updated 12/18/2007 11:04:57 AM ET 2007-12-18T16:04:57

Guests: E.J. Dionne, Sam Seder, Christian Finnegan

ALISON STEWART, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The race for an endorsement: John McCain positions himself at ‘08‘s comeback kid picking up some key endorsements and a nod from Joe Lieberman?  You know, the guy who was on the Democratic presidential ticket?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LEIBERMAN, CONNECTICUT:  Let me say something.  Democrat candidates didn‘t asked for my support and John McCain did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The “Boston Globe” chooses Obama.  The HRC gets a much needed headline change courtesy of the “Des Moines Register.”  And is the senator‘s husband a major asset or a major distraction?  The Clinton campaign has hired a press secretary to keep Bill on message on the campaign trail.  We measure the bubba effect.

Candidates catfight: Romney demands an apology from Huckabee for comments made about President Bush.  But will Romney apologized for saying the NRA endorsed him while running for Massachusetts governor when in fact, they didn‘t.

And why is the GOP hate DOGS?  OK.  One candidate gets involved in alarming story courtesy of the Huckabee.

The fight over FISA hold on to your constitutional rights.  The Senate debates wireless wire tapping.  Senators Dodd vows to filibuster the bill that grant telecom‘s giant retroactive immunity to spy on you.  Clinton, Obama and Biden say they support the filibuster.  Unfortunately, they‘re all in Iowa.

Paris in London: Pitches a local Hilton for Miss. Hilton and her hefty bag.  But what good is baggage when there‘s no man to carry it?  Number one on Paris‘ Christmas wish list, quote, “A man to fall in love with, one for life, that I can start a family with.”  I know where she might get lucky.

LARRY KING, HOST:  You want to get married?

STEWART:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.  In a fast food nation where burger eaters like to have it their way and caffeine addicts can get to make about five different decisions every time they step up to the counter for a grande skim macchiato but make it a half cup, hold the foam, the ritual of settling on just one individual.  The choice of a presidential candidate might seem to be a bit out of place.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: 

Endorsement time in the race for president.  Any American who likes to be told how to vote now has a wealth of opinions from which to draw.  Politicians, wives of politicians, newspaper editorial boards, basically anybody who has decided on a candidate is now sharing that choice with anyone who will listen.  Senator Hillary Clinton picking up the endorsements of the “Des Moines Register “ where of course the caucus is just 17 days away.  The newspaper‘s editorial board says that while her main rival, Senator Barack Obama, quote, “Can be more inspirational when he speaks before a crowd, Senator Clinton appears to them more ready to hit the ground running.”  Quote, “Readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party.  Senator John McCain winning the newspaper‘s endorsement among Republicans and among independent Democrats that seem like Republicans.  Candidate McCain getting his nod from a colleague, Senator Joe Lieberman.  This morning, Senator Lieberman citing national security issues as key to his choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (IND) CONNECTICUT:  When it comes to leading America to victory against the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, there‘s no one better prepared than John McCain.  He has proven by his experience, by his strength, by his decisiveness that he is ready to be our commander in chief and take us to victory on the day he takes office as the next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Did you notice the matching outfits?  But later, when speaking to reporters out in the cold, Mr. Lieberman revealed that, well, the Arizona Republican was the one who actually wanted to talk to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN:  Let me just say something.  The Democratic candidates didn‘t asked for my support and John McCain did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Senator Lieberman adding that McCain endorsement to the list of things that set him apart from his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN:  Think of me as the eccentric uncle.  You know, we like him but every now and then he says something very unusual things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  For more Uncle Joe, time to call on E.J. Dionne, a columnist from the “Washington Post” and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  Thanks for being with us, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST:  Good to be with you.

STEWART:  Now, did the “Des Moines Register” pick John Edwards in ‘04 and Bill Bradley in 2000 but both of those campaigns ultimately fell flat.  So, let‘s start by asking how much does that endorsement really matter?

DIONNE:  Well, as your question suggests, newspapers are not like party bosses of old.  They don‘t necessarily deliver votes, although Edwards really did get a boost into second place out of that endorsement.  I think this is very important for Hillary Clinton for two reasons.  One, she is in some very rough waters and this is kind of a life raft.  It breaks the flow of a lot of bad news.  And that‘s just helpful by itself.  But the second thing is your story suggested is the paper made the same argument that she is using in closing this campaign against Barack Obama, which is he‘s more inspirational, but she, the paper said, is more ready to be president.  She really needed this now.  It doesn‘t mean she‘s going to win the caucuses, but it would have been a very—she‘d be in a very bad situation if it hadn‘t gone in this way.

STEWART:  So, bottom line, it is helpful at this point for this particular candidate at this stage in her game?

DIONNE:  Precisely right.

STEWART:  Senator Lieberman said the sound bite saying none of the Democrats asked for my support, John McCain did.  So, who does that say the most about or who does that say the most of that?  The Democratic field, Senator Lieberman or Senator McCain?

