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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: NTSB versus FBI.

JAMES HALL (chairman, National Transportation Safety Board): (From videotape.) Obviously, people want answers, and what we need to do is to do the job that we're paid by the American people to do, and that is to do a very thorough, independent investigation, report all the facts as we go along.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When EgyptAir Flight 990 abruptly disappeared from radar off the Island of Nantucket last week, National Transportation Safety Board -- NTSB -- Chairman Jim Hall quickly took command of the crash probe.

Chairman Hall's high profile is a sharp contrast to previous crash probes, notably that of TWA 800. In that TWA probe, the FBI's James Kallstrom and Robert Francis of the NTSB jointly briefed the press and public.

On the surface, cooperation between the FBI and the NTSB appeared to be correct in that TWA probe, but behind the scenes relations between them were strained. At key junctures in the TWA probe, President Clinton had to mediate between the two agencies. The NTSB opposed the FBI's plan for extensive Navy salvage operations to recover wreckage. Clinton backed the FBI. The NTSB also opposed the FBI's plan to create a mock-up of TWA 800. Again, Clinton backed the FBI.

This spring, Republican Charles Grassley held hearings into the TWA 800 probe. Grassley criticized the FBI, not the White House, for drawing out the TWA 800 probe, calling it, quote, "a model of failure, not success," unquote.

Victims' family members disagreed with Grassley. Quote: "They" -- the FBI -- "said they were going to leave no stone unturned. That's what Kallstrom said. I've always thought the bureau did an excellent job," unquote. So said Frank Carvin, vice president and director of the Families of TWA 800 Association, whose sister and nephew died in the crash.

Nonetheless, Senator Grassley wants the NTSB to be preeminent in crash probes, with the FBI called in only after the NTSB has found proof positive of sabotage. And that generally is what is happening today.

Question: Is the U.S. government, the Congress, perhaps the White House, deliberately playing down the possibility of terrorism by elevating the NTSB above the FBI in the EgyptAir 990 probe, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: No, I think the government's acting properly here, John. The NTSB is an expert agency. It's an agency that's had excellent leadership from appointees of both parties. They're the ones with real experience in discovering why planes crash, and they're independent of the regulators, so that they make these recommendations for changing it.


MR. BARONE: We have no reason to believe that they're not going to bring the FBI in if there's any indication of criminal behavior here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the question is, is the government playing down the possibility of terrorism by giving the lead hand to the NTSB? I ask you.

MS. CLIFT: Well, with Flight 800, with the TWA flight, there was an immediate assumption of terrorism, because we didn't think jets could fall from the air. We now know they can. That was judged to be a mechanical failure.

The government and the FBI -- everybody is acting appropriately here. There is no obvious evidence of terrorism. But the FBI is very much involved. One report says they have 600 agents working on this. They're just not holding press conference. And it's proper that they're doing all the routine investigating around the crash.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, Eleanor's right that there's a reaction from the TWA flight, and -- which overstated the terrorism fear.

I think now they may have gone a little too far the other way, because in point of fact, it was the -- the FBI turned out to be wrong in TWA; there wasn't a terrorist event. But you wouldn't have known it if you hadn't been pulled to do the complete investigation that the FBI demanded. So I think that I would like to see the FBI a little bit more prominent in the investigation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You would?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any buzz that this could be terrorism?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. No, no. No. No, there's no buzz at all. But we need --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I beg your pardon. There is some conjecture that it could be, particularly on the basis of the radar data that the Air Force interpreted as indicating it was not a straight downward plunge trajectory --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, we know that. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that it leveled off, would suggest to some that there might be an intruder in the cockpit.

MR. BLANKLEY: But there's no --

MR. O'DONNELL: John, and the radar data is now in serious doubt. There are those saying that that machinery was probably wrong.

