MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the Senate delays a vote on the troop increase in Iraq as the debate now shifts to the House. With us, the House majority leader, Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and the House minority leader, Republican John Boehner of Ohio. The majority and minority leaders square off, only on MEET THE PRESS.
Then, a busy weekend in the race for the White House as Barack Obama officially enters the race, Hillary Clinton makes her first campaign trip to New Hampshire, and Rudy Giuliani addresses the California Republican Convention.
Then, the trial of Scooter Libby nears the end of its third week, as more journalists are expected to be called to testify. Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, Gwen Ifill of PBS’ “Washington Week,” Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” and Roger Simon of The Politico.
But first, the majority leader of the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer, and the minority leader of the House, Congressman John Boehner, are both here.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Pleasure.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Hi, Tim. Good to be with you.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Hoyer, the debate on the war in Iraq now shifts to the House. Will there be a resolution offered by the Democrats disapproving of the president sending more troops to Iraq?
REP. HOYER: Yes, there will be, Tim. We’re going to do a very simple, straightforward, very clear resolution which says two things: We support the troops, we’re going to protect the troops. Secondly, we do not support the president’s escalation of troops in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
REP. HOYER: Because almost everybody disagrees that it will have the affect that the president has put forward, will not attain the objective of stabilizing or making more secure, and, as one Republican observed, what is simply going to—Oliver North, as a matter of fact—it’s not going to be more trainers, it’s going to be more troops who are targets. And we don’t believe that that policy will work. The overwhelming sentiment of the military is it won’t work, and certainly the American people do not believe it’ll work.
MR. RUSSERT: When will the vote be?
REP. HOYER: The vote will be probably Friday.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, on Thursday, you said this: “The Republicans will be given either a substitute or a motion to recommit so that they can propose whatever substantive alternative that they choose. That will also be debated.” Is that still your plan?
REP. HOYER: Not necessarily our plan, at this point in time, and let me tell you why. As we discussed this, we saw the problems that the Senate was confronted with, where the whereas clauses and the therefore clauses confused the issue. We believe the American public want a straightforward answer to the question: Do you agree with the president’s proposal. Republican president has made a proposal, we’re going to respond to that. We want to respond to it with great clarity, so that the Congress of the United States, every member, will have an opportunity to speak, every member will have an opportunity to vote: Do you support the escalation of troops in Iraq? And we’re going to make that pretty straightforward, and we don’t think that it ought to be confused by any other issues that might be raised. Those issues will have an opportunity to be raised, of course, in, in the very near term, as we consider the supplemental appropriation bill, the appropriation bill and the defense authorization bill.
MR. RUSSERT: But on this particular resolution, you are backing off your commitment to allow the Republicans to have an alternative?
REP. HOYER: We want a very straightforward, clear answer to the question: Do you support the president’s escalation?
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Boehner, will you support the resolution?
REP. BOEHNER: I will not. I believe that victory in Iraq is the only option. We’ve had problems in Iraq, we’ve had mistakes in Iraq, but Iraq is but a small part in a global war being waged by radical Islamic terrorists. It’s all over the world, and it’s a global movement. And the most visible part of it today we see in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And if we don’t—if we don’t have victory in Iraq, the consequences of failure are immense: a destabilized Iraq, a safe haven for terrorists, possible access to their oil revenue, destabilizing the greater Middle East. What happens to Israel? And if, if this isn’t bad enough, who doesn’t believe that if we withdraw and leave that chaos in the Middle East that the terrorists won’t follow us here to the United States? Victory, victory is the only option.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, you said last week, “I think it will be rather clear in the next 60 to 90 days as to whether this plan is going to work.” If, after 90 days, Baghdad is not stabilized, will you then say it hasn’t worked, let’s start coming home?
REP. BOEHNER: Well, General Petraeus, in his Senate confirmation, said that we probably would know by late summer how well the plan is working. It’s one of the reasons why we want to offer a resolution that makes it clear that we ought to have a bipartisan panel overseeing this plan, and we outline a series of benchmarks to see how well we’re doing. This plan is, is heavily dependent on the Iraqis stepping up and taking more responsibility for their own country. And I think that having these benchmarks and being able to follow the progress is very important.
MR. RUSSERT: But it has—if it hasn’t worked in 90 days, will you then go to the president and say it hasn’t worked?
REP. BOEHNER: I, I would, I would say over the next 60 to 90 days we’ll have some idea how well we’re meeting those benchmarks, the progress towards them. But General Petraeus is, is, is the commander on the ground. He’s the one who says by the end of the summer we ought to have a clear idea how well it’s working.
REP. HOYER: Tim, for four years we’ve been saying—frankly since May 1, 2003, when the president said, “The mission is accomplished.” Since that time we’ve been saying next month it’s going to get better, the next six months it’s going to get better, the next year it’s going to get better. In fact, as you know, the last three months have been three of the worst months that we’ve had in Iraq in terms of loss of our own people and loss of Iraqis. In fact, the situation—and almost every general who’s been on the ground who talks about this and our men and women in the armed forces are saying the situation is not getting better, it’s getting worse. Our people are greater targets than they have been, and it’s time for a new policy. This isn’t a new policy. The Iraq Study Group made its report. The American public voted for a new direction in November. They said we need to change policies that aren’t working. This is not a new policy. Hagel—Senator Hagel said this is not a new policy. John McCain says he doesn’t think this is going to work. We’re going to make a clear statement next week that we do not support this escalation. And we’ve written a, a number of letters, four letters, to the president of the United States saying we need a change of policy, a change our mission from being on the front line to being trainers, redeploy our troops, make sure that the Iraqis pursue their responsibilities and pursue reconciliation, and have a...
