updated 3/9/2007 11:03:24 AM ET 2007-03-09T16:03:24

Guests: Ken Walsh, Frank Donatelli, Tom DeFrank

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  President Bush took off on a state trip to Latin America this morning, leaving behind more problems than a math major at midterms—a grim assessment of the war from his top general; congressional Democrats with new plans to oppose him in Iraq; Scooter Libby‘s guilt; his vice president on the cover of “TIME” magazine, and not in a good way; Osama bin Laden is still on the loose; and new approval ratings below freezing. 

Could it be time to use the word “crisis” for the White House?  We‘ll tell you in a minute.

But first, the state of play in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.  You might have figured out by now that polls can tell you anything, individual polls, anyway. 

Depending on how you pose the question, an individual survey can create the appearance of support for or opposition to almost any issue.  Taken together, though, polls actually do mean something.  And with that in mind, realclearpolitics.com puts together a handy average. 

Today says a lot.  An average of seven respected national polls, ABC‘s, Zogby‘s, “TIME” magazine‘s, ours, among others, puts Hillary Clinton an average of 11 points over Barack Obama.  Voters clearly prefer Hillary. 

The question is, who exactly are these voters?  I don‘t think I have ever met one. 

For the past three months I have been conducting an informal poll of my own.  Every time I talk to a Democrat—and it does happens—I ask the question, “Who do you like, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?”  And in almost every case, the answer is the same, Barack Obama, of course.

Of the few who have said Hillary, most work for her or knew her personally.  Now, it‘s hardly scientific, I realize that, but it‘s still telling. 

Yes, Hillary is leading in the polls, but her support seems is rooted in the idea that she can win.  Democrats support her not because they love her or because they are inspired by her, but because they consider her the front-runner.  It‘s the inevitability factor.

If you take away that way, if you prove that Hillary can be beaten, she melts like a figure out of Oz.  And that‘s Obama‘s job, to melt her, to show fellow Democrats that Hillary can be beaten.  And she can be beaten.  Let‘s hope he proves it. 

Well, joining us now to mull over the day‘s news, we are proud to welcome chief White House correspondent for “U.S. News & World Report,” Ken Walsh, and Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director Frank Donatelli.

Welcome to you both.


REPORT”:  Thank you.


CARLSON:  I want to put it up on the screen—because it‘s sometimes it‘s useful to keep track of these things—these are some of—what‘s the word now—issues, problems that the president faces as he goes off to Latin America—the Iraq war, the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal, Scooter Libby being found guilty, the economy, foreign policy. 

It‘s—it‘s bad, would you say?  Let me just get, Frank, your reaction to the latest poll numbers. 

“Do you disapprove or approve of the president‘s job?”  Approve, 35, disapprove, 60. 

What‘s the point, practically speaking, where you just can‘t convince Congress to do anything? 

DONATELLI:  Well, I think you are at that point right now.  I don‘t think there‘s going to be a lot of Bush administration initiatives that require congressional approval that he‘s going to be able to push through.  What the number, though, does not reflect, Tucker, is that the president still retains a very strong majority of Republican support. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  And that explains...

CARLSON:  Seventy percent.

DONATELLI:  That‘s right.  That explains why he is continuing to be able to hold the Republicans on Capitol Hill, which conversely, even though he can‘t pass anything, the Democrats can‘t pass anything either. 

CARLSON:  So you—Ken, you‘ve covered a lot of presidents, and a lot of presidents in their second terms, or at least Clinton and Reagan. 

WALSH:  Right. 

CARLSON:  Their numbers inevitably go down—not always this low, but they get low for every president in the second term.

In the White House, do they care?  Is this a factor in the decisions that they make?  What practical effect does it have on the president? 

WALSH:  Well, they get low.  You know, the historians talk about sort of a second term jinx, this idea that at some point during the second term, the president overreaches, something goes wrong. 

CARLSON:  Right.

WALSH:  Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton, of course, had the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  But in both of those cases their approval actually went up.  So by the time they left office on policy, not on character, in Clinton‘s case...

CARLSON:  Right.

WALSH:  ... the approval went up. 

Now, we don‘t know about Bush now because we have so many things sort of converging in this sort of star-crossed way.  Now, what the White House says—and I talked to some of them yesterday and you see some of the same things they are saying today—is they are projecting this impression of being sort of unflappable. 

For instance, on the issue of Scooter Libby, Tony Snow, the press secretary, was telling me yesterday this is something that people in Washington and New York care about, the insiders.  The rest of the country really doesn‘t care about this.  So that‘s one example. 

They are worried about the Walter Reed medical issue as a...

CARLSON:  Right. Yes.

WALSH:  ... as a big thing that could really hurt them.  But they‘re saying basically the president is digging his heels in on a lot of these issues and he‘s not going to change his mind. 

CARLSON:  Well, here‘s a number that—I mean, this may be one of the reasons these overall poll numbers matter, Frank.  Here are the numbers on the president‘s handling of the economy.

“How is President Bush handling the economy?”  Approve, 44. 

