Guests: Adam Putnam, Lynn Sweet, Steve McMahon
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Welcome to the show.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales‘ former chief of staff testified before Congress today. His sworn statements were more a whimper than bang, on substance, anyway. Even Democrats in charge of the hunt for criminal wrongdoing said Kyle Sampson‘s words offered no smoking gun.
But the day‘s questioning did result in a damning description of the attorney general, who had previously stated that he was not involved in the firings of those eight now famous federal prosecutors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYLE SAMPSON,, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO
GONZALES: I don‘t think the attorney general‘s statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate.
I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign. And I...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: So, at the very least, it appears that the attorney general of the United States didn‘t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That‘s the way it looks from this vantage, anyway.
To discuss that troubling account of the nation‘s top law enforcement official, as well as Karl Rove‘s possible role in all this, Rove‘s role in last night‘s entertainment at the correspondents dinner here in Washington, and the rest of the day‘s news, we welcome Washington bureau chief for “The Chicago Sun-Times” Lynn Sweet, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
Welcome to you both.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you.
CARLSON: So, I—I have thought from the beginning that, until we find out why these eight U.S. attorneys were fired, and find out that there was sort of wrongdoing in their firings—and I don‘t think we know that yet—this story itself is kind of based on not that much.
I do think, though, Gonzales is in trouble. Here is what he said before, on March 13, at his now famous news conference.
He never—quote—he “never had a discussion about where things stood on the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys.”
Here what is Kyle Sampson, hardly some left-wing operative, his former chief of staff, said today: “The attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning, in early 2005. He and I had discussions about it during the thinking phase of the process and the final phase. Ultimately,” Sampson said, Gonzales “approved both the list and the notion of going forward and asking for these resignations.”
You cannot get clearer than that. Somebody is lying. Who?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”: Here is why this is a big problem.
Look it, the testimony shows that Gonzales probably—people will probably take Sampson‘s word. And I don‘t know why I‘m saying that, except that he‘s this guy—I am saying it because it‘s sworn testimony.
What this does, and why this is trouble for Gonzales, whether or not you believe him, is that it shifts the argument here from why these eight U.S. attorneys were fired...
SWEET: .. to making it just about, did Gonzales tell the truth?
That‘s an argument he won‘t be able to win.
CARLSON: It doesn‘t sound like it.
I mean, it doesn‘t—I—I have to say, Steve, I have no—you know, no partisan axe to grind in this story at all. But Gonzales—why would he come out, on March 13, knowing that this was a snowballing scandal likely to result in subpoenas being issued to people like—like Kyle Sampson; why would he say, at a press conference, I—I did not have a role in this?
Why would he say that?
MCMAHON: He actually went a little further than that. He said, I didn‘t have—I didn‘t see any memos. I wasn‘t involved in any meetings. I wasn‘t involved in any conversations.
And now it looks like there were memos, meetings and conversations.
He was very explicit and very clear. Why he would do it, I have no idea. I mean, this administration has a pattern of thinking that it can say anything and get away with it.
And I think, with the new sheriff in town, with the Democratic Congress, they are going to find that that‘s not going to work as well...
CARLSON: Nancy Pelosi being the new sheriff?
MCMAHON: Well, Nancy Pelosi the Democratic senators who...
CARLSON: I want you to say with it a straight face: Nancy Pelosi is the new sheriff.
MCMAHON: Nancy Pelosi is the new sheriff.
CARLSON: That just cracks...
MCMAHON: And you should call her Madam Sheriff.
CARLSON: That just cracks me up.
MCMAHON: But they are not going to—they are not going to just sit up there and say, oh, OK, if the administration says it, it must be true. They are going to ask questions, and they are going to ask them under oath, and people are going to be held accountable...
MCMAHON: ... for the first time in a long time.
CARLSON: ... Gonzales can‘t keep his job, can he? I mean...
SWEET: I don‘t see how he can, because what you have now is a wedge issue within the Republican Party, where you can‘t even defend him, because this episode also shows that, whatever was happening within Justice, main Justice, they couldn‘t even properly—if you want the most benign version, that maybe he forgot, he didn‘t know, then, if you don‘t even have staff there that could say, Mr. Attorney General, this is what you need to know before you go up on the Hill, that is something that is hard to defend.
CARLSON: I just want to make certain I haven‘t missed something, since we stayed out late last night and all that.
CARLSON: And maybe something dramatic has happened, and I didn‘t catch it. Has the White House offered a detailed explanation for why each of these U.S. attorneys was fired? Have they actually explained it yet?
SWEET: Well, I have not read all the 3,000 e-mails. So...
CARLSON: No. But have they come out and said...
SWEET: Have they done a timeline? No, no. And the ticktock back and forth...
CARLSON: I don‘t get it.
SWEET: ... have a big briefing, where you could go through it? No.
I don‘t know, at this point, though, if that‘s the point. And that‘s the point I made earlier. And that‘s why he is in so much trouble.
Once the attention shifts from the eight U.S. attorneys and the merits of why they were fired, instead of just saying, by the way, they are political appointees, and we want them out...
SWEET: ... leave it at that; now, if you go to the veracity of the attorney general of the United States, and Congress has lost faith in this man, then he has got a problem; the administration has a problem.
CARLSON: He certainly does.
Mike Isikoff at “Newsweek” did something that Democrats, the new sheriffs you just mentioned...
CARLSON: ... didn‘t bother to do, which is to actually read all 3,000 e-mails.
And, in one of those e-mails, he found an exchange between Pete Domenici, the senator from—senior senator New Mexico, Republican, to the Justice Department, in which Domenici‘s staff thanks the Justice Department for—for acknowledging their new candidates to replace David Iglesias as the U.S. attorney there.
The idea here is that Karl Rove was behind the firings.
