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CNN CAPITAL GANG
Senator John Kerry, President Bush Hold First Debate; Vice President Cheney, Senator John Edwards Hold Their Vice Presidential Debate Next Week; American, Iraqi forces Make Assault on Insurgents in Samarra
Aired October 2, 2004 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman.
It's good to have you back, Ken.
KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It's good to be here. Thanks.
SHIELDS: First, we want to wish our colleague, Robert Novak, a speedy and complete recovery after he broke his hip in Miami covering the presidential debate. We're all rooting for you, Bob, to be back here where you belong.
In the swing state of Florida, President Bush and Senator Kerry faced off for the first of their three presidential debates. As agreed in advance, the debate focused on foreign policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe I'm going to win because the American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people I know how to lead.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I believe in being strong and resolute and determined, and I will hunt down and kill the terrorists wherever they are.
BUSH: What my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force and now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place.
KERRY: He rushed to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace. You don't take America to war unless you have a plan to win the peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, who won that 90-minute showdown in Miami?
MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Oh, well, no surprise, Mark. I think Senator Kerry won the debate. We saw a Bush -- a president that the public rarely sees or the public almost never sees, which is impatient, stubborn, repetitive. He stayed so on message that political consultants may have to drop that as a commandment of how to behave. And he was more like Al Gore, who lost the debate in part because he sighed and behaved badly.
And Bush gave the impression that I think must happen at his cabinet meetings and must have affected Colin Powell when he gave up his opposition to the war, which is to Senator Kerry, he silently said, No one talks to me that way. There was a petulance about and a disdain for his opponent, who, by the way, rose to the occasion. Of course, he'd been defined so poorly by the opposition, like Reagan in '80, that he would certainly clear that bar. And he did more than clear it.
SHIELDS: Did more than clear the bar, Kate?
KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: You know, the American public certainly hasn't seen that before, and I'm not so sure they saw that on Thursday night, either. I think the president did two things that were really important to his race. The public would come away knowing that he is utterly determined to protect and defend American interests, regardless of world opinion, and he is determined to remain on offense on the war on terror.
Now, on style points, I think John Kerry put in a good performance. I think he benefited from a couple of things. I think the 90-second time limit benefited John Kerry. He didn't go into these rambling Senator Windbag kinds of answers, and I mean that in a bipartisan way. And I think he also benefited because the entire focus was on President Bush's record.
Now, I know why John Kerry doesn't want to talk about his 20-year record, including on foreign policy, his Senate record, but to luck into a moderator who also wasn't going to ask him about his own record I think benefited the senator.
SHIELDS: Ken Mehlman, your assessment? I know it's going to be candid. I know it's going to be straight down the middle.
MEHLMAN: Well, I think Senator Kerry is a smooth talker, and he showed that during the debate. I think here's the problem. His credibility gap on national security became a credibility canyon. The American people want to know what he means when he says there's a "global test" before he, as commander-in-chief, would defend America. They want to know how he can build a coalition when he referred to the war in Iraq as a mistake and then said later it wasn't a mistake. He complained about the fact that our troops didn't have the support they need, yet he voted against the $87 billion.
For this entire campaign, the American people have had serious concerns about whether John Kerry has the strength and has the leadership necessary to take on the terrorists. And I think those concerns were reinforced by what he said during the debate, and his credibility and policy issues resulted in his raising serious concerns with the American people.
SHIELDS: Al, did you see the same debate that Ken Mehlman saw?
AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: John Kerry cleaned his clock -- substance and style. Kate's right. The two-minute really did -- the two-minute time limit really did help Kerry. He was not nearly as windbaggy as he sometimes has...
HUNT: ... has a tendency to be. I disagree with you totally on Jim Lehrer. I thought he did a great job, and he was right down the middle. I'm sure Ken Mehlman agrees with me on that.
But I would have to -- I have to disagree with my good friend, Ken Mehlman, the great distinguished alumnus of Franklin and Marshall College. Ken, John Kerry didn't say there's a global test. What he said was -- and I'll read it to you exactly. He said, "No president has ever ceded, nor would I, the right to preempt in any way what's necessary to protect the United States. But when you do it, you got to pass a test where your countrymen, your people understand" -- and he goes on...
O'BEIRNE: ... global test!
HUNT: ...a global test so the world rallies around you. That's what George Herbert Walker Bush did in 1991. And you do it not because you feel about some kind of goo-goo one-worldism, you do it because it's more effective, and secondly, you'd like others to share the cost and burdens. I don't want most of the people who have to die in Iraq to be Americans.
MEHLMAN: Two points, Al. First of all, other nations are sharing the cost and burdens, and Senator Kerry makes it unlikely that others will join us when he calls the mission a grand diversion and he attacks members of that coalition as being the coerced and the bribed.
