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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

TAPED: FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2002

BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MARCH 2-3, 2002

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Good morning, Manila!

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): (From videotape.) Clearly we've got to find Mohammed Omar. We've got to find Osama bin Laden. And we've got to find other key leaders of the al Qaeda network, or we will have failed. I don't think the success has been overstated, but the continued success, I think, is still somewhat in doubt.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER TRENT LOTT (R-MS): (From videotape.) Any crack in the -- or perceived crack in the support and unity of the American people and our leaders in Washington is not helpful. And I think it's important that we not be critical of the commander in chief at a time when we are in -- at war against terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tom Daschle may have a point about clarity of direction, but there is at least one clear direction of the war on terrorism: the Philippines! We're already there! Over 600 U.S. troops helping their Philippine counterparts battle the Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrilla group that has kidnapped an American missionary couple and been holding them for 10 months. Abu Sayyaf has ties to al Qaeda. So the U.S. is helping to hunt down Muslim guerrilla terrorists, separatists in the jungles and forests and, in the process, training the local military in counterterrorism tactics.

The Philippine central government has been fighting guerrilla wars against its own people for decades. In the past, they were Marxist rebels. Now they are Muslim separatists. Ten years ago, we pulled our troops out of the Philippines, shutting down bases at Clark and Subic Bay. Now, despite a government beset by epic corruption, we are inching our way back in. As for the al Qaeda tie, the president has confirmed it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Obviously, we've got a presence in the Philippines because there is an al Qaeda-affiliated group of people there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Last week in the Philippines, in a horrible accident, 10 Americans lost their lives. Their helicopter crashed. Question: Let's begin with the criticism currently being leveled by the Democrats at our commander in chief. What do we think of that criticism, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think to define victory as, "You have to get your hands on Osama bin Laden; without that you had a sort of defeat on the war on terrorism" really understates this war and the fact that we're going out after people all over the world in trying to disassemble a network of terrorists, the exact contents of which we can't immediately know. And it's hard to assess whether we're having success or failure, but I think Tom Daschle was setting it up in a way that he thought might be politically advantageous and that that was a mistake on his part, in both policy and politics.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you think Daschle was justified?

MS. CLIFT: Senator Daschle was stating the obvious. The administration started out saying their goal was to get bin Laden and the top al Qaeda leadership, and I think any poll you read -- the American people feel that there is no victory unless they are brought under control and found.

Secondly, for Senator Lott to say what he said, when -- in 1999 the Clinton administration had a military action in the Gulf, and Senator Lott at that point had no trouble criticizing President Clinton and said you can support our troops and still criticize the president.

But the point is, the Philippines isn't what Tom Daschle was talking about. I think the president does have authority from Congress to these covert activities, these -- military assistance to go after al Qaeda cells. What the fear is, that this administration's going to widen this war and take us into Iraq without clearly defining how that's going to be done and how it can be accomplished and without getting Congress to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the primary mission of our troops in the Philippines?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the primary stated reason is to assist the Philippine government in suppressing the terrorists who have al Qaeda connections. There are three different groups of terrorists. There's only one small group that are al-Qaeda-connected, and the danger is that in the brush there, you might confuse the different groups.

I think on a larger level, obviously Daschle has the right to dissent. I don't think he should be questioned for it. He's right --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He called for a clarification of aims.

MR. BLANKLEY: But I think he was wrong-headed in talking about Osama bin Laden. By the way, Eleanor, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, in his first press conference, virtually, said whether we get him or not isn't as important, we may never get him; the point is to stop the terrorism. Hitler was suspected to have escaped to Argentina after World War II. It didn't mean that anyone thought we had lost the war just because Hitler might be hiding in a hole somewhere.

MS. CLIFT: Would you sleep well knowing bin Laden is still roaming around Pakistan?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'd sleep better with him dead, but if he's in a hole, that's okay.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Daschle right to call for clear definition of our goals in the Philippines?

