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Charlie Rangel, John Dingell, Barney Frank, Trent Lott, Roundtable

Fox News Sunday

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace.

Insurgents in Iraq raise millions of dollars to finance their attacks, next on "Fox News Sunday."

Now that Democrats control Congress, what will they do? From taxes to gas prices to Social Security, we'll talk with three incoming chairmen with plenty of clout over what happens: Congressman Charlie Rangel, John Dingell and Barney Frank.

Also, if Senate Republicans want to regain power, they may want to follow the example of one of their new leaders. We'll sit down with senator Trent Lott, back from the political dead.

Plus, President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki hold a high-stakes meeting this week as Iraq descends further into chaos. We'll discuss that with our Sunday regulars -- Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

And our "Power Player of the Week" puts on fine (ph) bucks to help inner city kids. More right now on "Fox News Sunday."

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

A classified government report obtained by The New York Times says insurgents in Iraq raise up to $200 million a year through oil smuggling, kidnapping and counterfeiting. Plenty of money to continue their attacks. Sectarian violence on the outskirts of Baghdad killed at least five policemen today. Inside the city, there's still a ban on all traffic following the deadly round of attacks last week.

And a cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians took effect this morning. Some isolated rocket fire from Palestinian militants was reported, but overall the truce is still holding.

Well, with Democrats taking over control of Congress, we've assembled three people about to become chairmen of some of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill.

Charles Rangel from House Ways and Means, which writes all tax laws. John Dingell from Energy and Commerce. And Barney Frank from Financial Services. On this holiday weekend, all three join us from their home states.

Gentlemen, we hear a lot of talk from the left wing of your party that after 12 years out of power, they want to see House Democrats push a strong liberal agenda for the next two years. Congressman Frank, do you view that as part of your job, to resist that pressure and to govern from the center?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, it depends on how you define it. For instance, raising minimum wage has become an issue identified with liberals. I think it's very popular. I think a lot of issues that people are talking about are indeed quite popular. Giving the federal government the mandate to negotiate drug prices as part of the prescription drug program I think has great majority support.

In my own committee, the biggest difference you're going to see is we're going to return to try to help deal with the housing crisis that blights so many parts of our country socially and economically. And again, I think reversing these attacks on housing for the elderly and other forms of affordable housing I think it will really be quite popular. So I don't see that conflict.

WALLACE: Congressman Dingell, how do you respond, though, to liberals who say, look, we stayed with the party when a lot of other people left. Now when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy or abortion and gay rights, it's our time?

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Well, I think what we really need to do is understand, Democrats like winning elections. We want to win elections, and we're going to do our best to do so. This doesn't mean to get into any extreme positions on any matter. We'll do what makes good sense on Iraq, what makes good sense on tax policy, what makes good sense on the environment and on energy, and we'll come up with a package that the people will like and that will make good sense in the middle.

WALLACE: Congressman Rangel, you caused quite a stir this week when you said that you're going to introduce a bill to reinstate the draft. Here's what you said this week in a newspaper article. Let's take a look. "The great majority of people bearing arms in this country, for this country in Iraq, are from the poorer communities in our inner cities and rural areas."

But a recent and very detailed study by the Heritage Foundation, Congressman, found the following and I'm going to put that up: 13 percent of recruits are from the poorest neighborhoods. That's less than the national average of people living in those neighborhoods. Ninety-seven percent of recruits have high school diplomas. Among all Americans, the graduation rate is under 80 percent. And blacks make up 14.5 percent of recruits for the military; the national average is 12 percent.

Congressman, in fact, contrary to what you've been saying, isn't the volunteer army better educated and more well-to-do than the general population?

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Of course not. I want to make it abundantly clear that I have been advocating a draft ever since the president has been talking about war, and none of this comes within the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. But I want to make it abundantly clear, if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment.

If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.

So anyone who supports the war and is against everyone sharing in the sacrifice is being hypocritical about the whole thing. The record is clear, and once we are able to get hearings on this, everyone will see what they already know, and that is that those who have the least opportunities at this age find themselves in the military, as I did when I was 18 years old.

WALLACE: Congressman Frank, you said recently that you would like to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Isn't that exactly the kind of inflammatory fight the Democrats want to avoid at this point?

FRANK: Well, it's not something that would happen at first. But no, I don't think it's inflammatory to say that the young men and women ought to be able to join the military. I think, Chris, that you're looking to pick fights where there aren't. As I said, our first efforts are going to be to do those things that I think the mainstream of America wants.

