This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, Jan. 18, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: All right. Yes, I know. Can I go to the Ups and Downs now?

With your permission. All right.

DOWN: NASA

BARNES: Under pressure from Congress, the space agency is forced to give up a lead role in the Columbia disaster investigation. An independent review board is now in charge of the probe with no members affiliated with NASA.

Now, you know, Democrats rightly insisted that an -- a totally independent board be the chief review body of the Columbia disaster, and there you can assure that you'll have a credible, honest, thorough investigation. And I'm glad they're doing it.

You know, the other thing, I'm sure you saw some of these memorial services, the one President Bush went to, and there was another one at the Washington Cathedral for the dead astronauts. And they were incredibly touching, particularly when President Bush handed over his handkerchief to the, the widow and son of one of the astronauts, Colonel Rick Husband, very touching. I mean, it's hard to keep a dry eye watching these memorials.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Absolutely. I thought Bush's statement on Saturday when, when the, when the crash occurred was especially eloquent.

BARNES: Bless him.

KONDRACKE: Now, Sean O'Keefe, the, the NASA -- present NASA administrator, has done a wonderful job so far of being open about the -- what NASA knows, unlike 1986 after the Challenger disaster...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... when, when the, the whole place closed down. It was a mistake, however, for NASA to sort of run -- declare that this insulating, piece of insulation...

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: ... couldn't have been responsible for the, for the, the tragedy, which they had to pull back.

BARNES: Yes, yes, they did.

DOWN: Top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy

KONDRACKE: He's in charge of -- he's, he's trying to lead a charge to filibuster Attorney General Miguel -- I'm sorry, attorney Miguel Estrada...

BARNES: Yes, right.

KONDRACKE: ... he's not attorney general yet -- nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If confirmed, Estrada would be the first Hispanic to serve on the, on the appeals court. Now it's the Republicans, however, who are playing the ethnic card. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I fear that some Democrats are creating a new intellectual grass -- glass ceiling for Hispanics. If they do not think a certain liberal way that they do, then they are not good enough for upward mobility and advancement.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: It is wrong, Madame President, for anybody, for anybody to be declaring to members of this body any of the party are racist. I think it is wrong what has happened here. And those who've done so should apologize to Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Well, shame on Orrin Hatch for playing the race card.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: But it is perfectly laughable for Patrick Leahy...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... to say that, that the Democrats, imply the Democrats have never used a race card on Republicans.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: I mean, what, what was the Trent Lott thing all about? And, you know, and, and right after Trent Lott even began to recant, the Democrats were all saying this is just the tip of the iceberg of, of Republican racism.

BARNES: I know, I know.

KONDRACKE: You know, leading the charge in that regard, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Leahy should get an apology from her.

BARNES: I, I agree with you on that. Look, if Democrats successfully filibuster the nomination of Miguel Estrada and, and knock him off, this is going to mean the death of all these judges, of, of all these conservative nominees that the president had, had sent up. They'll never get through. Estrada is one of the most attractive ones, being a Latino and so on.

And it'll mean one other thing, Mort. It'll mean that there will be retribution like crazy if -- when there's a Democratic president again and he's sending up his judicial nominees....Republicans will do the same thing. The best force is to avoid a filibuster in confirming judges. All right.

UP: The deficit

BARNES: The White House makes public the details of its 2004 budget. The $2.3 trillion budget cuts taxes, boosts military spending, and overhauls Medicare, but creates a $307 deficit, an all-time high. The number's the all-time high. Actually it -- measured the correct way, it is half the size of the deficit as, measured against the size of the economy, as the deficits were in the 1980s.

And the question is about the deficit, when you think about it, Mort, and I know you think about it day and night, or you, you know, wake up in the middle night thinking about it, is this. What is more important, is it winning the war against Iraq? Is it modernizing Medicare? Is it spurring the economy? Or is the deficit the top priority? That's an easy choice.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well...

BARNES: Even for you.

KONDRACKE: ... the deficit will go away if the economy bounces back.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: If we can figure out, if we can figure out how to do that. What bothers me is, President Bush's selection of priorities. You know, tax cuts, but we're also stinting on the amount of money that we're spending on homeland defense. We need a lot more than a 7.4 percent...

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: ...increase in homeland defense...

KONDRACKE: Medical research is another thing, I mean, including...

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: ... bioterrorism, we're only going to go up 2 percent, which is...doesn't even...keep up with inflation.

BARNES: Yes, that's a different, yes, that's a different point, though, than the one about the deficit...

KONDRACKE: No, no, no, but...

KONDRACKE: ... it's a matter of choices. OK.

DOWN: CBS News

KONDRACKE: CBS not only airs a softball interview by retired British lawmaker and antiwar activist Tony Benn with Saddam Hussein, but it actually pays for it.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: Sample Tony Benn question to Saddam, Could you please say something to the peace movement?

And, you know, and around the world, and how it's benefiting, you know, from, from, from, from your activities. I mean, look, what a hardball would have been, Why did you gas the Kurds in your own country?

BARNES: ...yes.

KONDRACKE: Why do you permit your security forces...

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: ... to gouge out the eyes of people who...got -- who, who...who get cross with you? Why do you have their wives raped? That would be, that would be...a good interview.

BARNES: ... me? ...no, there was another good...question...outrageous question Benn asked was, What are you going to do with your oil reserves to help mankind and to help the Iraqi people? I mean, that's nonsense. The only way that the oil reserves are going to help mankind and the Iraqi people is if Saddam has gotten the heave-ho. All right.

Coming up, Russian President Vladimir Putin gets ready to...two vocal critics of America's Iraq policy. Will Bush's buddy fall in line? We'll see.

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