msnbc.com
updated 6/2/2006 10:54:13 AM ET 2006-06-02T14:54:13

Guests: Hilda Solis, Brad Blakeman, Bernard Kerik, Joseph Crowley, Wade Jessen, Katrina Szish and Al Franken.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, George W. Bush, the worst president since World War II? Well, that’s what a new poll says. But while the president keeps pushing amnesty, the Governator is sending troops to the Mexican border.

And drop dead, New York. The city that suffered the worst terror attack in U.S. history has anti-terror funding stripped by the administration. But don’t worry, friends, Omaha is getting a big increase.

Plus, Chicks get revenge. You know, country music may have declared war on the Dixie Chicks, but now they’re the ones chirping all the way to the bank.

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. No passport required, and also no Doobie Brother covers allowed. Good to have you with us.

We’re going to have all those stories in a minute, but first, more bad news for the president on Iraq, more bad news on the border and more bad news in a new poll commissioned to rate the best and worst presidents since the end of World War II nearly 61 years ago. The greatest president, according to Americans, Ronald Reagan. The worst, George W. Bush, who, believe it or not, friends, ranked even lower than Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. Now, that’s no small feat.

One reason cited by the poll was the war in Iraq. But the president’s popular support is also bleeding away because of his plan to allow 40 million new immigrants into the United States. Now, with 77 percent of Americans supporting a freeze or reduction in immigration levels, it’s no wonder the president’s plan is no wildly unpopular in middle America.

Also today, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered 1,000 troops to the Mexican border, ending a showdown with the White House. And President Bush rallied his troops at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It’s a difficult task. Yet the difficulty of this task is no excuse for avoiding it. The American people expect us to meet our responsibility and deliver immigration reform that fixes the problems in the current system, that upholds our ideals and provides a fair and practical way forward. The United States Congress needs to pass a comprehensive bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH: Now, some say the Chamber supports the president’s plan because illegal immigrants mean cheap labor. So will the president’s political freefall continue so long as he pushes his illegal immigration plan? And will Congress kill the bill before the president even gets a chance to sign it into law?

With me now is U.S. Representative Hilda Solis. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us. The president’s pushing Congress, as you heard today, to pass this bill. A lot of people in Washington, though, are saying it’s simply too hot of an issue to handle in an election year. What do you think?

REP. HILDA SOLIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think that it’s a very important issue. It’s one of those topics that everyone is either hot or cold. It’s an important issue for us here in the nation, especially in California. We have a large number of undocumented people who have lived here for more than five years.

And I think that his program, at least initially, was to try to provide those folks to come out of the shadow, the 11 million or so that have been here five years or more that pay taxes, that live by the rules here, that have many children who were born here and live here and own businesses. And what are you going to do with 11 million people, you know, that are undocumented, deport them? Who’s going to take care of that?  When they are contributing billions of dollars to our economy right now.

I’m not saying that everybody should be given amnesty. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about earned legalization. Play by the rules, pay your taxes, learn English, no criminal background, and get in the back of the line. Provide security at our border, which we know is very important.

But I think that right now, there’s a radical element within the Republican Party that is trying to persuade this president and his party to go the other way. In the end, if this is going to be a punitive measure which came out of the House, the Sensenbrenner bill, which said you criminalize all the undocumented, then I don’t think this is worth doing anything this year. I would say let’s hold off.

SCARBOROUGH: (INAUDIBLE) Congresswoman, you talk about this radical element of the Republican Party. You saw the Pew poll that says 40 percent of Americans want to keep immigration levels frozen, 37 percent actually want — actually, 40 percent want immigration levels decreased, 37 percent want to hold it steady. Only 17 percent support what the president’s talking about doing. Why is it that there’s such a disconnect between what you support and what the president supports and what middle America supports?

SOLIS: Well, I’ll be honest with you. I represent a state that’s very progressive, California, which has the largest number of undocumented people. And we have come to understand the importance of that contribution that they make.

My parents came here 50 years ago as immigrants. They came in legally, but they worked very hard. Many of our soldiers who are defending our freedoms right now don’t even have citizenship. And what do you say about that? What are you going to do, deport their family members when they’re defending us?

I mean, let’s talk realistically about what this immigration reform should be about. Number one, yes, we should raise penalties for those people who employ people illegally. I agree with that. Let’s crack down on them. Let’s put qualified trained border patrol people on the front line, not National Guard. Those people have been on tours two and three terms. They’re going through post-traumatic stress syndrome, coming back from the war. We should be compensating those people, not ...