MR. O'DONNELL: Of course he's right. This is the Senate majority leader. Of course the Senate and the House have to know what the plan is. Now, there is a way of doing a certain amount of briefing of the leadership in a confidential way, and then there's another layer in which you have to go public, to a great degree, with what your aims are. And he's not expressing some great dissatisfaction with where we are now. He's also not expressing any disagreement with the campaign in Afghanistan. He was with the president a hundred percent on that. He wants to know where are we going now and why. And he's, I think, reasonable enough to allow for a certain amount of secrecy in that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to tie this back to al Qaeda, our presence in the Philippines.

So what is the precise al Qaeda connection in the Philippines? Specifically, the tie is Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who went on trial in the U.S. almost six years ago, July of '96, for masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing, February '93. He was convicted and is now in prison. In '95 and earlier, he was in the Philippines trying to assemble a specialized bomb. The police raided his apartment when fire broke out, found his laptop that detailed the bomb and a plot to blow up -- get this -- 12 U.S. 747 passenger jets in a single day as they flew over the Pacific. Under interrogation, Yousef talked about a second attempt to blow up -- get this -- the World Trade Center, this time using aircraft to hit the center with.

Al Qaeda had armed the Abu Sayyaf rebels, and the rebels had in turn helped Yousef and his co-conspirators with their infrastructure in Manila -- safe houses, arms, explosives. Yousef, with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, planned to use the Philippines for a launching pad for global terrorist activity. He's linked to terrorist plots, including one against the CIA. It's no accident that Francis Ford Coppola filmed "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines.

"Apocalypse Now," of course, was a Vietnam War classic. The point is this: Is the Philippines likely to turn into a quagmire like Vietnam? I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't think so, although it's certainly true that not only in the Philippines, but in Indonesia and Malaysia, there are al Qaeda elements there and we could possibly get bogged down. I don't think that's a reason not to do it, but it's certainly a possibility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've raised a very good point, Tony. The real purpose of our being in the Philippines may be to get in, get out, get rid of the Muslim terrorist group there, and show to Indonesia that we can do it clean without causing a disruption; because Indonesia is the real problem, is it not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. It's a bigger -- it's much bigger problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, because there are more islands and more terrorists.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: More terrorists and more Muslims.

MR. BLANKLEY: The thing is that when Daschle says that he doesn't know what the objective is, it's like World War II: It's a big war; it's going to evolve. Roosevelt didn't know in the summer of '42 what the full --

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, if it's an easy question to answer, why doesn't the president just answer it? The majority leader is asking a general question; there should be a general answer to that.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I think the majority leader is playing in politics.

MR. O'DONNELL: I think it's already obvious that we're going after terrorist --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Michael.

MR. BARONE: Well, there's a couple other things that need to be said here, John. One of them is that Ramzi Yousef, whom you identified there as a terrorist who found refuge in the Philippines, also had -- there's very strong evidence that he had connections to Iraq; that he was furnished a secret identity by the Iraq secret service that was obtained in Kuwait in August 1990. This is Laurie Mylroie's thesis in "Study of Revenge." So there may be more of a link-up of terrorists than just with al Qaeda. But there are refuges for these people in the Philippines.

One reason it's not going to be a quagmire like Vietnam, John, is that the Philippine people are with us. Polls in the Philippines show that 83 percent of them support United States presence there. Yes, there are some of the chattering class comes out against us and so forth, and there's some nervousness among the public officials. But last Monday in Zamboanga in the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, 2,000 people were out there demonstrating with U.S. flags.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I saw that.

MR. BARONE: And they sang "America the Beautiful," every verse.

MS. CLIFT: The point is that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happened in the year 1900 with regard to the Moro?

MR. BARONE: Well, you had a rebellion against America taking control of the Philippines that lasted from 1898 to 1902.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did we do?

MR. BARONE: We suppressed it, and we killed some of the leaders, and we established a commonwealth. We promised them independence --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know --

MR. BARONE: -- and we delivered on independence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know you're never going to be able to stop the guerrilla and separatist movements in the Philippines; true or false?

MR. BARONE: Yes, we did. We stopped the movements for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They've been going on continuously in some dimension ever since.

