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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Law of the Sea; Congress vs. President Bush

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 23, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: An important resp onsibility of the Congress is to pass Appropriations Bill. And yet the leadership that is on the Hill now cannot get the job done.

REP. STENY HOYER, (D) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This president is defying the will of the American public, and is very chagrined and upset by the fact that he no longer has a complacent, complicit conspirator in doing nothing in the Congress of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, of course, doing nothing is exactly what the president is accusing the Democrats on Capitol Hill, or the Democratic leaders on Capitol of doing about the spending bills which are clearly an important part of what Congress does every year, is to appropriate money for the operations of the government.

Analytical observations on all this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

The president is clearly—this is the third time in about a week that he has come out to attack Congress on these issues. He clearly is spoiling to get a few bills and veto them, Mara, and make a fight about this. Is this a good issue for the president to be fighting with Congress on?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Politically, yes, I think so.

One of the biggest irritants for the president's conservative base is that he hasn't vetoed any spending bills and he has become a big government conservative instead of a small government one. And now that he has an opposition Congress, he, presumably, will be more likely to veto some bills.

What the Democratic Congress is thinking about, or talking about, is combining all these bills into one big package that includes money for defense, which the president really wants, and money for some domestic programs that the president thinks is too much.

So they are daring him, basically, to veto the whole package, although they're also talking about somehow separating money out for the military so they would not be accused of putting funding for the troops in jeopardy.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The president has the upper hand. Clearly there has been a bit of a momentum shift over the last few weeks, where the president now, who had been on defense, really, since the Democrats won 2006 and took over Congress in January. And now the president is on offense.

The fact that the Democrats have not gotten these appropriations bills up to the White House by today does not make a whole lot of difference.

(CROSSTALK)

But what it does is it gives the president a heck of a talking point, and he is using it.

And the other talking point he has now when he seized on this the way he had not before is what Charlie Rangel, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee did last week with his gigantic tax bill, which he says is revenue neutral—it doesn't look that way to me—but, in any case, this giant tax bill is raising taxes here and cutting some there, and it has brought back the tax issue.

So what was the president talking about? Democrats, every bill they are throwing in tax increases and so on. The Republicans quickly realized that that was a good issue for them and it had not been for number of years.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president is taking a page out of the Harry Truman book, which is when a president is weak, attack the Congress as a "do nothing" congress. And it works.

It is not just the president's is saying, but you have a pew poll showing that 80 percent of the American people agree with the statement that this Congress has essentially accomplished nothing.

And, in fact, if people look at what has happened, the president argues they have done a lot of investigations which, of course, embarrasses the illustration.

However, when people watch all this, they see all these recriminations and bitterness. It does not help the Democrats. They look bitter and vengeful. And the press is not running again, the members of Congress are. So, in the end, it will hurt Democrats.

But the most important issue is that this Congress was elected at least in the words of Pelosi and the Democrat leaders who won a year ago was elected to end the war.

And, of course, it has not done anything of the kind, which angers the left, which expected and ending of the war, at least a serious attempt, and angers the center and the right because they actually want to see success in the war, and all they see is Democrats offering resolution after resolution, rouse after rouse, as a way to throw a monkey wrench into a strategy that the president has initiated, which is beginning to show some success.

So, in the end, on the big issues, it has really done nothing.

HUME: It would seem inevitable, Mara, that at some point the president is going to receive either one giant spending bill with a lot in it or smaller ones that cover important departments. And then one would be get vetoed, and there will be a big crisis and possibly even a shutdown of part of the government, or at least the threat of it.

The last time that happened, Newt Gingrich was the Speaker of the House, Republicans had just taken control of congress, and Bill Clinton turned that to his advantage. Of course, he had a sympathetic media.

This president will likely have a less sympathetic media, but will he have the same upper hand, the same leverage that President Clinton had?

LIASSON: First of all, I do not think there will be a governmental shutdown because of exactly what happened last time, Congress got blamed.

I think there will be a veto. I think the president needs one, and he is going to get it. And then there will be negotiations.

And the difference on these bills are, actually, not huge. I think it is something like $22 billion. The actual numbers are not that far apart. You can imagine how they could compromise on this if it was politically advantageous for both sides to do so. It is not right now, but I think it will be soon.

HUME: Do you agree with that, Fred?

BARNES: Basically. I think both sides can agree there is not going to be a government's shutdown. And if Democrats change and do that it will hurt them. The problem with them—

HUME: If they work it out it will hurt them?

BARNES: No, if they shut it down it will hurt them the same way it hurt Newt Gingrich and Republicans back in 1995.

But one of the problems with Democrats with all these investigations, they have not come up with much, and the public, it is all background noise to the public. If there is a big fight between the president and the Congress over spending and taxes, the public will notice that.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It will help the president. The big question is will it help Republicans, and so far all those polls showing congress's approval ratings are in the dumps, it does not seem to be leading people to say the answer is to elect a Republican Congress.

KRAUTHAMMER: There is not going to be a shutdown. In the end, the president will veto, and they will end up in compromises, which is, essentially, what the president wants.

