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Evaluating Bush's First 100 Days; Did Kerrey Handle Vietnam Actions Admirably?; Harris Discusses Changing Florida Voting System

Aired April 29, 2001 - 12:00   ET


BLITZER: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Paris and 11:00 p.m. in Hanoi, Vietnam. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining for us for this two-hour LATE EDITION.

We'll get to our interview with President Bush's senior political adviser Karl Rove shortly but, first, our top story. There are new developments today concerning the grounded U.S. Navy surveillance plane on China's Hainan Island. CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace joins us now live with more.


BLITZER: On January 20, President Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. After a close election and a bitter recount battle, he pledged to unite the nation. Today, he marks his 100th day in office. What's been accomplished, and what mistakes were made during these first 100 days?

Earlier today I spoke with the president's senior White House adviser, Karl Rove.


BLITZER: Karl Rove, thanks for joining us on LATE EDITION. Welcome back.

The president during these first 100 days is receiving generally very favorable remarks -- comments, poll numbers seem to be pretty good -- though his handling of environment is one area that there seems to be a lot of controversy, a lot of commotion.

Will you acknowledge that the way he handled the arsenic levels in water, the carbon dioxide emissions, was not necessarily the best way, politically, to handle it?

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Look, what really matters is how people are going to see his policies over the long haul. Over the long haul they are going to see this administration as one is that committed to using new technology and new innovative approaches to clean the air, clean the water and clean the land.

You only need look at budget to see priority. This administration has asked for $5 billion more to restore the national parks. We have asked for $1 billion for states and tribes to help them administer their environmental programs. We have asked for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a wonderful, innovative program that helps preserve habitat, conserve green belt space and create parks.

We have asked for $550 million on top of the existing budget, for waste water treatment. How can you have clean water if communities are not able to build treatment plants? And we will, over the course of time, be seen as administration that is committed to clean air, clean water and clean land.

BLITZER: But as you know, in politics, first impressions are so important. President Clinton learned that with his gays in military issue during the first 100 days. And the Democrats are hammering the president now. Look at this new ad that the DNC has released only over the past few days, on this issue of the environment. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: May I please have some more arsenic in my water, Mommy?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: More salmonella in my cheeseburger, please.

ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush tried to roll back protections against arsenic in drinking water and salmonella in school lunches.


BLITZER: He could have prevented that kind of attack, couldn't he?

ROVE: Look, first of all, that was the most expensive news release in the world, and you bought it. They're spending $100,000 to run that ad, albeit in CNN, in the Washington, D.C., area, not around the country.

ROVE: America's not going to see that ad, and that ad's misleading. We will have a tougher standard on arsenic than was in place for the entire eight years of the previous Democrat regime. We'll have at least a 60 percent tougher standard on arsenic, and we will have it this year. It won't take us eight years to fiddle around on this. We'll put in force this year.

BLITZER: Will it go down to 10 parts per million? The current level, as you know, is 50 parts per million.

ROVE: We're going to use sound science to arrive at the right level. Canada has 25, the EU has 10. There are varying standards around the country, some with 10, some with 20.

But we're going to use sound science to arrive at it so that we don't have a situation where we put in place a regulation that has the unintended consequence of driving some communities off of municipal water systems that extend into wells where they will drink water with naturally occurring arsenic with levels far above that.

BLITZER: The polls do show that he has a generally favorable response among the American public, but on this one question, our CNN- USA Today Gallup Poll, "Does big business have too much influence over President Bush?" 63 said yes; 30 percent said no.

Politically -- and you're the chief political adviser to the president -- is that a problem, the impression that big business owns the White House?

ROVE: Well, look, Republicans and Democrats tend to have stereotypical things added to them, like on the environment, for example, that we were just talking about. Your poll found, I think, it was by a margin of 49 to 41 that people approved of the president's handling of the environment issue.

This is an issue the Republicans traditionally have difficulties with, and yet he's got a very positive rating on it. So these things, you know, sometimes just play to stereotypes. What really matters is what's the substance of the policy because over the long haul, that's going to do more to influence public opinion than anything that's transpired in the first 100 days.

BLITZER: The energy task force, another issue that seems to have generated a lot of commotion over these first 100 days. The New York Times in an editorial today says this: "The decision to have Mr. Cheney, a petroleum millionaire, form a national energy policy behind closed doors, echoes Mr. Clinton's mistake on health care and also, in our view, misreads the public mood."

The question -- I guess there's several questions that generate from this New York Times editorial. Why behind closed doors, like the health care task force that Mrs. Clinton chaired in '93?

ROVE: Well, there's no comparison, Wolf. Mrs. Clinton's task force involved hundreds of experts who met for months and months and months and months and months to produce a series of proposals for President Clinton. This is a small group of Cabinet-level officials, who are meeting to discuss a recommendation that they're going to propose to the president for a comprehensive energy policy.

If the New York Times logic were carried to its logical conclusion, then there can be no meeting between government officials that's not attended by a reporter from the New York Times. That's not the way government ought to run.

BLITZER: Is there a date when the recommendations are going to be released?

ROVE: Soon, very soon.

BLITZER: Within two weeks?

ROVE: Within a short period of time, this month.

BLITZER: This month. ROVE: Right.

BLITZER: Meaning -- not April?

ROVE: I'm sorry, May.

BLITZER: OK, you mean May.

ROVE: Right.

BLITZER: Exxon-Mobil had 44 percent profits this year compared to last; Chevron, 53 percent; Conoco, 58 percent. Yet American consumers are looking not only at perhaps $2-a-gallon gasoline, but $2.50, maybe even at some parts of the country, $3 a gallon, according to Senator Frank Murkowski, who chairs that key committee in the Senate. There seems to be a disconnect there. A lot of Americans wondering what's going on.

ROVE: Well, what's going on is a scarcity of supply. We have no new refineries in this country that have been constructed since 1975, and yet we, for example, have 50 reformulated gas requirements around the country, 50 different gasoline mixes to help to clean the air, and yet no new refineries to produce them.

So we've got a problem in this country of matching supply with demand and improving the infrastructure that allows us to reduce costs. This administration is going to be watching very closely the question of gouging. We're going to be looking very carefully to make certain that there's no gouging.

ROVE: But our problem is fundamentally one of mismatched supply and demand. You can't be in a country where you don't build refineries for 25 years and yet have all these new requirements, and expect gas prices to go down. We need to do something to have more competition in the system to bring about lower prices for consumers.

We also, incidentally, need a tax cut to help people deal with the cost of rising energy.

BLITZER: We'll get to a tax cut in a second.

There seems some confusion, though: How committed is the president, right now, to pushing for legislation in Congress that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up in Alaska to oil drilling, natural gas?

ROVE: Absolutely committed to doing it.

BLITZER: When was he going to push for that?

ROVE: Well, we're going to have a comprehensive energy program that we are going to embody in pieces of legislation and send to the Hill this spring and summer. And we believe that, using new technology, we can use a few thousand of the literally tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres in the wildlife refuge, and successfully and environmentally sensitively drill for oil and gas. BLITZER: You saw that item in the Wall Street Journal on the front page on Friday. Let me read to you, and put it up on our screen, what it said. "Givers of $10,000 dollars to the National Republican Senatorial Committee are invited to attend a White House briefing series next month. Events include briefings by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham."

The criticism, the Democrats are saying this precisely what President Clinton did and the Republicans hammered him, and now the Republicans are doing the same thing, in effect, what they say, selling access to top Cabinet officials to the big givers.

ROVE: That's absolutely not true. First of all, that's inaccurate. It's not a White House briefing series. There are no such meetings at the White House. We are having members of the Cabinet go and visit with outside groups, and they'll be making speeches, I assume, at some Washington hotel to this group. But that goes on every day to a wide variety of groups in Washington and around the country, to explain the administration's policies and seek public support for them.

BLITZER: But you understand what the criticism is, that if somebody's a fat-cat political contributor, that person is going to get special access to members of the Cabinet that average Americans don't necessarily get.

ROVE: Well, average Americans do. These Cabinet officials are going around the country pretty extensively and talking to -- Secretary Paige talking to teacher groups, community groups, parent- teacher groups, business groups, all around the country to explain the president's education agenda, for example. And this is going on all the time, and Americans can, if they want, have plenty of opportunities to hear this administration's voices.

BLITZER: You saw that story in The Washington Post not long ago suggesting that, like the Clinton White House, your White House, the Bush White House, is engaged in a permanent campaign on a day-to-day basis.

You're the chief political adviser to the president. People have looked at the number of states the president has visited over these first 100 days -- 26 -- compared to Bill Clinton in 1993, 15.

Is there a permanent campaign underway already looking towards 2004, almost every policy decision filtered through the politics of what's going on?

ROVE: Well, first of all, let's put this in a little bit of perspective. You mentioned the number of states that President Bush and President Clinton visited. President Bush has traveled to 26 states in 28 days of travel. Now, President Clinton visited 15 states in 24 days of travel.

