updated 4/4/2007 12:14:22 PM ET 2007-04-04T16:14:22

Guests: A.B. Stoddard, Jill Zuckman, Hugh Hewitt

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  A sunny day in a rose garden is an odd place for fire-breathing, but President Bush stood amid the blooms outside his office to fire back at the Democratic Congress and its demand to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

The president‘s news conference also featured attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her trip to Syria, a strident defense of the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys, and support for Tony Blair‘s efforts to free 15 captured British sailors from Iran.  We will get to those stories this hour.

But topic A was the emergency war funding bill and the withdrawal date attached to it. 

Here‘s the president‘s position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq. 

It‘s one thing to object to the policy but it‘s another thing, when you have troops in harm‘s way, not to give them the funds they need. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Almost immediately, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and presidential candidate former Senator John Edwards responded to the president, saying, he should bow to the wishes of Democrats and end the war. 

In other words, don‘t expect compromise on either side. 

Joining us now to discuss the high-stakes stalemate over the war and its possible resolution, we welcome associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper A.B. Stoddard, and national correspondent for “The Chicago Tribune” Jill Zuckman. 

Welcome to you both.

A.B., Bush said the things we have heard him say before this morning, that the Democrats are trying to play general, that this bill has too much pork, arguments that we have heard repeated again and again, buy them or not.

Then he introduced a new line of attack that I found notable for his chutzpah. 

Here is President Bush explaining why these war funding bills are bad. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Congress‘ failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, and others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to.  That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Now, no matter where you stand on the surge, truly, on either side, this is amazingly bold of the president, who sent these troops into Iraq in the first place, to say that attempts to bring them home are in effect causing them to stay longer.  I mean, it‘s amazing.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE HILL”:  He was before the surge before he was against the surge.  So...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  So, he is just trying to get his story straight. 

But I think, when he does, actually, Republicans are counting on this becoming sort of a government shutdown episode...

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  ... in which the president would win.

And, actually, I don‘t know how this will turn out.  There‘s some concern from the Democrats that the bully pulpit is a powerful place, and that the message will resonate with voters, that the Democrats are standing in the way of the functions of government.  And I‘m actually starting to believe that, if he gets his story straight, that message will get through, and could really mess up the plans of the Democrats. 

CARLSON:  I totally agree. 

No matter, again, where you stand on the substance of the question of whether or not troops ought to remain in Iraq or, indeed, there ought to be more troops there, I think his attack on the Congress for being lazy, they took vacation when they should be working out this bill, and that they‘re addicted to pork, I think those are resonant. 

Here, Jill, is the Democratic response, or at least the response from John Edwards.

He said this Bush about Bush today—quote—“If the president vetoes a funding bill,” one of these two—this bill that House and the Senate have put a withdrawal date on, “Congress should send him another bill that funds the troops, brings them home, and ends the war.  And, if he votes that one, they should send him another that does the same thing”—in other words, no retreat, no surrender. 

It‘s easy for him to say.  He‘s not in the Congress.  Is this the  Democratic position? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Close to it.

This is a standoff right now.

CARLSON:  Yes. 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s a rhetorical standoff between the White House and Congress.  And it‘s not entirely clear to me how it will come out.  President Clinton won that last time, when he was against Newt Gingrich and the government was shut down.

But, in that case, Americans all over the country felt some pain.  Their museums were shut down.  Their parks were closed.  There were a lot of tangible things that happened to everybody. 

CARLSON:  So, they won‘t be as upset if their war is stopped? 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, there‘s so much public opinion against the war, that I‘m not entirely sure how this plays out, except for the fact that we know what happened to John Kerry when he voted against funding for the war.  So, that is an area that is kind of a red zone for lawmakers, if you vote against funding.

CARLSON:  Well, they seem to be jumping into it with both feet. 

Harry Reid, the head Democrat in the Senate, said he is going to introduce legislation co-sponsored with Russ Feingold to end funding for the war.  Now, he knows, as you know, A.B., that there‘s a veto-proof majority in the Senate, that this bill will not become law because the president will veto it, and they can‘t override the veto.

STODDARD:  Right. 

CARLSON:  So, why is he putting it forward, if it‘s so unpopular to want to defund the war? 

STODDARD:  And 96 senators are already on record saying they won‘t defund the war. 

CARLSON:  Right.  So, what is the idea here? 

STODDARD:  This is popular with their angry anti-war left base of their party, who—which finally has seen a victory on the floors of the House and the Senate. 

The Democratic majority is feeling very good right now.  And they need to really—I think they—this is an—they‘re emboldened.  This is a very good moment for them.  Actually, the victory in the Senate for Harry Reid was very unexpected.  That was a come-from-behind shocker.

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  And I think that they are going to enjoy the standoff for a while, because it‘s of use to them.  But, ultimately, nothing can make the Republicans and the president happier than the idea of him saying, I visited Walter Reed, and I want to cut the funds now. 

That‘s exactly what they want the Democrats to say. 

CARLSON:  That is right, because the president has nothing.  He‘s fight—if this were wrestling, he would be on his back, right?  We would be at the two-count.  And the Democrats seem to be falling right into the trap.

ZUCKMAN:  Tucker, here is the Democratic strategy.  Whether it‘s right or wrong, this is their strategy.

