Report Card Time for Key Players in Washington

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This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, July 5, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Welcome to our special midyear review show. Professor Kondracke and I will be issuing grades for all the big players in Washington and handicapping the Democratic presidential field.

Now, keep in mind, Mort and I graded the following individuals without consulting each other, and were not allowed to see each other's grades until moments before the show.

You ready, Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Professor, I am, yes, indeed.

BARNES: All right. Our first report card to goes to President Bush. On domestic policy, Mort gives him a C, and I give him a C.

Look, the typical liberal...

KONDRACKE: I gave him a C-minus.

BARNES: A C-minus, all right...


BARNES: ... all right. The typical liberal yardstick is, how much money did a president spend? And I'm willing, in a way, to use that yardstick too, because spending is out of control, and I fault President Bush on that.

It is. That's why we have a huge deficit...


BARNES: ... and Daddy didn't…look, no veto. HE should have vetoed the farming bill, the, the farm bill, spending way out of control there. And I guess it's an achievement that he's going to get a prescription drug benefit for seniors. But it's way too expensive as well, so a C may be better than he deserves.

KONDRACKE: Well, my, my beef is the exact flip of yours. I mean, my, my beef is that his answer to every problem is a tax cut, $3 trillion by the time it's all up.

And the problem is that it squeezes out other vital national priorities, homeland security, his own education reform program, his own volunteer initiative, medical research, all that kind of stuff, you know, I'm beginning to think that, that this compassionate conservatism was just a costume that Bush wore to fool people like me.

BARNES: No, no. You thought it was tax and spend, and it's not. All right.

On foreign policy, Mort gives him an A-minus and I give him an A. Afghanistan, Iraq, both of which led to a possible breakthrough in the Middle East. President Bush has been an extraordinary foreign policy president.

KONDRACKE: Well, the minus that I give him is for the fact that he has not been able to convince the world that we're doing the right thing, and for the possibility that we will never find weapons of mass destruction...

BARNES: Yes, yes, yes, but we will.

KONDRACKE: Iraq, which would be a huge credibility blow when we want to take on future enemies.

BARNES: Yes, but a lot better than Clinton, right?

KONDRACKE: Better than Clinton, of course.


KONDRACKE: OK, next, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. Fred gives Rumsfeld an A, I give him a B-plus. He doesn't get an A. I think he's done a lot of great things, but he doesn't get an A because the planning in advance for Iraq in the aftermath was bad. We didn't have enough troops in there fast enough, not enough police...


KONDRACKE: ... we didn't get the, the, the electricity grid up and running. Granted, there's been a lot of sabotage and stuff like that, but it's up to us to get foreign forces in there as fast as possible. And furthermore, we don't have enough troops in Afghanistan.

BARNES: Mort, Mort, Mort, Mort, Mort. You…what you demanded was instant, instant Switzerland in Iraq...


BARNES: ... I mean, I mean, that was never going to happen. Here's what Rumsfeld has done, transformed the military, modernized it, won wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by using special operations people, by using a speedy ground force, and by not…, you know, by not using a massive ground force, which wasn't needed, but using precision weapons.

I mean, I mean, this is modern warfare. He has introduced it. What a success! All right.

BARNES: Next, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Mort gives him a B- plus, and I give him a B. I'm glad he's not the guy in charge, because then we got Clinton's foreign policy again...

BARNES: ... where the Europeans would love us but the world would not be in, in as good a shape and America wouldn't be as secure. But he has helped the president move ahead in the Middle East. I give Powell some credit for that.

KONDRACKE: Well, I think, I think that between Rumsfeld  and Powell, you have a great combination where Bush makes the decisions. Powell is the voice of sweet reason here. If it hadn't been for him, we'd have gone after Iraq, and we might have gone after Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time, which would have been the bad thing to do. We'd go…taking them in order was the right thing to do.