But here's a second important point. Something happened since 1991. It's called September 11. And what we learned on September 11 was that if we wait -- if we wait, then America's at risk. And in a war on terrorism, America should make sure that when it comes to defending our nation, the commander-in-chief looks and sees what's right for this country and doesn't look at foreign capitals to get their approval first.
SHIELDS: Let me just jump in. I thought there were two things that other people hadn't mentioned I'd just add. One is that prior to Thursday night, the vast, overwhelming majority of the support for Kerry came from those who were just against Bush. And I think Kerry on Thursday night raised the comfort level considerably of those supporting him, that they can feel comfortable supporting him.
The second thing is, and I think the great irony is that President Bush, who benefited so enormously from Al Gore's non-verbal communication gaffes, sighing, namely -- or his dad looking at the watch in 1992 -- really did come across as peevish and petulant. And for a man who's considered a lot more likable than is John Kerry, I think that went -- it sort of gave a sense that he was a little ticked off to even be there and to be questioned.
O'BEIRNE: I would be surprised if opinion following the debate showed that people view George Bush any less likably than they do. I mean, that's a fixed opinion. They've known him for so many years, and he was no less likable the other night. I will say this. John Kerry was more likable than one may have expected.
A wonderful, obvious follow-up question by the moderator, Al, would have been, Well, the '91 Gulf war passed your global test. How come you voted against Gulf war '91. If it were up to you, John Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait. He was not challenged at all on a 20-year record on foreign policy!
CARLSON: Listen, the -- it's always about the incumbent and what he's done. And Kerry did two things. One was he pointed out that Bush's vaunted certainty -- you can be certain and wrong, and that Bush has failed to recognize the reality in Iraq. And the first step to getting Iraq right and bringing other people in with us to stabilize it is to recognize that it's spiraling out of control.
SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. Ken Mehlman and THE GANG will be back with a look at the importance of next week's two debates.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
The top two men on the ticket will get two more face-to-face opportunities to make their case to the nation, next Friday in St. Louis and the following Wednesday, October 13, in Tempe, Arizona. On Tuesday night in Cleveland, it's the vice presidential candidates' chance to take center stage on the issues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Right here in Ohio, 237,000 jobs have been lost, 1 out of every 4 jobs lost in America. Dick Cheney's in a very, very hard place to try to explain that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Defending their running mates will be a big part of the sparring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I see is a man who has changed his position repeatedly. He's gotten to the point now where he's taken so many different positions that there isn't anything he can say today that doesn't contradict something he's already said.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what can we expect from the showdown in Cuyahoga County, Cleveland?
HUNT: Dick Cheney is going to be a Doberman Pinscher on Tuesday night, Mark. He's going to try to fill the gaps in criticizing Kerry. He'll largely ignore Edwards. He'll fill the gaps that Bush left wide open in the debate last Thursday night. He did it very effectively four years ago against Joe Lieberman. I suspect it's going to be tougher this time. I think Edwards is more formidable as a debating opponent than Joe Lieberman was.
But the vice president has his own gaps to fill. He has his own record. He was the one who told us that we would be greeted as liberators when we went to Iraq, that reconstruction would be easy, that there was a link between 9/11 and Saddam, that Iraq had a nuclear capacity. Those are some of egregious misstatements and miscalculations that he has to address himself.
SHIELDS: Ken, I want to know what you expect from the debate, but I also -- I mean, vice presidential debates really historically haven't made much of a difference, have they?
MEHLMAN: Well, I think that this'll be an interesting debate. There'll be a big contrast. There's a -- obviously, John Edwards has done very well as a trial lawyer because of his ability to speak. And the vice president, while he wasn't a trial lawyer, has tremendous gravitas. He's somebody that served our nation well as secretary of defense, as White House chief of staff and as vice president.
I think, again, you're going to hear some of the same questions that we heard in this last debate, and that is, what is the Kerry- Edwards credibility, as Senator Kerry to be commander-in-chief, at a time when we face the threat of terrorism, when he's vacillated so much? Will our -- will our enemies and will our allies -- what will they hear if, as commander-in-chief, they have someone who's vacillator-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief? And I think that that's an important question Senator Edwards will have to answer during the debate.
SHIELDS: Margaret, what about that vice presidential debate?
CARLSON: Well, he is going to have to chip away because -- to be successful because what Kerry did at that first debate is to establish himself as a commander-in-chief, which had been totally -- he'd been undercut up until that point. He did that.
Now, in this debate, one of the curious things about the rules is that the -- Cheney and Edwards will not shake hands at the beginning of the debate. I don't know who thought that one up. Cheney will try to use Edwards's age an inexperience against him, and he will try to seem very serious and gravitas. But as Al said, Cheney has carried the most water on this war. He still makes the case that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved with al Qaeda, which we know is not the case.
And by the way, Kerry did a good job of saying -- and I thought it was a great point at the debate -- Osama bin Laden attacked us, not Saddam Hussein.
