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Senate continues to struggle with changing Social Security/Pressure mount on Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon/Republicans threaten to abolish filibuster rule for judicial confirmations

Aired March 5, 2005 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Mark Shields, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is Republican senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska.

It's good to have you back, Chuck.


HUNT: Go, Huskers!

HAGEL: This year, we've got a real team.

HUNT: We'll see.

After the weekly meeting with Republican senators, Majority Leader Bill Frist was asked about the president's Social Security plans.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We're making progress there. And that's why I'm encouraged. In terms of whether it'll be a week, a month, six months or -- or a year, as to when we bring something to the floor, it's just too early.


HUNT: "The Washington Post" characterized Frist's remarks as an indication that the Senate may postpone Social Security reform until next year, which evoked this response from Senator Frist.


FRIST: We need to do it, and we will do it this year -- this year -- and not next year. And we're working towards that goal.


SHIELDS: The CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll showed the public approval of the president's handling of Social Security hit a new low, 35 percent. The Senate Democratic leader was not impressed by the endorsement of the plan by the chairman of the Federal Reserve. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I'm not a big Greenspan fan -- Greenspan -- Alan Greenspan fan. I voted against him the last two times. I think he's one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.


HUNT: Bob, is the president's Social Security plan on life support?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Yes, I think it is. I think, for once, the Republicans were out-organized by the opposition. The AARP, organized labor stacked these town meetings, and these chicken-livered Republican congressmen all trembled when they got somebody asking them some tough questions. So they're going to have to have a plan now, I think, that somehow or another cuts benefits for the future, that -- I don't think the Republicans can buy a tax increase, and somehow postpones or does something with the personal accounts. A very difficult thing to get it done, but it's very important to the president. He's not going to abandon it. And certainly, when -- we're not talking about abandoning it for this year, as I think Senator Frist was -- was misinterpreted.

By the way, last week, I'm -- I misspoke when I said that the new Republican -- Democratic national chairman, Howard Dean, said in a speech at Cornell University that -- that 80 percent of the value of Social Security would be lost -- benefits would be lost in the next 30 years. What he said was that the benefits would be after 30 years 80 percent of what they are now.

HUNT: Chuck Hagel, word has it you're going to have a Social Security plan. You going to follow the formula Bob just talked about?

HAGEL: Well, I am going to introduce a very comprehensive Social Security reform bill on Monday...

HUNT: Different than the president's.

HAGEL: There'll be differences. It will include personal accounts, but personal accounts don't solve the problem. My focus is on making Social Security solvent, taking care of those who need Social Security, have always needed Social Security the most, those at the bottom, I leave intact, the same way we have always had disability and survivors' benefits. I don't raise taxes. We get there, I think, in a very balanced way over the next 75 years, total solvency.

And I think one of the things that is important here -- we already are in debt $3.7 trillion on unfunded liabilities for Social Security. So this talk about, Well, borrow money, maybe not borrow money -- we're already in about $4 trillion. What we need to do is address that, put us on a long-term trajectory to solve the problem, fix the problem. And I will present all those -- those numbers on Monday, when I introduce my legislation. HUNT: Margaret, I don't know whether Senator Frist was misinterpreted or not, but certainly, the mood on Capitol Hill is the Social Security -- if it's not -- if it's not dead, it is on really fragile life support.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: It is -- I've never seen anyone in and out of the woodshed so quickly as Senator Frist was this week, and then taking back his remarks about when he'd actually bring it up.

Congratulations to Senator Hagel, the first person to put a plan out there in black and white.

Listen, the blitz hasn't worked. The more people learn about what Bush wants -- and you know, you have to glean it because he doesn't have a plan -- the more they don't like it. He's tried to calm seniors down and frighten young people, the reverse of Democrats. But there's never going to be a "rock the vote" among young people for Social Security. They just aren't that interested, even though when you poll them, they say, Oh, yes, sort of vaguely, yes, we think it might be better to have personal accounts.

The other part of it is -- Senator, is that there's no connection between the crisis in Social Security and personal accounts. And the AARP, not the Democrats -- the AARP is the better organized group -- has been able...

NOVAK: Did you hear what I said?

