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Transcript: Speaker Hastert on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the July 23, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: Joining us now to discuss a wide range of issues, the speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert.

Mr. Speaker, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

HOUSE SPEAKER DENNIS HASTERT, R-ILL.: Great.

HUME: You've got a mission. Your Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra is going to the Middle East this weekend. What's the purpose of that mission? What do you hope to accomplish by that?

HASTERT: Well, I talked to Pete this morning, and you know, they're up on the border. They're looking at what's happening there. In our discussion, he says that he thinks that there's probably three or four things that the Israelis are trying to do.

They're trying to, first of all, cripple the Hezbollah so that they can't send their rockets into Israel, try to push them back to a degree and out of a range of where they could attack, try to make sure that they're not re-supplied, and then try to make some type of a situation where there's an international force along that border to stop them from doing that.

HUME: What's his assessment of how well that mission is going?

HASTERT: I think it's going pretty well, you know, just from what they could see. He said they were up on the border. There were rockets going overhead, and Israelis were pounding artillery into southern Lebanon.

HUME: I want to ask you about something you said on FOX News Channel on Friday discussing the latest Hezbollah violence. And you answered a question by saying about Hezbollah that it is a political party and that, quote — and you, quote, "would always opt for the area of diplomacy". What did you mean by that?

HASTERT: I said we should always opt for — I meant we should always opt for the area of diplomacy. They are a party. They want to be a party. Right now they're a terrorist organization. And I think everything is about terrorism as far as they're concerned.

So I think they probably have to be neutralized to come to the table.

HUME: Well, you mean — so you weren't saying that they should be dealt with diplomatically directly now.

HASTERT: No. That was a misquote.

HUME: A misquote or a misstatement?

HASTERT: Misstatement.

HUME: All right. Let me move on here. On Iran, we're — the U.S. is currently pursuing some diplomatic avenues. You heard John Bolton say there are some economic sanctions possibly in the offing if that fails.

But the White House leaves open the option of a military response, if it comes to that. Would you intend Congress to authorize that kind of response?

HASTERT: A military response?

HUME: Yes.

HASTERT: I think the last — I think that's the last step that the administration would want to take. But I think we need to constantly bring as many parties to bear in a diplomatic response. I don't think it ought to be a bilateral diplomatic response.

I think we need to have the Russians and the French and the Germans and Europeans in there, and the whole — as many diplomatic sources as you can in there to bring them — I mean, they have a world influence and could have a huge world influence. We need to have the world involved.

HUME: So you'll cross that other bridge when you come to it, is that what you're saying?

HASTERT: Absolutely.

HUME: All right. Let me turn to some domestic issues. Immigration — you've just been on a trip down to the border and had a look. There's not even a conference between the House and Senate on the respective immigration bills that have been acted on by each chamber. It doesn't appear there will be.

In the meantime, Indiana Republican Mike Pence has come up with an alternative plan which would allow for a guest worker program and possibly even a path to citizenship if people went home first. It's been looked upon in some quarters as a potential compromise and a way out of this impasse. Your view of that.

HASTERT: Well, first of all, I've said we have to secure the borders first. Anything else that you want to do won't work unless you secure the borders. I've said we should have zero tolerance on the border. For 12 years I've been preaching that.

Whether it's carrying drugs across the border or human trade across the border — you know, we fought a war against slavery, and we've got people bringing, you know, folks in to do basically the same thing.

We need to protect that border. If we can protect the border, I've always said there's a metric. Then you can go to the next step. Pence would do that.

HUME: So you would support the Pence measure?

HASTERT: I'm willing to look at all measures. I'm not saying any...

HUME: Well, would you allow the Pence measure perhaps to come to a vote in the House?

HASTERT: Well, if there's an agreement...

HUME: Agreement?

HASTERT: ... with the Senate, we could probably do something like that.

HUME: Well, I mean, there's some thought that the Senate might even take up the Pence plan before the House does.

HASTERT: Well, look it. If there's a plan to protect the border first, which the Pence bill does...

HUME: Right.

HASTERT: ... and other bills do, too, and then go to a metric, which you can do other things, and a guest worker program, other things — I don't think we're going to ever get to amnesty. I'm not for that.

But there are some things that you can do to secure labor markets after you secure the border first.

HUME: Well, would you then be prepared to see the Pence plan come to a vote in the House even now?

HASTERT: I'm prepared to bring some agreement if we can secure the border first.

HUME: All right. Give us your assessment of the political prospects for your party in the November elections. If you look at the polls — people always look to that generic question, which party do you favor.

We were looking at our most recent poll, 42-34, as you see, say would vote — said they'd vote Democrat. Only 34 percent would vote Republican.

What's your view of — and you know, there's a lot of talk about a possible Democratic tide. How do you see it?

HASTERT: That's mostly Democrats talking about that. But you know, how I see it — we're on the offense. I'm going to be in 42 districts in the next — in the month of August. That's a pretty extensive travel schedule.

