets a bill on the president's desk.
But at least on the House side, I think what the speaker was saying this week -- because I talked to him about it after some reports of one of the news conference he had this week -- what he was really saying was that, do what the House did this year with the tax package. You know, we passed a tax package two years ago in one big package that everybody was able to become convinced was somehow too big and unfair.
But when we took that tax package and took individual pieces of it to the House floor, not only did we pass those pieces, but when people had a chance to look at it in those individual pieces, they liked all of it.
I think that's what the speaker was saying. He wasn't saying don't do any part of the tax package. He was saying, let's take it in pieces so that the American people know that we're eliminating the marriage penalty, that we're eliminating the death tax, that the tax that was put on some people on their Social Security in 1993 could be repealed as part of that package.
BLITZER: Let me ask Congressman Bonior to comment specifically on those three proposals: eliminating the estate tax, what the Republicans call the death tax; the marriage penalty tax; and eliminating the tax on Social Security recipients that was approved early on in the Clinton administration.
BONIOR: Two of the three, yes, I think we can agree on eliminating the Social Security piece -- tax, that Roy referred to. I think we can agree on eliminating the tax on the marriage penalty. And I think we can also move forward on the whole question of the estate tax. I wouldn't eliminate it completely, but I think we can provide enough room for people who are saddled in small businesses and farms, and who have had residential estates reach a level in which it's been a burden to pass on to their children. I think those areas we can make progress on.
BLITZER: It looks like some progress is being made on this program, but we're going to have to hold that thought. Stand by. We have to take a quick break. When we return, your phone calls for Congressman Roy Blunt and David Bonior.
LATE EDITION will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're talking about the legislative agenda in the new Congress with Missouri Republican Congressman Roy Blunt and Michigan Democratic Congressman David Bonior.
Congressman Blunt, how important do you think it is for the new Bush administration to get a minimum wage increase passed through Congress early on?
BLUNT: Well, I really don't know what's going to happen on that issue. It was certainly part of a package of small business relief that we sent to the Senate that the Senate never sent on down to the White House, so we need to work with folks on the other side of the building on that issue.
And you know on these other tax issues, I know David earlier was talking about the death tax, and while everybody didn't agree with the Republican view on that, but I think we had 68 Democrats in the House vote with that -- for that ten-year phase out of the death tax, and those are the kinds of issues where I think President Bush will want to reach out to Democrats early, who already agree with him and say, let's get some -- let's have a discussion about the details, and that can involve certainly the Democratic leadership.
BLITZER: All right, let's take a caller from Springfield, Massachusetts. Go ahead, please, with your question.
QUESTION: Well, what I want to find out. I was listening to CNN this morning, and I always thought that the president put -- picked his Cabinet, but from what I'm hearing, Cheney's going to be telling President Bush who to put in his Cabinet as concerning the Republican candidates that Colin Powell wants and Cheney disagrees with between the two. BLITZER: Well on that question, Congressman Blunt, I'll ask you, since you're close to President-elect Bush. Is there a problem here that Cheney may be, some people are suggesting, seems to be overshadowing the president-elect?
BLUNT: You know, I think what people are going to have to adjust to with President-elect Bush is, he's a very secure individual. I don't think he worries about being overshadowed.
And I have spent a lot of time with him in the last year and a half; I was on that original 10-person exploratory committee. When you look Governor Bush in the eye and he tells you what the goal is, you clearly understand that that -- he knows that that's the moment the goal was set, and he's going to give quite a bit of flexibility to people to help him achieve that goal.
But he is going to be the president of the United States, and I'm sure Dick Cheney knows that. I think the American people will figure that out pretty quickly, but I don't think he has to prove -- I don't think Governor Bush feels like he has to prove anything to himself, but he'll choose the Cabinet, I'll guarantee that.
BLITZER: All right. There's a new Newsweek poll, Congressman Bonior, that asks this question. Do you consider George W. Bush a legitimate president? Yes, legitimate, 68 percent; no, not legitimate, 29 percent. If you had been asked that question in that Newsweek poll, what would you have said?
BONIOR: Yes, he is a legitimate president because the process at the end made him so, irrespective of how we feel about that process, and I think that's important, because there are at least is 30 percent of the public who don't feel that way, and one of the first things that Bush need to do from my perspective is address that problem, and that is a whole election problem we have in our country. It's an outrage, the situation that existed in Florida, but also exists in many other parts of the country.
In Canada, they had an election about three weeks after we did: 13 million people voted; they counted the ballots in four hours; they voted by hand -- in other words, they just marked a paper ballot; they counted paper ballots. We ought to be able to do a better job here with this.
BLITZER: On that point, Congressman Blunt, let me ask you: Some people say it could cost billions of dollars to get uniform standards, high-tech voting equipment in place in all the precincts in the United States. Is the U.S. Congress prepared to spend that kind of money to improve the voting system in the country?