They have decided that this is the issue they want front and center all the time.

CARLSON:  Right. 

ZUCKMAN:  And they are going to keep it front and center all the time, in the hopes that Republicans are going to get worn down, that, every time they have to vote on this, eventually, a couple of them will be picked off, because they just can‘t stand the pressure anymore of supporting the president and supporting the war.

And they feel like they are going to make progress that way.  Now, that remains to be seen, but that‘s their strategy. 

CARLSON:  Interesting.

Speaking of interesting—and I‘m not sure why this is significant or even if it is—but it—this was in “The New York Times” today.  A survey by the Medill News Service found that two-thirds of House Republicans had been to Iraq, had actually physically visited Iraq.  Fewer than half the Democrats had been.  And fewer than one-third of the 75 members of the House Out of Iraq Caucus, the kind of—the left-wing, you know, “Let‘s get moving now” caucus, had been.

Why is that, A.B.?  Or is that by chance?

STODDARD:  Well, you know, I think it might stand to reason that they

it‘s not that they are not interested and they have made up their mind.

CARLSON:  They‘re very interested, by definition.

STODDARD:  I think they have made up their mind.  I don‘t know the answer to that question about who goes and who doesn‘t go. 

CARLSON:  It just seems to me it would help Democrats.  I know my trip to Iraq made me upset with the war and mad at Bush for not—for waging it in the first place.  I didn‘t vote for him when I got back from Iraq, because I was so mad about it.

It seems to me this is the perfect photo-op for Democrats, always accused of being weak on national security, to go to Iraq, and say, I have seen it.  It‘s a disaster.

STODDARD:  I agree.  And I think that the Republicans right now—we all know that they have this moment of breathing room, because of the surge and because of the fact that there‘s cautious optimism coming—reports coming back from Iraq.

And it really is—as Jill said, they are facing increasing pressure.  But I don‘t think the pressure will really bear down on them until after the summer or into the fall.  I think, for now, they are fine to stand with the president or to stand on their own, kind of blocking the Democrats, particularly on this war funding issue. 

It might be good for them to make this front and center.  But I think, like I said earlier, once Bush figures out really how to hone that message, talking about the threat to—the compromise to the troops on the ground...

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  ... and their safety and everything, and their livelihood, I don‘t think that is going to work... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Very quickly, Jill, how long could this go on, this back-and-forth over this piece of legislation? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think it could go on for months, actually.

CARLSON:  Geez.

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s—I know.  We are getting a little tired of it, but—on the Hill, having to write about it day in and out. 

But I think the—first of all, the House and Senate are out this week.  The House is also out the next week.  They have to come back.

CARLSON:  Right. 

ZUCKMAN:  They have to meld the legislation, send it, get the veto, fail in the vote.  And then they have to come back with something else.  So, we‘re talking weeks and weeks.

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  But there‘s conflicting reports, also, about when those funds have been to be in by. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

STODDARD:  Robert Gates said May.  But, last year, the supplemental passed in June. 

CARLSON:  Huh.  Boy, this story is just heating up.  I‘m excited.  I think it‘s interesting.  At least it means something.  You know, it‘s not who slept with whom.  I mean, it‘s serious.

Mitt Romney makes news the best way he knows how, by raising a lot of cash, campaign cash.  An also-ran in the polls is number one at the bank.  So, who gave Mitt Romney all that money?  And do those riches make him the man to beat for the Republican nomination? 

Plus:  Some Iraqis deride John McCain‘s optimism about security in

their country.  General Barry McCaffrey, who recently studied the situation

on the ground in Iraq, assesses the senator‘s position and offers his own -

when we come back.

This is MSNBC, America‘s most impressive news network. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  President Bush says Democrat who want out of Iraq by next year are being—quote—“irresponsible.”  Should we stay the course?

At least one war critic is now changing his course—up next, my conversation with retired Four-Star Army General Barry McCaffrey.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Congress‘ most basic responsibility is to give our troops the equipment and training they need to fight our enemies and protect our nation.  They‘re now failing in that responsibility.  And, if they do not change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Agree with him or not, you have got to credit President Bush for sticking to his guns, proverbially and literally, on Iraq.

Once again today, Mr. Bush attacked Congress for insisting on a withdrawal date for U.S. forces.  Mr. Bush‘s stance is unpopular.  And official reports show that Iraqi casualties in March were 15 percent higher than they were in February.

Despite the unpopularity of the president‘s position and troubling casualty statistics, could he and Senator John McCain be right, on some basic level, about staying the course? 

Well, last week, retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey wrote a report for the U.S. Military Academy on the situation on the ground in Iraq.  And he joins us now for his analysis of the war, the surge, and a date certain for withdrawal. 

General, thanks for coming in.

GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, good to be with you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  You just saw the president say that, if Congress doesn‘t change its course, the price will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.  Is that true?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, there‘s probably two different components to this.

One is military.  It‘s insane to think we cannot fund an ongoing war.  I mean, it‘s $100 billion supplemental over there right now, been bumped up to $120 billion.  They can‘t stop it.  It‘s ammunition, fuel, TDY expenses, care of the wounded, getting brigades ready now, so they can deploy in the fall. 