O'BEIRNE: We're told...
SHIELDS: OK, go ahead.
O'BEIRNE: We're endlessly told what a silver-tongued trial attorney the young John Edwards is.
SHIELDS: Mostly by Republicans.
O'BEIRNE: I don't think people...
O'BEIRNE: Well, and he obviously was terribly successful. But I don't know that people appreciate what skill set one needs for that success. It helps to be utterly shameless. Putting that aside for the moment, though, he makes very emotional appeals to those juries. I think his "two Americas" speech was a very emotional kind of appeal -- dishonest, but very emotional. When you hear Vice President Cheney explain the progress the administration's made on the war on terror and he's utterly capable of defending every one of the statements that Margaret attributes to him...
CARLSON: Al Qaeda?
O'BEIRNE: Their connections...
CARLSON: And Saddam Hussein?
O'BEIRNE: ... with al Qaeda -- absolutely, they are. They are...
CARLSON: And 9/11?
O'BEIRNE: ... developing nuclear capacity -- absolutely...
O'BEIRNE: He will do a better job...
HUNT: He said they had them.
O'BEIRNE: He will do a better job...
CARLSON: He'll do a better job than Bush!
O'BEIRNE: ... than I'm doing...
O'BEIRNE: He'll have longer to do it. MEHLMAN: Well, one of the things he may point out is this, with respect to the issue you just raised, and that is that John Kerry and George Bush and Dick Cheney all looked at exactly the same intelligence...
O'BEIRNE: And reached the same conclusion!
MEHLMAN: ... and came to exactly the same...
MEHLMAN: ... conclusion, which on August 31, 2003, John Kerry admitted when he appeared on "Meet the Press." And so I think...
HUNT: I don't think John Kerry...
MEHLMAN: ... pointing out some of these contradictions...
HUNT: I don't think John Kerry ever said...
MEHLMAN: ... will be one of the things...
HUNT: ... Iraq had a nuclear capacity.
MEHLMAN: John Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press" and said he was concerned about that, which is why he supported the war.
HUNT: Dick Cheney said they had a nuclear capacity. Demonstrably untrue.
SHIELDS: Let Kate finish. OK.
O'BEIRNE: Something I think also we don't appreciate about the position John Edwards will be in. First of all, he was no standout during the Democratic debates, frankly. But I think he's going to be a little diminished. He's not defending himself, he's defending another guy, which I think is going to be a little diminishing. Vice President Cheney is making a case for the Bush-Cheney administration and its record. And so I don't think they're going to be quite equal on that stage, and I don't think that'll help John Edwards.
SHIELDS: To listen to Ken, though, he's not making a case for the Bush-Cheney, he's making a case against Kerry. That seems to be...
O'BEIRNE: No, he'll...
SHIELDS: ... the thrust of the argument.
O'BEIRNE: He'll make the case...
MEHLMAN: The vice president has and will make the case very strongly for the administration. But as I said, I think that there's a threshold question that had to occur at the presidential debate and at the vice presidential debate, and that is, squaring all of the different positions Senator Kerry has had on the war on terror and on the central front in Iraq. And do the American people believe they have confidence in this man to be commander-in-chief? Does he have the credibility? I think he sounded very good in that first debate. I'm not sure he has it, and it'll be up to Senator Edwards to try to provide it for him.
SHIELDS: The debates helped more than anybody else in history, Ross Perot in 1992. The favorable/unfavorable people had toward him afterwards was 62 percent to 5 percent. And what stopped his movement, which was dramatic -- he was moving a point a day -- was the vice presidential debate, when vice president -- when his -- Admiral Stockdale, you know, was really bad.
Now, I ask you, Ken, can the hemorrhaging that we're seeing or heard about from -- since Thursday -- can Vice President Cheney stop it?
MEHLMAN: Well, I've not heard of this hemorrhaging.
SHIELDS: You haven't seen it?
MEHLMAN: You'd think I would have heard it. I'm looking to make sure...
SHIELDS: We've got the "Newsweek" poll that shows Kerry moved ahead.
MEHLMAN: I think we've always said this would be a 3 or 4-point race. I think it will be. When there's 3 or 4 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) different, polls are going to say different things. But I think, again, what you're going to hear from Dick Cheney is a smart and effective explanation of what this administration has done to make our country safe and what we will do to make our country safe.
CARLSON: You know, I...
MEHLMAN: But you'll also hear him raise the important question of the choice the American people have between the Bush-Cheney approach, which has kept us safe, and the Kerry-Edwards approach, which instead of responding to national security, very often seems to respond to the politics of the moment.
CARLSON: This is more like...
HUNT: Let the record show O'Beirne and Mehlman say it'll be a Cheney rout.
SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.
And coming up on THE CAPITAL GANG, a bloody week in Iraq.