CARLSON: ... has been able to demonstrate that.

NOVAK: I thought this was...

CARLSON: I'm not addressing that...


CARLSON: ... even though I'm kind of glancing at you.

HUNT: They may well be better organized, but over the last month, Mark, certainly -- I mean, George Bush -- it was the centerpiece of his State of the Union speech. He's been out on the road. I mean, the GOP and the White House haven't been sitting on their hands, and the polls have all gone south.

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: They have, Al. And this is a classic case of the -- of pollsters asking a question that the politicians wanted to hear the answer to. The question was, Do you favor personal accounts, if it means that you could devote part of your Social Security taxes to your own retirement? And people say, Gee, that's a hell of an idea, 3 out of 5 in virtually every poll. But they never mention the down side, the castor oil, the cold showers and root canals, which is either guaranteed reduction in benefits or more taxes or a combination of the two. That's the first thing.

The second thing, Al -- and that's -- that's the specific that George Bush has never addressed in five years of endorsing -- of endorsing this. The second thing, Al, is that demographically, this -- it's not a generational fight, it's a fight on income. Three out of five American households earn $50,000 or less a year. I know that those aren't people that people in Congress know very well, very frequently. These are the people...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) senator from Nebraska.

SHIELDS: The senator from Nebraska being an exception.

The truth is, these people need Social Security. They may have strayed from the Democrats on same-sex marriage, on abortion and on gun control, but I'll tell you this. This is a value for them, and they are back, and they are the ones who are most resistant to private accounts.

HUNT: Let me -- let me -- let me just...

NOVAK: He just -- he just...


NOVAK: ... respond...

HUNT: Let me -- let me just say one thing, and I want both of you to come out -- I will make a prediction here that you will not get a Social Security -- you will not get Social Security legislation passed without a tax increase. Agree or disagree?

NOVAK: I disagree. I'm not -- I don't think you can make these predictions. I do know that he just broke the code there, that the Democrats are in terrible trouble, and they think they can go back to this class warfare -- I mean, well, Mark (UNINTELLIGIBLE) class warfare (UNINTELLIGIBLE) drop of a hate, and that's what he's talking about. This is -- this is just the poor people, it's not -- it's not for the rich people.

The thing that amazes me is you have these Republicans House members with a really good, free-enterprise-type proposal, of trying to stop this ponzi scheme in the long run and get it onto a private, personal basis, and they're scared to death! They got these safe districts, and they're scared to death...


HUNT: ... one person who has a vote on this weigh in on this. Chuck, I still don't -- Bob Novak agreed with me before that you couldn't do it without a tax increase. Now he disagrees with me. You can't do it without a tax increase. You can't get Democratic support.


HAGEL: Well, mine doesn't, but you're talking about something else, Al. That's actually getting enough support to pass something.

HUNT: Right. HAGEL: I think we can do it without a tax increase, and where I think some of the mistakes have been made in the last two or three months, it goes back -- I think the -- what Mark was saying -- rather than coming at this from a focus of preserving, protecting, improving Social Security, which is probably the most successful, important government program in the history of this country for -- for most Americans -- that's where we should have focused first, preserving that, not on the -- the free market concept of personal accounts, which I, by the way, buy into, and I accept that -- but we have inverted the priorities. And we need to go back to where the priorities are. What was the original intent of Social Security in 1935? Not a replacement for retirement, but as a safety net, a social contract. And there's where we need to go first.

NOVAK: The president...

HUNT: We will all...

NOVAK: The president...

HUNT: We will all...

NOVAK: ... has taken that position!

HUNT: We will all -- all look forward to reading your proposal, the first proposal, specific proposal on Social Security, on Monday.

And when we come back: putting pressure on Syria.


HUNT: Welcome back. Pressure mounted on Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon, with the U.S. secretary of state and French foreign minister joining in the demand.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon, so that good democracy has a chance to flourish.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, SYRIAN CABINET MEMBER: There is a schedule for the forces to withdraw. But I do -- I do not think that the troops, the Syrian troops in Lebanon, are the issue. We would really like to draw the world's attention to the fact that our countries need peace and stability and security.