They have got to provide the funding, unless the Democrats actually want to take responsibility for the outcome of the war, which, politically, one would argue, is silly. 

CARLSON:  Let me just set some context here.  You are not an active neocon.  You have not been a cheerleader for this war since day one.

MCCAFFREY:  No, no, no.  Golly no.

CARLSON:  I know you haven‘t.  I just want to make that clear.

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, absolutely not.  Yes.  Sure.  No.  I try to provide objective views of what is going on, on the ground.  I am rooting for our side, I have got to admit.

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MCCAFFREY:  I would like us to achieve our political-military objectives.  I think we probably can.

We have got this brilliant fellow, Dave Petraeus, and his new commander.  We have got a first-rate ambassador, Ryan Crocker.  My guess is, what that they ought to do is give them the tools they need for another six months to a year, and see if they can produce new results. 

CARLSON:  Is that pretty much what the president‘s plan appears to be?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, sure.  I think so.

But we have got to start out of here—Tucker, we cannot sustain 20 combat brigades in Iraq and two-plus brigades in Afghanistan.  We have got to start drawing down by the fall anyway.

CARLSON:  Because we will be forced to by our basic physical limitations? 

MCCAFFREY:  The Army and the Marine Corps are too small to sustain this level of effort. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MCCAFFREY:  The equipment is busted.  The recruiting function is starting to unravel. 

The readiness of the stateside Army is abysmal.  We have no strategic reserve ground combat. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MCCAFFREY:  We have no theater reserve ground combat.  So, this is a short surge.  We have got good leadership.  Let‘s see if they can pull this off.

In on op-ed this morning, you write this—quote—“The American people have walked away from support of this war.”

It sounds like they are to blame, too.

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I have nothing to blame.  I think you have got to depend on the collective judgment of the American people as to where we ought to go with all this.

So, I think—my personal argument has been, we have probably got 24 months of this administration, where the Congress would be ill-advised to actually constrain his latitude.  And then the next president is going to pull the plug on the war.  It‘s over.

CARLSON:  So, you think—you think, as a theoretical matter, that military operations ought to reflect the public will?

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, without question.  We certainly learned that in Vietnam.  You cannot operate for long outside the political will of the American people. 

Now, I do think, though, if you read the polling data, they say they don‘t want a precipitous withdrawal.  They understand the consequences of failure.  We‘re facing a dilemma.

President Bush has got some latitude, I would argue, for a year or two, to try and pull this back into the shape. 

CARLSON:  You were just there.  And the backdrop, of course, is this intense debate going on in Washington about the future of the war.  Is that debate percolating down to Baghdad?  And what do the troops there think of this? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, first of all, if you wake up in the morning, and you‘re a Marine gunnery sergeant or a private in the 82nd Airborne Division, your focus is on your buddies, getting through the day, the mission. 

There‘s no question.  The armed forces have committed to this struggle. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MCCAFFREY:  We have 27,000 killed and wounded.  A lot of these kids are on their third, fourth, or fifth combat tour.  They want to succeed.

On the other hand, I think the political debate is legitimate, and, in some ways, may actually help Petraeus and the new ambassador, telling the Maliki government, hey, your options are starting to disappear.  You had better start playing ball with us.

CARLSON:  Do they get that, the Iraqis, understand that? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think so.  I think it‘s having an impact on the Maliki government right now. 

They certainly gave the green light to Petraeus to get into Baghdad and start harvesting some of these murderous Shia militia leaders.  And when you...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Harvesting meaning killing?

MCCAFFREY:  Killing or capturing.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  We got some 600 in the last 45 days.  Most of them, they just bust into their house at 2:00 in the morning and grab them.

And we are also seeing some evidence of a response on the part of the Sunni tribal leaders out in Anbar Province. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MCCAFFREY:  You know, I think everybody understands this is premature to call it anything but a reaction to what we are doing on the ground. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MCCAFFREY:  But who knows.  If Petraeus can pull this off, give him the tools, and let back him up.

CARLSON:  General Barry McCaffrey, thank you very much. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  The most powerful man in America tells the most powerful woman in Congress not to visit the most powerful man in Syria.  But it didn‘t stop Nancy Pelosi from her trip to Damascus today.  Who is right?

And Barack Obama watchers wait with bated breath to learn just how much cash he has on hand.  While it‘s not clear how he will stack up to Hillary Clinton, we have got to believe that he will do well, based on how many house parties he‘s had so far.  You won‘t believe the number.  We will tell you.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Mitt Romney emerged from the bottom of almost every national poll for president with a 23 million dollar campaign haul last quarter.  That‘s a total that put him way out in front of his Republican competitors, and nearly on par with the mighty Clinton money machine.  So how does an also ran raise so much cash?  Well, the “New York Times” reports that 15 percent of Romney‘s first quarter mother load came from the state of Utah, home of the Mormon church. 

Will his faith affect his run for the White House?  And is he, in any case, now the unlikely front runner on the Republican side?  Here to discuss it is the host of the nationally syndicated “Hugh Hewitt Show,” and the author of “A Mormon in the White House: Ten Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney,” Hugh Hewitt.  Welcome, Hugh. 

HUGH HEWITT, “THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW”:  Tucker, good to be back.  Thanks for having me.

