Transcript: 'The Beltway Boys,' July 21, 2007

This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on July 21, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

FRED BARNES, GUEST CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," the Senate avoids a showdown for now over pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

JUAN WILLIAMS, CO-HOST: It buys President Bush more time to show the surge is working. But patience is running out for his fellow Republicans and the public.

BARNES: And forget about the candidate, it's the spouses that are heating up the presidential campaign trail.

WILLIAMS: And former CIA operative Valerie Plame is handed a big-time legal defeat.

BARNES: "The Beltway Boys" are next, but first the headlines.


BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

WILLIAMS: And I'm Juan Williams filling in for Mort Kondracke. And tonight, we're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: And the hot story is, see you in September. Juan, for the first time in a long time, Republicans actually had a good week on the subject of Iraq. They really routed the Democrats on the Democratic efforts, you know, to force the beginning of withdrawal of troops from Iraq, American troops. And they also, I think, really made the case strongly, won the argument that, look; we have to wait until September to hear from General David Petraeus about how the surge is going in Iraq before trying any of these other anti-war amendments or anything like that. They won the argument really overwhelmingly.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell, I thought, was very good. You know a lot of people thought he was getting pretty swishy on Iraq. And actually he was actually tough and smart on this.

And you know who turns out to be one of the best allies Republicans have? It is democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid who came up with these antics like having an all-night session of the Senate, which actually drew more laughter than it did praise.

Listen to what anti-war Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon said. Watch.


SEN. GORDON SMITH, R-ORE.: I can think of a number of colleagues that were getable, that because of the unnecessary tactic of making everyone stay up all night just simply hardened them against making any change.


BARNES: Reid is really hurting himself. And now Republicans have another argument, and that is that, you know, Reid, having pulled the Defense Appropriations Bill for authorization votes from the floor, they really abandoned this effort to aid the troops, I mean the whole military.

You know who said this the best? President Bush. Watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The House and Senate are now scheduled to leave for their August recess before passing a bill to support our troops and their missions. Even members of Congress who no longer support our effort in Iraq should at least be able to provide an increase in pay for our troops fighting there.


WILLIAMS: Fred, I'll tell you what, I have a different take on this because as you can see right now, Harry Reid has put President Bush and pro-war supporters in a box because they are the ones who have not allowed a floor vote, a simple floor vote with a simple majority. And if it came to a simple majority, guess what, it would be a vote to stay it's time to withdraw these troops.

Now you've got Republicans going home for the August recess. And guess what? They're going to run into 70 percent of the American people who say, you know what, 3,600 dead, billions spent, five years of war. It's time to.


WILLIAMS: .all of that public pressure. And what Harry Reid is hoping for is that'll force them to come back and vote differently.

Let's take a look at what Dick Durbin, who's the minority whip and number two man for the Democrats in the Senate had to say.


DICK DURBIN, D-ILL., SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: This will come back. It will return again and again. Our colleagues in the Senate are going to have a chance to go home, explain their votes and vote again eventually. I am confident they'll join us in changing the direction in Iraq.


WILLIAMS: Now, you know what you hear from Republicans was, you know, he could have gotten more votes. But what was he going to get more votes for, Fred? He's going to get more votes for just having the president write up a possibility of something by October. That's another one who would endorse the Iraq Study Group recommendation.

These were things that, as Harry Reid said, had not teeth. They weren't about immediate withdrawal.

BARNES: No, they weren't but they might have passed. And now, so what did Harry Reid, following his, what I think was a counter productive policy yet, we're going to see at the end of the year, more troops, American troops in Iraq than there were when Democrats took over Congress 200 days ago. They've gotten nowhere. They claim to be the great '80 war crusaders but they failed.

I think they are making it possible for the — and I'm glad they are. But they're doing it inadvertently. They're making it possible for the surge, and the counter insurgency strategy under General Patraeus, to go on well into 2008 when I think it would really achieve success.

WILLIAMS: Let me ask you a question.

BARNES: Well, wait, Juan, I want to say one more thing.