BLUNT: I think the whole idea that we may somehow federalize the elections as one that will not really get much of a response in the Congress. I used to be the chief election official in Missouri; I did that for eight years as the secretary of state. I think that states and communities are still the best place to run elections, even to decide which equipment works best where they live. But I do think we can empower, I would think, the FEC in their research, their clearing house area, to come up with more information, to do better studies. I suspect we're going to look at some sort of a grant program to help local governments, but I don't believe we'll see -- I hope we don't see -- a one-size-fits-all federalization of the election process.
BLITZER: Very quickly, we only have a few seconds left.
BONIOR: This is one of the most important things he can do. If he doesn't do this issue, the president, with respect to enfranchising people in this country, he's in deep trouble because there's deep anger out there, and bitterness.
BLITZER: David Bonior and Roy Blunt, thanks to both of you for joining us on LATE EDITION.
We have to take a quick break.
For our international viewers, "World News" is next.
For our North American audience, the second hour of LATE EDITION.
We'll check the hour's top stories, then the controversy surrounding voting in some African-American communities.
Plus "TIME" magazine's "Person of the Year," our LATE EDITION roundtable, and Bruce Morton's "Last Word."
It's all ahead in the next hour of LATE EDITION.
BLITZER: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Our nation must rise above a house divided.
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stand together behind our new president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The presidential election is over, but troubling questions remain. Were voters of minority areas disenfranchised? We'll discuss the issue with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
The year 2000 was filled with remarkable people, But who will be Time magazine's Person of the Year? Managing editor Walter Isaacson explains the choice.
Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and David Brooks.
And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on the next step for President-elect Bush, making good on a promise to unite the country.
Welcome back to the second hour of LATE EDITION.
We'll talk with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in just a moment.
BLITZER: Among the many questions following the confusing president election is whether some African-American voters were disenfranchised. Civil rights groups allege that many black voters, particularly in Florida, experienced problems at the polls, including what they call voter intimidation.
Joining us to talk about this are two guests: in Houston, Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, and in Cincinnati, Ohio, Republican secretary of state from Ohio, Ken Blackwell. He also held a post in the first Bush administration at the United Nations.
Good to have both of you on our program.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE (D), TEXAS: Thank you.
BLITZER: And I wanted to begin with you, Mr. Blackwell.
Look at these numbers that we've compiled. In 1992, among the African- American vote, President Bill Clinton got 83 percent. At that time, the Republican incumbent President George Bush got 10 percent. And I want to show these numbers on our screen: 83 to 10 in 1992.
In 1996, Clinton got 84 percent of the African-American vote. Bob Dole, the Republican challenger at that time, got 12 percent of the vote.
But look at this: In 2000, this election, Al Gore got 90 percent of the African-American vote -- let's show those numbers up on our screen -- Republican George W. Bush only 9 percent.
Why did Governor Bush do so poorly among African-American voters?
KEN BLACKWELL (R), OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: I'll tell you, in those other two campaigns, campaigns that I was intimately involved in, I did not see the sort of organized and intense slander and attempt to villainize the Republican candidate as I did in this election.
In Ohio and Cleveland, for instance, they had a sound truck with chains on the back, basically saying don't let George Bush drag you back to slavery. I mean that was vicious, and it was malicious.
And I think George Bush is faced with a situation where he's going to have to do what he did in Texas. He was villainized in his first race in Texas. He was told -- he was positioned for black and Latinos as someone who would not address their issues, who would not be inclusive. Over his first four years as governor, he disproved that image, and on the next go-around, what he had was 27 percent of the black population voting for him, and close to 50 percent of the Latinos. So that's what he's going to have to do. The challenge has been set, the bar is fairly high, but I think he's up to the challenge.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, you're from Texas. Is he up to that challenge? Can he bring over African-American voters, as he did apparently in Texas?
JACKSON-LEE: Wolf, happy holiday to you, and it's good to be with my friend and colleague, the secretary of state from Ohio. Ken, how are you?
BLACKWELL: Hi, Sheila. How are you doing?
JACKSON-LEE: Fine, thank you. I would like to make this a much larger issue. And I think it's important to note, however, that in this past election, African-American voted only 5 percent less than the national average for the governor in the state of Texas for president.
I don't want to diminish the understanding of African-American voters or American voters. African-Americans voted in this election on issues. They didn't hear their issues addressed by the Republican candidate, now president-elect, and they responded. They voted for someone who captured the focus and the direction they would like to go. But now we have...
BLITZER: But on that point, Congressman Jackson-Lee, on that specific point that Ken Blackwell raised, and I assume he was referring in part to the NAACP advertisement that so many people thought went too far in questioning George W. Bush's credentials on civil rights. You know the advertisement that everyone is referring to. Did the NAACP go too far?
