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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Putin along.

Sunday marks an historic day in Russia. For the first time ever, Russians will peacefully and democratically replace their country's leader. Since Boris Yeltsin's startling resignation on New Year's Eve, the world has closely examined Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin's hand-picked successor and acting president. The former career KGB agent is all but guaranteed to carry the race.

Michael Barone, in Moscow, you've been observing the Russian election firsthand. Is it is a guaranteed win for Vladimir Putin?

MICHAEL BARONE (U.S. News and World Report): (From Moscow.) Well, it's not quite a guaranteed win for him, John, on Election Day on Sunday. He needs 50 percent to win without a run-off. The latest polls have shown him down. In mid-February he was at 59 to 60 percent. The latest polls, published on Thursday, showed him between 48 and 53 (percent). That probably means, with undecideds, that he'll get over the 50 percent. But the fact is, he's a little nervous now. He went on TV on Friday night, imploring people to vote and do their duty, as the soldiers in Chechnya have done their duty. So he's playing that Chechnya card to try and get the turnout he needs to win 50 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, Jay Carney is here. Jay?

MR. CARNEY: Michael, I wonder, can you tell me if you've heard anything since you've been there about whether Putin, once he becomes president, if he becomes president, very quickly, plans any dramatic gesture or dramatic move to impress the Russian people?

MR. BARONE: Well, I -- he hasn't indicated what he's going to do one way or the other, Jay. And one of the reasons that his polls may have gone down, at least a little, is when they asked him about his economic policy, he said, quote, "I won't tell you." There's a certain amount of uncertainty.

But you can watch a lot of the leading Russian politicians over the last week, who'd been in parties that were opposing Putin, have turned around and endorsed him, much to the consternation of some of their previous allies. And it's widely speculated that somebody like Anatoly Chubais, for example, who played a key role at different parts of the Yeltsin administration, may be called in and the government changed after -- if Mr. Putin wins, just as after Boris Yeltsin won the first place in the June 1996 primary, he got rid of his bodyguard, Mankorshikov (sp), and brought in new people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Larry Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: Michael, the stock market is roaring in Russia. It's the best-performing market in the world. And the economy's actually growing about 8 percent. And Putin said in an interview that he was going to be pro-investment and pro-investor, and he wanted foreigners to invest in Russia. Do you buy that stuff? Is this going to be economic reform? It sounds like it.

MR. BARONE: Well, Putin has made many statements that sound like economic reform, Larry, but he's also talked about a certain amount of guidance from the state. And of course, if you go back in Russia to the czarist era, to the Communist era, "guidance" can mean something like very much ham-handed attempts to exert total control.

The fact is, I think the verdict is still out on Putin, what he's going to do economically. It is a big mystery to most people here. He says many of the right things, but will he put in a heavy hand? We don't really know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Michael, hi.


MS. CLIFT: From over here, it looks like Putin is campaigning a little bit like Harrison Ford in "Air Force One." He's gotten behind in the cockpit of a fighter jet, and he's really playing up the military angle. Is Chechnya still regarded as a victory by the Russian people and as an effort to restore the former grandeur of the empire?

MR. BARONE: Well, there's no question the Chechnya war effort has been popular here in Russia, and Putin is now trying to treat it as "Well, we have leveled the city of Grozny. The Chechen cause is in ruins. It's all over." But the fact is that there are still a lot of Chechen guerrilla-type people south, in the mountains, in the Caucasus Mountains. And this is a problem that goes back a long way. Tolstoy's first short story, "The Raid," published in 1852, is about a war with the Chechens, that Tolstoy participated in, in the 1840s.

My guess is that one of the big reasons Putin really wants that 50 percent now and not wait another three weeks for a run-off is there may be more military action against the Chechens south of the former capital of Grozny pretty soon, and he would like to have voters voting their final votes for him while they get the impression that it's all over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the slippage in the polls on him are due to the Chechen effect wearing off?

MR. BARONE: I think it might be the Chechen effect, John.

I'll tell you another thing that's been going on over here. There has been real intimidation of the press by the -- by Putin and his allies, by the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who controls the ORT, a major TV station in Russia. We have seen this in a whole variety of ways. The turnover of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter, Andrei Babitsky, to the Chechens in a weird sort of thing where he was held for 40 days, and the hostile comments Putin has now made about him; the fact that reporters have been beaten up, the fact what when the -- Vladimir Gusinsky's station, NTV, ran their "Kukli" (sp) series -- this is a sort of animated, like toy puppet carton; it's very amusing -- about Putin, three St. Petersburg University professors wrote a widely circulated public letter saying that criminal action should be taken against Gusinsky. Now, a lot of people think that means that an elected President Putin is going to try and shut down Guzinsky and NTV and try and keep ORT in the catbird position --


MR. BARONE: -- may cause some problems.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on.

