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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,

ELEANOR CLIFT, AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

TAPED: FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2000

BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JUNE 24-25, 2000

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Gore's Reno Gamble.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): (From videotape.) I have reason to believe that Mr. Conrad has recommended special counsel to investigate Vice President Gore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Senator Arlen Specter, breaking the news that Justice Department task force chief Robert Conrad will ask Attorney General Reno to investigate Vice President Gore's 1996 campaign fundraising abuses.

This recommendation has been made three times before. Will the fourth time be the charm?

In '97 FBI Director Louis Freeh was the first to recommend an independent counsel. In '98 Charles LaBella, Conrad's predecessor at the Justice Department, sent a memo to Reno practically demanding the same. In '98 Robert Litt, key Justice Department official and FOJR, friend of Janet Reno, pushed for an independent counsel. Now it's Robert Conrad, number four.

Question: Will the Gore "I was out of the room because I drank too much iced tea" defense hold up under a special prosecutor's scrutiny, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, I don't know that it's going to require -- result in indictment. I mean, some people have called it the wee-wee defense. It's not a very convincing thing. I'm sure Al Gore was told before this White House meeting on fundraising, when he was asked to testify about it, by his lawyer the same thing that Bill Clinton told Monica Lewinsky: If you say you forget something, nobody can prove you can't.

Now he embellished it with this sort of ridiculous story, which is very implausible. Harold Ickes, who was running the meetings, said that he always stopped the conduct of meetings when the president or vice president left the room, which is certainly a sensible way to do it. Another witness at that meeting said that he thought one person got up to use the bathroom, but he didn't remember who it was. If it was Vice President Gore, I think he would have remembered. The fact is that his testimony looks like an embellishment, a fabrication. Whether or not that constitutes perjury, though, is another question. I kind of doubt it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think is going to happen if an independent counsel is appointed, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, Janet Reno is not going to be bullied into it by pressure from Republicans in the Congress or by someone who is acting in her own office, who may be having an internal debate over this. I don't think this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or by her own --

MS. CLIFT: No, this is not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Her own internal officials won't bully her either, right?

MS. CLIFT: Wait. This is not a final recommendation.

Secondly, the vice president is going to release the transcript of the interview that he had with Mr. Conrad, which is at question.

And thirdly, Charles LaBella, who you quoted, who previously held this job, who also recommended a special counsel, said that he did it because of worries about conflict of interest. But he said this does not have the look or the feel or the smell of anything that would lead to any kind of criminal indictment that you would bring to a jury. This is a lot to do about very, very little.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Al Gore's been faced with a lot of difficulties. This is only the latest in a series. Can you think of some of the other difficulties in recent months? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, yes, of course I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For example, the multiple makeovers, including slumlord Al --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the resignation of Tony Coelho, the gas crisis. I think that washes off onto him. Los Alamos -- that looks like it could be a likely sabotage. Ten to 12 points -- we can put that up on the screen for just one moment, Tony, so we can see that. If the election were held today, Bush gets 52 percent; Gore, 40 percent; undecided, 8 percent, according to the -- I believe you will say, Lawrence, the Goeas-Lake poll.

So what do you think when you see all this collection of --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of horrors falling on poor Al's head?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think there are two things. Every campaign has to face facts beyond its control, and every campaign has the potential to manage its own campaign. Some of those that you listed are sort of beyond Gore's control, but others aren't: the makeovers, having to rechange the people who are at the top of his command.

I think his panicking this week at releasing the transcripts just because of a story in the newspaper, strikes me that he hasn't got his campaign steadily moving forward. Therefore, each time a wave comes against him, instead of having a captain at the wheel, everyone is running around panicking. So I think his campaign looks very bad right now -- not to say he can't recover. But it looks very bad because he hasn't had a sense of what his campaign is about or the team that's going to lead him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is going to hang over his head if there is an independent counsel -- even if there is not -- with this ongoing speculation as to whether she will do it -- say, after the election -- is going to be like a Damocles sword, isn't it?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah. The idea that she can delay it until after the election, and that's good for Gore, is seriously problematic because then you have an electorate wondering: "Am I going to be electing a president, who is then going to have a special prosecutor after him? Are we going to go through that again?"