Disapprove, 49.  Forty-nine percent disapprove of the way he‘s “handling

the economy”

Now, I bet, and I‘m sure the poll doesn‘t ask this, but if you got much more specific with voters and said, “What exactly don‘t you like about the way the president is handling the economy?  How ought the president handle the economy?”  You would get, “Oh, I don‘t know.”

In other words, I bet people aren‘t mad about anything he is doing specifically.  They just think he is kind of incompetent, so they give him bad marks on everything. 

DONATELLI:  Right.  And if you would ask those same people, “Have your personal circumstances improved over the last several years?”  You would see a solid majority saying that their economic situation has gone better. 

I agree.  You know, to borrow from another president that Ken covered, it‘s malaise.  The people are upset now about a lack of progress in Iraq.  And that‘s spilling over into everything now.  And so when you ask individual issue questions, I‘m not sure that they tell you anything more than that the public doesn‘t like what is going on in Iraq. 

CARLSON:  Than we‘re mad at this guy.

Well, how frustrating would this be—unemployment, 4.6 percent.  That‘s good.  The unemployment rate during Bush‘s term is almost exactly the average that Clinton had over his eight years.  Clinton famously presided over this robust economy and got a lot of credit for it. 


CARLSON:  Are the Bush people just—they must be going—I mean, they must be on the analyst couch every week whining about this. 

WALSH:  They are just fuming about it.  And they‘re very frustrated because they don‘t know what to do about it.

As Frank says, it stems from Iraq.  It also stems from a sense, I think, of anxiety about things like, what‘s going to happen in the future, my pension and all?

CARLSON:  Right.

WALSH:  And, you know, hearing about these big cutbacks at big corporations, not that it affects people personally in most cases, but it‘s basically the sense, as Frank says, people feel their individual finances, if you look at the polls, they think they‘re pretty good.  And sometimes they‘re very good. 

It‘s just this overall sense that things have gone wrong.  And I go back to the right track, wrong direction number, where six or seven out of 10 Americans feel that the country is going in the wrong direction.  And I think that sort of contaminates the atmosphere on a lot of other things, including the economy. 

DONATELLI:  One of the things that the president did at the beginning of his second term, he went all around the country for six months and told the people how terrible the retirement system was—namely, Social Security. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

DONATELLI:  Now, I think he was right—I think he was right about that.  But, what that does is sort of take away the optimism that people have to have if a president is going to be successful. 

You look at the presidents that have had god numbers.  Obviously, Reagan.  I think, Clinton, too. 

They had sort of a disposition about them that they were confident about the future.  I‘m not sure people feel that right now, and I think it‘s hurting the president. 

CARLSON:  No.  And also, you see among presidents who are able to buoy people‘s spirits that they‘re articulate. 

I mean, I think to some extent, correct me if you disagree, it may just be as simple as, can you make this sale verbally?  Can you convince people of something? 

WALSH:  I think so.  And you remember, you know, again, another person we have had here that I‘ve covered in the White House, Frank Donatelli—you remember what Reagan would do.  Whenever there was good news, he would be in charge of announcing it.

CARLSON:  Right.

WALSH:  He‘d go to a plant when the job numbers were good.  He‘d go out and illustrate something about another part of the economy.  President Bush doesn‘t do that in that same dramatic and incisive way that Reagan does. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.  And the original sin of Iraq just shadows absolutely everything. 

WALSH:  Yes.

CARLSON:  Coming up, “TIME” magazine puts Dick Cheney on its cover, and that‘s not necessarily good news.  It‘s not for man of the year.  The most powerful vice president ever is also the most reviled.  Can Cheney‘s influence over the president continue?  Is he through as a political force?

Plus, want a breath of fresh air in the Republican presidential race?  A man‘s man with conservative values who opposes the Bush administration‘s Iraq policy, you‘re looking at him right now.  The huge potential, but perhaps limited future of Chuck Hagel for president when we come back. 


CARLSON:  Among the many losers in the Scooter Libby trial, apart form the public, was Libby‘s old boss, Dick Cheney.  Prosecutors painted a picture of Cheney as a vindictive and ruthless politician who sought to destroy opposition to his case for war in Iraq.  The week of Libby‘s conviction, it is Cheney who appears on the cover of “TIME” magazine. 

So what should the president do about his number two?  And more to the point, what will he do? 

Joining me now, one of the country‘s most informed observers of Dick Cheney, Washington bureau chief for “The New York Daily News,” Tom DeFrank. 

Tom, thanks for coming on.

TOM DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Glad to be here, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  This is the cover story in “TIME,” as I said, Michael Duffy. 

“The Libby verdict, or to be more precise, the Cheney verdict.”  And here‘s

here‘s one line from it which I thought was interesting and pretty direct.  “Cheney has become the administration‘s enemy within, a man whose single-minded pursuit of ideological goals, creaking political instincts, and love of secrecy produced an independent operation inside the White House that has done more harm than good.”


DEFRANK:  Yes, that‘s pretty strong.  Michael is a great reporter, but that‘s pretty strong. 

I think it‘s fair to say that the vice president‘s power and authority internally has been curtailed.  The Libby verdict is a grievous embarrassment to him, but he is still a powerful force, and he‘s—he‘s not going anywhere.  But there are a lot of people in this White House and a lot of people around this president who will say that of all the things that have gone bad in the last couple of years, that the vice president is in the middle of some of them. 