So we've traveled roughly the same amount of time, we've just gone to slightly more states, and I don't see what the importance of that is. The American people like to see their president out among the people explaining their agenda, visiting with them, hearing what's going on around the country, and it's a useful exercise.

BLITZER: His signature issue these first 100 days has been a tax cut, a significant tax cut. The House approved the $1.6 trillion that he wants in the House budget, the Senate closer to $1.2, almost $1.3 trillion, which is a lot more than the Democrats wanted, but still not the 1.6 that the president wanted. He is signaling he's ready to compromise, 1.4 -- what's a number that you think the president could live with?

ROVE: Let's let the Senate and the House and the president work that number out, and they will.

But you put your finger on an important point. This is going to be a significant tax cut. Ninety days, 95 days ago, 100 days ago, a year ago, I don't think anybody would have forecast that we could have gotten this done. In fact, three or four weeks ago, the Democrat leader of the Senate was saying let's not pass a tax cut at all this year, let's do a $60 billion rebate and wait for the future to discuss tax cuts.

So this is a pretty good example of presidential leadership and of working together with Republicans and Democrats. We'll get this done.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some other issues, if we can just tick through. If you can tell us when you think the president is going to get to these issues, which were major issues, of course, as you well remember last year during the campaign. Prescription drug benefits for seniors, when will the president push that issue? We haven't heard much about that.

ROVE: Well, the president has outlined principles for Medicare reform earlier this spring, and he has begun meetings with bipartisan group of Senate and House members regarding a reform package, which will be introduced here shortly. We have been discussing with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, with the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas, with Senator Breaux, Senator Frist and others. So that is coming along well.

BLITZER: So if you are a Medicare recipient, senior citizen, and you're waiting for prescription drug benefit, realistically, when you do think he or she might start receiving that benefit?

ROVE: Well, we'll see. That's for Congress. We propose, Congress disposes.

But the president already has sent to the Hill an interim program to help states that have stepped up to the plate and begun prescription drug programs to help those states with funding for that as a bridge measure until a reform measure can be passed by Congress.

BLITZER: School vouchers was big issue during the campaign -- allowing parents who send their kids to bad public schools to get them out into parochial schools or private schools. The federal government helped with some scholarships and vouchers to allow that to happen. Seems to be no great appetite on the Hill for that. Has the president effectively abandoned that in his education bill?

ROVE: We've got a very strong first step in the education bill that was laid out in the first week and is now going to be taken up by the House and Senate in next couple of weeks. And that is to allow parents of children in failing schools receiving Title I money to take part of that Title I money and spend it with any willing provider for after-school, weekend and summer school programs to help their children to either get their reading scores up, math scores up, get tutoring for study skills, whatever is needed. They will be able to access some money for those kind of programs.

BLITZER: But the formal school voucher, at least for now, doesn't look like it's going anywhere?

ROVE: Well, I don't know, we'll see. There are there other avenues through which that could be done. There's been some discussion about, say, a demonstration projects around country, some about the District of Columbia receiving money for a school choice program. We'll see how Congress deals with it.

BLITZER: President Bush made a point of saying that if he got a bill banning the late-term abortion procedure, the so-called partial birth abortion procedure, he would sign it unlike President Clinton. There doesn't seem to be any movement on that front, though, in Congress right now. Is that is a priority for the president?

ROVE: He will sign such a bill if given to him, and my understanding is that members of Congress intend to move that bill a little bit later in the year.

Right now, remember, the legislative calendar is pretty crowded. As you know, the president's education bill was introduced the first week and is now going to voted on in the House and Senate in the next couple of weeks. The second week he introduced his faith-based initiative that is now being heard in Congress, and it's getting a lot of time and attention. The House has passed his tax cut; the Senate is taking it up. The House and Senate have both passed their budget resolutions earlier than normal. They are in reconciliation.

There is a defense review underway which will lead to some significant changes in fore structure and our military and modernization. We have begun the steps on Medicare reform. We also began the steps on Social Security Reform. The president outlined his principles and shortly to name a commission. That's a pretty extensive legislative agenda.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is, basically, he can't get it all done in the first 100 days.

ROVE: That's right. Nobody can.

BLITZER: What's the top...

ROVE: But we got a real strong start in the first 100 days. It's going to allow us to make a lot of progress in the days to come.

BLITZER: What's the top priority for the second 100 days?

ROVE: To get the six priorities of the first 100 days passed -- education, tax cut, faith-based, Medicare, defense and Social Security.

BLITZER: So you think before the summer recess in August that's going to happen?

ROVE: Well, I think we're going to make steps. I mean, there may be some of those that are able to get passed in the next 100 days. There are some that clearly will not, but we can continue to make progress by focusing on that agenda in a disciplined way.

BLITZER: All right. Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, thanks for joining us.

ROVE: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Coming up next, what do Democrats have to say about President Bush's first 100 days? We'll speak with one of the most outspoken, James Carville, when LATE EDITION continues.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will live and lead by these principles to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interests with courage.


BLITZER: President Bush on January 20 during his inaugural address.

At the 100-day mark, has the president lived up to the nations expectations as well as his own? Here with the Democratic perspective is political strategist James Carville, an architect of President Clinton's '92 election.

James Carville, welcome back to LATE EDITION.


BLITZER: You heard Karl Rove, and I want to put on the screen our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup Poll numbers, approval ratings at this time in a first year, look at this. Right now, George W. Bush has a 62 percent job approval rating. That compares to Bill Clinton's 55 percent at this mark in his presidency in '93. So Bush seems to be doing pretty well.

CARVILLE: But we showed a seven-point decline in favorability, but at this time in 1993, Bill Clinton had put on a dramatic thing that is one of the most successful pieces of economic legislation ever where we were going to raise taxes, cut spending, do unpopular things to get this country out of a recession. Bill Clinton had gone through any number of controversial nominees, had gone through gays in the military.

You know, the first thing the Bush people ought to do is get on their knees and publicly thank Bill Clinton for the fact that they got $5 trillion that they're trying to spend. They ought to publicly thank him that they have inherited a economy that is so strong, they couldn't even talk it down. They got in and did everything that they could to talk the economy down. And so resilient and so strong is the Clinton economy now -- read the paper this morning about people who are sort of praising how resilient and strong the economy is.

So instead of worrying about all of that, they ought to be thankful for the eight years that Bill Clinton was president, that he took the initiative, that we were running $270 billion in deficits. We're now running surpluses. When they ran the country in the ditch with their policies that were fiscally irresponsible, that an administration came in and did something about it. And they ought to be quite ashamed of themselves for going back to the same policies that got us in trouble before. And thank God the Democrats are standing up and moderating these excessive tax cuts that are just going...

BLITZER: They're not moderating it by much. If you take a look at what President Bush wants, $1.6 trillion.

CARVILLE: Well, 1.4. You know, $400 million is a lot. But the point is that they came in -- you don't know what they're going to do.

When President Clinton came into office, they had $270 billion deficits yearly. Now they're left with $5.5 trillion according to these projections. $5.5 trillion and they're going back to the same policies.

And I think the Democrats are right to moderate this thing. I think they're to say, you know, we have to be fiscally responsible party here. And if you -- right now I'm told by any number of people, an analysis of the Bush administration is already $2 trillion over even if you take moderate figures.

So there's going to have to be a real come-together here to put some kind of a governor on the spending and the tax policies of this administration, because I can tell you, the countries going to go right back to the same jam that the Republicans got us into before.

BLITZER: Well, if you listen to what President Bush says, he was asked this week to sum up his first 100 days. I want you to listen to what he told us on CNN earlier this week. Listen to this.


BUSH: The American people will make the decisions as to how a president does or doesn't do. The only thing I know to do is just give it my all, put my whole heart and soul into the job. I really like what I'm doing, and so I'm feeling pretty darn good.


BLITZER: And the American public seems to feel pretty darn good about him right now, even though it was such a tight election.

CARVILLE: We've got 42 percent of the people in the American public saying he's in over his head. You got 63 percent of the American public saying he gives too much to big business. I mean, he's got a fine top sort of number.

You know that Bill Clinton was the most popular president in the history of polling during his term as president after eight years. That's the number -- if you want to brag on a number, say of all of the presidents in the history of polling, that he had the highest approval record over eight years as any president in history.

Now look at the first 100 days, in the first 100 days, he's given away the store. Well, what's there not to like. You get a tax cut, you know what I mean, people are going to get everything.

BLITZER: Didn't you coin the phrase, "It's the economy stupid"?

CARVILLE: Well, it certainly -- if you look at the policies started by the Clinton administration in 1993, which was a difficult year, these have worked to the advantage of the current economic prosperity. And it worked at the current surplus that we now have the advantage of.

BLITZER: Well, let's look at some specific issues and see how the American public feels about George W. Bush.

