BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Good morning, and welcome to Washington.
There are reports out this weekend that the Justice Department is investigating whether the government of Saudi Arabia funneled money to these two terrorists. The two men, both from Saudi Arabia, were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11th.
This follows news that a draft report by a joint congressional committee examining the terror attacks says the FBI and CIA might have missed a connection between the two terrorists and two other Saudi citizens. It was the second set of Saudis that reportedly got money via their families from an account that belonged to the wife of Saudi ambassador, Ambassador Bandar Bin Sultan. Saudi officials have denied any wrongdoing and have promised to cooperate.
To address these issues and more, we welcome from Louisville, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority whip. Also here with questions is Mort Kondracke, Fox News contributor and the executive editor of Roll Call.
Good morning, Senator. Thank you for joining us.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: Good morning, Brit.
HUME: Let me ask you a bit about this Saudi investigation. Obviously, the facts are not fully fleshed out yet, but I wonder if all of this raises a question in your mind about whether this relationship that the United States has with Saudi Arabia is coming to a kind of day of reckoning when the things that the Saudi government is known to do, the financing of these militant madrassas, the export of Wahhabi, the Wahhabi brand of Islam and so on, are not going to force some kind of a moment of truth here.
MCCONNELL: Well, certainly it's not news that the Saudis are on all sides of every issue. We know that we, in some ways, have had a good relationship with them over the years and, in other ways, it appears as if they're funding our enemies. It's a very mixed picture when you look at the Saudi regime.
I think it's a fragile regime. It will be interesting to see whether it will be able to survive in the coming years.
HUME: Osama bin Laden has attributed to him today about an eight- or nine-page letter. It's a long screed basically against the United States. But he mentions as one of his grievances against the United States, our support for dictatorial regimes in that area. Obviously we're not going to make policy in response to him.
But I wonder if it is your view that some adjustment in policy toward Saudi Arabia needs to be made to take account, really, of the contradictions that you've just described?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think one thing that that's clear, that when there is a new regime in Iraq, and I expect that to happen, it's going to be a regime in which the people of Iraq actually have a role in picking their leaders. I think that does make some of the more dictatorial regimes in the region, even those friendly to us, somewhat nervous.
KONDRACKE: Senator, the tape that Osama bin Laden prepared that came out last week, the administration has said that it's genuine, therefore he's alive.
Now, I wonder whether this doesn't, to some extent, validate Democratic charges that this war on terrorism is not won. The president did promise that he would bring in Osama bin Laden dead or alive. That's not done yet.
MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, no one claimed the war on terrorism is over. In fact, the president has repeatedly said it's not over.
But if you look at the first year in the war, I think we had a pretty good first year. We liberated Afghanistan. I think Senator Daschle may have missed that because I heard that he said the Taliban was still in charge there. Many of these Al Qaida leaders are dead, others are in prison, and many are hiding.
I think the fact that Osama bin Laden is still alive is unfortunate but not determinative, in terms of our success in the first year.
MORT KONDRACKE, FOX NEWS: But, you know, Al Gore is alleging that we're paying attention to Iraq when we should be finishing up with Al Qaida, and Al Qaida may attack us at any time. Shouldn't we be — aren't we overtaxing our resources?
MCCONNELL: Absolutely not. Al Gore certainly ought to know that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a big country with lots of resources.
Both of these efforts are important, and we're going to be able to continue to pursue the war on terrorism effectively and the Iraq policy, which now, interestingly enough, virtually everybody in the world has joined the president after his skillful leadership. He got a rip-roaring, positive response at the NATO meeting with regard to the Iraq policy. I think virtually the entire world now has rallied to the president's side after three months of excellent salesmanship both here and abroad about the need to have these weapons inspections succeed in Iraq.
HUME: One of the other things, of course, that Senator Daschle said this week, and we heard a little bit of it at the opening of this broadcast, was his criticism of talk radio, conservative talk radio, which he said it had an impact, he thought, not only on the election but also the level on threats against those whom those talk radio hosts criticize, including presumably himself and others.
What is your reaction to that charge by Senator Daschle, that conservative talk radio has a lot to do with the current level of what he considers to be political hostility in America?
MCCONNELL: Well, after I got through suppressing my laughter at that suggestion, it dawned on me that Daschle's probably never listened to Rush Limbaugh. I mean, there's nothing particularly inflammatory about anything Rush Limbaugh says.
