updated 5/2/2005 2:21:16 PM ET 2005-05-02T18:21:16

Guests: Abbie Finfrock, Jody Cabot, Stanley Usovicz, Larry Jones, Jennifer Palmieri, Peter Beinart, Carl Pope, Tony Perkins, Robert Bennett

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most.  So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  The president goes prime time and President Bush proposes limiting the future growth of Social Security for some Americans.  Is that bold idea the idea that will save his biggest domestic priority or assure its destruction from the Democrats?

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, where no passport is required and only common sense is allowed. 

In his first prime-time press conference in a year, the president tries to jump-start his Social Security plan with a sliding scale benefit formula, but will Republicans even follow that solution, and, if they do, will they be attacked come election time?  We will be debating it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And the president goes from saying he can‘t do anything about gas prices to confronting the high price of gas.  He goes on to say he wants to sign a new energy law by summer.  But does he have the votes for drilling in Alaska?  I‘ll tell you what.  That‘s going to be a big part of the debate.  And we will get at that hot one when we continue. 

Plus, the war of politics and faith.  The president wades into the controversy with a surprising answer.  We are going to be talking about all of that tonight with our all-star panel. 

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH

COUNTRY. 

Tonight, the president took to the national airwaves in a prime-time conference to jump-start his agenda.  And the president said some things that may make Republicans very nervous. 

With me now, live from the Capitol, is a man who is responsible for keeping the Republicans in line on the Senate side, Senator Robert Bennett. 

Senator, thank you so much for being with us. 

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT ®, UTAH:  My pleasure.

SCARBOROUGH:  Obviously, you are very important to the Senate whip operation.  How do you think your fellow Republican senators are going to respond to the president‘s address tonight? 

BENNETT:  Frankly, I think they will respond very, very favorably. 

I have been touting this idea of blended benefits, blended indexing of benefits for a long time.  It was first proposed by Senator Moynihan, a Democrat, then altered by Robert Pozen, who testified before my committee.  We have looked at it in the committee.  And, basically, it means that those at the upper end will not get any cut in benefits.  As the president said, everybody will get as much benefits as they would get under the present plan, but the acceleration of their past payments for inflation will be tied directly to inflation, so that the people at the very top will get an exact inflation number, and the people at the bottom will get a little better than inflation, because they need it more. 

I think it‘s the right thing to do. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, already—Senator, already, the Democrats are on the attack. 

BENNETT:  Well, sure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois talked about how this was means testing, how it was going to hurt not just rich Americans, but middle-class Americans.  Can we expect a repeat of what happened in 1983, when Republicans tried to reform Social Security, and 1995, when Republicans tried to reform Medicare? 

BENNETT:  Well, I would hope that the American people are a little smarter than to listen to Dick Durbin on this. 

He was one of the ones who said—I remember his speeches very, very vividly on the floor of the Senate—there is no problem.  The president is trying to create a problem.  Well, the president has won that battle, and an overwhelming number of Americans now say they understand that Social Security has a problem, and it‘s a genuine problem.

But the president hasn‘t laid out specifics of what he would do until tonight.  And I think the specifics that he laid out are very clear, whether Senator Durbin wants to listen to them or not.  He said no one will receive less benefits than are promised now.  The poor will receive sufficient benefits to keep them out of poverty.  And no one who is afraid of a personal account, afraid to lose it in the stock market or afraid it will go to Wall Street big fees, has to have one.  It‘s entirely optional. 

And I can‘t think of anything more reasonable, and I am not surprised that Dick Durbin doesn‘t like it, but I think it was the right thing to do, and I think the president made some ground tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Senator Robert Bennett, chief deputy whip of the Republicans in the Senate, thanks for being with us tonight.  I know you have got your work cut out for you in the coming weeks.  Best of luck. 

BENNETT:  We are about to go vote, and when we do, we will pass ANWR. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you, Senator. 

BENNETT:  You bet.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, tonight the president also jumped into the angry battle over his judicial nominations and the politics of religion.  Here‘s a part of that exchange. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I don‘t ascribe a person‘s opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.

QUESTION:  Do you think that‘s an inappropriate statement?  And what I ask is...

BUSH:  No, I just don‘t agree with it.

QUESTION:  You don‘t agree with it? 