For example, we have a few right here in our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup poll. On the economy, he gets 55 percent approval. On his handling of issues with China, 54 percent. On tax cuts, 54 percent. On the budget, generally favorable, 52 percent. All indicating that he's on solid footing right now after 100 days.

CARVILLE: You know, Wolf, we can sit here and argue that every -- even after everything, President Clinton was at 55 percent in your poll. Actually, some polls had him even higher than that. I'm not going to sit here and get into a discussion with you about poll numbers after 100 days. We took a poll, we posted it on our web site.

My point to you is this: What controversial thing has he done? He doesn't have an opinion on campaign finance reform. Talk about China, the American people don't know -- he doesn't even know what the China policy is.

He just completely -- and, he's had a -- one might say, the one thing that they've really been good at is, they've been good at spinning you guys. I mean, last night, I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner. The comedian was so scared to offend the press, he wouldn't crack a joke about the president. He kept telling jokes about President Clinton and Vice President Gore. It was like he wasn't even in the room. And I think that -- I don't know, was this guy told that you're not supposed to tell jokes about President Bush or something?

BLITZER: I had nothing to do with the White House...

CARVILLE: Well, I know, but I'm just asking. It was a very odd, surreal night to me.

BLITZER: Well, but, when -- we'll forget about the White House Correspondents Association. There was a lovely dinner. We all had a good time.

CARVILLE: It was a great dinner.

BLITZER: We all dressed up. We'll talk about it with our roundtable later in this program.


BLITZER: But, on the one issue where there seems to have been a political stumble for the Bush administration -- forget about China for the time being -- the issue of the environment, arsenic levels in water. They make a good point, the Republicans. Bill Clinton had eight years to lower the arsenic levels...

CARVILLE: You know better than that. And everybody knows, in 1996, the president tried to lower the arsenic levels, was stopped by the congressional Republicans. And then they ordered another study on top of all the other studies. That's just bunk that he had eight years to do that. You know better than that, Wolf, the listeners of this show know better than that. It was the congressional Republicans that stopped this when the president tried to do something about it.

The science is so overwhelming, that there's nothing left to look at, OK.

BLITZER: Well, the Republicans are saying, the president is saying he's going to lower the levels, but they want to make sure that the level that they get is sustainable, especially in some of the more rural states.

CARVILLE: But you know what? We have a $5.5 trillion surplus. We've got enough money in this country to take arsenic out of the water that our citizens and our children are drinking. They don't want to do it, because they got heat from their contributors in the mining industry.

You know and the country knows that President Clinton tried to do this in '96, the congressional Republicans blocked it then, they asked for another study. The science is overwhelming. There's no more science left to get here. It's plain, the link is as simple as waiting on those studies between lung cancer and smoking. We already know what the science is.

BLITZER: Two voices who have been not heard at all on this environmental debate in the last several weeks -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, they're taking credit for the Clinton administration initiatives. They have a press conference, and the press out there, like a bunch of little puppy dogs, covering, says, we're not going to undo what President Clinton did. And then the press reports that is an environmental accomplishment, that they're standing still.

Well, if anybody's got to -- why should President Clinton and Vice President Gore step up? Their accomplishments every day are being validated by this administration, and they're acting like they're something good on the environment.

BLITZER: But this was Al Gore's signature issue, the environment. It's a hot issue right now, and yet he's invisible right now.


CARVILLE: Well, that's his choice. He's teaching. He's doing a lot of things, you know. It's his choice as to when comes out on this.

I can tell you what, that Al Gore -- of course, Al Gore won the election by 550,000 votes, let's be fair here.

BLITZER: But that doesn't mean anything, though.

CARVILLE: Sure it means something.

BLITZER: He's not the president.

CARVILLE: It means he got more votes than the other guy, that more people -- it means that President Bush can't say that his policies were validated by the American people.

And I'll tell you something else...


BLITZER: But you know also -- but you know, if that was the only indicator, don't you think George W. Bush would have spent a lot more time in Texas getting those votes which were meaningless?

CARVILLE: So Al Gore would have spent a lot...


CARVILLE: No, they were not.

And that's ridiculous too, because Gore would have spent more time in California, or he'd have spent more time in New York.


CARVILLE: Let me tell you... BLITZER: But the Electoral College is what counts, not the popular vote.

CARVILLE: Again, I'm just telling you, he's the president is what counts. I'm telling you that Bush doesn't have the validation. And I hear a lot of Democrats saying, out there in the country, that, if we don't really look at these judges real close, and really at these ideologues -- if he has a competent, non-ideological pick, sure, he ought to be confirmed.

CARVILLE: If they're ideological, Democrats around the country are going to be looking very close to see what our Democratic senators and particularly our presidential candidates have to say about these judges.

BLITZER: But we're going to talk about some of those Democratic presidential candidates in a second, but we're going to take a quick break.

James Carville, you got to really express your feelings on this program. Don't hold back.

CARVILLE: Why should I?


BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. Much more to talk about with James Carville, plus your phone calls. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We are talking about the first 100 days of the Bush presidency with Democratic political consultant, James Carville.

Let's take a phone call from Springfield, Illinois. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, I wanted to ask Jim if he doesn't think that there are many people like me, who are still bothered by the way that Bush achieved the office of presidency?

CARVILLE: Well, people are bothered. It would have been nice had it been -- somebody asked me at one time how embarrassing it was that Al Gore didn't carry his home state of Tennessee. I said only half as embarrassing as George W. Bush couldn't carry his home country of the United States of America.

So we've got a president that the world knows didn't get a majority of the votes in his country.

And we have got a president who is there just because Ralph Nader chose to be the ego. I'm sorry I mentioned his name. It's a mistake, it slipped -- an egomaniac, went around lying to the American people saying it didn't matter who the president was. So he is there by virtue two flukes, and I'm not sure that -- I think that we have a lot more to find out what happened in Florida, so let's just wait and see.

BLITZER: Well, when you say a lot more to find out...

CARVILLE: Well, we'll just wait and see.

BLITZER: Like what?

CARVILLE: Well, we'll wait and see.

BLITZER: Because of the journalistic recounts that are coming out?

CARVILLE: And I think there's a lot more to find out what happened in Florida.

BLITZER: The Miami Herald in their recount suggested that it's fair and square -- Bush won.

CARVILLE: I understand. Again, Bush is the president, but he is the president that didn't carry the popular vote. He is the president only by virtue of fact...

BLITZER: But he is the legitimate president.

CARVILLE: Yes, I don't say he's an illegitimate president. He's a legitimate president. I didn't say he an illegitimate president. I said he was there -- he didn't carry the popular vote. And he's there only because the egomaniac decided to insert himself in the race, and went and lied to the American people and told them it didn't matter who the president was. Yes, he is legitimately there by a fluke.

BLITZER: Who is the leader of the Democratic Party right now?

CARVILLE: Let's wait and see. I mean, the leader of the party is going to be who gets the nomination.

BLITZER: Give us your sense, who's emerging? If you had to give an assessment...

CARVILLE: We have a long way to go here. Let's see who stands up and articulates the principles of this party. Let's see who makes a lot of sense when we're talking about having the kind of fiscal responsibility that Democrats now come to stand for. And let's see who, when these judicial nominations come up, when they try to put, without the validation of the popular vote -- let's see when they try to put these ideological judges in there, let's see if the Democrats stand up. And let's see who is going to stand in the breach and stop this.

That is what Democrats -- I've talked to them all the time. That's what they going to be looking for around country, and that's what they're looking for in a nominee.

BLITZER: Do you think they are going to give Al Gore another chance?

CARVILLE: They might. I mean, I don't...

BLITZER: Does he deserve another chance?

CARVILLE: He has been a distinguished public servant. He was a distinguished senator, congressman. He was a distinguished vice president. He was one of the most successful vice presidents we ever had.

That's up for him to decide and he has to make his case. I think people are going to want Senator Kerry, who's coming on your show after this, is somebody who many people are impressed with. He's thinking about running. Any number of people out there that are thinking about running for president. The more, the merrier.

But I want to hear Democrats around country. I'm telling you we want somebody who is going to stand up and stand for fiscal responsibility, stand for the kind of judges that believe that consumers need be protected, that believe that workers need to be protected, that believe that the environment needs to be protected, that believe that the food supply needs to be protected. Not this goofy federalist society stuff you are seeing right now, but that we've got real judges who believe in helping people, and who believe that people have right access to the courts

BLITZER: You know, the White House makes a point of suggesting, a lot of people agree, including many Democrats, there is a new tone in Washington, a civility.


Listen for example to Karen Hughes was on "INSIDE POLITICS" here on CNN earlier this weak. Listen to what she said.


KAREN HUGHES, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: President Bush has talked with, I think, some 200, almost 300 members of Congress since he has been here and, again, has invited every single member to lunch here on Monday. He clearly is reaching out to Democrats. He's met with a large number of Democrats...


