updated 5/3/2007 12:44:40 PM ET 2007-05-03T16:44:40

Guests: Charles Rangel, Rob Portman, Peter Fenn, A.B. Stoddard

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  The final chapter in the saga that was—the Democrats‘ attempt to force a date certain for withdrawal from Iraq ended with a whimper, not a bang, today, when Congress failed to override President Bush‘s veto of its emergency funding bill.

By mid-afternoon today, the president met with opposition leaders at the White House to begin—or at least to appear to begin—actual bipartisan efforts to figure out what to do next in Iraq. 

We will discuss the president‘s veto and congressional reaction to it in just a minute.

We begin at the White House for the administration‘s reaction to the developments of these last 24 hours. 

Joining us is the director of the Office of Management and Budget, former Congressman Rob Portman.  Mr. Portman met this afternoon with President Bush to talk about war financing. 

Mr. Portman, thanks for joining us. 

ROBERT PORTMAN, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET:  Tucker, good to be on with you. 

CARLSON:  So, we have recently heard from both Tony Snow and Mitch McConnell, leader in the Senate of the Republicans, the almost exact same lines.

Here it is: “There are a number of Republicans who think that some kind of benchmark, properly crafted, would actually help”—McConnell yesterday—“There are a number of Republicans who do think that some kind of benchmark, properly crafted, would actually be helpful.”

This is clearly their talking point of the day. 

What specific kind of benchmark do you think Republicans are in favor of? 

PORTMAN:  Well, you know, we didn‘t talk about that.  I just got out of the meeting with the president and the members, including Mr. McConnell, as the minority leader, and we did talk about the common ground we find right now, which is, OK, we have got this bill behind us.  How do we come together and provide the funding for the troops?

But we have not gotten to that level of specificity as to how we move forward in terms of specific language.  What we have agreed upon is a process to do that, which is a good step forward.  Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, is going to lead our negotiations.  And we are going to start meeting this week. 

CARLSON:  Well, the—the president has said, just recently, that it would be—quote—it is “unconstitutional” for the Congress to try and force his foreign policy in the way that it tried with this bill.

Wouldn‘t benchmarks be essentially—of any kind be exactly the same thing, forcing the president‘s foreign policy in a direction not of his choosing? 

PORTMAN:  Well, Tucker, you know, the concern we had with the benchmarks in the legislation was the fact that it was tied to withdrawal. 

So, unless certain benchmarks were met—there were 16 in the legislation—then, as of October 1, troops would have to begin to come home.  We would then be in a situation where we would be giving the terrorists a date certain, and all the problems that are attendant with that.

There were also other problems in the legislation that related to the president‘s role as commander in chief and taking away the flexibility of the commanders on the ground.  But that was the concern that we have raised repeatedly.

CARLSON:  But you all are open to some benchmarks, some measures of success in Iraq? 

PORTMAN:  Well, we are open to working with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill to get the funds to the troops. 

And, again, I was actually encouraged by the meeting we just had with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid, and the other leaders who we have talked about, including Leader Boehner and also Leader McConnell, who you apparently have talked to earlier today, because everyone was saying the same thing, which is, we now need to figure out a way to come together to provide this funding.

If not, you will see a deterioration of the military‘s ability to equip and train and really protect these troops.  So, it‘s time for us to move on.

CARLSON:  It seems to me like poll numbers have been moving really not in President Bush‘s direction.  More and more people say that they are on the Democrats‘ side in the debate.  That is a change, a pretty recent change. 

When—when do you think the public is going to start to become reassured about the course of progress in Iraq?  What can the president point to, do you think, in the next couple of months, to say, you know, things are working; the surge is actually worth doing? 

PORTMAN:  Well, there is a new approach that is being undertaken by General Petraeus.  He was here last week, as you know.  He briefed members on it.

Members, Republican and Democrat alike, were very impressed with what he had to say.  He talked about giving a progress report in September, once he has had the ability for the reinforcements to arrive, particularly in Baghdad, to begin to make progress.  So, that is probably the right time frame. 

And it‘s conditions on the ground.  And this is what the president has said repeatedly, that conditions on the ground ought to dictate our policy.  And I think that is about the right time frame, as General Petraeus laid out.

CARLSON:  Why do you think that people seem to be moving away from the president‘s position on the war?  That‘s a consistent trend, the public leaving the president‘s position.  Why is that? 

PORTMAN:  Well, I think you see the polls go up and down on that, actually. 

If you look at the polling data when the surge was begun, you saw some progress.  General Petraeus talked about some progress that is being made.  As that message gets out, people are more encouraged. 

You also see different numbers in terms of what question you ask.  If you ask whether there should be a withdrawal, or a precipitous withdrawal, people are not sure that is the right way to go, because of the void that would be created and some of the chaos that might be created.

So, it depends on what question you ask and how things are being perceived on the ground.  But I think we need to give General Petraeus a chance to allow his plan to work. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Well, I think that‘s a fair—I‘m not even—I‘m not contesting that.  I think it‘s worth giving it a try, too.  But I don‘t—

I have never seen any numbers that suggest that the majority of Americans, at least right now, support the surge, at least as I understand it.

Have you—so, you have seen numbers that suggest, if you frame the question differently, people are supportive of the president‘s plan right now in Iraq? 

