updated 4/8/2007 12:51:13 PM ET 2007-04-08T16:51:13

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Easter Sunday:  The president and congressional Democrats square off on Iraq.

The attorney general prepares to testify under oath about the eight dismissed U.S. attorneys.

And the presidential candidates raise big money for a very long campaign. Does either party have a front-runner?

With us, insights and analysis from NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory; the Washington editor of the National Review, Kate O’Beirne; NBC News political director Chuck Todd; and senior correspondent for PBS, Judy Woodruff.

And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, August 27th, 1948, on this program, this man, Whittaker Chambers, publicly accused State Department official Alger Hiss of being a communist.  Friday, at an all-day symposium at New York University, the debate over Hiss’ loyalty and whether he was a Soviet spy continues 59 years later.

Welcome all.  Happy Easter, happy Passover.  Nice to have everybody here.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Thank you.

MS. KATE O’BEIRNE:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  What a news week!  Let’s start right in.  The war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney went on the Rush Limbaugh radio show and said this:

(Audiotape)

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  It’s very, very important that this legislation go forward and that members of Congress be judged base on whether or not they really do support the troops when they’re put to the test.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  David Gregory, really do support the troops, that is putting it out there in a very blunt way.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  And this is the same kind of rhetoric that this administration has used going back to the ‘04 election cycle which is to say to Democrats, “If you support the troops, you will show it by giving us the money to fund the war.” And that’s the litmus test for this White House.  And Democrats are saying, “No, you can support the troops by saying there is no good to come of this war and the troops should come home.” This is the fight over the endgame of the war now.  Democrats don’t have the votes to impose a deadline on the White House for troop withdrawal, but this has really heated up.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Democrats have used their own rhetoric as well.  Here’s the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid.

(Videotape, March 28, 2007)

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Calm down with the threats.  There’s a new Congress in town.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, Tuesday)

SEN. MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID (D-NV):  He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Kate O’Beirne, where are we?

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Well, Senator Reid’s criticism, he’s not—they’re not trying circumscribe the president’s regal powers, they’re trying to circumscribe, the White House argues, his presidential powers.  Congress is perfectly free to cut off all funding for this war in Iraq.  They were free, obviously, to not confirm General Petraeus, who’s leading the new strategy.  What they’re not permitted to do is to appropriate funds and then tie the commander in chief’s hands with respect to how to deploy those troops and how to conduct those military missions.  And that’s, of course, what they’re doing.  They’re using the appropriations bill, $100 billion for troops, in order to try to force concessions from George Bush.  And yet, when they’re called on it, that they are jeopardizing funds for troops in the field, they cry foul.  But they are using those, those necessary funds in order to, to force policy changes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Judy Woodruff, the president says, “Give me a bill with the money only for the troops or I’ll veto it.” Congress saying, “Mr.  President, we want a—timetables for withdrawal of American troops.  We want the Iraqis to step up.” What’s going to happen?

MS. JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, there’s danger for both sides.  There’s the Democrats—the danger for the Democrats is if they don’t blink and they continue on the path that they are on, they, they do risk looking like they’re undercutting these troops.  If they do blink, on the other hand, and say at the last minute, “All right, we’re not going to—we’re not going to string this thing out,” they risk alienating their Democratic base, the people who say, “Look at what the American people said,” the anti-war activists, “look at what they said in November.” But, Tim, I think the greater peril is for Republicans, who drastically need for this, this war in Iraq to turn around. Look at the latest AP/IPSOs poll:  56 percent of the American people, when you ask them is this a hopeless cause or a war that should have been fought, 56 percent say it’s hopeless.  So it’s a—it’s, it’s, I think, tougher for the Republicans.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd, where do we go?  The president will say, “All right, you sent me your legislation, and I just vetoed it.  Now what are you going to do?  Are you going to give me money for the troops, or are you going to tell the American people you’re not going to support this war anymore?”

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Well, it’s interesting.  What I don’t understand what the White House is doing is that every time Democrats propose something that allows them to potentially take co-ownership of the war, Bush actually stops them, and politically it actually puts the Democrats in an advantageous position because they can sit there and say, “Well, you know what, we’ve, we’ve tried to take some responsibility for this war.  The president won’t do it.  He’s vetoing this legislation.  This is still Bush’s war.  This is still a Republican war.” And that’s sort of the frustration that I’m sensing from some Republicans, not, not inside the White House, but on Capital Hill and on the campaign trail a little bit, to sit there and say, “Guys, let the Democrats share some ownership of this thing or this war’s going to—it’s going to make 2006 seem like a party.” In 2008 it’s going to be a real death knell for the Republican Party.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if you’re a real cynic, you can say all right, let the Democrats have their way, let them set the deadline of March or August of ‘08.

MR. TODD:  And let them own this war.  That’s right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Start bringing the troops home then—back home then.  Chaos breaks out, you say that’s the Democratic solution.

MR. TODD:  That’s right.  “We tried it—we tried it—we tried it your way,” and then suddenly it’s a referendum on, well, do you want the Republicans to run this war or the Democrats to run this war?  And you’ve gotten a taste of what it would look like if the Democrats ran this war.

