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John Negroponte, John Boehner, Roundtable

Fox News Sunday

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace. The pope says he's sorry about the violent reaction to his comments about Islam -- next, on "Fox News Sunday."

A Republican family feud erupts over how to handle terror detainees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We need to take the moral high ground without compromising our national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So Congress has got a decision to make: Do you want the program to go forward or not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: We'll talk about where the issue goes now with the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, in his first Sunday interview.

Congressional Republicans rush to pass bills that will help them and hurt Democrats. But will it work in November? We'll find out from House Majority Leader John Boehner.

Plus, a White House offensive pops the president's poll numbers. But is it a blip or a trend? We'll ask our panel: Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Nina Easton.

And our power player of the week -- how the mighty have fallen.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And good morning again from Fox News in Washington. Here's a quick check of the latest headlines.

Pope Benedict said today he's deeply sorry for the angry reaction in the Arab world to his recent comments about Islam. But in Somalia, a nun was killed in a shooting reportedly connected to the controversy. Earlier this week, the pope quoted from a medieval text which said some teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were evil and inhuman. The pope said today those words do not reflect his personal beliefs.

In Iraq, a deadly suicide truck bomb attack in the northern Kurdish town of Kirkuk. At least 24 people were killed and many more injured.

And in Afghanistan, U.S. forces are fighting on two fronts against the Taliban. There's a new offensive along the border with Pakistan, and in the south NATO troops successfully completed heavy attacks against insurgents there.

Well, joining us now for his first Sunday show interview as director of national intelligence is John Negroponte.

And, Director, good to have you here.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE: Good morning.

WALLACE: The president said this week that he will be forced to end CIA interrogations of terror detainees unless he gets clarification of the Geneva Conventions, because intelligence officers are unwilling to risk being charged with war crimes.

Let me see if I've got this straight. If you were to capture a high- value Al Qaida terrorist who might have information about a threat on this country, is the administration saying that the CIA would not interrogate that person?

NEGROPONTE: What the president is saying is that since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies, we need to now clarify, in terms of our domestic law, exactly what that means.

And the proposal he has sent to the Congress sets a way forward to clarify that, in terms of our own domestic legislation. And, in fact, the point of reference is the Detainee Treatment Act that was passed last year with the full support of Senator John McCain.

WALLACE: But if I may press my original question, Director Negroponte, what he said -- he challenged Congress. He said, "If you don't clarify, this program will end."

Question: Does that mean that if you capture a high-value Al Qaida target, CIA officers will not interrogate him?

NEGROPONTE: That person may be questioned, but using the kinds of aggressive techniques, the tough techniques that the president was referring to the other day may be problematic because of the uncertainty that has been introduced by the current situation.

So all these patriotic, professional agents are looking for is the kind of clarity to ensure that they will not be violating the law when they carry out these interrogations.

WALLACE: But you're saying the full array of interrogation techniques that they've used in the past they might not use now?

NEGROPONTE: At this particular point in time, that issue is up in the air.

WALLACE: Since the Supreme Court said in June that these interrogations are now covered by the Geneva Conventions, have any CIA officers refused to carry out any interrogations?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think what you're getting me into here is the conduct of the program, Chris.

WALLACE: No, I'm asking a simple question. Have any CIA officers refused to carry out...

NEGROPONTE: I think the way I would answer you in regard to that question is there's been precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now and certainly since the Supreme Court decision.

WALLACE: That has curtailed the kind of questioning that they have done.

NEGROPONTE: There just simply hasn't been that kind of activity.

WALLACE: Because of their concerns about...

NEGROPONTE: Well, the legal uncertainties surrounding the entire program and which we think must be clarified.

WALLACE: The question I have then: If this program is so vital, as the president says and I think all Americans would agree, and if it's impossible to go forward with the full array of tactics to question these people without clarifying the Geneva Conventions, why did the president wait all the way from June 29th, when the Supreme Court ruled on the Hamdan case, until last week to push this?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the court, as you know, ruled that we ought to come to the Congress, both with respect to military commissions and with respect to Common Article 3. And so, it was decided to wait until Congress came back into session.

Meanwhile, during that two-month period, July and August, a lot of time was spent consulting within the administration amongst experts as to how best to accomplish this.

But let me reiterate: What we're seeking here is not to alter Geneva, not to dilute the impact of Common Article 3. It's simply to find the clearest and most concise way to implement it under United States domestic law. That's all we're seeking.

