Skip to main content /transcript




Thompson Discusses Stem Cell Decision; Edwards, Watts, Hutchison Debate the Choice; Brazile Addresses Gore's Political Future

Aired August 12, 2001 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington; 11:00 a.m. in Crawford, Texas; 5:00 p.m. in London and 6:00 p.m. in Paris. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this two-hour LATE EDITION.

We'll get to our interview with President Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in just a moment, but first, the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

And here in the United States, President Bush is in Crawford, Texas, assessing the political and scientific fallout from his compromise decision to fund limited embryonic stem cell research.

CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace is covering the president during this working vacation, she joins us from Crawford with details -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, ever since the president's announcement Thursday, he has been defending his decision. He devoted his entire radio address to the issue on Saturday. And on this day, he has op ed in the "New York Times." This appears to be President Bush's first response to criticism coming from some anti-abortion rights activist whose accuse Mr. Bush of going too far. In that op ed, Mr. Bush writes, quote: "We do not end some lives for the medical benefit of others. For me, this is a matter of conviction, a belief that life, including early life, is biologically human, genetically distinct, and valuable."

Mr. Bush and his senior advisers also making it very clear on this day, drawing in some way a line in the sand, that the Bush administration will only support federal funding on those stem cells already extracted from human embryos, on the more than 60 existing stem cell lines that the White House says now exist.

Well, this is setting up the stage for a battle with Congress and also within the Republican party. Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania says he will push for legislation this fall that would allow federal funding of research on human embryos left over at fertility clinics.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If there are 100,000 of them and they are going to be discarded and they have shown just enormous potential for curing Parkinson's or delaying the onset of Alzheimer's or spinal cord or cancer or heart ailments, they have just such tremendous potential."


WALLACE: On the other side, Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey who says he and other Republicans will pressure the president to hold firm against allowing any broader embryonic stem cell research.


REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: The president has to have a sustainable policy. He has to be willing to use his veto pen if necessary, if Congress were to add some kind of enlargement to this policy. I don't agree with the policy. But it can't go one inch further.


WALLACE: And as for that veto pen, some of president bush's top aides saying on this day, that Mr. Bush would likely veto any bill that came to his desk that would expand federal funding on research beyond those 60 existing stem cell lines. So, Wolf, clearly Mr. Bush's announcement not the last word on this issue. Back to you.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace in Crawford, thank you very much.

And joining us now to discuss the president's decision is his Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Secretary Thompson, welcome to LATE EDITION. Good to have you on our program.

"TIME" magazine says in the new issue out today and tomorrow, that you were surprised when the president indicated to you a few weeks ago he was ready for a compromise on this decision.

TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, I don't know where the "TIME" magazine got that. I have been involved in this thing from early on. But, this was the president's decision. I don't think even two weeks ago that anybody except maybe the president knew for sure the direction he was going to go.

BLITZER: But, had the president indicated to you that he was looking for some sort of common ground, some sort of middle ground between those who say more funding, more embryonic stem cell research as opposed to none at all?

THOMPSON: This president has been looking very seriously at this issue, he's been deliberating it, talking to both sides, scientists, non-scientists, pro-, anti-individuals on it and he has really delved into it. He knows this subject inside and out, and he really made up his own mind. And he was looking for information. I furnished him some information as did others, but it was the president's decision.

BLITZER: Did want him to go further or where you happy where he wound up?

THOMPSON: I am very happy with where he is because it's the right decision. It's a decision that really allows for the president to, for federal research to go, and embryonic stem cells. It allows for him to continue on with his strong moral positions that no federal dollars will be used for the destruction of future embryos.

I think it was the right decision, the right time. And a lot of things, a lot of people really don't understand, Wolf, is that all the stem cells are out there. There are only 60 available, 60 to 65. It's going to take at least six to eight months under optimum conditions to grow another stem cell.

So really, a lot of people who want to go further, there's really no sense to go further. This is going to allow for the basic research, which this president really feels strongly about.

BLITZER: And there's not just 60 stem cells; it's 60 stem cell lines or colonies from which there could be almost an unlimited number of future stem cells.

THOMPSON: They can replicate indefinitely to the best of our information, and that allows for a lot of basic research.

And really, Wolf, there's never been the kind of research that really needs to be done, and that is a comparison between adult stem cells embryonic, blood cord and placenta. And that kind of comparison needs to take place before you can start moving into the therapies, finding the cures. And that's what's so important about the federal research dollars because without the federal research dollars, that basic research would not be done.

BLITZER: But as you know, there's been already some criticism from scientists who say the president did not go far enough. He's forcing them, the scientific community, to really go forward with these potential breakthroughs, with one hand tied behind their back.

I want you to listen to what Dr. John Gearhart of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School had to say earlier. Listen to this.


DR. JOHN GEARHART, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I think we need some clarifications before we can speak more appropriately to the point, but we have many questions about these 60 cells lines that he says exist, that for many of the scientists we are just unaware of.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: As you know, many scientists said that until a few days ago, they thought there were 10 or 15 or 20 of these stem cell lines. You say that you're convinced that there are 60 viable stem cell lines, perhaps even more?

THOMPSON: Well, we are convinced that there are 60. There is the potential for a few more.

But really, nobody has ever done an in depth inventory, and I requested the scientists at NIH on behalf of the president, to find out exactly how many embryonic stem cell lines are available for use, for research.

And we were surprised, I was surprised, the scientists at NIH were. And they made a detailed inventory, and not only did they do it before the president's speech, they did it subsequent to the president's speech, and they once again corroborated, the scientists did an NIH, that there are 60 viable, robust, diversified embryonic stem cell lines available for research.

BLITZER: Are you convinced that the genetic diversity of 60 stem cell lines is going to be enough really to let the scientists check out the potential for a medical breakthrough?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. They come from five different countries, from three different continents, from Singapore, India, from Sweden, Australia and the United States. So there is plenty of diversity there, and it's going to allow for the kind of research that's necessary.

And the truth of the matter is, it's that kind of diversity that we really need in order to be absolutely certain that the embryonic stem cells are going to be able to accomplish scientifically what we want to do and that's come up with the cures the maladies that exist out there.

BLITZER: What nobody knows right now is the shelf life of these 60 stem cell...

THOMPSON: That's true.

BLITZER: ... lines. How confident are you that they won't just be obsolete within two or three years, that they will have a longer shelf life?

THOMPSON: Well, just because James Thompson, who is from Madison, who started it, his...

BLITZER: He's at the University of Wisconsin?

THOMPSON: ... right -- his embryonic stem cell lines are still existence. They're still replicating. And he has...

BLITZER: How many years has that been?

THOMPSON: Three years. He started in the middle of '98 and they're still replicating, reproducing and accomplishing what he set out to accomplish.

So we have to base it on the past experience and the past experience says, yes, that they will continue.

BLITZER: In his article today in the "New York Times," on the op ed page, the president wrote this, and let me put it up on the screen. He said, "Under my policy, existing stem cell lines must be derived one, from the informed consent of donors, two, from excess embryos created solely for reproductive purposes, and three, without any financial inducements to the donors."

How confident are you that all of those 60 stem cell lines, including those from outside of the United States, meet those three requirements laid out by the president?

THOMPSON: They meet them. That's part of the inventory that we took. That was part of the question and answer regarding the interrogation that went on between the entities and the individuals that have these embryonic stem cells. They also have furnished copies of consent forms to the NIH scientists. So we know that they are in existence.

We also know that they want to cooperate. All of them indicated that they would love to cooperate with NIH and further research science. So I feel very good about that. And the scientists at NIH feel good about it.

And I'd like to also point out another thing, you know, the mouse research that's been going on for 20 years as far as embryonic stem cells. That's where it started 20 years ago. They only are using five lines for all of the research being done on mice right now. And as far as the human genome project, which was much more complex this point in time, they only used 12 cell lines.

So you can see that with 60, and that's all that's available right now, there's plenty of research that can be done.

THOMPSON: The basic research which the federal government has to do in order to get to the next level. And that's for the cures, that's for the therapy, which will also be done by the private sector, and there's no limitation on private sector research that the president is advocating.

BLITZER: And as you know, the research, the stem cell research that's been done on mice has shown tremendous, tremendous potential on mice, that doesn't necessarily mean --

THOMPSON: But they've only using five stem cell lines, so that shows you.

