News Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face The Nation, will Elian Gonzalez ever go home? Plus, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Jesse Ventura. The case of what to do about the little Cuban boy has become a quagmire. What's next? We'll talk to the lawyer for his Miami relatives, and we'll hear from two congressmen: Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart - he says the boy should stay - and Democrat Jose Serrano, who says he may boycott the Democratic Convention because Vice President Gore has suddenly sided with the boy's Miami relatives.
Did Gore blindside the White House? We'll ask President Clinton's Chief of Staff John Podesta.
And finally, how's it playing out in the country? We'll hear from the always quotable Minnesota Governor, Jesse Ventura. It's all next on Face The Nation.
Announcer: Face The Nation, with chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
Schieffer: Good morning, again. And we begin this morning in Miami with attorney Linda Osberg-Braun and Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart; from New York City, Congressman Jose Serrano; with us here in Washington, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. We are going to begin with Ms. Osberg.
Ms. Osberg, would it not - and I should say in explanation, you represent some of the relatives there in Miami of this young man - would it not be a good idea to give this boy's father temporary custody while the courts sort out what his fate is going to be?
Linda Osberg-Braun, attorney: I think it's very important that Juan Miguel come to Miami, come to the United States, so that he can speak freely. When he does come to the United States - and hopefully it will be soon, we were hoping he would come the moment Elian came to this country in November. But when he does, it needs to psychologically healthy for little Elian and it needs to be a gradual process of integration, because, as you know, his surrogate mother, he has become very dependent on and it needs to be very delicately. And I think that's something we all agree upon.
Schieffer: But you don't think that the father, the biological father, ought to be given custody of the child once he gets here.
Osberg-Braun: No, we have not addressed that issue. He needs to come here first, and we're very hopeful that he comes here as soon as possible so he can for once and for all speak freely and talk about what he really wants for his son Elian. There's no question that he loves the boy and that the boy loves him. We need to understand what he's thinking in a free situation, not one where he's controlled from Castro's forces.
Gloria Borger, U.S. News & Report: Ms. Osberg, you say there's no question that the father loves his son, yet some very ugly stories have been coming out of his relatives in Miami saying, for example, tat the father has been verbally abusive to the boy on the telephone and that he has told him that his mother is still alive in Cuba. Can you substantiate these charges?
Osberg-Braun: What needs to happen is there needs to be the appropriate forum. Remember, Elian has never had a day in court. He was not - he was refusedÂ…
Borger: That's not my question, myÂ…
Osberg-Braun: Â…an asylum hearing.
Borger: My question is, is this true or is this not true? Has the father been saying these things to the child?
Osberg-Braun: That is a true statement, and we do believe he's under the control of the forces of Cuba. He did state that his mother was waiting for him and that he should come back to Cardenas, where
she was. That's cruel, and we understand that - that's because of the forces in Cuba coaching him and coercing him to say these horrible things to his son. That needs to be discussed. It needs to be explored.
Schieffer: We have discussed that in your previous answer. Ms. Osberg, if the child's psychological situation is so much at the forefront of the relatives' concerns, why did you let this child be interviewed on television?
Osberg-Braun: He did - we did so in a way most appropriate and with a psychologist there. In fact, the Sawyer show also brought their own independent psychologist. We did it for one simple reason, because nobody from the Department of Justice or INS was listening to little Elian's voice. They refused to hear the evidence. That's also the reason we're up in front of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. We're fighting for a hearing so that all of the evidence, including Elian's voice, can be heard.
Schieffer: All right, thank you very much. Congressman Diaz-Balart, let me turn to you now. There are reports now that if this child - the courts decide to send this child back to Cuba, there may be demonstrations. In fact, people in Miami are threatening demonstrations. Are you worried about violence breaking out there?
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL): What I'm worried about is precisely the courts and the law continuing to not be followed by the Clinton administration. When the child was placed in the care of his relatives in Miami on December 1, Immigration - in writing, following law, practice and procedure - said that only the Florida family court could decide the issue of custody if a custody dispute were to arise.
So after, the Clinton administration, after Castro's December 5 ultimatum to Clinton, changed its position. This was pursuant to law, practice and policy. Then on December 7, the administration, after Castro's ultimatum, changed its position. The family, pursuant to law and what Immigration said, went to state court.
Schieffer: Are youÂ…
Diaz-Balart: The great uncle obtained a court order, this court order granting temporary custody to the great-uncle and prohibiting the child from bing taken from the familyÂ…
Schieffer: Congressman, if I may - if I mightÂ…
Diaz-Balart: Â…until custody is resolved stands. Now if the administration goes in violation of court and law, that's something that shocks the conscience and obviously has this community in great shock.
