updated 2/20/2007 11:47:19 AM ET 2007-02-20T16:47:19

Guests: Arianna Huffington, Craig Crawford, Bob Cusack, Amy Argetsinger, Roxanne Roberts

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  More than three months after getting elected to change the course of the Iraq war, the House of Representatives Friday afternoon finally voted.  Well, not to change course exactly, but to resolve by a count, an overwhelming count of 246-182 that the United States House of Representatives officially opposed President Bush‘s troop surge. 

It sets up a political showdown between the legislative and executive branches of our government.  And there‘s a Senate resolution that is still pending and may come up on Saturday.

Hi.  I‘m Joe Scarborough.  I‘m in for Tucker Carlson.  And we‘re going to break down the action in Congress, as well as President Bush‘s improbable renewed swagger.  Where does he get that swagger from?  I want to buy some.

Plus, the outrageous wasting of $10 billion of reconstruction money in Iraq.  Where have all the conservatives gone?

And finally, Al Franken‘s bid to complete the journey from playing a baggage handler in “Trading Places” to United States senator. 

With me now for expert analysis on today‘s anti-surge vote in the House and all other political news from the day, editor from “The Huffington Post,” Arianna Huffington; MSBNC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford; and managing editor of “The Hill” magazine, Bob Cusack.

Arianna, let me start with you.

There are a lot of us out there that have been talking about how this resolution may be meaningless.  By “us,” I‘m not talking about you, but me and several other people.  But it seems today that was such a thumping defeat for the president of the United States because he lost so many of his own party members.  Again, let‘s underline this, a commander in chief in a time of war, in a war that as really at a tipping point, the president loses that many members of Congress and members of his own party, it can only be seen as a historic, stinging rebuke, can‘t it? 

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, “THE HUFFINGTON POST”:  It is a historic rebuke, and what makes it even more so is that many of the members who voted for the resolution come from solidly Republican seats.  So there was no political motivation. 

It‘s not because the polls are against the war and they are worried for their re-election chances in 2008.  A lot of these votes were votes of conscience.  And that makes it even harder for the president to dismiss it. 

What also makes this very interesting is that it‘s only the first step.  That Jack Murtha‘s plans to attach strings to the appropriations vote clearly makes it absolutely unequivocal that the Democrats are not going to stop with this resolution. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Arianna, what do you think about members like Ric Keller, that comes from a solidly Republican district in Florida?  He goes on the floor a couple days ago and says, you know what?  I‘m sick and tired of taking care of the guy‘s yard next door when the guy door doesn‘t seem to care about his yard himself. 

I mean, isn‘t that where Americans are?  And you know me.  I‘m a conservative guy.  I‘m just as conservative now as I was when I was in Congress, but I think a lot of Americans are like me, a lot of Americans are like you, saying, all right, we‘ve given enough blood, we‘ve given enough treasure.  We‘re giving our very lives to fight for democracy in Iraq.  At some point, it‘s up to the Iraqis to figure out what their future is. 

Is that what drove this vote more than anything? 

HUFFINGTON:  Absolutely.  And that‘s why, Joe, it‘s not a left-right vote.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s not.

HUFFINGTON:  As you know, it‘s very—it‘s not a left-right vote at all.  After all, the Republicans in the House, were led by Congressman Walter Jones, a conservative Republican from North Carolina.  And after all, it‘s very conservative to be against nation-building when the other nation doesn‘t want to be built as a democracy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly. 

Isn‘t that what we said, Arianna?  I mean, you followed the House of Representatives in the 1990s.  Isn‘t that what Newt Gingrich, Joe Scarborough and all of these conservatives said in the 1990s about Bosnia, about Kosovo, about all these other wars, that weren‘t in the business of nation-building, that the United Nations was run by Wilsonian idealists, and yet here we find ourselves being more Wilsonian than Wilson ever dreamed of being? 

HUFFINGTON:  And also, remember that even the president himself in 2000, when he was running for election, spoke out against nation-building.  So then we had the neoconservatives who somehow managed to dominate the debate and win.  And now some of them are—like Paul Wolfowitz, are running the World Bank, others have disappeared in terms of the intellectual neoconservative behind these imperial ambitions. 

They haven‘t worked.  Everybody can see they haven‘t worked.  And we are wasting precious American lives and tens of billions of American dollars in an effort that is clearly not going to be victorious. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.