REP. BOEHNER: That, that...
REP. HOYER: ...and have a diplomatic surge, not a troop surge.
REP. BOEHNER: Yeah, but Steny, that’s exactly what the president’s plan is. You outlined what you, what you just did in a speech over at Brookings last month.
REP. HOYER: Correct.
REP. BOEHNER: And if you look at what this plan is, it’s not just a reinforcement of troops, it requires the Iraqis to put their military on the front line. It has social barometers, economic barometers. There, there, there’s a—there’s a wide plan, exactly how you’ve described it. But if you don’t like the president’s plan, Steny, what is your plan for success?
REP. HOYER: John, the—that’s the good news. We’ve had 52 hearings in the last five weeks in the Senate and in the House. We went from a complacent House of Representatives that really gave no oversight to this war to a vigorous oversight of the policies that are being proposed and that have been affected. And what, John, we’re going to do is, we’re going, in the next 60 days that you talk about on the supplemental, on the authorization bill, on, on the appropriation bill, we’re going to make recommendations. And those recommendations will be focused on success. We don’t want to fail. President said in the State of the Union nobody voted for failure. I voted to authorize the president to take this action. I certainly didn’t vote for failure.
But, Tim, unfortunately, the policies that are—been pursued by Rumsfeld, by Wolfowitz, by Bremer, by the president have failed and, in fact, have been predictors of failure.
MR. RUSSERT: How many...
REP. BOEHNER: But, but, but, Steny, Democrats have no plan for success in Iraq. And let’s be—and let’s be...
REP. HOYER: Now, you say that—you say that following our plan, John.
REP. BOEHNER: Let’s be honest about it. What we’re going to do this week is the first step in your effort to cut off funds for troops in harm’s way and leave Iraq in chaos. And that’s why...
REP. HOYER: No, our resolution does not say anything about cutting off funds, John.
REP. BOEHNER: Well, no, no. No, all the—you, you...
REP. HOYER: We’re not going to cut off funds.
REP. BOEHNER: ...and the speaker, Murtha, and others have said, “Well, this is just a first step this coming week.”
REP. HOYER: You didn’t...
REP. BOEHNER: We all know—we all know what’s coming in the next month or so when we have the supplemental spending bill up.
MR. RUSSERT: All right, let me get to that. But before I do, Congressman Hoyer, how many Democrats will vote for this resolution of disapproval?
REP. HOYER: I think almost every Democrat will vote for this resolution.
MR. RUSSERT: And how many Republicans?
REP. HOYER: You’d have to ask John. He perhaps counts better than I do on his side.
MR. RUSSERT: How many Republicans, how many...
REP. BOEHNER: We’re going to—we’re going to have Republicans who are skeptical of this plan who’ll probably vote for this.
MR. RUSSERT: How many?
REP. BOEHNER: But—and while...
MR. RUSSERT: How many?
REP. BOEHNER: While we may lose the vote on this, we’re—we will not lose the debate on this.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, will you lose a third of the Republicans?
REP. BOEHNER: I don’t think we’ll lose that many.
MR. RUSSERT: Ten percent?
REP. BOEHNER: I don’t run the numbers.
REP. HOYER: Tim, let me say, we have...
MR. RUSSERT: Wait a minute. Congressman Boehner, you had said...
REP. BOEHNER: But why not give us an...
MR. RUSSERT: ...that this resolution would demoralize the troops. But the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that’s just not true.
REP. BOEHNER: Well, I understand what they said. I got an e-mail several nights ago from a lady named Lisa Bell Clay, used to work for me. And she left when her husband got transferred down to southern Virginia. He was a, a Marine. Now, he was killed in Iraq defending this country. She sent me an e-mail the other night to say, “Listen, I’m glad somebody’s standing up to understand, to, to support our troops and to make sure that there’s a long-term strategy for victory here.’ Now, this is—we’re, we’re in a very serious fight. And I, I just finished reading last fall a—Lincoln, “Team of Rivals.” And look at the number of times that Lincoln could’ve given up or should’ve given up. But he had a goal, the—hold the union together. And look at the difficulties of Franklin Roosevelt had during World War II. Now, he could’ve folded his tent and cut a deal, but he had a goal in mind of, of preserving freedom.
And the issue here is not just Iraq. Look at, look at what we do if we leave there in chaos and what, what the Iranians do. They’re there stirring up the problems, to a large extent, in Iraq today. Their influence, they want to grow it in the greater Middle East. They’re in there with Hezbollah...
MR. RUSSERT: So we stay...
REP. BOEHNER: ...in Lebanon.
MR. RUSSERT: ...there—we stay there endlessly.
REP. BOEHNER: I think that we have to find a way to help the Iraqis build a safe and secure Iraq.
REP. HOYER: John, we’ve been saying—for—that for a long period of time.
REP. BOEHNER: I know we have.