MR. GREGORY:  And that’s essentially what the thinking is in the White House, and the president has said it, that they will be blamed if these timetables hold up for the chaos that he believes will ensue.  But you asked what’s going to happen.  Within the White House, there’s a view that they still have some leverage on this, and that’s why the president has come out, why they’ve deployed the vice president to use pretty strong words as he did with Rush Limbaugh this week.  They think Democrats don’t have the votes to sustain a veto of these bills.  They think that Senator Reid wants to have a separate vote on cutting off all funds by March of next year to allow liberals to have some cover and that, ultimately, they’ll get a clean bill.  That’s their view right now.  They think they can hold Republicans behind them for now because Republicans are saying we’ve got Petraeus on the ground, we’ve got a new strategy, we don’t know whether it’s going to succeed or fail.  So, for now, the president can’t bank on having that back up.

MR. RUSSERT:  So, so two votes, they’ll get the money for the troops and have a separate vote to cut off—to have a date certain for withdrawal?

MR. GREGORY:  Right, which they think will not prevail.  Look, Barack Obama said this week as well, “Let’s not play chicken with our troops.”

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Exactly.

MS. WOODRUFF:  Yeah.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  He got excoriated by the left, by the way, on the blogosphere for that, which shows the difficulty on the Democratic side as well, in the disagreement.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  But Senator Obama was expressing the fear the Democrats have.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  No one wants to play chicken with funding for the troops.  But Nancy Pelosi has a real problem on her hands.  If that supplemental bill moves some to the right, she loses 40 or 50 House Democrats who will not vote for a supplemental that doesn’t have deadlines and funding tied to deadlines. Republicans in the House are anticipating she’s going to have to negotiate with them in order to get a funding bill out of the House.

MS. WOODRUFF:  And I talked to a Democrat outside of Washington over the weekend, Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania, who says the Democrats can’t do this game of chicken, because that, he said, the blink vs.  no blink, yes that’s the choice.  But he said if they do that, the Democrats aren’t going to win in the long run.  He said what they ought to do is say, “OK, we’re going to give you the money for the war, but we are going to have—with a new president in the White House—a strategy to end this war.” And he said that way the Democrats can pull this out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd, what do the Democratic presidential candidates who are in the Senate do when Harry Reid steps forward and says, “OK, up or down vote, date certain for withdrawal?  Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, how do you vote?”

MR. TODD:  Well, first of all, Chris Dodds already wants to be a co-sponsor, so we know where Dodd’s going to be.  He’s going to be right there with him. I think they all end up voting for this thing.  They all have to vote date certain.  And, and the person that’s going to be the most scrutiny on this is going to be Hillary Clinton because she—you get the sense that that’s the last thing, you know, she, she always gives off this sense of, “Look, I’ve been on the other side of this, I’ve seen—I’ve seen it from the president’s perspective.  Don’t, don’t let Congress get too into the weeds, into the details on this.” And I think it’s going to be a hard vote for her to do, but politically she has no choice.

MR. GREGORY:  I’m not so sure that she...

MR. TODD:  She has to...

MR. GREGORY:  I’m not so sure that they’ll all support it.  I think it will become a real fight over language, deadlines vs.  goals.  And I think they—some Democrats think there may be room for negotiation, which the—which the, the White House has expressed, that they wouldn’t rule out negotiations over some kind of goal for withdrawal if conditions permit.  And that’s the difficulty.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Because the, the Democrats seem to think that they have public opinion at their back on this, they seem to think this is a mainstream position to set firm dates for withdrawal.  But the Baker-Hamilton Group was, was specifically opposed to this.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  The N.I.E., the National Intelligence Estimate, said it’s a terrible idea.  Our commanders on the ground, of course, say it’s a terrible idea.  And last fall, during the elections, Harry Reid was saying, “We will not cut off funds for the Iraq war.” Public opinion polls, of course, as Judy said, do show the public enormously frustrated and pessimistic, but they also show that they don’t favor denying funds for this surge.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s talk about the president and his own feelings about the war.  I thought he was quite revealing on Wednesday when he acknowledged this.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  The American people are weary of this war.  They’re wondering whether or not we can succeed.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And what compounded that was Matthew Dowd, one of the president’s close advisers in the 2004 race, gave an interview with The New York Times, and this is what he said:  “Looking back, [Former Bush chief campaign strategist Matthew] Dowd now says his faith in Mr.  Bush was misplaced.

“In a wide-ranging interview, Mr.  Dowd expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

“He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq.  He said that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

“‘I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things.  ... I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.’ ...

“He said he clung to the hope that Mr.  Bush would get back to his Texas-style of governing if he won [re-election].  “But he” was—“saw no change after the 2004 victory.  ‘I had finally come to the conclusion that maybe all these things ...  do add up.’” “‘That it’s not the same, it’s not the” same “person I thought.’”

The president, asked about that, responded this way on Tuesday:

(Videotape, Tuesday)

PRES. BUSH:  First of all, I respect Matthew.  I’ve known him for a while. As you mentioned, he was a integral part of my 2004 campaign.  I have not talked to Matthew about his concerns.  Nevertheless, I understand his anguish over war, understand that this is an emotional issue for Matthew, as it is a lot of other people in our country.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  David, what does this tell us?

MR. GREGORY:  It tells us that something very unusual has happened in Bush world, which is to have somebody who was—who was part of the inner circle speak out in this way.  The White House is stunned by this.  They also think it’s a pretty shocking act of disloyalty, many of them.  That’s unusual.  But it speaks to something that Republicans feel more widely, and certainly opponents of the president feel, and that is that he has lost his way, that he’s in denial about the war, and even, as he expresses it, that people don’t know whether the war can succeed.  The truth is, the president doesn’t know. And a lot of people who even support the surge don’t know if it can really work, whether, even if you stabilize Baghdad, a political solution will ensue. This is very much out of control, out of the White House’s control.  That’s the reality right now of this war, and it’s difficult for them.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  I...

