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Transcript for March 20

Guests: Gen. Richard Myers, David Broder, Ron Brownstein, John Harwood and Gwen Ifill
/ Source: NBC News


This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS at (202)885-4598, (Sundays: (202)885-4200)


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Guests: Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; David Broder, Washington Post, Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, John Harwood, Wall Street Journal and Gwen Ifill, PBS' "Washington Week"                                     

Moderator/Host: Tim Russert, NBC News

Tim Russert:  Our issues this Sunday:  Two years ago, the United States of America went to war with Iraq.  What have we achieved?  At what cost?  How long will 150,000 Americans remain there?  With us, the nation's top military man, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

Then, the president and Social Security; Democrats and closing down the Senate; Tom DeLay and ethics; baseball and steroids.  Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, and Gwen Ifill of PBS.

And in our Meet the Press Minute, one of the nation's foremost experts on the former Soviet Union died this week at the age of 101.  George Kennan appeared on Meet the Press almost 38 years ago.

But first, he is just back from Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other countries, the top military man at the Pentagon, General Richard Myers.


Gen. Richard Myers:  Thanks, Tim.

Mr. Russert:  This weekend marks the second anniversary of the war in Iraq. What's left to be done?

Gen. Myers:  There's considerable work left to be done on what we call all lines of operation.  One is to get the Iraqi security forces to the point where they can control this insurgency and the security in their own country. That's coming along very well.  When I was over there, we saw great examples in their police and their military.  Our military is very positive about how far Iraqi security forces have come in the last two years.  There's also governance, the rule of law, economic progress, and there's been great progress, but there's more that needs to be done in the infrastructure.  So there's considerable work to be done, but the progress in the last few years I think has been pretty amazing.

Mr. Russert:  The Government Accountability Office did an analysis of the Iraqi security forces.  Let me read it to you and give you a chance to respond to it.  It says here, "U.S. commanders and Bush administration officials are overstating the number of Iraqi security forces on duty, providing an inaccurate picture about the training mission that is the U.S. military's exit strategy for Iraq, a government audit agency said.  The Pentagon in its latest figures said 142,000 Iraqis have been trained as police and soldiers.  But the Government Accountability Office said those figures include tens of thousands of Iraqi policemen who had left their jobs without explanation."

Americans know our troops can't come home until they're replaced by Iraqis. Realistically, how many trained Iraqis are there that can do the things American troops now do?

Gen. Myers:  Well, it takes all kinds of security, just like it does here in Washington, D.C., or any state or city.  It takes police.  It takes, in their case, armed forces as well, special battalions that can go after the insurgents.  I'll stick with the 142,000 trained and equipped.  We also note in there, like the JO report does, that our visibility into the police is not perfect in terms of their accounting.  Also, they have cultural--and so there are a certain number--just trying hard to get our hands around the number.  In terms of the army, we know very well how many are on duty and their readiness and so forth.  So it's uneven in those two entities.  And we're working very hard to do the kind of readiness reporting and get the Iraqis to do the readiness reporting that we do in our armed forces, so we can have very accurate figures.  And...

Mr. Russert:  But you did say a month ago that only 40,000 Iraqis can go anywhere and do anything.  How many Iraqis do we need who can go anywhere and do anything until our troops can come home?

Gen. Myers:  I guess the way I'd say it is what we need are the numbers that we've programmed to train and equip, and then to mentor and get in the battle space, and that number is over 200,000.  And we're marching towards those numbers.  And when I was just in Iraq, what Iraq has done now is they have divided up their country into areas where their divisions will live and work and work against the insurgency, try to provide security for the Iraqi people. They're doing that, and we're going more and more be doing that with them to help mentor them, help give them operational guidance, to provide intelligence.  And as they become more competent, then we sort of fade in the background and then we can adjust our force levels.

Mr. Russert:  Realistically, how long will it take to get to that 200,000 figure?

Gen. Myers:  I think 200,000 is this summer, as a matter of fact, and then it continues to build a little bit, and then the Iraqi government may decide that that number is too low.  That's something they'll decide when they have probably an elected government at the end of this year.

Mr. Russert:  There were some reports from the Pentagon that our timetable is to draw down American troops to 105,000 in 2006.  Is that doable?

Gen. Myers:  Well, I've seen no time line that has any figure at the end of it.  We've always said this is conditions-based, and what we mean by that is when the security conditions are right for Iraqi forces to provide for their own security, then we can adjust our force levels.  And that's what we've always said, and we're on a path to do that.  You know, during elections we adjusted up from 17 brigades to 20 brigades on the ground.  We're now adjusting back down to 17 brigades and will continue to make adjustments as General Abizaid and General Casey, our commanders over in that part of the world, look at the security situation and determine what we need.

Mr. Russert:  Let me ask you a couple of questions about the state of the volunteer Army.  There was some testimony before Congress, and let me read a portions of it as reported by The Washington Post.  "Two years after the United States launched a war in Iraq with a crushing display of power, a guerrilla conflict is grinding away at the resources of the U.S. military and casting uncertainty over the fitness of the all-volunteer force, according to senior military leaders, lawmakers and defense experts.  The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished.  Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.  `What keeps me awake at night is, what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?' Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army vice chief of staff, said at a Senate hearing this week."

The National Guard only reached 75 percent of its recruitment goals; for the first time in a decade, the Marines didn't make their goals.  Is the all-volunteer Army being drained to a point where we may have to make some changes?

