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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Bragging rights.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I'm not very good about grading myself. If I gave myself a good grade, people will say I was just bragging.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush may not want to grade his first 100 days, but he reached that milestone this weekend, and the press and the public are giving out their report card.

Question: What was Bush's biggest success of the first 100 days? Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: Well, John, Bush is the first president to have a master's in business administration, an MBA. And I think his biggest success has been rolling out, in an organized way, programs to put in effect the five major promises that he made in the campaign. He's rolled out education and tax cuts; those are in the Congress now being acted upon. He has taken -- holding the reins of the Defense Department and going to set his own stamp on that, I think. Worked behind the scenes with people like John Breaux on Medicare. And next week he's going to announce members of his Social Security Commission to report in the fall with a view towards legislation beginning of next year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there we've got five best moves. Which one of those is the best?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't know if announcing the members of a commission qualifies anybody for a great accomplishment. I think this president's greatest accomplishment is the fact that he has brought along an oversized tax cut, even if he has to reduce it, that the public isn't particularly interested in getting, that the lawmakers on Capitol Hill have serious qualms about, and in the climate of an economy that suggests that this tax cut is not what's needed; and that he does all of this being so out of tune with the public on issues and still being popular is quite an accomplishment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, what was his best move?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think there are two. One, coming off the Florida event, establishing his legitimacy as president. The poll numbers all show that he's solidly accepted, and there was a question mark coming in. On a policy basis, his biggest success is taxes. He's going to have a big tax cut, about the size he wanted and about the form, against a Democratic Party that opposed it radically only a few months ago.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see his best move as the tax cut's tenacity?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I do. I agree with Eleanor it's not a good tax cut, it's not a good policy; but it is an amazing accomplishment to come from where it's come from. You have to remember how ridiculed it was in the campaign. Al Gore thought Bush's tax cut was going to be a winning issue: "It's a risky scheme." He just joked about it. It is now going to be passed in a form that will be at least 80 percent of what he's asking for, maybe more, which on a piece of legislation like this is remarkable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Actually, his best move was the handling of the China spy plane. He kept his cool, he kept the country cool, he was measured and moderate. And it worked.

What was his worst move, do you think?

MR. BARONE: Oh, I think his worst move is to allow this arsenic regulation to go forward. And of course, everybody's -- the Democrats are all saying he's putting arsenic in drinking --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, then he punted on it.

MR. BARONE: Yeah. I -- you know, the fact is that what the person at the EPA said is that we're not -- we're going reconsider this decision that Clinton made that would apply in six years from now, or 2006. So nobody's putting any extra arsenic in the water, but Bush has given the Democrats a good talking point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, he also declined to have salmonella tests on school lunches. Do you think that rivals arsenic? I mean, how far can --

MR. BARONE: That was -- John, that was reversed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How Republican can you get? (Chuckles.)


MS. CLIFT: Actually, he did backtrack on that once he saw the reaction. He's of course a man who never checks the polls. On that one, you probably didn't have to check the polls.

Look, I think his worst move is actually a collection of steps that he's taken that really --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Here we go. Here we go! (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: -- that portray him --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bunching --

MS. CLIFT: -- portray him as beholden to corporate interests. It reinforces this familiar stereotype about the Republican Party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think his worst move so far is not yet manifest, but it's his energy policy, specifically regarding California. I think he has got to come to grips with that. If there's a problem there, a crisis, he's going to have responsibility for it. So far, he's had a hands-off policy. If that's allowed to continue, then I think that will turn out to have been a big mistake.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, his weakest polls are energy handling.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's now in the 40s there.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, but there's a difference -- things are either popular or not popular. This is a substantive problem that has to be solved, and there has to be a federal role in it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One of his best moves in the environment, though, is killing the Kyoto treaty involvement of the United States, get rid of that monster. Wouldn't you agree?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, no one in this country was ever going to seriously enact the Kyoto treaty. What Bush will --

MR. BARONE: (Off mike.)

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, the Democrats weren't, no, and Bush will get pegged with the disappearance of it.

But his worst move is actually the tax cut, on policy grounds. I don't think, on style grounds, he has anything that resembles qualifying as a worst move at this point in time.

