Transcript: 'The Beltway Boys,' March 31, 2007

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This is a full transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on March 31, 2007.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," from sharp exchanges over funding the war in Iraq, to a tidal wave of criticism over eight fired U.S. attorneys, Democrats are out for blood.

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": An aide to Virginia Senator Jim Webb is caught carrying a loaded gun on Capitol Hill. And Webb insists he has a right to defend himself.

BARNES: A determined Tony Snow says he'll fight his cancer head on, and the White House is right behind him.

KONDRACKE: And a side of Karl Rove you've never seen.

BARNES: That's all coming up on "The Beltway Boys." But first, the headlines.


BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke. We're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: "Hot Story": "Who's President?" Now this is a - a serious question. You know, it sounds a little like `Where's Waldo?' or something. But it's a very serious question. I think this is a moment of crisis, both for the presidency in general, and the Bush presidency in particular, because Democrats want to slash what I think are the fundamental constitutional rights of a president, and they want to do in two ways. One, of course, is to deny the president getting confidential advice from his aides at the White House. If they have to blurt it out on Capitol Hill, it's no longer confidential. And secondly - and this is even more serious, I think - and that is, they really want to cut back on the president's authority to conduct foreign policy, and actually, as commander in chief, to make important military decisions. I mean, they are really - I mean, this would - these are real problems for the presidency. Now I - I - I hope you saw that - that clip of what Richard Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, said to Lynn Sweet a couple weeks ago of "The Chicago Sun-Times." Here's what he said: He said, "If and when Rove" - Karl Rove, of course the political adviser - "is sworn in as a witness, Durbin said it would be `reasonable' to go beyond the eight who were dismissed" - those U.S. attorneys - "and ask about his relationship with those who were retained, whether any political pressure was put on U.S. attorneys who did not lose their jobs." And this important: "Added Durbin, `What else what Karl Rove doing when it came to other activities, departments of the government." In other words, they want to get Karl Rove up there to say every - and demand that he tell them everything he's told the president, and probably what the president told him. Now Bush can't allow that. OK. Then there's the whole question of the supplemental, you know, paying for the troops in Iraq, and - and Afghanistan. And Democrats adding on to it these binding timetables for withdrawing American troops. Listen to these bytes. First Bush, and then Nancy Pelosi.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.


BUSH: And I have made it clear for works, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Calm down with the threats. There's a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role; we want you to respect ours.


BARNES: Calm down? I - I - I think she's over the line on that. But the fact is, the Democrats don't respect the president's constitutional role, because they want to deny him the right to carry on foreign policy. But also, to make, as commander in chief, strategic and even battlefield decisions in the war in Iraq. And so I think - and I'm - I I don't mean to be melodramatic, Mort, but I think is a - an ominous moment for the presidency, and - and for the country.

KONDRACKE: Look, I - I've said for weeks I think that - that it was perfect - that vital U.S. aide to the troops in - in Iraq could be delayed, dangerously delayed, by this - by this confrontation. Bush is going to veto the - whatever bill emerges from a House-Senate conference. The Democrats are going to then have to decide how far to back off, or whether to back off at all. Now what's happening is that both sides are using the parallel to the 1995 government shutdown controversy you remember, between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

BARNES: I do remember.

KONDRACKE: .as a parallel for how they stand. And the Republicans say, `Ah ha.' You know, Bill Clinton came back from the doldrums - political doldrums - by fighting with Newt Gingrich, beating him on the issue of - of - of the government shutdown, and - and - went - went on to be triumphantly re-elected, et cetera, et cetera. And the bully pulpit of the presidency will prevail here. Now the Democrats - I talked to Rahm Emanuel, who you saw standing behind Nancy Pelosi there in that picture - and he says he was in the White House at the time. He said the situation is very different. Bill Clinton, 53 percent approval rating; George Bush, 33 percent approval rating. Bill Clinton defending a popular program like Medicare; George Bush defending an unpopular war. Bill Clinton willing to talk to - to the opposition, holding meetings with Gingrich and Bob Dole at the White House; George Bush making speeches and threatening - and threatening vetoes and so on and so fort. So, I mean, we're at loggerheads here. Now the troops don't need the money this minute. You can probably, you know, reprogram funds for awhile. But eventually, the money's going to run out, and the troops are going to need the money, and they're not going to have the bullets, they're not going to have the reinforcements, and it's going to be dangerous for them.

