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Jack Kingston, Marty Meehan, David Bossie, Laura Ingraham, Tony Perkins, Roundtable

Fox News Sunday

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace. New allegations that Mark Foley's relationship with one former page went beyond e-mails -- next, on "Fox News Sunday."

The House starts investigating the Mark Foley scandal. What happens next? We'll ask two leading members of Congress: Republican Jack Kingston and Democrat Marty Meehan.

Will the Foley case turn off social conservatives so much they stay home in November? We'll discuss that with leading conservative voices: a radio talk show host, a family values advocate, and a political activist.

Plus, with less than a month till Election Day, what are the chances now Democrats can take control of the House and the Senate? We'll talk with our Sunday regulars: Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

And our power player of the week is bringing the wild blue yonder down to Earth.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday."

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

A former congressional page tells the Los Angeles Times he had sex with then-Congressman Mark Foley back in 2000 after leaving the page program. The young man says he was 21 at the time and that it followed years of explicit e-mails.

North Korean leaders say they might drop plans for a nuclear test if the United States agrees to one-on-one talks. In the past, U.S. officials have insisted other nations be involved in any negotiations.

And the latest efforts to end sectarian violence in Iraq are taking a toll on U.S. forces there. Last month 776 troops were wounded. That's the most in any month since November of '04.

Well, joining us now to discuss what happens next in the Mark Foley page scandal, we welcome two influential members of Congress: Jack Kingston, vice chair of a Republican conference, who comes to us from his home state of Georgia; and Democrat Marty Meehan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who's in his home state of Massachusetts.

Gentlemen, there are new allegations, now from multiple sources, that Speaker Hastert's office was notified about Foley's inappropriate contact with male pages back in 2003. That's two years earlier than the speaker says his office knew about it.

Congressman Kingston, does this change at all your support for Foley and your belief that the House Republican leadership did all it reasonably could to stop him?

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Chris, I think that, number one, I do support Denny Hastert. I think he stepped up to the plate. He said this week, "The buck stops here, I'm the guy in charge."

He called the Ethics Committee back from the campaign trail, back from their town meetings and so forth and said, "Get back to Washington. Look into this. See who else may have been involved, who may have known about it." He asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to start investigating. And he set up a toll-free number for pages if they know anything or they had any concerns or their parents. And he asked Louis Freeh to look over the page program.

So I think he's taken some definitive steps to get to the bottom of this and have a thorough investigation.

WALLACE: Congressman Meehan, let's go over -- and it's a little complicated -- this new allegation. You've got a fellow named Kirk Fordham. He was Foley's chief of staff back in 2003. And he says that he alerted Hastert's office back then about Foley's contact, his inappropriate behavior with these pages. Now, Hastert's then-chief of staff, Scott Palmer, flatly denies this, but now you've got another congressional aide saying, yes, in fact, Hastert's office was alerted to all this back in 2003.

Congressman Meehan, what are the implications in all this?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, there are all kinds of gaps and inconsistencies in what the speaker has had to say and, frankly, other people within the Republican leadership. I think it illustrates the need to have a comprehensive investigation and to have people come in and, under oath, find out who knew what and when did they know it.

What is clear is that the leadership did not do a very good job of protecting these 15- and 16-year-old pages from what appears to be a predatory kind of behavior. And frankly I think all of us are pretty shocked by it.

WALLACE: Congressman Kingston, if -- and I want to repeat "if" -- it does turn out that the speaker's office was alerted to Foley's behavior back in 2003 and failed to stop him, isn't that devastating?

KINGSTON: Well, I think that if there was a staffer or two who decided to maybe protect Mark Foley for reasons unknown, I think the speaker would do to them what basically he did to Mark Foley, which was, "Get out or be fired," because, you know, the threat to Mark Foley, if he stayed around, he would have been expelled.

But you've got to ask yourself, what would the speaker do that for? The speaker's job is to protect the majority. We know that this race has been a 15-seat race to keep the majority. Why would the speaker protect one member in a safe Republican seat? He would not try to risk the majority for that. There would be no reason for him to have that motivation.

WALLACE: Congressman Meehan?

MEEHAN: I think the reason why he did it is because he didn't want to risk his majority. The fact is, the Foley seat was a Republican seat.

The evidence is pretty clear. If somebody goes to your chief of staff and says, "We have a problem with a member of Congress who seems to be going after some of these pages; he has inappropriate contact with them," it's just not credible to believe that that chief of staff or the speaker of the House -- the chief of staff, by the way, who's one of the most powerful figures in Washington, didn't talk to the speaker of the House about it.

It's just not credible, any more than it's credible when the majority leader said he had had a conversation with the speaker and the speaker didn't recall having a conversation about Mark Foley with inappropriate contact with pages. That isn't credible either. Denny Hastert is a decent person, but the problem here in this case is that good people do bad things when they're trying to protect their own political power.

