Decision Day for the DNC and McCain's Attacks on Obama's Foreign Policy

This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 31, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.

MORT KONDRACKE, FOX CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," it's decision day from the DNC. We'll feel you in on plans to seat those disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan.

BILL SAMMON, FOX GUEST CO-HOST: And we'll tell you if Hillary Clinton will be satisfied with today's decision or if she'll fight on to the convention.

KONDRACKE: The Obama campaign is reacting to today's decision as well, and dealing with yet another pastor problem.

SAMMON: Plus, John McCain ratchets up attacks on Obama's lack of foreign policy experience.

KONDRACKE: All that's coming up on "The Beltway Boys," but first the headlines.


KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke.

BILL SAMMON: And I'm Bill Sammon, in for Fred Barnes. And tonight, we're "The Beltway Boys."

KONDRACKE: Well, the hot story is delegate drama. And that of course refers to the Party Rules Committee meeting at the Wardman (ph) Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Been there all day long. I was out there a little bit of the time. Obviously they're determining what's going to happen to the delegations from Florida and Michigan which the Rules Committee previously denied any presence of the Democratic National Convention. Now they're revisiting that.

And we've got FOX team coverage of the DNC meetings and what it means for the Democratic campaign. Major Garrett is traveling with the Clinton campaign in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Steve Brown is with the Obama campaign in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

We begin with Jim Engel live here at the DNC meeting here in Washington — Jim?

JIM ENGEL, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mort, the DNC, the Rules Committee, has come back in after a two-hour lunch break, much longer than they anticipated. We expect that they are working on the final details and may even announce a deal on Florida. That had come up earlier in the day when the Obama campaign accepted a proposal from a DNC member from Florida to basically seat the entire delegation but give the delegates only one- half vote. That meets the demand by some, especially Senator Clinton, that the entire delegation be seated but also limits their participation. And DNC rules originally insisted upon a 50 percent penalty against those who boost their primaries up. This in a way would beat that.

The other problem is Michigan. That's a much tougher difficulty, much harder to find a compromise on that because Obama was not on the ballot. There are some proposals. There are three proposals as you might expect, one from Clinton, one from Obama and one from a group of Democrats. The Clinton people want 73 delegates to 55 from Obama. Obama wants to split them evenly, 64-64. The Democrats from Michigan are suggesting a 69-59 compromise. There is some support for that. We're waiting to see if in fact they've reached agreement on that — Mort?

SAMMON: You know, Jim, there's nothing for my money sexier than a Bylaws and Rules Committee appeals hearing. But seriously, there's been moments of acrimony in today's proceedings. I know Senator Nelson got agitated about adversarial questions. Congressman Wexler was raising his voice. Even Harold Ickes seemed to storm away from the table.

Is there a concern this is not presenting perhaps the best face of the Democratic party, to still have this acrimony, to still have this back and forth raw feelings at the a time when Republicans have basically been united for three or four months.

ENGEL: You're right, Bill. There was nastiness behind the scenes we're told. But also what you saw in public, which was a number of people asking rather pointed questions about the outcome here and people's positions. And obviously there were some — there were some very sharp feelings about how to reach a compromise on this.

Now, aside from that, I should make sure we consider one thing: that is the Clinton people are saying this will not — whatever happens on this, it will not give them enough delegates to make a difference. What matters to them is they will get bragging rights, that she will now be able to claim, without contradiction, that she has won the popular vote and, therefore, is the best candidate to run against John McCain in November. She's been claiming that all along but other people are saying you can't count Florida and Michigan.

Once they seat any of these delegates, she will say that popular vote has now been legitimized. I am the best candidate in the fall.

KONDRACKE: Jim, one quick yes-or-no question. Is this Michigan issue going to get resolved this weekend or is it going to the Credentials committee or the convention?

ENGEL: You know, Howard Dean said today, we can all get through our business and disappointment and come together at the ends of the day. It is not clear that this is that day. But they are trying to resolve this.

Florida is easy. Michigan is tough. And it depends really what the two campaigns come up with. It has always been an issue of what the two campaigns are able to agree on. And if they can't agree, then the Rules Committee has to cram something down someone's throat.

