updated 2/5/2006 12:38:56 PM ET 2006-02-05T17:38:56

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: for nearly three years, this Republican from Texas, Tom “The Hammer” Delay, was the leader of House Republicans. He has now stepped aside. This Republican from Ohio is the new majority leader of the House of Representatives. Our guest, in his first live Sunday morning interview, Congressman John Boehner. Then, on Monday, Senate hearings on whether President Bush has the authority to authorize eavesdropping on domestic calls without a warrant. With us, the man in charge of those hearings, Judiciary Hearing Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. And in our political roundtable, insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal.

But first, on Thursday, Republicans elected their new majority leader. His name is John Boehner of the state of Ohio, and he is here with us this morning.

Mr. Leader, welcome.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-Ohio): Good to be back, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Are the Republicans in trouble?

REP. BOEHNER: I think that we need to restore our—the trust between the Congress and the American people. And clearly for Republicans, I think we need to get back on offense and deal with the big issues the American people sent us here to deal with. And to the extent that they see us dealing with the anxieties that they’re feeling in their own lives, if they see us dealing with those issues over the course of this year, I think we’ll be fine.

MR. RUSSERT: It was interesting reading some of the speeches that were given in the conference during your election. This was Congressman Paul Ryan from the Frist district of Wisconsin, “Friends, we’re in trouble. A poll was done last weekend in our 25 most vulnerable districts, and trust me it doesn’t look good.” And then this from Congressman Mark Souder from Indiana, “Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not made up by the Democrats. We were put in power to be different. What has happened to us? Our entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large percent of our own supporters, think we have been corrupted as a party. Our re-election numbers are now lower than the Democrats’ were in ‘94. When voters in swing districts were asked, the two things they associated with our Republican Congress were Iraq and corruption.”

Let me ask first about Iraq. John Warner, Republican, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made this observation. He “said that widespread corruption and criminality were ‘pushing Iraq down into a morass.’” He said “corruption in Iraq was increasing. ‘The corruption, the payoffs, the graft—all this is just, in a sense, overlaying the courageous work of coalition forces.’ Warner painted a grim picture of American forces increasingly diverted from battling insurgents in Iraq so they could deal with corruption-linked violence.”

Today The New York Times reports that 40 to 50 percent of the—of money skimmed illegally from oil sales in Iraq is now going to the insurgents. So we liberated a country and the oil sales, a portion of them, is being used to finance an insurrection to kill our own troops.

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, we—we are in Iraq for the right reasons, to help bring democracy to a part of the world that’s never known it. Now, we’ve seen this increasingly instable, or lack of stability, in the Middle East. And if we can build this democracy in Iraq, it will clearly spread. This is a long-term commitment. And helping the Iraqi people learn to govern themselves is not easy. But the effort here is meaningful, worthwhile, and it may not benefit our generation, but for our kids and theirs, this may be the greatest gift that we give them.

MR. RUSSERT: But as majority leader of your party, you have to see these numbers. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. We asked people all across the country: maintain current troop level, 28 percent; reduce the number of U.S. troops, 66 percent. A majority of conservatives say reduce the number of troops. And then this question: Will the war in Iraq come to a successful conclusion? Yes, 36; no, 53. Are your members concerned about that pessimism?

REP. BOEHNER: I think they are. But I think that the administration is on the right path. I think the raining—the training of Iraqi forces continues to go well. And if it continues to go well and if the—the—the amount of violence continues to go down, I think we’ll be able to see some reductions in troops next year. But winning is more important than—than bringing our boys and girls home early. We’ve got a big investment here, and I think the American people want us to see through on this investment, to help us succeed, because it’s our kids and grandkids who will be the big beneficiaries.

MR. RUSSERT: If the situation in Iraq in November of this year is like it is today, will Republicans pay a price at the polls?

REP. BOEHNER: I think we will.

MR. RUSSERT: Iran: Is the United States prepared to take military action against Iran if they continue to insist on building nuclear weapons?

REP. BOEHNER: I don’t think that’s necessary. We’ve been involved in diplomatic efforts over the last several years to bring Iran into the world community. And I think the U.N. has stepped up, and I’m, frankly, surprised and—and happy about the fact that the U.N. has taken forceful steps, and looks clear this morning that Iran is—is beginning to—to accede to the demands of the U.N.

MR. RUSSERT: But, if need be, you think we’re capable of having the war in Iraq and also having military action against Iran?

REP. BOEHNER: I think that’s premature. I think the diplomatic efforts have gone well, and I hope they continue to go well.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to domestic spending. Headlines all across the country today, the President planning to ask for $30 billion to $35 billion reductions in Medicare costs. And this headline: On Wednesday, the House approved $39 billion budget savings package. “The deepest cuts--$12.7 billion over five years—were exacted on the government’s student loan programs.” The President’s calling for more research, more investment, math, science. Why would you cut student loan programs?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, we didn’t. You know, I authored that section of—of the bill. We were able to expand benefits for students, higher loan limits, lower origination fees, and yet reform the program and take $12.7 billion from those private lenders who run the program.

MR. RUSSERT: But kids may have to pay much higher interest rates.

REP. BOEHNER: The agreement on the interest rates was agreed to in 2001 that, in July of this year, interest rate would go to 6.8 percent. I—I wanted to go with a variable rate over the next five years, but it was Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman George Miller and others, all the student groups, who insisted on having a fixed rate. And the fact is we were able to expand benefits for students and reform the program and save $12.7 billion. And it’s exactly what the taxpayers expect—expect of us. We’re going to spend probably $10 billion more this year on student loans and, over the next five years, save this $12.7 billion.

MR. RUSSERT: But many Americans who see these headlines, Congressman, say, well, why tinker with student loans, why tinker with Medicare, when they see this in The Wall Street Journal: “The smell of bacon. 1995, the number of earmarked projects before Congress 1439, total $10 billion. Last year, nearly 14,000 individual earmarked projects by members of Congress, $27 billion.” That’s a lot of money.

REP. BOEHNER: That’s a lot of money.

MR. RUSSERT: And for programs that are difficult—some of them are difficult to defend.

REP. BOEHNER: Very difficult to defend.

MR. RUSSERT: So why would you go after student loans or Medicare rather than eliminate earmarked projects?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, the American people know that our government’s too big and it spends too much, and they expect Congress to do something about it. I’ve never asked for one of those projects over the 15 years that I’ve been in the Congress. I told my constituents in 1990, when I was running for Congress, that, “If you think my job is to rob the federal Treasury on your behalf, you’re voting for the wrong guy.” I was up-front and honest with them, and I’ve kept my promise to them. I’ve never asked...

MR. RUSSERT: Should they be eliminated?

REP. BOEHNER: I don’t know that it’s appropriate to eliminate all of them. I think what we need to do is we need to reduce the number of—of earmarks, we need to bring more transparency to the process and more accountability: who authored them, what’s the public purpose, is it a federal purpose? And I think, through that process, we can bring a lot more accountability and lower the number of earmarks in all of these bills.

MR. RUSSERT: You think they’ll be reduced significantly?

REP. BOEHNER: I do.

MR. RUSSERT: Let’s turn to the whole issue of lobbyists, corruption, travel, congressional travel. Speaker Hastert, your boss, had a proposal on the table, which you dismissed as childish.

REP. BOEHNER: That’s not true, Tim. That’s not true. What I said were there were a lot of childish proposals out there. We’ve gotten proposals from the Democrat leadership, the House leadership, every group known to man, and that’s what I was referring to.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, here’s exactly what the article said: “‘House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s proposal to end all privately funded trips would be counterproductive,’ Boehner said. ‘Members could be required to seek pre-approval from the House Ethics Committee of any trip,’ he said. But he added ‘Members need to understand what’s happening in the world. They need to understand what’s happening with industry. That won’t happen if they’re locked up in a cubbyhole here in the Capitol.’” And you went on to say, “We shouldn’t be treated like children.”

REP. BOEHNER: That comment was made several weeks ago, all right? Denny Hastert and I are very close friends, we’ve worked together closely over the last 15 years, and we’re going to continue to work closely together. He’s the boss. And he and David Dreier have worked on a package of ethics and lobby reforms. We’re—Mr. Dreier is now working with Democrats, trying to come together with a package. And we need to allow the members to engage in this process, to come up with a package that’s real. Not something that looks good and sounds good, but something that will, in fact, bring greater transparency to the relationship between members of Congress and those who lobby us.

MR. RUSSERT: But the speaker did want to eliminate privately funded travel for congressmen, and you...

REP. BOEHNER: I’ve got, I’ve got my doubts about that, but that doesn’t mean that he and I don’t feel strongly that we’ve got to have a lobby reform bill passed the Congress here in the next several months.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say you have your doubts, many point to your own behavior. From 535 members of Congress, John Boehner ranked number 10 according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which did analysis of this. Over the last five years they say John Boehner received trips which would equal $157,000, privately funded. And they point out where you went, which is—and here’s, here’s a list,. Congressmen Boehner: White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, where the Green Briar Resort is, eight times; Boca Raton, Florida, six times; Scottsdale, Arizona, four times; Monterey/Pebble Beach, California twice; Edinburgh, Scotland, home of St. Andrew’s Golf Course, twice. Foreign travel: Rome, Venice, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona.

To the American people looking at that, they’re saying those aren’t exactly the global hot spots in terms of conflict. But they are places that you’d want to go and relax or play golf.

