Published June 12, 2007
This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from June 11, 2007.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Next on SPECIAL REPORT, Senate Democrats hold a vote of no confidence on Attorney General Gonzales, or try to. This is not turning out the way they hoped.
Harry Reid again dumps the fate of the immigration bill on the president's lap, but the president says he will try to revive the thing.
And appeals court says the government can't keep holding an accused enemy combatant. Is this a big deal? We'll tell you.
Plus, is there some good news out of Iran about one of the Americans held captive there? We will find out right here, right now.
Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. Fresh off his European tour and back at the White House, President Bush will be headed to Capital Hill tomorrow for a relatively rare presidential visit. Mr. Bush will be doing what he can to get that sidelined immigration reform bill back on the field of play, and he hopes headed towards his desk. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reports.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A confident President Bush, at a news conference in Bulgaria, vowed today to get the stalled immigration legislation passed.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we can get it done. I'll see you at the bill signing.
BAIER: The president plans to revive consideration of the immigration bill that fell far short of the 60 votes it needed to pass the Senate last week with a trip to Capitol on Tuesday, making a rare appearance at the Senate Republican policy lunch.
BUSH: We've made two steps forward on immigration. We took a step back and now I'm going to work with those who are focused on getting an immigration bill passed to start taking some steps forward again.
BAIER: Senior aides insist the Senate is, quote, very close to the finish line, perhaps only two days away from getting a comprehensive bill through. And the president will address the prospects of package at Tuesday's Senate lunch and in a speech in Washington on Thursday.
BUSH: It's important that we address this issue now. And I believe we can get it done.
BAIER: While flying back to Washington aboard Air Force One, President Bush got a jump start on his personal lobbying efforts, phoning three senators seen as key to getting the immigration bill back on track, Republican Senator Jon Kyl and Democratic Senators Ken Salazar and Ted Kennedy.
Senator Salazar said the president talked legislative strategy to try to protect the bill from the few senators who seem determined to kill it.
SEN. KEN SALAZAR (D), COLORADO: We can't let a very small group of senators essentially be in control of the final outcome. We have a well balanced bill. And I think we are going to get 65, 70 votes to get this immigration bill through when all is said and done.
BAIER: Some senior aides to the leadership of both parties say that may be wishful thinking. Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted immigration will come back up in roughly two weeks.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I will do everything possible to readdress the immigration issue after debate on the energy bill is completed.
BAIER: While there are still real concerns from a group of conservative senators about what some call amnesty, allowing illegals to qualify for legal residency by paying fines and meeting other conditions, Senator Kyl says once a set list of Republican amendments is voted on, addressing that and other issues, Republican senators will agree to end debate and vote on the bill.
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: We have to, nevertheless, give our colleagues their fair shot, even though they may not be playing fair, in the sense that they want a filibuster. I think once we have allowed them to have a couple of amendments up, it is pretty hard for them then to argue that they haven't had their chance. At that point, we will have to invoke cloture.
BAIER: Senator Kyl acknowledged that the immigration battle is taking a political toll on the Republican party, but still expressed confidence that a bill would pass the Senate before the Fourth of July recess. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that he was cautiously optimistic about passage too, but said the president's visit to Capitol Hill to lobby Senate Republicans could be an exercise in futility, because, quote, this is not an issue upon which many people are undecided. Brit?
HUME: Bret, thanks very much. Speaking of Senate leaders, Majority Leader Harry Reid, a new Rasmussen Reports poll finds only 19 percent of American voters look favorably on the Nevada Democrat; 45 percent, as you can see, view him the other way. That is the same favorable rating, by the way, as former White House aide Scooter Libby, now sentenced to 30 months in prison in the CIA leak case. In the meantime, for comparison, 38 percent of Americans look favorably upon Vice President Cheney.
Three Texas National Guardsmen assigned to patrol the border between Texas and Mexico have been charged with running an immigrant smuggling ring. The three allegedly charged illegal immigrants from 1,000 to 3,500 dollars. They were arrested after one of them allegedly was found driving a van with 24 illegal immigrants in it near Cotulla. That's 68 miles north of the border. Two of the guards men from Laredo, Texas. The other is from Fort Worth.