Our CIA interrogators and our CIA agents want to and are committed to behaving in a constitutional, a legal and lawful manner, and in a way that is consistent with our international obligations.

WALLACE: Let me ask you a question some skeptics are raising. The president says time is running out; it is vital that Congress pass this clarifying legislation.

At the current time, you have no CIA prisoners because the president announced they've all been moved to Guantanamo. As far as the tribunals are concerned, none of these people have been brought to trial for five years, so they could wait a little longer.

Is the timing here really about national security, or is it more about having a good issue for the November elections?

NEGROPONTE: I think the timing here is a consequence of the Supreme Court decision and also the fact that we need to have -- even though the number of detainees has gone down to zero, this is a very, very important capability to have.

This has been one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable intelligence, human intelligence program with respect to Al Qaida. It has given us invaluable information that has saved American lives. So it is very, very important that we have this kind of capability.

WALLACE: OK. Let's talk about the capability and how much it is interfered with now. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was ratified by the United States in 1955. Since then, we've interrogated Soviet spies during the height of the Cold War, we've interrogated the Vietcong during the height of Vietnam. Why is this now a problem?

NEGROPONTE: Well, because we're talking about a different kind of war, and in this particular case we're talking about illegal enemy combatants, who, I would remind you, until the Supreme Court decision was handed down in June, we did not believe came under the purview of Common Article 3.

But now that that court decision has been made and in an effort to comply with that decision, we are seeking the clarity to define our obligations under Common Article 3 in terms of United States domestic law.

WALLACE: But, Director, the reason that the Supreme Court had to rule -- or, it didn't have to make that decision, but the reason that it ruled that Geneva covered these terror detainees was because of the fact that the president explicitly put a waiver that said Geneva did not cover them in 2002.

The fact is, for the previous 47 years -- and there were other illegal enemy combatants: Soviet spies, Vietcong -- somehow the U.S. was able to interrogate those kinds of prisoners and not run afoul of Geneva for 47 years. Why is this a problem?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the fact of the matter is I think the president, when he made this determination, was -- the Common Article 3 was passed with reference to civil wars, not with respect to this kind of a conflict.

But, in any event, we are where we are at this particular point in time. And I can't think of anything more logical than trying to define our obligations with respect to Common Article 3 under U.S. domestic law. It's a practice that we've carried out many, many times in the past.

And the standard we're actually proposing be applied is what is known as the McCain amendment in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. So that we would hope that the senators would be comfortable with applying that standard.

WALLACE: Before you became director of national intelligence, you were a diplomat, and over the years you worked with Colin Powell. This week, Secretary Powell wrote this -- and let's put it on the screen.

"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

Director, John McCain (sic) says, for the U.S. to be the first country ever to redefine the Geneva Conventions, will some day put our troops in danger.

NEGROPONTE: Well, look, let me emphasize first that this is not about redefining. It's about clarifying. It's, in fact, about defining our obligations under Common Article 3.

WALLACE: So it's not about redefining, it's about defining?

NEGROPONTE: It's not about changing anything. It is about clarifying, under U.S. domestic law, what our obligations are.

Let me make another point, because I think it bears mentioning. Throughout the conduct of this program, over the years of its existence, the comportment of the CIA agents who have been conducting these interrogations have been entirely within United States law and the Constitution.

These programs have been under a very, very strict supervision carried out by very, very professional officers who are totally committed to complying with United States law. And I wouldn't want there to be any suggestion that this had not been the case.

WALLACE: No, I don't know that there is any suggestion of that, and obviously they were following orders.

One of the reasons -- you keep bringing up the fact that John McCain, this was what was in his amendment that was agreed to last December. One of the problems, apparently, for Senator McCain is he felt that the limits that were put on interrogation last December were ignored by the CIA, that the administration used them for the military but didn't use them for the CIA. In fact, he got rolled on that. And so, now he's trying to insist that it doesn't happen again.

NEGROPONTE: Well, what I would say to that is, first of all, it's not the case. I would respectfully disagree with that.

And, secondly, even in Senator McCain's legislation, in the Detainee Treatment Act, there is a distinction made between interrogation of detainees held by the Department of Defense and detainees held by entities other than Department of Defense. So that distinction is foreseen right in that legislation.