Gen. Myers:  No.  The all-volunteer force is working marvelously.  I've served in the draft force; I've served in the volunteer force.  The American public should not be at all confused about the volunteer force and how well it's performed.  The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine, Coast Guard, DOD civilians have performed remarkably in the last three and a half years since 9/11, as have their families in supporting them.  What the article doesn't say is that retention has never been better in the active force and the Reserve component.  I mean, I enlisted 29 National Guardsman several nights ago in Kabul, Afghanistan, 29 at one fell swoop.  The week before, they re-enlisted 50.  Retention is very good.  Recruiting in the Reserve component right now is an issue that will have to be worked at in the active Army, but remember, the active Army is building to a larger Army, so their recruiting goals are quite high.

Mr. Russert:  "James R. `Ron' Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve...says `current demands' in Iraq and Afghanistan put his command in `grave danger' of being unable to meet other potential Pentagon missions or help with domestic emergencies, and that the Army Reserve `is rapidly degenerating into a "broken" force.'"

Gen. Myers:  I think what General Helmly is reflecting is the fact that the force we went to war with after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to protect this country, was the force of the design for the Cold War.  And we have much different needs today.  And there's a lot of activity that's going on to try to re-balance between our active and our Reserve components to get our mix of capabilities about right.  For instance, we may have way too many artillery battalions and National Guard.  We need more military police, military intelligence, transportation and so forth.  So it's going to take us several more years before we get this balance right.  We've been using up equipment at a rapid rate.

Having said that, our force is in great shape, in my view, in terms of its morale.  We think the Army National Guard will come within 2 percent of its in-strength at the end of the year.  That's what they predict.  The Marine Corps and the Army, active recruiting, think they're going to make their goals by the end of this fiscal year.  It's the Army Reserve General Helmly's responsible for where we probably have the most risk in making sure that we come out this year with pretty close to our in-strength goal.

Mr. Russert:  If the Army Reserve or the Guard falls short, 40 percent of the troops in Iraq come from those components, how will you make it up?

Gen. Myers:  It's 40 percent right now, Tim, and that's by design.  We have a little bit more Reserve component force in Afghanistan and Iraq right now to allow the active Army to continue, well, its transformation, so we get more of their combat brigades online.  So this was planned, and the next rotation will have a smaller percentage of Reserve component.

Mr. Russert:  Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, himself a veteran, said this. "The U.S. military will respond if there are vital threats, but will it respond with as many forces as it needs, with equipment that is in excellent condition?  The answer is no?"

Gen. Myers:  Well, the responsibility that I have, and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to advise the National Security Council, the president and the secretary on our ability to respond to other crises should they arise.  And we have done this not only orally but we do it in writing once a year to Congress.  And our analysis is that we continually update based on what else is going on in the world and how busy our force is in the world.  And so we can do that, that we can respond and we can respond with the number of people we need with the right equipment and we can fulfill our obligations under our national security strategy and do exactly what our president expects us to be able to do.

Mr. Russert:  The president has said repeatedly that in terms of Iran and North Korea, the military option is on the table.  Do we have the military capability right now and the available intelligence to remove North Korea or Iran's nuclear capability?

Gen. Myers:  I'm not going to get into operational plans.  I'll go back to what I just said, that we have the capability to do what the president might want us to do in providing for our national security and the security of our friends and allies.  And we have a certain force structure that's been designed to do certain things, and we can still do those despite the fact that we are very busily engaged in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  We have enough force.  We track that all the time.  And it won't as elegant as we would like it because we are busy and we have equipment issues and so forth, but they're all being worked.  We've got a very generous budget in front of the Congress that the House has already passed I think or the subcommittee anyway on defense appropriations has passed for supplemental, and so we're doing OK, and we can fulfill our obligations.  There's no question about that.

Mr. Russert:  So if the president so ordered, you feel confident we could find and destroy Iran and North Korea's nuclear capabilities?

Gen. Myers:  I didn't say that.  What I said is we can deal with a security threat that they might pose, and I'll just leave it there.  We're getting into operational matters and intelligence matters that I'd rather not talk about.

Mr. Russert:  But if the president says the option's on the table, the American people I think would like to know, "Can we really do that?  What would happen if we tried to remove North Korea's nuclear capability militarily?  What would the fallout be?  Do we have the wherewithal to do that or the same with Iran?"

Gen. Myers:  Well, I think the point is that the president said we're going to do this diplomatically and that the use of force is not the first option. But knowing that force is there and available I think is an important incentive to those that don't want to come to the bargaining table.  I think Secretary Rice has said we're going to do this through six-party talks and we need to get back to the table with six parties to include North Korea to deal with their nuclear issue.  Make no mistake about it.  I don't think North Korea poses a threat to South Korea today.  They know that if they were to start any conflict on that peninsula, that would be the end of their regime. They would lose and they know that and we're very confident about that.

Mr. Russert:  But some have said that Iran and North Korea are so far advanced with their programs that it would be next to impossible for us militarily to destroy them without huge fallout and consequences.

Gen. Myers:  Well, I don't know that the intelligence I've seen backs that up necessarily, but clearly, any time you have nuclear weapons, it poses a real threat.  The threat that I worry about is the proliferation of nuclear technology to terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda who have said many times that they want to use the biggest weapon they can find.  And if it's a nuclear weapon, even if it's not a nuclear explosion but a radiological device, that is a real threat.  And that's why, you know, when you try to confront the world after 9/11, you have to play defense here at home.  We've got to have offense in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And these negotiations with the North Koreans, the six-party talks, are very important, as are the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the IAEA regarding Iran.

