updated 12/7/2007 11:47:19 AM ET 2007-12-07T16:47:19

Guests: Terie Norelli, Eugene Robinson, Bill Press, Daniel Gross

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Romney speaks, the media listens, but will a crucial block of voters care? 

Hello, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster, in tonight for Tucker Carlson. 

If you were hoping to learn something about Mormonism today, Mitt Romney‘s speech was a huge disappointment.  The Republican presidential candidate gave no explanations of church theology and no details about his beliefs, and nothing to counter evangelicals who consider Mormonism to be a mystery. 

Instead, Romney focused on trying to soothe concerns about his decision-making. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  If I‘m fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  In a moment, reaction to the Romney speech from across the political spectrum. 

Also tonight, the Democrats, a new poll shows Barack Obama closing the gap on Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. 

At the White House, Dick Cheney.  Remember him? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  You will not believe what the vice president is saying about Iraq now. 

And later, Larry Craig‘s problems have now been immortalized in American pop culture. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC‘S “BOSTON LEGAL”)

JAMES SPADER, ACTOR, “BOSTON LEGAL”:  We‘re actually sitting in a courtroom wasting tax dollars because my client had gas.  He was constipated.  He went to remedy his problem in a bathroom, imagine that, where lo and behold three undercover police officers were lurking, waiting to interpret a tapping foot as a call for gay sex. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But we begin tonight on a more serious note with Mitt Romney.  At a speech today at the library of President George HW Bush, Romney channeled John F. Kennedy from 47 years ago and declared he would not be beholden to leaders of his faith. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  However, where as John Kennedy said the separation of church and state is absolute, Romney today took a more muddied view. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  The founders prescribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.  We are a nation under God and in God we do, indeed, trust.  We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders in ceremony and word.  He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcomed in our public places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Eugene Robinson is a columnist with the “Washington Post” and also an esteemed graduate of the University of Michigan.  And Bill Press is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and author of “How the Republicans Stole Religion Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Faith & Politics and What We Can Do to Make it Right.”

Eugene, first to you.  Your reaction to Romney‘s speech today.  I think I only heard he mentioned the word Mormon once. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No.  He didn‘t really dwell on that.  You know, David, I‘ve heard all of these rave reviews of that speech.  And I guess I heard a different speech.  What I heard was Romney essentially trying to have it both ways and saying, you know, “Let me tell you all about my faith.  Faith is desperately important, but don‘t ask me too many questions about it because it‘s different from your faith.” 

This odd statement he made that freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom, that‘s a very odd kind of spin to put on the U.S. constitution and in our tradition of separation of church and state.  So I did not think it was a Kennedy-esque speech.  I thought it was something quite different. 

SHUSTER:  And Bill, was it odd and what‘s the impact there for Romney? 

BILL PRESS, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED RADIO HOST:  Well, I hate to disappoint to Gene with one more rave review for his speech.  But, look, this question of faith and politics is a difficult one.  We‘ve been struggled with it for 225 years.  I wrote a book about it.  I know.  And I thought Romney hit pretty much all of the right notes today. 

We should not have expected him to explain his Mormon faith.  John F.  Kennedy didn‘t talk about the virgin birth or about the forgiveness of sins or anything of the doctrine of Catholicism.  Where I thought Mitt Romney really scored today is where he made it clear he‘s a person of faith and he said—I thought his strongest line was, “Nobody should be elected because of their faith and nobody should be rejected because of their faith.” 

I thought he did what he had to do today.  And may I add by the way, he certainly looked presidential.  All three cables carried him live.  He had eight American flags on the stage.  He was introduced by Daddy Bush.  No candidate on either side so far has had that kind of positive exposure. 

I thought it was a real 10 strike for Romney. 

SHUSTER:  But in that case, Bill, he essentially used the media.  I mean certainly he.

PRESS:  Of course. 

SHUSTER:  .did look presidential and all of the praise has been about the style, but when it comes to the substance, after all of these questions about whether Mormonism is a cult, whether Mormonism is somehow part of Christianity, he didn‘t address any of that. 

PRESS:  But then he was—listen, again, he was not there—who said he was there to address it?  The media has put that expectation on it.  He is not a theologian.  I don‘t want a politician explaining the articles of faith of their particular sect or whatever they belong to.  It‘s not their job.  And I—and he‘s not good at it. 

And by the way, if you want to ask those questions of anybody, I think we should be asking them of Mike Huckabee.  I‘m more scared of Mike Huckabee‘s religion and what he would do as a minister were he president than I am what Romney as a Mormon member would do if he were ever elected. 

SHUSTER:  Well, speaking of Mike Huckabee, he was asked this morning about Romney‘s speech.  He actually gave a reaction before the speech was delivered.  But he was read an excerpt of what Romney was going to say and here‘s how Mike Huckabee reacted.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  He said that he is a Mormon and he also says that he follows Jesus Christ.  I take him at his word.  I take that at face value.  I‘ve no reason to question that.  But I think people are asking me to try to dissect his faith.  And quite frankly, not only am I not going to do that, I‘m not qualified to do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Eugene, I got to believe that to the extent that Mitt Romney has been able to put attention on his faith, it‘s also in some sort of weird fashion probably helping Mike Huckabee because it reminds Mike Huckabee supporters as to why they like him and it again gives Huckabee another platform to talk about religion even if, in this case, he‘s saying, “Look, it‘s not for me to say what I believe about Mormonism or Mitt Romney‘s faith. 