PORTMAN:  Well, I didn‘t talk about the surge.  I talked about the issue of withdrawal, and whether there should be...

CARLSON:  OK. 

PORTMAN:  ... a withdrawal now or not.  And, there, you do see some numbers over the 50 mark, although, again, I mean, this clearly is—has Americans deeply divided.  There is no question about that. 

The point I was trying to make is, it kind of depends what question you ask.  And, when you look at this legislation and what it would have done, as compared to what we hope the new legislation might do, in terms of supporting the troops, getting the resources to them, and allowing this—this plan to work, you have different responses.

CARLSON:  The president, on a member of occasions, has complained about all the pork in the legislation, the milk subsidies, for instance, money for wildfire suppression, projects that have nothing to do with Iraq.

Are you going to insist that those are stripped from this bill? 

PORTMAN:  We are going to try our darndest to do two things. 

One is to be sure that the funding that is in there that is not an emergency is dealt with in the normal appropriations process.  The ones you just mentioned as an example are issues that we would take in the ‘08 appropriations process, only in a few months, not appropriate for an emergency.

Then, there is other legislation that we see in there that, actually, we think is not good policy, that we will attempt to strip from the bill altogether. 

But this is not the time for us to be adding more spending, at a time when we are trying to be sure we can continue to reduce the deficit.  And it‘s not a way for us to use the troops in an emergency to avoid what ought to be bills that are taken up in the normal process.

CARLSON:  Well, sure.  No, I mean, of course, in an ideal world, you wouldn‘t have $25 million for spinach-growers in this legislation.  But is that a deal-killer for you all?  I mean, are you going to actually say, I‘m sorry, the spinach dealers don‘t get their $25 million?

PORTMAN:  Well, that was one a deal-killer even for the Democrats, because, in the latest version, as you know, they actually took out the $25 million for spinach-growers, and also some of the peanut storage funds, and some of the other items that were so clearly not appropriate for an emergency war funding bill.

But there are other things in there, again, pandemic flu funding, almost $1 billion, where we agree the funding is necessary, but we think it ought to be in the normal appropriations process.  We have a plan to spend that.  We have it in our budget, actually.

So, when you look at the bill carefully, you will see that most of the provisions are really pre-funding what we ought to do in the 2008 process.  That‘s the appropriate place for it, not in an emergency funding bill.

CARLSON:  All right, Rob Portman, from the White House, thanks a lot. 

I appreciate it.

PORTMAN:  Good to be on, Tucker.

CARLSON:  If Congress is to alter war policy, funding will be its only binding recourse.  You have heard the administration‘s point of view.  President Bush has vetoed the legislation.  In a moment, the man who controls congressional purse strings joins us with the opposition view. 

Plus:  No one in Congress has backed the president‘s war policy more ardently than John McCain has.  On the eve of the first Republican debate, new poll numbers suggest that McCain‘s flagging presidential campaign might not be so flagging after all. 

You are watching MSNBC, the most impressive name in news. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The House of Representatives fails to override the president‘s veto on the Iraq spending bill.  What happens next?  Will the Democrats cut off funding for the war?  We will ask the man who controls the purse strings in Congress, Charlie Rangel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Six months ago, American voters appeared to reject the president‘s Iraq war policy, but the last 24 hours have illustrated the political and legal limits of congressional power over the commander in chief.  The power of the purse, specifically, is limited to the will on Capitol Hill to impose it. 

Joining me now is the most powerful force in Congress‘ funding power, here to talk about what he can and will do to alter the way forward in Iraq.  He is, of course, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Democrat Charles Rangel of New York. 

Mr. Rangel, thanks for coming on. 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: 

Good to be on.

But let me make it clear that he may be the commander in chief to the troops, but the Congress has an oversight responsibility to the president.  So, he really wears two hats. 

CARLSON:  OK.  So you disagree even with the intro script. 

(LAUGHTER)

RANGEL:  No, no, no, no.  I thought...

CARLSON:  Now, Mr.—Mr. Chairman...

RANGEL:  I thought I was clarifying it.

CARLSON:  Yes, absolutely.

The bill that was just vetoed by the president was agreed to and ready to go last week, but Democrats waited until this week, until yesterday, in order for the photo-op opportunities, the four-year anniversary of the “Mission Accomplished” speech, in order to deliver it to the president.

Funding for the troops runs out in June, as you know.  Isn‘t it kind of irresponsible and childish to wait, just because you want a photo-op, in order to get this pretty serious business done? 

RANGEL:  You know, you—you make these questions in the form of a statement. 

But we had a lot of work to get together before we finally prepared this bill to send back to the president.  And, so, this is not a game that we‘re playing.  We are mandated by the American people to send a message to the president that we want to make war no more.  Over 60 percent of the American people feel this way.  And, certainly, a quick look at the last election results would verify that. 

CARLSON:  So, you‘re saying—well, I agree with you there.  But you‘re saying that this bill wasn‘t ready to go until yesterday, which just happened to be the four-year anniversary of that speech; it was totally coincidental? 

RANGEL:  As long as I have been here, I have heard no talk about holding up and sending this bill to the president and waiting for the anniversary. 

Now that you mention it, it would have been good idea to remind the president that we have had enough of this, that he owes it to the American people to explain why so many people, American, as well as Arabs, are dying.  And he can‘t just say that he‘s staying the course.  America expects more than that. 