Now, you can‘t blame him for Hurricane Katrina, of course.

CARLSON:  Right.  So many do.

DEFRANK:  But—well, when things are going poorly, you get blamed for everything.  But he is—he is—he‘s a negative—been a negative for the president since before the 2004 election. 

CARLSON:  This is essentially an editorial that “TIME” is writing against Dick Cheney.  And when “TIME” magazine does that, that means the perception is that you have no friends, that they can beat up on you because there is no one there to defend you. 

Who is Dick Cheney‘s constituency? 

DEFRANK:  Well, the conservative base loves the vice president. 

CARLSON:  Still?

DEFRANK:  Oh, absolutely.  And when you think about it, that‘s another

that‘s another insurance policy for the vice president, because he is beloved and adored by the conservative base.  And the base is just about all that the president has left. 

CARLSON:  There are rumors, as you know—I hear them all the time, especially when I travel—Bush is going to get rid of Cheney, he‘s going to dump him because he‘s a drag on the ticket, he‘s going to install the front-runner for the Republican nomination and he‘ll be the new heir. 

DEFRANK:  As the vice president himself might say, Tucker, I think that‘s hogwash. 

Number one, the vice president is a constitutionally elected office. 

CARLSON:  Oh, I forgot about that, yes.

DEFRANK:  Well, I mean, so was Spiro Agnew, but he resigned.  But that was—that was criminal behavior...

CARLSON:  Right.

DEFRANK:  ... and nobody except hyper-partisans has accused the vice president of criminal behavior.

So he‘s not going to leave.  He‘s not going to offer his resignation.  But the president would not accept it or ask for it.  He is going to stick around, and I just think the notion that he‘s on his last—last months is just crazy. 

CARLSON:  What can he do in his final year and a half if he‘s staying?  I mean, he doesn‘t seem—Condoleezza Rice seems in charge of foreign policy.  Is that—that‘s the perception.  Is it accurate? 

DEFRANK:  I think she has gotten more power at the vice president‘s expense.  I think Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, and Steve Hadley, the national security guy—adviser, have become a little more powerful in the policy formulation area.  And I think the Cheney staff, which once was a policy juggernaut, is not nearly as strong or as powerful as it used to be.  But Cheney is still a force. 

I think the vice president is going to end up—or continue to be more of what he—what seem people think he should have always been, which is a consiglieri to the president...

CARLSON:  Right.

DEFRANK:  ... a trusted adviser, a troubleshooter.  But I don‘t believe he is the policy force that he and his staff used to be. 

CARLSON:  Maybe I‘m imagining it, but in a recent public statement by the president, he almost seemed to bristle when asked about Cheney.  He seems—and one can imagine why he would be—annoyed with the vice president for bringing all this bad attention upon him—upon him. 

Is that—do we know that to be true? 

DEFRANK:  Yes.  Well, I know that to be true.  I have been told that by people very close to the president. 

And almost 18 months ago, I wrote a story that got me a in a lot of trouble with the Cheney people, saying that there was distance in the relationship between the president and the vice president.  I went back yesterday to one of the people who had helped me on that story, and he said the personal distance between the two is still there. 

The relationship personally is not what it used to be, but that has been true for a very long time.  But that does not minimize the professional relationship between the president and the vice president. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DEFRANK:  That is still very strong.  The president needs him.  He needs the president.  And I think that relationship is essentially intact, but there is some distance.  And it started really when the Iraq war started going south. 

CARLSON:  Right.

I can‘t wait for the book.  Tom DeFrank, “New York Daily News,” thank you very much. 

DEFRANK:  Thanks a lot, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Coming up, Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel may not be a household name, but he should be.  And very soon he might be.  Will he declare for president on Monday?  And what would that do to the relatively weak Republican field so far? 

Plus, the Democrats in charge of the House finally agree to a plan to oppose President Bush‘s war in Iraq.  What is that plan and what are its chances of passing, and what are its chances of working?

All that and more coming up.



SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  What do you believe?  What are you willing to support?  What do you think?  Why are you elected?

If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes. 

We didn‘t involve the Congress in this when we should have.  And I‘m to blame?  Every senator who has been here the last four years has to take some responsibility for that. 

Maybe I have no political future.  That—I don‘t care about that.  But I don‘t ever want to look back and have the regret that I didn‘t have the courage and I didn‘t do what I could to at least project something. 


CARLSON:  In the grand melodrama of American politics, Republican senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel is the Gary Cooper right now, at least among his many friends in the media.  He is tough, brave, direct, genuine, and human, say the profiles.  He passionately opposes the war in Iraq, of course. 

Senator Hagel announced a Monday morning press conference in Omaha to announce his plans for the future.  Could it be he‘ll run for president?  If he does, what will his chances be? 

Here to tell us, chief White House correspondent for “U.S. News & World Report,” Ken Walsh, and Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, Frank Donatelli. 

Is he going to do it, Ken? 

WALSH:  I think he is going to do it.  I think that—as you can see, Chuck Hagel brings a level of passion into this debate...