HUNT: The Syrian controversy forced the resignation of the Lebanese government.


WALID JUMBLATT, DRUZE OPPOSITION LEADER: The best (UNINTELLIGIBLE) could be the president resigns, the parliament meets, we elect a new president, and we have a new Lebanon.


HUNT: Mark, is the Bush policy creating a new day in the Middle East?

SHIELDS: Al, certainly, the advocates of that policy, which have been -- have been mostly strangely silent, a lot of the neocon friends, are now saying that, Oh, this is what we planned all the time. It isn't what they planned all the time. Are we happy, are we pleased, are we gratified and encouraged by the fact that Lebanon is about to throw off the yoke of Syrian occupation and oppression? Sure, we are. The Lebanese people themselves say, Al, that it was, in fact, a -- the example of the Ukrainians that inspired them.

And I'd only add this. If it's going so swimmingly for us, why is it that our -- the highest intelligence officers in this country testified before Congress that al Qaeda recruitment is up since the U.S. has occupied -- and recruitment for American military services is down in every branch and not meeting its quotas.

HUNT: Chuck, do you agree? Do you see a transformation taking place?

HAGEL: I think it's too early to call it a transformation. I think there's progress. I think there's hope. The entire region, when you look at the Palestinian elections, what's going on there in Gaza, obviously, the Lebanese peace, elections in Iraq -- probably the most hopeful signs we've seen in many, many years. A long way to go. There's some momentum. I think it will very -- very much depend on America's continued engagement, leadership, bringing allies, especially the regional powers together in the Middle East, our European powers together.

Condi Rice has been in Europe three times this month. The president just came back. That's not by accident. I think this administration is starting to now understand that the forces of reality put us together. These common denominators of interest and challenges must -- must be dealt with, just as we found out after World War II, through these alliances, mutual security alliances.

You won't -- will not figure out anything in the Middle East, in my opinion, until it comes as a regional dynamic, all these pieces coming together, not exactly the same or the same timeframe, but generally, in a regional security dynamic. And I think we're making progress.

HUNT: Margaret, only a little over six weeks ago, many of us were very skeptical about the president's inaugural address, when he talked about unleashing the forces of freedom. Things are looking a lot better six weeks later than -- than some of us thought they would look back then.

CARLSON: Yes. And hey, if it all comes together, it's -- as you say, give credit where credit is due. Some of this, however, is not due to the neocon theories of spreading democracy or Bush going to Iraq. Arafat died. Hariri was assassinated. And by the way, we have an alliance putting pressure on Syria. The French and the Saudis are with us, which shows the power of alliances that the Bush administration's not at all interested in.

The one thing the United States has to be careful of is when Syria leaves Lebanon, whether -- what's going to happen there, a civil war? There are a lot of bad guys left. The vacuum that was left by Saddam Hussein, which had allowed the insurgency in Iraq, the United States is going to have to be very careful of what they wish for and what they have in Lebanon when Syria's gone.

HUNT: You more optimistic about the region, Bob?

NOVAK: Yes, I -- I hate to say this, but none of this would have happened if we hadn't invaded Iraq. I was against the invasion of Iraq. I still don't believe we should be interfering in people's business all over the world. I didn't like the inaugural address. But I have a sense of the same kind of phenomenon in the Middle East that we had in Europe with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the "velvet revolution" -- possibly. I don't think you can say, but I think it's possible that this might be happening. And none of it -- none of it -- would have happened if we had an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hadn't overthrown Saddam Hussein.

The other day, Charlie Rangel said, Is that worth 1,500 American boys' lives? Well, I don't think you can put things that way. But of course, you can't say it's worth any -- anything is worth their lives. But I do -- I do believe that -- that the -- that the invasion of Iraq is bearing some possibly very excellent results.

HUNT: Mark?

SHIELDS: Let me say the president is absolutely right, and he speaks for everybody, when he says democracy is what we hope for all people, and that self-determination. But Al, democracy imposed by the 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Marine Division is not -- is not the answer. That -- what we're arguing about is not ends here, we're arguing about means. And the means are terribly important, and they do involve not only 1,500 American lives, 11,000 wounded and thousands of Iraqis killed.