SAMMON: Thanks, Jim.

Hillary Clinton was campaigning in Puerto Rico today, the site of tomorrow's Democratic primary. That's where we find correspondent Major Garrett.

Hi, Major.


Hello, Mort.

Welcome to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. Hillary Clinton is here campaigning hard. Obama has campaigned only lightly here in Puerto Rico. Hillary Clinton and her campaign expect a pretty comfortable victory tomorrow in the primary, anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent. All depends on the turnout model for her. If it's 500,000 or more, could get over 100,000 votes over Barack Obama here. Adding to what Jim Engel just referred to a second ago, a popular vote mandate for Hillary Clinton.

The problem for Hillary Clinton is she's not going to get enough delegates from here or Montana and South Dakota, the two primaries. She could lose Tuesday to close the delegate gap. So she'll have to rely, as she has historically, for the last five or six weeks on those superdelegates. The unfortunate truth for her is they've been breaking decidedly for Barack Obama. Unless she can turn that around in a massive way by Wednesday, looks like Barack Obama is going to be the nominee regardless of what happens on the island of Puerto Rico.

SAMMON: Major, as you know, for some weeks, Hillary Clinton has been hoping to gets all the delegates seated from Michigan and Florida. That would be to her advantage.

But there was a video that came out today where Bill Clinton was saying to a private fund raiser that basically they're looking at seating half the delegates. Is that undermining his wife's wish list of getting all the delegates?

GARRETT: The Clinton campaign says this is all about principle. But it's a principle that's sort of been grafted on some harsh political reality. It's a principle that they've pursued essentially when they lost ground after Super Tuesday. This principle really is couched in the political reality of them trying to catch up and find delegates wherever they can. They believe they could find more in Florida and Michigan than they could elsewhere in the primary calendar or at least as many.

Let's look at Florida, for example. This is a compromise. Hillary Clinton will get 19 delegates. That's seven more she got out of the primary win in Pennsylvania. So they were looking for delegates wherever they could find them.

Michigan is harder to resolve. Why? Because Michigan is viewed by many in the DNC and the upper echelon as an ego trip by Michigan Democrats to jump their primary into the middle. They were sick and tired of Iowa and New Hampshire getting deference to be first and second.

That ego trip now has irritated the DNC to a fare the well. That's why Michigan is proving so much harder to work out than Florida. Florida Democrats didn't have as much latitude. They had a big Republican legislature that was going to move up anyway. They did something on behalf of Democrats. Generally, they agreed to that legislation, moved the primary up. Paper ballots in future primaries and general elections there. They think they did something good for the party and the party wants to reward Florida. That's why that deal is going to get done.

KONDRACKE: Major, how long is she going to stay in? What is she thinking? Is she going to go all the way to the convention? And, if so, what is she doing this for? If she can't win the nomination, does she want to be vice president?

GARRETT: She hasn't made up her mind. Certainly those in the inner circle have said she hasn't made up her mind whether or not she wants to be vice president.

There are a couple things I think she's trying to achieve. One is a benchmark for every woman that runs for the highest office in the land, this point forward, to achieve the popular vote mandate that she believes was in her reach, to get more popular votes than anyone that's ran for the presidency in the history of America and to put herself in the position to either be offered the job of vice president or, if something goes awry with the Obama campaign, to lay in reserve with that popular vote mandate, with a sizeable number of pledges in superdelegates and says I'm here if the party needs me.

KONDRACKE: Major, good to talk to you.

Barack Obama campaigning in South Dakota today. Voters go to the polls there on Tuesday.

Correspondent Steve Brown is live in Aberdeen with a look at Obama's day.

Hi, Steve.


Hey, Bill.

Barack Obama about to take the podium, the third campaign event here in South Dakota, a weekend of campaigning here in South Dakota, a weekend of campaigning here in South Dakota. Polls, although not numerous, suggest he's in front both this state and Montana, the two end of the primary season contests coming up on Tuesday.

