Did Wanda Sykes Go Too Far at the White House Correspondents' Dinner?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: 9/11, waterboarding and wishing for kidney failure all wrapped into one really nasty joke about Rush Limbaugh. Comedian Wanda Sykes viciously hammered Rush in front of the president at the White House correspondents dinner. We're going to show you the infamous jokes. You will hear what Rush has to say about it in his own words. And Karl Rove will be here.

Plus, Donald Trump goes "On the Record." "The Donald" owns the Miss USA pageant, and tomorrow, Donald makes the official announcement whether Miss California will keep her crown or not. The Donald is here minutes from now.

And our own Griff Jenkins takes on actress Janeane Garofalo for calling the tea party protesters racist, their confrontation caught on tape, and it is explosive. You will see it.

But first, comedian Wanda Sykes unloaded on Rush Limbaugh at the White House correspondents dinner on Saturday night. You decide if she went too far.


WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: Rush Limbaugh, one of your big critics -- boy, Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. You know, so you're saying, I hope America fails. You're, like, I don't care about people losing their homes or jobs or our soldiers in Iraq. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that's treason. He's not saying anything different than what Usama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was so strung out on Oxycontin, he missed his flight.


SYKES: Too much? But you're laughing inside. I know you're laughing!


SYKES: Rush Limbaugh! I hope the country fails? I hope his kidneys fail, how about that?


SYKES: Needs a little waterboarding, that's what he needs.


VAN SUSTEREN: Obviously, everyone has been waiting for Rush Limbaugh to respond. Well, Rush had very little to say about Wanda Sykes.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: How can they be running a response when I didn't respond? Well, there isn't going to be a response!


VAN SUSTEREN: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to put some distance between the White House and Wanda Sykes.


QUESTION: What did the president think of Wanda Sykes's comment about Rush Limbaugh and a hijacker?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I'll leave it to the immediate past president of the White House Correspondents Association to discuss...

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the president, though. What did the president...

GIBBS: No, no. I understand. Let me -- let me -- I'll give you my full answer if you'll give me one second to do it. I don't know how the guests get booked. That's a White House Correspondents Association thing. I think the president -- I haven't talked specifically with him, but my guess is, Jeff (ph), that -- I think there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection, rather than comedy. I think there's no doubt that 9/11 is part of that.


VAN SUSTEREN: Meanwhile, in the world of offensive humor, a CBS golf analyst is apologizing for a bad joke he made about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Writing in "D" magazine, a publication out of Dallas, David Feherty wrote, "If you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Usama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death." Feherty later apologized to Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid.

And moments ago, Karl Rove went "On the Record" about those stories and much more.


VAN SUSTEREN: Big -- big controversy in Washington over the weekend, Wanda Sykes, who was the comedian at the White House correspondents dinner, blasting many people, including Rush Limbaugh. People -- many people say she went way over the line with Rush Limbaugh. And then we've got this CBS golf analyst who took some pretty wicked -- I shouldn't use the word "shots." I can't think of the right word, but said some pretty wicked things about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. What do you think about these two events?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think both of them went over the line. You know, wishing death on anybody and doing so in a serious tone of voice and the personal assaults that the comedian made at the White House correspondents dinner was pretty remarkable. I appreciated that the golf - - the golf reporter at least had the courtesy to understand that he had made a mistake and to apologize to Speaker Pelosi and to recognize that he made inappropriate comments.

But you know, look, at the White House correspondents dinner, you expect there to be good-natured fun poked at the president, poked at the press, poked at other public figures. But these were nasty, vicious, mean, ugly comments and had no place at the dinner.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's sort of interesting. I sort of think once in a while -- I mean, I like good comedy. I like good humor. But I sort of once in a while wish that some of these people, whether it's journalists or comedians, would walk in the shoes of these politicians on either side of the aisle because these are tough jobs, whether you agree with them or not. It's not always fun.

ROVE: I think that's right. And look, imagine you're the President of the United States, whether it's this president or his predecessors. You have to go to these dinners, and there are several of them. There's the White House Correspondents' Dinner, there's the radio/TV dinner, there's the Gridiron Club, there's the Alfalfa Club. You have to go to these dinners, take a night away from your home and take a night away from work in order to go and have yourself belittled.

And so that's fine. It's for the good-natured fun of Washington. But I've notice that the media never gets -- you know, has a thin skin about these kind of comments. And I also notice that virtually nine out of ten times, the inappropriate humor is from a left-winger criticizing a conservative, as we saw on Saturday night with the White House correspondent dinner.

I repeat, these were mean, vicious, nasty comments. And you know, I know the president didn't chortle at them or laugh out loud, but he seemed to be wryly amused by them, and I thought that was inappropriate, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe the members of Congress and members of the Senate should have their own dinners and roast us. You know, maybe they -- you know, they should make some effort to sort of get even with us some time and bring in comedians. But they don't do that. That -- that might be a good suggestion.

ROVE: No. They wouldn't do that ever because they understand that journalists would keep a grudge. I mean, the thinnest-skinned people I know in Washington are not the politicians, they're the journalists.