REP. HOYER: This is now four years that we’ve been at this effort and three and a half years after the president said the mission, whatever the mission was, was accomplished. Now we don’t know what the mission is of these 21. Is it to stabilize it? How long are we going to stay there? And the overwhelming advice of our military is “This will not work,” and so many of your members say this will not work.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me follow up on...
REP. HOYER: We need to move in a new direction.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me follow up on Congressman Boehner’s point about cutting off funding.
REP. HOYER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Because John Murtha, a key member of your delegation, Mr. Hoyer, said this. “John Murtha (D-PA), a sharp critic of the war and chairman of the subcommittee that oversees defense funding, is separately preparing language to block money for the additional troops in Iraq unless the military meets certain readiness standards. He said he will introduce his proposal on March 15 as an attachment to Bush’s request for Iraq war funding. ‘The hope is we will affect the surge.’” And then this: “Murtha says he would probably [try] to block the use of funding to extend the tours of soldiers beyond one year. ‘We’re going to stop that,’ [Murtha] said.” So John Murtha, clearly, wants to cut off funding for this war...
REP. HOYER: No, no...
MR. RUSSERT: ...in some form or fashion.
REP. HOYER: If you read that carefully, what he said, “unless certain conditions are met.” I think every American will agree with the conditions. Jack Murtha talked about this the other day. First of all, he doesn’t want to send troops that aren’t trained. He doesn’t want to send troops that aren’t fully equipped. And what he’s saying is, if you’re going to send troops, certify to us that they are fully trained and fully equipped. It was Murtha, after all, who found out that they didn’t have sufficient body armor when they were sent to Iraq, they didn’t have the armored humvees that they needed when they were sent to Iraq. I think the American public believes those are reasonable conditions prior to sending some of our people in harm’s way.
MR. RUSSERT: But how about telling the commander in chief he’s going to limit tours to one year for soldiers?
REP. HOYER: Well, I think the commander and chief and Rumsfeld, in particular, made a huge mistake in determining that they could do this on the cheap. It was supply-side war from their standpoint. You do less and get more. The fact of the matter is we didn’t send enough troops initially, and it now is clear that one of the reasons we didn’t is because we didn’t contemplate the challenge that was confronting us. We didn’t contemplate correctly how we were going to bring stability to Iraq, which has led to all of the adverse consequences that John speaks of. And, and thirdly, we did not contemplate that in prosecuting this war we were going to undermine every substantially our ability to confront terrorism in Afghanistan. All of which...
REP. BOEHNER: Steny, Steny, Steny.
REP. HOYER: ...was a, a very bad mistake.
REP. BOEHNER: If you’re...
REP. HOYER: Senator Hagel says it’s one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes he’s seen in his lifetime.
REP. BOEHNER: Steny, if you’re not going to cut off troops—cut off the funding for the troops in harm’s way then why not allow Republicans to bring a resolution to the floor and let the House vote up or down on that resolution?
REP. HOYER: That’s a good question, and you’re going to have that opportunity. But initially...
REP. BOEHNER: When? When? When?
REP. HOYER: ...initially, the first thing we’re going to do...
REP. BOEHNER: When? When?
REP. HOYER: Within the next 30, 45 days...
REP. BOEHNER: Well, see, that’s the point—that’s the point, Steny.
REP. HOYER: ...John. You got to have—well, John, you asked me a question.
REP. BOEHNER: You told your members...
REP. HOYER: Let me answer it. Let me answer it.
REP. BOEHNER: You told your members the other day...
REP. HOYER: John, let me answer the question.
REP. BOEHNER: ...this is the first step—this is the first step.
REP. HOYER: OK. I’m saying...
REP. BOEHNER: That’s how you got them all together.
REP. HOYER: ...that we do not agree with the president’s surge. The military doesn’t agree, Maliki doesn’t agree, the American people don’t agree. And we’re going to allow members with full debate, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to let their—give their opinion and then to vote: Do you agree with the president’s proposal? Republican president has made a proposal. The Congress is now going to be able to say...
REP. BOEHNER: On a nonbinding resolution.
REP. HOYER: ..we agree...
REP. BOEHNER: Let’s have a real resolution on the floor. It’s a bill that says, “We will not cut the funding for our troops in harms’ way.”
REP. HOYER: John, do you...
REP. BOEHNER: Let’s have the—let’s have that vote on the floor this week.
REP. HOYER: John, with all due respect, do you remember in 1995 when you voted for a nonbinding resolution not to send 20,000 troops to Bosnia?
REP. BOEHNER: That’s correct. That’s correct. That’s before there were any troops sent, before any troops were in harm’s way.
REP. HOYER: Well, it’s a surge; they haven’t been sent yet.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Boehner, the inspector general report about some of the intelligence that came out of the Pentagon extremely critical of that operation. Do you agree with the inspector general?
REP. BOEHNER: There’s all kinds of debate about what the Pentagon was doing and what they—what—weren’t doing. It’s clear to all of us, Democrats and Republicans, that we have flawed intelligence. The CIA had bad intelligence, the Pentagon had bad intelligence. And, for that matter, all of our allies around the world had the same bad intelligence. And so that’s why Republicans voted to set up the national intelligence directorate to reform our intelligence activities.