And I was just going to say, Craig Crawford, a lot of these Republicans would have voted (ph) better with the president despite the 3,000-plus lives lost, despite the billions and billions of dollars that were being spent if they really thought that the president had a clear plan for victory in Iraq, or at least a strategic retreat.  But so many Republicans, even those voting with him today, have lost faith in the president as commander in chief, haven‘t they? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Yes, and you were right to single out Ric Keller.  That happens to be the district in Orlando that I grow up in, Joe, and I know it quite well.  And I remember as a teenager way back at the end of the Vietnam War years, there was practically no visible opposition to the war in Vietnam even in that area of to country.  And so, it‘s gotten a little more Democratic since, but this is surprising.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Craig—Craig, not to rat out our home state, Craig, but our home state did vote for Wallace in ‘68 and ‘72 in the Democratic primaries.  But go ahead. 

CRAWFORD:  It was pretty much Goldwater country in those days.

SCARBOROUGH:  It was.

CRAWFORD:  but it‘s still a pretty conservative area.  It‘s gotten more Democrat-leaning since.  But I would say that politically, the Democrats have the upper hand, but legally, the things that Murtha is talking about that Arianna referred to, I mean, I might be hampered by my law school training in constitutional law and focus on war powers, and I have some real doubts that Congress is on strong legal ground with some of these measures they are talking about, short of doing what is their constitutional role, which is declaring war or not.

And they didn‘t that in this case and haven‘t done in modern wars, and have ceded so much authority to the executive branch on war power that I really wonder if this is only a political victory, if they can actually sustain anything legally along the lines Murtha is talking about. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  And I think unfortunately they have very crude political objects to work with.  They can either authorize a war or not, or they can de-fund a war or not.

I think Jack—but let me say, Bob Cusack, if anybody can do this, Jack Murtha can.  This guys knows where the bodies are buried when he starts going through those defense appropriations bills like nobody, right? 

BOB CUSACK, “THE HILL”:  He does.  He is a true expert, obviously, a veteran.  But at the same time, some Democrats were a little concerned about his rhetoric this week. 

And I just came from the Hill, and Congressman Adam Putnam, who is a member of the Republican leadership, indicated that Jack Murtha was their best whip because they were able to cite Murtha‘s comments about de-funding the war, and that actually helped him.  A lot of people thought this vote count was going to be—there were going to be a lot more defections than just ended up being, 17.

So, Republicans on the Hill knew they were going to lose, and they thought they would lose by a wider margin.  And this sets up what‘s going to happen in the Senate.  But Republicans right now were pleasantly pleased that they didn‘t have more defections.  And they say Jack Murtha actually helped them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Bob, just three, four nights ago we were talking about through “The Washington Post” a possibility of the president losing 30 to 60 Republicans members.  But are you suggesting maybe talking to moveon.org may have—may have inflamed some Republicans and got them at the president‘s side? 

CUSACK:  I think so.  I think also that the president—what his words and his—I mean, he‘s done a media offensive and his poll numbers are stagnant.  Nancy Pelosi has much higher poll numbers than the president right now.

But his media offensive, plus Murtha‘s comments, it‘s going to be—the hard work now for Democratic leaders is whether—is the next step.  They lost two Democrats today, only two.  So they‘re unified on this resolution.  But when they get into the binding resolution, when they get into the money, when they get into what Jack Murtha wants to do, a lot of Democrats are going to be very wary of siding with Murtha because—well, I mean, let‘s face it, it‘s politics in 2008.

A lot of Republicans are nervous about their re-election hopes next year.  And they got—they got hammered on Iraq in 2006.  And it all, you know, boils down to that. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Guys, we‘ve got to take a quick break.

HUFFINGTON:  Joe, can I jump in?

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  We‘ve got to leave, but I‘m going to give you five seconds, because I know you can tell us the kernel of the truth in five seconds. 

Go!

HUFFINGTON:  OK.  Very quickly, I think this is purely Republican spin that it could have been worse.  And also, to say that Jack Murtha‘s rhetoric was inflammatory, I thought it was absolutely right on the point.  He did not talk about de-funding the war.  He talked about very specific ways to do it.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Arianna, I‘ll tell you what, any time the president of the United States, a commander in chief in a time of war, loses 16 or 17 members of his own party, that is a stinging defeat even if he was expecting to lose 30 to 60, and even if that number was put out there for cause of spin.  But we‘ll see what happens.

And Democrats obviously have to listen to their base because their base helped put them in power, and they didn‘t put them there for them to be a bunch of moderates when it came to standing up to the president in a time of war.

Anyway, well, coming up, no matter what you think of his job performance, you‘ve got to hand it to President Bush—this guy is getting his swagger back.  Where does it come from?

The embattled commander in chief sounds confident these days.  And we‘re, for the life of us, trying to figure out why.