But, John, the picture is not as bad as you paint it. You picked the worst current poll there is out there on Bush-Gore, a 12-point gap.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are the others?

MR. O'DONNELL: If you looked at --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are the others?

MR. O'DONNELL: The most important one this week is the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, which has a four-way slot in it. And that's what this race is; it's four ways. It includes Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, getting 4 percent, Ralph Nader getting 7 percent right now. The gap between Bush and Gore in the four-way, is only five points. Al Gore is hanging in there with a five-point gap --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, but --

MR. O'DONNELL: -- against someone who had a 20-point lead on him not that long ago.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in the two-person polls, there are two that have him at 10 -- a 10-point spread, and there is one with an eight --

MR. O'DONNELL (?): Two-person is the one --

MR. BARONE: John?

MR. BLANKLEY (?): John? (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I understand. I understand. But who is to say that the polling for Nader and Buchanan is correct?

MR. BARONE: John, I used to be in the polling business. The fact is these polls are not inconsistent with each other, given the statistical margin of error.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean the one he mentioned?

MR. BARONE: Yeah. Bush has consistently been in the lead. Those leads have sometimes been statistically significant, sometimes not. But take a look at some of those internals, in the Battleground Poll, for example: George W. Bush is actually ahead of Al Gore on the issue of education. He is ahead of -- or even -- of Al Gore on the issue of Social Security. Those used to be trademark Democratic issues. George W. Bush has made them work for him, and Gore has lost some opportunity cost here.

MS. CLIFT: Bush has gotten zero scrutiny. And Al Gore has let him co-opt a lot of that middle ground. But let's see if Bush can defend all of that nice rhetoric he's put out there. This campaign has yet to be waged. We have got debates; we have got conventions.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I agree with you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It's way too early to write off Al Gore. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: But one point about that poll is worth noticing because it goes to what I was saying earlier about the quality of the campaigns. Only about 78 percent of Democrats are supporting Gore, while about 90 percent are supporting Bush.

MR. BARONE: Republicans.

MR. BLANKLEY: That means that Bush's team has solidified his base, while Gore is still working to solidify his. That's a danger sign this late in the season.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In this latest story, it occurs to me that the public will translate that as: "We want a clean slate; and, therefore, we incline towards Bush. We don't want four more years of scandals." That's the way it will come down in translation, I think, this talk about an independent counsel to be appointed to examine --

MS. CLIFT: Not on the issue --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- into Gore. Exit question. We have got to get out. In view of Al Gore's current collection of troubles, is it okay, is it prudent politically, to say now that his presidential candidacy is in trouble itself?

Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: He has missed opportunities, which George Bush has taken advantage of these last three or four months, to move his campaign ahead. It's uphill for him, not impossible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it in trouble?

MR. BARONE: It's in some trouble right now, not quite as dire as you suggest.

MS. CLIFT: You way overstated it. And the campaign has yet to be waged.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's in trouble?

MS. CLIFT: And the Republicans stand to lose just as much with all this screaming about a prosecutor on campaign funding, because the country is sick and tired of investigations, investigations. And they think everybody does it on campaign funding, and they're right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is it in trouble? You yourself said last week he doesn't know what his identity is, he's going go find it. He's going to look within himself. Is it in trouble?

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's in trouble --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, it's in trouble.

MS. CLIFT: -- but it's retrievable. Retrievable! (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's all I want to know.

Is it in trouble?

MR. BLANKLEY: The reason it's in trouble is because the public is coming to a judgment that they'd prefer not to have Gore, but they haven't yet decided on Bush. So therefore, Gore is going to have to go very negative on Bush, which the public is sort of primed not to want. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's in trouble?

MR. BLANKLEY: So absolutely, it's in trouble.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's in trouble?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think the Gore campaign has made a very strong comeback against George W. Bush, who had once an enormous lead. And now, in the four-way race, which is what this is, there's a five-point gap, which is almost a statistical dead heat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In trouble?

MR. O'DONNELL: Not in trouble, no. It's a campaign that's doing what it has to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is Gore's campaign is now in trouble. (Laughter.)

Okay. McLaughlin.com. Last week we asked: Would the reunification of North and South Korea endanger American influence in the region? Get this -- 71 percent no; 29 percent yes.