In fact, what's happened is some things have become liberal because the right wingers who control the Republican Party have abandoned them to us. You know, housing for the elderly didn't used to be a left wing cause. Raising the minimum wage, negotiating lower drug prices, which the Veterans Administration does. Recognizing global warming. That's very important to a lot of liberals. This administration has pretended it's not there.

One of the things I do want to address, yes, is discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, what we have is a shortfall in the military. And I think when you have people being fired who can read Arabic and understand Arabic because of what they do when they're off-duty, that that's a grave error.

But that's not what we're going to begin with. And people listening to you might get the wrong idea. We're going to begin with making it easier for middle class and working class people to go to college. These are, again, things that we -- they have become liberal because the right wing has in its extremism abandoned them, and those are the things we plan to begin first.

WALLACE: Well, Congressman Dingell, let's talk about one of the things that you definitely are going to begin with, and that is the question of who's going to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That's one of the first big decisions that Speaker Pelosi must make. And the question is whether or not she's going to name Alcee Hastings to be chairman of that committee.

Back in 1988, Congressman Dingell, not only you but in fact all three of you voted to impeach Hastings as a judge for official corruption. For someone who has promised the most ethical Congress ever, wouldn't it be a very serious mistake for Nancy Pelosi to name Alcee Hastings as chairman of this very important committee?

DINGELL: First of all, Nancy has not decided she's going to nominate anybody for that job, according to what she has said in public.

Now, having said that, Alcee Hastings was impeached. But there's something else to be known. He was tried later and was acquitted. So -- and the people of his district have elected him to serve in the Congress.

I don't know what's going to come on this, and I don't even know what I'm going to do, but I think that this is something that should be permitted to play out. Let's see what happens. And I don't have any real fears about the correct and proper conclusion being reached under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi.

WALLACE: Congressman Rangel, the Congressional Black Caucus says it's 100 percent behind Alcee Hastings. Are you behind Alcee Hastings to be chairman of the House Intel Committee?

RANGEL: I haven't heard that statement. The Congressional Black Caucus has not formally met on this issue, nor have we met on any of the chairmen that are eligible. All of this is in the hands of Nancy Pelosi. She is the speaker, and this has not really been debated in the Democratic caucus.

WALLACE: Congressman Frank, you were quite honest. You said that Pelosi's effort to put Murtha in as her No. 2, John Murtha, over Steny Hoyer, was, as you put it, an error in judgment. Would it be an error in judgment to name Alcee Hastings to the House Intel Committee?

FRANK: No, I don't think so, although, Chris, I've got to say, Chris, you have an odd view of balance. I've just been listening, and every single question you asked, none -- you said it's to see what the Democrats are going to be like. We were all prepared to talk about a very positive agenda we have in tax fairness, in environmental concerns, in housing, and, of course, all of your questions have been aimed at trying to find points of controversy, which are not going to be high on our agenda.

Now, having said that, I would say this. Alcee Hastings has served in the Congress for a long time, since the events that were the cause of the impeachment. I think he's entitled to be judged on how those have worked.

People do make mistakes. I see Newt Gingrich listed as a Republican presidential candidate. He was twice reprimanded by the House of Representatives Ethics Committee for misbehavior, so when things have happened far in the past and people have had a different record, I think we can look at it. But again, I am struck by the tenor of your questions. You advertise this as giving us a chance to talk about what we're going to do, but everything is aimed at trying to put us in a kind of a bad light and look at the most controversial and not very representative things that we plan to do.

WALLACE: Well, let me see if I can do better, Congressman Frank. Let's do a series of questions about various issues that will come up before your committee.

Congressman Rangel, secretary -- Treasury Secretary Paulson says he wants negotiations on Social Security without any preconditions. Are you willing to accept that, or do private accounts, the president's private account idea, does that have to be taken off the table first?

RANGEL: Nothing has to be taken off the table. I met several times with Secretary Paulson, and he agrees the first thing we have to do is bring the committee together with some degree of non- partisanship -- bipartisanship, rather.

And I don't think that the first thing that we should deal with would be tax reform or Social Security or health care. It has to be something that -- probably some what I call low-hanging fruit, some things that the White House would want that we could work together. I intend to take the committee on retreat, because in the last 10 or 12 years, we have not legislated.

So the treasury secretary and I have agreed, the first thing we're going to do is try to work together on things that we know we can accomplish, and the controversial things, rather than have the committee against the president, it's not going to happen.

