This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", April 19, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.
FRED BARNES, FOX CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," it's on to Pennsylvania as Barack Obama tries to get his grove back after a week of blistering attacks.
MORT KONDRACKE, FOX CO-HOST: We'll do a damage assessment of the Democratic front runner and ask our Major Garrett how it could play out in Tuesday's primary, and after that.
BARNES: John McCain tries to counter the image he is weak on the economy. We'll tell you how he did.
KONDRACKE: And the lighter side of Dick Cheney?
BARNES: That's all coming up on "The Beltway Boys," but first, the headlines.
(FOX NEWS BREAK)
KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke.
BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes. We are "The Beltway Boys."
KONDRACKE: We are, indeed.
The hot story of the week is gotcha. That's how Barack Obama and his media clack and his political clack dismissed the ABC debate last week in Pennsylvania. I completely disagree with that characterization. I think it was legitimate, the questions they asked, but we will get to at that in a minute.
First, Pennsylvania preview. Next Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, and going into that event, Obama leads in the delegate count. Look at that, up by 140 delegates. He is leading in the popular vote. Excluding Michigan and Florida Obama has roughly a 756,000 vote lead. In Pennsylvania there will be two to two and a half million Democratic voters. That means if Hillary Clinton gets — has a ten point margin, as some people predict, she could pick up 200,000 to 250,000 votes on Obama. There are 158 pledged delegates and 28 superdelegates at stake.
BARNES: Joining us with a quick preview of the primary is FOX News correspondent Major Garrett.
Before I get to you, Major, Mort alluded to this controversy over whether Barack Obama was abused or mistreated in the debate. And we've heard complaints from his supporters, from what Mort called the media clack, the media groupies for Obama and from a rapper. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED RAPPER: Hey, yeah, Gibson. Yeah. Charles Gibson you are pre pros trust acting like a toy with your boy Stephanopoulos: gossiping so much they should call you Perez Gibson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: All right, Major, I won't ask you to interpret that, but I want to ask you this. Did the debate and Obama's performance in it help or hurt him in Pennsylvania?
MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Clinton campaign believes it hurt name in Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign is not sure but they are nervous about it. There are indications in some national tracking poll numbers since Wednesday's debate that show the gap between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which has been static at eight or nine points, closing now down to three points.
So there are indications both nationally and on the ground in Pennsylvania this debate did not go well for Obama. Not only on the tough questions in the first 45 minutes about Reverend Wright, bitter blue collar Democrats, about William Ayers and Weather Underground terrorist activities in the United States in the 1960's, and his rough sort of flimsy association personally with Barack Obama — all those things got hashed out.
But even on the substantive issue things, it wasn't Obama's strongest performance. His campaign said when Hillary goes negative, her negatives go up faster than Obama's. They hope there will.
KONDRACKE: But Major, if the polling is narrowing, that would suggest Obama is doing better.
GARRETT: What I meant nationally is his lead of eight to nine points over Clinton narrowed down to three.
KONDRACKE: Oh, I see. OK.
GARRETT: Hillary Clinton was going up and Barack was going down in the tracking numbers and that dynamic only began to occur after the Wednesday debate. So nationally, it did not look like a good performance for Obama and polling numbers are reflecting that. In Pennsylvania Hillary Clinton has a six to seven point average lead. But if the trend lines are similar in Pennsylvania as in Ohio, it will be closer to 10.
KONDRACKE: What about bittergate? How does that affect the working class vote in Pennsylvania?
GARRETT: There is no question the Hillary Clinton campaign had mounds of data before they put their ad and highlighting that bitter blue collar Democrat issue for Pennsylvanians on television. They did that on Monday. Cut it on Saturday. Waited two nights to get internal polling data to see how that message would work. They believe it will work. They believe it has worked.
The Obama campaign has little to say to push back on that, except to say Hillary Clinton is bombarding Pennsylvania with negative ads. They said that before in Nevada. He lost in Nevada. They said that before Ohio and Texas. He lost Ohio and Texas. And I think he will lose Pennsylvania as well.
BARNES: Major, let me ask you one last question. Obama has taken some hits lately. Does he appear rattled?
GARRETT: I don't think he appears rattled. I think he appears tired and fatigue. I think he thought, by this time, the mathematic certainly of his winning the nomination or Hillary Clinton's inability to close the gap mathematically would encourage her and more Democrats to tell her to get out. There was a bit of conservation about that. It will die down, even become more muffled if she wins Pennsylvania big.
KONDRACKE: Thanks, Major. Appreciate it.
KONDRACKE: Now let look at some of the vulnerabilities that have emerged recently on Obama's part, which I think have turned Obama from the messiah into an ordinary mortal. First is the now famous bittergate controversy, which we talked about.
Here is Obama's dismissal of that whole thing. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person's statement, if it is not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death. But I do think it is important to recognize that it is not helping that person who is sitting at the kitchen table who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: I don't think it does it. He has to deal with bittergate better than that.
KONDRACKE: He makes the same formulation over and over again that people are religious and like guns because of their economics.
Secondly is the Reverend White controversy. We still don't know exactly when Obama learned that his pastor had made racist anti-American remarks. It's not clear.