MR. RUSSERT:  Do—go ahead.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  I think there might be a larger, more generic lesson about Matthew Dowd, as we head into the next campaign season.  Put not your faith in princes, the biblical admonition.  He fell in love with a candidate.  He’s a Democrat.  There weren’t too many Democrats who fell in love with George Bush in 2000, certainly even fewer in 2004.  You know, lying with a candidate takes a, I think, cold-hearted, clear-eyed disposition.  Half of all marriages fail, so falling in love with a candidate, I said—I think is a risky business, and this Democrat fell in love with a candidate and is now disillusioned.

MR. RUSSERT:  Judy Woodruff...

MS. O’BEIRNE:  There’s a lesson there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Judy Woodruff, I’m told that the White House chief of staff Josh Bolten in—throughout November and December, compiled news clips and editorials and television clips to show the president, to show him that it just wasn’t his critics or political enemies that were concerned about the war, but that very thoughtful Americans also had raised concerns.  Do you sense there’s a recognition by the president of legitimate concerns about the war?

MS. WOODRUFF:  That’s a—that’s a very hard question for anybody to answer outside that inner circle.  What I can say is that the, broadly, Republicans, Tim, are worried that this president is just not listened to by the American people any more, that he’s not—that, that no matter how much he now takes—now acknowledges his role in the war, he accepts the reality of the war, the people have just tuned him out, that they look at this White House and they think it’s going in a direction—and there are—that, that is the past, and that the public is now focused on the future and what’s coming next. Having said all that, this president, and we know it at this table, can still make a difference on domestic issues like immigration, certainly on foreign policy.  He can set the agenda.  He can determine the outcome.  He still has power.

MR. RUSSERT:  Robert Novak, conservative columnist wrote this, Chuck Todd. “With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, Bush is alone.  In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congresss, not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.” And yet the president has held his party in Congress on the war in Iraq.

MR. TODD:  Well, this is the box they’re in.  The, the Republicans have to support Bush on this, because they—if there is a divide between the Republican nominee in 2008.  Don’t forget we’re going to have nine months of what I call three presidents.  The one in office, and two nominees.  And if there is a divide, a real huge divide between the Republican Party’s nominee and the president, it’s going to destroy the entire Republican Party.  So I think that that’s why congressional Republicans are sticking with him because they have to.  Because if Bush doesn’t lead them out of Iraq and doesn’t at least sort of make progress and, and, and get the—get something to make it look like things are wrapping up, then it’s going to be—it’s going to be a horrible thing for the Republican Party.  It’s going to put them potentially in a wilderness of 25 years on national security issues the way the Democrats were, were put in the wilderness after Vietnam.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you a poll number, David Gregory and Kate O’Beirne. George Bush has same priorities for the country as you do.  Now 29 percent say yes; 66 percent say no.  Look at a month before the war began, four years ago in February of ‘03, it was 54-39.  Quite telling that there’s a disconnect now in terms of people’s attitudes towards their president whether he shares their goals.

MR. GREGORY:  And everything is seen through the prism of Iraq.  The president had admitted that.  And this is really a commentary about his view of the world and a view of the threats in the world, that even as he has campaigned on fighting the war on terror, the American people have, have really come to see Iraq as a separate entity, a separate problem and, in large measure, a war that was not worth it, which is such a departure from his resolve and his continued belief that this is the right war at the right time.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kate.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  I think he’s still obviously paying a price for how the White House appeared in the fall before the elections.  Are they not watching the same thing we are?  Now, with the president acknowledging that the public is weary and really does question whether things could be successful, it would have been better if that message were being delivered before the elections last year, where it seemed to me the public wanted his attention.  But Secretary Rumsfeld was let go, belatedly, which, of course, signaled a change in course, but it was post-election, and I think Judy’s right.  Now, when the president’s extremely challenging for him to make the case that progress is being made in Iraq, even though there are some early tentative signs that the surge could be working, because the public has heard so often about schools opening or a new ministry getting up and running or the state of Iraqi troops, and then still the violence was so ongoing.  It’s going to take a real change on the ground now, I think.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general of the United States, Judy Woodruff, a week from Tuesday goes before Congress under oath, make or break.  According to people in the White House, he has to explain to Congress why the inconsistency in his comments do not qualify him for removal.

MS. WOODRUFF:  We are told, Tim, that Alberto Gonzales is working around the clock on that testimony coming up nine days from now.  He’s canceled his vacation, he’s working.  You talk to Republicans, though, they’re already focused on who his replacement is going to be.  They’re not looking at that. Democrats, their target, many of them will now say is Karl Rove.  They’ve just—practically ignoring Alberto Gonzales, assuming he’s gone.  There’s no wrongdoing that’s been proven, Tim.  We don’t know whether anything happened, but the fact is, all these e-mails, certainly, are the kind of headache that this White House did not need right now.  Last weekend, Rahm Emanuel quipped, at the Gridiron dinner, he said—he said, “Who would have thought that the Republican Party would be—the White House would be remembering fondly Mark Foley’s e-mails of last fall right now.” But that’s pretty much the way it is.