The only reason to suspect terrorism in this case is because the word "Egypt" appears on the fuselage of the plane. The NTSB should be the leader on this. Senator Grassley is bravely correct about this. He's arguing for efficiency in these investigations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, EgyptAir has had a lot of problems with intruders in the cockpit.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's also had more problems than most airlines in the world for mechanical failure and crashes and badly maintained planes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the lab work that's done by the NTSB -- certainly good, very good, probably as good, in most respects -- well, in different respects than the FBI -- but the metallurgists who have to detect whether or not there is evidence of bomb or explosive damage are probably more attuned to that, also in preserving the chain of evidence for legal use on the FBI side?


MS. CLIFT: You know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So why is there this suppression?

MR. BARONE: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And furthermore, did not Grassley, who you hold -- seem to hold in very high regard --

MR. O'DONNELL: On this subject! (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and I too, on other grounds -- did he not go too far in his condemnation or his criticism of the FBI?

MR. O'DONNELL: Absolutely not.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. O'DONNELL: This is an accident. It has to be investigated that way, just like any car accident, until you find some --

MS. CLIFT: But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he criticized the FBI excessively, did he not?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, because they did drag it out, they did unnecessarily scare the country by handling it the way they did, and they spent way more money on it than necessary.

MS. CLIFT: Well, it was entirely different circumstances with that first crash. First of all, there were threats against American airlines. There were witnesses who said they saw missile streaks. And thirdly, we didn't believe that a plane could just drop out of the sky. We know better this time. And it is a ridiculous posture on the part of Senator Grassley to say the FBI should be totally excluded. You don't know what's going on until you retrieve the wreckage --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, he did not say that.

MS. CLIFT: -- from the ocean floor.

MR. BARONE: He didn't say --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did not say that. He said that there has to be evidence, physical evidence, that there is sabotage.

MS. CLIFT: But where you get that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The problem is that to detect sabotage, you really need the skills of the FBI --

MS. CLIFT: But they're involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- working full bore.

MS. CLIFT: They're involved.

MR. BARONE: John, I disagree.


MS. CLIFT: They're involved full bore.

MR. BARONE: I disagree. I think the NTSB is a government agency that has built up an excellence and an expertise over the years that we have every reason to place high trust in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick question to you. If you had a relative, a loved one, who died in this crash under these circumstance, mysterious disappearance of this huge aircraft, would you prefer to have the lead hand with the FBI or the NTSB?

MR. BLANKLEY: That was my point. I'd rather have the FBI because I figure that they're going to go to the heart of whether there was a crime or not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. In reality, twin probes are now underway, separate but unequal: the NTSB with more responsibility, the FBI with less responsibility. A multiple choice question. Listen closely. Should this responsibility proportion, as I've described it, (A) stay the same, that is, separate but unequal, with the NTSB number one; (B) equalize out, with the NTSB being first between equals; (C) equalize out with the FBI being first between equals? You got it?

MR. BARONE: Got it, John.


MR. BARONE: A, stay the same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stay the same. Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think B was sort of staying the same. The NTSB should give the press conferences, do their investigation. The FBI is fully involved John, believe me.

MR. BLANKLEY: The correct answer is C, have the FBI in charge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The correct answer is C, it's equal but number one; the first among the equals is the FBI. What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: They got it right this time, John. Stay the same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stay the same. The answer is C. I commend you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Thank you. Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is as described.

Okay, The GOP town meeting was held in New Hampshire last Thursday night. We asked which candidate scored the highest. Remember, Bush did not attend. Here are the results. McCain won, 39 percent. Keyes, 35 percent. Forbes, 17. Hatch, 6. Bauer, 3.

The new online question of the week: Who should be first between equals in investigating this air crash; the FBI or the NTSB?

When we come back, why did Al Gore try to hide his $15,000-a-month consultant, Naomi Wolf?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Political potpourri.

Item: Tax cuts rule.

One clear and clarion message stands out from last Tuesday's election results no matter where you look. Voters want tax cuts, clear and simple.

Missouri: sales tax. Defeated.

Nassau County, New York -- get this -- Republicans proposed a 9 percent property tax hike. Rejected.

Houston: to build a new basketball arena using tax dollars. Defeated.

Minnesota: tax increase to build a stadium. Defeated.

Washington State: voters put severe restrictions on any future tax hike -- some call it the toughest in the nation.