First, we can't do anything Democratically. We need Republicans working together. And, second, the president has a veto. We don't want really a fight with the president. What we want to do is to prove that we can govern for the next two years. And the second thing, we don't want the president to be a lame duck.

WALLACE: Congressman Dingell, you say you want more oversight of the Bush administration. Do you have any specific investigations in mind?

DINGELL: Well, investigating things and happenings, not people.

All right, let's take a look. Medicare Part D. There are lots and lots and lots of scandals. Investigation of the situations over in Iraq and wastages of public moneys, Halliburton and things of that kind. The Cheney task force on energy, which was carefully cooked to provide only participation by oil companies and energy companies, as opposed to the general public at large, and which information was not made available to the people.

There are questions relative to food and drug safety. Generics and licensing. But also food supplements, where people are being killed. There also needs to be a careful look at clean air, air pollution and the functioning of EPA.

So we have lots and lots and lots of work to do. And I'm sure my friend Barney Frank and our good friend Chairman Rangel will be looking at questions of concern to them.

WALLACE: Congressman Frank, what's this about a grand bargain with corporate America, where you would agree to cut regulations and pass free trade deals if corporations, if businesses, would agree to raise wages and increase job benefits?

FRANK: We're in a gridlock economic position right now. All the things that you listen to the financial community tell us are important for economic growth are kind of stalled. In some cases, I think the stalling is appropriate, because they weren't the things that were wise. In other cases, I agree with them.

The president tried to do something on immigration and it was stopped by the right wing of his own party, but also a lot of general unhappiness about the economy. We can't get a good bill through to reorganize how we deal with foreign investment, again because of these concerns.

What we've had is this: The economy has shown some growth in the last few years, but according to both Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke and virtually everybody else, the growth has been more uneven and more unequally distributed than in any time in recent American memory.

And so what you've got is the average American saying, look, don't tell me that I should implement productivity and I should go into trade deals, because those may have a short-term negative effect on me. You say they'll be good for the economy as a whole, but I'm not the economy as a whole. I'm me.

What we've got is at the same time, they're blocking unionization, they've got a very anti-labor National Labor Relations Board, they won't accept a minimum wage increase, health care has become a great burden for working people. And what I say is let's put it all on the table, let's get together, and let's do some things that will help growth, but in a way that does not promote more inequality. And I'm hoping that the business community will be responsive to that.

WALLACE: Congressmen, I am going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you all for coming in today and talking about the two years ahead. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.

RANGEL: Thank you.

DINGELL: Thank you, Christopher.

WALLACE: Coming up, we'll find out what Republicans need to do to regain power from the comeback kid himself, Senator Trent Lott. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: It was four years ago that Trent Lott, poised to be the new Senate majority leader, was tossed aside by fellow Republicans after remarks he made at a party for Strom Thurmond. Well now he's back, having just won the number two job in the Republican leadership.

Senator, we should -- we should introduce you and say that you're joining us today from your home state of Mississippi.

President Bush is going to meet this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to discuss the way forward in Iraq. Given Maliki's dependence on the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and his refusal to crack down on the militias, do you still have confidence in the prime minister?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Obviously, the situation in Iraq is not acceptable, and changes are going to have to occur. That's why the vice president was in the region meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia, and that's why the president's going to meet with Maliki.

There are problems with him. He's going to have to decide whether he's going to really try to control his militia groups, whether he's really going to try to govern and protect the people and move forward or not. But, obviously, we have problems there we have got to address. I'm looking forward to hearing the Baker-Hamilton commission report and seeing what recommendations they have.

WALLACE: Are we stuck with the Maliki government or is there some way we could make a change there?

LOTT: I'm -- you know, I assume we're stuck with him. They made that choice. They selected him. But, you know, I don't know whether the government is going to be able to survive if the circumstances don't change there. If the insurgency continues to grow, I don't know whether he can survive or not.

But that is a democracy. They passed their constitution. They elected him. And hopefully, he can exert strong leadership and bring the situation under control. But it's not been encouraging, to say the least.

LOTT: Well, I was going to ask you about that, because for all the talk and the anticipation in this meeting this week in Jordan between the president and the prime minister, the fact is, they've talked before. President Bush has tried to put pressure on him to crack down on the militias and he's failed or refused to do that. How short of beginning -- beginning to pull troops out, U.S. troops out -- how do we put pressure on the Maliki government?