MS. CLIFT: To bring this into the modern era a little bit: The administration has reason to believe that bin Laden and his top deputy are still roaming around the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But a lot of that next echelon, the next generation of al Qaeda, have fled. And I think the administration is correct to go and try to find where these people are setting up shop, and the Philippines is clearly one of those places. Again, I don't think the administration should have difficulty answering these questions. They don't have to tell us, but they ought to be telling the top leaders in Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that there is a woman who is governing Indonesia. Her name is Megawati. Do you know that there are al Qaeda sympathizers in her military over there? Do you know how treacherous that situation is from our point of view; namely, terrorists being homegrown in Indonesia, and how vastly more complicated that is?

MS. CLIFT: More treacherous to ignore it, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that that ought to be in our sights more so than, say, Iraq, Iran, or North Korea?

MS. CLIFT: Iraq, Iran and North Korea are megawattages greater than any problems with Megawati.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think so?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Than any problems in Indonesia? I could not agree with you more.

What do you have to say about this?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think North Korea belongs in a whole separate list somewhere. But I don't have the intelligence reports to distinguish between the threat level from the Philippines or from Iraq. One has the sense that it's greater from Iraq.

The other big distinction about the Philippines and why it won't be a quagmire is, we know that there resides in the Philippines a specific possible threat to American citizens living in the United States. No such threat ever existed for one minute in Vietnam, North or South.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And --

MR. O'DONNELL: So there was no real reason for domestic support for a Vietnam war.

MR. BARONE: Well, people are captive, and one was killed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's an interesting -- that's a point we don't want to lose sight of. There are two Americans over there that have been held for what?

MR. BARONE: Ten months. Missionaries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ten months.

Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: Also, it's not an ideological war in the Philippines, the way it was with Vietnam.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think our objective is to go in and actually slay the terrorists there. There are only about 300 who are in arms and another 2,000 of civilians giving them support.

MR. BARONE: We're going to assist the Philippines.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With that as our objective, clearly stated, and we can't -- and the Constitution of the Philippines prohibits having foreign troops fighting over there --

MR. BARONE: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- so we have a diplomatic fig leaf, and they are, quote, unquote, "advisers."

But -- exit question: With 660 American servicemen and -women, knowing what we are -- what I am saying they are doing, assuming that, they're in the Philippines, can we do the job against Abu Sayyaf, the Muslim terrorist group now holding our American couple? I ask you.

MR. BARONE: I'll say yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say?

MS. CLIFT: We can help. I don't know that we ever completely solve any of these issues.

MR. BLANKLEY: If we can limit it to that target, yes. If we get sucked into fighting some of the other terrorists that are bigger organizations, Muslim terrorists, then I wonder.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very well-stated.

MR. O'DONNELL: I think that specific point of success is unlikely, but I wish them well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it can be done if we keep our eye on the ball and not try to get into the business of ruling out other insurgents for other causes, or to try to remove any kind of ongoing and probably endemic -- hopelessly endemic political corruption in the Philippines.

When we come back, California Republican showdown. Riordan or Simon?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: NIMBY in Nevada.

Nuclear power plants in the U.S. generate nearly 20 percent of the electricity in the United States. That's the good news. The bad news is that the plants also generate waste, thousands of tons of radioactive waste.

Civilian nuclear energy has been used for half a century in the U.S., and for most of those 50 years, Washington has been searching for a single appropriate, permanent repository for radioactive waste ranging from spent power-plant fuel rods to weapons-grade plutonium. That waste, civilian and military, is now stored in 39 states, and the sites where it is stored -- many in heavily populated areas -- add up to over 130.

After September 11th, the urgency for a single permanent waste repository has increased dramatically. The current sites make attractive targets for terrorists, who have a far easier time stealing uranium or plutonium from these scattered 131 sites than from a single repository armed with ultra-high security, possibly even including a dedicated geostationary surveillance satellite right over the site, Yucca Mountain.

In the Nevada desert a hundred or so miles west of Las Vegas and east of Death Valley, the arid, remote site has been studied since 1982, at a cost of $7 billion dollars for the studies alone. Its geology and climate are as close to perfect as can be found, lying in an isolated hydrologic basin connecting to no other water supplies. The climate is so dry that pack-rat nests of twigs, droppings and rodent saliva 50,000 years old have been found. And finally, there is practically zero threat from earthquakes.