MR. GREGORY:  And it’s so telling that, within the White House, in this White House, despite the fact that the president has come out and said that he still has confidence in his attorney general, inside, privately they say, “We, we don’t know whether he’s going to make it.” which in, in the world of this White House is so significant that there’s not even that kind of backing inside.  The question is can he go up and clean up the mess in the eyes of, particularly, Democratic senators.  It’s going to be difficult.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kate O’Beirne, the National Review has called for his resignation.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Well, as you watch—as you watch this latest—the U.S. attorney flap, it’s very difficult to defend the management of the Department of Justice.  And if you can’t defend the management of the Department of Justice, it’s difficult to defend Attorney General Gonzales.  What he has to say to the Senate, it seems to me, his defense is, “I was very detached from this decision, really wasn’t involved, therefore I should maintain my job running the Justice Department.” They could have, as you know, have fired every single U.S. attorney.  They could have picked names out of a hat to pick eight they wanted to fire.  When they didn’t do either one of those, they needed reasons for firing the eight.  I think the reasons are innocuous, completely defensible.  But it certainly seemed, when his chief of staff testified that it was a, at best, haphazard process, that the attorney general seems to have been very detached from, he’s got a big challenge on his hands.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bottom line, Chuck Todd?

MR. TODD:  It’s his incompetency.  This is what—it, it—it’s sort of a running theme now for the entire Bush second term, competency.  Competency. They couldn’t—they couldn’t figure out how to politically fire some U.S. attorneys?  I mean, this is political competency.  Forget whether it was illegal or unethical.  That’s what I think is frustrating Republicans the most about this entire scandal.

MR. RUSSERT:  Right, or to have a chief of staff saying, “I’m sorry, the boss didn’t tell it to you straight.”

MR. TODD:  Right, I mean, it’s just a basic—it’s just basic competency.

MR. RUSSERT:  And...

MR. TODD:  And, and it’s just...

MR. RUSSERT:  But in some of the districts there were really sensitive cases going on.

MR. TODD:  Look, it’s—that’s, that’s what made it politically incompetent. If that—that’s what they were going to do, then fire all of them.  Then go ahead and just replace all 93.  These are politically plum jobs.  It would have been accepted, and everybody would say, well, that’s, that’s what presidents can do.

MR. GREGORY:  And you’ve got a certain bottoming out in morale around the country in these U.S. attorneys office...

MR. TODD:  (Unintelligible)

MR. GREGORY:  ...people who don’t want to work for these political appointees.  You can’t have that at the Justice Department.

MR. RUSSERT:  Last week on this program, Senator Orrin Hatch made a mistake in describing the background of Carol Lam, a U.S. attorney in Southern California.  Senator Hatch has written a letter to MEET THE PRESS and to Carol Lam correcting the record.  It’s posted on our Web site, and our viewers should be aware of that.

Before we take a break, let me turn to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, traveling in the Middle East.  On Wednesday she met with the president of Syria and offered these comments to the press.

(Videotape, April 4, 2007)

HOUSE SPEAKER PELOSI:  The meeting with the president enabled us to communicate a message from Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks as well.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The office of the prime minister of Israel immediately released this statement to the press:  “What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel, as was communicated to other foreign leaders.  ...  The Prime Minister [in his meeting with Speaker Pelosi] emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror” “entire Middle East.”

Kate O’Beirne, what happened here?  And I note that the Israeli prime minister’s office included Syria in the axis of evil, which was not part of President Bush’s initial axis of evil.  But what does this mean for the speaker?

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Well, it, it—it’s so interesting.  As you well know, you used to have to dragoon members to serve on international relations committees, and now everybody wants to be secretary of state.  She, she, of course, went in opposition to the administration’s wishes.  Their policy is to—and they believe it’s terribly important to speak with one voice in foreign affairs—the policy is to isolate Syria, given the destructive role they’re playing in Lebanon, the destructive role they’re playing with respect to Iraq, letting terrorists in across their border at will.  And she defied that, of course, and made this very high profile trip.  It’s very different than back benchers from the Republican Party going.  They’d be lucky to get coverage in their local newspaper for a trip to Syria.

What I wonder, though, is what she was thinking with respect to the effect on her own Democratic caucus back home?  Republicans wonder whether or not she’s tone deaf.  There was a real blowback in commentary, a lot of criticism for her doing this, a lot of editorials thinking she’s with—out of line.  And I think that raises questions on the part of her colleagues.  I’m thinking of the more moderate members of the Democratic Party.  They don’t want to be labeled with being a “Nancy Pelosi Democrat” back home, and to the extent she makes herself such a lightning rod and so controversial, it just really raises the heat on them.  So I really questioned her judgment with respect to the delicate task she has with her conference.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of those editorials you mentioned was The Washington Post, who wrote this:  “The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting Republican president.  ...” She’s “attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president.  ... Ms.  Pelosi’s attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.” The Pelosi camp will say, “That’s ridiculous.  Republican congressmen also visited with the president of Syria. There’s a Republican part of our delegation.  We were only repeating to the president of Syria official policy of the United States and comments that the Israeli prime minister had made.”

Judy Woodruff, is this political piling on Nancy Pelosi or did she make a faux pas and she should be more careful?

MS. WOODRUFF:  Well, there’s not going to be agreement on that.  I’m tempted to say that there’s more politics here because she did have a Republican—she would be more vulnerable if she had not had a Republican member of Congress with her in her own delegation.  Three or four Republicans had already been to see the Syrian leader a few days before.  Members of Congress go to visit unfriendly governments all the time.  It happens practically every other week, Tim.  And, and you’re going to have this disagreement.  You’ve got Tom Lantos, who is the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, saying what she did was, was perfectly fine, she represented the Israeli policy accurately, she didn’t step over the line.  The White House says differently.

