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CNN Late Edition
Ariel Sharon Addresses Mideast Peace Efforts; McCain Uneasy About Bush Tax Cut; Are American Schools in Crisis?Aired March 11, 2001 - 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: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Santee, California, 6:00 p.m. in Paris and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Where ever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this two-hour LATE EDITION.
We'll get to our interview with Senator John McCain shortly.
But we begin with the new prime minister in Israel. This week, Ariel Sharon was sworn in as Israel's fifth prime minister in six years. Earlier today, I spoke with him from his office in Jerusalem.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, congratulations on being sworn in as Israel's prime minister. Thank you for joining us on LATE EDITION.
I want to begin right away with the peace process, the negotiations which, of course, have been suspended. You've said that you won't resume those negotiations with the Palestinians until there's an end to the violence. Why not talk, with the objective being to end the violence and begin the process once again?
SHARON: First, I thank you for your congratulations.
Myself and my government are committed to peace. We have chosen the road of peace. We know it's not an easy thing. It will take a long time. We have a conflict with the Palestinians that started over 120 years ago, but we decided to do it. And I'm sure that the day will come that we'll achieve peace with the Palestinians, as with all our Arab neighbors.
I think that it was maybe the major mistake of the Israeli formal government that agreed to negotiate under fire and under terror, because that caused and brought only for more demands from the Palestinians and Israel made some more concessions. Israel became weaker and weaker. And in the end was that, after major effort by the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Barak, that we have not achieved peace and we have not achieved security.
Therefore, this government will have another policy. Though we are committed to peace, but we will not negotiate under pressure. Because Israel is a tiny, small country, but it's a country where the Jewish people are having the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves. And that is the most important thing, and we cannot give up this capability that we have. That is our responsibility.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting...
SHARON: Because this terror...
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, are you suggesting, therefore -- and excuse me for interrupting -- that until there's a complete cessation of all violence, there will be no contacts, no talks whatsoever with the Palestinians in the hopes of resuming those negotiations?
SHARON: No, I spoke about the peace negotiations. In a message conveyed to Chairman Arafat, I said that I would like very much to ease the conditions of the Palestinians that live in the area.
Because I believe that we have to draw a very clear distinction between a terrorist and their supporters and the people that would like just to go and work and bring some bread home and raise their children. So it's about the first, we have to take all the measures and all the steps which are necessary, of course without causing any escalations. With others, I believe we have to try and find a way how really to ease the condition of life. So that is the concept.
But when it comes to peace negotiation, that will not be unless, though I want very much to negotiate, am ready to negotiate, I believe that I am maybe one of the only ones who can bring peace to the region and stability to the area, but it should be quiet.
SHARON: That would be the difference between our government and the former government. And I think that it's not only that we suffer casualties, heavy casualties, but it's a danger to the very existence of the state of Israel. It's about those that act against us.
I think that we have, though, being very careful. I'll make every effort that will not cause any escalation of the situation, because I don't think we need it. We have to be very careful. But we have the right to defend our citizens. The Israeli citizens have the right to live in security. That one must understand.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat spoke out yesterday, delivered a major speech, and he sought to reach out to you, to the Israeli government. I want you to listen through a translator to what Mr. Arafat said yesterday, and I want to get your reaction. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT YASSER ARAFAT (through translator): I called upon all Israeli leaders, regardless of their lines, to move forward toward this peace for the sake of our children and their children and for our future and their future. This peace can be achieved and can be the real, actual alternative to the state of daily killing imposed on us.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He also said that he's willing to accept a deal that achieves peace and security for Israel. Is he reaching out to you?
SHARON: I listened to what Arafat said. I was disappointed that he did not call for a cessation of hostilities. He did not give any instruction. I expect that he will do that.
But today I became even more disappointed when I read the interview that he gave to a Saudi newspaper that was today in the Arab press and media, which says that the terror will continue. And that means that Arafat, though peace is important for him not less than for ourselves, and though that I believe that should have made every effort to reach peace as we are making every effort to reach peace, understand that he did not lift the way of terror.
And one must understand that in our part of the world, terror is not a technical issue. In our region, terror is a strategic issue, because most of the wars, if not all of them, started in the Middle East as a result of terror. Therefore, and due to the fact that we have the right to exist here in peace and security, I think that Arafat has not reached yet the point that he understands that he's facing now a different government. This government, which is committed to peace.
And myself, I saw all the horrors and fears of wars and I participated in all the wars of Israel, and I saw my friends being killed. Myself, I was very seriously injured twice in battles, and I had to take decisions of life and death.
Therefore, I say for others and for myself, I believe I understand the importance of peace better than many of the politicians that speak about peace but never had that experience. But for me, peace should be peaceful generation. For me, peace should be such peace that will provide full security to the citizens of Israel.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister...
SHARON: And there is one thing...
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, we only have a brief amount of time, so I just want to make sure that we understand your position.
The Palestinians say they're ready to resume the negotiations on the basis of where the negotiations left off with the previous Israeli government, the government of Ehud Barak. Are you saying that the concessions, the positions that that previous government made to the Palestinians are now off the table completely?
SHARON: Yes, I can only repeat what President Clinton said, and I think that Prime Minister Barak repeated that, that although it used to be called Clinton's principles and ideals do not exist anymore because Arafat didn't accept them.
And I think that Prime Minister Barak, rightly so, repeated that in a letter that he sent in a declaration, seeking a government resolution. That all those attempts that he made -- and I should admit that Prime Minister Barak has done something that no prime minister ever had done before, making such major concessions in order really to reach peace. But the fact was, that he has not reached peace. That means that that way was not maybe the right way.
I understand that maybe it will take longer, because I believe that it should be reached step by step, gradually in a plan that I called it a multi-stages plan, by which I believe gradually we'll be able to reach peace. Of course, meanwhile, once we'll start negotiations when it will be quiet and that should be very clear to the Palestinians. I believe that this way will lead to peace. Maybe it will take longer, but it will lead to peace.
Meanwhile, of course, we'll have to take steps that will ease the conditions of Palestinian life.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister...
SHARON: A famous saying that it's hard to be a Jew. It's also hard to be a Palestinian. I know that. And I would like to take all those steps, but first of all, it should be quiet.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, I know you're coming to Washington to meet with President Bush on March 20, that's not very far down the road. Do you want the new Bush administration to play an active role in the peace process along the lines that the Clinton administration played in trying to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians?
SHARON: We always appreciated American support. I believe that maybe the best way is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but of course I believe that American help will always be needed. Maybe not to such extent of, say, being involved, but we always will be appreciating every effort by United States.
But I think that basically maybe the most important thing is to have direct negotiations between the sides and of course having many thanks for the good officers and advice and for every effort that the American administration will be doing.
BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, unfortunately we don't have a lot of time left, we only have a few seconds.
But as you well know, there's been a huge uproar here in the United States in recent weeks over former President Clinton's pardons, especially the pardon of the fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, who has become an Israeli citizen.
President Clinton says that one of the reasons, perhaps the major reason, why he granted Marc Rich that pardon was because Ehud Barak, your predecessor, appealed to him to do so. Was that the right thing? Did you support that decision by then Prime Minister Barak to ask former President Clinton for this pardon?
SHARON: Because I didn't know anything about that when these steps were taken, if they were taken, I don't think that I can add anything to this issue. I didn't know about it before, and therefore, I believe it's better if I will not add anything to the things that you said you do know.
BLITZER: Will you ask -- and this is our final question. Will you ask President Bush when you come here to pardon Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy, the former U.S. Naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel?
SHARON: I think that it will be very, very important if Jonathan Pollard will be freed after so many years in prison.
BLITZER: So you will ask President Bush to do something about that?
SHARON: I will do that.
BLITZER: Prime Minister Sharon, I know these have been very busy days. I want to thank you for taking some time to join us here on CNN and LATE EDITION. Thank you very much.
SHARON: Thank you.
BLITZER: And when we come back, President Bush is savoring a tax cut victory in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in the Senate, they're preparing for battle. We'll talk to U.S. Senator John McCain about the upcoming fight on taxes, campaign finance reform and much more when LATE EDITION continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
After getting a huge win in the U.S. House of Representatives this past week on talk cuts, President Bush is turning his attention to getting his plan through a much tougher Senate. One Republican who already is voicing some reservations is the Arizona senator, John McCain. He joins us now from Phoenix.