WALLACE: Congressman Meehan...

KINGSTON: But, Marty, remember...

WALLACE: If I may, Congressman Kingston, let me switch this a little bit to Congressman Meehan now.

You have been calling for an independent investigation. The fact is, as Congressman Kingston mentions, the House Ethics Committee, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, was called back to begin its meetings. It said it's going to begin its investigation. It's issued dozens of subpoenas. It says it's going to take weeks, not months, to complete its investigation. Why not let them do their job?

MEEHAN: Well, they should do their job. But what my legislation that I submitted in February calls for is an independent, professional staff that would report to the Ethics Committee. In other words, we need to make sure this is nonpartisan and professional.

The notion that they can predict it's going to last three weeks -- they don't have a clue as to how many people they need to interview, how many members of Congress they should interview, how many pages need to be interviewed. We've seen this fallout in the media, and it appears that there is a pattern of behavior here. In addition to that, I'm concerned -- the FBI is conducting an investigation; they'll do a thorough job. But in some instances, federal laws may not have been broken, but what clearly is broken is the way that the leadership in Congress dealt with this scandal. And we have to make sure that we have procedures in effect so that this can never happen again.

WALLACE: Congressman Kingston, given all the public doubts about Congress now -- frankly, you guys aren't -- and I'm talking generically about Congress -- you don't stand very highly in the polls -- shouldn't there be some independent component to the House investigation? Should the House really be investigating itself?

KINGSTON: I think, number one, when the speaker has called on the Department of Justice and the FBI, you do have outside counsel looking into this.

Number two, when the Ethics Committee is evenly split, Democrat and Republican; number three, when he's asked for Louis Freeh, the former head of the FBI, to look into this -- and which Nancy Pelosi has not joined the call, nor has Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel and other Democrat officers volunteered to help. They haven't said that they will go under oath. There is evidence...

WALLACE: What do they have -- let me ask you about that, Congressman Kingston. What did Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel -- they, of course, are two Democratic leaders -- what do they have to go under oath about?

KINGSTON: Well, Chris, what I don't understand is, where have these e-mails been for three years? Are we saying that a 15-year-old child would've sat on e-mails that were XXX-rated for three years and suddenly spring them out right on the eve of an election? That's just a little bit too suspicious, even for Washington, D.C.

We do know that George Soros, a huge Democrat backer, has a group called CREW. It's a 527 partisan group. They apparently had the e- mails as late as this April and did not do anything about it. And that's according to the FBI, as reported in one statement.

But, again, if Denny Hastert knew this guy was sexually deviant, he would have tossed him overboard a year ago, because it is a safe Republican seat. It's a generic Republican seat. Anybody with a Republican jersey could have won. All we would have had to do is say, "Mark, you're doing some bad stuff. You've got to move on." We would not have to spend a nickel to protect that seat.

WALLACE: Congress Kingston, I want to follow up on this. And you have suggested this and so has Speaker Hastert, that this was a Democratic dirty trick to spring this in October.

Even if -- and there doesn't seem to be any hard evidence, but even if the Democrats are behind it, isn't it better to expose Foley rather than keep him in office where he's going to be able to continue to prey on young teenagers? KINGSTON: Well, you know, you would think that the call to protect children would come higher than partisan politics, but Washington being Washington, why did it suddenly get paraded out on September 29 and during the election when, in the state of Florida, you cannot take Mark Foley's name off the ballot? It's already passed that period. We could put in another candidate, but people still have to vote for Mark Foley. Now, isn't that a clever coincidence?

You know, what we need is Rahm Emanuel, we need Nancy Pelosi just to cooperate in the investigation. Because somebody has been sitting on these e-mails for three years, and, in the name of child protection, we should know who would be willing to put politics above protecting children.

WALLACE: Congress Meehan, I want to ask you about something, but I've got to let you have an opportunity to respond.

MEEHAN: Yes, because if there's any evidence that you need that the values in Washington have turned upside-down, you could just hear what Jack had to say. Only in Washington, D.C., can you take a group of people in charge of the House and basically have evidence that they've been looking the other way while a predator has been predating and going after 15- and 16-year-old pages, can they somehow turn that into a-have the audacity to turn that into a political attack against Democrats, saying, "Well, they must have known about it so somehow they're responsible."

If there's a professional investigation, anyone who has any information obviously will be called in to testify under oath. But the fact of the matter is and what the facts suggest here is, as soon as the speaker found out about it, rather than going to the committee that was established to overlook the pages, they went to one member of the committee, one Republican member. They didn't let the Democrat on the committee know about it, because they wanted to keep it secret.

So the evidence is overwhelming here.