WALLACE: You know, I don't have to tell you this is kind of an ugly dispute involving a lot of very patriotic men: the White House, the president on the one hand; real patriots like John McCain and Colin Powell and John Warner on the other hand.

What's the possibility of a compromise?

NEGROPONTE: I think we're going to have to wait and see.

I think it's very, very important that this program go forth. It's provided invaluable information that has saved lives of Americans, and significant plots against our homeland have been disrupted as a result.

And, surely, there is a way of finding a way forward that would permit this program to continue and, at the same time, do it in a way that is both respectful of our law and Constitution and our international obligations.

WALLACE: But the legislation, as passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee and drafted by Warner and McCain and Graham, is unacceptable?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the director of the CIA tells me that, if it were passed in that form, he does not believe it would be possible for the program to go forward. And I accept his judgment on that.

WALLACE: You have to understand there's obviously some confusion on the part of the American people. On the one hand, you've got John McCain, spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. You've got John Warner, who spent -- and we have the pictures up here on the screen -- the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who enlisted in the Navy at age 17 to fight World War II. You have Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was wounded in Vietnam.

Compared to the leaders in this administration, who, in all honesty, did not see combat, don't those fellows up there on the screen, don't they have more credibility when it comes to the rule of law and putting U.S. soldiers in danger -- rather, the rules of war and putting U.S. soldiers in danger?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think certainly they have a great deal of credibility. And I have the highest respect for the senators and, of course, for my friend and former boss, Colin Powell.

But this is a complicated legal argument, and we're talking about a number of very important equities here. And I think that we should be able to find a way forward, but it's got to be one that permits this program to continue.

WALLACE: Finally, this was an issue that was raised, in fact, by Steve Buyer, a conservative congressman from Indiana who used to be a military lawyer. He points out that the administration is also at odds with the military's top lawyers about the tribunals for these prisoners, what evidence can be used against them in cases.

The president always says that he listens to his commanders in the field. Why, in this case, is he refusing to listen to his legal commanders? The judge advocate general of every branch of the military opposes the president's plan for these tribunals.

NEGROPONTE: Well, their views have certainly been taken into account. And, as the legislation was formulated, the judge advocates general were consulted along the way. And on some points there may be differences, but I believe that they also were in agreement with significant parts of the legislation.

WALLACE: Director Negroponte, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in today.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, House Majority Leader John Boehner on the war on terror, the work ahead for Congress, and prospects for Republicans in November. Our exclusive interview, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Joining us now, the House majority leader, Republican John Boehner.

Congressman, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: You created quite a stir this week when you said the following -- and let's put it on the screen.

"I listen to my Democratic friends, and I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people."

Now, President Bush distanced himself from your remarks, saying that leaders don't question the patriotism of people who disagree with them. And a Democratic congressman was much rougher. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DAVID OBEY (D-WI): I come from the state of Joe McCarthy. I know a first-rate McCarthy when I see one. And I also know a third-rate McCarthy when I see one, and we saw one yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Congressman, do you take back your remarks?

BOEHNER: Chris, the point I was trying to make is that there's a very big difference between the two parties in terms of how best to protect the American people from terrorists.

I could have articulated this much better, but the fact is, is that, if you look at the USA Patriot Act, we're trying to give the president tools to protect Americans; they fought against us.

You look at the Hamdan decision that came down from the Supreme Court. Democrats were jubilant that the court was taking away the president's ability to do these military tribunals.

And then when the leak came out on the terrorist surveillance program over at NSA, the Democrats were jubilant that this had been exposed and began to press the administration. So the point I'm making is that I think these programs have helped protect the American people, helped uncover terrorist plots before they happened, and they're necessary programs. And we're willing to give the president the tools that he needs to take on the terrorists. And many times, they stand in the way and try to fight us giving the president these tools. And that's the point I was trying to make.

WALLACE: All right, fair enough. But now you've got Republicans, like John McCain and Lindsay Graham and Colin Powell, raising questions about the president's treatment of terror detainees.

Here's what Senator Lindsay Graham said this week about Mr. Bush's proposal about military tribunals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: Anybody who says that you can have a trial to convict someone on evidence given to the jury and not shared with the accused I think is wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: In the same way you said it about Democrats, are McCain and Graham and Powell also more interested in protecting terrorists than the American people?