In the U.S. Senate today, Democrats were pressing for a vote that had no possible legal consequence, and most Republicans were fighting it as if it did. As chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reports, it was all about the U.S. attorney general. Jim?
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brit, the Senate is about to vote on whether to proceed with a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It seems clear the Senate will fail to get the 60 votes needed to move on with that vote. But even if critics were able to push through a vote of no confidence, it would have no real impact, no binding or legal effect.
But for critics who have been unable to find any evidence of actual wrongdoing by Gonzales himself, today's political exercise was all they had and they made the most of it.
ANGLE (voice-over): Technically, this was a vote on whether to have a vote of no confidence, but with that likely to fail, critics sought to turn this debate into a referendum on Gonzales' job performance. One of the bill's sponsors started by suggesting that the vote was unlikely to be a true measure of sentiment on Gonzales.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If senator cast their votes with their conscious, they would speak with near unanimity that there is no confidence in the attorney general.
ANGLE: And their voice would dislodge the attorney general from the post that he should no longer hold, Schumer said. But Republican Senator Trent Lott called the whole exercise gymnastics that take away time from serious problems.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: The main point is that is not our job. We don't have authority to make that determination. So what are we going to accomplish here today? This is all about partisan politics. Nobody is fooled.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Why wouldn't we be talking about immigration, which we spent last week and the last week before that that we were this session discussing? We were making headway.
ANGLE: Though critics pointed to a long list of differences they have with the attorney general, the key issue was the handful of U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign after serving a four-year term. They serve at the pleasure of president, so they can be removed at any time, but Gonzales gave different and conflicting explanations about the reasons and why these particular U.S. attorneys were chosen. Democrats assumed the worst.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the perspective of bush administration, I can see how a wounded, grateful attorney general, on a very short leash, may be just what they want as they try to exit Washington without further indictments. But that is not the attorney general America needs.
ANGLE: During a stop in Bulgaria, President Bush said once again that Gonzales has done nothing wrong and that this vote has no impact on his thinking.
BUSH: I will make the determination if I think he is effective or not, not those who are using an opportunity to make a political statement on a meaningless resolution.
ANGLE: And Attorney General Gonzales himself said he is concentrating on his job.
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not focusing on what the Senate is doing; I'm focusing on what the American people expect of the attorney general of the United States and this great Department of Justice.
ANGLE: And Gonzales recently talked about all he wants to accomplish in his last 18 months in office, so it would appear he has no plans to leave. Brit?
HUME: Jim, thank you. I guess we will have the vote on whether to vote as soon as it comes.
ANGLE: Yes, indeed.
HUME: The Supreme Court ruled today that a class action lawsuit against Philip Morris may not be transferred from an Arkansas state court, where it was filed, to a federal court. The ruling was a setback for the tobacco company. Big companies typically prefer to have such lawsuits litigated in federal courts, where they typically receive more favorable verdicts. The suite was brought by two Arkansas women who allege that the company engaged in unfair business practices in marketing two of its low tar cigarette brands.
Later in our program, Filipino informants collect 10 million dollars in cash. We'll show what that looks like. And coming up next, President Bush gets a warmer welcome in parts of Europe than he did at home. Stay tuned.
HUME: As we noted earlier, President Bush headed home today after more than a week in Europe where he visited six countries and attended the G-8 summit. At every stop, a primary topic was the proposed U.S. missile defense shield for Eastern Europe and the U.S. relationship with Russia. White House correspondent Wendell Goler summarizes the trip from the president's last stop in Bulgaria.
WENDELL GOLER, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first four stops of the president's trip were marked by sometimes angry protests and by sharp differences with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin surprised U.S. officials by suggesting this Soviet era radar site in Azerbaijan as an alternative. And while his aides are privately skeptical, Mr. Bush today was diplomatic.
BUSH: It's a good idea. I don't know whether it's technologically feasible. I'm not an expert.
GOLER: On the last two stops of this trip, U.S.-Russian relations have remained an issue, though President Bush received friendlier welcomes. Albania Sunday gave him the country's highest award, named a street after him and put his face on three of its postage stamps. Mr. Bush in turn said independence for Kosovo, for where most of the people are ethnic Albanians, should only be delayed long enough for President Putin to accept an idea he strongly opposes right now.