WALLACE: Wait, wait, Congressman Meehan, I want to follow up with you. A former colleague of yours, a Massachusetts congressman who now has passed away, Gerry Studds, was in fact censured by the House in 1983 for not sending messages to male pages but for having sex with a 17-year-old.

Don't Democrats, because the Democrats were in power then, have to answer for the fact that they left Gerry Studds in power, they didn't expel him?

MEEHAN: Well, first of all, there was Republican Congressman Crane and Congressman Studds who were involved in activities. Frankly, when the activities took place in the Studds case, I was a sophomore in high school. But, in any event, that doesn't excuse what's happened here.

After that scandal, which involved one Republican and one Democrat, the House decided to set up a committee to oversee pages. That was the response at that time -- and again, it was a long time before I was in the Congress -- they set this up.

Now, this panel that was set up had Republicans and Democrats on it. And, in this instance, the Republican leadership, when they knew about this e-mail, didn't tell the Democratic member because they wanted to keep it secret.

So the question here is not how many Democrats and Republicans in the past were guilty of doing something with pages. The question is, how do we keep these kids safe when they go to Washington, D.C.?

WALLACE: Congressman...

MEEHAN: And the Republican leadership didn't do anything.

WALLACE: Congressman Meehan, we've got about 30 seconds left. Just one last question. This did happen on the Democrats' watch. You were in the majority. You were...

MEEHAN: There's no...

WALLACE: If I may just finish. You were in high school, but the Democrats were in control of Congress. And yet nobody at the time -- I was here, I remember -- nobody was calling for Tip O'Neill to step down, the then-Democratic speaker of the House.

MEEHAN: There was no evidence that Tip O'Neill knew anything about what Congressman Crane was doing, the Republican, or Congressman Studds, the Democrat. There was never any evidence that the leadership in the Congress knew.

KINGSTON: There's no evidence that Denny Hastert knew anything about Foley. There's absolutely no...

MEEHAN: Yes, there is. In 2002...

KINGSTON: No, there's not. The only e-mails...

MEEHAN: Jack...

KINGSTON: ... that were exchanged were these weird, friendly e- mails, which the parents said, "We thank you for investigating that. In the name of our son's privacy, don't go any further. We are satisfied." And those were all friendly e-mails. No one knew about the X-rated stuff. As I said, if Denny Hastert or anybody in the Republican ranks knew about it, we would have gotten rid of the guy, which Denny did immediately last...

MEEHAN: Jack, these e-mails...

KINGSTON: ... when he did find out.

MEEHAN: ... they're not friendly e-mails. They're predatory e- mails. And anyone who's ever been involved in a child abuse case...

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we'll set up a phone line for you to continue this conversation, but we're going to have to end it here. KINGSTON: We'll look forward to it.

WALLACE: Congressman Kingston, Congressman Meehan, we want to thank you both so much for sharing your Sunday with us.

MEEHAN: Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, three outspoken conservatives with very different views of the Foley scandal and how House Republican leaders responded. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Nowhere has the Mark Foley story hit harder than among the Republicans' conservative base. We brought together some leading conservatives to talk about it: David Bossie, president of Citizens United; Laura Ingraham, host of a nationally syndicated radio show; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Welcome, all of you, to "Fox News Sunday."

We should point out -- and I want to apologize here -- former Congressman Gerry Studds is alive and well.

This week, the conservative Washington Times called for the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, to resign now. Let's take a look at what the Times said in its editorial:

"Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations, or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away."

Laura, after these new reports that Hastert's office knew about Foley's behavior, perhaps as early as 2003, do you still oppose resignation?

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think what's going on here is the first few days of this were a disaster for Republicans. Boehner was pointing this way, Reynolds was pointing this way, and Hastert was going like this. And so, it looked really bad.

I think what's happening now is the Democrats are overstepping it, Chris. Hastert came forward, investigation going on, said, "Look, we probably could've done things better." He also said on my show, "If I'm a liability to the party, if it turns out that's the case, then I wouldn't want to be speaker." He said that.

So all that's happening. And I think what I found is that the base is saying, "OK, move forward. Get off the defensive. Start talking about substance, not smear. People are getting tired of this already." And I think, once again, the Democrats are overstepping it, especially given their own past.

WALLACE: David Bossie, you were one of the few conservatives out there who, right away, said Hastert must go.

DAVID BOSSIE, CITIZENS UNITED: You're right, and I stand by those comments. I think Speaker Hastert failed miserably in a leadership test here on this particular issue. I think this is a culmination of conservative, you know, worry over the last couple of years. And I think that that is what really has transcended this issue.