I agree with Tony; the sleeping giant is the California energy crisis, which he has refused to get involved with in any way. That could come to haunt him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Take note that his rating in the polls, overall approval rating as of today, is 63 percent. And when you consider the background of that -- namely, he lost the popular vote to Al Gore; the Supreme Court decision, 5 to 4, gave the election to Bush; the Senate came in at 50-50; and the stock market is tanking, and he had an international spy plane crisis -- is not 63 percent an incredible figure to be at? I ask you.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's an amazing number for a guy who lost the popular vote. It's just unbelievable he's gotten this far.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's a great politician?

MS. CLIFT: No, he benefits from low expectations.

MR. O'DONNELL: He -- "successful" is different from "great."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's been a successful politician, and he's been a successful statesman, has he not?

MR. O'DONNELL: He's done -- the only thing -- he was in a box with China. He did the only thing you could do. He hasn't done anything extraordinary.

MR. BARONE: John, I think he --

MS. CLIFT: John, we expect so little from him -- (laughter) -- that when he -- that's true.

MR. BLANKLEY: Speak for yourself, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: When he performs just minimally, everybody reacts with great relief.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Okay. Let's get --

MR. BARONE: People have a tendency to want to give a new president good marks. He's gotten good marks. But you know, the final verdict on him is not in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get out with the McLaughlin Group report card. We'll begin with Michael Barone. Rate Bush's first 100 days, first on style, then on substance. Assign two alphabetical letters, A-plus for excellence and F for flunking.

MR. BARONE: F for flunking. Okay, let's see. We've --


MR. BARONE: Style. I'd give him an A-minus on style. I think he's still got get more fluent in some of these occasions.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Substance.

MR. BARONE: Substance, I'd give him an A-minus, too.


MS. CLIFT: I'd give him a B on style. It's very endearing when he makes fun of his inadequacies, but he is going to reinforce the stereotype of himself as an inadequate leader in the public mind.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what about substance?

MS. CLIFT: Substance, C-minus.



MR. BLANKLEY: Eleanor's right on style; a B. I think he still has some hesitation in his performance and he is, I think, perhaps understating his own qualifications too much stylistically. As far as policy is concerned, I give him about a B-plus, A-minus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say, Lawrence?

MR. O'DONNELL: I'm giving him a B on style, too. He has the misfortune of following in office the best actor who has ever held the presidency, so it's a very difficult comparison.

MR. BLANKLEY: What about Reagan? He did it --

MR. O'DONNELL: Bill Clinton's a much better actor than Ronald Reagan. Much better. (Laughter.)

On substance, I really have to give him an F. The tax cut is an absurd thing to do when we have not fixed Social Security's long-term solvency. We have not fixed Medicare's long-term solvency. We should not be cutting top tax rates; we should be increasing much higher brackets for people with incomes over a million. People with incomes over 100 million paying exactly the same as someone with an income of $300,000 is ridiculous. We should be lowering the bottom rates, but we should be fixing the major expensive entitlements first.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Lawrence --

MS. CLIFT: I'll vote for you when you run for office, Lawrence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence and two other members are correct. His style rating is probably a B, but your analysis of how much he should be doing in the first 100 days is absurd. He's taking one piece at a time and he's being very successful. He gets an A on substance.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back, Kerrey in 'Nam. Is he getting a bum rap?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Mistaken or misspoken?

(Begin videotape segment.)

CHARLIE GIBSON (ABC Good Morning America): If Taiwan were attacked by China, do we have an obligation to defend the Taiwanese?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, we do. And the Chinese must understand that.

MR. GIBSON: And you would?


MR. GIBSON: With the full force of the American military?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself.

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With that statement, President Bush seemed to end 22 years of diplomatic obfuscation about whether the U.S. would militarily intervene to defend Taiwan if it's attacked by China. Hours later, Bush re-obfuscated his message.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Well, I think that the Chinese must hear that ours is an administration, like other administrations, that's willing to uphold the spirit of the Taiwan Relations law -- Taiwan Relations Act -- and I'll do so.

