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Republicans go out on a limb on the Terri Schiavo case; President Bush's approval on Social Security continues to erode; President Bush hosts a mini-summit in Crawford with Mexican President Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Martin

Aired March 26, 2005 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt with the full gang: Mark Shields, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

President Bush conceded that the fate of Terri Schiavo was in the hands of the courts, who've refused to intervene.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an extraordinary and sad case, and I believe that in a case such as this, the legislative branch, the executive branch ought to err on the side of life, which we have. And now we'll watch the courts make its decisions.


HUNT: The woman's family pleaded with his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, to save her.


ROBERT SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S FATHER: Our only hope, at this point, as we see it, is through the governor and the Department of Children and Families, or very possibly that the governor exercises his executive authority.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: It is still my hope that we will have a chance to provide hydration for Terri Schiavo. But if there is an injunction by the courts in this case that prohibits that, that does not make it possible to do so. I've consistently said that I can't go beyond what my powers are, and I'm not going to do it.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO'S HUSBAND: This is what Terri wanted. This is Terri's wish, OK? It's not -- it's not President Bush's wish. This is about Terri Schiavo, not the government, not President Bush and Governor Bush. They should be ashamed of themselves.


HUNT: A current CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll showed approval of how President Bush is handling his job fell from 52 percent to 45 percent over the last week.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: The other side has figured out how to win and defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges...


HUNT: Kate, does the Schiavo case have long-term implications?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: There will be, I think, Al, a lot of implications to this tragic controversy, which I have to point out is not complicated. A healthy, though severely disabled woman, is being starved to death, although she has a loving family willing to care for her. That's not that complicated. I think one ramification is it puts the role of judges front and center. The federal courts have shown the same lack of regard for Congress that the state courts in Florida have shown to the Florida legislature. The people of Florida, through the legislature, tried to give the benefit of the doubt to this disabled woman by passing "Terri's law." You could not withdraw food and water from such an individual in the absence of a written directive, not by proxy, by hearsay. And the Florida courts struck it down. The question's going to be: Are they a coequal branch, or are we ruled by judges?

HUNT: Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Michael Schiavo said that Congress should be ashamed. Listen, he should be ashamed for not giving up his right over to the parents. The parents are ready, willing and able and loving to take care of their daughter. And you know, your heart just aches for them. And why he won't do it is such a mystery. He's moved on to another life, and it's constructive divorce. He's gone. He's not really married to that woman anymore, and so he should hand it over.

But the Congress should be ashamed for jumping into this. Most of the time, these things are done quietly between a doctor and family, the loved ones, and unfortunately, more and more, the insurance companies deciding. But this wouldn't be here if it weren't for a husband who's behaved so badly.

HUNT: Bob, is the question here who has the right to decide, or is the more fundamental question is whether anyone has the right to have medical treatment -- to refuse medical treatment when it's likely?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: This isn't medical treatment, this is just nourishment. This woman is not terminally ill.

HUNT: No, but could some people refuse it...

NOVAK: Well, I don't -- I don't -- it's a very complicated thing. I'm just dealing with this one case. I would like to commend Margaret for her -- for her position on that. I -- I don't know -- I can't go into the minds of the members of Congress when they -- when they acted a week ago, whether they were being political or they -- they're taking the same position as you were taking and I was taking, Margaret, that this was -- this should be in the hands of the parents, not this man who's got a common-law wife and two children. And he says, Well, she wanted it. Well, I cannot believe that somebody's life taken by hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence! There's no proof that she wanted this done.

HUNT: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: Al, what's being laid out here by the advocates of Terri Schiavo, quite frankly, and as acted upon by the Congress, is a commitment. It's a rather radical notion which is a total commitment to the prolongation of human physical life. Now, if we're going to make that kind of a commitment, fine. I mean, I think it ought to be debated. I think it ought to be universal and not on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. If it's -- if that's the case, Al, the cost of that in human, financial and temporal terms are enormous. And I just think -- I think that Congress -- you know, say what you want about them last week, you know, what their motives were and everything else. When the Republican leadership is circulating a memo that says an important moral issue and our pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue, that certainly suggests that there were some people for whom altruism was not...