BOEHNER: No, there's a big difference here. I think when you see Lindsey Graham and John McCain, they want to help the president get the tools to take on the terrorists. We have differences over what those tools look like. But they weren't out there celebrating when the Supreme Court handed down the Hamdan decision. They believe that there ought to be military tribunals; many Democrats don't.

And that's the point I'm trying to make. We'll work out the differences with Senator McCain and Mr. Graham to give the president the tools he needs to effectively protect the American people.

WALLACE: In a sense, though, have McCain and Graham and Warner and Arlen Specter, by their opposition to elements of the president's plans, have they given Democrats political cover on the national security issue for this November?

BOEHNER: Chris, this is not about political cover. This is about a serious disagreement over the details of the tools that we want to give to the president.

WALLACE: But national security is an issue in this...

BOEHNER: It certainly is, but protecting the American people is above and beyond politics on either side of the aisle. And so, I would never suggest that this gets in the way of an election.

We need to work out a way to give the president the tools that he needs to protect the American people before a terrorist incident happens here again.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the legislative agenda you've got for the next few weeks before Congress goes home to campaign. The House this week passed a measure to build a 700-mile-long fence along the Mexico border. But Senate leaders, including Republicans, continue to hold out for a comprehensive legislative package.

Question: Will some form of immigration reform end up on the president's desk before you go home at the end of this month?

BOEHNER: House Republicans believe that if we're going to have real immigration reform, the first step has to be to secure the borders. Anything after that is only going to invite another wave of illegal immigration.

Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Specter and others have continued to work on a broader illegal immigration reform plan, and we're hopeful that they can come to some agreement. But in the meantime, House Republicans are going to continue to insist that we do everything possible to secure our borders.

We've made a lot of progress over the last five years. If you look at the number of incursions of our border over the last six months, those numbers are down significantly. We've got the National Guard down there. We've got a lot of new activity, more fences being built.

And what we want to do is to speed up the process of making sure that we have secure borders while we're working with the Senate to come up with a more comprehensive plan.

WALLACE: But what you're basically saying is you're going to hold to your guns on enforcement first. Meanwhile, you've got Republican senators like Arlen Specter and John McCain saying they want a comprehensive package.

If Republicans, with majorities in both houses, fail to come up with any legislation the president can sign this year on immigration reform, which I think we all agree is a big issue, isn't that a serious problem?

BOEHNER: I believe that we will have a piece of legislation that the president can sign this year. I'm not going to suggest to you whether it be before or after the election, because I don't know. But the fact is, is that House Republicans are going to stick to our guns to insist that we secure the border before we do anything else.

WALLACE: So you're saying that this bill that the president's going to get on his desk is going to be enforcement first?

BOEHNER: I didn't say that. I'm saying there are a lot of things we can do, we have been doing and will do. We've got the Homeland Security appropriations conference report coming up. We believe there are things that we can do in that bill that will be on the president's desk before the election that will help us better secure our border.

WALLACE: All right. The House voted this week for disclosure of earmarks, to make public which congressman is behind a narrow interest tax or spending proposal.

But broader ethics reform, which a lot of House Republicans were talking about at the beginning of the year when the Abramoff scandal was a bigger deal than it is now, things like bans on privately funded travel or limits on contacts with lobbyists, that's gone nowhere.

Why is it that the Republican Congress has failed to pass true ethics reform?

BOEHNER: Well, both the House and Senate have passed bills that would deal with ethics reform and lobbying reform. We've been in conversations to try to resolve the differences between the two bodies.

There are big differences between the House and Senate. We've been unable to come to an agreement. That's why I insisted about six weeks ago that the House would take up earmark reform and do it now.

If members are going to ask the American taxpayers to fund some project in their district, they ought to be willing to have it disclosed and have their name attached to it.

And I believe that if you look at the problems that we've seen on both sides of the aisle with members, it goes to the issue of the illicit use of being able to earmark money in spending bills and authorization bills for special projects.

WALLACE: On this same subject, this week Congressman Bob Ney, one of your Republican colleagues in the House, agreed to plead guilty to influence-peddling. Now, he has stepped down as chairman; he's still a member of Congress.

This is a man who is basically admitting that he sold his vote. Should he spend another day in the House?

BOEHNER: Bob Ney clearly admitted to making some big mistakes. And he's going to pay dearly for the mistakes that he's admitted to.

But he's also checked himself in for alcohol abuse. And right now my prayers are with him and his family. It's a sad day for the Congress and a sad day for Bob Ney.