DIONNE:  I think first it may say most about Democratic primary voters.  I think no Democrat asked Joe Lieberman to endorse them because Joe Lieberman these days is not all that popular in the Democratic base because of his strong support for President Bush‘s policy in Iraq.  I think it does say something about a very longstanding friendship between John McCain and Joe Lieberman.  They‘ve worked together on a lot of things, including global warming.  They do agree on the war.  I thought it was fascinating to hear Joe Lieberman talk about himself as an eccentric uncle.  It will be very interesting in the next Congress to see what Democrats are going to make of Joe Lieberman.  They desperately need his vote.  In this Congress, they have is a one-vote majority, that‘s Joe Lieberman‘s.  This will probably cause some upset in the caucus.  Harry Reid who generally says nice things about Joe Lieberman, the leader of the Democrats, said he wasn‘t very happy about this one.

STEWART:  So, I don‘t know who sits with whom at the Senatorial lunch table, like the cafeteria in high school, but you know, you mentioned the relationship between John McCain and joke Lieberman.  But Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have been in the Senate for an awful long time.  Why wouldn‘t they court their colleague‘s vote?

DIONNE:  Well, again, I think when you‘re looking at, for example, an Iowa caucus electorate which is not only strong Democrats but a particular slice of strong Democrats, most of those folks are very, very much opposed to the war in Iraq.  They are the sorts of people who may well have given money to Lamont, Joe Lieberman‘s opponent in the primary in the last time in his Senate race, so I think they didn‘t ask him because they weren‘t sure the endorsement could help him.  It could help McCain in New Hampshire particularly among independents who can vote in the New Hampshire primary.  And it will help McCain‘s toughness on foreign policy credentials with some Republicans.

STEWART:  So, he did well to get that clean slip of endorsement from the “Des Moines Register,” “Boston Globe,” a New Hampshire leader.  I do want to point out thing - eight out of nine of the “Des Moines Register” editorial board while the women which led to grumbling of the selection of Senator Clinton might have been due to gender bias.  And I interviewed the executive editor of the “Des Moines Register,” Karen Washburn in NPR this morning and I asked her about that.  She said she knew the board would take a hit.  But she pointed out largely all male editorial boards have been picking winners and losers all along.  Is she right?

DIONNE:  Well, you, if some people would say gender bias, other people might say gender solidarity.  You know, Hillary - one of the selling points for Mrs. Clinton is that she would be the first woman elected president of the United States if she won.  I suspect that this group of folks who are basically a group of fairly progressive women would have a lot in common with Hillary Clinton.  So I don‘t think that‘s shocking.  We don‘t complain when men endorse men on editorial boards, as she suggested.

STEWART:  E.J. Dionne of the “Washington Post,” thank you very much for your time tonight.

DIONNE:  Thank you.

STEWART:  If nothing else “The Register” endorsement is proving to be an excellent distraction for the Clinton campaign after last week‘s off the wall criticism of Senator Obama‘s youthful and indiscretion forced an adviser to have to actually leave the campaign.  But, if any memos went out declaring Senator Barack Obama off limits for a while, the candidate‘s husband, former President Clinton didn‘t get the memo.  On PBS Friday night, President Clinton told Charlie Rose that not only is his wife more qualified to be president but that voters who pick Senator Obama would be, quote, “Rolling the dice about America.”  As for how Mr. Clinton went about doing this, I believe the phrase is damning with faint praise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR U.S. PRESIDENT:  Obama is a person of enormous talent.  You know, staggering political skills.

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST:  Ready to be president?

CLINTON:  Well, the voters have to make up their mind, but what I‘m

saying is -

ROSE:  Will you sit in the office?

CLINTON:  Yes, but what I‘m saying is in my experience, what I know about the job and what I know about the world—and I‘ve been in 90 countries since I‘ve been out of office—I want a president next time who has a good vision and has great programs but understands that even vision and programs don‘t necessarily change people‘s lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  President Clinton is pretty clear that Senator Obama is the only candidate with which he has concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSE:  Is Joe Biden ready to be president?

CLINTON:  Absolutely.

ROSE:  Is Chris Dodd ready to be president?

CLINTON:  I think he‘s ready.

ROSE:  Is Bill Richardson ready to be president?

CLINTON:  I think all of them - all right, let me just explain it this way.  I think all of them know enough and have made enough decisions including a few mistakes, which I think is good.  I want somebody to be president who has made a few mistakes.  I don‘t want somebody who has never made a mistake and never had to correct one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now on the “Today Show” this morning, David Gregory tried to get Senator Clinton to explain what her husband meant by rolling the dice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I would ask people to read the “Des Moines Register” editorial.  Basically, what they said is that we need a proven leader.  We have tough times.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  But rolling the dice, what is rolling the dice mean?  We know what “The Register” said.