SCARBOROUGH: And Congresswoman ...

SOLIS:  ... putting them in a position that’s not even adequate.

SCARBOROUGH: I certainly agree with that, Congresswoman. I also agree that instead of just focusing on the illegal immigrants, it’s time to go after the business whose are actually supporting them to come to the United States.

SOLIS: And I would even ...

SCARBOROUGH: If it’s illegal, then certainly, you have to go after — you have to go after the small businesses and the large businesses.

SOLIS: Well, not ...

SCARBOROUGH: Congresswoman, stay with us. I want to bring in right now Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, and also Brad Blakeman. He’s a former adviser to President George W. Bush, who supports this plan.

Let me start with you, Pat Buchanan. You’re outnumbered here 2-to-1, but it seems that an overwhelming majority of Americans support your position. Why is it that there’s such a disconnect between what Washington wants to do, and what California also wants to do, according to the congresswoman, and what middle America thinks?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, middle America wants a couple of things, basically. As you said, they want immigration either maintained at the present levels as legal or reduced. We’ve got 36 million here. It’s time to assimilate them.

Secondly, what do we all agree on, Joe? We all agree that the border’s got to be defended. These armies of the night, six million of them tried to break in under Bush, who were caught. Four million made it.  We all agree that’s got to be stopped.

The president’s problem is he’s with Teddy Kennedy on this issue.  What was he doing today at the Chamber of Commerce, Joe? Why are they for this? Because if you legalize all these folks here, the businessmen get amnesty. They hired them. They cheated. They’ve cheated on their taxes.  It is a blanket amnesty for businessmen!

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH: That’s what the congresswoman said. You know what I’m curious about, though, Pat? I want your personal reaction. You’ve taken a lot of abuse over the years. You’ve been called a racist. You’ve been called a xenophobe. You’ve been called a bigot. You’ve been called just about everything that you can be called for taking a position that, again, according to this Pew poll, nearly 80 percent of Americans support. I just — I’ve got to underline this disconnect. Look, add up the numbers.  Seventeen percent of Americans are against your position and yet, you’ve been attacked for years ...

BUCHANAN: Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... for taking it.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH: Explain this to me.

BUCHANAN: All right. I’ve seen polls going back 10 years, where it shows that the elites — you know, they say immigration is no problem at all, illegal immigration is no problem. Middle America, 60 percent or 70 percent. There is no greater disconnect on an issue than on this issue of immigration and illegal immigration.

And Joe, look, you know, I’ve been called a lot of names, but let me tell you something. You know what I recommended in 1991 when I ran? It wasn’t 700 miles of border, it was 70 miles of fences on the main crossing points and enforce the laws of the United States. Republicans called us names.

After what’s happened to you, Joe, if you’re right, a little bit too ahead of your time (ph). But that doesn’t bother me because this is — the American people got this. And I would just tell the president, You know, Mr. President, give it up. There’s one thing we all agree on. Secure the border. Do your duty. Worry about all your amnesty and all the rest of it next year. Get the job done now!

SCARBOROUGH: Let me bring in Brad Blakeman. Brad, you support the president’s position, also the congresswoman’s position on illegal immigration, and yet you see the president’s poll numbers continuing to tank. Certainly, you have to understand, as does Karl Rove and the White House, that if he takes a position that 77 percent of Americans oppose, his poll numbers are going to go down. I mean, how long is he going to stay with this?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: He’s going to stay with it until the end because he’s right. You know, leadership typically, Joe, is never appreciated in its time. It’s only after a significant period of time, when people say, You know, what George Bush was doing was right. And I think, Joe, if we get a fair and sensible immigration bill, that’s what they’ll say about the president.

So the president isn’t going to change direction just because of a poll because what he’s doing is the right thing. We have to secure the borders. I’m right on with Pat. But we also have to be reasonable and say there are 11 million people here. How do you think they got here? We had a porous border. We turned a blind eye. Why? Because our economy required that these people take the jobs that Americans wouldn’t take.

Now, the president’s plan is not amnesty, it’s opportunity. It’s an opportunity for them to come out of the shadows and legalize their status.

SCARBOROUGH: But Brad, why can’t the president sell that? Because Americans still believe that this is amnesty.