Let‘s, like, de-escalate, take a deep breath for a second. Is that a big deal? Like, why wouldn‘t Karl Rove be involved in this?
MCMAHON: The irony here is—is exactly that.
The president is free to fire anybody who is a political appointee for any reason, or for reason whatsoever.
MCMAHON: And this is a classic case of the cover-up is what is getting them in trouble, not the crime. And, in fact, there was no crime, because they are political appointees. Now, if they were, in fact...
CARLSON: I can‘t believe you‘re admitting that. I mean, good for you for saying that...
MCMAHON: Well, if...
CARLSON: ... because you are absolutely right. I mean, that‘s true.
MCMAHON: There is only—there is one instance in which it would be entirely inappropriate. And that is if—if it were tied to ongoing corruption investigations...
MCMAHON: ... which no one has been able to demonstrate so far. If that were the case, then it would be entirely inappropriate. But...
CARLSON: Then what the hell is wrong with these people? Why not—why didn‘t they—these people being this administration—why didn‘t they just come out, day one, and say, look—exactly what you just said?
SWEET: Well, they didn‘t learn—they never learned the lessons of all the Clinton scandal years, which is, when you have a—when you are in a big controversy like this, you get all the bad news out. You get it out fast. Do the document dumps and have briefers.
You know, that was the role of Lanny Davis, you know, the master scandal, master of disaster, in the Clinton era. And at least they knew, if there was bad news to be told, they were able to tell it on themselves, which at least gives you a little handle on the situation.
SWEET: Never learned—Bush White House never learned that kind of lesson.
CARLSON: That‘s—you are clearly right.
The other thing they—they didn‘t learn from the Clintons, the Clinton people—I mean, I was in the middle of this. I watched this for eight years. They had a scandal, they would get the—some of the documents out.
But then they would have people like Carville come out on television, yes, yes, yes, you know what I mean, and make the case, counterattack.
MCMAHON: What was that?
SWEET: Wow. What a face.
CARLSON: I worked with him for many years.
CARLSON: I can—I can do a better imitation, but not on the air.
CARLSON: But the point is, they counterattacked. They made their own case. And I haven‘t heard a single person from the White House come forward and say, you know, these are the reasons. Those are perfectly legitimate, look right into the camera and say that.
And, until they do that, it‘s impossible to defend them.
SWEET: Well, right now, they probably don‘t know.
MCMAHON: It‘s to late.
SWEET: One—Steve is absolutely right. It‘s to late. And it could be, Tucker, that haven‘t done—they were not in a position to do their own homework, for whatever reason, didn‘t, couldn‘t, wouldn‘t. And, so, they don‘t know what the real story is. So, it would be hard to get a spokesman out there to put, you know...
CARLSON: I guess that‘s right. It strikes me that‘s...
MCMAHON: The other problem that they have here, frankly, is just one
again, it‘s what they said. They went up to the Hill, and they said, no one was fired for political reasons. And that was a pretty clear statement, too.
And, so, in addition to the—to the fairly obvious case of perhaps perjury, you have got—you have got someone misrepresenting motive. And I don‘t think that that would be a perjury claim, but it certainly is a problem for them. And it makes it more difficult for them to now say, well, political reasons are fine.
SWEET: And, also, the idea that they were even doing this Bush loyalty test...
SWEET: ... what a revelation.
It also—I have to say that did make me uncomfortable. I don‘t think personal loyalty ought to be a criterion. But I—it‘s allowed.
As Alberto Gonzales twists in the wind, Karl Rove hums right along. Is the president‘s brain whistling past the graveyard? A key congressional Republican joins us to talk about the real target of the U.S. attorney‘s investigation in Congress.
And the world remembers what Monica Lewinsky did to Hillary Clinton. There is new evidence, though, about what Monica did for the ‘08 Democratic front-runner—the ironic power of scandal. That‘s coming up.
You are watching MSNBC.
CARLSON: Drama on Capitol Hill today—Republican senators delay a hearing about the eight fired prosecutors, after hearing damaging testimony about the attorney general. But is it too late for Alberto Gonzales to save his job?
We have got that next.
CARLSON: President Bush has two congressional crises at the moment, scrutiny of his Justice Department and disapproval of his war policy, in both chambers on Capitol Hill.
Congressional Republicans largely have stood with the president on the war. And he assembled a group of Republican House members today to talk about it.
But his party has not been as generous on the subject of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.
Among the Republicans to question Mr. Gonzales‘ future in office, Republican Congressman from Florida and chairman of the House Republican Conference, Representative Adam Putnam, who joins us now.
Congressman, thanks for coming on.
REP. ADAM PUTNAM ®, FLORIDA: Happy to be here. Thank you.
CARLSON: Why hasn‘t the White House explained, in really clear terms that I can understand, why these eight U.S. attorneys were fired?
PUTNAM: Well, I—you know, first of all, I think that, clearly, these are political appointees. It‘s up to the president.
PUTNAM: They serve at his pleasure.
CARLSON: I agree. He‘s got the right to do it.
PUTNAM: The trouble has been the rollout.
I mean, and it goes back to what you all were talking about on the first segment. You want to believe your attorney general. You want to believe the Justice Department. And the fact that the story changes every 48 hours, with some new document dump, is what undermines the credibility of the department.
CARLSON: But I don‘t even know what the story is.
Like, Iglesias, I—we will start out by stipulating the president has a right to fire him if he doesn‘t like his tie. He‘s an appointee. But I would like to know why he was fired. And why can‘t they just give me, you know, a 400-word explanation for why they fired David Iglesias?
PUTNAM: Well, I don‘t—you know, philosophically, I don‘t think they even have to do that.
CARLSON: Right. No, they don‘t. But, at this point, wouldn‘t you like to know?
