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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Campaign 2000 -- the kickoff. Throw out your tracking polls and straw ballots, the real vote is here. This coming Monday, January 24, Iowa will hold its caucuses, marking the official beginning of the 2000 presidential race. Over the next 10 days, the early two primaries -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- will go a great length in determining who will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president.

Front-runners Gore and Bush want to come out of the Iowa gate fast, bringing momentum into New Hampshire, where Bradley and John McCain are plotting upsets. A very strong second-place finish in Iowa is what Forbes is hoping for. Keyes, Bauer and Hatch dream of an Iowa surprise. And everyone wants to avoid becoming an Iowa casualty, which can doom a presidential run. Currently there are lots of undecided voters and conflicting polls, and optimistic candidates and election strategies. But on Tuesday morning they will mean nothing as the cruel engine of the primary system thrashes its way along.

Question: On the Republican side, going into Iowa and New Hampshire, is this now a two-man race -- Texas Governor Bush and Senator John McCain -- with the remaining four Republican candidates -- Forbes, Keyes, Bauer and Hatch -- effectively shut out?

Eric Felten?

MR. FELTEN: Well, no. At this point it's still a three-man race because John McCain opted out of the Iowa race largely. He's still going to be a player. And if he can get 10 percent in the Iowa caucuses without even having showed up, except for a debate, but he really hasn't campaigned in Iowa, then that will really show his strength going into New Hampshire. But because he's not there, that gives the chance for Forbes, if he can beat 20 percent, to stay in the game. But Forbes is really risking falling short of that 20 percent mark. And what needs to happen for Bush is he needs to beat the 37 percent mark, which is what Dole did in Iowa the last go-around, and if Bush can beat the 37 percent mark, it gives him the momentum he needs going into New Hampshire, where right now he's neck and neck with John McCain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, I think that pretty much sums this up, don't you?

MS. CLIFT: I felt like I was just listening to the Weather Channel -- 37 here, 20 here, cloudy for some, sunny for others!

Look, it is a two-person race. Bush and McCain are the only two plausible presidents in the Republican field. And the trick for Bush in these primaries -- which he's going to win, in the end -- is not to verve so far to the right to try to energize the Republican base that he can't win the general. And John McCain is hanging that tax plan around Bush's neck and it's going to hurt him in the general.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do you think, is this Forbes' last hope -- Iowa?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I've also thought for the last six months this is about a one-and-a-third man race. It's Bush's to lose; nothing has changed dramatically, it's still Bush's to lose. I don't think Forbes has a remote chance of getting the nomination. He has a decent chance of doing well in Iowa, but that, I think, goes to the relative inconsequential nature of the Iowa caucus.

But trying to predict the actual numbers in a caucus state, where the turnout can be so erratic, is a very tricky business.


MR. WARREN: I'm sorry I can't be contrarian and say, "Watch out for Gary Bauer!" (Laughter.) It will not happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gary Bauer could end up third.

MR. WARREN: Gary Bauer could end up fifth and, to quote you, bye-bye, which I think is more than likely. I don't think this is going be very decisive at all on the Republican side, other than knocking out one or two folks -- perhaps, I think, Orrin Hatch -- very likely -- and possibly Bauer. But that's it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before New Hampshire?

MR. WARREN: Before New Hampshire.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that John McCain's gamble of not going into Iowa has paid off? Or what does he need for it to pay off? You touched upon this a little bit, Eric.

MR. FELTEN: It's paid off remarkably well for him, because it has been accepted that the Iowa caucus just doesn't count against him, because he opted out of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even if he gets zero?

MR. FELTEN: No, I think there's an expectation that, you know, he'll pick up some. If he ends up in the really low single digits, it will hurt him. But I think that --

MS. CLIFT: Well, if McCain comes in third, he's the news coming out of Iowa.

MR. FELTEN: Right. Right.

MS. CLIFT: If he does worse than that, people are going start wondering if he's sputtering going into New Hampshire. So it does matter.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I'm going to be a little bit of a contrarian.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, "a little bit"? Now don't spoil your record.

MR. BLANKLEY: (Chuckles.) I want to be cautious in all things.