WALLACE: Should he resign from the House?

BOEHNER: That's a decision that he and his family are going to have to make.

WALLACE: I want to come at you from a different side, if I can, here.

BOEHNER: Well, you've come at me from every side so far, so...

WALLACE: That's right, exactly. I want to show you an article that was published this week from a senior editor at the conservative National Review. Take a look.

He wrote, "The congressional wing of the Republican Party lost its reformist zeal years ago and has been trying to win elections based on pork and incumbency. An election victory would reward that strategy, leaving the congressmen even less interested in restraining spending, reforming government programs, and revamping the tax code."

I'm sure you've heard this from some conservatives, Congressman. They say a defeat in November would be good for the House Republicans, because you've lost your way and this would give you time to understand and remember what you stand for.

BOEHNER: Nonsense. I can go through program after program that we've reformed. And you're talking with someone here who was involved in exposing the House bank scandal, the House restaurant scandal, the post office scandal. I've been involved in reforming this institution since the day I got here 16 years ago.

This week, this effort on earmark reform is a substantial step forward in providing sunshine and transparency on a very deep, dark practice that's gone on here for many, many years.

But I don't think losing the majority is the way for our colleagues to learn a lesson. I think that if you've watched what I've done over the last seven months, we've pushed our members hard to come back to the principles that put us in the majority.

And it's those principles of reforming government, controlling spending and trying to keep the economy strong that have kept our party the party in power in Congress, and it will be the principles that bring us back in November.

WALLACE: Well, that's -- we have 20 seconds left. The Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to take over the House, regain control of the House. What's going to happen on Election Day?

BOEHNER: Republicans are going to maintain control of both the House and the Senate by comfortable margins.

WALLACE: Comfortable. Win the House by how many?

BOEHNER: Plenty.

WALLACE: Plenty. Double digits?

BOEHNER: We've got a couple of tough seats, but let me tell you what, I've been in all these tough seats. Our members are ready for the battle, they're engaged in the battle, and their numbers look very good.

WALLACE: Congressman Boehner, thank you. Thanks for coming back.

BOEHNER: Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, our Sunday panel on that political firefight within the Republican Party over treatment of terror detainees. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don't have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was President Bush on Friday, vigorously defending his plan for the interrogation of terror detainees. And it's panel time now for Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News, and Fox News contributors Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Nina Easton of Fortune magazine.

So we have this fascinating fight among Republicans this week over the proper way to interrogate and to try terror prisoners. And I've got to say that my big surprise is that the White House on the one hand and Republican senators like McCain and Graham and John Warner, loyal Republicans all, have been unable to work something out.

Brit, why not?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS WASHINGTON MANAGING EDITOR: Well, I think -- well, for one thing, I think that the Republican senators are being pretty mulish about it so far. You know, I greatly admire John McCain, but there are times when it's very hard to understand him. This is such a time.

McCain got introduced and passed, in the Detainee Treatment Act that passed last year, a standard for the treatment by Americans of captured detainees. That standard is the one the administration now proposes to enshrine into law as our implementation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which we didn't previously believe applied to terrorists or terror suspects.

Senator McCain is now saying, "No, no, that's not good enough. Other countries will say that we're reinterpreting or trying to pull out of Common Article 3."

Well, you heard Director Negroponte on that subject this morning. It's terribly unclear why the language which McCain thought was ideal for governing the treatment of prisoners last year is not good enough this year. It's his own language.

WALLACE: Well, the other thing is -- I'll ask you about this, Mara, and I don't know if it's true or not, but supposedly the McCain people claim that the language that was passed last year didn't alter CIA behavior. So they feel they got fooled last time and...

MARA LIASSON, NPR: That's right. And they don't want to -- that's what they think.

HUME: I know, but this would apply to the CIA behavior.

LIASSON: Yes, but they don't feel that that language had the effect that they wanted.

Look, I think these are big, profound disagreements. When the president says, "We have to have a clear standard," McCain and Warner and Lindsey Graham say, "Our bill provides a clear standard." There's not even agreement on that.

And I think, actually, the key player here is not just John McCain, who of course has tremendous standing -- he was a prisoner of war, he did get tortured -- but is John Warner, who usually is someone who negotiates with the White House. He's not an iconoclastic Republican.