BLITZER: Well, what happens, what happens, if in the next few years, two years, three years, tremendous progress on the stem cell research and it shows that there can be breakthroughs in all these diseases, spinal cord injuries and they discover the scientists, those 60 lines are not enough. They need some more. THOMPSON: Wolf, we just got done talking about that. They're continuing to be replicated. In the mice research, there's only been five lines being used. And as far as -- the private sector's going to come in, once the breakthroughs start coming, you know full well that the pharmaceutical companies, the research universities and so on, will want to come in and private dollars will come flowing in here to continue doing the research.

BLITZER: So, they'll do the research on other embryonic stem cell lines.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. But the basic research for the federal research dollars will be on the 60 stem cell lines which will be on the national registry, which were all in -- already in the process of setting up.

BLITZER: The White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was on ABC earlier today, and he was asked specifically whether if there were some breakthroughs in the years to come, if the president would perhaps rethink his limit on those 60 lines. I want you to listen to what Andy Card had to say on ABC earlier today.


ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is not closed-minded, he's open-minded. But we think this is the right decision right now and let's allow NIH to do its business.


BLITZER: He seems to be leaving the door open somewhat for rethinking of the president's decision in the years ahead if there are tremendous breakthroughs.

THOMPSON: I haven't heard the president say that and the president is open-minded. He's a very fair-minded individual and has done an outstanding job.

But the president is very strong in his position, that he has indicated that no federal research dollars will be used for the derivation, the destruction of any future embryos. And I think that that is a moral decision that this president's made, and he's not going to cross that.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is that those 60 lines, the lines that existed the night that the president delivered his speech, that's it as far as --

THOMPSON: Well, there could be some more. I mean, it could be a few more, 60 to 65 depending on what was in existence as of the time the president gave his speech.

BLITZER: But he's not going to two or three years from now, go back and say, "Well, there are a lot of other frozen embryos out there, they're going to be discarded, they're going to be thrown away, let's take advantage of this and use some more of those lines"? THOMPSON: No, Wolf, because the research can be done on the existing 60 lines. They're robust, they're diversified, they're going to give the scientists all the information they need and they continue to replicate, continue to produce so there's going to be continuation of these lines.

And as I indicated earlier, as far as the research has been done on mice for 20 years, on embryonic stem cells, you know, they've only been used in five lines, so 60's a great plenty, and that's all that's in existence right now.

BLITZER: How many of those lines, though, are owned by private firms who may decide that they want a patent or a trademark or some sort of, they want to sell them and there may not be that much money available to use some of those lines?

THOMPSON: Well, most of them do have patents or licensing rights on them. And most in the United States are licensed by WiCell, and WARF at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. And they're going to expect some dollars, but they also -- I talked to Carl Gulbrandsen, who's the head of WARF last night and the day before and he indicated to me that yes, they want to cooperate. And they will be very supportive of the kind of research that is needed. And in order for them to go to the next step, the breakthroughs, these entities want that basic research to get done.

So they're going to be very willing to support what NIH is going to require of them, and what the scientists are going to want. And you know, we are getting a lot -- just because there's been so much discussion about this, we're getting more information, more people that want to get involved. There are more scientists and investigators, which is good.

BLITZER: How much does the Bush administration want to spend in the coming year on embryonic stem cell research?

THOMPSON: The president really wants to make sure that we make the comparison. He wants to make sure that we do a concentrated effort on adult stem cells, on blood stem cells and on embryonic and make a comparison to find out which stem cells are the best adaptable to this particular disease or that particular disease. Which ones are the strongest? Which ones reproduce too much, not enough, or so on. That's the kind of information this president wants this. I can tell you, this year, we spent $250 million on all sorts.

BLITZER: Adults.

THOMPSON: I would say because embryonic stem cells are so important and got to have some opportunity to catch up to what's going on in adult stem cells and so on, probably a good portion of the $250 million upwards to $100 million, more than likely will be apportioned to the embryonic stem cell portion of research in comparison with adult stem cells.

BLITZER: So a $100,000 million dollars in the coming years is a ball park figure. THOMPSON: I can't say for sure. That's a ballpark figure.

BLITZER: You know, there are some in Congress, and we already heard Senator Specter earlier on this program earlier today suggest that he may want to revisit this decision by the president and come up with legislation to take another look at it. I want you to listen to what he said on Face the Nation on CBS earlier today, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania.



SPECTER: I think we probably do. It's hard to say, because right now people are reacting to the president's presentation. He made a powerful reason presentation. I don't agree with his conclusion. But, it has left a lot of people wondering. So, I think we need the hearings, we need to refocus. But this issue is going to come up on our appropriations bill next month.


BLITZER: If the Congress goes ahead and supports more liberal kinds of funding for embryonic stem cell research beyond the 60 lines the president has drawn his own line on, will the president veto any such legislation?

THOMPSON: I can't tell. You know, I'm not in any position to speak for the president. But I think there's a good opportunity, more than likely a probability, a chance that he will veto that because the president does not want to use any federal research dollars for any derivation or annihilation of any existing embryos because the president believes existing embryos have the potential for life.

And those embryos that have been destroyed, they cannot, nobody can put them back together to create a viable fetus. But they could be used for finding good research for breakthroughs for some of these maladies, some of these illnesses that plague everyone of our families in some way. So that's what the president wants. And I don't think he will step over that and allow for further research dollars to go to the destruction of any existing embryos that are now in the subsequent to the president's speech.

BLITZER: As you know, there are some in the anti-abortion community who believe that the president broke a campaign commitment to them on this issue of embryonic stem cell research. Recently as May 18, you wrote a letter to the Culture of Life Foundation, in which he said this: "I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying living, human embryos. I support research on stem cells from adult tissue."

What do you say to those who accuse the president of breaking a campaign commitment?

THOMPSON: I'll tell those people like I'll tell your audience right here today: The president did not break his campaign promise. The president said he would not use federal research dollars for the destruction of existent embryos for research. And he has not. He has made that crystal clear. That's a position that this president stands by.

But subsequent to that, there is going to be no federal research dollars. But, preceding that speech, what do you want to do? You just want these embryonic stem cell lines that no longer can be used as a viable fetus to be able to be destroyed and not be able to use for scientific research when there are so many people out there hoping and praying and got the optimism that maybe that break-through will help me with my Alzheimer's, maybe solve the problem with childhood diabetes?

This president wants a cure for these kinds of diseases. And the embryonic stem cells that are in existence, those lines, give us the opportunity for that kind of research. I think this president was right on the mark. He made the right decision for the people of this country, and for science and for also those individuals that are anti- abortion.

BLITZER: You know the Catholic church of course disagrees with you. I know you're a Catholic. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who is the Washington, D.C., archbishop, he said this on Friday. I want you to listen to what he said. He said, "The president's decision unfortunately allows the allotment of federal funding, the money we pay in our taxes, for something that many of us feel is morally wrong" -- the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

THOMPSON: And he's a wonderful man. He's a good friend of mine. I think the world of him. But there's no question that the cardinal or anybody else would be able to put together or put back to life a viable fetus out of the destroyed embryo that's already been destroyed. And so the question is, are we going to allow this destroyed embryo to allow for the stem cell lines to propagate from that, to give us the tools for good viable research on these kinds of diseases? Are we going to destroy them, and not use them?

And the president feels that would be a waste. He said that decision has been made. But future decisions based on the destruction of embryos, I stand firm on. I'm not going to cross that line. We're not going to use federal research dollars. But, in order for us to do the basic research, Wolf, we need the federal research dollars to do that.

And that's what this president is going to allow and I think Cardinal McCarrick also said in his statement, even though he doesn't agree with the president, he thanked the president for not going over that line, allowing for federal research dollars to go in to destroy existing embryos. I think most people, and the recent polls, 70 percent of the Catholics, including myself, support this kind of research.

BLITZER: And the president also seemed to say, not only in his speech, but in the subsequent remarks he made, including that interview he gave to ABC News, that he believes that life begins at conception and conception is not necessarily inside a woman's womb, but even in a petri dish.

THOMPSON: He believes that that is correct.

BLITZER: That's when be believes life begins?