LOTT: I think we're going to have to be very aggressive and specific with him. And if he doesn't show real leadership, doesn't try to bring the situation under control; if, in fact, he becomes a part of the problem; we're going to have to make some tough decisions. Do we go in there, try to do it for them?

Or do we make it clear to them, look, we've done what we needed to do, we got rid of Saddam Hussein, we've tried to help you with the infrastructure, we've tried to train your police, your military, we tried to set guideposts of what must be done. And if you don't want to, you know, deal with that, then we're going to be done with it. At some point, they're going to have to decide if they want to live in democracy and peace or freedom or not. And right now it's in doubt.

WALLACE: When you say at some point, how much time is there left?

LOTT: I think the circumstances have to change. I think we have to think about what we do. I think they have to think about what they're going to do with their own situation. We're reaching a critical point. I think the president and the vice president and the administration, the commission that's working on this issue, know that. Do they know it in Iraq? And that's what has got to be determined.

WALLACE: At some point, would you now, as the number two man of the Republican leadership in the Senate, would you consider getting out ahead of the president and calling for a specific dramatic change in Iraq policy?

LOTT: I probably would not want to do that. I think we need to do this thoughtfully and carefully. We've invested a lot of treasure and manpower and lives and injuries and money. We need to do this in an orderly way. If we just, as the saying goes, cut and run, we've invested an awful lot for very little.

So we need to do this in a coordinated way, with Republicans and Democrats and independents working with the president, listening to our best experts that we can possibly find, working with the more moderate elements in the region to deal with this problem. Because if we don't contain the situation in Iraq, it will get outside those borders. It will spread.

And I still believe that if we were not fighting them there, if we didn't have them tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, they'd be, you know, somewhere else, in England or even right here.

WALLACE: Senator, let's talk about your comeback. Back in 2002, you were at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond. It was his 100th birthday party, as a matter of fact. And you said if the rest of the country had joined Mississippi in voting for him for president back in 1948, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years. You said later you were just trying to make him feel good, that you weren't endorsing his segregationist policy in 1948. But what did you learn about yourself and what did you learn about friendship and loyalty here in Washington?

LOTT: Well, I was not endorsing those policies at all. In fact, I was, I guess, six or seven years old when that was happening. But we all learn from our mistakes, hopefully. And you can do one of two things. You can just quit and go away, or you can go back and try to do your job, to make amends and to focus on the issues that really affect people's lives -- job opportunity, quality education, health care, you know, a transportation system that leads to economic opportunity. That's what I've been working on in my own state. But I also -- you know, I love the institution of the Senate. I like working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I've done that before. I also like working across the Capitol with the members of the House. I've worked with their leadership on both sides. I've worked with Charlie Rangel on the African Free Trade Act. If we hadn't worked on that together, it wouldn't have happened. I can tell you for sure. I've worked with John Dingell on the telecommunication bill. We worked during the '80s and we developed a trust for each other.

So I just went back to work. I -- you know, I acknowledged my mistake. I'm not looking back now. I'm looking at the present and I'm looking at the future. What can I do to help the people in my state, who have been so devastated by Hurricane Katrina, that need so many economic opportunities? And also work with my colleagues in the Senate to advance a positive agenda for the future. And we need to do a better job of that. And I want to be a part of that effort, working with Senator Mitch McConnell, our new unopposed minority leader.

WALLACE: Senator, over the last four years, though, you did have some harsh things to say about the White House, and I wonder whether you still stand by them. You said Karl Rove should resign. Still believe that?

LOTT: Look, I've been in sort of a liberated mode. Some people say that they hope, in my new leadership position, I won't give that up. I do believe in trying to be honest and respectful. I've had problems with some of the conduct of Karl Rove. But I have a good relationship with the president and most of the people around him. I think Josh Bolton is doing a great job as his chief of staff. You know, the president and I can communicate. And I want to see him succeed, because he is the president.

And we have to work with Democrats because they are in the majority. But the Republicans have a job to do. We can, with 49 Republican senators out of 100 -- we are going to be a part of the agenda. We can block something if it's really bad, not in the country's best interest, or we can help move it forward in a positive way. I hope we'll be on offense and be positive.

You know, I've seen it happen. Ronald Reagan was behind 30, 40 votes every day in the House of Representatives, and he passed a lot of great things for our country. I worked with Bill Clinton when he was president. I was majority leader. We did pass a minimum wage increase. We passed safe drinking water. We passed a balanced budget. We passed tax cuts. It can be done, and I want to help be a part of that effort in the next two years, the final two years of the president's administration.