CARLSON:  Now, this specific piece of legislation, of course, has lots of spending on things that have nothing to do with the war and that aren‘t emergencies, so far as I can tell—milk subsidies, almost a quarter-of-a-billion dollars for milk subsidies. 

Are you going to keep—keep that—that—essentially, that pork in the bill? 

RANGEL:  Well, I don‘t know.  One person‘s pork is another person‘s emergency. 

But the question is really this:  What would it take to make certain that we get our message across and the president would agree to, so that we know that we have done our job and he gets what he wants? 

We want a timetable for the president to be able negotiate, to be able to say that we‘re going to get the heck out of there.  And what difference does it make if your pork or emergency issues are in the bill?  The president made it clear that, if we have dates that are in the bill, he‘s going to veto it. 

CARLSON:  Well, I don‘t know, because it‘s—it‘s kind of serious.  I mean, I‘m not saying a milk subsidy isn‘t serious to people who get milk subsidies.  It is. 

But it‘s hardly at the level of the national emergency that is Iraq war funding or the debate over Iraq.  It‘s—it‘s kind of insulting to the dignity of this issue, isn‘t it, to put a milk subsidy in something like this? 

RANGEL:  If the president is going to veto it, what different does it make? 

CARLSON:  Then why put it in there in the first place, except to buy votes? 

RANGEL:  So, what‘s wrong—not to buy votes.  People aren‘t paid for their vote.  But, if you have to pick up some votes in the process, what‘s wrong with it?  It‘s the legislative process. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know.  It seems to me people ought to vote their consciences and not have to be bribed with milk subsidies.  But what about...

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL:  Well, you keep using “bribe.”  But, for the person who wanted something in the bill, then that‘s his conscience. 

CARLSON:  OK.

You have, for a couple of years now, Mr. Chairman, pushed the idea of bringing back the draft, because you think—you say it would be more fair, and it would force legislators to face the reality of what war is.  That‘s been your position.

If Hillary Clinton, whom you back, is elected president, will you continue to push for a draft? 

RANGEL:  I—I would hope not.  I would hope, by then, that we would not have the war.  And I would then push for a mandatory service for our young people, to be able to give two years of their life to this great republic, either serving in the schools or the hospitals or the railroads or the airports, in order to show that they love this country and they want to give something to it. 

And, as a result of their service, I would use this as a vehicle to make certain that each one would be entitled to receive a college education.  I believe that lack of education and poverty is a threat to our national security. 

CARLSON:  So, only a draft with Bush, but not with Hillary Clinton?

RANGEL:  I just said I would have...

CARLSON:  Yes. 

RANGEL:  ... a mandatory draft for people to serve.  But I would not believe that they would have to go into the military...

CARLSON:  Right.

RANGEL:  ... because a part of my draft bill is that we wouldn‘t be in Iraq if we had a draft at the time.  The president would not ask for a surge of 25,000 people if he thought that the children of those in the Cabinet, in Congress, and the CEOs, that their kids would be placed in harm‘s way. 

As long as he‘s bringing back two, three, four times so-called volunteers and National Guardspeople and reservists, none of whom are affluent...

CARLSON:  Right.

RANGEL:  ... all of whom are patriotic, then he will take advantage of that.  It is so unfair, what he‘s doing to our young people. 

CARLSON:  All right, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, thanks very much. 

RANGEL:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Rudy Giuliani enters tomorrow night‘s debate as the apparent Republican front-runner, but new poll numbers suggest he is in a much tougher fight than we had previously thought.  Has John McCain reemerged as serious competition for Rudy Giuliani? 

Plus, Barack Obama came through the Democratic debate with momentum.  Up next, Obama pleases a lot of people a lot of the time, but not all—why he may have political trouble with the Congressional Black Caucus. 

You are watching MSNBC, the most impressive name in news. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Time for the Obameter.  Today‘s “Hill Newspaper” reports that Hillary Clinton is beating Barack Obama on what you might consider his home turf, the Congressional black caucus.  Mrs. Clinton and her husband have both held fund raisers and scheduled future events for the CBC.  Mr.  Obama, solicited for his support a year ago, still has not.  Surely Obama wants and needs the support of caucus members as primary season approaches.  So why has he not responded to their call? 

Here to tell us, associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper, A.B.

Stoddard, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.  Welcome to you both. 

A.B., is this a snub?  It looks like a snub.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL:  It‘s such a gimme, I just don‘t understand why Barack Obama didn‘t search out the support of the CBC first when he decided to run for president.  I mean, he has the support of Jesse Jackson Jr. and Sr. from his home state.  He has actually five endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus, but why he wouldn‘t know that he needs to seek the support of African Americans who are inspired by his candidacy—there are 40 million African American voters represented in 26 states, they say, by the Congressional Black Caucus representatives.

And to cut in to the in roads that the Clintons have made through many years with those voters was necessary for him.  So, he never should have waited on this, and it might be too late. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know, Peter.  I respect A.B.‘s analysis, and she might be right.  On the other hand, it seems to me sucking up to the Congressional Black Caucus, which is a pretty radical group that excludes anybody who‘s not black from it, by definition bigoted, in my view, exclude people on the basis of skin color.  That‘s kind of the definition.  Is a little bit dangerous, actually, for Barack Obama. 