H. CLINTON:  Well, but I think that that‘s one of the principal cases

for my candidacy.  You know, if you want to know what changes I‘ll make,

look at the changes that I have already made.  Everybody talks about change

everybody talks about change in this campaign, some people think you get change by demanding it.  Some people think you get it by hoping for it.  I think you get it by doing really hard work.  And a lot of people are making up their minds among real candidates, not abstractions, not hypotheticals.  I welcome that scrutiny.  I welcome that kind of, you know, examination of our records, our experience, our qualifications; our vision for the country.  That‘s what elections are about.  You know, this is the way elections are as you move towards decisions.

GREGORY:  All right.  So, you‘re choosing not to answer that question. 

Let me ask you another issue on -

H. CLINTON:  Well, no, wait a minute.  No, wait a minute.  I am making a case for my candidacy.

GREGORY:  But your husband, but Senator Clinton made a clear statement

-

H. CLINTON:  I have strong supporters and I have editorial support.  Well, you know, I think that voters will have to judge us.  And that‘s what I welcome.  I invite people to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Let‘s bring in now our Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening.

STEWART:  In a politics, you know, it is common to get a surrogate to go out there and throw an elbow or two for you.  Is President Clinton playing bad cop to his wife‘s good cop or he just standing by his woman?

FINEMAN:  Well, he‘s doing both at the same time.  Hillary‘s got some new ads and some new campaign themes that emphasized the personal side.  Her mother, her daughter, the softer Hillary, if you will.  Meanwhile, a lot of people around her in her campaign, including her own husband, are trying to say that you just can‘t trust Barack Obama, that he‘s a roll of the dice, that he‘s had some youthful indiscretions, that he‘s not been tested.  He‘s an enormous talent, as Bill Clinton said, damning him with faint praise.  That‘s all the game plan.  That‘s exactly what they‘re doing and they have to do it because they‘ve got to slow Barack Obama down, who‘s been on a roll of those dice for the last few weeks.

STEWART:  Yes, let‘s break that down a little bit.  What does it tell you that he focused his criticism so specifically on Senator Obama?

FINEMAN:  Well, it tells you that they are desperate to keep Obama from winning the Iowa caucuses.  They would even accept or prefer a victory of John Edwards, who‘s very much in the ball game in Iowa.  They can‘t afford to have Obama win, because if Obama wins, the New Hampshire primary is only four days later.  And the momentum of Iowa will almost certainly carry him to victory in New Hampshire, then Hillary Clinton is really, really deep in it.  She‘d have a hard time winning any of the early four contests.  And don‘t forget, until a couple months ago she was considered the prohibitive front-runner.  So, they have no choice but to attack Obama, to raise fears and concerns about him.  That‘s where their campaign is.  Now, she didn‘t want to say that directly on “The Today” show despite David Gregory‘s you know, heroic efforts to get her to say it directly, but she implied it very strongly.  She said read the “Des Moines Register,” et cetera.  That‘s where they‘re campaign is now.  It‘s really not about Hillary.  It‘s about Obama.

STEWART:  I don‘t mean to sound super cynical so I would only go sort of cynical.  I wonder if this has been focus group as a planned campaign strategy to go after Obama or do you think the former president was just shooting from the lip on Charlie Rose?

FINEMAN:  They don‘t need a focus group.  When you‘re staring at the desperate need for survival, you don‘t need a focus group to tell what you to do.  They had to go after Obama.  Hillary had a terrible few weeks starting with that Philadelphia debate and the whole business about driver‘s licenses, with the thing with Bill Shaheen, the guy in New Hampshire who raised questions about Obama‘s use of drugs as a young man.  She was dropping in the polls in state after state, especially Iowa and New Hampshire.  Obama was being treated like a rock star, especially with the tour that he did with Oprah Winfrey.  He was hot, he was moving.  He may still be.  They didn‘t need a focus group to know that they had to go on the attack and that‘s precisely what they‘ve done in the last several days.  And that‘s what they‘re going to keep doing even as Hillary herself and her ads are all warm and fuzzy.

STEWART:  Big picture, does the interview like the one that President Clinton gave on Friday help the senator?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think - I‘m of the school that it helps her.  Because she needed somebody to get the attention focused on Obama, and whatever concerns or weaknesses he may have.  Bill Clinton called it a roll of the dice.  And that‘s a phrase that‘s going to stick around and probably help Hillary Clinton.

STEWART:  Our own Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine.  Nice to see you Howard, happy holidays by the way.

FINEMAN:  Same to you, thank you.