BLITZER: As a result, he's been getting some praise, at least on that front, from some in the anti-abortion movement, like the Reverend James Dobson and others.

While we have you, very, very briefly, just I want to touch base on this patients' bill of rights. As you know, one version passed the House of Representatives, which the Bush administration supports. The Senate has a very, very different version depending on how much rights people will have to sue their HMO providers, their insurance companies.

Is the president prepared for further compromise as this House- Senate conference committee tries to come up with some common ground?

THOMPSON: Wolf, the president has already compromised and re- compromised and re-compromised. How much more should this president have to compromise?

Ninety percent of the proposals in both the Senate and the House everybody agrees to. Why doesn't Congress compromise with the president so the president can sign this bill into law and give patients their rights, give patients the opportunity for good quality health care? This president feels strongly. He passionate about signing it. Give him a bill that he can sign.

Let's not turn it into a political issue that you can use in the next campaign. Let's solve one of these problems.

You know, Congress needs to solve a problem, the president wants to help them, and America would like to see this behind us.

BLITZER: So on this patients' bill of rights, he's done compromising?

THOMPSON: I think -- I can't say for sure that there's one little tweak here that will make a difference, but he has really done a lot of compromising already. And the bill coming out of the House is a good one. It really protects patients, and that's what the president's wants.

BLITZER: Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, thanks for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you. I know you're heading off to Alaska.

THOMPSON: To Alaska for a speech.

BLITZER: Tonight.

THOMPSON: Tonight. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, very much. Good luck in Alaska.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And just ahead, we will get congressional reaction to this stem cell decision, the patients' bill of rights, energy and much more with three key members of Congress: North Carolina Democratic Senator John Edwards, Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Oklahoma Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

LATE EDITION will be right back.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Embryonic stem cell research offers both great promise and great peril. So I have decided we must proceed with great care.


BLITZER: President Bush on Thursday explaining his decision to allow limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Joining me now to talk about this debate and much more are three key members of Congress: here in Washington, Democratic Senator John Edwards of North Carolina; in Dallas, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas; and in Norman, Oklahoma, Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION to all three of you.

And Congressman Watts, I want to begin with you. You just heard Tommy Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, make the case why the president made the right decision. You, of course, disagreed with the president's decision. Will you now seek legislation in the House of Representatives to try to reverse that decision?

REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: No, Wolf, I don't think you'll see anything trying to reverse the president's decision. I think the president put a lot of time, a lot of thought, a lot of deliberations, a lot of prayer, a lot of wrestling into this decision, and I respect what the president did.

He said that he was going to make a decision from the heart, and I think he talked to a lot of different politicians, friends, family members, religious leaders, leaders from the scientific community and even the Pope concerning this decision. And I think the president has reached a decision. I think the silver lining in the dark cloud, Wolf, is the fact that the president did not go further. I think the president upheld his campaign promise. He bent it a bit, but I do think that he can speak with great conviction that he held onto his campaign promise not to use federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that would take human life.

And so we're not necessarily pleased; we're not satisfied on every front with the decision, but I think the president did go through the right process in coming to this conclusion. And he didn't take it as far as the Clinton administration wanted to take it just six months ago.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, a poll that CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup did immediately after the president's address to the nation, asked if public agrees or disagrees with the decision. Look at the numbers: 50 percent of the American public, according to this poll, approved of the president's decision; 25 percent disapproved; 25 percent simply said they were unsure. What do you think? What is the next step in this entire debate?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Wolf, I think what that poll shows is the American people support stem cell research. We all recognize there are very serious scientific questions, very serious ethical questions, but the key here is there are many people across this country that stand to benefit tremendously from this research, people who suffer from Alzheimer's, people who suffer from Parkinson's, children with diabetes, and the real issue that's left after the president's statement and after his speech is, are the scientists going to have the ability to do what needs to be done for those people? And I think the reality is we have a science that's extraordinarily young. I mean, this has only been going on for a very small number of years.

The people who have actually been doing the work, the scientists themselves, don't know yet whether in fact there are 60 stem lines, whether there are less, how many of those are viable, how many of them will prove to be productive and, in fact, whether there will need to be additional stem lines to do the critical work that needs to be done. So it's certainly impossible for public leaders to know if the scientists themselves don't know.

I think the problem with the president's decision is that he's sort of made a preemptive strike and set down very rigid guidelines in an area where we have many questions that remain to be answered.

BLITZER: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, I take it you were among those who welcomed the president's decision, perhaps even wanted him to go a little bit further. In the "New York Times," in an editorial on Friday, wrote this: "Disappointed Americans who had hoped for a more courageous conclusion may wind up wondering if his real concern was a perpetual fear of offending the Republican Party's right-wing base." Were you disappointed the president didn't go further in allowing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research? SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think the president took every view into consideration. I think he took a major step forward. I think it was a cautious step, and from the president's view point, I think that he made a courageous decision. I've talked to a number of the Texas scientists from our research institutions, and I think that we have to answer some of their questions as we go forward, but I do think we are going forward in a major way.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Specter that there may be a need for new legislation to go ahead and try to expand the president's opening for federal funding for stem cell research?

HUTCHISON: Wolf, I would have gone a little farther myself than the president did. I think that his standards are absolutely correct, and the guidelines that you would have to have informed consent and that there would be strict guidelines that you couldn't harm an embryo for the purpose of research. But I think we can probably do a little more. I'm not sure this is the time to do that because I think we ought to see if this is sufficient and if it is, then leave it as it is.

But I think that we need to look at adoption of these as a embryos as a bigger option than we have had in the past.

I think we need to know what the viability is for the ones that have only been in being for about three years, to see if they do maintain their viability.

BLITZER: Congressman Watts, as you of course remember early in July, you and Tom DeLay and Dick Armey wrote a letter to the president urging him not support any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Among other things, you wrote this, "It is not pro-life to rely on an industry of death, even in the intention is to find cures for diseases."

Do you still consider the president to be, quote, "pro-life?"

WATTS: I do. Very much so and I think the president said the other night in his speech, that the life and death decision has been made concerning these stem cells. And I think many in America today, we are applauding the president for not going any further to say that human life can or human embryos that are fertile that they can be used for research. And I think that letter pointed that out. The letter you just referenced pointed that out, to say that we should not use human embryos, we should not use life to enhance life.

There's more ways that we can do that, the umbilical cord, body fat. Adult stem cell research has shown great promise. There's just too much, too many areas that's inconclusive out there for us to get on a slippery slope to say we should take life in order to enhance life. And that's what that letter stated.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, we're going to take a quick break, but very briefly, do you think this issue, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, will be an issue in the congressional, the House and Senate elections next year and in the president campaign in 2004? EDWARDS: Wolf, I don't have any question it's going to be an issue in the Congress. Whether it will be an issue in the election, I don't know because what's happened here is the president has tried to please everybody, but there remains a very important question to be decided, and that is, will it work?

You know, he set this point in time which was the date of his speech. I mean that makes no scientific sense. The real issue is, is what the president is proposing, will it work and provide this much needed help to all of these people all over the country and all over the world for that matter who desperately need the help?

BLITZER: And very quickly to you Senator Hutchison, will this be an issue next year? Will it be an issue in the elections?

HUTCHISON: It depends. I think that we're really looking at studying what we have now. Let's find out if we have good, viable stem cells, that are in enough quantity at a reasonable price, that we can do the research that we need.

I think it's way too early to say we need to do something different.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including your phone calls for Senators Edwards and Hutchison and Congressman Watts.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the LATE EDITION.

We're continuing our discussion with North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Oklahoma Congressman J. C. Watts and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

We have a caller from New York. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Hello.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Watts. As long as couples continue to create embryos for in vitro fertilization, will there not be an ever increasing population of stem cells destined for ultimate destruction? Or is there another vision you have for these cells?

BLITZER: Congressman Watts.

WATTS: Well, I think the debate in this case is whether or not federal funding should be used to destroy human life. I don't have a vote about what couples do with their embryos. But I do have a vote in determining how this research will be funded. If taking human life, if life begins at conception, if that's your belief, if that's my belief, if that's your belief, then what role should the federal government play in destroying those embryos? And what we've said, and I've been consistent all along, many in America disagree with federal funding of the destruction of human embryos.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about a patients' bill of rights.