BLAKEMAN: Well, because, you know, there’s an awful lot of disinformation out there. But it’s not amnesty, it’s opportunity. It’s the ability for people to come out of the shadows.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAKEMAN: What do you think, we’re going to kick them all out of the country?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: The president’s got a problem because enforcement of businessmen has fallen something like 97 percent under President Bush from what it was under Clinton. The problem is the Republican Party is in the tank for the business community. You know very well those business guys probably called the White House up and said, Karl, stop hammering or guys on this. We’ve got enough problems. And the president ideologically agrees with Teddy Kennedy, and the monetary interest of the party is there.  The nation agrees with the House.

Joe, let me tell you, if the House stands up and takes this bill down, it’ll be reelected as a Republican house, the only way it will. Stand against the president and for this cause!

SCARBOROUGH: I need to ask the congresswoman, is that going to happen? You’ve said that you would rather no bill pass than the Sensenbrenner bill pass in the House. What’s your prediction? In the end, will we have immigration reform this year?

SOLIS: You know, as long as we keep hearing from people like Pat Buchanan and Congressman Tancredo and others, I’m sorry, I don’t think, realistically, that that’s going to happen. But I do know that there are some civil minds (ph). The new majority leader in the Republican Party, Mr. Boehner, and also Mr. Hastert, have agreed that they have to provide some semblance for a guest worker program and some type of identification for those people that have been here. I’m not saying the 11 million, but I’m saying those people that maybe can participate, those that have been here after five years.

And the other thing I have to be very clear about, the American public cares more about gasoline prices, energy prices, the cost of no health care being provided to millions of Americans, the high cost of medications for people. That’s the real issue.

BUCHANAN: Well, let me tell you ...

SOLIS: And what happened in Katrina?

BUCHANAN: If Hastert ...

SOLIS: Why are we not dealing with that? Why are we not dealing with those issues?

BUCHANAN: If Hastert and Boehner give the president either a guest worker or an amnesty bill, the House goes down, they go down with it, and deservedly so. They’re not going to do it because the party and the country are standing up against the president for once. And they’re going to win this time, I think, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: OK. We’re going to have to leave it there.  Congresswoman Solis, thank you so much for being with us tonight and providing your insights.

SOLIS: Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan and Brad Blakeman, as always, greatly appreciate it. Pat was outnumbered 2-to-1, but you know, he’s an old street fighter.

Coming up next: New York and D.C. told to drop dead by the Department of Homeland Security, who stripped anti-terror funding because it says — I’m not making this up — New York City has no landmarks. Outrage from Gotham, and a man who helped guide that city through its darkest hours coming up.

And taking the long way straight to the top. The Dixie Chicks did it their way and won big. We’ll tell you how they got the last laugh when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: Department of Homeland Security just announced they’re cutting terror funds to New York City and Washington, D.C., each by 40 percent, while jacking up funding for unlikely terror targets like Omaha, Nebraska, and rural Wyoming. It’s another political misstep that has terror victims scratching their heads.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Terror experts are flummoxed by the latest foul-up at the Department of Homeland Security. In an age of terror, where New York City remains terrorists’ top target, the DHS slashed Gotham’s funding to protect against future terror attacks by 40 percent. New York officials are understandably outraged.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: They should have given us a lot more. When you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket, they don’t have a map of any of the other 46 places.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: If they’re serious about fighting terrorism, they have to do more to help the city which is the number one target of terrorism.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I don’t believe the president ought to come back to New York and express solidarity with us until he changes this formula.

SCARBOROUGH: But other out-of-the-way locales fared better in the security sweepstakes. Louisville’s funding up 41 percent, possibly to protect Churchill Downs? Jacksonville, Florida, up 26 percent. St. Louis up 23 percent. But when it came to per capita funding of American cities, the town that became ground zero in the war on terror got less funding than 22 other U.S. towns, leaving New Yorkers feeling as they had in 1975, when another Republican president seemed to be telling Gotham residents, in the words of that famous “Daily News” headline, New York, drop dead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH: With me now, former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. Commissioner, I want you to look at these funding levels endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security today. New York City funds slashed 40 percent. Washington, D.C., funds slashed 40 percent. At the same time, you’ve got increased funding going to cities like Omaha, Nebraska, Jacksonville, Florid — a great town, but doesn’t deserve that — Charlotte, North Carolina. I mean, they’re all being increased. What is the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and President Bush thinking?