However, I think it's important for people to also note that mine is an administration that strongly supports the one-China policy; that we expect there -- any dispute to be resolved peacefully, and that's the message I really want people to hear.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did Bush send a warlike smoke signal to China, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I happen to think that based on what unnamed White House sources have been saying, that it was really a slight misspeaking of the policy. Clearly, though, he has shifted. He has called China the primary competitor. Rumsfeld is talking about China being, rather than Russia, being our primary potential enemy. So he is shifting, but I think he overspoke himself on that one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think we ought to take a look at the Taiwan Relations Act. Do you mind looking at the screen, please? Watch this: "The United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services" -- that's personnel, right? That's the Army, right? -- "in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense." What it takes, right?

MS. CLIFT: I don't think "services" is capitalized there. I don't think they're talking about the Army, Navy and Air Force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are they talking about? "Services" is human beings.

MS. CLIFT: Maybe some stenographic assistance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're talking about "articles." That's hardware. Services is software. Beings.

MS. CLIFT: No. That is ambivalent, and deliberately so --


MS. CLIFT: -- because this country --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But if you put that through the spin dryer, you end up with where Bush was.

MS. CLIFT: -- this country does not want to test the premise that we want to go to war to defend Taiwan against China. And I think -- I don't believe that Bush intentionally said what he said. He was speaking from the gut. And he may get some (benefit ?) from this because the China hawks now feel happy, and it may help get --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it may have a salutary impact on China.

MS. CLIFT: -- may get -- (inaudible) -- from Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said we will do whatever it takes.

MR. BARONE: Well, I think, John, we should be looking not only at what's happening in Washington, but what's happening in China. They have increased their missiles pointed at Taiwan. They are in an arms buildup. They have announced they're increasing their defense budget by 18 percent, and that may be an offense budget. And we have this surveillance of the planes, this harassing surveillance, which not just the Bush administration but which the Clinton administration, justifiably, complained about last December and January.

So the fact is that I think it's a good time to come forward, whether the president did so intentionally or not, and eliminate the kind of ambiguity. You know, an ambiguity -- Lord Grey left it ambiguous in July 1914 whether or not Britain would come to the aid of France against Germany. That kind of ambiguity did not serve the world very well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very well stated, Michael.

MR. O'DONNELL: Bush left it just as ambiguous.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you something. Is it clear that Bill Clinton was developing solidarity, if not coddled, China? And is it not true that Bush is indicating a solidarity with Taiwan? Is there not a tilt towards Taiwan here?

MR. O'DONNELL: No. There is a presidential position on China. It doesn't matter who holds the office. It is consistent. It is always increasingly expansive toward the relationship with China. There is nothing inconsistent in what Bush actually said to what our written agreement with Taiwan is. The emphasis should not be on services. You should notice that the phrasing in the written agreement and in what Bush says is, whatever Taiwan needs to defend itself; meaning, yes, we might give you some guns; no, we won't be there for you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, speaking about the guns, that's quite a load of guns that they're giving.

MR. BLANKLEY: The only point --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we take that up for a moment, please, Tony? Will you look at the screen again, please, so we can take a look at what he's giving them? Four Kidd-class destroyers available in 2003. That's a year and a half. Twelve Orion aircraft. Eight diesel submarines. Paladin self-propelled artillery system. Mine-sweeping helicopters. Amphibious assault vehicles. MK-48 torpedoes. Submarine-launched and surface-launched torpedoes. Avenger surface- to-air missile system. Aircraft survivability equipment. U.S. technical briefing on Patriot -- that's the new Patriot -- anti- missile system. That is the modernized Patriot.

That type of hardware has not been made available in 10 years; true or false? And you mean to say that this is not a tilt towards Taiwan, that it is showing solidarity with Taiwan?

MR. O'DONNELL: Not in the least. Not in the least. China could wipe them out tomorrow no matter how much we give them.

MR. BARONE: But it's the appropriate response to the Chinese buildup. We are not acting in a vacuum here or in a totally abstract situation. China has given us good reason to think that it has aggressive intentions towards Taiwan.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look --

MR. BARONE: They did it in 1996, and the Clinton properly sent in a fleet.


