Guests: Kelly O‘Donnell, Jonathan Weisman, John Harwood, Harold Ford, Jr., Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh, Patrick Lennon, Jane Hamsher
DAVID SHUSTER, HOST: Tonight, your nation‘s capital takes center stage as President-elect Barack Obama meets with members of Congress and begins lobbying for the most ambitious economic plan in U.S. history, as the Obama transition continues to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
Fifteen days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Welcome to the show, everyone. I‘m David Shuster.
Today, in his first full day in Washington in this new year, the president-elect met with key leaders of both parties in Congress and began his effort to pass an economic plan worth more than $800 billion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Not only do we have to act boldly, swiftly and with a sufficient magnitude to make a difference, but we‘ve also got to do things in a new way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: One new way includes underscoring a dramatic sweetener out of the starting gate for Republicans. Coming up, we will have the latest.
Also this hour, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdraws his nomination as Obama‘s commerce secretary, and former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta will head the CIA.
Later, the war between Israel and Hamas. Today, Obama chose not to pull away from the Bush administration‘s unconditional support for Israel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I will continue to insist that when it comes to foreign affairs, it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Plus, there is only one U.S. senator at this time from Illinois, although Governor Blagojevich‘s pick began an effort today to change that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS SENATE APPOINTEE: I‘m a United States senator. They cannot stop me from doing my senatorial duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Ahead in our segment “Muckraker of the Day,” we will shine a harsh light on the defiance of Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Plus, the pictures this morning were very cute of Sasha and Malia Obama preparing today for their first day of school in D.C. We will talk with a former Secret Service agent about the delicate balance between protecting the kids and allowing them to have a normal life.
And the abnormal golf swing of the president-elect. Most of us can relate, but the golfing magazines have now weighed in on Obama and his presidential golfing predecessors.
But we begin this hour with some powerful images and actions today on Capitol Hill.
President-elect Barack Obama held a series of high-profile meetings with Congressional leaders. In recent days, some Republicans have begun questioning the size and scope of the economic plan the president-elect is asking for. Today, Obama offered this...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It‘s clear that we have to act, and we have to act now to address this crisis and break the momentum of the recession. And the most important message today is that the situation is getting worse. We‘ve got to act boldly and we‘ve got to act swiftly. We cannot delay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Over the weekend, the Obama team confirmed that tax cuts would be part of their proposal and could amount to as much as 40 percent of the economic plan. That is usually music to the ears of Republicans, although some members of the GOP are still concerned about the spending aspect of the plan.
In any case, late today, following the meeting between Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders, the Republicans step to the microphones and struck an optimistic tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER: The overall size and how we craft this is going to be very important. But I thought the tone of the meeting went well, and I look forward to working with the president—the new president and his team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill is NBC News Correspondent, Kelly O‘Donnell and Jonathan Weisman, reporter for “The Wall Street Journal.”
Kelly, the approach from Republicans, as you know, is the key to how quickly or slowly Obama gets his economic package. Aside from what we just heard from John Boehner, what are you picking up on the Hill on the GOP side? And take us through Obama‘s day up there.
KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, David.
What we‘re hearing from Republicans right now is describing this stimulus package with enthusiasm. Now, it is day one, and if you didn‘t have a tone of cooperation and civility today, you wouldn‘t likely have it down the line. So, on day one, people are striking that note of wanting to work together.
Now, what Republicans really like about this package is the focus on tax cuts, the kind of thing that would put money with a federal check in the pockets of ordinary Americans to try to stimulate the economy. Republicans like that.
They‘re talking about things like money given to states to help them get through these tough times should be in a form of a loan so those states would spend it wisely and that the general treasury would have a shot at getting some of that money back. So what we‘re hearing today is a willingness to work with the Obama administration, some caution from Republicans about how the money would be spent, how much would be spent, those kinds of things that you would expect from the conservative side.
And you know, David, when you think about it, four years ago, Barack Obama arrived here on a January day as the new senator from Illinois. Today, he came here as the center of the political universe, had several meetings, first with the Democratic leadership, then later in the day with Republicans. Lots of photo opportunities and really trying to cement this first day as a day of working with the Hill, which for Barack Obama will be central in trying to get the package done quickly—David.
SHUSTER: Jonathan Wiseman, on the issue that Kelly mentioned, on the
tax cuts, you were the first to report that it would be up to 40 percent of
the Obama plan. You noted how this would help make the $1 trillion package
and, as Kelly just noted—more palatable to the GOP.