When we come back, does it help or hurt Bush on the death penalty issue to have Jesse Jackson, the Black Panthers and Bianca Jagger leading the charge against him?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Death row politics.

LARRY FITZGERALD (Spokesman, Huntsville Prison): (From videotape.) A majority of the board has decided not to recommend a 120-day reprieve, commutation of the death sentence to a lesser penalty, or a conditional pardon.

GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX): (From videotape.) After considering all the facts, I am confident justice is being done. May God bless the victims, the family of the victims, and may God bless Mr. Graham.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Texas death row inmate, Gary Graham, was executed for the shooting death of Bobby Lambert in a Houston parking lot in 1981. Graham was the 135th prisoner to be sentenced to death and executed by the state of Texas during the 5-1/2 years George W. Bush has been governor. Protestors have been highlighting the Texas record. Despite the uproar, Bush is not backing away from capital punishment.

GOV. BUSH: (From videotape.) I support the death penalty because I believe when the death penalty is administered surely, swiftly and justly, it will save lives. And I understand good people can disagree on this, but that's my personal opinion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixty-six percent, a consensus of Americans agree with Bush. And so does Al Gore.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From videotape.) I do support the death penalty. I have not changed my position on that, and will not.

I do not think in the federal courts that the evidence justifies a moratorium.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Although both presidential candidates support capital punishment, Bush, rather than Gore, is currently sideswiped by the issue. Historically, however, the death penalty has spelled trouble chiefly for Democrats.

Question: Both Gore and Bush support the death penalty, so is the issue politically a wash?

Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's not a wash. Bush is in the more favorable position, because his base wants him to be in favor of capital punishment. The liberal base of Gore doesn't want it. So -- and New York Times editorials run regularly saying Al Gore should come out and say something about all these horrors. So every time Al Gore keeps quiet on capital punishment, he undermines the energy of his base. This is bad news for Gore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are 14 more executions in Texas that Governor Bush will be present for and preside over, so to speak, although the sentencing, of course, will be done by others, but he has the power to rescue the person. Now, the question is, in view of that, do you still think that the advantage is for Bush over Gore?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Seven out of 10 Americans are in favor of the death sentence. All that Bush has to do is be steady and compassionate, and I think we saw that in the clip, where he blessed the man who was just executed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the true victim. The mob outside Huntsville Prison Thursday trumpeted Gary Graham as victim. However, Graham's true victim, one of them, David Spiers, came forward this week to describe Graham's degenerate, even savage, behavior. Here, Spiers recounts his automobile breakdown, with his fiancee, her mother and father in the car, on a Texas highway on May 16th, 1981, and what happened.

DAVID SPIERS: (From videotape.) A Cadillac pulls over, a black gentleman gets out, fairly good looking, and offered me to give me a ride to a service station. I jumped in the back seat of the car behind the passenger, and this gentleman reaches over like this and puts a sawed-off shotgun in my chest. At that time, I hit the sawed-off shotgun down and slid behind the driver. Well, the sawed-off shotgun went off in my left leg and severed my left leg. His girlfriend in the car turns around with a .357 and tries to kill me. He says, "Finish him off."

The crime spree started when he killed Bobby Lambert, but the crime spree started on a Wednesday. I was shot on a Saturday, and I was number 13 out of 22 victims. And when we were in the car and he had the shotgun pointed at my chest, he said, "I'm going to kill you because I've already killed three or four people, and then when I get done with you I'm going to go back and kill your fiancee and her mom and dad so they can go with you." So in my mind, Charlie, there is no doubt that he was capable of murder.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: So why are so many portraying Graham as the victim and not Lambert and others he assaulted or killed?

Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Because that man who had a horrible experience was not a witness to the crime that Gary Graham went to his death for. There were three eyewitnesses. One said Gary Graham was the guy and two said he was not, and that's what this one is about. This one is about the possibility of actual innocence of the crime that he went to his death for.

MS. CLIFT: Right --

MR. BARONE: Well, John -- John, what I think we're seeing is a media war against the death penalty. Most people in the media are against the death penalty, and they're making the most --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even O'Donnell?

MR. BARONE: I don't know what his position is, but they're making the powerful argument --

MR. O'DONNELL: (Inaudible) -- all uses of the death penalty at any time, anywhere in the world.