SHIELDS: American and Iraqi forces battle insurgents in the town of Samarra. The action is part of an offensive launched to reclaim Iraqi cities now under insurgent control before scheduled elections in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY: The big news today was, and yesterday, was that the Iraqi security forces really handled themselves well. The 36 (ph) commando who seized and controlled the Golden Mosque were magnificent. They're getting better and better trained, better and better equipped. It ought to give us a lot of confidence.
REND AL RAHIM, IRAQI REPRESENTATIVE TO U.S.: Some of these cities are the wasps' nests of terrorism. This is where terrorist activities are organized, plotted, funded and then exported to the rest of Iraq. We need to hone in on those nests of terrorism and nip them in the bud and clear those cities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, could this latest military push affect elections in Iraq, and as well as here in the United States?
O'BEIRNE: Mark, look, the experiment last April in Fallujah failed. The Marines pulled back with the expectation, the hope, that the Iraqis would take over. This is a different model now months later -- 3,000 American troops, 2,000 Iraqi troops. The city leaders came to the government and said, Help get rid of these terrorists. No surprise because they're targeting Iraqi civilians, including 30 children this week. So the terrorists increasingly lack support from the people.
I think it shows the Iraqis, with respect to their elections, this administration remains utterly committed to see the job through, despite John Kerry's lack of resolve. And I think people seem to think -- were claiming that no such assault would take place before the elections, and I think it shows that what's happening in Iraq is being determined by the conditions on the ground, by the commanders on the ground, independent of our election.
SHIELDS: General Carlson, what's your take?
CARLSON: Well, the best thing that could happen would be that these Iraqi troops would do the job. But until this moment, they have not been able to do the job. There aren't enough of them. They aren't well equipped. They turn and run. And so maybe it -- maybe they will prove themselves in Samarra, and that would be all to the good.
Listen, Kerry does not -- did not -- the one thing he did not do at the debate was come up with a plan...
MEHLMAN: Right! CARLSON: ... for how to get out of Iraq.
CARLSON: And you know why? The nature of a quagmire is you don't know how you're going to get out. But what the president did not do at that debate was have -- show any recognition of the problems in Iraq. And we were not treated as liberators. We're dealt with as occupiers. And not all those insurgents are terrorists, by any means. Some of them are nationalists who just want to get their country back.
O'BEIRNE: Well, they're all killing children and civilians!
MEHLMAN: Margaret, I disagree with two -- with a number of the things you said, but two in particular. The first one is, I think that Senator Kerry did, in fact, talk about a plan in Iraq. It was to hold a summit. He believes that by holding a meeting, somehow we'll succeed in the mission. And obviously, that's not what's going to happen.
CARLSON: That wasn't the totality of it.
MEHLMAN: But -- but what I think...
CARLSON: Talking to...
MEHLMAN: ... you're seeing...
CARLSON: Talking to the allies we've lost would not be a bad thing to do.
MEHLMAN: What you're seeing happening today and what was reported on is this, and that is, two things the president's said from the beginning. First, this is a hard battle, and it's going to be a hard battle. But secondly, you are seeing progress. You are seeing the Iraqi forces that we've trained taking more of the lion's share of responsibility, and you are seeing the effort to defeat the enemy. And what we're doing there and what the Iraqis are doing there will make elections possible in January. That's our commitment. A lot of people doubt it, and a lot of people doubted what would happen on June 30. They were wrong then, and they'll be wrong in this case.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, there were two -- there were three things said in the debate that I heard people talk about Friday and Saturday. One was 90 percent of the fighting, Americans, 90 percent of that fighting, dying, cost. Second was the 14 permanent bases of the United States there. And the third one was, as Margaret said -- I forgot. But -- no, but seriously, I mean, you know, there was a sense that this really is, you know, a serious, grave situation, you know, that more Americans have died every month since the turnover, each succeeding month, more Americans have died in combat, that it's not getting better.
And is that -- is that a factor politically in this country, as well as there? HUNT: Well, I'm sure it is, Mark. I don't think we had any choice but to do what we did. I think this was -- probably should have been done earlier. Samarra was held up a couple months ago as the model of what works. It clearly did not work. On that, I agree with Kate.
Kate, I'm afraid, however, that -- that you're wrong when you say that the insurgents are getting weaker. They're getting stronger, unfortunately. Everybody who's looked at it outside this administration -- the press, the CIA, Noel (ph), the security people, other countries -- say they are bigger, they've got more support and it's more pervasive. That is terribly bothersome.
I wish that there was a good exit strategy. And I would point out that Ken talks about -- Ken talks about John Kerry. You know, the much missed Robert D. Novak reported two weeks ago that there are plans afoot in this administration to get out of Iraq next year.
MEHLMAN: I hate to say this about someone who is -- who is recovering, and I am a big Bob Novak fan. That particular column was inaccurate. There is no plan. There's only one plan, and the plan is for victory. And the reason is because there's no alternative.
O'BEIRNE: Look, I...