BUSH: At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you have to say, enough is enough, Kosovo is independent.
GOLER: Here in Bulgaria today, the president was welcomed with full military honor. Bulgaria was once the Soviet Union's most loyal ally. It still depends on Russia for virtually all of its energy. But Bulgaria is also a member of NATO now. Mr. Bush met with some of its troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was told Bulgaria doesn't want to choose between a friendship with the U.S. or Russia.
GEORGI PARVANOV, BULGARIAN PRESIDENT: The Bulgarians should and can maintain friendly relations with both countries, just as I am a friend with George and a friend with Vladimir.
GOLER (on camera): George will lead Vladimir at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine early next month. That is probably too soon for him to reject the Russian alternative to the proposed U.S. missile defense shield plan, but NATO's secretary general has already said the Azerbaijani radar site Mr. Putin wants to use is probably too close to Iran to effectively track missiles from there.
In Sofia, Bulgaria, Wendell Goler, Fox News.
HUME: Officials involved in six-party talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons program are said to be hoping they have ended a deadlock blocking the resumption of negotiations. Russia reportedly has agreed to accept 25 million dollars in disputed North Korean funds into a commercial bank account controlled by North Korea. The Russian bank is said only to need assurances that American financial regulators will not penalize it if it agrees to receive the funds in that way. The money has been held in a bank in Macau.
There was word today that Iran may soon release an Iranian-American scholar who has been in prison since early May. But across several other fronts, policies and actions of the Iranian regime continue to trouble the U.S. and its allies. Correspondent James Rosen has that story.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before dawn on Monday, the Israeli spy satellite Ofeq 7 climbed the heavens on its way into orbit where from where, defense ministry officials said, it will gather intelligence on Iran and its nuclear program. The launch of Ofeq 7 marked another escalation in the standoff between Iran and the West.
In Vienna, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told its board of governors Iran's many years of undeclared activities make the Islamic republic, quote, a key non-proliferation concern. From the State Department, a warning that the U.N. Security Council will impose more sanctions against Iran.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT SPOKESMAN: We're also going to be talking bilaterally with friends and allies around the globe about what actions we might take outside the Security Council and the financial area.
ROSEN: While Iran's president welcomed another veteran bedeviler of Washington, leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a prominent Senate Democrat appearing on "YOUR WORLD WITH NEIL CAVUTO" urged the Bush administration to launch a cross-border military operation to stop Iran from arming terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: There is a particular base, at least one in Iran near the Iraqi border, where these terrorists are being trained to go back in and kill American soldiers. They ought not to feel that they have safe haven there.
ROSEN: As if Iran's nuclear program and role in Iraq were not cause enough for conflict with the West, there is the matter of the four Iranian/American scholars and peace activists detained outside Tehran on allegations they are plotting to overthrow the regime there. Among the prisons is Haleh Esfandiari of Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center.
In an exclusive interview reported on FoxNews.com, a high-level Iranian judiciary official told Fox News Senior Vice President John Moody that Esfandiari is being treated well and that she will be released, quote, in one or two weeks at most. Appearing in Washington with his Iraq Study Group co-chair James Baker, Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, director of the Wilson Center, welcomed Tehran's talk of his colleague's release.
LEE HAMILTON, WOODROW WILSON INTL CTR DIR: This report on Fox was the first indication that there may be light at the end of tunnel here. We have had unrelentingly bad news about Haleh's condition and whereabouts. So, this gives us some hope that eventually, sooner, we hope, rather than later, she will be freed.
ROSEN: Hamilton added that Esfandiari's 93-year-old mother was able to speak to her daughter briefly today by telephone following a three day lapse in their contact. Sean McCormack said the Iranian's assurances about Esfandiari's health were, quote, all well and good, but that she should be released from jail and permitted to leave the country immediately. Brit?
HUME: James, thank you. Still ahead on SPECIAL REPORT, off the Florida coast, a good idea for the environment goes bad, but something good may yet come from it. We'll explain. And after a break, the military is ordered to release an al-Qaeda suspect. We will explain why and what might happen because of it. Stay tuned.