JACKSON-LEE: I think it was legitimate to question any candidate's positions on civil rights and in fact, the governor could have countered any sort of advertisement campaign by having passed a real hate crimes bill in the state of Texas.
What we found in these elections were real insults to American democracy, but as well disenfranchisement of African-American voters, Wolf. Clearly in Florida, where you were turned away because you were told you were a felon or had a criminal background, or where you had registered and they indicated that the facts in the registration book and your card didn't match, and they didn't allow you to challenge: There were enormous disenfranchisements of African-Americans, but of Jewish voters, of disabled voters.
We're not going to let this issue of having votes not counted be diminished by the fact that we're moving forward with a president, and we're going to ask that president to deal with us on election reform and also deal with the fact that many voters were disenfranchised.
BLITZER: Ken Blackwell, were black voters disenfranchised in Florida?
BLACKWELL: I think the jury's still out, but we in fact should listen to those voters who in fact encountered any false barrier or who were denied access, you know, to the voting booth. And the only problem right now that we're facing is Janet Reno is basically saying that early or preliminary investigations don't suggest that anything rises to the level of a more in-depth investigation.
But I think that Congresswoman Jackson-Lee is absolutely right, that we have to say to every voter in America, the vibrancy of our democracy turns on every vote being measured consistently, and every vote being weighed equally, and whether it was due to a lack of standards or selectivity or denial of access, we must make sure that everybody has the opportunity to fully exercise their right to vote.
And so I would join Congresswoman Jackson-Lee in calling for election reform. We're starting it in Ohio; they're doing it in Florida. Elections are state business, and I would say every state in this union has an obligation to make sure that no voter is denied access to the ballot box.
But Wolf, let me just say this. There are those who might be drunk, you know, from bitter wine made from sour grapes, and I think we have to distinguish from those who, you know, expand their political capital by fanning the flames of racial hatred and distrust, and keep ourselves focused on those claims, like the ones made by many voters across this country in rural Ohio, urban Washington, D.C., and in the Congresswoman's district that say that they were denied access. We need to investigate, and where that was the case, we need to prosecute fully and aggressively.
BLITZER: On that point, Congresswoman Jackson-Lee, at this point in the aftermath of the election, you're no longer raising any questions about the legitimacy of George W. Bush becoming the next president?
JACKSON-LEE: It's a broader issue, Wolf, I might say. There's not a question of legitimacy. When the Electoral College meets tomorrow and the transfer of power on January 20th, the constitutional process and the political process will be intertwined. I disagree with the Supreme Court decision, viewing it as partisan, having recognized the very strong dissent of Justice Stephens.
The question will be is the direction of this country, and also might I say to my good friend, I think it's important that we not diminish the passion and the activism of African-Americans as it relates to the preciousness of the vote. This is a question of Selma. I've heard it; I am capturing it. It is the question of those who walked and marched and lost their lives for the right to vote.
This is also the question of the 1876 election, where Reconstruction all of a sudden was dissolved, and elected African- Americans were sent out of the Congress, and Jim Crow rose its ugly head. So the passion of African-Americans about this precious right to vote, or to have the vote counted, or the recount fight that we had, and will continue, is one that we would ask the now incoming president to make as part of his first speech, maybe even his inaugural speech, that he should draw to the issue of election reform.
JACKSON-LEE: He should speak against the kind of tactics used by Jesse Helms in 1990 in North Carolina, called ballot security, where they went out and sent postcards, Wolf, to African-Americans that if you had a criminal background, don't come to the polls.
I have legislation, secure democracy for all Americans. I'm going to ask, again, my good friend in Ohio to join me in reform, this bill. One involves the Department of Justice; it involves the National Institute of Standards and the National Academy of Sciences to define standards and also to establish a national Election Day holiday. It's key that we do this together.
BLITZER: All right. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ken Blackwell in Ohio, stand by. We have to take a break.
When we return, your phone calls for the Ohio secretary of State and the congresswoman from Texas. LATE EDITION will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
We're talking about the minority vote and George W. Bush with Ohio Republican secretary of state Ken Blackwell and Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
We have a caller from New York state. Let's take a question. Please go ahead, caller.
CALLER: Hi. I'm wondering, what's going to happen when the U.S. justice does find that there was discrimination in Florida?
BLITZER: What about that, Secretary of State Blackwell? If in fact that does come out in some sort of Justice Department investigation that there were efforts to prevent African-Americans from showing up at the polls, what happens then?
BLACKWELL: I think what they'll do is prosecute to the fullest extent those who, in fact, are found guilty or who they suspect have been guilty of that sort of denial. I mean, the one thing that I keep hearing is what happens if organization XYZ goes down and counts the ballots. Let me just say that if you send 100 people down there to count all of the ballots in Florida, what you're going to get are 100 different answers. And the Supreme Court of the United States will be proven correct, that what you had in Florida was a selective and standardless situation that shouldn't be repeated any place in America.