MEHLMAN: The fact is, that victory is critically important to protecting Americans here at home, and that's why this president's so committed, and that's why the last thing we need is a vacillator-in- chief as our president.
O'BEIRNE: Al -- Al...
HUNT: Much as I disagree with Bob Novak, I know how good his sources are.
O'BEIRNE: Al, I only wish -- I only wish they were getting weaker. I said what's crucial and key here is that the city leaders themselves came. They're losing any kind of public sympathy. That's crucially important. And John Kerry can't both argue that terrorists are pouring over the border and that this war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror!
HUNT: It's become...
O'BEIRNE: Of course it is!
HUNT: It's become part of...
CARLSON: Yes, it has become a center for terrorists, not before...
MEHLMAN: Well, John Kerry, in fact... CARLSON: ...which is a terrible thing that's become true.
MEHLMAN: ...before did argue that it was part of the war on terror.
CARLSON: And now -- and it is true that the insurgents are gaining strength because they are attracting nationalists to the cause because they don't want Americans running their country.
SHIELDS: I have to give Ken Mehlman great credit. The Bush campaign surged from behind or -- to a big lead in this campaign by making John Kerry -- this a referendum on John Kerry. And John Kerry seemed to surge Thursday night by making it a referendum, as would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) incumbent president. And Ken Mehlman today has come here and made it a referendum on John Kerry again. So...
SHIELDS: ... Ken Mehlman...
CARLSON: ... vacillator-in-chief!
SHIELDS: ... thank you so much for being here.
Coming up on the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar" story of the week, this public scolding of House majority leader Tom DeLay for trying to improperly influence a colleague's Medicare vote. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Oklahoma, where Republicans are struggling to hold the Senate seat they've held safely for 24 years. That and our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these messages and the latest news headlines.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Carol Lin, and here's what's happening right "Now in the News."
Authorities in Washington State are getting people out of the way of Mount St. Helens. Traffic was bumper to bumper as the Johnston Ridge Observatory was evacuated. And experts now say an eruption larger than previously expected could happen within 24 hours.
And on the campaign trail today, President Bush stepped up his attacks on John Kerry, particularly on Kerry's stand on Iraq. At campaign appearances in Ohio, Mr. Bush said a president cannot keep changing his mind.
Meanwhile, Kerry accused President Bush of ignoring the real war on terror against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The Democratic candidate said Mr. Bush is just plain stubborn, out of touch and unwilling to change course in Iraq.
That's what's happening right "Now in the News." I'm Carol Lin.
Now back to Mark Shields and THE CAPITAL GANG.
SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG.
This week, the House Ethics Committee publicly admonished House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The committee found in its report that DeLay "offered to endorse Representative Nick Smith's son in exchange for Representative Smith's vote in favor of the Medicare bill. In the view of the investigative subcommittee, this conduct could support a finding that Majority Leader DeLay violated House rules."
Tom DeLay countered with a statement, saying, "I would never knowingly violate the rules of the House. I deeply believe that as members of the House we must conduct ourselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on this institution."
On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "There's an ethical cloud over this House because of how he is conducting his business here."
Margaret Carlson, are there harder times ahead for the man they know -- known as "The Hammer," Tom DeLay?
CARLSON: The Hammer. I don't know. The House Ethics Committee Used the word "admonish" in what they were saying about Tom DeLay strong-arming this poor representative. And he appealed to his love of his son, who was running for an office -- I'll help your son if you give me this vote.
So the House Ethics Committee is not -- they don't have enough of a hammer. But if they do go after the Texas gerrymandering, you know, three of Tom DeLay's aides have been indicted, and it's fairly certain he laundered...
SHIELDS: In Texas. In Texas.
CARLSON: ... he laundered the money. And, you know, say goodbye to The Hammer.
SHIELDS: Kate, is The Hammer threatened?
O'BEIRNE: Well, the other word the House Ethics Committee used was "novel." And well they should have used the word "novel."
Flash, news flash. There's deal-making that goes on in Congress. You support the legislation I care about and I will fill in the blank, support your pet project, help you get on a certain committee, show up at a fund-raiser for you.
That's why this was a novel issue, because this kind of deal- making goes on all the time. And during the Medicare vote, across the aisle, what was Nancy Pelosi presiding over? She was presiding over an intramural fight among the Democrats because some Democratic members were saying that they objected to donating campaign cash to fellow Democrats who were going to vote in support of the bill.
This is what happens on Capitol Hill. They're going to have to do a lot better than this. I know Tom DeLay frustrates the heck out of them because he's so good politically. They can't beat him politically, but they're going to have to do a lot better than this.
SHIELDS: Al, Margaret or Kate?
HUNT: I covered the House for a long time. This is not -- this went well beyond the normal bounds of trading (ph) up there.
Five Republican members in what clearly was a compromise slapped down Tom DeLay. You know?