Mr. Russert:  The Chinese government voted and announced they would be open to "non-military means" against Taiwan if they deemed it necessary.  If, in fact, the Chinese invaded or attacked Taiwan, would we defend Taiwan?

Gen. Myers:  Well, the president has said, and I think it's the most powerful statement that we can refer to, and that is that no change of the status quo by force by either side.  So clearly, it's not in anybody's interest to settle this by force.

Mr. Russert:  The president was asked in 2001 about that.  Question:  "If Taiwan were attacked by China, do we have an obligation to defend the Taiwanese?"  Bush:  "Yes, we do."  "And you would?"  President Bush:  "And the Chinese must understand that.  Yes, I would."  Question:  "With the full force of American military?"  President Bush:  "Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself."

That's our policy.

Gen. Myers:  That's--obviously the president makes that policy, he's the one that makes those decisions.  And the military will do what we have to do.

Mr. Russert:  You were in Afghanistan, a country that had free elections; President Karzai.   And yet there's one haunting problem, and that's drugs. Let me show you a presidential report from our own government.  "More than three years after a pro-U.S. government was installed, Afghanistan has been unable to contain opium poppy production and is on the verge of becoming a narcotics state. ... The Afghan narcotics situation `represents a enormous threat to world stability.'"

With all the success we had in rooting out the Taliban, how have we allowed Afghanistan to become a narco state?

Gen. Myers:  I don't know if we allowed it.  I think this is the result of an Afghanistan that was beaten into dust by the Taliban and others and normal economic activity not allowed to prosper.  And so part of the way you saw that is what we saw in Kabul.  We were caught in a traffic jam in Kabul for the first time--I've been going there periodically.  This trip there was a traffic jam that actually slowed our progress for a while, which was something a little bit unusual.  Lots of trucks there that go between the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But you're right, and the report is right, that counter-narcotics--the narcotics trade in Afghanistan is a real danger to the state of Afghanistan. But President Karzai understands that.  The international community understands that and is bringing a lot of force to bear on that problem. It'll be a long-term issue until the economy gets up and running, until you get some rural development that gives alternative livelihood these people that see poppies and their production and harvesting as a way of life.

Mr. Russert:  To domestic issues, should Americans be braced for a lot of military base closings?

Gen. Myers:  Well, that's being determined as we speak and the nice thing about this base realignment and closure process we're going through right now is that it's dovetailing in very nicely into our global posture that the department undertook to look at how we're postured around the world.  So we'll have to wait and see.

The one thing that Americans can be sure of is that the primary criterion for evaluating whether a base stays or whether it's closed is the military utility, and that breaks down, of course, into lots other sub- areas.  But that's the primary thing.  And in May, the Defense Department will hand its report over to the commission, and the BRAC Commission will look at that and hand it over to the president in September, who will pass it on, if he approves, on to the Congress.

Mr. Russert:  But there will be some closings?

Gen. Myers:  Oh, absolutely, yeah.  We estimated before we started this process that we're somewhere between 20 and 25 percent excess infrastructure in our United States-based military infrastructure, and so there definitely will be some closings.  And I think as taxpayers, you should demand--the American public should demand we close some installations and become more efficient.

Mr. Russert:  A report issued by the Pentagon, here was the headline: "Defense Department Surveys Academy Sex Assaults.  One female student in seven attending the nation's military academies last spring said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released yesterday by the Defense Department.  More than half of women studying at the Naval, Air Force and Army academies report experiencing some form of sexual harassment of campus."

That sounds like a very big problem.

Gen. Myers:  Well, I guess it's a problem that's not all that untypical in other universities as well.  However, having said that, given the standards that we have in the Department of Defense and our military academies, it's obviously something we're going to have to work on.  The fact that we did the survey to find out what the issues were and we piggybacked off the issues out at the Air Force Academy to look at all our academies to make sure that we have the right policies in place to cut this down to levels at way below the norm.  I mean, this is just unacceptable, and it's unacceptable in our behavior in the workplace, and it shouldn't start, of course, in the military academies.  We've got to cut down on that, too.

Mr. Russert:  Will there be zero tolerance?

Gen. Myers:  Oh, there is zero tolerance.  There's zero tolerance for that like there is in our drug policy.  There's absolute zero tolerance, and absolutely.

Mr. Russert:  General Richard Myers, as always, we thank you for sharing your views with the American people.

Gen. Myers:  Thanks, Tim.

Mr. Russert:  Coming next, Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, and Terri Schiavo.  An emotional issue that plays out across the country.  George Bush and Social Security; Mark McGwire and steroids.  Our roundtable will tackle those issues and a whole lot more right here on Meet the Press.


Mr. Russert:  Social Security, baseball, and steroids, presidential leadership--all that and more.  Our roundtable is next after this station break.


Mr. Russert:  And we are back.  Welcome, all.

Here in Washington, Congress in session all weekend long about the Terri Schiavo case, the woman down in Florida in the permanent vegetative state. And there were pictures of them.  We have a situation now where the president is coming back early from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to sign legislation which will, in fact, put the federal court system involved in this matter.

David Broder, what do you make of it all?

Mr. David Broder:  Well, as a parent, I can certainly sympathize with her parents in their desire to see that everything is done for their daughter. But for Congress to step in at this late stage with no expertise at all, intervene in a situation where the state courts have had ample opportunity to try to weigh the difficult balance, seems to me that they are way out of line.