Look, I think that McCain did make a mistake in not running in Iowa, because he's trying to run for president of the United States, not simply to beat expectations at a low enough level. And he needs to be running more than a one-state campaign, which is what he's been running.

MS. CLIFT: Well, Tony, you just called Iowa "inconsequential." And now you're saying he's in trouble for missing it?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, no, but he should be trying to --

MS. CLIFT: He was smart for missing it, because he couldn't pass the ethanol --

MR. BLANKLEY: He should be trying to run more than a one-state campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. What is Bradley's hope in Iowa? What is Bradley's hope? Bradley cannot win Iowa. Even his current blitz with television ads is not going to -- and appearances is not going to help him win. But what can he hope for?

You said he's got to get what, at least 20 points for to -- not more than 20 points behind Bush to win -- or Gore, rather?

MR. FELTEN: Well, actually, I hadn't mentioned Bradley yet. But I think for Bradley in Iowa, if he loses by more than 20 points, then that really hurts him going into New Hampshire. But I think what he's falling on is going to hurt him, whatever the result.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Iowa is on Monday. A week from Tuesday is New Hampshire. Right in the dead middle between those two dates is the president's State of the Union address. Bill Clinton will televise to the nation from the United States Capitol.

Question: Is Clinton's State of the Union going to be a campaign platform for Gore? I ask you, James.

MR. WARREN: Yes. It helps Gore enormously, assuming the president doesn't announce that Gore has fathered six illegitimate children, perhaps sold nuclear codes to Iraq. He is going to hit things like health care; he is going to hit things like gun control. And he will get in requisite praise for Al Gore, an hour of prime time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you understand? You know, Gore has (been trying) to separate himself from Clinton. And there he is going to be, in the State of the Union, sitting right behind Clinton.

MR. WARREN: Let us not forget the president's job-approval ratings remain very high.

MR. BLANKLEY: But let me tell you; when I used to work for Newt, he had to sit, when he was speaker, behind the president. And you have to think through -- anyone who sits in the frame behind the president -- when do you applause (sic), when do you not; how do you stand up? How enthusiastic do you look? Al Gore has a real chance of making a fool of himself, either being too enthusiastic or not enthusiastic enough.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. But I think you will agree that all the goodies the president is going to give away, like increasing the minimum wage, $100 billion for health care, that that's going to accrue to the good of Al Gore, right?

MS. CLIFT: Right, and to all Democrats. He is going to lay out an agenda for the Democrats to run on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Exit --

MS. CLIFT: Frankly, the Republicans are going to try to pass some of that stuff because they need votes too, in November.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick point?

MR. FELTEN: There is a real advantage and opportunity for George Bush here, which is this big spending agenda that Bill Clinton is going to propose, will show why George Bush's tax cut is important; which is, you can't leave a surplus sitting around, or the big government liberals in Washington will spend it away.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. Boy, what Pat --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question; win, place and show in Iowa. The win in place in Iowa on the Republican side will be Bush wins, Forbes places. We all agree on that, do we not; even you, an habitual recalcitrant? Who comes in third in Iowa, I ask you?

MR. FELTEN: Gary Bauer.


MS. CLIFT: I agree with that.


MR. BLANKLEY: It could be Bauer, or it could be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here we go.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- it could be Keyes -- (laughter) -- and it could be McCain. I am sorry -- (laughter) -- you cannot know at this point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) Really?

MR. BLANKLEY: They are all within a margin of error on a poll that's not reliable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, where is the probability? Give me a probability at least? What's your probability? Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Keyes may on come on strong.


MR. WARREN: The occasionally entertaining, occasionally insufferably righteous, Alan Keyes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Alan Keyes is correct.

On the Democratic side in Iowa, Gore wins, Bradley places. Will it be 55-45 Gore over Bradley, 60-40, 65-35, or worse than that for Bradley?

MR. FELTEN: Sixty-40.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixty-40. Twenty points? Bradley can just about live with that. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I'd say 62-38.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixty-two-38? He can't live with that, Eleanor. Sorry.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's going to be a blowout for Gore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A blowout for Gore.