NOVAK: In all -- in all -- in all fairness, Mark...


NOVAK: ... that was not attributed to the -- to the -- please -- it was not attributed to the Republican leadership. It was -- it was a staffer's memo which the Democrats seized upon as part of the Republican -- Republican leadership. And the Republican leaders on the record disavowed a staffer's memo.

SHIELDS: It was condemned, but it was neither denied nor was it disowned.


O'BEIRNE: Most people -- most people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) never even saw the darn thing. That's not what Congress did, though. I mean, the Congress never reached that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Congress never made the call you just said they did. What did Congress say? They said that Terri Schiavo might have federal rights that have been violated. We all have federal rights, not just state rights. They said a federal court ought to look at this.

Now, who can say if there's a federal right that may have been violated that there shouldn't be an opportunity to have that vindicated? And if there's no such federal right, then that was going to be the decision of a federal court. They didn't even get to that kind of a review, though, owing to the disdain for Congress, Mark.

CARLSON: But let me say what one congressman said, Tom DeLay, who was so happy to be in the cameras not trying to explain his ethics. He said that God sent Terri Schiavo to show how the same people who are out to get Terri Schiavo are out to get him. And he was speaking to a conservative group saying that.

By the way...

O'BEIRNE: That's not what that speech said!

CARLSON: ... none of us -- none of us...

O'BEIRNE: Which I read yesterday.

CARLSON: None of us is going to be able to -- unless we're very rich or richly insured, to be able to take advantage of this type of care. I mean, it's just a total fiction.


HUNT: I want to second what Mark said because there are thousands of people in America today in an irreversible vegetative state, and that is a really serious issue if we want to say the state can decide, you know, what happens on that. And I think it's a very difficult personal issue. I agree with Margaret that it's difficult. I'm not sure I agree with you on how it ought to be resolved. But I think the politicians were just outrageous. Tom DeLay did say on the House floor, Kate -- this was not something you can interpret -- that she is not a vegetable, she's just handicapped, like millions of other Americans walking around today. That is a lie by a man who has never expressed any concern or empathy for disabled people at all. That was all about politics.

O'BEIRNE: That's terribly unfair!

HUNT: Others may have had different motives -- no. That is...

O'BEIRNE: What we have to remember is...

HUNT: That's a direct quote. She -- I mean, that is just dead wrong.

O'BEIRNE: Well, these decisions, at a minimum, we should be able to agree, shouldn't be split decisions. Five neurologists testified, and only one judge has ever looked at all the facts.

HUNT: That's wrong. That's wrong. That's not...

O'BEIRNE: The record is five neurologists!

HUNT: You are wrong, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: They split 3-2!

HUNT: Three neurologists, one radiologist and one general physician. You're just factually wrong.

O'BEIRNE: They should not...

HUNT: No, it was not...

O'BEIRNE: ... split 3-2!

HUNT: It was not five neurologists.

O'BEIRNE: We've had neurologists since look at the record!

HUNT: No, but you said five, and that's wrong.

NOVAK: Can I get in? Can I get in for a second? The -- you say that the state should not be deciding -- I've been trying to figure out why there is such passion -- you were just exhibiting a little...

HUNT: Well, so did you.

NOVAK: I don't think I was yelling.

HUNT: Oh, you didn't?

NOVAK: No, I don't think I did.

HUNT: I'm surprised. I thought you were.

NOVAK: Can I say what I was going to say without being interrupted?

HUNT: Yes. You can say it passionately or with...

NOVAK: Yes. But I think there's such passion on people who insist that this woman should die, and I couldn't figure it out. And the only thing I can come to is this is the power of the state, that any diminution of the power of the state to say who lives and dies, and as in the abortion question, is an infringement. And the greatest power of the state, which has no ability for other people to countermand it, is through the courts.


HUNT: You've spoken for a very long time. Mark, would you say something?

SHIELDS: You know...

NOVAK: It wasn't very long (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SHIELDS: The convolution of positions here is just to me astounding. Conservatives who have argued passionately over the years about runaway federal judges, about the intrusion into -- into courts, that we have to stand on judicial precedent -- we've had 19 separate decisions made on this case. And the Congress in its wisdom last Sunday night decided to overturn it. Now, that's interesting, Bob, but it ain't conservative. O'BEIRNE: They didn't overturn it!