PUTNAM: But—but, from the standpoint of what this new scandal is, what it really boils down to is, you know, I think that the Democrat congressional investigators are hoping that they can get a camera shot at some point of Karl Rove standing before the cameras...
PUTNAM: ... with his right hand raised. That‘s really—ultimately, I think that‘s their goal.
And, frankly, again, philosophically, it bothers me, because it‘s taking away from what I believe is a troubling development, which is the FBI‘s complete mishandling of national security letters. But, because that doesn‘t eventually lead to Karl Rove, nobody is paying attention to that. And, to me, that‘s a much, much greater crisis.
CARLSON: So, you are saying the self-appointed sheriffs aren‘t on the right trail?
PUTNAM: Well, that‘s right. The deputies are moving in the wrong direction.
CARLSON: Well, speaking...
CARLSON: Speaking of the lead sheriff in charge, Ms. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, here is what she says about you. And I—I just can‘t—I couldn‘t resist.
This is so—“It is up to Congressman Putnam‘s constituents to decide if he is an effective representative, but a key question to ask is whether his priorities are delivering for his district, helping our troops and veterans, or trying to get his name in the newspaper by resorting to cheap partisan tactics and over-the-top rhetoric. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case”—pretty stout words.
Why is she going after you?
PUTNAM: Well, it‘s pretty stout words from her communications staff.
You know, I—I thought it was kind of a, you know, pretty tough shot our way. She—she understands this business. Frankly, I take great issue with the direction that they would like to take our country, in proposing the largest tax increase in American history, in unveiling a slow-bleed strategy for our troops, in refusing to deal with what, as a young person, I consider to be the greatest generational crisis we face, which is this explosion of entitlements. And their budget does nothing about that.
So, you know, we—we try and hold them accountable for their rhetoric. We try and hold them accountable for their actions. And we have a very different opinion about where this country should be going.
CARLSON: Do you think—do you think her rhetoric is more pointed, hotter, than the rhetoric of previous speakers, when she said, for instance, yesterday to the president, you know, lighten up, or settle down, or calm down, or take a deep breath, or, basically, shut up, buddy?
PUTNAM: I do.
I mean, I think she has a very different approach and a very different rhetoric than—than Speaker Hastert had. I guess some would argue it may not be that much different than maybe what Speaker Gingrich had. So, I...
PUTNAM: I‘m not here to criticize how she chooses to frame her argument, but it‘s a very different style.
CARLSON: The most interesting number I have seen in a long time politically, it was a survey done by Pew, Pew Research. And it found that 50 percent of those interviewed described themselves as Democrats, only 35 as Republicans.
That‘s a pretty dramatic change. And it doesn‘t say anything good about the future of the Republican Party, does it? Do you take that number seriously?
PUTNAM: It‘s a very serious number. And it‘s a very disappointing number.
And part of my responsibility, part of our House Republicans‘ responsibility is to learn the lessons of the last election, when the voters hit us between the eyes with a two-by-four, start talking about the issues that are relevant to Americans, with an eye toward the future, when you talk about these generational issues, about solving the problems of Social Security and Medicare, keeping our country secure, supporting our troops, and—and doing those things in ways that connect with young people and connect with independent voters, who left us in droves in the last election.
CARLSON: I mean, isn‘t the central lesson that Bush is about as popular as chlamydia, and that‘s the problem?
CARLSON: You know, people are mad at Bush. And, so, why wouldn‘t Democrat—why wouldn‘t Republicans, rather, conservative Republicans, distance themselves publicly from the president? There is no shame in that, is there?
PUTNAM: Well, it depends on why you are—why you are distancing yourself.
PUTNAM: If you have some principled disagreement with where the president is going, that‘s one thing.
PUTNAM: But we remain united in our effort to support our troops who are in harm‘s way, as opposed to the Democratic slow-bleed plan.
So, there is an example of where we are sticking together as House Republicans for something that we think is important to the security and safety of our troops, who are out there protecting us day in and day out, and—and pushing freedom out beyond its traditional frontiers.
CARLSON: But, I mean—and I think you made a great distinction. It matters whether the disagreement is on principle or for obviously political gain, the prescription drug benefit, for instance, which is an obvious and pretty dramatic expansion of government. And you said you worried about entitlements, Social Security. That‘s something that your children and mine will be worried about.
If Republicans had stood up then and say, wait, hold on, Mr. President; this is big government embodied; stop; don‘t you think Republicans would be in a better position now?
PUTNAM: Well, I think that, you know, the bridge to nowhere was far more debilitating than a program that is modernizing Medicare and getting prescription drugs in the hands of millions of seniors who did not have access to it, because Democrats had refused to modernize a program that was birthed in the 1960s.
So, we brought it into the 21st century, made it relevant, frankly, put in measures in there for wellness and screening tests and things like that, so that you could pick up diabetes earlier, you can pick up on cancer screenings earlier, you can change your lifestyles, that actually save the government money.
So, it was actually—it was about making it relevant and modern and effective for today‘s seniors. But we lost our way on things like bridges to nowhere. We stopped—you know, we turned out the lights on the ideas factory, and—and weren‘t out there really challenging, with big, bold, innovative ideas...
PUTNAM: ... on energy and health care and these other things.
CARLSON: Yes, or small government. Let‘s try that one. I like that one.
PUTNAM: Well, you know, a reform mentality.
PUTNAM: I think people expect Republicans are going to bring common sense.
PUTNAM: And, you know, there was a sense that we had lost our way on the competency issue.
PUTNAM: That—those are the things we have to rebuild.
CARLSON: All right.
Congressman Adam Putnam of Florida—thanks a lot, Congressman.
PUTNAM: You bet.