Senator McCain, welcome back to LATE EDITION. We'll get to tax cuts, campaign finance reform in just a second.
But we just heard the new prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, say that when he comes to Washington in about 10 days or so he is going to ask President Bush to give a pardon to the convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard. Is that something President Bush should seriously consider, releasing Pollard?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think the head of a nation that visits you, especially a close friend, as Israel is to the United States, that I would obviously review that among other issues that exist between our two countries. But from everything I know of the Pollard case, I would strongly recommend against a pardon.
BLITZER: And you think he should serve his life sentence in prison? MCCAIN: I think the damage done by every national security expert that I know to the United States national security was that his sentence was warranted. Again, I don't see anything wrong with reviewing it and the circumstances surrounding it. But everything I know, I would not grant that pardon. And this could set a dangerous precedent for the future, in my view.
BLITZER: All right, Senator McCain, let's talk about campaign finance reform. Later this month, the issue was scheduled to come up for consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate. There was an agreement that you worked out earlier this year with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to allow it to come up for a debate.
But right now, even though you do have some increasing numbers supporting you, some liberal groups are suggesting what you and Russ Feingold, your cosponsor, are suggesting is simply not very good. The ACLU is now saying it's not worthwhile. The AFL-CIO, the labor union, saying it could hurt them. How seriously in trouble do you think McCain-Feingold will be as a result of concerns from the left?
MCCAIN: Well, we never thought it would be easy. We're trying to do two things here, Wolf, that make it very difficult.
One is, we're asking incumbents to vote to change a system that keeps incumbents in office. There were 20 or 30 House seats that were truly contested in the last election, and seven or eight Senate seats, and -- because most incumbents are safe.
And second, we are asking for a vote that will diminish the power and influence of every special interest that uses money in order to gain the access and the influence that accrues from that.
So literally every special interest, whether they be on the left or the right, that uses money -- the AFL-CIO, as you know, is heavily engaged in financial contributions, as is the National Association of Broadcasters and the Business Round Table and the Chamber of Commerce.
So every one of these special interests will do everything they can to preserve the status quo. Because if that lobbyist that's making $1 million a year on K Street can only come in with a $1,000 check or individual $1,000 checks, that's a lot different from him being able to buy a ticket to a fund-raiser for $500,000, which was exactly the case last October.
BLITZER: You probably noticed that the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, is insisting that the legislation you and Russ Feingold are proposing is unconstitutional.
Listen to what Laura Murphy said earlier this week with Mitch McConnell present, who is the Republican opponent of your legislation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA MURPHY, ACLU: We believe that if Congress continues to move in this dangerous and ultimately unconstitutional direction, the only people who will be allowed to speak about the record of politicians will be politicians, political action committees and the press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She says it's unconstitutional. Mitch McConnell says it's unconstitutional. Why is it not unconstitutional?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, we think we have significant opinion, legal opinion, behind us that indicates that it's clearly constitutional, what we're trying to do.
And by the way, there are sharp divisions within the ACLU itself.
Of course Senator McConnell and others will say it's unconstitutional. That's the first and last refuge of opponents to any legislation. But the fact is that in 1907 we passed a law, thanks to Theodore Roosevelt, outlawing corporate contributions to American political campaigns.
MCCAIN: In 1946, we outlawed union contributions. In 1974, after Watergate, we imposed a $1,000 limit on individual contributions. All of those laws are still on the books. A year ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a $1,000 individual contribution limit. All these are being bypassed, loopholes have been found and devised.
And finally, Wolf, without continuing my diatribe too long, when I first ran for the Congress of the United States in 1982, there was no such thing as soft money. There was no such thing as the independent campaigns. There was no such thing as the $500,000-a- ticket fund-raiser. We had to do politics as American people envision it.
And now, we all know that, with the latest manifestation, i.e. the president -- the appearance of the president of the United States giving pardons when huge amounts of money were given in donations to the Democratic National Committee, the American people want change.
BLITZER: The AFL-CIO in opposing McCain-Feingold now, and beginning to squeeze some Democrats to oppose at least the language that you've introduced, is saying, among other things, this. I want to you listen to a position paper that the AFL-CIO recently released. It said, "The coordination provision is written so broadly that it could outlaw virtually any union activity, including legislative and other types of advocacy that the government viewed as having a connection with a federal election."
What the AFL-CIO is saying, that they would be restricted in going out and generating support or opposition to congressmen, senators or presidential candidates within a certain number of days before an election based on what the language of the legislation that you've written.
MCCAIN: Well, what they would be restrained, if they mentioned the candidate's likeness or face in a broadcast, then there would be certain restrictions. But the fact is, we don't restrain any internal communications, we don't restrain them from doing their grassroots organizing and the things they used to be best at before they got into the money chase.
So, I mean, it's just simply inaccurate depiction of our legislation. And that's why I'm pleased for the first time we will have full debate, full amending on the floor of the Senate, and we will not be blocked by a filibuster, which the present opponents now are arguing the constitutionality of, would not allow us to really debate or amend in the past times that Russ and I have attempted it.
And by the way, that's not because they've had a change in heart. It's because we've had a change in the numbers of the votes, and they can't prevent it.
BLITZER: The other point that some Democrats quietly are suggesting is that they raise almost as much in so-called soft money, the unrestricted sums that go to political parties and other advocacy groups.
They've raised almost as much in soft money as the Republicans. Look at these numbers. We have a chart, and we'll put it up on the screen. The Republicans in the election-2000 cycle raised $211 million. The Democrats raised $199 million. That was a 85 percent increase for them.
What the Democrats, at least some Democrats, quietly are saying, and having second thoughts about McCain-Feingold, is that since the Republicans raise so much more in so-called hard money, the restricted contributions, why would they want to give up this avenue which could weaken them in the 2002 and 2004 elections?
MCCAIN: Well, I think that's a legitimate point.
And by the way, the numbers I had from the CRS where $244 million in soft money for Republicans and $243 for Democrats. But more importantly, 54 percent of Democrat money, according to the Congressional Research Service, were raised in soft money. That's the unregulated donations. And the Republicans raised only 41 percent of theirs in the soft money unregulated, the rest being in the $1,000 donation or less.
I think the Democrats have every reason to be concerned. But the fact is that they all know that this system has lurched out of control. We spend all our time raising money, and money and special influence now dominate. And that's why we can't get an HMO patients' bill of rights, a prescription drug program for seniors. That's why we have a tax code that's 44,000 pages long. We haven't been able to reform the military or other institutions of government. And everybody knows that the reason is, is because the big money gridlocks us, and politicians and parties have become dependent on it. And the American people have suffered.
BLITZER: All right, Senator McCcain. We have to take a quick break. There's still a lot more to discuss with Senator John McCain, including the partisan divide in Congress. Is it growing? LATE EDITION will return in just a moment.
BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.
Senator McCain, I want to move on to some other subjects, but I want to just tie up the campaign finance reform. Some women's political groups are suggesting the McCain-Feingold could hurt them if it eliminates what's called bundling -- they come together, they write up a bunch of checks to a specific candidate like Emily's List, which is a political action committee favoring abortion rights for women. Then they give the checks en masse to a candidate. Wouldn't McCain- Feingold eliminate bundling of these kinds of contributions to candidates?
MCCAIN: No, it would not. There would still be $1,000 contributions, and, you know, you could send them in a day at a time. I mean that's not the problem with campaign finance reform today.
The problem is the huge amounts of money. Not the $1,000 checks nor even, frankly, the political action committees. It's the now out- of-control $1 million, hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars contributions, many times undisclosed and unregulated, that either go to the parties, which have now become just funnels for this money, or they go to the so-called independent campaigns, which then are used in attack ads.
So, the major problems are the so-called soft money, which has lurched completely out of control. That's the unregulated contributions in the so-called independent campaigns, which no one knows where they came from or who gave the money.