REP. HOYER: The 9/11 Commission, of course, recommended that. But, Tim, the real problem with this issue is, first of all, we asked for this report in ‘04. It’s now coming out in ‘07. Secondly, what apparently happened here was the intelligence community reached a consensus, the deputy secretary, or assistant secretary of defense for policy, not for intelligence, decided he did not agree with that and forwarded his view rather than what the consensus of the intelligence community was. And...
MR. RUSSERT: So what do you do about it?
REP. HOYER: Well, I’ve, I’ve written, along with Mr. Skelton and Mr. Reyes, a letter to both Negroponte and Gates, the D.N.I., currently, going to be deputy secretary of state, and to the secretary of defense and said, “What’s going on here? Why do we allow a secretary—assistant secretary a policy to subvert the intelligence advice that’s being given to the commander in chief? That’s wrong, and, and I don’t know whether it led to miscalculations or not. There’ve been so many miscalculations, it’s difficult to tell that this generated one of them. But the fact of the matter is, what was done was wrong. We want to get to the bottom of it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to a domestic issue. In the front page of The New York Times today, talking about ethics and—dealing with lobbyists. Congress passed legislation, people said, “We’re going to take money out of this system.” And yet, look at this article. And I’ll read it for you and our viewers: “Congress Finds Ways to Avoid Lobbyist Limits. The 110th Congress opened with the passage of new rules intended to curb the influence of lobbyists by prohibiting them from treating lawmakers to meals, trips, stadium box seats or the discounted use of private jets. But it did not take long for lawmakers to find ways to keep having lobbyist-financed fun. In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), [and] a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000). ... The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules. Instead of picking up the lawmaker’s tab, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee set up by the lawmaker. In turn, the committee pays the legislator’s way.”
So rather than have the lobbyist fund the trip, you create a campaign committee. That campaign committee has this event, the lobbyist gives money to the campaign committee, and the campaign committee pays for the congressman’s trip. It’s just a way to circumvent a law you just passed.
REP. BOEHNER: Tim, we, we raise political money to run campaigns. Democrats do it, and Republicans do it. When, when we put in the campaign finance laws, the Shays-Meehan bill a number of years ago, I voted against it because I thought it was nonsense. I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But there, there are a number of different ways that we go about raising those funds. Some of these are golf events, some of them are, are receptions, some of them are dinners.
REP. HOYER: Tim, let...
MR. RUSSERT: Will you—will you try to close this loophole?
REP. HOYER: Tim, let me say that, in terms of this loophole, what we did when we came to the Congress, we adopted some ethics rules which are going to make sure that, first of all, you can’t get meals, you can’t live off lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Some members did that; some members are now out of Congress and in jail. You cannot have lobbyists or organizations pay for your travel on their private jets. We said that’s not going to happen. You can’t do it even with your own money. Now, as John pointed out, there is fund-raising. Fund-raisings usually have a reception, a dinner or an event of some type. That was not dealt with in those rules, and that’ll be dealt with in the campaign finance rules. But, very frankly, the answer ultimately is if you’re going to stop that, it’s public financing. Neither the public nor the Congress is going to support public financing, so you’re going to have fund-raising. So whatever way you do that is going to be subject to scrutiny. And I agree with John, public disclosure so the public knows what’s going on is—until you get the public financing—the only way the public can check that.
REP. BOEHNER: There aren’t any of my taxpayers who’ll want their hard-earned tax money that they’re paying to the government to be given to politicians so they can throw mud at each other.
REP. HOYER: I tend to agree with John that the public doesn’t support that...
MR. RUSSERT: So this, this will...
REP. HOYER: ...for just those reasons.
MR. RUSSERT: This will go on?
REP. HOYER: Fund-raising’s going to go on. So however it’s—if you have a reception, Tim, as you know, you’ve been to some. If you have a...
MR. RUSSERT: Not—not political fund-raisers.
REP. HOYER: No, no...
MR. RUSSERT: I don’t do political fund-raisers.
REP. HOYER: OK, fine, but you’ve been to receptions. And hardly anybody has just a fund-raiser, say send me money. They have an event. And they have, usually, food and drink at the event. That’s the way the fund-raisers are carried out, as you know.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of Speaker Pelosi. When she became speaker, she was given access to an airplane because, after September 11th—president, vice president, speaker of the House, in terms of succession to the presidency—Speaker Dennis Hastert, her predecessor, was given a plane to fly back and forth to his district in Illinois. Speaker Pelosi lives in California, so it’d take a different kind of airplane to make that flight nonstop. The Republican National Committee put out this: “Pelosi’s Power Trip: ‘Non-Stop’ Nancy Seeks Flight of Fancy.” And your colleagues in the House, Mr. Boehner, “Republic Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida said Mrs. Pelosi’s request represents ‘an arrogance of office that just defies common sense,’ and called it ‘a major deviation from the previous speaker.’ Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri called it a ‘flying Lincoln bedroom.’” What’s, what’s that all about?
REP. BOEHNER: There’s no question that the speaker, third in line to the president, ought to have the security of having a plane. The plane that was used for Mr., Mr. Hastert has a 4,000 nautical mile range. So the same plane could’ve been used by Ms. Pelosi. Where the concerns were elevated is when she started to talk about taking family, staff, the supporters, and other members on her trip with her. And I think the taxpayers ought to provide a plane for her and her close staff. But when you start talking about supporters and other members and friends, I don’t think the taxpayers ought to be held accountable for that.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, the White House weighed in, and they’re not usually willing to jump in on behalf of Nancy Pelosi’s side, but this is what Tony Snow, the White House press secretary said: “This is a silly story and I think it’s been unfair to the speaker.” You agree?