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Honestly, Joe, I don’t know. I’ve looked at the numbers all day today. The system that they’ve created is definitely skewed with regard to conducting these evaluations — the risk, the threat assessments. Somebody from DHS last night said that these numbers are put out, they’re based on risk and threat. Well, obviously, there’s a problem with the way they’re conducting their evaluations, their assessments, because if, you know, you look at New York City, you mean to tell me that there’s no risk and there’s no threat to New York, or there’s less of a threat than a lot of these other cities, where New York would be cut 40 percent? New York City and Washington, D.C., were the two principal targets of September 11.

SCARBOROUGH: And Commissioner, they’re still the two principal targets. If you talk to any terror expert, they’ll tell you that’s where the next attacks are coming. And the Associated Press” is reporting today that, quote, “According to the Homeland Security Department, New York” — not making this up — “has no national monuments or icons.” And in response to that claim, Senator Clinton and Representative King drew up these postcards for Secretary Chertoff, to remind him some of New York’s biggest landmarks.

This just sounds like pure bureaucratic incompetency.

KERIK: I don’t know if it’s pure incompetence, Joe, or it’s some kind of political thing against New York City, in reality. I mean, you know, that report says that they have 100 different reviewers. Well, I already have an issue with that, if you have to have 100 people review this document. And if you have 100 people that are looking at the document and they all conclude that there’s no landmarks in New York City, I have an even bigger problem.

I think there’s a problem within management. I think they have to go back and look at the metrics or the indicators that they’re looking at.  When you conduct a risk and security assessment or threat assessment, you have to look at real-time information, you have to look at intelligence, you have to look at history. You don’t have to be a genius to realize New York City has not only been the target once, it’s been twice substantially, hit twice substantially, not to mention the landmarks that they can’t seem to realize are here, like the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel. These things have been targets of al Qaeda in the past. People have been arrested for targeting these places in the past. So what DHS is thinking at this point in time, I have no idea.

SCARBOROUGH: It’s unbelievable, and a Pakistani man arrested just a month ago for targeting New York. Finally, Bernie, I think it’s ironic that you were there on 9/11. You helped, along with Mayor Giuliani, guide New York City and America through, again, one of our darkest times. You were in line for this job. What are you thinking? I mean, obviously, if you had been in this position, you know this would have never happened, right?

KERIK: Honestly, Joe, there’s a major problem with the methodology, in which the way they do this. And I just — from — you know, I — one — you know I never — I would hardly ever criticize the president or DHS. I think these guys do a phenomenal job in what they do. But in this circumstance, there’s a definite problem.

If something like this came across my desk, I would go back to the people that conducted the assessments and say, How do you conduct an assessment and talk about a 40 percent reduction in New York City, in Washington, D.C.? How do you talk about a 30 percent or 40 percent increase in a place like Omaha, where realistically, there are no landmarks, or maybe one or two, compared to 50, 60, 100 in New York City?

SCARBOROUGH: And New York City, and commissioner, landmarks that they didn’t see — I’m with you. I would go talk to them, but I’d tell them, Clear out your desk. Thank a lot, Bernie Kerik. It greatly appreciate you being with us, and I appreciate your service to this country when we needed you the most.

KERIK: Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: Now let’s bring in New York congressman Joseph Crowley.  Congressman, you know, this entire situation reminds me of that famous mid- ’70s headline, President to New York, drop dead. Is that what New York officials are feeling like right now?

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, that’s what I said yesterday, Joe, at the World Trade Center site. I held a press conference with my colleague, Vito Fossella, Republican from Staten Island, and I said this is a 21st century version of, Drop dead, New York City. That’s how I feel, and I think it’s how many New Yorkers feel. And quite frankly, I think people beyond New York think the same way.

It’s once again, I think, another example of, I think, a level of incompetency — I can’t think of any other word — at the Department of Homeland Security. Peter King, the chairman of Homeland Security Committee, Homeland Security in the House, said it’s a stab in the back to New York City. He said it was the declaration of war against New York and New York City.

SCARBOROUGH: I feel like America still stands shoulder to shoulder with the city. And yet, these D.C. officials seem lost. What’s going on?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, it’s interesting. Yesterday, when we gave the press conference at the World Trade Center site, there were a lot of tourists there. Obviously, they had to see the site and to see lower Manhattan. But they were outraged, as well. They couldn’t believe it.  They were nodding their head as they were paying attention to the press conference and to what Fossella and myself were saying about this.