I mean, his whole appeal is the universal nature of his campaign.  He is not Jesse Jackson, right.  He‘s appealing to middle class white people.  Isn‘t that kind of the whole idea behind his candidacy?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  In fact, I think he is appealing to everyone to get votes.  When you have a situation like this—look, A.B. is right.  The fact is that when he ran for the Senate, the Black Caucus raised about 75,000 dollars for candidates.  He got 10,000 of it.  He has given some money—he‘s given 5,000 over the last year to the black caucus, but this is a slam dunk, as some would say.  The best thing for him is to help his colleagues.  He did go out and campaign for Harold Ford Jr., did a good job for him, even though he didn‘t make. 

CARLSON:  But that‘s the point.  Harold Ford Jr. is exactly the kind -

was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, but is absolutely the new generation of black political leadership in this country.  He‘s not John Conyers, who‘s kind of a radical lefty.  I mean, anybody who doubts me should listen to John Conyers talk for half an hour.  I think you‘d be amazed he‘s in Congress. 

STODDARD:  I don‘t think he wants to do campaign appearances with John Conyers, but he is trying to win the primary.  When you are trying to win the primary—I mean, we talked last week about the fact that Hillary Clinton is going around in New York, asking African American politicians lesser known ones, directly for their support and their endorsements.  And Senator Obama is causing them to waver, and they don‘t want to say anything yet, because they haven‘t made up their minds.  But he hasn‘t called them.  Why? 

CARLSON:  No, I think that‘s a fair point.  Peter, do you get the

sense, when you watch Obama, I know I do, that he almost considers himself

and I say this as someone who‘s kind of predisposed to the guy—but you get the sense that he believes himself to be above the ugly parts of the process?  I have never heard Barack Obama say, you know, I am running for president and I need your vote.  Please, vote for me.  Why doesn‘t he say that? 

FENN:  You know, I think that‘s a very important point.  The thing that kind of concerns me is that when his spokesman comes back and says, it was a scheduling problem.  Well, they‘ve been asking him for a year on this.  I think one of the things he‘s afraid of is he doesn‘t want to seem like he‘s groveling for votes.  Look, Tip O‘Neill always said to us, Mrs.  Schwartz, or whatever her name was, I didn‘t vote for you because you didn‘t ask me.  You‘ve got to ask for the vote.  You‘ve got to go out there and fight for ever vote.

When you look at South Carolina and having half of that primary vote being African American, you know, you can‘t afford to tick off those folks.  And I think he has ticked off some folks in the black caucus on this.  I mean, Hillary Clinton has four endorsements from them.  As A.B. says, he‘s got five.  I think this should be something he really fights hard for. 

CARLSON:  Well, I‘m sort of glad to see him not fighting for it.  But A.B., can you quickly sum up—I mean, people who cover Obama for a living, do they believe that his campaign is well run?  I get mixed reports on that. 

STODDARD:  I do to.  I mean, I think that he has some serious talent working on his behalf.  He really does.  but there have just been a few stumbles, I think—I consider this one --  where it just looks like they are overlooking important things.  You know, Peter is right.  If you are running for president, you better ask for the votes.  If you began this race knowing that you were going to try to topple Hillary Clinton and the Bill and Hillary Clinton machine, if you don‘t know what you are dealing with, forget it.  You are not going to win the race. 

CARLSON:  No, I know.  That‘s the sad truth and he should know that.  All right, we‘ll be right back.  Mitt Romney appears to have a tough time keeping his story straight.  Which of his positions is changing again before our very eyes?  Here‘s a hint, John Travolta is sort of involved.

And, speaking of John Travolta, if Ryan Seacrest can be incredibly popular and successful, why can‘t President Bush?  The president and the first lady stopped by “American Idol.”  We have reaction from experts.  This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

CARLSON:  It‘s not exactly a flip-flop on the war, gun control, abortion or gay marriage, but Mitt Romney appears to be, at best, back pedaling on the question of his favorite book.  Asked on Fox News to name his favorite novel, Romney answered, quote, “Battlefield Earth.”  That‘s a science fiction tome from the collected works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.  Now, given the existence of every other book ever written, it was a curious answer.  A Romney spokesman was quick to amend the answer to say “Battlefield Earth” was only one of his favorite novels.  Turns out that the Bible is his favorite book. 

Before we try to understand what that all means, the serious question is does Romney have a problem sticking to his guns on every singe issue?  Here to tell us, associate editor of the “Hill Newspaper,” A.B. Stoddard and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. 

Now before we even get to that, lady and gentleman, I want to be fair here.  I want to give our viewers who haven‘t read “Battlefield Earth” by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, a sense of what it‘s like.  We didn‘t got to a random page.  We just picked the first page, the first two paragraphs on the first page. 

Here they are, let‘s put them up on the screen; just to get a sense of what the book is like, quote, “The hairy paws of the Chemco brothers hung, suspended above the broad keys of the laser bash game.  The cliffs of Char‘s eye bones drew down over his yellow orbs as he looked up in mystery.  Even the steward, who had been padding quietly about picking up her saucepans, lumbered to a halt and stared.  Terl could not have produced a more profound effect he thrown a meat girl naked into the middle of the room.”  It goes on.   

I‘m sorry.  I just can‘t resist.  A.B—

STODDARD:  It sounds like the writings of James Webb, actually. 