There is a bit of breaking news. A broadcast — excuse me, cable television report and a blog are both reporting, and "FOX News" is working to, but has not yet confirmed, the report that Barack Obama will be giving up his membership at Trinity United Church effectively immediately, is our understanding.

If you will recall, that membership in this church has been problematic for him throughout this campaign, especially over the last couple months because of his former pastor, a man who married he and his wife Michele, baptized his two children, a man by the name of Jeremiah Wright, who is all but become a household name because of some of the inflammatory things he has said in the course of being pastor of this particular church, things on 9/11 and things on race relations in this country, which have, in the view of some, have injured the Obama campaign and cost him votes coming down the stretch.

It is the reporting that Obama will be giving up his membership at that particular church. This church did come into the news again this week when a Catholic priest by the name of Michael Pfleger, someone well known throughout Chicago in terms of social justice circles, made some bombastic statements which seemed to be directed right toward Hillary Clinton and seemed to go after her from a personal standpoint. And he later apologized for it.

So after these two particular individuals became center stage in the campaign, if you will, it appears that there is at least one television report and one blog posting which suggests that Barack Obama will be relinquishing or resigning his membership in that church.

More when we have it. Back to you in D.C.

KONDRACKE: OK, thanks, Steve.

Coming up, more on today's events and what it means for the Democratic race going forward. Stay with us.


SAMMON: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." I'm Bill Sammon, in for Fred Barnes.

Joining us to give us his take on today's DNC meetings and what it means for the Democratic race, is Larry Sabato, director of Center of Politics at the University of Virginia. He's also author of the new book "A More Perfect Constitution."

Welcome back, Larry.


SAMMON: I wanted to ask you, sir, the big-picture question. Knowing everything we know now and so far into today's committee hearings, what happens, does Hillary get out of this thing sometime next week or does she go all the way to the convention?

SABATO: Obviously, most of the parties, the Obama part of the party, and I think some people even who support her hope, for her sake, for Obama's sake and the party's sake she gets out by the ends of the week. She's probably going to win in Puerto Rico, probably going to lose in South Dakota and Montana. Doesn't matter all that much. Whatever this committee does — and thank goodness for the Democrats, that Americans are busy on a Saturday and have not been glued to their television set to see this thing. The keystone cops have nothing on these people.

But, look, obviously, she's not going to be the nominee. I hope that's not a bulletin to people but she's not going to be a nominee. The longer she says in, the tougher time Obama's going to have putting the party back together before the convention.

KONDRACKE: Larry, her case is that there's no way he can carry West Virginia, Ohio, maybe Pennsylvania, Florida. Therefore he's going to lose. Now, is there any reason to think that she's right on that and that the superdelegates ought to take a second look at his nomination?

SABATO: I think she's absolutely right about West Virginia. You can color that red and Kentucky and some other states we can mention. Florida is leaning red, leaning to McCain. I disagree entirely about Pennsylvania. I think that still leans Democratic and Ohio is a toss up. I can see that going either way. That can be the election once again.

Look, you can take the numbers and the data from the primaries and you can prove almost anything, analyze and statistics. At this point, the arguments become, not irrelevant, but secondary, because the key number is reach Barack Obama really soon wherever they set it today, tomorrow at this committee hearing. He's going to get the delegates need to be nominated.

SAMMON: Larry, you probably heard the reports that Senator Obama has left Trinity Church in Chicago based on this recent outburst by a person there, Father Pfleger who said some pretty crazy things the other day. We haven't confirmed that yet, but doesn't it sort of undermine Obama's claim that rev residence Wright was just an anomaly at that church. It was basically a normal, peaceful church but he was an anomaly. Now you have this Father Pfleger who was ranting and raving every bit as much as Jeremiah Wright.

SABATO: Well, you know this, Bill. We in the media and the analysis business only need two data points to create a trend. We've got the two data points.

I tell you the truth, I think the more significant piece of news today was not what the Rules and Bylaws committee did, it was the fact Obama got sensible and quit that church. I give him credit. My rule is politicians generally only do something painful after they're hit over the head hard by a two by four three times. He only got hit over the head twice, so he is a bright guy.