Mr. Russert:  Senator Bill Frist, a physician, who is the majority leader, said that he did not examine Ms. Schiavo but he looked at the videotape of her.  Tom DeLay, extremely outspoken on this.  Ron Brownstein, a Washington Post report today said there was a memo circulating that this would be good for the 2006 mid-term elections with the Christian conservative voters.  Is it all politics, or is it part politics?  What are we looking at?

Mr. Ron Brownstein:  Well, like most things in Washington, it's part politics, probably, and part conviction, but this would fall into the very small category of cases where conservatives in the Congress have been looking to increase the power of the federal courts and the reach of the federal courts. And what it tells you is that they are willing to move against, violate, really, what had been one of the fundamental principles of Republicans in the modern era, which is reserving more rights for the states.

Bob Dole used to come on this show and, you know, hold up the 10th Amendment. He ran on it in 1996.  We have a situation now in which our politics are--the most volatile and explosive issues in our politics are related to values more than interests.  The Republican Party is a coalition, I think, founded on social conservatism; it's the core.  It is the animating principle.  And I think when Bill Frist went on the floor last night and said, "This is about a culture of life," he gave away part of the game.  This is about responding to a base that is essential to their vote.

Mr. John Harwood:  And, Tim, it's no accident that Democrats are not making a whole lot of noise about this.  They feel that they're behind the eight-ball. They don't want to be portrayed in this debate as people who are eager for that feeding tube to be removed.  And so they're essentially pleading no contest on this, standing aside, letting the Republicans do what they intend to do, and it's an amazing spectacle.

Mr. Russert:  A lesson they think that they learned from the 2004 election?

Mr. Harwood:  That's one of the most profound things Democrats are trying to wrestle with after the 2004 election, and that is:  "How do we get on top of the values divide in this country, which is clearly working to the benefit of the Republican Party?"

Mr. Russert:  What do you make of it all, Gwen?

Ms. Gwen Ifill:  Well, look at what happened in the 2004 elections and what's happened since.  Congress has actually done a great deal, but they've done a great deal on the economic front.  They've passed bankruptcy reform.  They've passed class-action reform.  "Reform" is the word that they use, but they have done a lot to benefit people economically, and people end up--before they left town, they passed a whole new raft of tax cuts which would disproportionately benefit wealthy people.  That wasn't speaking to the base that got George W. Bush re-elected or sent them back to Washington.  So what we have seen this week is they can seize on certain cultural issues that will draw the spotlight to them, and even if the actual legislation they're passing, that they're asking the president to happily sign, benefits the economic classes, they are now speaking to the cultural classes by seizing on issues of life and death-- they never talked about Terri Schiavo until this week--on seasoned cultural issues like drugs for your kids and the baseball hearings.  It's not a stupid thing to do, and as this memo shows it's something they're very much aware of.

Mr. Brownstein:  You know, historically, it's been difficult for Republicans to generate much tangible progress on the real issues of concern to social conservatives.  They have not been able to ban abortion, obviously, and they have historically looked for issues like this where they can demonstrate empathy for that constituency without taking steps that necessarily alienate more moderate voters on social issues.  Now, they have made some more progress in the last few years, but there's no doubt when these kinds of cases come along they provide an opportunity for a connection that simply isn't there on a day- to-day legislative basis.

Ms. Ifill:  And it's a connection which isn't working with Social Security, for instance.

Mr. Brownstein:  Yeah.

Mr. Russert:  Let's talk about Social Security just a second.  David Broder, Tom DeLay front and center on this issue of Terri Schiavo, much more willing to talk about this than some of the ethical charges raised against him.  He has specifically criticized the media, your paper, The Washington Post...

Mr. Broder:  Yes.

Mr. Russert:  ...for, in fact, indulging in unfair reporting on his activities.  What do you make of Congressman DeLay this week?

Mr. Broder:  Well, the DeLay story which really didn't get any traction, I think, until the last few weeks, talking about the fund raising for the redistricting in Texas, that's pretty remote from most people's interest. Junkets are something that people understand.  And there have been a series of stories now about the financing of his overseas travel in the recent years. He has a plausible claim, namely that a non-profit organization invited him and he traveled on their nickel.  It turned out that they were taking money to reimburse themselves from gambling interests and others.  He says he was unaware of that.  I think he has a plausible claim there, but I also think it's something that now people begin to say, "Well, wait a minute.  What is it with this fellow?"  I suspect that if and when the House ever has another Ethics Committee functioning which they don't have at the moment...

Mr. Harwood:  And it may be a while for this.

Mr. Broder:  ...there will be an investigation.

Mr. Russert:  It may be a while before there is an Ethics Committee that is "functioning," quote, unquote?

Mr. Harwood:  Well, as polarized as our politics are, Republicans feel that now they're in control of the Congress, they can also be in control to a greater extent of the ethics process and they're not likely to enable Democrats to do things that are going to erode their popularity.

Ms. Ifill:  Now, here's a weak point in that argument which is there are Republicans--the "NewsHour" this week that Stephen Moore was there who's Club for Growth, Free Enterprise Foundation.

Mr. Russert:  Free Enterprise Foundation.

Ms. Ifill:  He is one of Tom DeLay's staunchest supporters.  He thinks Tom DeLay, the moon rises and sets on him, but even he said, "I'm a little concerned about this ethics question.  I think we should be addressing that." He doesn't think that smells particularly right.  That's where the cracks begin in the GOP armor where they disagree about how you handle these questions.