ROBINSON:  You know it does, David.  This is one point on which I certainly agree with Bill.  I think I‘m more frightened of Mike Huckabee and what he would do as pastor in chief than of Mitt Romney.  But, you know, why is this the—why are our candidates‘ personal religious views the subject of the campaign all of a sudden? 

This is an issue on which I think Rudy Giuliani, of all people, has it right when he says, you know, basically that‘s his business.  He‘s not perfect.  He‘s not—he doesn‘t claim to be.  And, you know, he says in a fairly nice way, buzz off.  And I think that‘s the proper response.  But how did we get here?  It‘s because politicians have played up their faith and have played to religious conservatives by trying to emphasize how pious they are and how holy they are.  And so naturally people are going to question them on it. 

SHUSTER:  Well, no. 

PRESS:  And Gene, if I may just add, Gene. 

SHUSTER:  Go ahead. 

PRESS:  Mike Huckabee has actually played the religious card very effectively in Iowa, of course, which is a strong evangelical base.  You know, he has on his Web site, he identified himself as a Christian leader.  And suddenly or not-so-suddenly he‘s making the point that to the evangelicals, “You can trust me as a Christian.  You can‘t trust Romney as a Mormon,” which is why I think Romney really had to give that speech today. 

SHUSTER:  And Bill, you and Eugene have both mentioned your fears about Mike Huckabee.  Real quickly, what exactly are the fears that you have about Mike Huckabee as far as being sort of the pastor in chief? 

PRESS:  Well, quickly, I would say number one, how can you persevere or preserve rather the separation of church and state when you‘ve got a pastor and a president one and the same person? 

Let‘s take evolution.  He doesn‘t believe in evolution.  Does that mean he would ban the teaching of evolution in public schools or demand the teaching of creationism alongside of it?  Abortion.  He‘s totally against it, thinks it‘s immoral in all cases at all times.  Does that mean he would also make it illegal?  I mean, I think we come as close to having an official state religion having a minister or a pastor as a president as we would ever come, God forbid, I might add. 

SHUSTER:  Bill Press and Eugene Robinson are going to come back after the next block.  But just ahead, a new poll from New Hampshire shows the Democratic race there is getting tighter.  So why is the Clinton campaign so happy?  We‘ll ask them. 

And Mike Huckabee faces new questions, not just about his religion and his views, but also about his foreign policy experience.  We will explain. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Barack Obama takes the lead away from Hillary Clinton in Iowa.  Now she‘s losing support in New Hampshire, too.  Her double-digit lead is gone.  Is Hillary president—is Hillary‘s presidential campaign in trouble? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  For all of the talk about a Democratic presidential race too close to call until today it was confined to Iowa where polls show Clinton, Edwards and Obama all bunched together.  New Hampshire was a different story with Hillary Clinton far out in front.  Not anymore.  The latest poll from New Hampshire shows Clinton‘s lead shrinking to six points, 35 percent to Obama‘s 29 percent. 

Joining us now is the co-chair of Hillary Clinton‘s New Hampshire campaign and the state‘s Speaker of the House, Terie Norelli. 

And Miss Norelli, thanks for joining us.  What‘s going on in New Hampshire?  Why is Hillary Clinton‘s campaign suffering? 

TERIE NORELLI, CLINTON NH CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR:  Well, actually I think that there have been a number of polls that have been out this week.  Most of which show that Hillary has the lead of anywhere from 12 to 19 points, including the Marist poll that is out today that shows her ahead 14 points.  So I think that what this. 

SHUSTER:  So you think everything is going well with the Clinton campaign, everything‘s moving along swimmingly?  There‘s nothing to be concerned about in the Granite State?  Is that what you were saying? 

NORELLI:  Well, you know, I think that we always knew that this race in New Hampshire was going to be very competitive and that‘s why Senator Clinton has spent so much time here in the state sharing her vision for the future of our country and meeting face-to-face with the voters in our state. 

SHUSTER:  Miss Norelli, I want to ask you about something that happened earlier this week.  How did it go over with New Hampshire voters when Hillary Clinton‘s campaign was trying to make an issue of Barack Obama‘s sort of history of presidential ambitions and to that point, put in a press release that he had written some sort of an essay or said something when he was in kindergarten that he wanted to be president of the United States. 

Did that go over very well in New Hampshire? 

NORELLI:  You know, I think this is another example of the media taking something out of context.  Senator Obama has made a lot in recent weeks of Senator Clinton suggesting that she has been preparing for the presidency for a long time.  I think she was just responding.  Look, you know, he has a history.  Colleagues that have said he‘s talked about running for the presidency and stuff and tried to make a joke about even back in kindergarten.  You know. 