Schieffer: Well, whatever the Clinton administration may or may not be doing, you've got local officials on the scene there saying if violence breaks out, it will be the fault of the White House and the Justice Department.
Diaz-Balart: Do you know why? Do you know why?
Schieffer: You know, congressman, we have not heard that kind of talk since George Wallace was railing against Robert Kennedy.
Diaz-Balart: That's the mostÂ…
Schieffer: Do you feel in any way responsible if violence should break out?
Diaz-Balart: Bob, that's a most unfair analogy. Let me tell you why. The court order prohibiting this child from being taken from the custody of the state court until the issue of his custody, based on his best interests, is resolvedÂ…
Diaz-Balart: Â…stands. This stands.
Schieffer: All right.
Diaz-Balart: When the local authorities say...
Diaz-Balart: When the local authorities say that they want to follow the law, how could you say that they are saying they don't want to follow the law?
Schieffer: I take your point, Congressman.
Diaz-Balart: The administration is violating the law.
Schieffer: I take your point, Congressman.
Borger: Let's let Congressman Serrano get in here. Last week, the vice president surprised a lot of Democrats by changing his position on Elian's case. He now says in fact he should be granted residency status. Why do you think the vice president did this?
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY): Well, it is unfortunate. I think he was pandering to the Cuban-American community, a vote that Democrats keep thinking that we can have when in fact it runs 70 to 80 percent Republican in a state where the president has a brother - the candidate for president has a brother, Jeb Bush.
Secondly, I think that he wanted to somehow get involved in this issue, and he did it in the wrong way. The question I'm asking him now is - I'm very bitter and angry about this - is he willing to include the seven million illegal aliens, who, like Elian, have no residency in this country? And is he willing to include in that bill that he supports the two million residents who are waiting for citizenship?
I've been getting a lot of calls from members of Congress and the Hispanic and Black Caucus and from constituents who are saying: "Hey, why not us? Why not include us in that? And why do you single out Elian?"
So what he has done to his candidacy is he hasn't picked up any votes in Miami and at the same time he has angered a lt of Latino and a lot of African-Americans who represent Haitians and Africans.
You should see the front of my office every day in the Bronx. A line of people waiting for me to help them navigate the immigration process in this country. They're abiding by the rules and they can't get included in the vice president's pandering.
Borger: So do you think that other minorities should reconsider their support for Al Gore's candidacy?
Serrano: Well, you know, reconsidering is a big question, because George Bush has said what Al Gore just said way before. My concern is that the vice president has to understand that the humane thing to do here is to send this child back. And if he wants to pick up support from the Latino community, the proper way to do it is to talk about the family value of reunifying this father with his son and not talking about the pandering of singling out one Latino when there are 11 million or nine million Latinos waiting for the same thing he is willing to give Elian, who hasn't asked for it and whose father has rejected it.
One last point: do you know this would be the first time in the history of this country that we would push residency down the throat of a whole family in Cuba, or in any other country, that hasn't asked for it, while there are people in this country being thrown out?
Last year Immigration threw out 150,000 people from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Africa - and not one of those people got a special bill in Congress for this privilege that they want to give Elian. Why? Because Elian wants it? Because it helps him? No. For votes and for money in Florida.
Serrano: Thank you.
Schieffer: Well, this certainly, Mr. Podesta, this illustrates why this whole situation has become so difficult to resolve. Were you surprised or were you blindside by Al Gore suddenly changing positions, breaking with the White House and siding with the relatives in Miami? Because basically that's what he did when he came out with this proposal.
John Podesta, White House Chief Of Staff: No, I think if you go back, Bob, the vice president has had a different position on this for a long time. He said I think early on that he thought that this matter should be handled by a Florida family court.
We have always believed that this matter should be handled by the federal courts. And Mr. Diaz-Balart said that we weren't following the law. Well, in fact, a disinterested federal judge said that we were following the law and ruled in favor of the Justice Department. That case is now on appeal.
But the vice president's had a different view on that for some time. He informed us about what he was going to say the other day.
Schieffer: George Bush said if he has any influence at all in the White House, he should be able to convince the president to go along with him. Do you expect the president to eventually come around to the vicpresident's position?
Podesta: Well, I think that the president has talked to the vice president about this. I think both of them share the view that we want to try to de-escalate this, try to get this out of the media circus, do what's right for the boy. But I think the president believes, as the attorney general does, that there's a very strong presumption in federal law that the father does speak for the child and that reunification of the boy with the father is the proper course. So I think we're going to continue to follow that.