CARLSON:  Congratulations.  You‘re one of the very few people I talk to who had any kind of faith that Mitt Romney was a serious contender.  You were right.  I want to put up on the screen actually a graphic of yesterday‘s numbers on the Republican side, just to give some context here.  Romney, as you can see, raised 20 million bucks, 21 actually, I think, Rudy Giuliani 15, and John McCain 12.5.  All of this while Romney was in single digits in the polling.  How did he do that?

HEWITT:  Well, the fact is he raised 23 million, but he gave himself a loan of 2.3.  So the real number is closer to 21 million, Tucker.  He did it because applied Bain (ph) Company tactics to fund raising.  This is an approach I detail in the book that he learned at Bain Consulting and Bain Capital in the 1990s and the 1980s, that applies to networking through the highest levels of business. 

I would also point out, that 15 percent number from Utah is a little misleading because, while it‘s the capital of the LDA, it‘s also where he led the very successful turn around of the Olympic games in 1998 through 2002.  When Romney got there, it flat on its back, broke, no sponsors, scandal everywhere.  And he went to work and impressed everyone in Salt Lake City, basically saved their city‘s reputation.   

CARLSON:  But there is a religious component.  His spokesman has said so.  His campaign spokesman said today—he said, look, you know, Greek Americans gave to Mike Dukakis, Jews gave to Lieberman.  Of course, Mormons are going to give to Mitt Romney.  And the campaign has said that Utah was one of their big money states. 

Given that, there‘s been some squirreliness on the part of the campaign address the question his religion.  Understandably, it‘s his faith.  He shouldn‘t have to talk about it in public if he doesn‘t want to.  But now that it clearly is a component to his campaign strategy, does he need now to come out and talk openly about what it means to be a Mormon?

HEWITT:  Well, he did talk openly about it to me and at great length.  He was a missionary for the Mormon church for 30 months in France, between Stanford and BYU.  He‘s a very proud member of his faith.  He was a ward bishop.  He was the president of his stake.  He‘s a very serious Mormon. 

On the other hand, I don‘t think we ask people about theology.  I‘m just saying that when we look at the Utah numbers, it is a little bit like the Greek Americans supporting Dukakis or Jewish Americans supporting Lieberman, or a “New York Times” study today about the black elite of Chicago going in overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. 

Those are things to celebrate, not to get suspicion about.  I thought the “New York Times” had a little bit of anti-Mormon—

CARLSON:  Well, I don‘t know.  Wait, hold on.  I mean, I know that that will be trotted out as anti-Mormon.  I‘m not anti-Mormon.  But I do think it‘s relevant.  I mean, when the church, that church or any other church, or any other faith, enters into a political context -- 

HEWITT:  Oh, they‘re not though.  That‘s not fair.  The Mormon church, like the Catholic church, like the Presbyterian church, has absolutely nothing to do with politics.  They put in the front of their website.  Every Mormon official I tried to talk to about this said, no, no, no, we don‘t do politics.  Talk to Harry Reid.  Talk to Mitt Romney, our two highest, most prominent Mormons.  Talk to Orrin Hatch.  But don‘t talk to us. 

I think what is important is that we not confuse that boundary.  When Jack Kennedy set up the campaign in 1960, he went down to Houston, talked to the Baptist ministers and said, you‘re not electing a pope.  You‘re electing the president.  The same rules apply to Mitt Romney.  I‘m a little bit worried though.  I talked to Doris Kearns Goodwin about this for the book, that we are breaching that great wall about private religious beliefs, as opposed to ideology and beliefs. 

One thing to watch about these Romney numbers, or at MittRomney.com when they released the online contributions, is that for every Mormon that put in of those 33,000, you‘re going to find a non-Mormon. 

CARLSON:  That‘s essentially right.  I‘m not suggesting it‘s only Mormons that are supporting him.  I do finally wonder though, you know, these numbers show strong support of Romney by donors.  Where are the poll numbers that show voters in large numbers are supporting him?  He‘s still be beaten in every poll I‘ve seen by Fred Thompson, who‘s not even running.  When are we going to see real movement in the polls? 

HEWITT:  I don‘t think he will go into other than low double digits or high single digits until January, just before Iowa.  I think he‘s doing a trampoline campaign, just like Jimmy Carter did.  I think it will work by the way.  Howard Dean got all the numbers and then didn‘t deliver in Iowa.  Romney is doing it the old fashioned way, which is win, raise resources and do a burn rate like Ronald Reagan did, put it all in up at the front. 

So, I don‘t ever expect Gallup to show an unknown governor from Massachusetts close to Rudy Giuliani, for whom I have a great deal of admiration, because everybody knows Rudy, and most Americans love him.  Same deal with John McCain.  So I think he is running the kind of campaign that a come from behind but first tier candidate has to run.  And thus far, with the CPAC endorsement, with the endorsement of Republican insiders—he won that poll as well—and now this phenomenal number, he has established himself as clearly in the front ranks and I think the story of yesterday is that John McCain has fallen like a comet. 

CARLSON:  It looks that way.  Hugh Hewitt of “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” thanks a lot Hugh.  I appreciate it.  

HEWITT:  Thanks Tucker.

CARLSON:  President Bush has fewer and fewer friends politically.  Today, he reacted to Sunday‘s defection of a key inner circle advisor.  How did the president respond to the unkind words of one of his closest political friends?  We‘ll have that story. 