VAN SUSTEREN: The comment against -- against Rush Limbaugh -- he's not a politician. But you know, he's a tough guy. He can take that one. I bet that -- for some reason, I bet that Rush sort of enjoyed that he matters that much that he gets hit like that.

ROVE: Yes, look, he's a tough-skinned guy and he's going to ignore it. But look, that's not the point. The point is, is that the comedian added to a coarseness of our political culture that's unattractive. I mean, those kind of things should not be said about anybody, even if they do have a tough skin and ignore them and can laugh them off. I mean, it just shows a coarseness and a bias and a meanness that is unattractive in American politics.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, switch gears. Former vice president Dick Cheney over the weekend and the last couple weeks has been talking about how under the new administration that -- I don't mean to put words in his mouth, but I guess I'm going to do so now -- is that -- is that we're at greater risk under the new administration than the old administration. How do we know that?

ROVE: Because he understands intimately the kinds of changes that have been made and how these are going to affect our ability to collect actionable intelligence that allows us to break up these plots before they are launched, and I frankly agree with the vice president on this. I think Vice President Cheney has made a reasoned, thoughtful series of observations about how doing things -- well, let me give you just one example.

Taking, for example, the memoranda about the enhanced interrogation techniques and making them public has been a value to our enemy. They have -- it has served, frankly, I think, as a recruiting tool. They can now take these memoranda and go to prospective, you know, recruits and say, This is the worst that the enemy, the United States, would ever do to you, and they've even forsworn these things. We can help you, prepare you to deal with these things, but even the enemy is so weak they're not going to use these techniques on you.

And it's given them a tool to make it more attractive to recruit people, and you know, this kind of thing is harmful to us over the long haul. I mean, if the enemy thinks that we're going to deal with them toughly and severely -- and they've got to know -- they've got to know that these methods have yielded an enormous amount of intelligence which has allowed us to break up their networks -- I mean, even the director of national intelligence under President Obama acknowledges that these techniques yielded vast amounts of information that allowed us to stop these attacks. And if you do that, if you stop using these techniques and -- it gives -- it makes the world a less safe place for America and our allies.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, in light of the fact that the documents have been released -- I mean, there have been a number of them released. I know that many people say that it was wrong to release them. Vice -- former vice president Cheney has asked that additional documents be released, be declassified.

ROVE: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why -- if we've gone this far down the road, why not release the other ones? What's -- what would possibly be the impediment?

ROVE: I think that's a legitimate point. If you're going to release the techniques, then at least give the American people a balanced picture by showing them the benefits of these. What is the kind of information that's been gleaned from these, and how that's been useful in keeping America safe. Let people make a, you know, balanced opinion. You'll notice the administration was ready to release the memos that they thought would cause criticism of the previous administration, but they're not willing to release the memoranda that would give evidence of how important these procedures were in keeping America safe over the last eight years.


VAN SUSTEREN: Up next, more with Karl Rove. Rove uses the word "audacious" talking about General Colin Powell. What is Karl talking about? Well, that's next.

And later, Donald Trump goes "On the Record." He has the power. He owns the pageant. And tomorrow, he makes it official. Is the Donald going to rip the crown from Miss California? We're going to ask coming up.


VAN SUSTEREN: More with Karl Rove.


VAN SUSTEREN: Recently, as well, is that former vice president Dick Cheney had something to say about former secretary of state Colin Powell, basically saying, Why don't you just become a Democrat? Is that sort of the media is trying to drive a little bit of a wedge, or is this, you know, from the heart of Vice President Cheney? What's going on with that?

ROVE: Well, I'm not sure that exactly that's what he said. He was responding to Secretary Powell's criticism of Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans and he was making the ironic -- the ironic-toned observation that Secretary Powell had endorsed Senator Obama for president last fall, not his close personal friend, Senator McCain. Secretary Powell has talked for years about his close friendship with Secretary -- with Senator McCain. And yet when push came to shove last fall, he endorsed Senator Obama, who didn't have the same opinions, ostensibly, as Secretary Powell and did so over his close personal friend, Senator McCain, who represents the kind of future of the Republican Party that Senator -- that Secretary Powell had talked about being hopeful would be realized.

So I think Vice President Cheney was naturally responding to Secretary Powell criticizing the Republicans, but then himself not even having the -- the -- you know, the courtesy to endorse his long-time friend, who represents the kind of values and direction that he says he wants for the Republican Party.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think Powell did that? Why do you think Powell endorsed President Obama over Senator McCain?

ROVE: Well, you know, I trust him at his words at the time. I just think that having done that, that removes his moral authority to come and lecture every other Republican about how we should have supported more moderate candidates and a more moderate future for our party, like that represented by his friend, Senator McCain. I mean, I thought it was a little audacious, to use a -- use a common phrase in Washington, for him to be lecturing Republicans about it.