Plus, there‘s hardly a more confident leader in the country than America‘s mayor, Rudy Giuliani.  Is he going to maintain his political strut in the face of a surprising new 2008 presidential poll?

Stick around.  That‘s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, you‘ve got to hand it to Jack Murtha.  This guy, he‘s from Pennsylvania and one of the most powerful congressman in Congress for a long time.

He was among the first in Washington to protest against the Iraq war, and the more crowded that limb gets, the further he has moved out on it.  Toward the edge, some would say.

Now, Jack Murtha has proposed a detailed war plan in conjunction with moveon.org, and the essence of the plan is to set difficult standards for adding troops in Iraq.  And so difficult that the U.S. military would have a hard time executing that surge, and of course it‘s a surge that the overwhelming majority of Americans are against. 

Here now to talk about Congressman Murtha—or I should did say Chairman Murtha, and the planner, the editor of “The Huffington Post,” Anna Huffington; MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist, Craig Crawford; and managing editor of “The Hill” magazine, Bob Cusack. 

Now, Arianna, as we were going to break, you were a bit concerned at some language used about Jack Murtha and actually helping George W. Bush by moving so far to the left that he actually ended up pushing Republicans back in the president‘s camp. 

Talk about why you don‘t think that‘s an accurate depiction of what happened this past week.

HUFFINGTON:  Well, first of all, Joe, you and I have agreed that it‘s not about moving to the left and moving to the right.  This debate is not about right-left.  And the proposals that Jack Murtha has put forward has nothing to do with the left. 

They‘re proposals solely supported by the military.  In fact, what makes Jack Murtha so interesting as an opponent of the war is that he has such great ties with the American military and has always had them.  That‘s why he was the first Democratic hawk over a year ago to come out against the war, the first one to call it a civil war—remember that?  When Jack Murtha came out and said this is a civil war, people were saying, oh, he is too far to the left, he doesn‘t know what he is talking about.  In fact, he was very accurate in describing it. 

So, in the same way now, what he is saying is he‘s saying stop the stop-loss policies that bring troops back to Iraq when—when it‘s not their time to get back, and then give them proper time for training.  These are all military regulations.  This is nothing...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and it all goes back to the rotation.  It all goes back—and I was talking to a conservative activist before I came on this show, just a huge Reagan Republican that said, yes, this is what you guys were talking about in the 1990s, Craig Crawford.  We were talking about troop reaction, where we made sure that readiness stayed up. 

And could you explain, Craig—put a little perspective on this for people that haven‘t followed Jack Murtha‘s career—about what Arianna just said, how this guy has long been the hawk‘s hawk on the Democratic side of the aisle. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, that‘s why it was such big news when he got off the reservation (ph) of this war publicly.  And it was driven by his close relations with military leaders.

And getting what—I love this phrase, Joe, from the Pentagon and the military world, “the ground truth.”  And when he started listening to what military folks call “the ground truth” about what they really see in Iraq, as opposed to the spin from civilian politicians here in Washington, he began on this journey that we‘ve seen him on. 

And so he is an unlikely character to lead the charge against war, and it gives credibility that he is not some, you know, bandana-wearing hippie from the ‘60s.  This guy is a military hawk in every sense of the word.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Bob Cusack, you can take a guy like Jack

Murtha, you can take a guy like Jim Webb, you‘ve got a lot of really tough

you can take a guy like the Republican senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, that a lot of people—hey, these aren‘t hippies versus POWs from Vietnam.  These are Vietnam vets versus Vietnam vets.  You‘ve got hawks like Jack Murtha. 

This is providing Democrats who want to vote against this war and against this surge a lot of political cover, isn‘t it?  Especially when you have got the generals at the Pentagon who have been saying for some time, privately, that they think the surge makes no military sense at all. 

CUSACK:  Absolutely.  This has—this has emboldened Democrats, and they have made major headway on homeland security.  And Nancy Pelosi‘s speech on the floor today, she mentioned about Afghanistan and getting the focus back on terrorism. 

And that‘s the key here.  Is the war—has the war in Iraq made the United States safer?  And if you look at the polls, initially the answer to that was yes.  But now it‘s not.  And Democrats are very emboldened, and they are making major headway moving these—both in the first 100 hours on a range of popular legislation, and now on this non-binding resolution, which is extremely popular with the country.  They‘ve got momentum right now, and the pressure is on the White House to see if they can recover. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it, Bob.

We‘re going to be talking about a lot more coming up, including Minnesota voters.  You know, they‘ve already elected a pro-wrestler to be their governor, but would they really elect a comedian who was once photographed in a very notorious way, in bed with Arianna Huffington?