Mark, this is the second time this has happened. Five years ago he was also sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee. And I do agree with Margaret that if the -- if the GOP retains control of the House, a strong probability, they're going to have a devil of a time next year fending off a special counsel against the ethically challenged Mr. DeLay.
SHIELDS: Do you think, regardless of what does happen with this -- I mean, and the mention of $100,000 for Mr. Smith's son and so forth, which was alleged earlier...
O'BEIRNE: Well, the Ethics Committee found that didn't happen. In fact, they chastised -- they were exaggerating about what may happen.
SHIELDS: That's what Smith -- that's what Smith -- that's right.
SHIELDS: But do you think with these clouds -- or call them what you want -- this is the second time -- the second time the Ethics Committee, which is not an activist group, do you think this forecloses Tom DeLay...
O'BEIRNE: No, and I'll tell you why.
SHIELDS: ... if he's elected speaker?
O'BEIRNE: I'll tell you why. No. I'm not even sure that's what he -- what he plans on doing. But I'll tell you why it doesn't.
Tom DeLay has a huge bull's eye on his back because he's the single-most effective Republican member. Fellow Republicans know that, and they also know that his aggressiveness, that stays on the right side of what one's permitted to do, is in the name and on behalf of the congressional majority, not himself. He enjoys broad support from his members.
SHIELDS: Do you think, Margaret -- do you think the public is...
CARLSON: Well, you know, I think he -- I think he has crossed the line. Keeping votes open until he can twist enough arms, like...
O'BEIRNE: No, like the Democrats never did that?
CARLSON: ... Representative Smith -- not that long, no. Not to this degree.
Threatening lobby firms that if they don't hire Republicans they'll never get an audience? If they don't give a certain amount of money they'll never be at the table? I think this has crossed the line.
SHIELDS: Speaker DeLay?
HUNT: I think that's very, very doubtful. As I say, I think this guy is so ethically challenged he's going to have problems. But I'll do this -- I don't think it will be a big campaign issue in very many places.
HUNT: But I don't think there are very many Republicans who are in tight races who are going to want to defend Tom DeLay.
SHIELDS: Last word Al Hunt.
Next, a "Capital Gang Classic." A pivotal moment in presidential debate history 16 years ago.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
In the second and final presidential debate of 1988, moderator Bernard Shaw opened with this startling question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNARD SHAW, MODERATOR: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life.
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SHIELDS: Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on our very first show, which aired on October 15, 1988.
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PAT BUCHANAN, CAPITAL GANG: What does that cold and antiseptic statement when he's given a question, a hypothetical question about the rape and murder of his wife tell you about the problems of the Democratic candidate?
SHIELDS: He lacked an emotional response that most Americans, most human beings would have had.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He probably did lack a high degree of emotion that most people -- it's a pretty shocking question. I think the reaction was people were sort of hit by the question and the answer was too glib.
ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: You know what? It's a problem with the Democratic Party, which has gotten itself into a position where it doesn't understand that people want vengeance on the death penalty. This is a symptom of what's wrong with the Democratic Party in presidential elections, that they're on the wrong side of these social issues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democratic Party has a problem because they have not gotten their act together on economic issues and on national security.
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SHIELDS: Al Hunt, was that a fair question posed by our former CNN colleague, the distinguished Bernie Shaw?
HUNT: Mark, this week, Bernie Shaw was the guest of honor at a marvelous benefit for Spina Bifida, and Michael Dukakis gave a gracious video testimony to Bernie Shaw in which he said it was a legitimate question. End of issue.
SHIELDS: But it's perhaps the most memorable question I can remember.
O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SHIELDS: Wasn't it, from any presidential debate?
O'BEIRNE: Well, first, in Bob's absence, I feel obliged to defend "vengeance." So let me just say...
SHIELDS: Yes, vengeance. Yes.
O'BEIRNE: I do find when I look at the tape...
SHIELDS: He seemed to be salivating over it.
O'BEIRNE: ... I still find the question jarring. It was extremely revealing. Michael Dukakis looked like an absolute cold fish. But it was really personally provocative and very jarring.
CARLSON: You know, it was jarring, it is memorable. We won't have that kind of a question this year. Jim Lehrer is not going to ask that kind of question. I don't -- I don't...
SHIELDS: Yes. Of course, Jim Lehrer just did the first debate. The other two are...
CARLSON: Right, they're yet to come. But I -- it -- and I don't want to criticize Bernie, but it was one of those kind of stunt questions, it seems to me, to elicit something. And Mike Dukakis didn't play. He said he knew what he was aiming for, and he decided just to give a straight answer, as opposed to go all emotional.
SHIELDS: It just struck me -- it just struck me that what -- you know, Dukakis, you know, ought to have said at the time was simply, you know, I would have wanted to get the guy and strangled him with my own hands.
