Rove: White House Targeting Limbaugh Is 'Old Style Politics'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," March 4, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And tonight, the anti-Rush rush continues. Is there a big Democratic plot to get Rush Limbaugh? If so, was it hatched in the White House or at the DCCC or someplace else? Here's what we know. The DCCC just launched a Web site called, mocking Republicans who have insulted Rush and then immediately rushed to apologize to him.

And there is more. President Obama's former campaign manager wrote an op-ed entitled "Minority leader Limbaugh." And there's even more. "Politico" says there's a full-scale effort by big-name Democratic strategist James Carville and some in the White House like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to depict Rush as the new face of the new GOP.

Rush, not one to sit back and take it, responded.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: ... Have discovered that there is a team inside the White House targeting me and that they've been doing this since last fall when they went out and did some polling data, found out I got very high negatives among certain groups, and they thought, Well, this is the guy to demonize because Bush is leaving, we need somebody.

And so this is being led from the White House! There is an orchestrated attack, daily drumbeat on me from the White House. The participants here are James Carville, Paul Begala and Rahm Emanuel. But make no mistake about it, Emanuel is the leader of all of this. Carville and Begala are just trying to ride my fame into their fortune and become relevant again. Begala and Carville -- don't confuse them with the power brokers that are managing this. It's all Emanuel. Begala and Carville are second-rate talking heads on CNN. CNN has no audience. Rahm Emanuel is the power behind the throne.

And don't let his effeminate nature and his ballerina past mislead you on this. He may look effeminate. He was a ballerina at one time. But he has the feral instincts of a female rat defending its young. The Democrat National -- the DNCC -- whatever it is -- they have a questionnaire up there. And it's -- it's -- it's hilarious. I have to give them credit. You can see it right now at It is a form letter where any Republican can send a note of apology to me. The note is an apology note to me, and you can fill in your name and the reason you're apologizing. It is...



VAN SUSTEREN: Former senior adviser to President bush and FOX News contributor Karl Rove joins us live. Karl, before we get to Rush Limbaugh, I guess we should stop for a second, talk about Barbara Bush, who's about as tough a woman as I know, and she certainly is never dull. And I feel sort of sorry for the family, on the one hand. They're newsmakers, so we want to learn as much as we can on the other. But they also don't get any privacy in these personal moments, do they.

KARL ROVE, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, they do. They deserve it. And I'm sure tomorrow Gene Becker (ph), President Bush 41's chief of staff, will fully brief the press on the procedure and - - but she's a remarkable woman, the mother of one president, the spouse of one president, the mother of a governor, mother of two other wonderful sons and a wonderful daughter. She's a remarkable person, and I've lived in fear of her for 37 or 38 years. She's a formidable woman.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I must confess we're all a little bit in awe of her, and as well as far. In fact, I told President Bush 43 recently, when I interviewed him afterwards, that I was a little bit afraid of his mother, and he said to me, You ought to be. We all are.


VAN SUSTEREN: So anyway...

ROVE: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we wish her the best. We're going to talk to her surgeon in just a few seconds, so let's -- let's go back to -- let's go back to Rush Limbaugh. Is the Democratic Party or the White House, the DCCC, is someone making a target of Rush Limbaugh, and is it strategically wise?

ROVE: Well, first of all, yes, they are making a target. Think about this. They have assigned a senior aide to President Obama is heading this up inside the White House, an unnamed aide. This has clearly got Carville, Begala and Rahm Emanuel, who talk literally every day -- they have an early morning phone call. This is clearly something that they've concocted.

And the question that we -- there are two questions we ought to ask. First of all, is this appropriate? The idea that the White House is devoting all this time and energy and effort when we've got all this myriad problems facing the country, that they've got senior aides in the White House gaming out how they can make Rush Limbaugh the headline in the evening news seems to me to be a little petty, small, and really inappropriate.

Bigger question is why are they doing this. And I think the answer is, is that they decided they don't want to have a debate about the budget. They don't want to have a debate about the stimulus bill. They don't want to have a debate about the omnibus spending bill, the $410 billion bill with 8,500 earmarks and it. They don't want to have those kind of conversations with the country or with the Republicans in the Congress, so they want to go out and phony up a fight with somebody and devote the time and energy and effort to that.

This is misdirection. They're trying to draw attention away from the things that the country wants to talk about and that they know they've got a vulnerability on in order to have a conversation about Rush Limbaugh, and hopefully, delay or postpone or maybe even kick off some of the discussion that they would otherwise have on these three big issues.

Watch Greta's interview with Karl Rove

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know, it's possible that this could backfire big-time against them because the American people are focused on the economy. I mean, you know, it's, like, every poll that people are looking at the economy, the Dow is going down -- went up, of course, today. But everybody's worried about that and -- and you know, at some point, they -- I would think tactically, they'd worry that everyone would sort of turn on them and say, you know, Forget Rush Limbaugh, whether you're a fan or not a fan. How about -- how about the economy?