This is not a Democrat, again, or a Republican issue. This is about, you know, common sense. I mean, Grand Central Station, Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty — if these are not structures of consequence, iconic structures, I don’t know what is.

SCARBOROUGH: Do you think New York may have suffered because you’ve got two Democratic senators up there, because you’ve got a primarily Democratic state? Is this the president ignoring New York because he doesn’t think Republicans ever win there?

CROWLEY: If that’s the case, it flies in the face of all that’s been said in the past, that we’ll never forget you. This is the president saying this, you know. You know, I can hear — I can hear you ...

SCARBOROUGH: But Congressman, yes, but they’ve forgotten you, haven’t they.

CROWLEY: They have. It seems to me that they have. They quite frankly have, that if they can cut by 40 percent the Homeland Security monies to New York City, and even moreso to New York state, there’s no other answer for it than the people almost five years on have forgotten what took place in New York City. We took the brunt of the attack on September 11. Two cities were attacked. Both of those cities are seeing cuts in Homeland Security from the federal government. It makes absolutely no sense. If it weren’t happening, we’d laugh about this. In fact, you can’t help but laugh and think it’s surreal, it’s not really happening.

SCARBOROUGH: Where does the blame lie? Is it the president of the United States, or is this another example of Michael Chertoff just being in over his head?

CROWLEY: I have to tell you, I think it’s — you know, The buck stops here, as the old expression goes. You know, once again, I think it shows how broken down the Department of Homeland Security is. I don’t think that Michael Chertoff has performed well at all, you know, from Katrina on. I think it just showed gaping holes in his leadership abilities.

But quite frankly, it does stop with the president. I mean, if the president — this is like, you know, the whole thing with port security, going back to the Dubai deal. You know, if the president is not on top of these things, or people at the White House aren’t on top of this, they’re just setting themself up for embarrassment, and that’s what’s happened here. They have to be incredibly embarrassed by the Department of Homeland Security once again. Brownie let them down. I think Chertoff is letting them down now.

SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. No doubt about it. Congressman, thank you so much and ...

CROWLEY: Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... thank you for fighting not only for the people of New York, but more importantly, for Americans.

CROWLEY: Thank you, Joe. And the gloves are off.

SCARBOROUGH: The gloves are off. And when we come back: Lord knows, they took the blows and did it their way. Now the Dixie Chicks are number one with a bullet. That remarkable music story coming up next. And Al Franken crosses the border into SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. But since no passports are required, hey, we’re cool with that. Franken fires on all cylinders and trolls for votes in a possible Senate campaign. That’s all straight ahead in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: They trashed Reba. They trashed Toby. And they trashed country music fans. But now they’re on the top of the world. We’re talking about the Dixie Chicks when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns, but first here’s the latest news you and your family need to know.

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: Al Franken, author, comedian, talk show host, and possible Senate candidate, he’s here tonight with reaction to Bush’s “bring it on” apology.

And an “Idol” fanatic is sitting in jail tonight after punching his mother over the Katharine McPhee-Taylor Hicks battle. I’ve got issues.

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. We’ve got those stories coming up in just minutes, but first it’s time for tonight’s “Must See SC.” It’s video you’ve just got to see.

First up, Fort Worth, Texas, where crime rarely pays, especially if you’re stupid. Surveillance cameras caught this guy falling through his ceiling while breaking into a liquor store. He was knocked unconscious for five minutes and then couldn’t figure out how to get out. He wound up sitting on a keg of beer and smoking a cigarette waiting for the cops to arrive.

Next up, Jacksonville, Florida, where three teens videotaped themselves attacking another group of teens. Then, they were stupid enough to post the video online. Smart move, Einstein. Police spotted the video on MySpace.com and then arrested one of the attackers in the case. More arrests are promised by the police.

And, finally, move over talking Geico gecko. A new British television commercial features these singing sheep. The sheep are playing soccer, apparently in an effort to inspire England’s World Cup soccer team, which will be vying for the world soccer title later this month.

British humor, I guess.

Let’s move on to commercial music and one of the most surprising charts success stories of the year. The Dixie Chicks may not be ready to make nice, but their fans are.

