Partisanship at its Worst on Capitol Hill?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 7, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We are going to spend time that the Senate doesn’t have on this piece of legislation that is flawed, flawed, flawed. I will explain what’s wrong with it, but we are going to spend valuable time on this Senate floor because the lobbyists won. Chalk it up to the lobbyists.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA) SENATE JUDICIARY CMTE CHMN: You talk about us being in the pockets of the lobbyists. I haven’t been treated like that since I came to the Senate. In fact I’ve never been treated like that. And I resent it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Tempers flaring on the Senate floor as Senator Specter tried to bring up his long-awaited asbestos legislation, which was worked on by both him and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. This is accompanied by a deliciously sharp exchange between Barack Obama, the freshman Republican senator and rising Democratic star from Illinois, and Senator John McCain, himself Mr. Bipartisan. McCain scolding Obama for not being willing to stay with the bipartisan effort to forge some compromise bill on lobbying reform. Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: It’s only February.

HUME: We have these flare-ups from time to time. Two doses in the last 24 hours. What’s going on?

KONDRACKE: It’s an election year and February only. It’s going to get a lot worse.

HUME: But these are players. Sen. Arlen Specter has been a guy who is not notably partisan. McCain the same way. Obama, the same way. Harry Reid, you sometimes wonder who is stirring this discourse.

KONDRACKE: Harry Reid is almost permanently over the top. He goes over the top time and time again. And then he is forced to apologize. He accused 33 of his colleagues of being crooks a couple weeks ago, or his staff did. He was forced to retract. He sort of walked back a little bit from this Tuesday.

In this case, I mean Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy, both of whom are lawyers and are subject to influence by the trial lawyer lobby, fought against that, developed a compromise that really solves this asbestos problem, which limits lawyer’s fees to five percent of the whatever costs there are. And Harry Reid is serving the trial lawyer interest. Even The New York Times called him out on it because he wants the lawyers to get 50 percent of it. That’s the story here. That’s what Harry Reid ought to be…

HUME: What about an atmosphere in which this…

KONDRACKE: Look. It’s going to be bad all year, because the Democrats have decided that the culture of corruption is their ticket to the majority, and they are going to pound on it and they are going to accuse and that’s what the Obama thing was all about.

Even John McCain was dragging his feet on ethics reform. Yes.

HUME: Was he?

KONDRACKE: Of course he wasn’t.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think — look. The culture of corruption, although the polls show it hasn’t worked a lot, would certainly work better in the House than the Senate. You don’t have enough people in the Senate taking money from Jack Abramoff. But in the McCain-Obama dispute there, I mean Obama, the thing that makes this story so interesting is Obama, as you said, is a rising star.

He is somebody who has been said to transcend race and maybe is even going to transcend partisanship. And he’s the next generation for Democrats. And he seemed to be close to making some kind of an alliance with John McCain on lobbying reform. John McCain has made many, many bipartisan deals in the Senate before. He’s a model of this.

And then Obama changed his mind and decided he would go with the Democratic strategy on the lobby reform bill, which is not to go with the bipartisan task force but to push the Democratic bill. We know McCain has a big temper, and can explode, he certainly did give Obama a dressing down.

HUME: Do you think it was a result of a temper tantrum by McCain or a result of a coldly calculated, carefully written, angry letter?

LIASSON: I think it was both. You can’t write that kind of letter without meaning to. It wasn’t just in the heat of the moment.

HUME: I know. But was it temper or calculation?

LIASSON: I think it was both. There is a little bit about somebody, sometime was going to puncture Obama’s balloon.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: None of this rises to the level of Preston Brooks caning Charles Sumner in the late 1850’s into unconsciousness or even the vice president a year ago dropping the f-word on Senator Leahy on the floor of the Senate, an act which I found so charming and authentic I wrote a column in defense of it.

This is election year attacks. And I think that McCain letter is going to be a classic of American political satire. This guy is a slow fuse. But this was a long explosion in that letter.

HUME: That is it for the panel.

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