BLITZER: All right.
Omaha, Nebraska, please go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Yes, I'm just wondering if Representative Jackson Lee is as interested in the 5,000 voters that two independent studies have concluded were not included in the vote in the panhandle of Florida because the polls were -- or the election was called early, an hour before the polls closed.
BLITZER: What about that -- what about that, Congresswoman Jackson Lee?
JACKSON LEE: Absolutely. As I indicated to you, I have just filed the Secure Democracy for all Americans Act that comments on the fact that we have several different voting time openings and closings. We have seven states that allow same-day registration. We have states that, in fact, allow some people to register and vote in the same place at the same time. We need to standardize these procedures.
I do believe, however, that we will find that there will be a recount that can be credible that will occur in Florida by various credible groups that will do so. And in addition to persecutions -- or prosecutions by -- under the Voter Rights Act of 1965, I believe we should have a complete election process overhaul. And in elections that are federally based, I believe that it is imperative that the U.S. Congress acts to equalize voting throughout the nation and to give people a voting day holiday so that all can vote fairly and accurately.
BLITZER: Wolf, let me just say, that's an intriguing idea in terms of the holiday. Right now, or in this past election, the UAW was able to negotiate that. And I think it really did benefit Vice President Gore.
But let me just say that if, in fact, anyone goes down and counts dimpled chads or pregnant chads or what have you, they're going to get different answers from those who, in fact, say look, we're not counting dimpled or pregnant chads.
I mean, we -- the Supreme Court brought finality to this. We should not back away or run away from election reform, as Sheila has indicated. And I would embrace this idea. But I would suggest to her that number one on the new incoming president's agenda is going to be education reform. And then we're going to take a look at how we give Americans some security in their retirement, and I would hope that we would look at some tax relief.
BLITZER: On the issue of the Supreme Court, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, we heard the day after the 5-4 decision from Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court justice, insisting that politics had nothing to do with this. I want you to listen to what Justice Thomas said earlier in the week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS: I plead with you that whatever you do, don't try to apply the rules of the political world to this institution. They do not apply. Now, you can criticize, and there are basis for disagreeing, but it's not the model that you use across the street. They're entirely different worlds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that acceptable to you that there was no -- there were no political aspects of the opinion that finally came out of the Supreme Court?
JACKSON LEE: Wolf, I don't know if I had the misfortune or the good fortune of being both in Florida and in the United States Supreme Court for both of the hearings.
JACKSON-LEE: And, obviously, those of us who are lawyers, which I know my good friend is, we study this and follow this very keenly.
I vigorously, on this instance, and respectfully, disagree with Justice Thomas. And, frankly, I disagree with my good friend on the interpretation in Florida. It was clear that Florida had a standard, and that is to determine the intent of the voter.
We will have the numbers, and we'll obviously have to respect the process. But we'll have the numbers, and it will be incumbent on us to challenge an election system that is clearly broken, that will put the sunshine on this.
But with respect to the Supreme Court, in this instance -- and I'm saddened by it and disappointed -- in this instance, the decision fell along, unfortunately, partisan lines. And briefly, let me say the reason, of course, as everyone knows, that the state created irreparable harm for Vice President Gore, and in instances where you see irreparable harm being perpetrated, you try not do it.
Secondarily, the delay of the decision until 10 o'clock, December 12, and then relying upon December 12 as the safety net, or the drop- dead date, really put the final dagger into the opportunity not to select Vice President Gore for president -- let's move beyond that -- but to determine the real president of the United States.
JACKSON-LEE: Let me finish. And I think the other point is that there was an equal protection decision made under the five justices that said that would violate George's, or the president-elect's, equal protection under the law. They did not in any way entertain that for the vice president. You look at the minority opinion, and you'll see.
BLACKWELL: Wolf, real quick.
BLITZER: Ken Blackwell, go ahead.
BLACKWELL: Seven justices said that the actions by the Florida Supreme Court were unconstitutional, because there was a standardless and selective situation. On a 5-4 decision, the Constitution and the rule of law won, essentially because the Florida Supreme Court cut the contest period from four to two weeks and, in fact, established December 12 as the drop-dead date.
And all the U.S. Supreme Court said was that that was a decision that was made on the state level, and they weren't going to change it, nor did they feel that the Florida Supreme Court could continue to change the rules in the middle of the game.
I can tell you right now, in the final analysis, we were saved a lot of political acrimony, because in the final analysis, if this had been carried out in the political arena, George Bush would have won. And I doubt that many people, like my good friend Sheila and I, would be able to sit here and talk about common ground and reaching across the aisle to make sure that we got something done for the American people.