The Chicks new album — and I’ve got to add, I think this is extraordinary — it’s at the top of Billboard’s Country and Pop charts.  “Taking the Long Way” sold more than 525,000 copies this week after a media firestorm and repeated predictions that the fans would abandon them once again.

But the chicks have gotten the last laugh. And here to talk about it, we have “US Weekly’s” Katrina Szish and Wade Jessen. He’s director of “Billboard” Country charts.

Wade, let me start with you. They insulted country music stars. They insulted the fans of country music stars. And they insulted the president.  Their fans abandoned them before, but not now. They’re still number one.  What’s happening?

WADE JESSEN, “BILLBOARD” MAGAZINE: Well, Joe, I think there’s probably three things at play here, and probably a little bit of each may have weighed in on this big debut, which incidentally is the third biggest debut of the year so far.

I think that there’s some evidence that, three years later after the incident, that country music fans by and large are kind of over that. I think they’ve moved on. I think that they’re probably a little more concerned about the music than the incident itself and the political flap.

Another thing that I think is playing into this is that the Chicks have been very vocal about wanting to attract a new, perhaps more enlightened audience. And I think there’s some of that out there.

I also think that there are probably a lot of maybe Bush-hating liberals out there that bought their very first country album this past week. So there’s some of that, as well, I think.

SCARBOROUGH: I think you may be right. But, you know, I always love when people try to analyze from afar why some music succeeds and some music fails. I remember people blaming Peter Frampton’s failures on a movie he made, “Sergeant Pepper.”  But in the end, doesn’t it come down to just good music versus bad music?  JESSEN: It really does. And I think, if you take the controversy that happened three years ago out of the mix now, the Chicks have been off having babies. They’ve had a lot of changes in their lives. And, obviously, the controversy has certainly changed them.

But there are a lot of people out there who really like the Chicks, who are not in the political fray, who are interested in what this album have to say. They’ve teamed with a new producer, Rick Rubin, who revived Johnny Cash’s career a few years back, produced the record. The Chicks did all of the writing on it, and it’s an intensely personal album, so there’s a lot of interest in it, aside from the controversy that’s involved.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Katrina, I have sort of a long history myself in Congress of going against the grain, so I’ve got no problem with them doing that. But the thing that bothers me the most is the fact that they seem to be condescending to fellow country music stars and made fun of their fans, saying, “We don’t want to people that listen to Toby Keith and Reba to be listening to us.”

Again, it just seemed like such an immature, childish thing to say.  And, yet, they’re number one. How do you explain it?

KATRINA SZISH, “US WEEKLY”: Well, actually, I agree with you. I was surprised that it did so well, not as surprised because of their talent, but surprised because I thought they should get a little bit of a slap on the wrist for their behavior, as you’ve said.

But I think the bottom line is, at this point, people really know that they are a very talented group. They want to hear the music. Plus, there has been controversy, and people want to know, what is all the controversy about?

So whether or not they deserve these high record sales, you know, they’re getting them, even if it might be for the wrong reasons.

SCARBOROUGH: And, you know, controversy sells. Also, it doesn’t hurt when “Time” magazine and other publications put you on their cover, right?

SZISH: That helps a little bit.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes. So tell me, what do you think is the difference between this group that went from the top to almost being knocked out of the music business because of her offhanded remark about George Bush at a stage in London, to this point where they come back, stir up more controversy, and they’re more popular than ever?

SZISH: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting. I mean, a few things in play. First of all, the political climate has changed significantly from that first incident overseas, and so they may have a broader potential fan base than they did initially, in terms of our country’s general opinion on the president at this point.

But I just think, again, they’re a talented group, and there was an initial backlash. And I agree, eventually, you realize, but whatever their political beliefs may be, whether or not we agree with them, they’re still really, really good musicians.

SCARBOROUGH: And, Wade, country music radio, have they forgiven the Dixie Chicks? Are they going to start putting them on their rotations again, like they did before the anti-Bush speech in London?

JESSEN: Well, I think that remains to be seen. I think country radio shuttered a bit when they got “Not Ready to Make Nice.” I think they were ready to play a great Dixie Chicks record. But understandably I think the girls were a little bit rattled by the aftermath of the controversy, in terms of radio.