HUNT: Chuck, we have to get out quickly, but can we keep pressure on the Saudis and the Egyptians?

HAGEL: Oh, I think we can. It's in their interest that this move continue to move in the direction we're moving, get stability and security, and it's the regional dynamic that I talked about earlier.

HUNT: OK. Next on CAPITAL GANG, the continuing congressional clash over judges.


HUNT: Welcome back. The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first confirmation hearing of the new session on Idaho lawyer and former Interior Department solicitor William Myers, one of President Bush's 16 judicial nominees blocked from confirmation in the last Congress.


FRIST: I do think, if he's got 58 votes, he deserves, the institution deserves, the country deserves us -- the -- a system that allows us to give advice and consent. That's our obligation, and we should be able to vote for him on the floor up or down.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The president has put nothing new on the table. He has effectively said, Let's have another fight.


SHIELDS: Senator Robert Byrd compared Republican plans to confirm judges with a simple majority to Adolf Hitler grabbing power in Germany with enabling legislation.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made it -- made this illegality legal. And that is what the "nuclear option" seeks to do to Rule 22 of the standing rules of the Senate.


HUNT: Margaret, are Democrats losing the war of words in the battle for judges?

CARLSON: They might -- might have lost those particular words, but I think -- they're going to win on the nuclear option because Senate Republicans do not want to do this. First of all, it's not a conservative thing to do. And secondly, Senate Republicans are the only ones that are kind of vulnerable these days to politics. Bush is not running again, congressmen in all these safe districts, but Senate Republicans don't want to go home having done that.

Bush, by the way, shouldn't throw the same nominees back in the face of Democrats, the ones that have been thoroughly vetted and rejected for very good reasons. You know, Myers is an extremist. I mean, he would strip-mine most of the West. So it's a, like, "in your face" thing, these nominees he's sending up. And by the way, he's not going to get Senator Salazar.

HUNT: In your face, Chuck? Is that what they're doing?

HAGEL: Well, I think you've got a collision course coming here because of two very fundamental interests in the Senate. One is what Senator Frist talked about, individuals deserving an up-or-down vote if they get out of committee, which I subscribe to that. The other part of this that's coming at us is the institution of the United States that is centered around minority rights. Those minority rights have always been protected. The filibuster is one of the ways you do that. But as those two dynamics are headed to a collision course unless the Democrats, I think, come at this a little differently than -- my guess is that Frist will probably have the votes to do this. I think it is a responsibility of the United States Senate to give an individual an up-or-down vote. I don't know how the Democrats win on this if they continue on this same path. Picking out two or three or Myers or whoever it is, basing your fight on that, but to take en bloc and just stop these guys -- I don't think that's wise. I don't think the American people buy that. And they'll have to sort it out, the Democrats, as to what they're strategy's going to be.

HUNT: Bob, 95 percent of Bush's judges have been confirmed.

NOVAK: Oh, that's ridiculous!

HUNT: Is it wrong?

NOVAK: Yes. I mean, I -- it's just silly to make that statement! I'm ashamed that you did it...

HUNT: I'm sorry.

NOVAK: ... because -- because it is -- I mean, it should be 100 percent.


NOVAK: This is -- this not a question...

CARLSON: This is not a democracy.

NOVAK: I mean, in the past, we didn't have this kind of thing going on, and 16 appellate court judges is unprecedented to block those. Now, two things -- Senator Byrd's reference to Hitler is despicable. At 87 years old, he has lost it. And for Teddy Kennedy then to get up and say, I really commend the senator's speech, is outrageous, as well. I agree with Chuck. I think they're going to get this -- this majority vote, and -- and I guarantee you -- I don't guarantee you, I'll predict that the first judge that comes up is not going to be Mr. Myers. That was Arlen Specter because he was trying to get 60 votes. Republicans don't want to get 60 votes. That's not what they want. They want a majority to confirm, and -- as it's been the constitutional practice through the years for the country.

HUNT: Mark, I apologize for being silly. I didn't know Bob was for all those Clinton judges. He was strangely silent during those years.