I want to play Barack Obama‘s assessment of what he is doing, followed by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, and then get your reaction on the other side. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The notion that me wanting to include relief for working families in this plan is somehow a political ploy, when this is—was the centerpiece of my economic plan for the last few years doesn‘t make too much sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: If you look at press descriptions that some of you have written about what you think the current proposal looks like, it‘s different from what it looked like a week or 10 days ago. And the difference so far has been the dramatically, apparently, expanding portion of this that will be devoted to tax relief. That clearly is appealing to virtually all Republicans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Jonathan, your reaction to the contradictory positions there on what‘s going on, but also how much is sort of flexible on this issue of the tax cuts?
JONATHAN WEISMAN, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Well, the president-elect kind of set up a straw man there. He said that on the campaign trail and he always talks about tax relief, especially for the working man. And indeed, he did. And indeed, that is a big part of the tax package.
He has this make America—or make work pay project that would be $500 per worker, $1,000 per couple. That is exactly what he talked about on the campaign trail.
What he didn‘t talk about on the campaign trail are these very big, lucrative tax breaks for businesses. He has this proposal that would let businesses write off these huge losses from 2008 and 2009 off taxes that they paid as far back as five years ago. That he didn‘t talk about on the campaign trail.
He didn‘t talk about a big tax break that would allow businesses to invest now, starting January 1st, and then write those taxes off almost immediately on their 2009 tax forms. That‘s not what he talked about on the campaign trail, and that‘s what Mitch McConnell is talking about. That is new.
SHUSTER: Jonathan Weisman of “The Wall Street Journal” and Kelly O‘Donnell of NBC News.
Thank you both. We appreciate it.
And for more, let‘s bring in now CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent and political writer for “The New York Times,” John Harwood.
John, where is this headed? Was this a good day in terms of Obama and the Republicans? Is there any downside to what Obama‘s proposing?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think Barack Obama‘s team has got to be pretty encouraged by the response we saw from John Boehner, the House Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, when they came out of that meeting. They were accepting the idea that there will be a package, that they‘re going to work with Barack Obama on it.
Mitch McConnell had the idea, as you mentioned, of turning some of these grants to states into loans. Democrats are cool to that idea. But at least you have a conversation going on.
And on this issue of tax cuts, I think we‘ve got to remember that most of the tax cuts that Barack Obama‘s talking about he was discussing in the campaign. That is, the making work pay tax credit, the $3,000 credit for hiring new workers. He‘s sweetening the pot somewhat, Jonathan is right about that, but this is something that Republicans may be inclined to look at in a different light now than they did in the campaign when John McCain and Sarah Palin talked about it as socialism.
SHUSTER: One of your colleagues at “The New York Times,” Paul Krugman, in a blog today essentially criticized what Obama‘s doing. He writes, “Republicans are not going to come on board. Make 40 percent of the package tax cuts, they‘ll demand 100 percent. Then they‘ll start the thing about how you can‘t cut taxes on people who don‘t pay taxes and demand that the plan focuses on the affluent. Then they‘ll demand cuts in corporate taxes.”
“Maybe this is just a head fake from the Obama people, but I‘m really worried that they‘re sending off signals of weakness right from the beginning and that they‘re just going to embolden the opposition.”
Is it weak to sort of dangle this out there from Obama for the Republicans right out of the gate?
HARWOOD: Well, I don‘t think it‘s weak at this stage. The question is, what happens next?
Is Mitch McConnell setting himself up to look better when he comes out against the plan later? And John Boehner as well? Or are we going to see a real effort of cooperation?
I remember the statements from Bob Dole shortly after Bill Clinton came in and said we‘re going to work with the new president. We saw very quickly the Republicans drew a bright line, not a single Republican vote for Bill Clinton‘s economic plan.
Are we going to see a replay for that, or are we seeing the potential for substantial Republican cooperation? It‘s too early to say one way or the other. And certainly, nobody has made money betting on bipartisan cooperation in Washington in recent years. But there‘s at least the chance if you look at those statements today.
SHUSTER: The package that Obama and the Democrats are trying to fashion now, of course with Republican input, almost $1 trillion. They‘re trying to get it done. Originally, they hoped for by perhaps inauguration. Now they‘re talking the end of January, maybe February.
Can it be done that quickly?
HARWOOD: It can be done quickly, but not quite as quickly as some people thought. You know, there was talk about this thing being on Obama‘s desk when he left the inaugural parade and returned to the Oval Office. That‘s not going to happen.
But even if you get this thing in the early part of February, which is what Barack Obama said in his photo-op today, that‘s still extraordinary speed for a package this size. And I think Barack Obama and his team would be happy for it to happen that quickly.
SHUSTER: John Harwood, thanks for coming in.
HARWOOD: You bet.
SHUSTER: Good to see you.
Coming up, Richardson‘s out, Panetta is in. The president-elect‘s commerce secretary withdraws from consideration, but Mr. Obama moves forward with another nomination, Leon Panetta, for CIA director.