HUME: This just in, there will be no vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Senate Democrats who sought the vote needed 60 vote to bring the matter to the floor. The vote was only 53 in favor. That is not nearly enough, so that matter goes by the boards, although a lot of senators had an opportunity to express their displeasure with the sitting U.S. attorney general.
The U.S. military has been ordered to release an al-Qaeda suspect who has been in custody since two months after the World Trade Center was attacked. But the detainee will not go free. He has been ordered into the federal court system. National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin explains the ruling.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-
over): A U.S. appeals court ruled today that President Bush lacks the power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain in the United States a suspected al-Qaeda operative. The ruling applies to Ali al-Marri from Qatar, arrested in Peoria, Illinois in December, 2001. The government accuses al-Marri of being a sleeper agent. He is the only person currently held on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant.
Today's ruling does not apply to those being held at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Marri is currently held in the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. According to the government, he trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, met 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in the summer of 2001. On his personal computer, U.S. officials found plans to disrupt the U.S. financial system using credit card fraud, and found materials related to chemical weapons.
Today, a three judge panel was split 2-1. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled, quote, put simply, the constitution does not allow the president to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and detain them indefinitely without criminal process. And this is so, even if he calls them enemy combatants.
Judge Henry Hudson dissented, quote, "President Bush had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent because he is the type of stealth warrior used by al Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.
Former Justice Department lawyer Lee Casey says the ruling is likely to be overturned.
LEE CASEY, FMR JUSTICE DEPT LAWYER: I would not describe it as a major landmark case. There have been a number of incorrect decisions by judges who believe that these individuals should be treated as ordinary criminal defendants. Those opinions, by and large, I believe all of them, have been overturned on appeal, whether it's at the lower level or up to the Supreme Court.
GRIFFIN: Two previous accused enemy combatants held on U.S. soil, Yaser Hamdi of Saudi Arabia, and accused dirty bomber Jose Padilla. Hamdi was eventually deported after the Supreme Court allowed him to challenge his detention. Padilla is currently being tried on separate charges in a Florida federal court.
GRIFFIN: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said today that he was disappointed with the ruling. He reminded people that al-Marri is a very dangerous individual. The Justice Department plans to appeal the case to the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That will be 13 judges, rather than this panel of three. Brit?
HUME: Jennifer, we are just getting news of two Air Force fighter jets colliding over an air field in Alaska. Do you know anything about that?
GRIFFIN: That's right. It took place during a training exercise. It was an F 15-C that crashed. It had collided with an F-16. And we understand that both pilots are now safe. One has been taken to the hospital, but we understand his injuries are not serious. Brit?
HUME: Jennifer, thank you. The Pentagon reports that all branches of U.S. military, except the Army, met or exceeded their recruitment goals in May. The Marine Corps actually exceeded its goal by 34 percent. As for the Army, it recruited 5,101 new soldiers last month, short of its goal of 5,500. But the Army is 2,000 recruits over its target for this point in the year. And officials say it is not uncommon for recruitment to drop in May, when new high school graduates are still deciding whether to sign up.
In the Palestinian territories today, vengeance and retaliation took precedent over any apparent desire for order in the streets or over a united front against Israel. And as correspondent Mike Tobin reports, even the Palestinian prime minister found himself vulnerable to the violence.
MIKE TOBIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hamas versus Fatah fighting rages again. But this time the bullets reached dangerously close to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismael Haniya, who is also a Hamas leader. The cabinet building was shot repeatedly as Haniya convened a session. In a convoy, the prime minister sped away, unharmed, but less secure.
Earlier this morning, gunmen opened fire on his home, marking the first time a top politician in the Palestinian territory was targeted in the factional gun battles. At the cabinet, the shooters were from one family. They were attempting to kill any Hamas politician as revenge for one of their own, a Fatah presidential guard officer, who was thrown to his death off a 15-story building by Hamas gunmen.
In response to that, Fatah gunmen threw a Hamas gunman off a building, killing him, then captured and executed a Hamas religious leader, Mohammed al Rifati.