“Battlefield Earth?” 

STODDARD:  You know, I really think this is not a big deal.  I think that he is entitled to his quirky tastes.  I think that he is a habitual flip flopper, and has religious conversions on everything that comes out of his mouth, and he changes his mind so much now that people don‘t even notice.  He is on campaign finance reform right now.  He is after everyone in the Washington political back scratching class that wrote McCain/Feingold. 

If you look him up in the Massachusetts newspapers, he wanted to abolish political action committees and tax political contributions.  He changes on everything.  And so his bedside reading is no big deal to me. 

CARLSON:  It is to me.  I have to say.  I mean, I am used to the idea, Peter, that he is a flip-flopper.  Lots of politicians are.  I think he takes it to a whole new, and possibly even impressive level.  But I am concerned about what our potential president is putting into his brain.  If you are reading for fun, and not some sort of twisted research project, but voluntarily reading L. Ron Hubbard, as a novelist, I think it‘s a real red flag. 

FENN:  I think it‘s a bit bizarre, Tucker.  Your first paragraphs there that you read were totally bizarre.  I don‘t know what they meant or where that was going, nor do I even care.  I went to graduate school in California.  And our apartment was right down the street from the head of Scientology.  I‘ll tell you, I saw an awful lot of weird people going in and out of there, but no offense to Scientologists.  But maybe he is looking for their vote. 

CARLSON:  Good luck with that. 

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  I mean, here the guy is being pounded, I think unfairly, for his religion.  But there is a lot of concern about his Mormonism.  People are bigoted against it, again, I think unfairly.  I think that‘s totally wrong to not vote for him because he‘s Mormon.  But it‘s true.  And here he brings up L. Ron Hubbard. 

FENN:  I wonder, when you are looking at someone‘s favorite book of fiction, and they come up with an L. Ron Hubbard book.  You know, there‘s a lot of great literature out there, and I‘m afraid that most people wouldn‘t put L. Ron Hubbard in that category.

CARLSON:  Also, there are a lot of great books by the Reverend Moon.  I wonder why those were not on the list.  I don‘t know.  We may need to dig deeper.  A.B., you know as well as I that there is nothing that Hillary Clinton has a greater commitment to than our environment, this planet we live on, our island home.  OK?  Given that, her conspicuous use of private airplanes, really the most wasteful possible use of our finite carbon based resources, is pretty shocking. 

According to the “New York Post,” just last week at the South Carolina debate, she flew on three private planes, three.  At one point, they offered here a Gulf Stream II.  She said, I don‘t like the cabin configuration, I want a Gulf Stream III.  Can you do stuff like this?  Can you burn petroleum products as conspicuously as she does and still call yourself an environmentalist? 

STODDARD:  No, and I also think that this is just one of those stories that people remember.  I don‘t think that they are going to remember “Battlefield Earth” as much as you and Peter think.  But I actually think that 400 dollar haircuts and having too many airplanes waiting for you on the tarmac and preferring one cabin configuration over the other is expressive, and people remember it.  It‘s really, really hard to explain. 

CARLSON:  Yes, and Peter, wait a second, what about the green campaign we were promised?  I mean, three private planes in one day.  Why doesn‘t she double up with Barack Obama.  There‘s a lot of people flying.  I was on a flight to South Carolina that same day, sitting at the back of a little plane with a bunch of other reporters.  We would have welcomed her presence.  Is she so important that she can waste the Earth‘s resources like that?  I don‘t think so.

FENN:  Tucker, I know you are a noted environmentalist. 

CARLSON:  I am, actually.  I spend more time outside than she does. 

FENN:  Here‘s the problem.  I am not a travel agent, so I can‘t speak specifically to this, but my guess is that the “New York Post” has a few little facts wrong. 

CARLSON:  Her travel manifest is public because she has to spend campaign money on it.

FENN:  Look, but let me go to this, a lot of these candidates, the senators, had to cast that vote and then fly immediately down to South Carolina.  All I know is that they were all getting out of here, getting down there, getting back quickly.  The kinds of schedules that they are keeping up with now, traveling across the country, traveling right back, going back and forth—I don‘t know the details of this, but my guess is this is probably much ado about nothing. 

CARLSON:  Well, it‘s more convenient for her.  Let me just say, I misspoke.  She doesn‘t spend public money.  She spends publicly regulated money.  It is, of course, money that she raised herself.  It‘s private money.  Thanks to campaign finance reformers, we have a right to know pretty much what it‘s spent on. 

The “Washington Times” today, A.B., has a piece about how Nancy Pelosi is one of the most popular people in Syria, the number two most popular person in Syria.  Let‘s put the quote up here.  This is from an average Syrian on the street, quote, “She was enormously popular here, a hero.  This is the best thing that has happened here in Syria.  If it proves that Mr. Assad was right not to give concessions.  Pelosi‘s trip bolsters the regime with the Syrian people, and it shows that isolating Syria wont‘ work.”

Wow. Nancy Pelosi.  Trips have consequences, don‘t they?  At least according to this person. 

STODDARD:  I mean, I think this was a mutually beneficial trip for Mr.  Assad and Miss Pelosi.  She‘s big in Damascus and that‘s big for her.  And she knew exactly what was going to happen on the trip.  She was not going to change any policy.  She was going to get criticized by Republicans and by the White House.  She was going to show President Bush that she can start a big—you know, make waves, get the debate going, and get a lot of attention.  And that is what she did.  It doesn‘t surprise me in the least that they are calling her a hero there. 