BLITZER: Senator Lott, the Senate Majority Leader, was on Fox News Sunday earlier today. With some Democrats now raising questions about your legislation, he was asked if support for McCain-Feingold was, in the questioner's words, "melting away." Listen to what Senator Lott had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: I do think there is a question about it. But there's some other alternatives. There's some things we can do in campaign finance reform, and the Hagel proposal has good aspects in terms of raising the limits and faster reporting. So there are some things we could do that President Bush indicated he would sign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is your version going to pass, you think, this time?
MCCAIN: Well, we hope so. If not, there will be more scandals and then -- as Fred Thompson said, he would rather be on the front-end of a Republican campaign finance scandal than on the end of one.
Look, the scandals go on and on -- the Chinese money, the aptly named Ms. Rich giving over $1 million to the Democratic National Committee, the basically quid pro quos for large contributions we all know goes on.
Look, we want amendments, we want votes, we're trying to get that. In all due respect to Senator Lott, I wish we would have been able to have that before -- he and Senator McConnell and others, including the last time the Democrats blocked it. So we'd like to have amendments, we'd like to see what can be done.
But you're not going to have anything that's meaningful unless you ban soft money.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about tax cuts. As you know, the big chunk of the president's proposal was approved by the House of Representatives this past week. It should come up in the Senate probably at the end of May, early June.
What changes do you believe will have to be made to the president's $1.6 trillion tax cut package in order for this 50-50 divided Senate to pass it?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I read various media reports that the president said that he would like to negotiate with members of the Senate, including the so-called centrists that have voiced reservations, including Senator Snowe. And 10 other senators have come up with a plan on a trigger.
I think that something needs to be in place, because we all know that the estimates of the surpluses, most of them are in the second five years of the 10 years that they're making the estimates. Three years ago, these same economists were predicting deficits as far as the eye can see, so we have to be a little nervous about that.
MCCAIN: Second of all, I think there is a belief in America that too much of this tax cut still goes to wealthiest Americans. And maybe we could do something about those that still pay a significant portion of their income in payroll taxes.
So, I think there's going to be negotiations on it, and I applaud that. But I also would point out that everybody's in agreement that there should be a tax cut. And so the question is, is what's its shape and size, and I think that is to a large degree negotiable or should be.
BLITZER: President Bush says he wants a new tone to develop here in Washington, but the House minority leader, the Democratic leader, Richard Gephardt, says bipartisanship is basically dead given the way the Republican majority of the House dealt with the tax cut package, no budget passed in advance.
And earlier today, your friend, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democrat, seemed to echo what Gephardt said. Listen to what Senator Kerry said earlier today on ABC. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: On the budget, there's really been no bipartisanship at all. I think what happened in the House in fact will be interpreted by many Democrats in the Senate as almost an insult, a slap in the face to a real Democratic process. It was really disrespectful of the rights of a minority and of the need of the country to have a legitimate debate about the budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Senator Kerry right?
MCCAIN: I'm not sure I agree with some of his rhetoric, but I'm not sure I understand why the Democrats were not allowed amendments and debate. Clearly, Republicans had the votes.
Senator Grassley has said that the Senate Finance Committee will not report out our tax cut bill until May.
I would have given them more debate. I would have given them a chance to offer more amendments, knowing full well that the Bush plan was going to prevail. I don't quite understand why it had to be rushed through. And, yes, many of my friends in the House have voiced their dissatisfaction to me. And I remember when I was in the House and in the minority, the frustration we felt as Republicans when we were not allowed amendments and debate.
So, I think it was, frankly, a tactical blunder. Whether it'll last for a long period of time or not, I don't know.
BLITZER: Senator McCain, unfortunately we're all out of time. I want to thank you for joining us. Before we go, just tell us very briefly, how are you feeling?
MCCAIN: Just fine, thank you very much.
Everybody, stay out of the sun, wear sun screen.
BLITZER: Good, good advice, we'll take it. Senator John McCain, in Phoenix, Arizona, thank you so much for joining us.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, another school shooting renews the debate about violence in classrooms. Are America's schools in crisis? We'll ask Education Secretary Rod Paige about that and more when LATE EDITION returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When America teaches her children right from wrong and teaches values, to respect life -- to put values that respect life in our country, our country will be better off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush reacting to Monday's shooting at a San Diego County high school that left two students dead, 13 other people injured. A 15-year-old student has been charged in the case.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Monday's shooting was among a string of incidents that have occurred at U.S. schools in recent years.
Joining us now to talk about that, as well as the Bush administration's plans for reforming education, is the education secretary, Rod Paige.
Mr. Secretary, welcome to LATE EDITION. Good to have you.
RODERICK PAIGE, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thank you for inviting me.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Let's talk a little bit about this, what some would call, an epidemic of shootings going on in America's schools. Specifically, what can, what should the Department of Education, the department you head, what should the Department of Education be doing about it?
PAIGE: Well, you know, of course under our Constitution, public schooling is a function of the state and local situations.
BLITZER: But there must be something you can do to help.
PAIGE: Of course. But President Bush feels that the federal government should, and under his plan does, play an important role.
BLITZER: What role should you play?
PAIGE: Well, primarily a role of providing resources, providing technical assistance.
BLITZER: Is that enough, though?
Let me read to you what William Bennett, a predecessor of yours, a former education secretary, said in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday after the Santee, California, shooting. He said, "The task isn't to make him," referring to the president, "a busybody or a liberal interventionist. The president, in addition to teaching what the ultimate source of our strength is, in families, has to lead the conversation, not just in generalities, but perhaps in particulars of what government can do."
PAIGE: Well, I think the president's plan, No Child Left Behind, very vigorously addresses these issues. There are a lot of different places in his plan where we see his feeling about the situation and providing great leadership. I think it was leadership, too, to include the faith-based organizations in, broadening the source of support for these kinds of situations, especially since these organizations are so good at this. And their after-school programs we think will make a big difference.
BLITZER: So these are religious charities, religious organizations that the president wants to be able to receive some federal grants to help in dealing with school violence, as you say?
PAIGE: Well, he wants these organizations, with their expertise, to weigh in on the whole idea of schooling, which violence is a part.
BLITZER: And specifically, how would they do that? Where kids go to public schools, after school they would go to a church or synagogue or some place else for activities. That would be funded by the federal government?
PAIGE: Well, you know, this period of time between when school lets out and when parents come home, in a lot of cases, is a very dangerous time. And I think we've got enough information to know now that a lot of bad things happen. Just to have quality adult relationships with young people during this period of time is very beneficial.
BLITZER: You know, with some of the concerns that some have expressed for this faith-based initiative, giving the federal money to some of these churches and other religious organizations, that they would use this as an opportunity to proselytize or spread their religious message, not just do the good work that many of them, of course, do do.
PAIGE: We have greater faith in them than that. We think that what they're going to do is what they've done all along, and that is, provide great quality relationships with kids and help the young people grow up, in a sense.
BLITZER: Is there something that the federal government could do to encourage local school districts to provide metal detectors, for example, at these high schools?
PAIGE: Well, first of all, we think that local decision-making is the way to go about this. The people at the local scene know what is best.
So what we would like to do is provide resources and technical assistance and information about what is available, and they can decide then what should be best. That's why the president wants the funding situation to be much more flexible. We want to get the results from the funding.
BLITZER: When you were the superintendent of the schools in Houston, many of your schools did have metal detectors. Did they work?
PAIGE: Absolutely, they did, and many did not. That was a local situation. That's why I so strongly support the flexibility of the people on the scene. You see, they want safety as well as we do.
BLITZER: Is it an opportunity right now as a result of what has happened, as some gun control advocates are suggesting, to take some further steps, pass additional legislation, that could reduce the access of guns to young people?
PAIGE: Of course we got to be careful how we handle guns, but we think just focusing on guns is much too narrow. It's beyond guns. The guns may be the instrument of the violence, but they're not the cause of the violence.
BLITZER: Is there anything specifically you think that Congress should do now in terms of passing additional gun control legislation?
PAIGE: Well, I think Congress should pass the president's plan, No Child Left Behind, because it includes in it many factors that can address youth violence.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about that education plan the president has put forward. One of the most controversial, if not the most controversial, part of it involves school vouchers. It's in the president's plan, but I take it it was not included in some of the early versions of the bill that emerged from committee.
Is the president having some second thoughts about using government funds for these school vouchers to enable kids going to bad public schools to transfer to a good potentially parochial school?
