Hot Stories for the Week of July 14-18

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, July 19, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Mort, the hot story is counterattack, by which I mean the counterattack by President Bush and his allies against the charge that in his State of the Union (search) address, he misled the country by saying that British intelligence has reported that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium (search), obviously for nuclear weapons, in Africa.

Now, the charge comes from the Democrats, so let's first watch the attack.


SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-Mich.: The president's statement that Iraq was attempting to acquire African uranium was not a,"mistake,". It was not inadvertent. It was not a slip. It was negotiated between the CIA and the NSC. It was calculated. It was misleading.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.: The truth is, the Bush administration went to war without a plan to win the peace in Iraq. It gave presidential sanction to misleading information and is still trying to conceal what happened.


BARNES: All right. Responding to Levin and Kerry are Bush and Tony Blair.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are people going to find out the truth? And the truth will say that this intelligence was good intelligence, no doubt in my mind.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The British intelligence that we have, we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence.


BARNES: You know, the…counterattack consists of more than just Bush and Blair, and, of course, Blair was very eloquent.

Now, it consists of, for one thing, releasing, declassifying the part of the national intelligence estimate, which I have in my hand right here, the declassified document that says Iraq has also begun vigorously trying to procure uranium and yellowcake, which is uranium. Reports indicate Iraq has sought uranium from Somalia (search) and possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The background briefings at the White House on the speech and so on, and they're really trying to change what the issue is, from intelligence to the war itself. If you're criticizing Bush, then you're on the wrong side. You're anti-Saddam.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, then, wait a minute...

BARNES: …I'm not finished yet, Mort…because you're going to like the next thing...


BARNES: ... I'm going to say. You know, you have said all along that the White House should have taken the tack that, look, this thing in the briefing, or in the State of the Union, was accurate, and there was also American intelligence to back up the British intelligence. So why do they say it shouldn't have been there? Why does the White House say that?

Many, many, many senior White House officials, and I mean really senior White House officials agree with you. And so do I.

KONDRACKE: OK. Well, I still don't understand, then, why...they say, if that was in the national intelligence estimate, why it was a mistake to put anything in the State of the Union message.


KONDRACKE: This is a total flap. But it will go away in a second, I guarantee you...


KONDRACKE: ... if two things happen. One, we find weapons of mass destruction in, in Iraq, or, two, better, we find and/or kill Saddam Hussein and his evil sons.


KONDRACKE: What, what needs to happen is that the peace has got to work. And on this score, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, in a mission that was sanctioned by Don Rumsfeld, went off to Iraq, and came back saying what I've said in the past...


KONDRACKE: ... that what we need is more of everything, and we need it soon. We need more security...


KONDRACKE: ... foreign, Iraqi and foreign. We need more money pumped into the country to get the Iraqi people working, more communication to tell the Iraqis what's actually being accomplished to make them feel better about stuff...

KONDRACKE: ... what the chairman said was that there was progress...


KONDRACKE: ... being made, but that it had to be turbocharged.

Now, the, the other hot story is warning signs for Bush. And the warnings signs consist of a number of things. One is instability in, in Iraq. This is, these are dangers to his reelection.


KONDRACKE: Two, one of his top legislative priorities, Medicare (search), is on trouble on Capitol Hill, although really, I think, a bill will ultimately pass, I hope, anyway.

Continued questions about his credibility regarding prewar intelligence, which we discussed. The economy is still sluggish, or although there is some indication that consumer confidence is going up, and finally, the budget deficit keeps on growing.


BARNES: I'll respond to...

KONDRACKE: Yes, OK, OK. But polls indicate that Bush's approval ratings overall are going down...


KONDRACKE: ... and secondly, and probably more dangerous, or more significant, is that Bush's reelect numbers …Would you reelect Bush or somebody else?…are now below 50 percent. That's not good for him.

BARNES: Yes, no, they aren't good. But when you say, Would you…reelect Bush against Howard Dean, and you name all the Democrats, he does better. But the reelect number is a problem. OK.

Let me go down those things real quickly and tell you, well, they may be not as bad as you think. Iraq instability, I think the American troops are winning the war against these Sunni Ba'athist guerrillas, and will have won even a couple of months.

Medicare troubles, you know, I'm not for this Medicare bill, but when…when Bush gets involved, as you have advocated, and leans on, on Congress, I, I think the bill will pass.

Credibility questions, I don't think there's a real one, because I think what he said in the State of the Union was true, and he should go back to that position.

Sluggish economy, it is starting to grow. I thought you agreed with Alan Greenspan (search). He said things are really looking up, just the other day.

Growing deficit, if the economy's OK, nobody cares about the deficit. OK.

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