How long will the repository last? Projected, 10,000 years at a minimum. How long will it take to build? Eight years. Who wants to put the repository in Nevada? George W. Bush, his administration, and just about all non-inhabitants of Nevada. Who's against it? Nevada and its inhabitants. Can Congress override Nevada's expected veto with a simple majority in each house? Maybe. Opponents are scrambling.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV) (?): (From videotape.) They are not going to allow 70,000 tons of the most poisonous substance known to man to be hauled around this country.

Question: What poses the greater risk: Leaving nuclear waste where it is or moving it across the country by truck and train? Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: You know, I'm dependent on scientists telling me the answer to that one. And in fact, this is -- even if Congress does override the veto of the Nevada governor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is going to study this for the next three years. And then if they go ahead and start construction, there won't be any waste in Nevada until after 2010.

Now it's in, as you point out, it's like 43 states. Transporting it would put 52 million people within possible danger. I don't know if that's better or worse than what would happen if it were in one central place. I mean, I've got to depend on scientists who are not politicians because this has gotten highly political now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, the scientists contradict the Nevadan concern. The Nevadans are worried about water -- seepage into the water. The scientists say that's not going to happen.

What you can't scientifically calculate is the risk of transporting. That's going to be a policy intuitive judgment. I can see the argument going both ways. It's not going to be a one-time shipment. You're going to have regular shipments of this waste from all the different nuclear plants, you know, through much of the heartland of America to this site. Whether that's more dangerous than leaving it stuffed there, I don't know -- ultimately I think we're probably going to put it in one place, because among the other reasons, the nuclear plants are running out of places to store their waste. So there's that other motivation to move it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The casks in which it's going to be hauled are armor -- can withstand --

MR. BLANKLEY: They're supposed to be able to fall off a truck, be smashed --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, armor piercing. They're going to be encased in eight -- what? -- eight-ton lead steel casks?

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh yeah, I mean --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there are going to be helicopters flying over them, if necessary, with fore and aft caravans of police and other -- Marines, let's say.

MR. BLANKLEY: We're going to do all in our physical power to make it safe. It sounds pretty safe. But you can't count for every contingency, that's all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some of these casks have been moved by truck, and there has never been, in the history of the country, anything go wrong.

MR. BARONE: These casks are in fact capable of leaking. They are so enormous that we actually don't have trucks that are capable of carrying them in all of the places they'd need to be carried, which means you're going to have to use rail.

The way to think about it, remember --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well how do you calculate -- how do you calculate the risk? I mean as opposed to one place and these -- 131 --

MR. BARONE: It is instantly a greater risk.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which is?

MR. BARONE: Moving it.

MR. BARONE: Look at all those red dots that you put on the map. Those red dots will all still have nuclear waste in them, but some of the nuclear waste in those red dots will become red lines going all over the country. So now the country is saturated with that stuff.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: These rods are in open pools of water at many of those 131 sites. There is no more room! There is no more room!

MR. BARONE: There's no good answer. The truth is we got ourselves into a technology that we had only half figured out. We never figured out what to do with the waste before we started the nuclear movement. That's the problem. And when you talk about 10,000 years in the Yucca Mountains, this stuff stays active for 250,000 years. So no thank you on a 10,000-year --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah --

MR. O'DONNELL: The problem is that you're going to get -- that the storage capacity or sturdiness of storage, you know, where -- some of the places where it's located now is a lot less than 10,000 years --

MR. BARONE: Right! And a lot less than a hundred years. So we're going to have to do something sooner or later.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which has --

MR. BARONE: I have to say, this country is trying to do something intelligent about this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which has -

MR. BARONE: -- and in fact, the risks all around are a little less than the alarmist tone of this conversation would suggest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which has fewer risks? Yucca or other sites?

MR. BARONE: I'd say Yucca on --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yucca has fewer risks? All right.

Exit question: On merits, is the choice of Yucca Mountain as the nation's permanent nuclear storage repository wise? Yes or no?