SHUSTER:  OK.  But it wasn‘t a joke in the press release.  There was no laughing language.  Later after the press release was issued, they tried to say, oh this was just a joke.  But I guess what I‘m asking you is: was that initial press release—that was a mistake, wasn‘t it? 

NORELLI:  No, I don‘t think it was a mistake.  I think that Senator—if Senator Obama wants to talk about, you know, who is it that‘s been preparing for the White House for a long time, he has to be prepared to have the response that there are a lot of people that thinks that he‘s (INAUDIBLE). 

SHUSTER:  All the way back to kindergarten, though?  I mean, his kindergarten record is fair game? 

NORELLI:  Well, let‘s talk about the more recent things.  Again, I think this is just an indication of the press trying to take things out of context.  Pick out one little piece.  That‘s what happens when you‘re the frontrunner.  Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner.  And in fact if you look at your poll, she‘s way ahead in certain key indicators like electability and experience and strength.  These are some things that are really important to New Hampshire voters and she‘s ahead by wide margins in this area. 

SHUSTER:  Well, Terie, explain how New Hampshire Democrats.

NORELLI:  She‘s also.

SHUSTER:  Explain how New Hampshire Democrats are different from the Iowa Democrats and what is the issue that you think is resonating better for the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire than in Iowa? 

NORELLI:  Well, I think there are two areas in terms of—as I said,

she is ahead on experience, on leadership, on strength, on electability, so

some of the key indicators of how she would act as president of the United

States.  And she does very well on two of the most important issues to the

voters of New Hampshire, and that‘s who will be able to end the war on Iraq

and who will best be able to tackle health care.  These are two important -

very important issues to the voters of New Hampshire. 

She also does extremely well on the economy and on education and, in fact, today picked up the endorsement of the largest union in the state when she got the endorsement of NEA in New Hampshire.  It says that she‘s absolutely. 

SHUSTER:  I think it‘s a certain—but certainly a very.

NORELLI:  .the best on education. 

SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s a very newsworthy point that she‘s picking up these endorsements, but I think, Terie, one of the issues, of course, that seems to be happening is the polling does seem to indicate that Senator Clinton is losing support in union households, which I suppose makes endorsements like the one you‘re referring about today even more important. 

But in any case, Terie Norelli is spokesman for the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire. 

NORELLI:  Well, I‘ll tell you that I‘m part of the. 

SHUSTER:  Thank you very much for joining us.  We appreciate it. 

We‘re out of time.  I‘m sorry. 

NORELLI:  Thanks for having me. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome. 

It was President Bush‘s turn yesterday to get hammered by reporters over the National Intelligence Estimate.  Today, it was his press secretary‘s turn and reporters didn‘t cut her any slack. 

And later, Vice President Cheney has full confidence that Iraq will be able to govern itself by 2009.  Is he looking through rose-colored glasses or does he have his blinders on? 

This is MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  This is the third day since the Bush administration acknowledged that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programs four years ago.  Reporters, who had their chance yesterday to grill President Bush about his World War III rhetoric, got the chance today to question the president‘s spokesman. 

There were fireworks over President Bush‘s claim that he only first heard about the new intelligence in August and at the time, the director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, didn‘t say what the intelligence was and President Bush didn‘t ask. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence.  Not told the details of what it was and told that he‘s going to—they‘re were going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn‘t have a high degree of confidence in it and it would—could potentially be in conflict. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  But he said he didn‘t know what the information even was. 

PERINO:  But not the. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  I could see the details of it, but. 

PERINO:  OK.  I thought you said—I grant you, he could have been more precise in his language, but if you look at the follow-up—the following sentences of the quote—I have it right here—he says that it would take a while an analyze it.  And he‘s referring to it in terms of what the information was.  I think that. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  But you said he didn‘t know what the information was. 

PERINO:  He didn‘t know what—what he did not know was the specific details were of the raw intelligence that they had found. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  But he knew it was strong enough information, too, to delay the NIE. 

PERINO:  No.  Well, it‘s not enough information that they said that they needed to check it out and the president thought that that was an appropriate and responsible thing to do.  Sure. 

ED, REPORTER:  From August when the president was tipped off by McConnell until last week. 

PERINO:  Tipped off?  Come on.  Ed.  Tipped off?  He was told that there. 

ED, REPORTER:  No, no, no.  You told—he was tipped off of the fact that the assessment may be changing.  In your own words, you said he was told of that. 

PERINO:  He was.  Sure. 

ED, REPORTER:  He wasn‘t told all the details.  So from August until last week, the president never asked Director McConnell, “Hey, how is that going?  Are we getting any more on Iran?”  He never asked him? 

PERINO:  OK.  I‘m not saying that.  But. 

ED, REPORTER:  Well, he did ask McConnell? 

PERINO:  If I had—I don‘t know exactly what the president asked in the presidential daily brief. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  With us again on the “Washington Post,” Eugene Robinson, and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, Bill Press. 