WALLACE: But part of moving forward, Senator, is also understanding where you went wrong. You wrote an online column just after the election and you said one of the reasons that the Republicans lost the election -- let's put it up on the screen -- you said is that "The Senate has been in the doldrums lately, just drifting aimlessly in circles, reacting to ever- changing winds and going nowhere." Now, listen, this was a time at which you had a very sizable majority in the Senate. What went wrong?

LOTT: In terms of the election, I think Iraq clearly was part of the problem. But I do think that we lost our ability to really push a specific agenda and to get our message out there. You know, this year was very difficult to get things through the Senate.

The Democrats were requiring 60 votes on everything. We didn't get them a minimum wage because we couldn't get 60 votes. We had a clear majority to extend the tax issues and also to deal with the minimum wage. And we found it more and more difficult to work across the Capitol. We can do better. The people, I think, sent us a message. I think we've got it. We're going to be working hard together.

WALLACE: So, Senator, give me an example of one or two specific things that you think that the Republican minority in the Senate needs to be pushing to say to the American people, this is what we stand for over the next two years.

LOTT: Well, first of all, I can't lay out the agenda by myself. I'm going to be working with our leadership team. We will work on an agenda for next year. But there are issues that are going to come up. I mean, you don't have to be a genius to figure out immigration reform is going to be an issue that we're going to have to deal with. Energy, obviously, is something that we're close to doing something with, maybe even in this lame duck session. Health care issues.

I mean, the broad areas are clear. What are going to be our plans? We're going to be working with our best thinkers, seek the advice of the American people. Mitch McConnell and our leadership team in the Senate will have a specific agenda and a message to explain to the people what we're trying to do. We kind of got away from that, and we paid a price for it.

WALLACE: Senator Lott, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in and sharing part of your holiday weekend with us.

LOTT: Glad to be with you again, Chris. Thank you.

WALLACE: Up next, we'll talk with our Sunday regulars about the recent carnage in Iraq, and this week's Bush/Maliki summit. Where do we go from here? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: That was the bloody scene in Sadr City this week, the Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad where more than 200 people were slaughtered in a string of bombings.

And it's time now for our Sunday gang. 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. Well, as we've said, President Bush meets this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in Jordan.

Brit, at this point, what can they say to each other that will help?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS WASHINGTON MANAGING EDITOR: Well, certainly, I think the president will be saying to Maliki, sir, you need to align your coalition and perhaps create a new governing coalition, because the one that put you in power is paralyzing you. Maliki's refusal to crack down on these militias is but one example of it. Muqtada al-Sadr's presence as a major political force in the country is a related and other one.

And the belief in the administration is that as long as Maliki continues to go along as he has, just swimming with the same fish, that nothing will change for the better, and that there's no belief that this is a problem that can be solved by anybody other than the Iraqis; that the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi politicians have got to deal with this or else it can't work.

MARA LIASSON, NPR: And that's where we've been for quite some time. You know, we're just kind of waiting for the government there to do what has to be done, whether to form some kind of a national reconciliation government, to do something about the al-Sadr forces, which seem increasingly out of the control of the government.

Some of the clerics loyal to al-Sadr commandeered the state-run television for a couple hours the other day to say that there's no safety on the streets and they seem to be more and more, increasingly, a completely independent and uncontrollable force. If that can't be done, then the question is, what does the United States do? And nobody has a good answer for that.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, Bill. I mean (AUDIO GAP) is unworkable because Maliki is so dependent on the support of this radical cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, that it won't work, one, can he form a new coalition, or two, do we have to start from scratch and in effect engineer -- and I understand it's difficult in a democracy -- but engineer a new government?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, why is Sadr powerful? Who caused the carnage on Thursday? That wasn't Sadr. That was Sunni insurgents. We have failed to suppress the insurgency. We have failed to win the war militarily. You can't ask a political government, a coalition government, to succeed when we have failed to suppress the insurgency that has caused the rise in sectarian militias.

So we can blame Maliki if we want. I have no stake in defending him. I don't know if he's a good man or a weak man or what. But this is basically an excuse now for saying, beyond our control, we can't do anything about it. They screwed up, we're getting out. And I'm very -- you know, in that respect, I think it's -- this will be -- the left is against the war, the conservatives are now going to find the excuse for not having fought the war properly and for not winning the war now. We're going to blame Maliki and the Iraqi politicians. WILLIAMS: Well, we're looking for all sorts of options. But, actually I was -- I'm interested in what you said, because it strikes me that we're in a phase where we're trying increasingly to say it's the responsibility of the Iraqis. I don't have any problem with that. I think, ultimately, they've got to settle their own dispute.