Plus, Barack Obama is making us all wait to find out how much cash he raised compared to Hillary Clinton.  One fact about his campaign is out though:  Obama supporters love to party.  The stunning stats at Obama‘s Bashes nationwide.  This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  President Bush suffered a cruel and personal defection over the weekend when one of his inner circle of advisors, a true former believer, Matthew Dowd, told the “New York Times” that he had lost faith in the president he had guided into office twice.  Dowd painted a picture of the president more likely to come from the Democratic opposition than form a trusted lieutenant.  And today, President Bush was asked directly about Dowd‘s defection.  Here is what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I respect Matthew.  I‘ve known him for a while.  As you mentioned, he was an integral part of my 2004 campaign.  I have not talked to Matthew about his concerns.  Nevertheless, I understand his anguish over war.  I would hope that people who share Matthew‘s point of view would understand my concern about what failure would mean to the security of the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP

CARLSON:  Joining us once again from “The Hill Newspaper,” the associate editor there, A.B. Stoddard and national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune,” Jill Zuckman.  Welcome to you both. 

Jill, I was struck by the president‘s restraint.  You know, he spent the morning really laying into Democrats in a way he didn‘t use to.  He‘s clearly frustrated and angry.  Matthew Dowd‘s comments to the “New York Times” were about as painful—It‘s hard to even put yourself in his position of how much that must have hurt. 

ZUCKMAN:  First of all, it was heartbreaking what Matthew has been going through.  Not only was he a part of Bush‘s inner circle in 2004, he was part of the inner circle in 2000.  He left the Democratic party to become a Republican because he believed in President Bush.  And I think the reason you saw that restraint is because Bush knows the person.  He knows Matthew.  And I think he cares about him as a person, doesn‘t believe this is a partisan attack.  He knows that this is something that Matthew feels genuinely and feels the need to speak out on, and it‘s just a very sad situation. 

CARLSON:  Yes, this is in contrast to yesterday, one of the president‘s spokeswomen described Matthew Dowd as being on a, quote, personal journey.  In other words, he‘s crazy, or going through a midlife crisis or something like that.  But Bush here, I mean, you really get the feeling of a president—this is a cliche, but in this case it‘s true—under siege, you know, everything is falling down around him. 

STODDARD:  I thought he was incredibly gracious and it showed that he doesn‘t think Matthew Dowd is crazy.  They can all write him off as a former Democrat who was never really one of them, but you could just see in the way that he spoke about it today that he really takes it as sort of a credible complaint. 

I think he is in free fall.  There was another article in the paper yesterday about a friend of the Cheney family and President Bush One, writing a book and coming out blasting the administration and the president in the same strong terms, in a bit of a different way.   

CARLSON:  I think that was Vick Gold, and I think it is possible to say Vick Gold is so eccentric maybe it doesn‘t matter what he thinks. 

STODDARD:  It just is a drip, drip. 

CARLSON:  Right, no, it is a drip, drip.  Matthew Dowd, like most people when they come out and say, I‘ve broken with my party, or I didn‘t leave, they left me, or whatever, it‘s usually someone on the periphery.  You know, it‘s usually someone who was never really a key player.  Matthew Dowd, there‘s just no spinning it, this is a big, big deal.  And most people probably have not heard of him, but you‘re going to have to take it on faith.  I mean, I think it‘s fair to say, he was at the very center. 

ZUCKMAN:  He was a very, very central figure for Bush.  He is someone who has had the polling figures, advised the president, was in those very small groups of meetings with the president.  He‘s a lovely person, and it‘s probably very hard for the president. 

CARLSON:  Very sad.  So Bush is looking for a victory, Republicans obviously looking for a victory.  They are thinking immigration could be the issue.  We‘re pretty closes to Democrats on this.  Politico has a really interesting piece on the working paper Republicans are circulating, describing their ideas about an immigration bill, immigration reform.  It says that they would make it easier for the 12 million illegal aliens in this country to earn their way into citizenship. 

Here is how Ted Kennedy responded.  This is, I think, a very interesting commentary.  He said, it‘s a moral issue now how we are going to treat workers.  On these issues, these are moral issues, principled-issues, and there aren‘t compromises.  These are stake holders in the final determinant of whether something will fly.  If it doesn‘t have the confidence of the people it‘s affecting, that legislation is going nowhere. 

In other words, if illegal aliens don‘t like it, if the people affected by it, the people in this country illegally, don‘t care for it, we‘re not going to back it.  Can he really be saying that? 

STODDARD:  Yes, I think that this legislation—what it does is it doesn‘t allow for the expediting of the process for family members, and the Democrats like Kennedy are going to take a hard line about that.  They‘re not going to support something.  He thinks that that is part of the process, that you allow family members to come here and be unified, reunited. 

And so this actually sort of works for both parties.  Republicans are working hard for President Bush to come up with something that is agreeable to their side, but the Democrats, as we‘ve discussed many times, don‘t really have a reason to try to pass this behemoth in this Congress.  And so it works for them to say this is a stricter, more restrictive, unacceptable bill. 