Senator Edwards, you are one of the chief sponsors in the Senate on a patients bill of rights, you and Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy. You heard Tommy Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services say on this program just a little while ago, that the president's finished compromising, basically, accept for perhaps a little tweaking here and there. The different version that passed the House of Representatives, which you opposed, Senate version, he wants you to compromise. He wants you to make some more concessions because most of the issues are already resolved, there's just a few little issues that you seem to be bent on protecting the lawyers for.

EDWARDS: Well, I think the problem with that argument is that the bill that passed the House, Wolf, provides a stark contrast with the bill that passed the Senate. The bill that passed the Senate. The bill that passed the Senate had bipartisan support, got 59 to 36 votes in the Senate, supported by the AMA, every patient health care group in America, the kind of bill that most Americans would support.

The bill that passed the House passed on almost an entirely straight, party line vote. And the difference between the two is the president's proposal, number one, takes away already existing patient rights, they exist all over the country in various states. Number two, it maintains the special privilege status that HMOs have. And number three, it creates enormous obstacles for patients who want to hold HMOs accountable.

So, I think it gets to be a fairly simple proposition. As this bill goes to conference, are we going to have a bill that comes out of conference that provides adequate patient protection? Or are we going to have a bill that's more slanted for the HMOs? The difference is every single difference, Wolf, between the Senate bill and the Bush proposal, every single difference, but President Bush is slanted towards the HMOs. Our legislation is slanted towards patients.

BLITZER: What about that Senator Hutchison? It sounds as if Senator Edwards holds firm to his position that there could be a deadlock, there won't be any patients bill of rights that emerges from this House-Senate conference committee?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think the House-passed version is much better than the Senate-passed version because I think what the president wants and what the American people want is a focus on better health care, making sure we get that quality service, not on retribution. And this is a difference in how much you can sue for and when you can sue and under what circumstances, and what are the limits. And I would rather focus on making sure that the patients have a quick review, that they can get the care they need, rather than having kind of a trial lawyer type approach to it. So I think there is a lot of room for compromise between the two houses. And I think the House and the President are much closer to helping the American people get better health care.

BLITZER: Congressman Watts, you're one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives. If it comes down to a bill that moves beyond the House-passed version, what President Bush and Congressman Charlie Norwood agreed to, and you have to make some more concessions to Senator Edwards in the Senate in order to get a patients' bill of rights signed into law this year, are you prepared to move further beyond what Charlie Norwood and President Bush accepted?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, we had people in the House, Dr. Ernie Fletcher, Dr. Charlie Norwood, President Bush, people who were in the mix on the House side who actually know health care.

I mean they're medical people. They lived this stuff on a daily basis prior to coming to Congress, and I think we have to be careful that we don't add to that 40 million number of Americans who are without health care today. I think the Senate bill would do that. It would put more people out of health care.

And two, we have to understand, you know, when my wife and I when we take our kids to the doctor, we're looking for quality health care. We're looking for service, we're looking for coverage. We're not looking for a three, four, five-year lawsuit. The House bill that was passed through the House of Representatives, it has adequate protections for the patients, it gives them recourse that allows them the sue in state and federal court. I think it's a pretty good bill.

It's not what everybody wanted. It didn't make everybody 100 percent happy, but that's the legislative process. Those type of things, they happen in the legislative process. But I do think it's a good bill that would allow people to be protected and at the same time, get quality health care, not a four, five-year lawsuit.

BLITZER: Congressman Watts, you won't be surprised to learn that Senator Edwards is shaking his head, he's disagreeing with you, but we're going to take a quick break and give him a chance -- we'll give him a chance to respond and we'll also be taking some more phone mails. For Edwards, Watts and Hutchison. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're talking with North Carolina Senator John Edwards; Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Senator Edwards, I promised you'd get a chance to respond to Congressman Watts on a patients' bill of right, the criticism he's making of your legislation.

EDWARDS: Well, Wolf, there's a reason that the American Medical Association, virtually every patient group and health care group in America supports our bill and is opposed to the president's proposal that went through the House.

When John McCain and I wrote our legislation, we specifically designed to it provide real patient rights and to make them enforceable. If they're not enforceable, they don't mean anything. They are patients' bill of suggestions, not a patients' bill of rights. And so the real question is, are we going to slant this thing in favor of HMO's, continue their special status, or we going to provide patients with the protection they need.

Just one last point, Wolf. J.C. said he's concerned about the uninsured, concerned about lawsuits. In places all over this country where similar legislation has already been passed. California for example, Georgia for example, in those two states, there hasn't been a single lawsuit. And since the legislation was passed, the number of uninsured has gone down, not up.

BLITZER: Senator Hutchison, very briefly and then Congressman Watts, I assume Senator Edwards has convinced you about the merits of his legislation.

HUTCHISON: Well, I'm very concerned about the costs involved in really both the House and Senate passed versions. I think having no limits on non-economic damages, the pain and suffering, I think could drive the costs up so much.

Also, I think allowing the suit against an employer that is providing the options for health care need to be tightened up, because employers could walk away from giving health care to their employees if they don't have some protections against lawsuits for decisions that they really didn't make on a personal basis.

BLITZER: Congressman Watts, You can have the last word on a patients bill of rights. What is it?

WATTS: Well, Senator Edwards, I would suspect that being an attorney, and I think attorneys are necessary, I've got good attorneys, but I think being an attorney he would come -- he would see this from a legal perspective as opposed to the perspective that I come from, as someone that has to deal with the system on a daily basis, that I have kids and I know Senator Edwards has kids as well.

I think we need to be concerned about making sure that our kids, our families, when they go the doctor, they can get appropriate coverage and service. We need to maybe it less expensive and more accessible, not more expensive and less easy to get to. And I do that the Senate bill does that.

Charlie Norwood, by the way, is a doctor from Georgia, who was involved in negotiating the compromise with the president, so I think it's a good bill that we can go to conference with and hopefully work together, Republicans and Democrats -- Senator Edwards, myself, Senator Hutchison -- and get a patients protection bill that will be good for patients and not for everybody that feeds off of the system. BLITZER: Very briefly, Senator Edwards, you were in Israel this past week. You met with Prime Minister Sharon, you met with the Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, another bombing, suicide bombing outside of Haifa today.

The substantive question is, obviously, should the Bush administration get more actively involved in trying to do anything about this escalating violence in the Middle East?

EDWARDS: Well, the cycle of violence as you well know, Wolf, is escalating and it's escalating at a very dangerous way. The one thing that's clear from talking to both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership, and I spent the last week talking to both sides about this issue, is it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to get the two parties to the negotiating table unless America is very actively involved, and I think that's what it boils down to.

I heard that over and over from both sides of the equation. And I think it's critical that we reduce the violence, get the parties to the negotiating table so we can begin again the peace process. But I do believe that that's going to be very, very difficult if not impossible to obtain without America's active intervention.

BLITZER: Very briefly Senator Hutchison, you agree?

HUTCHISON: I think President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are involved. I think they are there, they are talking to both sides, they are urging the stopping of this violence, and I think that having the requirement of a cease fire is very important. You can't just keep having these suicide bombings that injury and kill innocent people and have any chance of a real peace proposal even.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately we're going to have to leave it right there. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator John Edwards, Congressman Watts, always great to have all three of you on our program. Thank you so much for joining us.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, and we have to take another quick break. For our international viewers, world news is next. For our North American audience, we'll find out what a pair of politicians, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore have been up to lately. 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.


BUSH: You don't have to be in Washington to work. It's amazing what can happen with telephones and faxes.


BLITZER: The president plans a change in focus on a working vacation, while Al Gore and Bill Clinton are both in the spotlight again.

We'll talk politics with former Gore Campaign Manager Donna Brazile and Republican Strategist Mike Murphy and CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable, Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Christopher Caldwell.

And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on risks and rewards of scientific discovery.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We will discuss Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's return to the political spotlight in just a moment. But first, here is CNN's Donna Kelley in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Thank you, very much, Donna.

Former Vice President Al Gore has taken his first step back on to the national stage, holding a political workshop in Nashville, Tennessee with the former Republican Governor Lamar Alexander.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that it's safe to say that everybody in the room there is going to be involved in the 2002 elections for their respective candidates and parties, me included.