MR. BARONE: -- the most powerful argument -- the most powerful argument for the death penalty is that you cannot make restitution to a person who has been wrongfully executed. It is a powerful argument, indeed. Very few people in the press have been making the powerful argument for the death penalty, which is that people who are spared from the death penalty can commit murder again. Since '76, we haven't had a proof of a wrongful execution of this kind.

MS. CLIFT: This is not -- this is not about --

MR. BLANKLEY: But we have had -- we have people who were spared killing others.

MS. CLIFT: This is not about a media war. This is somebody who was executed when the gun that was in his pocket wasn't even the murder weapon, and he did not get proper representation in Texas. And the trouble for George W. Bush is this is a man who was put to death for a crime it looks like --

MR. BLANKLEY: You see -- you see --

MS. CLIFT: Let me finish.

MR. BLANKLEY: Okay.

MS. CLIFT: -- it looks like he probably did not commit. He may be a lousy, terrible person, but in our country --

MR. BARONE: Probably?

MS. CLIFT: -- but in our country, you don't kill someone because you think they're bad -- (cross talk) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I don't know

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just -- let me just make --

MS. CLIFT: And George Bush sits atop a system in Texas that is grossly unfair to criminal indigents.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As I recall the proceeding, he said that he was with, at the time of the killing, his girlfriend --

MR. BLANKLEY: His girlfriend, whose name he couldn't remember --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He couldn't remember the name. Secondly --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- whose address he couldn't remember. He couldn't remember what she looked like.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secondly, the eyewitness who watched him for a full what, minute and a half at least --

MR. BLANKLEY: From 30 feet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and was about 40 feet --

MR. BLANKLEY: Thirty to 40 feet away.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- she was black, and of course he was black, which means the possibility of ethnic misidentification, which sometimes happens, certainly did not occur, would you not say?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. I mean, the point is that the rule of law has worked. He's had 19 years and 20 appeals. And people now want -- you suggest, for instance, Eleanor, that he had incompetent counsel. Well, he's had 20 years to litigate that, and there's not a court --

MS. CLIFT: I have an answer to that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We got to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- and there's not a court in the land that found him to be incompetent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We could talk about this forever, and we've got 14 more cases in which to do it.

Exit: On a surefootedness scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero surefootedness, Humpty Dumpty -- remember him? -- 10 meaning metaphysical surefootedness, Fred Astaire, how surefooted is George W. Bush's handling, politically, of the death penalty? I ask you.

MR. BARONE: Well, I think his handling has been on the merits. I think it's been surefooted, nine, except his interview with Tucker Carlson as a two.

MS. CLIFT: That's a pretty big "except." A three, because the facts of this case will come back to haunt him, and his cocky attitude will also haunt him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: About a seven.

MR. O'DONNELL: He was as surefooted as Bill Clinton was in 1992, when he shamefully executed Ricky Ray Rector, who was brain-damaged, and didn't even know it was happening to him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How can you possibly identify him with Clinton in that regard?

MR. O'DONNELL: Because they are both political opportunists on the death penalty while running for president.

MR. BLANKLEY: Bush has always been against -- in favor of the death sentence. And Jimmy -- and Bill Clinton was taking a new position in order to appeal to voters.

MR. O'DONNELL: I understand, but in politics -- (inaudible) -- considering any alternative.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer -- no, there is no question that Bush is handling this brilliantly, and he gets a 10.

Issue three: Nuclear meltdown.

BILL RICHARDSON (U.S. secretary of Energy): (From videotape.) Based upon the investigation by the FBI so far, which is, I said, ongoing, there is no evidence of espionage, nor is there evidence that the drives ever left the Los Alamos X Division.