MR. WARREN: Fifty-eight-42. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is 22 points for favoring Gore.

Last week on, we asked, "Has the selection process for the next House chaplain been tainted by anti-Catholic bigotry?" Get this: "Yes, it has been tainted by such bigotry"; 45 percent, no.

When we come back: Hillary, did she, or didn't she?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two, Political Potpourri Item: Crippling vulnerabilities no more. That's what the candidates were faced with at the onset of the campaigns months ago. Since then, the races have been in full swing. The candidates have debated 13 times, seven Republican and six Democratic, plus countless other speeches in the field. Amid all this edifying activity, each of the principal candidates has managed, remarkably enough, to both outwit and overcome their potentially lethal vulnerability.

G.W. Bush's alleged lack of smarts. Well, as it turns out, he has the smarts. But having judgment is far more important than a stratospheric I.Q., and Bush has shown excellent judgment; notably, his candor and openness about his Christian faith. His references to Jesus Christ, which were once predicted to alienate voters, are now applauded.

John McCain's temper rap; deflated with self-effacing humor. John McCain's alleged hypocrisy. McCain was accused of intervening on behalf of big-money campaign contributors, exactly the sort of influence-peddling he rails against on the stump. Well, full disclosure on his part seems to have buried the issue.

Bill Bradley's "impossible dream." Though faced with an entrenched and powerful party organization supporting Gore, Bradley has been able, nevertheless, to raise enough money and to gain enough in the polls to shed the aura of unelectability.

Al Gore's Clinton albatross. Has he freed himself from it? You be the judge.

BILL BRADLEY (Candidate for Democratic presidential nomination): (From videotape.) I think you're in the Washington bunker. And I can understand why you're in the bunker. I mean, there was Gingrich, there was the fund-raising scandals, there was the impeachment problem. I think that the major objective in the last several years in the White House has been political survival.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (Candidate for Democratic presidential nomination): (From videotape.) I want to start by telling you what we were doing in that Washington bunker. We created 20 million new jobs, cut the welfare rolls in half, passed the toughest gun control in a generation, and created the strongest economy in the history of the United States of America.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Gore, has he overcome his Clinton albatross? Has he turned a pig's ear into a silk purse?

MR. WARREN: I'm not sure whether this essay of yours was a model of complexity or mere confusion; but nevertheless, it was rather interesting. In the middle of impeachment, remember, we were all thinking -- or the Republicans certainly were thinking -- that oh, personal character would be an overriding issue. Clearly, as Orrin Hatch found out in the past week, with big half-hour specials in Iowa about Clinton's character, the nation has moved way beyond that. And I also find it rather curious, when you look at the personal backgrounds of all these guys, who are the goody two-shoes of the main contenders?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, the --

MR. WARREN: It is Clinton -- I'm sorry, it's Gore and Bradley, and who are sort of the guys with the miscreant and playboy past? It's the two Republicans, McCain and Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think has -- I guess this adds up to, this turgid prose -- (laughter) -- this adds up to the fact that he thinks that Gore has licked the Clinton rap. Do you agree?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't think -- I think he's had a good month and a half. His campaign is definitely in much better shape and he is more vigorous on the stump than he used to be, but I don't think you can get rid of the Clinton albatross. It's going to be there. Whether it's going to weigh him down or not, still, he's constantly being measured by what Clinton says and does. Hillary is out there, and he's going to be defined how he relates to Clinton. So the albatross is there till the end. He may be --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, nobody --

MR. BLANKLEY: He may be able to win with the albatross.


MS. CLIFT: Nobody is going to confuse Al Gore's personal qualities with President Clinton's, and he has managed now to identify himself with the positive Clinton agenda, and on all of the issues the country is where the Democrats are. Sorry, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, what --


MR. BLANKLEY: Wait -- wait a second.

(Cross talk.)

MR. FELTEN (?): She's wrong.

MS. CLIFT: And secondly -- and secondly, George Bush's lightness of being is going to come back to haunt him when he faces Al Gore in the debates.

