This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, October 18, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.
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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Fred and I get asked all the time, Who are the rising stars in Congress? Who should we be keeping an eye on? Well, we each picked one Democrat and one Republican that we think are worth watching.
This week, we spotlight my Republican choice, Mark Kirk of Illinois. He served as a Naval intelligence officer in both Iraq wars.
Welcome to the show, Mark, thanks for being with us.
REP. MARK KIRK (R), ILLINOIS: Thank you, thank you for having me.
KONDRACKE: Now, the, the national polls indicate that this $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan was unpopular around the country. Was this a tough vote for you to vote for it?
KIRK: It wasn't. I think the Marshall Plan (search) was also unpopular at the beginning. But the question President Truman (search) asked is, how much would we spend to not have World War III and not send a third generations of Americans to the killing fields of Europe? The answer was, in today's dollars, $105 billion.
So I think that today the key question is, how much would we spend not to have a third war in Iraq? And the answer is, about $19 billion to, to plan for the reconstruction so that we don't have to send yet a third generation of Americans to that field.
KONDRACKE: Now, now, that was very well stated, I must say. But why is President Bush having such a difficult time convincing the country that this effort is, was worthwhile in the beginning, and that the $87 billion was worthwhile?
KIRK: Foreign assistance is always highly controversial, because it's not spent in any congressional district. When you look at this bill, $67 billion of it was for direct military operations, and $20 billion of it was for foreign assistance.
And I really look at it in two ways. The $67 billion was for the immediate protection of our troops, armored vehicles, personnel…vests, and all the support. And the $20 billion is the road to the way home and the real protection of our troops.
Once Iraq is at peace with its neighbors with a new reconstructed government, our troop reductions will be substantial, and that's the real way to protect our men and women in uniform.
FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Congressman Kirk, you were first elected in 2000 from a fairly wealthy Republican-leaning district north of Chicago. One, why did you run for Congress? Why did you want to be in Congress? And what's your major goal as being a member of the House of Representatives?
KIRK: My number one goal when I was elected during the peacetime of 2000 was to focus on the -- protecting the environment, such as Lake Michigan (search), and education. I have Don Rumsfeld's old congressional district, and it's home to the best-educated zip code in America.
But on September 11, all of that changed, and my background as a naval reserve intelligence officer and member of the intelligence community, someone who was detailed to the CIA for a number of years, came into play. And so I think the key mission is now the fundamental mission of our federal government, the protection of the country.
BARNES: Are you comfortable in a Republican Party that's a lot more conservative than you are on social issues in particular, things like abortion and guns?
KIRK: We always think of the Republican Party as a broad tent. The vast majority of the American people are in the middle. My constituents are fiscal conservatives and social moderates. When we look to the election of Governor Schwarzenegger, for example, we see what a Republican moderate can do in a state which previously had been seen as a Democratic stronghold.
KONDRACKE: Now, let me go back, let me go back to the $87 billion vote. The Democrats on final passage voted 118 to 83 against it, and, and they voted even more lopsidedly on, on a motion to recommit. Do you think that that's going to at all hurt them in the next election?
KIRK: I think especially for the Democrats running for president. Those candidates who were against this reconstruction package have a fatally wounded campaign strategy, which does not support the national security of the United States or the, the final rebuilding of Iraq and the bringing home of our troops.
And for those democratic candidates that supported the package, they are following in the John Kennedy mold of being strong on national security, and therefore being worthy of consideration, at least for national office.
BARNES: Congressman Kirk, if you could change one of President Bush's policies, which would that be?
KIRK: I would look to the future in my own area of the Great Lakes. We suffer from a rising mercury pollution in our ecosystem there. That comes from coal-burning power plants that right now do not have the pollution control technology that an average municipal incinerator has to have.
The one change I would make, and one that I've been working with the president on very closely, is a greater focus on that source of pollution in the Great Lakes in general. This is something that Congressman Tommy Reynolds and I have been focusing on. And my hope is, in the springtime, we'll have presidential action on that issue.
KONDRACKE: Now, Illinois is a democratic state for all practical purposes in national elections and statewide elections as well. I mean, is there any -- what, what has to happen to turn that around?
KIRK: It's not so bleak. We suffered from a Nixon-like implosion with Governor Ryan. But our state treasurer is a Republican, statewide holder, as is Peter Fitzgerald, our senator. So I think when we put forward candidates who put public ethics at number one, and have issues that appeal to the voters, they do win, as our statewide treasurer did.
BARNES: In conclusion, congressman, maybe you can give me a one-word answer on this. Are you thinking at some time in the future of running for the Senate?
KIRK: I am happy to be in the Congress, and I got a lot of work to do.
BARNES: All right, thanks, congressman.
KIRK: Thank you.
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