Speaker Hastert did fail on this, but I, again, like Laura, think the American people want to move forward and they want to be positive. And Citizens United, we have invested heavily in conservative candidates around the country, over $300,000 directly to conservative candidates from our PAC and 527. So we are invested. We want to win. We want to keep the House and Senate. And I think it's important that we look at this as a housekeeping matter now after November 7.

WALLACE: Tony Perkins, you have this week been saying -- you're in the middle of this. You say that you feel it's still too early to call for Hastert's resignation, but you're very concerned about it. We have new revelations, one today from a former page saying that he actually had sex with Foley; the revelation yesterday, or corroboration yesterday, that Hastert's office may have known about this three years ago.

As you learn more details, are you growing more or less concerned about this?

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I still think it's premature for resignations, because what that will do, I think, is short- circuit an investigation. People will think it's been resolved, and they'll move on.

I mean, CBS reported this week that there's a network of gay staffers that covered for Foley. Was that part of what led up to this? Was it a disservice to the Republican leadership by staffers?

I think the investigation needs to find out who knew what, what did they know, what did they not know, what did they do, what did they not do, and why.

WALLACE: Laura, you referred to one of the more striking developments this week, which was, early in the week when the scandal broke, House Republican leaders couldn't have been in more of a hurry to distance themselves from Hastert. Let's watch.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of. And my position, it's in his corner. It's his responsibility.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROY BLUNT (R-MO): You have to be curious. You have to ask all the questions you can think of. You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Laura, what's that all about? I mean, is the House...

INGRAHAM: Well, they want to be speaker.

WALLACE: I was going to say, is that the Republican leadership all jockeying already?

INGRAHAM: Yes, of course they are.

Here's the bottom line. I think David Bossie has a point, Tony has a point. The Republicans are restless, OK? What they want to talk about: border fence passed; Democrats tried to block. They want to talk about voter I.D.; Democrats blocked. They want to talk about the fact that the compromised interrogation bill passed; Democrats tried to block.

Democrats don't want to talk about these issues. They want to talk about Foley.

WALLACE: All right, but...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... the Republicans.

INGRAHAM: The Republicans want to find the leader coming up down the road. Who's the person who is going to be the articulate, confident spokesman of conservative ideals? Is it Hastert? Is it going to be Hastert after November? I think if you talk to Republicans and they're candid, they'll say probably not. It's going to be maybe one of these characters, maybe someone totally different. Republicans are hungry for a leader on conservative principles.

And this talk about who knew what when, what staffer told who, that's a loser for Republicans. Got to get back on substance, get off this defensive crouch. They have a lot of good stuff to talk about, and the Democrats don't want to talk about what Rangel's going to do when he's the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. That's for sure.

WALLACE: David Bossie, I mean, is that what's going on here, that there is just frustration in the Republican ranks with maybe all of these guys but certainly with Denny Hastert?

BOSSIE: I think you're right. I think that's a very good point, Laura.

Look, I served as the chief investigator for the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, so I know how to run an investigation; I know how these things work. This investigation is now off and running. A change in the leadership today or on November 8 isn't going to change that. That is, the Justice Department, the FBI is now involved. But I think that you're going to see a serious discussion after this election. And I just say Denny Hastert's going to end up not being the next speaker.

PERKINS: I think you can't underestimate the impact this is going to have on the election. I think you're going to have marginal voters that will drop off because of their disgust with the Republican Party, not only on this issue but a lack of advancing many of those core social issues. I think you're going to have marginal candidates that will suffer at the polls because they do not clearly articulate these issues.

I think the Republican Party is at a point of decision. I think some are questioning out there whether this big-tent strategy has led to a three-ring circus. I mean, there is some serious concern in the ranks of social conservatives.

WALLACE: But let me ask you about that, because you are one of the leaders of the Family Research Council, which has hundreds of thousands of followers. Obviously you haven't polled that group in the last week. But what are you hearing from the so-called "values voters," particularly about the Foley scandal and the issue as to whether the Republican leaders were more concerned with preserving power than they were with protecting kids?

PERKINS: Well, there is concern that it was either about power or a fear of a backlash of being called gay-bashing by simply addressing the issue of Foley's behavior. I think what people are questioning is, can this be the party of values and the party that attracts congressmen like Foley, who, you know, preys on little kids?

WALLACE: So, Tony, what's the practical effect, with the election now just 30 days away? Does this mean that the so-called values voters, do they stay home? Do they actually go and vote for the Democrat with whom they disagree on a lot of issues?

PERKINS: They don't stay home. What they do is -- they have a strong sense of obligation and responsibility to vote. They vote in local elections. They vote in state elections. And they vote for congressional candidates and incumbents who take strong positions on these issues.

But those candidates who fail to articulate strong positions or do not have a strong record do not get the vote of those. I think they just skip over them at the polls. And I think you'll have marginal values voters that came out in 2004 because of the enthusiasm that was among the base; they don't go.

