Ups and Downs for the Week of March 13

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," March 18, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Let’s check out our ups and downs this week.

DOWN: The White House staff. It’s on the defensive this week, first, by the arrest of former domestic policy adviser Claude Allen on theft charges, and then by the suggestion by Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota that Bush should shake up his staff.

Here’s Coleman’s quote, "All of a sudden we’re hearing the phrase ‘tin ear.’ That’s a phrase you shouldn’t hear. The fact that you’re hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear-to-the-ground that you need in the White House, isn’t at the level that it needs to be. Ultimately, the president has to make a decision about his team."

You know, look, Mort, you and I both know that there are pockets of incompetence in the Bush White House. Now the Claude Allen thing, that’s just sad, I’m not going to even talk about that.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: You want to name any of those pockets of incompetence?

BARNES: Not right now.


BARNES: You know, they know who they are.

KONDRACKE: No, they don’t. That’s the problem.

BARNES: You may be right about that.

But let’s move on here and talk about, and talk about Norm Coleman. I think you and I know a little bit more about the White House staff than he does, actually.

And here’s where a tin ear really comes into play, that’s a Republican attacking the White House. That’s the worst thing they can possibly do if they’re worried about the midterm election, it dampens enthusiasm among Republicans, may diminish turnout among Republicans, because I think we were talking about this last week, even — Republicans, they don’t pay any attention to the press or Democrats, but they do pay attention to Republicans who may be criticizing Bush.

Now, in Minnesota, the Coleman state, Mark Kennedy, a congressman, is running for the open Senate seat. I don’t think Coleman’s helping.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, what Coleman...

BARNES: This comment…

KONDRACKE: I know. What Coleman said, though, is widely shared among Republicans in Congress. You know, maybe they should shut up about it, but the fact is that they feel that way. And the only way to get the word to the White House sometimes is to talk about it in public.

Now, people — and I’ve even talked to leaders in the Congress who think that people on the White House staff are fatigued after five years.


KONDRACKE: Now, we’ve talked to some high-ranking White House officials who say, you know, that even they’ve been working since 1999 for Bush, and they’re not tired. But even some of them say that the, that the talent pool needs to be "refreshed."

BARNES: I agree with that.

KONDRACKE: And I think that Bush ought to be looking around to hire some new people. He doesn’t have to, you know, sack the whole lot of them. But some new people would help.

BARNES: Makes sense.

KONDRACKE: UP: Republican senator and 2008 presidential contender Bill Frist. He made the most of his home field advantage, placing first in the Southern Republican Leadership Conference’s straw poll this week, last weekend in Memphis. Here’s a look at the final results. Frist came in first with nearly 37 percent of the vote, followed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, George Allen tied with the Bush write-in, and, finally, John McCain bringing up the rear of that.

Now, Frist, I think, this doesn’t mean a lot, but Frist, you know, would have been hurt if, in his own state, he would have been defeated. But Frist did something else quite good this week, and that was to basically get the Senate Judiciary Committee off the dime on the issue of immigration. He said he was going to put his own bill on the floor if they didn’t get done with their work.

And, as a result of that, they are going to come up with quite a good comprehensive immigration bill.

BARNES: Very pro-immigrant bill.

KONDRACKE: Yes, yes.

BARNES: Which I’m for too.

Let me do it very quickly, how Frist dodged a bullet, for sure there, and Romney made a very good first impression. George Allen did OK. He’s got a ways to go yet. I don’t think he’s quite as experienced nationally as some of the others.

And McCain continued this effort to woo Bush voters, which is hard for him, but I think he’s winning some over. OK.

DOWN: Democrats, specifically on the Medicare issue. Instead of helping to implement the new prescription drug benefit, Democrats are discouraging seniors from signing up. Mort, that’s appalling.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, look, this is a half-trillion-dollar program, the benefit for seniors. And the Democrats think that it’s not generous enough, and they think that they would like to use it in order to institute price controls on drugs. If they ever get to take power in the government, they can change the program to suit themselves.

But right now, if seniors are have an advantage of getting this benefit, Democrats ought to be helping them take advantage of it, instead of trying to scare them away. I think that’s unconscionable on their part.

BARNES: I was against this program. But you know what, Mort? It is working. And I talked to seniors who are all of a sudden astonished at how much money they’re saving on drugs.

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