BUSH:  No.  I think people oppose my nominees because of judicial philosophy.

QUESTION:  Sir, I asked you about what you think of...

BUSH:  No, I know what you asked me.

QUESTION:  ... the way faith is being used in our political debates, not just in society generally.

BUSH:  Well, I can only speak to myself.  And I am mindful that people in political office should say to somebody, “You‘re not equally American if you don‘t happen to agree with my view of religion.” 

As I said, I think faith is a personal issue.  And I take great strength from my faith.  But I don‘t condemn somebody in the political process because they may not agree with me on religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Here to talk about that issue is Tony Perkins.  He‘s, of course, the president of Family Research Council. 

Tony, I guess you can take credit for that question-and-answer exchange in a prime-time presidential press conference.  Some people are already saying that the president is distancing himself from you, from James Dobson, and other remarks that were made at that conference, the justice conference, over this past weekend.  How do you respond? 

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Well, Joe, I don‘t see it that way. 

I mean, I think what‘s happened here, it‘s not us, it‘s not the

president that has interjected religion into this debate.  It‘s a handful

of Democrats that have been leading this filibuster.  And it‘s senators

like Charles Schumer who have questioned the ability of certain candidates

to be judges, like William Pryor and Leon Holmes based upon their—quote

·         “deep personal beliefs.”

And that goes back to their faith as Catholics, in Bill Pryor‘s case, that, because of his position in his religion, is subscribing to tenants of that faith, that he would be opposed to abortion.  And that‘s wrong.  Shouldn‘t be that way.  These candidates should get an up-or-down vote.  And if that were taking place in the United States Senate, we wouldn‘t be having this discussion. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, I thought the president just on that part—there was other parts of this press conference where I think he struck out, but on the part where he talked about the up-or-down vote, when he talked about fairness, when he said it wasn‘t about religion, it was about fairness, I think the president scored big.

But let me ask you this.  Obviously, the White House and Republican leaders like Bill Frist have been taking a lot of heat because of what you all put in your pamphlet, advertising that conference.  Given all of the things that happened over the past week, do you regret some of the words that you all said leading up to the conference? 

PERKINS:  Oh, absolutely not. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And on the stage of that conference? 

PERKINS:  Absolutely not. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not at all? 

PERKINS:  Not at all. 

In fact, we said very specifically as we began that conference that we never said or would we say the people that oppose us are not people of faith.  We didn‘t say that.  What we said is there is a pattern that is emerging through a handful of these candidates, candidates that have been filibustered.  And it‘s because—and, again, I quote Charles Schumer, because of their deeply held personal beliefs.  That‘s wrong.  It shouldn‘t be that way. 

These candidates deserve an up-or-down vote.  They can vote against them, but they should vote.  And the president deserves that, and the American people deserve that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Tony, some people in your organization have said that Pat Leahy, of course, a Democratic senator who is leading the fight against a lot of the president‘s nominees, Pat Leahy may not hate religion, may not hate faith, but he certainly hates people of faith.  Do you agree with that? 

PERKINS:  Well, there is a pattern, again, that is emerging that somehow—well, let me be real clear, Joe.  I mean, you have seen the hatred and the anger that has been generated because we dare raised the issue that they were—that this pattern was emerging, as if people, evangelical Christians and pro-life Catholics, did not have a voice in this process. 

I mean, the fact that we had that event Sunday night, which was viewed by millions of people around this country, that somehow we are less of citizens and shouldn‘t be involved in the process.  We have every right to be involved in the process.  We have every right to speak to these issues, and we are, we will, and we will continue to do that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Tony, I wrote that in my blog today at Joe.MSNBC.com, how amazing it was that “The New York Times” never minded when Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or John Kerry or others talked about Democratic politics in liberal churches, but when conservatives start talking about Republican issues in churches, suddenly, we are on the cusp of a theocracy. 

(CROSSTALK)

PERKINS:  And the reason is because there seems to be more people that subscribe to these value-oriented positions that evangelicals and pro-life Catholics embrace.  That‘s why. 

I think you look at the—kind of on the liberal side, where you had Bill Clinton and John Kerry go.  They are not as, I think, adept in being involved in the process.  They don‘t see it through.  But, Joe, what is encouraging about this past election is that—you know this, that, historically, evangelical Christians get geared up, ramped up for elections.  Once the elections are over, they pack up and go home. 