And, gentlemen, I want to ask you, given that the president after this briefing that he got, whatever kind of briefing he got in August, given that it was after August that he made the sort of rhetoric, this discussion about trying to prevent World War III with Iran, what are we to make now of what was going through the president‘s mind at the time that he said that?  Eugene? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it sounds to me as if the president knew at least a general thrust of the new intelligence.  I mean, that was never denied by Dana Perino.  It‘s just that he didn‘t know, you know, the details presumably like, you know, who were the Iranian officials who were allegedly overheard or intercepted saying that, “Gee, it‘s too bad that we shut down our nuclear weapons program.” 

It‘s seems—it sounds to me as if the president really misrepresented what he knew and when he knew it. 

SHUSTER:  I‘m going to go even further.  I‘m going to suggest that there was the president, if he had this information, he still chose to use the most frightening language possible, World War III in terms of portraying the threat from Iran even though he new that his own intelligence agencies were on the verge of essentially debunking this information. 

And Bill, that strikes me as a huge credibility problem for the White House. 

PRESS:  David, this is embarrassing for the White House.  They cannot explain it any other way.  I mean, I think the facts are pretty clear now that the president was told in August that—at least he was told that we‘re doing a complete reevaluation of what we‘ve been saying about Iran. 

He may not have known all the details, but he knew that there were real questions about Iran proceeding with its nuclear weapons program and the CIA was reevaluating the whole thing and despite that, he went forward and told the American people that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, it was a threat to the United States, a threat to Israel, and we had to be prepared to take military action and if we didn‘t, we could end up with—they got the weapon, we could end up with World War III. 

I think that is—I mean, it‘s very serious stuff.  You know what it is?  It‘s an exact parallel to me to what George Bush did in the run-up to the war in Iraq, except this time he got caught and this time the intelligence agencies blew the whistle on his rhetoric and repudiated everything he‘s been saying about Iran. 

You know, Joe Scarborough on this network this morning said—yesterday morning, this proves either the president was lying to the American people or he‘s just plain stupid.  Joe Scarborough. 

SHUSTER:  Eugene, which one is it? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I prefer to believe—and this is amazing that I‘m going to say this—I prefer to think that he was lying to the American people and that he‘s not just plain stupid.  But, you know, yes, it‘s—this is a tremendous credibility problem for this White House.  But it‘s not the first tremendous credibility problem for this White House. 

PRESS:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  And I would maintain this White House doesn‘t have a lot of credibility left especially on the sort of—the sorts of intelligence national security matters where, as we well know, we were led down the garden path toward a catastrophe in Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  And while it‘s one thing to look back, now looking forward, there‘s the Bush administration trying to rally the world community to ratchet up the pressure on Iran with more sanctions as a way of getting them to continue or to at least start coming clean about their intentions.  And yet we are taking a bath—the United States is taking a bath over the last three days this week because of this. 

The international papers are aghast.  Governments that were trying to support the United States are getting flooded with complaints about why were you believing the Bush administration?  How on earth does that help us as far as trying to contain Iran now? 

PRESS:  In terms of getting anybody else to support us on sanctions,

forget it.  Forget it.  We‘ve no credibility left.  Eugene is right.  I

think, though, there is a huge opportunity here.  This is the opportunity -

and Robert Kagan, who is no liberal, he said yesterday in the “Washington Post,” this is the opportunity to start talks now with Tehran because the one thing that the NIE does show, let‘s not forget, is that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program because of international pressure. 

And so they are, you know, at least conducive to change and open to diplomacy and I think the administration could score by starting direct talks with Tehran.  That‘s what they ought to be doing. 

SHUSTER:  And yet the problem is that any talks that we have with Tehran, why would the Iranians believe what the United States is saying now because of this? 

PRESS:  Well, yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  I mean I don‘t know how we have talks with these people when they don‘t believe anything that we say, when the world doesn‘t believe anything that we say and even the American people don‘t believe what the Bush administration is saying. 

What good does it for Ahmadinejad to say, “Oh yes, President Bush, yes, we‘ll agree to open up our books.”  It doesn‘t make any sense. 

PRESS:  Well, it might help if we just said, you know what?  We really goofed.  We really made a mistake here.  But they‘re not going to do that so. 

SHUSTER:  All right.  Bill Press, Eugene Robinson are staying with us. 

Just ahead, see Dick shoot.  Vice President Cheney takes verbal aim at the Democratic leadership and they fire back even harder.  You don‘t want to miss this. 

And during that big speech today by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate rewrote world history.  It‘s a big whopper and we caught him.  More on that after this.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Still to come, Vice President Cheney accuses Congress of lacking a back bone.  And now they‘re fighting back.  We‘ll get to that in just a moment. 

But first, here‘s a look at your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

SHUSTER:  Well, Vice President Cheney is at it again.  The man who said Saddam Hussein, in fact, had WMD and then declared we would be greeted in Iraq as liberators, then proclaimed the insurgency was in its last throws, now has a new quote to add to his legacy. 

During an interview with Politico.com, Cheney warned that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would invite further attacks against the United States.  Cheney described the Democratic Congress as weak and when asked if the Democratic leaders had lost their spine, Cheney said, quote, “They are not tearing the big sticks I would have expected.” 