Attorney General John Ashcroft. Fred gives Ashcroft a B- plus, and I give him a B-minus. Now, the reason I think Ashcroft has done a lot of great things, and we have not had a second attack...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... in the United States, rounded up a lot, a lot of bad guys. Somebody has got to pay for the fact that we are not spending anywhere near enough money on homeland security...


KONDRACKE: ... it's not entirely his fault, but he should be lobbying for it. And, and the Council on Foreign Relations...


KONDRACKE: ... just pointed out that we are still woefully unprepared for a terrorist incident.

BARNES: Yes, but that's all that Democratic stuff about, do you have enough people to respond... after the attack, and Ashcroft's genius is that he has stopped attacks. I mean, there hasn't been one, as you pointed out, since 9/11, and he has thrown, the ACLU goes nuts, but, but he does keep these immigrants, who are potential terrorists, in jail.

You know, I'd give him B-plus, I probably should have given him an A. I'm, I'm, I'm reconsidering. All right.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Mort gives him a B-plus, I give him a C-plus. He started slow as a majority leader, I mean, it came suddenly when Trent Lott was booted out, and he's smart, and he's very attractive, and he's pretty politically savvy.

My question is, and he's done well getting this Medicare bill through that I don't like, but, in any case, my question is, is he tough enough to stand up to the White House when it's necessary? And I don't know the answer is clear yet.

KONDRACKE: No, I think, I think he did better than you give him credit for. He, he cleaned up the 2002 budget mess right away and did it on, on Republican terms. He got a budget through, which Tom Daschle was never able to do...

BARNES: Yes, right.

KONDRACKE: ... as -- when he was majority leader. He, he got the, the only mistake he's really made was not consulting with the House on the $350 billion tax cut, but they, but they cleaned up that mess fine. And then there's Medicare prescription drugs. I think he's done a great job. OK.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Fred gives Daschle a B, I give him a C-minus.

BARNES: Yes, look, he was better as minority leader than majority leader. As majority leader, he was supposed to produce stuff, legislation, and he obstructed. Now as minority leader, he's just supposed to obstruct, and sure enough, he's doing it.

KONDRACKE: Well, his job is also to make people, make the country wish that they had Democrats in control of Congress. I don't think he's done that job very well at all.

BARNES: All right, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Mort. You give her a C-plus, I give her a C-minus.

KONDRACKE: Well, I…this is largely on the basis of better than expected, you know, I had very low expectations...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... for Nancy Pelosi. I thought she was just going to be a San Francisco liberal...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... and was just going to be kind of an embarrassment. And I -- and she's done, actually, a lot better than that, although she has no power to do anything, of course...


KONDRACKE: ... and the other thing is that this is a kind of a team grade...


KONDRACKE: ... because Steny Hoyer, the whip...


KONDRACKE: ... who she didn't really want to be whip...

BARNES: I know.

KONDRACKE: ... is, is, is doing a great job driving the Republican, the Republicans nuts.

BARNES: Yes, he has done a good job, but we're judging Nancy Pelosi, not him...

KONDRACKE: Well, we couldn't, we couldn't give Steny... a grade here.

BARNES: ... and she was against him, he was elected on his own. You know, you set the bar mighty low when you say she's done better than expected, and she has, but that's not saying much.

KONDRACKE: OK, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Fred gives DeLay an A, probably an A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus, and I give him a B. If Lyndon Johnson was the master of the Senate, then Tom DeLay, I have to say, is, is the master of the House.


KONDRACKE: I mean, he does make the trains run on time. He sort of reminds you of an antebellum plantation where he's the straw boss. I mean, people live in terror of, of, of crossing him.


KONDRACKE: Well, of course they do. And, you know, and he has convinced all of K Street, where the lobbyists live, that they dare not hire anybody but a Republican to put in their top jobs...


KONDRACKE: ... to, to represent corporations...


KONDRACKE: ... if they want to get any access. It doesn't exactly meet the civics book test of the way politics is supposed to work. This is…he deserves the, he deserves the term...