Well, I have got news for people who are concerned about evangelical involvement.  They didn‘t pack up.  They didn‘t go home.  They are here.  They are going to see this process through.  They voted for this president based upon his commitment to protect marriage and based on his commitment to get strict constructionist judges onto the bench who will not legislate from the bench, but simply interpret the law according to the Constitution.  We‘re not going away.

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you what, Tony.  Evangelicals don‘t seem to be going anywhere, conservative Catholics also very energized, and also some orthodox Jews also getting very energized in this process.

PERKINS:  Absolutely.  And we‘re working together. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tony Perkins—all right, Tony, thanks a lot for being with us.  We greatly appreciate it. 

Let‘s go right now to Pat Buchanan.  He‘s our MSNBC senior political analyst. 

Pat, how did the president do tonight?  Score it. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the president did well in this sense.  He was very energetic.  He was engaged.  He was authentic and sincere.  He is not a deeply eloquent man, in the sense that, say, anchors are at TV networks.

But, Joe, I think he‘s—he was embattled.  He was engaged.  And on an awful lot of the issues, you take Iraq, you take Iran, the North Korean missiles, the economy, gas prices, Social Security, the president has been spending his spinning his wheels.  He is in what I have called the slew of despond here.  And I think he‘s sort of fighting his way out.  I don‘t know how well he succeeded. 

I tend to agree with you.  Tomorrow, the demagogues will be out on that Social Security answer, and I am not sure how the Republican troops will stand up there on Capitol Hill. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, I know how they will stand.  They will stand behind the president, and they will run for the exits of the Alamo. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s called the tall grass. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  It is the tall grass. 

And I will tell you what.  When you say means testing in Washington, D.C., you clear out a room faster than any other way. 

Pat, stick around. 

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We are going to continue talking about the president‘s press conference with our all-star panel. 

And coming up next, we have the president of the Sierra Club in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  I am going to be asking him about the president‘s plan for the environment. 

Stay with us.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  How did the president score in his prime-time press conference?  Well, we got more to come with our all-star panel in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  What I‘ve laid out for the Congress to consider is a comprehensive energy strategy that recognizes we need to be better conservers of energy, that recognizes that we can find more energy at home in environmentally friendly ways. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That was President Bush earlier tonight talking about the increasingly hot topic these days of the environment. 

With me now to talk about it is the president of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. 

Mr. Pope, thanks a lot for being with us tonight. 

Obviously, the president‘s environmental plan, very important for this administration.  Insofar as it affects gas prices, probably the political hot potato today, how would you score the president tonight? 

CARL POPE, PRESIDENT, SIERRA CLUB:  On gas prices, a zero, on looking towards the future, a zero, on saving taxpayers dollars, a zero, and on saving consumers money, a zero.  The problem is...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Sounds like my high school report card. 

POPE:  Well, it might be.

But the fact is, it‘s a sad fact.  Americans want to move forward.  It‘s the 21st century.  Americans understand that Americans have invented new energy technologies that we should be investing in and relying on.  But the president‘s campaign contributors want to go back to the 19th century and the 20th century, and he hasn‘t shaken them off his back yet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Carl, when I start talking about alternative energy sources, talking about how we should be investing in that more than paying royalty relief to oil companies, going after, as you say, 19th century means to get energy, people say it‘s just too hard.  It takes too long, that we aren‘t making any progress on alternative fuel sources.  What do you say to them? 

POPE:  Well, I say that, when people in Colorado, when farmers in Colorado get a chance, they build wind turbines with steel made in America, and they can provide electricity to people in Denver without having tankers come from the Persian Gulf. 

When Americans invented solar cells—they were invented right here in the United States, Joe—and we then let that technology be deployed by other countries, but not by Americans.  I think we are letting ourselves down.  And, frankly, if folks in New Hampshire would rather have less leaky windows than have a liquefied natural gas terminal off their coast, I think folks in New Hampshire ought to have the right to make that choice. 

And I think it‘s kind of ironic that this president in his second term seems suddenly to have discovered that, on energy, Washington knows best.  I don‘t think Washington knows best.  I think the American people know best. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, let‘s talk about Alaska. 