PAIGE: Well, I think the president feels that expanded parental choice is a necessary condition for total, effective school reform. And by the way, we want to be clear that the president is a passionate supporter of public schools.
BLITZER: As are you.
PAIGE: As am I. But from my experience I can tell you that expanded parental choice is a strength for public schools, not a weakness.
BLITZER: When this issue came up in Michigan and in California, a voucher referendum in the last election, it was overwhelmingly defeated because a lot of voters out there, a lot of Americans think that inevitably if you take tax money, give to it vouchers, it's going to be a drain on public schools, it's going to cost the public schools money.
PAIGE: Much, much, much overreaction to that. You know, we know already there are other ways that public money goes out of public school systems into private coffers. We know that happens in the case of charter schools. We support charter schools. It happens on the higher education plane in terms of Pell grants that go to private schools, and it works. We've got the best higher education system in the world.
BLITZER: If there's no vouchers provision in the education bill that eventually emerges and goes to the president's desk, will the president veto it?
PAIGE: Well, keep in mind what the president said. The president said, "This is my idea. If you've got a better idea, show it to me." We just want an idea that supports the child. You know what we want? We want the results, we're not hung up with the methodology.
BLITZER: So it sounds to me like he's open to some other alternative beyond vouchers?
PAIGE: Well, I think that he feels very passionately, very passionately about the idea of expanded parental choice. But this is America, dialogue is going to take place, and we'll see how it comes out. I'll tell you what, we're going to make our case.
BLITZER: OK, I believe you probably will. Secretary Paige, thank you so much for joining us on this Sunday. Good to have you on our program. We hope you'll come back often.
PAIGE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And when we return, congressional Republicans in the White House are savoring a victory on the tax cut front, but are they celebrating too soon? We'll talk about the Bush cut as far as taxes are concerned, when we join Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana.
LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: This bill is going to be written in the Senate, not in the House, but the Senate. You know, it may be March madness over in the House, but there's no slam dunk in the Senate on this tax bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus on the prospects for the Bush tax cut plan in the Senate.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Joining to us now to talk about the tax cuts are two senators: in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, and in New Orleans, Louisiana Democrat John Breaux.
Senators, thanks for joining us.
Senator Breaux, I want to begin with you. The whole issue of the president perhaps signaling this weekend that he might be willing to make some concessions to move away from every provision of that $1.6 trillion tax cut -- what do you think has to be changed in order for the Senate to pass it?
SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: Well, I think first of all, Wolf, what he's saying is based on reality. It's clear that what happened in the House of Representatives cannot happen in the United States Senate, where it is 50-50 and the finance committee is dead tied with 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
I think that in order to get a compromise, and I think that one can be reached -- I think we already have an agreement basically on the estate tax being changed and lowered and also on the marriage penalty being dramatically reduced. I think if we can do something that would address middle- and lower-middle-income people and not be quite so high on the top end, on the very top bracket, I think that's the potential for a good agreement.
BLITZER: Are you ready to go along with that, Senator Specter? Are you ready to join Senator Breaux in endorsing those kinds of changes?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I am prepared to endorse some of them, not all of them. I think the most fundamental point is in favoring a tax cut, which I do, is to be sure that we do not end up increasing the deficit.
When you talk about a $1.6 trillion tax cut, that's based on a projection over 10 years to have 5.6 trillion in surplus. And if that surplus holds up, I think that's a fair allocation. But it is very speculative, uncertain as to what the surplus will be when you look to five, six, seven, eight years down the road.
My own soundings in Pennsylvania and across the country and my own personal feel is that our first obligation is not to increase the deficit, really to pay down the deficit.
There's a lot of misunderstanding when there is talk about a trigger, but what it really means is that the tax cut is fine if the surplus holds up.
I do agree with Senator Breaux on the point that if we're talking about $1.6 trillion, and I'm prepared to give President Bush a victory on his figure, that there ought to be more of an allocation to middle- income and lower-income taxpayers without quite so much going to the higher brackets.
BLITZER: Senator Breaux, on that whole issue of triggers, is that something that would sway you? I know that Senator Specter does support, with some other moderate Republicans, this notion of triggers which in effect would eliminate some of those tax cuts going into effect if the budget surplus numbers, for example, don't pan out. Are you in favor of those triggers?
BREAUX: Wolf, I said before that trigger died before Roy. I mean, a trigger is not a good idea from an economic standpoint. Bob Dole once said that the Congress is the trigger.
And what we ought to do is adjust the tax cut in order to take into consideration what a real projected surplus would be, to make sure as Arlen has said, that we have enough money to pay down on the long-term debt. It's our responsibility to have an artificial trigger that says that sometimes in the future we may have a tax increase automatically based on the economy, is doing away with the responsibility of the Congress. I think it's a cover to some extent, but it's not good economic policy. I think we can do it without a trigger.
BLITZER: I want to you respond to that, Senator Specter. I also want you to take into consideration what Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, is quoted as saying in the new issue of Time magazine that's just coming out today. He's saying that any legislation that has triggers attached to it, in his words, is "dead on arrival with this president."
So clearly, President Bush, at least according to Karl Rove, is opposed to any triggers.
SPECTER: Well, I believe it's something which is going to have to be worked out and discussed.
I would turn around what Senator Breaux has said when he talks about a trigger being a tax increase. What I want to be sure of is that the tax decrease does not stay in effect in years where you cannot afford a tax decrease.
When we talk about raising taxes, Congress being the trigger, I remember very well 1990, when we had 45 Republicans, and Senator Dole had to produce 23. And we literally had an auction in the well of the Senate about 1:30 at night as to see which of the Republican senators would vote for a tax increase.
And I believe that President George Bush in 1990 got into very deep trouble on "read my lips," and I believe it is unrealistic to expect taxes to be raised.
But I am for as much of a tax increase up to $1.6 trillion as we can afford, and I believe we can figure out a way to measure how much we can afford without increasing the national debt and increasing the deficit. And I think that's something that the White House ultimately will be prepared to talk about.
BLITZER: Senator Breaux, the president is mounting a very aggressive campaign, targeting states that he carried that also happen to have Democratic senators, states for example like Louisiana, your state, two Democratic senators, you and Mary Landrieu. In fact, some supporters of the president are already running ads in those states suggesting that these senators, Democratic senators, should think twice about opposing the president on these tax cuts.
Listen to one of these ads that's now running in Louisiana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: The final and best means of strengthening demand among consumers and business is to reduce the burden on private income and the deterrence to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system.
STEVE FORBES: If Democrat Jack Kennedy could support a tax cut in 1962, the Democrat Mary Landrieu can support a tax cut today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was Steve Forbes, of course, and a clip from President John F. Kennedy in expressing support for his own 1961 tax cut reduction.
Senator Breaux, how effective is that strategy going to be in dealing with Democratic senators in states that Bush carried?
BREAUX: First thing, Wolf, they ought to pronounce Mary Landrieu's name correctly, I think that would help. I think that Ted Kennedy has pointed out the conditions were entirely different when Jack Kennedy supported his tax cut.
But I don't have any problem with the president coming to our states. I'm always glad when he comes to Louisiana. It gives us a chance to talk to him about things in addition to the tax cut, and we're glad that he came.
He has been, I think, effective in the visits that he's making. But, ultimately, he's going to have to negotiate this tax cut in the Senate. They cannot make the mistake that was made, I think, in the Senate, where they literally got the conservative blue dog Democrats to lead the opposition. That was tactically a very serious mistake.
I think we can come together in the Senate with people like Arlen and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and others and come up with a tax bill that he'll be very pleased to be able to sign.
BLITZER: All right. Senators, stand by. We have to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about.
For our international viewers, World News is next.
For our North American audience, stay with us for the second hour of LATE EDITION. We'll check the hour's top stories and continue our conversation with Senators Arlen Specter and John Breaux.
Then, the former White House chiefs of staff Ken Duberstein and Leon Panetta weigh in on President Bush and his legislative agenda.
Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's Last Word.
It's all ahead in the second hour of LATE EDITION.
BLITZER: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.
President Bush and a bipartisan Congress: Is it dead and buried?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Doesn't look like it's dead to me. Looks like it's alive and well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We'll talk to two senators, Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana, about bipartisanship in the 50-50 Senate and how it will affect the president's tax cut plan.