STEWART:  Now, here‘s something we haven‘t seen in the race so far.  Two candidates defending President Bush, if not his policies.  And showdown in the Senate.  Breaking news on the FISA Bill, Senator Dodd apparently instrumental in getting it pulled until the new year.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  President Bush defended by a GOP candidate while man‘s best friend is not getting any love from certain red states.  Senators running for the presidency and the current occupant of the White House appeared poised to get exactly what he wanted from a Democratic Congress until the FISA Bill just got yanked.  That‘s all ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Huckabee sounds a little bit like a restaurant chain.  It‘s also the title of that freaky David Russell indie movie.  Even former White House counselor, Dan Bartlett made fun of the congenial former Arkansas governor for president.  He said Huckabee?  You got to be kidding.  That was then.  Our fourth story is now.  In the COUNTDOWN to 2008, laugh it up, GOP, but Mike Huckabee is the man of the hour and that means he‘ll be dogged by past problems literally, as in problems with dogs.  More on that in just a minute.  First, to Mike Huckabee, part pastor, part populist, no killer campaign machinery behind him, but suddenly ahead in the polls and a threat to the rest of the pack.  This weekend, Huckabee became the favorite target of fellow Republicans.  Among them, Mitt Romney who‘s spending millions on Iowa to lock in a caucus win.  Romney spending the weekend urging supporters not to let the Hucka-bite spoil a victory there and seeing a chance to paint Governor Huckabee as unpatriotic and disrespectful of the presidency.  Romney added a new chant, to his campaign mantra, Huckabee dished the president.  Here‘s the back story.  Governor Huckabee wrote in a conservative journal quote, “American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up and reach out.  The Bush administration‘s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad”  And unquote.  For that, Romney and others demanded an apology.  Here‘s Mr. Romney on MEET THE PRESS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s an insult to the president, and Mike Huckabee should apologize to the president.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  This is what Romney said about Iraq however in September of this year. OK, well, first of all, it is a mess.

ROMNEY:  Well, it is a mess.  There‘s no question.

RUSSERT:  That‘s not a reflection on George Bush?

ROMNEY:  If you‘re suggesting that it‘s a equivalent to say that we made a number of errors and that we have a very difficult situation in Iraq, that‘s the same as saying the president is arrogant and bunker mentality?  That‘s where he went over the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  To which Mr. Huckabee parried quote, “I think he needs to read the article.  It would really help if he would do that.  Because if he did, he would see that there‘s no apology necessary to the president.”  Another instance possibility of blow back for MEET THE PRESS, Governor Romney said he was endorsed by the NRA when he ran for governor of Massachusetts.  He wasn‘t.  And he was peppered with questions about his years as a missionary of the Mormon Church.  He was 31 years old before black people were allowed to join.  Got a bit emotional about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I was anxious to see a change in my church.  I can remember when I heard about the change being made.  I was driving home from, I think it was law school, that I was driving home, going to the fresh pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept.  Even at this day, it‘s emotional.  And so, it‘s very deep and fundamental in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Joining us now to talk about the ‘08 race on the Right, we get an attempt to candidates, too.  MSNBC analyst, Pat Buchanan.  His latest book is “Day of Reckoning - How cumbrous, ideology and greed are tearing America apart.”  Nice to see you, Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to see you, Alison.

STEWART:  Mike Huckabee goes where no other Republican candidate seems to go.  He criticizes the president and rails about outrageous CEO salaries.  So, what is he tapping into here?  Is he reading your book?

BUCHANAN:  Well, he may have listened to some earlier campaign, but I think it‘s very smart.  Mike Huckabee at least has been reaching the idea that a lot of middle class folks is really, really have been treading water in the Bush economy and their wages haven‘t gone up and we‘ve lost 3 million manufacturing jobs.  And Alison, you can read every day in local papers about plants shutting down.  Huckabee has tapped into that economic populism and his social conservatism.  And it is something like what we ran on in Iowa and New Hampshire.  It‘s even more potent a message today.

STEWART:  Mike Huckabee hired Ronald Reagan‘s old campaign manager, Ed Rollins.  You know, in Huckabee‘s campaign, he portraits sort of genial face of conservatism in campaign coverage, a really good communicator.  Do you think his politic was be endorsed by Ronald Reagan?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, Ronald Reagan was a man for his time.  He was a strong anti-communist.  And that issue is gone.  But I do think Reagan reaches individual people.  And he did it—he‘s got an emotional bond with them.  And then Huckabee seems to have with people which is a very, very powerful thing in a campaign.  Cold candidates rarely win.  And Mike Huckabee is a guy who can communicate not simply with words but with sentiments and feelings.  And I find it very effective.  Look, Mike Huckabee is a in a position now.  They can call him anything they want, but he can win this Republican nomination, Alison.  He‘s got three aces.  He‘s ahead in Iowa; he‘s ahead in South Carolina and Florida.  If he wins Iowa, he will lose New Hampshire, but the showdown state is South Carolina.  If he wins that, he would win Florida, and I don‘t see anybody beating him then.

STEWART:  So, it‘s a domino effect if this thing really gets going in.