And the first day at a new school can be intimidating, especially when you have the Secret Service following your every move. Ahead, a former agent tells us what things are like for Sasha and Malia Obama.
SHUSTER: Welcome back.
One in, one out in the Obama administration. Today, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd broke the news that Leon Panetta has been tapped to head the CIA. Panetta was chief of staff to President Clinton. He was also a member of the Iraq Study Group.
The naming of the CIA director comes as the Obama vetters are going back to the drawing board to find a new commerce secretary. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdrew his name because he‘s under federal investigation for a potential pay-to-play scandal.
Today, Richardson insisted he did nothing wrong, but says withdrawing his name was the only thing to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: I could not in good conscious ask the president-elect and his administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done. While this decision was a difficult one, I think it was the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Let‘s bring in our panel: Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst; Harold Ford, Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council; and Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com.
Joan, let‘s start with you. What happened to Richardson?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: You know, I can‘t figure it out. If he didn‘t know that this was going to draw out several weeks ago, when Obama tapped him, I don‘t understand what‘s changed. And nobody seems to be able to report what‘s really changed in the last week or so.
It seems extremely irresponsible, frankly, on his part. He was campaigning pretty hard for the role of secretary of state, a lot of people said. He really wanted a role in this cabinet. But, you know, clearly, he hasn‘t been indicted, let alone convicted. It‘s very possible he‘s telling the truth and there was no wrongdoing.
But it just looks bad. And sort of on top of his protracted being the center of attention campaign, and then finally endorsing Obama, there‘s something kind of undisciplined and off about these two latest star turns that Richardson has taken.
SHUSTER: Well, the thing that strikes me, Harold Ford, as I‘m looking at everything that‘s out there about this investigation, there‘s no indication that Richardson might be anything other than a witness against this guy who it looks like the feds are targeting. I mean, there are witnesses all the time in government who get dragged into cases in which they did nothing wrong.
Who lost their stomach in this one?
HAROLD FORD, JR., NBC NEWS ANALYST: I think there‘s an enormous standard that this new president has set for his administration. The tone in Washington that he is setting is a high one. And I think—I respect what Joan has said, but I take the governor at his words.
I mean, we learned today that GM, Toyota and Ford, sales are down 30 percent in December. This president has got to get off to a great start.
Now, it does beg the question from the outgo, from the outset, was this not made away to the transition team, to the vetters? And if it was, I think at some level they have to answer some of these questions as well.
But I take every one at their word at this point. And if it turns out that there‘s something more here than just Governor Richardson being on the periphery, I‘m sure we‘ll find out soon enough. But I take him at his word.
SHUSTER: Pat Buchanan, Governor Richardson is incredibly well liked in this town. So is Leon Panetta, a former member of Congress, former Clinton chief of staff. He is apparently the selection of Barack Obama to head the CIA. And yet, we‘re finding out that the Obama transition didn‘t bother to run this past Senator John Rockefeller or Senator Dianne Feinstein, the two key Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee.
What‘s that about?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That‘s a tremendous vetting failure by the Obama team. And also, the Richardson thing suggests the same thing.
But I know Leon Panetta. I‘ve known Leon all the way back since 1969. He was Mr. Busing (ph) at HEW in the Nixon years. And he‘s a very able, competent public servant and a very nice guy. But for the life of me, I don‘t understand what he is doing in this particular position.
I don‘t know of anything in those 40 years where Leon Panetta was in
the national security business or the intelligence business, where he could
acquire the knowledge and background and all the rest of it to run the
nation‘s largest intelligence agency. I think this appointment is really -
the Republicans are going to take it on. And if you‘ve already got Feinstein and Rockefeller questioning it, I think this could be in trouble from day one.
SHUSTER: And Joan, even though, by all accounts, the Obama transition has happened in a faster speed than any other administration, this does seem to be something of a distracting hiccup now, especially if, as Pat says, the Republicans jump on the cover they now have from the Democrats who are already starting to criticize this.
WALSH: Well, let me say I trust Barack Obama a lot more than Dianne Feinstein or Jay Rockefeller on this issue, David. And I think that it‘s clear that he was trying to send a signal that he wants a reformer at the CIA.
Leon Panetta is a person of great intelligence, great integrity. He‘s a great manager, which is something that the agency needs. And maybe most important to Obama—not most important, he thinks he‘s qualified—but quite important to Obama is sending a clear signal that he‘s going to change the policies of the Bush administration.
And you know, both Rockefeller and Feinstein, as far as I‘m concerned, were far too tolerant and were enablers of harsh, harsh interrogation policies bordering on torture, perhaps actual torture. And this is a clear signal that there‘s going to be a different way of looking at the CIA. And I‘m happy with the Panetta choice.
SHUSTER: But Harold...
FORD: You know, David, I think this may be—he‘s one of the most decent people. He has a great set of experience in Washington. And I think bringing an outsider in might be something that‘s needed.
