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Special Report Roundtable - May 11

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VT: These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything but we are just going to collect their phone information for the heck of it. Where does this stop?

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We are not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Part of the reaction today triggered by a story on the front page of "USA Today" with bold headlines that the administration program, there you see it. Some analytical observations on this now from Fred Barnes executive editor of "The Weekly Standard." Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call," welcome back Mort.

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Thank you.

HUME: And Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, Fox News contributors all. Well, what to make of all of this? Is it fair, as Senator Leahy suggests, that they are collecting information on the millions of Americans for the heck of it?

KONDRACKE: Boy, this is Washington. You know, everybody leaps to their appropriate place. I mean the Democrats automatically say this is Big Brother run amuck, you know, it's executive power and expansion and all that and the Republicans say trust us, we got a war going on, you know, whatever it is you just trust us. It won't wash. The trust us won't wash in this environment and the Hayden hearings will be the venue for exploring this.

Now, there may be -- there is probably a good explanation for. This I mean, can you imagine that if Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is calling somebody in Los Angeles, that's the NSA terrorist surveillance program. So whoever that person in Los Angeles is calling you would probably want to know who is in the network. The question is do you have to collect your -- all the people that you called or Fred called or Mara called or I called in order to develop that information?

MARA LIASSON, NPR: The answer to the NSA apparently is yes because they are collecting a database that then you can use to follow patterns if you have a known terrorist and you want to trace phone numbers. But look, the interesting thing to me about this story is that the "New York Times" must be feeling pretty bad today because this was -- they did several stories about this quite a while ago.

HUME: Starting back in December.

LIASSON: And I remember reading them and talking about the different phone companies participating and this is data mining and all the sudden this is on the front page of "USA Today" and it created quite a stir.

HUME: What struck me about the story was also the fact that apparently what they are collecting these numbers so in case they, for example, I suppose, pick up a terrorist phone number they can find out what numbers were called in the U.S. But they don't collect the names, unless, I suppose they can get the names.

LIASSON: Easy to get.

HUME: Maybe so but the fact is that's not what this program does yet. They might have to go another step presumably with a warrant to get the name.

LIASSON: Well, no, they wouldn't have to use a warrant, they could just do a cross referencing. It's easy to get a name once you got the get the phone number. But the point is they're looking for patterns.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": I can explain why they want everybody's phone number it's not who Shaikh Khalid Mohammed. It's who may be calling him or other known al Qaeda numbers. That is why you want to sift through all these numbers, not the names but see who may be calling some terrorist number.

HUME: And it would seem to be something you can't really do with human eyes.

BARNES: Huh-uh.

HUME: It's all done computerized.

LIASSON: Sure.

BARNES: Let me deconstruct for a minute what Senator Leahy said. He said they are going to collect their phone information. They are not collecting phone information, they are collecting phone numbers. That's all it is. Phone numbers and who they might be going to. And he says they are doing it for the heck of it. Does he really believe they are doing it for the heck of it or are they trying to find who is calling known al Qaeda numbers and who those numbers may be calling, that would seem to me that be outside obviously not unconstitutional there is an obvious purpose here. And yet you see this reflexive reaction as if something horrible happening. Well what is horrible that is happening is there a war by terrorists on the United States and we are trying to stop it.

KONDRACKE: This is more of the trust us.

BARNES: I didn't hear anybody say trust us.

KONDRACKE: That's what I heard you say just now.

BARNES: I didn't say that. I didn't say that at all.

KONDRACKE: It requires explanation. You know, and this is not something that will tip off the terrorists all they have to do is say this is why we are doing it.

HUME: And let me ask this question. If this is true and it so urgently requires information and it's so necessary, why is it that we are -- why is it that it took this story on this day with these headlines to trigger all of this interest on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. As Mara points out the fact that this has been going on has been out there for months, moreover it's been briefed to the senior members of Congress. If this was so urgently requisite of explanation, why haven't we heard about it before?

KONDRACKE: I'm not clear that -- Jane Harman who is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee indicated in a statement today although it wasn't exactly clear that there has been inadequate briefing on this subject.

HUME: They always say that. If it's been inadequate why hasn't she complained about it before?

BARNES: She says the whole committee ought to be there. We know, look, that's an old story.

LIASSON: The fact that the president came out as fast as he did with a very extensive statement. I mean, this is the kind of reaction that I don't think we have seen from the White House in a lot of other cases. Clearly the notion of information, whatever kind of information that's being collected on Americans disturbs people on the libertarian right and all across the political spectrum. It's something that has to be explained to the American people and President Bush tried to do it today in reaction to this article.

BARNES: This is a super classified program. The president's not going to come out and give all the details. I would say any moron can figure out what they are trying to do here. It's pretty obvious. It's not for the heck of it.