WALSH:  ... that very few other politicians of all stripes have.  And I think for him, it‘s a matter of honor, and it‘s a matter of sort of the old-style political virtues of sort of political courage, as he said, in the manner that he just feels like he wants to carry this case about Iraq into the presidential campaign. 

I think that‘s what it‘s about.

CARLSON:  It‘s amazing.  I didn‘t think this race could get any more compelling characters than it already has. 

He is—whatever you—Chuck Hagel, I like him.  He‘s a huge—he‘s an amazing character and he‘s very conservative.  But he has no chance, does he? 

DONATELLI:  It‘s the announcement that the Hagel family and you have been waiting for, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Right.  No, I‘ve been pushing—because people think he is liberal because he is against the war.  He is, instead, making a conservative case against the war, which I hope I prove on a daily basis can be done.  But the primary voters on the Republican side don‘t like him. 

DONATELLI:  I think he is—he is very, very—he‘s a very impressive fellow, tremendous background.  Unfortunately, he‘s running in a party where two-thirds to three-quarters of the voters, the Republican voters, still support President Bush.  And so he would have a distinctly minority view on that. 

His only hope would be to galvanize the 30 percent or so of Republicans and some Independents that want to participate in the primary.  That‘s awfully hard to do. 

I think Hubert Humphrey in 1968 got the nomination when the Democratic Party was in revolt against Lyndon Johnson.  Paul McClosky, senator—

Congressman McCloskey who ran against Richard Nixon in 1972, got 15 percent, I think, in New Hampshire and then faded away.

So he is a very compelling figure, I agree.  But he has his work cut out. 

CARLSON:  Imagine the irony, Ken, if the Republican Party nominated someone who is, by most measures, very liberal, Rudy Giuliani, and dismissed out of hand someone who has something like an 89 or 92 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, who is 100 percent pro-life, who is—you know voted for drilling in ANWAR, who‘s like an actual conservative.  Out of my sight, they say to him, in favor of Giuliani. 

What does that say about the party? 

WALSH:  Well, you know, I have felt for a long time if the Republican Party nominates Giuliani, it‘s really not the same party that we have been used to thinking about.

CARLSON:  I agree with you.

WALSH:  Because of his stance on abortion and guns and gay rights and so on, on those social issues.  At least they are not as important as a lot of us thought they were. 

But the other thing about Hagel I wanted to mention is that, particularly in New Hampshire, where Independents make all the difference...

CARLSON:  Right.

WALSH:  ... if he somehow got some kind of a momentum going there—now, he would have to draw the momentum from Barack Obama and John Edwards.  You know, of course, they could vote for the Democrats or the Republicans. 

It‘s conceivable something might happen there. 

I don‘t think it‘s going to happen, but there is a case to be made that he could do much better in New Hampshire than people think because of the anti-war independence. 

CARLSON:  I think—I think if all the states, particularly if the big states, California, if they had open registration where anybody could vote for any candidate in the primary, this would be—you would get a different president every time. 

But what do you think, Frank, of his strategy, at least as we suspect it is now, this unity ‘08 idea?  You know, that he runs as centrist candidate, somehow possibly picking a Democrat as his vice president?  I mean, that seems so unlikely to me that maybe I‘m missing something. 

Am I?

DONATELLI:  Well, we have a long way to go for that.  Historically, the only way a third party can gain traction is if the public believes that the two major parties have not nominated suitable candidates.  And, I mean, I just don‘t see that right now. 

I mean, I think that the two leading Republicans and the two leading Democrats, you know, would have substantial support.  I don‘t know that there would be a movement for a—you know, for a third party this time. 

CARLSON:  Well, here‘s a question then, Ken.  If—and we‘ve been wrong many, many times, underestimating Rudy Giuliani, for instance, but it doesn‘t look like Hagel, sadly, is going to get anywhere.  He‘s not stupid.  He must know the chances are against him. 

Why would he bother to run? 

WALSH:  I think, you know, he is a conviction politician in this sense. 


WALSH:  He does believe what he‘s saying about Iraq and he wants these views into the system.  And it‘s not really going to be—there‘s nobody else on the Republican side who‘s going to argue the case against the war...

CARLSON:  No.  That‘s a good point.

WALSH:  ... as he will.  And so he is going to do that

CARLSON:  That is one factor I never considered, true belief. 


Thank you.

WALSH:  It happens.

CARLSON:  Amazing.

Coming up, don‘t look now, Hillary Clinton, but someone is definitely gaining on you.  The latest poll numbers are out, and not only is Mrs.  Clinton‘s lead slipping, but not all that many people want to know more about her.  We have the key numbers next.

Plus, Osama bin Laden is still public enemy number one, still missing.  We have got the very latest on his possible whereabouts and why we haven‘t gotten him yet. 

We‘ll be back in mere moments.


CARLSON:  Still to come, the Democrats‘ pullout plan for Iraq, why some call it a failure at any cost.

We‘ll get to that in just a minute.  Right now, though, here‘s a look at your headlines.




REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  We should not be sending our troops into battle without the proper training, without the proper equipment and in the proper time frame. 