KONDRACKE: Larry, we have confirmed by the way — FOX has confirmed that Obama has left that church. It's established.

Thanks so much for joining us.

SABATO: Hey, it was great to you with you, Mort.


Coming up, John McCain lands some major punches on Barack Obama on foreign policy experience. We'll do a damage assessment next.


KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." It's time for the "Ups and Downs."

Up, John McCain. He's launched a new line of attack against Barack Obama taking a direct shot at what he calls Obama's lack of leadership in Iraq. Afghanistan. McCain raised Obama's chairmanship of a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee and said Obama had not held any hearings. Watch.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not one single hearing on Afghanistan where young Americans are in harm's way as we speak. My friends, this is about leadership.


KONDRACKE: And McCain took this shot at Obama from not visiting Iraq from 2006. Watch.


MCCAIN: Why is it Senator Obama wants to sit down with the president of Iran but hasn't yet sat down with General Petraeus, the leader of our troops in Iraq.


KONDRACKE: I thought those were two good shots at Obama. McCain actually got Obama to say he might go to Iraq and visit with Petraeus and with the troops. If Obama does go to Iraq, I don't see how he goes there and sees what's happening and can defend the fact that he opposed the surge, which is working. And I don't see how he can say that regardless of the success of what's going on on the ground — and there's political success as well as military success — that we're going to pull our troops out in a too fast basis.

SAMMON: I also think McCain put Obama in sort of a no-win situation. Think about it. If Obama goes to Iraq now, it looks like he's taking McCain's marching orders and following his suggestion. If he doesn't go to Iraq, that allows McCain to continue to build up pressure: why won't he go to Iraq? The effective attack from McCain to Obama, the timing was beautiful. It came out right before the McClellan book. Instead he had Obama on the defensive about this anyway, which brings us to our down of the week.

Down, former White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, has been called a wimp to a sellout and a liar since his new tell-all book.

Here's McClellan on the "Today Show" Thursday.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the last ten months or so of my time at the White House, I grew increasingly disillusioned by things. When the first revelation came out, what I'd been told by Karl Rove and Libby, they were no way involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity, which we now know is not true. Despite the fact that I went to the podium and said these people assured me they were not involved.


SAMMON: Mort, there are two kinds of Washington tell-all books. One is the kind of book that actually has factual revelations. I'm reminded of the book that told us Nancy Reagan was using an astrologer to schedule the president's appointments. That was a bombshell.

The second kind of tell-all Washington book is the one that doesn't have any factual revelations and therefore it has to rely on the author's subjective opinion. And that's what this is. This is Scott McClellan, saying, on second thought, he wasn't such a great president, the war was unnecessary, he used a propaganda campaign. I don't think there's a lot of news in this thing other than Scott McClellan has turned on his boss.

KONDRACKE: He has turned on his boss. McClellan makes a good point even if it's not a good point, even if it's not a new point, and that is George Bush promised to be a uniter, not divider. He was nothing of the kind. He was a great polarizer. McClellan got disillusioned more in the process of writing the book than he did in the White House. And he's got a bestseller on his hands as a result of it. I don't think it's really defensible on moral grounds. Nonetheless, the basic point of the book that we're over-polarized, is absolutely correct.

SAMMON: Don't go anywhere. "The Buzz" is coming up next.


KONDRACKE: What's "The Buzz," Bill?

SAMMON: Next Tuesday Barack Obama will give a victory speech after the primary's over. What's interesting is that he will give it from the very hall where John McCain will be nominated for presidency — for the Republican presidential nomination in St. Paul, Minnesota. Not to be outdone, John McCain will be down in New Orleans Tuesday night giving his own major speech laying out the fall campaign. This could be the unofficial start of the general election.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Next week, there's going to be a really interesting senate debate, which normally you don't watch senate debates too much. I mean, the public doesn't. But it's about global warming and it's about the cap and trade system, which all three presidential candidates favor. So it's going to be — it's not going to pass this year but it's going to be a big issue in 2009. So watch it.

That's all for "The Beltway Boys" for this week. Join us next week when the boys, with Fred, 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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