CARVILLE: What is that? Karen is a very nice person. I saw her last night, her husband, Jerry. They are very nice people.

Here is somebody -- Democrats are laughing. He said he wanted to with someone who he was out in the states trying to beat while they were negotiating a tax cut. There is nothing -- I mean, it's all language. They run a campaign: "No more war words. We're not going to be political." Next thing you know, there's a front page story, they've got a war running. And he's sitting there, the president United States calling somebody in Minnesota, the vice president or somebody trying to get somebody out to race, somebody else in the race.

They've got the cabinet people. You pay $10,000, you get to sit down and tell the secretary of energy what your sort of needs are, what your wants are. And they say, oh, we're not politics? Who, us?

Who could be so stupid as to believe that kind of garbage? I mean, of course they are political. They need be political because they need to get more votes than they got the last time.

CARVILLE: They ought to have a hell of a big political operation. They got war rooms, they got talking points, they got spin doctors, contributors get access. It's everything that you always see.

BLITZER: Let's take another caller from Oklahoma. Go ahead with your question for James Carville.

CALLER: Hi, James.


CALLER: Boy, you sure can talk.


CALLER: I wanted to say, are either one of you...

CARVILLE: I've been full of coffee here.

QUESTION: Are either one of you bothered by the fact that we have a president who's very proud of the fact that he's running the country like a business, yet he's never run a successful business.

CARVILLE: I don't know anybody that runs a business takes as much time off as this president. He's not working too hard.

Look, they have some -- I don't need to get in. You're right, I don't know about his sort of business background or anything like that. I do know this, that he is putting into place policies that are going to undermine the fiscal stability of this nation. I do know that he put in environmental policies that undermine having a strong environment. I do know that he is planning on nominating judges that have undermined protections that people have enjoyed in this country for a long time.

Those are the things that bother me. I don't much care about his work habits or whether -- and deference to you ma'am -- about his work habits or what he's done. But the policies that are getting ready to be set in place are the things that concern me and Democrats around the country.

BLITZER: I want to switch gears briefly. You served in the Marine Corps. I think you achieved the rank of corporal in the Marine Corps. You served during the Vietnam War, although not in Vietnam.

CARVILLE: I said I may be the highest-ranking military official in the Clinton administration.


BLITZER: On a serious note, former Senator Bob Kerrey, as you know, facing some criticism for coming out in the last few days and saying, yes, he participated in an incident 32 years ago that resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians in Vietnam.

CARVILLE: You know, there's a great old question in polling where they ask somebody, what do you think the biggest problem is, ignorance or apathy? And the guy said, I don't know and I don't give damn.

And I don't know what happened. I believe Senator Kerrey. You got a bunch of people flapping their jaws about this that never stood at attention. Just let it go, man. Let it go. The man won the Medal of Honor, got his leg blown off. He was a governor of a state, he was a United States senator. And I don't even care what the other guy said, I just don't want to hear about it.

OK, I had a cousin that committed suicide as a result of what happened in that war. I had a brother that drank too much as a result of what he saw over there. I was riled with guilt because I served and never had to go.

I don't care, and I like Senator Kerrey. There have been plenty of times we've disagreed on things, and my heart goes out to the man. He's trying to build a family or something like that. They asked him about in 1998, and I think Newsweek made the right decision when they chose not to publish the story.

And there's a lot of people in America that are sick of this. You know, things happen in wars. You know, people that got to go fight these damn wars -- we should have never been there in the first place. And we go ask a 25-year-old guy leading six other people, and then we find out that 10 days later he gets his leg blown off because he was so tortured by what happened that night.

Why do we have to know this? We don't have to know this. I don't feel any better that I know this. I would have felt -- I felt good when I found out that Evan Thomas decided to spike the story at Newsweek. It just -- I'm sick of this thing, I'm sick of what they're doing to this man. And I want people to just go -- let's argue about politics, something meaningful. But I am tired of this thing.

And Senator Kerrey, my heart goes out to you, and build your life and go on. You know, you did what you had to do under the circumstances, and a lot of people in America support you.

BLITZER: All right, James Carville.

CARVILLE: I mean that.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

CARVILLE: You bet. BLITZER: And coming up next on LATE EDITION, a far away war that ended more than a quarter century ago was back in the headlines this week. Former Senator Bob Kerrey's actions, of course, on the front lines in Vietnam. We'll talk to two decorated Vietnam combat veterans who now serve in the United States Senate, Democrat John Kerry or Massachusetts and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Stay with us.



BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Perhaps my experiences will help Americans to make better decisions about when to use military force, because we will more fully understand its cost.


BLITZER: Former Senator Bob Kerrey spoke openly this week about a night in 1969 when his navy SEALs unit killed Vietnamese civilians.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to discuss this are two veterans of that war, and former colleagues of Senator Kerrey's. Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was a combat infantryman in the Vietnam War, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts served as a naval officer on a gunboat. Both men were heavily decorated for their service.

Senators, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

The fact of the matter is, Senator Hagel, that some people out there are suggesting that Senator Bob Kerrey, your friend, was engaged more in political damage control than in telling the truth about what happened 32 years ago. A lot of people think that's unfair. But what do you say?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I don't believe that was the case. The fact is that there is a charge out there against Bob Kerrey and his men coming from a very credible source, one of his men. In fact, implicit in that charge is essentially a cover-up, a massacre.

Bob Kerrey has a responsibility not only to himself but as a former public official, national figure, still is, to others of us who served to come forward and tell the story.

So I don't see it in any way as trying to protect himself. But I think he is, as much as anything else, doing a courtesy to John and me and others and this nation to explain what happened in his words.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, there were seven men in that Navy SEAL squad that went into that little village. Six of them now have come out with a statement saying they fired in self-defense, they thought there was hostile gunfire. Only later did they learn that they killed civilians. One of them says it was a massacre, it was a deliberate execution, if you will, of those civilians. How do you reconcile that kind of a situation? SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, you reconcile it, Wolf, by recognizing that in war, particularly in any kind of battle situation, people have different reactions to what they did or were asked to do. It is not uncommon for people in the same traumatic experience anywhere to have somehow a different memory of it.

But 32 years later, particularly about that war, I think people have different memories of when they first heard a gunshot go off, where they saw people, whether they were running, coming at them, away from then. I mean, this was nighttime. It's tricky.

I mean, I accept, absent anything that I know that suggests to me the contrary, that six members of the SEAL team have the same memory of receiving fire, and indeed none of them have run away from the fact that, indeed, children, women were killed, they were. And they regret it all deeply. But there were instances where things just get out of control and things happen.

BLITZER: Senator Kerrey is now the president of the New School University in New York. He held a news conference on Thursday, the aftermath of all of these releases, in his own words. I want you to listen to what he said about his decision to come forward at this point. Listen to this.


KERREY: I don't think it's fair to say that I've kept a secret for 32 years. It's not uncommon for men that have -- holding any kind of memory of war, to not want to talk about it.

In this case, I have made a decision. And indeed, the story that's about to come out is about to come out because I cooperated with the reporter. He came and said, "Do you want to tell this story?" And I answered yes.


BLITZER: You heard James Carville say that he's just sick about all of this. He doesn't even want us to be talking about it because it's so unfair to Bob Kerrey, who is a hero, after all.

HAGEL: Well, there is little question about the fulsomeness of Bob Kerrey's courage, his patriotism, his heroism, his leadership, putting others first. That is well documented in the fact that he was awarded for good cause the Congressional Medal of Honor.

But you know, Wolf, one of the dynamics of this that keeps puzzling me, to some extent, be it partly because I was lowly enlisted man in Vietnam attaining the rank of sergeant, which I'm very proud of, where are those who made the decisions at the highest levels to engage in that war for the purposes that this country was told? I find it very interesting that no one, no generals, no individuals with senior responsibility are speaking out here.

This is kind of typical of how Vietnam was fought. The poor guy at the bottom, the 25-year-old junior grade lieutenant, Bob Kerrey, thrown out there. "Go kill people, that's your mission."

BLITZER: So are you suggesting that Henry Kissinger or someone of that nature...

HAGEL: Well, I would like to hear some individuals speak out on this who had some responsibility for conducting this war.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Kerry?

KERRY: You know, whenever I hear these guys say "I was just a lowly sergeant," it's like that introduction, I'm just a country lawyer. Be careful. They're the guys that are running the show.


BLITZER: But you were a young man in your early 20s during those days.

KERRY: Don't, please. It's going too fast.

HAGEL: He never was that young.


KERRY: I was young. In fact, Bob Kerrey and I were very much in the same area. We were both operational at that very period of February. And I know exactly how he feels about what was going on, because his commander, Captain Roy Hoffman (ph), was my commander, too. And it was a time when the whole operation in the Delta was changing and moving into a much more aggressive mode.

KERRY: The sense I have is that we're not going to serve any purpose at this point in time in sort of trying to try people or go back and get everybody on the line to explain this.