HAMZA AL RIFATI, SON OF MURDERED MAN (through translator): They caught him and laid him on the ground. They shot him in the leg. There was a pool of blood on the floor. Why did they do that? What crime did he commit?
TOBIN: In the northern end of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians could be seen scrabbling for cover as two additional families, one from Hamas, the other from Fatah, tried to get even for members killed last month. Gunmen stormed the hospital and executed wounded men in cold blood.
The latest violence began with a struggle for power. An agreement struck in Mecca last February was an attempt to calm the fighting by forming a power sharing government between Hamas and Fatah. It was unsuccessful, as both parties maintained their own armed factional militias. The parties clashed, trying to gain control of police and security forces. The gunmen die in droves.
(on camera): Dozens of cease fires have been brokered, primarily by the Egyptians, but most fall apart quickly. The desire for vengeance dramatically outweighs the desire for order on the streets of Gaza.
In Jerusalem, Mike Tobin, Fox News.
HUME: In the Philippines last week, the U.S. ambassador turned over a 10 million dollar reward in cash to four Filipinos whose tips led to the death of two notorious terrorists. At least some of the informants are said to be former members of the terrorist organization Abu Sayaf. They received the reward in disguise. The bounties of five million dollars each had been placed on the heads of two leaders of that group. Both were killed during battles with Filipino armed forces.
Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, soon to be the next prime minister, paid a previously unannounced visit to Baghdad today. Gordon Brown met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki on what was described as a one day fact finding mission. In the meantime, back at home, the British House of Commons rejected a motion calling for a formal inquiry into the government's decision to go to war in Iraq.
We're going to take a break here to hear from our sponsors and update the other headlines. When we come back, wait until what some people call hate language in Oakland, California. You won't believe it. That's next on the Grapevine.
HUME: It seemed like a good idea at the time as so many bad ideas sometimes do. Create a life-giving sanctuary for the creatures of the ocean of the Florida coast and thereby eliminate a trash disposal problem on land.
But decades later, the U.S. military is correcting that decision and turning, at least trying to turn it, into yet another good idea. Correspondent Phil Keating explains.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL KEATING, FOX CORRESPONDENT: Here lies a steal belted white walled waste land off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, an idea that in 1972 seemed like environmental brilliance but quickly turned into a ecological disaster.
KEN BANKS: Put artificial reefs down and you create new habitat, new places for fish to live and hide and feed. And they were trying to enhance fishing and that was the principle behind it. As well as dispose of tires.
KEATING: Two million tires. Bald Michelins, Good Years, and Firestones covering 34 acres, 65 feet below the surface.
Back in the 70's very little was recycled so everyone's old tires essentially went right into landfills. So at the time, creating artificial reefs with everyone's old used up tires seemed like an ingenious win-win situation for both land and sea.
But the power of the Atlantic proved to be too strong.
BANKS: It didn't take long to realize that these tires were not remaining stable. The strapping would break that held them together and they started moving during storms toward that middle reef tract and impacted it, killing everything on the other reef. Basically creating a dead zone.
KEATING: But now the old tires are coming up for air. Divers with the Army, Navy and Coast Guard are using the tire removal mission as military salvage training.
LUIETENANT RUSSEL DESTREMPS: As an added bonus to it, we are impacting the environment and restoring coral life and preventing any further damage, and it also happens to train us exactly on our mission requirements, so it is great.
KEATING: Over the years, hundreds of tires wound up washing up on to Fort Lauderdale's famed beach. Not what tourism officials wanted to see, and without the military's help, the county says it could not afford to clean up the mess.
BANKS: Well intentioned, but it turned out not to work very well. It was done on a very large scale, which is unfortunate because it left a very large mess to clean up.
KEATING: Marine biologists estimate it will take three years to remedy the mess and then decades for the reef to grow back to life.
As for the tires, they will be shredded and burned to power a Georgia factory, a recycling effort that everyone hopes this time will work.
In Fort Lauderdale, Phil Keating, Fox News.
HUME: Michael Moore's lawyer says the investigation into the controversial film maker's trip to Cuba may be politically motivated. Moore traveled to Cuba to film scenes for his health care documentary "Sicko" without U.S. government permission.