REP. BOEHNER: People want—people invite me to give speeches. And, and as you know Tim, you know, I’ve got 11 brothers and sisters, my dad owned a bar. What you see is what you get. And I’ve got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town, with my colleagues, with the press, and with my constituents. And, and as a result, you know, people invite me to go give speeches, and I go give them. And you also learn a lot about these industries. It’s easy to point out where I’ve gone around the world, but when you start to look at the people that I’ve worked with—you know, going to, to Scotland with the Transatlantic Policy Network. Now, understanding the relationship between members of the European Union and members of Congress, and trying to build closer ties, this is something that’s very beneficial for members of Congress. And I believe that—that—that privately funded travel ought to be pre-cleared. There ought to be a good public purpose in members going on a trip, and if there isn’t, then they shouldn’t go.

MR. RUSSERT: Many voters will say, Congressman, rather than going to a plush resort, why don’t you just meet these guys in your office?

REP. BOEHNER: These industry meetings occur in nice places. And—and that’s where the—that’s where the events are, that’s where the speeches are. And if you get invited, you got to decide whether you can go or not go, or whether it’s worthwhile.

MR. RUSSERT: You said this, according to The Washington Post: “‘Yes, I’m cozy with lobbyists,’ Boehner told lowmakers—lawmakers concerned about his K Street lobbyist connections, ‘but I have never done anything unethical.’” Is that the standard?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, everything I’ve ever done in my entire political career has been to the benefit of my constituents and the American people. They’re the ones who dictate what I do every day. I know who I am, and I know why I’m here, not because I wanted to be a Congressman, but because I wanted to do things on behalf of my constituents and the American people. And I—there’s nothing in my entire political career, no decision I’ve ever made, where they weren’t the winners.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would be against eliminating private funding of trips for Congressmen.

REP. BOEHNER: I think having pre-approval of these trips would be a more forthright way to go.

MR. RUSSERT: By whom? A board of public integrity, or your fellow Congressmen?

REP. BOEHNER: No, I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it’s working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules. And frankly I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a trip when I didn’t ask the Ethics Committee for their advice before I went.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, why not an independent board?

REP. BOEHNER: Congress is charged, the members are charged, House and Senate, with setting up their own rules and enforcing their rules. If you bring more transparency to this relationship between those who lobby us and members, more transparency with what members are doing on trips, I think let the public decide.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the other areas that—people who are watching this would like to reform, the amount of money lobbyists spend at conventions. And they point to the vast number of parties, money spent at both political party conventions. According to your hometown paper, “One of the most famous parties at the Republican Convention simply known as the ‘Boehner party,’ thrown every night until the wee hours. It’s in John Boehner’s honor, and is organized by lobbyists.” Would you eliminate those?

REP. BOEHNER: I would—if I—it were up to me I’d, frankly, think—rethink the whole convention process. You know, back in the old...

MR. RUSSERT: Eliminate lobbyist money.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, now, I don’t even know why we have these conventions any more. You know, back in the old days, it was—it was—they were real conventions, they made real decisions. Now they’re made-for-TV events and a large number of parties. I go to bed every night at 10:00. These conventions that require me to be up much later than that are very difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you eliminate lobby-sponsoring parties honoring congressmen every night at these political conventions?

REP. BOEHNER: That’d be fine with me. Then I could go to bed on time.

MR. RUSSERT: There was a big episode in your life back in 1995 when there was—Bob Herbert in The New York Times wrote a column about something you did. I want to find out what you learned from it. Here’s how Herbert wrote it. “One day last summer, 1995 Representative John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, decided to play Santa Claus. He took it upon himself to begin handing out money from tobacco lobbyists to certain of his colleagues in the House floor. He was not deterred by the fact that the House was in session, and that he was supposed to be attending to the nation’s business. He was not constrained by any sense that passing money around the floor of the House of Representatives was a sacrilege.”

REP. BOEHNER: It was a big mistake, and I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it. It was an old practice that had gone on in the House for a long time, and I do regret it. But I also worked with Speaker Gingrich at the time to change the rules of the House to prohibit the practice. And now if you look, when we pass the new rules in the next Congress, handing out a PAC check on or near the House floor is prohibited.

MR. RUSSERT: You gave $5,000 from your PAC—leadership PAC to Tom DeLay’s defense fund.

REP. BOEHNER: I did.

MR. RUSSERT: You think Tom DeLay’s innocent?

REP. BOEHNER: I do think he’s innocent.

MR. RUSSERT: If he is acquitted and chooses to come back to Washington and wants to become majority leader again, would you step aside?

REP. BOEHNER: I’m sure we’ll talk about it. Tom and I have a different approach.

MR. RUSSERT: You would talk about it?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Tom and I have—have different approaches. But I think what’s going on in Texas with Tom DeLay is unfortunate, unfair and highly partisan. And that’s why I gave him that money out of my PAC, to help him pay for his tremendous legal costs.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he’s acquitted and decided to come back to Washington and reclaim the majority leader position, you would consider...

REP. BOEHNER: Under—he stepped down as majority leader. He vacated his seat. We had an election, and I won. But I like Tom DeLay. He’s been a great leader for our party. He’s a friend of mine, and we’re going to continue to work closely together.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you step aside for him?

REP. BOEHNER: I said we would talk about it.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about Jack Abramoff, because his name, lobbyist, “The Shadow,” hangs over Congress. According again to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “John Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC got $27,500 from the Chippewa tribe, Choctaw Indians and other tribes in California, Louisiana” that Jack Abramoff represented.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, also Republican, had received some $18,000 from clients of Jack Abramoff. He gave the money back because he was concerned about the perception. Will you give the money back?

REP. BOEHNER: No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff. I didn’t know Jack Abramoff. I may have met him once. I had no relationship to him, and the money that I raised from those tribes had nothing to do with him. I worked with those Indian tribes and others on education issues, on labor issues, and he had nothing to do with it, so why would I—why would I give the money back?

MR. RUSSERT: But had you ever received a nickel from those tribes before they were represented by Jack Abramoff?

REP. BOEHNER: I have no idea.

MR. RUSSERT: The answer’s no.

REP. BOEHNER: I—well, no. Other people represented those tribes as well. Understand, Jack Abramoff, knowing that I...

MR. RUSSERT: But they didn’t give you—they didn’t give you money until they were represented by Abramoff.

REP. BOEHNER: No. I became chairman of the Educational Workforce Committee in 2001, where I began to work closely with them on their issues. I had nothing—Jack Abramoff didn’t like me. I didn’t do earmarks, the things that he exploited for his own political and financial gain.

MR. RUSSERT: According to his records, however, there were 17 contacts between his lobbying team and your staff and—and a meeting with you also.

REP. BOEHNER: Some of his under—underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office. I’m telling you, I never met the man. The money didn’t come through him. And, frankly, I think four out of the five tribes have written us a letter at our request saying that the money they gave had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Newt Gingrich, the former speaker. This is what Newt Gingrich has said. He “cautioned Republicans that they risk losing control of Congress majorities—congressional majorities if they try to put all the blame on lobbyists. ‘You can’t have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have corrupt member of Congress or a corrupt staff. This was a team effort,’ Gingrich said. ‘If Republicans intend to retain a majority, then they need to take the lead in saying to the country we need to clean this mess up. But any effort to push this under the rug, to say this is just one bad apple: That’s baloney.’”

REP. BOEHNER: That’s correct. What we need to do, and I agree with Newt’s approach here. Because it all starts with the member and the staff. And what we need to do is to make sure our members understand what the rules are, understand what’s ethical behavior. Because if we don’t begin the process ourselves, we’ll never restore the trust between the American people and their Congress.

MR. RUSSERT: So you don’t want to eliminate private funded trips. You do not want to have an independent office of public integrity. What do you want other than immediate disclosure?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, all of the violations that we’ve read about and the corruption we’ve read about, were people who violated the laws of the United States of America and/or the rules of the House. All of—all of this. And so, as we begin to look at how do we best clean this up and how do we begin the process of restoring trust, I think sunlight is the best disinfectant. If there’s more disclosure of travel before you go, more disclosure of the relationship between lobbyists and members and their staff, let the American people take a look at this, let them watch it and let them judge what we’re doing, I think that will reduce the amount of corruption and graft that goes on.

MR. RUSSERT: Majority Leader John Boehner, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views.

REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, domestic eavesdropping, terrorist surveillance, whatever the name, is it legal? Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania holds hearings starting tomorrow. But this morning, he’s right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter holds hearings tomorrow on domestic surveillance. He’s here this morning after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

Senator Arlen Specter, good morning. Welcome. Tomorrow you...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA): Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Tomorrow you have your hearings on domestic eavesdropping.

SEN. SPECTER: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: What is the one most important question you will ask?

SEN. SPECTER: Why the administration did not go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and tell them about the program. They have a great record for not leaking. They’re experts in the field. The program could’ve been presented there, still could be. And I think that’s the biggest question the administration has to answer.

MR. RUSSERT: The administration says that they didn’t need to, that they already had authority from Congress when, back in October 2002, Congress voted an authorization to go to war against Iraq, and this is part of that war.

SEN. SPECTER: I believe that contention is very strained and unrealistic. The authorization for the use of force doesn’t say anything about electronic surveillance, issue was never raised with the Congress. And there is a specific statute on the books, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says flatly that you can’t undertake that kind of surveillance without a court order.

