updated 12/15/2006 11:10:14 AM ET 2006-12-15T16:10:14

Guests Margaret Carlson, Anne Kornblut; Frank Donatelli, Jack Jacobs, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Paul Bedard

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Hello, and welcome to the Thursday edition of the show. 

It has been a little more than 24 hours since news of Senator Tim Johnson‘s health crisis broke.  What was first reported as a stroke has since been identified as a condition characterized by malformed blood vessels in the brain.  It‘s serious.  Senator Johnson underwent surgery until after midnight last night. 

To update us on his condition, NBC News‘ Mike Viqueira joins us.  He has been covering the story since it broke—Mike. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Tucker, the short story is that Senator Johnson remains at George Washington University Hospital.  Details of his condition are sketchy, but we do know that he was in surgery much of the night and early into the morning. 

Along his side were, of course, his family, and the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who was there much of the night and early this morning.  Reid appeared on camera earlier today and said that Johnson looked “really good.”  He also says that he intends to be the majority leader, that there isn‘t a thing that has changed amid all of the speculation that Johnson‘s absence from the Senate would lead to a turnover of Republican power. 

Now, in order for that to happen, Senator Johnson would have to either resign from Congress or pass away.  And no one is talking about either of those possibilities right now. 

Of course, the margin now 51-49.  The governor of South Dakota a Republican.  If Johnson were to pass away or resign, the Republican governor would presumably appoint a Republican to replace him, thereby making it a 50-50 Senate and giving Vice President Cheney the tie-breaking vote.  But that‘s getting way ahead of ourselves right now. 

As a matter of fact, today we have seen many indications or examples throughout Senate history where senators have served while they have been incapacitated and there have been no elections to fill their seats.  Some senators haven‘t shown up for years for committee votes or for floor action. 

Now, no one is saying that that‘s what Senator Johnson‘s prognosis is.  As a matter of fact, Admiral John Eisold, he‘s the physician here in the capital, says it‘s way too early to say what the long-term prognosis for Senator Johnson‘s recovery might be—Tucker.

T. CARLSON:  So, Mike, just to make sure I understand it.  When Harry Reid, the incoming Senate majority leader, says he will remain Senate majority leader, is that a suggestion that he would resist efforts to turn the chamber over to Republicans if Senator Johnson were to bow out?

VIQUEIRA:  I think that he appeared before cameras today to do two things. 

A very brief press conference, and almost kind of curious. 

He said he that wanted to reassure us that Senator Johnson looked good upon Senator Reid‘s hospital bedside visit, and to say—to tamp down a lot of the speculation that something was going to happen in terms of a change in power.  I don‘t think people have gotten far enough along in their thinking here, Tucker, to war-game this scenario out. 

A lot of people talking about the possibility that the Republican governor out there would appoint a Democrat because Tim Johnson was a Democrat.  A lot of people poo-pooing that.  But a lot is of rank speculation at this point because we simply do not know what Tim Johnson‘s condition might be - - Tucker. 

T. CARLSON:  Mike Viqueira on the Hill. 

Thanks, Mike. 

VIQUEIRA:  Certainly.

T. CARLSON:  Well, there is no legal mechanism in this country for declaring a member of Congress too ill to serve.  And in this case, let‘s hope we don‘t need one.  Nobody in Washington, Republican or Democrat, wants to see Senator Johnson remain sick.  Everyone is praying for his recovery. 

But if those prayers are not answered and Senator Johnson is unable to return to work, what happens then?  Well, there are a number of potential scenarios, from a version of the bipartisan power-sharing we saw in the Senate after the 2000 election, to a bitter and extended tussle over control of that chamber.  But no matter what happens, one man suddenly is more powerful than he has ever been. 

He is Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.  Lieberman has said he will vote with Democrats this term, but he doesn‘t have to.  Remember, he is no longer a Democrat, having lost his party‘s primary and been electriced as an Independent, nor does he owe anything to the Democratic Party, whose leaders opposed him in November. 

Joe Lieberman is about as unaligned at this point as you can get in American politics.  And in a Senate that may soon be divided 50-50 again, that it is a pretty great place to be. 

We turn now to our Thursday brain trust: Republican strategist and former Reagan political director, Frank Donatelli; “New York Times” Washington correspondent, Anne Kornblut; and Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson.

Welcome to you all. 

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG COLUMNIST:  Thanks, Tucker. 

FRANK DONATELLI, FMR. REAGAN POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Hello.

T. CARLSON:  Margaret, do you detect any defiance in Senator Reid‘s statement that he remains incoming majority leader? 

M. CARLSON:  Well, he isn‘t the first person I would listen to on Senator Johnson‘s condition.  I mean, he said he looks good. 

Now, few people look good after the kind of surgery he went through.  But, you know, it‘s all to the good to try to do things in a decent and sympathetic manner. 

T. CARLSON:  Yes.

M. CARLSON:  But listening to politicians on his condition is not something I would do.  But a lot of these questions might be moot in a day or two because we‘ll know his condition. 

T. CARLSON:  That‘s right.  And this is ghoulish and horrible.  I mean, the man is lying in the hospital, you know, on the precipice.  He‘s in critical condition.  And so there is something unseemly about talking about this.

On the other hand, it‘s control over the most powerful government in the world.  It does matter. 

Anne, there are suggestions floating around now that were Senator Johnson to resign his seat, he would be replaced by a Democrat.  The Republican governor of his state, South Dakota, would appoint a Democrat?  Is that...

ANNE KORNBLUT, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, I think Democrats have tried to suggest that that would be the courtly thing to do if he were to leave his office. 