BARNES: Or why he didn't get up and leave the church.
KONDRACKE: Yeah. Number three. Lingering questions about Obama's patriotism. Now, you know, it is not suggesting that he's unpatriotic but it is a question about does he share the kind of patriotic feeling most Americans do? Is he out-of-touch? This has to do with wearing the flag lapel pin and his wife's claim that she was not proud of America until they began running for president, et cetera.
BARNES: Remember what he said when he was first asked, not at this debate but earlier, about taking off the pin? And he said not wearing it shows true patriotism. I don't think that's a good explanation.
KONDRACKE: Stuff like that makes him sound like Mike Dukakis, frankly.
Number four on the list, guns. There is this 1996 questionnaire that he — his campaign and he say he didn't fill out, that says he wanted to ban all handguns. It is not — he says he didn't sign the thing. It is not clear just what his position is on whether cities and states can ban all handguns.
BARNES: Mort, calling it not clear is the understatement of the year. H completely fuzzed up the gun issue in the debate.
KONDRACKE: Yes. Also, Obama's race, sadly, is around issue insofar as the Clinton campaign succeeded in polarizing this race racially. And the consequence is that it could hurt the Democratic Party and help McCain, even though he won't exploit it.
The whole problem, the fundamental problem is Obama is an unknown character. We don't have a track record with him. And so everything — every question mark becomes up, because it is a presidential campaign, gets blown up into a big thing.
BARNES: Then there is Hillary Clinton, who has her own set of problems. And I want to play for you, Mort, a bite from the debate and ask you what that says about Hillary Clinton. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, DEBATE MODERATOR: It's simple yes or no question. Do you think Senator Obama can beat John McCain or not?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have to beat John McCain and I have every reason to believe we will have a Democratic president and it will be either Barack or me. And we're going to make that happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is do you think Senator Obama can do that? Can he win?
CLINTON: Yes, yes, yes. Now, I think I can do a better job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: Sorry, that was a flat lie. What the Clinton campaign is saying to superdelegates is there is no way that this guy can win. He can't carry Catholics, Spanish's, he can't carry working class. He can carry Pennsylvania, Ohio. And so he's going to lose. That's what they are saying. In this debate, she told a falsehood.
BARNES: She is not winning that argument among Democrats, who think - - in every poll, by two to one, they think he is more electable. The other thing is the match up polls with John McCain. He does much better than she does. Obama beats McCain. she doesn't.
KONDRACKE: Coming up, Pope Benedict takes on the clergy abuse scandal and John McCain tackles an issue some say he is weak on, the economy. Stay there.
BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." Time for the "Ups and Downs."
Up: John McCain. He puts more meat on the bones of his economic vision this week. Among the highlights, a slew of individual and corporate tax cuts, a gas tax holiday and a promise not to rely solely on market forces when the economy hits a rough patch. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Economic policy is not just some academic exercise. And we in Washington are not just passive spectators. We have a responsibility to act. If I'm elected president, I intend to act quickly and decisively.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: I thought there is a lot of good stuff in these McCain economic speeches and they show he has been a quick study on the issue and also a reformer. He is pledging, for example, while cutting the corporate tax rate in general, also to close corporate welfare tax subsidies and so on and eliminate them.
In addition to that, provide workers with buffer savings accounts to tide evident them over if they have an income logs. Stuff like that. He is an activist, not just a laissez faire conservative.
I think he will still have to deal with the question of are you better off than you were eight years ago because the Democrats are trying to tie him to Bush. The fact is that most Americans are not better off than they were eight years ago, economically.
BARNES: I am not sure where to start there. The fact is, I think what you mean he is not a Libertarian. He is a free market conservative and obviously there are times when the government intervenes that would not fit with classic Libertarianism. But then who is? Bush isn't. Even Ronald Reagan wasn't. And I don't think he has to answer that question.
The one image that McCain has gotten across to peoples is he is a maverick. They know he's not responsible for Bush. The good thing about his reform program is he looks forward. The truth is, about the Bush years, people did gain and you know why they came out ahead? It is because of the Bush tax cuts that put money in their pockets.
But you are right. He has to be a reformer, if he has a future — looking reform package. And he particularly has to start with health care and talk about that affect, which he hasn't done yet.
KONDRACKE: Median income went down during the Bush years.
Up: Pope Benedict XVI. He would continues to wow them on his American tour, bringing message of hope and love and some frank talk on the clergy sex abuse scandal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE BENEDICT XVI: No word of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the church.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: Good for him. This has been a very successful tour by Pope Benedict. But I think particularly dealing with the priest abuse scandal in America that had became such a huge problem, and still is in the Catholic Church. He apologized on his way over. Talked about it frequently while here. And I thought he — probably the most important thing he did is meet with abuse victims. I think five of them were from Boston that met with him for a half-hour. It is painful to read about it, but it was the right thing to do.
KONDRACKE: It was the right thing to do. Something that Pope John Paul never did. However, spokespeople for the abuse victims said there are still bishops in office who winked or covered up for the sex abuse scandal.
BARNES: I suspect Pope Benedict will do something about that. Everything he said would lead to that conclusion that he will.