We‘ve got Al Franken‘s dangerous liaison on this very show to tell all.

And up next, what does President Bush know that his critics don‘t?  The commander in chief kills them will confidence.  And we‘ll try to figure out how he does it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, for a man with a Congress that officially opposes him now and less than two years to turn around his legacy, President Bush looks like a guy who got a hot tip on a 99-1 shot at (INAUDIBLE), and like he‘s got dinner reservations at Joe‘s Stone Crabs afterwards.  I mean, how can it be that the cockiness he seemed to lose after the November elections is back this way in his public appearances and his rhetoric? 

Back with me to talk about that and trying to crack the code here, the editor of “The Huffington Post,” Arianna Huffington; MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford; and managing editor of “The Hill” magazine, Bob Cusack.

You know, Craig, you wrote about this.  I hate to be blunt about it, but what does this guy got to be cocky about?

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think there‘s some psychology here to look at, Joe.  You know, the president, I think, just by his nature is a very confident man.  I would point to, you know, the history of anyone recovering from substance abuse, even. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh god.

CRAWFORD:  No, very seriously. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Where did you get that?

CRAWFORD:  No, there is a body of thought about those in recovery, like he is, become very absolute about blacks and whites.  There‘s no middle ground. 

You either—you either take that substance or you don‘t.  I mean, I don‘t want to make too much of that, but I think those who know folks like that have often told me that there is a comparison there.  I also look at how this...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, Craig, you could also say—I mean, as a guy who has grown up in an evangelical church, you can also say that about certain people of faith.  A lot of people are more pragmatic, but there‘s some people that go in those church pews and it‘s black or white, right?

CRAWFORD:  Sure, yes.  And I think the president is just one of those kinds of folks.

And also, I think his presidency was very much characterized, Joe, by how it came into being, which was in the Florida recount.  I mean, when you became president...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

CRAWFORD:  ... with just 537 votes and a friendly Supreme Court and were able to then go forward and argue and assert a great mandate from the people, and do it convincingly, then things like a midterm election that didn‘t go your way or a feisty Congress really isn‘t that big a deal.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Just kind of...

CRAWFORD:  He‘s handled his presidency the same way ever since. 

Bold...

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna...

CRAWFORD:  It‘s all about boldly asserting and plausibly maintaining your point of view. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.

Arianna, how maddening is it for you that the swagger seems to remain on this man after everything?

HUFFINGTON:  Actually, it‘s not maddening, it‘s disturbing.  You know, I wrote a book in 2004 called “Fanatics and Fools,” and I studied fanatics.  And the president is a classic fanatic.

You know, the hallmark of fanaticism is when you don‘t let evidence, facts, reality interfere with your view of the world.  And that‘s really the hallmark of this president.

If you watched his news conference, as I‘m sure you did, it is stunning to see how jugular (ph) he was in the middle of the war, going as badly as it‘s going.  And the way he was playing with the reporters.  And the way at the end he said, “OK, I‘ve got to go to lunch now” with the secretary of the defense.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  I know.

Hey, you know what, Arianna, we‘ve got to go to break.  I do have to say, though, he either is delusional or Churchillian.  History will tell.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

SCARBOROUGH:  By the way, talking about State Farm in Mississippi deciding to stop all homeowners insurance policies, I talked to a Mississippi lawmakers last night who has a great idea.  He says, you know what, State Farm doesn‘t have to write homeowners policies anymore, but if they‘re not going to write home owners policies, then they‘re not going to write auto policies, or life insurance policies, or any other policies.  I man, you can not pick and choose.  This comes from a man who knows, living in the state of Florida.

Anyway, if it‘s a day of the week ending in Y, it‘s got to be time for a new poll of 2008 presidential contenders.  And alas, my friends, it is.  The latest one comes from the highly respected “National Journal.”  However -- So, it‘s worth noting, it‘s no big surprise that Hillary Clinton and John McCain lead their respective party prospects.  What is a bit unexpected is the apparently very strong position of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appears to run ahead of Mrs. Clinton in a head-to-head contest. 

Here to lay down their own odds on the 2008 presidency.  Because, you know, it‘s just never too early anymore.  And to comment on the “National Journal” poll are the editor of the “Huffington Post,” Arianna Huffington, MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist, Craig Crawford, and managing editor of “The Hill” magazine, Bob Cusack. 

Bob, I always like looking where House members go and where senators go, because that‘s sort of where you see where the party machinery is clunking in one direction.  What are you hearing on the House floor and from Senators about Rudy Giuliani?  Does anybody really think he can win the Republican nomination?