T. CARLSON:  The gentlemanly thing?

KORNBLUT:  The gentlemanly thing to do.  But as we have seen time and again in these situations, people don‘t like to lose. 

I will say, listening to Democrats on the Hill today, I have not heard them this on edge in quite some time.  They went from being so gleeful after winning the election to really sounding precarious today, especially because if his health does not improve, there are questions about the committee alignments, the number of allotments on each committee that they will have if he still is unable to vote starting in January. 

T. CARLSON:  Right.  Well, they are a pessimistic group.  I mean, always before every—no, I‘m not attacking them.  I‘m just saying, before every election, you always notice the Republicans are always sitting in a bar with a drink—“Oh, everything‘s going to be great.” 

Democrats are always sort of huddled around, “We‘re going to lose.  We‘re going to lose.”

KORNBLUT:  That makes them Democrats. 

T. CARLSON:  Yes.  That‘s exactly right.

KORNBLUT:  Expect the worst. 

T. CARLSON:  Frank, can you imagine a bipartisan power-sharing agreement—the 2000 election left at 50-50, and Tom Daschle, of course, and Trent Lott at the time sort of hammered out this pretty gentlemanly agreement to share power --- could you see something like that happening again? 

DONATELLI:  First of all, politics is not for gentlemen. 

T. CARLSON:  That‘s true.

DONATELLI:  At least not all gentlemen are in politics.  But sure, yes, I could see something like that. 

First of all, as a Republican, I support what you said.  I hope Senator Johnson goes back to the Senate and the Democrats control the Senate for the next two years. 

T. CARLSON:  Yes.

DONATELLI:  But it does sem to me that when the Congress—one of the first things they will do is vote on their organizing resolution the beginning part of January.  It would make sense to have some sort of a clause in case the Senate ratio changes.  So it‘s 50-50 or something like that. 

I mean, it would seem to me that that would be prudent to do that sort of thing.  Could I see that happening?  Yes, I could. 

T. CARLSON:  Well, why isn‘t there?  I mean, I understand all these documents were written before people became very ill and continued to live.  I mean, 225 years ago, you got really sick, you died. 

But isn‘t it time, Margaret, to update it? 

M. CARLSON:  Well, you would think so, because now people stay alive for a long time on life support and whatever.

T. CARLSON:  Right.

M. CARLSON:  But maybe it‘s not in the interests of anyone to update it. 

First of all, no one ever thinks the worst things going to happen.  It‘s like, how many of us have our wills written? 

But the other part of it is this—to try to hammer out an agreement depending on who the actual people are is probably what they want to do.  As you say, maybe they will hammer out an agreement here. 

Frank, I think you‘re a Reagan optimist, but the Senate is not the place it was in 2000.  It‘s more fractious and more partisan.  And I doubt that Governor Rounds is going to be able to resist the pressure from Dick Cheney and others and do the “gentlemanly thing” and appoint a Democrat to fill the Democrat seat if it should come to that. 

T. CARLSON:  And a more straightforward way to do it would be to do essentially what happened in 2001 and convince a member of the other party.  It‘s more of a Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a Republican, became a Democrat, then switched the chamber over to the Democrats. 

How much pressure is there, do you think, Anne, right now on Joe Lieberman? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, I mean, I think he—I think we could expect to hear Joe Lieberman discuss the pressure.  At the end of the day, I have heard no signs from him. 

And again, this goes back to before the November 7 elections, when everyone said he‘s going to—he could be in this hot seat depending on what happens.  He has given no indication that he would formally switch parties or would even support the majority of the Republican Party.  But I wouldn‘t expect him to automatically declare his support for the Democrats after what he went through this past year. 

T. CARLSON:  Boy, he could get anything he wants at this point. 

DONATELLI:  He could play a role.  I don‘t think he is going to switch either.  But he could play a role in convincing majority leader Reid to negotiate some sort of a fair arrangement. 

And remember, Trent Lott, who negotiated for the Republicans in 2000, is now the number two Republican in the Senate.  The point is, it‘s to the advantage of both parties, it seems to me, not to make a big deal out of this, but to do the right thing.  And it would be a small step on the way toward some kind of cooperation for the next two years. 

T. CARLSON:  But why wouldn‘t Lieberman—Margaret, you know Lieberman.  Why wouldn‘t he—he was mistreated, abandoned by his former friends in the Democratic Party after he got beaten in the primary.  I mean, they really did sort of, Lieberman who?  You know what I mean?  They ignored him. 

He is more conservative than a number of Republicans in the Senate.  He is with Bush on foreign policy. 

I‘m not.  Do you know what I mean?  He is more Bush than Bush.  Why wouldn‘t he become a Republican? 

M. CARLSON:  He‘s a bigger person than I am.  He doesn‘t seem to hold a grudge about it.  You know, at least one that bubbles up to the surface. 

T. CARLSON:  So his decency prevents him from becoming a Republican?

M. CARLSON:  Yes—well, no.  But just, you would think he might do it because of the way he was treated by Democrats...

T. CARLSON:  Right.

M. CARLSON:  ... and the way Republicans embraced him.  But inside himself, he doesn‘t—he‘s not resentful and bitter, and he‘s a Democrat.  That‘s what he is.  And these—these things...

DONATELLI:  He said many times during the campaign that he was going to remain a Democrat.  I think he feels bound by that. 

That being said, to kind of play this balance wheel in these negotiations, if it comes to that, I don‘t think would be inconsistent with remaining a member of the Democratic caucus. 

M. CARLSON:  Oh, I think he might use it.  I just don‘t think he‘s necessarily because of what happened during the campaign susceptible to switching over. 