BARNES: You know, look, there is nothing for - that can be negotiating on one part of - of this whole measure passed by Congress, and that's the binding withdrawal dates, where - where troops have to come out. The president just can't agree with that. Now he can - you know, they can talk about - about the $20 billion in pork, and - and the so-called benchmarks that would require the Iraqi government to do something. But - but on - on the binding timetable, the Democrats will have to back down. There's no question about that. Now, the whole U.S. attorney's flap would - in which Democrats would love to have the head of Karl Rove presented to them on a platter - a still-talking head so they could question him. They did get Kyle Sampson, who was the chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales. And he said, `Well, I had had discussions with Gonzales about this whole case of firing these eight U.S. attorneys,' and of - of course Gonzales had said earlier he didn't have discussions. They're arguing over words like "discussions" and "involvement" and so on, when in fact, they're - they're talking about the same thing, and - and - and the fact is, I don't think Gonzales ever denied making the final decision on the eight U.S. attorneys. I mean, you have to sign off on it. There's nothing here, but Democrats are out for blood.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, look, Gonzales first said he could not recall being involvement in any discussions about these U.S. attorneys. Now, this - his - his former aide testified the - the other day, said, `Oh no, he was involved in discussions. And not only that, but he made the final decisions.' Now this is a conflict that - that is going to get - get Gonzales in a lot - it - it has him in a lot of trouble with - with the Senate. And you've got - wait a minute - you've got eroding support for Gonzales, even among Republicans. The White House - the president stood up the other day and said that he was behind Gonzales. The White House said the other say, `Well, he can speak for himself.' It sounds like, `You're on your own, buddy.'

BARNES: I know. But there wasn't much support for him in the first place.


BARNES: .at least in Congress.

KONDRACKE: But - and as to Rove's testimony, they're not going to get Rove - they're not going to get Rove's testimony before Congress unless and until a court approves a subpoena for him. So that's the way it is. I - you know, I wish that the Senate would - would stop just trying to get heads, and would prove one way or the other whether anybody tried to fire these attorneys because they were - they were either defending corrupt Republicans, or trying to stop - or trying to advance investigations of - of Democrats. In other words, that would be - be a serious charge of interference with U.S. attorneys in their - in their - in their duties. There - there's no evidence of that yet. There are all kinds of allegations. The - the Congress has barely begin looking into that. You know, that's what I - that's what I want to see. If they don't - if they don't move on to that and prove something, this is all nothing but politics.

BARNES: Well, of course, that's all it is, is politics. And I - and I wish the press would - would jump on the charge that has been made by Arlen Specter, the Republican - the ranking Republican on the committee, of - about the conflict of interest that Chuck Schumer has as a member of that committee, raising all these charges, and then - and then putting on a - a - using him in his role as the Democratic Senatorial campaign chairman, you know? Asking questions about Pete Domenici, and then putting all these charges on his Web site. A huge conflict of interest there.

KONDRACKE: Is that a punishable conflict of interest?


KONDRACKE: It's political. It ought - it ought to be elevated; I agree with you. People should take note. Virginia Senator - coming up, Virginia Senator Jim Webb goes from Democratic top gun to media target, after one of his aides walks into a Senate office building with a loaded gun. Don't go anywhere; the "Ups and Downs" are up next.


KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." Let's check out the "Ups and Downs." Down: Virginia Senator Jim Webb. The former Reagan Republican took a hit this week when one of his senior aides tried to bring a loaded pistol and two loaded magazine - ammunition magazine into the Senate office building. Not "The Weekly Standard" - yes, (INAUDIBLE). Look, because he is a red-state, military veteran hero, very articulate politician, certainly a defender of the Second Amendment - you know, there had been chatter around town that Jim Webb could be the next Democratic vice presidential candidate. I would say that this incident scotches all of that. You know, the idea, which he explained, that - that ordinary members of Congress need to pack heat in order to have the same kind of security as Cabinet officers - that's just weird.