MR. BLANKLEY: Michael -- Michael, let me ask you a question. Do you have any sense that Putin, after the election, is going to try to rein in the oligarchs, or is he going to slip into their pockets? That's sort of, I think, one of the big questions.

MR. BARONE: Well, there's a few rumors about that Putin would like to do something about the oligarchs. He made a comment in the last week that they should be treated equally before everyone else. This is not Boris Berezovsky's idea of how he wants to be treated, I can assure you. So there's a little nervousness on the part of the oligarchs. If Putin is elected with a large majority, he might decide he doesn't need Boris Berezovsky either, and that he may take over.

So while Putin sounds good in our terms on many issues, on freedom of the press and lack of government intimidation, he seems to sound a note that is in line with his KGB past.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do the Europeans in the press over there and the Americans that you may have talked to feel the way you do? And do they corroborate what you've heard and do they regard that as a bad augury about Putin?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think there is less fear and intimidation, of course, of the foreign press than of in-house Russia press, but I would say yes, the answer to that is there. There's a big contrast between how people in the press feel and our political leaders. I mean, Bill Clinton has been praising Vladimir Putin and all but putting a Putin button on his lapel. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, came to St. Petersburg last week and saw the opera "War and Peace," full of patriotic Russian nationalism and fighting skills, with Vladimir Putin, and praised him enthusiastically. So there is a difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, the NATO action was very unpopular in Russia. Do you sense any anti-Americanism over there?

MR. BARONE: I would not say it's anti-Americanism necessarily, John. I think what you're seeing is a kind of Russian nationalist expression. Putin supporters would say it's the kind of feelings that President Charles DeGaulle was able to evoke in France to make French people feel that they were part of a great cause in trying to represent what they considered the best things in their system. And there is a sense, I think, in which nationalism, even Russian nationalism with its sometimes unhappy history, could be a positive force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ah -- Michael, we have to get out, and I think we're all assuming, including you, that this is going to be a Putin win, and I'm going to put the exit question on that basis, but before I do, that Lawrence Kudlow is in pain here to ask you a question.

MR. KUDLOW: Michael, it's reported that there are more dollars circulating on the streets in Moscow than rubles. What are people using when they buy and sell stuff?

MR. BARONE: Well, the answer is, for small stuff they use rubles but the fact is, if you go into various luxury stores and other things, many things are priced in "USD," which stands for U.S. dollars. And the preference here, by the way, Lawrence, is for crisp bills --

MR. KUDLOW: Crisp bills.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. After Yeltsin, Russia is at a fork in the the road. Which road will Putin take, the road towards Western free market reform, the European Community, even NATO, that even he has spoken about joining in the future, or the road to Soviet-era isolation, corruption and oligarchy? Lawrence Kudlow.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, it won't be Milton Friedman and it won't be Friedrick Hayek, but I think the direction is unmistakable. Putin is going to take Russia in a market direction -- social market, with lots of government intervention, but still market.

MS. CLIFT: I think he's signalling he wants to be part of the world. The problem is, he wants to do it on equal terms and Russia right now is not equal. And there's a big prize in the making and that's a possible arms control deal with the Clinton administration.


MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's going to be sort of a Russian version of the Third Path. It's going to be authoritarian but not communist. It will be using the market at times, with a very strong state security system in place to assure the lack of chaos.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And incremental democratic progress?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm not convinced of that yet.

MR. CARNEY: I agree with Tony that there's some worry about whether or not Putin, although he says the right things about the economy, is quite as committed to the democratic process. I think what we'll see here is a period where the Russians are willing to give up some of the democratic freedoms they've won in the last 10 years in order to improve the economy, but after a while, Putin will lose his popularity among the Russian people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think you are all correct. Michael, what's your thought on that fork-in-the-road question?

MR. BARONE: I think he's going to move, at least to some modified extent, towards markets, John. I think he's going to really labor against corruption in important ways, and perhaps against the oligarchs. But I think he's also going to do it in an authoritarian way, vastly diminishing freedoms of the press and expression from what have sometimes been robust levels in the post-Soviet Russia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. Now get back to those luxury stores.