T. CARLSON:  Do Republicans even want to control the Senate?  It seems to me at this point if it‘s this evenly divided—it‘s not like the House.  An evenly divided Senate is not wholly one party‘s or wholly the other party‘s.  But from a public relations point of view, the Republicans can blame everything on the Democrats.

They control the entire U.S. Congress.  If voters think that Republicans control the Senate but they don‘t really in fact control it, right, by one seat, that‘s bad for Republicans.  Now they can...

M. CARLSON:  Right.  For the future of the Democratic Party, it‘s better that they don‘t control both houses. 

T. CARLSON:  Right.

M. CARLSON:  For their everyday life, for the parking spaces and the perks and the chairmanships, it‘s much better that they control the chairmanship. 

T. CARLSON:  How significant is that?  And, I mean, how much better are the parking spaces? 

(LAUGHTER)

T. CARLSON:  I mean, this stuff matters, obviously. 

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t think they‘re going to be—everyone has just moved offices.  I can‘t see them wanting to pack up boxes and move into a bigger office again. 

Yes, I would have to agree with you that...

M. CARLSON:  Oh, I think they‘d pack up for the bigger office. 

KORNBLUT:  You do? 

M. CARLSON:  Yes.  Someone else does the packing. 

DONATELLI:  Can I just suggest—for 2008, I agree it actually helps the Republicans not to be controlling Congress. 

T. CARLSON:  Of course it does.

DONATELLI:  But there are a couple of issues where control does matter.  For example, in the area of a budget resolution, if the Republicans wanted to push through some sort of spending cuts on reconciliation...

T. CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  ... you can do that in the majority. 

And the second thing that‘s very important, Tucker, are the judicial nominations. 

T. CARLSON:  Well, that‘s true.

DONATELLI:  I don‘t see President Bush backing down at all on that.  Mr.  Leahy is not backing down.  There is tremendous potential for confrontation. 

T. CARLSON:  I love...

KORNBLUT:  And let‘s not forget, too, that Senator John McCain would be in a great position of power on the Armed Services Committee if the Republicans were in the majority. 

T. CARLSON:  That‘s a good point, too.

KORNBLUT:  And he could do—now, who knows if he would really want that position at this point, but he could hold hearings, do oversight, talk about sending in more troops in a much louder way than he can now. 

T. CARLSON:  He‘s going to be pretty busy.  I love the quaint notion of Republican budget cuts.  I love that.  I‘d like to see some more.

M. CARLSON:  It‘s old-fashioned—very old-fashioned. 

T. CARLSON:  Very old-fashioned.

Coming up, there is new pressure on President Bush because he is taking his time on a new Iraq plan.  But why?  For once, isn‘t deliberative decision what the country needs? 

Developments and analysis on that next. 

Plus, the woman who would succeed Mr. Bush as commander in chief tries to horn in on his political base.  Hillary Clinton and the evangelicals, can they get together?  Can they stay together? 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

T. CARLSON:  With America‘s support for the war in Iraq falling almost as fast as its affection for President Bush, things are looking up for the incoming Democratic Congress.  The new “Wall Street Journal”-NBC News poll shows that 59 percent of Americans want Congress to step in and design our nation‘s foreign policy.  Seven in 10 want the new Congress to pressure President Bush to start bringing the troops home from Iraq within the next six months. 

Here with his insight, MSNBC military analyst retired Colonel Jack Jacobs, who is also a Medal of Honor winner.  He won‘t brag, but I will. 

Jack Jacobs, welcome.

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good to be with you. 

CARLSON:  Why is President Bush not telling us his plan now?  Why is he waiting until after Christmas?  And does it matter? 

JACOBS:  It does matter, but the reason he is not talking is because he doesn‘t have a plan yet.  He is talking finally to just about everybody. 

In the past, he has spoken with a very small circle of people—Karl Rove, the vice president, and so on.  And now that Rumsfeld is not there, he is talking to everybody he should have spoken to a long time ago, and he hasn‘t decided yet what he wants to do. 

CARLSON:  What are the optioning exactly?  And why is everybody...

JACOBS:  Well...

CARLSON:  Let me put it this way, rephrase.  Why is everybody—none of—none of whom may have any special insight into this—but assuming that the president is going to come out in January and tell us we need more troops in Iraq? 

JACOBS:  Well, we are going to need more troops.  And the decision—that‘s only part of the decision.  I think the likelihood—and a lot of people are telling him this—that you need between 20,000 and 50,000 more if what you want to do is to train the Iraqis and then get out as soon as you can after that, at least to stabilize the security situation. 

But what‘s taking place right now is a discussion not whether or not it‘s going to be 20,000 or 50,000, not whether or not we‘re going to send 500,000 there, which we‘re not going to do, which is what you really need if you want a military solution to the problem, and even then you might not get it.  What‘s going on now is finally the integration of all of the instruments of foreign policy, and that includes not only the military instrument of policy, but diplomatic as well, to bring in other cabinet departments which have not been brought into the mix before.

And you know who is telling them this?  It‘s the military.  The guys who have been shouldering the responsibility now for three years have not made the kind of progress everybody thought they would in the first place because they didn‘t have enough resources to begin with. 

These are the guys who are up there at the White House right this very minute telling the president something that he has not heard before because they have been stifled, because they were stonewalled, because the information never got to them, because they didn‘t have an opportunity to talk to him directly without any interference.  They are finally telling him that, look, if you want a military solution to this, we can do it, but you‘re going to need half a million people.  If you‘re not prepared to do that, you better start including the other cabinet departments. 