I mean, we saw one radio chain holding those rallies where they were driving tractors over their CDs. And just in terms of their fellow country artists, Joe, I mean, country music as you well know gives a lot of lip service to, “Oh, you know, we’re a family of artists. We stick together.  You know, we’re a group. We watch out for one another. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

But you know what? After the controversy erupted three years ago, the silence from the Chicks’ fellow artists was deafening. And I think, at least publicly, the only artists who has come out in support of the Chicks, saying that it wasn’t really fair what happened to them and to try to defend them a little bit is Vince Gill.

So, you know, I think there’s been a little bit of hypocrisy exposed, both in the artist community and to a certain degree at radio. But radio ...

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Wade — I’m sorry, Wade, we’ve got to go. But I’ve just got to say you made a great point. That may explain why the Dixie Chicks made the comments that they made toward fellow artists. They didn’t feel like they stood beside them when they needed them the most.

JESSEN: I think that had something to do with it, sure.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Wade, thank you so much. Katrina, as always, greatly appreciate you being here.

SZISH: Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: And now let’s bring in Rita Cosby. She’s host of Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT.” Rita, what do you have coming up for us next?

RITA COSBY, HOST: Well, Joe, tonight there could be a breakthrough in the Clemson bikini murder case. We’ll tell you what police have on their hands.

Plus, for the first time, Angelina Jolie’s dad, Jon Voight, is talking about his new granddaughter, Shiloh. You can’t miss our interview with the new grandfather.

And we’re talking with “American Idol’s” second runner-up, Elliott Yamin, about life after “Idol.” Plus, Joe, another big-name contestant gives us a surprise call. You’ll have to tune in to see who that is at the top of the hour.

SCARBOROUGH: I’ll do that. And I’ve got to tell you, anytime Jon Voight comes on for an interview, I love watching. You never know what the guy’s going to say. And they’ve got — those two have had quite a relationship through the years, so I can’t wait to see that, also. Hey, thanks a lot, Rita.

COSBY: Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, now, coming up, I’ve got issues with an angry “American Idol” fan. But first, Al Franken joins me to talk about illegal immigration and the border security crisis, and his possible run for Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: Now it’s time to welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY Al Franken, host of “The Al Franken Show” on Air America Radio and also the author of “The Truth (With Jokes),” and, some say, a likely candidate for the United States Senate in 2008, though I have absolutely no reason why he’d want to do that.

Welcome back, Al.

So George Bush said he was sorry earlier this week. And I was on with Chris Matthews doing the post-game. And Matthews said that it was almost Lincoln-esque what he did. And I was just curious: Did you really think it was Lincoln-esque ...

AL FRANKEN, HOST, “AL FRANKEN SHOW”: Really?

SCARBOROUGH:  ... or more Jeffersonian? Do you think it was Jeffersonian or JFK?

FRANKEN: I think it was Bush-esque. It took him this long to figure out that you, as commander in chief, shouldn’t taunt the enemy to attack your troops when you’re the commander in chief. “Bring it on” was pretty stupid.

And then he also did “wanted, dead or alive.” I think the thing he should have apologized for, frankly, if you’re just talking about the stuff he said, is calling the war on terror a crusade, which he did twice. And the only thing I can think of in his defense is that, when he did it, he was not aware that there had been a Crusades.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, he wasn’t much of a student, and he’s admitted that.

SCARBOROUGH: I want to ask you about something that’s gone terribly wrong over there, and that’s, of course, Haditha, the possibility, the investigation still under way, but the possibility that civilians were slaughtered over there.

You’re somebody that has actually been over to entertain the troops.  You’ve spent time with them. And, tell me, what are your thoughts, what are your emotions when you hear these horrible stories coming out of Iraq, as a guy, again, whose been over there and seen these — so many of them — seen these kids face-to-face?

FRANKEN: Well, I’m glad you asked me that way, because our troops are great. Clearly, these guys — I don’t know what happened with them. And part of the worry to me is that there’s a cover-up. Also, this could be more damaging than Abu Ghraib.

That was interesting. Remember when the president sort of apologized or admitted mistakes, one of the things he said was Abu Ghraib. And that had to be when he knew that this thing at Haditha was coming out.

And Peter Beinart writes this in his book, about how people on the right view American exceptionalism and people on the left. And sometimes people on the right are too enamored with it, and sometimes people on the left are too skeptical of it.

And I think that the thing about — that makes America exceptional, in the liberal view of it, is that we do make mistakes, that we’re human, and we’re not better than the rest of the world.