CARLSON:  Moreover, I don‘t think the Republicans can do this.  I don‘t think—I mean, there are some very famous Republicans in safe districts who can afford to play this game, but I think the average Republican, particularly in border states, cannot play around with immigration.  It‘s deeply unpopular among Republican voters, this kind of liberalizing of immigration. 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s almost replaced Social Security as the third rail of politics.  If you touch it, you die.  At the same time, it is an issue that was blocked in the last Congress by some very, very right wing Republicans in the House, with the help of the Republican leadership.  They are not in power anymore.  Now that they are out of power, I think there‘s the opportunity to come together with some sort of compromise, but they don‘t have a lot of time, because the presidential campaign is well underway. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t see this happening.  Bush this morning goes after Nancy Pelosi for going to Syria.  In fact, let‘s put up a sound bite of the president describing his feelings about the speaker‘s trip to Damascus.  Here‘s President Bush. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals.  The position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in a larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior.  But sending delegations has not worked.  It‘s just simply been counter-productive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  It would be nice to have a president who could speak fluid English at some point.  No offense to President Bush.  I have to say, I rarely side with Nancy Pelosi.  I don‘t exactly see the problem.  Sure, going to Syria to denounce her own government or take some sort of crazy position, but she‘s not.  She‘s got the same AIPAC approved position that everyone has, including me.  I mean, her position on the Middle East is pretty mainstream, I think.  What exactly is the problem with her going to Syria? 

STODDARD:  Well, the president‘s complaint is—and let‘s give him credit for mentioning that Republicans were going.  I mean, he did not let those inconvenient facts stand in the way.  So his complaint is that by going there and landing on their soil to meet with them, you are sending mixed signals, and leading them to believe they are part of the main stream. 

Now, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, is supposed to go to Turkey and sit down with officials from Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq.  And this is something that the Bush administration differentiates between, that it is one thing to get together in sort of a neighboring country summit.  It‘s another thing to go and sit down with them in their land.  At the same time, when he complains that President Abbas (sic) has not responded to overtures from Europeans and everything, so therefore he isn‘t listening, you know, that‘s not really fair.  You have to keep talking to get people to listen.  And for the House—the speaker of the house to go over there and continue the dialogue doesn‘t seem so crazy. 

CARLSON:  Well, yes, it strikes me, the essence is, what is the dialogue?  Do you expect Nancy Pelosi to get up and denounce Israel or attack the United States while in Damascus?

ZUCKMAN:  Absolutely not.  She‘s not off message.  And in fact, she‘s a 15-year member of the House Intelligence Committee.  She‘s not someone who is just coming to this brand new because she became speaker.  She actually knows these issues pretty well. 

I think one of the complaints has been that—about the administration is that they don‘t want to talk to Syria or North Korea or any of these other places that they have a disagreement with.  So here you start to see the Congress say, well, we want to go and talk to them to see if we can try to talk some sense into them. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  Well, so you just saw my year‘s one defense of Nancy Pelosi. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Barack Obama finds himself on the presidential backburner for just one moment.  That might change when you hear the number of fundraising house parties Obama has inspired.  He is like the Super Bowl, New Year‘s Eve, the last episode of “Cheers” and “Sex and the City” all in one. 

And the real campaign resumes tonight.  What fast food giant wants a piece of Sanjaya‘s action?  What will it mean for his hair?  Will it keep his run for the title alive?  Chief show correspondent Willie Geist will be here with a comprehensive preview.  That is, it goes without saying, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  It is time to check “The Obameter.” It will be another day or so before we learn how Barack Obama‘s fundraising compares to his rivals for president.  We do know though that the number individual contributors to Obama‘s campaign is far greater than the number of contributors to Hillary Clinton‘s campaign. 

We also know that Obama‘s devotees threw as many as 5,000 house parties to raise money for their candidate.  Sounds like more fun than it probably was.  But it does speak to his broad appeal.  Here to check “The Obameter” with us, we welcome back A.B. Stoddard and Jill Zuckman. 

Welcome to you both.  Jill, you broke this story that Obama‘s staff was saying on background that they had raised probably more than $20 million, Hillary raised $26 million or so.  Why aren‘t they announcing this number?

ZUCKMAN:  They are going to announce tomorrow.  They said they were still counting, that the money was just pouring in.

CARLSON:  Like they don‘t have Excel spreadsheets like everyone else? 

ZUCKMAN:  One explanation I heard was that so many of their donors are new donors, that they have never donated to political candidates before, that they weren‘t in any database.  I don‘t know.

CARLSON:  They are in the mafia, in other words. 

ZUCKMAN:  You know what, this could be just a wonderful P.R. spin that they waited, waited so that they could have the whole day to themselves.  We have got the Democrats out of the way Sunday.  We got the Republicans out of the way Monday.  And then Obama is going to have a whole day where he has really good news.  He is going to be able to say 83,000 people contributed more than 100,000 times to his campaign. 

I think that‘s more than anybody else.  The other thing that we learned is that most of his contributions were just for his primary elections.  So the amount that he announces, which I think will be well above $20 million, that amount can be used to win the nomination. 

Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, on the other hand, would not tell anyone what their breakdown is, and they were accepting contributions of up to $4,600, which meant primary and general election. 

CARLSON:  Right, $2,300 is the maximum for each.

