This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," February 18, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Time to check out our ups and downs, starting with UP: President Bush. He got two big national security victories this week. The Patriot Act cleared a major hurdle that ensures it will be renewed soon. And he averted, for now, a major congressional investigation of the NSA wiretapping program.
These are victories, in the sense that President Bush, you know, weathered storms involving two important tools in the War on Terrorism. I mean, the Patriot Act is obviously one, this NSA wiretapping is another.
And, and here’s what I thought was important. The president showed flexibility. He made some concessions, but they weren’t really large, important concessions.
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Yes, well, you know, there are a lot of Democrats who have come around to the idea that these are valuable tools that Bush really needs. And they’re going to give them to him.
BARNES: How come I never hear from them?
BARNES: Well, Jane Harmon is one who had said that, yes.
KONDRACKE: And she’s said it consistently.
KONDRACKE: They’re, but you’re right, there are exceptions to that rule. And here’s Bob Byrd enunciating it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT BYRD, W-W.VA.: I hear strange comments coming from some members of Congress to the effect that, well, if the president has broken the law, let’s just change the law. That is tantamount to saying that whatever the president does is legal. And the last time we heard that claim was from the White House of Richard Nixon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: What do you suppose he was implying there? And this, it goes back to your Watergate point. Everything is Watergate.
BARNES: I was just gripped by looking at his coat.
KONDRACKE: Senator Byrd, 9/11 really happened. And what President Bush is trying to do is protect us from another 9/11. Now, he does have an exaggerated sense of executive power someday, sometimes, but this NSA spying stuff is necessary.
DOWN: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Move over, Brownie. It was Chertoff’s turn to get grilled by Congress. And to add insult to injury, a congressional report on Katrina features a scathing indictment of Chertoff’s leadership during the crisis.
Here’s Chertoff responding to that on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is completely correct to say that our logistics capability in Katrina was woefully inadequate. I was astonished to see that we didn’t have the capability that most 21st century corporations have to track the flow of goods and services.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: Thing is that he should not have been astounded by anything. I mean, if he was really on top of his department. But he has another chance, and the chance commences on January — June 1, when the hurricane season begins.
Let us just hope that global warming, and it is happening, doesn’t produce violent storms again this year, because I don’t think that FEMA is ready yet to do this. And the evidence of that is that they wasted a billion dollars on these trailers that are sitting around rotting in an Arkansas cornfield.
BARNES: Why are we having this absolutely incredible cold spell in Europe this winter? Global warming, I know, it is causing that.
KONDRACKE: Yes, well, you know, it changes climate patterns.
BARNES: It’s causing that too. Mort, here’s your problem. It’s the problem of another one of these overheated House reports. It’s the problem of the national media in general. And, and you know what it is? They always use a yardstick of perfection. Well, FEMA, it couldn’t live up to a much less of a yardstick. But obviously, it didn’t here.
I mean, the Department of Homeland Security, it’s some hopeless bureaucracy that never should have been erected in the first place. The only good thing about it is Chertoff. I think he does the best that he has done the best that he could with the equipment he was given. And it’s pretty crummy equipment. But the scale of measure is by perfection; I think that’s ridiculous.
Anyway, UP: trial lawyers. The trial lawyer lobby and their Democratic friends in the Senate successfully derail legislation that would set up a trust fund for asbestos victims and end all those costly lawsuits. It wasn’t just Democrats, though. Naturally they’re allied with the trial lawyers, who give them so much campaign money.
There were a lot of conservatives, a lot, some, anyway, conservatives who, I think, were probably the pivotal group, who didn’t like this trust fund at all, because they thought, what, $140 billion that was going to be set aside for it and would never cover it, and some of them cited the black lung fund that was created, I forget the numbers, but the actual spending that was required was zillions more than was originally expected.
KONDRACKE: Well, whatever the rationale was, the trial lawyers are the great beneficiaries of this, because they have been collecting 50 percent of all the money that’s been paid out in claims in lawsuits, 50 percent. The victims get hardly anything or they get half. But the lawyers get half. And this would have limited the legal fees to five percent, so that they’re cleaning up.
BARNES: Uh-oh, you couldn’t stand for that, heaven’s sakes. I mean, Mort, we’re in the wrong line of work.
