Should Democrats Punish Dick Durbin?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 20, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Ever since Senator Dick Durbin (search) compared U.S. guards at Guantanamo Bay (search) to Nazis, the Illinois Democrats has been taking a lot of heat. He is now offering an apology of sorts.

But some say it is not enough, saying Democrats need to strip him of his leadership position, just like Republicans did with former Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Joining me now, the editor of "The Weekly Standard" and FOX News political analyst Bill Kristol.

So, have we decided that Durbin just kind of inadvertently stuck his foot in his mouth or he really was making a loathsome assertion, for which he has to be flogged and stripped of his positions of power?

BILL KRISTOL, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it could have been either, John. And I rather thought the first. I thought he just maybe was tired or overwrought and said something really stupid and would apologize the next day and say he made a mistake and it is a deplorable comparison to make, American soldiers, comparing them to Nazis and to Pol Pot (search), really appalling, but that he would apologize and we would move on.

What was striking was his refusal to apologize for two, really, three days, and then this pseudo-apology he issued Friday, where he said he was sorry if his historical parallel had been misunderstood or misused. But he didn't repudiate the parallel. He didn't say that it is outrageous to link in one breath, in one sentence, Nazis and the behavior of American soldiers at Guantanamo.

So, I think it was the non-apology on Friday that really outraged people. And, frankly, it outraged me. We were talking about it at the magazine on Wednesday and Thursday. And I said, oh, he just something stupid. It is not such a big deal. But now I think it is kind of a big deal. And it is a question for Democratic senators. They elected him to this position of leadership in their caucus. Are they comfortable with him as the number two Democrat in the Senate?

GIBSON: Bill, you know, the comparison to Nazis is offensive, but no less offensive than the comparison to the Soviet gulags (search), which were truly, truly, horrific, along with the idea that, somehow, this whole thing at Gitmo compares to Pol Pot and what he did. Is there a triple level offense here that once, if he apologizes for the Nazi remark, he still has a way to go?

KRISTOL: Well, I think he can apologize for all of them at once. They are all three equally offensive.

But I am actually a critic of our behavior at Guantanamo. I just think don't think it has been anything like any of those other horrible things. But I think the Defense Department has made some mistakes. And I think we should probably look at changing the way we handle some of the prisoner issues. I think we are not doing the best we can in that respect.

But precisely if you are bit of a critic of Rumsfeld's management of Guantanamo, precisely those people who are mostly, apart from me and a couple of conservatives, who are mostly liberals, mostly Democrats, they are the ones who need to be condemning Durbin. They need to say, look, we can have quarrels with some of the decisions Rumsfeld has made at Guantanamo. We can say that a few people actually behaved badly and not get in this kind of insane comparison and insane historical parallel.

So, I think the silence on the Democrats is very damning. You really have to ask the Democrats, are you willing to just sit there? People in my office were calling Democratic Senate offices today and saying, what is your position on Senator Durbin's statement? No comment. No comment.

I'm sure you tried to get a Democratic senator on to discuss...

GIBSON: That is why you are on alone, Bill.

KRISTOL: Well, I know. Here I am.


GIBSON: We couldn't get one on.

KRISTOL: You couldn't get one on.

GIBSON: Exactly.

KRISTOL: And that says a lot.

Now, Tuesday night, Durbin is scheduled to join Howard Dean at a big Democratic fund-raiser here in Washington, 7:00, National Museum for Women and the Arts. I am curious to see whether they go ahead with that. I am curious to see if Dean, as chairman of the party, distances himself from Durbin. I am curious to see what Harry Reid says when the Senate is now back in session, what Hillary Clinton says.

I think this is a big problem, again, because of Durbin sticking to this historical parallel, which is so offensive.

GIBSON: FOX News political analyst, editor of "The Weekly Standard," Bill Kristol -- Bill, it's good to see you. Thanks.

KRISTOL: Good to see you, John.

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