Can Joe Lieberman Handle the Heat?

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on June 24, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Let's check out our "Ups and Downs."

DOWN: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He's trying to one-up Iran's nuclear antics by threatening to test a long-range ballistic missile any day now, Mort.

Mort, this is an intercontinental ballistic missile. And you know the continent it would be aimed at: the North American continent. And so this is a threat to the United States. You could put —this is an offensive, not a defensive missile. You could put a nuclear warhead on that, though the Koreans may not be able to do that at the moment. So it's a huge problem for the United States.

Now some have said, look, let's just use our missile-defense system, what we have of it now, and see if it can knock down this missile if the Koreans fire it.

I think that'd be fine, but what if it doesn't knock it down? I think that would only encourage people like the North Koreans and the Iranians in their development of these long-range missiles.

A better idea was, I think, one that was put out by former Democratic Defense Secretary Bill Perry and Ashton Carter, who used to work for him, in a piece in The Washington Post, in which they said something quite different: that we cannot tolerate the North Korean deployment of this missile. And we cannot even tolerate a test.

Here's what they wrote: "Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not. If North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched,” period. I agree.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Oh, please. You know what this reminds me of? Dr. Strangelove and Curtis LeMay — exactly.

BARNES: Oh, please.

KONDRACKE: Exactly. Pre-emptive war against a Soviet missile threat, you know?

These are the guys who got snookered in 1994 by the North Koreans on nuclear weapons. These are the guys who were slow-walk missile defense, which if they had speeded it up, might actually be available to knock those missiles down. Now they want to start a second Korean War?

I mean, if Kim Jong Il plunges a million troops down into South Korea, you'd kill millions of people, you know? And we're not prepared to fight that war while we're fighting a war in Iraq.

The best solution is to do what the Bush administration is doing, and that is to try to get the Chinese — and I admit that the Chinese have been reluctant to get involved in this — but the threat of a nuclear Japan, which could happen anytime because the Japanese have a lot of plutonium and the Japanese involved in our national arm, ballistic-missile defense program, ought to scare the Chinese.

Anyway, DOWN: President Bush. House Republicans unveil a new strategy this week that all but dooms President Bush's top domestic priority for the year, comprehensive immigration reform.

The House GOP plan is to hold field hearings in July to build support for their enforcement-only version of the bill.

And now Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter is vowing to hold his rival hearings all around the country to advance the Bush-like comprehensive plan, which, you know, includes temporary workers and earned legalization.

They ought to be meeting in a conference committee right now to iron out the differences in these bills. It's not going to happen until after Labor Day. It's going to be too late before the election.

And then I'm afraid, after all the energy that's been spent building up the rival constituencies, that if they ever did hold a conference committee, it would remind you of the Russian Duma. Remember those old pictures of the Taiwanese legislature, where they end up throwing chairs at one another?

BARNES: And Mort, I want you to go to the House hearings; I'll go to the Specter hearings, OK?

Look, as poor as its chances look now, a compromise immigration bill is not — it's not doomed. There are obviously talks going on between the House and the Senate, and people are interested in getting a comprehensive bill passed that can be accepted in both houses. Whether it'll happen, I don't know.

The Republican leaders in the House look like they don't want a compromised bill to come out. I think they're marking time. When we get after Labor Day, they'll see whether they need a bill or not. I think they may find out they do now.

All right. DOWN: Joe Lieberman — he's facing stiff competition in the Connecticut Democratic primary this year, as anti-war Democrats band together to punish him for his support for the Iraq war, a move that may well succeed. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Lieberman beating his opponent, anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. But the race is narrowing.

KONDRACKE: Look, I think this is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party to determine whether there is anything left — and there's not much left, Joe Lieberman's almost it — of the Harry Truman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Henry "Scoop" Jackson — what used to be a wing of the Democratic Party, strong on national defense — or whether everybody has to follow the George McGovern line, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry line of bugging out.

BARNES: Mort, the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is over.

KONDRACKE: There is no soul.

BARNES: No, well the cut-and-run crowd has won that.

I mean, there was something interesting about when it was LBJ and Henry Jackson and JFK. That's when Democrats were the majority party. Now that they're almost a pacifist party or at least averse to the use of force, they've become a minority party, not necessarily forever.

I mean, but I think they're going to become more and more of a minority party as a result. Really too bad.

KONDRACKE: Depends on the outcome of Iraq.

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