Mr. Brownstein:  The interesting question is how the Democrats respond here. I think that the Democratic strategy is kind of striking.  It's not going after DeLay personally to the extent they did at someone like Newt Gingrich in the '90s.  Their feeling is he's still not well known enough nationally to do that.  But there does seem to be two tracks developing in the way they're trying to use this.  One, there was a report this week that Rahm Emanuel, who we all know is the very aggressive chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is trying to recruit candidates specifically sort of squeaky clean as contrast to perhaps the Republicans that they raise ethical questions about, both to challenge them but also to raise the visibility issue.

The other is trying to push legislation to reform the ethics process, to move back to where it was before it was changed this year.  And, Tim, this week, the former Republican chairman of the Ethics Committee, Joel Hefley, supported that legislation, which Democrats are now trying to push through a discharge petition again to focus more visibility on the question in the way that the Republicans did 15 years ago of how the House is being run.

Mr. Harwood:  And, Tim, they're also trying to link it to what's going on in the Senate, this threat of a so-called nuclear option, in which the filibuster would be obviated by rule from the chair among the Republicans.  Democrats are trying to make the argument that it's an abuse of power issue, that they're running roughshod in the Senate and Tom DeLay runs roughshod in the rules of the House.  Now, Republicans say the fact that Democrats are making this a concerted strategy is something that along with the Schiavo case is actually going to help rally Republicans behind their leader and prevent them from dumping him.

Mr. Russert:  Well, let's talk about that a second.  David Broder, the Democratic senators gathered on the steps of the Capitol.  Harry Reid wrote a letter to Bill Frist.  He said, "Listen, if you take away our right to filibuster on judicial nominations, other than supporting the troops and fundamental programs that keep our government going, we will not cooperate with you period," the so-called nuclear option and the nuclear option response.  What's going to happen?

Mr. Broder:  Well, this is a high-risk operation.  At this point, my best understanding is that Senator Frist does not have the votes to invoke this procedure that would cut off debate on a judicial nomination with 51 votes. But if he does and the Democrats carry out this threat, I keep thinking back to what happened when Newt Gingrich thought he had President Clinton over the barrel and was going to shut down the government.  In that kind of a situation, the president and the majority party has the big megaphone, and I think Democrats would run an enormous risk if they really tried to shut down the operations of the United States Senate.

Ms. Ifill:  Well, there are two...

Mr. Harwood:  And, you know, it could...

Ms. Ifill:  I'm sorry.

Mr. Harwood:  Go ahead.

Ms. Ifill:  There are two ways of looking at that.  One is that you shouldn't make a threat you can't keep.  And if Bill Frist is threatening the nuclear option and in the end has to pull back, he looks weak as Newt Gingrich did even though he did shut it down.  Somehow the threats have to pay off.

The other side of that, however, is that Democrats--and Republicans have figured this out--are in danger of always saying no to things and always being the obstructionists.  And so they are beginning to get nervous about how do they find a way out of this box as well.  You have two parties trying to find a little pinhole of daylight, and I don't know where it is.

Mr. Harwood:  Tim, we surely know what the exit strategy is for Republicans on Social Security, and that is to say Democrats are the "no" party, as Gwen said.  "They're shutting things down.  I'm trying to press a big issue, and they're burying their heads in the sand."  Watch for this nuclear option as a potential, if we get deeper into the year, if the polls haven't turned around, if Republicans still have trouble getting the president's Social Security plan down, they can use that nuclear option and the shutdown that the Democrats engender and say, "Look at what they're stopping now."

Mr. Brownstein:  You know, in some larger way, look at where we are, you know.  The obvious answer for judges would seem to be finding a way for the president and the Democrats in Congress to make a deal on who would be acceptable.  Some of these are obviously off the table for Democrats.  Perhaps they'd have to give in.  He is going to be president for the next few years. Democrats don't want to have a precedent of filibusters becoming routine on judges, because someday there will be a Democratic president who--and there's probably going to be more than 40 Republican senators at that point and they will be able to filibuster.  But we've reached a point of such polarization in Washington where the 51-49 kind of divides are so routine.  ANWR, the drilling in the Arctic, being moved into the budget, so that it could pass on a 51-49 vote.  The two sides have become so polarized and so confrontational that what might have been done in an earlier generation to avoid this is extraordinarily difficult now.

Mr. Russert:  And has spilled over into the Social Security debate, the president saying everything's on the table but raising the payroll tax.  One of his principal economic advisers, David, said that private personal accounts must be a part of any solution to the problem.  But you wrote a column that Congressman Clay Shaw, Republican from Florida, saying the only way to solve this and develop a compromise is to fix the solvency problem of Social Security and then have private personal accounts outside, Social Security plus.  Where are we on this?

Mr. Broder:  Well, Clay Shaw has been the chairman of the Social Security subcommittee until just two months ago, knows this issue as well as anybody. He also knows the House as well as anybody.  Said simply, there are not the votes to do what the president wants to do.  And if we're going to find a solution, we have to find a middle ground.  His middle ground happens to be taking the individual savings accounts and adding them on to Social Security rather than carving them out of Social Security.  I think in the end if there's a deal, it will look very much like what Clay Shaw is talking about.

Mr. Russert:  But you know, the problem...