KONDRACKE: UP: Virginia Senator George Allen. He won an informal straw poll of key activists at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. Allen led the field at 22 percent, followed closely by John McCain at 20 percent. Rudy Giuliani, a moderate, got 12 percent. And Condoleezza Rice 10 percent, and Bill Frist got just six percent.
Actually, I think this is pretty good news for John McCain. George Allen is sort of the talking favorite among conservatives, as I gather, emerging as a possible successor. But for McCain to come in only two points behind, especially when McCain is a moderate solution to the immigration problem, which a lot of these conservatives were all up in arms about, is really pretty good.
Interestingly, Bill Frist went there and tried to pander as best he could to the conservative political people by saying, you know, I will bring up a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, you know, which he knows is going to be defeated. But he promised that he was going to bring it up in June, hoping that he would win their favor, and they gave him just six percent.
BARNES: Mort, you call that pandering? He promised them a vote on some issue that the nation is interested in? How is that pandering? He’s just going to call up a vote. And I agree with you, it’s not going to pass. Gee, I mean, you’re really tough on this guy.
KONDRACKE: So why bring it up?
BARNES: Because a conservative group that is particularly interested in it and he’s saying, I’m going to bring it up. Of course it’s pandering, gee, look.
Allen didn’t win it by a landslide; I’ll concede you that. But he’s just emerging as a candidate. I suspect a lot of those conservatives didn’t know who he is, and probably didn’t know about McCain’s immigration policy either, as you suggest.
But, you know, all in all, I think this is a pretty good start for George Allen. I expect he is going to run. He’s a very likeable guy. We’ll see the degree of substance he has. But he’s going to be a serious candidate. You got that? All right.
KONDRACKE: Got it.
BARNES: DOWN: Al Gore. His pandering, now, here’s pandering, Mort. His pandering to the Saudis earlier this week was over the top, even for him. He told the mostly Arab audience that the Bush administration committed, "terrible abuses against Arabs following the 9/11 attacks," and that Arabs had been indiscriminately rounded up and held in unforgivable conditions.
Mort, whatever happened to that old notion that Americans — American leaders and officials, when they’re overseas, don’t attack their government back at home?
BARNES: Whatever happened to that?
BARNES: Gone, for, forever? Jeez.
KONDRACKE: Well, he was attacking his country. He wasn’t attacking Bush specifically, but he didn’t mention Bush by name, so far as we know.
BARNES: Yes, well, it sounded like he certainly was. I mean, Jimmy Carter does some of the same stuff. But you know who doesn’t do that? George Bush, Senior, does not do that.
But anyway, this was incredible. Pandering. Treating the Saudis as if they were the victims of 9/11, when 15 the 19 guys, terrorists in the planes were actually from Saudi Arabia. What is the country that is the seedbed of Islamic extremism around the world? Saudi Arabia. It’s not Dallas, Texas. It’s Saudi Arabia.
KONDRACKE: Every time Al Gore does one of these things, I think to myself, this man almost became president of the United States in the year 2000. You know, I think he was unhinged by his defeat, or by something, or maybe he didn’t have it together to begin with.
There was a report by the inspector general of the Justice Department that indicated that there was some mistreatment of Arabs right in the aftermath of 9/11. They were 50 people.
BARNES: One jail in New York.
KONDRACKE: Now, that does not constitute indiscriminate roundups.
DOWN: Oprah Winfrey and Sean Penn. They were singled out by name in the House Katrina report for disrupting relief efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane. I mean, what happens is, I’m sure that they think that they’re being well meaning. There’s a bit of narcissism here too.
They go to a scene and you know, and they are seen wandering around and doing this. The problem is that they soak up resources that otherwise need to be expended on taking care of people. What celebrities really ought to do, if they’re well meaning, is put on a fundraiser, you know, get their Hollywood friends all to contribute money to not the Red Cross, but to some other — you know, to help Katrina’s kids, or something like that.
BARNES: But Mort, you don’t get on TV that way.
KONDRACKE: Well, you can, you know, you could buy the time to run a telethon.
BARNES: I don’t know, I kind of liked Sean Penn paddling around in that boat, that was great.
You know, this is the mess down in New Orleans that President Bush was criticized for not landing his plane and jumping right into. You know, I guess people expect presidents to do that. Now, certainly, the media does. And I think the president, for political reasons, probably should have come down. On the other hand, the right thing to do was for him to fly over and get back to Washington, which is what he did. He’s gotten pounded for it.
KONDRACKE: Suffered for it.
BARNES: All right.
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