CARLSON:  Well, pardon my skepticism, Colonel, but, you know, these are the people as you said running the war.  It‘s taken three years for them to get this very basic message to the president?  I mean, couldn‘t they send him a note maybe two and a half years ago and warn him that the strategy was flawed fundamentally? 

JACOBS:  There are a lot of options here of things that might have happened.  They might not have sent the note.  They might have sent the note but nobody looked at it.  They might have sent the note and somebody looked at it but they didn‘t take it seriously. 

There was no support anywhere in the White House to consider other options other than the one that had been promulgated, fostered and encouraged by the previous secretary of defense.  There are a lot of reasons why thinking people have not been considered in the mix until now. 

But now what‘s happened is that the number of choices has been reduced to a very small number, and they are not very satisfactory.  Whereas the options before were large in number, now they are very few in number.  And it‘s at least partially because people who were thinking about how to actually use the military instrument of power were not consulted or were stonewalled.  And now everybody has got a problem. 

CARLSON:  “The Washington Post” is reporting today that the president may come out next month and announce our fundamental mission has changed from fighting the insurgency, from killing insurgents, to fighting al Qaeda, killing terrorists.  What‘s the difference? 

JACOBS:  There is a big difference, because fighting al Qaeda, ironically, almost, is lots easier than fighting the Sunni and Shia terrorists, many of whom are fighting each other.  Al Qaeda is supported from outside the country.  It‘s easier to find these guys and locate them because all you have to do is follow the money.  It‘s not a home-grown exercise and requires support from outside. 

But I‘ve got to tell you, al Qaeda is not the biggest problem in Iraq anyway.  If we were to focus our attention on doing that to the exclusion of making life safe generally for the people inside Iraq, I think the whole thing is lost.  Because the single biggest problem is the fact that the central government does not control the security situation that people like Muqtada al-Sadr are fighting.

CARLSON:  Right.

JACOBS:  The government and everybody else.  And unless we do something about that, or the Iraqi government does something about that, it doesn‘t matter what we do. 

CARLSON:  Jack Jacobs.

Thanks a lot, Colonel. 

JACOBS:  Good to be here. 

CARLSON:  Coming up, President Bush hosted his friends in the media at the White House last night.  After he greeted that very small handful of people, he met his journalistic adversaries, the much larger group.  We‘ve got the scoop on all that for you.

Plus, the hottest Christmas card that doesn‘t come with a warning to parents comes to us from a U.S. congresswoman.  And she will join us live with the excellently spicy explanation for what it is and why she sent it. 

Stay tuned. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  He‘s the commander in chief.  He has big, important, historic decisions to make.  Is it fair for us to criticize him for taking his time in making them?

No, but wait.  We have Americans dying every day fighting the war in Iraq. 

Fair question.  What is the president waiting for?  You see the problem. 

Back again to dissect that problem, Republican strategist and former Reagan political director Frank donatelli; “New York Times” Washington correspondent, Anne Kornblut; and Margaret Carlson, a columnist for Bloomberg. 

Welcome all.

DONATELLI:  Thank you.

T. CARLSON:  Is it fair—Margaret, is it fair to criticize President

Bush?  For six years his opponents have said this is a guy who makes snap

decisions, he doesn‘t listen to other people, he‘s—he‘s the opposite of

well, he‘s a moron, basically, acting on bad instinct. 

Here he actually is taking time to think it through.  Shouldn‘t we be applauding? 

M. CARLSON:  Well, it is a change of personality.  And the decider doesn‘t bother with the details.  He can really cut to the heart of the matter. 

And he seemed petulant yesterday by saying, “I won‘t be rushed on this.”  However, this is life and death, and he has had a long time to think about it. 

T. CARLSON:  Right.

M. CARLSON:  Remember in August he stopped saying “stay the course” and then made a big deal about dropping that figure of speech from his lexicon?  Well, now, I mean, everyone thinks he is looking for a way to overstay the course because he done want to admit that what he‘s done has not worked and the situation, as the Iraq Study Group said, is grave and deteriorating, and none of the choices are really good choices. 

T. CARLSON:  Anne, this is a president who is always on time, famously.  I mean, he gets very angry if anybody is late.  He does what he says he is going to do. 

He actually—I mean, that is one thing about Bush that is true.  That‘s one talking point that is accurate. 

He said—his aides indicated he was going to release the strategy before Christmas.  And now we‘re not getting it until after the new year.  Something dramatic happened behind the scenes. 

What was it?

KORNBLUT:  It‘s incredibly uncharacteristic of them.  I mean, sometimes they would make announcements and stick to them even if they didn‘t want to...

T. CARLSON:  Right.  Exactly.

KORNBLUT:  ... simply for the sake of sticking to them.  I don‘t have the answer on that. 

I do know that part of the equation right now is that some in the White House at least recognize this as his last attempt at being able to reclaim his legacy and to really decide the course it‘s going to go on.  He has maybe another few months before the ‘08 campaign takes off.  If Iraq is still a mess, they fear that it will be out of his hands. 

So they really want to make sure they get it right this time, because they don‘t think they will have another chance to give a big speech and really change the tone. 

T. CARLSON:  I wonder if it‘s not a brilliant stroke of public relations strategy here.  They fire Rumsfeld the day after the election, the day we‘re supposed to be talking about the ascendancy of the Democrats. 

The Democrats will be actually taking those seats in January.  We‘ll be talking about Bush‘s strategy. 

DONATELLI:  Right.  Well, there are time pressures on his decision.  And that would be the State of the Union. 