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  Arbitrary time lines are little more than a road map for the terrorists, a tool they will use to plot maneuvers against American men and women in uniform. 


CARLSON:  Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, and the Democratic majority finally do have a plan to end the Iraq war.  The headline is a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops, what Mrs. Pelosi called today a date certain.  The date is the Fall of 2008, just in time for the next election.  Here to discuss the plan, its chances of meaning anything and the likely result if it is, in fact, implemented, we are joining by chief White House correspondent for “U.S. News and World Report,” Ken Walsh, and Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, Frank Donatelli.  Welcome to you both. 

Here‘s the plan, in case you missed.  The 10:0 a.m. press conference this morning.  The Democratic plan, if no progress is made by July, 2007, deployment will begin.  Is some progress is made by July, 2007, it must be completed by October, 2007.  Regardless of progress, redeployment will begin in March of next year.  And all troops will be out by August, right before the election. 

Ken, any chance this is actually going to become law? 

WALSH:  I don‘t think there is any way that would become law.  already the White House is taking shots at it.  The phrase they are using is handcuffing the generals, that this is a plan that would limit the activity that is necessary to protect our troops and get the job done.  No, I don‘t see it.  I think the White House, by the way, is also making the point that this is political, designed to get some kind of compromise within the Democratic majority in the House, rather than solve the problem of Iraq. 

You can see from the details, it is not easily summarized in 30 seconds. 


WALSH:  And that‘s, I think, a statement on how many factions they have in the party in the House.  There is simultaneously what they call the get out of Iraq now caucus, all hyphenated, issued a statement saying about 70, 75 members, saying that they want much more bold decisive action to get out.  And so Nancy Pelosi has a tremendous challenge here to try to get this really unwieldy Democratic majority together on this, and I don‘t think this does it. 

CARLSON:  I was almost feeling sorry for her there just for a moment.  Here‘s what Nancy Pelosi, Frank, says is part of the reasoning behind this new plan.  She said, we need to get the troops out of Iraq by next year.  Quote, only then can we refocus our military efforts on Afghanistan to the extent we must.  In other words, we‘re not pulling out the troops from Iraq because we don‘t care about the region, we care about the region so much, we‘re so worried about chaos in Afghanistan, we need those troops. 

I don‘t know if this makes sense.  I mean, if you‘re worried about chaos in the region, aren‘t our strategic interests in Iraq, rather than Afghanistan? 

DONATELLI:  Well, you would think so, but from the beginning when Mr.  Murtha began to put plans out there, he always talked in terms of redeployment.  They never talked about withdrawal, precisely for this reason.  I think they realized that we have major strategic interests in the Middle East, and a pure withdrawal strategy is not—

CARLSON:  But their argument is Afghanistan is in trouble.  It‘s in chaos.  It‘s falling apart.  We need more troops in there to keep the place together.  Well, if you‘re worried about chaos in the region, I mean, the real problem right now, and I believe this is Bush‘s fault, but still, is in Iraq. 

DONATELLI:  But they have always taken the position, I think this is true, the liberal Democrats have always taken the position that it was the people in Afghanistan that attacked us for 9/11 and Iraq was sort of this diversion.  The administration would say, which I agree, is that this is a global war against terror, against Islamic radicals, and we engage them wherever that may be.  It is both Afghanistan and Iraq. 

CARLSON:  Here is a number that may partly account for Mrs. Pelosi‘s rhetoric today.  Here is another poll question that was out yesterday.  Is the war in Afghanistan going well?  Yes, say 28 percent of voters.  No, say 69 percent.  Do you believe there is this groundswell of support for more troops in Afghanistan? 

WALSH:  I think Afghanistan is a different situation, but I think that the country is sort of very frustrated now, but I think there is a surprising degree of patience, too, in let‘s see if this latest strategy works.  I think six months from now, I think you might have this groundswell, but I think what I‘m hearing is that the only thing that‘s going to make a difference here to the president is if this classic situation of the wisemen and wisewomen in the party go to him at some point and say, look, this is not working.  You know, nothing against you, but we need to change course, or we can‘t be with you anymore on this. 

They are nowhere near that.  This kind of thing the Democrats are trying, that‘s not going to work either.  I think the reality of this is that the president has tremendously more latitude than people thought on the day after the midterm elections last year. 

CARLSON:  And he is, after all, president, and as he reminds us, he actually does still matter.  He is also embroiled in this Walter Reed Hospital scandal.  Hillary Clinton, we‘re just hearing, this afternoon gave a speech, in which she said it‘s his fault.  It‘s Bush‘s fault.  He‘s the president.  The buck stops with him.  I‘m not a Hillary Clinton supporter.  It‘s kind of hard to argue with that point though, isn‘t it Frank? 

DONATELLI:  He is the president of the United States.  There has been a failure of the ability to make this program work, so she is right in that sense.  I would suggest that he, you know—I think we need decisive action, as far as getting Walter Reed‘s situation under control.  Hopefully he won‘t be going there every week, that it will be the Department of Defense and the people at Walter Reed will solve the problem. 

It‘s a good thing for Hillary Clinton too, because the last thing she wants to do is engage Barack Obama right now.  What better than to pick a fight with Bush.