Obviously, there are a lot of people up in Alaska that want drilling in ANWR.  Tonight, the Senate is going to be voting on that.  We heard earlier—I am sure you heard Senator Bennett say that he thinks they have got the votes to pass that tonight.  What do you say?

POPE:  Well, they might have the votes to pass it tonight, but they don‘t have the support of the American people.  The American people overwhelmingly understand that when you say that the only plan you have for America‘s energy future is to destroy one of our most beautiful places, it‘s time to think more broadly. 

It‘s time to have some imagination.  It‘s time to show some leadership.  The fact is, we could save as much oil as might be in Alaska just by inflating our tires.  Think about that.  Just by inflating our tires, we could save more oil than the oil industry says is there in Alaska.  The real answer is, how are we going to kick our Middle Eastern oil habit?  By becoming a 21st century energy innovation nation, not a 19th century energy consuming nation. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Carl, thanks a lot for being with us. 

Obviously, increasing how many miles per gallon our automobiles get will go a long way to solving a lot of these issues.  Hopefully, Washington will talk about that. 

I am rejoined by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri, also the editor of “The New Republic,” Peter Beinart.

Peter, rate the president tonight.  How did he do?

PETER BEINART, EDITOR, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  I think he did pretty poorly, because he has one big central problem.  Most Americans don‘t like his idea on Social Security. 

This new modification, this new wrinkle doesn‘t change that.  You know, Bill Clinton once said, I am going to end welfare as we know it.  That‘s what President Bush is essentially proposing on Social Security.  Privatization is essentially ending Social Security, will lead to ending Social Security as people know it, creating something new.  And people don‘t want that. 

They like Social Security.  It has been—whatever you think of government programs more generally, it has been just about the most effective government program of this—of the 20th century, and people don‘t want to see it privatized. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, what‘s interesting, Peter, is that the president was talking about that he‘s been out talking to the American people, that the American people understand there‘s a need to save Social Security.  But from every single poll I have seen, the more the president goes out there and talks about it, the less support he gets from the American people.  Explain that. 

BEINART:  Well, I think it starts with the fact that his proposal doesn‘t do anything to save Social Security.  That‘s the big bait and switch here. 

Privatization—you don‘t help save Social Security when it‘s got a long-term budget deficit by taking money out of the system that you then have to pump back in by enormous wants of borrowing.  And I think most Americans have figured that out.  It won‘t be hard to save Social Security, to push it forward, its solvency for another 50 years.  It‘s in better shape than it was in 1983 when they did it.

But it will only come after privatization is gone.  The two parties will get together.  They will make some modifications.  No one will love the modifications, but this program will go on and people will be happy with it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer, tomorrow morning, the Democrats—well, actually, it‘s already started tonight, Democrats like Dick Durbin, senator from Illinois, already attacking the president‘s means testing.

Of course, what means testing is, for those of us you that don‘t know it, for those of you who are under 55, 60 years old, means the more money you make, the less money you get from Washington, D.C., when it comes to Social Security benefits. 

Will Democrats jump on the president‘s means testing proposal tomorrow as a cut in Social Security benefits? 

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, it is a cut in Social Security benefits. 

It‘s—what the president essentially means is that if—somebody making $58,000 a year is going to get their benefits cut by 42 percent.  So that is, I think that the president, I mean, as Peter pointed out, he just took a bad idea and made it worse by adding means testing on top of it.  And I think the reason you see Democrats holding so tough and so firm on being against the president‘s privatization plan—and I presume that most people will not embrace means testing either—is because, fundamentally, this really—this isn‘t a political battle for them. 

It‘s an ideological one.  They are trying—what the president is proposing and it‘s dismantling the program.  And the American people, they have seen it.  They understand it.  They heard about it for 60 days and think it‘s a bad idea. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, we could debate all night on whether the president is trying to dismantle Social Security or save it.  I think Republicans say he is trying to save it.  Democrats would say dismantle it, but let‘s dig a little deeper here. 

Karl Rove, obviously a very bright man, a great tactician for the president.  He has got to know.  The president has to know that they are losing this Social Security battle.  And the idea of rolling out a means test as a way to save this reform project doesn‘t seem to make a lot of sense to me.  It just seems like you got a ship that‘s sinking, and you have just knocked three more holes in the side of it. 

BUCHANAN:  But, Joe, you have got to move beyond the personal accounts the president does and get specific. 