T. CARLSON:  Good point.

DONATELLI:  He has got to do this prior to the State of the Union.  He‘s going to have to have something.  And then whatever it is, he‘s going to reaffirm it in the State of the Union.  So I think they feel like they have two bites of the apple. 

T. CARLSON:  Can he come out there and say we need more troops, we need 30,000 more troops to quell the violence in Baghdad?  Can he say that?

DONATELLI:  If it is paired with a—with a plausible strategy for some sort of an end point and some way that we can say that we were “successful.”  It‘s probably not going to be the democracy, the functioning democracy that we had hoped to hold up to the world. 

T. CARLSON:  Good.

DONATELLI:  But if at least it‘s a government that is capable of defending itself and won‘t invade other people and is not seeking weapons of mass destruction, if that‘s the goal and the president can say, based on the advice of his commanders, a short-term spike in troops in order to quell the violence so that the government can stand on its own, yes, I think he can say that. 

CARLSON:  But quickly, Margaret, are we going to hear any more from Democrats about an immediate withdrawal? 

M. CARLSON:  Well, the Democrats seem to be standing down and letting Republicans fight over this because the Iraq Study Group report was an indictment of what‘s already happened and shows Bush owns this war.  The surge of troops is something that was in the Iraq Study Group report but was dealt with as something that‘s, A, already been tried in Baghdad in Operation Forward Together—or Operation Together Forward, where all the troops were redeployed to Baghdad for six months and did not quell the violence there.  The U.S. did not get control of the streets there. 

So, what is it going to be?  How many troops?  It‘s going to have to be longer than six months.  Most people think it would have to be 18 months or more to do what the president would want it to do and to be able to get the Iraqi troops up to speed. 

T. CARLSON:  The responsible thing is the depressing thing, I think, in this case.  I mean, it‘s not like—if there was an easy answer, I think someone would have come up with it. 

M. CARLSON:  Yes.  James Baker. 

T. CARLSON:  I hope—it wasn‘t, it turns out.

M. CARLSON:  yes.

T. CARLSON:  Up next, Barack Obama isn‘t even officially running for president and already people are making campaign commercials on his behalf.  Is there no stopping this man?  Or has he peaked to early?

And after the break, we‘ll talk on speaker phone to the congresswoman behind a Christmas card so hot it will melt in your hands.  It has already burned mine. 

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  If there is one person who knows Santa has always watching to see who has been naughty and who has been nice, it is the queen of Christmas cards, Democratic Congressman Loretta Sanchez from California.  Never one to disappoint, Congresswoman Sanchez sent out this gem this year. 

She joins us now on speaker phone.  Congresswoman, speak freely. 

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Hello, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  It‘s great to hear your voice.  Why are you stroking your kitty in the picture? 

SANCHEZ:  My kitty loves to be petted. 

CARLSON:  It seems not only like a picture, but also a metaphor. 

SANCHEZ:  Well, you know, everybody loves Gretzky.  Everybody waits anxiously every year to see Gretzky on the Christmas card.  If I didn‘t put him on my Christmas card, no matter where I am, at a beach, in front of a fireplace, at Disneyland, then they would be very upset with me. 

CARLSON:  Your card this year defines the phrase, pet the cat, which is a surfing phrase, I guess, to mean to touch the inside of a tube when you‘re going through it.  Do you surf? 

SANCHEZ:  I have surfed before.  Now I‘m much more of a boogey border. 

As a Congresswoman, I don‘t get to the beach that often. 

CARLSON:  How do your constituents respond to your Christmas cards? 

SANCHEZ:  Oh, they love it.  You know, as soon as it hits—actually, we send about half a million.  And as soon as it hits, some of the newspapers pick it up and they run it.  The “Orange County Register” has already run it.  Usually the “Post” does, sometimes the “New York Times,” “Time Magazine.”  And they are calling into all of our offices asking for a copy, and, of course, we send one to them.  They are collectors‘ items. 

CARLSON:  Well, I love your card.  When I miss it, I buy an extra on e-Bay just so I will have it, so I don‘t in any way want to discourage you from sending an even more over the top version of it next year, but I have to ask you this question, does it pose credibility problems.  When you‘re, say, debating Social Security reform on the floor of the House, does one of your opponents ever just kind of hold up your card? 

SANCHEZ:  No, absolutely not.  In fact, you know, it‘s always really interesting.  For example, the other night I was having dinner in a small group and one of them was former Senator Robin, former Senator Robin.  He started talking about, you know, he is on the Iraq Study Group.  I started asking him some questions, and just really drilling him about a few things and interjecting some things.  Finally he turned to me and said, well, you know, what assignments do you have in the Congress? 

I said oh, I‘m the ranking woman on all military issues in the House, and I also sit as the number two Democrat on Homeland Security.  He looked at me as, yes, I can tell from all the questions you‘re asking, because that‘s just amazing.  He goes, you really understand the issues, and you have a real point for detail on all of this.  So, you know, I don‘t think people think there is a credibility problem just because I‘m a Californian and I love some cheer at Christmas. 

CARLSON:  Yes, what does your cat think of having to wear the sunglasses? 

SANCHEZ:  Well, actually, Gretzky likes the sunglasses.  You know, he‘s very white, and the sun, as you know, he has blue eyes, and the sun directly affects, I think, lighter people and bluer eyed people more.  So, he really enjoys sunglasses most of the year. 

CARLSON:  You‘re a compassionate woman, Congresswoman.  Thanks a lot for joining us.  I appreciate it. 

SANCHEZ:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I can‘t wait to see next year.  Bring back the leather pants.  I liked those. 

