Clinton-Rumsfeld Smackdown Over Iraq

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on August 6, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. ET.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Let's check out this week's "Ups and Downs."

Up: Ned Lamont, Senator Joe Lieberman's Democratic challenger in Connecticut. With the primary just days away, Lamont's opened a 13-point lead over Lieberman among likely Democrats in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

I think this poll and the — and the — where this race comes to shows - shows two things for sure, and one probably. The two things for sure are, one, among Democrats anyway, opposition to the war in Iraq is a huge issue, it's a huge passion. And of course, it's driving the Lamont campaign, along with the other that's certain, and that is hatred of George Bush is huge among - among Democrats. And — and particularly activists who are going to vote in the primary, or at least a lot of them will. They — and — and the — the fact that Lieberman has "collaborated" — that would be their word — "collaborated" with Bush over Iraq just drives them even more crazy. Now the thing that's probably true — we've seen Lamont gain, you know, over the recent weeks. But it's a primary in August. You know, they're hard to poll in. And — because you just don't know who's going to turn out.


BARNES: Now people don't take primaries as seriously as they do a general election.

WILLIAMS: But — but Fred we haven't seen Senator Lieberman win one of these..

BARNES: Not recently.

WILLIAMS: …polls recently.


WILLIAMS: So it's kind of tough.

But here's the thing I'm thinking: war is the issue. I got to tell you something: get out of your precincts with your right-wing buddies, and you'll discover two-thirds of the American people don't think the war in Iraq is going to turn out so well. People are dubious, and people worry about the way the war has been conducted, having been misled into the war, weapons of mass destruction, all of it. You know the rant.

And so what you see is, I think, Senator Lieberman is being punished at the polls. But it may not be the end of the story, Fred, because he could come back, run as an independent — and I think he could actually win in the general election.


WILLIAMS: Ned Lamont may win the battle; Lieberman may win the war.

BARNES: Yes. I agree.


Down: Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of Defense should have kept to his original stance of not testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Fred, he and his top generals got pummeled by committee Democrats on Iraq.

Here's Hillary Clinton unloading on Rummy.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-N.Y.: We hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios. But because of the administration's strategic blunders, and frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?



BARNES: I agree.

WILLIAMS: My goodness.

BARNES: My goodness.

WILLIAMS: That's pure politics, Fred.


WILLIAMS: Pure politics, because we were just talking about what's going on with Senator Lieberman in Connecticut. Now you have Senator — Senator Clinton, likely Democratic presidential nominee, she hopes. And she understands that the base of the party is concerned, preoccupied, angry over the war. This is an opportunity for her to say, I'm distant from the administration policy. She authorized them to go to war; she's been very supportive of them throughout the war. Now she's starting to distance herself.

And when you have General Abizaid, General Pace, saying, You know what? You may have civil war breaking out in Iraq — it really gives her some cover to come out now and say, Here I am trying to set a different path for the Democrat Party as we go towards the midterms and towards the 2008 presidential race.

BARNES: Yes. Well we know why she wanted an open hearing, a public hearing, and not a closed-door hearing, because she wanted to get all that on TV. And look, that's the way the world works in politics. No question about it.

You know, that — about the civil war, what General Abizaid said was, If — if this fighting between Shias and — and Sunnis continues the way it is now, it could lead to one possibly. The truth is, everything depends on Baghdad. And if it's not cleared of the — of the terrorists and the insurgents by the end of the year and made secure — it's the capital city, after all — then the Iraqi democratically government.


WILLIAMS: Well, how do you define insurgents though, Fred? Because this is — this is — really is. I mean, the president has gone away now from saying everything's great, we're resolved to victory.

BARNES: He's not saying that.

WILLIAMS: And he says things are terrible right now. So, I mean, you got to admit, Things are not good.

BARNES: They got to win the capital. No question about it.

WILLIAMS: Well, right. But I'm just saying, Things aren't good. All right.

Next one, Down: controversial Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. She may be losing her job next Tuesday. McKinney's trailing her Democratic primary opponent, Hank Johnson, another African-American, by 15 points in a poll out this week. Now Fred, I want you to know, 17 percent are still undecided in that race. So it could come down to the wire. But what you've got to understand is, McKinney's been in the Congress 12 years. She can't even get 50 percent of the vote against two opponents? I think that tells you something. She's well known for her little tussle there with the Capitol Hill security. But what is she known for in terms of accomplishment? I think for - for her behavior, not for any real accomplishment for the people of her district. And that's why I think Hank Johnson's going to pull this out.