I can also tell you this morning that a grand jury has been convened to examine issues related to the case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's definitely off the short list for vice president. Why? The breakdown of security at Los Alamos nuclear labs that Richardson claimed to have cleaned up months ago is far more destructive than anyone ever could have imagined. Here's Richardson's reassurance of a year ago, after the Wen Ho Lee debacle:

SEC. RICHARDSON: (From videotape.) I can assure the American people that their nuclear secrets are now safe at the labs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Richardson angered many on the Hill when he failed to appear last week to explain the Los Alamos secret hard drives' disappearance and reappearance. This week senators on both sides of the aisle spared Richardson not at all.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL): (From videotape.) But after the recent events at Los Alamos and your blatant disregard for the law, I believe you've lost what credibility you have left on Capitol Hill. And I think it's time for you to go, to be responsible, to be accountable to the American people.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): (From videotape.) You've shown a contempt of Congress that borders on a supreme arrogance of this institution. I think it's a rather sad story, because you've had a bright and brilliant career. But you would never, you would never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed. It's gone. You've squandered your treasure, and I'm sorry.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Richardson was contrite.

ENERGY SECRETARY BILL RICHARDSON: (From videotape.) I don't want to get into an argument with Senator Byrd. And I hope to earn Senator Byrd trust again.

You know, I was in the Congress 14 years and, in fact, after I look at my career, being a congressman was the best job I ever had. And I think to say that I've been contemptible is not correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To date, Richardson has refused to resign, thus joining the growing fraternity of Cabinet and agency heads, including the president himself, who have successfully defied sacking. In fact, Secretary Richardson boasts about his national security accomplishments, echoing his upbeat, happy talk about moderate gas prices.

SEC. RICHARDSON: (From videotape.) In other words, Mr. Chairman, I can categorically say -- and maybe this not a boast of major proportions -- that in two years, I have done more in security and counterintelligence than in the past 20 years, and I think there's a record there to prove it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why is the Senate so angry at Richardson?

I ask you, Michael. Quickly, please.

MR. BARONE: Well, they feel he hasn't owned up to the truth and left them unprotected, and it has not turned around. The fact is -- this is partly a problem -- his predecessor, Hazel O'Leary, in the first Clinton administration, opened up the barn door, boasted about the labs' "new culture of openness." Now you almost could say that -- (inaudible) -- and then tried to burn the place down.

MS. CLIFT: That's -- that's over --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he down for the count, do you think?

MS. CLIFT: Yes. Politically, yes. But that overbearing attitude on the part of those senators has nothing to do with the loss of nuclear secrets. They're just annoyed at him because he didn't show up at a hearing. He actually offended the great senator.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's more than that. You remember they wanted to appoint a security czar. His name was General Gordon. And through the efforts of Richardson, that was stalled for over a year. That was one reason. Secondly, he's been campaigning too much, would you not say, for Al Gore? And thirdly, he snubbed them and didn't appear. What --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I mean, those are all true. I still think -- I mean, I agree with Eleanor; I think his future is not very high. But I think it is being dumped on a bit more perhaps than even he deserves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?

What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: You know, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd is not objecting to Richardson's campaigning for Al Gore. Robert Byrd has as very slow fuse. To get him to that level of outrage is almost unprecedented, and it's very clear that Bill Richardson has a limited time of appearing in front of the United States Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think was behind Byrd's anger?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, because Richardson, as secretaries do, went to the Senate, made promises to individual senators about the exposure on this thing is going to be contained, I've got this thing under control. They trusted him, he did not deliver. That's what happens if you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean he's looking a little bit like a con man?

MR. O'DONNELL: Not a con man, but just more incompetent, and a false promiser, and you can't do that in the back room in the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And a little too hungry politically?

MR. O'DONNELL: It isn't even that. It's you can't come in there and make false promises.

MS. CLIFT: As a --

MR. BLANKLEY: John?

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

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.

Michael?

MR. BARONE: A near-tie in the Mexican presidential race between Francisco Labastida and Vicente Fox.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we're going to hear from you next week from on site.

Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Bush will announce his running mate a week to 10 days before the convention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Congratulations on the book, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Thank you. (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: In the fall when President Clinton is negotiating the final deals on the legislation with the Republican Congress, he is going to cut out Dick Gephardt, who is Dr. No, and work with other Democrats, like Steny Hoyer, who is sometimes willing to cooperate on some legislation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Steny? A very high-(tech ?) chap.

What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: Gasoline prices will be so low in the fall that they will not even be mentioned in the presidential debates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really? I predict it at $1.50. Is that low enough?

MR. O'DONNELL: About that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that both the marriage penalty and the death tax will pass both houses of Congress -- they've already passed -- one, the House -- before the November elections. Do you agree with that?

MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, the Fed meets on interest rates. Will they go up, or will they stay the same? What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: Same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Same?

Same?

MR. O'DONNELL: That's what I'm hoping for.

MS. CLIFT: Same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Same?

MR. BLANKLEY: Same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Same?

MR. BARONE: Same.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Same? The answer is same. (Laughter.)

Bye bye!

FCEND REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS


FLPBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Stop that praying!

STUDENT: (From videotape.) In Jesus' name I am praying, Amen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Texas, football is religion, and prayer before kickoff over the stadium P.A. system, tradition. But this week, the U.S. Supreme Court sacked organized prayer at public school football games. The Santa Fe, Texas, School District has supported a student body referendum in favor of pre-game prayers, but the court ruled against the school, siding with the parents of Catholic and Mormon students who say the prayers amount to state endorsement of a predominantly Baptist message.

On a six-to-three vote, the court ruled student-led public prayer unconstitutional because it violates separation of church and state. It was 38 years ago that the Supreme Court banned prayer in the classroom and in 1992, eight years ago, it banned clergy-led prayers at graduation ceremonies. It's a trend that many oppose and many fear.

The three dissenting justices, Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist, wrote that the ruling, quote, "bristles with hostility at all things religious in public life." Polls show that most Americans support a return to prayer in school. As for the presidential candidates, Gore likes the high court ruling, whereas Bush opposes it and, in fact, filed a brief with the court to that effect.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I thought that a voluntary, student-led prayer in extracurricular activities was right and important. The Supreme Court thought otherwise.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who is right, Gore or Bush?

Lawrence O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, they're both right. What Bush doesn't understand is this was not voluntary. This was a legal act by a school board saying, "We will have this prayer. It will be this Baptist prayer."

And thank God that the Catholic plaintiffs got this overturned. The Catholic players and the Catholic fans can do any praying they want before the game, the Baptists can; everybody can pray.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Can you --

MR. O'DONNELL: But the school board cannot organize it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you unscramble those eggs, huh?

MR. BLANKLEY: Easily, yeah.

When our Founders wrote the Establishment Clause, they were reacting to the established Church of England, where Catholics and Jews and others couldn't even be in Parliament. They wanted to make sure the government -- the Congress would not establish a church. But on the other hand, they were perfectly glad to have a chaplain in the Congress. They would be appalled that a court, 200 years later, would say that they can't have a prayer in a local school.

MR. O'DONNELL: They can have a prayer.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: The Court did not say they cannot pray.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, organized.

MS. CLIFT: The student-led prayers are an obvious attempt to circumvent the earlier Supreme Court ruling. But I think if George Bush wants to challenge this, fine. He ought to say: "Football is a religion in Texas. What's wrong with a prayer before a religious service?" (Laughs.) (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: John, I think a lot of these cases have really gotten on a crazy tangent and don't deserve the attention of the Supreme Court at all. They should be settled by people in comity in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Including this one?

MR. BARONE: -- comity in their local communities by showing a respect for one another.

Let's go back to the words of the First Amendment. The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law regarding a religious establishment." What that means, as Tony suggested, is that Congress shouldn't make a law one way or the other. It shouldn't impose a church settlement. It also should leave alone state practices that existed at the time of the founding, when we had established churches in several of the states.

MR. BLANKLEY: Right.

MR. BARONE: The fact is --

MS. CLIFT: State practices that make a lot of people uncomfortable? (Laughs.)

MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is that we did have established religions -- not uncomfortable -- they had to pay taxes for them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'll tell you --

MR. BARONE: That makes it real uncomfortable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- what this does in terms of the presidential election. It sharpens the issue of the power of the president to appoint members to the Supreme Court. And the next president will probably have the opportunity to appoint at least two. If George Bush plays this right, he can bring back any of the religious right that he may have lost with the prospect of being able to put on the Court, people who will not reduce the Court to a joke --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a laughing-matter status. That's what this decision is.

MR. BARONE: He can promise that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a laughing matter.

MR. BARONE: Whether or not he is going to actually -- I don't think that's going to be a big voting issue, number one. Number two, a lot of the religious conservatives are saying, "Look, seven out of those nine" -- (end of audio).


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