SANCHEZ:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Well, in other congressional news, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled today her plans for the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, a conglomeration of committee members that will oversee all of the administration‘s intelligence activities.  In describing it, Pelosi said this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), INCOMING SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Its purpose is to protect the American people with the best possible intelligence, recognizing the role that Congress plays in all of this.  And it is to bring the House Intelligence Committee and the authorizing committee closer together, which was one of the criticisms of the 9/11 Commission. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Joining us again, Frank Donatelli, he is a Republican strategist, who also worked in the Reagan administration, Anne Kornblut of the “New York Times,” and Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg.”  Anne, I don‘t understand exactly, you have heard for the last six months Democrats say, when we‘re elected, we‘re going to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.  They are not very anxious to get more specific than that.  Can you just boil down very quickly for our viewers who don‘t pay as much attention to this, what does that mean?  What substantive changes do you think in the first couple of months the Democrats are going to bring about? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, I can explain this one in particular.  What she did today, essentially, is the Intelligence Committee sets aside the amounts of money that they should spend and recommends certain things that they should do, number of spies, etc.  Then it goes to the Appropriations Committee.  The Appropriations Committee can either ignore what the Intelligence Committee has said, or they can adopt it.  This way they are going to unite these two committees.  I know this sounds like gobbledygook to everybody out there.  This way they are going to, sort of, unite these two committees in a third committee that will hopefully agree on everything and remove some of the bureaucracy in funding the intelligence process. 

CARLSON:  And make it more open, that‘s also what—Margaret, she has said—Speaker Pelosi has said that she would like to see intelligence funding public.  Famously it‘s classified.  We don‘t know how much is spent on intelligence gathering.  Why should it be public? 

M. CARLSON:  I think you can find out if you really work at it. 

CARLSON:  Yes, that‘s right. 

M. CARLSON:  So if you can really find out about it, if you work at it, why not make it more transparent?  It doesn‘t seem to me that it actually—so many more things are classified than need to be classified. 

CARLSON:  That‘s definitely true. 

M. CARLSON:  But if I were Speaker Pelosi, I would have put somebody on the committee other than Sylvester Reyes, who understood the difference between the Shia and the Sunni and Hezbollah, because it‘s really part of the mandate of that committee. 

CARLSON:  You have a great column on “Bloomberg” about this today.  Can you sum it up for us, how exactly Mr. Reyes—Everybody says he‘s a great guy, personally.  He is clearly unqualified for this job.  Why did he get it? 

M. CARLSON:  Yes, I mean, it‘s not like he was on the Agriculture Committee, and new about Soy Beans.  He‘s coming over to intelligence, it‘s all new to him.  He has been on the Intelligence Committee.  He was asked these questions and he simply didn‘t know the answer.  And how can you deal with the crisis in Iraq if you don‘t know who the sects are that are fighting, and the alignment of the different countries that are joining Iraq?  You can‘t understand the Iran-Iraq alliance unless you understand that the Shia majority might became a theocracy, linking up with a nuclear obsesses Iran presenting a real threat in the situation.  The other thing is, he didn‘t know who Hezbollah was.  And we just had a tiny war. 

CARLSON:  We were there. 

M. CARLSON:  It was hard to miss.  It was hard to miss.  Now, this “Congressional Quarterly” reporter, who asked these questions, actually found a lot of members who didn‘t know, but those members weren‘t on the Intelligence Committee. 

CARLSON:  Right, and now running it. 

M. CARLSON:  And now chair of the Intelligence Committee. 

CARLSON:  Frank, I want to show you something that you may not have known existed, and that is a campaign ad for Barack Obama, who is not, technically speaking, running for president.  He has been in the Senate for two years now, but there is actually an ad touting his candidacy.  Let‘s put it up here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?  We believe in making sure that everybody should have the opportunity to get a job that pays a living wage.  That‘s something we believe in.  We believe that nobody should be bankrupt when they get sick, and that everybody should have access to decent health care.  That‘s something we believe.  We believe that schools should be adequately funded and every child should be able to learn.  They should be able to go to college even if they don‘t have a lot of money.  We believe that. 

We believe in a foreign policy that is based not just on military might, but also the quality of our moral character as a nation.  That‘s something we believe.  We believe every senior citizen should be able to retire with dignity and respect.  We have a righteous wind at our back and as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices and meet the challenges. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Now that‘s a spot put out by DraftObama.org.  It was made by a couple of guys who worked on Wes Clark‘s very ill-fated presidential campaign two years ago.  It says what everybody in the country believes, people should have decent jobs, you shouldn‘t go bankrupt when you get sick.  Kids, it turns out, should have a good education.  It ends with believe again, but in what exactly? 

DONATELLI:  That spot doesn‘t talk about making the tough choices, does it.  I mean, he believes in everything that‘s good.  But that‘s the thing about Mr. Obama right now is that he is a resume candidate.  He is somebody that everybody, sort of, pours their hopes and dreams into, even though they don‘t know a lot about him.  There will come a time, if he decides to get into this race, when he‘s going to have to make some choices.  The rule in Washington is, Tucker, that the faster you go up, the faster you come down. 

I think that he is going to have a problem when it comes to laying out some issues that he really agrees on.  Because, let‘s face it, he is not somebody like Colin Powell or Dwight Eisenhower, who has got this massive resume that you can just say, I‘m a uniter of the country.  I mean. he has a very, very thin resume.  So, I can‘t help but believe he is sort of the flavor of the month right now and it‘s going to take a lot more than he has shown so far to sustain the momentum. 

CARLSON:  I have tried every day to get a handle on what exactly it is he believes and we know from these scoring systems, that interest groups come up with, that he has voted in the past two years in a more orthodox way, a more liberal way than Hillary Clinton.  Is he believed to be on the leftward wing of the party? 