SHIELDS: He was, and facts are stubborn things. You point out that the president -- Bush has a higher percentages of judges nominated and confirmed than any of his predecessors. But there's a third factor I'd add to Chuck's equation in this, the mix between the two groups, and that's Bill Frist. Bill Frist wants to run for president, and bill Frist is getting heat from the right. You going to be able to confirm these judges? And he's kind of caught between the institutional imperative and his own ambitions. And I think that's -- that's what's got to come down -- I went to work on the Hill 40 years ago. It was two thirds then was required, 67 senators. They changed that to 60. And I'll tell you, if they do the majority thing, Al, it'll be a different institution. And what the Senate has been will never be the same.

HUNT: Margaret, just quickly...

CARLSON: And what about...


HUNT: ... got 10 seconds.

CARLSON: ... Senate Republicans? Do you want to come back -- you know, some day, you may be a minority.

HAGEL: Oh, absolutely...

NOVAK: Just for judges. Just for judges. Somebody got to say that.


HUNT: Margaret -- Margaret, you don't think they'll -- they'll violate 200 years of tradition and do...

CARLSON: I don't think so.


CARLSON: And I don't think Senator Hagel would.


HUNT: That would violate 200 years of tradition. Chuck Hagel, I want to thank you...


HUNT: ... for being with us. You are a great guest, as always. Coming up...

HAGEL: It's always inspirational.

HUNT: Coming up next, in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar Story" of the week. The Supreme Court rules on juvenile executions. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Texas on troubles for Tom DeLay. And our "Outrages of the Week," all after the break.




HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the execution of juveniles is unconstitutional. In a majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the state can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the state cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity."

A dissent, written by Justice Antonin Scalia stated, "The basic premise of the court's argument -- that American law should conform to the laws of the rest of the world -- out to be rejected out of hand. What these foreign sources affirm, rather than repudiate, is the justices' own notion of how the world ought to be and their diktat that it shall be so henceforth in America."

Bob, what does this decision say about the present Supreme Court?

NOVAK: It says that it is not a conservative court, on the contrary. After all these Republican appointees there's only two Democratic appointees on the court. They have almost every case is decided in favor of the liberals. How they could find in the Constitution anything to support that, I agree with Justice Scalia, it's beyond any comprehension.

There are two conservatives on the court. Sometimes it extends to three. In this case, they had one other one for a four, 5-4, but that's about the best they can do and Justice Kennedy is one of the great disappointments. He was supposed to be a conservative when he was nominated and he's been totally taken over by the left.

HUNT: Oh my gosh -- Margaret.

CARLSON: You know it's not liberal or conservative. It's human. And it's a recognition that there is a difference with an immature, a young person and someone old. It also recognizes that we're the only country that does it and that mistakes are made.

Mistakes are made and now we have DNA and are finding out that mistakes are made with people on death row. How would this -- would this country want to execute children, children, who can get better, who can be reformed, who can grow, who can be educated? I don't think so, Bob, and I don't think it is a matter of political philosophy. It's a matter of human decency.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Let me associate myself with Margaret's remarks and add, Al that this is the same court that ruled against the execution of the mentally retarded. And I think they ought to be commended for both decisions.

HUNT: I would point out that Justice Scalia really misrepresented Justice Kennedy's reasoning because the reasoning in this case was the exact same as the one you just alluded to, Mark, on the people who are mentally retarded.

The reference to foreign -- to the habit of foreign governments was in Roman numeral IV at the very end of a decision as an aside. That was not the basis of Justice Kennedy's five person majority decision. You can disagree with it, but Scalia should not have misrepresented (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Well, let me try to explain to you what's going on. If you had watched the remarkable debate between two justices recently that was one of the big issues and there's no (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the liberal justices are looking to foreign opinions, foreign intellectuals.

It's an outrage. It has no part in American jurisprudence and that's what Justice Scalia is outraged about. It's the whole idea. Margaret brought it up. The other people don't execute people so we shouldn't execute people.

Now, I would say this that Mr. Malvo, who killed all these people, was not a child. He should be executed. And now they have dropped the plans for any kind of future trials for his execution. I hope you're happy that he isn't getting what he deserves.