REP. BOEHNER: Well, I think that, the fact that she didn’t say much, most of what I know about this I read in the press. But again, when you start talking about taking supporters and friends and others, and that’s why you need a bigger plane, I think there’s got to be some line drawn. And I think that the G5 that the speaker used will get to California and back, and it’s got 12 seats, plenty of room for her and her staff and security.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not a 12-seat plane, which would be a, a, a very small part of the cost of a much larger plane?
REP. HOYER: Tim, this is—this is much ado about nothing. Tony Snow, as you pointed out, said this is silly. The Republicans are frustrated because we’ve been so successful in the first month at doing our new direction, at doing six for ‘06. We had an average 62 Republicans vote for those bills, 124 for the bringing down college expenses for students and their families. The fact of the matter is, they were looking for something. The sergeant at arms suggested to the Defense Department that this was necessary for the speaker’s security. The speaker didn’t ask for this. All of this other stuff that’s being added on is for political purposes, not for substantive purposes. Obviously, Speaker Hastert was flown to his destination, which was 1,000 miles closer than Ms. Pelosi’s destination, and the Defense Department and the Secret Service or the Capitol police are making arrangements. Nancy Pelosi hasn’t asked for this.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, Mr. Boehner, since 1994, you’ve been in the majority. What’s it like suddenly being in a minority?
REP. BOEHNER: Well, Tim, I’m a realist. You know, I told my colleagues on 9:00 election night, I was in the dumps. At 10:00, I knew I had a new hand to play. And I’ve always been good about accepting reality as it is. It’s not the funnest role, especially when, when they won’t even let us have a substitute this week, won’t let us have a—won’t open up the House. Live up to your word.
REP. HOYER: Poor John.
REP. BOEHNER: But it’s, it’s frustrating, but my job as the Republican leader is to—is to help our members earn our way back to a majority. And, and that is the only way we’re going to get there. We, we need to develop a, a—new Republican ideas to deal with the issues the American people care about.
REP. HOYER: Yeah, the American public voted for change. They’re going to get change, and they are getting change. As I said, we’ve had 52 hearings on Iraq in the last five weeks. That’s a change. That’s opening up government. That’s the transparency of which John spoke of a little earlier in a different context. We’re going to continue to bring change, and we’re going to give Republicans the opportunity to fully participate.
REP. BOEHNER: When?
REP. HOYER: John...
REP. BOEHNER: When?
REP. HOYER: John...
REP. BOEHNER: When? When? You’ve been saying that for, for, for a year.
REP. HOYER: John and...
REP. BOEHNER: We’re, we’re now six weeks into this.
REP. HOYER: John and his colleagues had the opportunity to come to all 52 hearings. Unlike us...
REP. BOEHNER: Not somebody on the floor.
REP. HOYER: ...that—on the floor.
REP. BOEHNER: Why don’t we have—why don’t you give us a vote this week?
REP. HOYER: Every Republican—Tim...
REP. BOEHNER: Give us a vote this week on whether you’re going to cut off funding for troops.
REP. HOYER: Every Republican is going to have an opportunity to speak this week on the floor of the House of Representatives. We didn’t...
REP. BOEHNER: But we don’t get to vote on what we want to vote on.
REP. HOYER: We didn’t—we didn’t get that, John. You remember that, of course.
REP. BOEHNER: You got, we had the same...
MR. RUSSERT: All right. All right. To be continued. The Democratic leader, the Republican leader, thanks very much for sharing your views.
Coming next, the race for the White House full swing. Candidates raising money, talking to supporters all across the country. And journalists, including yours truly, front and center in the Scooter Libby trial. Insights and analysis from David Broder and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, Gwen Ifill of PBS, and Roger Simon of The Politico, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, Howard Kurtz, Gwen Ifill, Roger Simon—our roundtable after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back, welcome all. June 16th, 1858, Abraham Lincoln stood in Springfield, Illinois, and talked about our nation, a house divided. Yesterday, Barack Obama, the Senator of Illinois, made history. Here he was making this announcement.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): That is why, in the shadow of the old state Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill, you are there in Springfield. The senator also talked about it being an improbable quest. What was it like? What is your reporting on this event?
MS. GWEN IFILL: Other than painfully cold, Tim? Actually, it was interesting, listening John Boehner, to discover that Abraham Lincoln is now everybody’s favorite president. That’s what we got a lot of yesterday in Springfield. And we also heard from Barack Obama—you know, the day of an announcement is a day for images, it’s a day for the enthusiastic crowds, it’s the day for the people who are willing to endure, you know, 10 degree weather in order to be uplifted. But you also heard of him talk about hope and about audacity. And by my count, and I think significantly, 13 times in his announcement speech he used the word generation or generational or generations. Because what he wants to do—it’s obvious that he’s an African-American, it’s obvious that he is—hasn’t been in the Senate that long. But what he’s trying to do, what it seemed to me he was trying to do is draw America’s attention to the notion that he represents something new because he is 45 years old. Hillary Clinton is 59 years old. It—that’s not exactly a generation gap between the two of them, but I think he understands that if he can appeal to people who, especially in the early stages of a campaign, are driven to the notion of hope and cause politics, that if he can emphasize the fact that he represents something new and fresh, then he can keep that momentum going.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, my ear heard something that I had not heard from Democratic candidates in some time. Up front, Senator Obama began his speech with references to his faith, and then came back to that same issue in the speech. Let’s watch.