MR. RUSSERT: The White House also says that they didn’t go to Congress because people in Congress told them that they would compromise this surveillance plan if they requested permission to conduct it.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the administration also has said, Attorney General Gonzalez has been questioned, reported, and I asked this in a letter I sent to him, saying that if the administration went to Congress, they were likely to be denied the authority. So, it’s very hard in that kind of a context to claim that Congress intended to give the authority if the administration thought that Congress would turn it down.

Now, on the issue as to whether the program would be compromised, you don’t know that until the administration goes to the Intelligence Committees, or the chairmen and the ranking, and lays the program on the line with sufficient detail so that there can be some Congressional oversight. And I think up until this time, Tim, that’s never been done.

MR. RUSSERT: The President has said that there have been at least 12 briefings of senior members of Congress.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the statute requires that the committee be informed. And the committee constitutes 15 members. And they have the so-called “gang of eight”: the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees of each House, and the majority leader and the Democratic leader in each House. That really is not—is not what the statute requires. And if the administration thinks that’s too broad because the Congress leaks, and regrettably that’s a fact of life, we ought to change the law. They’ve never asked us to do that. And I think we would do that if they could have a showing that a more restrictive approach is warranted.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, this program began shortly after September 11, 2001. The President, when he ran for re-election in 2004 was up in the great city of Buffalo, New York, on April 20. And this is exactly what he said. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, April 20, 2004)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, by the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wire tap, it requires—a wire tap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Was that misleading?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends on what the President had in mind. I think it’s a fair question for the President. If the President was talking about what goes on domestically in the United States, I think it is accurate. If he had in mind the entire program, including what goes on when one of the callers or recipients is overseas, it’s incorrect.

MR. RUSSERT: He said, “A wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. We’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends, as I’ve just said, on what he had in mind. If you’re talking about a wiretap in the United States, he’s accurate; if you’re talking about the broader program, he’s inaccurate. That’d be a good question to pose to the President, Tim, at his next news conference. Can’t ask me, because I’m not the President.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, tomorrow you will see the attorney general, Mr. Gonzales. At his confirmation hearing in 2005 Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin asked him about doing eavesdropping, surveillance, without a search warrant, and Gonzales said, “That’s a hypothetical question,” while the program was in place and ongoing.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I have reviewed that transcript, and I think the attorney general is under an obligation to face that question. They had an extended discussion about torture and about electronic surveillance, and the attorney general did talk about a hypothetical question, and I think that’s fair game. And I’m sure—I’m going to defer to Senator Feingold on that, that’s his issue, but let’s see what the attorney general has to say. I think—I think that’s a fair question.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, passed by Congress, signed by President Jimmy Carter. That law says that you can go forward with eavesdropping without a court warrant as long as you go back to the foreign—the FISA court, as it’s called, within 72 hours. What have you heard from the administration as to why they did not choose to take that path?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, that was one of the questions I posed in a detailed letter I sent some time ago to the attorney general, and he wasn’t entirely responsive, but the thrust of what he had to say was that it was too massive to undertake and too complicated and it would have resulted in delays. His answer wasn’t very clear, and that’s why we’re having the—the hearing to go into it.

I think this issue, Tim, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is really big, big, big, because the President—the administration could take this entire program and lay it on the line to that court and go through what is involved in some detail, but they don’t want to deal with Congress because of leaks. That court has really an outstanding record of not leaking, out of being experts, and they would be preeminently well-qualified to evaluate this program and either say it’s OK or it’s not OK. And if they said it was OK, it would give the American people great reassurance; and if they said it wasn’t OK, knowing all the facts, then that ought to be changed.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you asked the administration, the President, to take the program and present it to the court?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah, I have. I did that, in effect, in the letter that I sent to the attorney general, and his answer was unresponsive, simply said something like, “Well, we’ll exhaust all alternatives.” But that’s going to be my lead question to the attorney general tomorrow.

MR. RUSSERT: When President Carter signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into law, he had a presidential signing statement, and in that signing statement he said this, quote, “It clarifies the executive’s authority to gather foreign intelligence by electric surveillance in the United States,” suggesting that any inherent powers in Article 2 of the Constitution, or other—other legislation, that this, this FISA law, was central and now would be controlling. Do you agree with that?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I think that it’s a very powerful statement when the President—Carter at the time—signed it, and said that that was the way electronic surveillance ought to be conducted, and only with a warrant. And that was a presidential concession as to who had the authority. Congress exercised it by passing the law, and the President submitted to it.

Now, there is an involved question here, Tim, which we’re going to get into in some depth, as to whether the President’s powers under Article 2, his inherent powers, supercede a statute. If a statute is inconsistent with the Constitution, the Constitution governs and the constitutional powers predominate. But here you have the President signing on and saying this is it, and that’s why I’ve been so skeptical of the program because it is in flat violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but that’s not the end of the discussion. There’s a lot more to follow, and we won’t be able to cover it all here this evening—today, this morning, but we’re going to have a hearing tomorrow and some more hearings after that because of the importance of this issue and because of its complexity and depth.

MR. RUSSERT: In those future hearings, will you call former President Carter to get his insights?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I’m—I’m thinking about it. We haven’t really faced up to all the witnesses that we’re going to have in the future, but I’ve been discussing that, and it’s on the agenda for consideration.

MR. RUSSERT: Some of your Democratic colleagues, including Chuck Schumer of New York, have said that the White House has been reluctant in giving classified legal opinions and documents on the spying program. He says, quote, “Without the Justice Department memos and without more witnesses, it’s hard to see how anything other than the rehashing of the administration lying is going to happen. I’m worried that these hearings could end up telling us very little when the American people are thirsty to find out what happened here.”

Will you demand, even subpoena...

SEN. SPECTER: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: ...even subpoena from the administration these legal opinions?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, let’s start out with Senator Schumer’s statement that the hearings won’t show anything. I think he’s wrong. He’ll have a question—he’ll have an opportunity to question the attorney general at length, and we’ll—we’ll go into that. Will I consider a subpoena? Yeah, I’d consider it, depending on whether we need it. Let’s hear from the attorney general as to what he has to say before we jump to conclusions and start to demand a—a subpoena. And Senator Schumer knows that when you deal with legal advice and memoranda within the Department of Justice, that you want to have the lawyers there express themselves openly and candidly, and there’s always been a rule against disclosing those internal memoranda out of concern about having a chilling effect.

Now we’re not—we’re not we dealing here with the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts, where Senator Schumer wanted to have his internal memoranda, giving us some insights into his thinking as to what he’d do as a justice, we’re talking about legal analysis. And Senators Schumer and Arlen Specter can undertake that legal analysis as well as anybody else. We’re talking about the law and an interpretation of statutes and cases. But listen, if we come to it and we need it, I’ll be open about it. I was willing to call for these hearings in a very difficult climate, and if the necessity arises, I won’t be timid.

MR. RUSSERT: For asking for a subpoena?

SEN. SPECTER: Right.

Mr. RUSSERT: Let me turn to an article I read in Newsweek magazine, headlined “Spying: Bush vs. Lawyers.” And it goes as follows: “In March 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital with a serious pancreatic condition. At Justice, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Ashcroft’s number 2, was acting attorney general. Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith raised with Comey serious questions about the secret eavesdropping program, according to two sources familiar with the episode. He was joined by a former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Patrick Philbin, who had become national security aide to the deputy attorney general. Comey backed them up. The White House was told no reauthorization of the program. A high-level delegation—White House Counsel then Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card—visited Ashcroft in the hospital to appeal Comey’s refusal. In pain and on medication, Ashcroft stood by his number 2.”

Now, this is John Ashcroft, James Comey, Jack Goldsmith, Mr. Philbin—Patrick Philbin, all former workers at, lawyers at the Justice Department, all Bush appointees, but no longer there. Will you bring them before your committee and ask them why they opposed this program?

SEN. SPECTER: I’m considering it, and I’ve already initiated discussions in—in that direction. There’s no doubt that Attorney General Ashcroft was involved in the process, as was his deputy, James Comey. I do think they have relevant information, and, and we’re pursuing it.

MR. RUSSERT: Speaking of subpoenas, this article also captured my attention: CIA Director Porter Goss said, quote, “It is my aim, it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present, being asked to reveal who is leaking this information.” Do you believe it’s a good idea to subpoena reporters and ask them where they got information which they published about this eavesdropping program?

SEN. SPECTER: Tim, I think that has to be approached very circumspectly. We have had hearings in the Judiciary Committee on the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. And I think if you move into an area of really serious national security issues, that there may be a justification for it. I’m not prepared to commit on that, but if you’re in an area of showing obstruction of justice, which is what—what we ended up with on the jailing of The New York Times reporter, I don’t think so. I think that you have to be involved in something very serious on a national security line, and that’s something that I think ought to be considered if that threshold standard is met.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, the day after you were elected back—re-elected back in ‘04, you talked about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade and said this, “When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think it is unlikely” that they would be selected for the Court, in effect. You voted for Judge Samuel Alito to become Justice Alito. Are you absolutely certain, absolutely convinced that he will not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. SPECTER: You didn’t quote me quite accurately, Tim. I said I thought the President would have to be mindful of that issue in selecting Supreme Court nominees. Am I certain that Justice Alito will not vote to overturn Roe? No. Listen, guarantees don’t come with Supreme Court nominations. Guarantees, as I’ve said before, are for used cars and washing machines. I questioned Justice Alito for about 20 minutes on the issue of Roe vs. Wade, and I thought that he addressed it as far as he could go. He talked about his respect for the precedence for Roe, for the follow-up case on Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, about reliance and about what is embedded in the culture of our community. And he had—we had judges who know him very well from the court of appeals who worked with him for years. He said he had no agenda and no preconceptions. And I concluded that he’d give that question a fair hearing and a fair determination. But no guarantees, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you be disappointed if he does vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, Tim, I’ll tell you. I have great respect for separation of powers. President’s got his job, I’ve got mine and the Supreme Court has theirs. My own view is that Roe vs. Wade is secure in the culture of our country. So I’m going to do my job and take my chances.