MR. BARONE: To the best of my knowledge, I'll say it's wise.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wise. Eleanor!

MS. CLIFT: I recuse myself from this debate. I don't have the scientific knowledge, and you know, I wouldn't want to live near any of these places.

MR. BARONE: Well, Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: And after 9/11, we have also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Eleanor, this is --

MS. CLIFT: -- realized how a lot of these storage places are vulnerable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is an unaccustomed timidity -- (laughter) -- and I don't know whether you should go back on the gingko balboa or something.

MS. CLIFT: I'm not a nuclear scientist! I'm not a nuclear scientist!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think O'Donnell is? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: The Yucca site --

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) He carries it off better than I do!

MR. BLANKLEY: The Yucca site was first identified in the 1950s. In 1987, Congress passed a law saying it's the only site that the federal government can consider, because the universal judgment is, it's the best place to put it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's one in South Carolina, and there's one in Texas that are pretty good.

MR. BLANKLEY: Those have been rejected by Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, yes.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's also a place with virtually no electoral votes, which has a lot to do with the outcome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it geologically stable?

There's no such thing. There is no such thing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, is 10,000 years good enough for you?

MR. O'DONNELL: -- as geological stability for 250,000 years, which is what you're going to need.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it environmentally sound?

MR. O'DONNELL: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An arid mountain?

MR. O'DONNELL: No. It is not arid. There is a water table 500 feet below where they intend to put this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Passe, O'Donnell. The answer is, it is a wise choice. Let's get on with it and get rid of that waste that is so menacing in its current location.

Issue Three: Showdown in California!

This coming Tuesday, March 5, is a big day in California for Republicans -- the Gubernatorial Primary. Former LA Mayor Richard Riordan once held a double-digit lead over his rival, businessman Bill Simon Jr. But now they're both in a dead heat. The moneyed Simon has both resources to spend and endorsers to flaunt, particularly one.

FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: (From videotape.) Trust me. Bill Simon will make a great governor for California."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who will win the GOP gubernatorial nomination? Riordan or Simon?

MR. BARONE: I think Bill Simon. I think he's overtaken it, and Riordan's argument that you should vote for me because I have better chance in the general" is not an argument that appeals to ordinary voters of either party.

MS. CLIFT: Bill Simon will win, but he'll lose in November, because he's unelectable as an anti-choice, anti-gay-rights -- too conservative for California.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Riordan would be a stronger candidate in the general. Is that what you're saying?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, he would be.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right on, Eleanor!

MR. BLANKLEY: I been saying for a long time that Bill Simon was going to win. He is going to win. And there's the latest poll out showing that he beats Davis as -- not quite as much but as well as Riordan. The argument that only --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- today.

MR. BARONE: -- Riordan can beat Davis is not true. Simon's run a wonderful campaign. He's going to be well funded. My guess is -- I know he wins this election. I be he wins in November.

MR. O'DONNELL: Gray Davis has run the best campaign in the Republican primary. It was a campaign to defeat Riordan, and advertising campaign against Riordan. It's going to work, and so Davis is going to get the nominee he wants, Bill Simon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bill Simon. Who's going to win in the general election, assuming it's Simon?

MR. O'DONNELL: Gray Davis. Gray Davis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it were Riordan, who would win -- who would win in the general election?

MR. O'DONNELL: Riordan would have a real fighting change. No one else does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No one else does. So the Republicans are suicidal.

MR. O'DONNELL: The others are --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Republicans are suicidal.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- extreme anti-abortion candidates in a state that isn't going to go for that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, the Republicans in California are suicidal to elect Simon. They should elect Riordan, because Riordan is the one who stands a chance, the best chance of defeating Davis in the general election.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction. Will the Democrats retreat from their current criticism of Bush's handling of the war?

MR. BARONE: Yep.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They will.

MS. CLIFT: No. It was such mild criticism.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, I'm pretty sure they will, back-pedal at least.

MR. O'DONNELL: They haven't criticized it. They won't back-pedal from what they haven't done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're right, O'Donnell. The one time in this program I agree with you. (Laughter.) They feel they're onto something, and they won't.