SEN. OBAMA: Giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today.
It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education that I ever had and where I learned the meaning of my Christian faith.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: What’s that about?
MR. DAVID BRODER: It’s about values and about linking to the strains that are so powerful in our country of religious belief. This is an arresting figure who now has center stage to try to fill out the portrait that he’s drawn of himself. The generational appeal, I’m old enough to remember when—how powerfully that worked for John Kennedy, and I think there’s a potential that it will work for him. But Kennedy also linked his message to a very clear economic message, that the country could do better than it had been doing under reasonably good conditions in the Eisenhower years. Obama has yet to deliver that kind of a message, and, at some point pretty soon, I think he’s going to have to put some policy meat on the bones.
MR. RUSSERT: It is so striking how quickly he has exploded on the national scene, and it’s an interesting evolution, even in the way he considered himself as a potential candidate for president. Back in November of ‘04, he had just been elected to the Senate, he was on MEET THE PRESS. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, November 7, 2004)
MR. RUSSERT: There’s been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your full six year term as U.S. senator from Illinois?
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: And then in January of ‘06, as speculation continued to grow, he was back here, we had this exchange.
(Videotape, January 22, 2006)
SEN. OBAMA: I will serve out my full six year term.
MR. RUSSERT: So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?
SEN. OBAMA: I will not.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: That was January of ‘06. By October, nine months later, I asked Senator Obama about those statements here, and this is what he said.
(Videotape, October 22, 2006)
SEN. OBAMA: Well, the—that is how I was thinking at that time, and, and—you know, I, I don’t want to be coy about this—given the responses that I’ve been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility.
MR. RUSSERT: But it’s fair to say you’re thinking about running for president in 2008?
SEN. OBAMA: It’s fair, yes.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: Howard Kurtz, no parsing, no denial, saying in his own words, not being coy, that’s somewhat unusual for many politicians when they clearly change their mind.
MR. HOWARD KURTZ: Clearly you just wore him down, Tim, he got tired of saying no to you. He figured he may as well run or he’ll just keep getting these questions. Look, I haven’t seen a politician get this kind of walk-on-water coverage since Colin Powell a dozen years ago flirted with making a run for the White House. I mean, it is amazing. You know, you, you could say the chord that he has touched in the country, but also in journalists, but, at the same time, a guy with all of two years experience in the United States Senate getting coverage that ranges from positive to glowing to even gushing. He hasn’t even taken a mild hit yet except for that what turned out to be a bogus story in the conservative magazine Insight about he—when he was six years old he attended a madrassa, a fundamentalist Muslim religious school, supposedly spread by Hillary Clinton’s camp. Turned out to be totally untrue on all fronts. The only storm cloud on the media horizon has been something that’s picked up speed in the last week or so, was mentioned on “NBC Nightly News” on Friday, and that is this notion of is he black enough to get support in the African-American community, and if he is—isn’t is that because he’s trying to either please white people. And so the novelty and the challenges of being a serious African-American candidate for president, the press is just starting to grapple with, I believe.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, to Howie’s point, Senator Obama dealt with the experience issue in his speech. He’s been in the state legislature Illinois for eight years, the U.S. Senate for two years. This is how he discussed his background.
SEN. OBAMA: I recognize that there is a certain presumptuousness in this, a certain audacity to this announcement. I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that how he’s going to run, as the outsider?
MR. SIMON: Yes. He is not the candidate of Washington. Hillary Clinton is the candidate of Washington. That’s his message. He does not want to be the Washington insider. And in fact, he changed his mind about running when the analysis that he made and the polling he did showed that Hillary Clinton was beatable for the Democratic nomination. Also, I think, the, the real theme of this campaign is that it has become a litmus test for how much racial healing has taken place in this country. He says it’s audacious. He says it’s improbable. By implication, it is. If America actually nominates him and then votes for him for president and elects him, this will be a sign that we are a good and decent country that has healed its racial wounds. Now, Jesse Jackson had a same subtext, but Barack Obama is a much different politician than Jesse Jackson—much less threatening, much more appealing, and he actually has the ability to carry this off.
MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill, is there now a second phase of the coverage of Barack Obama where reporters and voters will start demanding from him real specifics on the real challenges confronting our country and world?
MS. IFILL: Well, probably. But before I get to that, Tim, I really have to respond to the comment that Howie made about the black enough story. I—you know, I, I guess I could paraphrase Lloyd Benson and say, “I covered Jesse Jackson, I know Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson.” But what I mean when I say that is people seem to set up this really interesting test for Barack Obama of blackness, which I have found absent in any other dialogue involving people who clearly appear to and identify and work in the black community, and I—I’m not quite certain where it comes from. As you know, Tim, I’m, I’m the son of West Indian immigrants. I, I don’t know if because I’m not the son of African-Americans—the daughter, that is, of African-Americans who are born in this country that makes me less black. So I’m a little puzzled about this discussion. I don’t know quite what, what—where it’s coming from, other than maybe some folks who haven’t been invited to the party.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, interesting point from Gwen.