Now, in my judgment, what he proposed is quite realistic, in the sense that nobody is going to lose anything, for the simple reason that this is indexed for the cost of living or everybody, however, for prices, but that poor people are going to continue to get it indexed for wages, which means their income is going to go up. 

That‘s very tough to explain.  I do agree with you in this sense.  I think it‘s in real trouble.  Republicans aren‘t going to take any higher taxes.  The Democrats are going to take no cuts in benefits, and the president has got to have his personal account, so I think where we are at, Joe, it doesn‘t look to me like it‘s going to fly.

But when we get down the road, and the Democrats have obstructed it and killed it, in effect, and we get nothing, then I think the president gets a political whip hand in 2006, saying we all know it‘s in trouble.  I tried to do something.  I didn‘t succeed.  Get rid of these guys. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Peter, do you agree with that? 

BEINART:  No. 

I think the president has come forward and staked, basically, his second term, the beginning of his second term, at least, on a very unpopular idea.  The problem is, the Republicans misinterpreted the election result.  They won this election because of national security.  That was the reason they won. 

As they have moved away from that, as—in a weird way, Bush is—

George W. Bush is being hurt by his success.  We are doing better in Iraq.  It‘s off the front pages.  People are focused on domestic issues.  On domestic economic, the Republican Party does not have a mandate from the American people.  It‘s just that simple. 

They are in touch with the American people on national security. 

They‘re not in touch on economics, and that‘s why they are getting killed. 

BUCHANAN:  Joe, let me add right there, if I could.

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer...

BUCHANAN:  The place where the president really ought to go on the offensive—and he started tonight—is the judges war.  This is of vital importance, of course, to the Christian conservatives, but the vast majority of Americans want conservative judges.  They would like a fair vote. 

They believe judges should get a vote.  I think he has got to go to war with the Democrats and beat them again and again on these judges to regain his momentum.  I agree with Peter to this extent.  There‘s a lot of areas where the country—you know, it‘s the high gasoline prices.  The economy looks like it‘s flopping around a bit.  He has got one big winner here.  If I were him, I would drive on that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer, I agree with Pat that I thought the president‘s high point tonight was saying, you know what?  This isn‘t about religion. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  This is about fairness.  These judges deserve an up-or-down vote.  I think that‘s something that the American people can really relate to.  Even if you disagree with the judges, give them the vote on the floor.  What do you think? 

PALMIERI:  Well, but what we see in polls is that that‘s not where the American people are, that they are supporting what the Democrats are trying to do in holding firm on—against the president‘s judges.

And I think it‘s because what they saw on Justice Sunday and other things that the religious right has done to promote these judges.  And they see religion being used as a tool to divide in politics, and they are very uncomfortable with that.  I think the president was smart to backpedal and sort of—and walk away from what some of the religious right have done in trying to sell judges and saying, if you don‘t agree with me, you are not a Christian. 

But the truth is that the American people are with the Democrats on this, and I think that Bush has got a lot of ground to make up before he can convince people that his judges are actually going to be—are actually going to be a good thing. 

BUCHANAN:  He has got the votes, Joe.  Go ahead and get the vote.  I mean, do it.  If he will do that, I mean, all this nonsense about people—when people see—you know, they don‘t think it‘s a nuclear option that a judge should simply get a vote in the United States Senate. 

I mean, Democrats have rejected Bork.  They rejected Carswell,  Haynsworth, the others.  Let them vote on these fellows.  They don‘t like them, see if they can get them rejected. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know what?  That‘s going to be the winning issue for the president, fairness.  Just give them up-or-down vote. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, thanks for being with us. 

Peter Beinart, as always, thank you.

And, Jennifer Palmieri, we greatly appreciate you being with us tonight. 

We‘ll be right back in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Georgia law enforcement officers and bloodhounds continue their search for the 32-year-old woman that disappeared just days before her wedding.  We are going to bring you the latest press conference that just ended minutes ago. 

But, first, let‘s give you the news that you and your family need to know.

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Just outside of Atlanta, a massive search continues for the missing bride to be, Jennifer Wilbanks.  She went out for a run Tuesday night and hasn‘t been seen since. 

Just minutes ago, the pastor who is scheduled to preside over her wedding talked to the assembled media. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN JONES, PASTOR:  Many of you have been asking me questions throughout the past two days.  And, at the request of the family, I have not spoken.