This was revealed 30 years ago, Wolf. When veterans came back from Vietnam in 1969, '70, '71, '72, they were talking about this. People wrote about these things. We knew that there were free fire zones; we knew there were what was called H and I mission, harassment and interdiction shootings. You didn't know what was on the other side of those, necessarily.

And it was that kind of war, as everybody has described, a war where civilians were combatants one moment and back into being civilians.

BLITZER: Is it important at this point, as some veterans have suggested, that there be some sort of inquiry, formal Pentagon review, let's say, of what happened in that little village that night?

HAGEL: My feeling about that, Wolf, is no. Let this play out. What is the point? John's right. What end do we serve here? What is it? Are we trying to apply rules, text book rules of warfare in combat in the year 2001 to a situation 32 years ago, a confused chaotic war from start to finish with questionable purpose? I don't think it serves any purpose to open up any kind of investigation. BLITZER: As you know, Senator Kerry, there's a lot of political speculation about 2004. Some people suggesting you're thinking about running. What does this do, if anything, about Bob Kerrey, his political viability as a potential presidential candidate? He ran once before in 92, in 2004.

KERRY: Well, first of all, I think it's a mistake to even connect political viability to what Bob has been going through and what this is about.

Secondly, Bob himself spoke to that this week and said he's not thinking about or doesn't intend to be and won't be a candidate in 2004. And I think those of us who know Bob well. I've spent time with him in the last month or so; we had lunch in New York.

I could just tell listening to him, this is not a man who's been thinking about politics. This is a man who's thinking about a new wife, a new child on the way, a new job, a new -- just a new life. And this is a terrible way for him to be suddenly immersed in something from 30 years ago in this controversy.

I admire him, as does Chuck. He's a man of courage. All of our colleagues know and respect his qualities of leadership. We wish he were still in the Senate and in public life. But he's chosen a different path, which is much like Bob Kerrey. I think we ought to just respect that.

BLITZER: Very briefly, you heard James Carville say he wishes -- Newsweek magazine, as you know, had this story a few years ago; they spiked it -- wishes the New York Times wouldn't have run this big cover story in the New York Times Sunday magazine today because it simply not serving any purpose. Is there a journalistic purpose in reviewing all of these details?

HAGEL: That's a hard call that you all have to live with every day, and I recognize that. And I don't know, as a quick answer to your question.

But I think some responsibility and some common sense needs to be injected into this. Certainly not one of us who served over there would ever advocate any kind of a cover-up, especially any kind of an execution-style murdering of civilians. That isn't the point here.

But again, we've got to approach it from what's the point? What do we derive out of this?

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about including China, the president's first 100 days, switch gears. But we're going to take a quick commercial break.

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 continue our discussion with Senators Kerry and Hagel, plus your phone calls. Then, we'll talk election reform with the woman who stood in the center of the recount battle in Florida, that state's secretary of state, Katherine Harris.

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.


KERREY: I, like most men who have done something they regret in war, have not discussed this tragedy before.


BLITZER: Former Senator Bob Kerrey goes public about his actions in a war 32 years ago. We'll talk with two senators and Vietnam war veterans, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democrat John Kerrey of Massachusetts, about the war, the president's first 100 days and more.


KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.


BLITZER: Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris on President Bush's 36-day-long election night and her political future.

Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and David Brooks. And Bruce Morton has the last word on President Bush's latest Oval Office edict, "Play ball."

Welcome back. We'll get back to our discussion with Senators Hagel and Kerrey in just a moment, but first let's go to Donna Kelley in Atlanta for a check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Now back to our discussion with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

I just want to button up the whole Vietnam War issue. When is this war really going to be over for the American public?

KERRY: For different people at different times, Wolf. I mean, for Vietnam veterans themselves, they will take it to their grave. For other members of that generation, some who protested, some who didn't go, some who had different reactions, varying times, I think. But for the rest of America, I don't think they are caught up in it and dwelling on it with any intensity, frankly.

BLITZER: Do you still think about that war every single day?

HAGEL: I don't believe there is a Vietnam veteran alive that doesn't think about it every day in some way, intangible as it may be. It formed each of us. It formed this country in many, many ways. One of the most defining times in America, certainly modern history.

But I believe it is like everything else in life, you have to manage it and not let it dominate you.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, let's talk about China. The Chinese government suggesting today that the U.S. could have access to that EP-3 surveillance aircraft on the ground in Hainan Island. They're also saying the U.S. considering some form of payment to China for, presumably, that access or whatever. Vice President Dick Cheney said earlier today that there's not going to be any payment, but if they have to pay for some barges or cranes to get it out, they will of course do that.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. pay China anything to get that plane back?

KERRY: No. We certainly shouldn't pay for access to what's ours, and we shouldn't pay for any kind of compensation in order have it returned.

Now, if there are legitimate fuel expenses, some kind of expense related to putting our people on the ground, taking care of them, I could understand a very clearly drawn and limited form of reimbursement.

But it should not be a cover or a hidden way of getting back what is rightfully ours, what belongs to us, and what the Chinese, in their better interests, should just return to us. I mean, they should understand that.

BLITZER: If there is a payment, Senator Hagel, to the Chinese government, the Congress will want to know how much money was paid.

HAGEL: Yes, of course, and, as John said, it should not be connected in any way to any kind of subtle compensation or acknowledgement that we did something wrong. If there are legitimate expenses there, then we should pay those, but not beyond that.

BLITZER: There was an uproar this week, as you know, in Beijing, as a result of some initial comments that President Bush made on defending Taiwan if attacked by China.

The foreign ministry in Beijing issued a statement on Friday saying the remarks by the president -- saying this, "It will further the arrogance of pro-Taiwan independence forces to split China, harm peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and further damage U.S.- China relations." Senator Kerry, what President Bush said was basically U.S. policy, but he made it explicit. Was that a mistake?

KERRY: No, it's not U.S. policy. U.S. policy to date -- the Taiwan Relations Act does not require us, nor does it say anywhere, that we specifically will come to the defense. It states our interests in the region. It states that we will sell weapons for the defense of Taiwan by the Taiwanese.

And the specific policy of every president since the Shanghai communique and Nixon's early opening of China, every president to date, has been a specific ambiguity, which has been reinforced by visits of the fleet, by aircraft carriers being sent to the Straits. But we've always left it in a way, Wolf, that never empowered the Taiwanese themselves to do something, as the communique from the Chinese suggested, that they might declare independence or they might create some provocative act where it's very difficult to tell who started this. Is the Chinese belligerence in response to Taiwanese?

So we always wanted to make both sides be a little wary of what their activities might be, and we have always supported the one-China policy in that context.

BLITZER: But, Senator Hagel, you heard some top White House officials make the case that President Bush deliberately wanted to send the signal, to make explicit what Senator Kerry says has been an implicit policy, to defend Taiwan if necessary.

HAGEL: Well, I think a couple of things are important here. Number one, the president said very clearly that he supports, continues to support the one-China policy. He supports, continues to support peaceful reunification of the two Chinas.

I think, maybe in light of what's happened here over the last few weeks, the president's more direct approach on this might be the right thing, and I'll tell you why.

Ambiguity, strategic ambiguity, which has -- I acknowledge what John's saying here -- has held our interests in good stead over the last years since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. But, you know, many times, ambiguity gets you in trouble. We fought a war in Korea about ambiguity. Saddam Hussein, there is some question of whether he would have invaded Kuwait if he would have had a little different signal from the United States. So I don't have any problem at all with President Bush's statement.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to take another quick break.

I want to get into your respective report cards on President Bush's first 100 days in office. A lot more to talk about including tax cuts. Also, your phone calls for Senators Kerry and Hagel. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion with Senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry.

Let's take a caller from Georgia. Please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Yes, Senator Hagel, in the first 100 days, has President Bush laid the ground work to totally eliminate the dreaded and unfair death tax?


HAGEL: I couldn't have said it better myself, sir.

I think he has helped promote the cause, that is, if you believe we should eliminate the death tax; I do. That has been part of the foundation that he has laid. He talked about it last year during the campaign. Whether we'll be able to get closer to that this year than what we have in the past, I don't know. But that will be up to how effective we are in Congress as well.

BLITZER: You know, one billionaire, Warren Buffett, I believe from your state of Nebraska, says that would be a huge mistake. It would dry up a lot of money for philanthropic causes, hospitals, universities. And as a result, even though he would stand to gain a windfall, he says it's a bad idea.

HAGEL: Well, he wouldn't gain much of a windfall where he's going, I suppose if that was ever the case.

BLITZER: His estate.

HAGEL: He probably wouldn't care, yes.

But there are various opinions about whether that dries up charitable contributions or not. I'm one who tends not to believe that. I think people give for other reasons as well, as just protecting future assets for the family.

BLITZER: You disagree with him on that?