MR. BRODER: Very, and I, I think I would endorse what she said. What struck me about the comment—your comment is that it is another parallel to John Kennedy, because Kennedy and his supporters framed that 1960 election as a test of the country’s readiness to accept a Catholic. And you’ll remember that, in a powerful speech, John Kennedy said, “Are we going to say as Americans that I lost my right to be president of the United States because I was—adopted the faith of my fathers?” That’s the same kind of appeal that Barack Obama can make.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Hillary Clinton. She was in New Hampshire yesterday. Her first appearance there in 10 years. And it was quite striking how many times she was asked about her position on the war. Here she is being asked in Berlin, New Hampshire, by a voter, a very serious question. Let’s watch that exchange.
Unidentified Man: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards. And the reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we’re not going to hear all these other great things you’re saying.
SEN: HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also—and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, it’s interesting. Reporters have been asking Hillary Clinton, “Was the war a mistake? Was the war a mistake?” because all the other Democratic candidates, major ones, have said that. Now, a voter, several voters have stepped forward. Is this simply “Gotcha” or is this something that’s dead serious in the voters’ minds?
MR. SIMON: It’s dead serious. The questions come because she refuses to make Iraq part of her stump speech. And I think, and many disagree with me, that her current position not to apologize, not to say it was a mistake, is an untenable position for her. I think she will be pushed to say, before we get to the Iowa caucuses, “I was wrong,” for two reasons. One, I think that’s where the Democratic voters are in Iowa and New Hampshire; and two, it feeds the image that the critics have of her that she’s a divisive figure. If this keeps going on week after week, people are going to say, “Why doesn’t she just say she was wrong? Why does she keep this controversy growing—going on?” She doesn’t want that, and I don’t think she’s going to be able to stick to that.
MR. RUSSERT: David:
MR. BRODER: A reporter from The Post, Chris Cillizza, who was up there, reported that the man who asked Senator Clinton that question said afterwards, “I’m not satisfied with that answer, and I can’t vote for her until she gives me a better answer.”
MR. RUSSERT: Howie Kurtz:
MR. KURTZ: Tim, it also feeds the image that the many journalists have of Senator Clinton as being a kind of a cold and calculating and triangulating politician. So she may have one eye on the general election, where she’s able to say, “Look, I gave president the authority to go to war. I didn’t know he was going to misuse it in this fashion. I don’t regret the vote.” But, certainly, Roger and others are right, this is a problem for her with the anti-war left that, that will be a big force in the Democratic primaries.
At the same time, it kind of plays into the journalists’ conception of her as somebody who works all the angles, who they—I mean, look at the contrast and the tone of coverage between Barack Obama, “audacity of hope,” and Hillary Clinton, who’s seen as very, very cautious. And this seems like a cautious answer. It may be a real answer. It may be a sincere answer. But it is feeding that image that journalists have of her.
MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill, John Edwards was the first Democratic candidate to say, “I was wrong,” but then Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, they’ve all done it. Barack Obama emphasizing he opposed the war from day one. Is there pressure on Hillary Clinton to do just that? And is it fair pressure?
MS. IFILL: Well, there’s always going to be pressure on Hillary Clinton to do one thing or another. I think it is not insignificant that she is a woman running for president and, therefore, has to find some way not to appear like a weak sister on the issues like the war. She has been working since she’s been in the Senate to toughen up her foreign—her international security credentials. So that’s part of why, I think, there’s, there’s some of the not backing down. But more than that, it, it just shows you how much Iraq is going to be the elephant in the room, to use a overused phrase, during this entire campaign. You can try to come up with a finessed position, as Senator Clinton has, but you’re always going to be questioned about it, especially in venues like New Hampshire and Iowa where there’s going to be a lot of face-to-face interaction with voters who are unusually interested in these kinds of details. So if she—this is where she ends up and lands, that might be something we have to get used to, but it’s certainly not going to go away.
MR. RUSSERT: Rudy Giuliani went to California, Republican state convention, and came pretty close to officially declaring. This is what he said in Sacramento.
FMR. NYC Mayor RUDY GIULIANI: (Sacramento, California) You get to decide who that leader is going to be. And I wish you’d decide on me.
MR. RUSSERT: Later on he said, “Well, formal announcement, maybe, but I think what I’d prefer to do is have a day where I can make the same announcement five times and you guys will all cover it again,” understanding our profession quite well.
But The New York Times wrote a piece, David Broder, headlined “Giuliani Shifts Abortion Speech Gently to Right.”
“As he prepares for a possible run for president—a road that goes deep into the heart of conservative America—Rudolph Giuliani takes with him a belief in abortion rights that many think could derail his bid to capture the Republican nomination.
“But in recent weeks, as he has courted voters in South Carolina, ... Mr. Giuliani has highlighted a different element of his thinking on the abortion debate. He has talked about how he would appoint ‘strict constructionist’ judges to the Supreme Court—what abortion rights advocates say is code among conservatives for those who seek to overturn or limit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling declaring a constitutional right to abortion.”
“The effect has been to distance himself from a position favoring abortion rights that he espoused when he ran for mayor of New York City, where most voters favor abortion rights.” Is that a challenge for the mayor?