MS. CLIFT: Look, give the president --


MS. CLIFT: -- give this president credit; that package of arms is carefully taking a middle road. He did not go for what -- the Aegis system, which really would have rattled the Chinese.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the Aegis is not available till 10 years --

MS. CLIFT: And he did a little more than Clinton would have done. Nice middle of the road.


(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I'm not getting the answer I want here. The answer is, there is a tilt to Taiwan.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: Furthermore, there's a further tilt. I want to get back to you in one minute. Is this -- this is an exit question. Is this change in policy a fundamental realignment of U.S. defense policy beyond Taiwan, but away from the European front and towards the Asia front? I ask you.

MR. BARONE: Well, I think it is, and I think that Andrew Marshall, who's reviewing defense policy for Secretary Don Rumsfeld, has indicated that in the past that basically we're much more likely to face a military test, or one of our allies or friends are likely to face it, in Asia than we are in Europe over the next 10 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you heard that Japan wishes to rearm?

MR. BARONE: Well, Japan has a certain amount of armaments now, and they've -- they're talking about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know. They wish to rearm fully.

MR. BARONE: And the question is whether or not they want to change their constitution to do --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what they're worried about?

MR. BARONE: What -- they're worried about China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're worried about China.

MR. BARONE: Of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There you go.

MS. CLIFT: The reorienting towards Asia began under President Clinton, and this is a continuation of that ever so slight shift.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, no, this is a -- I'm not sure it's fundamental, but it's a definite shift towards China and Asia. It's a process that in fact has been going on just for really half -- probably around half of the last Cold War. We're slowly beginning to glance to Asia more and more. Now the Cold War's over, we're shifting more of our glance there. And there's no doubt that if we look at all of what he's done on Taiwan, it is a shift away, just as Clinton, with his softening of our position with Taiwan --


MR. BLANKLEY: He softened a little bit when he re-inscribed the three noes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: He -- Clinton kind of edged that way a little bit, and Taiwan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How did he do it? Did he do it with his body that way, the way you did it?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, physically, with his body. (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: You probably want to stay away from that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What have you got to say?

MR. O'DONNELL: Defense policy is irrelevant in this discussion. We're not going to have a war in Europe. We're not going to have a war with a superpower in Asia. It's not going to happen. This is all about trade policy. That's the future of China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I feel so much better now, Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: You should.

MS. CLIFT: (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- being reassured by you.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's what I'm here to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Taiwanese want to be reunited with China when China is democratic, and we want that to happen, too. And the giving of arms to Taiwan is an effort to keep China at bay until China does become democratic. The answer to the question is, it is a fundamental realignment in those two directions, towards Taiwan and away from Europe, towards East Asia.

Issue three: 'Nam Secret.

BOB KERREY (former senator, D-NE; former Navy SEAL): (From videotape.) Every person who has gone into war has struggled with the question "Did I do it right?" And I've struggled with that question privately since February of 1969 when I led a squad of U.S. Navy SEALs on an operation in which we received fire, returned it, and then found that only apparently innocent civilians had been killed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, it was a painful mistake. Thirteen women and children were killed in a 1969 firefight when Kerrey was 25-year- old Navy SEAL. Kerrey went public with this information only days before the New York Times published an account of that night in the Viet Cong stronghold of Thanh Phong, claiming that the Kerrey-led seven-man SEAL team shot the civilians, knowing they were civilians, deliberately. The story relies dominantly on statements made by a member of the SEAL team.

GERHARD KLANN: (former Navy SEAL on Bob Kerrey's team): (From videotape.) We herded them together and, in a group, we shot them all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerrey flatly denies Klann's account.

BOB KERREY: (From videotape.) We were fired upon and we returned fire. And it is entirely possible that all kinds of other memories can come out of that night, but I would remember if we pulled these people at -- you know, pulled these people into a group and killed them at point-blank range, and that did not happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One of Kerrey's other SEAL teammates seems to support Kerrey.