BUCHANAN:  Well, momentum that the domino effect is vitally important.  For example if Romney wins Iowa, I think Huckabee sort of deflates.  Romney will then win New Hampshire; he will then win Michigan and he will be favored in both South Carolina and Florida.  So I think it‘s—however, there‘s one other guy who finally loses in Iowa and goes to New Hampshire and he gets beat, he‘ll be beat not by Huckabee but by John McCain, which would suddenly make it a McCain/Huckabee race in South Carolina.

STEWART:  Well, let‘s talk about those two gentlemen.  Mitt Romney claimed that the NRA endorsed him and that he was a hunter, then he backed off and said he just shoots varmints.  What do you make of Romney‘s sort of selective memory on this issue?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don‘t find a real problem with the NRA thing.  I mean, he ran against Teddy Kennedy, I would have thought I got the endorsement, too.  So, I don‘t make too much of that really.  I thought the larger issue that Governor Romney has been defending himself very well on is just what you had on there and that‘s his Mormon faith.  And let me say this, Alison, I do think when Americans see somebody beaten up when he‘s defending his religion, he tends to be a sympathetic figure.  And my guess is, even though folks might disagree with that tenets of his faith, they say there‘s a guy standing up for it.  And I think he‘s done that very well.

STEWART:  Finally, I‘ll get to this news of the weird category.  There‘s been this weird press about Republicans and dogs, man‘s best friend, true Americana, Mitt Romney tied to the top of the family car when he was a kid.  He and his wife worked for a company that used puppies for medical research.  And this “Newsweek” piece that says that Huckabee‘s son was kicked out of Boy Scout camp for hanging a dog.  He says he regrets that but the animal was sick and when he put it out of its misery.  What‘s with the dog stories and the GOP, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  There goes the best in show part of our coalition.  But I‘ll tell this, I haven‘t heard Alison that they‘ve waterboarded any of them yet.  But I don‘t think this is going to be very helpful frankly with the folks down there at the humane society.  But you have to take each case as you will.  I mean, what Mike Huckabee‘s son did was a terrible thing, it sounds like.  But it‘s not Mike Huckabee‘s fault that that happened.  As for Seamus, the dog on top of the car, they said he enjoyed the 10-hour trip to Detroit.

STEWART:  All right.  Don‘t mess with those animal rights activists, let me tell you.  MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, thanks, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  OK.  Thank you.

STEWART:  Moving on to some of the true horrors lurking out there. 

Will someone please tell Michael Jackson Halloween was over?

And, the row down in South Korea.  Lawmakers getting so rowdy that cops are called in to restore order.

Those stories ahead but first: Back to our own government and the latest in the current administration‘s long list of deeds of daring do not pretend you‘re not doing this, we‘re watching you.  Number three:

Waterboarding-gate.  The Department of Justice newly heading by the man who could not say whether waterboarding is torture in his new confirmation hearings informing the House Intelligence Committee that he‘s instructed the CIA not to cooperate with the Congressional hearing into the destruction of  their waterboarding case.

And number two: Visitor log-gate.  A judge striking down the White House contingent that it‘s visitor logs showing that fine like Jack Abramoff regularly visited Bush and company for a private presidential record.  Ruling instead that such evidence is a matter of public record.

And number one: Gonzo-gate.  Barely two days after the American Bar Association put him at the top of their article titled—Lawyers of the Year, they‘re retracting that saying in a clarification, they merely meant Gonzales as the top newsmaker of the year, not the top lawyer.  Among the runners up for that big prize?  Mike Nifong and Monica Goodling.  What did Shakespeare say?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Welcome back.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  Exactly 38 years ago, singer Tiny Tim married his fianc’e  Miss Vicky on “The Tonight Show”.  30 million tuned in to watch it.  Well, the writers strike is still on so no “Tonight Show” tonight.  You can watch reruns or set your TV on right now so you can watch this later.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in South Korea where, for the second time in a week, lawmakers turned into brawl-makers.  One party literally blocking the other one from entering the legislature.  When the excluded party started climbing through the windows and pushing through the crowd, the  police had to come break it up  using riot shields and fire extinguishers to disperse the rowdy pols.  That‘s somebody‘s tax dollars in action.

A much kinder kind of drama unfolding near our own legislature this afternoon: a bird invaded the Senate press gallery as media-types waited for a  news conference from Senator Dodd.  One journalist tried to bond with the birdie, feeding it by hand.  Another ended up with some poop on the head.  The culprit, resisting all attempts to be caught by big net on a long pole, eventually escaping out of an open door to freedom. 

That little diversion not taking away from what happened on the floor of the Senate: the FISA bill pulled at least until 2008. 

Does even “American Idol” doesn‘t want her on the show?  So, does that mean that Britney Spears is finally done?  Those stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World”.  Number three, best reason to stay out of an Indonesian rain forest: the giant rats of New Guinea.  Scientists in the region found a reason to pop out discovered the rats by accident.  The critters just walked right into  camp because they‘re apparently not afraid of humans.  The rats are five times bigger than  ordinary city rats but, unlike their urban counterparts, they are required to pay full fare on the uptown 6 train.