And to hear Democrats complain about lack of support in the media when it's obvious that all the networks, except Fox possibly, tend to tilt their way, and certainly the New York Times and the Washington Post do, I think this is unprecedented. I don't think I've ever heard a liberal Democrat complain about not having enough support in the media before. That's truly astonishing.
HUME: Well, what is your view of what he is getting at? What's causing him to say these things? You say he's making astonishing comments. He's a smart guy. What's going on here?
MCCONNELL: Well, he's very exasperated. I mean, they expected to gain seats, and they lost seats. This is the first time the president's party has gained seats two years into a new administration since 1934 and the first time it's happened to Republicans in 100 years.
So, it was clearly a setback for them. Senator Daschle's obviously looking around for somebody to blame for this other than himself and his leadership. I think it's somewhat laughable.
KONDRACKE: Now, Senator, Senator Daschle has also criticized Republicans and the White House for failing to pass in this lame-duck session an unemployment insurance extension. On December 28th, right after Christmas, a million unemployed workers will lose their Social Security benefits.
Isn't this something — and it was apparently the House of Representatives, the Republican House of Representatives, that blocked this bill. Isn't this something that's going to hurt you in the long run?
MCCONNELL: Well, we're certainly going to take a look at that. The economy is not as robust as we would like. And I think the main thing we need to do is to jumpstart the economy. And I expect the president to have a proposal in the State of the Union which will do just that.
So we are concerned about the economy. We do want to help improve the economy. I think the failure to extend unemployment benefits is not critical. We'll probably address that again when we get back in January.
HUME: Let's talk about some of the things that did get done, one of which, of course, was this list of what were criticized as special- interest provisions that were inserted into the homeland security bill. Of course that happened in the House, but the bill now has passed the Senate.
And it has about it the appearance of some of the things that have gotten Republicans in trouble in the past, and that is a certain overreach in favor of corporate America, perhaps other interest groups that support the Republican party.
What about that, Senator? I know it's going to be revisited, but what's your take on all that?
MCCONNELL: Well, it's sort of standard criticism. When they are trying to promote the interests of the plaintiffs' lawyers, they don't complain. But when there's a provision that may benefit some business, they consider that a special interest. It all depends on how you look at it.
Some of those provisions probably were inappropriate and, I think, are going to be addressed after we get back. There are a couple of others that are absolutely necessary, particularly the one that makes it likely that we're going to be able to get vaccines to large numbers of Americans in case of some kind of bioterrorist attack.
KONDRACKE: One of the provisions allowed companies which recharter themselves offshore, in foreign countries, to escape American taxes, to bid on homeland security projects. Now, this is a reversal of a policy that Congress had enacted, yet the Republican House insisted on putting this as part of the homeland security bill.
Isn't that overreaching and kind of political hubris?
MCCONNELL: Well, we're certainly going to take a look at that when we get back. But, of course, the fundamental issue here is how do we best make America secure from a terrorist attack, not where the company may be located that's supplying what might be an essential element.
But we're going to take a look at that. That's one of the items we're going to look at when we get back.
HUME: Let me ask you about some of the other things when you get back in the new session. There's a lot of speculation about what will be on the agenda, what you're going to try to do first, what you're going to do first and most quickly. What are you contemplating there, Senator?
MCCONNELL: Well, unfortunately, the first thing we're going to have to do is all the things we didn't do this year. We're going to have to go back and confirm judges that weren't confirmed this year, and get appropriation bills passed for the year we're currently in. It should have been done sometime back.
And then we're going to proceed in a very pro-active way the president's agenda for next year, which he'll lay out in the State of the Union, which I'm confident is going to include, among other things, reauthorizing welfare reform, which has been an extraordinarily successful initiative, trying to make the tax cut permanent, and some kind of effort to stimulate the entirely too sluggish economy, which we expect the president to lay out in the State of the Union. It's going to be a very, very active first six months of next year.
HUME: And which of the judges would you put highest on the list, some of those that have already been rejected, at least blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee?
MCCONNELL: Well, all of them.
HUME: All of those appellate judges?
MCCONNELL: All of them. I think all the circuit court judges ought to come out of the committee, so that they can be considered by the full Senate. I expect the Senate Judiciary Committee to report out all of the circuit judges that were not acted upon in committee, including a couple that were defeated in committee.
HUME: All right. Senator McConnell, nice to have you. Thank you very much.
MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you.