But I did want to share with you that they have been in routine premarital counseling with me for the past three months.  They are very much in love, just crazy in love.  I have never seen a couple any more crazy about each other. 

We met at 5:00 on Sunday afternoon in my office and had a great time, joked around, talked about what we would be wearing to the rehearsal dinners and things like that, and very excited about the wedding.  In fact, I have not been in the office since Tuesday, and their ceremony is laying right on top of my desk.  So, it‘s been a very emotional time for all of us.

And as a pastor that‘s been with the family continually for two days, I wanted to share with you, first, their appreciation for the media in getting it out there, because we still have high hope.  We trust in God, and he is watching over Jennifer.  And they want to say thank you for that. 

But when your cameras are rolling, you are only seeing people coming out of the house.  And you may see them laughing, and you are going, I don‘t understand that.  But I have grieved with many people in my years of ministry.  And there‘s a natural process.  What you don‘t see is when I walk in the house and there‘s 15 people sitting there in total silence, no TV on, not knowing what to say, or when I walk in the house and there‘s anger, or when I walk in the house and they are embraced and weeping and sobbing. 

They are going through a natural grieving process.  I have never seen two families bond any closer and handle this any better than they have.  But they are real people.  Jennifer has a real mom and a real dad who is in a lot of pain.  And if you feel as the media that they have lashed out or anything like that, please understand their pain. 

If there were a known abductor that they could focus and channel their emotions toward, you know, that‘s what they would be doing.  But they have nothing right now.  So, we just want to ask viewers to keep us in your prayers, keep John and Jennifer in their prayers. 

And we have faith that she is OK.  And we are going to see her.  We are going to have a wedding on Saturday. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, let‘s certainly hope so, certainly a sad, tragic situation.  Obviously, we are going to continue following this story in the coming days and weeks.  And let‘s just hope and pray that everything does turn out all right for the family. 

Now, this summer, Hollywood is playing homage to the television classic “Bewitched,” with a new movie, staring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell.  Of course, the original “Bewitched” starred Elizabeth Montgomery as a beautiful, good-natured witch named Samantha.  I grew up watching “Bewitched” all the time. 

Also this summer, the 17th century town of Salem has a witch coming to visit.  A 9-foot statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, perched on her broom, is scheduled to go up on the very same block the famous witch trials were held.  And guess what?  There‘s some people out there not too happy about that. 

With me right now is a Salem witch proprietor of a witch shop, Jody Cabot.  We also have with us the mayor of Salem, Stanley Usovicz.  And we also the president of TV Land, Larry Jones. 

Larry, let me begin with you. 

When did you come up with this idea of this 9-foot statue of witch Elizabeth Montgomery? 

LARRY JONES, PRESIDENT, TV LAND:  Well, it‘s been in development for quite some time. 

It‘s an ongoing process of a series of landmarks that we have throughout the United States.  We started with Ralph Kramden here in New York City, and then Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Bob Newhart in Chicago, Andy Griffith in North Carolina.  And Samantha Stephens was our next initiative.  And what better place than Salem, Massachusetts, we thought. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And tell me, Stanley, Mr. Mayor, what is your take of this? 

STANLEY USOVICZ, MAYOR OF SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, I think it‘s a great idea and I am truly pleased that we have been selected.  Clearly, Salem is a tourist town and we depend upon that.  And the recognition that will be afforded to us is just tremendous, really. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Mr. Mayor, you understand a lot of people may be upset by this? 

USOVICZ:  Well, I think so.

But I also believe that, in a city like this, that has such a deep and grounded history, that there‘s more than enough room for popular culture and contemporary art. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jody Cabot, what is your problem with this statue?  It seems harmless enough.  It‘s a comedy making light of witches.  Why does this bother you so much? 

JODY CABOT, WITCH:  Well, I think that I love the idea of the movie. 

It‘s a lot of fun, but, of course, it‘s not real life. 

First of all, I would like to ask the mayor, how does it benefit the people who call Salem their home, and how does it benefit the children?  Our school system is one of the worst in the country.  They don‘t have enough money for crayons and paper.  They can‘t make macaroni necklaces for their family.  I mean, how is this statue going to benefit the people that live there?

