Key Capitol Hill Players Feel Heat From Foley Scandal

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on October 7, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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REP. DENNIS HASTERT, R-Ill., SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. The bottom line is that we're taking responsibility. Because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.


MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke.

BILL SAMMON, GUEST HOST: And I'm Bill Sammon, in for Fred Barnes. And we're "The Beltway Boys." Fred is missing FOX's 10th anniversary, which is today.

KONDRACKE: Yes. It is today.

SAMMON: Happy anniversary.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Same to you.

The "Hot Story" of the week is Foleygate. And I'm referring, of course, to the flap involving now ex-Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, Republican, and the dirty e-mail messages that he sent to congressional pages, and the Republican leadership's response to all of that.

Now look, before this blew up, the news was already bad for Republicans. President Bush's approval rating is about 40. The Democrats have a 10-point lead in the generic congressional ballot. News from Iraq is bad. The Democrats were on the cusp of winning the 15 seats that they need in order to take over control of the House of Representatives.

Now, after this flap, I do not see what stops the Democrats from winning 20 seats and control. And even though this is a House matter, it could flip Senate seats, and even some Republicans I know think that it could transfer control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Now you can say that by Washington sex-scandal standards this is minor. After all, there was no contact that we know of -- physical contact that we know of between Foley and any of the pages, and that the Republican leadership acted on what it knew, rather than what it might of suspected. Still, it's just terrible for the Republicans, because it's Topic A all over the country. And the poll results indicate that it's dead -- it has a devastating effect. A new Rasmussen poll shows that 61 percent of voters believe that Republicans have been protecting Foley for years. Only 21 percent think that they heard about the e-mails just last week. And a Time magazine poll shows that 80 percent are aware of the Foley scandal.


KONDRACKE: And only 16 percent approve of what the Republicans did in handling it.

SAMMON: All I can is, not so fast, Mort. I think there is a whiff of overconfidence to what you're saying. And there's a whiff of overkill in the coverage of this scandal here in the Beltway. There is an ugly, unseemly aspect to this feeding frenzy that I think -- even though this is very bad for Republicans.

KONDRACKE: What feeding frenzies are.

SAMMON: Well, I know they are. But this is particularly ugly, this one. And I know that this is a very bad situation for Republicans. I know it's been a very good issue for a week for Democrats. But there is the danger that if voters see this sort of mob mentality taking hold of everybody and, you know, trying to run out the entire Republican Party out of town on a rail, I think there's a danger of a backlash, eventually. They've still got a month to go before the election, and you have to fuel this scandal with new revelations for the next four weeks. I'm not sure that can happen. And if there is a backlash -- if voters do perceive that Democrats are exploiting a genuine tragedy for political gain, I think that's going to hurt Democrats. I also think that voters are sophisticated enough - there's all this sort of wishful thinking in the press that all the conservatives are going to stay home because of the Foley scandal. Well, guess what? If you stay home, it's not going to undo those e-mails. Those e-mails were sent; Foley's gone. But if you stay home, it's going to have major consequences in terms of your taxes being raised; in terms of us pulling out of Iraq, which would it make worse from the conservative perspective; and also in terms of amnesty for illegal aliens. So there's a lot of very powerful arguments for voters to actually show up that are sort of a counterbalance to this Foley argument.

KONDRACKE: Well - well that depends on the Republicans being able to get off the Foley story and on - back on to their message, which they have not been able to do. And it's -- and, you know, we don't whether this story going to last till the election's over. But looking at the situation as it is right now, there's evidence that evangelical voters, who are the Republican base vote, based on the fact that Republicans presume to be the morality party and the values party, are turned off and disillusioned with the Republican leadership in Congress. And that swing voters -- married women especially, who supported Bush in 2004 -- are also going to be turned off. Look, having this guy Foley be the chairman -- co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus is something like having Syria or Libya be the co-chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission...


SAMMON: That's a good analogy, but Foley's gone. Forget, you know, he tried to cut the legs off of this scandal by leaving immediately. The problem is, the Democrats don't want to let go of it. They want to transfer all that outrage to the Republican leadership. I don't think it's going to work.

KONDRACKE: OK. Let's take a look at some of the major players in this scandal. First, House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Look, I don't blame Hastert for not reacting to the first round of so-called "overly friendly" e-mails that he heard about. I mean, there were lots of news organizations that knew about these e-mails and passed over the story because they thought it was no big deal. But once he did know about it, he could have acted a lot more forcefully than he did. It took him a couple of days to get his story straight. Now, Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois has passed around to the leadership and to the rules committee a rules change, which the leadership should have said, you know, We're behind right away. It calls for any member of Congress and any staffer who has any credible information about abuse of an intern or a page to immediately report it, on a bipartisan basis, to the House Ethics Committee, which must launch an investigation of it. So look, I think Hastert will stay through the election. But when the Republicans lose control of the House.

SAMMON: Not if, but when.



KONDRACKE: He's gone.

SAMMON: Well, you know, hindsight is 20/20 in anything, even with this Hastert thing. You know, I was on Air Force Two this week with Vice President Cheney. I interviewed him in his cabin up at the front of the plane, and I asked about this scandal for the first time publicly, and got his remarks. And he said, look, it makes absolutely no sense for Hastert to resign. I think Hastert's a great speaker. I think he's doing a great job. And, despite a few conservative editorials and a few Republicans calling for Hastert to resign, I don't sense a groundswell on Capitol Hill, or really nationally, among Republicans who are clamoring for Hastert's scalp. I think, in fact, Hastert started to turn the corner when he gave that press conference this week, and came out and said, I'm sorry. The buck stops with me; we're going to take care of this thing. And by the way, we have some real issues to talk about: taxes, national security and immigration. I think that's going to work.

KONDRACKE: OK. Next: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Here is her reaction to the scandal.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, R-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is appalling. I mean, it -- there are many bad things that can be said about Congress. But the fact that the Republican leadership in this Congress chose to protect Mark -- Mark Foley for political reasons rather than to protect the children cannot go without some taking on of responsibility.


Well, typically over the top for Pelosi. I mean, the Republican leadership did not protect Foley. They were not as suspicious as they ought to have been about a gay member of Congress. Now if you believe -- and I don't, and I'm sure you don't either -- that Nancy Pelosi would have taken -- would have ousted a gay member of Congress on the basis of those friendly e-mails, you know, I just don't think it would have happened.

SAMMON: The problem with Pelosi is, she came and said, I'm for a full investigation of the GOP cover-up. In other words, she's already convicted the GOP of a cover-up before the investigation begins. She also was against the appointment of former FBI Director Louis Freeh because she didn't want to have a private investigation. She wants it out in public — in public hearings before Congress.

KONDRACKE: Right. Next, House Majority Leader John Boehner. What happened was that the leadership -- they're sort of back in line now, all supporting each other. But the first instinct was self-preservation, or self-advancement. I mean, Boehner said, Look, I reported what I knew to the speaker. It's his responsibility, not mine. Roy Blunt, the No. 3 leader, said, I would have handled it differently. Now as I understand it, Blunt is ticked that he wasn't in the loop on this whole thing. And I think that actually had he been in the loop, the handling of it would have been better.

SAMMON: You should be happy he was out of the loop. I think Boehner may be positioning himself to move up the leadership chain if Hastert does end up going down.

KONDRACKE: OK. And lastly, Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. He's feeling the fallout already; not only is he going to lose the Republican majority at the rate things are going, but he may even lose his own seat. He's five points behind in his district.

SAMMON: When I asked Cheney, Do you support Hastert and Reynolds? He said, Hastert's a great speaker. He didn't say anything about Reynolds, which I thought was telling.


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