MIKE AMBROSE (former Navy SEAL on Bob Kerrey's team): (From videotape.) There was nobody that was allowed to live in that area, and so when we encountered people, they were hostiles. That they were women and children, that they were VC sympathizers, makes the situation no less regretful to me personally.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who was telling what really happened in Vietnam on that fateful night in February, 1969, Kerrey or Klann? And that was the short squib there from Mr. Klann. Do you want to speak to that?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think it's -- you couldn't ask an easier question. I know Bob Kerrey; I believe Bob Kerrey. Gerhard Klann is the only person on a seven-member team who has that memory of what happened there. Gerhard Klann, in this article that reveals the story, talks about having a drinking problem his whole life, while he was in the military. There's some question as to whether he was drunk during the press interviews that were conducted to build this story in the first place.

It's a ridiculous match of credibility versus non-credibility, and what you have here is morally rudderless journalism that has no capacity to choose one from the other in what is a very simple story, which is basically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know who you're taking on --

MR. O'DONNELL: Non-combatants being killed in Vietnam is not something we learned about this week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're taking on the New York Times Magazine.

MR. O'DONNELL: The New York Times Magazine runs on totally different journalistic standard than the newspaper. It is run by an editor named Adam Moss, who has absolutely no experience in this kind of journalism. He ran a little thing in New York called "Seven Days," which folded in about a year. It was basically a fashion magazine. His mission is to make the magazine flashy. He has done that.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. I'm not here to judge the merits of the New York Times Sunday Magazine or its editor. And I don't think we're ever going to know what went on that night. And I think Senator Kerrey has been the most truthful here, in saying he's not going to cast aspersions on another person's version of events. But what we do know is that when they discovered that these were women and children and civilians who were murdered, and went on to accept --

MR. O'DONNELL: They weren't murdered. They were killed, they were not murdered.

MS. CLIFT: Killed. Killed. Killed. -- and went on to accept a certificate and a Bronze Medal. Bob Kerrey has been living with this for 32 years knowing that he did not commit, in his mind, an act of heroism. And he --

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a minute. Let me get -- MR. O'DONNELL: He earned his medal in the mission. He took his men into a free-fire zone and brought them out alive.

MS. CLIFT: Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: His report, filed in the immediacy of the event --

MS. CLIFT: Lawrence. He himself --

MR. O'DONNELL: -- said that there were noncombatants killed. His report said it. That's how we know.

MS. CLIFT: I have read about this.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look. Wait a second.

MS. CLIFT: And Senator Kerrey said he verbally said that noncombatants were killed.

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second. Let me get in here.

MS. CLIFT: He's the one who says he bears guilt.

MR. BLANKLEY: Eleanor. Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: How can you absolve him?

MR. O'DONNELL: Because police officers, who kill criminals every day, feel guilty after the fact.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's fine.

MR. O'DONNELL: You go kill someone and tell me how you feel after the fact.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look. Look. The journalists and pundits of our age, my age group, most of us stayed at home. We were leaving our hearts in San Francisco, and Bob Kerrey was leaving his leg in Vietnam, and got a Congressional Medal of Honor for it. And to see people now haggling over what happened in the fog of war, I think, is repulsive.

MR. BARONE: Well, John, we've also seen, you know, false accusers come forward before. The Associated Press got, I believe, some -- a Pulitzer Prize or a major prize for a series of stories about the killing of noncombatants at No Gun Ri during the Korean War. In fact there were people killed there, but a number of their chief informants in that story, we're told, were not there under any circumstances. That was a fabrication exposed by my colleague Joe Galloway at U.S. News.

MS. CLIFT: Senator Kerrey has --

MR. BARONE: I think there's a likelihood that --


MR. BARONE: I'm with Lawrence.

MS. CLIFT: Senator Kerrey has been the most honest in his own revelations about how he has dealt with it.

MR. BARONE: His own toughest critic.

MS. CLIFT: And he says himself that he bears responsibility for what happened that night, as we collectively all bear responsibility for the way that war was conducted. And a lot of civilians were killed in a war that went on far too long.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out.

MR. BARONE: Of course they were. Civilians are killed in every war.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: This is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out

MS. CLIFT: His only crime is -- if it's a crime -- was to accept the mantle of heroism for something he knew was not heroic.

MR. O'DONNELL: The recipient of an award is not who decides who gets it.