And I thought it was particularly unusual that his principal focus was not -- I didn't hear a word from Secretary Powell advocating a positive and optimistic agenda. He didn't spell out what it is that he wanted the Republican Party to do, except for Rush Limbaugh to shut up. And I thought that was sort of short-sighted and narrow-minded. If Secretary Powell wants to advocate a positive course for the Republican Party, he's got every right to do so. Let him back it up by going out and helping candidates whom he thinks represent that kind of spirit within the Republican Party and let him spend his time and effort advocating a positive course.

Frankly, I think the American people are fed up with people who just walk into politics and tear down somebody, rather than building up somebody something, who tear down a philosophy rather than building a positive view of what they want to achieve. I'd feel far more comfortable if he were going out there and saying, Here's what I, Secretary Powell, want to see for the future of the Republican Party, I'm going to back my words with actions to support those kind of candidates, instead of just going out there and saying, If you disagree with me, shut up. I don't think that's a very constructive way to go about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: When he left, the secretary of state, was he pushed out, shoved out, or did he -- I mean, did he leave sour, or did he leave because it was time, he wanted out?

ROVE: Oh, I think it was clearly time. I mean, he basically had said, I'm here for four years and had indicated to President Bush shortly after the 2004 election, maybe even before the 2004 election, that he would be leaving after the first term regardless. So you know, no, I don't think there's a sense of bitterness here. I'm not even certain that this was a - - something that upon sober reflection, that Secretary Powell would believe that it was the most artfully expressed way of putting this. I mean, again, why get in a fight with Rush Limbaugh? I mean, if you want to advocate a future course for the Republican Party, then advocate it. Describe it. Explain it. Help people understand what it is.

It's not a very comforting, you know, vision to say, My vision for the Republican Party's future is for Rush Limbaugh to shut up. I mean, that's not a very compelling and positive observation. It's not the kind of thing that causes people to stand up and say, yes, that's the kind of Republican Party I want. Rush Limbaugh, shut up. I mean, that's a very limited and narrow description of what ought to happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so Vice President Cheney's speaking up, and you speak out, as well. Is there some sense from the old administration that the new administration is whacking it unfairly and there's an awful urge to want to stand up for yourself?

ROVE: Well, you know what? I have to make this observation. I've tried to go back and look at the records of, like, what did Bill Clinton say about George W. Bush? I know what George W. Bush said about Bill Clinton. What did Ronald Reagan say about Jimmy Carter? What did Jimmy Carter say about Gerald Ford, and so forth. And I can find no administration in which there was such a frequent recourse to blaming everybody from the previous administration.

I happened to be last week in a debate with David Plouffe out in Monterey, Cal State Monterey Bay, in which he blamed the Bush administration for the deficit this year. And I said, Well, wait a minute. You know, what about your spending bill? It was your -- it was the bill that President Obama -- $787 billion stimulus bill? What about the $33 billion SCHIP bill that he signed? What about the $410 billion omnibus bill?

In fact, you know, on reflection, didn't Senator Obama support the rescue package, the recovery package last fall, the $750 billion to help rescue the banks? Three hundred and fifty billion dollars of that was spent by the time he got in office. If he didn't like that spending, he could have said, You know what? We're not going to spend another dime of that $350 billion, and yet he did.

And yet President Obama stands up and says, Well, it's not my deficit. I'm not -- you know, ignore the fact for the moment that I'm the guy who signed the stimulus bill, the SCHIP bill, spent the $350 billion and did the $410 billion omnibus bill. Mean (ph) old (ph) Alamo (ph). That's not my deficit, that's somebody else's.

And I frankly think the American people are a little -- you know, they're -- they're -- they want their president to succeed. They're -- they're -- they're willing to give him high marks. But I think this is wearing thin. This is -- this is causing the American people to say, Wait a minute, this is all your spending. Why do you keep blaming the guy who came before you for it.

And that's the way this administration is on a whole host of things. They've been gratuitous in seeking out opportunities to publicly declare that the problem is not theirs but the previous administration's. And I can find no in recent memory who has done as much of this as often as this as frequently as this and as cheerfully as this president and his spokesmen have done.

VAN SUSTEREN: And does that come from the top or is that his aides?

ROVE: Well, sure. I mean, look -- no, that's him. I mean, he's the guy who stands up and -- all the time -- I mean, he does two things that really sort of are unusual. One is he blames his predecessor for everything. And also, then he constructs these straw men arguments. If you disagree with him, don't expect him to treat what you have to say on the merits. For example, on the stimulus. The Republicans in the House organized a stimulus measure of their own. They carefully crafted it. They ran it through the econometric model that had been created by the -- by Obama's head of the Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Romer. They found that by running their plan through the Obama administration's economectric mode that they created 50 percent more jobs at half the cost of the Obama stimulus package. That was the model the administration itself constructed. And they did this painfully. It took them a long time.

They presented it on the floor. It got defeated. Obama goes and holds a news conference and says people who opposed the stimulus package didn't want to do anything. Well, no, they didn't. They wanted to do something else, something that would have produced more jobs quicker and at less cost and would have been what National Economic Council adviser Larry Summers said last fall, which was it would be a stimulus program that would be temporary, targeted and timely.


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