MR. BLANKLEY: He's gone to the left with -- he's gone to the left with Bradley. I mean, to save it -- the left of the Democratic --

MS. CLIFT: And Bush has gone to the right! With Bauer.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, Bush -- other than on tax cuts, Bush has stayed pretty centrist.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Must Bradley carry --

MS. CLIFT: That's the big enchilada for Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Must Bradley carry New Hampshire in order to survive?

MR. FELTEN: Yes, he must, and he won't, and I think the thing hurting Bradley most this point is not just his aloofness, which has been a rap on him for some time and a rap to which he's lived up to, but rather the bum ticker question. And the bum ticker question, Bradley has exacerbated. His own comments on this just yesterday were that, you know, when this happens he flips out for an hour at a time when his heart goes, and I think that legitimately worries people --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, my question is, why did he do it? Did he do it because he wants to provide cover because he knows that the cards are still stacked against him, that he's going to have to ease out and why not use this? Did he go -- did he announce this, voluntarily he announced it, because he's cut a deal with Gore already? And what's the deal?

MS. CLIFT: What's the -- that's the "Honey I have a headache" excuse?

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Gore agreed to make him secretary of State? Is that the deal? I ask you.

MR. WARREN: Political history -- this is --

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I just said is that the "Honey, I have a headache" excuse? (Laughter.)


MS. CLIFT: I don't think so. I think he's trying to revise his campaign. Democrats don't have winner-take-all primaries. He could still go on the California and New York.

MR. WARREN: Is this from the --

MS. CLIFT: But the cards are stacked against him.

MR. WARREN: You've been listening to the Marcus Welby school of political analysis here. The ulterior motive with his heart. Getting back to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think it is self-destruction for him to march out and say, "During the past couple of weeks I've had four attacks of arrhythmia"?

MR. FELTEN: Well, he -- they have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You just don't do that.

MR. FELTEN: They have mishandled it. You talk to cardiologists, in the way they handled the first thing, running to the emergency room for something that really is rather innocuous --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, Dr. Warren. Dr. Warren, let me ask you this. Must McCain win in New Hampshire to survive? McCain?

MR. WARREN: No, but if he doesn't, he must win South Carolina or it's curtains.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he does win in New Hampshire, will he then survive?

MR. WARREN: I personally think unlikely because I think that his strength in South Carolina may well be over-rated.

MS. CLIFT: And if McCain wins in New Hampshire, tax-phobic New Hampshire, what does that say about George Bush's core issue, that tax cut that's Eric thinks so highly of?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick round robin.

MR. FELTEN: I do think highly of it. And I think it means bad news for Republicans if that issue fails for Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick round robin in advance by eight days of the contest. Who wins New Hampshire? Bush or his opponent?

MR. FELTEN: Bush ekes it out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush ekes it out over McCain.

MS. CLIFT: I think McCain wins.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think McCain wins?


MR. BLANKLEY: Too close to call.


MS. CLIFT: Ooh, Tony. You're sitting on your lead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's it going to be?

MR. WARREN: Senator McCain.


I would say time is on Bush's side. Right now it would be McCain; in eight days, it's going to be Bush.

Okay, quick round robin. On the Democratic side, who's going to win? Is it going to be Bradley or Gore?

MR. FELTEN: In New Hampshire?


MR. FELTEN: Oh. It will be Gore.


MS. CLIFT: I agree. I think the independents are going to go to McCain.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, Gore's their nominee. Yes.


MR. WARREN: Bradley.


The answer is Gore, which means that Bradley is probably effectively through. Right?

MR. BLANKLEY: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: "Hil on the Grill."

A week after Hillary Clinton fielded softball from David Letterman, she was answering real-world questions from the New York talk show circuit. Here are two. First, would she leave her husband after his presidency was over?

FIRST LADY HILLARY CLINTON (Candidate for New York Senate): (From videotape.) I certainly intend to spend the rest of my life with him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Second, this.

(Begin taped segment.)

TOM BAUERLE (WGR-AM Radio talk show host): (From audio tape.) Mrs. Clinton, you're going to hate me. You were on television last night talking about your relationship with the president, Bill Clinton. Have you ever been sexually unfaithful to him? And specifically, the stories about you and Vince Foster, any truth in those?