CARLSON: The shrinking circle of support for President Bush‘s foreign policy got incrementally smaller again today, as the Senate passed its war spending bill with a withdrawal date attached. Can it get any worse between the White House and Capitol Hill, as the war gets worse again in Iraq?
And the Republican Party turns its lonely eyes to TV in its search for a savior. Washington chatter reaches a dull roar about the presidential prospects of Senator-turned-actor Fred Thompson.
You are, of course, watching MSNBC.
CARLSON: President Bush emerged from a meeting with House Republican leadership and reiterated his vow to veto any war funding bill that contains a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Within an hour, the Senate voted 51-47 to approve just such a bill. And so the stand-off between the White House and Capital Hill got one degree more severe today.
Here to talk about the historic showdown, we welcome back Washington bureau chief from the “Chicago Sun Times,” Lynn Sweet, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. Welcome back.
Steve, it seems to me that if you were—I don‘t mean to be Dick Cheney or engage in cheap rhetoric.
MCMAHON: Are you going to shoot me in the face? Is that what‘s coming down?
CARLSON: Be aware, I mistook you for a deer. It seems to me that if you actually were serving in Iraq and there was discussion of a congressionally mandated timetable, it would be pretty—you would think, what the hell am I doing here? There is no way that you are going to bring stability to Iraq by August of next year and you know that. You would kind of think your mission was pointless. Maybe it is pointless, but feeling its pointless is terrible.
MCMAHON: You might be saying that or you might saying, great, I‘m going to get to go home. I‘m going to get to be with my family. What the hell am I doing over here any way. We are trying to keep peace in a civil war. Look, when the president sent all the troops over to Iraq, he basically said we want to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction; we want to rid the country of Saddam Hussein; and we want to bring democracy to the country. We have done all those things. Now what we are doing is refereeing a civil war.
The Democratic Congress was elected largely because the American people are tired of it.
CARLSON: -- are unhappy about the war. I‘ll grant that point, because that point is right.
MCMAHON: Thank you, Tucker.
CARLSON: That is why they were elected. No, it‘s reality. But if you think the war is unwinnable and a disaster, and we ought to leave, then let‘s leave this afternoon. Why make it—in other words, once you set a timetable for withdrawal for more than a year from now, you still have more than a year of men sitting in Iraq getting killed. If you think it‘s pointless, do it now. What‘s the excuse for waiting?
MCMAHON: You know what, I think there are a lot of people who would like to do it now, Tucker. There are a lot of people in the Democratic caucus. There are a lot of people in the country. But I think the Congress is doing the responsible thing by saying we are going to start withdrawing troops, but we are going to give the president a little more time to accomplish what he says is still possible.
I don‘t happen to believe it‘s possible. And, frankly, it takes a little bit of time to move that many troops out of a theater any way. So, you know, March 31st is maybe not perfect, but it‘s a pretty good place to start.
CARLSON: God, I wonder, Lynn, this showdown is what it appears to be. I mean, it‘s two immovable objects. You have the Congress dead set on setting a timetable. The president will veto it. One thing about Bush, he actually kind of means what he says some of the times. In this case, he means it. You are not going to get funding for the U.S. military? How is this going to end?
SWEET: Well the supplemental—OK, so we know it‘s dead. So the tactical decision for the House Democrats is how do they get money to the troops and still declare victory in their fight to have a timetable. I think that it‘s not as hard as you think, because they have other—they will go into other bills. They will have other pieces of legislation. And they, at least, will have a roll call. Remember, we‘re already in the ‘08 cycle, and the roll call is as important --
CARLSON: The vote?
SWEET: When I say that, I mean the vote. They know who on record is for and against it. I think at some point they might have to do a bill without a timetable in it. It doesn‘t mean that they still didn‘t do what they did. What is also interesting—
CARLSON: So, in other words, just to boil down what I think you‘re saying, they will in the end be satisfied with the symbolic expression of support for a timetable, recognizing they are not going to get it in law?
SWEET: Unless somebody figures out another way, they have gone as far as they are going to do, which is to get the roll calls. They know where people stand. The Democrats‘ position is clear, and they know that President Bush is going to veto it.
CARLSON: OK, we are out of time. We will be right back.
Just about the entire news media assembled in one ballroom in Washington last night. And the talk before dinner was Fred Thompson. Could the “Law & Order” actor swoop in at the end and be the Republican nominee in ‘08?
The Fred Thompson talk was a distant memory soon after dinner, thanks to the hip-hop stylings of Karl Rove. It was surreal, hilarious, maddening, or charming, depending on your point of view. But it was a performance that did define remarkable, and we will remark upon it, next.
CARLSON: The gossip that former Tennessee Senator and “McGuyver” actor Fred Thompson might join the race for president coalesced into a lead story in today‘s “Washington Post.” Thompson‘s professional grade flare for the dramatic and his traditional conservative politics make him the envy of, and significant threat to, the current Republican field. But can he raise enough money to win or build the necessary organization?
To tell us, we welcome back Washington bureau chief for the “Chicago Sun Times,” Lynn Sweet, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. Lynn, I saw Fred Thompson last night. I said, for the sake of the media, please run, please. He wouldn‘t commit. I think the wrap on Fred Thompson is that is he really willing to work for this? It‘s hard to run for president and he has got an unusually great life by the looks of it. Why would he want to run and do you think he has got the energy and the commitment to do it?
SWEET: Well, I can‘t speak to his energy level. But the reason he would run if he got in is that he would see that the field is so weak, in his perception, and the perception of his supporters, that he has a good chance of getting in, even if it‘s a little late. Where he kind of gets a little break if he doesn‘t is that he will escape all the noise around this first quarter fund raising expectation game that‘s being played now, because he could just not be a part of it. He won‘t be into the money primary and he could just go on and, in a sense, start his own chapter fresh.