Ms. Ifill:  But hasn't the president tried in every possible way to signal his ability to accept all kinds of compromises, and every time he does it--except payroll tax, and I think that's mostly because it has the word "tax" on it--but every time he says, "OK, you know, I'll consider raising the caps, for instance, on the amount of money you pay into Social Security payroll--from your check," people say, "No, no, no, no, no."  So the fight seem to be on the Hill among Republicans and so the Democrats get to stay unified, the president gets to say, "Hey, I'm trying to find something here. OK.  Let's not talk about payroll--talk about private accounts first.  Let's talk about solvency first."  That's what he was signaling this week, and they're not having any of that either.

Mr. Brownstein:  David, I read your column with enjoyment today, because my column tomorrow is on why add-ons...

Mr. Broder:  Yes.  All politicians look alike.

Mr. Brownstein:  Exactly right.  Add-ons look like, and they are, I think, the logical midpoint between where the two parties are.  But in this current climate, I don't think it's going to work as a deal either.  What you have is conservative Republicans and the White House saying that they view this idea of an add-on account, which started with Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as a new entitlement funded by a new tax, and you don't, in their words, solve the problem of an old entitlement by adding a new entitlement.

More interestingly, and more reflective, I think, of the environment we're in, Democrats who uniformly endorsed this idea, almost uniformly, under Clinton and Gore and, in fact, every Democrat except Ben Nelson sent a letter to Bush earlier this month, Tim, saying that they would negotiate around the idea of add-on accounts, in the party, that idea that Clay Shaw is talking about is going to be increasingly unpopular.  The reason is that Democratic activists fear that it would become the nose under the camel's tent now.  If you even created an add-on account, you would provide a platform for Republicans to come back and say, "Well, you can put the money--you get X dollars in it now, but wouldn't it be better if you could get your payroll tax in there as well?"

The centrifugal force in this debate is so large it's just hard to see the two sides trusting each other enough after the four years we've had to really take a leap of this magnitude.

Mr. Russert:  So what happens...

Mr. Harwood:  That Democratic argument is silly.  However, the problem with add-ons is it's precisely the opposite of what the president set out to do...

Mr. Brownstein:  Yes.

Mr. Harwood:  ...and what the most conservative members of his party want to do.  They want to change this program.  And if you do that, then you have to come up with more money for solvency in the long term.  That's all pain. That's the stuff that Republicans don't want to vote for.

Mr. Russert:  If they don't come together this year or next year, and Social Security continues to go on, and the number of people on the program doubles and the costs goes through the roof, who gets blamed?

Ms. Ifill:  Don't you see the president beginning to shift a little bit on--shift that blame issue a little bit this week when he said, "Hey, I didn't send the bill to the Hill because it's always dead on arrival.  Congress has to be the one come up with the solution for this."  This way--and maybe I'm ahead of where the president is because he seems very devoted still, traveling the country with his mother this week, to try to sell this.  But he's beginning to set the groundwork in some ways, for saying, "Listen, I'm giving this all I've got, and Congress is the one which has got to come up with the solution, and they keep batting it down.  And if this doesn't get fixed, what do I do?"

Mr. Harwood:  But remember, some of these things take time.  The administration may get some credit, and we've seen it in our Wall Street Journal-NBC polling with people under 50 years old for trying to tackle the problem.  He's taken hits from people over 50.  But over the long term, Republicans may be able to identify themselves with the interest of young people.

Mr. Brownstein:  Over the long term, Medicare is the real finance issue, and Medicaid, much more than Social Security.  But I think an interesting kind of short-term barometer of where we are--excuse me--Democrats have been noting that Republicans are less enthusiastic about holding town hall meetings on Social Security on this recess than they were on the last recess, and there's a Democratic interest group, Americans United to Save Social Security, the unions and some others that are sponsoring Democratic members during this recess to go into the districts of neighboring Republicans and hold town hall meetings on Social Security, which basically gives you a sense of where they feel this debate is going.  But the risk is what John said.

Ms. Ifill:  So a standoff.

Mr. Brownstein:  In the end--most likely, in the end, they will be there saying "no."  That is a big debate in the party.  They need to say "yes" to something.

Mr. Harwood:  Well, let's not glaze over one fact, though, and that is that it's not easy to lose a House seat anymore.  As stacked as some of these districts are, Republicans are nervous about this.  It's not going to be easy for Democrats to use this issue to win back the House.

Mr. Russert:  Most congressmen have safe seats.  They're only worried about primaries within their own party.

Mr. Harwood:  You bet.

Mr. Russert:  Let me turn to presidential leadership.  I was quite taken by the president in his news conference on Wednesday when he was talking about the presidency and history, and we had become, I think, quite used to seeing presidents standing alone with their arms folded in the window or reflecting at the Oval Office desk.

Ms. Ifill:  And they look just like that, Tim.  That was very good.

Mr. Russert:  The loneliest...

Mr. Brownstein:  Yeah, I know.  The John Kennedy...

Mr. Russert:  ...job in the world.  And suddenly, George W. Bush said this.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

Pres. George W. Bush: The other thing, it turns out, this job, you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis.  You don't have much time to sit around and, you know, kind of wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, "How do you think my standing will be?"  I mean...

(End videotape)

Mr. Russert:  There's a confident man, David Broder.

Mr. Broder:  He is confident off the charts, Tim.  There is--and it's been a striking characteristic about him--a sense of purposefulness and belief in himself that is just unmistakable.  It arms him to do what he's done, which is to make enormous changes in policy in this country with a very thin mandate or none at all during the first term.  And it also means that he doesn't worry very much about the decisions that he's made.  He doesn't go back and chew over them again.