HUNT: And, Margaret, the court also heavily relied on psychiatrists and psychologists and expert witnesses who talked about the brain maturation (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: Right, Malvo's situation, right and how you can be swayed by other people as he certainly was and he'll be in prison his entire life.

NOVAK: He should be executed.

SHIELDS: I'm sorry for Bob's sake that he won't have a chance to watch human beings fried and executed (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: That's not right, I mean as if I get some enjoyment out of it. I'm saying it should be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anyway and it's not a public execution so that's an outrage that you say that.

SHIELDS: It makes sick that they're not -- it makes you sick that he's not going to be executed. I say kudos to Judge Kennedy. Ronald Reagan appointed him and the Gipper made a good move.

HUNT: Well, Bob, I must disagree with you. I don't think -- I don't think that children or people who are mentally retarded...

NOVAK: Do you think Malvo is a child?

HUNT: Yes, he is and I think he should not be executed.

CARLSON: He was certainly under the sway...

HUNT: I think that's barbaric and I'm glad we're getting out of that.

NOVAK: He was adult enough to be able to fire guns and kill innocent people.

HUNT: Well, so are some mentally retarded 12-year-olds and I hope you would not want to have them executed.

Coming up next, the CAPITAL GANG Classic the Bush judicial nomination four years ago.


ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG trivia question of the week. Prior to this week's Supreme Court ruling how many states allowed the execution of juveniles; a) 12; b) 19; or c) 25? We'll have the answer right after the break.



ANNOUNCER: Before the break we asked, "Prior to this week's Supreme Court ruling how many states allowed the execution of juveniles?" The answer is B, 19.


HUNT: Welcome back.

A little less than four years ago, President Bush made his first judicial nominations sending 11 judges to the Senate for confirmation. THE CAPITAL GANG discussed it on May 12, 2001.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, will these judges be confirmed or does this signal the opening salvo in a long ideological war?

CARLSON: I think, I suspect most of them -- I suspect they will be confirmed because some of the hard right choices weren't in this batch.

O'BEIRNE: I think most people want conservative judges on the bench rather than liberal judges. I think the first list is strong enough that I suspect he will get them.

NOVAK: These are very conservative judges. The left wing forces, the People for the American Way, the feminist groups are going to go after these people and the grounds that they're pro-choice. I think they're going to go after some of them.

HUNT: I think most of these, probably all of these judges will be confirmed. The Democrats I think ought to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into a lot of these nominations.


HUNT: Mark, why was our consensus four years ago that these nominees would be confirmed in due course not quite right?

SHIELDS: Well, we were obviously dumb. I mean we were wrong on a regular basis I think on the show. I mean I think that's it. CARLSON: That's interesting.

SHIELDS: But the question framed it. Is this the opening salvo in a long ideological war? And I think that the long ideological war is very much with us.

HUNT: Hey, Bob, we were right. They confirmed nine of eleven, so 81 percent puts you in the Hall of Fame.

NOVAK: But the ones, the ones -- you see you can't take it on a percentage basis. The two they didn't is an outrage, Miguel Estrada not being confirmed, no reason to. I would say that we didn't see what was coming. I don't think anyone in Washington saw what was coming because it had been secretly devised by Teddy Kennedy and Tom Daschle and Tom Daschle paid for it.

HUNT: Margaret, the other one of those judges who wasn't confirmed was from the North Carolina Circuit and he wasn't confirmed because for five years the Republicans sat, refused to even have a hearing on Democratic judges.


HUNT: That's the same as filibustering a judge. Actually it's worse because you don't even bring him to the court.

CARLSON: Right, I mean payback is not a good political philosophy. Now when it's nine out of eleven, Bob says, oh you know numbers don't matter.

NOVAK: They don't.

CARLSON: Listen, it's much worse now. I mean it's a more fractious place. We are in kind of a nuclear war between the two sides and let's just hope that the Republicans aren't short-sighted and ram through the vote against the filibuster.

NOVAK: You see when you keep a guy off like Miguel Estrada there's no indication of anything but sheer, partisan politics. You didn't want a Hispanic conservative nominated, a guy who might go on the Supreme Court. I think the performance by the Democrats on judges for the last four years has been outrageous and it's continuing.