CUSACK:  A few, but not a lot.  As far as presidential endorsements from lawmakers, Mitt Romney is in the lead. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is that?  Who is Mitt Romney.  Why is this guy in the lead?  I hate to sound like Chris Matthews.  Why?  Why?  I don‘t understand, why? 

CUSACK:  Well, as you know Joe, a lot of the House Republicans don‘t like Senator McCain, and they see a viable alternative in Romney.  Giuliani may be a lot too much liberal on the social issues.  And they see Romney, certainly had some flip-flops from ten years ago or so, but they don‘t want John McCain to be the nominee.  And that‘s why I think they‘re gravitating toward Romney.              

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Arianna Huffington, what do you make of these poll numbers, that Rudy Giuliani could beat Hillary Clinton if he got to a general election?  Do you really think he‘s going to get to a general election?

HUFFINGTON:  I just don‘t believe poll numbers that early.  I don‘t think they really mean very much.  They may help fund raising for the candidates, but other than that, they are pretty meaningless.  You know, I actually think, increasingly, we should put the poll results in the astrology section of the paper, because if you look at how much it really determined outcomes, it‘s just stunning how bad they have been. 

In fact, a few years ago, I launched, together with Harry Shearer, one of my comedian friends, a campaign called Partnership for a Poll-Free America.  Because it is stunning by how much Oxygen is absorbed by all these polling results and how meaningless they are.  But, nevertheless, Giuliani was America‘s mayor after 9/11.  So people who are not yet paying a lot of attention think of Giuliani in those terms.

They have not begun to analyze his exact positions, or the weirdness factor, or should he or should he not be kissing his wife on the cover of a magazine.  All that has not really begun to have an impact on his poll numbers. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, you have studied poll numbers closely threw the years.  And I will say that I would agree with Arianna in most cases.  But if you look at 2000, and 2004, you could have seen Bush against Gore in 2000, coming three years earlier.  You could have seen Bush versus Kerry coming three years earlier.  Is it inevitable that we are going to see, because the huge role that money plays, that we will see McCain versus Hillary Clinton? 

CRAWFORD:  I really don‘t think so Joe, because I have this hunch that, particularly on the Republican side, I‘m not so sure about the Democratic side, but on the Republican side, I have a hunch that we‘re not going to see a nominee out of the top tier candidates.  I think things are more fluid on the Republican side.

I can‘t tell you who is going to break out.  I do know this, I would issue a call to the rest of the media, now‘s the time.  We‘ve set the table of the top candidates in both parties.  I really think we have a responsibility to look at some of the second and even third-tier candidates for the presidency.  The American people have a right to get to know some of these other people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, of course, a guy that you‘ve loved—I‘m sorry Craig, but I wanted to interject there, because, even though I don‘t think a whole lot about Jimmy Carter as a president, the guy that you worked for, but I think Jimmy Carter‘s story is one of the most inspiring stories in modern American politics, that a guy, a one-term governor from Georgia, that nobody knew, could go out to Iowa when America was at its most cynical, and he could start knocking on doors. 

Again, Jimmy who.  Nobody knew who this guy was.  And two years later, he was sworn in as president of the United States.  I just don‘t see that happening anymore.  You have to win Wall Street.  You‘ve got to raise over 100 million dollars.  And that‘s why I think Jimmy Carter stories just are not going to happen anymore. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, maybe not.  I mean, that was a Cinderella story.  I went out and campaigned for him in Iowa as a college kid in 1976.   In fact, he was out there so early, by the time the caucuses rolled around, he was literally in the phone book.  That is something that maybe doesn‘t happen anymore, but I do know this, there are other people running, other than these top tiers on both sides, and I think people like a Mike Huckabee from Arkansas, or a Sam Brownback on the Republican side, particularly because they have a bead on that social conservative vote, that is bound to matter.

I think, we really ought to start looking at these second and third tiers now, while there‘s time. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s talk about—go ahead. 

HUFFINGTON:  I wanted to see that we should look at some who have not yet declared, like Chuck Hagel.  If Chuck Hagel declares, he is definitely going to own the anti-war part of the Republican primary, which is becoming more and more significant.  And on the Democratic side, what is interesting is that the money primary, which everybody assumed Hillary Clinton would be winning heads down, is getting much more complicated.  Barack Obama is coming here to Hollywood on Tuesday, and the fund raiser that Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Giffen have put together for him is going to bring him about a million dollars. 

Now, that is a phenomenal amount of money for one night.  There are not many candidates that can get that.   