Last week on, we asked, "When will the last American soldier be pulled out of Kosovo?" A, before November elections; 5 percent. B, within two years, before 2002; 16 percent. C, within five years, before 2005; 17 percent. D, at least another five years; get this, 62 percent.

When we come back, the pope in Israel. This week he called for a Palestinian homeland and he kissed Palestinian soil. Is this okay, or is the pope playing politics?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: papal penitence.

"I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place." With these words at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem this week, Pope John Paul II expressed remorse for all the sins of Christians committed against Jews. This poignant and historic visit, the first official papal visit to the modern state of Israel, was the most recent in a long list of actions that the pope has taken to reconcile relations between Jews and Catholics.

Some of his other actions: One, Auschwitz, 1979. John Paul visits a concentration camp near Krakow, in Poland. One million Poles listened to his sorrowful words for the millions of Jews who were murdered there by Nazis. Two, sinful anti-Semitism, 1990. John Paul endorses the Prague statement that declared anti-Semitism a sin against God and humanity and one that Christians should repent for.

Three, diplomacy, 1993. John Paul announces full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. These earlier actions and the pope's heartfelt words at Yad Vashem have comforted many Jews, but critics remain.

Question: We know that Yasser Arafat is very happy with the pope's visit. But if you were the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, would you be happy, sad, angry, or what? Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the prime minister of Israel spoke for himself, and he looked with favor upon the pope's comments. Look, John Paul is a genuine humanist, and he has done things here that come out of his own personal experience. He grew up with Jews. He went to high school with Jews. Some of his friends died in the Holocaust. His words are well spoken.

Some people think he didn't apologize enough or specifically enough. I don't see how you could ever apologize enough for that event. But he said some fine things.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard that, Lawrence Kudlow -- that the pope has been too silent on the silence of the -- alleged silence of Pius XII?

MR. KUDLOW: No, I don't think he's -- I don't think he's been too silent on it. I mean, I don't think the case against Pius XII is a very good factual case to begin with.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stop right there. Silence by the pope? Listen to this and see whether you think Pope Pius XII was silent about the agony of the Jews in the Holocaust:

These are the headlines and quotes from the New York Times during World War II. January 23, 1940: "Vatican denounces atrocities in Poland." "Jews and Poles are being herded into separate ghettoes, hermetically sealed and pitifully inadequate."

January 24, 1940: "Vatican amplifies atrocity reports. Weight of papacy put behind exposure of Nazi excesses in Poland."

On the same day, in an editorial entitled "Poland's Agony," quote, "Now the Vatican has spoken with authority that cannot be questioned, and has confirmed the worst intimations of terror which have come out of the Polish darkness," unquote.

March 14, 1940: "Jews' rights defended." That's how the New York Times described the pope's words when meeting with a Nazi foreign minister.

Christmas Day New York Times editorials, 1941 and '42: Pius XII is, quote, "a lonely voice," unquote, in his intervention on behalf of Jews and other victims of the Nazis.

August 27, 1942: "Vichy seizes Jews. Pope Pius ignored." "These arrests are continuing, despite appeals to Marshal Henri Philippe Petain by leading Catholic clergymen, with the support of the pope."

December 4, 1943: While Germany occupied Rome and martial law prevailed, the "Vatican denounces decision to intern and strip all Jews in Italy."

Finally, October 1958, on the death of Pope Pius XII, then-Foreign Minister of Israel Golda Meir, quote: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the pope was raised for its victims," unquote.

Question: Back to you, Lawrence Kudlow. Are these New York Times headlines and the stories from the Holocaust less trustworthy than some alleged modern scholarship? Which is the more suspect, would you think?

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I hate to say it, but I think the New York Times got it exactly right, and I think this fellow from Britain who wrote the book trashing Pope Pius got it entirely wrong, and, I think, give credit to Pope John (sic). He's such an extraordinarily important 20th century. This is a confessional. This is an Easter, Lent, Passover confessional which spreads goodwill everywhere and helps the whole Israeli-Palestine situation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On an exit question, do you think the Catholic Church can profess a clean conscience with regard to the Holocaust -- the Catholic Church as an institution, Lawrence Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: Yes, I do. And again, I think there's a confessional aspect to this. And I think there's a cleansing aspect. And I think it improves the church --


MS. CLIFT: Nobody has a fully clean conscience -- not Franklin --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about the institutional church.