Number two, best source of outside income: Eunice Lopez of Hialeah, Florida, was married to 10 different dudes at the same  time.  Police believe Lopez, a legal U. S. resident, would marry illegal aliens for cash.  She‘s been arrested and charged with bigamy.  No word on the fate of her 10 blenders, 10 night sets, and ten fondue pots.

At number one, best attitude in a case of mistaken identity: Anne Hathaway of Orono, Maine—that‘s spelled A-N-N-E—was shocked to read her own obituary in the “Bangor Daily News”.  The obit was supposed to be for Ann Hathaway,  spelled A-N-N, no E.  Both Hathaways had made arrangements with the same funeral home and they pulled the wrong file.  The living Hathaway took the mistake in stride.  She said, quote, “I went to the pearly  gates and opened the door and they didn‘t have any strawberry shortcake and they didn‘t like the way my hair looked.” 

As for the chick who starred in “The Princess Diaries”, pretty sure she is not going to be buried in Bangor, Maine, any time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The next time anyone tells you no one can make a difference in Washington, that no one person can get anything done, tell them about what happened today.  In our number three story tonight, the senate began debating a bill that would strip you of the right to sue phone companies for eavesdropping on you. 

President Bush is pushing to give blanket immunity to any phone company that agreed to let the government listen in on  phone and track e-mail traffic passing through its lines without going through the special top secret courts known as the FISA courts.  It is far more than a legal battle for several reasons.  One, the three dozen lawsuits against phone companies offer  one of the only ways America can hope to find out exactly what Mr. Bush has done.  Two, immunity for the phone companies could set a precedent for other companies assisting  the government in certain activity, such as renditioning. 

Democratic presidential candidates oppose immunity, but when the FISA debate began today, only one had left Iowa to fight the battle in Washington.  Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster as long as he could to block the immunity provision from the overall FISA bill which is intended to bring the government‘s electronic eavesdropping within shouting distance of constitutionality.  Despite the absence of other candidates, Dodd did get help on the floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The president said that American lives will be sacrificed if congress does not change FISA.   But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity.  No immunity, no FISA bill.  So if we take the president at  his word, he‘s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies. 

SENATOR CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Don‘t tell me the legal departments of AT&T and Verizon didn‘t know what the law was.  Of course, they knew what the law was.  To suggest that, somehow, first year law students are pro bono operation here advising them is, of course, phony on its face.  They knew exactly what the law was, as the Qwest company did when they said, “No, give me a court order, and I‘ll comply.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Tonight, Senate Majority Leader                Harry Reid, unable to move the bill forward, pulled it from consideration for now.  The fight will start up again next month, just one month before the current FISA law expires.

From the date today—the debate today, excuse me—is Sam Seder whose show airs on Air America Radio.  Hi, Sam. 

SAM SEDER, CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Alison.  How are you?

STEWART:  Flesh this out for us a little bit, this immunity issue. 

Why is it so important to both sides?

SEDER:  Well, for those people who  believe in the constitution and  believe that the government  shouldn‘t have an unfettered right to spy on Americans, the idea that a corporation would go along with this plan and not be  subject to any type of oversight from the courts is absolutely contrary to every American principle.  And for those on the other side, frankly, I have no idea other than some type of notion that we need to bow down to George Bush  as some type of king or that the corporations have the ability to do whatever they want and profit on lawbreaking.  

STEWART:  I think, they would say they need to do it to enable the NSA to get the job done, to be able to track communications that  would make the country safe.  I think, that would be their argument? 

SEDER:  Well, Alison, they can get a court  order.  They can get a FISA court warrant to do all those things.  

STEWART:  The House already passed a version of the FISA bill without immunity, so why didn‘t Harry Reid just follow suit and debate the senate version that also didn‘t give immunity?

SEDER:  Look, you have a tremendous amount  of pressure from the Washington establishment and from, frankly, from the media establishment.  People like Joe Klein from  “Time” magazine, “The Washington Post” editorial board saying that somehow Democrats would be weak on national security if they don‘t allow these lawbreakers to spy on us illegally.  And, so I think he capitulated to that, but, thank goodness, that activism and American people rising up were able to essentially rally around one principal politician and, for the moment, we were able to stop this retroactive immunity.

STEWART:  Senator Dodd did get help from Senators Kennedy and Russ  Feingold, but to sustain a real classic overnight filibuster, he needed  as many allies as he could get.  So why didn‘t his supposed allies, Senator Clinton, Obama, and Biden, return from Iowa to help him?

SEDER:  Well, they said, they supported the filibuster, but you‘re right, they should have returned to Iowa.  And, again, all I can say is thank gosh that we had one principled politician who was willing to stand up and thank gosh we had hundreds of thousands of Americans grassroot activists who were willing to contact the Senate and tell them, you cannot pass this retroactive immunity.  We cannot have lawbreaking be granted a blanket amnesty.