BARNES: Yes. It — it looks pretty good for him. And, I mean, she's also known Juan, though, not for just slugging that cop. She's known for espousing this conspiracy theory about how George Bush knew about 9/11 ahead of time and on and on. You've heard that. You know, she is — she's vulnerable. Remember, she lost in 2002 to the — Denise Majette, who went on and then ran for the Senate and lost. And when — when there's a strong, well-known opponent in the primary - and Hank Johnson is that - she loses.

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think there's any question Johnson's known. He has the name ID. We'll see what happens. Coming up, Fidel Castro turns over the reins to his brother Raul in Cuba. We'll tell you what the United States is planning. Stick around.


BARNES: We're continuing with our "Ups and Downs" for the week.

Down: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The jury's out on just how sick Castro is, but one thing's for certain: his hold on Cuba is slipping, and the U.S. government and Cuban exiles are making plans for the transition.

It may be a little premature for that, but this is the first time in 47 years when Castro has given up the reins of his dictatorship, even temporarily — and of course, he has to his brother. Now we don't know how sick he is; we don't even know whether he's alive or not. You know I — I learned the other day that — that Stalin was dead five days until they announced that he had died. So, you know, we — you can't rely on these communist governments for telling you the truth.

But in any case, whether Castro comes back or not, or his brother rules — and there's no reason to expect any overtures from Cuba seeking normalization of relations with the United States — I mean, Raul Castro is hardcore. You know, he's the guy who, after he and his brother took over with Che Guevara, took over Cuba in 1959, personally fired the gun that killed a lot of so-called counterrevolutionaries, meaning people who didn't want to see communists take over.

Cuba would be an economic basket — well, actually, it is an economic basket case that's being bailed out at leas temporarily by $2 billion a year from Venezuela. You know, headed by President...

WILLIAMS: Hugo Chavez.

BARNES: Huge Chavez, who is the world's greatest envier. I mean, he's — has the world's greatest case of Castro envy.


BARNES: Otherwise, Cuba would collapse entirely.

WILLIAMS: You know what? I can't — I agree with you; can't agree with you more.

Get ready for what I think of as "Weekend at Bernie's." They're going to prop this guy up; they may play a five-hour tape and tell you it's him talking. Who would know the difference, because everybody falls at sleep at a Castro speech anyway.

But here's the thing: I think the United States is now going to put aside money — you're already seeing resolutions, proposals in the Congress, to help the Cuban economy recover once Castro is dead, to say that we're willing to make investments, we're willing to fight Hugo Chavez's money, and present some support for opposition.

Because what is the real opportunity here, Fred? It's the opposition for people who've been dissidents to really now step up, to say there's a new moment in Cuba, and to possibly challenge Raul, who is charismatically challenged, now we say. So there is an opportunity; let's not underplay it. And I think that's why you saw the people, Cuba in — in Miami celebrating this. Because they understand this is a moment in history.

BARNES: It is a moment. Raul's — he lacks charisma, but he does run the army.

WILLIAMS: He does.

BARNES: All right.

Down: Mel Gibson. He's still trying to pick up the pieces after his drunken, anti-Semitic tirade last weekend, including reaching out to Jewish leaders to find a quote-unquote "appropriate path for healing."

I think Mel Gibson, who's a great Hollywood star — and I've enjoyed any numbers of his movies — hurt himself very badly. Because in — in — in what he's saying to the police who grabbed him when he was driving under the influence, was not just epithets, it was a - you know, beliefs; a belief that Jews have started all the wars. He does need a lot of healing. I mean, this is Hollywood, and so it's probably going to be easier for him to get back in the good graces there, because he's such a big star.

But this really — this really particularly disappointed a lot of his fans, who really got so much out of his film about the crucifixion of Christ.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think, in fact — I was going to ask you about that. Because I think it presents a real problem for people who are fundamentalist Christians, who had really taken to Mel Gibson and his portrayal of the suffering of Christ, and thought, This is a guy who is standing for something. And the Jewish community, if you remember, was nervous about that film and thought, Oh my gosh, they might be making in this film — Gibson making Jews out to be Christ-killers. And it was all — and Gibson said, It's not about that. He made this movie.

And now you come back, and in a way, I think Mel Gibson has disappointed his fellow Christians.


WILLIAMS: Because it turns out, Mel Gibson has a lot of baggage in his mind, I think going back to his father who is — you know, was a Holocaust denier and all that.

That hurt, I think, a lot of people who have put their truth — their faith, if you will — in — in Mel Gibson.

BARNES: So you think he can recover?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think money talks, you know? That's the old thing. And it's Hollywood.

Now there are a lot of Jewish people in leadership positions who will try to oppose him. But Mel Gibson, for the most part, is able to work alone. So I think it's a matter of whether or not the public is willing to pay money to watch the next Mel Gibson epic.

BARNES: Well, it's one other thing: it's what he says and does before that movie comes out that I think matters.

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