MR. RUSSERT: And I bet you hope the Pittsburgh Steelers do their job today.

SEN. SPECTER: I’m rooting for the Steelers. My only regret, Tim, is that this hearing was set on 9:30 tomorrow morning, and the earliest I could get back from Detroit was about 3 a.m., so I’ll be watching it on television.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter, thanks very much. And we’ll be covering that hearing tomorrow.

SEN. SPECTER: Thank you for the invitation. Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

Gentlemen, let me show you the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on domestic wiretap program sponsored by the President. Fifty-one approve, 46 disapprove. Ron Brownstein, has the President turned the corner on that?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: I think as the issue is now defined, the polls have been very consistent from the very beginning. That’s one of about five or six polls that have shown a narrow plurality of majority supporting it. And I don’t think the Judiciary Committee hearing at least as it’s structured is likely to change that. If the debate is over whether the President has this authority or not, I think that the evidence is from the polling slightly more Americans say yes then no. What might change it is evidence about how the program was actually implemented and used and whether it caught more Americans in its net than the administration has suggested, as suggested in a story by The Washington Post today. Those are the kind of questions that might move public opinion I think more than what the Judiciary Committee is likely to debate.

MR. RUSSERT: John Harwood, the administration is going to say the President has this power, Article 2, and the authorization that Congress passed after September 11th involving Afghanistan and worldwide—not just Iraq as I said in the previous segment—segment. It was after September 11th. Is that going to fly, or is it—does it all hinge on what the Supreme Court decides? If the Supreme Court ever came down and said, “Mr. President, you violated the Constitution,” what happens?

MR. HARWOOD: Well they’d have big problems at that point, and that’s where the effort legislatively to give him the authority would get serious. I think the interesting near-term question from these hearings is whether or not there is any serious push by Specter or by Democrats with Specter’s support, we’ll see, to try to legislate this authority for the President. The White House doesn’t want that to happen, but I think they’re in a more difficult position if Congress says, “You say you’ve got the authority; we want to make it explicit,” and he says, “No, thanks.”

MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, given the strategy of the Republicans in Congress and their relationship with Bush over these five years, it really does feel that if this is going to be resolved it’s going to have to be at the Supreme Court. It’s hard for me to see how this Republican-majority Senate engineers a full-scale confrontation with the President over this.

MR. RUSSERT: U.S. troops in Iraq: maintain current levels 28; reduce the number, 66. The exact poll I showed Congressman Boehner. He was very candid. Status quo exists in Iraq. On Novem—in November of this year a problem for his members.

MR. HARWOOD: No doubt about it, and I think one of the fascinating things we saw in our poll, Tim, was the results of the President’s offensive in November and December on Iraq. Our pollsters, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, said they thought all those victory signs appearing behind the President at those speeches may have had the opposite effect the President intended. That is to say, not “We’re winning, therefore we should stay there,” but “We’re winning, now it’s time to get out.” And we’re seeing this number climb. It’s a big problem for Republicans, and they’re not eager to have a big debate on this $90 billion supplemental spending for Iraq at the same time the President’s coming out with an ag—with a budget proposal next week that’s going to cut Medicare and many other programs.

MR. RUSSERT: Another big problem: lobbying. Jack Abramoff, scandals.

Ron Brownstein, which party’s more influenced by special interests and lobbyists. People say Republicans, 36; Democrats, 22. Considerable change from some nine years ago when the Democrats had the edge on that, if you will. But look at this question. Lobbying reform: Will new laws make a difference? Sixty-five percent of the American people say no.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And, in fact, you know, if there is a iron rule of ethics or reform, it’s that reform always disappoints. I mean, you go back all the way through American history. We can make incremental progress, but separating money and power is something that simply is—I mean, a century ago there was a senator during the progressive era who said the purification of politics is an iridescent dream, and it is. I think the American people recognize that there’s always going to be ways for people with interests to influence legislators. The question is, how does that private interest get balanced against the public interest? And there ultimately is something that voters, I think more than courts or prosecutors, have to judge. I mean, if there is an answer to the sense that Washington is overrun by special interests, it’s voters holding accountable individual legislators who they feel have—have crossed that line. That is going to change behavior on Capitol Hill, I think, much more than any kind of ethics reform.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And we certainly see that in the priority rankings of Americans. Ethics and lobbying don’t rank very high; however, they’re contributing to the souring of this mood, as you saw from some of the quotes that you read from—from Republican members. That’s a problem for Republicans as Democrats have built this lead in the generic vote.

MR. RUSSERT: And...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And that’s—oh excuse me, Tim—I think that’s the real danger for Republicans. It’s not so much that Democrats are going to be able to say, “We’re clean; they’re dirty.” When you look at polling there’s--70 percent of the country consistently says both parties are equally prone to problems. What you’ve got, though, is a sense that Washington isn’t working, it isn’t solving or dealing with the problems of ordinary people, and that is producing a very strong sense of disapproval of Congress; 35 percent approval rating, or lower, in polling 60 percent of the country saying we’re on the wrong track. Democrats aren’t winning any popularity contests either, but as the party in power, holding all the branches of government, Republicans clearly have the most to fear from that kind of tide.

MR. RUSSERT: But Democrats get hopping mad if anyone suggests that this is anything more than a Republican scandal.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, the Abramoff scandal is fundamentally a Republican scandal, but the issue of lobbying and the relationship between lobbyists and members of Congress, that’s very bipartisan. So it’s a question of which scandal you’re talking about. I think one of the most interesting things from your interview with Congressman Boehner is the idea that earmark reform, which in our poll ranked among—by voters as the most important thing that they thought could be done, I think he may be serious, and the Republican conference may be serious, about injecting more transparency, and that would, that would affect the number of these earmarks to get into bills.

MR. RUSSERT: Energy. The President stood before the country and the world and offered this promise at the State of the Union message:

(Videotape, State of the Union Address, Tuesday)

PRES. BUSH: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: But this was a news story that appeared on almost every paper in the country. Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day: “One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil his energy secretary and national economic adviser said the President didn’t mean it literally. What the President meant, they said was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025. But America would still import oil from the Middle East because that’s where the greatest oil supplies are.” His secretary of energy said this was just an example of what could be.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, oil is fungible, so in the sense that it’s going to come from somewhere. The real question, though, here, I think, is, is this goal ambitious enough? Middle Eastern oil only provides 11 percent through the first 10 months of 200--11 months of 2005 of our total oil consumption. And the real issue with the President’s plan is, is there anything here in the near term that will affect the way Americans consume and use oil? Put a lot of money—he’s proposing to put a lot of money in environmentally-friendly technologies for the long run: more solar, more wind, clean coal, next-generation cars. But what’s missing is any kind of mechanisms in the plan to move these ideas from the lab to the marketplace in any kind of near term. He consistently rejects the idea of any kind of federal nudge on the market: tougher fuel economy standards, requirements for utilities to generate a certain amount of their power from renewable energies.

MR. RUSSERT: Government fleet.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Government fleet. He does not—there’s nothing here that will sort of bring this in the near term. It sort of seems to me like, if you have a house, your house—your energy bills are too high, you can either say, “I’m going to start saving so that in 10 years I can buy a better house,” or you could money into your—windows and your insulation today. He chose the first course here, and I think some of the debate will be “Can we do better in any kind of intermediate term?”

MR. HARWOOD: Tim, I don’t know if you’ve cued up the previous statements by the President in earlier State of the Unions about reducing dependence on foreign oil, but he’s said it every single time he’s gone before the Congress. So I think members of Congress don’t take too seriously the idea that this is a fundamental shift in policy. But Republicans on the Hill, they want a fewer—a little less of throwing the long bomb and a little more Jerome Bettis up the middle.

MR. RUSSERT: Mm-hmm.

MR. HARWOOD: So their idea is that—focusing on health care, on education, on competitiveness, on energy, while trying to exploit the President’s advantages on national security, pressing his Iraq policy, which he was most passionate about, and pressing that—the definition of the NSA wiretap issue, that’s what they want as a prescription for trying to recover a little bit politically.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it worse for Republicans, with a congressman I quoted from Wisconsin in the first segment, was that, if this is a referendum in November of ‘06 on Iraq and corruption, there’s trouble?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, I think the Republican—the President’s State of the Union was probably a good indicator of where the Republican psyche is at this point, as John said. There was a real contrast on—on Iraq, national security, bright lines, tough, the President confident, that we’ve seen in the five years, wanting to draw a big contrast to the Democrats. Very cautious and chasten on domestic policy. A year ago, he wanted to remake Social Security, now he wanted to restudy it. It’s a sign that they’ve been forced to lower their sights somewhat, trim their sails, at a lower approval rating going into the election year.