HUNT: Now you would be far more credible on this if you had raised one dissent on Alan Snyder, a Rehnquist clerk who sat for three years and they refused to give him a hearing and Bob Novak said nothing.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, is it high noon for Tom De Lay? We'll go beyond the beltway to Texas when we come back.


HUNT: Welcome back.

In Austin, Texas, political associates of House Majority Leader Tom De Lay went on trial on charges of violating the state law against contributions from corporations.


ANN KITCHEN, PLAINTIFF: I think that 100-year-old law that says that we can't take corporation contributions in campaigns that's there to protect the public and so I'm in this suit because I think that what was done was wrong.


HUNT: Congressman DeLay said at the trial, "People walk up to me and say, well it looks like they're after you again. You hang in there. That's why I love coming home every week because I get out of Washington, D.C. and come down to real people that know what I'm trying to do."

Joining us now from Austin is Wayne Slater, Senior Political Writer of the "Dallas Morning News. Thanks for joining us, Wayne.

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Great to be with you.

HUNT: Does this trial threaten the political career of Tom DeLay?

SLATER: Well, as a general rule it's not good for your political career to have a grand jury looking into the activities of you and your associates. This grand jury has already indicted three DeLay associates.

But I've got to say that talking to the prosecutor, talking to others, not knowing secret stuff but getting the sense of how this investigation is going it's a long way to come from where they are now to reach Tom DeLay.

It's one thing to go after associates operating in Texas. It's another to convince a jury eventually, if it would ever come to that, that Tom DeLay was pulling the strings.

HUNT: Bob.

NOVAK: Wayne this has the look of trying to get back at DeLay for the amazing operation he pulled on having a non-census year redistricting of the congressional districts. Now they're closer to a fair district than the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Democratic districts you had before in the Republican states certainly. But isn't this using a district attorney that went after Senator Hutchinson a couple of years ago, isn't this a political operation?

SLATER: Well, I mean Democrats certainly think so -- I mean Republicans certainly think so and Democrats support this guy. He is a Democrat. It looks like that. You talk to Democrats across the street in the Capitol and they certainly privately will link the two.

But I'm not sure that's really what's happening here. This guy, Ronnie Earle, is something of a maverick. He, although is a registered Democrat, ran, was elected again and again as a Democratic prosecutor, there's less politics here I think than the Republicans say.

Now that's my opinion. The opinion of other reporters I think who are covering this case I think there's less politics here than kind of ideology about corporate money.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Wayne, Tom DeLay says how much he loves to go home on the weekends because they love him so much there but isn't his popularity not as high as it once was? He won by 55 percent but a lot of Republicans, you know, win by much more.

SLATER: Yes, I think that's right. If you really look at what happened, one of the ironies of the whole redistricting process was the redistricted district that Tom DeLay is in now is slightly less Republican. He actually lost some of the key voters that he would have had as sure accounts in his race when he runs again.

But having said that let me tell you, I've been down there in Sugar Land. I've been down there and although he is not as popular as maybe some other incumbents have been elsewhere in the country he's still enormously popular in that district. I think some Democrats like the idea that he may be in trouble or at least his popularity has fallen a bit at home but I'm not seeing it.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Wayne, this is reminiscent of just seven or eight years ago when Newt Gingrich found himself in some political hot water and one of the tests is how people rally to somebody and I've always had the feeling that Tom DeLay is a figure who inspired great fear and in some cases gratitude on the part of Republicans. But is there that sense of affection to catch him if the going really gets rough?

SLATER: You mean to catch him...

SHIELDS: To catch him and sort of rally that people rally to his side at a personal level?

SLATER: And you really touched on the two things and certainly you guys there know this and you've seen it. We see it reflected here in Texas. DeLay is a person who can inspire both a kind of real affection among people not only because he brings home projects, not only because he's sensitive to the needs of his local constituency and to the state of Texas but also he's the kind of guy if you know the people inside his office and the people he often deals with, he is a very thoughtful person. Having said that he's also a person with an enormous, and I think well-earned reputation that you don't cross this guy. He can cause problems for you.