And what he likes the best is the absence of appropriations bills, because in their absence, you have what is called continuing resolution, which is, essentially, a freeze on spending. I would like to see a freeze to 2020.

HUME: But that would not finance the war, Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: You go for extra stuff on the war, or you might have some emergency spending on crises, a natural disaster, but a continuing resolution that lasted a decade would be a godsend.

HUME: So, in the end, if this all gets compromised out, does it have any staying power as an issue for the Republicans or the president?

BARNES: Look, the fact is the public has decided that this Democratic Congress is a failure. They were not crazy about last Republican Congress either, but this one's a failure. In the end, that helps republicans.

HUME: All right.

When we come back, President Bush supports the law of the sea treaty, but many other Republicans hate it. More with the all stars on this big thing in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON ENGLAND, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Some people said this is a big U.S. land grab because there are so many rights that accrue to the United States because of our huge coastline. So it seemed this is hugely beneficial to the United States, rather than a disadvantage. It is a huge advantage to the U.S. in terms of our economic as well as our security interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: On behalf of the Bush administration, the Deputy Secretary of Defense is talking about the Law of the Sea Treaty, which has been around Washington for two decades or more and is finally coming to a vote on Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Now, what does the Law of the Sea Treaty purport to do? Here are a few things it purports to do—it is intended to govern the activities on, over, and beneath the ocean surface. It establishes a 12 mile territorial sea limit, and a 200 mile exclusive economic zone among.

And it also contains provisions regarding marine trade, pollution, research, deep sea mining, and disputed resolutions.

There are intense objections to it, to include the claim that it undermines U.S. sovereignty as disputes under it would be decided under international law, now U.S. law, that — that it would sharply limit U.S. military operations is a claim, and that it would inhibit the ability to pursue international terrorists and at the same time prevent the transportation of weapons of mass destruction on the sea.

That might not sound like a bad thing, but sometimes we transport weapons of mass destruction to our allies, who may, we think, need them.

So what about the Law of the Sea Treaty. Republican presidential candidates seem to be in a hurry to come out against it. Mara, what about this?

LIASSON: That tells you a lot right there. I think this is an issue, not unlike illegal immigration, where you have the Republican establishment—you have the president, you have the military, you have people like Senator Lugar—John McCain as a presidential candidate has actually been for this—but you do have the base of the Republican party feeling that this is a danger and a threat to American sovereignty, and they're against it.

HUME: It's more like the Panama Canal Treaty.

LIASSON: Yes. It is like one world government, and this is going to- -the U.N. will take over. And I think that is what the politics of this is. This is a very bad time to be bringing this up because the president does not have a whole lot of clout with his own party.

HUME: Where are the Democrats on this?

LIASSON: The Democrats like it. That is another reason the Republicans are against it, because the Democrats are for it. President Clinton, by the way, signed this and submitted it to the Senate, and it was never ratified.

BARNES: Republicans have one great thing going for them, though. You know who was against this treaty? Ronald Reagan when he was president. He was against it for a different reason—

HUME: It has been revised to some extent.

BARNES: It has been, OK, yes, but there are other concerns.

The simplest thing is do we want to allow important decisions at sea— what the U.S. Navy does, where it can go, whether the U.S. can capture and hold terrorists, who they might grab at sea, whether the U.S. has to inform other countries if they're going through a passage in their waterways—we want to leave things with some international tribunal connected with the U.N.?

International tribunals and the U.N., they are not real friendly to the U.S. So do want to turn over really important decisions involving national security and other things to a body like that? The answer is pretty easy to me. The answer is "no."

KRAUTHAMMER: Fred is right. Britannia ruled the waves, and now it's America. And we spend half a trillion dollars on defense, of which a lot is spent on the Navy that rules the seas. A blue water Navy, nobody else has it.

We go under customary international law, and we enforce it. That is because we are the largest naval power by huge margins. Which means if want to impose a blockade on Cuba, or intercept a ship from North Korea carrying stuff, we do it, and we explain how it is done under customary international law. And nobody adjudicates our actions.

Under this it ends up in a treaty—there is a committee appointed under the U.N. where we will have the same voice and vote as Chad and Bolivia, which are landlocked, and it makes no sense at all.

We are in a position to enforce established international law without second-guessing.

The reason Reagan objected was Section 11, which ruled that the seas, which for 1,000 years had been owned by no one are owned by the U.N. and a committee of the U.N.

HUME: Owned, or governed?

KRAUTHAMMER: Owned. It is owned by all mankind, and who speaks on behalf of all mankind?

HUME: The Parliament of Man.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly—a sand box of dictators, of which we would have one vote, again. And many of these people are not friendly to America's interest.

It's absurd. Why should a committee of the U.N. decide on how the mining of these seas is done and how it is allocated?

HUME: OK. Will it be ratified in your judgment?

KRAUTHAMMER: No.

LIASSON: It needs 67 votes, that's a pretty high hurdle.

BARNES: It won't get there thanks to Republican Senators.

HUME: That's it for the panel, but don't go away because Fred Thompson has made another attempt to deal with the claim that he really does not want to be president. That is next.

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