MS. CLIFT: -- not Franklin Roosevelt, not the -- nobody spoke up enough.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I mean, the allies didn't bomb the railroad lines to Auschwitz near the end of the war, because they wanted to keep the resources for defeating the German army. No one's completely clear.

On the other hand, the Vatican could have had its water supply, its electricity cut off by Hitler's ally Mussolini any day, so they had to be careful how far they went.

MR. CARNEY: I think what Pope John Paul has done is clear that conscience. This pope has been incredibly progressive --


MR. CARNEY: -- in establishing ties with Israel, going to the Holy Land. I think he's done a great job.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Institutionally, yes. Individual members, no.

MR. KUDLOW: And also sticking up for the Palestinian refugee situation, which has got to be solved, and it's only going to be solved with the assent and help of the government of Israel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: While we're talking about Catholics, by the way, congratulations to Father Daniel Coughlin, the new chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Coughlin is the first Catholic ever to serve in the over 230-year history of that position. And congratulations also to Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose decision to appoint Coughlin showed, on his part, an unexpected lapse into wisdom and leadership. And please, Dennis, stop blaming everyone for this ordeal; you brought it entirely on yourself.

Issue three: Senator John McCain returns to the U.S. Senate.

(Footage of Senator John McCain.)

(Begin videotape of comedy sketch on "The Tonight Show.")

ACTOR PLAYING SENATOR MCCAIN: Oh, you want some too? (Punches other actor.) (Laughter.) And you too -- you want some? (Throws punches.)

JAY LENO (host of "The Tonight Show"): Yeah, I'd say -- (inaudible) -- yeah, he's -- (inaudible) -- yeah --

(End of videotape of sketch.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Relax. That was just Jay Leno's version of McCain's return to the Senate this week. Actually, everyone was all smiles, a hero's welcome.

MS. : (From videotape.) My hero. My hero. (Applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The maverick senator was greeted as a celebrity senator. Tourists cheered him. A media mob tracked his every step. And while McCain clearly ruffled a few Senate feathers during his campaign, his Republican colleagues welcomed his like the prodigal son.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS, Senate majority leader): (From videotape.) He never really was gone. We left the light on all the time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But Mr. McCain didn't show the same warmth to his former Republican rival presidential de facto nominee George W. Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) I think there's no doubt that I would support the nominee of the party. Exactly how that happens, and under what circumstances and my degree of enthusiasm, obviously are questions that are yet to be resolved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the senator did issue a stinging attack, not against Republicans opposed to his campaign-funding reform nor against any of the Religious Right, but against the Democratic presidential de facto nominee Al Gore and his laughable pretense of being a campaign finance reformer.

Question: What was McCain trying to do when he attacked Gore, the way he did, in his very first press conference?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think a couple of things: It was a good place-holder while he decided what he wanted to say about Republicans. You are always safe to attack the Democrats while you are trying to decide how much to support the Republicans. Interestingly by the way, the networks, the broadcast news networks, didn't cover his attack on Gore, which certainly was newsworthy.

I think interestingly, McCain is in a similar situation to Reagan in 1976; Reagan used the exact same words about the Ford -- he said, "I'll support the nominee of my party." Then Reagan went back to California and pouted for three months. So it remains to be seen whether McCain is going to vigorously campaign for --

MS. CLIFT: Well, McCain --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you discern, Jay? I am trying to treat the guests here -- (laughter) -- you know? By the way we -- (inaudible) -- to seeing you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughter.) Yes, sir.

MR. CARNEY: Thanks for having me back.

John, I think McCain is in a difficult position. He wants to be true to the people who voted for him, many of whom were not Republicans, but still be true to his party, which is why he needs to say relatively nice things about George W. Bush, a man for whom he has absolutely no love after this campaign. I don't expect John McCain to endorse Bush by name anytime soon; in fact, it may not be until the convention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And none of us expect that John McCain will accept any offer, were it in the almost impossible hypothesis that it would be extended -- would join George Bush on the ticket, correct?

MR. KUDLOW: I don't buy it, John. I think, if he were asked, he would absolutely accept.


MR. KUDLOW: I do. I think the issues for McCain right now in the Senate though, are going to be --

MS. CLIFT: He won't be asked.