JACKSON-LEE: Well, Wolf, I think it's very good that we can work...
BLITZER: Ken Blackwell and Sheila Jackson-Lee. Unfortunately, Congresswoman, Secretary of State, we have to leave it right there.
JACKSON-LEE: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Thank you.
BLITZER: We could go on for hours and hours. We're all out of time for this segment. Thanks so much for joining us.
Up next, who is the magazine -- who is Time magazine's person of the year? You haven't heard yet? We'll tell you. And we'll also tell you how Time magazine came up with the choice. We'll speak with Time magazine's managing editor, Walter Isaacson, when LATE EDITION returns.
BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Every December for the past 74 years Time magazine has selected the person it considers to have had the biggest impact, for good or ill, on the news. This morning, Time announced its person of the year for 2000. Joining to us talk about the choice and why is Time magazine's managing editor, Walter Issacson.
Walter, a lot of people know already, but for those who don't know, tell us who Time magazine's person of the year is and why you selected him.
WALTER ISAACSON, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you won't be surprised to hear that it's George Bush. We selected him for a couple of reasons. One of which is that he's going to be the next president. He's going to have a huge challenge, a challenge to unite us as a nation and as he put it, to gain the respect of the people not only who voted for him but those who didn't.
And I happen to think that he has a certain personal trait that may make him well-suited to uniting the nation and reaching across party lines. But whether he does or doesn't, for better or for worse, he's not only the next president but the symbol of a constitutional contortion of an election, the likes of which we haven't seen since 1876 and something we'll be citing essentially from now.
BLITZER: You know, in the explanation that you write in the magazine, I'll quote from you, quote specifically, you say this:
"The candidate with the perfect blood lines comes to office amid charges that his is a bastard presidency sired not by the voters but by the courts."
Those seem to be pretty strong words.
ISAACSON: Well, they're very beautiful words, which is why they weren't written by me. They were written by Nancy Gibbs who is a far better writer than I am. But it is true that he comes, as you just heard from your segments earlier, with a lot of people saying it wasn't exactly a count of the vote that got him in, but a count of the Supreme Court vote. And that Supreme Court decision feels, to many people, to be sort of a concoction, perhaps even a concoction driven by ideology.
But either way, he becomes the next president. And as we say, as Nancy Gibbs says later in her article, he's the person that has almost magically by our democracy been anointed as the person who's going to try to pull this all together.
BLITZER: She also writes in the magazine, she says this:
"Bush confronted a sitting vice president with the wind at his back and maintained a nearly unbroken lead for more than a year even though more people agreed with the other guy's positions."
How do you know more people agreed with the other guy's positions?
ISAACSON: We're talking about various positions on issues, whether it, you know, the different issues on Social Security, or whatever. And whenever you talk to the voters, or do the polls, in general, Gore scored a little bit better on the specific issues in the way he expressed them, whereas Bush won and triumphed, partly because people felt more comfortable with him as a person, more comfortable with his style, more comfortable with his pledge of being a uniter rather than a divider.
It is very hard to define what it is that drove an election. Some people say we're deeply ideologically divided as a nation, and that's what this election showed. I don't really believe that. I believe what the election showed is that we're split as a nation, and we split the difference between the parties, but in some ways the voters are ambivalent and conflicted about the two different parties and the two different candidates, split right down the middle on the presidential race, split down the middle in the Senate, and almost split down the middle on the House races.
BLITZER: And very briefly, Al Gore would have been Time magazine's person of the year had he won, right?
ISAACSON: Well, last week, yes. We had figured out that this was not only the story of the year, but a story that will be remembered decades from now. A story that showed not only the split within the American electorate, but this constitutional turmoil that we went through. And either person who emerged victorious, Al Gore or George W. Bush, would face the same challenge, which is trying to unite the country. And I think we would -- I know we would have certainly chosen either one of them to be person of the year.
BLITZER: Walter Issacson, thanks for joining us, congratulations to you on your new job ahead with our sister parent organization, Time-Warner. Thanks again for joining us.
And just ahead, previewing a George W. Bush administration. Can he govern in Washington as he did in Texas? We'll go 'round the table with Roberts, Page, and Brooks when LATE EDITION returns.
BLITZER: Time now for our LATE EDITION roundtable.
Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report," and David Brooks, senior editor for "The Weekly Standard."
Steve, the transition, the appointments, Bush is beginning to do all the things he has to do, five weeks delayed. But he's doing them. How's he doing?
STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's doing reasonably well. He made some good choices. Certainly, Colin Powell, widely respected, not only here but abroad. I think it gets him off to a good start.
But what was striking was how dominant Powell was in that press conference. He answered all of the questions. He clearly is the authority. It was almost as if the president was an afterthought. And I think this is -- we're seeing a hint about how George Bush is going to be president.