His attorney has written the Treasury Department questioning whether the probe may be the result of Moore's frequent criticism of the Bush administration.
A political endorsement. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign apparently expected has not turned out quite as planned. Sources close to her campaign and that of Barack Obama had told the Miami Herald last week that Florida Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek was poised to endorse Clinton. But a day later, Meek told the Clinton campaign it was not authorized to use his name, and a conference call to announce his endorsement was hastily cancelled.
Families of the Virginia Tech massacre victims are demanding to be represented on a Governor's panel investigating the killings. The group is looking at what led up to the 32 murders this past April and how the response was handled.
A spokesman for Governor Tim Kaine says he wanted a panel that would be objective and not driven by emotion. The families are also angry about the universities' effort to raise money for a memorial fund in the names of the victims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER REED, VICTIM'S FATHER: We as families members of Virginia Tech victims are both angry and disappointed. We are angry about beings ostracized from a government chartered panel investigating a government-
sponsored university, Virginia Tech, and about how the university has used the names and images of our loved ones to raise millions of dollars without consultation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Next on "Special Report," the FOX all-stars will be here to talk about the no confidence Senate vote, the one that didn't happen, on Attorney General Gonzales. What was that all about? We'll tell you next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, (D), NEW YORK: If senators cast their votes with their conscience, they would speak with near unanimity that there is no confidence in the Attorney General.
SENATOR TRENT LOTT, (R), MISSISSIPPI : The main point is, that is not our job. We don't have authority to make that determination. So what are we going to accomplish here today? This is all about partisan politics. Nobody is fooled by this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Well, in the end, it didn't actually happen. What happened was, the Democrats, who were sponsoring this no-confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales moved to bring it to the floor as you must do in the Senate. The Republicans resisted, and to stop that resistance it takes 60 votes.
They finally got around to voting on whether to vote, in effect. They got only 53, so the matter dies.
Some thoughts on the this whole exercise now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent, National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, FOX News contributors all.
Well, Mort, what was this about? We heard lots of criticism of the Attorney General, most of them from Democrats, although some Republicans, Senator Specter for one, weighed in.
MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Yes, well, I think both senator Schumer and Senator Lott were exactly right. There is not a great deal of confidence in Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General in the United States Senate on either side of aisle, and it was also a political stunt with no real meaning.
But the more you listen to this debate, listen to the Democrats talking, it occurred to me that what they ought to do is team up with their House counterparts and file articles of impeachment against Alberto Gonzales if they really believe that he did all the nefarious things that they accused him of doing. Lying under oath to Congress, undermining the United States Constitution and the rule of law. Harry Reid accused of being one of the masters of torture.
You know, if he is so bad, filing a silly, meaningless, no-confidence vote is trivial. And so they ought to get serious.
HUME: What do you think about that Mara? Should they drop the H bomb on him?
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PLUBLIC RADIO: I don't know if they want to drop the H bomb.
Look, I agree with what Mort said, this was a political exercise. On the other hand, he does have very little support, and anytime when you are going to have all of his various weaknesses and transgressions recited on the Senate floor is not a good day for the administration.
However, I thought the vote was interesting. They did get seven Republicans to join with the Democrats. And of those seven, five of them are the most vulnerable Republicans in 2008, Coleman Collins, Smith, Snow, and Sununu. Those are the people who are most at risk in the next election. So that was no surprise, either.
But now this is over and they will maybe move back to immigration.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: It was so important that nine senators didn't bother to vote. One of them was Tim Johnson of South Dakota who was ill.
But, I mean this was such a trivial matter. You had to give up the immigration bill so they could get to this?
A lot went on and on. You had a byte from Senator Lott, he went on and on, he was funny talking about how this degrades the Senate, we have never done this before. Why are we wasting our time on this?
Here's where Democrats hurt themselves. I think if they would have had a different senator other than Schumer, who's loathed as a partisan hack by all the Republicans, moderate, liberal, conservative, they might have gotten more votes from the Republicans who.
I mean, the truth is, as both Mort and Mara said, there's not a lot of support among Republican senators for Alberto Gonzales.