Remember, he served on the Iraqi Study Commission.
FORD: Probably the greatest failure of the Bush administration. Clearly the greatest intelligence failure was what went wrong there. They made a set of recommendations.
You won‘t find a competent, more decent, I would argue well-liked guy, than Leon Panetta. My friend Pat Buchanan knows Panetta so well, he knows him as “Leo.” So he is clearly well liked in Washington.
BUCHANAN: Well, the Iraq Study Commission was a total failure. They said the whole thing is going down the tubes, let‘s get out, and the president moved in the other direction and seems to be doing well.
I like Leon Panetta, he is a nice man. But he is an utter novice in intelligence.
I mean, a lot of people have far more knowledge than he does, and they don‘t belong there. And Barack Obama has in his national security apparatus, in General Jones, in Hillary Clinton, people with far, far more experience.
I‘ll tell you, I really think that he can be challenged on this the way Ted Sorensen was. And Ted Sorensen had to drop out when he was picked for national security.
FORD: I disagree, but I don‘t think the Iraq Study Commission was a failure.
WALSH: I don‘t either.
FORD: They recommended we look at some kind of partition. That‘s where they‘re going to end up in Iraq.
SHUSTER: That‘s a separate debate, but it is going to be an issue, I think, his lack of experience on intelligence issues, although I will agree with everybody, he is one of the nicest guys you will ever find in politics. But we‘ll have to see whether that is going to be enough in this particular case.
Pat and Harold are sticking around.
Joan, we‘ll let you go. Thanks for coming in tonight.
WALSH: Thank you.
SHUSTER: Ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, the Israeli war against Hamas grinds on, and the debate has erupted as to whether it will help or hurt the Obama administration.
But coming up next, a breather thanks to Obama‘s favorite vacation pastime. Yes, he ran on a promise of change. And golfers say, looking at his performance, it‘s a promise delivered.
And Mr. President-elect, someone wants your attention. We will update you on the story of a pint-sized reporter who wants to make his journalistic mark with one not so little request.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON WEAVER, STUDENT REPORTER: I can interview you any time, any day of that week. Just have your people call my people. If you want to be my home boy just like Joe Biden, all you have to do is just let me interview you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President-elect Obama, I‘m Damon Weaver, and I want to interview you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Time now for our segment “Inside the Briefing Room.”
And that was 10-year-old Damon Weaver. He‘s a student reporter from Florida, who has interviewed politicians ranging from Caroline Kennedy to Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who he calls, “My home boy.”
Damon‘s dream is the big get, an interview with President-elect Barack Obama. On Friday, he told MSNBC that he‘s been denied media credentials to the inauguration, but he has received inauguration tickets, and he‘s hoping to snag an interview with the future president.
There is no news on that count from the Obama team, but the office of Florida Senator Nelson is now helping with the pitch, and reporters from as far away as Ireland want to talk to Damon.
We will keep you posted.
Next up, President-elect Obama played a lot of golf over vacation. And now the golfing magazines and the blogs are weighing in on the lefty‘s swing.
Most agree he could use a few lessons. And couldn‘t we all?
It seems that Mr. Obama‘s back swing isn‘t bad, but it‘s his position after impact that needs some work. The president-elect apparently lifts his head before the shot is completed.
One critic even said the president-elect‘s swing isn‘t as sturdy as George W. Bush‘s swing. Ouch. Then again, the only thing that really matters in leadership or golf is whether you hit is straight.
Anyway, a lot of presidents have enjoyed a round of 18. Take a look at this golfer. Yes, that is President Eisenhower.
Richard Nixon used to play golf. And reportedly, on occasion, he used to cheat.
Gerald Ford was an athlete at the University of Michigan and it shows in his awesome swing in putting.
Bill Clinton seemed to enjoy the game of golf. He was known to invite reporters to play along with him.
And like father like son, Bush 41 and here is Bush 43.
What do all these presidential golfers have in common? I guarantee you they never had to wait for a slow group in front of them.
Next up, for the next 10 days, the Obama family‘s living at the Hay-Adams hotel. And we‘re convinced the place in spooked.
Henry Adams owned the mansion in the late 1800s and lived there with his troubled wife Marian. She died there in 1885.
And according to the ghost tale, her spirit visits the fourth floor of the hotel in early December, around the anniversary of her death. According to people who claim to have witnessed the ghostly spirit, they hear their name being called, feel invisible arms around them, and have seen locked doors suddenly fly open.
No worries though for the Obama family or you if you‘ve booked a room at the Hay-Adams for inauguration. Again, the ghost shows up only in December.
Finally, if ghosts are related to the afterlife, there could soon be a mysterious White House meow. The first cat, India, has passed away. India also went by the names Willie and Kitty.