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna, doesn‘t Hillary Clinton raise a million dollars as she sleeps? 

HUFFINGTON:  Yes, but what I‘m saying is nobody else does.  So now she has competition.  There is somebody else who raises a million dollars as he sleeps.  And that is something new in the Democratic primary. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me ask you, Arianna, who would you rather run against?  I‘m going to ask you and then I‘m going to give my opinion.  Who would you rather run against as a progressive, would you rather run against John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Rudy Giuliani? 

HUFFINGTON:  I would rather run against the most pro-war candidate, the most pro-escalation candidate, and in this case, this is emerging to be Rudy Giuliani.  He is out-McCaining McCain.  He‘s endorsing everything the president has done.  It is absolutely stunning.  It‘s as though he is trying to compensate for his pro-abortion, pro-gun control views by being the most pro-escalation, pro-war candidate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  If I were running Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, I would absolutely love to run against Mitt Romney, because here is a guy, in his 50‘s, that decides he‘s changed his position on gay marriage.  He decides he‘s changed his position on abortion rights.  He decides he‘s change his position on gun control.  He decides he‘s changed his position on all of these issues, Bob Cusack, that matter so much to the conservative base.

That‘s why, I guess, I ask, Bob, why so many Republicans were breaking Mitt Romney‘s way.  Isn‘t this really just about the Bush machine quietly starting to work behind the scenes to get Mitt Romney out there? 

CUSACK:  Well, it could be, but also, at the same point, I agree with Craig.  I think there are a lot of candidates that—it could flip very easily, because this is just so unpredictable.  Every candidate has some type of weakness, Giuliani on the social conservative issues, the flip-flopping from Romney, McCain on Iraq.  So, I‘m not so sure that the Bush people are pushing Romney, but at the same time—

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I can tell you they are in Florida.  They are quietly pushing him in Florida, and if you look at the people starting to line up behind this Massachusetts governor, that shouldn‘t be getting conservative support, Craig Crawford, they all seem to be attached to the Bush organization.  I mean, you can draw organizational lines a lot of states, especially all of Jeb‘s people have all gotten on Mitt Romney‘s team, for no apparent reason at all. 

Let‘s go from Florida to Minnesota.  Tell me about Al Franken?  Is he going to be Senator Franken? 

CRAWFORD:  Sure, I think that‘s a real possibility.  Minnesota is a bit out there at times.  But actually, even though he is a comedian, he has spent many years now in public life, as a civic leader, and then on his radio program.  He talks a lot.  I sometimes worry when comedians try to get serious, it can get really deadly.  I hope he keeps some of his humor.  But he certainly can talk enough to be a senator. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, he‘s been painted as a leftist in these culture wars.  Of course, the titles of his books haven‘t helped, but when its comes to war and peace, he is pretty strong on national defense, isn‘t he?  He supported the war at the beginning, didn‘t he?

CRAWFORD:  He has a good personal story, but Arianna has been in bed with him. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna, you have slept with him.  Tell me about Al Franken in bed? 

HUFFINGTON:  I decided to release the videos, because I didn‘t want this to sink his campaign later on.  The truth is that in 1996, over 10 years ago, we did something called “Strange Bed Fellows,” political commentary in bed.  That‘s what I loved about it. 

CRAWFORD:  Best political show ever. 

HUFFINGTON:  I blogged about it and we put up eight videos of our experiences in bed.  So it‘s all there, before Pamela Anderson, before Paris Hilton, Al and I had video there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That is awesome.  Tell me about him politically, Arianna.  He is not the leftist that sometimes he is portrayed as in the media, is he?  He is fairly strong on national defense, as far as Democrats go. 

HUFFINGTON:  Well, first of all, you know, Joe, I keep repeating how these left-right ways of looking at politics is kind of obsolete.  But no, Al has been going to Iraq again and again to entertain the troops.  He has been working incredibly hard.  In fact, I talked to him last night.  He had been out speaking, fund raising, this is not something that he is taking lightly.  He is working very hard.  He is very serious about it.  And I think he has an incredibly good chance.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think he does.  And I‘ll tell you what, he also—this war is personal to him.  He lost a very close friends in Iraq just a couple of weeks ago.  Well, we will see how that goes.  And we will be back with our panel.  But coming up, happy birthday to Little Kim, the world‘s most terrifying and ridiculous rogue lunatic recluse reaches retirement age.  Any chance he‘ll take a gold watch and go fishing?  MSNBC‘s chief festivals and anniversaries correspondent Willie Geist has the scoop.