MR. BRODER: It’s a big challenge for him, and I think he will be pinned to his historical position on abortion rights as he becomes a formal candidate. But I think it’d be a terrible mistake to underestimate his potential in this race. The kind of reception that he got yesterday in California has been all over the country in all kinds of Republican audiences. I was struck at a conversation at the last Republican Convention with Haley Barbour, the former party chairman, now governor of Mississippi, who told me that he had taken Giuliani to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and he said he was like a rock star in Hattiesburg. I figure if he can make it in Hattiesburg, he can make it almost anywhere.
MR. RUSSERT: We will find out.
Howie Kurtz, I want to ask you about the Scooter Libby trial. William Powers in the National Journal has an interesting column where he thinks that the fact that journalists have to testify is good because it will open up in terms of the public being able to see how reporters cultivate relationships to get information. You have a different view of that?
MR. KURTZ: Yeah, I certainly don’t think it’s a good thing at all, and I think the reputation of journalists in this Libby trial have taken a hit. I was in the courtroom when you testified, Tim, and you looked uncomfortable during five hours of cross-examination, cautious, hesitant, as anybody would be. No journalist likes to be on the witness stand when, in this case, Libby’s lawyer was trying to take small statements you’d made and find discrepancies and ask you why, on the one hand, you were willing to talk to the FBI about your conversation with Scooter Libby but you resisted a subpoena. You said that it was because you didn’t want to get into a prosecutorial fishing expedition.
The problem for us as a profession is this: When journalists get up there and testify, beside—leaving aside the First Amendment question—it looks to people like—out there like we have become too cozy with senior Bush administration officials, not so we can ferret out information about national security, not so we can find out about corruption, but, in this particular case, in some cases, acting as a conduit for White House effort to put out negative information about Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, a big critic of the pre-war intelligence. And I think that the people out there who don’t follow this all that closely think that we have become part of the club, too much the insiders. And that is a problem for journalism.
MR. RUSSERT: It is different when you can’t finish your sentence or complete your thought, when you’re restricted to yes-no answers. And it is uncomfortable. But it’s—if you’re called, you’re called.
But, Roger, to Howie’s point, do you think that the fact that journalists have to work their sources to get, get information is a bad thing for the public to see?
MR. SIMON: No, I think the public has a healthy realism about how the press operates. But I also have to say, this is a nutty trial that nobody except the people involved in it and the people covering it care about. Once again we have a prosecutor who can’t an indictment for the real crime—leaking the identity of a CIA agent—so he goes instead for the crime of, well, people didn’t tell him the complete truth when they talked to him. I mean, there’s no underlying crime here that anyone has been indicted for. This is just a show trial. And I’ve got to say, even if he’s convicted—and he may not be—but even if he’s convicted, would any judge send to prison a guy named Scooter? He wouldn’t last 48 hours.
MR. RUSSERT: We...
MR. KURTZ: But, Roger, it’s a show trial that has put the spotlight on the Bush administration’s attempt to make a case about pre-war intelligence that turned out not to be true. That matters.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, Judy Miller, Matt Cooper and myself, and now Bob Woodward, Andrea Mitchell, Walter Pincus—you’re going to have a significant number of journalists going before a court, which will be all covered. What does that do to journalism?
MR. BRODER: Well, it hurts. And it hurts because I think it opens up something that has been worrisome, I think, to many of us in the press, which is the way in which relationships between reporters and government officials can be used by those government officials to plant stories, in effect, that are damaging to their political enemies using the reporters, in effect, to carry out their political mission. And that’s different from cultivating a source to get information that’s of value to you as a journalist. Here you are being used by the government official to carry out their political work.
MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill:
MS. IFILL: Well, you know, the journalists I talked to are having sort, sort of a collective nervous breakdown about this. We watch you testify, we watch Judy Miller and Matt Cooper and whoever else we end up seeing before this trial is over, and we think, “Well, could my bad handwriting now be part of a, a court trial. Or could my misremembered conversation now make me liable—a person who lies?” And then I think to myself that, in the end, I don’t know where this is going to shake out for us. You’re right, it’s—Roger’s right, in some ways it’s kind of an inside story in that we’re all talking to each other and we’re very crazed about it. And I don’t know that Americans around the world are really worrying about that. But I do know that at some level it’s going to affect the way we do our jobs. On the “NewsHour” this week, one of my colleagues interviewed Tim Rutten from the L.A. Times, and he said he routinely destroys all his notes now. He doesn’t keep anything, and that’s his way of protecting himself against the possibility that someone might want to subpoena notes. Now, I’ve heard reporters say, “Oh, that—from now on I’m just throwing my notes away,” but I’d never heard of someone who’s actually doing that. And I don’t know what kind of implication that has for the business, what kind of implication that even has, not to make it too big a point, but for history books.
MR. RUSSERT: Hmm. It’s a huge question. Thank you all, Gwen Ifill, Howie Kurtz, David Broder, Roger Simon. We’ll be right back after this.
MR. RUSSERT: For more information on today’s guests and—guests and topics, check out the MEET THE PRESS Web site. You can download audio and video, the entire program, to your computer or MP3 player. The MEET THE PRESS netcast and video podcast all at mtp.msnbc.com.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.