Press Secretary Sally McDonough says, “India was a beloved family of the Bush family for almost two decades. She will be greatly missed.”
India was 18 years old, which in human years equates to 88.
Up next, the Mideast crisis. Israel is pounding Hamas targets and world leaders are pushing for a truce. Could the Mideast violence help or hurt an Obama administration?
And later, our “Muckraker of the Day” you will definitely want to watch, especially if you‘ve been following the tensions between potential U.S. senator Roland Burris and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Stay with us. You‘re watching 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
SHUSTER: Still ahead, tonight, Barack Obama and the Mideast crisis; does staying silent do damage in the long run or is it helpful? Someone who is not holding back, Roland Burris, who says he‘s a U.S. senator and he‘s headed to work.
And Sasha and Malia Obama may have work of their own, homework, after their first day at a new school. It‘s all straight ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
Welcome back to 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. Israel‘s air and ground offensive in Gaza stretched into another day today. A U.N. spokesman said more than 500 Palestinians have been killed since the campaign began ten days ago, about a quarter of them civilians. At least five Israelis, including one soldier, have been killed. And Hamas continues to fire rockets over the border, hitting southern Israeli towns.
In one of the first major skirmishes of the ground campaign, Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters clashed in the Gaza City, as European leaders and international diplomats spoke out in favor of an immediate cease-fire, citing humanitarian concerns. President Bush reiterated that any cease-fire must include a sustainable end to Hamas‘ rocket attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know people are saying, let‘s have a cease-fire. Those are noble ambitions. But any cease-fire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: With us now to discuss the conflict and the challenge it presents for the incoming White House, Harold Ford Jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst, and Pat Buchanan, an MSNBC political analyst.
Pat, you have written that Barack Obama needs to speak out and denounce the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. How come?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my point is, if he‘s going to speak out, he will have to denounce the collective punishment. Otherwise, he‘s going to be a Xerox copy of George W. Bush, who has dragged this country, I believe, their good name down in the Middle East to the lowest level its ever been. We‘re supportive of Israel. They have a right to take out those rockets, to go in and clean them out.
But what is taking place in Gaza is a human rights catastrophe. These people have been denied electricity, food, fuel. They are dying and being killed at a rate of 100 to one over the Israelis. I think the Israeli attacks are disproportionate. I think Gaza has become a virtual penal colony of the Palestinian people.
But if you‘re not going to say that, and Barack doesn‘t want to say that, maybe it‘s better that he remain silent, David. I‘ll tell you this, all the hopes and expectations for Barack Obama are riding on this. Al Jazeera, they‘re running film of him up there on that golf course, playing golf, shooting hoops and the rest of it, alongside photographs of Palestinians suffering and dying. And I don‘t think that‘s to the advantage of Barack Obama or the United States of America.
SHUSTER: Harold Ford Jr., your view?
HAROLD FORD JR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it‘s unfair to suggest that President-Elect Barack Obama takes a position that cease-fire can only be sustainable if Hamas agrees to stop firing rockets would make him a carbon copy of George Bush. Remember, George Bush took us to war in Iraq. There was broad disagreement across the Middle East and other parts of the world that we should not have done that without the support of the world.
Two, remember, We‘ve had a complete abdication of our responsibility in that region of the world. George Bush and his team‘s policy in the Middle East over the last few years is pretty much this: let the two sides duke it out until their fully exhausted, and maybe at some point we can intervene. We should have never taken our czar out of that region of the world.
I hope Barack Obama—I agree with President Bush, you cannot have a cease-fire unless Hamas stops firing rockets. Where I do agree with Pat is in this regard, we ought to have a permanent Mideast czar, someone who is engaged, someone has authority, and someone who will speak for the United States. The fact that we have not had that over the last several years—
Pat may argue with me that having that Czar may not have had any positive impact. But it‘s hard to convincingly make that impact in the light of the fact that we‘ve not had one the past several years.
And the fact that President-Elect Obama has agreed to reduce our footprint in Iraq, to be more rational and practical in how we work with allies around the globe as it relates to the Middle East is something I think will not only aid him, but will be a huge departure from what we have had over the last seven or eight years.
BUCHANAN: Look, I don‘t have objection to have somebody—we have General Zinni over there, who I thought was a fine man. I have no problem with that. My concern, David, is this: the United States basically provides just an agreement with exactly what the Israelis do. There is no space. There is not a tissue paper between us and them. That will kill our reputation as Israel‘s is killed.
SHUSTER: But, Pat, I don‘t want to put you under the grill here, Israel‘s the only democracy in the region. There‘s a reason why we support Israel wholeheartedly. And there‘s a reason why we support their action against Hamas, even if civilians are killed. Four out of five people that are being killed in Gaza belong to Hamas. One out of five, absolutely, it‘s regrettable and it‘s terrible. There are questions about why Israel isn‘t being more precise. What else should they do?