SCARBOROUGH: I think Beinart’s point is correct. I think too many times conservatives do think America makes no mistakes, and I fall into that trap too often. I think too many people on the left think — just see the dark side of American military force. And you’re right. I think that we probably should meet somewhere in the middle there.

Let’s talk briefly about the Department of Homeland Security slashing New York City’s budget by 41 percent while increasing the budget of places like Omaha, Nebraska, by 40 percent. What’s going on?

FRANKEN: Look, I’m in Minneapolis. All I care about is Minneapolis.  No, look ...

SCARBOROUGH: You love Minneapolis?

FRANKEN: We have the Mall of America. The president told us to go shopping after 9/11. If I’m Al Qaeda, I go, like, “Where do I shop?” So Minneapolis is the place to protect.

By the way, we were cut, too, Minneapolis got — no, it’s stupid.  It’s a sin. It’s an insult, of course. New York has the Statue of Liberty, the U.N. It has the Empire State Building. It has Wall Street.  It’s crazy not to protect New York.

And it’s sort of kind of crazy to protect places — look, Omaha should have first responders. You know, every place should. But that would be as random as hitting anywhere else.

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly.

FRANKEN: New York is not random. There’s a reason to hit New York.  There’s a reason to hit Washington, which they cut.

SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. But, like you said, the state that you’re going to represent has the Mall of America. Obviously, when you’re in the Senate, you’re going to need to fight for more funding for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the entire state, so ...

FRANKEN: Hey, if I do this, I will definitely ask for, you know, 24- hour air surveillance of the Mall of America.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s fantastic.

FRANKEN: That’s going to be the first thing in my platform.

SCARBOROUGH: With the SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY blimp hovering overhead at all times. And just make sure that when you make that announcement ...

FRANKEN: With you in it.

SCARBOROUGH: With me in it? We’re big in Minneapolis.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you, so much, Al Franken. I’m glad we could get ... (CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: OK, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: Thanks for being with us again.

FRANKEN: My pleasure, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: And when we come back, a house divided against itself cannot stand, especially if a son beats up his mother over who won “American Idol.” I got issues, and, apparently, I’m not alone. That’s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: And welcome back. I’m Joe, and unlike Al, I’m not running for Senate, and I’ve got issues.

I’ve got issues first with Anna Nicole Smith who announced her pregnancy today in a video on her Web site. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNA NICOLE SMITH, MODEL: I’ll be checking in and out periodically on the Web, and I’ll let you see me as I’m growing. So that’s it at this time. Bye.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH: You can see her as she grows. What a deal. Now, apparently you and your whole family is going to be able to go to her Web site and be able to pay to see the former “Playboy’s” stomach grow, which, you know, thanks for the offer, Anna, but we’ve already seen that several times. I think we’ll pass.

I also have issues. You’re just not going to believe this. I’ve got issues with an upstate New York man who allegedly hit his mother in the head with a bicycle chain after she spoke up in defense of losing “American Idol” Katharine McPhee.

Now, Mom predicted McPhee would have a very successful career ahead of her, despite losing to fellow “Idol” Taylor Hicks. The son, who is apparently a big Hicks fan, whacked the mother over the head with a bicycle chain and is now facing felony charges.

When we come back, we’ll have tonight’s mailbag.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH: It’s time to wake up grandma. We’re going to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’s mailbag. Let’s go to Frank in New York first.

He says, “I’ve been a liberal Democrat all my life. I voted for Clinton, Gore, Kerry, but on immigration I think the Senate Democrats are just plain wrong, wrong enough to put forth a bill that could really screw up our country. It’s got to be beaten.”

Thank you, Frank, and I think it will.

And also, from Rick in Indiana, he writes about our top conservative songs segment last night. He said, “Joe, thanks for the great segment. I must be a conservative. Growing up in the ’60s, my favorite Rolling Stones songs were ’Sympathy for the Devil’ and ’You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ Another favorite song was about 10 years called ’I’d Love to Change the World,’ with the line, ’Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more.’”

And, of course, my favorite, “Sweet Home Alabama.” Turn it up. We want to hear from you at SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. You can e-mail me at Joe@MSNBC.com. That’s Joe@MSNBC.com. And make sure you include your name and your hometown.

Well, that’s all the time we have for tonight. Thanks for being with us. Greatly appreciate it. We’ll see you next week. But Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT” starts right now — Rita?

Watch “Scarborough Country” each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Copyright 2006 MSNBC and Voxant Inc.

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