MRS. CLINTON: I do hate you for that because, you know, those questions, I think, are really out of bounds. And everybody who, you know, knows me knows the answers to those questions. You know, I just --

MR. BAUERLE: Is the answer no?

MRS. CLINTON: Well, yes, of course it's no, but it's an inappropriate question.

(End taped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Buffalo talk show host thinks otherwise.

MR. BAUERLE: (From videotape.) My job is not to be an obsequious, servile, pusillanimous, fawning media person.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sounds like you, Jim.

MR. WARREN: Oh, there he is, Mr. Self-appointed Edward R. Murrow of Buffalo.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) All right. Was the question out of bounds, as she said?

MR. WARREN: It's certainly in bad taste. I don't know that it's out of bounds.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really? Don't you --

MR. FELTEN: It's talk radio, for goodness's sake.

But the first question is the one that really puts Hillary in a bind, because it is among educated liberal white women in New York that her fealty to her straying husband actually hurts her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You remember Henry Hyde, a 20-year indiscretion --

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible) -- right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- exposed by the press?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember Bob Livingston --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- another old -- well, we don't know -- another indiscretion or indiscretions exposed by the press?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I'll give you another point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember Larry Flynt, who somewhat legitimized --

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm trying to forget, but yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- legitimized outing? Then do you remember Barbara Walters, who actually put the same question to Hillary in 1996?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So is the guy to be trashed for putting the question?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, look, I was -- what I was going to say is ever since Bill and Hillary went on "60 Minutes" in 1992, holding hands and talking about their marriage, they've made that a fair-game question. And after all that's gone on in the last eight years, the question was perfectly appropriate.

MS. CLIFT: You know, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, was not Newt Gingrich questioned about alleged assignations earlier, before --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, I don't know a major politician who doesn't get those questions.


MS. CLIFT: And what did Newt Gingrich say to that?

You don't have to answer these questions, first of all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, therefore, is there a gender gap here? It's okay for guys to be asked, but not for women? Is that what you're saying?

MS. CLIFT: I don't know who makes the rules. The point is how you handle the question. She handled the question just fine, and it's going to create sympathy for her that such a stupid question was asked in the first place.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's a good point. There's a good point. This could help her, because she always does well looking as the victim. But there is a gender gap involved in this whole area, I submit.

MS. CLIFT: There's a gender gap in a lot of areas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: Kerrey quits.

SENATOR BOB KERREY (D-NE): (From videotape.) It's a deeply personal decision, but I feel like my spiritual, interpersonal, and creative cistern needs to be filled back up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thursday's announcement from the senior senator from Nebraska and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey shocked Democrats.

Little wonder that Democrats are in panic; Kerrey's resignation brings to five the number of very vulnerable Senate seats for the Democrats in the upcoming election: Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and now Nebraska. The Democrats had hoped to cut down the five-seat Republican lead in the Senate. Now they may see the gap grow.

Question: So, to what extent has the likelihood of the Democrats not taking over the Senate -- in fact, possibly even losing some of their current 45 seats, bringing it down below that level -- to what extent has this grown because of this retirement?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, taking over the Senate, their chances have definitely shrunk because of this. I don't think the Democrats are going to lose below 45 seats. But this is a sure Democratic seat, and now it's either a toss-up or leaning-Republican seat. It's good news for the Republicans.

MS. CLIFT: Kerrey's never been a strong Democratic loyalist, which is why he could win in Nebraska. He's the only Democrat in the confessional delegation. It goes Republican.

MR. BLANKLEY: He voted against impeachment. He voted against impeachment.

MR. FELTEN: Yes, but it --

MS. CLIFT: (Chuckles.) Well, for one --

MR. BLANKLEY: But he was loyal when it mattered.

MR. FELTEN: It matters that he was a Democrat, though, because getting into the majority, even if you've got somebody who votes with Republicans a lot, means who gets to be committee chairman --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. I want to ask Dr. Freud Warren over here this question:

What's the real motivation behind Kerrey's quitting?

MR. WARREN: I thought you were going to ask me where my emotional cistern is. (Soft laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean because he spoke about the cistern?