CARLSON:  Right, I‘m not surprised at all.  Here‘s what doesn‘t surprise me either, Peter, the news today in a New Jersey newspaper that Jim McGreevey, the former governor, who resigned in disgrace from New Jersey, is now thinking about becoming an Episcopal priest.  He‘s applied to a theological school.  That has now been confirmed by the general theological seminary in Manhattan, that he is applying there. 

Leaving aside the fact that he is gay, which doesn‘t interest me terribly much, this is a guy who had two kids with two different women, left them both, living this lie.  He has got this personal life in total disarray.  Why do all the freaks wind up becoming Episcopal priests? 

FENN:  I don‘t know anything about Episcopal.

CARLSON:  I do, because I‘m one of them.  I‘m throwing that question out there. 

FENN:  I think this situation is obviously a very sad one.  They are stuck in a very bad battle, he and his last wife, over custody of the children, over money issues.  Everybody is writing books.  You know, you don‘t go off quietly into the night after something like this, unfortunately. 

CARLSON:  So you go minister to other people?  I mean, what is this. 

FENN:  Everybody has to find religion, I guess. 

CARLSON:  You don‘t have to impose it.  Why can‘t he become a monk, live say under a rock somewhere in the desert, and contemplate his sins, rather than putting on the robe and, you know, taking responsibility for other people‘s live?  Why can‘t people just go away once they are embarrassed?  A.B., do you know why? 

STODDARD:  Had I not seen the wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, on the Oprah show yesterday, the clip of her, I would say this.  I would say it is—you know, it is fine for him to find comfort in the lord, as we all do, and even satisfaction, you know, in a career as a man of the cloth.  But—and thank God he didn‘t go into rehab. 

But the thing is, I did see the clip where she said that on the day that this whole thing blew up for them years ago, he told her, you are going to have to be Jackie Kennedy today, which I found really repulsive, so, I mean, I don‘t really have a lot of sympathy for him that I would have had a few years ago, before watching that. 

CARLSON:  You say, thank God he didn‘t go into rehab, but now he is joining the Episcopal clergy which is, in modern America, basically the same thing, which is so incredibly depressing. 

STODDARD:  Well, you know what, if they will take him, you know, and as parishioners know what his wife told Oprah, then, you know.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Yes.  It just bugs me.  Anyway, thank you, we will be right back. 

Next, President Bush knows the power of Simon Cowell, or so it appears.  Did his own appearance on “American Idol” help or hurt him politically?  More important, did it help or hurt “American Idol”?  Willie Geist has all of the answers, of course, that is ahead.

Plus, a day away from the GOP debate, a new poll suggests that the dynamics of the muddled Republican field may have changed in an unexpected way.  We have got those numbers.  It is all just ahead.  This is MSNBC, the most impressive name in news.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The 10 Republican candidates, and there are 10, will go head to head for the first time tomorrow.  California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is sidelined from the event for constitutional reasons.  But he will still be there.  What kind of impact will he have on the presidential race?  We will tell you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  It has been a while since John McCain was widely considered the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.  National polls show McCain trailing Rudy Giuliani by wide margins.  However a new poll from the American Research Center (sic) suggests that John McCain is actually running ahead in three key states, maybe the three key states:

Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. 

Those are the first stops on the primary trail.  So McCain is suddenly more popular than we all thought.  Is he?  Here to make sense of the numbers, we welcome back the associate editor of The Hill, A.B. Stoddard, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. 

A.B., I just want to put the first number.  Here is Iowa, which is the first contest, a caucus.  John McCain 26, Rudy Giuliani 19, Mitt Romney 14, Fred Thompson, not in the race yet, 13.  That is outside the margin of error, 7 points.  I‘m throwing this to you, A.B.,  because you alone among almost everybody in the world who follows this stuff said, just last week, I don‘t count John McCain out.  I think he is stronger than people think he is.  Is this evidence you were right? 

STODDARD:  Well, I think that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  How is that for a softball?

(LAUGHTER)

STODDARD:  I mean, I have also been saying all along that I thought

Giuliani was not going to do well, you know, under the bright lights.  And

he actually like barked at someone in New Hampshire last week.  And he is -

you know, it is—he is—he hides out in New York and his—and he goes in the back door of his events in his own city because the 9/11 family protestors are outside. 

So things are getting a little tough for Rudy Giuliani, and that helps John McCain‘s numbers, I believe, since Giuliani bumped him off the top of the list for a while.  McCain was really not out campaigning a lot in January and February.  He has been out a lot more in the last two months. 

He is changing his tone a bit, more of the reform that is really his authentic—you know, his real strength is that message of reforming government.  And I just think that, you know, if you look at the same numbers in this American Research poll, it was really fascinating to learn how partisan the war is. 

And that among primary voters, the Iraq thing doesn‘t hurt John McCain.  If you.

CARLSON:  No, it.

STODDARD:  When you look at these numbers, there are perfect—you know, they are perfectly inverted.  They match.  You ask the primary voters in the.

CARLSON:  That is right.

STODDARD:  Among Democrats, can we win the war?  They say no.  The Republicans say yes.  So for John McCain, that is not really hurting yet.  And I think.