CARLSON:  I agree.  I‘m surprised it has taken Democrats so long.  This seemed like, two weeks ago when the story came out, if I was running for president as a Democrat, I would have been on it.  Let‘s talk about Bush‘s replacements.  Here‘s a poll among Republican voters, who do you prefer for president, Rudy Giuliani, way out at 38, beneath him, John McCain, 24, 14 points away, Newt Gingrich, 10, Mitt Romney, eight.  I‘m struck, Ken, by the fact that Newt Gingrich, who is not running for president, is beating Mitt Romney, who is.  Is it your sense that Mitt Romney is a serious candidate still? 

WALSH:  I think so.  Mitt Romney, I think, sees this as a marathon.  He‘s building this in a systematic way.  I think he‘s in this for the long haul.  Gingrich—the Republican party is very frustrated on its own, that they don‘t have sort of this Ronald Reagan figure, who can unite all the conservative elements, the social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and so on.  They don‘t have that.  And so, I‘m also skeptical about whether Giuliani is as strong as he seems now.  I think we are just seeing the beginning of the attack machines operating on Giuliani or the critics of Giuliani. 

There is a lot of things out there to look at.  I think he is going to pull his numbers down. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t think there‘s any question about it.  Hillary Clinton‘s numbers have remained higher than I thought they would in the face of Barack Obama.  I mentioned this at the beginning of the show.  I asked around.  I did at lunch today with a group of lawyers, some of whom are supporting different Democratic candidates, and I can‘t find anybody that is supporting Hillary Clinton.  I‘m not attacking her.  It‘s just in my experience empirically true.  Who are Hillary Clinton‘s supporters, and is that support strong or a reflection of the fact they think she is going to win. 

DONATELLI:  Regular Democrats, people that want the restoration of the 1990‘s, that see the 1990‘s as a golden era.  She‘s running a different race than I think they ever thought they were going to be running in the primary.  I think that they felt that they had the left sewn up, that her credentials as first lady and what she has done would guarantee the left and all she had to do was sort of protect the center, don‘t go too far to the left.  Now she is confronted by—plus, she was a woman.  And that would really create the buzz. 

Well, what we‘ve seen is that race trumps gender in the Democratic party and she‘s faced by a candidate that‘s not easily categorized.  He‘s running to the left of her on some things, namely, the war.  He runs to the right of her in some ways on values, and so it‘s really hard to tie this guy down.  The fact that she‘s only ten points ahead at this stage, when she is a much better known candidate than Barack Obama, should, and I‘m sure it has, set off alarm bells in her campaign. 

CARLSON:  I bet. 

WALSH:  A couple of other quick things.  One is that the gender issue, the Clinton people are still very much counting on an overwhelming sort of energy coming into the campaign from women voters.  Democrats, a lot of women voters, particularly younger women voters are very important in the Democratic primaries and they are counting on this—

CARLSON:  Young single women with master‘s degrees. 

WALSH:  Yes, that too.  They‘re counting on that and the other thing is that she‘s using this sort of classical approach of raising the money.  I think her numbers in these financial disclosure reports next month are going to be just awesome.  She is going to have an incredible amount of money, getting endorsements and so on.  Now, as Frank says, the Obama factor threw them all off, and so they‘re putting out this notion about why is the media giving Obama such a free ride.  You hear that all the time now. 

CARLSON:  Because the media, in my view, the media is all liberals.  They don‘t want Hillary either.  That‘s my view.  I think Democrats are afraid of Hillary Clinton becoming the nominee. 

DONATELLI:  I mean, he‘s new.  People love what‘s new in politics.  And remember she goes back to the early 90‘s.  She can never be the candidate of the future.  To the extent that she brings her husband back into the fray, like she did in Selma, in order to shore up certain constituencies, she gets sucked back into the past. 

CARLSON:  So retro.  Bill Richardson, Democrat running for president, easily on paper the most qualified guy, I think, perfectly charming guy, pretty conservative guy in a lot of ways.  He is, of course, the governor of New Mexico.  The lieutenant governor tells the “Albuquerque Journal” that he physically groped her.  The governor, she said, quote, pinches my neck.  He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg. 

She doesn‘t like to be around him physically anymore, she says.  The first line of this “Albuquerque Journal” story, quote, Governor Bill Richardson likes to touch people.

How would you like a story like that written about you?  Is the lieutenant governor crazy?  Does he have a touching problem?  What is this? 

WALSH:  I think her conclusion to this is that it wasn‘t improper.  It was annoying.  It was annoying touching rather than improper touching.  One could parse that the way you want.  Basically, this is sort of nibbling around the edges of this rumor that‘s been out there about Richardson for a long time about womanizing.  There is no evidence of it.  If this is as close as it gets, this becomes a very flimsy story, but at this point it is a funny story. 

CARLSON:  Governor Bill Richardson likes to touch people.  Amazing.  Ken Walsh, Frank Donatelli, thank you both very much.  I like to touch people too.  Coming up, you have more in common with Barack Obama than you might think you do.  Fresh news of another bad habit the senator kicked right before he ran to president.  If you don‘t relate to him before, you might now. 