BUCHANAN: Look what they did in Lebanon. That was a democracy and they smashed Lebanon. They didn‘t just go after Hezbollah. My concern is they‘re not that focused on Hamas. It‘s disproportionate what they‘re doing when they‘re killing 100 to one, when you have almost 3,000 injured and wounded, 500 dead.
My point about the United States of America is we need a foreign policy made in the USA, where we have our lines to Hamas, our lines to Syria, our lines to Hezbollah.
SHUSTER: Let‘s talk about Hezbollah. Hezbollah‘s leader said that because of Israel‘s bombardment, he had to apologize to his people and said, you know what, if I knew that Israel was going to respond as heavily as they did, we would not have crossed into southern Israel and taken those soldiers. In a sense, that was smart—that was helpful to Israel. Likewise, what about the argument that if you allow Hamas to fester, you allow them to continue bringing in these weapons that are coming from Iran, you are essentially emboldening Iran in all this. Whereas, if you take out Hamas or weaken them, you say to Iran, you know what, your efforts to meddle in Gaza, they‘re not going to work.
BUCHANAN: They did not take out Hezbollah, did they? Hezbollah emerged much stronger than it was. Israel lost that war. They had the Wintegrad (ph) Commission that said you failed. They killed an awful lot of innocent Lebanese. They damaged their reputation and our reputation. Right now, Mahmoud Abbas, who is a friend of the United States, is being exposed as a fool and collaborator. Our friends, the Egyptians and others, are under attack from the Arab streets.
Look, if you could eliminate Hamas by air strikes, I would agree with you. You can‘t. They are going to come out of this a lot more popular than they went in.
SHUSTER: That‘s essentially why Israel had to send in ground troops. Israel is willing to spill its own blood and fight street by street in Gaza, as they‘re doing now, in order to go after the people that are sending these rockets.
BUCHANAN: What they should have done from day one is go right into northern Gaza, seize the area from which these rockets are fired. They didn‘t. They went in on air strikes and killed 200 people the first night.
SHUSTER: Four of five of them belonged to Hamas.
BUCHANAN: I read a report in the hospital today, the guy said not one Hamas fighter came in. But we are so crowded with women and children and others that we can‘t take anymore people. What is going on there is horrible.
SHUSTER: Go ahead, Harold.
FORD: No one will defend the fact there are those who are dying, which we all wish, and I would imagine Israelis would have to regret this as well. The question I have is, and I think it‘s one David has been trying to ask, I don‘t know, in many ways, the alternative. The Israelis have been attacked. They have the right to defend themselves. I have heard those argue this issue of proportionality. I must say, I thought long and hard about this.
Remember, in this country, the doctrine, the military doctrine that govern the national security apparatus of the country, ten years prior to President Bush coming to office, was the Powell doctrine, which was to use overwhelming force. In so many ways, as tough a question this is—and I think there‘s a lot of good in what Pat is saying. We have to have a different face. We do have to have relationships on our own with players in that region of the world.
But at this moment, if Hamas would agree to stop firing rockets, I think you would find—I think there‘s room—and I have certainly not spoken to Secretary Clinton, but I she‘s as capable or this president is as capable as any—in finding a way to persuade the Israelis that a cease-fire should come about.
BUCHANAN: What about this—
BUCHANAN: Let me suggest this: I think Israel has a right to do whatever it has to do to stop those rockets. They‘re thuggish and cruel and criminal and they‘re meant to kill people, even if they don‘t. However, what is the purpose of this blockade, this siege, denying medical care, denying medical equipment, denying fuel, denying electricity? Women and children are the ones that suffer when these things are denied. It‘s not the Hamas fighters. They‘re all hiding in tunnels waiting to come out.
SHUSTER: Hamas can end that siege immediately by stopping their importation of the secret tunnels bringing in the weapons.
BUCHANAN: Are we the same moral character as Hamas? That‘s the question.
SHUSTER: That‘s a point where I think I would agree with you, in the sense that Israel has always stood for a very strong moral character. In Israel today, there are questions about the response and the morality of the response.
BUCHANAN: There are more questions than there are here in Israel. You read the Israeli press, you hear the Knesset, there‘s more dissent over there than there is in the United States. That is a disgrace to the United States.
FORD: I agree with you on humanitarian aid. I do agree with you there.
SHUSTER: Let‘s wrap it up there. Pat Buchanan, Harold Ford, thank you both. I must say, Pat, I do think Obama is playing this perfectly by staying silent and not saying anything.
BUCHANAN: Maybe he can‘t do anything, but he‘s being heard over there.
