MSNBC: Tim, This is a week Republicans would probably like to forget, what with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, under fire for selling stock from his blind trust and now the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-TX.
Russert: And you can couple that, according to Republicans I talk to, with the anxiety over the Hurricane Katrina response and the war in Iraq. One Republican congressman said to me, “I’m sure glad I’m running in November 2006 and not November 2005.
As a consequence, this is a difficult time here and very little is going to get done. Congress will deal with the Katrina fallout and try to get relief to those people and the president’s next Supreme Court nominee -- which we expect to be made on Monday -- and then that’s it. Everything else is pretty much paralyzed.
MSNBC: So, do the Democrats smell blood? Is this an opportunity to stall this next nominee because of the publicity over DeLay and Frist?
Russert: They think so. It depends on who it is. But they believe John Roberts was easily confirmed, with 78 votes, because he was much more in the conservative mainstream than they believe the next nominee will be. But we just have to wait to see who President George W. Bush decides to put forward.
MSNBC: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this week that John Roberts did the right thing in the way he answered question during his chief justice confirmation hearing – following what they now call the “Ginsburg rule.”
Russert: Exactly. The only questions she answered were those in which she had a very strong paper trail.
But it’s going to be quite interesting to see how this all plays out with the court. There are some people in the White House that feel, very strongly, they prefer to have a controversial Supreme Court nominee to get the debate in the country back on moral values, cultural values and off of Katrina, Iraq and Tom DeLay.
So, it plays several different ways. It’s going to be fascinating.
MSNBC: Aside from the legal aspects, how is Tom DeLay’s indictment going to play out, politically?
Russert: Oh, boy -- was that a seismic earthquake in Washington!
Tom DeLay is gong to be fighting for his political life over the next year and will be very much distracted.
We’re going to be talking about that on Sunday, with Tom Reynolds, who heads up the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and Rahm Emmanuel who heads up the Democrat’s Congressional Campaign Committee. They’ve agreed to come on together to try to sort that out. Both are very feisty and combative men and have a very strong sense where their party is going to be headed next year.
MSNBC: DeLay has been very successful in getting the GOP some important votes on really close issues that have come up on the Hill. The White House has to have some concern now about winning some of the close votes it used to be able to get.
Russert: Tom DeLay can count and the White House knows that and he is going to be preoccupied over the next year.
Republicans are convinced they can stay united and stay organized. But when you talk to Republicans privately, they will say the DeLay indictment, the investigation of Sen. Frist, the CIA leak investigation, Hurricane Katrina and Iraq – there’s a lot of anxiety.
One Republican congressman said to me, “I’m sure glad we’re running in November 2006 and not November 2005.
MSNBC: As of Thursday, over 28,000 emergency loan operation had been received from the hurricane zone by the Small Business Administration, but just one check has been sent and the government’s temporary efforts for hurricane victims has been stalled. And an audit of FEMA shows how overwhelmed it was by the hurricanes in 2004.
Who has the responsibility of making sure these emergency plans and emergency agencies are up to the job?
Tim Russert: Well, in the end it’s going to be the president. As we found out and as he found out after Katrina did not go well, he bore the burnt of the political fallout. That’s why you saw such hands-on response during Hurricane Rita.
We have a problem - and we’ve talked about it before - that is, in case of a catastrophe, whether it’s a natural disaster or terrorist act, we are not as well organized and prepared four years after September 11th as we’ve been led to believe.
MSNBC: One thing that probably bothers a lot of folks is that after something goes wrong, everyone wants to have an investigation, but the fact of the matter is that there are provisions within the government that do call for, especially for members of congress, to make sure these programs are working and apparently it has been lacking on issues like this -- particularly given the importance of matters after 9/11.
Russert: The one thing that’s clear is there is so much blame to go around and much of it justified.
In Katrina, it was the local, state and federal governments that did not stand up. When you look at some of the warnings that have been made about FEMA, some of the warnings that had been made about the levees, and that congress did not exercise its oversight, that’s exactly right.
Now is the time to get it right, when our focus is there, the American people’s attention is there and the resources are going to be there.
MSNBC: Can we assume some or all of this going to be discussed Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: We’ll talk with General John Abizaid about Iraq. And then Congressman Tom Reynolds, Republican and Democrat Rahm Emanuel will debate about the future of the congress after Tom DeLay. All Sunday, on Meet the Press.