HUNT: That's what Charles Fried of Massachusetts...

O'BEIRNE: They didn't overturn it!

HUNT: ... said, too. And that's the last word.

When THE GANG of five returns, a sobering report from the Social Security trustees.


HUNT: Welcome back.

The annual trustees report of Social Security estimated the program will default in 2041, a year earlier than previously forecast.


JOHN SNOW, TREASURY SECRETARY: The report underscores the need for -- for legislative action, and legislative action soon, to address the huge unfunded obligations represented by -- by the Social Security trust funds.


HUNT: The report indicated that Medicare is a bigger problem. The secretary of health and human services, however, pointed to help from the recent Medicare reform bill.


MIKE LEAVITT, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: While acknowledging that there's still work to be done, steps have been taken, and we'll continue to work on it, but right now, we need to focus on Social Security.


HUNT: Meanwhile, the president continued to push his Social Security revision, and was joined by Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Let me just also say in a little straight talk to my friends at the AARP, my dear friends at the AARP, we -- if you don't like our solution, give us one.


HUNT: The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll showed the public 53 percent to 40 percent against President Bush's approach to Social Security.

Mark, what happens next in the Social Security battle? SHIELDS: I think what happens next, Al, is when the Congress returns from its Easter break, and we'll get more -- because the numbers, quite frankly, have been discouraging for the president. I mean, they've gone down every month. The Pew poll, the "USA Today," the Gallup, they all show eroding support, and I guess what's most distressing is the support among the younger voters in -- the Pew Research Center poll just released on Thursday showed that among younger voters, a full 25 percent drop in support for the personal accounts.

So I guess -- it just strikes me that Social Security is an issue that is like national security for the Republicans, like national security was for the Democrats during the 2004 campaign. It's an issue -- it's an away game issue. It isn't a home field issue.


SHIELDS: And I think that's one thing the Democrats found out last November. I think the Republicans are finding out in the spring of 2005.

HUNT: Bob, you still think Social Security legislation will pass this Congress?

NOVAK: I'm beginning to have my doubts. I would not -- I would not rule it out. The president has certain powers. I think even what I hear from Republicans on the Hill, and even some people in the administration -- I don't want to nail anybody -- that they really think a tactical mistake was made in not putting out a program. They didn't put it out because they thought it would be shot down, dead on arrival, and so on. But I think if they'd have had something out, then you got -- you got -- the debate would have a different -- different course.

The other thing is, this business about We're going to go broke in 2041 is not very compelling. You may be around in 2041, but most...

HUNT: I doubt it.

NOVAK: ... of the Congressmen won't be.


NOVAK: And what they should, I think, do is say that in -- in the year 2008, the Baby Boomers go on -- go on Social Security, and the pressure begins. But that's just a tactical question.

HUNT: Margaret, I agree with my dispassionate friend, Bob Novak, that -- that they -- that they probably made a mistake. John McCain is incredible when he says to AARP, you know...

CARLSON: Yes, he's talking about...

HUNT: ... Give us your program. The White House hasn't given us theirs. CARLSON: It's like, The hugest crisis we have, but why don't you go first with a plan? It just doesn't -- it doesn't play. The question is, how long is the president going to keep exposing members of his party and twisting arms? You know, Senator Frist already had to grovel once and take his words -- his words back about it not coming up this year. And Senator Gregg has said some things.

But you know, the president actually is now -- you know how he said, Weapons of mass -- weapons of mass destruction program activity, after there were no weapons of mass destruction? Well, he's now talking about principles and concepts. And I don't think he really cares about Social Security reform if private accounts are gone. Private accounts are what he cares about.

HUNT: Do you think private accounts, or personal accounts, are dead, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I don't. I think there's still a chance. I wouldn't call it a good chance, but I think there's still a chance because I think they have a really positive appeal to younger workers. Too many currently retireds are somehow afraid that they jeopardize them. They have to keep pounding away at the message that those above 50 or 55 will be untouched entirely. I think that there's not much political risk, frankly, for Republicans if they pass a plan and current retirees see that what they did doesn't affect them.