Mr. Russert:  You have the war in the Iraq.  This is the second anniversary this weekend.  The president went to Europe and said, "You know, we disagreed on the war.  Let's put it behind us and try to do some things together." Condoleezza Rice did the same, and then the president nominates John Bolton to be ambassador of the United Nations, nominates Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank, Wolfowitz and architect of the war.  What signals is he sending?

Ms. Ifill:  It's all the same signal.  When he stands up there and says he doesn't wander lonely, he's saying, you know, "I know what I want to do," and he's going to--if it looks like a finger in your eye, Old Europe, fine.  So he's going to send John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice and put Karen Hughes, his number one spinner, in charge of public diplomacy outreach at the State Department, and what he is saying is, "These are my people," or even Rob Portman at the U.S. Trade Office.  "These are my people.  Their qualifications for them are mostly that they are my people."  And there is no mistaking what his intention is, and that comes out of confidence as well.

Mr. Harwood:  Tim, did you see the question he got at the news conference? "Do you feel a sense of vindication now?"  And he said, "Oh, no, I don't have time to think about things like that."  All the body language says he's feeling very much vindicated by what's happened, that he was right on Iraq, and all the smart guys on the other side were wrong.  And let's be clear, on Social Security, I think he believes there's still a chance that he can get a deal on Social Security.  It's a little premature to say he can't do it...

Ms. Ifill:  True.

Mr. Harwood:  ...and we've all seen that you can't count this president out.

Ms. Ifill:  Well, why would the president ever say, "Oh, yeah, I feel vindicated"?  Why would any politician ever say those words out loud?  He doesn't have to.  It's his actions.

Mr. Brownstein:  Sure.  Sometimes it seems to me that George Bush is a walking attempt to prove the proposition that a person's strengths and weaknesses are flip sides of the same coin.  I mean, the line between...

Ms. Ifill:  Yeah.

Mr. Brownstein:  ...resolve and intransigeance in the way that he approaches the presidency, approaches the world, is really in the eye of the beholder. Many of the qualities that make him a tough, effective political leader are the same ones that make him such a polarizing figure at home and abroad.  You look at the appointments of Bolton and Wolfowitz as really symbols of that. Now, Wolfowitz may be a little different in the sense that there is I think more of an argument that they've already tried, through some of their foreign policy, the millennium challenge account, to use the foreign aid to encourage reform and democracy, and in that way, Wolfowitz--you can argue that Wolfowitz is the extension of the Bush doctrine by other means perhaps at the world bank.  But there is a quality about Bush that his supporters see as resolve and his critics see as intransigence...

Mr. Broder:  Well, one thing we...

Mr. Brownstein:  ...and that's why you get the kind of divide that we have on him.

Mr. Broder:  Often in the second term you get second-rate appointments, and these are first-rate appointments.  These are not hacks.  These are real, quality people that he's been able to mobilize and bring into the administration.

Ms. Ifill:  And if I can just...

Mr. Harwood:  And in the case of Wolfowitz, it's something that's going to last beyond his presidency.  That's a 10-year job.

Ms. Ifill:  I just want to piggyback on something Ron just said.  When Barbara Bush introduced her son the other day in Florida, she told a story of him as a six-year-old when he would always be so stubborn.  And then she ended by saying, "You know, what's annoying in a six-year-old"--I'm paraphrasing her--"actually makes him a great president."

Mr. Russert:  Bottom line on this, when the president was on Meet the Press February of '04, he used the word "vision."  His father wouldn't talk about the vision thing.  He said, "My vision is that a free Iraq will change the Middle East."  And that's how he's ultimately going to be judged on his presidency, and we just simply don't know.  Right now, what is Iraq, Lebanon...

Mr. Harwood:  But in the short term, it's also looking pretty good for him.

Mr. Russert:  Short term.

Mr. Harwood:  Right now, we don't know what these things are going to turn out in the long term, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iran and in Iraq.  But right now, George Bush feels that he has reason--that he's shown that he's right.

Mr. Brownstein:  You know, I once did a long interview with him about his father and about political families, and I've always felt that George Bush was influenced more by his father's failures than his successes.  He took more lessons from what went wrong for his father than what went right.  And he has really produced a presidency that is at the opposite end of the spectrum on how you achieve your goals as president:  overwhelmingly toward vision and away from the kind of tactical deal-making, bartering that his father engaged in.  And that, again, is the strength and weakness.  The reality is he's getting much more done than seemed possible, given the majorities in Congress and the vote in the country.  But the price is that it's a very polarizing presidency at home and abroad.

Mr. Russert:  Let's turn to baseball and steroids.  Huge attention...

Ms. Ifill:  Oh, joy.  Let's talk about baseball.

Mr. Russert:  ...paid on this.  Opening day on Capitol Hill.  The question was asked of major-league baseball players, have they ever used steroids. Let's watch some of the responses.

(Videotape, from Thursday):

Mr. Rafael palmeiro:  I have never used steroids, period.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, from Thursday):

Mr. Frank Thomas:  I have never, ever used steroids.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, from Thursday):

Mr. Curt Schiling:  I have never seen steroids.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, from Thursday):

Mr. James Sharp:  "To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs."

(End videotape)

(Videotape, from Thursday):

Mr. Mark McGwire:  I'm not here to talk about the past.