And he really is holding firm here. And, although I understand that today McCain was saying that maybe there could be some kind of compromise with the administration, so far there hasn't been.

And these are profound disagreements about what is necessary. The McCain camp seems to think that even the attempt to interpret Article 3 in any way sends the wrong signal.

WALLACE: Bill, let me ask you about this, because we were all witnesses last December when the president and vice president tried to stand up to John McCain on this terror amendment and got rolled. Whether he deserves it or not, whether he's right or wrong, can anybody beat John McCain when it comes to an issue like the treatment of prisoners?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, because John McCain was a prisoner of war, who was tortured terribly and unconscionably. These are terrorists. John McCain is not a terrorist. And he is applying the lessons of his own captivity, and he cites all these generals, General Powell and others, that this might lead to the mistreatment of U.S. soldiers. Does anyone think Al Qaida respects these conventions?

Incidentally, I'm very concerned about U.S. soldiers in the field. I was with the parents of a young man serving in Iraq last night. They're for Bush, not for McCain. Do we think if we polled the soldiers in Iraq, they would be with McCain on this, not with Bush? I rather doubt it.

This is an issue of how tough we can be on the very few high- value terrorists whom we choose to have the CIA interrogate. It has nothing to do with the military treatment of other military prisoners.

And on this issue, I think the country is with Bush. I think the enlisted men in the military are with Bush. And Bush is going to win.

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I have to say, I think this is a play that we've seen before. You talk about the Detainee Treatment Act, McCain's treatment act. The White House threatened to veto that. Vice President Cheney tried to get a CIA exemption and failed. But at the end of the day, it passed. The president signed it.

And, look, these legal realities I think are open to debate in part because there's so much that remains classified, but the political reality is clear. I mean, this president is up against a November election. If things are difficult now, imagine what they could be after November. He's up against some very prominent senators.

And for all of the talk about how he was, kind of, had his stand pat on Friday and how he seemed angry and prickly, if you listen between the lines -- not even between the lines -- he was saying, "I want to work with Congress."

And I think, at the end of the day -- and McCain suggested this today -- that there will be a compromise, and it will happen before the election.

HUME: Which will set off no end of speculation and discussion about whether the compromise language was a victory for McCain or a victory for President Bush.

I might add this about McCain, that he is seeking the Republican nomination for president of the United States. It's pretty clear. He's supposedly the frontrunner.

Another week of this, he won't be the frontrunner. In fact, I would say if this ends in some kind of a confrontation in which he, quote, "wins," I think his chances of becoming the nominee of the Republican Party are basically out the window.

WALLACE: I was going to ask about that, Mara, because McCain has been one of the staunchest supporters of the president when it comes to the war on terror and especially the war in Iraq, when a lot of other Republicans haven't been so outspoken about it. And yet it would seem to me this would hurt him with a lot of conservatives for the 2008 nomination.

LIASSON: You know what? This might hurt him. Whether it would be the thing that would actually deny him the nomination, I don't know if I'm willing to go as far as Brit. I mean, there's a lot of time between now and the 2008 nominating battles. A lot of other things are going to go on. This is one issue.

He has been a very strong supporter of the president on almost everything involving the war on terror and certainly on Iraq. So I think this might cause him some trouble, but I certainly don't think he's doing this with the nomination in mind.

WALLACE: Bill, you're pretty close to John McCain. One, why do you think he's doing this? Obviously, he believes it. But why do you think he seems to have his feet so set in stone on this? And, two, politically, how big a mistake for him?

KRISTOL: He's doing it because he believes it. He says it's a matter of conscience for him.

It's a huge political mistake, and it's going to hurt -- "mistake" is not the right word. He's doing what he thinks is right. It's not what most Republican voters are going to think is right.

Bush is going to win, incidentally. I don't buy the argument that he's going to -- the House of Representatives is going to pass Bush's language this week. It's going to put an awful lot of pressure on senators to come to a compromise if -- well, I'm not sure that they can't even win on the Senate floor over McCain, incidentally.

It's a tough vote for Democrats. The Democrats are living in a world where they think having John McCain on their side gives them a huge amount of political cover. I don't buy it.

If you're in a real competitive Senate race and a Republican says, "I'm with Bush, and I'm with the CIA director, and I'm with the intelligence officers in the field who have to buy litigation insurance now because of the illegal uncertainty, and I think we need to be tough on people like Abu Zubaydah," what's the Democratic Party going to say? "Well, gee, I'm with Senator McCain."