And I also not -- not at all sure it was a mistake for the White House not to have a complete plan because the way they've always viewed it, it seems to me, is first we have to get everybody to agree there's a problem, let everybody start offering solutions. Once other solutions -- i.e., some Democratic solutions -- are also on the table, we're confident our version will stack up better against that, as opposed to putting his plan out and everybody shoots down George Bush's plan because they're not in a constructive mood, the Democrats.

HUNT: I just want to say one thing. I have thought all along that you only can pass Social Security on a bipartisan basis. You can't pass it with just a handful of Democrats. And they may get there. I mean, I wouldn't rule it out yet. But boy, they've got a long way to go.

SHIELDS: You know who made that point on Friday in an interview with AP editors and reporters was Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who said, I want to give the president a bill, but I can't do it...

HUNT: Well...

SHIELDS: ... unless it's bipartisan.

HUNT: And Margaret referred to Judd Gregg earlier, who's a bona fide conservative, who made the same point. And I will have the last word.

Next on THE CAPITAL GANG: The three amigos meet in Texas.


HUNT: President Bush met with leaders of Canada and Mexico at the president's Texas ranch with unresolved differences over treatment of Mexican workers coming into the U.S. and U.S.-Canadian defense coordination.


PAUL MARTIN, PRIME MINISTER, CANADA: Are there differences of opinion? Of course there have. There have been throughout our history, and there will be in the future. On DMD, the file is -- is closed. But our cooperation in terms of defense, in terms of our borders, in terms of the defense of our common frontiers is -- is very -- is not only very clear, but it is -- it is being accentuated.

BUSH: I will continue to push for reasonable, common-sense immigration policy with the United States Congress. Mr. President, you've got my pledge I'll continue work on it. You don't have my pledge that I -- that Congress will act because I'm not a member of the legislative branch.


HUNT: Well, that's true. Bob, what was the -- what's the impact of the Crawford summit?

NOVAK: Well, he was nice to those fellows. They all -- everybody wants to go to the ranch now. Every -- every two-bit leader around the world wants to go to the ranch. See, that's -- that's a status symbol. If you go to Crawford, there's something. If you go to Washington, you're just -- you're just another tinpot president.

Now, the president is very nice to them. This guy, Chretien, was the prime minister of Canada, was a thug, and his -- his successor's a nice fellow, so they got along. But there's -- neither the Mexicans nor the Canadians are going to help the U.S. on the policy in Iraq. And this immigration plan by the president is a non-starter. It's not going to go anywhere. And Fox says, Why don't you pass it? And he knows just as well as anybody -- President Fox of Mexico -- he knows there's no chance of that getting through.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Listen, the immigration debate is splitting his own party. He's never going to make Fox happy. Our good neighbor to the north doesn't matter that much. You know, you'd have to spend money on the borders. And we know it doesn't matter to you. No one matters to you, Bob. And he's going to end up...

NOVAK: Americans matter.

CARLSON: ... you know, offending business because, you know, in the end, you know, you can only bring so many people in and give so much amnesty before you alarm other segments of the -- of the Republican Party.

HUNT: Do you have a more sanguine view of this, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I have to tell it like it is, maybe not quite as bluntly as Bob, who doesn't specialize in public diplomacy, as you may have noticed. But I think it's certainly the case that President Fox is, frankly, not that good an amigo to America. The Mexican government puts out official publications telling the Mexican citizens how to evade the law when they come up here. He shows utter disdain for our law, and may I say not just immigration laws.

There is a safe harbor in Mexico for Mexican citizens who kill Americans. They can slip across the border, and they will not be arrested and extradited. This is not how good neighbors behave.

HUNT: Mark Shields, you know, I -- listen, I don't want to dismiss the Canadians the way my friend, Margaret, did earlier. They're our biggest trading partner.


HUNT: They didn't take up huge trade disputes they have. It seems to me this was a summit that was about PR and nothing else.