MR. RUSSERT:  But that same Mr.  Lantos said, “We’re going to have an alternative Democratic foreign policy.”

MS. WOODRUFF:  Correct.  And we’ll see.

MR. RUSSERT:  David, in that case, can...

MS. WOODRUFF:  And we’ll see.

MR. RUSSERT:  Can you have two foreign policies?

MR. GREGORY:  No.  But the Democrats want to assert themselves, not just on Iraq but on foreign policy generally because they know their base wants to see that.  They know there’s a lot of people in the country who think they could—they should have a more assertive voice and be—and have more accountability.  On the facts here, it appears that it was at least a bit sloppy, critics will say, that the way she represented the Israeli point of view was not entirely complete, that she should have said, “Yes, they want peace talks, but you have to really crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah.” Pelosi maintains she said those very things, and she said them on camera during that same press conference that you played a portion of.  The issue was, this was asserting herself in a bit of shuttle diplomacy during a trip when the White House already said, “You shouldn’t be on it.” You saw Dick Cheney come out and say, “This is the danger, Republicans, Nancy Pelosi running foreign policy.” In effect, it’s a way for conservatives, for Republicans to unite a little bit.

MR. TODD:  This was a—Republicans found an opening.  You know, remember the plane incident with Pelosi?  Now this is the second time that they’ve been able to get the sort of conservative media machine going—Rush Limbaugh, Drudge—all in synch, which really only for the first time, it seems like, in three months.  And they hit her hard.  She’s going to weather this storm.  I think they need to, when they do these things, think, “What’s the worst case scenario?” and think about the optics of this.  They should’ve had those three Republican members of Congress that went sooner, they should’ve had them with them—her on this trip.  She should’ve had more than just one Republican and possibly had a high profile person from the Iraq Study Group, since that’s what she has used as a defense for going to Syria.  She could’ve done this in a much more—much more carefully orchestrated way, and she didn’t.  It was sloppy, as David said.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the Democratic base is demanding an alternative Democratic foreign policy?

MR. TODD:  Of course they are.  And if they don’t—I mean this is the, this is the thing the Democrats have to do.  It’s why Harry Reid is co-sponsoring this Russ Feingold bill, that it was the base of the Democratic Party that got energized in 2006 and got them control of Congress.  Harry Reid knows it, and that’s why he’s allowing himself to, to move farther to the left on some foreign policy issues.  It’s why Pelosi is going ahead and doing these things because they have to make sure they don’t just pay lip service to the left.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  But the, the Republicans sent that Washington Post editorial to local news outlets.  They think she’s really created a problem for her, for her conference.  She’s done a favor for Syria, which is questionable, and no favors, I think, for herself.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the 2008 presidential race.  Front and center, it’s only April of ‘07, but we have a real race on our hands.  Let’s—we’ll be right back after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  The race for the White House 2008 heating up.  More of our roundtable right after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we’re back.  The results of the first primary, the money primary, are in.  Republican side, Mitt Romney raised 21 million; Rudy Giuliani, 15 million; John McCain, 12 ½ million.  Romney, a new bounce to his step, saying, “Here I am, a serious candidate.” And yet, Kate O’Beirne, confronted again with the notion of flip-flopping on abortion, stem cell research, gay rights, now on hunting and guns.  The governor was in New Hampshire on Tuesday and said this:

(Videotape, Tuesday)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY:  (Keene, New Hampshire) So I’ve been hunting pretty much all my life.  Last time I went hunting was in Georgia.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  His staff then said, “Well, he’d actually been hunting twice in his life, once as a young boy and once in Georgia.” The next day, he said, “No, I’ve been hunting more than that.  I hunted rabbit quite a few times as a young boy.” Then he said, “I have a gun of my own.” In fact, he does not have a gun of his own.  He’s never had a gun license in any of the states he’s lived.  He joined the NRA just last summer when he was contemplating a run for the presidency.  All that led to this column today in the Boston Globe by Joan Vennochi.  She wrote:  “Leave it to Mitt Romney to shoot himself in the foot with a gun he doesn’t own.” Where does this leave us?

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Well, as you—as you rightly pointed out, he had a really good week with having been top in the field with respect to fund-raising, and he’s seeing welcome poll results in those early states, where, of course, it really matters, where he’s been spending so much time, if not yet in the national polls.  So naturally he was going to, unfortunately, do something that changes the topic by the end of the week.  I think he’s now explained that he doesn’t pretend to have been a Teddy Roosevelt.  He says, “I’m—I was more like a Jed Clampett.” He even talked, quaintly, about shooting...

MR. RUSSERT:  From “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

MS. O’BEIRNE:  ...about shooting varmint.  Now there’s an expression for you that goes back to “The Beverly Hillbillies.” So he’s working himself out of this...

MR. GREGORY:  But it really, I mean...

MS. O’BEIRNE:  ...gun problem.

MR. GREGORY:  ...during the week, when his advisers were talking about some new polling out of New Hampshire, where they did the—they looked inside the numbers and found that conservatives really starting to break his way, that’s what he’s looking for, to be the conservative candidate.  To feed a narrative, and obviously John Kerry went through this in 2004 on the other side, including his own hunting issue, that he is constantly evolving and trying to become a conservative.  If that really starts to take hold, that’s what he has to worry about, and he’s already got some of these issues on affirmative action and abortion.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me throw John McCain into this mix.  As you know, last Sunday he went to Baghdad.  These are the photos released by the military of John McCain walking through a marketplace, surrounded there by security, wearing a bulletproof vest.  Senator McCain at a news conference then said this:

(Videotape)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona/Baghdad):  Things are better and there are encouraging signs.  I have been here many years—many times over the years.  Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.  The American people are not getting the full picture of what’s happening here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Fair commentary, Judy?