STEWART:  The numbers were not in Senator Dodd‘s favor.  Only 10 Democrats voted against culture(ph): you‘ve Boxer, Hearken, Kerry.  Why so few?

SEDER:  Like I say, you have the Washington political establishment and the media establishment telling them that if they do this that the narrative is going to be that Democrats are somehow letting Osama Bin Laden run through everybody‘s house or something.  The fact of the matter is we have a perfectly legitimate process in which people can get warrants and there‘s no reason to condone lawbreaking.  If there was no lawbreaking, there‘s no reason to have  immunity.  

STEWART:  With 76 senators voting for the protection and the NSA‘s broad reliance on private companies—telecommunications companies—for help in the sector, shouldn‘t the companies get some kind of protection in some way?

SEDER:  Absolutely not.  Senator Dodd said this very well.  He said, “Look, these people have lawyers.  They have attorneys.  They know what the law is.  And so, there‘s no reason for them to get immunity.  If they did nothing wrong, then let the courts adjudicate it.”  

STEWART:  So, what happens between now and January?

SEDER:  Hopefully, we‘ll see more activism, more of the American people rise up and  say, “We are not going to give a president with a 24 percent favorability rating, someone who is trampling over the constitution, free rein.”  

STEWART:  Sam Seder of Air America Radio.  Thanks, Sam. 

SEDER:  Thank you, Alison.

STEWART:  Extreme makeover - Michael Jackson edition.  Never has a trip to the bookstore looked so very odd.

Get your scorecards out.  We‘ll have the latest details on the whirlwind on-again-off-again marriage-divorce of Pam Anderson tonight the way the specs(ph) gave to Paris Hilton  Please say it‘s going to work out.  All that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Michael Jackson seems to have his holidays mixed up.  Halloween is in October, silly.  It‘s dueling divas night—Spears, Lohan, Paris—how could you even think about anything tonight?  Up next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In our number two story tonight, “Keeping Tabs”: Michael Jackson proves that the Christmas season is no impediment to reliving Halloween.  Just look at this picture, people.  This shot, taken in a Las Vegas  book store over the weekend, where Michael Jackson appears to have tried to use band-aids to hold his lips on his face?  Or was it a Jolene moustache  bleaching gone wrong?  Or maybe, he was waxing it up and  forgot the rip off the paper?

That‘s all I‘ve got, people.  As far as I‘m willing to go and considering we‘re talking about Michael Jackson here: tmz.com says that Jackson had all three of his kids in tow, obviously, not pictured in here.  And, it looks like Jackson bought himself a book on dragons because dragons like grown men with adhesive on their faces.

To flights of fancy of another variety: the marriage of Pam Anderson and Rick Solomon.  She of “Playboy‘s” spread and “Baywatch” fame and he of sex tape-making fame.  Hard to believe, but there was breathless reporting that Ms.   Anderson had filed for divorce.  The 72-day marriage is a third for both Ms.  Anderson and Solomon.  But don‘t count ‘em out yet.  At 1:49 p.m., tmz.com confirmed that Ms. Anderson petitioned to end their marriage on Friday on spousal support.  At 3:59 p.m.—two hours and ten minutes later—tmz.com reported the divorce was off. 

But if three is not quite the  charm, maybe it is also not the curse.  A so-called source telling TMZ that even though the couple had  a huge fight, now it‘s all cool.  And Anderson is saying on her website that they are, quote, “working things out.”  And that could mean just about anything in their case.

Paris Hilton‘s special Christmas wish—shockingly enough, not for peace and stability for Rwanda, nope.  She wants a different stocking-stuffer, as in a m-a-n.   And it‘s a special diva throwdown at the top of the COUNTDOWN tonight.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest diva train  wreck of them all?  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it does seem that as the year  ends, there‘s competition for  this title between Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.  On this particular day, call it a toss-up.  Well, you can decide, but since her disastrous performance and  questionable costume choice at the Video Music Awards, Ms. Spears has found a way to look good on stage: the magic of video.  Her latest for her new single “A Piece of Me.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITNEY SPEARS (singing):  Oh yeah, oh yeah,

I‘m Miss American Dream since I was 17

Don‘t matter if I step on the scene

Or sneak away to the Philippines,

They still gonna put pictures

of my derriŠre in the magazine.

You want a piece of me?

You want a piece of me.

STEWART:  “The Daily Telegraph” suggests that Ms. Spears went on the digital re-mastering diet where an editor‘s way to clear you all.  But as she may look in the new video, apparently not enough for “American Idol”.  That show‘s  executive producer Nigel Lythgoe telling tmz that he would have had Ms. Spears on his show last year but not now.  Quoting here, “Britney, at this moment in time, I don‘t think is well enough to do anything.  I think she should pull herself  together.”