And two former White House chiefs of staff, Ken Duberstein and Leon Panetta, evaluate President Bush's first legislative victory.
Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and David Brooks.
And Bruce Morton has the last word on television broadcasters' inability to predict elections and the weather.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We'll get to your phone calls for Senator Specter and Breaux in just a moment.
BLITZER: We're continuing our conversation with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux.
Senator Specter, the Wall Street Journal editorial page took a hit at you and four other moderate Republicans on Friday in an editorial: Senators Snowe, Chafee, Jeffords and Collins.
Let me read to you what they said. Quote, "With GOP moderates ostentatiously turning Mr. Bush's tax cut into cotton candy, Senator Daschle merely has to pocket a defeat for the president, use the trigger as annual leverage over the rate cuts, win back the Senate in 2002 and tell his GOP helpers to get lost."
That's pretty strong words from the Wall Street Journal going after you and some of those other moderate Republican senators who do have some questions about the president's tax cut plan.
SPECTER: Wolf, it's not ostentatious for United States senators to take a close look at what the president has proposed. That's why we have separation of powers, and that's why I represent 12 million Pennsylvanians.
I am very much concerned about the deficit. We have a deficit at about $5.5 trillion, and I believe that is an enormous drain on the economy. That diverts money to the government which could be used in the private sector. And I believe that our first obligation is to pay our debts off before we do anything else.
When we passed Kemp-Roth in 1981, there was a deficit of $1 trillion. Eight years later, the deficit was $4 trillion. So I do not think it is ostentatious for senators to take a look at this kind of an important issue.
SPECTER: And I understand what the Wall Street Journal has in mind, and they have every right to express themselves as forcefully as they like.
But as far as Arlen Specter is concerned, I'm going to think these things through very carefully and make a judgment on what I believe is in the national interest. And I think it is definitely contrary to the national interest to build up the deficit or to take the risk on doing so.
BLITZER: Senator Breaux, Robert Reich, the former labor secretary during the first term of the Clinton administration, a traditional Democrat, has a tough op-ed piece in today's Washington Post. I don't know if you've read it, but let me read to you an excerpt.
He blasts the Democratic Party, your party, and he writes this: "If the Democratic Party's alive, why doesn't it insist that the budget surplus be spent on health care for the 44 million Americans without it and child care for the millions who lack it. This party is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is an ex-party."
Robert Reich, the former labor secretary. He's taking on the Democratic Party, Senator.
BREAUX: Well, he proclaimed us dead and buried, and I think he's very premature. I think that most of the people in the country, Wolf, are what I would classify as moderates, and that is not a disparaging term, even if the Wall Street Journal says it so.
People like Arlen Specter and other moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats, I think, are going to reflect the will of the majority of the American people who consider themselves to be moderate, and craft a tax bill that does have money for Medicare and for child care and for education, as well as sufficient funds for paying down the long-term debt, and at the same time giving a tax cut for all Americans.
You can, if you don't want to be an extremist in either party, I think, form coalitions in the center. That's what's going to happen in the Senate, and I think the American public will be better off as a result of it.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, while we have you, you've also been investigating the pardons, former President Clinton's pardons of Marc Rich and others. Where does that stand right now? Did the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the White House tell to you cool it and stop this investigation?
SPECTER: No, nobody has told me to cool it. The major outstanding issue, Wolf, is the suggestion that the president testify in a closed session with a Democratic senator and with me. Ten, 11 days ago I wrote to the president. I read in the newspapers this past week that a spokesman for the president has said that he wasn't inclined to do so at this time, so I called up the president and talked to the chief of staff. I want to see what the president has to say about that on a more formal answer.
There are some threads outstanding, but you keep hearing reports about large sums of money being solicited by Roger Clinton and Hugh Rodham. I think that we'll wind down the investigation in the Senate except for the outstanding issue with former President Clinton. But if anything else pops up, we'll be in a position to respond.
Where the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York has taken over -- and we now have pleas of privilege against self-incrimination from Denise Rich and Beth Dozoretz. That kind of puts a damper on congressional investigations.
But I want to see what the president has to say. It may that be he prefers maybe the U.S. attorney to call on the president, or he might think that it's better to talk to senators.
BLITZER: What about that, Senator Breaux? Do you think President Clinton should say something, should give a more in-depth explanation why he went forward with the Marc Rich pardon?
BREAUX: No, not really. I think we in Washington have too many other things to be doing. We know generally, I think, what happened with the pardons. I think the publicity associated with it will help ensure that different standards will be used in the future, that the same mistakes won't be made that were made in the past. The U.S. attorney is looking at it to see if there were any criminal problems. I doubt that there were.
The president has authority under the Constitution to grant the pardons. I think mistakes were made in how these were granted. I would expect that they would probably not be made in the future.
We don't need to go back into Congress and drag this out. We need to do other things.
BLITZER: I want to, very briefly, both of you, get your response to what Senator McCain said earlier. He's pushing ahead with McCain- Feingold, the campaign finance reform legislation.
Do you believe it will pass this year, the ban on soft money, first, Senator Specter?
SPECTER: I think that its chances are pretty good, but it depends really upon what the Democrats say. Last year, when there were 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats, the Democrats were solid in favor of McCain-Feingold. I believe there will be sufficient Republican votes to get the cloture if the Democrats hang solidly together. I think it's going to be pretty much in their court.
BLITZER: Are you having second thoughts about campaign finance reform, Senator Breaux?
BREAUX: Yes, I do. I think that, as you look into it more carefully in more detail, you find out that it has the potential to create an unlevel playing field. I don't think that's what people want. I think what the public wants is to us report the contributions and to make sure that they know where the money is coming to finance the campaigns.
But I don't know that eliminating the so-called soft money or carpet money allows us to have a level playing field. I think a lot of people are becoming very concerned about that.
BLITZER: All right. Let's take one quick caller from California.
Please go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Hello, Senators. Regarding the tax cut specifically, it seems like the amount of the tax cut is getting closer and closer between the Democrats and the Republicans. And it seems like the core issue of dissent is how to issue that tax cut, whether by flattening the tax rate, as the Republicans are proposing, by lowering the top rates, or by giving it in a more progressive way by the Democrats. Why aren't you guys talking about that more specifically?
BLITZER: Very briefly, why don't you take that first, Senator Specter?
SPECTER: Well, we are talking about that. Earlier in the program, both John Breaux and I made the comment that the tax rates ought to be weighted a little, the cuts ought to be weighted a little more for middle- and lower-income taxpayers. But what the caller has suggested, those are a number of the issues which we are considering.
And I believe that, by the time we iron it all out, I believe there's a lot of good will in the Senate. I believe there's an interest in coming together and discussing the matter with President Bush and the White House. And ultimately, I think we'll reach a combination which will be good for America.
BLITZER: OK. Unfortunately, Senators, Senator Breaux, we're all out of time, Senator Specter. I want to thank both of you for joining us. We could go on and on and on. But, you know, that's television, we simply can't. I want to thank both of you for joining us.
SPECTER: Nice being with you. Thank you.
BREAUX: Thanks a lot, Wolf.
SPECTER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator Specter, Senator Breaux.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with Ken Duberstein and Leon Panetta. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. With us now to offer their perspectives on President Bush's first big legislative victory, his dealings with Congress and much more are two men who've worked closely with past presidents. Ken Duberstein served as chief of staff to former President Reagan. He's here with me in Washington. And joining us from beautiful Monterey, California, is former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, Leon Panetta.
Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
I want to begin with you, Mr. Panetta. How is President Bush doing so far during these early weeks of his administration?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, you know, I think he's got obviously a very good focus. He seems to have established good discipline at the White House. They seem to be, you know, working with his time in a way that makes maximum use of his time as president. So, I think from an organizational point of view, he seems to be doing pretty well.
I think there is a danger. And the danger goes back to -- I remember a statement by John Mitchell when he was attorney general in the Nixon administration, which is: Watch not what we say but what we do. And I think there is a danger here that the president is trying to tell the country that he wants to work in the center, that he wants to compromise with the Democrats, but it's pretty clear from what they did last week in the House of Representatives that they're pretty much operating on a partisan basis trying to push this tax cut through. And I think that could be dangerous for the future.