MS. WOODRUFF:  Well, he—he’s gotten himself into a box, Tim.  He ended up having later to say that he misspoke.  Where—he’s been interviewed for “60 Minutes” tonight where he explores that a little bit.  He has an op/ed piece in The Washington Post today where he basically is sticking to his guns on the—on the war in Iraq.  But, Tim, even people who are close to John McCain are questioning now.  They’re saying this man has built his strength of his candidacy around his authenticity.  And for him now to be having to put the—his Iraq position and, and deliberately make it the centerpiece of the campaign, which is what we’re told he’s going to do in this speech this week at VMI, takes away some of the aura.  He was—he had been perceived just a very short time ago, Tim, as the front-runner.  He’s not necessarily—we don’t know who the front-runner is on the Republican side any more.  And the money for him, as you just said, he raised half of what Mitt Romney raised.  This is—these are tough days.  They’re retooling, they say.

MR. RUSSERT:  We asked people, The New York Times/CBS did, about “are you satisfied with the choice in the Republican field” and this is what we found. Forty percent said satisfied, 57 percent say desire more choices.  The New York Observer weighed in this way about Fred Thompson, “So why Fred Thompson, and why now” part—“and why now?” A “part of it, certainly, is cosmetic:  Mr. Thompson’s craggy visage, comforting demeanor and, of course, considerable camera presence have inspired comparisons to Ronald Reagan from even the most level-headed GOP operatives.  But the reason given more often by Republican activists and elected officials is simply that they are dissatisfied with the current crop.”

David Keene says that “his success will be largely dependent on whether the current front-runners” can some—“front-runners can somehow broaden their appeal and lock up the nomination.”

And then the Observer goes on to say, “no one stands to be more immediately affected by a Thompson candidacy than Rudy Giuliani, who has so far gotten a pass from Republicans on his liberal social positions and complicated personal background because of a sense that he is the most ‘electable’ candidate in the field.

“Fred Thompson’s prospective entry into the race resulted in an immediate double-digit drop for Mr.  Giuliani in the USA Today/Gallup Poll.”

Here’s that poll, by the way.  Now we have Giuliani standing at 31; McCain at 22; Fred Thompson, still unannounced at 12; Newt Gingrich at 8; Mitt Romney at 3.  Two weeks prior to that poll Giuliani had been at 44 and pretty much everyone else consistent.  Thompson not included.

Let me show a few other poll numbers while we have them up.  This is New Hampshire.  Two polls out of New Hampshire:  McCain, 25; Romney, 25; Giuliani, 19.  In the CNN Poll McCain 29; Romney 17; Giuliani 29.  And in an Iowa, Republican race, Giuliani, 25; McCain, 20; Thompson, 11; Romney ,8; Gingrich, 6.

Chuck, does that tell us anything at this stage of the race?

MR. TODD:  Well, look, Fred Thompson—the, the entire 2008 Republican primary feels like the 2004 Democratic primary in some ways.  You have—nobody’s happy with the field, nobody was happy with the field in ‘04.  They’re desperate to just find somebody who can win.  That seemed to be the desperation with the Democrats before.  And they sit there and flirt about.  You remember, in 2004, there was a candidate like Fred Thompson in here, this sort of unknown potential savior for the party.  It was Wesley Clark.  And he got in, he raised a bunch of money and fell flat.  Fred Thompson to me has that same feeling.  This is—the fact that Fred Thompson’s being considered the savior, he’s not been a sort of pillar of the Republican Party in years past and yet he could come in and raise $20 million immediately.  There’s $20 million that wasn’t raised by these three front-runners that’s sitting there of Bush money. And I have no idea what kind of candidate he’d be.  He has never run a really tough race, and conservatives better be careful.  They might buy into this quickly, and he could just fall flat on his face.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ironically, Kate O’Beirne, Fred Thompson was a strong McCain supporter in 2000 over George W.  Bush.  Strong supporter of McCain/Feingold, campaign finance laws.  And yet he’s the darling of many conservatives.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Look, I think—I think conservatives are looking for someone who can put together that coalition, all kinds of conservatives, that has helped win five out of the last seven presidential elections.  And so far the three top runners in this field have had trouble doing that.  Hollywood casting agents had it right.  Fred Thompson looks and sounds presidential, and he’s a talented politician, you know.  I mean, he has run—unlike Wes Clark—he’s run and won office.  He won the largest—by the largest margin ever in the history of Tennessee.  It’s a good state to be from, as you know. No, he’s a serious—he’s a serious candidate, I think.  I think he’s possibly serious about a run.  He has a conservative voting record from the Senate, and he is potentially a person, with that kind of record, who could put together the economic, national security and social conservatives.

MR. RUSSERT:  April 18th, he’ll meet with about 50 Republican congressmen, and I think we’ll know a whole lot more then.

Let me turn to the Democrats.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a war to see who could raise the most money.  Here’s how Time magazine described it, Judy Woodruff:  “The only thing more stunning than Hillary Clinton’s $26 million was Obama’s ability to match it.  She has eight years in the White House and two Senate campaigns’ worth of connections.  He has the stuff dreams are made of—and 100,000 donors, twice as many as Clinton.”