SHIELDS: I would have wanted to crush him. But then I would have thought of her and what her life meant and the values that she had represented, and I would have stopped myself because of -- and then -- I mean, but the fact that he didn't communicate any -- any emotional reaction to the question I think really left people with the idea that he was...
CARLSON: But this is what we criticized Clinton for, this, you know, emotionalism, feeling pain, instead of dealing with -- with things on the merit.
HUNT: But I think it was revealing, because I think presidents have to be able to emotionally lift American people during difficult times and during tough questions like that. It was Reagan during Challenger, it was Bill Clinton during Oklahoma City.
FDR was the master at it. And I think Michael Dukakis proved he maybe failed that day.
O'BEIRNE: Spontaneous instincts are crucially important. Look at George Bush down at ground zero, you know, when he picked up the bullhorn. And it showed that Michael Dukakis just lacks those instincts, he's too programmed. And as a result, he was hurt.
SHIELDS: Programmed I think is the word. I think there's just...
O'BEIRNE: There were several (ph).
SHIELDS: ... a discipline about showing any emotion in public, which had never been (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SHIELDS: And that's it. I think that's the discussion.
Coming up next, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at a tight Senate race in Oklahoma.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
In Oklahoma, the contest is seeing retired Republican Senator Don Nickles, who's become fierce with control of the U.S. Senate possibly at stake. Former Republican Congressman Tom Coburn is being challenged by Democratic congressman, Brad Carson. Their latest ads target the state's moderate base.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recognize this big-time liberal? Here's a few hints.
He's voted for taxpayer-funded abortions, is one of the biggest spenders in all of Congress, voted against passing Welfare reform twice, and against Bush tax cuts. It's Brad Carson who may just be the most liberal politician in all of Oklahoma.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Coburn called people in Oklahoma City crapheads. Now he's calling Brad Carson a liberal.
Brad Carson has an "A" rating from the NRA. He voted against taxpayer-funded abortions every time. And President Bush praised Brad Carson for supporting his tax cuts.
Tom Coburn, he's not far-right. He's far out.
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SHIELDS: In the latest poll conducted by SoonerPoll.com, Democrat Carson has a seven-point lead. That compares with a six- point lead for Republican Coburn just one month ago.
Joining us now from Norman, Oklahoma, is Keith Gaddie, the editor of SoonerPolitics.com and professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.
Thanks for coming in, Keith.
KEITH GADDIE, EDITOR, SOONERPOLITICS.COM: Mark, it's a pleasure to be here.
SHIELDS: Keith, how do you explain Coburn's drop in the polls and apparent dramatic 13-point swing?
GADDIE: Well, we really need to note a couple of things here. Brad Carson has run a very effective campaign. And what he's done is he's taking Tom Coburn's own words and Tom Coburn's own actions and turned them against the man that we all thought would be the frontrunner for this U.S. Senate seat.
SHIELDS: And anything in particular? I mean, is there a particular example of that?
GADDIE: Well, you know, these ad -- this ad you just showed touched on part of it. Tom Coburn has a very off-the-cuff manner. And he made some remarks regarding politicians in Oklahoma City which were taken to mean the entire community.
He had voted evidently against tornado relief in the state of Oklahoma in 1999, when we had a big Category 5 tornado blow through. He had evidently worked against transportation dollars coming to Oklahoma. And Brad Carson has really taken these issues and framed them against Tom Coburn.
SHIELDS: I see -- Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: Keith, it's not something that Brad Carson brought up, but when it was revealed that Tom Coburn, when he was a doctor, had engaged in sterilizations without the permission of the patient, how did that play in the race? Did it have any effect?
GADDIE: Well, Margaret, it probably had some effect. It certainly didn't play all that way.
Tom Coburn's stock and trade is his earnestness and his forthrightness. And as I indicated before, sometimes that means words get taken out of context. The explanations for what happened seem technical and legalistic, which are inconsistent with Tom Coburn and actually consistent with the kind of politicians they have attempted to tie Brad Carson to.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: Keith, President Bush is running, what, 26 points ahead of John Kerry in Oklahoma. And as we saw, Brad Carson is actually touting something nice George Bush once said about him. But the latest Republican ad points out that Brad Carson has voted against President Bush's agenda more than, I think, they point to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.
Is that going to be news to the kind of conservative Democrats who at the moment might be supporting Brad Carson?
GADDIE: I'm not sure if it's that much news. This line of reasoning has been thrown at -- at Brad Carson all summer, that he's the most liberal politician in the state, more liberal than Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.
And if you look, what Carson did was a real nice job of positioning himself as a conservative Democrat, as a real moderate. And it was easy to do symbolically. To refute that requires a lot of technical argumentation that the voters may not be attention to yet and may not have the time to pay attention to.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt.
HUNT: Keith, let me go back to Tom Coburn. I -- my wife was born in Oklahoma, and I know that is a very conservative state. But Tom Coburn, in addition to some of the earlier comments that we noted, has said this is a race between good versus evil. His candidate for president four years ago was Alan Keyes. He even talked once about banning "Schindler's List."