BLITZER: You probably heard, Ken Duberstein, your good friend Senator McCain, someone you supported during his own bid for the presidency, on this program earlier, saying that was a mistake for Republicans to slam that tax cut through the House of Representatives the way they did without a budget, without much debate at all.
KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think what George W. Bush did was the right thing, not the wrong thing. If we were sitting here and he had compromised fully and surrendered, which is Dick Gephardt's, I think, definition of bipartisanship, what would you would be saying is he must be his father's son. "Read my lips, no new taxes." Already he was caving in.
But you know, George W. Bush, I think his genes may belong to the Bushes but his heart is pure Reagan. He is fighting for what he believes. There will be plenty of time in the legislative process for compromise, and he has opened the door of the White House to Democrats and Republicans alike.
I think he is in very good shape as he goes into the Senate, and I think that's where the bumper cars are really going to collide. But out of it, it's no longer a question of if there's going to be a tax cut, but how big and how quickly?
BLITZER: Leon Panetta, you're a former chairman of the House Budget Committee. How unusual was it? Republicans say the Democrats used to change the rules all the time. How unusual was it to pass this tax cut out of the Ways and Means Committee without a budget that had been first approved by the House of Representatives?
PANETTA: Wolf, it was totally unprecedented. The purpose of the budget act was to try to make the Congress exercise some fiscal discipline. So that whether it's tax cuts or whether it's spending proposals, you see them in the full context of a budget. So they really should have gone ahead with a budget first to show how in fact they could pay for this tax cut. Instead, they set that aside totally, slam dunked this tax cut through.
And the tax cut is basically a shell game when it comes to numbers. It may read as $1.6 trillion, but by the time you make it retroactive, by the time you pay interest on the debt that is going to be accumulated, and by the time you add in the additional tax credits and the correction of what's called the alternative minimum tax, so that middle-income taxpayers don't pay more, by the time you add up that, it's $2.6 trillion. That doesn't leave you a awful lot for everything else that this president wants to do. So it's a shell game, and, very frankly, they should have passed a budget first to show how they're going to do this.
BLITZER: Leon Panetta, as you know, Ken Duberstein is not only a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, he's a former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
PANETTA: Don't promote him. It was the House Budget Committee, not the Senate.
BLITZER: Maybe I was giving him a promotion. Chairman of the House Budget Committee. But he knows numbers, and are you suggesting that these numbers are there, that these are real numbers, these 10- year projections?
PANETTA: No, I think the 10-year projections are a little bit like 10-year weather forecasts.
But there is no one who's not saying that we can't afford a significant tax cut. And the question is going to be whether it's $1.3 trillion or $1.6 trillion.
When you get to estate taxes, hopefully reform or revocation of them, when you get to marriage penalty and some of the other tax cuts people are talking about, everybody is saying it will wind up to be bipartisan not only in the Senate, but when it comes back to the House for a final measure, a final vote.
So, I think they can well contain it. They are going to have the budget resolution in place. The Senate won't act until there is a so- called reconciliation bill. And so you're going to have all the budget ramifications taken care of.
BLITZER: Mr. Panetta, if in the end the president, the White House is going to have to make some concessions to get a final bill passed, one that everyone can accept and declare a huge victory, why should he make any concessions right now? The Senate isn't even going to deal with it until the end of May or early June.
PANETTA: Well, you know, I understand how the White House can think about these things, because they think, "Oh boy, if we can get a victory through the House, it puts us in good shape to deal with the Senate." But I would remind you that Newt Gingrich when he was speaker passed through the Contract With America and passed through most that through the House, only to wind up having the Senate block a lot of it and the president obviously opposing a lot of it. This can be a (inaudible) victory.
What you want to do as president is show that you really are sincere about not only the numbers that you're proposing in terms of the tax cut, but really trying to reach out and talk with Democrats. If Democrats feel like the Republicans are simply going to slam dunk this thing through the House and through the Congress, they're going to lock in. They're not going to become more compromising, they're going to lock in. So, I think if you're really are sincere about that, you start establishing that kind of pattern early rather than waiting for the Senate to do it.
You know on the health care bill, when we did it in the Clinton administration, the thought was, oh, we can always compromise at the end. By the time we got to the end, it failed.
BLITZER: All right. Let's take another quick break.
We have a lot more to talk about, including your phone calls for Ken Duberstein and Leon Panetta. LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation about President Bush and his dealings with Congress with former Reagan White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein, former Clinton White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta.
Let's take a quick caller from right here in the District of Columbia.
Please go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Hello, Mr. Panetta, hello, Mr. Duberstein, and hello, Mr. Blitzer.
Robert Reich has said that the Democratic Party is dead. It seems to me that reports of the death of the Democratic Party are greatly exaggerated. We see how quickly things change in this town, and we also can begin to see the difference between the moderate rhetoric and the conservative reality of the Bush administration.
I wonder what Mr. Panetta and Mr. Duberstein's thoughts are on Reich's comments and particularly with regard to social issues. We've just seen several shootings where the response of the Bush administration seems to be favoring protection of gun rights.
BLITZER: Now let's ask Ken Duberstein first, though. Robert Reich is former labor secretary. He had some biting words about the Democratic Party in that op-ed piece in The Washington Post today.
DUBERSTEIN: Well, if I'm not mistaken, he also had some biting words about Bill Clinton during the presidency and one of the reasons why he departed so early.
You know, I think the Democratic Party is alive and well. I think this is a very vigorous two-party system. The difference is in the country right now we are evenly divided, but we're not deeply divided. And I think Bob Reich would like us more deeply divided along some of the issues that clearly are not mainstream issues anymore.
BLITZER: He was often during the Clinton administration, Leon Panetta, Robert Reich, he was often at odds with others close to the president, wasn't he?
PANETTA: Well, Bob Reich is a person who has some very deep beliefs, and he's a good fellow and I think he has a deep social conscience.
And I think his predictions about the Democratic Party, though, are very premature, because I think there are some real distinctions here. I think Democrats have traction not only on the tax cut in terms of fairness and the numbers, but also on issues like health care, prescription drugs, education issues. The reality is that Democrats have some very strong positions that relate to where the American people are, and I think those battles are yet to be fought.
BLITZER: Ken Duberstein, in these early days of the Bush White House, there seemed to be some conflicting signals being sent, some would call them miscommunications or stumbles. One day the Secretary of State Colin Powell says the policy towards North Korea is not going to change. The next day the president says, yes, it is going to change. One day the Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill says the 10-year projections really aren't worth much. The next day the president says that these are very conservative numbers in these budget surpluses and he's very confident in all of this.
What's going on here? Is this normal during these early days of a new White House to hear these kinds of conflicts?
DUBERSTEIN: Well, I think the administration's in pretty darn good shape. I think there is a clear consensus in the White House and in the Cabinet that there's only one agenda they're following, and it's George W. Bush's agenda. Sure, you're going to have occasional missteps as people get better acquainted and work in harness together.
But let's not mistake anything: George W. Bush is calling the shots in this administration. He is doing it very much as a delegator, a la Ronald Reagan. But everybody knows what his core beliefs are, his philosophy is and where he wants to take the country. And I would also say not simply on foreign policy, but on tax policy as well, I am sure Leon agrees with me that there will in fact be a massive tax cut enacted probably by August that has the elements of an income tax rate cut, a death tax repeal or certainly a phase- back and a marriage penalty repeal. And that will be part of the whole equation that's signed by George W. Bush.
BLITZER: Do you agree with Ken Duberstein, Leon Panetta?
PANETTA: There's no question. I think that there's going to be a tax cut passed. The real question is whether it's going to be a responsible tax cut or an irresponsible tax cut. The last time we had a massive tax cut passed, it was in the early '80s, and we dug a hole that Senator Arlen Specter talked about where we went to a $4 trillion national debt. I hope we don't repeat that mistake.
DUBERSTEIN: Well, hopefully we won't get into a bidding contest. And so far, George W. Bush has been very strong in saying, both on the spending side and the tax cut side, we're not going to add anything on. I think that moves very much toward responsibility.
BLITZER: OK, Ken Duberstein and Leon Panetta, good to have two former White House chiefs of staff on our program. Thanks for joining us.
DUBERSTEIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
PANETTA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just ahead, did President Bush and House Republicans overplay their hand in getting a tax cut victory? We'll go 'round the table with Roberts, Page and Brooks when LATE EDITION returns.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Time now for our roundtable. Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Steve Roberts, contributing editor for U.S. News and World Report, and David Brooks, senior editor for the Weekly Standard.
Steve, this Bush campaign to sell his tax cut, is it working?
STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it is. I think it shows us, yet again, the importance of the presidency as a factor in American politics. Bush has the megaphone that Bill Clinton had for eight years, and he has the veto power that Bill Clinton had for eight years, and you don't necessarily need a lot of national coverage to make an impact.
If you go to South Dakota, you go to Louisiana, you get a lot of coverage. And so, I do think it is a smart tactic, and I think that it is helping even out the playing field, because the polls still show that America's not wild about this tax bill. He is putting pressure on Democrats, though, I think shrewdly.
BLITZER: He's going to states that voted for Bush over Gore overwhelmingly, yet have Democratic senators.
DAVID BROOKS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, and you only have to appeal to those states. The national polls about taxes don't matter.
To me, the most important thing that happened this week is there were two crucial votes, partisan votes: the House vote on taxes, and there was a Senate vote on these ergonomic regulations, repealing them.
BLITZER: Work safety.
BROOKS: Work safety.
BLITZER: Speak in English.
BROOKS: "Ergonomics" is like half-Greek, half-Latin.
But the crucial thing about those votes was there were zero Republican defectors, zero Republican defectors in the House, for that, zero Republican defectors in the Senate. And meanwhile, a bunch of Senate Democrats defected on those work safety...
BLITZER: How did they do that? How do the Republican whips keep those Republicans in line?
BROOKS: It was not automatic. You had -- like Arlen Specter, on the show earlier, a big union state, the unions wanted to keep these work-safety laws, a lot of lobbying, but they did it. I wish I could report exactly how they did it, but I'm sure it took some doing.
BLITZER: And the Democrats -- there were a few defections on the Democratic side.
SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: There were, although not very many in the House vote.
PAGE: And we don't know exactly how many there will be in the Senate.
But, you know, this is an example of how the easy conventional wisdom after the election has turned out to be wrong. We said Bush didn't have any mandate, the Congress is evenly divided. Will anything get done?
Well, they are getting some things done, and they're getting it done by Republican discipline and Democratic, if not disarray, some Democratic uncertainty on how to respond to the president. ROBERTS: One of the reasons why they were able to exert this discipline was that every Republican on Capitol Hill has a vested interest in George Bush getting off to a good start. Everyone wants him to appear to be powerful. As the Democrats learned, even -- year after year, the Democrats swallowed a lot of doubts about Clinton, swallowed a lot of disappointment, because his strength was their strength. It's now happening with the Republicans.
But when you get to the Senate on taxes, as you saw with John McCain, this unity is going to start to fray, and it's going to be...
PAGE: Well, I was just going to say maybe the one Republican who would not fit in that analysis would be John McCain. I am not sure he has a vested interest in George Bush's strength, and, as this debate on campaign finance begins a week from now, he's going to want Bush to not look like such a commanding figure, at least on that issue.
BLITZER: Susan, the fact there are now 13 women in the U.S. Senate, five of those women have signed these letters supporting triggers that would condition some of these tax cuts going into effect. Is this now a new force in the Washington establishment?
PAGE: Well, you know, these 13 women, that's the most women by far that we've ever had in the U.S. Senate, and they share some characteristics that are different from their male colleagues. They tend to be more moderate, both the Republicans and the Democrats. I mean, the two women senators from Maine, for instance, are among those who supported the trigger and are among the most moderate Republicans in the Senate.
BROOKS: I was thinking, why are all these trigger-happy women -- it's like Thelma and Louise.
BROOKS: But, you know, part of it is Southern Democrats and Northeastern Republicans. Aside from their gender, that's the real core of the party.
If I could just say, you know, there's a lot of debate about this trigger. To me, it'll never happen. If the trigger were enforced, if the surpluses weren't there, there would be such a recession that the whole town would be in a panic, and they'd want to cut taxes further to stimulate some activity. So they could pass a trigger, but it will never happen.
ROBERTS: I think it's also, by and large, phony.
But the point about the women is an important one to remember. Not only are they moderates, there is a collegiality. We saw a lot of fraying of bipartisanship this week, where a lot of Democrats saying, "Hey, bipartisanship is over." I think that's premature.
But the 13 women in the Senate, they meet regularly as a group across party lines. They have relationships. And it's just now -- this is the first time we've ever seen this happen in our history, where women are potentially in a situation to exert this kind of leverage. Whether the trigger happens or not, this is a phenomenon to keep our eye on.
BLITZER: The other thing the Democrats are discovering, Susan, very early on is how difficult it is to be a minority party without the White House, without the House of Representatives, without the Senate. It's lonely out there, and it's tough being a Democrat.
PAGE: Without one voice that says, "This is where the party stands," it's been difficult for the Democrats.
And they're trying to search for where they'll find compromises on the tax cut bill, clearly the biggest, most important piece of legislation they will see this year. I personally don't think the compromise will come with a trigger. You know, we've seen the White House signal that President Bush would veto a tax cut bill that included a trigger.
But the White House has also signaled that they might raise that proposed top rate of 33 percent to 35 percent or 36 percent. And they might make compromises on the estate tax, as well. I think we are beginning to see the outlines of the compromised tax bill.
BLITZER: Where do you think they'll compromise, the White House, specifically?
BROOKS: I think that the top rate was going to come down from 39 to 33. I don't think it'll get all the way down. And then the estate tax, as Susan said...
BLITZER: The estate tax, they'll put a cap at several million dollars.
ROBERTS: You know, we talked about this last week. The fact is you can justify a tax cut on the basis of "Well, it'll stimulate the economy" or whatever. But the argument for the middle-income American -- that fabled $1,600, well, they can send a kid to school whatever. This argument is off the table when it comes to the upper levels of the estate tax and the upper levels of the income. You can't argue that somehow this very rich family needs this money. It takes away their single best argument.
BROOKS: But the Bush administration has thought a few steps in advance. They know they're going to compromise in the Senate, but then it goes to conference where the House and the Senate have to get together and agree. And they think the House version is going to prevail over the Senate version.
And then these moderate senators at the end of the day are going to be faced with a test: this House Bush tax plan or no tax plan? And they think those moderate senators are going to cave, and that's how the Bush victory gets arrived at. At least, that's their thinking.
BLITZER: Was it a mistake, though, to rush this tax cut through the House of Representatives, even though the Senate is not even going to take up the measure until May or perhaps even June? PAGE: Well, you know, I think it was a conscious decision by the White House that they would pay the costs in seeming that they weren't bipartisan. There is some bitterness among Democrats in the House, that the talk of bipartisanship is just that -- talk. When it came to action, they didn't matter. They were rolled out over.
But their strategy was clearly, let's get a victory early on my number-one agenda item. And the place where we always knew we would have to cut deals isn't the House, it was the Senate.
ROBERTS: And one of the reasons why the Senate is going to be much more difficult is an awful lot of those Republicans who roared to their feet during the state of the union, saying, "Yes, cut spending," they're going to be the first ones with their hands out.
And already in the Senate, Senator Dominici saying tax cuts going to cut too much out of the money available for spending on domestic programming.
Trent Lott, you know, great foe of big government, he's going to pave over the state of Mississippi before he is through.
So at some point, there is going to be a clash between the tax cut program and the money a lot of these guys want to spend in their own states.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.
More of our roundtable when LATE EDITION returns.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable.
You know, David, after Columbine, the massacre, the shooting incident there, immediately enormous amount of handwringing, talking about passing additional gun control legislation. After the Santana High School shooting this week, not much talk about additional gun control legislation.
BROOKS: Well, even the gun control people can read the newspaper and know who controls both Houses of Congress and the White House, so it's not going to happen.
The second thing is this kid violated, what was it, 22 gun laws already. So there's some thought, and I think legitimately, that more gun laws will not prevent this sort of thing if they're going to violate 22 already.