And we are probably going to be paying taxpayers‘ dollars for policemen to guard it, because I am sure it will be defaced by our teens, who have no place to go. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mr. Mayor. 

USOVICZ:  Well, actually, I think Jody is incorrect on the educational front. 

(CROSSTALK)

CABOT:  Oh, I know that I am not.  You are not only speaking to a real live witch.  You are speaking to a teenager who went to Salem High School.  My mother took me out at sophomore year. 

USOVICZ:  Well, it has changed.

CABOT:  It has not changed, because I am a mother of a child.

USOVICZ:  It has changed a great deal. 

CABOT:  Absolutely no. 

And I am surprised at you.  Shame on you, Mayor. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Let the mayor respond.  Go ahead, Mr. Mayor.

CABOT:  Mayor of crazy town here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mr. Mayor. 

USOVICZ:  Well, we are also a tourist town. 

CABOT:  Oh, you better believe it, thanks to the witches. 

(CROSSTALK)

USOVICZ:  That much, I recognize. 

CABOT:  Oh, I am glad you recognize it.  That‘s how you make your living. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jody. 

CABOT:  I‘m sorry. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Jody, you are going to have to let the mayor talk. 

Go ahead, Mr. Mayor. 

USOVICZ:  Thank you, Joe. 

CABOT:  Sorry. 

USOVICZ:  Clearly, this statue, I think again, is whimsical.  And I think that... 

CABOT:  Whimsical. 

USOVICZ:  ... it demonstrates that we are a tourist center.  To be thought of in the same breath as New York and Minneapolis and other areas of the country that attract people I think is just a tremendous boost to the city.  And I look forward to seeing it and unveiling it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Larry Jones, did you expect to start this type of dust-up when you proposed putting this statue in Salem? 

JONES:  No, not really.  You know, I think that every time a public works of art go out into the marketplace...

CABOT:  Art? 

JONES:  ... it‘s—that it‘s difficult for the entire community.  You never get 100 percent buy-in.

But I think that the majority of the communities we have done these in definitely the—I believe that the majority of the community in Salem is very excited about this statue, and is very supportive of the statue.  And I think that it will bring additional notoriety to the town.  And, you know, ultimately, at the end of the day, it‘s just a great statue to a pop icon of something that we have all experienced in television. 

We grew up with this character.  When you walk down the street and you see any of these other statues and when you walk down the street and you see this statue, people are just going to look up and they‘re going to smile.  It‘s going to put a little bit of more happiness in people‘s day as they walk by.  It‘s really just there to remind people of the fact that it is just TV after all, and it is kind of fun, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, that‘s what I think.  In the end, that‘s what it all comes down to is, it is a lot of fun.  Thank you so much for being with us, Jody Cabot, Mr. Mayor and Larry Jones.

And I will tell you what.  I for one can‘t wait to see Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell in the movie this summer.  I think it‘s going to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. 

Coming up next, a young Washington intern making headlines tonight.  We are going to talk live to the other D.C. intern coming up next, talk about why she is causing such a stir in the nation‘s capital. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome back. 

You know, the Monica Lewinsky affair almost brought down President Clinton.  And a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle get a little squeamish when you start talking about interns. 

Well, there‘s another intern who was out there this past couple months writing a story today about how young impressionable interns all over Capitol Hill are being hit on by men old enough—I know this will shock you—to be their grandfathers. 

Here to tell us about her firsthand experience as a Washington intern is Abbie Finfrock, whose story of dirty old men in Washington, D.C., made headlines today in “New York Daily News.” 

Abbie, thanks a lot for being with us tonight. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABBIE FINFROCK, FORMER WASHINGTON INTERN:  Thanks a lot, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, tell us about your story.  You go to Washington.  You are 20 years old.  And, all of a sudden, you find out that there‘s some grandpas around there whose hearts are not pure. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINFROCK:  Well, I mean, I decided to do the story just because there‘s a general consensus around D.C. that young women my age do get hit on by older men, and not just men in their 30s, but men in their 50s and 60s. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And so give us a couple of examples that you talked about today in your story that you saw firsthand and also that your friends always have to deal with every day. 

FINFROCK:  I mean, it happens—it does happen every single day.  It happens at a variety of places, from the train station to restaurants and bars to various work situations.  It happens everywhere. 