HUME: By the way, what did anyone make of this new poll that we showed earlier today from Rasmussen Reports that shows that Harry Reid's favorability ratings with the American public is now at 19 percent. That's the same level as Scooter Libby, and only half that of the non too popular Vice President Cheney.
LIASSON: What was the number of people who actually knew who he was?
HUME: Well, look at this. Enough people knew who he was if you get up to 64 percent with a view one way or the other, that's not so bad.
The question, what does that tell you? Is that about stuff like this? Is that about the role that he has allowed Senator Schumer to be playing? Or does anybody notice? Why is he so unpopular?
Usually these kinds of majority leaders in the Congress are kind of pastel figures. Not well known.
BARNES: In all the polls, the Democratic Congress has the same approval rating of President Bush, which tells you a lot. And what it tells you is that the public wants to get stuff done. They want to get meaningful, important things accomplished, and this Congress is playing politics.
LIASSON: And that number, that approval rating, is 35, which is the same approval rating that the Republican Congress had before voters got rid of them.
KONDRACKE: Harry Reid doesn't have the same poll rating as President Bush, he is 15 points lower. And the truth is when you see him bumbling through these press conferences, and so on, and he certainly was not heroic on the immigration bill or other things, people look at him and they realize Congress is getting nothing done, and they think one of the reasons is there is a bumbling majority leader.
HUME: What about that? What is the view among Democratic Senators? Is he thought of as a guy that is doing all the dirty work and catching all the flak? Or is he though of as a bumbler?
BARNES: What he is doing the bidding of Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, who are the brains of outfit, and he is more or less the front man, and managing the machine, but they are the ones who a are driving it.
KONDRACKE: The Republicans would narrow it down. They'd say Chuck Schumer is running the show.
KONDRACKE: Yes, that's what they think.
HUME: What about that, Mara?
LIASSON: Look, I think that Chuck Schumer is not running the show by himself. He certainly is the head of political arm of the Senate Democrats, and he's been pretty able in that capacity, and I agree that he makes a lot of Republicans angry.
But look, I think that there are challenges for the Democratic Congress, I agree with you. The voters changed Congress because they wanted something different, and they didn't think things were getting done under the Republicans and they wanted to give the Democrats a chance. And now the Democrats have a chance to do things and so far they haven't accomplished either the things on their agenda, or some of these areas where there are bipartisan compromise, bipartisan consensus, like immigration.
HUME: Speaking of which, we will come to that immigration bill and who is to blame for its being stalled and what may happen next. Stay tuned.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, (D) NEVADA: As much as any piece of legislation we have had here, other than the Supplemental Appropriation Bill these past six months, this is the president's Bill, the headlines are going to be Democrats vote to continue the Bill, Republicans vote against it. The president fails again.
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HUME: I know that sound bytes is three or four days old, but I just like it so much, I have to keep looking at it.
In fact, of course, the vote that he is talking about is a vote in which the Democrats are trying to cut off debate on Bill, and that was for the purpose of bringing it to a vote.
The Republicans wanted to continue to debate the bill and continue to try to offer amendments. And after the Democrats failed under Senator Reid's leadership to stop the debate move to a vote, he pulled it off the floor. And that is where the matter now stands.
He says, as we heard him say earlier in the program, that he will bring it up again.
This bill has been declared dead any number of times. It seems to survive these things, but is there any real chance it will pass, Mort?
KONDRACKE: Yes, I think there is. If the Republicans will present Reid with a narrower group of amendments, limited number of amendments, Reid says that he will bring the bill back. Now, we will see —
HUME: A narrower list of amendments that they wish to propose, no guarantee on the outcome.
KONDRACKE: Right, right.
HUME: And, of course, you have to presume that if they get their votes and the efforts to amend the Bill do not result in something that is a deal breaker for one side or the other, the bill might go forward.
KONDRACKE: And that is the scenario under which it would happen.
Now, there are lots of people who wonder whether Harry Reid is being disingenuous or not and—
HUME: Whose water do you think he was carrying, if anyone's, in pulling the bill off the floor?
BARNES: Well, there are lots of reports going around, and I don't know if this is true or not, that he was carrying Schumer's water, because-
HUME: Whose water was Schumer carrying? Is this labor?