MR. HARWOOD: And he wants to unplug some of the electricity to the polarization in Washington, that’s why you saw a lot of outreach to Democrats. That’s not helping the Republicans, they’re trying to put the temperature down just a little bit.

MR. RUSSERT: John Harwood, Ron Brownstein, thank you. To be continued. We’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: for nearly three years, this Republican from Texas, Tom "The Hammer" Delay, was the leader of House Republicans. He has now stepped aside. This Republican from Ohio is the new majority leader of the House of Representatives. Our guest, in his first live Sunday morning interview, Congressman John Boehner. Then, on Monday, Senate hearings on whether President Bush has the authority to authorize eavesdropping on domestic calls without a warrant. With us, the man in charge of those hearings, Judiciary Hearing Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. And in our political roundtable, insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal.

But first, on Thursday, Republicans elected their new majority leader. His name is John Boehner of the state of Ohio, and he is here with us this morning.

Mr. Leader, welcome.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-Ohio): Good to be back, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Are the Republicans in trouble?

REP. BOEHNER: I think that we need to restore our--the trust between the Congress and the American people. And clearly for Republicans, I think we need to get back on offense and deal with the big issues the American people sent us here to deal with. And to the extent that they see us dealing with the anxieties that they're feeling in their own lives, if they see us dealing with those issues over the course of this year, I think we'll be fine.

MR. RUSSERT: It was interesting reading some of the speeches that were given in the conference during your election. This was Congressman Paul Ryan from the Frist district of Wisconsin, "Friends, we're in trouble. A poll was done last weekend in our 25 most vulnerable districts, and trust me it doesn't look good." And then this from Congressman Mark Souder from Indiana, "Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not made up by the Democrats. We were put in power to be different. What has happened to us? Our entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large percent of our own supporters, think we have been corrupted as a party. Our re-election numbers are now lower than the Democrats' were in '94. When voters in swing districts were asked, the two things they associated with our Republican Congress were Iraq and corruption."

Let me ask first about Iraq. John Warner, Republican, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made this observation. He "said that widespread corruption and criminality were `pushing Iraq down into a morass.'" He said "corruption in Iraq was increasing. `The corruption, the payoffs, the graft--all this is just, in a sense, overlaying the courageous work of coalition forces.' Warner painted a grim picture of American forces increasingly diverted from battling insurgents in Iraq so they could deal with corruption-linked violence."

Today The New York Times reports that 40 to 50 percent of the--of money skimmed illegally from oil sales in Iraq is now going to the insurgents. So we liberated a country and the oil sales, a portion of them, is being used to finance an insurrection to kill our own troops.

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, we--we are in Iraq for the right reasons, to help bring democracy to a part of the world that's never known it. Now, we've seen this increasingly instable, or lack of stability, in the Middle East. And if we can build this democracy in Iraq, it will clearly spread. This is a long-term commitment. And helping the Iraqi people learn to govern themselves is not easy. But the effort here is meaningful, worthwhile, and it may not benefit our generation, but for our kids and theirs, this may be the greatest gift that we give them.

MR. RUSSERT: But as majority leader of your party, you have to see these numbers. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. We asked people all across the country: maintain current troop level, 28 percent; reduce the number of U.S. troops, 66 percent. A majority of conservatives say reduce the number of troops. And then this question: Will the war in Iraq come to a successful conclusion? Yes, 36; no, 53. Are your members concerned about that pessimism?

REP. BOEHNER: I think they are. But I think that the administration is on the right path. I think the raining--the training of Iraqi forces continues to go well. And if it continues to go well and if the--the--the amount of violence continues to go down, I think we'll be able to see some reductions in troops next year. But winning is more important than--than bringing our boys and girls home early. We've got a big investment here, and I think the American people want us to see through on this investment, to help us succeed, because it's our kids and grandkids who will be the big beneficiaries.

MR. RUSSERT: If the situation in Iraq in November of this year is like it is today, will Republicans pay a price at the polls?

REP. BOEHNER: I think we will.

MR. RUSSERT: Iran: Is the United States prepared to take military action against Iran if they continue to insist on building nuclear weapons?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't think that's necessary. We've been involved in diplomatic efforts over the last several years to bring Iran into the world community. And I think the U.N. has stepped up, and I'm, frankly, surprised and--and happy about the fact that the U.N. has taken forceful steps, and looks clear this morning that Iran is--is beginning to--to accede to the demands of the U.N.

MR. RUSSERT: But, if need be, you think we're capable of having the war in Iraq and also having military action against Iran?

REP. BOEHNER: I think that's premature. I think the diplomatic efforts have gone well, and I hope they continue to go well.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to domestic spending. Headlines all across the country today, the President planning to ask for $30 billion to $35 billion reductions in Medicare costs. And this headline: On Wednesday, the House approved $39 billion budget savings package. "The deepest cuts--$12.7 billion over five years--were exacted on the government's student loan programs." The President's calling for more research, more investment, math, science. Why would you cut student loan programs?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, we didn't. You know, I authored that section of--of the bill. We were able to expand benefits for students, higher loan limits, lower origination fees, and yet reform the program and take $12.7 billion from those private lenders who run the program.

MR. RUSSERT: But kids may have to pay much higher interest rates.

REP. BOEHNER: The agreement on the interest rates was agreed to in 2001 that, in July of this year, interest rate would go to 6.8 percent. I--I wanted to go with a variable rate over the next five years, but it was Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman George Miller and others, all the student groups, who insisted on having a fixed rate. And the fact is we were able to expand benefits for students and reform the program and save $12.7 billion. And it's exactly what the taxpayers expect--expect of us. We're going to spend probably $10 billion more this year on student loans and, over the next five years, save this $12.7 billion.

MR. RUSSERT: But many Americans who see these headlines, Congressman, say, well, why tinker with student loans, why tinker with Medicare, when they see this in The Wall Street Journal: "The smell of bacon. 1995, the number of earmarked projects before Congress 1439, total $10 billion. Last year, nearly 14,000 individual earmarked projects by members of Congress, $27 billion." That's a lot of money.

REP. BOEHNER: That's a lot of money.

MR. RUSSERT: And for programs that are difficult--some of them are difficult to defend.

REP. BOEHNER: Very difficult to defend.

MR. RUSSERT: So why would you go after student loans or Medicare rather than eliminate earmarked projects?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, the American people know that our government's too big and it spends too much, and they expect Congress to do something about it. I've never asked for one of those projects over the 15 years that I've been in the Congress. I told my constituents in 1990, when I was running for Congress, that, "If you think my job is to rob the federal Treasury on your behalf, you're voting for the wrong guy." I was up-front and honest with them, and I've kept my promise to them. I've never asked...

MR. RUSSERT: Should they be eliminated?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't know that it's appropriate to eliminate all of them. I think what we need to do is we need to reduce the number of--of earmarks, we need to bring more transparency to the process and more accountability: who authored them, what's the public purpose, is it a federal purpose? And I think, through that process, we can bring a lot more accountability and lower the number of earmarks in all of these bills.

MR. RUSSERT: You think they'll be reduced significantly?

REP. BOEHNER: I do.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's turn to the whole issue of lobbyists, corruption, travel, congressional travel. Speaker Hastert, your boss, had a proposal on the table, which you dismissed as childish.

REP. BOEHNER: That's not true, Tim. That's not true. What I said were there were a lot of childish proposals out there. We've gotten proposals from the Democrat leadership, the House leadership, every group known to man, and that's what I was referring to.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, here's exactly what the article said: "`House Speaker Dennis Hastert's proposal to end all privately funded trips would be counterproductive,' Boehner said. `Members could be required to seek pre-approval from the House Ethics Committee of any trip,' he said. But he added `Members need to understand what's happening in the world. They need to understand what's happening with industry. That won't happen if they're locked up in a cubbyhole here in the Capitol.'" And you went on to say, "We shouldn't be treated like children."

REP. BOEHNER: That comment was made several weeks ago, all right? Denny Hastert and I are very close friends, we've worked together closely over the last 15 years, and we're going to continue to work closely together. He's the boss. And he and David Dreier have worked on a package of ethics and lobby reforms. We're--Mr. Dreier is now working with Democrats, trying to come together with a package. And we need to allow the members to engage in this process, to come up with a package that's real. Not something that looks good and sounds good, but something that will, in fact, bring greater transparency to the relationship between members of Congress and those who lobby us.

MR. RUSSERT: But the speaker did want to eliminate privately funded travel for congressmen, and you...

REP. BOEHNER: I've got, I've got my doubts about that, but that doesn't mean that he and I don't feel strongly that we've got to have a lobby reform bill passed the Congress here in the next several months.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say you have your doubts, many point to your own behavior. From 535 members of Congress, John Boehner ranked number 10 according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which did analysis of this. Over the last five years they say John Boehner received trips which would equal $157,000, privately funded. And they point out where you went, which is--and here's, here's a list,. Congressmen Boehner: White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, where the Green Briar Resort is, eight times; Boca Raton, Florida, six times; Scottsdale, Arizona, four times; Monterey/Pebble Beach, California twice; Edinburgh, Scotland, home of St. Andrew's Golf Course, twice. Foreign travel: Rome, Venice, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona.