BARNES: Mort...

KONDRACKE: ... the Hammer, right?

BARNES: Well, no, wait a minute...

KONDRACKE: He's a, he's a very tough guy.

BARNES: ...of course he's a tough guy. But with a small margin of Republicans over Democrats in the House, he wins all the time every time. Now, what's wrong with that?

He should lose, and you'd be happy?

KONDRACKE: Well, it's...

BARNES: You say it meets the civic book version, I don't think it does at all. I mean, look, he is a tough guy. I can't think of a better, more successful majority leader in recent decades. Maybe you can, but I'll bet you can't. And the truth is, he is tough enough to stand up to the White House when it's necessary, on taxes, on Medicare, and particularly on Israel. He's better on Israel than even President Bush, who's pretty good. All right.

Former President Bill Clinton. Mort gives Clinton a D and I give him a D as well, and I think the main reason is, here's a guy who has criticized President Bush at wartime on his policy toward Iraq and Afghanistan. What…and he has done it overseas.


BARNES: I mean, look, think of Bush's father. He followed the concept, the idea that you don't criticize, there's a decent internal when you leave the presidency before you start criticizing your successor. Now, in eight years, Bush senior never criticized Clinton. Clinton lasted about one day before he started attacking Bush Junior.

KONDRACKE: I completely agree...


KONDRACKE: ... especially, especially criticizing the foreign policy...

BARNES: Yes, right.

KONDRACKE: ...of your successor when you're about to go to war, and he did it in, in England, among other places...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... said that Tony Blair was the, was the, was the voice of reason...


KONDRACKE: ... as though Tony Blair was any different...


KONDRACKE: ... from, from George Bush...

BARNES: Right, OK.

KONDRACKE: ... you know, it was not forgivable.

OK, New York's Senator Hillary Clinton, Bill's wife. Fred gives Hillary a B-plus, and I give her an A-minus. Well, my grade for Hillary is based through the…seen through the prism of the 2008 presidential race, where I think she is way out in front and is...


KONDRACKE: ... doing everything... just about exactly right. The only, the reason that I would not give her an A is because I think her book sustained the, the impression that the world, that her world is filled with enemies...


KONDRACKE: ... the vast right-wing conspiracy...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... and I don't think that that's a good way to get elected president.

BARNES: …it's not. She has exceeded my expectations, which were actually fairly high after her brilliant campaign in 2000 for election to the Senate. She has turned out to be a workhorse, not a show horse. She gets along with her colleagues, including Republicans. I'm, I'm pleasantly surprised. OK.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. He has become the pivotal man on domestic policy in the Senate. President Bush's two triumphs, education and Medicare, have been ones that have been through compromise with, with Senator Kennedy, and I, I hate to admit it, but his strategy for using the filibuster to block conservative judicial nominees is working.

KONDRACKE: Well, Kennedy has turned out to be much more than a, just a partisan Democrat. I mean, he, what he wants to do is, this is, he's finishing off his career by helping old people...and children, right thing to do...


KONDRACKE: ... and he firmly believes that Bush's judicial appointments are right-wingers.

BARNES: Yes. By the way, if you didn't get it, we both gave Kennedy A's.

Now senior White House adviser Karl Rove. Mort gives him an A and I give him an A-minus. Mort, why are you giving him a better grade than I am?

KONDRACKE: Why are you giving him a…lower grade than I, than I am? I think, look, that he's going to, he, he is doing everything he possibly can to get Bush reelected, and I think he's doing a great job.

BARNES: Well, he is doing a great job. I think he's leaning a little far to the center with this...

KONDRACKE: Oh, geez!

BARNES: ... Medicare benefit and on, on some of these court decisions, particularly the affirmative action decision, you act like they won, in trying to block…when in fact they lost.

KONDRACKE: Well, he's, you know, whatever there is left of compassionate conservatism...


KONDRACKE: ... I think we have to pay Karl Rove some credit.

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