INGRAHAM: I just, I don't buy it. I don't buy that people are going to think, "Mark Foley was a creep. Maybe the leadership in the beginning didn't respond the right way, so we're going to not support the people that we thought were good beforehand." I don't think that's going to happen.

I think it's exactly what the media would like to see happen. I think the dinosaur media is pumping this story as much as possible. I don't blame them. It's titillating. It's certainly more interesting perhaps than what's happening in North Korea to them. And so, this is what they're going to do.

Republicans have to make a choice here. Are they going to act like defensive cry-babies complaining about ABC News, or are they going to get on the offensive, start talking about what the Democrats do when they have this problem? They give standing ovations, pensions, and return people to office. End of story. Move on. They've got to do that, Chris.

WALLACE: But, David, let me ask you about that, because I remember, in 2000, it was, in fact, Fox News that broke the story that George W. Bush had had a DUI arrest years before, and, after the fact, Karl Rove said that this cost them hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of votes with conservative votes. I mean, if people are unhappy with the candidates or with their leadership, can't that have an effect at the polls?

BOSSIE: It can. But, I have to tell you, my supporters, even though they support the principled position that I've taken, are 110 percent behind President Bush. My supporters are the base of this party.

We look at this and say, "Because of Mark Foley, are we going to turn to the wild-eyed leftists that are going to take over the asylum, in essence?" The inmates are going to take over the asylum in November if we don't do something. And we have a choice to make on November 7. Conservatives have to turn out to vote for a strong economy, for a continued strong war on terror.

Those issues are much more important to the base voters. And Mark Foley, yes, is kind of a deterrent, a distraction. But over the next four weeks, Republican candidates -- and there are so many great Republican candidates out there -- they have to bring it home.

WALLACE: All right. We've got about a minute left. Laura and Tony, I want you to finish up here.

How much trouble -- I'm asking you what you'd like. I'm asking you as a political analyst, how much trouble are Republicans in in their efforts to keep control? They were, even before the Foley scandal, they were in trouble. How much trouble are they in?

INGRAHAM: I think there are some major hurdles for the Republicans, and how they behave in the next week is going to determine, I think, what happens on Election Day. They've got to get out of this position of talking about -- you know, these e-mails. Get off of it. Stop apologizing. Say what you've done. Move forward on these issues, which are winners. That's why the Democrats don't want to talk about the issues. They're losing across the board on their views on detainees, border fence, the list goes on.

WALLACE: Tony, you get the last word. How much trouble are Republicans in?

PERKINS: I think it's potentially a huge problem for them. People see this as symptomatic of a larger problem not only within the party but in the culture. And if we fail to address these issues, then I think they lose. People are looking to the Republicans for leadership. They cannot be the party of family values and the party of Mark Foley. They can't.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you all for coming in today, sharing your Sunday with us.

Coming up, our panel of Sunday regulars on the Foley scandal. What does it mean for the future of Republican leaders and GOP efforts to keep control of the House?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL): I guess you could always going back and "would've, could've, should've." But, at that point, he was a member of Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HASTERT: And the Democrats have, in my view, have put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HASTERT: And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Those were House Speaker Dennis Hastert's various responses this week, as the Mark Foley page scandal unfolded.

And it's panel time 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 Juan Williams, also from National Public Radio.

I think there was a widespread feeling in Washington toward the end of the week that Hastert and the Republicans might have gotten ahead of this. He had that news conference on Thursday in which he assumed responsibility, finally said, "The buck stops here." The House Ethics Committee was issuing a flurry of subpoenas.

And then this weekend, we have some new revelations that maybe his office knew about it, in fact, three years ago, and this new sordid story that apparently Foley had sex with one of these former congressional pages.

Brit, you've covered a lot of scandals in Washington. Where does this one stand now?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS WASHINGTON MANAGING EDITOR: Well, I think that toward the end of the week it did begin to look a little brighter. I don't think the weekend revelations, Chris, are particularly important.

The former page of whom you speak was an adult, 21 years old, at the time and was long out of the House page program. And it appears that Foley's pattern was that he would flirt with these pages, and sometimes in quite a lurid and disgusting way, but nothing ever happened physically until after they were out of the program. And heaven knows how many more will turn up to say that, yes, they, too, carried on with him after they were out of the program. And besides that, Foley's gone, in disgrace, finished. So how much more of the scandal can be fed by revelations about what he did is questionable.

As for what Hastert knew or didn't know, we probably won't know what the facts are on that until this investigation is concluded. However, let's look back at this a moment.

Let's assume that Hastert did know or that he decided he wanted to do more than simply issue a stern warning when he discovered these overly friendly but not X-rated e-mails. I think the defense that he makes, or that some make of him, that if he tried to do something really strong, he would have been accused of gay-bashing, there would have been charges that the Republicans were trying to out one of their own members solely because he was gay. It would not have been a pretty sight.