“Pull herself together” like, Paula Abdul?  And, hey, didn‘t she go on that video diet thing back in the ‘90s?  I remember “Promise of a New Day” people.  Meanwhile, Ms. Spears‘ allegedly on-again-off-again crush music producer J. R. Rotem has now hooked up with Lindsay Lohan to work on Lohan‘s new album.  But, a dinner date has spawned obvious rumors and, if he‘s looking for a daddy figure, who could blame La Lohan?  Her father Michael will participate in a live Nativity scene in New York‘s Times Square tomorrow, playing Joseph.  Yes, you heard me. 

Which brings us to Paris—Hilton that is.  She recently checked into the  Hilton in London, that is, with 12 bags, also according to TMZ.  And, she says that for Christmas, all she wants is, quote, “a man to fall in love with.”  So, he can carry her bags—we added that part.  Let‘s bring in comedian Christian Finnegan, also a contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever”.  Hi, Christian!

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN AND CONTRIBUTOR TO BEST WEEK EVER:  Hi, Alison!

STEWART:  So, Ms. Spears‘ video “Piece of Me”, she‘s looking good. 

Could it be a Christmas miracle? Could she be back on her game?

FINNEGAN:  Oh, she‘s on her game but, let‘s be honest, it‘s not the world‘s most complicated game, is it?  Kind of like peek-a-boo or who‘s got your nose.  But she did make it through a video shoot without incident so, let‘s give credit where credit is due: her pharmacist.  

STEWART:  Let me tell you, I like that you look at the  bright side of things.  But you have to enter in Mr. “American Idol” producer man who seems to suggest that Ms. Spears is not mentally aware, shall we say?  Is he a caring music mentor or  an evil music industry type?

FINNEGAN:  I don‘t know, but can we stop treating the “American Idol” guy like he‘s the King Solomon of  popular American music?  Hey, hey, listen up, Nigel: the only thing different between you and the guy who runs karaoke night at Hula Hans(ph) is you don‘t have to hand out the songbooks and mention the drink specials.  So, let‘s get off the high horse, OK bloke?  

STEWART:  OK, we‘ve spoken about her profession so let‘s just go personal: Ms. Spears not faring any better in her custody battle with Kevin Federline.  Is there some kind of inverse  relationship between Ms. Spears‘ sort of re-emerging career and her pretty much disintegrating personal life?

FINNEGAN:  Yes, it does sometimes seem that  every spot on the pop charts represents one canceled family dinner at mommy‘s house.  But can you blame her?  Have you ever spent time around children, Alison?  They‘re awful.  They‘re needy, they‘re boring, they can‘t hold their liquor.  You‘re telling me, you wouldn‘t trade that for a prime seat at the “People‘s Choice Awards”?  I guess not.

STEWART:  You make a point.  To Ms. Lohan: then, it‘s a matter of let‘s jump to her father here.  Because, we got a press release saying her Dad was going to be honored  to play the biblical character Joseph, but Christian—no pun  intended, that is your real  name—can you wrap your head around the father of a car-wrecking rehab-going sort of child star who hasn‘t made a movie in dog‘s year playing the father of Christ?

FINNEGAN:  I‘ll admit, it does sound tacky until you realize that it is just part of Fox‘s hit new reality show, “Nativity with the Stars”.  That‘s right.  They‘ve got Latoya Jackson as the Blessed Virgin.  They have Daniel Baldwin, Terry Bradshaw, and the “Mambo Number Five” guys, the wise men and, for  Baby Jesus, I‘ll say, there‘s an offer out for Verne Troyer.  

STEWART:  I don‘t know, I think it‘s got to be Zac Efron for that one, I think.  This almost makes Paris Hilton seem  quaint in her settle to search down.  Lohan going out with Britney Spears‘ ex, “the father thing”.  She says all she wants is a man  to fall in love with for her life, that she can, quote, “start a family with.”  You think Hilton‘s ready to become a mommy?

FINNEGAN:  Well, I think she‘s ready.  The question is, will Paris remember to put the stork on the VIP list for whatever crappy nightclub is paying her to  drink that night?  As you know, most upscale clubs have a strict no stork policy, a fire code thing.  

STEWART:  All right, as Christmas is approaching, who is naughty and nice out of this list?

FINNEGAN:  Well, I‘ll say, all three of them, obviously, they don‘t really fear getting coal put in their stockings because, if TMZ has taught us one thing about these women, they‘re not wearing any.  

STEWART:  Case and point.  Christian Finnegan, comedian and regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Thanks, man.

FINNEGAN:  Toodles.

STEWART:  And that will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  You can catch me bright and early on NPR‘s “Bryant Park Project”, every weekday morning at 7:00 a.m.  Eastern.  Check npr.org for details.  Thank you so much for watching.  Our coverage continues now with  “MSNBC LIVE” with Mr. Dan Abrams.

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 MSNBC.  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 MSNBC 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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