MR. KUDLOW: -- no taxation on the Internet -- no taxation on the Internet. That's his biggest issue, and the GOP needs goosing on that issue.

MS. CLIFT: John McCain wants to claim credit for keeping the Republican control of Congress; that's where he is going to put his energies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No acceptance and no deal --

MS. CLIFT: No, no --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- even if it were to --

MS. CLIFT: -- he can run in 2004 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- even if it were offered, would he accept it?

MS. CLIFT: -- first. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, he said no. Very few people turn down the vice presidency --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would he say no if --

MR. CARNEY: But Bush will never offer it.

MS. CLIFT: Let's go and ask. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- it were, "per se impossibile" (sp)?

MR. CARNEY: He would say no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He'd say no. You're right, Jay. It's good to have you back with us. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: Thank you.

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


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence -- (drawing it out) -- what's up? (Laughter.)

MR. KUDLOW: The antitrust decision against Microsoft will not break up the company. That's good news for technology, and that's one of the reasons the Nasdaq and the whole stock market is roaring.


MS. CLIFT: The Million Moms March on Mother's Day will shock the Republican Congress into passing minimal gun-control legislation.


MR. BLANKLEY: CIA special national intelligence estimate on the likelihood of war between China and Taiwan, now ongoing, will force a major policy decision in the administration within the next month or two.


MR. CARNEY: Within the next four weeks, George W. Bush will give a speech dramatically trying to reposition him towards the center and infuriating a number of conservative Republicans, who will stay by him, nonetheless.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce, in its final report to Congress on April 21, will recommend extending the tax moratorium until states sort out their policies, leaving the Internet, pleasing Lawrence Kudlow, virtually tax-free.

MR. KUDLOW: More bullish.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, OPEC will decide whether and how much to raise oil production, a decision that will raise or lower prices at the pump.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Tobacco Road. The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, cannot regulate tobacco. The five-to-four ruling invalidated a 1996 Clinton presidential decree that would allow the FDA to regulate tobacco; notably, its advertising and marketing. The court says the president overstepped his bounds; only Congress has the authority to regulate tobacco, not the president. A victory for tobacco? You decide.

The FDA rules voided by the court: One, ID requirements, voided. Federal laws won't require vendors to demand photo ID from underaged cigarette buyers. Two, ban on merchandise, voided. Tobacco companies can sell tee-shirts and hats carrying their brand name. Three, restrictions on advertising, voided. Tobacco advertisers can use color and pictures in publications where minors may see them. Welcome back, Joe Camel.

What next?

SEN./REP./MR. : (From videotape.) The Supreme Court today has placed this issue squarely in the lap of Congress. Congress has a moral responsibility to act.

Question: Two of the five Supreme Court justices who ruled against FDA regulation of tobacco are regular smokers. Will tobacco smoking be an issue in the appointment of future nominees to the high court? I ask you, Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think so. I don't think this is a central issue. Usually, you know, they look to abortion for litmus test.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think that smokers will agitate for x number of seats on the Court? (Laughter.) Smokers? And will the smoking prohibitionists demand that no smokers be assigned to the court?

MR. BLANKLEY: John, I think smokers have been intimidated they won't do anything. But what's interesting about this, and a little scary, is there were four votes on the Supreme Court to allow regulators to make law.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the Supreme Court is irrelevant because regulation is now going to move to the Congress, and the tobacco companies are going to be begging for regulation. They're slowly going bankrupt. They're getting huge jury verdicts against them. And this decision will only embolden lawyers to ask for strong penalties to send a message to Washington.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know better than I do, because you've slimmed down a lot over the years, that fat is a big killer, and it causes colonic cancer, and obesity kills in far more numbers than does smoking. True or false? Why doesn't the FDA eliminate doughnuts? (Laughter.)

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I'm not for eliminating any of this stuff, but they are crazed and obsessed over smoking.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should they be allowed to regulate?

MR. KUDLOW: No, they should not be allowed to regulate. But I'll tell you what else, John, that should be regulated: the trial lawyers' donations of soft money, which they are getting from the tobacco suits and going right into Al Gore's pocket. And I hope John McCain beats Gore like a drum.

MR. CARNEY: Oh, please.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. Five seconds.

MR. CARNEY: Come on. Come on. The tobacco companies are funneling the same amount and more into the Republican Party. It's a soft money --

MR. KUDLOW: They don't have a prayer. They've been taxed to death, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: They still give the money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's a draw. (Laughter.)