We're playing offense. We're playing 12 in districts that Democrats now hold that I think we have a shot of picking up, a couple in Georgia, one in South Carolina, one in West Virginia, one in Vermont, of all places. We have two in Illinois, one in Ohio, one in Iowa, one in northern Washington.

You know, I think we're on offense. And we have, I think — every one of those districts, every congressional district, is a local race. And if our members are doing a good job, they're taking care of the needs of the people in that district and they have a good message to tell — we've done a lot when you look at what the congressional record of this Congress has done, and, you know, we need to tell that story.

HUME: The Iraq war looks like a drag. You've got Congressman Gutknecht, Congressman Shays saying that this is going badly.

Gil Gutknecht, who once supported the war, came back from there and said that the conditions in Baghdad are far worse than we'd been led to believe. He wanted troop withdrawals to begin soon. Your reaction to his view.

HASTERT: Well, you know, I've been in Iraq, and I've talked to the new prime minister. I've talked to the new speaker of the house. We are standing up a government there. They're going to be here in Washington this week. We're going to have that dialogue.

You know, thousands of people went to the polls and dared to stick their finger in that purple ink and hold it up and show that they voted, a very, very high percentage. They want a democratic government.

And they are standing up police forces. They are standing up military. As they stand up that military, we'll start to bring our people home.

HUME: How do you think it's going?

HASTERT: I think it's not going as well as I would like to see it go. But as soon as you get the — between the Shiites and the Sunnis — that strife settled, I think we can move forward. I think there is a foreign influence there that's disruptive and I think that's getting shut down.

HUME: And how do you think the issue plays in this election? What has to happen for it to...

HASTERT: I think basically nobody wants to be at war. I understand that. But also people don't want us to start something and not finish it.

HUME: So your view is that this hurts or helps Republicans in the fall?

HASTERT: Well, you know, I don't think it's a plus for us, but I think the people would — it would not be a plus for us if we waved a white flag and cut and run.

HUME: I want to ask you about the case of William Jefferson, the Democratic congressman from Louisiana who had his office famously searched.

He appealed. You objected to the search. He appealed to the courts to have the search invalidated and the materials that were seized by the FBI in that raid — this, of course, occurred after a large sum of cash had been found in the freezer at his house.

You protested along with him and other Democrats on this. The court has now ruled and the matter is on appeal. The court ruled against Jefferson. He's appealing. Are you, on behalf of the House, going to join his appeal?

HASTERT: Look it, the gentleman from Louisiana is in big trouble, as far as I'm concerned. And we're not trying to protect him. Nobody is above the law, whether you're a congressman or no matter where you're from.

But there has to be a procedure for the Justice Department to come in and start just searching any congressman's office. We're saying let's put that procedure in place. We are in cooperation with the Justice Department to get those negotiations in place.

But you know, we're not protecting Jefferson at all. But there is a prerogative that somebody from one administration shouldn't just come in and have a search and seizure anywhere they want to in the Congress.

HUME: Well, they can have a search and seizure of my office. If I were engaged in a criminal enterprise — if somebody found $80,000 of dubious cash in my freezer, they could...

HASTERT: They should be able to come in and do what they want to on any criminal aspect. But to take all your records, where you have confidential records of people's tax...

HUME: So you think the records should be returned?

HASTERT: No. I think that they ought to be sorted out and the records that they have subpoenaed in the first place, they ought to be privy to.

HUME: So do I take it from what you're saying that you will not have lawyers for the House joining his appeal?

HASTERT: We're not joining in behalf of Jefferson.

HUME: Are you joining at all?

HASTERT: Well, we may take a fine line depending on how the negotiations are, that we can at least not have an administration come in and do a wide sweep for anything on any office in the U.S. Congress. There is a constitutional division there that we have to protect.

HUME: Let me just touch one last issue with you, and that's the estate tax or the death tax, as Republicans like to call it. We've passed a measure that would eliminate it for nearly everybody. That's stuck in the Senate.

Where is that issue going? Is there a chance you could get that done?

HASTERT: Well, one of the things that I have really worked on over the last few years is to get the estate tax done. We passed it out of the House I don't know how many times.

I think there's an opportunity to do it in the Senate. We should do it in the Senate. It's something that people who have spent their whole life working to build up a small business or a family farm — they ought to be able to pass it on to the next generation. I think we'll get it done.

HUME: You do.

HASTERT: Yes, either with — we're going to do a pension bill next week and we'll either do it in tandem with the pension bill or some kind of combination. There's a possibility.

HUME: Just to pass the House again or to...

HASTERT: No, to get it done. We can pass the House any time.

HUME: Right. All right. So you think it will...

HASTERT: It's my goal.

HUME: You think something will come out — why do you think something will come out of the Senate that will get you there?

HASTERT: Well, I think, you know, we can have combinations of things that people may vote on. I can't predict what happens in the Senate. That's tough. But we're doing everything we can to make it happen.

HUME: No speaker has ever been able to do that. Well, Mr. Speaker, we're very pleased to have you this morning.

HASTERT: My pleasure.

HUME: Thank you very much for coming in.