So history doesn't disclose its alternatives, but I think we can pretty well see what that one would have been. And it gives you an idea of -- it's always easy to say what he should've done, but when you start thinking about the things he could've done, there's not much there.

MARA LIASSON, NPR: Look, I think, at the very least, what Speaker Hastert and the Ethics Committee did at the end of the week gave Republicans something to say when their Democratic challengers say, "You should be demanding the resignation of your speaker for covering this up." Now they can say, "Look, it's being investigated." So, in that sense, it might put a brake on some of this.

But on the other hand, every time this stays in the news, even if it's not any new information about Hastert but just new information about Foley, it reminds voters that the party of family values has a bona fide icky sex scandal on its hands. And that means that you're not talking about the war on terror, you're not talking about Democrats raising taxes or all the things that Republicans want to talk about this year, all the attacks they want to make on Democrats. And it continues to be a problem.

I think it certainly made the wave of anti-Republican, anti- incumbent feeling that's out there this year a little bit stronger. The question remains, as it has this entire election cycle, whether the Republicans' formidable defenses, like money and redistricting and get-out-the-vote operations, will be enough to resist it.

WALLACE: Bill, I want to go back to this question of the timeline with Hastert. And, of course, it's all somewhat speculative. But the story that Kirk Fordham, who was then Foley's chief of staff, tells is that, he says in 2003 that Foley was so out of control, that he had tried repeatedly to get him to stop and he wouldn't stop, that he went to the office of the speaker of the House and said, "I need help."

If Hastert's office knew that in 2003 and allowed Foley to continue, it didn't really put the -- is that gay-bashing or is that just a failure to protect kids who are basically in their charge?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, one would think, if one were Foley's chief staff and thought one's boss was doing something really wrong and immoral, one might not just be quiet for the next three years, if Hastert's chief of staff didn't act appropriately. Maybe they thought they had talked to Hastert and to Foley and he had subsided. Maybe there's some, you know, self-serving recollection going on here.

I think there's no evidence that Hastert did anything wrong, in my view. And I do honestly believe now the media is trying to stampede the social -- you know, they're treating social conservatives like idiots, for one thing, like children. "Oh my God, one of 230 House members was gay and a real creep, and therefore we're not going to vote on the issues we care about, therefore we're going to abandon every position we have, we're going to retreat in horror from the polls in November and let the Democrats win a majority."

It's not going to happen. The polls have not moved all week. That is the big fact that's going on. The media is trying to stampede the elections, confirm the Democratic victory, and it's not working.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NPR: Well, I think lots of people think if the Democrats can't win under these conditions, there are no conditions under which they can ever win.

But I think that if there's going to be a steady drip-drip here, I think we're in the weeds when we start talking about who knew what, where, when. I think, you know what? Everywhere I go, people know about this story. It's got sex, it's got children, and it's got the sense that the "Daddy party," the Republicans, have not been responsible in dealing with a morality issue, which then invites charges of hypocrisy. That's the overarching thing.

Now, you also have the Ethics Committee this week, they're going to have hearings. You're going to hear from Kirk Fordham, and so you're going to have more of it in the news. It's just not good. As Mara said, it takes you off message. On a basic political strategy course, you're off message. It's not what you want to talk about.

KRISTOL: It only takes the Republicans off message if they let themselves get off message. If they let the media define the next month, they will lose the House. If they go up on the air, as Nancy Johnson has in Connecticut, with tough ads contrasting the parties, for example on the war on terror votes that happened just 10 days ago, they can overcome this media drum beat.

People can be upset about Mark Foley's behavior; they can have a certain salacious interest in following the scandal. It doesn't mean they're going to change their actual vote. And the Republicans need to make sure the voting issues are taxes and terror, not vague discomfort driven by the media about one Republican House member who's gone.

WILLIAMS: He's gone, but I'm going to tell you, the discomfort continues. And you've got people -- I mean, Roy Blunt this week tried to backtrack and say, "There's no difference between me and Hastert." But you look at how Republicans are talking among themselves; they are on the defensive. They're guarded. And if you look at the numbers, especially among women voters, there is movement there. Women are moving away at this juncture.

LIASSON: This is not a national election. This is a series of 25 or so incredibly competitive House races, and it's going to affect certain races. Maybe it won't be some kind of overall, huge thing where all Republicans are rejected because of this, but in certainly Mark Foley's district, certainly in Tom Reynolds' district, Don Sherwood, who's had an extramarital affair, I mean, Patty Wetterling and Michele Bachmann, an open seat in Minnesota where the Democratic challenger had a child abducted 13 years ago, maybe those seats are affected. This will happen in individual districts. It's not going to be some huge, overall change.