SHIELDS: Hey, keeping Canadian lumber out of this country really makes a lot of sense, doesn't it, huh? You know, and keeping Canadian beef and all those high tariffs. But the coddler of tyrants over here, the buddy of despots, Mr. Novak...

NOVAK: Who me?

SHIELDS: To have him -- to have him attack the elected prime minister of...

NOVAK: He's a thug.

SHIELDS: ... of Canada is unacceptable. I will say this, Al, that the revelation this week from the Hispanic Pew Center that there are 10.3 million undocumented immigrants in this country gives strong support to those folks, and especially in the president's own party, who oppose his immigration policy.

But Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who's one of the spearheads, made a very good point. He said, If you want to raise wages to the point where they -- where Americans start getting those jobs, as they did with the cleaning services at Wal-Mart, that would slow it down.

NOVAK: Let me just -- just -- just a minute. I have to clarify myself. I just want to make sure we're not talking about the present prime minister of Canada...


NOVAK: I just -- I just -- no, I know I made it clear, but the way he said, you know, I was talking about the prime minister...


NOVAK: I was talking about the previous prime minister.


O'BEIRNE: I just have to point out the split on immigration is not so much a partisan split as it is elite opinion, both Democrat and Republican, very much out of touch with public opinion on the immigration issue.

HUNT: Well, it shows the great divide. Also...

O'BEIRNE: And the security issue.

HUNT: ... in the Republican Party between the culture conservatives and the economic conservatives.

Coming up next in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar Story of the Week" is Chief Justice Rehnquist's return to the bench. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Baghdad for an assessment two years after the start of the war. And our "Outrages of the Week" all after the break.





HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, battling thyroid cancer, returned to the court for the first time in five months. It was his first public appearance since swearing in President Bush at the January 20th inaugural. His absence has raised speculation whether President Bush will soon be appointing a new chief justice.

Margaret, if the chief justice does step down, do you think the president will tap a sitting Supreme Court justice to take his place?

CARLSON: Yes. I think it will be Justice Scalia. I don't think he'll do Clarence Thomas because that would just be too controversial and I don't think he wants that fight.

But, you know, unlike Senator Bill Frist I hesitate to diagnose anybody on videotape but I do think this will be the last, you know, times that we see Chief Justice Rehnquist sitting.

But there's no reason to hasten his leaving. I mean he's one of nine. It's not like a commander-in-chief, so just like the pope you don't want to push him out no matter how much Republicans might want to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: Presumably the end of the session. Kate, do you see Chief Justice Scalia in our future? O'BEIRNE: I think that could be. I'm thinking either Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. He has two excellent choices. He's told us, he has told us for years that those are the two justices he most admires. I think either one of them could be elevated, which of course would open up another.

And I don't think, Margaret, if he has to fight a fight to get the candidate he wants, I think he will fight a fight to get the candidate he wants and a really carefully covered, high profile fight for a Supreme Court opening, either chief justice to replace an elevated justice, the Democrats are not going to be able to get away with the kind of shameful arguments they've made against some of these other candidates. They really have so little to really complain about and in an elevated fight I don't think they'll be able to hold their caucus.

HUNT: Your take, Mark?

SHIELDS: My take, Al, is that the problem with nominating either Scalia or Thomas as chief justice, and I hate to be premature because I thought Rehnquist looked quite feisty when he came back this week and handled himself in quite an animated fashion but it gets you two fights because, in other words, you have to get his confirmation fight and then a second one for that vacancy.

I would comment to anybody who thinks that Scalia is going to be easy to defeat, the profile in this weeks "New Yorker" by Margaret Talbot where you can understand why people who like him like him so much.

CARLSON: And why wouldn't Bush take the easier pick of the two?

HUNT: Can we let Bob get a word in here?

NOVAK: Let me disagree with Margaret on the question of this is just like the pope. It isn't just like the pope. Popes don't resign. Supreme Court justices do resign. It isn't a lifetime job in the sense that you're there to your dying day, to your dying minute.

So, if he cannot -- if this terrible disease gets the best of him, he should resign. Now, I would say that if the president names anybody other than Scalia and Thomas it's going to be a great disappointment to his strong supporters.