BLITZER: That was Al Gore at the workshop on Saturday, hinting at his own future involvement in politics. Joining me to discuss Mr. Gore's future are three very savvy political observers.

In Nashville, former Gore presidential campaign manager, Donna Brazile. She attended the invitation-only workshop with Mr. Gore.

Here in Washington, Republican strategist and former McCain presidential adviser, Mike Murphy, who also participated in the workshop. And our own senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who didn't attend the workshop but is still a very smart guy.

Thanks for joining us to all three of you.

Donna Brazile, first of all to you, you've obviously had a chance to speak with the former vice president. Is it your sense at this point, that he is very much keeping the door open to a possible effort once again to run for the presidency?

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, you know, Wolf, I think the vice president right now is really focused on helping Democratic candidates across the country, helping the Democratic Party this coming fall, preparing for the 2002 election. I think it's premature to talk about 2004. Right now he's keeping his focus on 2001 and 2002 and helping to bring a new generation to American politics.

BLITZER: But Donna, would it be fair to say this is the beginning of his political comeback?

BRAZILE: Well, I don't believe Al Gore needs a reintroduction or any new comeback scheme. He is well equipped, I believe, as a teacher, as a trainer, as someone who cares about the future of this country to help Democratic candidates to help the Democratic Party, to help young people. And he's doing what he wanted to do. He wanted to take some time to rest and to reflect. And he's ready to get back on the campaign trail and help Democratic candidates this coming November in New Jersey and other places across the country.

BLITZER: All right, Mike Murhpy, you're a Republican. You were down there with Lamar Alexander and the others and Al Gore, in Nashville. You flew back here to Washington last night. Give us your sense, the body language, what you heard, what you saw. Is Al Gore on the way back to politics?

MICHAEL MURPHY, REPUBLICAL STRATEGIST: Wolf, I have to tell you I have no idea. I think if bearded Americans are looking for a voice, he is now ready to serve them. You know, he's got the new look. This seminar was a bipartisan thing. There were people from White House staff there, and elected Republican officials. Democrats that had nothing to do with any Al Gore for president theories or conspiracies.

It was about how do we have a political dialogue that doesn't turn people off while we still fight like hell because we disagree on everything? How do we fight fair? And there were a lot of young people interested in politics there. And I think we all had a good time. Now, as far as any Gore plotting sessions, I have no idea. My gut tells me, based on no knowledge and being a Republican who doesn't understand the Democratic primary, that he won't run. But I don't know.

BLITZER: He won't run?

MURPHY: That is just my gut.

BLITZER: Most people think he will run.

MURPHY: I'm taking the contrary position like the beard. I'm taking the contrary position.

BLITZER: All right. What about you, Bill Schneider.

Before you answer the question, I want you to look at this number, a number you have seen in our latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll number on the screen among the choice for president, August 3 through 5: Look at this Al Gore, 49 percent; George W. Bush, 48 percent. This is six months into his administration, with Al Gore virtually invisible over these past six months, he still neck-and-neck statistically speaking with George W. Bush.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: When I saw those numbers, my first reaction was oh, my God. We are going to have another tie. My second reaction was, that is certainly a very strong incentive for Al Gore to run. He is going to run. My goodness, he has tremendous issue, the issue injustice.

Look, he carried the popular vote. Democrats put him top of the list. They think he deserves second chance. Of course he is going to run, and my guess is he will get the nomination. But he has two big problems: one named Clinton; the other named Bush. The question is will Bush be seen as successful and popular, or will he be in the situation as his father was in 1992? If he is in that situation, then Al Gore could beat him.

BLITZER: And we're going to get to those two problems momentarily, both Clinton, and Bush. But Donna Brazile, I want to bring you back into this discussion. Dee Dee Myers, the former White House Press Secretary for Bill Clinton. I want to read to you what she said about Al Gore's prospects in the Democratic party down the road. This is what she said on August 6th: "No one is comparing President George W. Bush to what Al Gore might have been like. They're all looking at Bill Clinton. It will be very difficult for Gore to come back and to generate any kind of enthusiasm within the party or to run a credible campaign."

As you know, a lot of Democrats were bitterly disappointed in the campaign that Al Gore waged last year. Given all the advantages he had, he obviously, when all said and done, lost the electoral college.

BRAZILE: Well, you know he won the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes out there. And I disagree strongly with Dee Dee Myers. I have been out across the country, and I tell you, many people walk up to me and say, "We want to see Gore back in our state. We want to see Gore back out here campaigning." He was a terrific candidate.

I believe that Al Gore, if he chooses to run in 2004, will do a great job. He'll beat George W. Bush again. An you know what, I believe that the Democratic party, under leadership of Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle will also take control of the House, as well as retain control of Senate next year.

BLITZER: All right, Mike Murphy, you obviously don't think Al Gore is going to run, a very contrary point of view. You are in the minority probably on that position. James Carville, another Democratic political consultant, well-known of course, was quoted in USA Today this past week was asked about the prospects of Al Gore running. I want to put up on the screen what he said. He compared running for president to sex, saying this, "You don't say I done that once, I'm not going to do that again. You say, I sure would like to do that again." MURPHY: Well, I will defend my nutty prediction. Number one, I did see him a little bit yesterday. He didn't look like a candidate to me or a guy who had his head in a candidate kind of space.


MURPHY: I don't know. It's hard to read. I just spent a lot of time around candidates. That is what I do for living, and I just didn't get that vibe from him. I'm not adviser. I'd never know his plan. I just didn't feel that he looked to me like he was in candidate mode.

Second, he will have to fight for it. He would be the front- runner of the nomination now is what the polling says, but there are a whole lot of ambitious Democrats, and Democrat leadership cadre types who really want the job and don't think he's a winner.

I mean, when I sat down here, I found a "John Edwards for president" button that he left behind from the last interview. He's definitely going. There are others. There's a lot of ambition out there, so he would not get this thing handed to him on a silver platter. He would have to go fight for it, and he would have to work for it, and it would be a big brawl. And I'm just not sure he wants to go through all that.

BLITZER: Do you think he has the fire in his belly, Bill Schneider?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, he does. And he also has the fuzz on his face. I as I think Mike will agree, Americans just don't trust a man with beard.

BLITZER: When was last time someone with facial hair was elected president of the United States?

SCHNEIDER: I can answer that, it was Benjamin Harrison and that was in the 19th Century. Something interesting about Benjamin Harrison, a well remembered president, and that was -- that's not Mr. Harrison, that's Mr. Gore. Benjamin Harrison did not carry the popular vote. He was one of three presidents, four now with George W. Bush, who didn't carry the popular vote. John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and the three before Bush all served one term. There's a taint of illegitimacy about them, and Gore certainly knows that.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, while we're on the subject of Al Gore's beard, what is all that about? You must have asked him about that when you saw him yesterday?

BRAZILE: Well, I was taken aback at first, but then, you know, throughout the day and last night at the Tennessee Titans game, I finally looked at him, and I said, "You know, you look like a winner with that beard." I have no problem with the beard, I think he looks very comfortable, very relaxed, and, look, if he chooses to run again in 2004, Al Gore will have the same platform, fighting for America's working families. He will go out there, he will energize Democrats, Republicans, independents alike, and I think he'll do a great job.

But for now he's focusing on 2002 and that's where his head is. His head's in the right place, and I strongly support where he's going the next couple days and the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation including facial hair, the beard, but we have to take a quick break. When we return, your phone calls for Brazile, Murphy and Schneider. Sounds like a law firm. Stay with us, LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our discussion with Republican Strategist Mike Murphy, CNN Senior Analyst Bill Schneider and former Gore Campaign Manager Donna Brazile.

Mike Murphy, Dan Thomas (ph) and a columnist writing in the "Sacramento Bee" on Tuesday wrote this about the seminar you attended in Nashville yesterday.

He said, "The same Albert Gore who blew the Clinton legacy to smithereens with of the world's most inept performances, teaching kids how to campaign? Abbot teaches Costello how to drive? Are we making this up?"

MURPHY: It was a secret Republican plan, you see, we brought him down there.

No, I don't think he would have carried the room because I think the room was maybe a little more than half Republican. He would have had about 80 percent of the Democrats, so he would have lost by a bit, which is again why I don't think, beard or no beard, he's going to go.