Democratic caucus chair Rahm Emanuel responded with this, quote, “Some of us were surprised that the president didn‘t have a bigger stick when he could have stood up to Dick Cheney.” 

With us again are the “Washington Post” Eugene Robinson and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, Bill Press. 

Bill, who won that argument? 

PRESS:  Well, first of all, I have to say I get very nervous when a man named Dick starts talking about big sticks.  But you know, look, I don‘t think anybody takes Cheney seriously anymore.  He was talking about the fact that Jack Murtha and John Dingell have not stood up more to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

I think that‘s kind of a sexist remark.  When you look at it, the fact is that John Dingell has always been the patron, if you will, of the auto industry in Washington.  And Nancy Pelosi said, “No, we want tougher fuel efficiency standards.”  John Dingell said, “Over my dead body.” 

Well, guess what?  The energy bill passed by the House has higher fuel efficiency standards in it.  Nancy Pelosi won that argument. 

SHUSTER:  Yes.  Eugene, I think it‘s fair to assume at this point or at least fair to wonder if Vice President Cheney is on something these days.  I want to read you a quote that he gave recently and he also gave from the same interview. 

He was talking about Iraq and he says, “Iraq will be self-governing by the middle of January 2009.”  It will be clear that, quote, “We have, in fact, achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that‘s capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future.”

Did you know of anybody, anybody aside from Vice President Cheney who thinks Iraq will be a self-governing democracy in 13 months from now? 

ROBINSON:  No, no one on earth, David.  Maybe someone on the vice president‘s home planet. 

Look, he‘s—what he said about Iraq has been hallucinatory for some time, as we know.  And what he said today or what he was quoted as saying today about the veteran Democrats in Congress not having big sticks, you know, he might as well have said they don‘t have stones as well. 

It wasn‘t kind of sexist.  It was a totally sexist remark aimed at Nancy Pelosi and essentially calling these aging male Democrats a bunch of girly men.  It was really an astonishing thing for a vice president to say. 

SHUSTER:  So great.  There we have a vice president of the United States who‘s not only delusional, he‘s also sexist. 

PRESS:  There you go.  But, you know, I think what this really shows -

the 2009 comment—by the way, he‘s right about that as he‘s right about liberators and all of the other statements he‘s made.  But I think clearly their agenda, and he confirms it, the Bush agenda is to drag this war out until January 2009, and then dump it in the lap of whoever succeeds him, whatever Democrat takes over the White House. 

SHUSTER:  The big foreign policy news this week, of course, was this National Intelligence Estimate finally came out from the Bush administration, which is 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Iraq had halted its nuclear program four years ago despite all the rhetoric coming from Vice President Cheney and President Bush. 

When Mike Huckabee was asked about this, first on the campaign trail on Tuesday, even though the story broke Monday night, he had no idea what reporters were talking about.  He again had no idea several hours later.  This morning on MSNBC, he was asked about that lapse and here‘s his response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  He said that he is a Mormon and he also says that he follows Jesus Christ.  I take him at his word.  I take that at face value.  I have no reason to question that.  But I think people are asking me to try to dissect his faith.  And quite frankly, not only am I not going to do that, I‘m not qualified to do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Well, that, of course, is Mike Huckabee talking about Romney‘s.  We have a little.

PRESS:  Got to love live TV. 

SHUSTER:  That‘s right.  I have noticed that.  It was my fault actually.  I called for the wrong tape.  But in any case, Mike Huckabee‘s excuse this morning was that, oh he was too busy campaigning, that he was in a bubble, that, you know, it doesn‘t have anything to do with his lack of foreign policy experience.  He just didn‘t know and nobody told him. 

PRESS:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  But this news broke Monday night.  And so Bill, what is the responsibility of a candidate to keep up with the news, specifically when it‘s one of the biggest foreign policy developments of the year? 

PRESS:  No.  I mean, exactly.  If you and I know, if the reporters know what‘s going on, he‘s running for president of the United States.  There is no excuse.  This is the number one foreign policy issue facing this country.  The president is talking about World War III for god‘s sake.  And now the intelligence agencies are saying there‘s no evidence to support that threat and Huckabee doesn‘t even know what‘s going on. 

I‘m afraid I think it shows that Mike Huckabee is not ready for primetime. 

SHUSTER:  And Eugene Robinson, Mike Huckabee has said that he had plenty of foreign policy experience as governor of Arkansas and all this trade missions that he went on, that he has been to many foreign countries and has actually worked on deals and that he‘s got a great grasp of issues in Israel because it‘s the holy land, as Mike Huckabee refers to it.  How does that wash with Republican voters? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I—you know, if he—with incidents like this, it‘s not going to wash very well.  I mean I think it was a terrible moment for him.  It reflects badly on him, it reflects badly on his staff, who didn‘t bother to tell him that there was a big development on Iran, and make sure that he was aware of it and at least have something to say. 

And it‘s—this is really a very weak point for Huckabee.  He doesn‘t have any discernable foreign experience and apparently doesn‘t have a whole lot of foreign knowledge as well. 