I think he's going to let Dick Cheney, Powell, some other figures, who know a lot more about Washington and a lot more about the subjects than he does, take a lead. He seems to be quite comfortable stepping back and letting other people take a lead.
BLITZER: Yes. He delivered a pretty good speech there, Colin Powell. You have -- if you watched it yesterday from the ranch in Texas, without any apparent notes, no cue cards, no teleprompter. But then again, he's probably been practicing that speech on the lecture circuit for some time. So he might know it by heart.
DAVID BROOKS, CNN COMMENTATOR: He said as a South Bronx boy, he was afraid of cows. So at least he was honest about that.
There are some concerns about Colin Powell, especially from the conservative ranks, because here was a guy who was really against Desert Storm, here was a guy who was against intervention in Bosnia. He is somebody who is very hesitant to use force.
So for a Republican administration, this will be the least interventionist administration, you know, really since Herbert Hoover. BLITZER: Because he's very much influenced by the Vietnam experience. The Powell Doctrine has specific guidelines when to intervene.
BROOKS: Yes, don't intervene unless you know how you're going to get out. And that led him to have really strident disagreements with Madeline Albright, his predecessor, about Bosnia and how to deal with Milosevic.
BLITZER: You know, a lot of people say, Susan, that Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, they may have an opportunity, they may, in effect, overshadow the president. Is that a concern, seriously? Both Cheney and Powell have worked for presidents. They know how to be deferential.
SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think this is the least of George Bush's problems, frankly. There's no question he's the president and these guys will work for him. It is clear that they're going to be enormously powerful. Cheney, it looks like, will be the most powerful vice president in our history.
You know, we're all looking for clues to how George Bush will proceed on the foreign front with the appointment of Colin Powell.
But domestically, too -- I mean, there's a lot of talk about what do they need to compromise on to reach out to Congress? You know, we heard you talking to the previous interviewers about that. And it strikes me that you see them having very moderate personas, Bush and Cheney, but very conservative policies. No signs at all that they're going to limit the tax cut that they present. Or on education, which they say will be the first issue out of the box, that they will back away from the idea of vouchers, which is sure to spark a big fight with Democrats.
BLITZER: How significant is it, Steve, and you've been around town for a long time, that the...
ROBERTS: You keep saying that.
BLITZER: I just report the news. The facts. The hard facts.
I've been around for a long time, too, all right. So we've both been around for a long time.
That the first African-American secretary of state comes from a Republican. Remember, the first African-American national security advisor came from a Republican as well, that was Colin Powell in the Reagan administration. Yet the Republicans get very little credit in the African-American community for those kinds of breakthroughs.
ROBERTS: Well, I think -- you know, Powell said it very well himself. He said, it will be written that I am the first African- American secretary of State. And I want it to be written. And I want people to look at me that way. He wants to be seen as a role model. And he is a very important role model, and, I think, in the same way that Madeline Albright as the first woman was also a very significant change in the face of America to the rest of the world.
We're long past the point where just middle age white guys like you and me should be the face of America. And this is -- this is an important moment. And I think to George Bush's credit, he understood it and he put Powell out front as his first appointment. The only one of the day so there would be that focus.
BLITZER: Condoleezza Rice, African-American, but also a woman. She'll be the first woman -- the national security advisor to a president of the United States.
BROOKS: Yes, again, somewhat historical. I think this is not going to help with African-Americans, these two nominations.
BLITZER: Or with women?
BROOKS: Probably not with women either. There's still the gender gap. That was revealed in the election.
The thing that's going to help, and the thing that Bush underlined in that speech this week, was this compassionate conservative agenda. You know, he comes into a Washington, which has trench warfare, big government, small government, liberal, conservative.
He gave a speech at Indianapolis two years ago, in which he said let's break this logjam, let's come at the issue sideways, let's scramble the battlefield. Use government on things Democrats care about, like drugs, abuse, homelessness, housing, things like that, but do it in a conservative way. That's the way I think he will appeal to African-Americans, and that's the way he could scramble things and actually get something accomplished.
BLITZER: Susan, are the Democrats going to give George W. Bush a honeymoon of any sort?
PAGE: I think he'll have a honeymoon of at least 10 or 15 minutes before, you know, the Congressional elections of 2002 start.
PAGE: Can I just go back to this previous question, though, because perhaps we should just take a moment to be glad that this has been a year of real breakthroughs. The first black man as secretary of state. The first Jew on a national ticket, and it was not an issue. It was not a problem for the Democratic ticket. There was no backlash. George W. Bush indicates that Al Gonzalez is going to be his White House chief of staff. The first time an Hispanic has had such a high...
BLITZER: Counsel, general counsel.