(CROSSTALK)

ZUCKMAN:  Exactly.  So the key issue is, did Obama beat Hillary Clinton in fundraising for the primary?  And there is a very good possibility that that is going to be the case.  But we will find out tomorrow. 

CARLSON:  That—don‘t you think that had better be the case.  If Jill‘s suggestion is right, and I‘m sure it is, that they are—they want to carve out their own news cycle, distinct from everyone else‘s.

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  Oh yes, very smart. 

CARLSON:  It had better be a big number. 

STODDARD:  True.  And Mitt Romney raised the same without having all of those house parties, I might add.  But no, I think actually.

CARLSON:  And what exactly is a house party, an Obama house party? 

Did you go to any? 

STODDARD:  No.  I saw.

CARLSON:  What.

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  . a picture of one in The New York Times.  You have Obama on the Internet, on your TV.  And you all stare at him and eat chips and dial for dollars or something.  I don‘t know.

ZUCKMAN:  Well, I think here is what they were trying to do with these house parties.  They have got all of these people online who are all excited about Senator Obama.  Well, they didn‘t want to leave those people out in Internet-land like Howard Dean did.  They want to draw them out of their basements.

CARLSON:  I think they like being out in.

(CROSSTALK)

ZUCKMAN:  . and get together and meet each other and hope to translate that into money and votes and getting people active.  So that is—I don‘t now much money they got from those house parties.  I think a lot of the money was raised before March 31st

STODDARD:  It was still was a really good idea.  And actually delaying it and having your own moment is really effective.  Someone else will steal it in the next filing date. 

But look, let‘s remember this, that no matter what the breakdown is from primary to general, also, she has been raising money since before she was elected to the Senate—re-elected to the Senate again, and she has got Bill Clinton out there.  And she still—if he eclipses her, it is going to be so... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  It is huge.  I mean, I think it is a very short step from a house party to a revival meeting.  In other words, when you start blogging about Barack Obama, why not just go ahead and worship him?  And I think this was the idea behind a new sculpture.

ZUCKMAN:  Ah, a segue.

CARLSON:  Thank you, that was indeed a segue, a new sculpture of Obama as Jesus.  Listen to the artist‘s explanation of his piece, his installation. “All of this,” he said, “is a response to what I have been witnessing and hearing, the idea that Barack Obama is a sort of potential savior that might come and absolve this country of all of its sins.  In a lot of ways, it is about caution in assigning all of these inflated expectations to one individual and expecting them to change something that many have shaped.” David Cordero, the art student.

That was actually a pretty good explanation, I would say, and... 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s a more complex explanation.  He is not just trying to build this guy up.  He is saying, be careful—oh my goodness.

CARLSON:  And there it is, a very ugly piece of art.  It is a little bit.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  It is hard to imagine worshiping that.  But this has got to be a real concern for the Barack Obama people, don‘t you think?

ZUCKMAN:  They are not so thrilled with it and they have said, we don‘t really go for this kind of thing.  We are not into the comparison and we don‘t believe in mixing up religious metaphors with politics like this. 

CARLSON:  Obama is, quote, “not a fan of art that offends religious sensibilities.

ZUCKMAN:  That is exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But there is a religious sensibility to the whole Barack Obama movement.  And I am not attacking it because I don‘t want to put down anyone‘s faith, but this is a species of religion at this point, no? 

STODDARD:  It is.  I mean, he really—he doesn‘t have supporters, he has followers and everyone is feeling very devout.  But I think that this is so interesting that this came right on the heels of his discrepancies from real life and his memoir. 

Because, for Barack Obama, his big ticket is being authentic.  I mean, he inspires people because he is the real deal.  He doesn‘t package himself for political life the way Hillary Clinton does.  So he is going to inspire everyone and he is going to change everything. 

And if he starts to appear to be slightly a fraud or a fake, I really think it is going to be a problem for him if revelations like this continue to pop up.

CARLSON:  Well, it is sort of—and you will notice he is so painfully self-aware.  He said—yesterday he said, just because I have raised these obscene amounts of money, don‘t consider me a hypocrite.  I mean, there is a kind of high school quality there. 

ZUCKMAN:  His campaign has also said he would much be rather just talking to voters than going and raising money.  I think a lot of campaigns have struck that theme, like hey, this is a necessary evil.  Got to do it. 

CARLSON:  See, there is—it is a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness and then the death of a person‘s sanctimony.  And let‘s hope he doesn‘t wind up Jimmy Carter.  Thank you both very much.  I appreciate it.

ZUCKMAN:  Thank you.

STODDARD:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  The most famous head of hair back this side of Donald Trump will be back on “American Idol” tonight.  So what style will Sanjaya use to distract people from his appalling voice?  Willie Geist explains why Kentucky Fried Chicken might have something to do with his choice.  We will be right back.      

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Fascinated by the saga of “American Idol” but afraid to actually watch it?  We have the answer for you.  Joining us now, our human Cliff‘s note, Willie Geist. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC PRODUCER:  Hmm, interesting question, Tucker.  We will get to that in just a moment.  First of all, I have to say, the Obama house parties sound just miserable, don‘t they?  Boy does that not sound fun.  Talk about like a Bill Clinton house party, maybe a Bob Packwood house party, now we have got something, you know what I mean?

CARLSON:  Yes—no, but these are like morally correct house parties with a bunch of bloggers.