BARNES: The people from the left who want to kill the bill, among others, are the AFL-CIO, and when people voted like Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton, and all the leadership and all the presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, for the Dorgan Amendment which would have eliminated the guest worker program, that that was total —
HUME: It would have eliminated the guest worker program after five years.
KONDRACKE: Well, the first amendment was to eliminate it entirely, and then it was to sunset it. Those are both AFL-CIO amendments, killer amendments.
LIASSON: Now look, there's a debate inside the Democratic Party about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing for the Democrats to pass an immigration Bill. And there are a lot of Democrats who feel it is a good thing in the end. Now they can't—
HUME: To what?
LIASSON: To pass it. To pass it, mostly because they think that this issue is so bad for the Republicans whether the Bill passes or not. Look at the split that's exposed inside the Republican party.
HUME: Well, it seems to have exposed some with inside the Democratic coalition as well.
LIASSON: The rifts inside the Republicans are much deeper, and over time, Democrats feel, that Republicans are just on the wrong side of history in terms of the Hispanic demographic, which is the biggest, fastest growing one in American politics.
But today, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and Patty Murray all sent this letter to the president saying Democrats are for this and they want to bring it back up.
And we will see if they do. But I think what Mort is saying is correct. There has to be some kind of limited numbers of amendments, you can't have hundreds of them. But Harry Reid has to agree to put it back on the floor. And then maybe Ted Kennedy will be right, and they are only two days away from passing it.
BARNES: This letter was a phony political letter saying, once again, it's up to you, Mr. President. There was only one person in the entire universe who can bring this bill back, and his name is Harry Reid. It's not the president, it's not the Republicans.
Look, Harry Reid knew perfectly well on Thursday, last Thursday that Republicans were about to give him a shortened list of amendments that they would ask for. And now it is going to be ten Republican amendments, ten Democratic Amendments.
A number of Democrats who wanted to continue this debate as well. Why? Because it never went through the committee process. It wasn't there for days when the details were worked out. All the details have to be worked out on the Senate floor, so that takes a little longer.
There was no reason for Harry Reid to shut it down on Thursday. All Republicans had asked is, look, put off of cloture vote until Friday morning.
LIASSON: Even Republican leadership were angry about the—
BARNES: No, no, they were angry because they were being jerked around by a few Republicans who opposed the Bill.
But they were about to get to this list—I think they have of—look, the coalition is meeting to evening, these are the Democratic and Republican senators, Ted Kennedy, John Kyle and a group of others, Ken Salazar, the Democrat, and so on.
But here is why Reid is most in trouble. The people who know that he is the one who is responsible here are all the immigrant groups and other liberal groups associated with them who are very — the Hispanic groups. They hold Harry Reid responsible. They know Bush didn't write the Bill. He supports it, but had very little to do with it. Harry Reid is the guy—
HUME: The president is going to the Hill tomorrow. Does he have left in his hours to move anybody?
KONDRACKE: I don't think so. I think that the president—this is a nice thing for him to do, but I don't think he is going to move anybody. Those people have all dug in their heels.
LIASSON: I agree. As Phil knows it's not going to be because of President Bush's powers of persuasion at this point.
KONDRACKE: Look, Harry Reid is going to get a list. Republicans want this many amendments, Democrats want this many.
HUME: Do you think the bill will go forward?
KONDRACKE: I think he is going to have to call it up, and it will go forward.
HUME: That's it for the panel, but stay tuned, because we have new light to shed on whether the president is right about U.S. relations with Russia.
Don't miss this.
HUME: Finally tonight, President Bush, as we noted earlier, just had a cordial meeting with Russian President Putin. Putin's coming to visit Mr. Bush in May next month. The President assures us that there is no cold war.
But here's some video of Mr. Bush on his trip to Europe that you may not have seen.
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BUSH: And I repeat, Russia is not a threat. They are not a military threat. They are not something that we ought to be hyperventilating about.
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HUME: That is "Special Report" for this time. Please tune us in next time.
And in the meantime, more news on the way. Fair, balanced and unafraid.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.
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