Virginia: For the first time ever, Republicans in the governor's mansion and in both the legislative houses. Strategists credit Tuesday's historic trifecta for the Republicans to the GOP's plan to cut taxes. Two years ago, Republican Governor Jim Gilmore ran on the tax-cut platform and won.

Question: What's the lesson for the Republican House of Representatives?

I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I wish it was that tax cuts is a strong issue. But I think there's a bifurcation between the state level and the federal level.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean a split?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think that at the state level tax cuts work. But we've seen so far in the last year that at the federal level, when you put up tax cuts against spending on education, Medicare, Social Security, that the spending on those programs trumps tax cuts. That's why the Republicans in the House backed off of their tax cut plan after the August break.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was a terrible mistake. They should have sent another tax bill, lower in amount, up to Clinton and have him veto that, then sent another, then sent another! Am I right or wrong?


MR. O'DONNELL: John, none of those ballot issues were about tax cuts; they were about tax increases.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly.

MR. O'DONNELL: No Democrat is in favor of tax increases, they just oppose unnecessary tax cuts, and that's a separate question.

MR. BARONE: Well, except for, Lawrence --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: First of all, was the read right? Was the reading of Tuesday's tax cut message correct?

MR. BARONE: I think it's fundamentally correct, John. Basically, the Virginia story is very interesting. I mean, Jim Gilmore came in there saying he wanted to cut the car tax. The Democrats said oh, you know, local government will never survive. They've cut the car tax. Then the Democrats came in and said we have to raise taxes for transportation; they said Northern Virginia Republicans agreed. Gilmore said no, we're going to pay it out of the tobacco money. Then the Democrats tried to one-up Gilmore by saying okay, we want to cut the sales tax on food. Gilmore and the Republicans said, hey, good idea.

The fact is that you can build momentum to cut taxes in a significant way. The House Republicans made a little stab at it. Voters in 2000 may be facing the choice of a totally Democratic or a totally Republican government if you ask the question of which will have tax increases.

MS. CLIFT: Virginia is not a bellwether for 2,000 in the country. The Republicans got swept in there not because Jim Gilmore cut the car tax two years ago, but because they put a less snarly face on the way they govern. These are moderate Republicans who got in. And what it shows, if there is a lesson here, is that compassionate conservatism may work.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The lesson the voters sent is this: Party labels do not count. If you cut taxes, you are rewarded. Tell the Republicans out on the Hill, will you please?

Okay, item: Gentlemanly C's.

The college grades of Republican hopeful George W. Bush became public on Monday. Bush attended Yale University from 1964 to '68. His transcript, presumably authentic, showed the Republican hopeful garnered mostly C's with a sprinkling of B's. The good news: An 88 in both philosophy and anthropology, a 71 in international relations, a 73 in one political science class, a "pass" in his senior-year political science class. No flunks.

Question: Is this mediocre academic record befitting a presidential candidate; I ask you, Lawrence O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, first of all, he went to Yale, which is a difficult school. So those grades aren't that easy to come by.

Secondly, John McCain came in last, dead last, in his college graduating class at Annapolis. So if you want to get into this competition, it's not sure he is going to win.

MR. BLANKLEY (?): Mm-hmm. (In agreement.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And I would point out that an 88 grade in philosophy from Yale University is a high grade.

MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is, John, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were "C" students in college. They were pretty well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about James Polk?

MR. BARONE: James K. Polk actually didn't go to college, John. (Laughter.) (Cross talk.) But let me say --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer -- what do you think?

MS. CLIFT: Those grades don't bother me. Some of the brightest presidents -- Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson -- were later judged to be failures. I am more interested in what George Bush knows about current affairs, John. And I am assuming we are going to get to that.


MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I was going to say Bradley's heroes, Carter, Wilson and Gorbachev, all got good grades; they were all lousy leaders.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you got to Oxford?

MR. BLANKLEY: I did not.


MR. BLANKLEY: I visited it one afternoon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- former president has a lackluster academic record? Shall I tell you? William Clinton. He neither --

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he did not take his exams at Oxford, and he did not get a degree at Oxford.