KERRY: I do disagree. There would be just an enormous reduction in the amount of charitable giving. I mean, obviously some people do give, but there's a huge amount of estate planning -- and it's funny how the Republicans call it the "death tax" and Democrats call it the "estate tax," which is what it normally was called.

But the fact is that it's been part of the fairness doctrine of our country. If you make a huge amount of money in the course of your lifetime, that some of it kind of goes back into the process in the aftermath. You can still leave millions of dollars to your family, and people do.

But, you know, it seems to me that what we ought to recognize is that the estate tax really belongs as part of the progressive tradition of this country. I'm not for it being confiscatory. I don't think it should be so large that -- I mean, I'd like to see it be below a 50 percent level, frankly. And I also think that we ought to raise the lower end to protect family farms, small businesses and even the average estate. I think nowadays what is considered a recognizable, sizable estate has changed significantly.

So, we will change the estate tax, there's no question about it. But we're going to keep it fair.

BLITZER: On the overall tax cut, the president wants $1.6 trillion. The Senate approved about $1.2, $1.3 trillion, the House $1.6 in their budget. You think there's a compromise in between that's going to be acceptable to a majority of the House and Senate?

HAGEL: I do believe there will be a compromise somewhere in the middle. Our colleague Senator Breaux is talking about something right now. I think there will be enough Democrats who will hold with the Republicans in the Senate. The House is in pretty good shape on this. That may well be around $1.4 trillion.

I would just mention this. That's a remarkable feat for President Bush. Why? Because just a few months ago, my friend John Kerry's party was talking about $600 to $800 billion in tax cuts, and we're now close to probably about $1.4 trillion.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: There always was going to be a tax cut.

I mean, let's put this thing in its proper perspective. I've never seen a president have to work so hard to convince his countrymen that they ought to get a tax cut. It's extraordinary, the energy he is spending.

And the reason is that most Americans still don't agree with the size of this. Sure, they'd like to get a tax cut. But 29 million Americans are completely left out of the president's tax cut. They don't get anything.

And the fact is that Americans know they want some money to fix prescription drugs, they want the health delivery system of our country maintained as the best of the world, so Medicare reimbursements need to be enlarged.

And there's a major confrontation, Wolf, coming down the road, which the president is not paying attention to, about how are you going to do the things he's promised to do in his budget, and still have this size of a tax cut.

KERRY: There always was going to be a tax cut, and to call it some great accomplishment -- this could have been done two months ago.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds. Give me a grade -- A, B, C, D -- for President Bush and his first 100 days in office.

KERREY: You know, I really can't, and I kind of refuse to because I think it simplifies it too much. I'm even very opposed to this notion that a 100 days is measurable today.

But let me tell you what you can measure. The priorities of this president have been almost exclusively this tax cut that he is having to sort of jam the concept of down America's throat; education reform, where he has come to the possession that we offered two years ago to the Republicans, and he still won't fund it; and, finally, he has refused to do prescription drugs, refused to be thoughtful about the environment, refused to move forward on the patients' bill of rights, refused to offer up a solution to Medicare, Social Security. And I think people are going to measure down the road this significant omission.

BLITZER: He sounds like he's giving him a C or a D, but what do you give him?

HAGEL: I think I'm sitting next to a presidential candidate, is what I think.


Listen, everything that my friend John Kerrey has talked about President Bush has in his budget. We passed that through the Senate in the first budget resolution a couple of weeks ago. Prescription drugs, Medicare, all the things that John's talked about are there. And we still have enough room, realistically, responsibly, to be able to give this country a much needed tax cut.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, Senator Kerrey, thanks for joining us. Two thoughtful members of U.S. Senate.

Up next, the Florida recount, may be a faint memory for many voters, but repairing the system is still on legislators' minds. We'll speak with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris about her efforts to make the next election trouble free. LATE EDITION will be right back.



HARRIS: Beginning next year, never again will the punch-card ballot be used to decide elections in the state of Florida, never again.


BLITZER: Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris testifying on election reform in Washington this past week.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Joining us now to discuss the best way to avoid a Florida repeat in the next election, Katherine Harris, the secretary of state of Florida.

Secretary Harris, thanks for joining us on LATE EDITION. Your first time on our program, hopefully not your last.

HARRIS: It's an honor. Thank you.

BLITZER: Will there be that punch-card ballot this year, though, in elections in Florida?

HARRIS: We've determined, with the legislature's help -- and the Florida legislature has been just strongly working on this the entire time. We've decided to decertify the punch cards, so that by the 2002 elections, no longer will there be any hanging chads or pregnant chads in the state of Florida again.

BLITZER: This was such a huge embarrassment for Florida, all of us watching those little chads and the counting and the recounting.

Jules Witcover (ph), the columnist in the Baltimore Sun, wrote on Friday: "Don't look for any radical solution to avoiding another Florida fiasco there or in some other state in 2004. The best we could hope for is tinkering with the machinery, and maybe not much of that, unless Mr. Bush, asks for the required money in his budget and Congress snaps out of its reform snooze."

HARRIS: I think that the media is not looking really at what's happening in each state. We had five secretaries of state come to testify before Congress, and it was an extraordinary bipartisan effort, support on both sides. It's not a partisan issue, it's an American imperative, and we were encouraged by the congressional support, the potential funding.

But in Florida we've proposed radical change, a real model for the nation that, indeed, by 2002 we have two major goals: one would be to comply with the United States Supreme Court ruling for a uniform standard, and the second would be that we can restore the faith of the voter. It's so important that we can return and make certain that everybody has confidence in our election system.

BLITZER: You saw this report today that several states had 2 or 3 percent of the ballots thrown out for various irregularities. That's shocking, given the nature of some of these close races. Florida had about 2, 2.5 percent of the ballots just thrown out because people overvote, undervote, whatever.

HARRIS: Exactly. So this system that we're proposing would disallow the overvote, in other words, voting for two people in one election.

Interestingly enough, though, I think Florida was maligned, in many cases, unduly. We have actually a very good certification system. According to those machines, there's only one mistake per 1 million votes. With 6 million votes, six mechanical errors.

But we have to do a better job of creating a system such that the will of the voter is made self-evident, and I think that's where the technology will come to play.

BLITZER: As you know, in Florida, and indeed around the nation, a lot of African-Americans are very angry. They say that they in particular were hurt in the election in Florida, that they were not allowed to vote, that there were intimidations, all sort of obstacles put in their way. And as a result, many of their votes didn't count.

HARRIS: Florida's always been an extraordinarily innovative state concerning technology and very proactive with civil rights.

In the testimony that we heard, there was no one that was disenfranchised that came to speak. Everyone had the opportunity to vote. And I believe there was one roadblock that was -- that we found, a mile way from it in actually a Caucasian precinct.

Nevertheless, we want to make certain that the perception as well as reality is very strong, so that everyone has access to vote, and that the system is open, free, transparent. And I believe that, with the United States Congress' support, we'll be able to make sure that happens.

This election that just occurred, there was not a crisis of democracy or a threat to our constitution. We had a close vote. The margin of error was larger than the margin of victory, and no one had ever anticipated that happening.

BLITZER: The fact also was that, during the election recount -- and I was down there in Florida, as you know, during part of that -- you became a lightning rod. You were severely praised by the Republicans, but severely criticized by a lot of Democrats.

If you had to do it over again, looking at your personal way you dealt with those really complex emotional issues, what if anything would you have done differently?

HARRIS: We've had a lot of time to think about that. And I can tell you now after having gone back and looked at the decisions we made, based on our advice we received -- and I'm very grateful it was very sage advice -- I don't think we could have done anything differently, even had the vice president been leading. We were faithful to the law.

Many times your colleagues have said if I'd only come out more often perhaps I would not have been such a caricature. But I felt that it was important to only come out when the country needed to be on same playing field, so that people would listen.

Technically, I only came out four times. You wouldn't know it by the replays, I suppose. But we just focused on the law and were faithful to the law.

BLITZER: I know you are deeply engaged right now in election reform, working to achieve that. But you're also staying busy on a lot of other issues as well, as secretary of state of Florida, especially trade.

What is the role that you play in that right now? Because a lot of people say that is you are using that as perhaps a stepping stone for a run for the Congress or some other elected office that you are thinking about.

HARRIS: When I ran for the secretary of state -- my focus when I served in the Senate as chairman of Commerce and Economic Opportunities was on domestic as well as international trade.

Florida is in such an extraordinary location, geographically. All of our trade, the vast majority through transshipment, comes through Florida. We're the number-one trading partner of every Latin American nation and the Caribbean with the exception of Mexico.

And so trade is important, because it's important to our families. It means more choices at less prices, and in many cases, it can mean more jobs.

There are winners and losers in trade, but overall, our trade has doubled in Florida in six years. We have grown from $32 billion to almost $70 billion. And the U.S. Department of Commerce said each billion-dollar increase supports 20,000 new jobs.