To the American people looking at that, they're saying those aren't exactly the global hot spots in terms of conflict. But they are places that you'd want to go and relax or play golf.

REP. BOEHNER: People want--people invite me to give speeches. And, and as you know Tim, you know, I've got 11 brothers and sisters, my dad owned a bar. What you see is what you get. And I've got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town, with my colleagues, with the press, and with my constituents. And, and as a result, you know, people invite me to go give speeches, and I go give them. And you also learn a lot about these industries. It's easy to point out where I've gone around the world, but when you start to look at the people that I've worked with--you know, going to, to Scotland with the Transatlantic Policy Network. Now, understanding the relationship between members of the European Union and members of Congress, and trying to build closer ties, this is something that's very beneficial for members of Congress. And I believe that--that--that privately funded travel ought to be pre-cleared. There ought to be a good public purpose in members going on a trip, and if there isn't, then they shouldn't go.

MR. RUSSERT: Many voters will say, Congressman, rather than going to a plush resort, why don't you just meet these guys in your office?

REP. BOEHNER: These industry meetings occur in nice places. And--and that's where the--that's where the events are, that's where the speeches are. And if you get invited, you got to decide whether you can go or not go, or whether it's worthwhile.

MR. RUSSERT: You said this, according to The Washington Post: "`Yes, I'm cozy with lobbyists,' Boehner told lowmakers--lawmakers concerned about his K Street lobbyist connections, `but I have never done anything unethical.'" Is that the standard?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, everything I've ever done in my entire political career has been to the benefit of my constituents and the American people. They're the ones who dictate what I do every day. I know who I am, and I know why I'm here, not because I wanted to be a Congressman, but because I wanted to do things on behalf of my constituents and the American people. And I--there's nothing in my entire political career, no decision I've ever made, where they weren't the winners.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would be against eliminating private funding of trips for Congressmen.

REP. BOEHNER: I think having pre-approval of these trips would be a more forthright way to go.

MR. RUSSERT: By whom? A board of public integrity, or your fellow Congressmen?

REP. BOEHNER: No, I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it's working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules. And frankly I don't think I've ever gone on a trip when I didn't ask the Ethics Committee for their advice before I went.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, why not an independent board?

REP. BOEHNER: Congress is charged, the members are charged, House and Senate, with setting up their own rules and enforcing their rules. If you bring more transparency to this relationship between those who lobby us and members, more transparency with what members are doing on trips, I think let the public decide.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the other areas that--people who are watching this would like to reform, the amount of money lobbyists spend at conventions. And they point to the vast number of parties, money spent at both political party conventions. According to your hometown paper, "One of the most famous parties at the Republican Convention simply known as the `Boehner party,' thrown every night until the wee hours. It's in John Boehner's honor, and is organized by lobbyists." Would you eliminate those?

REP. BOEHNER: I would--if I--it were up to me I'd, frankly, think--rethink the whole convention process. You know, back in the old...

MR. RUSSERT: Eliminate lobbyist money.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, now, I don't even know why we have these conventions any more. You know, back in the old days, it was--it was--they were real conventions, they made real decisions. Now they're made-for-TV events and a large number of parties. I go to bed every night at 10:00. These conventions that require me to be up much later than that are very difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you eliminate lobby-sponsoring parties honoring congressmen every night at these political conventions?

REP. BOEHNER: That'd be fine with me. Then I could go to bed on time.

MR. RUSSERT: There was a big episode in your life back in 1995 when there was--Bob Herbert in The New York Times wrote a column about something you did. I want to find out what you learned from it. Here's how Herbert wrote it. "One day last summer, 1995 Representative John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, decided to play Santa Claus. He took it upon himself to begin handing out money from tobacco lobbyists to certain of his colleagues in the House floor. He was not deterred by the fact that the House was in session, and that he was supposed to be attending to the nation's business. He was not constrained by any sense that passing money around the floor of the House of Representatives was a sacrilege."

REP. BOEHNER: It was a big mistake, and I regret it. I shouldn't have done it. It was an old practice that had gone on in the House for a long time, and I do regret it. But I also worked with Speaker Gingrich at the time to change the rules of the House to prohibit the practice. And now if you look, when we pass the new rules in the next Congress, handing out a PAC check on or near the House floor is prohibited.

MR. RUSSERT: You gave $5,000 from your PAC--leadership PAC to Tom DeLay's defense fund.

REP. BOEHNER: I did.

MR. RUSSERT: You think Tom DeLay's innocent?

REP. BOEHNER: I do think he's innocent.

MR. RUSSERT: If he is acquitted and chooses to come back to Washington and wants to become majority leader again, would you step aside?

REP. BOEHNER: I'm sure we'll talk about it. Tom and I have a different approach.

MR. RUSSERT: You would talk about it?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Tom and I have--have different approaches. But I think what's going on in Texas with Tom DeLay is unfortunate, unfair and highly partisan. And that's why I gave him that money out of my PAC, to help him pay for his tremendous legal costs.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he's acquitted and decided to come back to Washington and reclaim the majority leader position, you would consider...

REP. BOEHNER: Under--he stepped down as majority leader. He vacated his seat. We had an election, and I won. But I like Tom DeLay. He's been a great leader for our party. He's a friend of mine, and we're going to continue to work closely together.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you step aside for him?

REP. BOEHNER: I said we would talk about it.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about Jack Abramoff, because his name, lobbyist, "The Shadow," hangs over Congress. According again to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "John Boehner's Freedom Project PAC got $27,500 from the Chippewa tribe, Choctaw Indians and other tribes in California, Louisiana" that Jack Abramoff represented.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, also Republican, had received some $18,000 from clients of Jack Abramoff. He gave the money back because he was concerned about the perception. Will you give the money back?

REP. BOEHNER: No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff. I didn't know Jack Abramoff. I may have met him once. I had no relationship to him, and the money that I raised from those tribes had nothing to do with him. I worked with those Indian tribes and others on education issues, on labor issues, and he had nothing to do with it, so why would I--why would I give the money back?

MR. RUSSERT: But had you ever received a nickel from those tribes before they were represented by Jack Abramoff?

REP. BOEHNER: I have no idea.

MR. RUSSERT: The answer's no.

REP. BOEHNER: I--well, no. Other people represented those tribes as well. Understand, Jack Abramoff, knowing that I...

MR. RUSSERT: But they didn't give you--they didn't give you money until they were represented by Abramoff.

REP. BOEHNER: No. I became chairman of the Educational Workforce Committee in 2001, where I began to work closely with them on their issues. I had nothing--Jack Abramoff didn't like me. I didn't do earmarks, the things that he exploited for his own political and financial gain.

MR. RUSSERT: According to his records, however, there were 17 contacts between his lobbying team and your staff and--and a meeting with you also.

REP. BOEHNER: Some of his under--underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office. I'm telling you, I never met the man. The money didn't come through him. And, frankly, I think four out of the five tribes have written us a letter at our request saying that the money they gave had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Newt Gingrich, the former speaker. This is what Newt Gingrich has said. He "cautioned Republicans that they risk losing control of Congress majorities--congressional majorities if they try to put all the blame on lobbyists. `You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have corrupt member of Congress or a corrupt staff. This was a team effort,' Gingrich said. `If Republicans intend to retain a majority, then they need to take the lead in saying to the country we need to clean this mess up. But any effort to push this under the rug, to say this is just one bad apple: That's baloney.'"

REP. BOEHNER: That's correct. What we need to do, and I agree with Newt's approach here. Because it all starts with the member and the staff. And what we need to do is to make sure our members understand what the rules are, understand what's ethical behavior. Because if we don't begin the process ourselves, we'll never restore the trust between the American people and their Congress.

MR. RUSSERT: So you don't want to eliminate private funded trips. You do not want to have an independent office of public integrity. What do you want other than immediate disclosure?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, all of the violations that we've read about and the corruption we've read about, were people who violated the laws of the United States of America and/or the rules of the House. All of--all of this. And so, as we begin to look at how do we best clean this up and how do we begin the process of restoring trust, I think sunlight is the best disinfectant. If there's more disclosure of travel before you go, more disclosure of the relationship between lobbyists and members and their staff, let the American people take a look at this, let them watch it and let them judge what we're doing, I think that will reduce the amount of corruption and graft that goes on.

MR. RUSSERT: Majority Leader John Boehner, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views.

REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, domestic eavesdropping, terrorist surveillance, whatever the name, is it legal? Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania holds hearings starting tomorrow. But this morning, he's right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter holds hearings tomorrow on domestic surveillance. He's here this morning after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

Senator Arlen Specter, good morning. Welcome. Tomorrow you...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA): Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Tomorrow you have your hearings on domestic eavesdropping.

SEN. SPECTER: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: What is the one most important question you will ask?

SEN. SPECTER: Why the administration did not go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and tell them about the program. They have a great record for not leaking. They're experts in the field. The program could've been presented there, still could be. And I think that's the biggest question the administration has to answer.

MR. RUSSERT: The administration says that they didn't need to, that they already had authority from Congress when, back in October 2002, Congress voted an authorization to go to war against Iraq, and this is part of that war.

SEN. SPECTER: I believe that contention is very strained and unrealistic. The authorization for the use of force doesn't say anything about electronic surveillance, issue was never raised with the Congress. And there is a specific statute on the books, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says flatly that you can't undertake that kind of surveillance without a court order.