Everybody was so happy that Alberto Gonzales was named attorney general because they thought that kind of ruled him out for the Supreme Court and they don't want Judge Gonzales named to the court.

HUNT: Why Bob?

NOVAK: Because he's too moderate and he's a trimmer. The interesting thing is going to be is that all of the fights on these appellate court judges was a preparation for this. It was like the fascists in Spain getting ready for World War II. They're all ready for this and there's going to be a huge fight. It's going to be a mother of all Supreme Court nomination fights. HUNT: You're not accusing anyone of being a fascist on this, are you? You're just drawing a historical (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?


SHIELDS: Are you going after the former prime minister of Canada again?


HUNT: Just wait. I suspect the president is not going to pick Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas. He'll pick an appellate court judge, a young one, Judge Lewig (ph), Judge McConnell, someone like that. He'll get a 49-year-old, 50-year-old guy who could be (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: Either of them would be excellent choices. I think if it...

HUNT: I'm not saying that.

O'BEIRNE: No, no. I think either one would be an excellent choice and I think what the president appreciates and he's given us every reason based on his appointments to know this, he thinks -- he thinks it's a very important part of his legacy.

He thinks people want conservative judges. He's right. He thinks politically the entire issue benefits the Republicans, so he thinks he's right on the merits and he's right on the politics.

HUNT: All those conservative judges who went the other way on the Schiavo case.

SHIELDS: Exactly right, Al, and they're just playing that. I think the president, the president is going to follow the pattern that he's established in Social Security. He's just going to ask for confirmation. He's not actually going to submit a name.

HUNT: That would be an interesting side -- Margaret, a last word?

CARLSON: Oh, I'd never ask for a last word. You're really surprising me. No, I didn't mean to suggest that a Supreme Court justice is like a pope.

NOVAK: You said just like the pope, I believe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your words.

CARLSON: But I do think that President Bush does want to make a nomination but he's not going to be unseemly and try to get him to resign.

HUNT: We wanted a powerful last word and Margaret gets it.

Coming up, the CAPITAL GANG classic, Newt Gingrich's first rise to power 16 years ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG trivial question of the week. Which Supreme Court justice hired William Rehnquist as a law clear? Was it, a) William Douglas; b) Felix Frankfurter; or, c) Robert Jackson? We'll have the answer right after the break.




ANNOUNCER: Before the break we asked which former Supreme Court justice hired William Rehnquist as a law clerk? The answer is C, Robert Jackson.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Sixteen years ago this week, Newt Gingrich was elected House Republican Whip, second ranking post in the party hierarchy by an 87- 85 vote. The CAPITAL GANG discussed it on March 25, 1989. Our guest was former State Department spokesman Harding Carter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who wins by Gingrich's victory, Bob, the GOP or the Democrats?

NOVAK: It's a big victory for the Republicans. It has nothing to do with ideology. They're damn mad and they're not going to take it anymore. They're tired of getting run over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can go out and raise more money tomorrow talking about this long fanged crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, this guy is a partisan. He's a confrontationalist but, look, he's not long fanged, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is long fanged. He goes right for the jugular and that's what Novak likes about him. That's what you like about him.

SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich, I'm the tough-minded son of a career military man. Seven years of student deferments rather than going to Vietnam. That's how tough Newt Gingrich is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking about people's patriotism.

SHIELDS: I sure as hell am. I'm talking about hypocrisy.


(END VIDEOTAPE) HUNT: Mark, do you think if any of you realized then the repercussions of Newt Gingrich's election as whip?

SHIELDS: Probably not. I'm sure Brother Novak will insist he did but "Newsday" had a wonderful editorial at the time. They said -- they asked a question "Will Gingrich unite the GOP or divide Washington?" And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he did both.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: I think if you had asked his Republican colleagues if they fully understood the import when they elected him whip, they would have said no. Had he said "Vote for me because I believe Republicans will take over the Congress in five years," they wouldn't have believed him. He has a vision none of them had.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: He had a lot of promise. It was kind of exciting and he just flew too close to the sun.

HUNT: Bob, too close to the sun?

NOVAK: I knew that it was a huge important election. I wrote it in the column that it was huge, a two vote margin. By the way, Tom DeLay voted against him, one of the interesting things.