BARNES: You know, I think Webb has gotten off awfully easy. I mean, all he suffered, as opposed to his aide, who actually was bringing the gun in, who has been charged with an offense - all he's gotten is - is some people like the president making fun of him, you know? And - and here's the president having a little of that fun at the senator's expense. Watch, Mort.


BUSH: I'd like to thank the Radio and TV Correspondents Association for providing dinner tonight. And I'd like to thank Senator Webb for providing security.



KONDRACKE: That's funny.

BARNES: That was funny, I'll have to say. But look, you've heard me on this subject many times, and I'm going to go back to it, and that is, the media double standard. And look - I mean, Webb - as I say, I think he's gotten off very easy. He's lucky he's not a Republican. Because then, the media and Democrats - they'd be trying to run him out of town.


BARNES: That's the way it works.

KONDRACKE: Especially for not standing up for his aide.

BARNES: Yes. Well, that - that, too, yes. All right. Up: Tony Snow. The White House press secretary is upbeat and standing strong after doctors confirmed the return of the colon cancer that laid him low two years ago. You know, just a couple days before Tony went in the hospital, he was asked about Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate, and her recurrence of cancer. Watch what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The biggest problem you have a lot of times with cancer is just flat-out fear. And when you see an Elizabeth Edwards saying, 'Oh, I'm going to embrace life, and I'm going to move forward,' that is a wonderful thing.


BARNES: You know, Tony's resilience is remarkable. But, you know, for those of us who know him, it's not surprising at all. I mean, that's just - that's just the nature of Tony to be that way, upbeat. Some of us - I know I did - I'm not going to speak for you - wondered whether Tony was really suited to be a good White House press secretary. And he turns out he wasn't; he was suited to be a great White House press secretary. President Bush needs him, and so my advice is - is to the president and all the rest of us, to pray for Tony for a full recovery.

KONDRACKE: Amen to all of that. I mean, he is a great press secretary, and - and deserves our prayers. Now look, if a positive attitude and the love of family and faith and the - and the love and prayers of countless people, you know, all over - all over the country can help you fight a disease, I think Tony will be OK, because he's got all of those things, and should.

BARNES: Oh yes, he does have those things, and I think they do count. All right. Coming up, Prime Minister Tony Blair insists Britain will not negotiate over British sailors and Marines held hostage by Iran. More "Ups and Downs," they're on the way.


KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." We're continuing with the "Ups and Downs" for the week. Down: Iran. The international community has a new bone to pick with the radical Islamic country after Iran seized 15 British sailors and Marines, whom they insist strayed out of Iraqi waters. Well in fact, you know, they did not stray out of Iraqi waters. This is a hostage-taking. And the U.N. - the international community's response to it has been pathetic. I mean, the Brits took the - the case to the U.N. The U.N. Security Council fired off a press release, and a weak one at that, because the Russians refused to - to allow a stronger one. And then, the - the Iranians had the gall to say that the - that the - that the British action in defending themselves verbally and diplomatically was too harsh, and they're keeping the hostages, and the - even the woman hostage that they threatened to release. Look, this is a time to stop fooling around and treat this like an act of criminality, which is what it is. And the - the - the Brits ought to go to the Europeans and get really tough economic sanctions, and practice a little gunboat diplomacy, like closing a port or something like that, and preventing the - the Iranians from getting gasoline.

BARNES: Mort, you have - no how - you - you have no idea how much it delights me to see you embrace the military option in - in Iran.

KONDRACKE: I didn't say drop bombs. I said.

BARNES: No, no. "Gunboat diplomacy."


BARNES: That's - that's the military option the last time I proposed it to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities.

KONDRACKE: You want to bomb! You want a war!


BARNES: You have gunboat diplomacy, you know, sometimes you have to shoot.


BARNES: You know, that's what happens. Look.

KONDRACKE: That's different from bombing a country.

