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Bush Administration Trying to Sell Its Agenda Amid Clinton Pardon ScandalAired February 26, 2001 - 2:07 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: Well, amid all this Clinton controversy and the election fallout, Mr. Bush keeps trying to sell his agenda. As we mentioned, a primetime address to Congress tomorrow night.
We're going to cover all of this now with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who joins us from Washington.
Another day, another dimension in the pardon business, Bill. Where is this headed?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a little hard to tell. I mean, Congress doesn't really have any legislative remedy except the constitutional amendment, because a president's power to pardon is absolute.
I think they can try to expose what they may regard as an abuse of power in former President Clinton's behavior in the last few days. They may uncover some evidence of perhaps criminal deal-making and wrongdoing. That would have to be pursued by, say, a U.S. attorney, the way the U.S. attorney in New York is doing it.
But basically, I think what they're aiming to do is expose abuses of power.
WATERS: There's some talk among Republicans and Democrats that the pardon din is forcing the nation's attention away from both the Republican and Democratic agenda. Is that really a problem for either or both parties?
SCHNEIDER: I think it is a problem. I it is a problem for both parties, and particularly for President Bush. Though his rating have gone up, people regard him more positively in comparison with former President Clinton, who's ratings have gone down, Bush has to be able to translate his personal popularity into political clout.
He's going around the country, he's taking -- took a trip last week to the Midwest, doing it again this week to try to sell his tax cut. But the only way he can sell it to the voters is if people are paying attention, particularly the press. If all they're reporting is pardons and other stories, then the president is going to have a tough job.
WATERS: And that begs the question, of course, how important is tomorrow night for the president.
SCHNEIDER: Absolutely crucial. He's got to use that to start his agenda, to sell the tax cut, which has become a test of his leadership. He said that in his convention speech: The tax cut is a test of his leadership.
He's got to sell it, he's got to do it by getting -- ratcheting up the public pressure in order to put pressure on Congress, which appears to be skeptical of the tax cut. There's no crisis facing the country. While the voters do favor the tax cut, they don't think it's as high a priority as reducing the debt, financing important programs like education, Social Security and Medicare.
He's got to sell it, and to do that he needs the attention of the public and the press. And he's going to start that process, he hopes, tomorrow night.
WATERS: And what do the Democrats have to do to get their act together?
SCHNEIDER: Well, they have to find a way in which they can oppose the tax cut. They've had several arguments that it doesn't really reduce the debt. I think the president is going to try to address that tomorrow night. They're arguing that it favors the rich too much. The president is going to have something to say about that.
The problem is there's one president. He focuses the attention of the voters. There isn't one Democrat who speaks for the party. Basically, the Democrats are still defined by Bill Clinton. His man is in charge of the Democratic National Committee. The vice president, Al Gore, hasn't really been heard from. His wife is involved in these pardons controversies, and the Democrats are the minority right now in both houses of Congress.
So there's no one Democrat who really can rally the party.
WATERS: One -- the first question for Ari Fleischer in his White House briefing today had to do with "The Miami Herald" investigation of the Florida vote, their conclusion that if that deadline had been extended and the votes recounted, that Al Gore would not have picked up enough votes to have won the Florida election, in fact that George W. Bush would have won by 140 votes. Now, Ari Fleischer was asked if that was significant within the White House. He said no.
SCHNEIDER: Well their view is the election is over, the ballots have been counted, the election has been certified. It's got to be gratifying to Republicans, however, that this independent count in one county, Miami-Dade, where the counting -- the hand counting was stopped, would not have changed the result.
Democrats can find a lot of things to quarrel with. I'm sure they will say to use even more lenient standards. I'd point out that "The Miami Herald" used fairly lenient standards. They counted dimpled chads, which are controversial. Democrats would say, well, if you count other evidence of voter intent, Gore might have squeaked through. But you'd have to really count spoiled ballots, and that, I think, would be very difficult to pass any court test.
WATERS: Ari Fleischer said, we were never in doubt about the election. But I imagine it must be gratifying to the administration, because there other people, voters, who possibly might have been in doubt.
SCHNEIDER: I think there were many voters who were in doubt, and this will help to resolve those doubts and create more consensus behind Bush.
WATERS: OK, Bill Schneider, senior political analyst in Washington. Thanks, Bill. Talk to you again.
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