SHUSTER: Fair enough. Pat Buchanan, Harold Ford, thank you both. Still ahead on 1600, the Senate showdown. Roland Burris is calling himself the junior senator from Illinois. He‘s ready to take his appointed place on Capitol Hill. Will Democratic leaders let him? The resistance by the Senate majority leader is creating waves and the person stirring things up most on the blogosphere is our muckraker of the day. You will meet her and we‘ll talk about the story.
And the young Obama girls get their first taste of being the country‘s first daughters, as they set off for their first day of school. What was their day like today? Up next, we‘ll ask a former Secret Service agent, who has protected several first families.
And you can get the latest political news and a sneak peek at what‘s coming up on this show sent straight to your inbox, with the 1600 Daily Briefing. Be part of the briefing by logging online to Shuster.MSNBC.com.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 . After arriving in D.C. on Saturday, Malia and Sasha Obama observed a time honored ritual today, and they headed off to their first day of school, saying last good-byes to their parents. Like any kids with backpacks in hand, except they are not like any other kids. Radiance and rose bud, those are their new, not so super secret Secret Service monikers. They arrived at school in a motorcade, with a D.C. police car in the lead, several SUVs alongside, a minivan and a Secret Service uniformed division car.
The public is fascinated with everything about the first Obama girls. That tremendous public interest in the first daughters presents a unique challenge for the agents who guard them 24/7. Joining us now is Patrick Lennon, who served as a Secret Service agent for more than 21 years, starting with President Nixon and ending with President George H.W. Bush.
Patrick, how are the decisions made, in terms of trying to balance the normalcy that every kid is entitled to with the security concerns that the Secret Service has?
PATRICK LENNON, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Well, the first thing the Secret Service will have done with the Obama girls is they will sit down with the Obamas and talk about security. They‘ll get a sense of where, what type of girls they are, their ages, such like that, and also what they can expect or the Obamas can expect from the Secret Service. It is a hands-on situation. They put an agent on there, or an agent is detailed that are sensitive to the situation. They‘re dealing with adolescents and it‘s important that they understand that.
SHUSTER: We obviously don‘t want to get into any of the security details. But what would the Secret Service say to a school, like the school, like the ones the Obama girls are going to. Is there any particular instruction that is given to teachers, fellow students or staff?
LENNON: First of ally, you have to understand, Sidwell Friends is experienced in this arena from the Clinton‘s daughter, Chelsea, who went there, and also Al Gore Jr.‘s son, as well as I think vice president—
SHUSTER: So there‘s a system in place?
LENNON: There‘s a system in place. They‘re used to the Secret Service. The Secret Service is accustom to them. That‘s probably a big reason why they put them there.
SHUSTER: How about the relationship between the agents and these girls? We‘re talking about girls, seven and 10 years old. That‘s a unique challenge for agents who are trying to explain why they‘re there and the situations when it‘s appropriate for agents to be nearby and when it‘s not appropriate for them to be close. How do you establish that bond?
LENNON: First of all, like I said at the top of the show, you have to establish, first, an understanding between the Obamas and also the agents.
The Secret Service detail will talk with them. They also will talk with
the girls. You have got to understand, one of the things with those girls,
they want to be as normal—they want to create as normal atmosphere as
possible. And, obviously, they‘re not always going to be in the classroom
excuse me, eight hours a day with them. But there will be protection around them.
The girls will get used to it. It will be something—you can tell them until you‘re blue in the face, the security here. They‘re going to have to get accustomed to this type of thing. And they will. Also, that‘s something for the Secret Service agents. They‘ve done this in the past. They know what to expect. Again, this is a new agent detail and again, something new for them as well, the personnel.
SHUSTER: We‘re also in a new era, where kids have these phones, where they can take pictures of other kids and post them on a website or Facebook. Is that the kind of thing that would drive the Secret Service crazy?
LENNON: Yes, it would. I don‘t know what the restrictions are on cell phones. I know I have grand children that are not allowed to have cell phones in the classroom. They have to turn them off. If they‘re not, they‘re in trouble for that. Yes, they don‘t allow those types of things. It will drive the Secret Service crazy, obviously. I don‘t see this being an exception.
SHUSTER: As far as the technology—and, again, without speaking to what the technology is—but if the public knew, would the public be surprised as how technologically advanced the Secret Service is, in terms of what they rely upon to sort of track families and communications and make sure everything stays fine?
LENNON: Absolutely. I think from the technology, the Secret Service is constantly growing on that. And, again, by saying that, they have a lot of concerns about the electronic security today. It‘s a good thing for them. It‘s a great support for them. At the same time, it can be used against them.
SHUSTER: Patrick Lennon, former Secret Service agent, so interesting to talk to you. I appreciate you coming in. Good to see you.