If he catches on, if the others falter, why not. Look, in a plurality field, which is right now, with no clear front runners, in the way that you have in the Democratic race, or as solid, I could see how it‘s very reasonable to think that you could insert another big name candidate.
CARLSON: It‘s amazing to see this on the Republican side. Typically, this is kind of scenario see on the Democratic side, where it‘s like, well, I‘m liberal, I should be president. You know what I mean? But the Republicans, much more a process of coronation. There‘s kind of older guy who you just know is going to be the nominee.
SWEET: But it hasn‘t happened this time.
CARLSON: Wow, it certainly hasn‘t happened.
SWEET: If that were true, you wouldn‘t have all these candidates out there. If it was a matter of seniority, which it was back in ‘96 when Dole got the nomination, where it was his turn, but now that‘s not how it‘s being played.
CARLSON: Or even in 2000, with Bush, you knew that he was going to get it in the end. I don‘t know that about anybody in this race. Do you see him as a formidable candidate, Fred Thompson?
MCMAHON: Yes. I think whoever the nominee is is going to be a formidable candidate. What you have going on in the Republican party though, for the first time really at least since I have been paying attention, is you‘ve got these ideological litmus tests. So the nomination isn‘t handed to the elder statesman of the party. It‘s not handed to the person that everybody expects to get the nomination.
The reason there‘s an opening for Fred Thompson is because conservatives in the Republican party don‘t believe they have found a candidate who is sufficiently conservative. And so, they are looking for that candidate and they are looking for somebody who can win. Newt Gingrich might be—on the ideological basis, New Gingrich is perfect, but he has a lot of baggage. You know, there are other candidates.
CARLSON: I don‘t know. I see what you are saying, but I also think Rudy Giuliani would not be leading in the state of Alabama if ideology were the main criterion.
CARLSON: There was a “USA Today”/Gallup poll that suggested that Republican primary voters did actually know quite a bit about how liberal Giuliani is and they didn‘t care. Now they may care in the future. I tend to agree with you.
SWEET: This goes to the historical narrative, and that‘s where I think Thompson will have a bit of a problem here, if name I.D. and that. Just think, war hero Senator John McCain. Then Rudy Giuliani, hero of 9/11. Fred Thompson, Watergate lawyer, actor, senator, and Hollywood actor. You leave here to go there. I just think it‘s a little harder narrative for him.
CARLSON: He was on “Macgyver.” That puts him ahead of Mitt Romney, in my view.
SWEET: On the other hand, Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan became president.
CARLSON: Of course, that‘s right. Plus, it would be nice, and we had a GOP Congressman say this the other day our on our air, it would be nice to have a candidate who could speak the language like a native, you know, who could actually communicate.
Speaking of John McCain, “The Hill” newspaper has an amazing story today about John McCain, that says that in 2001, just before Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched parties, and switched control of the Senate, his chief advisor, John Weaver, went to a Democrat in Washington and said, my boss, John McCain, is thinking about switching parties.
McCain has said this is not true. He never really thought about it. But I actually believe this story, that John Weaver did make that overture to Democrats. Does this hurt McCain, do you think, and do you believe this story?
MCMAHON: Well, I don‘t know if I believe the story, but I think it does hurt McCain if conservatives believe the story. He has got enough challenges already. He certainly doesn‘t need this. I think if he were going to become a Democrat or even if he were going to even consider doing anything that might help the Democratic party, he would have been John Kerry‘s running mate. He is clearly a Republican and his positions wouldn‘t exactly be welcome in the Democratic party.
CARLSON: You know what his problem is? McCain is actually not liberal. McCain is pretty conservative. McCain, most people who work in politics full time are annoying and grating and demanding. They‘re kind of awful, personally, as you know, since you live in this world, on both sides. A little more on the Democratic side, but Republicans are very annoying too. And John McCain lets it get to him. He hates them. They drive him crazy.
You know, Jim Dobson and Falwell and those guys, they bug him and he can‘t control himself. Rather than nodding and saying, that‘s right, Reverend. He says, you what, up yours.
MCMAHON: What is interesting about John McCain—I do think he has a little bit of a thin skin problem. He is going to have to control it maybe a little better in order to be nominated and, ultimately, elected president as he hopes. But the interesting thing about McCain is he is not having any fun. It doesn‘t look like he is having fun.
In 2000, he was out there being the authentic guy, the real guy, the genuine guy. And he sort of has adopted all the doctrinaire things about the Republican party, whether it‘s seeking out the endorsement of Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and folks like that, or just towing the line, towing the conservative line. Ironically, he may lose the nomination --
CARLSON: Towing the line?
MCMAHON: -- because he is supporting the president‘s policy in Iraq.
CARLSON: He has never been more—I don‘t even agree with him, but I respect him more than I ever have, McCain, because he actually is, for the first time, a real maverick. Before it maverick just meant he was nice to liberals. Now a real maverick is someone who says something unpopular, that makes him hated. He is out there supporting the war and claiming the surge is working. That‘s unpopular.
MCMAHON: That‘s not being a maverick. That‘s following the president. This is a guy who is following the president into the abyss, and it may be the end of his political career.
CARLSON: I‘m saying, it‘s a pretty manly thing to do. You‘ve got to admit. Because it‘s not helping him. He is doing it because he believes it.
MCMAHON: I don‘t think it‘s a maverick thing to do. A maverick thing to do is what Chuck Hagel is doing.
CARLSON: No, because all the smart people are calculating—on the Republican side—are calculating their responses. They‘re saying, well, on the one hand, on the other hand. McCain is just like no, and running face first right into it and getting just beaten for it.
SWEET: Well, he wants to be the face on the Republican support of President Bush. That could be a bigger problem than anything else, given how the war is the centerpiece in this primary campaign for both sides of the aisle.