BARNES: And that is public opinion, I couldn't prove it, but I just think public opinion is beginning to shift a little bit. The American people do not want some precipitous withdrawal and they don't want to lose in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the numbers show that most Americans say it's time for us to develop some kind of exit strategy. In fact, Hillary Clinton did just that — said that to the Pentagon, get the response back and says oh, that's the fetus talk and encourages the enemy. And Hillary Clinton legitimately said to the defense secretary, Bob Gates, do you endorse this kind of thinking?

Because you know people like Richard Lugar, Republican, well respected in this town, former head of the Foreign Relations Committee, had said, wait a second, we had to think about our strategy there, including how do we exit from Iraq.

BARNES: Look, al Qaeda wants one thing. They want the U.S. to weaken and pull out. And what Eric Edelman at the Pentagon told Hillary was you're asking for our retreat plan. We're not going to give you some retreat plan. It'll only encourage our enemies.

WILLIAMS: Oh, so you believe, in fact, that they have a plan. They just don't want to show us.

All right, coming up, a new poll shows a surprising leader in the Republican presidential race. And forget Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards is turning out to be the political spouse with the biggest political punch. Hot story number 2 straight ahead.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys," I'm Juan Williams in for Mort Kondracke.

Tonight's second hot story, Fred, better halves. As you know the candidates' spouses are playing a bigger role this campaign season, I think, they've ever played. Let's look at Elizabeth Edwards. She has been a major factor, a major draw on the campaign trail since she announced in March that she had a recurrence of cancer. In some cases, I think she's a bigger draw than John Edwards has been on the campaign trail.

And then of course came her support for gay marriage when there were questions about how he was doing with a key Democratic constituency. Here she comes to say, "I support gay marriage even though my husband, John Edwards, says he's a southern boy and unsure about all this gay stuff."

And then when Ann Coulter went after John Edwards and his sexuality, Ann Coulter says she was just making a joke. But that joke inspired Elizabeth Edwards to come back full force and throw some punches.

And then here she came this week, Elizabeth Edwards, taking on Hillary Clinton and Hillary's claim on the female vote in the Democratic Party. Here's what she had to say: "I'm not convinced she, Hillary, would be as good an advocate for women. Sometimes you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues. I'm sympathetic. She wants to be commander in chief," she says — unquote.

Sounds to me like Elizabeth Edwards is saying that Hillary Clinton is playing a role, but John Edwards would be the real deal.

BARNES: You know, I thought for a long time that John Edwards was smarmy, but now he's been emasculated by his wife. Look, he's the guy who wants to president and commander-in-chief. And yet, when the heavy duty combat comes here in the campaign, who has to do it for his campaign? He doesn't do it. His wife has to come out and do it.

Come on, Juan, you know, if you were a candidate, you wouldn't let that happen. Look, I'll have to admit, she's more appealing than he is. She's more interesting than he is. She's more outspoken than he is. But look, he's the candidate and she's not. Now, look, this guy has to stand up for himself.

WILLIAMS: Well, now, you know, it's interesting when you talk to people in the Edwards campaign and they say, in fact, it's strategic and it keeps him above the static of fighting with the likes of Ann Coulter.

But you know another famous spouse, Fred, has been on the campaign trail and responded to Elizabeth Edwards. Here's Bill Clinton standing by his woman.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think she's trying to be a man. I don't think it's inconsistent with being a woman that you can also be knowledgeable on military affairs and be strong when the occasion demands it. That's — I don't consider that being manly. I consider that being a leader.


WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it looks to me like that's another example here of the spouse standing up and taking on the fight. And it's not just Bill Clinton and not just Elizabeth Edwards.

Goodness gracious, you have Michelle Obama who stirred a nest by saying that man isn't as quite as perfect at home as some people seem to think he is on the campaign trail.

And then you have Judy Nathan, who's the third wife. You know you see her there kissing and hugging on Rudy Giuliani. And then you have Ann Romney who's supposed to be, by contrast, the good wife.