MR. BARONE: Well, John, despite --

MS. CLIFT: John?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That wasn't because of illness --

MR. BARONE: He is not a former president yet, John, despite the efforts of some of us.

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah. But, John, there are no --


MS. CLIFT: -- doubts about President Clinton's intellect; there are doubts about Bush's intellect. That's the difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Item: Bush gets grilled. George W. was hit in Boston, last Wednesday, with an unexpected test on names of world leaders.

(Begin videotape segment.)

ANDY HILLER (reporter, WHDH-TV, Boston): Name the president of Chechnya.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX): No. Can you?

MR. HILLER: Name the president of Taiwan.

GOV. BUSH: Yeah, Lee.

MR. HILLER: Can you name the general who is in charge in Pakistan?

GOV. BUSH: Is this a 50-questions?

MR. HILLER: No. It's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots.

GOV. BUSH: The new Pakistani general has just been elected. He is a -- not elected -- this guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news.

MR. HILLER: And the prime minister of India?

GOV. BUSH: The new prime minister of India is -- ah, no.

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was this probing journalism at its best, or was it "gotcha" journalism at its worst?

Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: These were legitimate questions for somebody who's running for president and when there are doubts about his capacity when it comes to foreign policy questions. And it seems to me he went on to ask the interviewer if the interviewer knew -- I think it was some leader in Mexico, so --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Foreign minister.

MS. CLIFT: Okay. It seems to me that if Governor Bush continues to make these kinds of mistakes, he might make somebody's good ambassador to Mexico -- (laughter) -- and Jesse Helms won't bother that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you hear what she's saying?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Yeah --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anyone know the name, besides myself, of the leader in Pakistan?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. I don't -- it just --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anyone know?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or anyone know who the leader is in Chechnya? Do you know? Who's the leader in Chechnya?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm not running for president! (Laughter.) I'm not running!

MS. CLIFT: Wait a second. Wait a second -- no! Chechnya --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let -- let me, let me make a point.

MS. CLIFT: Chechnya -- Chechnya -- Russia has had --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look. One second.

MS. CLIFT: He asked me a question. Russia has nuclear bombs --

MR. BARONE: But it was a dumb question.

MS. CLIFT: -- and they're engaged in bombing Chechnya. If you're running for president, you need to know about national security. This goes -- he -- this raises the stakes --

MR. BARONE: It's a quiz show. But wait. By this criterion, anyone -- (inaudible) --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second. Obviously, these were gotcha questions, but Bush's response was not as good as it could have been.

MS. CLIFT: Wha-!

MR. BLANKLEY: He should have given the response that Reagan would have given in such a situation, which would have been something like --

MS. CLIFT: "There you go again." (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: "I don't have to know about them; they have to know about me."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, what's the most troublesome answer that he gave? He said -- he said --

MR. BLANKLEY: I wasn't troubled by any of them.

MS. CLIFT: He thought there was an election in Pakistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said -- he said in Pakistan he calls the coup d'etat against democratically elected Sharif -- remember him, the pro-West leader? --

MR. BARONE: John. John

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- good news on the grounds of -- (inaudible.)

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ronald Reagan would never have said that! He would have wanted a democratic -- an opposed candidate everywhere.

MR. : John, there are a lot of serious --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, a lot of people -- a lot of people, including Clinton, believe that there is going to be more civility as a result of the coup.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Despite Eleanor, there is a Rhodes Scholar who says to W, "Not to worry."

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) If Mr. Bush was president, he would soon enough learn their names. I think that as a presidential candidate, in the main trouble spots of the world he should and probably will pick up those. But the real -- the most important thing is, Do you have a clear idea of what the world ought to look like and what America's policy ought to be in these areas? So that's what I would say.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why this lapse into generosity on the part of the "big creep"? Can you speak to that?

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think it was such a favor to Bush. He says, you know, you have to have a vision for how you want the world to be; and it's not at all clear that George W. does.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. O'DONNELL: Secondly, everyone's afraid of getting that quiz.