But you're right. I mean, they're not -- people are not being protected and so they're looking for any gang, militia, whatever, that can protect them. But at the moment, I think everybody is sort of up in the air here, Chris, waiting for the Baker commission, Baker and Lee Hamilton, to come in, waiting for Pentagon study reports.

The ideas out there have to do with repositioning troops. Vice President Cheney was over talking with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia. And I think there's more and more emphasis on trying to get other parties, other states in the Middle East involved in some sort of negotiation. But to move it away from simply being an American responsibility with American money and American troops bearing the total burden.

WALLACE: Brit, let me ask you about that trip. And we just saw a picture of Vice President Cheney, and I don't envy him. He flew all the way to Saudi Arabia to meet a couple of hours with the king there. The talk is supposedly of trying to set up some kind of Sunni coalition to contain the Shiites in Iran and Iraq and Syria and Hezbollah and Lebanon. How realistic is that?

HUME: Well, it's probably worth a try, although I have my doubts as to whether it will succeed or not. I mean, it strikes me that what we have here in Iraq is a case of the United States having gone in there to topple Saddam, and the United States is certainly prepared to fight the foreign insurgents who came into the country to stir up the trouble.

I don't think it was ever contemplated that the U.S. would have to be the fighting force that suppressed Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Talk about putting yourselves in the middle. And I'm not at all sure that you could say that that could have ever succeed militarily or whether it's possible to argue that indeed the situation would be worse otherwise. Sure, it's a good idea to see if you can get countries that have influence or perhaps provide money that may have some influences on the Sunnis in Iraq to live with the new situation in which they are no longer the dominant political force in the country. I think it's difficult.

WALLACE: You know, meanwhile, Mara, I just saw on the wires before we came in here, that Iran's President Ahmadinejad said, well, he's willing to help us out -- that is, if we basically come to him hat in hand and we don't bully and we don't interfere in Iran anymore.

LIASSON: Right.

WALLACE: Do we really think that Iran is going to help us out in our hour of need?

LIASSON: Well, it's hard to see what incentive they have, but it is easy to see the price that they would require, which would be very, very high. Both Iran and Syria, who are the two countries that keep on coming up are we're going to negotiate with them and they're going to help us -- I mean, Syria will certainly want us to let them have a free hand in Lebanon, which seems like a very high price. And on Iran, we probably would like the U.S. to back off from its efforts to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. That's also a very high price. So it's hard to see exactly what is -- what's the interest of those countries in helping us out that we would be willing to give them.

KRISTOL: Well, and incidentally, the Saudis and Jordanians will have a price. Can King Abdullah II of Jordan -- a different Abdullah -- said this morning that well, we have to put the Israeli/Palestinian peace process front and center. That's what's causing all this killing in Iraq. Maybe you weren't aware that Israel was the problem that was causing the Sunni insurgents to kill the Shia, and Sadr to kill -- Sadr's militias to kill Sunnis. But that's what Jordanians think. The Saudis, of course, will have their own agenda there.

I think we are now -- I mean, this strikes me as desperation, frankly, for the vice president of the United States to fly to Saudi Arabia, spend three hours in a one-on-one meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia to ask for their help in solving the problems in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is part of the problem in the Middle East, not part of the solution. And now to meet with Maliki in Jordan -- meet with Maliki in Baghdad, at least, to go to legitimize Jordan somehow. Fine little country and all that, but to legitimize them as the kind of necessary middle man, so to speak for us to work things out in Iraq?

We're laying the groundwork for a regional conference. Clearly, that's the only reason Cheney would go to Saudi Arabia and Bush would go to Jordan, is so they could shortly announce that there will be a grand regional conference and everyone will work together, and basically we will try to devolve responsibility onto the region and extricate ourselves.

WALLACE: And do -- I was going to say, do you think that a regional conference accomplishes nothing except maybe a cover for departure?

KRISTOL: That's what I would be worried about, yes.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NPR: But I think that's exactly right. That's what's going on as we're setting up a situation where you're going to have a regional conference. And, you know, Brit, my feeling is we didn't go in there so much to depose Saddam Hussein as we went in there as Americans fearful that they had weapons of mass destruction.