CARLSON: Answer this question for me, Lynn, because I actually don‘t understand why: So, the Republican party in disarray. It‘s very unpopular. You just heard me talking to Congressman Putnam. Party I.D. is the lowest I think it‘s ever been. More people are identifying themselves as Democrats. Republicans having trouble fund raising. You can go on and on. The party is in trouble, OK?
Why is it that when you do head to head theoretical match-ups between the candidates actually running for president, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, for instance—You said McCain is in trouble. He‘s not doing well. According to “Time Magazine,” Hillary Clinton gets 42 percent, McCain gets 48 percent.
SWEET: I saw that too.
SWEET: With the negative hits, everything else, that Bush is taking, yet in the trial heat, and that‘s why this “Time” poll is interesting. It shows—So why could it be? It could be in the end that you still have people that might be deemed as having more experience. It might be that Hillary still has baggage. You know, Obama might be too much of an unknown. And by the way, I think Edwards—We will see a little Edwards surge there, coming up on that.
Some of that might be at work. You know, we don‘t have the internals of that poll to really know some of the more specific information that could actually answer it in detail. I think it does show a trend that nothing is going to be as predictable as you think, and that even though the Democrats who run Congress behind us, and they‘re elected, it doesn‘t mean what they do will translate into helping get a Democrat into the White House as a sure thing. That‘s going to be a phenomenon we are watching.
CARLSON: Here is the most interesting fact about Hillary Clinton‘s popularity is explained in this graphic, which I want to put on the screen. These are her approval ratings nationally. Right now she is at 48 percent. She is the Democratic front-runner. In March 2001, when she first won her Senate seat, she was at 44 percent. In 1998, December, the height of the Lewinsky scandal, 67 percent.
The apogee of her popularity was at the lowest point in her life. When people found out her husband cheated on her, they loved her. Nobody has ever benefited more from sexual favors she herself did not dispense than Hillary Clinton. Monica helped her. What is this about?
SWEET: Wait a minute, guys, you can‘t figure out why people wouldn‘t have a lot of sympathy for a woman in that situation? Come on.
CARLSON: She was out there defending her husband. I can‘t even relive all that. I was—
SWEET: And I was covering it too. But Tucker, Tucker, are you saying that you really can‘t understand why people would be sympathetic to a woman in her position at that time given the circumstances?
CARLSON: I‘m sympathetic to her now, but why would they like her more? I mean, I‘m sympathetic to someone who is involved in a car crash but I don‘t want them to be president necessarily.
SWEET: But you are going back to a poll back in ‘98.
SWEET: And at that time I think the answer is why people were very sympathetic, because of the situation. I don‘t think it is a mystery. And that was a very time-specific kind of situation. And of course the ratings go down because time has passed on we are in a different life.
CARLSON: Well, you know what I think it is? Is when people see Hillary under attack, they like her. And when she is not under attack, they don‘t like her so much. So Republicans would be smart.
SWEET: Well, that is more than just an attack.
CARLSON: . not to attack. Well, I know it is more than attack.
SWEET: Come on.
CARLSON: But it was the whole right-wing conspiracy thing. We laughed at it. The public clearly bought it. If the Republican nominee attacks Hillary—assuming she is the Democratic nominee, attacks her directly, I think it is going to hurt the Republicans and help her.
MCMAHON: It may or may not. There is something else that is going on here, and that is, when you are first lady of the United States, whether or not people feel sympathy for you, you are not engaged every day in partisan warfare like Hillary is now.
And what happens is, when you run for president, when you take on popular stands in the United States Senate, when you butt heads with people in the United States Senate every single day, it partisan-izes your favorability ratings.
So if Mrs. Bush were running for president next year, her favorable ratings that she sees today probably wouldn‘t be quite as high next year when she is running for president when she is engaged in a partisan game as they are today. So I don‘t—you know, I think it is interesting and I thought your comment was funny, as so many of your comments are, but I don‘t think...
CARLSON: It is funny because it is deeply true.
MCMAHON: No, no, no.
CARLSON: It is rooted in an eternal truth.
SWEET: Tucker, let me try it this way. Right now .
CARLSON: As unchangeable as gravity.
SWEET: Al Gore, speaking of gravity and Earth, cosmic forces, right now he is doing OK in polling...
CARLSON: Yes, he is.
SWEET: . and all of that. The minute he gets into the presidential race.
CARLSON: I agree with that.
SWEET: . that pedestal kicks out from him and there he is.
CARLSON: That is right. Because he is totally non-threatening.
SWEET: . a mere mortal. You become a mere mortal again, which means that you have to get in the rough and tumble politics, ratings suffer.
CARLSON: Well, we are also not at risk of having him become the actual president. I mean, that would—I think even people who support him don‘t—I mean, they want him to be kind of the president of our hearts but the moment.
SWEET: President of the Earth.
CARLSON: President of the Earth, that is right, exactly right.
MCMAHON: If he ran, let me just tell you something, I talk to Republicans all of the time. The candidate that they are most afraid of is Al Gore. And you might laugh.
CARLSON: I‘m laughing.
MCMAHON: . but it is absolutely true.
CARLSON: But I think that is a, don‘t throw me in the brier patch.
MCMAHON: He was right about global warming. He was right about the war. And if you look at the economy, when he was there with Bill Clinton, it was doing pretty well. There was a surplus. There were a lot of things going well in this country. And I think there are a lot of people who would like to see those days again.
CARLSON: I would.
SWEET: It also means—don‘t you agree, though, that if he got in, all—everything you said is true, but he would be roughed up. Ratings go down.
MCMAHON: Further proving my earlier point.
CARLSON: I covered the guy‘s campaign. He does—he is not going to run and if he does, he will lose, just my prediction.