That beard to me sent a whole vibe of kind of "I don't give a damn," which I thought was kind of charming. But it made me think he won't go.

As far as somebody thinking that Gore is not qualified to teach people how to campaign, that really wasn't what this thing was about. It wasn't a technology school so much as it was a discussion by a bunch of warriors on how we can fight fair and see turnout come up, not down, when we have these playful disagreements.

BLITZER: But would you say he was impressive, or not impressive in his presentation?

MURPHY: I thought he was impressive. He's an impressive guy. I mean, anybody who has worked in national politics at his level has.

He was very casual, and I thought he was enjoying himself.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, you were there, you were in the room. There were no press allowed. It was closed door. Would you say that the body language he was sending to those people in the room was someone who still has the political fire in his belly? BRAZILE: Look, I think the body language which Al Gore was sending in that room and the body language you will see Al Gore send across this country is a man of strong convictions that really would like to just, you know, help Americans, you know, find their place at the political table.

This is not about 2004. I know everything is being read in that context, but Al Gore is a very serious thinker. And I enjoyed his presentations. I enjoyed the presentations by former Governor Lamar Alexander. You have two great Tennesseans, two former presidential candidates willing to give up their Saturday afternoon to teach kids and train kids on how to get involved in the political process. What's wrong with that? We should have more Americans out there doing the same thing.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, you earlier mentioned that one of the problems Al Gore will have is his relationship with Bill Clinton. Can he repair that relationship to his own political advantage?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, among Democratic donors and activists, they blame Gore for losing the election, because they say he tried to keep his distance from Bill Clinton. He didn't run on the Clinton record.

Actually, in part he lost because he could not keep his distance from Clinton. That's what naming Lieberman to the ticket was all about. Lieberman was Clinton's most severe critic.

Imagine, if there had been no Clinton scandals, you cannot imagine that Gore would have lost have lost that election. He's got to make sure Clinton is behind him. The problem is, Clinton is not behind anybody. He's in the news. He's going to write a book. It will be published in 2003, and all those Clinton scandals are going to come up again.

BLITZER: What about that, Donna Brazile? The relationship between Bill Clinton and Al Gore, was that critical in the defeat of Al Gore last year?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, there are some in our party who wanted to distance themselves from Bill Clinton. Look, Bill Clinton is a beloved figure in this country. He's still a very important Democratic leader. He's a world leader as well.

Bill Clinton helped us at key moments during the campaign. He was out there on the stump. He campaigned for Al Gore. He raised money for the Democratic Party. They are repairing their relationship. I believe that this issue will be behind us in the coming months of the campaign as you see Al Gore and Bill Clinton out there helping Democratic candidates across the country.

So I don't think it's a problem.

BLITZER: How are they repairing their relationship? BRAZILE: Well, they've already spoken. They spoke at Joe Moakley's' funeral. And I believe that they will have an opportunity to work together in the future.

They put us on the road to prosperity. They took us over the bridge of high deficits. And the guy in the office now is leading us back down a road of fiscal irresponsibility, with his tax cuts. So I think the two of them will find common ground and will work together in 2001 and 2002 to help the Democratic Party and help Democratic candidates.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Mike Murphy, that Bill Clinton is still a beloved figure in America?


MURPHY: No, not at all. I think Bill Clinton did the political crime and poor Al Gore paid the political price, did the time.

No, he's not a beloved figure. He's a big problem for the Democrats.

BLITZER: If he's not a beloved figure...

BRAZILE: I disagree, Mike.

BLITZER: ... let me interrupt for a second. Let's put these numbers up on the screen right now.

MURPHY: He's beloved by the media. They're writing him a blank check here, yes.

BLITZER: Look at the record for a nonfiction for book, Bill Clinton, more than $10 million -- who knows what the exact number is -- Pope John Paul II, $8.5 million, Ronald Reagan $8.5 million, Hillary Rodham Clinton, $8 million, Colin Powell, $6.5 million. How do you explain that?

MURPHY: Oh, I explained it, it is the last gift -- this $18 million if you put the two of them together -- it is the last gift of the media elite in America to Bill and Hillary Clinton because they're never going to make their money back on this thing.

It's ridiculous, it's horrible. And it's going to be a big loss for the stockholders.

They would have to sell -- Clinton's book would have to sell something like 1,000 percent better than Ronald Reagan's memoirs did to even come within visual distance, let alone making it there, of breaking even. This is ludicrous.

BLITZER: But this is the world rights for the publishing, and he has a big audience, Bill Schneider, around the world, doesn't he?

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely, and look, they did not pay -- what was the figure, $10 million -- they did not pay that money for a book by Bill Clinton talking about trade. They want Bill Clinton to talk about himself and his trials and his ordeals and his personal relationships. They want the juice, they want this stuff about his view of those scandals, which is not what Al Gore wants to see discussed, debated, read about in 2003 and 2004.

BLITZER: On this point, though, can Al Gore and Bill Clinton kiss and make up?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think they'll have to, and certainly, they will. But the problem is he also wants him out of the spotlight, out of the picture so he can finally try to be his own man.

MURPHY: This is great for Republicans because if the political dialogue becomes a constant struggle between Al Gore and Bill Clinton to try to relive the past, scandals, defeats and all is going to just pave the way for President Bush to get re-elected. He has a strong record, he's doing well. We want a race where we get to have them running this old rerun of their failures of the past.

BRAZILE: And I can guarantee you, Mike, that this discussion will not be about Bill Clinton and Al Gore and their relationship. This will be about George Bush and the record that he's building up with the American people right now. He's mailing out tax cut checks and consumer confidence in this economy has gone down, so this dialogue will be about George Bush and his weak presidency.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about George W. Bush and his presidency, but we have to take a quick break. When we return, your phone calls for Donna Brazile, Mike Murphy and Bill Schneider. LATE EDITION will continue right after these messages.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We are continuing our discussion with Republican Strategist Mike Murphy, CNN Senior Analyst Bill Schneider, and former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile.

BLITZER: We have a caller from Kentucky. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes. Good afternoon to everyone on the panel. I was just wondering what could the Republican Party do to energize more minority voters in 2002 and 2004, given the poor results of the last election?

BLITZER: Is that even on agenda for the Republican Party?

MURPHY: Oh, absolutely, yes. We have a great story to tell. I mean President Bush is out with this absolutely landmark legislation accountability to our schools. We have a good economic management team...

BLITZER: You mean, vouchers? aren't going anywhere?

MURPHY: No,, the whole economic package which is a good bipartisan bill. I think is going to be very popular. He made that his signature issue in Texas; now he's doing it federally. The tax cut is very popular. I think our main problem there is taking the record we have and getting it accepted in that community and getting around some of the leadership there which is pretty close-minded, hyper-partisan.

BRAZILE: You know, Mike, he has alienated moderates and independents across the board. He lost control of Senate by failing to talk to a man like Jim Jeffords. So, I don't know how he will be able to reach out and bring minorities into the political party. The Republican party so is full of right wing creatures, I didn't know what minority or any other person would want to get in that tent.

MURPHY: Well, our problem is getting a fair debate and getting beyond that kind of rhetoric which is all about right-wing and extremism, which just isn't accurate. We are on side of parents who want better schools. We're on the side of people who want better paying jobs. We're on the side of people who want to have a safe country protected by missile defense. And those are good issues and we've got to them get them out there.

BLITZER: Does he have potential, George W. Bush, and the Republican party, for inroads in the minority community, in the African-American community?

MURPHY: African-Americans are going to be tough because they believe in big government, and that is what Republicans are against. But Hispanics are the constituency that George Bush and Karl Rove are going after. He said, after two years, he's going to stop the bombing in Puerto Rico. He's talking about amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants. Well, that's very important because what it communicates is the Republican party isn't against you. We are not your enemy, that could give them an opening.

BRAZILE: You know, Bill, African-Americans believe in fairness. They believe in opportunity, and they believe in inclusion. And that is something the Republican Party is not shown a lot of leadership in.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a caller from New York, please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Hi. Since Republicans kind of illegally took the last election, won't Gore win under fair conditions.

BLITZER: That is obviously a fair and objective question.

MURPHY: My greetings to staff of the Democratic state committee calling in today. We won fair and square, and we're going to win fair and square again.