LIASSON: Why is it such a super classified thing if it's so easy to figure out?

BARNES: Look, we will see what General Hayden does next week at his confirmation hearing. Obviously he will be asked about it. One, it's a hype story this stuff about, Brit, as you pointed out reaching into homes and businesses and so on. Its is as senator Feinstein of California a Democrat said this has nothing to do with content. And yet we have this hysterical reaction and an inability of some people, I'm not naming any names, of some people to figure out what the program is about when it is plainly obvious.

KONDRACKE: Look, I led off saying this is what I suspect it is they are trying to establish the network. So why not say we are trying to establish what the networks of terrorist activities would be.

BARNES: They don't explain classified programs that's why.

HUME: When we come back with our panel how does an extension of tax cuts factor in Republican politics this year? That will be our topic next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) TN: So it translates so directly into jobs and jobs is where the focus of most campaigns, in terms of livelihood, quality of life at the local level, that it plays very much into the hand, I believe of our candidates.

HUME: That is Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader explaining how the passage of tax cutting passed by the Senate, same measure passed by the House will help the Republicans he thinks in November. This was done on a nearly totally party line vote. There were three Republicans voted no, three Democrats voted aye. Basically people you would expect.

What about the passage of this bill? Election year is hard to get anything done. This is something the administration wanted. It's not all the administration wanted. Does this move the ball in any important way in terms of giving people a sense that the Republicans are rallying at least their base a bit and passing appealing legislation or not?

KONDRACKE: Yeah. Tax cuts are part of the bedrock of what the Republican Party is all about. This is a 70 billion-dollar tax cut and you know.

HUME: Of course, it's a continuation of tax cuts in effect. It keeps them from going away.

KONDRACKE: Right. And it is -- it should contribute to economic growth. This is maintaining the 15 percent rate on capital gains and dividends and importantly for the middle class, protecting them against the alternative minimum tax. That's basically what this bill does.

You know, the Democrats are all against it because -- this is right down the ideological divide. Democrats think all income, earned and unearned should be taxed at the same progressive rate as other income. So, that's you why all the Democrats vote against it. This is a tax cut for the rich. It seems to me it is a tax cut for the rich but it's something that helps the average person by helping the economy grow by encouraging investment.

LIASSON: I think politically if they fail to pass this it would hurt the Republicans. I don't know how much it helps them if they do pass it; in other words, it's better than nothing. I think the things that the Republicans have to worry about this year are spending, you have got a conservative base that's up in arms about that. I don't know what they can do about that before November.

There is also a whole bunch of social issues that are going to come up with the Senate pretty soon that certainly the religious conservatives care about. Gay marriage amendment. There are some other issues. But those are the things that the Republicans hope will bring back those conservatives support that seems to be dropping pretty precipitously and will get their base excited by November.

BARNES: It's not dropping precipitously at all. It's already done dropped and did a few months ago and it actually when you see the polls that show only 51 percent of conservatives support the president and 69 percent of Republicans.

LIASSON: Used to be 95.

BARNES: Well not among conservatives but among Republicans.

LIASSON: Yeah, yeah.

BARNES: And you see it should give Republicans some hope. Obviously they are not going to win any Democratic support but they could win back their own people who supported Bush and Republicans in Congress in the past and produced great election victories in 2004 and 2002 and so on. And when you put all -- I think this tax thing is just the start. It's a lot more important economically than it is politically but it's a start. And Democrats, in effect, were for a tax increase because if you don't extend these and get these taxes -- tax cuts on capital gains and dividends lapse, then it goes back to an old rate. In the case of dividends it would be an increase of something like 23 percent.

HUME: Twenty three points anyway.

BARNES: So it's important. When you move on to judges, another Republican issue that's very important. Conservative judges, spending, I agree, is important, that's going to be a hard agreement in the Senate on conferees with the House on an immigration bill. Think we are going to get a bill passed next week, an immigration bill with about 70 votes and go to the house. I think we are going to wind up immigration bill with strong enforcement at the border and also earned citizenship. There will be things that will bring republicans back.

KONDRACKE: I put this question, you know, what do you have to do to win the conservative base back to Jeff Sessions, senator, and he said out of the box, strong immigration, strong border control, that, and clearly that is what the conservative base has been most agitated about. That's what the radio talk show hosts are constantly pounding away at. If he can produce a bill that shows that there is strong border enforcement I think that will help.

HUME: Last question to you Mara. If a bill comes out that has strengthened border enforcement.

LIASSON: That's my question, yes.

HUME: But it also has guest worker program how will that play with the Republican base.

LIASSON: I think that's going to be a problem for them. I agree that the minimum they have got to pass strong enforcement but if it includes something that the base sees as amnesty how does that help them?

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