Hillary Clinton appears to have solidified her hold over the Democratic race for president, but Barack Obama is still clearly in play for a key voting block. Up next, an analysis of the big money and influence of America‘s gay voters.
And there is a kid who sings about as well as Karl Rove, dances like me, essentially, cuts his hair like Nick Nolte in mug shot. And he is well on his way to becoming the next “American Idol.” What does that make Sanjaya? Cable news, it is all on MSNBC.
CARLSON: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vie for the endorsements of labor unions and ethnic groups, America‘s gay voters have yet to announce any unified choice. The gay weekly The Advocate features a cover story which points out to its readers that neither Clinton nor Obama favors gay marriage.
The article puts into question whether either candidate is a good choice. Those voting on gay issues in general need to make up their mind. Here to discuss that piece and its implications for the race for president, we welcome back Washington bureau chief from The Chicago Sun Times, Lynn Sweet, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
The Advocate, Steve, makes a really good point which is that neither Obama nor Clinton is in favor of gay marriage. I‘m not even sure why. And Hillary, of course, supported her husband‘s Defensive of Marriage Act in 1996 and still doesn‘t disavow it. How can you be a supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act and still have the support of gay groups? How does that work?
CARLSON: It is like being for Jim Crow and getting the NAACP endorsement.
MCMAHON: The—I‘m not sure that she still would support the Defense of Marriage Act. You would have to ask her. But I‘m not aware that she would. They favor equal rights under the law, which is what most Americans favor, and civil unions. And you can accomplish many of the same things that you can accomplish with gay marriage through civil unions...
CARLSON: But she is not in favor of equal rights under the law. She is not for gay marriage.
MCMAHON: She is for civil unions, I mean, that is equal...
CARLSON: That is not equal. I have got the right to get married. That is a separate water fountain. I have got the right to get married and a gay couple doesn‘t. So I‘m not arguing in favor of gay marriage, but merely pointing out that she is not for equal rights.
MCMAHON: You can bestow every single right that a married couple has through a civil union.
CARLSON: Why not let them get married?
SWEET: Look, though, they have a bigger issue now than just the gay marriage issue and that is the stumble that both Obama and Clinton took just a few weeks ago where—when asked if they wanted to agree or disagree with General Pace‘s remarks.
CARLSON: Right. That is right.
SWEET: . is homosexuality immoral? Neither of them in the first blush said—they didn‘t want to disagree with it.
CARLSON: That is right.
SWEET: I mean, I was standing next to Senator Obama when he was talking to the Newsday reporter when he was asked this three times. He side-stepped it. The pressure from gay groups was such that by the end of the day—or about the end of the day, they both issued statements that said, yes, we think that homosexuality is—we disagree with him, it is not immoral.
But this showed that the—whatever the instinct was for both of them, where they just didn‘t say what they believed the first time is telling. I‘m not sure how significant it is in the big run in getting the votes.
CARLSON: I found it very significant.
SWEET: But when you don‘t say what you believe on an issue that both of them have track records on, you know, it just created an alarm—alarm bells rang...
CARLSON: Well, also, they are raising a lot of money from gay voters who I think in a lot of cases sort of naively believe that these candidates are totally on their side, and they are not. Now.
SWEET: Well, that is—I don‘t think that is true. Probably Clinton and Obama are more sympathetic to most of the issues that Democrats who are gay care about, I would think, it would be far more true than...
CARLSON: Well, definitely. No, you are right. I mean, of course.
MCMAHON: And also, by the way, many other Democrats, Bill Richardson talked to the Human Rights Convention...
CARLSON: No, you are absolutely right. I mean, they are more pro—they are more in-line with the gay groups agenda, which is not the agenda of every gay person in America, obviously, but the gay groups, they are obviously...
SWEET: No. The organized Democratic gay constituency human rights campaign or allied or leaning towards on that, but the thing is, this is a community. I think their vote is up for grabs right now. I don‘t think any of them have a lock on it.
CARLSON: Well, see, who is going to be the first candidate on the Democratic side to just say, you know what, we are going to stop the charade and civil unions, it is essentially marriage and it‘s insulting to call it anything but, and I‘m for gay marriage.
Who is going to be the first person with the bravery to say that? I consider them cowards for not saying that. My guess is John Edwards, who has got less to lose, who he thinks...
MCMAHON: It is probably going to be somebody who has less to lose. And, you know, I happen to agree with you, Tucker, I don‘t think that there is anything particularly scary about gay marriage. And it is essentially the same as civil unions.
And—but to a lot of.
CARLSON: Well, it is just outrageous to take money from gay groups and be against marriage.
MCMAHON: Well, no, but you are not taking money from gay groups. You are taking money from gay and lesbian Americans who happen to support your candidacy on a wide range of issues.
CARLSON: That is a crock. Yes, in some cases that is true. But this is.
MCMAHON: This is important.
CARLSON: . as an interest group within the Democratic Party.
MCMAHON: This is very important to a group of people in that community.
MCMAHON: And they can make a judgment about whether or not they are willing to support a candidate who supports civil unions and not gay marriage. But guess what, there aren‘t a lot of alternatives out there.
CARLSON: No, there aren‘t, you are absolutely right. I just—intellectually, the difference between civil union and gay marriage is meaningless. And I think it is very dishonest to be for one and not the other.
SWEET: But you are saying this is their one issue. There is a whole portfolio of issues that are out there and gay marriage is not a deal-breaker.
CARLSON: Yes. I wish they would press that. I wish those gay groups would stop being so partisan and force their beloved Hillary Clinton to answer the question.
SWEET: Yes, the biggest issue is when they didn‘t just say what they meant on...
CARLSON: Yes, I agree. Well, do people always say what they mean?
Thank you both very much.
SWEET: Thank you.