It was immense because Gingrich, unlike Bob Michael, the long time Republican leader, they weren't going to play golf with Tip O'Neill. They weren't going to be nice guys. They were going to be mean and confrontational and that's how they were going to get into the majority. It was a huge step. I don't think they could have taken control of Congress without Newt Gingrich.

HUNT: Yes, I agree with that. He's a man imbued with a first rate political intellect and a fifth rate personal character.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, we go "Beyond the Beltway" to Baghdad, two years after the start of the Iraqi War.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Two years after the start of the war in Iraq, the president and his secretary of defense talked about bringing home American troops.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the end, Iraqis must be able to defend their own country and we will help that proud, new nation secure its liberty and then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our hope and expectation is that we will be able to continue to pass off more and more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces and the coalition at that point would be able to be adjusted and some of them redeployed.


HUNT: Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Assembly will meet Tuesday expecting to establish a permanent government.


HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: We believe we will reach an agreement very soon. Hopefully before the end of March we will have a complete package to get on with the job.


HUNT: Joining us now from Baghdad is Tom Lasseter, correspondent for the Knight Ridder newspapers reporting from Iraq. Tom, is the situation on the ground really improving as much as American officials claim?

TOM LASSETER, KNIGHT RIDDER BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends very much on who you're talking to. If you're a Kurd or a Shia, I think there's a great deal of enthusiasm these days, if you're a Sunni Arab in Iraq, perhaps not as much enthusiasm.

HUNT: Bob.

NOVAK: What about the level of violence? It seems that there's still a lot of people getting killed by the insurgency but not as many Americans are getting killed. Is that a fair calculation?

LASSETER: Yes, well there's certainly been a steep decline in U.S. American soldiers killed since elections at the end of January. There's been a corresponding rise in attacks against Iraqi civilians and Iraqi security forces.

And I think American commanders on the ground here right now are going through a bit of trying to read the tea leaves, whether this points to a weakened insurgency or whether it points to an insurgency which is changing its targets.

CARLSON: Oh, Tom, civilians were killed just for being employed by the Americans. I'm wondering is it still a terrible stigma to be working for the Americans, you know, I'm think of course that's been true of Iraqi forces but, you know, innocent maids cleaning rooms?

LASSETER: Yes. There's really a very fierce intimidation campaign still going on across the country that includes any Iraqis working for Americans, westerners or really any non-Iraqi contractors.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Tom, what will the individuals likely to be chosen as either president or prime minister tell us about the shape of the new Iraqi government?

LASSETER: Well, they're still going through negotiations with that. Ibrahim Jaafari, who will most likely be the prime minister, a member of the Dawa Party here, Shia Islamic organization, says that he would like to involve groups from across the spectrum have, you know, a secular minded government which respects the Islamic identity of Iraq.

You know, there are certainly various opinions about what he means by that and how honest he's being about the secular part but they, you know, members from the Kurdish parties and from the Shia parties speak of a very inclusive government.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Hey, Tom, after two years and 1,520-plus American deaths and some 20,000 Iraqi deaths and $300 billion spent, how do we reconcile the fact that we're looking at an unemployment rate of close to 40 percent and still electricity only eight hours a day and oil production that's only two-thirds of what it was before the war.

LASSETER: Well, that sounds a bit like a question for a politician. You know, I think -- again this comes back to if you're talking to Iraqis on the ground here in Iraq there is across those three groups, Shia, Kurd, Sunni a general level of frustration with the American presence here.

But, again, it depends on which of those particular groups you're talking to for how big a level of frustration. Both the Kurds and the Shias their bottom lines are that the American military presence should still stay here for, you know, the foreseeable future. You know, within the Sunni community there's a real division on that question.

HUNT: Tom, when we read about the factions in Iraq, we usually read about the Sunnis who are not happy or the Shiites who are looking forward to being a majority.

Let me ask you about the Kurds. Are the Kurds really eager to participate in a new government and help create a new Iraq? Or, is this really just a way station to their hope to create a greater Kurdistan within a couple years?