Well, fine, but what's your substantive position? If your substantive position is you can't be tough with the Al Qaida terrorists, that is a winning fight for Bush, and McCain being on the opposite side of it is hurting him badly.

WALLACE: Let me bring in one other player before we take a break here, and that is former Secretary of State Powell, who sent a letter this week, Nina, in which he said that the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis for our war on terror.

I have to say -- it may be just me -- but what I got out of that letter is that Secretary Powell has been waiting for some time to distance himself from this president on some of these issues, and that that really got under the president's skin.

EASTON: I think that's right. I think Colin Powell -- he's been a team player while he was in the administration. He's been pretty quiet since he's been out. As we know, particularly with a lot of accounts that are coming out now about the lead-up to the war in Iraq, that he wasn't always on the same page. And I do think he's taking this opportunity to step out, and I bet we'll see more of it.

WALLACE: Brit, what do you make of the Powell-Bush dynamics on this?

HUME: I'm struck by the idea that he has been a team player. Perhaps in some personal way he was. But let's not forget the fact that he presided over the State Department that was in all but open rebellion against the president and his policies.

Let's not forget the fact that Colin Powell, like Richard Armitage, knew who the source of Valerie Plame's so-called leak was and knew it all along. No one told the president who the source of the leak was, even when he was trying to find out. Colin Powell kept silent and let Karl Rove and others in the White House close to the president twist in the wind.

Team player? Maybe.

WALLACE: All right.

We need to take a quick break here, but we'll continue with this discussion about the war on terror and the politics of it right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: On this day in 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia's Independence Hall to sign the Constitution. Since then, it's been amended only 27 times.

Stay tuned for more from our panel and our power player of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We will not be swift- voted on the issue of security, and that is what the Republicans are trying to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was House Democratic Leader Pelosi blasting Republicans who she says are trying to use the war on terror for partisan advantage.

And we're back now with Brit, Mara, Bill and Nina.

Mara, Democrats are thoroughly enjoying this family feud amongst the Republicans, among other reasons, because they think that this is going to provide them with political cover on the national security issue. Will it?

LIASSON: Well, I think it does for a moment. The question is, for how long?

I think that we don't know yet whether this fight with the Republicans, the intramural fight, is a speedbump, or is it really the end of the very carefully orchestrated White House plans to make national security the centerpiece of this election and to set up some clean debates with Democrats about who is for giving special rights to terrorists in trials or who is for wiretapping terrorists? That debate has certainly been muddied for now.

But, as you heard John Boehner earlier say, you know, he still believes that Republicans can make the arguments that, when it came to the Patriot Act and other tools that the president needed, that Democrats were on the other side. I suspect that a lot of the Democrats who are in tight races are not going to be voting with the rest of their party on some of these issues when they come to a vote. They're probably going to be voting with the president.

I mean, there is a whole array of Democratic positions and responses to these issues depending on what kind of race they're in.

WALLACE: I know, Bill -- and you referred to it a little bit in the first segment -- that you don't think the Democrats hardly get any cover from this.

KRISTOL: No. And I don't think they've enjoyed this last week, actually. They do not want to have this general election, this congressional election, this set of congressional elections become a referendum on who will help the president protect us against the terrorists.

The Fox News poll is out on that recently, and Republicans -- will the Republican Congress help make the country safer from terror, or a Democratic Congress? It's 34-22; 37 percent say no difference. The Republicans task -- 34-22 for Republicans. And they don't win most of these matchups that they're behind in the general congressional ballot.

The Republican task is to drive those numbers up, to take some of those 37 percent who say it doesn't make a difference and say, "You know what? It does make a difference if there's a Republican Congress or a Democratic Congress."

WALLACE: So you're saying that even if they're fighting amongst themselves, the Republicans, the very fact that they're talking about the war on terror and not the war in Iraq and not other issues is good for Republicans?

KRISTOL: Yes, because the actual Republican candidates in the 50 congressional districts and 10 Senate states that are really at risk, or in play, are not going to be fighting among themselves. They're going to be with Bush. And the Democrats are against Bush.

Now, it makes them feel better here in the Capitol to have McCain and Lindsey Graham with them. But in the real races in Missouri and in Minnesota and in Washington state, where there are real races going on, I think it's a winning fight for the Republicans.