ROVE: Yes. It's petty and it's small on the part of the White House. I mean, didn't President Obama come to Washington saying, I'm going to change the tone? And here he has unleashed his attack dog in Rahm Emanuel, and he's got Carville and Begala out there beating up on Rush Limbaugh, and for what purpose? I mean, you know, what's to be served by that?

And it's clear that this is -- that this is the same old style politics that we grew to really dislike in the 1990s, when the White House thought everything through from a political perspective, road-tested it by running polls and focus groups and did everything with a very keen eye towards the politics of the matter, not what was in the best interests of the country.

How does this serve the country for (INAUDIBLE) point when we're discussing these big, vital things like the budget and health care and the stimulus bill and the omnibus spending bill -- how does it well serve the country for this little sideshow concocted in the chief of staff's office in the West Wing? Not very -- not very useful.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you mentioned the omnibus bill, which, of course, is what -- is the discussion right now. The Senate is debating it -- $410 billion just to keep -- $410 billion to keep the government running through September 30th. It was held over because President Bush apparently wouldn't sign it or didn't think it would -- would not sign it with all the earmarks in it or for whatever reason. How does President...

ROVE: Well, I can tell me what those two reasons were. There were two reasons.


ROVE: One is that he didn't want earmarks, and he wanted spending held at -- discretionary domestic spending held at $393 billion. And he said, If you give me a bill that's got lots of earmarks in it and above $393 billion, I'll veto it. And the Democrats last fall said, We don't want to have that kind of a veto that would be sustained by President Bush and by the Republicans in Congress. So what we're going to do is we're going to pass a budget that funds the government for half the year for most of the government and funds part of the government, Homeland Security, for the entire year.

So now what they're coming back and doing is funding -- you're right, the last six months of the year for part of the government. And don't ask me to explain it, but the $410 billion really translates into a $24 billion increase over the $393 billion baseline because of the way various departments are funded. So it's a $24 billion jump in federal spending on top of the enormous recovery ill that we had passed earlier in the year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the other big problem with it, too, is the fact that the -- President Obama said during his campaign that there weren't going to be any earmarks, and he's now trying to say that this is really a Bush bill that happens to come across his desk, the Oval Office, now, when he could -- when he could veto it. He doesn't -- he doesn't have to have it.

ROVE: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: He could -- he could draw...

ROVE: I've got a column about this...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... a line in the sand now.

ROVE: You bet. I've got this in a column tomorrow morning in The Wall Street Journal. I was appalled with his OMB director, Orszag, Peter Orszag, on Sunday dismiss this bill by saying it was yester -- it was last year's business. No, it's the pending for the next six months, and it is - - and it is unnecessarily large. It includes all these earmarks.

And you're absolutely right. The president of the United States could either say, I'm going to veto this, or he could say to Congress, Look, Nancy and Harry, cut out the earmarks and dummy this thing down to where the number that it ought to be, and then I'll sign it. But he's refused to do either and has taken a pass on it! I mean, what -- what -- what kind of leadership is that?

He said during the campaign he would change the earmark culture, and he said, quote, "I will scour the federal budget line by line and make meaningful cuts." Neither of those things are happening on this bill.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why -- why isn't he holding the line, do you think, now? Is it because he wants to keep the Democrats in his party happy so that he can get other things later? I mean -- I mean, when he made that such a -- such an important part of his campaign, what would be the purpose not of -- of not carrying through on it now?

ROVE: I think he cared about it in the campaign because he knew it gave him a centrist or center-right credential. But talking that way, it gave him an aura of fiscal responsibility. But I don't think he cared about it then. The diffidence that this man has about real policy -- he may be -- he may be active and moving around the country, but when it comes to effecting real policy, he's not really engaged. He's not really involved.

It was appalling -- think about that. We're funding the next six months of the government, and his OMB director says, Oh, that's last year's business. We don't care about the next six months funding for the government. Pretty remarkable statement. And it's reflective of the attitude of his boss sitting in the Oval Office.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the fact that at least two Democratic, senators, maybe three -- we have Senator Feingold -- from the great state of Wisconsin, I might add...

ROVE: There we go!

VAN SUSTEREN: ... And Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana -- well, I couldn't help that one -- and Evan Bayh from that other state, Indiana -- you know, they may be breaking ranks on this and not voting for it, which would be sort of a slap to the face to the president.

ROVE: Yes, Ben Nelson also, of Nebraska, has expressed a concern about this. Look, this -- we're on -- we're on a pork fest here in Congress, 8,500 earmarks, and the president of the United States, who made such a big deal about it on the campaign, says, you know, I don't really care anymore? This is why he's going to have some real problems. As the months go on, he's going to be torn between people who expect him to live up to his promises and those who recognize that really didn't seriously mean a bunch of these things, and as a result are going to engage in politics and business as usual in Washington, D.C.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: Thanks for having me, Greta.

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