And then you have Cindy McCain who's been standing by her man and all his troubles. And then of course, you have the trophy wife, Jeri Thompson, Fred Thompson's wife; and the beautiful Elizabeth Kucinich. We can't figure out what she's doing with him.

But I think it's really — the big news on the spouse front has been Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail in Iowa, giving shorter speeches, Fred, but out there working for Hillary. And some people think they were trying to save Bill for the general election or even for the September campaign. But they can't wait. They've got him out there now.

BARNES: You know what; I'll have to say I am impressed with how much knowledge you have of the spouses. I sit here being much more informed than I was before.

But I don't think for a moment that they were planning in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign to have Bill Clinton campaigning for her out in Iowa at this point. I think they wanted him to raise money. And heaven knows he's a great fund-raiser, easily the best one among Democrats. And he's a pretty good strategist.

But to be out there now raising memories of the psycho drama of their marriage, I don't think helps Hillary's campaign. And I don't think this is what they planned all along.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me ask you something, don't you think he's a great draw for Democrats? I think there's nothing comparable.

BARNES: Yes, he's a draw but look, there — this is a double-edged sword, don't you think, that there's a downside as well to having him out there.

WILLIAMS: Well, because people might say are we getting more Clinton in the way you're saying another Bush, another Clinton. But.


WILLIAMS: But on the other hand, people might say, goodness gracious, Bill Clinton left office a pretty popular guy. And that would be the thing that people would say, after all the upset with Bush, are we going back to better days if we get Hillary Clinton?

BARNES: Popular but inconsequential.

All right, coming up, Senator David Vitter's wife forgives him but will his constituents? And former CIA operative Valerie Plame loses his legal battle with the Bush Administration so stick around. Our "Ups and Downs," they're next.


BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."

Let's look at our "Ups and Downs" for the week. Up, none of the above. That's who is leading the Republican presidential race right now according to the latest Associated Press poll. However, the latest FOX poll shows Rudy Giuliani leading the pack. He's at 27 percent followed by John McCain and Fred Thompson who are at 17 percent. Of course, Thompson has not even announced that he's in the race yet. And Mitt Romney is at 10 percent.

Well, I want to go back to this none of the above thing coming in first in the AP poll. Juan, I think this is a terrible sign for the Republicans. Not only are Democratic presidential candidates raising boatloads more money than the Republicans are, they're stirring a lot more excitement. In many cases, they're more interesting as well. And this none of the above thing is just a reflection of the fact that conservative and Republican voters aren't particularly excited about the candidates that are out there and also about Fred Thompson who hasn't even gotten in the race yet. I mean this is not a good sign for the Republicans winning the presidential race in 2008.

You might think I'm making too much out of this, but when you put that — this none of the above with the other factors going on, it doesn't look good.

WILLIAMS: No. You know what's interesting to me is Giuliani. I mean — in some ways, I'm surprised that he's still holding the lead. But goodness gracious, you look at the numbers. The numbers show that Giuliani has gone done; I think it was 35 percent in the FOX poll, and now down to about 20 something. Same thing in the AP poll, way up in March and down now.

And the idea that Fred Thompson hasn't even announced and he's number two in the race, very interesting.

Other factors that are interesting to me, Mitt Romney, as you know, has led the pack of Republicans in terms of fund-raising. But he hasn't necessarily resulted in Mitt Romney bumping up in terms of the national polls. He's doing much better in terms of New Hampshire and so forth. But that's where he's running and focusing his ads right now.

But in terms of his national presence, I don't see it. I don't see that he's catching fire in the way that you think he would as a result of all the attention garnered by his success in fundraising.

BARNES: Yes. You know the — obviously McCain has problems. And the other thing is whether — you wonder whether if one person looks at this and thinks, maybe I should get in the race and stir some excitement. You know who that is? Newt Gingrich.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know I think there's a lot of people on the outside looking in right now. And Gingrich, of course, has the name appeal. But we'll see if maybe there's a surprise candidates out there still to be announced.