HUME: And not only that, Chris. That's not the only fight that's going on, the one over detainee treatment and trial. There's also a battle going on over whether the president should have the legal authority granted him specifically by Congress to conduct this electronic eavesdropping on telephone calls from suspected Al Qaida people into and out of the United States without a warrant.

The public, I think, widely supports that program. The Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, for example, made a tremendous stink in opposition to it, accused the president of all kinds of things. You've got Leahy and Senator Feingold and those people out arguing against the president on this.

And that goes into the memory banks, as well, I think. And so, it's not just this one fight. Democrats are against the president on a number of issues here.

WALLACE: So, Nina, I mean, did the Democrats once again, as in 2002 and 2004, walk into the Republican trap?

EASTON: I don't know about -- I think a couple things about what's coming up is that -- I don't know that they walked into the trap. I think it's too early to see how this particular issue will play out. And it's an issue that's in a basket of issues, including immigration, including gas prices.

And the other thing that came out...

WALLACE: Which are going down.

EASTON: Which are going down, which is helpful to the Republicans.

But the other thing that was less noticed this week is the, sort of, operational get-out-the-vote and how much that will have an effect on these tight races. Because what happened this week, Lincoln Chafee was very much helped by a Republican...

WALLACE: This is a Republican incumbent in Rhode Island.

EASTON: In Rhode Island, Senate incumbent, very much helped by a very strong get-out-the-vote effort on the part of the Republicans.

The other thing that happened this week was that Howard Dean announced that he's going to put all of $2.4 million into House races. Well, this is going to be competing against tens of millions of dollars that the national Republicans are going to put into House races, on top of what those House races are spending.

So you just look at, on the ground, the operational advertising, get- out-the-vote, and it was not a good week for the Democrats.

WALLACE: Mara, let's bring in the polls, too, this week, because there was a very interesting Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll that came out. Let's put it up on the screen.

It showed that the president's approval rating is now 40 percent, and that he's gone from minus-18 a month ago to minus-9.

And on the generic congressional question of, "How will you vote in November?", Democrats have dropped from a 16-point lead in August to just 3 points now.

Mara, how do you explain...

LIASSON: And that's registered voters, too.

WALLACE: How do you explain... (CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: ... this time registered last time.

WALLACE: How do you explain the swing to Republicans? And do you think it's a blip or a trend, or can we...

LIASSON: Well, that's clearly the question, whether it's a blip or a trend. There are a lot of polls out this week. Some of them showed a tightening like that. Others showed the generic still being in double digits. All of them showed the president's approval rating coming up. So I think there's a consensus about that; he's doing better. That makes Republicans a little less panicky about November. That certainly helps.

I think that some of the polls were taken during the 9/11 celebrations, commemorations, and some of them were taken before. So I think we're going to have to wait to see if that holds up.

But, look, there's no doubt that the race is tightening. NPR has done polling only in the 50 top House races, and certainly show that there is a little bit of a tightening.

I think the landscape is still tilted against Republicans, but I agree with Nina. I think the advantages that they have, the sophisticated turnout operation, the superior fundraising abilities, I mean, that helps protect incumbents against a kind of anti-Republican tide.

WALLACE: Bill, are you fed up with this Howard Dean and Democratic bashing that's going on here?

(LAUGHTER)

KRISTOL: It's distressing to me, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

... and I think Howard Dean needs someone to stand up for him.

The president's had a good couple of weeks. The underlying environment is difficult. It's hard to govern. The history of one party controlling the presidency and Congress is very bad for that party in an off-year election. People don't remember the good things that have been done, and they take out their grievances on them.

Bush has had a very good two weeks. The question for me is, will he keep it up? He has absolutely got to keep on the pressure. He can't compromise. He's got to force this to a vote in the Senate.

Even if they lose the Senate vote, in my view, he's got to get 45 Republican senators voting for this and 45 Democratic senators voting against it. And if eight or 10 or 12 Republican senator desert, so be it. It still clarifies the difference between the parties.

And they've got to keep the pressure up on the war on terror at home and the war abroad. He's been talking much more about Iraq in the last two weeks, and guess what? His poll numbers are up. If he frames it as a national security election, I think Republicans have a chance to hold on to both houses.

WALLACE: All right. We're going to have to leave it there.

Thank you, panel. That's it for today. See you next week.

For more visit the FOX News Sunday web page.

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