CARLSON:  Well, let‘s.

STODDARD:  . the more he gets away from Bush.

CARLSON:  Right.

STODDARD:  . the better he does.

CARLSON:  Let‘s take a look at the other two states that I think matter above all.  New Hampshire and South Carolina, those are the first three primaries which will affect all of the others, of course, which come directly after.  In New Hampshire, McCain 29, Romney 24, Giuliani 17, which is an amazing series of numbers.  Those are all outside the margin of error those leads. 

South Carolina, take a look at this: McCain 36, Giuliani 23.  Thirteen points.  Now, Peter, South Carolina, among many other things, is a state with, I believe, more veterans than any other state, if not the most then certainly right up there at the top.  A lot of veterans in South Carolina.  You have got to believe that John McCain‘s support for Bush‘s war policy is helping him in that state. 

FENN:  Absolutely, Tucker.  I mean, the funny thing about this is, you hear all of this grousing from the Democrats and from the liberal-leaning independents about—you know, about McCain and oh, you know, he is just in the tank with Bush on this Iraq War.  And he is not the same guy as 2000. 

And then you see him go to New Hampshire and go to South Carolina and boost his standing.  And it is absolutely about being strong on Iraq that has helped him with that conservative constituency.  Conservatives are off of Giuliani.  They are off of Romney.  They are going to go further off those guys.  You know, I think this is going to be a last man standing kind of race. 

But you know—and he also did a smart thing in New Hampshire, even

in his opening remarks he went back a little and criticized both Giuliani -

not by name. 

CARLSON:  Right.

FENN:  . but also McCain—but also the president on Katrina.

CARLSON:  Pretty harshly.

FENN:  Pretty tough stuff.  But I liked it.

CARLSON:  And criticized McCain for—I mean, Giuliani for 9/11.  OK.

FENN:  Right, right.

CARLSON:  We have got just a very quick two minutes.  Can each of you, starting with you, A.B., what would you do if you were John McCain or Rudy Giuliani at the debate tomorrow night?  What do they need to do?  Sum it up for me. 

STODDARD:  I think John McCain needs to—you know, I think he needs to bump and scrape a little with his opponents.  And I think he needs to—

I think he really needs to separate himself as that reformer, that change agent that they are not.  Because that is really his strength. 

And Romney and Giuliani are talking the same line.  They are not going

to change anything.  So I think that McCain needs to step out and show that

he is different from them.  And that is what worked for him in 2000 

CARLSON:  Show some ferocity.  Peter, what do you think? 

FENN:  I agree with that about McCain, and he had better not lose his temper.  But I think on the Giuliani front, he has to do more than 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, Tucker.  He has got to look to the future.  He has got to be the strong leader.  He has got to be the guy that they have confidence in.  And I think his campaign right now doesn‘t have anything else going for him other than that one day.  And he has to prove to people that he is more than that. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  In addition to that, he is a brilliant speaker.  Rudy Giuliani, if you have never seen him speak, you should.  Because he is great.  Here is my prediction for what will happen.  I‘m not sure what they ought to do, but I predict, and I have no inside knowledge of any kind, but that he will be asked, Giuliani, about his speech at the Republican Convention in 2004 in which he said, the first he thought on 9/11 was, thank God Bush is our president.  I mean, that is a gimme.  Someone is going to ask him about that.  I would, anyway.

Thanks to you both, very much.  A.B., Peter, I appreciate it.

STODDARD:  Thanks, Tucker.

FENN:  Thanks, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Be sure to tune in to MSNBC tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m.  Eastern time to see all the major Republican contenders, all 10 of them.  I don‘t know if they are all major, but they will all be there.  And they will face off for the first time in a debate hosted by MSNBC, the politico.com. and the Reagan Presidential Library.  That is live from California, the first Republican presidential debate, tomorrow, 8:00, only on MSNBC. 

Well, as if George Tenet‘s connection to the Iraq War wasn‘t shady enough, wait until you hear about his ties to porn star Ron Jeremy.  Willie Geist has photographic evidence of a years old relation between the former CIA director and “The Hedgehog.” We dare you to miss that.  You are watching MSNBC, the most impressive name in news. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  If you are like most Americans, one of the great regrets of your life is you don‘t get enough Willie Geist in your diet.  Well, if that is your problem, we have the answer.  Tomorrow and Friday, Willie and I together for three hours, 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.  Eastern on MSNBC, tune in. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC PRODUCER:  I need to get out of here quickly and get to bed.  What time are you getting here tomorrow? 

CARLSON:  About 3:40, 4:00.

GEIST:  Really? 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

GEIST:  All right.  I might come in a little after that. 

(LAUGHTER)

GEIST:  Let‘s get down to business, Tucker.  I will be honest with you, since that dark day when Antonella Barba was kicked off of “American Idol,” I have not seen much of the show, but I hear last night was a real dozy.  The pungent scent of New Jersey was in the air on “Bon Jovi Night.” Simon loved LaKisha‘s rendition of some Bon Jovi songs so much that he invited her onstage to kiss him on the lips, and she went for it. 

That stood as the most awkward moment of the evening until the president of United States addressed the “American Idol” audience. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We thank all of the “American Idol” viewers who have shown the good heart of America.  And we thank all of the celebrities who participated, including Bono, and all of the contestants who sang their hearts out for these children. 