Plus, where is Osama bin Laden?  When is someone going to catch or kill him?  What happens if somebody does, and what happens if we don‘t?  We‘ve got the latest information and analysis on that next.


CARLSON:  Where is Osama bin Laden?  It has been on every Americans‘ minds for five and a half years.  How has the mastermind of 9/11 eluded the biggest, most effective military in the history of the world all this time and when, if ever, will he be caught or killed? 

NBC News‘ Lisa Myers filed this report.


LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Osama bin Laden turns 50 this year, having apparently made it to middle age, despite elaborate efforts by the world‘s most powerful military to kill or capture him.  He hasn‘t shown his face in two and a half years, since al-Qaeda released this propaganda video on the eve of the 2004 election.  The U.S.  military and intelligence officials believe he is still alive and say they have not given up the hunt. 

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  If I were Osama bin Laden, I would keep looking over my shoulder. 

MYERS:  Just last week, the top intelligence official announced he thinks bin Laden and his deputy are in Pakistan. 

MICHAEL MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  The senior leadership, number one and number two, are there and they are attempting to reestablish and rebuild and to establish training camps. 

MYERS (on camera):  U.S. intelligence officials say there is evidence that bin Laden is building an operations hub in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and that senior al-Qaeda leaders are reestablishing control of the worldwide terrorist network. 

(voice-over):  A leader of resurgent Taliban fighters in Afghanistan recently claimed to be in contact with bin Laden. 

BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT:  He is still playing a role.  He is still having an impact, whether it is a direct command or in terms of an inspiration to the people on the ground. 

MYERS:  U.S. officials believe bin Laden moves very infrequently, with a security detail, using motorbikes and unobtrusive vehicles when he does, and probably lives in a remote compound, not a cave.  Occasionally there are reports of promising new leads, but so far, nothing has materialized. 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  If there was specific actionable intelligence on bin Laden, we would have acted upon it already.  So that has not happened. 

MYERS:  But that could change if one person near bin Laden decides to cash in on that 25 million dollar reward. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 


CARLSON:  Joining me now is terrorism analyst for NBC News and the founder of GlobalTerrorAlert.com, Evan Kohlmann.  Thanks Evan for coming on. 


CARLSON:  How do we know Osama bin Laden is alive if we haven‘t heard from him in two and a half years? 

KOHLMANN:  Well, that is actually a little bit disingenuous.  We haven‘t seen him on video, but we have actually heard from him via audio recording as recently as last July.  At least as of last July, there is pretty hard evidence that he is alive.  These audio recording make references to current events, to things that have happen very recently, very specifically.  It is like when kidnappers take a picture of a hostage carrying the local paper with a date on it. 

It‘s proof of life.  And that‘s exactly what bin Laden he is offering to us here.  There is every reason to believe he is still alive.  There is every reason to believe he is still in contact with the al-Qaeda leadership. 

CARLSON:  The Democrats will be offering up a piece of legislation.  We just have a note about it right now, as of this afternoon, that would require President Bush to hunt for bin Laden, the implication obviously is he‘s not hunting for bin Laden, that we are no longer looking.  Are we?  What is the status of our search?

KOHLMANN:  No, we are looking, but I think there has been a lot of pressure, because there has been feelings that we are diverting resources from the hunt for bin Laden to what is going on in Iraq, into Somalia, into other conflicts.  The idea is that, look, it is possible that al-Qaeda active in these other conflicts, and believe that it is,  but we should be going after the head of the beast here.  There is something to be said about that. 

I think resources have been diverted from the hunt for bin Laden and I think we haven‘t been putting nearly enough pressure on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence agencies to clamp down on the Taliban mini-state that has emerged in the tribal areas in Waziristan.  There‘s a reason why bin Laden and people have sanction there.  It‘s because this is their home turf.  The people that inhabit this area, that run this area are kin of these folks. 

They believe in it.  They are intermarried with them.  They are extremely anti-American.  It is not much of a surprise.  The Pakistani president and his intelligence agencies must do more to clamp down.  They cannot make peace treaties with the Taliban. 

CARLSON:  It is believed by some that, in fact, Osama bin Laden is not in Waziristan, not in the northwest border areas, but in Iran.  Is there any evidence that that is true? 

KOHLMANN:  No, there is absolutely no evidence to that.  It is completely ridiculous. 

CARLSON:  There have been reports in the past that he suffers from kidney disease and that he was on dialysis.  The last I heard, he was at death‘s door.  That was five years ago.  Do we know anything about his physical state? 

KOHLMANN:  Those are more old wife‘s tales.  He has no dialysis problem.  He has a problem with low blood pressure.  He does have medical problems, but he is not at death‘s door.  He is not the healthiest guy in the world, but again, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he is either dead, ailing or that his health is such an issue that it‘s preventing him from doing what we have a real problem with, which is planing terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies. 

He is certainly healthy enough to be doing that. 

CARLSON:  That very quickly, do you think if we sent the U.S. military

Democrats want to redeploy all these troops from Iraq, if we sent troops into the northwest border areas of Pakistan, would that topple the government of Musharraf, do you think? 