So, particularly right now with the focus on FTAA recently, in Quebec, when our president was there with the 34 nations, we have been actually hosting those negotiations for the last three years. And this is the most significant trading bloc in the world.

BLITZER: So this is a big issue for you?

HARRIS: It has been.

BLITZER: I know that you live in Sarasota. One or two congressional seats may open up in the 2002 election. Are you going to run for one of them?

HARRIS: Actually, what we have told everyone, and we are very sincere, we hope to continue to do a good job with this. The future will take care of itself.

But right now I'm in middle of session, working closely with Congress, and they appear very supportive. And we have to make sure that we restore people's faith in the electoral system, and that has to be my number-one priority right now.

BLITZER: So if you decide to run for one of those seats, when would you announce that you are running?

HARRIS: We're not even going to look at it any time soon until after session and working through the summer to make sure we can install these voting systems.

BLITZER: But it's something that intrigues you, to serve in the U.S. Congress?

HARRIS: I like being elected. I have stated the day I was elected to secretary of state, my position became an appointed position. We changed the constitution. I served equally with the governor on the cabinet. He has an elected cabinet, and there are seven. It will shrink to four. So the secretary of state, the commissioner of education and the commissioner of insurance will become appointed.

I have learned that I much prefer -- I announced that day that I would not serve in an appointed position. I like being elected and being responsible back to the people.

BLITZER: And we only have a few seconds. But all the talk about getting an ambassadorship, a reward for President Bush, if you will.

HARRIS: Actually, I'm the one who said up front if I got ambassadorship, I would probably go to Chad, and no one ever gave me credit for that line.


BLITZER: It's a beautiful country in Africa.

HARRIS: Yes, I'm sure.

BLITZER: Katherine Harris, thanks for joining us. I hope you come back frequently.

HARRIS: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: And just ahead, it's been a busy week from President Bush's first 100 days to the painful Vietnam memory for former Senator Bob Kerrey. We'll go 'round the table on that much more 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.

All right, Steve, let's go around the table and give the president some grades on various issues. I know that Senator Kerry was reluctant to do so. You guys are not reluctant to do so.

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Look, I'm a college professor. This is grading season, I'm ready.


BLITZER: All right, if he were in your class, President Bush, on the issue of taxes and tax cuts, what grade do you give him?

ROBERTS: I give him about a B-plus. I think that he has changed the terrain here. He will get most, not all, of his tax cut, and I think that's a big plus.

Minus side, I don't think he's convinced the American people that this is the right priority. Two-to-one ABC News poll says people would prefer to spend the surplus on domestic programs rather than cut taxes. And also, I don't think he's really confronted the issue of how you're going to pay for all these spending programs a lot of Republicans want, but basically pretty good.

BLITZER: What about you, David? DAVID BROOKS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I agree, B-plus. Changed the landscape, really drove it through in the Bush way, which is to be tough, tough, tough, and then when you need to, compromise, which is what he's done.

The problem is that these tax cuts are backloaded so it's the year 2006 and 2007. I don't think any tax plan, five, six years away is ever going to happen.

BLITZER: What about that, Susan?

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: You guys are tough graders. I'd give him an A-minus, because he's going to get most of what he wanted. And if you had said that when he announced his tax cut plan, you would have said that was preposterous, that we'd have $1.3 trillion tax cut.

BLITZER: Environment, that's been one stumble a lot of people say. Some of the early decisions, the way he announced the decisions, the arsenic levels in water, the Kyoto greenhouse gas effect, global warming. What do you give him on the environment?

ROBERTS: I only give him about a B-minus on the environment. I think he's done better lately, but that's under political pressure. He clearly was looking at the polls and seeing suburban Republican voters, particularly women, upset with his policies on the environment. He's tried to sort of get religion on that.

I do think he made some mistakes not only in terms of tilting a little bit too much toward business, but with the way he sold it. I think his own people would agree, he didn't sell his positions very well.

BLITZER: Professor Roberts, teaches for our viewers -- teaches at George Washington University, I know that.

BROOKS: Remedial reading.


BLITZER: So B-minus. Go ahead, what do you think?

BROOKS: Yes, I give him much higher grades. He hasn't paved over Chappaqua, New York, yet but he's getting started.

He's really much more progressive on the environment than his reputation makes clear. I think, more progressive than any Republican has been really. I think if the substance gets out, it's environmentalism that most suburban Republican voters will be very comfortable with.

BLITZER: So instead of a B-minus, you give him a...

BROOKS: A-minus.

PAGE: Boy, you guys are too easy on him. I give him a C. You know, he -- and he'd get a lower grade if we were talking two weeks ago before he really started to try to turn around his message on the environment.

This did the most damage to him, I think, among swing voters of anything he's addressed during his first 100 days.

Now on the plus side, the White House recognized they had a problem and turned around pretty quickly, but there's still been damage done.

BLITZER: On the international affairs arena, how's he done so far? He's had one major crisis with China, he's had some other issues out there. But how's he doing?

ROBERTS: Well, I'd give him my best grade for foreign policy which is a -- I'd give him an A-minus, which is a big surprise given the fact that this is the one area that he was least experienced in. Governor of Texas, he knew about education, knew about the environment, didn't know anything about foreign policy.

Fortunately, his first big test, China and the plane, he did not listen to David Brooks and his friends and was much more deft, much more reasonable and firm. I think he handled it very well.

Downside, I think subsequent comments on Taiwan, where he said he'd do anything it takes to defend Taiwan -- I think he went a little bit too far. Does he really mean American troops? He's learning that every single word you say as president is going to be highly scrutinized.

BLITZER: So that's why, because of Taiwan, the statements on Taiwan, you give him an A-minus instead of an A?

ROBERTS: Yes, but generally, very high marks for his handling of the first major crisis. Very deft, careful, measured, good job.

BLITZER: He's had a lot of experience -- his aides have had a lot of experience. Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, they all obviously have a wealth of experience in international affairs.

BROOKS: Yes, but I think it's him who's done the best things. He made that comment on Taiwan, which is telling the truth. And he told the truth to power that we will defend them, that's our obligation, that's our moral obligation. So I give him an A for that.

I give him an A for relations in Europe. You know, he stuck by his missile defense plan. The Germans, the Russians, all sorts of people are coming around. You behave like a superpower, you get treated like a superpower.

I give him a C-minus on the China thing, but overall an A-minus.

BLITZER: All right.

PAGE: I'd give him a B on foreign policy. You know, he handled China well and probably give him an A on that alone. But the question about his comments on Taiwan or did he intend to say that, was that trying to speak truth to power, or did he inadvertently not understand the kind of fuzziness that previous presidents have left around that issue? So I'd give him a B. I think he seems less certain on foreign policy than he does when he's talking about an issue like taxes or education.

BLITZER: His aides insist, as you know, and this may be ex post facto, that he was deliberate. He wanted to send a signal to Beijing, and that was no slip of the tongue.

PAGE: Well, of course in subsequent interviews, he tried to peel back some, so we'll see.

BLITZER: Not peel back as much, they say, as elaborate and explain what he really meant.

ROBERTS: He peeled back, Wolf. Let's just be honest.


BLITZER: What about an overall leadership during these first 100 days?

ROBERTS: Well, I'd give him a B. I think that he has his strong points. I think he has, to some extent, not as much as he would like us to believe, changed the tone in Washington. I think he is very comfortable in the job. He has radiated a sense of confidence. I do think he has reached out to Democrats in a good way.

But I think there is one whole part of the job he has not done well at all, and that's the public side of the job. I think he didn't go to the Midwest with the flooding, he didn't go to Seattle. He is allowing his -- he is not filling the public side of the job very well. He has to be more assertive, more visible and take a larger public role, I think.


BROOKS: I give him an A overall. You know, he's a normal president. After Florida that was not inevitable.

Also, he has united the Republican Party. You don't see so much gushing at a 'N Sync concert as when you see the Republicans talk about Bush. They love him.


BROOKS: He has transformed the debate with this style of being hard, hard, hard where he needs to be and then compromising when he has to, which is a very tough thing to pull off -- those two mentalities. Pretty good style.

PAGE: You go to a lot of 'N Sync concerts, do you?

(LAUGHTER) BROOKS: Mostly Backstreet Boys.


PAGE: Yes. You know, I give him an incomplete when it comes to leadership, and I think this is an area where there's still some question.

In the "USA Today"/CNN/Gallup Poll, which you may call the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll...


PAGE: ... the most surprising statistic to me was about one in four Americans now say they do not accept him as their legitimate president. That there is still some job to do there, to get over some of the repercussions of the election.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We are going to come back with our roundtable. We'll talk about Vietnam and former Senator Bob Kerrey. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable.

Steve, you lived through the Vietnam War. Still a lot of hot emotional feelings out there a quarter of a century later, 32 years after that incident in which former Senator Bob Kerrey inadvertently wound up killing civilians.