PAGE: ... His counsel. The first time an Hispanic has had that role. So, this is, in some ways, a remarkable event this year. Maybe it's remarkable because it's such a non-event. There's no reaction because Colin Powell is black, no reaction against his appointment as secretary of state. ROBERTS: Although, it's interesting. You know, while Powell is clearly a figure of enormous respect around the country, Democrats as well as Republicans, some of his biggest problems, George Bush's biggest problems, are going to be with conservatives in his own party, and Powell is an example of that.
Because if Colin Powell had ever run for the Republican nomination, he would have had a lot of problems with conservatives. He's pro-affirmative action, he's pro-choice on abortion, he has been very much in favor of social issues that don't fit with the Republican Party.
BLITZER: He also supports gun control. On that specific point -- we're going to take a break right after this, David -- but if President-elect Bush had nominated General Powell to be secretary of Health and Human Services, would there have been that kind of a tone (ph)? Would conservative Republicans have said yes, let's confirm him immediately?
BROOKS: The roof would have blown off the Heritage Foundation. But listen, conservatives -- we're all trained now -- somebody mentioned this -- Tom DeLay -- we're supposed to shriek in horror and hide the kids in the storm cellar. But conservatives have eyes and ears just like everyone else. They know the Senate is split. They know the House is split. They know this is a minority government, essentially. They're willing to take two jobs. Give us two jobs, attorney general and defense. You can have the rest. I think that's the way they're thinking.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We're going to take a quick break. More of our roundtable just ahead. After 25 years in elected office, what's next for Al Gore?
We'll ask the roundtable when LATE EDITION continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable. Look at these poll numbers in Newsweek, a new poll, Susan. Should Al Gore run in 2004? Fifty-nine percent say yes, 32 percent say no. In his concession speech the other night, Al Gore seemed to be suggesting, at least some thought, delivering an opening salvo for 2004.
Listen to this excerpt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: Some have asked whether I have any regrets. And I do have one regret: that I didn't get the chance to stay and fight for the American people over the next four years. Especially for those who need burdens lifted and barriers removed. Especially for those who feel their voices have not been heard. I heard you. And I will not forget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he going to be running up to Iowa or New Hampshire anytime soon?
PAGE: Well, you know, don't you wish that Al Gore had shown up at the presidential debates? It would have been a lot more interesting election.
You know, I think Al Gore is truly trying to keep his options open. One of his problems is, what's his base. You know, he lost Tennessee in this election. He's going back to Tennessee for Christmas. He could run for the Senate or governor from Tennessee in two years. That would give him a base. That's one of several problems he's got.
Another problem he's got is he's not the only guy who is setting the stage to run in 2004. Joe Lieberman, I think, is a likely prospect. John Kerry has made it perfectly clear he wants to run. I think Dick Gephardt is a likely candidate. So there's going to be a lot of people who want that nomination, and Al Gore is the guy who got the nomination and then lost this very close election. So it's no clear field for him. But clearly he's trying to leave openings open.
ROBERTS: I think presidential-itis is a totally incurable disease, and once you have gotten that disease, and once particularly come as close as he did, I think he is already thinking about running. But I agree with Susan, there are a lot of obstacles here. And one of the obstacles is, under the surface, a lot of Democrats say, great job, Al. But right under the surface is a lot of misgivings, a lot of feelings that he was not a particularly good candidate. They point to losing Tennessee, West Virginia, traditionally Democratic states. When, given this enormous optimism in this country and a feeling of well-being, not to be able to win. A lot of people think he had his ideal shot this time and that he wouldn't necessarily be the best Democratic candidate.
BLITZER: A lot of Democrats, as you know, David, a lot of Democrats big-time Democrats, are very disappointed that Al Gore did not win this election, given the effort of the African-American community, the labor organizers, and the strong economy, the push he got that he couldn't deliver in the end.
BROOKS: Yes, I think his most popular moment was that speech. I was thinking that if he had conceded in the middle of the election, he could have won, maybe.
But the people who have came back after four years are Ronald Reagan, Adlai Stephenson. They had a strong base, an ideological base, and people who loved them. Gore has neither. I agree with Susan and Steve that it's unlikely. But there is one model for him to come back, and that's the Nixon model. His party goes sharply left, loses in four years. And then in eight years they have to find a candidate who is acceptable to the left and the center of the party, which is what happened to Nixon. He was acceptable to both. Gore would be acceptable to both. That is the eight-year model. But I would certainly say the odds are against him.
PAGE: Of course, if he really followed the Nixon model, that means he should move back to Tennessee. He should run for governor in two years and lose.
ROBERTS: And say you won't have Al Gore to kick around any more.
BROOKS: The other thing that Nixon did which is also the model that John McCain has followed to some extent, and of course he is going to have to put a lot of his presidential hopes on hold. And that is to spend a lot of time going around the country raising money, making friends. Nixon in the '60s was everywhere for the Republican Party. And that was one of the reasons he was able to come back in '68.