MS. WOODRUFF:  It is stunning, Tim.  I mean, here’s somebody who’s been in the race 11 weeks.  He raised $25 million, as you said, a million short of Hillary Clinton, who we know has been running for a long time, or suspected she was running.  He did it with 100,000 contributors.  I mean, this is just a mind-blowing number.  He raised $7 million on the Internet alone.

I talked to David Axelrod, who was his campaign manager, who said they are—they are using the so-called “net roots,” these small dollar contributors, and they think they can go back to them.  He says what we got from them is what he calls enthusiasm money.  They’re enthusiastic about his candidacy.  In some cases, they’re only giving 25, $50.  They’ll, they’ll give again.

MR. RUSSERT:  It’s a steady revenue stream; they can give up to $2300.

MR. GREGORY:  And they make the argument that they’re running a campaign based on enthusiasm.  They say Hillary Clinton is running a campaign based on past debts.  And the Clinton people have had a pretty heavy-handed way in some quarters, raising money.  Terry McAuliffe, who has been out there in Los Angeles, notably, saying that if you’re for more than one candidate, that’s ridiculous.  Actually saying you’re either with us or against us.  So they’ve seen some, some backlash from that.  And again, it’s two visions of whether they can really connect with voters, and the Obama people seem good.

MR. RUSSERT:  It is interesting, looking at this Democratic race, Chuck Todd. The national polls, here they are here, two of them.  The Cook Report has Clinton ahead with 41, Edwards at 19, Obama, 17.  Time has Clinton at 31; Edwards, 16; Obama, 24.  But then go to Iowa and New Hampshire.  Here’s first New Hampshire.  Look at this:  29, Clinton; 23, Edwards; 23, Obama.  CNN says 27, 21, 20.  And look at Iowa:  Edwards, 27, continuing lead there; Obama, 20; Hillary Clinton third at 19; Joe Biden, 4, Richardson, 4.  It’s a toss-up.

MR. TODD:  It really is.  This is a genuine three-way race.  It’s stunning that there’s no front-runner.  It’s stunning that Hillary Clinton is not the front-runner.  I mean, I don’t think we’ve stepped back here in Washington and just sort of appreciated this meteoric rise by Obama, this—the steady support that John Edwards has.  You know, John Edwards has, for some reason, is not a—very popular inside the Beltway with sort of the Democratic elite.  But this guy has lived in Iowa for the last, I’d now say, six years.

MR. RUSSERT:  And New Hampshire.

MR. TODD:  And New Hampshire.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Nevada.  And South Carolina.

MR. TODD:  And they’ve got enough money to run a four-state race.  They don’t have enough money if this thing got—gets to February 5th, and they know that, but they don’t think that this race gets to February 5th.  Winner of Iowa, it’s probably winner take all.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kate O’Beirne, Hillary Clinton wanted to emerge from this as inevitable.  She was going to lock this nomination up, drive everybody else out, hopefully starve them with money.  That hasn’t happened.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  No, but the campaign veterans I’ve spoken to are more—are more interested in her failure to out-distance Senator Obama than in his incredibly strong showing.  She and her husband have been raising money on a national basis for 16 years, and they’re quite interested to see how much of what she’s raised this quarter is for the primary and how much she can’t spend until later.  George—I mean, the overall amount is not very impressive for somebody like Hillary Clinton, the presumptive front-runner, as you said. George Bush, in 1999, in the first reporting quarter, he had raised $30 million, more than she has, and it was probably smaller amounts per donor than she was able to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  But she has moved over $10 million from her Senate account. She probably has more money than any other candidate right now.

MS. WOODRUFF:  And, Tim, the people you talk to—even though, yes, Obama was almost up with her, everybody you talk to says she is going to be able to continue to raise money.  I have to share with you what Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi—Republican—said.  He said, “You look at Hillary Clinton, you look at that machine,” he said, “she can raise more money”—he, he said, she’ll raise enough money to, to beat a mule.  I mean, this is a Mississippi expression.  I’m not sure what it means, but I think it means she’s going to raise a lot of money.

MR. RUSSERT:  On Easter Sunday, I got this.  Before we go, I want to end with this, because it’s quite striking to me.  This was a poll about attitudes towards a Republican candidate, Democratic candidate, generic.  Who would you support?  And let’s look at it.  The Democratic candidate people say 47 percent, that’s who we want.  The Republican candidate, 29 percent.  And yet, when you do the horse race between a specific Republican and a specific Democrat, look at this.  McCain-Clinton, 47-43, the Republican.  We do Giuliani-Clinton, 45-44.  Giuliani-Obama, 43-43.

Chuck Todd.

MR. TODD:  I think I had one Democratic operative from one of the second-tier Democratic candidates, he said, “Could it be that Clinton and Obama are the only two Democrats that can’t win in 2008?” But I think, when you look at this, it does show a weakness in the Republican Party.  Look, every—even blow-off presidential elections are still decided within a margin of eight to 10 points, as far as a national vote’s concerned.  So you’re going to have a case where it’s—whoever the Republican nominee’s always going to be sitting in those mid-40s.  The problem is, for the Republican candidates, that there clearly is a change movement inside with, with sort of swing independent votes, and independents look like they’re going to largely, right now, go Democratic.  Generically...

MR. RUSSERT:  We saw—we saw that in ‘06.  Will we see it in ‘08?