LASSETER: Well, the Kurds were without question the big winners in the January elections because of the really low Sunni turnout and because the Kurds had a massive mobilization campaign. They find themselves in a very powerful position and I think are trying to get everything they possibly can out of negotiations right now.

You know, if you go up to Kurdistan and talk with Kurds about what they really want, it is an independent state but the question of when they want that and how they want that is still very much up in the air.

You know, these are very pragmatic and patient people politically and I don't think they're looking to do anything rash. I think what we're looking at more, and their buzz word is federalism, is perhaps, you know, a Kurdistan that continues to operate independently, have some representation in the federal government in Baghdad, gets a larger cut of the national oil revenues, works under a regional constitution more so than a national constitution and is able just to go about its way as it has been.

But, you know, in terms of breaking free as an independent Kurdistan because of the political realities of Iraq's neighbors it would be a really difficult thing to do.

HUNT: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Tom, speaking of the Kurds, the deputy prime minister was Kurdish, was just quoted as complaining how long it's taken to get a government together out of the National Assembly. Is that a complaint by the Kurds and has it taken an awful long time in your opinion?

LASSETER: Well, you know, I think everyone negotiating at the table complains that it's taking too long because they want exactly what they're asking for. You know, there is a level of frustration amongst Iraqis that it's been almost two months since national elections in which, you know, many of them risked their lives to vote and there is still no government formed.

But the Shias and the Kurds are both making pretty stringent demands and I think both groups, while there is some level of frustration with the government not being formed, you know, I think both groups again are very pragmatic, have suffered and waited for a very long time for a seat at the table and, you know, I don't think negotiations are likely to break down and I think they're both moving toward a resolution in the upcoming week.

HUNT: Tom Lasseter thank you so much for joining us. Be safe and we'll look forward to events there in the next couple weeks and months. Thank you.

The gang will be back with out "Outrages of the Week."




HUNT: And now for the "Outrages of the Week."

Ghost detainees, torture and rendition, sending prisoners to other countries where brutal torture is practiced has become common in the U.S. war against terrorism.

The other guys don't play by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, it's argued, so we have to do this. But all the evidence, including recently released FBI documents, show these techniques ineffective. We give up our high moral ground and get almost nothing in return. That's a lousy tradeoff -- Bob.

NOVAK: Baseball, back in Washington the first time since 1971, back at RFK Stadium with the president throwing out the first ball, or will he be doing that? Mayor Anthony Williams has invited President Bush but a resolution sponsored by eight out of the D.C. City Council's 13 members dis-invites the president because he's not in favor of giving the District of Columbia seats in Congress.

These are the same narrow minded politicians who tried to kill bringing baseball back to Washington. Nobody paid any attention to them then and they shouldn't now.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Remember how the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was supposed to take big money out of politics? How's it doing so far? It sure didn't put a dent in George Soros' big bucks for John Kerry.

Now the SEC is being asked to regulate the blogosphere, those thousands of amateurs who self publish about politics and anything else that strikes their fancy. Big money wasn't shut down. Now the reformers are going after the little guy. While we're still permitted to talk, lips agree McCain-Feingold has failed.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Al, a former CPA official recently testified he paid a security company in Iraq by stuffing $2 million in cash in a gunny sack. Other times the CPA drove around in a pickup truck tossing packets of cash out the back.

Money was counted when it went into the vault but not when it went out. L. Paul Bremer explained he had no time for western banking niceties. How about just a guy with a green eyeshade keeping the money from walking out the door? The Bush administration is so used to throwing money around why would it behave differently in Baghdad?

HUNT: Mark.

SHIELDS: Al, as a presidential candidate, Governor George W. Bush liked to boast how well he worked with Democrats but the man who succeeded Bush in Austin, Republican Governor Rick Perry, apparently believes any Texas Republican caught in the company of any Democrat ought to be condemned.

How else to explain Perry's hiring a Washington TV crew to film his potential primary opponent, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison at a non-partisan preservation event where Senator Hillary Clinton said she was "delighted" to work with Hutchison and then shipped that expose around Texas. Just how scared is big Rick Perry of little Kay Bailey Hutchison?

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying goodnight from the CAPITAL GANG. Thanks for joining us.

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