BLITZER: But, David, I want you to look at these poll numbers. The Wall Street Journal-NBC poll came out on Friday. Clinton, Bill Clinton's job approval rating: approve, 66 percent, disapprove, 29 percent. In terms of historical perspective, higher than Eisenhower was at the end of his second term, higher than Ronald Reagan was at the end of his second term. Bill Clinton's job approval rating.
BROOKS: Listen, a lot of people miss him. A lot of people like me miss hating him already. The question is will he get a higher book advance than his wife who just got the $8-million book advance.
And that's actually a problem for the Democratic Party. He will still be the de facto leader of the Democratic Party. Everywhere he goes, he will be the headliner. The guy is 54 years old. What do all these other Democrats who want to be president, how do they deal with Clinton? It's going to be a lingering problem, not only for Al Gore, but for anybody who follows.
BLITZER: Is he the leader of the Democratic Party still, or is Al Gore?
PAGE: You know, I think you'd have to say that despite all the problems, despite impeachment and the scandals, he is second most successful Democratic of the 20th century, Democratic politician after F.D.R. Won the presidency twice, is going out of the presidency with these incredible approval ratings.
So, yes, I think it's -- I think someone is going to have to take that mantle away from him, and it seems to me that somebody like Tom Daschle or Dick Gephardt is in a better position to do that than Al Gore is.
ROBERTS: The fact is that one reason why Gore lost was because he never ever, ever could duplicate Clinton's ability to connect with the average voter. It's one of the reasons why Clinton poll numbers defied gravity all through the years of impeachment, and it's still true. And it's one of the reasons why there's still a lot of doubts about Gore for four years. And it's one of the reasons why Clinton will endure. Even though there are a lot of people who hate him, there's still -- there is a sense of loyalty to Clinton that you don't feel about Gore. People like Clinton in a way that people, even Democrats simply do not get excited about Al Gore, and it's been true all year. BLITZER: Steve Roberts and David Brooks and Susan Page, thanks for joining us on our LATE EDITION roundtable. We'll do this again next week. Thank you, and when we return, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new president will start out under some limitations but he would have anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What lessons can George W. Bush take from this presidential election?
BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on the election, the message from the voters and the challenge for the next president.
MORTON (voice-over): We'll know it wasn't America's best month ever, but it could have been worse. I know, lots of people thought the Florida Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court looked like a bunch of precinct captains clawing for votes. But it could have been worse.
If you want to indict the Supremes for being politicians, remember that many follow their philosophy, not the party line, which is why Antonin Scalia, a Republican appointee, is more conservative than many in his party. And why David Souter, also a Republican appointee, is usually listed nowadays as one of the court's more liberal voices.
And, I keep insisting, it could have been worse. How? If the branches of government had jumped into the fight.
The Florida legislature, say, deciding never mind the voters, never mind the state Supreme Court with its recounts, we'll pick the electors. Or the U.S. House of Representatives saying, never mind the U.S. Supreme Court, we'll pick the president. The Constitution says we can, which under certain conditions it does.
There are no maps for those waters. We have survived for more than 200 years without that kind of legislative versus judiciary fight, and we avoided it again. The Supreme Court is still the branch, which, as John Marshall noted in Marbury v. Madison, gets to decide what the law is.
And the new president will start out under some limitations. But he would have anyway, because the biggest restraint on George W. Bush isn't his tiny margin, but the teensy edge his party has in Congress. A five vote majority in the House? You can lose that depending on who is home with the sniffles on a given day. The tie in the Senate? A body, which these days can't decide when to break for lunch without the 60 votes needed to prevent filibusters.
Those limits almost certainly mean the new president won't be able to do big sweeping ideological things like his tax cut, but only modest, centrist things for which there is some support in both parties. Doing something about prescription drug costs for the elderly, for instance. Small initiatives, moderate, bipartisan.
It's at least possible that that's exactly what the voters wanted. I'm Bruce Morton.
BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.
Up next, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.
BLITZER: And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. President-elect George W. Bush hits the trifecta. As we reported earlier, Mr. Bush is named "TIME" magazine's person of the year, on the cover.
"Newsweek" proclaims, "And Now the Hard Part with Bush," on the cover.
And on the cover of U.S. News & World Report, "Rough Roads Ahead: Bush Reaches out to Democrats but Risks Alienating Conservatives."
And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, December 17. Be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
And please join me tomorrow night for a new program on CNN. "Wolf Blitzer Reports" premiers tomorrow, 8 p.m. Eastern. We'll showcase CNN's top reporters from around the world and go one on one with key newsmakers. I hope you'll join us on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" tomorrow, 8 p.m. Eastern. I love the name of that new program.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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