Is there a sense that Tom Coburn is not a conservative but a radical?
GADDIE: Well, that really is a sense that Brad Carson is trying to create. Tom Coburn won the primary this summer because he was seen as a social conservative and a fiscal conservative. And he ran a masterful campaign.
Since August, that mastery has not been there, and he's allowed Brad Carson to paint him as not being far right, but far out. So what Coburn is doing now is reconstructing back towards being simply to the far right, rather than being a radical.
SHIELDS: Keith, looking at this race, the Republican establishment in the state opposed Tom Coburn. They backed Mayor Humphreys in the primary and got their clock cleaned by Tom Coburn.
Are they a potential source of Carson votes? I mean, Kate O'Beirne raises the point, if George Bush is carrying the state by 25 points, and it's a reliably Republican state, where will those votes come from if Brad Carson is to win?
GADDIE: Well, part of it has to be -- you know, this is still a state that has a majority Democratic registration. So part of it is bringing those old conservative Democrats back home. But part of it is going after what we call the dollar Republicans, Republicans who are interested in business, business opportunity, and who are not averse to working with government.
I was speaking with one Republican this week who observed that while Tom Coburn is the kind of guy you want to have in the Senate, you just don't want him there from your state, because...
GADDIE: ... he may not do business.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: Right, he does care more about guys, gays and guns than most other things. He also doesn't seem to like Indians. He called the treaties a joke. Does that matter in Oklahoma? What are the Indian tribes doing?
GADDIE: Yes, it matters in Oklahoma. The Indian -- the polling shows that the tribes are very strong for Brad Carson.
In addition, we have a pretty wide open state legislation situation here with term limits. And there's a lot of effort to get the Indian vote out in a variety of areas in support of Democrats.
Brad Carson, we also must remember, is a member of the Cherokee tribe. So he has special appeal to the Native American community on that basis.
SHIELDS: We have less than a minute.
Go ahead, Kate. O'BEIRNE: Look, Tom Coburn was a popular member of Congress when he represented his district in Oklahoma. Many of these things were said about him then, and people like the fact that he was a citizen legislator, he went back to delivering babies. Won't that benefit him in November, that popularity?
GADDIE: It shouldn't hurt. And the thing you have to remember, though, is that since Tom Coburn left Congress, the guy who's been representing his old district is Brad Carson.
SHIELDS: Good point. Keith Gaddie, thank you so very much for being with us.
THE CAPITAL GANG will be back with our "Outrageous of the Week."
SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."
From 1998 to 2001, our federal budget was not simply balanced. The -- was not simply balanced. The budget was actually in surplus, and more than $450 billion in public debt was paid down. Of course, that was under the last Democratic administration.
Now that Republicans have firm control of Congress and the White House, the budget deficit this year will be $422 billion, which is more than half the income tax all Americans will pay this year. In an act now of criminal hypocrisy, House Republicans propose a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
What's this, stop me before I spend again?
CARLSON: Mark, a new report confirms there's still no consolidated terror watch list. That means Cat Stevens is mistakenly grounded but a potential terrorist is not.
When Kerry raised the 120,000 hours of wiretaps gathering dust at the FBI, with no one to translate them, Bush responded, homeland security is "hard work." And wondered -- and he wondered how Kerry would pay for translators.
An al Qaeda tape intercepted the day before 9/11 but translated only afterwards said, "The match is about to begin. Tomorrow is zero hour."
How can Bush claim he's keeping us safer?
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: This is an example. A senior Taliban commander who had been released from detention in Guantanamo Bay was killed last weekend fighting in Afghanistan.
The commander spent eight months in American custody after being captured on the battlefield. Released over a year ago, he obviously picked up where he left off, attacking Afghan and American forces.
This should help liberal critics to appreciate that detainees in Guantanamo have been designated enemy combatants for a reason. Most of us didn't need reminding.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt.
HUNT: There is no more sacred or vital institution in society than marriage. And it's under assault.
One-third of all children in America are born to a single mother. And almost half of marriages end in divorce. So what does the House of Representatives do? Bring up a measure to ban gay marriages, which was deservedly rejected.
One question for proponents of putting sex into the Constitution. How many of these divorces are out of wedlock (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are due to the threat of gay marriage?
SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying goodnight. But before I do, a message for our recovering colleague, Bob Novak, and that is from Margaret and Kate. And that is, Bob, will you please go easy on the nurses?
Tune in tomorrow at noon Eastern for "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." Wolf's guest is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
On Tuesday night, CNN will bring you the vice presidential debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards from Cleveland, Ohio. Coverage starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
And on Friday night, the second of three presidential debates between President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry can be seen right here on CNN. Our pre-debate coverage starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Thank you for joining us.
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