Bye-bye.

(End of regular program.)

(Begin PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Bickering Over Pickering

(Begin videotape.)

JUDGE CHARLES PICKERING (Bush Nominee To Court of Appeals): The charges that have been made against a me have been hurtful, and they have been painful. I have a record of standing up for equal protection, respecting the rule of the law."

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I believe that there's virtually unanimous opinion on the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee that he will not be confirmed."

(End videotape.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Judge Charles Pickering, President Bush's nominee to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is in big trouble. Democrats oppose the Mississippi judge's record on abortion and civil rights. This Democratic congressional opposition to Pickering mystifies black officials on the Mississippi scene, notably Thaddeus Edmonson, the former president of the regional NAACP and now a councilman.

(Begin videotape.)

MR. EDMONSON: The portrayal of him as a racist is totally wrong. This gentleman cares about people. He has a Christian heart. And above all, he's part of the new Mississippi.

(End videotape.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Editorialists are even more critical of the Democrats, lambasting them for foul play and worse, race baiting. Why are Pickering's opponents playing this kind of ugly racial politics, asks the Wall Street Journal? "First is to create a public misconception that the Bush administration's judicial nominees are right-wing extremists who want to turn back the clock on race, abortion and religion. Call this a dress rehearsal for the president's first Supreme Court nomination.

"Second is to scare Senate Democrats from the South into voting against Judge Pickering out of fear of losing crucial black support back home. This gives the unscrupulous every incentive to shout 'race' at every opportunity."

Lawrence O'Donnell, do you think the Wall Street Journal in this respect, that this is a dress rehearsal for the president's nomination to the United States Supreme Court?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, that's more what it's about than anything else. I mean, even the New York Times, which is no fan of Pickering, says the in their editorial that accusations of racism on his part are just false.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

MR. O'DONNELL: There's just no grounding to it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. BARONE: Well, the Washington Post went farther and just lambasted People for the American Way and the other left-wing, special-interest groups that have engaged in a slimy, reprehensible, intellectually dishonest campaign to portray somebody with one of the worst labels that you can portray an American with: racist.

Charles Pickering went and testified against the grand wizard of the Klu (sic) Klux Klan in 1967 in Mississippi. I don't think that very many of the 10 members of the Democratic Party on the Judiciary Committee that are going to vote him out of a federal judgeship have shown the kind of courage that it would take to testify against the Klu (sic) Klux Klan of Mississippi in 1967. They were intellectually shabby and dishonest and scurrilous.

MS. CLIFT: This is all -- there is -- look, I -- Michael, there's another side to the story.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, theirs was wrong.

MS. CLIFT: I don't think the man is racist, but he has, in his rulings --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is that?

MS. CLIFT: -- he has in his rulings showed an insensitivity to civil rights and civil liberties concerns. But the question on Capitol Hill is, one, how conservative is too conservative? And do the Democrats have the votes to defeat this nomination? And the answer on both those questions is yes. And it's not only a dress rehearsal for the Supreme Court. There's a whole line of judges awaiting confirmation, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There could be --

MS. CLIFT: -- how far is Bush going to get to turn the court to the right?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There could be some breakaways from the Democratic line-up.

MS. CLIFT: We'll see.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it would be a conscience vote, because they know that this man is worth.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear from you, quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: Michael is completely correct. Eleanor is half correct when she says that this is also about a long-term struggle to fill a lot of vacancies in the federal bench below the Supreme Court in which the Democrats judge as long as they've got the Senate, they've got the votes to force the White House to nominate moderates rather than conservatives.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: And regretfully, they're going to prove that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is Lott asking for a seven-day delay for the committee vote? He's got until the middle of next week.

MR. O'DONNELL: Maybe he's trying to turn this around.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why? Does he want to try to, through backroom politicking, persuade them to vote his way? And why doesn't -- why doesn't the president lift up his -- lift up the phone and call his new-found friend, Teddy Kennedy, and say, "Why don't you be fair? Do me a favor on this one."

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, for one thing, because this is not the president's -- (end PBS segment.)


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