MR. RUSSERT: The White House also says that they didn't go to Congress because people in Congress told them that they would compromise this surveillance plan if they requested permission to conduct it.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the administration also has said, Attorney General Gonzalez has been questioned, reported, and I asked this in a letter I sent to him, saying that if the administration went to Congress, they were likely to be denied the authority. So, it's very hard in that kind of a context to claim that Congress intended to give the authority if the administration thought that Congress would turn it down.

Now, on the issue as to whether the program would be compromised, you don't know that until the administration goes to the Intelligence Committees, or the chairmen and the ranking, and lays the program on the line with sufficient detail so that there can be some Congressional oversight. And I think up until this time, Tim, that's never been done.

MR. RUSSERT: The President has said that there have been at least 12 briefings of senior members of Congress.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the statute requires that the committee be informed. And the committee constitutes 15 members. And they have the so-called "gang of eight": the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees of each House, and the majority leader and the Democratic leader in each House. That really is not--is not what the statute requires. And if the administration thinks that's too broad because the Congress leaks, and regrettably that's a fact of life, we ought to change the law. They've never asked us to do that. And I think we would do that if they could have a showing that a more restrictive approach is warranted.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, this program began shortly after September 11, 2001. The President, when he ran for re-election in 2004 was up in the great city of Buffalo, New York, on April 20. And this is exactly what he said. Let's watch.

(Videotape, April 20, 2004)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, by the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wire tap, it requires--a wire tap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Was that misleading?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends on what the President had in mind. I think it's a fair question for the President. If the President was talking about what goes on domestically in the United States, I think it is accurate. If he had in mind the entire program, including what goes on when one of the callers or recipients is overseas, it's incorrect.

MR. RUSSERT: He said, "A wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. We're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends, as I've just said, on what he had in mind. If you're talking about a wiretap in the United States, he's accurate; if you're talking about the broader program, he's inaccurate. That'd be a good question to pose to the President, Tim, at his next news conference. Can't ask me, because I'm not the President.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, tomorrow you will see the attorney general, Mr. Gonzales. At his confirmation hearing in 2005 Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin asked him about doing eavesdropping, surveillance, without a search warrant, and Gonzales said, "That's a hypothetical question," while the program was in place and ongoing.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I have reviewed that transcript, and I think the attorney general is under an obligation to face that question. They had an extended discussion about torture and about electronic surveillance, and the attorney general did talk about a hypothetical question, and I think that's fair game. And I'm sure--I'm going to defer to Senator Feingold on that, that's his issue, but let's see what the attorney general has to say. I think--I think that's a fair question.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, passed by Congress, signed by President Jimmy Carter. That law says that you can go forward with eavesdropping without a court warrant as long as you go back to the foreign--the FISA court, as it's called, within 72 hours. What have you heard from the administration as to why they did not choose to take that path?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, that was one of the questions I posed in a detailed letter I sent some time ago to the attorney general, and he wasn't entirely responsive, but the thrust of what he had to say was that it was too massive to undertake and too complicated and it would have resulted in delays. His answer wasn't very clear, and that's why we're having the--the hearing to go into it.

I think this issue, Tim, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is really big, big, big, because the President--the administration could take this entire program and lay it on the line to that court and go through what is involved in some detail, but they don't want to deal with Congress because of leaks. That court has really an outstanding record of not leaking, out of being experts, and they would be preeminently well-qualified to evaluate this program and either say it's OK or it's not OK. And if they said it was OK, it would give the American people great reassurance; and if they said it wasn't OK, knowing all the facts, then that ought to be changed.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you asked the administration, the President, to take the program and present it to the court?

SEN. SPECTER: Yeah, I have. I did that, in effect, in the letter that I sent to the attorney general, and his answer was unresponsive, simply said something like, "Well, we'll exhaust all alternatives." But that's going to be my lead question to the attorney general tomorrow.

MR. RUSSERT: When President Carter signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into law, he had a presidential signing statement, and in that signing statement he said this, quote, "It clarifies the executive's authority to gather foreign intelligence by electric surveillance in the United States," suggesting that any inherent powers in Article 2 of the Constitution, or other--other legislation, that this, this FISA law, was central and now would be controlling. Do you agree with that?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I think that it's a very powerful statement when the President--Carter at the time--signed it, and said that that was the way electronic surveillance ought to be conducted, and only with a warrant. And that was a presidential concession as to who had the authority. Congress exercised it by passing the law, and the President submitted to it.

Now, there is an involved question here, Tim, which we're going to get into in some depth, as to whether the President's powers under Article 2, his inherent powers, supercede a statute. If a statute is inconsistent with the Constitution, the Constitution governs and the constitutional powers predominate. But here you have the President signing on and saying this is it, and that's why I've been so skeptical of the program because it is in flat violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but that's not the end of the discussion. There's a lot more to follow, and we won't be able to cover it all here this evening--today, this morning, but we're going to have a hearing tomorrow and some more hearings after that because of the importance of this issue and because of its complexity and depth.

MR. RUSSERT: In those future hearings, will you call former President Carter to get his insights?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I'm--I'm thinking about it. We haven't really faced up to all the witnesses that we're going to have in the future, but I've been discussing that, and it's on the agenda for consideration.

MR. RUSSERT: Some of your Democratic colleagues, including Chuck Schumer of New York, have said that the White House has been reluctant in giving classified legal opinions and documents on the spying program. He says, quote, "Without the Justice Department memos and without more witnesses, it's hard to see how anything other than the rehashing of the administration lying is going to happen. I'm worried that these hearings could end up telling us very little when the American people are thirsty to find out what happened here."

Will you demand, even subpoena...

SEN. SPECTER: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: ...even subpoena from the administration these legal opinions?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, let's start out with Senator Schumer's statement that the hearings won't show anything. I think he's wrong. He'll have a question--he'll have an opportunity to question the attorney general at length, and we'll--we'll go into that. Will I consider a subpoena? Yeah, I'd consider it, depending on whether we need it. Let's hear from the attorney general as to what he has to say before we jump to conclusions and start to demand a--a subpoena. And Senator Schumer knows that when you deal with legal advice and memoranda within the Department of Justice, that you want to have the lawyers there express themselves openly and candidly, and there's always been a rule against disclosing those internal memoranda out of concern about having a chilling effect.

Now we're not--we're not we dealing here with the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts, where Senator Schumer wanted to have his internal memoranda, giving us some insights into his thinking as to what he'd do as a justice, we're talking about legal analysis. And Senators Schumer and Arlen Specter can undertake that legal analysis as well as anybody else. We're talking about the law and an interpretation of statutes and cases. But listen, if we come to it and we need it, I'll be open about it. I was willing to call for these hearings in a very difficult climate, and if the necessity arises, I won't be timid.

MR. RUSSERT: For asking for a subpoena?

SEN. SPECTER: Right.

Mr. RUSSERT: Let me turn to an article I read in Newsweek magazine, headlined "Spying: Bush vs. Lawyers." And it goes as follows: "In March 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital with a serious pancreatic condition. At Justice, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Ashcroft's number 2, was acting attorney general. Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith raised with Comey serious questions about the secret eavesdropping program, according to two sources familiar with the episode. He was joined by a former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Patrick Philbin, who had become national security aide to the deputy attorney general. Comey backed them up. The White House was told no reauthorization of the program. A high-level delegation--White House Counsel then Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card--visited Ashcroft in the hospital to appeal Comey's refusal. In pain and on medication, Ashcroft stood by his number 2."

Now, this is John Ashcroft, James Comey, Jack Goldsmith, Mr. Philbin--Patrick Philbin, all former workers at, lawyers at the Justice Department, all Bush appointees, but no longer there. Will you bring them before your committee and ask them why they opposed this program?

SEN. SPECTER: I'm considering it, and I've already initiated discussions in--in that direction. There's no doubt that Attorney General Ashcroft was involved in the process, as was his deputy, James Comey. I do think they have relevant information, and, and we're pursuing it.

MR. RUSSERT: Speaking of subpoenas, this article also captured my attention: CIA Director Porter Goss said, quote, "It is my aim, it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present, being asked to reveal who is leaking this information." Do you believe it's a good idea to subpoena reporters and ask them where they got information which they published about this eavesdropping program?

SEN. SPECTER: Tim, I think that has to be approached very circumspectly. We have had hearings in the Judiciary Committee on the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. And I think if you move into an area of really serious national security issues, that there may be a justification for it. I'm not prepared to commit on that, but if you're in an area of showing obstruction of justice, which is what--what we ended up with on the jailing of The New York Times reporter, I don't think so. I think that you have to be involved in something very serious on a national security line, and that's something that I think ought to be considered if that threshold standard is met.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, the day after you were elected back--re-elected back in '04, you talked about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade and said this, "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think it is unlikely" that they would be selected for the Court, in effect. You voted for Judge Samuel Alito to become Justice Alito. Are you absolutely certain, absolutely convinced that he will not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. SPECTER: You didn't quote me quite accurately, Tim. I said I thought the President would have to be mindful of that issue in selecting Supreme Court nominees. Am I certain that Justice Alito will not vote to overturn Roe? No. Listen, guarantees don't come with Supreme Court nominations. Guarantees, as I've said before, are for used cars and washing machines. I questioned Justice Alito for about 20 minutes on the issue of Roe vs. Wade, and I thought that he addressed it as far as he could go. He talked about his respect for the precedence for Roe, for the follow-up case on Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, about reliance and about what is embedded in the culture of our community. And he had--we had judges who know him very well from the court of appeals who worked with him for years. He said he had no agenda and no preconceptions. And I concluded that he'd give that question a fair hearing and a fair determination. But no guarantees, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you be disappointed if he does vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, Tim, I'll tell you. I have great respect for separation of powers. President's got his job, I've got mine and the Supreme Court has theirs. My own view is that Roe vs. Wade is secure in the culture of our country. So I'm going to do my job and take my chances.