BARNES: I agree with you; the response has been pathetic. The Iranians are international outlaws, and they need to be dealt with harshly. The British - you know, we have to defer to the British, because it's their 15 soldiers and sailors. But I think what they need to do is privately give an ultimatum to the Iranians. Say, `Look, you release 15 by such and such a time, like yesterday, and - or we're going to get the U.S. and - and our ships to blockade all your ports that would be exporting oil.'

You do it privately. If you do it publicly, then they'll have to defy it. But if you do it privately, I think that would help. You could get something done. And maybe, if they tried to export the oil, you have to shoot at them. That - that's the military option. All right. Up: Karl Rove. Whatever political pressures he may be facing, they aren't enough to keep this song-and-dance man cowering the corner. Rove had the crowd in stitches with his impromptu rap-and-dance routine at the annual Radio and TV Correspondents dinner in Washington.




BARNES: You know, I'm not really sure what was going on there, and I know Karl Rove. But - you know, look, since President Bush became such great friends with Bono - you know, the Irish rock singer, who's - with that band U2 - you know, why not a rapping Rove? I'm not sure where this leads - leads. Stranger things must have happened in Washington before, but at the moment, I can't think of any.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, you know, Rove told me that he's Norwegian. I didn't - I didn't - I didn't know that. You know, I've never seen a - a Norwegian with rhythm. And - and he - he had a lot. I thought that was a good show. Now, what - what this sort of recalls, is, remember Nancy Reagan was - was wearing free clothing, supplied by those - by various designers, so she sang a song at the Gridiron Club Dinner called, "Secondhand Clothes," you know - to the tune of "Secondhand (INAUDIBLE)." And - and it made her the hit of Washington.

BARNES: Changed her image, yes.



KONDRACKE: The problem is, that Karl - it's not going to work for Karl Rove to do that kind of thing. Most of the - most of the radio and TV people there, and most of the mainstream media, want to see him at least called before Congress, if not in chains.

BARNES: All right.

KONDRACKE: OK, down the U.S. Army. The bungled an investigation involving the death of former NFL football player Pat Tillman, and now Tillman's family says that they want a Congressional investigation to set the record straight. Look, I mean, it's pretty clear what happened here. The - the Army had the PR disaster on its hands with the death by friendly fire of this former NFL star, and so they - they tried to cover it. They tried to convert it into a - a story of heroism under enemy fire. And now they got caught; now it is PR disaster.

BARNES: You know, the truth is, Pat Tillman was a hero.


BARNES: Was a great patriot. Gave up millions of dollars after 9/11 so he could come in and fight his country's enemies. I think his family has a - a right to have this straightened out honestly. And if Congress has to do it, and the Army won't, then have Congress do it. All right. Stay right where you are; "The Buzz" is up next.


KONDRACKE: Here's "The Buzz," Fred: Not only is Tony Snow going to be gone from the White House, but one of the best backstage communicators at the White House ever, is moving on - moving on - moving on to the private sector. That's Pete Waner (ph), whose title is director of strategic planning. But he's - he's the guy who sends out these wonderfully intellectual e-mails putting Bush policy into - into a large context. And he's also the guy responsible for bringing a lot of scholars and authors and so on to visit the president. He - I'm going to miss him, and I think the president will, too.

BARNES: Well, you know I'm going to miss him. I think he's indispensable. He has helped shape the message of - that the president has been putting out over the years. He came on day one I believe, worked as a speechwriter, and then for Karl Rove, and is an important figure. This is what happened late in a presidential term; some of the best people leave. This is in particular a loss to Karl Rove, because he - he works for Karl Rove. And I want to talk for a minute about - about all "The Buzz" about Karl Rove. If the White House gives in and allows him to go and testify, or forces him to go and testify before the committee, it will be, as I was suggesting earlier - I think the end of the Bush presidency as we know it. You just can't yield up the most important aide in his White House, let him - force him to blab about the advice he's gotten - he's given the president and so on, and - and retain your presidency. I mean, it just - they better be careful.

KONDRACKE: He'll give up Karl Rove when he gives up Laura.

BARNES: OK. I hope you're right.

KONDRACKE: That's all for "The Beltway Boys" for this week. Join us next week, when the boys will be back in town. Now stick around; "FOX News Watch" is coming up in just a few seconds.

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