Borger: Would the United States give political asylum to Elian's father if he requested it?
Podesta: I think that if he came here under the laws of our country, I think that, you know, he would have to seek it and the case on the merits would be judged on the merits, that I think he would have the right to seek asylum here.
Schieffer: Well, do you think the vice president's remarks have been helpful to the situation?
Podesta: I think that the vice president has said what he believes. I think that's perfectly appropriate. It's different from what the administration's views are on this matter. But I think that what he's trying to do is what we're all trying to do, which is, again, try to get this resolved in a forum and in a manner which de-escalates it and which considers the interests of the child.
Again, as I said, I think we think that there's a very strong presumption of the law. You're both parents. I think you can under why that presumption is there. That a child belongs with his natural parent unless that parent's unfit. Right now, we have no indication that Elian's father is an unfit parent. He's been interviewed by the INS on two occasions in Cuba. We expect that he'll ask for a visa and he'll come here and he'll be able to make his case.
Borger: Congressman Serrano makes the point that this is about electoral votes, it's about money, it's about politics in Florida. Do you think that did not enter into the vice president's calculation whatsoever?
Podesta: As I said, Gloria, I think the vice president had a different view on this for a long time and I think that it's an honest disagreement. And I think that, you know, people will judge this but I think it's not political. I think he's trying to do what's in the best interest of the child.
Schieffer: Let's talk about a couple of other things here. Charles LaBella, who headed the Justice Department investigation into campaign finance presented a report. It has remained under seal, not available for the public to scrutinize. Today on Meet The PressÂ…
Podesta: Although leaked to the media the day after the vice president won the nomination.
Schieffer: Well, today on Meet the Press, he said, confirmed that in that report he reports that Justice Department officials engaged in legal gamesmanship while this investigation was goinon. He says there is also no question now in his mind that the White House used access to top level officials in return for getting donations. Do you have a response to that?
Podesta: Yes, I think I have two responses. One is that the Justice Department, I believe, followed the law in handling this case and did so appropriately. They're continuing to investigate the matter and I think they'll take appropriate action.
With regard to access, I think that I have two responses. One is that no one has shown any quid pro quo, no one has ever charged the White House with doing that. And if the charge is merely that donors had access to political figures, I think it reminds me of Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca, donors do get access to political figures on Capitol Hill. The president's donors when he goes to fund-raisers, I don't think there's anything shocking about that.
Borger: Turning to Congress very quickly. What's the prospect for closing the gun show loophole in Congress?
Podesta: Well, we're obviously frustrated that the Republican leadership has decided to not let this conference committee meet. The president met with the leaders of the conference, asked them to meet. The House even voted on a bipartisan basis to go ahead and meet to try to resolve the differences and close the gun show loophole.
We're going to continue to press the case with the public that they ought to do it and in the meantime, I think the president is going to try to use his efforts and his bully pulpit to go out and deal with state initiatives that are dealing with this. He'll be traveling, for example, to Colorado the week after next where this matter's on the ballot in the state of Colorado to close the gun show initiative.
And the polls now show that 80 percent of the people in Colorado which is viewed as kind of I think a pro-gun state, favor closing the gun show loophole.
Schieffer: So he is going to Colorado itself to try to talk about this. Let me ask you quickly while you're here. Do you think have you the votes in Congress now to approve normal trade relations with China?
Podesta: I think we're making progress and I think we'll have the votes in Congress. I think you know, we're making the case people are now turning to really what the merits of this are on an economic basis.
We're opening the Chinese market to American products, services, et cetera. They already have access to our market. I think on national security grounds we have a very strong case and I think we're building support. And I think when the vote is taken in May as we expect it will be, that we'll have the votes to approve it.
Schieffer: Mr. Podesta, thank you. I think we squeezed a lot into a short time here. When we come back, we'll have a conversation about all of this with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.
Schieffer: Governor Jesse Ventura, thank you fr joining us.
Governor, let me start by just asking you, what do you think is the best way out of this situation now that's developed around little Elian Gonzalez?
Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-MN): Well, Bob, it's turned into a real mess, hasn't it? You know, who's involved? The Justice Department, the Congress, the parents, Cuba, the neighborhoods down in Miami. It's turned into a big bag of worms. But my opinion is very simple. I don't think government or politics get in the way of a parent-child relationship. And I think that no matter how much we probably don't want this young man to go back to Cuba, I still feel that his biological father has every right to his son. And that transcends all politics.
Borger: Governor, you know that the vice president has obviously changed his mind on this, and now says that he believes that Elian should be granted resident status in this country. Why do you think Al Gore did that?