How do you explain the interest, the excitement that this story has generated this week?

ROBERTS: You know, I feel very reluctant to judge anybody. I did live through that period. I was draft-eligible. I got out like a lot of people, doing basically what President Clinton did, multiplying graduate school deferments.

I think a lot of us who did that -- I certainly am speaking for myself -- do not -- I'm not proud of that. I did it. And I'm very reluctant to judge the people who went and did put themselves into the line of fire.

I do think that there are old wounds that this does open up, but I tend to agree with the view that people do not want to marinate in this, that they -- Senator Kerrey, clearly a man of courage, as both Senator Kerry and Chuck Hagel said. And I think America wants to get past this.

BLITZER: What about that, David?

BROOKS: Yes, I agree. I had a kindergarten deferment, which is how I didn't...

(LAUGHTER) BROOKS: Listen, the one time in my life I've been at a fraction of the crisis that these guys go through, a riot in South Africa. What you know about it is, everybody walks way with a totally different circumstance.

And the question I think we have to ask ourselves: Would Bob Kerrey be a worse public leader? I'm kind of sad he's withdrawn from public life. Would he be a worse public leader from having lived through this hell and having to live with it? Obviously not. He'd be better public leader.

So the idea that we have a standard where anybody who goes through this is somehow chased out of public life is just a tragedy.

BLITZER: You heard James Carville. He got very, very agitated that we're even talking about this. "Leave it alone," he says.

PAGE: Well, there is that question: Is this really newsworthy? He's not running for president; he says he's not going to run for president. Why are we examining this?

I mean, I do feel comfortable judging Senator Kerrey in terms of his years of service in the Senate. But I guess I agree that I'm not sure it meets the standard for us to be dissecting it this way, and accept his explanation of it, which makes it a thoroughly understandable tragedy of war.

BLITZER: You know, and I'll put you, Professor Roberts, on the spot. Newsweek spiked the story a few years ago when they had it. The New York Times running with it today in their magazine section. If you were the editor, what would you have done?

ROBERTS: Very close call. Of course the reason why Newsweek did not run it was because Senator Kerrey was no longer a presidential candidate, and when you are a candidate for president, the standard goes away up. You accept that when you run. And the interest is higher, and we deserve to know more about people who run for president.

I do think the standard is different for someone who withdraws from public life. And so, at this point in time, probably would not have run it, because he is -- but if he were to run for president in 2004, then I think you get a different situation.

BLITZER: All right. Let's switch gears and talk about the fun all of us have at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner here in Washington last night. The president was there, as the president always is there. He had a little fun, showed -- took out a family album of pictures that his mother had taken over the years and from the scrapbooks.

I want to show our viewers a little fun the president had, in referring to some pictures that he had in that scrapbook. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: Dad, Neil, Doro, Marvin and Jeb. In my family with all those kids in the tub, it's not arsenic in the water I'd be worried about.



BLITZER: And there was another picture that he pointed out of his younger brother, Jeb Bush, but we won't get into that one.


BLITZER: How did the president do at that dinner?

BROOKS: He did fantastically, I thought he was very funny.

You know, the Jeb Bush -- I'm going to talk about it. He said, "I don't hold any resentment against my brother Jeb," and then he shows a picture of Jeb Bush, age three or four, totally naked, which I think Jeb Bush is going to see in the next Florida gubernatorial campaign, that picture again.


I thought he was hysterically funny, humanized himself quite a bit with the press corps I'd bet.

BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?

PAGE: You know he didn't do nearly as well as Wolf Blitzer in the special "Survivor" video about surviving in Washington, which I think was -- well, Bush did really well, I'm not saying that. The video definitely a highlight of the evening.

BLITZER: Well, we have a little clip of that, a little self- deprecating humor there. The White House Correspondents Association put together a videotape of what "Survivor 3" might look like if there were tribes. And they pointed out here in Washington one of those tribes, the Demcracha tribe, the Republicorp tribe and the Correspondacka tribe. And, I, of course, being a member of the Correspondacka tribe. Look at this.


BLITZER: You really can't trust anyone. Sam, Helen, Andrea, they're really people that are untrustworthy.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": I may tell them we have an alliance, but believe me, that is a total crock.

BLITZER: You're in this for only one person, that's yourself. You don't trust anyone, you don't talk to anyone. You just try to screw them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Of course that was all done in good jest. The fact of the matter is that there are these tribes in Washington.

ROBERTS: There sure are. You know, there's a new book out written by the late Meg Greenfield, who was the editor of The Washington Post editorial page, in which she talks a lot about the private life of Washington.

And one of the things a lot of people don't understand is that there are all these relationships in Washington that cut across political lines, that cut across journalists in politics. Maybe your children play in the same soccer league, or maybe you go to the same church, and there is a life. In fact, there's not enough of it. There used to be a lot more when a lot more members brought their families to Washington. But there is a life, and I think it helps lubricate the life.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Unfortunately, we're all out of time. Steve Roberts, David Brooks, Susan Page, thanks for joining us.

Up next, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bush is building it, in another way, in the backyard -- forgive me, the South Lawn. And next Sunday, they will come.


BLITZER: Bruce Morton looks at President Bush's plan to bring the great American pastime to the ultimate backyard. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on a new favorite pastime at the White House.


MORTON (voice-over): You remember the movie, "Field of Dreams." If you build it, they will come. So this man builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield, and Shoeless Joe and the guys show up to play.

Well, the White House isn't a cornfield of course, and George W. Bush didn't build it. A guy named George Washington hired an architect and got it started. But Bush is building it, in another way, in the backyard -- forgive me, the South Lawn. And next Sunday, they will come -- kids, age four to eight -- for the premier of tee- ball on the White House lawn.


BUSH: In a small way, maybe we can help to preserve the best of baseball right here in the house that Washington built. After we moved in, I pointed out to a great baseball fan, the first lady, that we've got a pretty good-sized backyard here.



MORTON: Big time, as they say over there.

The president himself will throw out -- no, no, that's wrong -- tee up the first ball. NBC sportscaster Bob Costas will announce, and the chicken -- yes, fans -- the San Diego chicken will perform, or cluck, or lay an egg, whatever.

The teams -- the Capital City League Rockies versus the Satchel Paige League Memphis Red Sox -- both Washington teams, though why kids call them Memphis Red Sox wouldn't be from Tennessee is more than I can figure.

So, baseball, well, tee-ball is back in Washington. The president is a major fan, of course, and used to be an owner. And he indicated in one of the 100 interviews he seemed to grant about his 100 days that he hoped Washington would get professional baseball back, too. That's a harder call.

The old Washington Senators were famously first in war, first in peace and last in the American league. And people didn't watch them much, and they left. Then Washington got an expansion team, and they weren't very good either, and people didn't watch them much, and they left.

I grew up in Chicago, where the Cubs and the White Sox, the Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks all drew fans, good years and bad. Washington loves its football Redskins. Other sports have a harder time here.

I would settle not for a new major league team -- there is a AA park 20 minutes from my house -- but for the chance to vote for real senators, U.S. senators, and a congressman, too. Washington is a colony, not a state, and doesn't have the vote.

No luck though, the president says he is against congressional representation for the district. Tee-ball may be the best we get. Not voting, but more fun than lawn bowling probably.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Now it's time for you to have the "last Word."

Robert in St. Louis has some criticism for me and writes this: It's obvious you don't like the fact that George W. Bush was elected president. Your latest attempts to smear and downgrade his efforts are demonstrated by your comments about his attacks on the environment. The only attacks being waged here seem to be coming from you.

But Beverly in Texas has a very different perspective. She says: I hate to even envision what I think you, the media and the press, have covered up or, if not covered up, sugar-coated every misstep Bush has made.

But we win some praise from Elden (ph) in Edmonton, Canada, who writes this: We enjoy your LATE EDITION show so much and watch whenever time allows. What better way to stay in touch with the world than with your program.

Thank you, Elden (ph).

As always, I invite your comments. You can e-mail me at And don't forget to sign up for my free weekly e-mail at

When we return, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Beautiful day here in Washington.

Now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

"TIME" magazine unveils the Ghosts of Vietnam, with former senator and decorated war hero Bob Kerrey's private agony turning into a public controversy on the cover.

"Newsweek" examines God and the Brain: How we are wired for spirituality, on the cover.

And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, Alcohol and the Brain: New breakthroughs in understanding society's most common addiction.

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, April 29. This personal note. We're losing one of our producers today. Jason Anderson has worked on LATE EDITION for the past three years and is moving on in his career. I want to wish him the best of luck.

Jason, we're going to miss you.

Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. And if you missed any of today's show, you can tune in tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, for a one-hour replay of LATE EDITION.

And later tonight, be sure to watch a special program. CNN presents "The First 100 Days." That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

I'll see you tomorrow night on Wolf Blitzer Reports at 8 p.m. Eastern. My guest, White House counselor Karen Hughes.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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