MR. BARONE: The fact is, John, I mean, memory can play tricks. I can remember in 1956 that Maxwell Gluck, the ambassador-designate to then Ceylon, could not name the prime minister of the country as W.R.D. Bandaranaike. (Laughter.) I remember that. I couldn't tell you who the prime minister of Sri Lanka is today, but I can look it up pretty fast, and I know something about the place --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But this quiz tells you nothing.

MR. BARONE: It tells you that the guy who just won all the money on Jeopardy should be president.

MS. CLIFT: No, the only reason this is news is because there is anxiety about whether George Bush has an over-arching (plan ?) for foreign policy and --

MR. BARONE: Then he had --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I've got a question for you.

MS. CLIFT: -- whether he's his father's son. We don't know that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I've got a quick question for you. Why did Bush -- excuse me, why did Clinton give Bush cover in what he said?

MR. O'DONNELL: I just don't think it's cover. I think Tony makes the most important point, which is, if you're going to get these answers wrong --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's assume it is. Let's assume --

MR. O'DONNELL: -- it's the style in which you do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no, no. no. What Bush did and what Ed Rendell, the head of the party, did is they gave him abundant cover. But why did they do it? Because for two -- or one of two reasons.

MS. CLIFT: No, that's not the truth.

MR. O'DONNELL: Tell me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They want Bush to be the candidate because they think Gore can defeat Bush; or, secondly, they don't want those questions put to their candidates, because their candidates will do worse than Bush.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'll give you another --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Possibly even Gore.

MR. O'DONNELL (?): (Inaudible) -- second part.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'll give you another one. It's what Rush Limbaugh suggested, which is then Hillary will start getting asked questions about who the borough presidents are in New York.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. The answer is --

MS. CLIFT: And she'll know them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the president had neither one of those in mind; he was giving a straight answer. So we should have this whole thing -- the transcript notarized and put in a time capsule, the one time that I'm aware of that he spoke the truth.

Item: "The male body is home to me. My rocket. My whirlpool." So says 37-year old Naomi Wolf, counselor to Al Gore.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE (Democratic presidential nomination candidate): (From videotape.) She's a valued adviser, and she'll remain one. And we want to attract young women and young men to participate more in this campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Vice President Al Gore defending feminist author Naomi Wolf, a consultant hired on to the Gore team to advise Mr. Gore how to become an alpha male like Bill Clinton. Psychologists categorize men who are leaders as alpha males; they lead the pack. Beta males are pack followers.

Question: Would an alpha male have hidden Naomi the way Gore tried to hide her, filtering her $15,000 a month salary through two consulting firms? I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think an alpha male wouldn't have to ask the question in the first place, and he wouldn't have to ask it of a woman, what a woman wants. But look, I think the truth is that this is the kind of advice that every campaign gets at some point, style and image advice. And the reason that it's hurting Gore is the same reason that the question to Bush is hurting Bush, is because he's seen as vulnerable as an assertive, confident man. That's why this issue is going to bite, and bite hard.

MS. CLIFT: It goes to the core of the doubts about Al Gore, that he doesn't know who he is, that he's reaching out to all these consultants, changing his persona every day. The time for experimentation is over. And she's going to take all the heat as the lightning rod for all of that parade of consultants.

MR. BARONE: And it raises --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could you imagine a Bill Bradley installing a Naomi Wolf on his strategy team and giving him advice on how to prepare himself for a debate with Al Gore, as Gore did with her towards Bradley?

MR. O'DONNELL: I cannot, and he needs advice on shirt and tie selection, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On shirt? And what about --

MR. O'DONNELL: -- on shirt and tie selection, because --

MR. BARONE: They're dreadful. Yeah, but the fact is --

MR. O'DONNELL: Every campaign has someone like this around, and they are very helpful a lot of times. The funny thing is --

MR. BARONE: It raises questions --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. How damaging is this, if at all, to Gore?

MR. BARONE: It's a little damaging. It's laughter.

It also raises the question about how good a manager he is. Fifteen thousand dollars a month for advice that you should act like you had a sense of command when you're running for president?