And that brings me back to this point. I think right now political support here at home for this -- and, Bill, putting in more troops I don't think is going to happen -- but where is political support? Political support still is with those who say let's look at six months at most in terms of withdrawing, and then once we do that, say that means that Maliki and others, you guys have to do a better job of dealing with violence and settling your own issue. Because it looks, on the basis of what took place this week, like you've got a civil war on your hands.

WALLACE: Brit -- you know, and we should point out this is a historical marker, if nothing else, that as of today, the war in Iraq has gone on longer, as of today, than World War II. Where -- what about this question of political support, and especially among Republicans? I mean, you had the sense that Trent Lott, in our earlier segment, was walking right up to the line and saying we can't go on this way much longer.

HUME: Well...

WALLACE: And it's either fish or cut bait.

HUME: Well, let's bear one thing in mind. The president, at this point, has not much to lose on this issue. And to a considerable extent, he's staked his presidency on it. He's brought in a new secretary of defense, which many have taken as a prelude to just exactly the kind of outcome that Juan is describing and Bill is afraid of. I think Bill is on the right track in worrying about this.

The president, however, we now know, told Gates that his objective in Iraq was a stable government capable of defending itself, a democracy and an ally in the war on terror. That doesn't sound like the president's definition of victory is going to be accommodated by some kind of regional cover for a purposeful withdrawal, designed simply to cut losses and allow the situation to further deteriorate. The idea that -- as Bill suggested, in the hands of the region that somehow Iraq, which didn't much benefit from the region in the past, will somehow get better, I think, is fanciful.

WALLACE: We have to take a break here. But coming up, the field of presidential contenders for 2008 begins to form. Who should be taken seriously and who not? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Legislators so energized to protect the newly discovered right to marry for some citizens had no compunction whatsoever about trammelling the long-established constitutional right of the people to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That's Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is suing to force his state legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage or to put it on the ballot. And we're back now with Brit, Mara, Bill and Juan.

Well, Governor Romney says he intends to announce whether he's running for president just after the first of the year. And I think it would be the surprise of a lifetime if he doesn't announce he's going to run. LIASSON: Yes, I think you got your answer right there in that clip you just played.

WALLACE: And it sure looks, Mara, like he wants to be -- to run as the true conservative in the Republican field, running to the right of...

LIASSON: Sure.

WALLACE: ... McCain and Giuliani. What are his chances?

LIASSON: Well, right now, we're in this extraordinary situation where there is no natural conservative candidate in the Republican field. There is not even a Southern candidate. And this in a party that just got a lot more Southern after the 2006 elections. So it's very unusual that you've got this situation. And, of course, he wants to run as the most conservative candidate. Conservatives are an extremely important part of the Republican base. They are the Republican base. They also have a long- standing history of distrusting John McCain. And Mitt Romney, I think, has a tough hill to climb, even though by all accounts he's been running an excellent kind of pre-campaign. He's charismatic. He has a policy...

WALLACE: So what's the hill?

LIASSON: I think the hill is that he ran -- when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he didn't talk about being pro-life. He kind of came to that later as he positioned himself to run for the nomination. Some of it seems a little calculated. His fervor for the right-wing social issues is something that he only got recently. And also, I think he is -- there is the question of his religion. It's unclear if that's going to cause a problem for him with Evangelicals in South Carolina.

WALLACE: We should point out, he's a Mormon.

LIASSON: He's a Mormon. But I do think that he's going to give McCain a very strong contest among conservatives. And we'll see how he can do. But he is the governor of the very, very blue state of Massachusetts.

WALLACE: Bill, Romney tried to separate himself from McCain and Giuliani this week in a newspaper interview. And let's put up on the screen what he said. He said, talking about McCain and Giuliani, "We're in a different place on immigration. We're in a different place on campaign reform. We're in a different place on same-sex marriage. We're in a different place on the president's policy on interrogation of detainees."

All of which raises the question, Bill, how much trouble do you think McCain and Giuliani are going to have with conservatives?

KRISTOL: It's hard to tell. One says they'll commit to the conservative party. On the other hand, John McCain is a leader of conservatives on some issues, especially on foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani was a pretty conservative mayor of New York. If you think conservatives want to cut welfare dependency, get tough on crime and reestablish order.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... on social issues, he's on the left.

KRISTOL: Right. I think a lot will depend on, you know, the dynamics of the campaign. I would just say that I think conservatism -- there's kind of a cartoon version of conservatives out there. And the truth is, McCain and Giuliani would not be running so strongly in the polls right now if conservatives were as automatic in rejecting everyone who disagreed with them on one issue as people sometimes think. You know what I mean? It's not as if conservatives don't know who John McCain or they don't know that Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice and less anti-gay rights.