KORNBLUT:  What‘s so interesting is when you listen to him talk about his own ideology, he is the first to say, I believe in some liberal causes.  I‘m a true liberal on some things, such as universal health care.  But the manner in which he has delivered some of his speeches and talked to Republicans and reached out is seen as sort of soothing and cool and not partisan.  So, in the same way that some Democrats complain that McCain is not really an independent, he is a true conservative, you hear other Republicans complaining about the fact that he seemed so bipartisan, when in fact he is deep down a liberal. 

M. CARLSON:  That‘s a good way to put it, actually, because it is the package and the way he presents it is, it seems like it‘s an amalgam of both sides, when really on health care and other things, he is quite liberal.  Frank, I think that ad is “Morning in America,” where you‘re just presenting an idea and an optimism and a way forward, without the specifics.  And Ronald Reagan never got terribly specific. 

DONATELLI:  But Margaret, “Morning in America” was the second term.  It was after Reagan had been president for four years and governor for eight years. 

CARLSON:  Right, and he was—Like him or hate him, he was an ideologue.  And that‘s exactly what Barack Obama says he‘s not.  I don‘t know.  I like the ideologues. 

DONATELLI:  The other thing about the attack is it will come from the left and the right.  He will come at Hillary from the left on foreign policy and on the right from values. 

CARLSON:  And the left will come at him, I bet you.  I don‘t know.  We‘ll see.  Coming up, Washington isn‘t that much different from high school.  There are more neckties and weapon systems, of course.  But find out why everyone in school is snickering at student government president Karl Rove.  It is so cruel. 

Plus the world‘s tallest man came to the rescue in China.  Find out how he saved the day.  Hint, he has got the world‘s longest something, arms.  I‘ll give it away now, it‘s arms.  I can‘t leave you thinking that.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Loretta Sanchez‘ Christmas card isn‘t the only buzz in Washington, although in my view, honestly, it is the most titillating.  There also happened to be a Christmas party at a certain large white home last night, among other things.  Here now with what happened, Paul Bedard, with “U.S. News & World Report.”  Paul, did you go last night? 

PAUL BEDARD, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Heck yes, I went. 

CARLSON:  Of course you went.  How was it?

BEDARD:  You don‘t turn down an invitation from the president.  It was great.  The president was engaging.  The first lady and the president, they took pictures with us.  We ate like pigs.  The best part, they rolled out the Barney cookies, like they always do. 

CARLSON:  The famous Barney cookies. 

BEDARD:  Here‘s the difference.  In the past, this is the Barney cookie.  In the past, they were everywhere.  This year, they had the littler cookie, Miss Beasley.  So I asked the chef, I said how come this cookie is so small.  He said that‘s because that‘s Miss Beasley.  And he dug down deep and gave me and my daughter the real McCoy. 

CARLSON:  An actual Barney cookie. 

BEDARD:  Now, I can‘t let you eat it because she will kill me, but it‘s Ginger Bread, a little bit of chocolate.  It was great.   

CARLSON:  Actually, it looks excellent.  I didn‘t even see those.  Did you eat the Miss Beasley cookies? 

BEDARD:  Now, supposedly they turn your mouth black.  I ate one.  It didn‘t at all.  Then I had a piece of vanilla—

CARLSON:  More propaganda from the liberal media, no doubt. 

BEDARD:  Yes, exactly right.  They were great. 

CARLSON:  Against the backdrop of this festive party, where everyone, I thought, was on his or her best behavior, the president really trying hard to pretend he doesn‘t hate the press, there was this kind of unfolding tragedy taking place at a hospital in town, Senator Johnson from South Dakota.  What do you hear about that? 

BEDARD:  Well, I started making some calls today.  I mean, you know, everybody knows the story about his—the bleeding in his brain.  You know, the press has already moved him into the grave. 

CARLSON:  Yes, they have. 

BEDARD:  And there is such a frenzy.  I made calls to South Dakota and to the South Dakota senators and House folks.  And they were like, what‘s with you guys.  I mean, it is really bad, they claim, what the press is trying to do, you know, by putting him in the grave and already get a Democrat or a Republican elected.  I mean, that‘s just the nature of the business.  One guy told me that the governor‘s office had been called by a reporter and the reporter asked, OK, we know you have already got the other guy named, the Republican named, who is it?  So it‘s a little bit unseemly, but that‘s what we do.  In our business, we ask how does it feel? 

CARLSON:  But I wonder though—I agree with you completely.  We led this show with a segment about succession to a man who, as far as we know, still holds the job, and we don‘t know that he‘s not going to.  So, I‘m as guilty as anybody else, but they haven‘t been very forthcoming, have they.  I mean, you covered this too, with information about exactly how the senator is doing. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, no, at least from what I saw before coming out here today, they had sort of shut down, at least the political folks said, this is not our job.  We are not doctors.  The moment we start talking about this, they are going to start pressing us for even greater medical details.  That‘s what Senator Reid said today.  So, we‘re not even going to go there.  But we haven‘t heard much from the hospital and nor did Tom Daschle, who was seen leaving the hospital, and followed by a camera crew.  When he was asked how he was doing, he said well, you know, he‘s doing OK.  But the body language hasn‘t been terribly reassuring, but I think mostly it‘s because no one knows what to think yet. 

CARLSON:   That‘s right. 

M. CARLSON:  It could actually be they don‘t know. 

KORNBLUT:  Unbelievable. 