MR. TODD:  ...will be Democratic.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, I think there’s also a carryover of Bush’s strength in the Bush years, which is management of foreign policy and management of the war on terror.  And I think Democrats, one of the reasons they do want to assert themselves on foreign policy, is to persuade voters that we can own this issue and we can be trusted with it.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Well, by traditional advantage, Republicans have enjoyed the help so much in presidential races, national security.  National security has become a rock.  So I don’t think it’s the advantage it once was.  The Republicans have a real brand problem, brand name problem.  It used to be people thought they might not much like big government, but they can run it. Now they seem to like it fine, but not be able to run it at all.  A Democrat has to be favored in ‘08.

MR. RUSSERT:  No matter who it is?

MS. O’BEIRNE:  I think any Democrat has to be favored in ‘08, yeah.  I think Republicans have a real brand name problem.  It—it’s become a competency problem.  We see a competency primary going on on the GOP side.

MR. GREGORY:  But the Democrats haven’t closed the deal, and I think that’s what you see in that..

MS. O’BEIRNE:  Oh, by no means.

MR. GREGORY:  ...in that first round of voting.

MS. O’BEIRNE:  But I think they’ve got to be favored.

MS. WOODRUFF:  And so much hinges on the war in Iraq.  If there were a dramatic turnaround of some kind that would inevitably take that issue away, that’s something that’s weighing heavily on these Republican candidates.

MR. RUSSERT:  Everybody keeps saying, “We’ll know more in the summer.  We’ll know more in the early fall.” We have to watch the Republican Congress.  How do they react towards their own president?  If they lose patience with Iraq, then all bets are off.

MR. TODD:  You know, there are already Democratic interest groups running ads against Susan Collins, John Sununu, Mitch McConnell, Republicans up in ‘08, senators up in ‘08.  And at some point, you’re right, they’re going to lose patience and they’re, they’re going to stop hanging with the president.

MR. GREGORY:  And after the summer and into the fall, you’ve got another appropriations bill for the war effort that this endgame will come up again.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.

And, Chuck Todd, what’s that rule about don’t trust anybody over 35?

MR. TODD:  Yeah.  Apparently.

MR. RUSSERT:  Happy birthday, old man.

MR. TODD:  Thanks.  I prefer to remember this as the 33rd anniversary of Hank Aaron becoming the home run king.

MR. RUSSERT:  Amen, amen.  Thank you all.  Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS minute.  Fifty-nine years ago, Whittaker Chambers said on this program Alger Hiss was a Communist.  On Thursday, Hiss’ son and stepson said it’s just not true.  All coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

On August 3rd, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a Time magazine editor and one-time Soviet agent, appeared voluntarily before the House Un-American Activities Committee and testified that former State Department official Alger Hiss was a Communist.  An outraged Hiss denied the charge.

(Videotape)

MR. ALGER HISS:  I am not and never have been a member of the Communist Party.

(End of videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  He challenged Chambers to repeat it outside the protection of the immunity granted witnesses before the congressional committees.  Chambers did just that on the radio edition of MEET THE PRESS, Friday night, August 27th, 1948.

(Audiotape, August 27, 1048)

MR. EDWARD FOLLIARD:  Mr.  Chambers, in the hearings on Capital Hill, you said over and over again that you served in the Communist Party with Alger Hiss.  Your remarks down there were privileged.  That is to say, you were protected from lawsuits.  Hiss has now challenged you to make the same charge publicly.  He says that if you do, he will test your veracity by filing a suit for slander or libel.  Are you willing to say now that Alger Hiss is or ever was a Communist?

MR. WHITTAKER CHAMBERS:  Alger Hiss was a Communist and may be now.

MR. FOLLIARD:  Mr.  Chambers, does that mean that you’re now prepared to go into court and answer to a suit for slander or libel?

MR. CHAMBERS:  I do not think that Mr.  Hiss will sue me for slander or libel.

(End of audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Alger Hiss did sue Whittaker Chambers for slander for what he said on MEET THE PRESS.  In a deposition in the case, Mr.  Chambers broadened his allegations and accused Alger Hiss of outright espionage, stealing state and navy documents.  Chambers produced some microfilm documents after hiding them in a hollowed out pumpkin on his Maryland farm.  Because the statute of limitations on espionage had expired, Alger Hiss was indicted on two charges of perjury, accusing him of lying under oath about meetings with Whittaker Chambers and stealing documents.  A first trial ended in a hung jury, but on January 21st, 1950, Hiss was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He served three years and eight months at Lewisburg Penitentiary with time off for good behavior.  Hiss continued to proclaim his innocence right up until his death in 1996 at the age of 92.  His son, Tony Hiss, has made his father’s vindication a focus of his life.  And on Thursday at a New York University symposium about the Hiss case, his stepson, Timothy Hobson, spoke publicly about the case for the first time.

(Videotape)

MR. TIMOTHY HOBSON:  This is the first chance that I’ve had to publicly share my side of the story.  My version of what truth and reality really are.  The bottom line of my story is that I lived with the Hisses from the age of three to the age of 14, when I went to high school.  I was there during all of the years and moments that these alleged incidents of espionage were supposed to have taken place.  I personally know that Chambers was lying in telling the story because he wasn’t there.

(End of videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Almost 60 years later, and the debate over Alger Hiss continues.  And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Find out who’ll be meeting the press right on your cell phone. Text MTP to 46833, 46833, and receive weekly alerts on Friday afternoon with Sunday’s MEET THE PRESS guest lineup.  That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.  Happy Easter.

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