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CNN Today

Bush Sticks to Campaign Themes in First Days as President

Aired January 22, 2001 - 2:18 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Much politics making news today. Joining us now from Washington, our senior political analyst, of course, Bill Schneider. What struck you on this first day of the Bush administration as the most dramatic?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it wasn't a big surprise that the president changed the abortion regulation. That seems to be something that new presidents these days do as soon as they take office. That started with Ronald Reagan. It was called the Mexico City rule back in the 1980s, which banned the United States from supporting family planning organizations that did abortion counseling overseas.

It has been controversial. President Bush the elder continued that policy. One of the first things President Clinton did when he took office in 1993 was reverse it. And now of the first things the new President Bush is doing is changing it back to the Reagan-Bush policy.

Well, this is sort of standard operating procedure these days. Not a big surprise.

WATERS: Is it significant?

SCHNEIDER: Well, of course, it's a meaningful issue to -- it's a significant thing to anti-abortion voters who want to see Bush deliver on the one thing that's important to them. What mystifies them, though, is the administration's position on the fundamental issue, which is, is it going to seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision of 1973 that mandated abortion rights as protected by the Constitution? And there are kind of mixed signals on this, including Laura Bush, the president's wife, who says she doesn't make it a top priority. And John Ashcroft astonished them when he said he would not as attorney general seek to overturn Roe v. Wade as a matter of high priority.

So they're getting something, but they're not getting everything they want, it doesn't appear, from the new president.

WATERS: Now, about the parry and thrust, the early parry and thrust between the executive and congressional branches. Campaign finance reform -- I guess it's no surprise that John McCain would step right up and say, this ought to be the first order of business. Is this going to cause some problems for the Bush team as it begins its new administration?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I'm sure that's not their highest priority. But look, John McCain thinks he has a mandate. He won the New Hampshire primary and he captured the public's imagination.

Let me tell you a secret, Lou, between us: Campaign finance reform was not a top issue to voters last year and it's not the main reason why McCain captured the voters' imagination. And for that matter, neither was a tax cut the main issue why Bush did well in the election.

The fact is they're both low-priority items to the voters. Voters care a lot more about education and Social Security. Yet that's a top -- campaign finance reform is McCain's top agenda item and he's very persistent with that. And of course, the tax cut is right up there with education as one of the new president's top agenda items.

WATERS: Yes, we've had Zell Miller and Phil Gramm out today talking about tax cuts. Zell Miller suggesting that we need tax cuts now before the surplus gets frittered away, as he put it.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Well, the tax cut issue, of course, is very important. It's an article of faith to the Republicans, and now it's taken on, I think, some more public support than it had during the campaign, because the economy looks like it may faltering. People are fearful about a recession. And a lot of Democrats are beginning to say a tax cut -- maybe not the magnitude that Bush is talking about -- but a tax cut may be a good idea. The problem is the tax cut that Bush is talking about -- $1.3 trillion -- it's going to happen tomorrow, it's not going to happen this week, it's not going to happen this year. It's going to be phased over about 10 years.

So when you talk about saving the economy from recession, I don't think the tax cut is seen by economists as the best way to do that. It has a lot more to do with interest rates. But still, it could help.

WATERS: And now to the main priority of the Bush administration, according to the new White House chief of staff Andrew Card. That's education. Democrats already saying: Education, fine; if it's got vouchers in there, forget about it.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Education is the top priority issue to voters. It was No. 1 throughout the campaign. They'd like to see stronger federal standards, something done to make sure the United States remains globally competitive. They're very worried about our faltering education system.

If any issue helped Bush get elected, it was his record on education in Texas, where he stood as a reformer, essentially calling for stronger national standards in education, and really a greater federal role, something surprising to a lot of Republicans.

The issue, of course, of vouchers -- that's the one where the comity, the agreement between the Democrats and the Republicans breaks down. Bush may have to make some compromises on that. They don't like to use the word "vouchers," you know. They call it parental choice.

We'll see if a deal can be made on that, or maybe they'll just set that issue and make some progress on all the other fronts on education.

WATERS: All right. Political analyst for CNN, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. And I will keep your tax cuts secret. You can trust me.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

WATERS: Thank you very much.

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