M. CARLSON:  Yes, unbelievable that they are telling the truth, that we don‘t know, so we‘re not saying.  The White House physician and the Capitol physician were speculating a little bit, but it was all more the rosiest picture, which is fine. 

CARLSON:  Yes, that‘s fine. 

BEDARD:  It‘s too early to tell.  I mean, I went down to the hospital today, just to see what was going on.  I mean, it loose like Monica Beach.  I mean, there are dozens of cameras.  There are trucks parked.

CARLSON:  Monica Beach being the camera positions outside the Watergate where Monica Lewinsky lived. 

BEDARD:  Right, right.  And at Washington Circle, across the street from the hospital, there are trucks and reporters and all around.  I mean, this is—obviously, it‘s a huge story, but a little bit overdone right now. 

CARLSON:  We are hearing right now that—I believe the “Associated Press” is reporting that Senator Johnson is now responding to touch, which is, of course, a good sign and that there will be no further surgery at this moment. 

Let‘s go back to the holiday party very quickly Paul.  We go to the trouble of electing this famously right-wing president, who is famously evangelical, who‘s philosophical hero is Jesus, and he goes ahead and calls it a holiday party.  Why exactly is that? 

BEDARD:  Well, you got the Christmas card probably, and the invitation, which both say holiday.  There is—even in this administration, there is the sense of some political correctness.  Why anger people by saying merry Christmas?  Of course, the right is saying, why not say merry Christmas?  You are a Christian.  You do talk about Jesus.  You do quote from the Bible.  Go ahead and say it. 

CARLSON:  Very quickly, Karl Rove, you have written that Karl Rove is now being attacked by the Bush family? 

BEDARD:  No, no, no, not attacked.  Inside the White House, you know,

even people who work very closely with him.  I mean, he is royalty inside

the White House, they are kind of sneering and going nah, nah at him,

because he predicted forcefully that they would retain the Senate.  In fact

CARLSON:  Do you think Bush believed that? 

BEDARD:  I think Bush believes it.  I think Bush had a sense, too—

CARLSON:  Believed, I mean, he doesn‘t still think they have the Senate? 

BEDARD:  I hope not.  Well, who knows now?  And Bush even called Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, the day before the election and told him hey, buddy, when you‘re re-elected and the House comes back as a Republican house, make sure you run for the speakership again, because I want you to take my agenda all the way. 

CARLSON:  You know, it‘s like when someone gives you a hot top, and, you know, you put 50 grand on the Bears and they lose.  No, I understand.  I think it‘s fair to be mad.  Paul Bedard, thank you very much.  Anne, thank you.  Margaret, thank you. 

Coming up, how one real estate agent is gunning for a sale literally.  So are free weapons really helping her sell houses?  We hope so.  We‘ll tell you more when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  With all the news of Christmas cards and politics in Washington, there was still other news today, and our old friend Willie Geist has some of the highlights of it, Willie.

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Speaking of Christmas cards Tucker, did we have the United States Congresswoman on our show earlier saying, people like to stroke my cat earlier?  Is that what I heard?

CARLSON:  Yes, you did hear that correctly, and she thereby won my vote.   

GEIST:  Absolutely.  There is other news, Tucker, you‘re right.  We have all read about and maybe experienced the softening of the housing market.  Extreme situations call for extreme measures.  That may explain the latest innovation in real estate sales.  Houston real estate agent Julie Upton is now offering some of her clients a free nine millimeter glock handgun with their purchase of any home 150,000 dollars or more.  Here‘s the catch though, it‘s for police officers only.  So, in order to qualify, you must be a cop and buy a house.  So far, she has given away two pistols through the promotion.  Tucker, it seems to me a long way to go to get a free gun.  I‘m not a mathematician, but spending 150 grand on a house to save 500 bucks on a handgun doesn‘t make a lot of sense where I come from? 

CARLSON:  On the other hand, I can‘t remember the last time a realtor did something I find appealing. 

GEIST:  That‘s true.  They are a little bit unethical.  Also, don‘t policeman get free guns anyway?  I don‘t understand.

CARLSON:  I hope so. 

GEIST:  Anyway, who am I to judge.  Mongolian herdsman, Tucker, Bow Zee Shun (ph), he stands 7 feet, nine inches tall.  Guinness tells us he‘s the world‘s tallest man.  I don‘t trust them, of course.  Nevertheless, Bow‘s height came in handy when two dolphins in a Chinese aquarium swallowed some pool-side plastic and officials were helpless to save them.  They put in a call to the world‘s largest man, who interrupted his Mongolian herding, went to the aquarium, reached through the water and into the dolphin‘s mouths with his 41 inch arms, to pull out the offending plastic.  The dolphins and the world‘s tallest man both reportedly doing fine.  This seems a little, I don‘t know, it‘s a nice gesture, but it seems a little insensitive, calling the freak to come bail you out of the situation.  Don‘t you think it‘s weird? 

CARLSON:  Well, they had the fat lady sitting on the dolphin to hold it still.  But what were the Yaks doing when he took off and left his herding duties behind?

GEIST:  If you‘re 7‘9, you should be doing more with yourself than herding.  The NBA might want to give you a call.  I want to show you one other thing.  There‘s a cool website, Tucker.  It‘s called ElfYourself.com  I hope that doesn‘t offend you.  It‘s a place where you put in some information.  You put in a picture of yourself, and let‘s see Tucker Carlson dancing.  We cropped it out.  There he is.  Celebrate the holidays in the comfort of your own home.  There it is. 

CARLSON:  You know what, I‘m proud to take credit for it.  Willie Geist, thanks a lot Willie.  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  We‘ll be here tomorrow at the same time.  Tune in then.  Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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