All right, next, we're up and down former CIA operative Valerie Plame. A federal judge threw out her lawsuit against members of the Bush administration for conspiring to leak her identity back in 2003.

Now, Fred, here's what the judge said, she claims that her privacy rights had been violated by — as retribution for her husband's critique of the administration's handling of pre-war intelligence. But here's what the judge had the say; he said that it may be personal, it may be political, but that's the job of administration officials. And they have a legitimate exercise of their opinions from dealing with reporters to say what they think about what's going on and therefore, threw it out. So political, personal, but not illegal.

BARNES: This was an entirely frivolous lawsuit on their behalf. And it was bound to be thrown out by the first judge that got a hold of it. If she appeals it, I don't think it's going to get anywhere there either.

Republicans now want to call her back to testify before Congress under oath about these different stories she's told about what her role was or wasn't. And she claims there wasn't one in getting her husband, Joe Wilson, who was a strong vocal opponent of President Bush and the war in Iraq, getting him sent to Africa to see if Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium there, obviously, uranium for a nuclear weapons program.

She's told wildly different stories. And at least a couple of them were not true because they conflict. The problem for Republicans is they don't run Congress anymore.

WILLIAMS: They don't.

BARNES: And I'd rather doubt if Democrats are going to call her back because they'd be embarrassed.

WILLIAMS: And you're right, she's going to appeal it. And I think there's going to be a lot of people who say well, give me — if you disclose an identity of a CIA operative, isn't there some penalty to be paid under the law. It'll be interesting.

All right, another "Up and Down," this time down for David Vitter. The Louisiana senator finally making an appearance after the D.C. madam's phone records hung his dirty laundry out to dry. Now the senator's wife is standing by her canoodling husband.

BARNES: Look, here's what Wendy Vitter, who I think did very well, said at this press conference with her husband. Watch.


WENDY VITTER, SENATOR DAVID VITTER'S WIFE: Some people very sympathetically said to me, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now. I stand before you to tell you very proudly I am proud to be Wendy Vitter.

Now that's not to say that last week wasn't incredibly trying and very sad not for our marriage, our marriage is stronger every day, but for our children.


BARNES: I don't know about that stronger every day in her marriage, but I think that was a pretty powerful statement there by Wendy Vitter that helped her husband immeasurably. It reminds me a little of when Hillary Clinton stood by Bill in that "60 Minutes" interview; remember when the Jennifer Flowers thing came out in — during the New Hampshire primary back in `92. And you know Hillary saved Bill. And I think Wendy had saved David here. He's lucky that he's not up for reelection in 2008. He's not until 2010. And he's also lucky he's from Louisiana, which is , you know, a state with a happy-go-lucky viewpoint, at least around New Orleans, and that he's not from Alabama, say.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know I think it's interesting. I mean that's Huey Long territory. He said if you didn't catch me in bed with a dead woman or a live boy or something like that, you know that he'd be OK.

But you know what; remember what Wendy Vitter had to say somewhat earlier. Here's what she had to say: asked whether she had — what she would do if she found her husband involved in an extra-marital affair, she said — quote — "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary Clinton. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing and it's not alimony, trust me." So she was a little sharper, shall we say?

BARNES: I would say so.

Anyway, all right, hang on to your hat. "The Buzz" is up next.


BARNES: Here's "The Buzz", Juan.

You know the Pentagon, this week, there was a teleconference where members of Congress could come over and listen and interview David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq. You know who didn't go? Not a single Democratic leader went. You know what, they just don't want to hear if there's any good news from Iraq at all. They are so committed to these left wing groups that are opposed to the war.

WILLIAMS: You know what the buzz is in political circles is the CBS/"New York Times" poll that found that 65 percent — I think it's 63 percent, think that Hillary Clinton is likely to be president of the United States after the `08 election. In fact, 80 percent say she's going to be the Democratic nominee.

BARNES: Well, she does have the best chance of anybody and right now anyway.

That's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys and Mort will be back in town.

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