(End videotape)

Mr. Russert:  Mr. McGwire, Mark McGwire, a very different answer.  Then Congressman Patrick McHenry asked this question:  "Are using steroids, the use of steroids, is that cheating?"  Jose Canseco:  "I think so."  Rafael Palmeiro, "I believe it is."  Sammy Sosa:  "I think so."  Curt Schilling: "Yes."  Mark McGwire:  "That's not for me to determine."  McHenry then asked McGwire, "For you, is it cheating?  Yes or no."  McGwire:  "That's not for me to determine."

David Broder, what do you take from that?

Mr. Broder:  Well, Mark McGwire did as much to discredit himself in that hearing as he did with his achievements on the field to bring glory to himself and to the game.  I do not think that Congress was out of line at all to look into this issue.  I think it's--it is the national pastime, and this is the national legislature, and I think it is a real problem that they have properly exposed.

Mr. Russert:  Gwen Ifill, John McCain, who said originally that he didn't think there was a need for more hearings, but then got very outspoken when he believed that the policy on steroids that had been explained to him may have not been, in fact, a policy in writing.  Will there be a net result where baseball will now have a very specific written policy on steroids that has been toughened because of these hearings?

Ms. Ifill:  Not unless Congress is willing to pull the only gun it's got in its holster, which is to withdraw baseball's antitrust exemption, which I didn't hear any talk of anybody wanting to do that.  I mean, I admit I have mixed feelings whether it was a good idea, David, to have these hearings.  I mean, sure, part of what Congress does is provide a platform for national debate, but there are so many other national debates which go unaddressed by Congress, really important ones that affect people's lives, not just their pastimes, that I was, in the end, really of two minds about whether there was anything, unless Congress is willing to take the only legal action it has, to get out of this.

Mr. Harwood:  But, you know, we've been talking about polarization this morning along partisan lines.  This is an issue where you didn't have any of that.

Mr. Russert:  Yeah.

Mr. Harwood:  There wasn't trash talk between the Democrats and the Republicans on this committee.  They were reacting as fans a little bit, as politicians seeking cameras, to be sure, but they were also reacting as parents.  There are a lot of parents in this country whose kids--Ron's got a couple of young athletes in his family.  I've got daughters; it's not as big a problem for girls.

Ms. Ifill:  Oh, come on.

Mr. Harwood:  But there are a lot of parents around the country who were very happy that a light was shined on that problem, and kids are going to be deterred from taking steroids as a result.

Mr. Russert:  Here's a poll out that ESPN, ABC took talking to baseball fans. "Let players who used drugs keep their records?"  Yes, 33; no, 62.  "Allow players who used drugs into Hall of Fame?" Yes, 28; no, 66.

Ron Brownstein, Henry Aaron, 755 home runs.  Babe Ruth, 714.  Barry Bonds, 703.  He may very well pass Babe Ruth this year, Henry Aaron next year.  He's part of an investigation into the use of steroids at a trial in San Francisco. What's going to be the reaction in the country when Bonds passes Ruth and Aaron?

Mr. Brownstein:  It's going to be an extraordinary issue.  I mean, he'll probably pass Babe Ruth by the end of the school year, and Hank Aaron next year.  I think it's going to be a huge cloud hanging over him.  I think the question will be measured in the Hall of Fame, for one thing.  I think baseball will have very tough decisions about what to do about the records, especially if there's unequivocal evidence.  They are very reluctant, I think, to put an asterisk on the records.

But look, baseball has interpreted the antitrust exemption as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, that they are almost exempt from national oversight.  They're not.  They're part of the nation, and they have to deal with this probably more aggressively than they have.

Mr. Russert:  Final thought, David?

Mr. Broder:  I think Ron is right, that this is not an issue that's going to go away and it is an issue for parents.

Mr. Harwood:  And wouldn't it be amazing if we end up with the all-time hits leader Pete Rose and the all-time home-run leader neither of them being in the Hall of Fame.  It's possible.

Mr. Russert:  John Harwood, Gwen Ifill, David Broder, Ron Brownstein, thank you all.

We'll be right back with our Meet the Press Minute, former ambassador to the Soviet Union and Pulitzer Prize-winning George Kennan.  He died this week at age 101, right after this.


Mr. Russert:  And we are back.

In 1947, diplomat George Kennan wrote an article in the journal Foreign Affairs.  He proposed in the piece signed X that the U.S. stop the spread of communism through containment and politics, not war.  Twenty years after that article, he appeared right here on Meet the Press.

(Videotape, November 5, 1967):

Mr. Carl Rowan (Chicago Daily News):  I was intrigued by one comment you made about the climate in 1950.  You said, "Never before has there been such utter confusion in the public mind with respect to U.S. foreign policy.  The president doesn't understand it.  Congress doesn't understand it, nor does the public nor does the press.  They all wonder around in a labyrinth of ignorance and error and conjection?"  Twenty years later, what would you have to say about U.S. foreign policy?

Amb. George Kennan:  Mr. Rowan, I can only say that I was very young at that time, and my experience with American foreign policy was still relatively shallow.  Twenty years later, I would find my mood of that moment not so unique.

Mr. Rowan:  Well, I'm asking if you think there's more or less public confusion today.

Mr. Kennan:  I think there is probably more today than there was then.  And that's why I say I was young.  I hadn't seen the half of it yet.

(End videotape)

Mr. Russert:  George Kennan lived to see the United States win the Cold War. He died Thursday night at the age of 101.

And we'll be right back.


Mr. Russert:  Start tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams.

That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.