KRISTOL: Patty Wetterling in Minnesota-6 has gone up on the air with the most over-the-top commercial, accusing her opponent, who's not a member of Congress -- it's an open seat -- accusing her and the Republicans of covering this up. She's going to lose. There is no movement in the polls in that district, I'm told, and I believe she will lose.

In the neighboring district to Foley's, in Florida-13, an open seat, the Republican, in internal tracking polls, ticked up a little in the last week. Voters are not idiots. They're not going to vote in their own district because Mark Foley is a creep.

WALLACE: Brit, do you think that Republicans can successfully change the subject and say, "You know, this is unfortunate, we're investigating it, but here are the reasons why you should vote for us and not for the Democrats"?

HUME: Sure, I think they can do that. The important thing to remember is that not all voters read The Washington Post and the New York Times or get all of their news or political information from the major broadcast networks...

WALLACE: But, in fairness, on Fox, we've been covering the heck out of this story too.

HUME: We certainly have, I would argue in a more balanced way than our competitors in most cases.

But I think it's also true that, you know, there's a lot of other information that people get. They're preoccupied with local issues.

Look, if this were a race to determine whether the national electorate would re-elect Denny Hastert as speaker of the House by a direct ballot and also would return Mark Foley to power in Florida, I think the Republicans would lose that.

But that's not how it works. This is different. They're voting for individual members who have individual messages and characteristics and standing in the polls and so forth.

I think it is meaningful, to some extent, that the generic congressional ballot -- that is, would you rather vote for a Democrat or a Republican -- has not budged in the past week or so in spite of this, in the face of this. On the other hand, Mara I think is correct in saying it doesn't help.

WALLACE: All right. I think that's fair. On that point, we'd all agree. It doesn't help.

We need to take a break here. Enough for the Foley story. As we come up, we're going to talk about whether Democrats are now in a position to take back control of the Senate, as well as the House. We'll look at some new polls that are just out when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think the Republicans are making a huge mistake pointing fingers and blaming others. This is a Republican problem that they didn't handle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN MEHLMAN, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I don't think Republicans are fractured. I think on the issues Americans care the most about Republicans are united.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Those are the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties talking about the Foley scandal and prospects for this November.

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

Well, there are a raft of new polls out this week on Senate races, and we've taken the RealClearPolitics average of a series of polls. So it's not just one poll, but a bunch of polls. And let's take a look at them.

In Missouri, a flat tie between Republican incumbent Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill.

In Montana, Republican Senator Conrad Burns trails Democrat Jon Tester by six points.

In New Jersey, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez with a narrow lead over Tom Kean, Jr.

In Ohio, Republican Senator Mike DeWine slightly behind Sherrod Brown.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey with a big lead over the Republican incumbent, Rick Santorum.

In Rhode Island, another Republican senator, Lincoln Chafee, trails Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse. In Tennessee, Democrat Harold Ford has a slight lead to pick up another Republican seat, an open seat.

And in Virginia, Republican George Allen has a five-point lead to hold on to his seat against Democratic challenger James Webb.

Now, before we get to this, I have to tell you, this is how exciting it is in the Wallace household. Last night, 8 o'clock, C- SPAN, I'm sitting there watching the Harold Ford-Bob Corker debate in Tennessee.

I don't know. In any case...

(LAUGHTER)

... Brit, what do you make of those races and what it tells you about fortunes on the Senate side?

HUME: Well, I think that the Democrats have an outside chance of taking the Senate, but it's still an outside chance. I think that they're going to pick up Pennsylvania. Santorum looks like he's going to lose. Looks like Conrad Burns is going to lose, out in the Midwest.

WALLACE: In Montana.

HUME: In Montana. And I think that the rest of the races are, you know, most of them are within the margin of error. And if the Democrats were to run the table, of course that would change everything. But that's just about what they'd have to do.

LIASSON: Yes, the Democrats need six seats to win control of the Senate.

WALLACE: Net gain of six.

LIASSON: Net gain of six. And the pool is small. It's only eight top races that you just went down: Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and New Jersey. They are tied or ahead in all of those races, with the exception of Virginia, where they're a little bit behind. New jersey is a worry for them, because Kean is a strong candidate there.

WALLACE: So that's a Democratic seat.

LIASSON: That's a Democratic seat.

WALLACE: And if they lose that seat, then they have to win seven.

LIASSON: Then they have to win -- that's right.

But I think the thing that's interesting is that these races are frozen. There hasn't been a lot of movement. That's what we look for in the last weeks of a campaign. Where are the trends going? Polls are not predictive, but they show you the direction these things are moving. I don't think frozen in the mid-40s is a good place for incumbents to be. Generally the decision to fire an incumbent is made late. You don't decide early on. You kind of wait till the last minute; you park yourself in the undecided column and then you vote against him.