BRAZILE: I believe if all the votes had been counted, Al Gore would have won not just popular vote but the electoral college. But, look, we have an opportunity replay 2004 in a couple years so we can do that.

BLITZER: There was an editorial, Bill Schneider, in today's "New York Times," and I want to put up on the screen. Look at the headline that it had. Take a look at this: "William Jefferson Bush." And it went on to say among other things, "Mr. Bush is turning out to be a skilled triangulator like Bill Clinton before him. He has developed a gift for wriggling out of controversies by seizing the initiative and creating a third option."

SCHNEIDER: He certainly did with this stem cell issue. He made a distinction which is very, very delicate, and I remember going through my head while listening to him, why there is a certain Clintonesque quality to this, although the president would be deeply insulted. I think that Bush has shown himself to be a more skilled politician than we would have imagined.

But the issue of Gore and the issues of injustice, that is a very powerful issue. People feel like he should have won the election. Democrats think they want to give him a second chance. And I think that is what makes him front-runner. You know, Bill Safire, in the "New York Times" said his slogan in 2004 is going to be "Re-elect Gore in 2004." It's a powerful slogan.

BLITZER: Mike Murphy.

BRAZILE: I have a bumper sticker, by the way, Bill, that bumper sticker is already out there.

MURPHY: If the Democrats run an anger and whine campaign about the last election, it is a very powerful message in their base. It is not at all a persuasive message to the rest of the country. And they're doing themselves a disservice. People want a presidential campaign about where country is going, not rehashing partisan feuds from the past.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Mike Murphy, on the stem cell decision, a lot of political experts think that President Bush did thread the needle and scored a home run.

MURPHY: I think he did very well, but I don't think it was about needle threading. I think he's right where the country is. He is a pro-lifer, but I think he took the whole issue, took time to think about it. And found a way to continue with research, while staying true to his beliefs. And right now, the only political opposition I see to this is Ted Kennedy on one side and Bay Buchanan on other, with the country and George Bush right in middle, and that's good politics.

SCHNEIDER: It was quite amazing. He placated the religious right while at same time, to a lot of Americans, he showed his independence of the religious right. That really is Clintonesque.

BLITZER: Did he hit a home run, Donna Brazile.

BRAZILE: No, I think he failed on both counts. I think he was aiming at the middle and he messed up on both sides. So, you will find a lot of pro-life, or so-called pro-life senators supporting Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy this fall and approving full federal funding for embryonic cell research.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, Bill Schneider, Mike Murphy always great who have all three of you on our program. Thank you so much for joining us.

And just ahead, President Bush's stem cell announcement is arguably the biggest decision so far of his presidency. How was it received by the nation and the world? We'll find out when we go round the table with Steve Roberts, Susan page, and Christopher Caldwell. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for our LATE EDITION roundtable.

Joining me, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today; Steve Roberts, contributing Editor for "U.S. News and World Report," and Christopher Caldwell, senior writer for the Weekly Standard and one of our panelists on CNN's "TAKE FIVE," which of course airs every Saturday night, 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

A show we love, Christopher, I hope you enjoy doing that program. It's a very good show, and if you haven't seen it, I recommend to our viewers that they all watch at Saturday nights 8:30 p.m.

But we were all watching television Thursday, right. But we saw President Bush do something, Steve, that so far he hadn't done before in the six months of his presidency: Use the nationally televised address to the nation to make your point. Substantively and stylistically, how did he do?

STEVE ROBERTS, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": Stylistically, you know, sort of average. He's still not a great TV performer, not in Ronald Reagan's class, not even in Bill Clinton's class. I kept thinking that, you know, there was a slightly haunted look in his eyes through a lot of it.

Substantively though, whether he threaded the needle, hit a home run, whatever metaphor you want to use, pretty good. You know so many people reacted by saying, it could have been worse. In politics, when people say that on both sides, you did pretty well.

Personally, I think he didn't go far enough, but politically, I do think he did pretty well. I think there were two questions out there though: Is it going to be enough for science, and will the disease groups, the families who have people suffering, will they be placated?

So far, I think though, you have got to say politically he did pretty well.

BLITZER: You know, you heard Mike Murphy say that if he positioned himself somewhere between Bay Buchanan on the right and Ted Kennedy on the left, he probably did pretty well.

ROBERTS: Yes, yes he did. I am of the opinion that this was an epoch making speech. Hanna Arendt said after the Second War World that we would begin to judge all politics by whether it would lead to genocide or not. American politicians have tried to find a way to address that question.

Bush, boy oh boy, is he in the middle of this discussion of human rights. Wherever we want to position ourselves on it, I think it's magnificent. You could say that my own opinion is that the Archbishop McCarrick, in the Catholic Church, is closer to the moral center of this issue, but it's an extraordinary achievement.

BLITZER: Is it an extraordinary achievement the way he managed to finesse this very, very, important controversial issue?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Yes, I think it was surprising. You know one thing we've talked about on this roundtable in previous weeks was the need for President Bush to address this very complicated issue in a way that kind of reflected the folds of this issue and the complications of it.

And I think it's the first time he gave a speech that seemed to -- just seemed to be very serious and thoughtful where he clearly had done a lot of outreach with people who had different points of view, and that's served him in very good stead with the early reaction because a lot of the reaction you heard was that he seemed to take into account the points of view of different kinds of people.

Very important form, I thought it was a good speech. I thought it was surprising that he managed to get through this issue without more harm done. I do not think it looks like he's going to be effectively challenged in Congress, for instance, in the foreseeable future, on this issue.

BLITZER: Well happens if groups and Steve mentioned this of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Parkinson's groups and the Alzheimer's groups, cancer organizations, if they all come out and say, you know, these 60 stem cells, these embryonic stem cell lines are not enough, we need a lot more?

PAGE: But, you know, I think that debate has at least been delayed because we're going to have the research start on the 60 or however many existing stem cell lines there are. If there are huge breakthroughs, obviously that's going to increase pressure to allow more research.

If they're not, then perhaps down the road there'll be some pressure to allow more stem cell lines to be developed and get federal funding, but at least for the time being, I think this is settled issue for now.

ROBERTS: I agree, I think that, you know, on the Hill, Democrats have been set back a little bit. There will be hearings about whether there really are 60 lines all of have to. There seems to be no big push to really try to reverse this.

You know, a good tip-off to the political deftness here: "New York Times" next morning, big editorial says Bush waffles, he's a creature of the right wing. He caved to the right. The "Washington Post," front page story says, Bush breaks with the right wing. Two newspapers reading exact same words, totally different reaction. PAGE: And here's where Bush's vision is very bold. I mean, this is -- this does grant more to the business community, to the people who want to experiment with stem cells.


ROBERTS: ... the lines already.

PAGE: That's right -- than to the religious right community. The religious right is absolutely correct to worry about the Bush principle that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.

BLITZER: Well, were you surprised Christopher, when Tom DeLay and on our program, J.C. Watts earlier today, said they're not going to seek legislation to change this decision, even though they're not happy with it -- they think it was a mistake.

Yet Arlen Specter, earlier today, a moderate Republican, says he may seek legislation to make it more expansive -- embryonic stem cell research.

CALDWELL: No, I think that people will be very happy at the -- it's a question of tone more than of policy. I think that Bush set the tone with the way that he reasoned in this speech.

Basically, we can all pretend we know something about stem cell research. But none of us do.

And Bush walked us through the argument in the same way that we're all walking through the argument now. And I believe that will create a certain adherence to his position on the part of the American people. And I think it will be very hard for Arlen Specter or whoever to find purchase for any backing down from the position he's laid out.

BLITZER: And Susan, very briefly, the president did in that address to the nation -- and there was a big audience out there. All the networks of course carried it live, but he did educate a lot of people for the first time about this issue.

PAGE: He seemed to know what the issue were. He laid them out in a simple understandable way. He sort of walked people through the land mines on either side. And then he said, "here's where I come down on this issue," and explained why.

And that's really what you ask a leader to do. And that's what he did on this one for the first time I really think as president.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about when we come back. More with our roundtable, LATE EDITION.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable, where we will continue our discussion.