Say, Laura, do you think I ought to sing something? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  I don‘t know, darling.  They have already seen you dance. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Good acting, darling.  The first lady was, of course, referring to this scene at the White House last week when the president danced and banged the drums of a West African dance troupe. 

Now, Tucker, there must be a threshold—a presidential approval rating threshold at which Karl Rove calls the president and says, time to go on “American Idol.” Time to go on “American Idol.” We are just going to pander to that audience. 

CARLSON:  That really is jumping the shark at the point.  I mean, that is sad.  That is sad. 

GEIST:  You know what, though?  The taboo has been lifted a little bit.  You have had Tony Bennett, Bon Jovi, they don‘t need the money or the... 

CARLSON:  But wasn‘t this guy supposed to be like a screaming right-winger out of touch with American culture?  I kind of like that idea.

GEIST:  That went out the window a long time ago. 

CARLSON:  Now he is like, and I want to thank Bono, and all of you “American Idol” who represent the heart of America.  It is like, why not just vote for a Democrat if you are going to do that?  I mean.

GEIST:  Yes.  It was pretty sad.  And even worse, the acting was just atrocious, just atrocious. 

CARLSON:  Oh, appalling, appalling.

GEIST:  Well, move over lady who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald‘s, there is a new asinine lawsuit ever in town.  A Washington, D.C., area judge is suing his dry cleaner over a lost pair of pants. 

Tucker, what do you figure for a pair of pants, $100, maybe $150 for pain and suffering?

CARLSON:  Oh no, more than that, Willie. 

GEIST:  How about $67 million.  Roy Pearson, who should be slapped repeatedly, says the dry cleaner lost his pants and then tried to pawn another pair off as his.  How dare he?  Pearson arrived at the $67 million figure by adding up daily fines allowed under a customer protection law. 

He also wants money to cover the costs of a rental car that will carry

him to a new dry cleaner.  I do not know what to say.  These dry cleaners -

actually, they claimed they had the right pants in the right place, but just to get rid of this guy, they offered him $12,000 to go away.  These poor—this immigrant couple who started a dry cleaner, and he said, no, no.  I want $67 million from you. 

CARLSON:  Let‘s just start at what is possible.  I am against capital punishment, OK, because I‘m a libertarian.  But anything short of that, I think he should be in prison.  And I mean that. 

GEIST:  Yes.  At $67 million.

CARLSON:  No, I mean, just for suggesting that.  Even—if you brought that up at a dinner party, I think you ought to be in prison.

GEIST:  Absolutely.  And this has not been thrown out, by the way.  Like the courts have heard this and said, yes, let‘s go on with this and let‘s see what happens.

CARLSON:  This is the Roman Empire in the later years.

GEIST:  And I just want to be given a little bit of credit.  I never said, “sue your pants off” or “taken to the cleaners.” 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  You must have been white-knuckled as you typed those scripts, pulling back.

GEIST:  Yes.  I want to pat myself on the back for that, I deserve it. 

CARLSON:  You deserve it.

GEIST:  Well, Al Gore‘s recent crusade against global warming has turned him into something of a religious figure in the green movement.  So much so that his book, “An Inconvenient Truth” is replacing the Bible, at least in one hotel.  The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa has placed a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth” in every room, taking the place of the Gideon Bible.  The resort says the move is part of its effort to become California‘s first certified green hotel. 

I think the cult of Al has taken a turn for the worst.  This is getting ugly. 

CARLSON:  Well, it is funny.  I mean, people say the crucifixion is ridiculous and implausible.  Yes, they may be right, but worshiping Al Gore? 

GEIST:  I know.

CARLSON:  You know what I mean?  It is all relative, isn‘t it? 

GEIST:  Our kids will be going to the Church of Gore before the end of the... 

CARLSON:  Yes—no, absolutely.  I think mine already are.

(CROSSTALK)

GEIST:  It is headed that way anyway.  Finally, Tucker, this is good stuff here.  Former CIA Director George Tenet had been all over the place this week promoting that new book, defending himself against the Bush administration.  Aside from the role he played in getting us into the Iraq War, there is something else the American public would like Tenet to explain:  What exactly is your connection, sir, to porn legend Ron Jeremy? 

Well, you are looking at yearbook photos from Cardozo High School in New York from the early ‘70s.  That Tenet on the left, and yes, “The Hedgehog,” Ron Jeremy, on the right, looking a little more svelte back then. 

They were high school classmates, thanks—tmz.com dug these up for us.  Tenet and Jeremy even played on the same soccer team.  They have taken slightly different paths since then.  Tenet, of course went into public service; Jeremy, into the theater.

Now, Tucker, if you are looking at that class and you are calling most likely to succeed, it is kind of a tough call, who succeeded more, Tenet or Jeremy?

CARLSON:  Well, let me just say for the record, you wrote a script coming into the segment that said, what is the connection between the former CIA director and porn legend Ron Jeremy?  That is the connection?

GEIST:  The public have a right to know what its public servants are doing and where they come from. 

CARLSON:  You are a guardian of the First Amendment, Willie.

GEIST:  That is right.

CARLSON:  See you tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m.

GEIST:  All right.  See you in the morning, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thank you.  That does it for us.  Up next, “HARDBALL.” We will be back tomorrow.  Have a great night.

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

END   

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