LENNON: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: Up next, Roland Burris says no one can stop him from doing his job as the newly named junior senator from Illinois. He‘s on his way to prove it. We‘ll talk about that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROLAND BURRIS, SENATOR DESIGNATE: I think you have to ask the majority leader about whether or not he‘s going against the law of the United States Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Welcome back. That was Roland Burris, the man tapped by embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat, at his second—yes, second—impromptu airport press conference today. Burris got a little heated, fielding questions from reporters at Chicago‘s Midway Airport and late this afternoon, when he landed at Baltimore‘s airport. But the real fireworks could come tomorrow, when the self-proclaimed junior senator from Illinois attempts to enter the Capitol to be sworn in with the rest of the 111th Congress.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeatedly said he won‘t recognize any Senate replacement tainted by Blagojevich. There are doubts as to whether Reid has any legal authority to block Burris or anyone, for that matter. As for tainted, some liberal critics point out that Reid sustained a committee chairmanship to the man who earlier this year spoke at the Republican convention and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I‘m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I am here, tonight, for a simple reason: John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead America forward. I am—
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Most days on this program we‘re going to talk with a journalist, writer, pundit, blogger, or combination who is ahead of the curve in applying some heat or light to a story. That person will be our muckraker of the day. Today, we‘re pleased to bestow that honor on Jane Hamsher, founder of the progressive blog FireDogLake.com. Jane has been burning up the blogosphere and some newspapers with her criticism of Reid‘s position towards Burris.
First of all, Jane, you said that Reid has been punked by Blago. What do you mean?
JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: I think you can‘t say he hasn‘t. You can see how upset Harry Reid is, that Blago kind of got the best of him. Harry Reid thought that if he and 50 senators sent him a letter saying we think that you should step down and that your successor should appoint a senator, that Blago would say, OK, well, I‘ll go. He didn‘t and he defied him and appointed somebody anyway. So, I think that‘s part of the reason for the bluster right now.
SHUSTER: Now, you‘ve written to great effect. You‘ve been stirring up the blogosphere with this idea that Harry Reid, of all people, is not somebody who should be out there saying, no way, no how am I going to seat somebody connected with Blagojevich, a Democrat, who has a long history in Democratic politics. You point out Joe Lieberman, independent, who broke with the party. Reid gave his committee chairmanship. Give us some of the other examples.
HAMSHER: If I was going to play power broker with somebody in the Senate, I would want to play poker with Harry Reid. He‘s backed down on virtually everything that George Bush and Mitch McConnell put to him. Look what happened with Harriet Myers and Karl Rove. They defied Senate subpoenas. In that case, Harry Reid could have set the sergeant at arms to enforce them. But he didn‘t, and instead is looking to set the sergeant at arms to enforce this, by turning away a 71-year-old African-American tomorrow. I think that may not go as well for him as he might think.
SHUSTER: And Harry Reid, from the beginning, at least, said, no we‘re not going to seat him. Now, he sort of changed his position a little bit. What do you make of the way Harry Reid has handled this?
HAMSHER: I don‘t know what his standing was in order to be able to challenge it in the first place. He called up Jesse White, who is the secretary—attorney general of the state of Illinois, and sort of put his thumb on the scale and said, I want you to not sign his certificate. White said, OK, fine, I‘ll do it. Then Harry Reid would use that in order to be able to say, we‘re not going to accept Burris into the Senate.
White doesn‘t really have legal standing to do this. If he did, he would be able to not sign anything and have de facto veto of power. I don‘t think the court will uphold that.
SHUSTER: In fact, today, that was sort of the explanation given when Senate officials refused to allow the credentials to be presented by Burris‘ team. They said, well, the secretary of the state of Illinois hasn‘t signed it.
HAMSHER: And that‘s the thing that John Cornyn is using in order to say we‘re not going to provisionally seat Al Franken, because he doesn‘t have that signature either. The minute Reid said that, Cornyn used it against him. I think he‘s kind of being boxed in on all sides.
SHUSTER: What‘s been the reaction to your blogs? One of them got posted, of course, in the “Chicago Sun-Times” this weekend. You‘re essentially picking on the Democratic Senate leader. How has the reaction been to that?
HAMSHER: I think people think that at this point in time, after eight years of lawlessness in the Bush administration, the most important thing for the Senate to do right now, and for Harry Reid as a leader, is to act legally, and to try and ascertain what the law is. It may well be that Roland Burris is legal, despite what everybody might think about Rod Blagojevich. If that‘s the case, that should be what Harry Reid is hewing to, and not trying to bend the law for political purpose.
SHUSTER: Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake.com, our muckraker of the day.
Congratulations. Thanks for coming in.
HAMSHER: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: That‘s the view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE tonight. I‘m David Shuster. Thank you for watching. We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. “HARDBALL” has a great show. Chris and the gang start right now.
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