MS. CLIFT: Right. Yeah, if anybody was the alpha, it was Ms. Wolf. (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Predictions, Michael?

MR. BARONE: I predict that Francisco Labastida will win the PRI ruling party primary in Mexico this weekend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The PRI's going to stay in power?

MR. BARONE: Not utterly certain, John.

MS. CLIFT: Carol Moseley-Braun will be confirmed as ambassador to New Zealand.


MR. BLANKLEY: Serious conservative policy telecommunications specialists are going to call for the breakup of Microsoft.

MR. O'DONNELL: In February 2000, the U.S. economy will achieve its longest-running expansion in history, 107 consecutive months of growth.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, McLaughlin's Election Day wins:

Win number one:

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (From videotape of earlier show.) Baltimore is 65 percent black. In November Baltimore votes for its mayor. The winner will be a 36-year-old electric guitar player in a local band. His name is Martin O'Malley, a lawyer, and he is white.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, McLaughlin win number two:

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (From videotape of earlier show.) The state house in Virginia will turn Republican. With a Republican Senate, this victory will add yet another state legislature, bringing a total of 10 state legislatures to go Republican since President Clinton took office.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Please don't stand. No ovation. No applause. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (From videotape of earlier program.) Prediction: The minimum wage increase will not pass the Congress this year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week Congress prepares for its grand good-bye for '99. What do they have to show? Bye-bye!





MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Weight of the Union.

DR. JEFFREY KOPLAN (director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): (From videotape.) It's particularly striking for health-risk behavior to take off at this speed, and as such we're calling it an epidemic.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The epidemic Dr. Jeffrey Koplan is referring to is obesity. We have an epidemic of fat people, so says a new government study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. Not pleasantly plump people, but dangerously overweight people. One in five adults are at least 30 pounds or more above ideal body weight. That's up from one in eight, an alarming 50 percent jump in just seven years. The fat surge has occurred across the demographic spectrum, both sexes, all fifty states, all ages, all races, all educational levels.

Well, a lot of people are fat. So what? So this: Obesity kills. Two hundred and eighty thousand people per year, at a minimum, die prematurely from problems related to high weight -- like heart disease. And obesity is expensive. Almost $70 billion of the nation's $1 trillion health care bill is attributed to obesity-related diseases.

Why did Americans get so fat? Don't blame genes, say doctors, it's lifestyle. With more money today, Americans eat out more, especially high-calorie restaurant foods and fast foods. And Americans sit around more in front of the TV and video games and at work -- immobile all day long, staring into computer screens.

Question: Should teenagers be banned from consuming high-fat content food, meaning no one under 18 permitted to buy Twinkies or McDonald's hamburgers, thus preventing them from getting hooked on high sugar and polyunsaturated fat?

Eleanor Clift? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't want to try to enforce that. I think the only answer here is you've got to eat less and exercise more. It's not very sexy. But actually, the national security adviser of this country, Sandy Berger, has not eaten solid food for two months. He's dining on protein shakes in an effort to lose weight. I think --

MR. BLANKLEY: And he's getting feeble.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's getting feeble? He's getting feeble minded or feeble physically?

MS. CLIFT: No, he's -- high energy! High energy.

MR. BLANKLEY: Very poor judgment is being exercised by this man --

MS. CLIFT: No, no.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- since he went on that terrible diet.

MS. CLIFT: He's on the same diet! (Laughing) He's on the same diet!


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Lawrence about this. Do you think fat foods should be taxed?

MR. O'DONNELL: Absolutely not. This is preposterous. I mean, you're trying to compare this in some sense to tobacco --


MR. O'DONNELL: -- which tobacco, if used as it's intended, will kill you. Twinkies, if used as they're intended, in moderation, will do you no damage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should fat people have to pay more for their health insurance? I ask you, Tony.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As we have with smokers, correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think as far as insurance is concerned, people should pay according to the liability they pose to the insurance company. Sure.

MR. BARONE: John, I think what we really need here is to have the state attorneys general hire their trial lawyer friends -- (snickers) -- with a 30 or 40 percent contingent fee to sue McDonald's and all the high-fat food manufacturers here.