Ventura: Well, I can't answer for the vice president. He's entitled to his opinion. Granting him resident status, still to me doesn't answer the big question of separating a young 5-year-old or however old he is, from his biological father, who has every right to him. I think that had this been any other country but Cuba, the young man would have been returned almost immediately. But because we have this particular stance with Cuba, this never-ending blockade with them, that they will take the positions that they do.
Schieffer: Let's talk a little bit about the Reform Party. You have left the Reform Party, Governor Ventura. It now looks as if Pat Buchanan is the odds on favorite to get their nomination in the race for president. Do you think the Reform Party at this point is going to have any impact on the presidential election?
Ventura: Well, first of all, I don't think of the Reform Party very often anymore. Only when you guys bring it up to me, because we are now the Independence Party of Minnesota. We have disaffiliated from the National Reform Party. We've gone back to what we were in 1996, prior to affiliating with them.
No, I don't think it's going to have very much impact at all, especially in light of the rules on debate. I mean, if they're going to require a 15 percent polling result to be involved in the debates, I think that will be very difficult for Mr. Buchanan to poll 15 percent and be included in the debates. Which I might add, I disagree with that 15 percent mark, because at the point in the primary here in Minnesota which is six to seven weeks before the general election, I was only polling 10 percent.
So if that criteria had been used here in Minnesota, I wouldn't be the governor today because I won the election because of debates and I don't think that that's a fair number to use. You should use the same number that you use to determine whether you have major party status.
Schieffer: Governor, you have said that you might endorse somene down the line. Let me just ask you, at this point what do you like about Al Gore? What do you not like about him? What do you like about George Bush so far? What do you not like about what he has done? Can you see yourself endorsing either one of those two men?
Ventura: Well, first of all, I'd say that getting an endorsement from me for either candidate will be extremely difficult because I would feel I was selling out the third party movement and the independent voter by endorsing a Democrat or Republican. I'm a believer that many of the problems we have today is because of our two-party system here and the caucuses that those parties have and the way their candidates have to answer to those caucuses.
They can't be free and independent thinkers. What do I like about the vice president? He's an easy man to talk to. I think he has great experience in the international world and diplomatic relations internationally. He's been around now eight years, so he should have that experience. I think he brings that to the table very strongly. And he's talking about campaign finance reform. I just hope it's not just talk to get elected.
I've already gone public and said I believe that that's what it will end up. I think that due to John McCain, they made it a central issue, but I think it'll only be an issue until one of them gets elected and at that point, it will go to the back burner and nothing will be done. I hope I'm wrong.
Schieffer: Anything you like about George Bush?
Ventura: Oh, Governor Bush is a very personable man. I get along with him great. We were at the NGA convention a year ago and I would find the governor would be a guy I could truly hang out with on an everyday basis and call him a friend. I think he's sincere in what he does. But again, he in a way, has had to sell out to the far right of the Republican Party and now he's trying to make the trip back to being a centrist again.
That's what both have to do, because let's remember something. This election won't be won by Republicans. It won't be won by Democrats. It will be won by the independent middle voters who are forced to pick either one or the other. So once they get their party nominations, then all of a sudden they become centrists again, and they want to try to appeal to that independent center who determines who wins the election.
Schieffer: All right. Jesse Ventura, thank you very much.
Schieffer: By the way, our conversation with Governor Ventura was taped on Friday.
And finally today, I will grant you, the Elian Gonzalez case may have set some kind of record for bringing out the worst in everyone, including the media. But it was just one in a string of events last week that left you feeling less than warm and fuzzy.
Think about it. This was the week the court ruled the president had violated the rights of Kathleen Willey, yet another reminder that his term may e ending, but we'll be hearing about the Clintons and their problems for the rest of our natural days.
It was also the week that powerful Republicans came out against answering questions on the Census. Never mind that the questions form the data that lawmakers use to get goodies for their states. You figure it out; I can't.
It was also the week the Supreme Court decided exotic dancers can't go naked anymore, but almost naked. I'm glad they found the time to clear all this up, but will the same rules now apply at colleges that have begun to feature clothing-optional coed dorms? I'm not kidding; it was in the paper.
And for downright sincerity, how could you beat the apology this week offered by New Jersey's Democratic Senate candidate, Jon Corzine, who when accused of racially insensitive remarks, confessed, and we quote: "I should not have said what I am reported to have said, but if I did, I apologize."
No, the only good thing about last week is that baseball season began, which brings me to the other thing: I hate basketball.
That's our report. We'll see you next week on Face The Nation.