Plus, conflicting reports on a red hot celebrity rehab story.  Did Britney Spears really check herself in for help, or not?  We‘ll sort out those details when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, this is a tradition, I understand, that‘s as old as the 110th Congress.  It‘s MSNBC Friday visit to the proverbial Washington cloakroom, the smoking lounge at the high school that is our nation‘s capital.  Yes, my friends, it‘s beltway gossip time.  And there‘s nobody more willing and able to turn secrets into common knowledge than the first ladies of “DC Dish.”  Yes, that is, of course, Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts of the “Washington Post‘s” universally—and I do mean universally ready gossip column, the “Reliable Source.” 

ROXANNE ROBERTS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Willing and able?

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.

AMY ARGETSINGER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes, we‘re here to serve.

SCARBOROUGH:  What can you tell us that will make us all Washington insiders on this Friday afternoon? 

ARGETSINGER:  Well let me tell you something, a couple of weeks ago, the “New York Times” had a front page story that was complaining about the profusion of gossip out of Washington, and complaining that all of it was too small scale, too petty.  Well, I‘m here to tell you we had an item in today‘s paper about how Madeline Albright had her car broken into.  And people loved this story.

SCARBOROUGH:  Amy, that‘s big news.  I mean, Amy, she was a historic figure, a secretary of state.  This is big, why do they—

ARGETSINGER:  Do you know what they took from her car? 

SCARBOROUGH:  State secrets.

ARGETSINGER:  They took four rolls of quarters.  That‘s all they took. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait.  Why? 

(CROSS TALK)  

ARGETSINGER:  They broke into her Mercedes in Georgetown. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Amy, did she have Packman fever.  What‘s going on here?

ARGETSINGER:  Either that or a whole lot of laundry.  I don‘t know, one or the other.  Her people have not returned calls for comments, so we do not know why.  She might just be very proactive when it comes to parking meters. 

ROBERTS:  I sit quarters around, because, you know, who wants to get a ticket.

ARGETSINGER:  She might be collecting all the state quarters like I am.

ROBERTS:  Are you?

SCARBOROUGH:  You know women, I‘m writing a list right here, and we‘re going to say “New York Times,” one, Washington, nothing.  OK, let‘s go to gossip story number two and get big. 

ARGETSINGER:  Well, here‘s the other thing.  Whenever anyone says—when you have a movie screening with a panel discussion to follow, usually you want to run for the hills, because those things are so boring.  Not so much this week.  There was a screening of Rory Kennedy‘s new documentary about Abu Ghraib.  It was at the Ronald Reagan building.

ROBERTS:  Uncle Ted was there, and Lindsey Graham, because it was supposed to be one of those balanced panels.  Usually that‘s boring.  Then Lindsey starts to rip into General Karpinski, the former commander of Abu Ghraib, saying that she was terrible, she should have been court-martialed.  She was basically a disaster.

ARGETSINGER:  Well, who is sitting in the audience, Janice Karpinski, and she stands up --  

ROBERTS:  Gives him a big “what for?”  She basically says the reason I wasn‘t court-martialed is that they didn‘t want me to tell the truth on the stand.  Oops.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh my god.  OK, you know what ladies—All right, hold on a second, it‘s on to one.  That‘s big stuff. 

ROBERTS:  What did you have against the quarters? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s go to a tie breaker. 

(CROSS TALK)

ARGETSINGER:  Tie breaker.  This is following up on a big story we had last week, which was unraveling the mysterious friendship between George H.  W. Bush and “Desperate Housewife” Terry Hatcher. 

ROBERTS:  This is a real friendship.

(CROSS TALK)

ARGETSINGER:  Yes, no friendships with benefits.  There were pictures of them last week, captured by the paparazzi, showing them having a friendly little hug and guess after a luncheon in Beverly Hills.

ROBERTS:  And a little derriŠre pat, which made everybody sort of wonder what was going on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course, we have, because we are all class, we have the ass pat on a loop right now.  But anyway, so what did Terry Hatcher and the president have to say about this? 

ARGETSINGER:  Well, we found out last week that they are long time friends, or at least going back to a couple of years ago in Vegas, when they met at a charity gala.  So they have lunch.  What happens in Vegas doesn‘t stay there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  These people hang in Vegas?  I never knew. 

ARGETSINGER:  That‘s where everyone hangs, you know, when you travel that way.

ROBERTS:  This is good, trust me. 

ARGETSINGER:  After we reported this mysterious friendship—it turns out she‘s been to Kennebunkport with her daughter, hangs out with Barbara Bush as well.  She e-mailed us.  Terry Hatcher may be the only Hollywood celebrity in Hollywood who answers her own e-mail.  She wrote to us explaining this friendship and wanting us to know it‘s all above board.  It‘s all very friendly.  she is friendly with both George and Barbara, and that on her visit to Kennebunkport, she baked oatmeal cookies for the Bush‘s.   