KOHLMANN:  That‘s the problem.  That‘s the catch-22.  We put too much pressure on Musharraf, we put too much pressure on Democratic forces in Pakistan, and there is the potential of a civil war there.  There is a lot of people in Pakistan that don‘t necessarily love the United States, and there is a lot of people that admire Osama bin Laden.  There are parts of Pakistan you can see people wearing bin Laden t-shirts. 

CARLSON:  I have been there and seen the t-shirts.  It is actually offensive as hell. 

KOHLMANN:  It is, but these people believe that.  We have to be careful and judicious about how much pressure we put.  If we start going into hot chases into Pakistani territory, we could cause a civil war in a country that has atomic weapons. 

CARLSON:  Yes, that‘s a very solid point.  Evan Kohlmann, thanks a lot. 

KOHLMANN:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Coming up, if America wants a president who feels its pain, we should call off the election and give it to Barack Obama.  Up next, a piece of news that will endear him to every disorganized slacker who ever tried to park a car legally but failed.  Stay tuned for that.


CARLSON:  Welcome back.  It‘s at this part of the show where we typically welcome Willie Geist.  But Willie has jury duty today, which means somewhere in New York City, the fate of the accused rests in Willie‘s hands.  Think about that America.  So instead, we‘re moving up to the vice president of MSNBC, Bill Wolff. 



WOLFF:  I‘m not going to tell Will you said that, and I think it‘s an arguable case.  I know you‘re a huge Anna Nicole Smith-nick, been following every part of the trial and the hearings, and of course the funeral. Well, you‘re going to have to wait another week or two longer to learn the results of her autopsy.  The Florida medical examiner, a guy who loves the camera himself, he performed the postmortem.  He says he knows what killed Miss Smith, but the police investigating her death have asked him to hold off on the announcement.  It was supposed to come early next week.  It‘s going to be a little while no.

My amateur forensic pathology from afar, purely by watching television, has ruled out old age, drowning, and a motorcycle accident.  Again, I am not a forensic pathologist.  I reserve the right to be wrong, but if it‘s one of those three, I will retire from this hobby of mine. 

CARLSON:  See, I already trust you more than the judge in the Anna Nicole case. 

WOLFF:  Here‘s the thing about that guy, Judge Larry Seidlin, American hero, his ruling was appealed, and upheld, Tucker.  So judge not, lest you be judged. 

CARLSON:  Since your a TV executive, just promise you won‘t hire him. 

WOLFF:  I can‘t promise anything Tucker.  Come on man.  Don‘t paint me in to that corner on television.  Now onto Decision 2007, America Votes.  Yes, it‘s Thursday, so it‘s elimination day on “American Idol.”  Among the vulnerable tonight, and four people will get voted off, the sheepish teen boy, with the Breck girl hair.  He‘s called Sanjayah.  And our personal favorite, Sanjayah‘s female look-alike, Antonella Barba, whose soft porn photos made her an Internet star, but who, frankly, sings like you dance. 

I‘m sorry, it‘s a cheap shot, it was low hanging fruit, but I am an executive, not a comedian, so I had to take it.  Any predictions from you, Tucker, on tonight‘s “American Idol?” 

CARLSON:  Speak of being painted in a corner, I always go with the good-looking woman?  I think she wins.

WOLFF:  You know what, I completely concur.  She got really famous with those wet t-shirt pictures at the World War II memorial.  She cannot sing, but America loves soft-core porn on the Internet.  So there you have it. 

CARLSON:  Absolutely.  She‘s miss pay-per-view 2007. 

WOLFF:  I would certainly love to manage her career, let‘s put it that way.  And finally, Tucker, some red meat politics for you.  In order to run for presidents, candidates always announce either an aversion to or a special love for something ordinary.  It humanizes them.  President Reagan loved Jelly Beans.  Bush 41 hated broccoli.  Bush 43 likes pork rinds.  Bill Clinton likes—you know, everything.  It makes the candidates more like you and me, Tucker. 

Well, Barack Obama has got them all beat.  First, he‘s trying to quit smoking.  There‘s nothing more regular Joe than trying to quit smoking, except maybe this.  When Obama was at Harvard Law School, he accumulated 15 parking tickets, which he completely ignored for 15 years or so, until two weeks before he announced his presidential candidacy.  The total tab that he paid, 375 bucks, including 260 in late fees.

I‘m telling you this right now, if it comes out that he owes his sister a phone call, as I do, and he got his phone disconnected because he forgot to pay the bill, which has happened to me recently, I‘m going door to door for him.  That‘s my guy.  I love him.  Throw the parking tickets on the floor of the car.  Fantastic. 

CARLSON:  There‘s only one small problem, one tiny fly in your ointment.  It was the first line, while a student at Harvard Law School. 

WOLFF:  So he did his homework.  Are you going to hold that against him. 

CARLSON:  Spoken like a true Harvard graduate as I know you are. 

WOLFF:  What can I tell you.

CARLSON:  Bill Wolff, thanks Bill. 

WOLFF:  My pleasure Tucker.

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thank you for watching.  Up next, as you know, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  We are back tomorrow, tune in then.  Have a great night.



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