Hot Stories for the Week of Jan. 10

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Jan. 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Hot story is Bush’s moment. Obviously, it’s the inauguration this Thursday. And after that, Bush’s agenda, which we’ve discussed on several occasions as, as bold.


KONDRACKE: And, I think beleaguered as well. We’ll get to it again in a minute.

But first, though, I would like to think that somehow it would be possible for Bush to say something in his inaugural address that would dampen down this Bush hatred that consumes Democrats and a lot of foreigners.

Now, I, now I’m not sure, exactly sure what he could say short of, I quit, that would make those people happy. But maybe Mike Gerson (search) and Bill McGurn (search), his speechwriters, can come somewhere near Lincoln’s second inaugural address that would you know, try to bind up, bind up the wounds of the country and bring, bring people together.

BARNES: Mort, Lincoln’s second term address? You’re setting the bar awfully high.

KONDRACKE: Well, I am, that’s obviously the great standard.


KONDRACKE: You know, you can’t think of a lot of other second-term inaugural addresses that really, that really matched that.

Anyway, now to the agenda. Item one, Iraq will obviously continue to be a major second-term focus. And item two is the continuing war on terror. Now, these are the two major preoccupations of President Bush. They have to be. If Iraq doesn’t turn out decently, America’s reputation and leadership in the world will suffer grievously. And obviously if we don’t fight the war on terrorism adequately, our whole existence as a nation could be at stake, or at least large part, portions of the population.

So those are items one and two, and they’ve got to be at the top of the agenda.

BARNES: Yes, of course they’re there. They forced their way there. Look, in Iraq, I think we are successful in muddling through. We’re going to have an election. General Luck (search) is going to come back, with advice on where to go. I don’t think it’s to precipitously remove American troops.

But it’s beginning to, either it will be to begin integrating them into Iraqi units, and not just have American units there. The War on Terror, Michael Chertoff (search) coming in, I think he’s going to be very good as, as the new head of the Department of Homeland Security.

KONDRACKE: OK. Item three is Social Security reform. Item four is tort reform. Now, my understanding on these two is that the president is not going to lay out a very detailed prescription for Social Security reform, but rather principles, which is a kind of a compromise between what the House Republicans want, they want a detailed plan, and the Senate Republicans who want the president to leave it up to them to write.

BARNES: Yes, and look, I think it’s going to be more detailed than you think. I mean, I mean, it’s going to be not a chunk of legislation actually written out, but it’ll be more detailed than you think.

And Bush this time is going to go for Bush-style bipartisanship. You know what that is. Particularly on Social Security reform, let’s get all the Republicans and a few Democrats, that’s how he got his tax cuts through, and, and claim it’s a bipartisan bill.

But this is, neither of these — tort reform, obviously, and Social Security reform (search) opposed by Democrats, so he can’t deal with the leaders either of those.

KONDRACKE: Yes, I mean, on tort reform, I think he’s going to actually get class action legislation through. Medical malpractice insurance is, reform is more difficult because not only are the Democrats all against it, but there are a number of Republican trial lawyers in the Senate who will join up with them.

BARNES: Well, one or two. The good news is that in some states like Mississippi, states are going ahead and curbing these outlandish rewards or judgments on, on medical malpractice.

KONDRACKE: Item five: Bush wants major tax reform. And item six: he’ll be pushing an expansion of the No Child Left Behind Act (search).

Now, on tax reform, we don’t know exactly what the slant’s going to be, because it’ll be written by actually two of my very favorite former members of Congress, John Breaux from Louisiana, and Connie Mack (search) from Florida.

BARNES: Of course, you know Connie Mack’s a supply-sider who wants to obviously lower tax rates and, and broaden the base. So I think there’ll be good news from this commission that — when does it report to him, sometime in late July.

On No Child Left Behind, Bush wants to extend it to high schools — that sounds like a good idea to me.

KONDRACKE: Yes, absolutely it does to me. The Democrats will say more money, but, but I don’t see how they can oppose it.

Item seven: he wants immigration reform. And item eight, he face, faces some tough judicial choices.

Now, on immigration reform, the opposition is from conservatives within his own party, your friends, some of them.


KONDRACKE: And I think he can actually convince enough, enough conservatives to come his way by saying that if you give people work permits, you can concentrate law enforcement efforts on chasing bad guys instead of ordinary immigrants. And on the judicial appointments, I’ve talked to a couple of, of William Rehnquist’s colleagues on the Supreme Court, and also to some senators, and what they’re hearing is that William Rehnquist, even though he’s suffering from serious thyroid cancer, is not leaving anytime soon, wants to hold on for as long as he can.

So don’t expect a judicial nomination, Supreme Court nomination right away.

BARNES: Yes, good for him. He’s going to play her. He’s a, a huge force on the court, obviously, as chief justice.

Go back to immigration reform for a moment. Here’s the problem with immigration reform. Bush’s plan won’t work because these people with work permits will never be sent back after the work permits are expanded. And I’m not sure Democrats are going to go for it either. Democrats want to open the borders; Republicans want to shut the borders.

And, and for Bush immigration reform is what you suggested and that is, it divides the Republican Party.

KONDRACKE: So his job is to unify the Republican Party.

BARNES: Yes, look, I think he’s good on Social Security. I really don’t think he can do it on immigration reform.

Now, the Democrats, they’re going to have a response to Bush’s moment for sure. And, and the first one we heard and I think it’s going to be obstructionism in almost everything, you’re being optimistic, probably, in saying they’ll vote for the education reform and then for immigration reform.

But just listen to Senator Teddy Kennedy of Massachusetts last week outlining what he’d like Democrats to do, and they probably will. Listen to this.


U.S. SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I categorically reject the deceptive and dangerous claim that the outcome last November was somehow a sweeping or even a modest or even a miniature mandate for reactionary measures like privatizing Social Security, redistributing the tax burden in the wrong direction, or packing the federal courts with reactionary judges.


BARNES: I don’t know, maybe that was...

KONDRACKE: Reactionary.


BARNES: Yes, maybe that was the Senate caucus there. There are all these senators cheering him on.

I don’t think Democrats have learned the lesson of 2002, the election there, and 2004, and that is that obstructionism can be very risky. You can pay a price for it. Obviously, opposing the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, that’s why they lost that election, 2004.

Do you think if he hadn’t have been the chief most visible obstructionist, that Tom Daschle would have lost? No, that is why he lost.

Democrats ought to note that while it’s not a surge in Bush’s popularity, it has gone up a little bit. Look at the new poll, the FOX poll, shows he’s going up, I think, from 48 percent to 52 percent. That’s up 4 points since last month. It’s not totally meaningless.

KONDRACKE: Bush is the, the lowest reelected president in terms of popularity, of any in, in recent history.

BARNES: Yes, and he’s also one with probably the biggest, toughest, most divisive agenda.

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