MR. RUSSERT: And I bet you hope the Pittsburgh Steelers do their job today.

SEN. SPECTER: I'm rooting for the Steelers. My only regret, Tim, is that this hearing was set on 9:30 tomorrow morning, and the earliest I could get back from Detroit was about 3 a.m., so I'll be watching it on television.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Specter, thanks very much. And we'll be covering that hearing tomorrow.

SEN. SPECTER: Thank you for the invitation. Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

Gentlemen, let me show you the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on domestic wiretap program sponsored by the President. Fifty-one approve, 46 disapprove. Ron Brownstein, has the President turned the corner on that?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: I think as the issue is now defined, the polls have been very consistent from the very beginning. That's one of about five or six polls that have shown a narrow plurality of majority supporting it. And I don't think the Judiciary Committee hearing at least as it's structured is likely to change that. If the debate is over whether the President has this authority or not, I think that the evidence is from the polling slightly more Americans say yes then no. What might change it is evidence about how the program was actually implemented and used and whether it caught more Americans in its net than the administration has suggested, as suggested in a story by The Washington Post today. Those are the kind of questions that might move public opinion I think more than what the Judiciary Committee is likely to debate.

MR. RUSSERT: John Harwood, the administration is going to say the President has this power, Article 2, and the authorization that Congress passed after September 11th involving Afghanistan and worldwide--not just Iraq as I said in the previous segment--segment. It was after September 11th. Is that going to fly, or is it--does it all hinge on what the Supreme Court decides? If the Supreme Court ever came down and said, "Mr. President, you violated the Constitution," what happens?

MR. HARWOOD: Well they'd have big problems at that point, and that's where the effort legislatively to give him the authority would get serious. I think the interesting near-term question from these hearings is whether or not there is any serious push by Specter or by Democrats with Specter's support, we'll see, to try to legislate this authority for the President. The White House doesn't want that to happen, but I think they're in a more difficult position if Congress says, "You say you've got the authority; we want to make it explicit," and he says, "No, thanks."

MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, given the strategy of the Republicans in Congress and their relationship with Bush over these five years, it really does feel that if this is going to be resolved it's going to have to be at the Supreme Court. It's hard for me to see how this Republican-majority Senate engineers a full-scale confrontation with the President over this.

MR. RUSSERT: U.S. troops in Iraq: maintain current levels 28; reduce the number, 66. The exact poll I showed Congressman Boehner. He was very candid. Status quo exists in Iraq. On Novem--in November of this year a problem for his members.

MR. HARWOOD: No doubt about it, and I think one of the fascinating things we saw in our poll, Tim, was the results of the President's offensive in November and December on Iraq. Our pollsters, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, said they thought all those victory signs appearing behind the President at those speeches may have had the opposite effect the President intended. That is to say, not "We're winning, therefore we should stay there," but "We're winning, now it's time to get out." And we're seeing this number climb. It's a big problem for Republicans, and they're not eager to have a big debate on this $90 billion supplemental spending for Iraq at the same time the President's coming out with an ag--with a budget proposal next week that's going to cut Medicare and many other programs.

MR. RUSSERT: Another big problem: lobbying. Jack Abramoff, scandals.

Ron Brownstein, which party's more influenced by special interests and lobbyists. People say Republicans, 36; Democrats, 22. Considerable change from some nine years ago when the Democrats had the edge on that, if you will. But look at this question. Lobbying reform: Will new laws make a difference? Sixty-five percent of the American people say no.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And, in fact, you know, if there is a iron rule of ethics or reform, it's that reform always disappoints. I mean, you go back all the way through American history. We can make incremental progress, but separating money and power is something that simply is--I mean, a century ago there was a senator during the progressive era who said the purification of politics is an iridescent dream, and it is. I think the American people recognize that there's always going to be ways for people with interests to influence legislators. The question is, how does that private interest get balanced against the public interest? And there ultimately is something that voters, I think more than courts or prosecutors, have to judge. I mean, if there is an answer to the sense that Washington is overrun by special interests, it's voters holding accountable individual legislators who they feel have--have crossed that line. That is going to change behavior on Capitol Hill, I think, much more than any kind of ethics reform.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And we certainly see that in the priority rankings of Americans. Ethics and lobbying don't rank very high; however, they're contributing to the souring of this mood, as you saw from some of the quotes that you read from--from Republican members. That's a problem for Republicans as Democrats have built this lead in the generic vote.

MR. RUSSERT: And...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And that's--oh excuse me, Tim--I think that's the real danger for Republicans. It's not so much that Democrats are going to be able to say, "We're clean; they're dirty." When you look at polling there's--70 percent of the country consistently says both parties are equally prone to problems. What you've got, though, is a sense that Washington isn't working, it isn't solving or dealing with the problems of ordinary people, and that is producing a very strong sense of disapproval of Congress; 35 percent approval rating, or lower, in polling 60 percent of the country saying we're on the wrong track. Democrats aren't winning any popularity contests either, but as the party in power, holding all the branches of government, Republicans clearly have the most to fear from that kind of tide.

MR. RUSSERT: But Democrats get hopping mad if anyone suggests that this is anything more than a Republican scandal.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, the Abramoff scandal is fundamentally a Republican scandal, but the issue of lobbying and the relationship between lobbyists and members of Congress, that's very bipartisan. So it's a question of which scandal you're talking about. I think one of the most interesting things from your interview with Congressman Boehner is the idea that earmark reform, which in our poll ranked among--by voters as the most important thing that they thought could be done, I think he may be serious, and the Republican conference may be serious, about injecting more transparency, and that would, that would affect the number of these earmarks to get into bills.

MR. RUSSERT: Energy. The president stood before the country and the world and offered this promise at the State of the Union message:

(Videotape, State of the Union Address, Tuesday)

PRES. BUSH: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: But this was a news story that appeared on almost every paper in the country. Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day: "One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil his energy secretary and national economic adviser said the President didn't mean it literally. What the President meant, they said was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025. But America would still import oil from the Middle East because that's where the greatest oil supplies are." His secretary of energy said this was just an example of what could be.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, oil is fungible, so in the sense that it's going to come from somewhere. The real question, though, here, I think, is, is this goal ambitious enough? Middle Eastern oil only provides 11 percent through the first 10 months of 200--11 months of 2005 of our total oil consumption. And the real issue with the President's plan is, is there anything here in the near term that will affect the way Americans consume and use oil? Put a lot of money--he's proposing to put a lot of money in environmentally-friendly technologies for the long run: more solar, more wind, clean coal, next-generation cars. But what's missing is any kind of mechanisms in the plan to move these ideas from the lab to the marketplace in any kind of near term. He consistently rejects the idea of any kind of federal nudge on the market: tougher fuel economy standards, requirements for utilities to generate a certain amount of their power from renewable energies.

MR. RUSSERT: Government fleet.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Government fleet. He does not--there's nothing here that will sort of bring this in the near term. It sort of seems to me like, if you have a house, your house--your energy bills are too high, you can either say, "I'm going to start saving so that in 10 years I can buy a better house," or you could money into your--windows and your insulation today. He chose the first course here, and I think some of the debate will be "Can we do better in any kind of intermediate term?"

MR. HARWOOD: Tim, I don't know if you've cued up the previous statements by the President in earlier State of the Unions about reducing dependence on foreign oil, but he's said it every single time he's gone before the Congress. So I think members of Congress don't take too seriously the idea that this is a fundamental shift in policy. But Republicans on the Hill, they want a fewer--a little less of throwing the long bomb and a little more Jerome Bettis up the middle.

MR. RUSSERT: Mm-hmm.

MR. HARWOOD: So their idea is that--focusing on health care, on education, on competitiveness, on energy, while trying to exploit the President's advantages on national security, pressing his Iraq policy, which he was most passionate about, and pressing that--the definition of the NSA wiretap issue, that's what they want as a prescription for trying to recover a little bit politically.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it worse for Republicans, with a congressman I quoted from Wisconsin in the first segment, was that, if this is a referendum in November of '06 on Iraq and corruption, there's trouble?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, I think the Republican--the President's State of the Union was probably a good indicator of where the Republican psyche is at this point, as John said. There was a real contrast on--on Iraq, national security, bright lines, tough, the President confident, that we've seen in the five years, wanting to draw a big contrast to the Democrats. Very cautious and chasten on domestic policy. A year ago, he wanted to remake Social Security, now he wanted to restudy it. It's a sign that they've been forced to lower their sights somewhat, trim their sails, at a lower approval rating going into the election year.

MR. HARWOOD: And he wants to unplug some of the electricity to the polarization in Washington, that's why you saw a lot of outreach to Democrats. That's not helping the Republicans, they're trying to put the temperature down just a little bit.

MR. RUSSERT: John Harwood, Ron Brownstein, thank you. To be continued. We'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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