HUNT: Wayne, he also has been an incredible money raiser and there's a DeLay ink if you will. Whether they indict him or not have these problems, do you think, somewhat stifled that tremendous money chase that he was so effective in participating?

SLATER: Yes, I don't see that. If you really look at the money you haven't seen that yet. Obviously there's some concern in Washington that he might be indicted and that that could be a real problem.

But so far both in the various campaign accounts that he has, as well as he's already begun to raise money for his defense account, what you're seeing is the same people, many of them associated with special interests, who have been supportive of him financially in the past are still on the game. He's still a guy very much in charge and I think in smart guy Washington the smart money is staying with him.

NOVAK: Wayne, another famous person from Sugar Land is Paul Begala, who is a co-host on CNN's "CROSSFIRE" program and he has considered over the years running against Tom DeLay for Congress. Do you think this would be the good time for Paul to make that run and maybe take that long shot and score one of the great upsets in Texas history? Would you say Paul, go for it baby?

SLATER: If I were advising Paul Begala, I would say "Paul, do not go for it baby." Obviously Begala his name would be a good name idea in Sugar Land but, again, around the country club and some of the other upscale and in some cases not always upscale, these are kind of strong, conservative values minded constituencies within the district, these are the kinds of people who would look at Paul Begala and say no.

CARLSON: Hey, Wayne, 30 seconds left. Tom DeLay's K Street project where only Republicans are allowed to be hired as lobbyists, how does that -- you know I think it's considered, I mean it's contributed to the lack of comedy among members. What do you make of that?

SLATER: Well, I mean you really look at that and it's a hardball game. The guy is playing very, very hardball politics. Back here in Texas among those people who like Tom DeLay they think that's just fine. Of course these are Republicans. These are conservatives. These are people who think Tom DeLay delivers for them so it's not a real problem.

On the other hand, there is a feeling here and I think in many places and I think you've sensed this elsewhere in the United States that people don't like politics that's too hard, too mean and is too divisive.

The government shutdown of some years ago was a real problem and so they want people who can cooperate with the other side. DeLay is clearly not that kind of figure and the K Street projects reflects that.

HUNT: Hey, Wayne thanks so much for joining us and enlightening us. The gang will be back with our outrages of the week.


HUNT: Hollywood liberals are raising money to defeat the Democrat Senate candidate in Rhode Island Jim Langevin. He's the only quadriplegic member of the House, a passionate advocate for the elderly, poor people, more affordable healthcare, stem cell research and people with disabilities but the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) liberals say none of this matters because he's also anti-abortion.

The other side isn't any better, as right to life groups continue to attack John McCain despite his anti-abortion voting record for cracking down on campaign contributions. Abortion should not be a litmus test from either side -- Bob.

NOVAK: The African American activist W.E.B. Dubois was a brilliant writer and a founder of the NAACP. Like many intellectuals of his day, he was seduced by the left, praising Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung and the North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Expelled from the NAACP for opposing racial integration, he joined the Communist Party and died in exile in Ghana. Why then are John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and 37 House members sponsoring resolutions to honor Dubois? This poor soul should be permitted to rest in peace.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Al, it's a shame Martha's coming out of prison more marketable than when she went in. Sure by going early she took her lumps like a man when so many cheating CEOs aren't. But she's never said sorry to the poor schlubs (ph) who bought the stock she was unloading on an inside tip.

Now she gets a plumb show, a spin-off of "The Apprentice," where she's to be a role model for budding entrepreneurs? How about a show of remorse first? If not, Martha you're fired.

HUNT: Mark.

SHIELDS: Al, the lynch mob won. Wednesday will be Dan Rather's last night anchoring the CBS Evening News but Rather's career is about much more than one flawed story about George W. Bush's military service. Dan Rather for more than 40 years has been one terrific reporter through the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Watergate and around the globe.

Throughout both 1984 conventions, I sat near Dan Rather. I shall never forget how Dan Rather treated the so-called little people, the researchers, the pages, the gofers with warmth and consideration. Thanks, Dan, for a job well done.

HUNT: Mark, I couldn't agree more.

This is Al Hunt saying goodnight for the CAPITAL GANG.


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