I mean, there‘s not—there‘s tons of specific examples.  I mean, you can be sitting at a bar and you will have drinks brought over to you by somebody.  And you will look over, and he will be in his mid-50s or 60s, and you will say, oh, thank you.  Thanks for extending out your reach. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks, granddad.  Really appreciate it. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you have any Geritol that I can mix up in my drink? 

What do you think drives this in Washington, D.C.?  You don‘t see 65-year-old men in Manhattan going up to 20-year-old women.  What—why is D.C. so different?  Why can you go into bars and restaurants and see senior citizens trying to pick up college students? 

FINFROCK:  I think it‘s a power issue.  I think that there‘s obviously a lot of power in this town.

And, to go along with that, there are a large majority of 20-year-old women in this town who are very susceptible to that power.  They want to be a part of it.  And that‘s why it‘s accepted, and which makes it easier for these men to prey on them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was just going to say—and, again, in some instances, I don‘t know if the old men preying on the young women is always accurate.  Sometimes, it‘s a mutual hunt. 

FINFROCK:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was going to ask, though, don‘t you think the fact that these 65-year-old men are still trying to buy you drinks and other young women drinks, don‘t you think that shows that, sometimes, they are actually successful at what they do? 

FINFROCK:  Oh, absolutely.  I absolutely think that they are successful.  And I think that that is what drives it.  They know that they are successful.  They know that there‘s women out there who will accept it.  And so they keep doing it.  It‘s a behavior that it‘s probably never going to stop.  It‘s just how Washington is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, I love the end of your story.  You wrote in there that, before you left for Washington, your 50-year-old father warned you about something.  What was it? 

FINFROCK:  He warned me about the men.  He did. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINFROCK:  I didn‘t want to believe him.  I brushed it off, thought it was a joke.  And here he was.  He was right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you going to come back to Washington and work later on? 

FINFROCK:  I don‘t know if I will work here, but I will definitely be back in Washington. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks a lot.  We greatly appreciate you being with us tonight. 

FINFROCK:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Abbie Finfrock, thanks for giving us insight on something that a lot of us, unfortunately, already knew about. 

Hey, I am going to be in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, not hanging out in bars, looking at old men trying to pick up young women.  We are going to be doing something a lot more important.  We will be right back with our latest SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY campaign to keep your kids safe. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  For details on our SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY campaign to keep our kids safe and to read my latest blog on the president‘s press conference, check out our Web site at Joe.MSNBC.com.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, as you know, we‘re in a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY campaign to protect our children from sexual predators, especially repeat sexual predators. 

We received hundreds of e-mails this week from parents who are scared and angry. 

Marty wrote in and said: “If we can plan a launch to Mars and budget for that, I bet we can write one database for those predators.  Let‘s get our priorities in order.”

And you know what, Marty?  That‘s a great point.  We just passed a $2.6 trillion deficit budget in the House tonight. 

We also got this from Pam in Houston.  She says: “Martha Stewart wears an ankle bracelet.  Sex offenders do not.  What does this say about the judgment of our courts?”

And Laura from Texas writes in and says, “Politicians in both parties need to stop fooling around and start addressing issues in this country that affect the people they were sent to Washington to represent.”

And, of course, as you know, I am going to be heading to Washington tomorrow, so you still have time to have your voice heard.  Please send me an e-mail.  I am going to take it to Capitol Hill.  The address is Joe@MSNBC.com.  And we are going to demand that lawmakers make our kids their top priority, that they strengthen Megan‘s Law, that they track sexual predators for life, and that they keep up a nationwide database of sexual offenders. 

I‘m also going to be talking to two men who tragically lost their young daughters to sexual predators.  Mark Lunsford, he, of course, is the father of Jessica Lunsford.  And we‘re also going to be talking to Richard Kanka, the father of Megan Kanka.  Also, we are going to be joined by Ed Smart, whose daughter survived her abduction.  And we are going to find out what they think needs to be done to protect America‘s children. 

And I will tell you what.  It is so important that Washington is smart in how they protect our children.  We are not talking about teenage romances.  We are talking about older men and women that prey on young children.  We have got to focus our resources. 

We‘re going to have that and much more tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

But don‘t go away.  Right now, we have got a special edition of “HARDBALL” coming up next.

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

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