SHUSTER:  Mm-hmm.  Now given that we started this show talking about Mitt Romney in his religion speech today, on that very issue, though, of foreign policy, even Romney doesn‘t have any sort of more foreign policy experience than Mike Huckabee, does he? 

ROBINSON:  Not a whole lot more.  But he does at least seem to run a tight enough ship so that he would know about the NIE on Iran. 

SHUSTER:  Bill? 

PRESS:  Yes.  No, I think Gene is right.  I mean he may—I don‘t know of any foreign policy experience that Mitt Romney brings to the table.  But he‘s certainly curious enough to know what‘s going on today and I‘m sure he reads the headlines in the morning.  Obviously, Mike Huckabee does not. 

SHUSTER:  Well, today there was a question about whether Mitt Romney has been reading the right kind of history books or history books of his own making.  There was Mitt Romney in his speech and he was talking about the American sacrifice for liberty overseas.  I want to play this sound bite and then get your reaction.  Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God.  Not an indulgence of government.  No people in the. 

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY:  No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty as Americans?  That‘s not right, is it, Bill? 

PRESS:  No, it‘s not right.  But it is—he was speaking—you know the phrase for this is American exceptionalism, and you hear a lot of exaggeration as if we‘re the only people who ever experienced an act of terror, we‘re the only people ever fought for liberty.  It‘s not true.  The French, the British and a lot of others have done many sacrifices for liberty.  But, you know, I‘ll excuse him one historical error, I guess. 

SHUSTER:  Well, we did call the Romney campaign and asked about this.  The response that we got from their spokesperson was, “This was just Governor Romney‘s perspective.  He was not offering a statement of fact.” 

So it is my perspective, Bill, that you have the number one radio talk show in America and, Eugene, it‘s my perspective that you have more Pulitzers than any other journalists in America, even though that may not be a statement of fact, that‘s my perspective. 

PRESS:  No, that is a statement of fact. 

ROBINSON:  I‘m going with your perspective, David.  I love your perspective at all times. 

PRESS:  Exactly.  I‘d buy it.  I‘ll take it. 

SHUSTER:  Back in this whole issue that we started the show with and that is Mitt Romney and did the whole sort of religion issue, is this the end of it now, now that Mitt Romney has spoken to the extent that he has about his Mormonism, even though he mentioned the word Mormon once?  Does that mean that is it?  That there‘s no more need for another speech?  That whether he gets evangelicals or doesn‘t get them, the issue is now off the table? 

PRESS:  Well, I got to say, I don‘t think it is.  I think it may be just the beginning of it.  I think that the questions—similar questions are going to be posed to other candidates, as Gene and I both agreed, certainly and maybe not number one to Mike Huckabee. 

Quickly, David, one thing I think where Romney lost it is he didn‘t talk about people who have no faith at all, right?  I mean—and I think sometimes we talk about religion rather than morality and the difference between right and wrong.  People who have no faith, I believe, are as capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong and living a good and moral life as people with faith, and I think Romney missed a chance to say that today. 

SHUSTER:  But is there a problem, Eugene, for Mitt Romney to somehow exclude atheists from his campaign given that atheists really don‘t make up that much of the electorate even in a general election? 

ROBINSON:  Well, he‘s betting that it isn‘t.  But I think if you really look at what he said, he essentially says—he essentially excludes people who don‘t have faith. 

PRESS:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  And the problem with that is, you know, what is—is it faith by his standards?  You know, can you have a little bit of faith or do you have to have a lot of faith?  It‘s very unclear.  I don‘t think this is the end of it because he didn‘t speak to the concerns of the evangelicals who really have a problem with his Mormonism. 

SHUSTER:  I‘m not sure that I‘ll agree with you, men.  I think that Mitt Romney has given his speech.  He‘s already said over and over, “Look, I‘m not going to—just because I supported abortion rights early on, now I‘ve changed.  I don‘t want people who are holier-than-thou to say, oh I‘ve supported pro-life longer than I have.” 

I mean it feels like he‘s sort of been down this path and he‘s at least given evangelicals and the media and voters really as much as he‘s going to give on this. 

PRESS:  Well, I do think for Romney that this is the speech.  I think he has done what he had to do.  I don‘t think he‘s going to go back and give another speech.  I don‘t think he‘s even going to answer the questions anymore.  He‘ll say, “Read my speech.” 

I just think some of the other candidates had better be prepared for the same questions. 

SHUSTER:  And now Eugene, real quickly, Barack Obama this weekend going to be campaigning with Oprah Winfrey.  They have now moved the venue in your home state of South Carolina. 

ROBINSON:  That‘s right. 

SHUSTER:  They‘ve now moved it towards this football stadium because of all the interest.  What is the impact of what‘s going to happen there this weekend? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it could be huge.  They have moved it from an arena to the University of South Carolina football stadium, which seats 80,000 people.  Now I don‘t think they‘re expecting 80,000 people, but the arena would have held 18,000, and they say that it will spill far beyond that. 