GEIST:  Yes.  Not into it.  Not into it.  Tucker, this, what I am about to tell you, I promise, is the most shocking thing you will hear this day.  We all mourn, as you know, in different ways.  But Keith Richards says he mourned the death of his father by snorting his ashes. 

Yes.  The Rolling Stones guitarist, who usually appears dead himself, told the British music magazine NME, quote: “The strangest thing I have tried to snort, my father.  I snorted my father.  He was cremated and I couldn‘t resist grinding him up with a little blow.  My dad wouldn‘t have cared.  It went down pretty well.”

Wow.  That is game over.  Right?  He wins.  What are you going to do? 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know.  That is not the most offensive thing I have heard today. 

GEIST:  It is pretty shocking, you don‘t think that is.

CARLSON:  It is pretty shocking.  It is pretty far out.  I would say, let just put it this way, it is unconventional. 

(LAUGHTER)

GEIST:  It is a little unconventional.

CARLSON:  Yes, it is.

GEIST:  But all of these like teenie—oh, I have tattoos, and I have piercings, I am a rock star, I‘m so hardcore, have you ever snorted your father‘s ashes?  Yes, settle down a little bit. 

And you remember the old tale about Ozzy Osbourne snorting in line of ants, well, this now moves into second place on the greatest snorting stories of all time.  Unbelievable, unbelievable, Keith Richards, you win.

Well, let‘s get to the big news, Tucker.  It seems everybody wants a piece of Sanjaya.  In my case, that means I would like to engage him in a fist fight.  But for others, it means they want to benefit from his “American Idol” fame.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is offering Sanjaya a free lifetime supply of their famous bowls if he appears on “Idol” with a bowl haircut.  Get it?  There is some incentive for you.

Last week Sanjaya disgraced the mohawk and if he gets a hankering for a lifetime craving for bowls full of cheese, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, he will insult Moe Howard tonight as well. 

Now this seems a little ridiculous on its face, but if you look at the big picture, Sanjaya obviously someday is going to be sleeping under an underpass somewhere, and this little KFC lifetime supply might come in handy.  He should probably consider it.

Don‘t you think he should? 

CARLSON:  You know, I would like to think that, but I have the feeling that he will probably be the next senator from whatever state he is from. 

GEIST:  That is a good point.  Yes, that William Hung is still putting out albums. 

CARLSON:  Exactly, this is America, Willie.

GEIST:  There is a lesson there.  I hope he doesn‘t.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  We reward this.

GEIST:  I hope he doesn‘t make it.  But of course, he will. 

Well, more reality news, Tucker.  Despite that artificial leg, Heather Mills has actually been performing pretty well on “Dancing with the Stars,” even better, some might say, than the two-legged Tucker Carlson.  But she is still a little shaky about her relationship with Paul McCartney. 

Mills broke down today on Ryan Seacrest‘s radio show while talking about the accusation that she married the Beatles legend for money. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER MILLS, PAUL MCCARTNEY‘S EX-WIFE:  I could have gone that path of lowering myself to everyone else‘s level and proven my innocence and that all I did was fall in love with somebody madly and give up my life for seven years, you know?

And—you know, and then just to be vilified for it, I was like—I am actually quite shocked, because I have spent 14 years doing charity work, and I thought, OK, you know, if I was gold-digger I would be a very wealthy woman now, and I‘m not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Question, Tucker, do you feel sorry for Heather Mills?  Yes or no? 

CARLSON:  Yes, she marries this old guy and steals millions of his dollars and people criticize her?  Yes.  I really feel sorry for her.

GEIST:  Yes.  And actually, did you notice that Ryan Seacrest of “American Idol” had her on from “Dancing with the Stars,” a competing reality show, to sort of expose her and weaken the show? 

CARLSON:  I could not understand a single thing that she said, her accent was so thick. 

GEIST:  A little cockney in that one, isn‘t she?

CARLSON:  Yes.  A little bit, yes. 

GEIST:  Finally, Tucker, when President Bush was not calling Democrats out at his Rose Garden press conference this morning, he was having some fun with his friends in the White House press corps.

The president first offered some flattery to Bill Plante of CBS, awkwardly, I might add.  He then complimented NBC‘s David Gregory on his dancing at a dinner in Washington last week.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, a lot of the disagreement over.

BUSH:  Wrong Bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Which one, him?

BUSH:  You—no, you, the cute-looking one. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, thanks so much.

BUSH:  Dancer, dancing man, that would be David Gregory.  For those of you not aware, Gregory put on a show the other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everybody is aware, Mr. President.  Thank you. 

BUSH:  Well, maybe the listeners aren‘t. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, that is all right.

BUSH:  That was a beautiful performance, seriously. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Now, Tucker, come on.  If the presidential legacy was based on jocularity, he might be the greatest president of all time.  Unfortunately, there are other factors. 

CARLSON:  He is a great tele-snapper.  I kind of tele—that is the best thing about him, I will say.

GEIST:  Absolutely.  Unfortunately there isn‘t more.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Exactly.  Willie Geist.

GEIST:  All right.  Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Willie. 

That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS.” We will be back tomorrow.  See you then.  Have a great night.

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.

Transcripts

Watch Tucker each weeknight at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,