All right, coming up, Jimmy Carter's ego trip to the Middle East. And has President Bush done a 180 on global warming? We will tell you what is really behind his global change announcement this week.
KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." We are continuing with our "Ups and Downs.
Up: President Bush. He announced a plan this week to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, a plan designed to appease congressional Democrats.
I talked this week to Joe Lieberman, who is the sponsor of the mandatory cap in trade bill that will be before the Senate in June. He actually welcomed the statement by President Bush. He said that it is a step in the right direction but a very small step. What Bush is proposing is a goal and not any kind of mandatory requirement.
I think that — I think now, if Bush had started this kind of program five to seven years ago instead of now, that he would be in the lead on this. He could be leading the nation. Now he lost his credibility on this issue. McCain and all Democrats are in favor of mandatory caps in trade and that will happen one of these days.
BARNES: McCain backed out of that bill. He's not endorsing it now.
One of my pet peeves is people say — not you, Mort — but you here it a lot, you know, Bush is in his last year, he's unpopular. He has no power? He has lots of power. And if you get a cap and trade bill that sets some mandatory arbitrary level on carbon emissions, I think he'll veto it. But it probably won't happen this year anyway.
What his speech did was lay down important principles. He will be a part of this argument over global warming and what to do about it and to the extent there is global warming, at least until January 2009 when things may happen.
Here's what he said. Let's see if you agree with these. One, anything we do has to be cost effective. Two, all the countries have to be involved. It has got to be — China and Japan have to be in there. And three, let's not have the courts and unelected officials decide. Let's have the people decide through their elected representatives.
Mort, looking back, you know perfectly well when he killed the Kyoto Treaty, that was the right thing to do.
KONDRACKE: Yes. The Kyoto Treaty was a bad idea. But he should have, at that point, started an international process, which he didn't do for five years.
BARNES: Which country has done the best in reducing carbon emissions in the last few years?
KONDRACKE: Well, America.
BARNES: All right.
Up: Vice President Cheney. He had them rolling in the aisles at this year's radio television contribute dinner. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no doubt, none at all, that we are in the midst of a global warming. Or as I prefer to call it, spring.
I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but it is going to get a lot warmer before it gets cooler.
You and the press need to go easy on Senator Clinton on the whole business about running and ducking from gun fire in Bosnia. She made an honest mistake. She confused the Bosnia trip with a time I took her hunting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: He also said, very funny, that his wife, Lynn, had asked him whether it bothered him — I guess he asked her whether it bothered her that he was portrayed as Darth Vader. And she said no, it humanizes you. Pretty funny.
BARNES: The one I liked was when he said, Jenny said he had gone to the pope and said — while the pope was here and said, I just have this terrible problem, the press doesn't like me. And the pope's response was, so?
KONDRACKE: He doesn't care what anybody thinks.
Anyway, down: Jimmy Carter. He's getting big time heat for meeting with leaders of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas on his trip this week to the Middle East.
BARNES: You know, what will happen here? He will come back and say they have a lot of legitimate grievances. He already blames Israel — Israel for what he called starvation inside the Gaza, which Israel has freed and turned over to the Palestinians. In fact, all the U.N. things with aid, trucks with aid are coming in. And who sends the electricity that powers everything in Gaza? It is the Israelis.
What he learned supposedly about starvation there when he talked to people from Gaza in Cairo. How come Egypt can't send stuff? Egypt has a border with Gaza.
As you know, Mort, Jimmy Carter simply hates Israel and is going to blame them, period.
KONDRACKE: Jimmy Carter is a problem for Barack Obama because Jimmy Carter is a super — and also for the Democratic Party. What are they going to do with this guy at the convention? He is a superdelegate and he presumably flavors Obama, all the indications are. So Obama, this week, at one point, said he would not criticize Jimmy Carter for going to see Hamas. Then something intervened anyway and the campaign said, oh, yes, we don't believe he should.
Now, Obama himself says he would not talk to Hamas directly if he becomes president of the United States, but he will talk to Ahmadinejad. And both of them want to destroy Israel. I don't get it. I don't know what the distinction is.
BARNES: You know what got to Obama? The people told him, look, you are trying hard not to lose the Jewish vote. You better not connect yourself at all with Jimmy Carter because it will lose the Jewish vote that way.
KONDRACKE: Yes. I talked to one Jewish leader this week who said that John McCain could get Reagan 1980 levels of support among the Jewish community. That's 40 percent. Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter, why? Because Jimmy Carter, even though he concluded the Camp David agreement, was thought to be anti-Israel. And was.
Don't go anywhere. "The Buzz" is up next.
KONDRACKE: In lieu of "The Buzz," we are going to go public with a bet that we made off the air. I say that we are in a recession. And that in July, we will know that we've been two quarters of negative growth, which is the dictionary definition of a recession.
BARNES: Mort, you are falling into the trap of so many economists who predicted five times more recessions than actually happen. I fell for this once. Remember the Clinton recession? Well it didn't happen either. So I predict we will not have a recession in the first half of 2008.
KONDRACKE: Ten bucks on that.
BARNES: You're on.
That's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys will be back in town.
Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. ET
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