Now, that is what's happening in some of these races: The undecided camp is growing. So, you know, even if the Republican has been able to knock down the Democrat a little bit, he hasn't been able to improve his standing.

So I think that Democrats still have to run the table. It's a big hurdle to get six, but they're going to pick up seats, no doubt about it.

KRISTOL: In the next two years, senators may well vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice. They may vote to make Bush's tax cuts permanent. They will vote to support the strong foreign policy and strong actions in the war on terror, or not. I think if Republican candidates in pro-Bush states, red states -- Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio -- make those issues central in the next three or four weeks, I think they can win all those states and keep Republican losses in the Senate to two and three.

And, you know, they can. They have a lot of money. And the good thing about elections is, at some point, the mainstream media loses control and people are actually entitled to use the contributions they've raised to go up on the air with ads. And you can go up with ads contrasting your positions with that of your opponent on these core issues of judges, taxes and terror. And I think Republicans then hold the Senate.

WILLIAMS: But what they go up on the air with, Bill, tends to be negative ads about the personal life of the opponent or, you know -- but it's not about these big issues that you think the party should run on. When it comes to the war, when it comes to President Bush, those still are indicated as drags on Republican candidates at this point.

What's most interesting to me is to look at Southern states like Virginia, like Tennessee, to see that the Democrats have a chance. Now, that would vindicate Howard Dean, wouldn't it? Howard Dean, contrary to Rahm Emanuel and some of the other Democrats, Howard Dean said Democrats have to have a 50-state strategy, you have to put money into these red states. And look, it seems to be paying off at the moment.

I happen to agree. I don't think that Democrats can capture the Senate this time around. They'll pick up the seats. But I think that what you're seeing here is a wave of Democrats doing very well in these midterms, which is not unusual, but I think maybe setting themselves up for 2008 in a very positive way.

WALLACE: Let's, Brit, go into a couple of these races in a little bit more detail. Let's start with Pennsylvania, put that one up on the screen, where, as you see, Rick Santorum just can't seem to close the gap against Democratic challenger Bob Casey.

Do you think Santorum is done?

HUME: Well, he seemed to be getting a little momentum a couple weeks ago, and then it receded. Bad sign. And I think most experts now think that that state is gone for the Republicans. He's a fast closer, Santorum. He may make it close. But that's a lot to overcome.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, Mara, about Tennessee. And one of the interesting questions there -- let's put that one on the screen -- you can see Harold Ford narrowly, well within the margin of error, against Republican Bob Corker.

Can Tennessee, will Tennessee elect an African-American senator?

LIASSON: Well, that's the big question. And that's one of the hurdles that, of course, is hard to poll about that Harold Ford has. But clearly, he's one of the best candidates the Democrats got this year. He's making a real run for it in a Republican state, a red state.

And it's interesting, the Republican National Committee has announced it's going to spend $30 million in these last weeks where? Tennessee, Ohio and Missouri -- places where they think that money can make a difference. Because, in a red state, if the Republicans can pour a lot of money in, that may just make the difference. I think Tennessee is tough for the Democrats but they have as good as shot as any.

WALLACE: Bill, let me ask you about Virginia, where George Allen thought that he was going to have a cakewalk and then he would be preparing for his very serious presidential run in 2008. He's got a lead there, a five-point -- what, two points, but he's really in a dogfight there. He's fighting for his life.

KRISTOL: Well, that's a Jewish Republican in Virginia. I'm thrilled that it turns out our Republican senator is Jewish. After (inaudible) or something.

(LAUGHTER)

He's had a pretty miserable six weeks, and he's still ahead by four points. So I assume he will win in Virginia.

And loyal Republicans like me will not think he should run for president in 2008 and will be a little annoyed at his ineptness over the last four to six weeks. But I do think the issues tend to trump these personal judgments on, sort of, candidates being slightly buffoonish or not.

WALLACE: And let me ask you finally, Juan, about New Jersey, which is the one -- and there you see it -- the one Democratic seat that seems in real jeopardy. Menendez with about a three-point lead there, but everybody feels this is a real tight one.

WILLIAMS: Well, it's tight because I think people didn't anticipate that Menendez would have so much trouble with the incumbency. And he's had his own little scandals. But I think that ultimately he comes out on top. Kean's name is golden in the state. Without a doubt, his dad's a great guy and all that. But I think that people see him as a little bit of an ingenue. He's just a little too young for this.

WALLACE: Well, you know, it is fascinating. I mean, it's what political junkies we are. There's nothing better than sifting over the tea leaves, and guess what? We've got four whole weeks to do so.

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

For more visit the FOX News Sunday web page.

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