MR. WARREN: What you see is what you get. He's playing Bob Kerrey. He's decided to go on with a different part of his life.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know what the real reason is?

MR. WARREN: He has a good friend in New York.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has done the mathematics, the simple arithmetic. It's no fun being in the minority.

MR. WARREN (?): Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he knows that there is practically no chance of the Senate being taken over by the Democrats. So he is out.

MR. WARREN: And the Democrats also know that every --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- what Bill Bradley left. (Laughs.)

MR. WARREN: -- the Democrats also know, sadly for them, that every statewide office in Nebraska is held by a Republican.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right; which means the Republicans are probably going to take that state.

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Eric? Fast.

MR. FELTEN: When Senator John Chafee announced his retirement, everybody thought Rhode Island would go Democratic. His son Lincoln Chafee, appointed to the seat, will hold it.


MS. CLIFT: Hillary Clinton will be beating Rudy Giuliani in the polls by spring.


MR. BLANKLEY: HMO, Patients Bill of Rights, bill will pass Congress before Easter.


MR. WARREN: Proving the Washington sports pundits wrong, new co-owner Michael Jordan leads the God-forsaken local basketball team into the playoffs within one year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Clinton really wants China to become a member of the World Trade Organization, this year, to enlarge his legacy during his last year of his term. I predict China won't get in under this president. Next week, Clinton's last State of the Union.






MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: His grandmothers want him. Why not send Elian back?

The argument against sending Elian back is that a parent's rights are not absolute and can be circumscribed by conditions, like living in a communist society.

This argument has been analyzed and found wanting in this particular case. Abstract ideals, like freedom and opportunity, are far removed from what really counts in helping Elian get better.

There is no greater loss for a child than the loss of the mother, who was taking care of him. And Elian is still coming to grips with the fact that her death is permanent.

His sense of being safe in this world has been shattered. If children who suffer this kind of loss are fortunate enough to have surviving parents and grandparents, they need to be with them. They need familiar places and routines so they can reenter daily life, while still feeling free to be sad or angry. While these essential elements of family and familiarity don't guarantee a perfect recovery, they are the best medicine anybody knows about.

Question: In view of that, why should Congress become involved in this matter this coming week, as the Senate is going to do? Why should they get involved in it? They're interfering with this child's emotional, social and psychological well-being.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Congress traditionally passes private bills to let people in and to give them citizenship. Clearly, this has been politicized, but there's a lot of feelings on both sides as to what's in the best interests of the boy. And those who feel it's in the best interests of the boy to stay in America recognize their friendship in Congress, rather than with the executive branch. That's why they --

MR. WARREN: And there's a very interesting dynamic in the House. Does the House leadership really want to try to muscle through a so-called private bill and give him citizenship and thus sort of win the day, particularly --

MR. FELTEN: They can't muscle through a bill.

MR. WARREN: -- particularly when there are some folks on their side, for instance, Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, head of the Immigration Subcommittee, said last week, quote, "We should not rush into separating father and son," unquote. Even on the Republican side, a lot of folks are dubious.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, a private bill --

MS. CLIFT: This is the international equivalent of when they deal with flag burning. I mean, it's something that they have no reason to get involved in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the Congress?

MS. CLIFT: The Congress. It's purely an emotional football for them and people on both sides are going to play it. But in the end, public opinion in this country wants this child reunited with his parent, and they cannot pander to this small pocket of Miami Cubans forever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Trent Lott is going to pull wires to get this before the Senate and vote citizenship for this young child. Is it not because essentially they want the Cuban-American vote in Miami, in Florida, to be on the side of George W. Bush? Isn't that what's really behind this?

MR. FELTEN: John, I think it will be, any way you look at it. But, you know, the most disgusting thing out of this whole spectacle hasn't been the Cubans in Miami, but it's been Fidel Castro himself who's standing up there, you know, "I want the children of Cuba to be coming home." This is a man who has driven people to go out in rickety boats in shark-infested waters because people who -- dissidents, given visas to come to the U.S., are not allowed here. They have to leave with their children; they drown. The blood of those dead children is on Fidel's hands.