ROBERTS:  They‘ve been golfing together.

ARGETSINGER:  The former president taught her daughter how to ride a Segway.

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s huge, and so you say that Terry Hatcher answers her own e-mail?   

ARGETSINGER:  She does.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, stay with us afterwards, because I need to investigate this myself. 

ARGETSINGER:  You want her e-mail address?

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, and I‘ll get her e-mail address after we go off. 

ROBERTS:  It‘s going to cost you quarters, rolls of quarters. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what, I came across a four pack last night when I was in D.C.  It‘s a long story.  You know what ladies, this is a big incident.  I am going to actually score that.  That‘s big, so Washington beat the “New York Times” two to one.  That‘s great stuff.  

You all probably don‘t remember, you‘re so young, of course, and I‘m a grizzled old veteran, but in 1971, I think it was, Brezhnev—Do you remember Susan St. James, kind of a hottie.  Brezhnev was caught checking out her posterior out also.  It‘s a very famous picture.  I‘m going to send it to you all in exchange for that e-mail address.  

ARGETSINGER:  We‘ll see what we can do.

SCARBOROUGH: Thank you all so much.  Amy, Roxanne, greatly appreciate it.  OK, you too.  Thank you for making us Washington insiders.  Can‘t you feel the power?  I have to get the smoke out of my jacket.  It‘s like we‘re in a back room at Capital Grill.  Any way, coming up, with all those pesky world events, national debates, and critical issues for you and your family to sort out, it‘s almost time for our daily dose of possibly celebrity rehab news. 

Did Britney sign up to dry out or didn‘t she?  Willie Geist, of course, who‘s been in rehab so many times I just lost count, has the very latest.  Don‘t go anywhere.  He‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, wake up grandma, because we‘re going to bring on a man that you lived as a kid, and you trust as a mother.  I speak, of course, of the incomparable Willie Geist.  Willie, what you got for us today, baby?

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Joe, I want you to know I resent the slanderous claim that I‘ve been in rehab repeatedly.  I‘ve been prison, not rehab.  There‘s a subtle difference there.

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s right, OK.  And again, just for clarification, it was not an American prison.  It was a Turkish prison.  Go ahead Willie.

GEIST:  Little time in Turkey, little time in Cambodia.   But we‘ll talk about that later.

SCARBOROUGH:  You left out Thailand, but anyway, go ahead, what—

GEIST:  Joe, two different celebrity news outlets reporting today that Britney Spears checked herself into rehab this week to help change the partying habits she picked up lately palling around with the likes of Paris Hilton.  Extra is reporting that Spears went to a clinic for help a couple days ago at the urging of friends and family. 

The website TMZ.com reports the rehab facility was outside the country, and that Britney left the clinic less than 24 hours after arriving.  But hold on now.  Our friends at Access Hollywood say that‘s all nonsense.  A representative for Spears told Access Hollywood that the pop star and mother of two is absolutely not in rehab.

Joe, as far as I‘m concerned, all ties go to Access Hollywood.  Bill Bush is a friend of the show.  So, as far as I‘m concerned, she is not in rehab. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, it‘s kind of like those bumper stickers that you see in the south that says, the Bible says it, I believe it.  That settles it.  Billy Bush says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.

GEIST:  Access Hollywood is my Bible.  There is one other one here for you.  The dear leader, Kim Jong-Il, would you believe, 65 years old today.  They grow up so fast.  Don‘t they Joe.  The North Korean leader wanted only a subtle recognition of his passing into senior citizenship, so he opted merely for the national holiday with parades, giant flower shows, singing soldiers and thousands of costumed dancers. 

There‘s nothing more special than a state mandated birthday party, is there Joe?  North Korean state media reports that flowers come into bloom when Kim Jong-Il appears, and rainbows fill the sky on his birthday.  Now, that‘s just solid reporting.  They‘re not kidding.  It‘s hard to believe anybody buys this, but there‘s a flower called the Kim Jong-Il-ya (ph).  It‘s a true story.  It‘s a red flower that was engineered to bloom on his birthday ever year. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, I tell all the time the vice president of MSNBC, I ask, why do birds suddenly appear every time Willie comes near?  Just like me.

GEIST:  You‘re too kind. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey Willie Geist, thank you so much.  You‘re the man.  Have a great weekend.  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Now stick around because Chris Matthews starts now.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

               

               

               

               

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