This could be big.  The polls are starting to trend more in Obama‘s favor in South Carolina.  This could be a very important event in terms of that primary. 

PRESS:  Hey, David? 

SHUSTER:  Yes? 

PRESS:  This is the big “O” leading to the “Big Mo.”  Watch it. 

SHUSTER:  Bill Press, the number one radio talk show host in America. 

PRESS:  All right. 

SHUSTER:  Eugene Robinson, we‘ve got lots of people choosing my book from the “Washington Post,” thank you both for coming in.  We appreciate it. 

ROBINSON:  Thanks, David. 

PRESS:  All right, David.  See you. 

SHUSTER:  President Bush announces a plan to help thousands of homeowners with subprime mortgages, but is he doing enough?  Democrats don‘t think so. 

Plus, actor George Clooney has a foot-tapping bathroom encounter while trying to give a congratulatory speech to friend Julia Roberts.  Details ahead from our toe-tapping expert. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  President Bush pitches a plan to help cash homeowners from going belly-up.  Will it work?  And what does it mean for you? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  With the subprime mortgage crisis continuing to worsen, President Bush today announced some relief for some borrowers.  But Democrats immediately pounced calling the president‘s plan baby steps when much more action is need. 

Here to make a complicated story clear for us is “Newsweek” senior editor and author of “Pop!  Why Bubbles are Great for the Economy,” the great Daniel Gross, and a great friend of MSNBC. 

Dan, now, the president‘s plan today, what exactly is he doing and will it work? 

DANIEL GROSS, “NEWSWEEK”:  This was a voluntary plan that the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson basically busted some heads together and suggested they really do this, a bunch of lenders who had said, you know, “If you have one of those mortgages that‘s supposed to reset at a much higher rate this year or next year, we will freeze that rate voluntarily for five years.” 

And only certain you have to be living in your house, you can‘t be a speculator.  You have to be current on your payments.  So when you waddle out all that, it‘s a pretty small minority of all of the subprime universe that‘s eligible for that. 

Clearly, that will help those people at least temporarily.  And it will be—should be some good news for the lenders because they would prefer not to have to recognize the losses of those loans immediately. 

SHUSTER:  Now, but is this a cause of larger problems or is this just a symptom as you were saying a moment ago? 

GROSS:  Right.  Here‘s where I think some of the optimism—you know, we saw the markets really rally today in response to this.  I think the subprime mess is a symptom of larger woes rather than the cause of everything that‘s going on because if you look around, we‘re seeing debt of all kinds going bad. 

You know, on the way over here, I smelled something horrible.  It wasn‘t the camels from the Radio City Music show.  It wasn‘t the horses from the carriages in Central Park.  It was the steaming piles of debt that are going bad.  We are seeing delinquency rates for mortgages—for prime mortgages spiking.  We are seeing delinquency rates for loans to condo developers spiking.  Student loans, car loans, loans made to people with good credit that have nothing to do with subprime, that have nothing to do with housing, are starting to go bad in larger numbers, and that‘s because the economy is weak. 

SHUSTER:  And is it bad, first of all, for the consumers, who can‘t pay this money back and therefore will get into some trouble?  Or is it bad, first of all, for the lenders who can‘t get their money and then therefore they have their own problems? 

GROSS:  Well, it‘s bad for the consumers because they get behind in their payments and that stresses them out.  It‘s bad for the lenders because they‘re not going to collect the debt they made.  And ultimately it‘s bad for consumers and the economy at large because banks‘ reaction—we just went through this orgy of credit where they were giving out debt to anyone who wanted it. 

The natural reaction when it starts to go bad is to pull back and not give credit to anybody.  So we‘re seeing banks start to hoard money, make it more expensive.  So ultimately, as this debt starts to go bad, and if the economy really slows sharply, I mean, we‘re still growing, and this is happening.  If the economy goes into recession, you‘re going to see more problems with debt, again, that have nothing to do with subprime and you‘ll see banks have more difficulty making profits and extending loans. 

SHUSTER:  So it sounds like it‘s really only a small piece of the puzzle.  So when the president says today, “The steps I‘ve outlined today are a sensible response to a serious challenge, he‘s really only talking about one specific challenge compared to everything that‘s out there. 

GROSS:  Absolutely.  And while the challenge is serious, and these may be sensible steps, it would have been nice if they had done this a year ago.  It‘s as if they woke up and realized, hey, you know, people can lose their homes when these teaser rates expire.  There have been more than a million foreclosures this year and it‘s been at this sort of epic, large proportions for the last many months and it‘s only now that kind of campaign season is heating up and that it‘s threatening to get worse that they‘re doing something about it. 

SHUSTER:  And what is the fear for some of us who don‘t have to worry necessarily about a subprime mortgage problem but may just have credit card debts or college tuition?  What is the fear for the rest of us in the economy about how this will all impact us? 

GROSS:  It‘s the larger fear is that if banks continue to have problems, if investors who bought the bonds based on these mortgages continue to have problems, that they won‘t extend that credit, that it won‘t be available for us in the future, so that if we go to refinance, if you go to buy a new car, if you start wanting to take bigger student loans for your kids‘ education, that it won‘t be available. 