MCMAHON: Thank you.
CARLSON: I appreciate it.
Well, If you didn‘t think Karl Rove was scary enough already, wait until you see the man dance. Worse than I am. Well, not that bad. Bush‘s brain revealed his inner gangsta rapper last night. The world will never be the same. Willie Geist was there. He joins us next.
CARLSON: Welcome back. The Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner was last night here in Washington. And observing it all, an outsider, a man from New York City in just for the night, Willie Geist.
Willie, what did you think?
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC PRODUCER: I didn‘t like what I saw one bit, Tucker. I‘m never going back to that God forsaken town. No, it was great, it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun. We will get to some of high points of that.
But big news, Tucker. Tallest man in the world is getting married, good for him, right? Seven feet nine inches, his name his Bao in China. His wife is five foot six inches and half his age. They signed the marriage papers just this week and the two will be getting hitched at a date in the near future.
Remember a couple months ago, Tucker, an aquarium enlisted his services to use his long arm and reach down the throat of a dolphin and pull out some plastic that had been lodged in there. So he is a man of—multi-talented man. I just wish he would sign with the Knicks because we need a center right now.
CARLSON: He looks like a happy guy.
GEIST: He is. He is a herdsman over there. But he could be making.
CARLSON: His name is really Bao?
GEIST: Bao. Well, he has a last name, but in China, you know, like Yao, Yao Ming, you just go with the first name. So, congratulations Bao.
Well, Tucker, “American Idol” voters got rid of a guy with bad hair last night, but they got rid of the wrong one, 28-year-old Chris Sligh, an all-around likeable guy, and a decent enough singer got the ax while you-know-who got to stick around for another week.
Yes, in another crushing blow to the credibility of democracy, Sanjaya seduced millions of voters with his reprehensible mohawk the other night and won a spot in the final group of nine contestants.
There are now whispers on “American Idol” blogs and really in the “Idol” community at large that Sanjaya could very well win the entire competition, Tucker. We have to start considering this possibility. It is kind of like when Jesse Ventura jumped in the Minnesota governor‘s race. You go, yes, yes, yes, right. And then it sort of crept up and crept up.
GEIST: We are going to wake up one morning and Sanjaya is going to be the “American Idol” if we don‘t wake up.
CARLSON: I will never—I was anchoring election night when that happened, when Jesse Ventura won. And I remember reading the copy, thinking, this can‘t be real. And I have a feeling we are going to have the same experience.
GEIST: Exactly. And you know, they say in democracy, you get the leaders you deserve. We are about to get the “American Idol” we deserve. It is cruel, and it is going to be bad.
Well, Tucker, from the guy with the second-worst hair in the world, we go to the undisputed champion in that category. Donald Trump mixed it up with the World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon at a tense press conference yesterday.
And by tense, I mean completely staged. The two men will represent opposing wrestlers at Sunday‘s historic WrestleMania 23. And there will be a lot on the line. You see the loser will have his head shaved by the winner. Yes, 72 hours from now, The Donald could be bald.
Now, Tucker, we all know that Trump would never agree to a deal where he is going to get his head shaved. The hair is just too important. He is like Santa. So what I predict is the Rosie thing, this whole back and forth, was all a build-up to WrestleMania 23.
He is going to lose. McMahon is going to be about to—shaving his head, Rosie is going to come out of nowhere with an atomic knee-drop and just lay it on him, rescue him, they are going to become tag team partners in the future. It is going to be a great little narrative that they have created over the last couple of months.
CARLSON: The Donald slaps like a girl based on that video you just put up.
GEIST: Well, he was trying not to slap him. That is wrestling.
CARLSON: Yes, I guess that is right.
GEIST: Let me just say, can I say for the record, I was at WrestleMania 1, a young fourth-grader at Madison Square Garden. And it was a good day for me. Sick. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, by the way, took home the tag team title on that historic day in 1985, they beat Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. A fine day for the sport of wrestling.
Tucker, as if it wasn‘t bad enough that all you can eat during Passover is matzo, now you can‘t even smoke weed either during the holiday. Outrageous. A pro marijuana group issued a reminder today that pot is not kosher and should not be smoked during the week-long celebration that begins at sundown on Monday.
The advisory group says cannabis falls within the pea and bean family that is off limits during Passover. The good news though for drug users, Tucker, crystal meth and smack do not fall in the pea and bean category, so you are completely in the clear.
CARLSON: They are carb or whatever that.
GEIST: That is right. And you know, the question they ask, why is this night different from all of the other nights? Well, now we know why, right, Tucker? Can‘t smoke weed.
Well, now we will get to it, Tucker. Good news for you. You are no longer the worst documented dancer in Washington. The torch was passed to Karl Rove at last night‘s Radio and TV Correspondents Association Dinner. Take a look.
(VIDEO CLIP OF KARL ROVE RAPPING)
GEIST: And trust me, it was even better in person. It should be noted that Rove does not drink. Yes, he‘s sober right there. The president‘s right-hand man was called onstage and given the name M.C. Rove by the improv comics performing at the dinner, then he simply lost control. Those of us who witnessed the spectacle will be forever grateful that he did.
Oh, and yes, if you look in the back there, that is NBC‘s David Gregory coolly working it out as a backup dancer, Tucker. And he has been taking a lot of heat for that, David, today. But I will say, I don‘t know, it is sort of an understated cool little dance he is doing back there. You don‘t have to go over the top. Karl Rove has that taken care of.
CARLSON: Yes. And as for Rove, I respect any man willing to humiliate himself onstage.
GEIST: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GEIST: Give him points for trying.
CARLSON: Willie Geist.
GEIST: All right, Tucker.
CARLSON: Thanks, Willie.
That does it for us. Up next, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.” See you tomorrow and have a great night.
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