PAGE: You know, I actually think there's something else at work here, and that is that Democrats are increasingly concerned that advocating gun control has turned out to be a real losing issue, especially in the Midwest. You know, some of Gore's people think that he would have won Tennessee and Arkansas -- either state would have put him over the top with the presidency, West Virginia, as well -- except for the way the gun control issue really cut for him there.
ROBERTS: That's a very good point, I think, because if you look at where the moderate Democrats are, who tend to be the ones in the more vulnerable seats in the border states and in the South, they tend to be areas where gun-owning people are very well organized.
You know, it's one of these issues where all the national polls show everybody's in favor of gun control. But the people who really care about the issue, the people who are organized, the people who's votes will be effected by that, are the ones on the other side. There are very few people who are going to vote on this issue who are for gun control, and so it's an unequal fight. The NRA, very well organized, very well financed. They can exert a lot more leverage even if they don't win the polls.
BLITZER: You know, David, we spent some time earlier in the program talking to Senator McCain about campaign finance reform. The McCain-Feingold legislation, of course, will come up later this month in the Senate. But, yes, there are many Republicans who are opposed to it, but now we're beginning to hear some Democrats who are saying this is not a good idea. Is this going to pass?
BROOKS: There's some weird things. I saw John Breaux earlier on the show said he was backing off, and part of the reason is you've got this reverse trajectory on either party. The Democrats see, "Hey, we raised almost as much soft money as the Republicans."
The Republicans on the other hand are a little more sympathetic because they don't like all these James Byrd-type ads, which were run by the NAACP, and no one knows who pays for that. They don't like the idea of their losing control of their campaigns because there are independent expenditures running ads against them they done like.
So the Republicans are little softer, but the Democrats, now that they've achieved parity, are a little, you know, a little skeptical.
BLITZER: So Senator Mitch McConnell's going to have a whole bunch of allies, liberals like the ACLU, the AFL-CIO who are going to combine, work with his coalition to defeat McCain-Feingold.
PAGE: Well, you know, there's a real hypocrisy alert here. I mean, there are some Democrats who are casting votes in favor of campaign finance reform because it didn't count, because they knew it wasn't going to pass. The closer it gets to passage, the more that vote is no longer free.
BLITZER: So, what you're suggesting is the Democrats weren't really all that sincere to begin with, when all of them in the Senate last time around said they would support it?
PAGE: There were no consequences to casting that vote last year. There might be consequences to casting that same vote this year.
ROBERTS: A very common phenomenon in Washington where people, if they have a free vote, can vote the political way. When they're actually shooting real bullets, as it were, it's rather different.
There's something else here, too, which is the current financial system works for the incumbents of both parties. Only the winners get to vote on campaign finance reform, losers are back home. And when you wear your partisan hat maybe you can play this game, maybe one system works better than the other. But what we do know is everyone who's in there now profits from the current system. And there's a certain sense, well, from my personal point of view, who wants a system that's going to help challenge (OFF-MIKE)?
BLITZER: So let's go around the table very quickly. Will there be McCain-Feingold enacted this year?
BROOKS: Well, here's what to look for. Right now, there's a $1,000 limit on what individuals can give in hard money. Republicans want to increase that to, say, $3,000. If Democrats go along, that means they're serious about getting something passed. So that's sort of the number to watch. I think probably not.
BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?
PAGE: I think it's going to be tough, but John McCain is a very stubborn guy. He's not going to give up even if it loses this time. I don't think this issue is going away.
ROBERTS: I think it's possible they will get something, because as hypocritical as Democrats are, it's going to be hard for them to publicly change their view, particularly in the face of all the face attention.
BLITZER: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations this week came out with three additional quotations referring to Bill Clinton. Among the familiar quotations that will now be inscribed in this very important book: "I didn't inhale," "I didn't have sexual relations with that woman," and "It all depends on the definition of `is.'"
ROBERTS: You know, the terrible thing from Clinton's point of view is those are all scandal-related quotes. And I think they should have put another quote in there from Bill Clinton, which is "The era of big government is over." And that would have been a more balanced view of the Clinton verbal presidency.
BROOKS: Because that was dishonest, not really denying.
ROBERTS: You guys won't believe that he didn't believe it, but it was true.
I think it is a reflection of the fact that the first sentence in any history ever written about Bill Clinton is going to be about impeachment. Everything else is secondary.
BLITZER: It's sad for Bill Clinton. That's his legacy? These three quotes from eight years in the White House?
BROOKS: I've got a lot of people to feel sorry for. He's low on my list.
BLITZER: David Brooks showing no pity.
Thanks for joining us, David, Susan, Steve. We'll see you next week.
Just ahead, Bruce Morton's Last Word.
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BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Dylan sings, you don't need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing.
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BLITZER: From the presidential election to the weather, making the wrong call.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Time now for Bruce Morton's Last Word on that big storm that wasn't.
MORTON: This week, a greeting for the East Coast's weather prophets from those of us who cover politics for a living: Hi, weatherpersons, welcome to Florida.
You remember Florida and how we political types got it so wrong.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We call Florida in the Al Gore column.
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Gore won -- no, Bush won -- no, we don't know who won, and all that.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: High tide just about right now, you can...
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MORTON: Come now the weatherman and really the big terrible awful storm that wasn't quite. Bob Dylan sings "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing." Well, maybe not, the weatherfolk had Doppler and ISO and all those weird-looking pictures of bits of ooze and glop moving around on your TV screen. And they sure needed something. It's not clear we needed them.
Some places did get hit hard, but not the big cities. New York City, which prides itself on tough, shut its schools Monday. 1.1 million kids probably had a great time with the day off, except there was no snow to romp in.
City officials, the New York Times reported, urged Big Apple residents to assemble disaster supply kits, spare blankets, a battery- powered weather radio, a flashlight, extra batteries, bottled water, canned food, a manual can-opener and a first aid kit. Oh boy.
Airlines in New York cancelled flights while planes could still land, and one executive explained in that bad English service industries so enjoy, "We made a decision to cancel, or, as we say in the airline business, pre-cancel."
Where do I go, sir, to pre-complain?
People up and down the coast bought milk and food. One forecaster predicted, "This is the storm of the century." Well, if you think about it, this century is only a little over one year old. So what does that mean?
Another forecaster noted that small errors in these predictions could have large consequences. That's what we tried to explain about Florida, of course, but who listened?
The same weather prophet said he and his colleagues try to learn from the past but not dwell on it. That sounds like Florida, too. Next time weatherpersons will get it right.
Here in Washington, where we'd been promised at least a foot of snow, I was walking to work down bare sidewalks and noticed my block's first crocuses, daffodils about to pop, a forsythia with its first flowers.
"The hounds of spring," a Victorian poet wrote, "are on winter's traces," which means, of course, bag the snow forecasts. Baseball and azaleas are just weeks away.
I'm Bruce Morton.
BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.
And now it's your turn to have the last word.
Ray (ph) of Raleigh, North Carolina, writes this about our work in the media: "You are doing more to destroy the fiber of America than any of these so-called evil deeds of Bill Clinton that you make into primetime news. You are a disgrace to your calling."
Allen (ph) in Wayne, Nebraska, says: "Bruce Morton's comments on the Supreme Court's upholding of a state's right to require medical standards in the abortion industry, an industry that destroys innocent humans in a most horrible fashion, were completely uncalled-for. He came across as an advocate of the abortion industry."
And finally another viewer asks: "When will reporters, pundits and so-called political experts understand that regular people think all politicians lie?"
Remember, I always welcome your comments. You can write to me at "email@example.com," and you can sign up to receive my free e-mail previewing LATE EDITION every weekend at "cnn.com/email". When we return, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.
BLITZER: Welcome back. And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.
"TIME" magazine has "The Columbine Effect: Inside the mind of the California killer -- Why some kids snap and others don't" on the cover.
"Newsweek" has a special report on the darkest corners of the Internet: How the web has fed a shocking increase in the sexual exploitation of children, on the cover.
And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report: Drowning in Debt -- Why you are in so deep and how do get out before it is too late.
That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, March 11. Join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
And if you missed any of our program today, you can catch a one- hour replay of LATE EDITION tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
I'll see you tomorrow night on Wolf Blitzer Reports, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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