Not just that it won‘t be at a higher rate, but that it literally won‘t be available.  That‘s the sort of extreme case. 

SHUSTER:  Daniel Gross, senior editor from “Newsweek,” a great friend of the show and of MSNBC, and author of “Pop! Why Bubbles are Great for the Economy,” thanks for coming in.  You always manage to take this complicated stuff and boil it down so the rest of us can understand it.  Thanks for coming in.  We appreciate it. 

GROSS:  You bet. 

SHUSTER:  What do George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Larry Craig all have in common with a bathroom stall?  The answer is next right here on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And now for the segment you‘ve all been waiting for.  I must say, it is an absolute honor to witness it in person.  Bill Wolff. 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC PRODUCER:  Good lord.  Good lord, Shuster.  Come on. 

That‘s not necessary. 

By the way, pin stripes, did you like it?.  Good call. 

SHUSTER:  Not bad.  Yes. 

WOLFF:  And we at MSNBC have our own debt situation.  Debt to you, my friend.  “MORNING JOE,” “HARDBALL” package,” “TUCKER” sub-host, you‘re unbelievable. 

SHUSTER:  Thank you. 

WOLFF:  But let‘s get to the comedy, shall we? 

SHUSTER:  Right. 

WOLFF:  It‘s surely difficult for Idaho Senator Larry Craig to find a silver lining in the cloud of public ridicule that has shadowed him since his infamous bathroom escapade in Minneapolis.  But if Senator Craig likes celebrities, and don‘t we all, then things aren‘t all bad. 

The most famous people in America know who he is.  Here‘s George Clooney‘s video tribute to Julia Roberts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  Fans outside are crazy.  I‘m hiding in the bathroom right now just so I can talk to you.  But I wanted to say congratulations.  It‘s a huge night for you and I‘m so proud and I really wish I could be there with you. 

(LAUGHTER)

CLOONEY:  I don‘t know what it stands. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFF:  So there you have it.  The president and vice president of the hunky cool kids club, they know your name, Mr. Craig.  It‘s not exactly like having Oprah campaign for you, but it‘s a start. 

SHUSTER:  What was with Brad Pitt‘s hair there?  It‘s like some weird thing going on there like some hair gel or some other product there?

WOLFF:  I don‘t know.  David, I know where you want me to go.  I won‘t go there.  But I will say is you‘re giving away one of the great secrets: we‘re nothing without makeup and hair products.

Now George Clooney and Brad Pitt knowing his name is no consolation.  Senator Craig apparently has a defender in James Spader, one of the best fictional lawyers on fictional television.  On this week‘s episode of his show “Boston Legal,” whatever Spader‘s character‘s name is, he took up in defense of Larry Craig. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BOSTON LEGAL”)

SPADER:  We‘ve got 29 current or recent members of Congress accused of spousal abuse, 27 have been arrested for driving under the influence, 19 current or recent members accused of writing bad checks, 14 have drug-related arrests, eight busted for shoplifting, seven for fraud, four for theft, three for assault, but Larry Craig is the one they simply must broom for tapping his foot in a men‘s room. 

And why are we paying the police to tap back?  With all of this terror business and these security crises going on in the airports, why are the police across the country, manning bathroom stalls to play footsie? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFF:  Well, there you have it.  The first cogent defense of Larry Craig comes the sex, lies and video tape guy who is defending Captain Kirk for committing the same offense. 

If I‘m Larry Craig, I‘m hiring one of those striking writers from that show to write my next speech and I‘m having James Spader deliver it, Shuster. 

SHUSTER:  It was so weird.  James Spader‘s voice is kind of like Larry Craig‘s even he‘s supposed to be Shatner‘s character but there was something—something‘s there. 

WOLFF:  Well, there may be a bio-pic in this.  NBC-U is a big company. 

We do lots of different things.  You write it, I‘ll sell it. 

SHUSTER:  I hear they‘re looking for some writers right now. 

WOLFF:  I‘m sure they are. 

Finally, Donald Trump is in the news this day.  And he got there doing what he does best, David, spending a ridiculous amount of money to prove he‘s the man.  Trump reportedly went to the Buffalo Club in West Los Angeles, had about 80 bucks worth of food and drinks or maybe food or drinks, or whatever they serve over at the Buffalo Club.  He then asked the waiter what the biggest tip the guy ever got was.  The waiter said that big guy Hollywood movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer once tipped him 500 bucks on a thousand dollar tab. 

So what does the Donald do?  Just to prove that he‘s the damn Donald, he lays down a $10,000 tip on his $80 check.  And there it is.  And he says to the guy, you were very good at your job. 

It‘s disgusting, David, and charming all at the same time.  And that is Donald Trump. 

SHUSTER:  Bill Wolff, thank you very much.  Always a pleasure to see you in person.  It‘s a great segment. 

WOLFF:  Pleasure is mine. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks, everybody.  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Tucker will be back tomorrow night.  Up next, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.”

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

END   

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

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