BLITZER: You know, the whole issue, Steve, of the president's vacation, a working vacation, I think he effectively proved this week, that he is on a working vacation. He did spend a lot of time thinking about this stem cell decision. It wasn't just having fun out on his ranch.

ROBERTS: You know this is a problem for him, this notion that maybe he doesn't work very hard, maybe he isn't intellectually up to the job, maybe he's not curious enough. I think this week helped him because not only did use it obviously to do real work, but the whole speech and its aftermath, I do think he conveyed a sense of honestly grappling with complex issues.

And a lot of critics who think the man was not capable of doing this and not interested in doing this, yes there was a lot of spin about how hard he's working. But by in large, anybody who listened to him, I think came away thinking he genuinely did grapple with it. He was working, and he was working on a complicated issue .

BLITZER: Christopher, do you have a problem with the president of the United States going to his ranch for the month of August and taking some time off from Washington?

CALDWELL: I don't have the slightest problem with it. You...

BLITZER: But is there is a political problem that the president has to worry about, the perception out there?

CALDWELL: Well, look, Clinton defined the presidency as something that was more about intellect than it was about character. Bush is trying to drag that definition back. And no, he's spending time with his family. He's in a place that I know actually very well, Crawford, Texas.

BLITZER: Why do you know it so well?

CALDWELL: Because my wife's mother's family are from Hillsboro, which is about 20 miles away. And I've spent a lot of time there. It's a real regular part of America.

BLITZER: A lovely place to spend August, right?

CALDWELL: Well, yes. If you have family there, if you're interested in thinking about thing rather than boning up on policy.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, the Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, this week went out, in the middle of the recess, complained very, very strongly about the lack of leadership that the Bush administration is now showing the rest of the world.

I want you to listen to what the Senate Majority Leader said earlier this week in a speech on Thursday. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Instead of asserting our leadership, we are abdicating it. Instead of shaping international agreements to serve our interests, we have removed ourselves from a position to shape them at all.


BLITZER: Give our viewers some analysis and background. What is Tom Daschle talking about?

PAGE: Well, he's talking about the sense that President Bush and his administration is withdrawing from a whole series of international agreements that were either in place or in process under the Clinton administration. They ranged from things like an international accord to try to limit the sale of small arms abroad to the global warming treaty that we've talked about before.

And there is a sense and when you see it in the CNN-USA Today poll, that people are concerned about this approach and they're concerned about the president's ability to operate on the world stage, no whether he's smart enough, but whether he's pursuing policies that are not internationalist enough.

Now Daschle's speech, followed by one week, a similar speech that Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House gave. Clearly Democrats see this as a vulnerability for the president.

BLITZER: Fair criticism.

PAGE: I do think it's a fair criticism. I do think that there is a sense of pulling back from a lot of these international agreements. But there are two other things happening there. One is both Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, the two leading Democratic voices right now, even with Al Gore growing a beard, are testing the waters, both of them possible presidential candidates. One thing you have to be to be taken seriously is some foreign policy credentials. This was a Daschle for president speech in some ways.

But the Democrats have a real problem because on the issue of trade, they're the isolationists and Bush administration are the internationalists.

And so they're talking about being all for engaging the world -- comes across when you talk about...

BLITZER: Gephardt may be isolationist on trade; I'm not sure that Daschle is. But the criticism that they leveled against the Bush White House, that it's abdicating its international responsibilities, is that fair criticism?

PAGE: No, I think it's total baloney. One of the things that you could fault Bush for during his campaign was that he didn't take an independent position on Kosovo. But he said whatever the president says is all right.

But actually he has been, I think, better than you would expect a Republican president to be about adhering to decisions made under a previous Democratic administration.

BLITZER: You know, we did see also this past week, a lot of these Democratic leaders come out and make statements about their religious convictions, faith, that almost sounded, at least to some Republicans -- we put together some snippets. I want you to listen to this.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think that we need to show that a lot of things that we advocate and believe in are tied to our underlying religious believes.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Are you a person who understand what faith means and how it is in people's everyday lives? I think people care about those things.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: There are still some folks who remember the Democrat Party from the '60s, '70s and to some extent into the '80s and see Democrats as a kind of anything goes party, no sense of right and wrong.


BLITZER: And to the criticism though that Democrats may be sounding like Republicans, Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP, he had this advice to his fellow Democrats. Listen to this.


KWEISI MFUME, PRESIDENT NAACP: It can't try to out Republican the Republican party. That is not going to work. And it can't be the party of all people for all things because that is not going to work.


BLITZER: Is that good advice?

PAGE: But you know what, what the Democrats are trying to do is get back into the game when it comes to values. You know, Democrats are in a good position on issues. Most Americans agree with them on issues like, you know, health care, and education. But on values, they see Republicans and George Bush as representing their values more than Democrats. That is part of the Clinton legacy, and that is that something that these Democrats, all of whom want to run for president in 2004, were trying to address.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we are going to have to leave it right there. I know both you have guys would like to join Susan. But, we will have to save it for next week. Susan Page, Christopher Caldwell, Steve Roberts thanks for joining us. We didn't talk about the beard -- next week, we'll see if that beard stays on for another week.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is cloning people a good idea? A lot of scientists say no, that cloning doesn't work all that well yet.


BLITZER: Weighing the risks and rewards of stem-cell research. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word." Has the president's stem cell decision opened a Pandora's box?

MORTON: You remember Pandora, Greek woman created by the gods who gave her many gifts. Then some mischief maker gave her a box, and she opened it, releasing a swarm of bad stuff. Ever since, she has been our role model.

She comes to mind because of all the talk lately about stem cell research and cloning. Good arguments for and against both of those, but you know, they're going to happen. President Bush's decision to allow some federal funding for embryonic stem cell research may keep more of it in this country.


BUSH: I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines.


MORTON: But humankind would have opened the box anyway. It always does. Is cloning people a good idea? A lot of scientists say no, that cloning doesn't work all that well yet, that a lot of badly damaged babies will merge, and what will we do about them? But other scientists want to do the research or think there is money to be made or both, so it will go ahead. We will open the box. We always do.

We opened the box called the internal combustion engine and changed the world, created industrial age and traffic jams. We opened a box called flight and changed the world and created airport delays. We opened a box called the atom and created nuclear weapons which can destroy the planet, but which may have helped avoid a world war for the last half century or so. From the same box came nuclear power which is a blessing or a curse, depending on who you talk to.

Lots of opened boxes, it is clear that what we are not good at, as a species, is stepping back, is saying, "Let's put this on the shelf for 10 years and then take another look at it." Hard to think of any cases where we have done that. No, if it is out there within reach, somebody is going to try it, probably without much knowledge of just what the consequences will be.

Who knew, for instance, before Hiroshima, that atomic bombs would end World War II, would threaten humanity, would maybe keep the peace? The answer, of course, is that nobody knew. We just went ahead and opened the box, same thing with cloning people. Bet on it. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Now it's time for you to have the "Last Word." Ron from Pennington, New Jersey, wants to know this. "How is it that we even have to debate a patients' bill of rights? Should this have been the norm from the start? Or is making money the norm?"

John from Des Moines, Iowa, like a lot of you, is concerned about NAFTA and allowing Mexican trucks into the United States. He writes this: "We don't need their unsafe trucks creating mayhem on our highways. Heaven knows, we've got enough of that without their help."

W.R. from Orange County, California, agrees, saying, "We already have our share of unsafe drivers."

Finally, Cathy from Huntsville, Alabama, says, "Bravo for Mr. Blitzer. I have been watching for any reporter or anchor to call the tax rebate what it really is, which is a loan from our tax credit of next year. Finally, you did it. I cheered out loud."

Thank you, Cathy.

As always, we welcome your comments. You can e-mail me at And don't forget to sign up for my weekly e-mail at Just ahead, we'll show you what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Stay with us.


BLITZER: And now a look at what's on cover of this week's major news magazines.

"TIME" magazine introduces the man who brought you stem cells and one of the America's best in science and medicine with the Wisconsin biologist James Thompson on the cover.

"Newsweek" examines John McCain's battle with skin cancer. Plus, how to stay safe in the sun with the senator on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report": "Real heroes, twenty men and women who risked it all to make a difference."

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, August 12. 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 program, you can tune in tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern for our one hour replay of LATE EDITION.

I'll see you tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



Back to the top