MS. CLIFT: Lawrence, you've had your say. Don't yell at me.

MR. O'DONNELL: If you say -- if a recipient has to decide whether he is worthy of it, modest men will refuse them, and egomaniacs will accept them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. My view is that it was a moonless, dark night, very dark. It was a free-fire zone, so declared. It was -- the VC, they were told, were present. And they were fired upon, and as he says, they returned fire.

I don't see how the Pentagon can even consider for a moment opening this case for an investigation. I admire Kerrey, as you do, and I think he's telling the absolute truth, with no falsification, during that agonizing press conference that he gave.

We'll be right back.



MR. BARONE: Silvio Berlusconi wins Italy in -- May 13.


MS. CLIFT: Albert Gore wins the Florida overcount! (Laughs.)


MR. BLANKLEY: As the Census data comes in, we're going to start seeing retirements from Congress announced.


MR. O'DONNELL: There will be more than 15 Democratic votes in the Senate for the final passage of the Bush tax cut.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Promotion authority, formerly called fast track -- trade promotion authority will be granted by the Congress to President Bush in the fall.





MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Supreme seat belts. Should a policeman be able to arrest a soccer mom who doesn't have her seat belt on and handcuff her, standing on the roadside, while her two young children look on crying; haul her off to jail, where she is booked, fingerprinted, and a mug shot taken, then put in a jail cell for over an hour? The Supreme Court says yes, in a five-to-four decision. Yes: Souter, Kennedy, Rehnquist, Thomas and Scalia. No: O'Connor, Ginsberg, Stevens and Breyer.

Here's the case: Gail Atwater went through the above ordeal, then was held on $310 bail for this minor traffic offense for which the maximum fine was $50. She had been moving at 15 miles per hour while her six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son looked out the car window in search of a missing toy. No one had seat belts on. The policeman accosted her, looking at her through the driver's window, and cited the seat belt violation.

MS. ATWATER: (From videotape.) He just got very close and very loud, yelling in my face, "You're going to jail!"

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Atwater argued that it was an infringement against her constitutional rights, a violation of the Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable search and seizure. Now Americans remember when cars did not even have seat belts. The idea that the United States is now a place where the police can arrest you and put you behind bars for failing to wear your seat belt represents an incredible expansion of state authority, say critics of the court decision.

Question: Are those critics right? I ask you, Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: Well, John, in that piece you said that Americans can remember when we didn't have seat belts. You can remember when we didn't have cars! (Laughter.)

There's an old saying that hard cases make bad law. This is an example where I think a hard case made good law. The general principle the Supreme Court was deciding, as I understand it, is whether or not you can make an arrest of a person who has violated some law and act pursuant to it, or can these always be -- when the policeman has seen open violation of the law. And I think the court answered that question correctly; otherwise, it would hobble sensible police work. Now, this obviously was not sensible police work.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. BARONE: These cops on this beat were an example of why there are sometimes -- there are sometimes -- (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: It's a terrible decision in the sense that it invites cops -- it gives them the license to overreact in these kinds of cases.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. What are they going to arrest for next, not wearing a helmet? Smoking in --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but I don't like being on the same side as Rehnquist and Scalia and Clarence Thomas, believe me, but I understand why they did that. Do they start selecting out laws that you can break and you can't be arrested for? State legislatures should pass some laws that say if the price is $50, fine, you can't be arrested and taken to jail.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has the court exhibited no sense of proportion? Arrests should be made sparingly, and people's liberty should be deprived for an hour only with the utmost care and caution.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that, do you not? A former what, district attorney?

MR. BLANKLEY: Former deputy attorney general. Yeah, unfortunately, Eleanor happens to come on the truth in this. The fault is with the state that allows infractions to be an arrestable offense and police departments that allow policemen, as a matter of their procedures, to arrest for these. But the court was -- the Supreme Court was deciding, Does a state have the sovereignty to make that decision? And, unfortunately, bad as the policy is, states, I think, have the right to characterize an infraction as an arrestable offense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You'd better not park in a no-parking zone, or they're going to slap handcuffs right on you, have you fingerprinted and put in jail for an hour.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I hope not. (Laughter.)