WALLACE: But bring in one. Is Giuliani going to run or not?

KRISTOL: I think so.

WALLACE: And your read on the Republican field?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I like to think that President Bush would have something to say here. And if he had to pick someone, I guess that the natural heir would be John McCain. But I just -- it's just a problem, because McCain had his trouble with the Bush administration. He's been a loyal soldier, but to many, he seems as if he's not sufficiently orthodox in his views.

And so I guess they're looking for Romney, but I don't think Romney has the name I.D. or the ability to raise the money that a McCain does. And I don't think President Bush is likely to endorse Romney, either.

HUME: No, President Bush will be neutral on all this. But Bill spoke of conservatives differing with McCain on some issues. The fact is that the list of issues is very long indeed. One need look no further than the Bush tax cuts, which I think are universally credited, particularly by conservatives and Republicans, for the economic health of the country in the face of 2001, 9/11 and also Hurricane Katrina.

For him to explain his vote on that -- and I guess he discusses his concerns and so forth -- McCain will need to repudiate that vote, it seems to me, and become an emphatic tax cutter, which would be quite a conversion. And, of course, the social issues are another group.

And Romney mentioned, I think productively from his point of view, this whole issue of the imprisonment and treatment of terror detainees when McCain spent days trying to thwart the administration's approach. And I think it's fair to say McCain gave in. But the list is pretty long, and I think not easily forgotten, although he's in many ways the most compelling man in contemporary American politics.

WALLACE: All right. In the time we have left, Mara, let's look at the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton, according to the polls, still has a big lead.

LIASSON: Right.

WALLACE: But there's a lot of excitement out there about just the possibility of Barack Obama and some support still out there, according to the polls, for Al Gore. First of all -- and this is, I suppose, the big question -- which of those three do you think is actually going to run?

LIASSON: Well, I think Hillary Clinton will definitely run. I think we're going to hear from Barack Obama soon, and I bet he will throw his hat into the ring. I think Barack Obama -- to say there's excitement, I think it's nearer to hysteria, or euphoria.

I mean, Democrats who see him are swooning with excitement about Barack Obama, because he seems to embody the lesson of the 2006 election. He seems to symbolize working across all sorts of divisions. He seems to be a natural, sincere guy, not calculating or polarizing, which is the rap against Mrs. Clinton, although she has tried to work across the aisle in the Senate.

So I think he is probably the person who could get into the race and really be a strong rival to her. Al Gore, I don't know if he's going to get in. He certainly hasn't given any indications.

WALLACE: Bill, how seriously -- I mean, obviously, at this moment, Obama is very attractive, but it's sort of still the Oprah Winfrey book tour. He hasn't had to take tough stands on tough issues. How seriously do you take Obama as a serious candidate in 2008?

KRISTOL: I don't. Maybe I'm wrong. There's always a surprise or two in the field. I just think in a post-9/11 environment, with war going on in Iraq, whatever our current stance will be a year from now in Iraq, it will not be safe and happy. The Middle East will not be a peaceful place. Putin will not be a cooperative leader of Russia, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Voters are going to want to nominate and elect someone, I think, who can be commander-in-chief on day one. And with all due respect to Senator Obama, just two years in the Senate is not going to be a sufficient qualification. And that's why McCain and Giuliani and Gingrich can be nominated. That's why Romney could be if he can cross the foreign policy hurdle over the next year.

WALLACE: Well, I was going to say, well, what makes him any more qualified on foreign policy than Barack Obama?

KRISTOL: No, well, he's got more international experience. But, no, that's the main challenge. I think he's otherwise a very -- could be a very strong competitor. He's got to get over the foreign policy part.

And on the Democratic side, I think that helps Senator Clinton, who I think has a lot of foreign policy experience from being in the White House with her husband for eight years. And I come back to my favorite Democratic candidate, former Vice President Gore, who served for eight years in the Clinton administration, and from a Democratic point of view, was right on the war in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Right. I think Gore is (AUDIO GAP). And we were talking about Southerners before. I'd have to go with the idea that John Edwards is going to be a surprise candidate. Right now, he's leading in Iowa in the polls. So I think that's when -- and I think the fact that Joe Biden has taken the lead on Iraq -- again, he's a candidate, but people aren't talking abo

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