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Hot Story: Great Expectations

Beltway Boys

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Coming up on "The Beltway Boys":

Nancy Pelosi faces her first major defeat at the hands of her own party. We'll do a damage assessment.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": We're also learning a lot about what Democrats are planning in the upcoming Congress. We'll fill you in on the gory details.

KONDRACKE: Republicans pick their leadership this week, too. We'll name the big winners and losers.

BARNES: And Rudy vs. John. Two GOP titans make the first steps toward a presidential run.

KONDRACKE: "The Beltway Boys" are next, right after the headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER DESIGNATE: As I said to my colleagues, let the - as we say in church, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with us. Let the healing begin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke.

BARNES: And I'm Fred Barnes, and we're "The Beltway Boys."

And the "Hot Story" is "Great Expectations." And I'm referring to those expectations of Democrats.

Mort, things are so perfect - almost perfectly teed up for Democrats to govern along with a weakened President Bush. And - and actually succeed.

You will love these polls I'm going to read to you. You know you will, Mort. You love polls, period - particularly these ones.

Sixty percent of those surveyed are happy Democrats won on Election Day. Happy. That's a lot. Fifty percent approve of the Democrats agenda, and 51 percent think the Democrat-led Congress should take the lead on national issues. Only 29 percent think President Bush should. Now there's real reversal - role reversal for you.

And then I think by a - oh, better than a 2-to-1 margin, the public loves favorably on the Democratic Party right now, which wasn't true before the election.

So given this perfect storm - or perfect situation that Democrats face, what do they do? Stumble, right at the beginning. And they stumbled in the House in particular, and - and stumbled badly, where the expectations are the greatest. Because in the House, Democrats have a governing majority. They don't have one in the Senate, because they just have a - a one-vote advantage.

And for reasons unknown to me, Nancy Pelosi insisted on imposing her favorite, John Murtha, this congressman from Pennsylvania who is ethics challenged and who is fanatically in favor of removing American troops from Iraq instantly. She insisted on trying to impose him on her caucus as majority leader. And she failed, and failed badly.

I think she's actually lucky. Because if he had been - if - if Democrats had gone along and - and Murtha was elected, it was a story that would have gone on the media for days and weeks, everything about all his problems and his - actually, remember, he admitted - or that he wasn't for the ethics package that she was in favor of, though he said he'd vote for it.

So she's left with something that isn't good, but it's not as bad as that would have been. And that is a very awkward relationship between her, as House speaker, which she'll be in January, and the - the majority leader, Steny Hoyer, who beat Murtha in that vote. Now there is where the healing needs to begin, between Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer.

One other thing that's going to be a tough decision for her, and that's picking the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Now the obvious person, of course, is Jane Harman, who's experienced and has been the ranking member when Republicans were in charge. She knows a lot about intelligence. But Nancy Pelosi doesn't like her.

KONDRACKE: Yes.

BARNES: And - and so, it looks - the person who thinks he's going to get is Alcee Hastings, the congressman from Florida who, as a federal judge, was impeached and convicted and removed from the bench. And he thinks he's going to get it. The Congressional Black Caucus is for it. But if she names him, it is going to be hell to pay with the press, Republicans and a lot of Democrats.

KONDRACKE: Yes.

Well, in answer to your question, about why she did this, here's one explanation, as delivered by Nancy Pelosi herself.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: I have to be who I am, and I am a person who is committed to ending this war, that is a grotesque mistake that is costing lives, limbs. It'll be a trillion dollars - cost in dollars, reputation in the world, cost to our military. And I promised that I would do everything possible to end it. The caucus thought differently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Well, I mean - so ideology or.

BARNES: (INAUDIBLE)

KONDRACKE: Yes. Her - her fierce opposition to the war is - is one explanation. But it - but it's not the only explanation. I mean, a lot of it has to do with the long-standing rivalry between her and Steny Hoyer, between the left wing of the - of the Democratic Party -- the very left wing of the Democratic Party, California - and Steny Hoyer, who tends to be a moderate on most issues.

But look, that poll that you cited, actually - that's - that's - that's a poll that - that - all - all it tells you is that - that a honeymoon was under way.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: .between the - the - the people that the - that people just.

BARNES: Mort, that was my point.

KONDRACKE: OK. Was under way between the people that the - that the public elected, you know, and the public.

So - however - and it always happens. You know, and it - and it's true that this is a - an - an especially opportune moment for it, because President Bush's popularity is down to - what? - something like 33 percent in - in the Gallup poll.

But I think Democrats have to be a little disturbed by - by what they saw, the squabble amongst their leadership right out of the box. And - you know, Nancy Pelosi was not just content to nominate John Murtha in the caucus by extolling his virtues. She had to take a slam at Steny Hoyer, and say that he was in favor of staying the course, the Bush position in Iraq, which is flatly false. But it - what - all that does tell you is that whatever happens, she is going to be pushing very hard for whatever it takes to end the war soon - sooner rather than later.

And also, by the way in this whole dustup, she did not do herself any harm with the left-wing blogosphere, which wants the - the most left position and the most anti-war position to prevail.

BARNES: You know, this is a mistake by Pelosi that'll be forgotten next week.

All right. After a week, we have a much better sense of what Democrats will be focusing on when they take over in January.

Mort touched on this first one. It's number one, there's disagreement on the timetable, but the mission is clear: get the U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

KONDRACKE: Well, I mean, the.

BARNES: And obviously, Nancy Pelosi is a - leading figure there. I - you know, the truth is, I thought Democrats were going to go a little easier on this Iraq issue than they obviously are.

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, the -- the - the rest of the country is waiting for the Baker-Hamilton Commission Report.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: .and the Democrats can't really do anything until January.

BARNES: They can talk.

KONDRACKE: But whatever it is that the Baker Commission recommends, and whatever it is that Bush does, will not be enough for the Democrats.

BARNES: I'm sure that's true.

KONDRACKE: They'll be pushing it hard.

BARNES: Item two: kill the renomination of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. It - his recess appointment expires at the end of this year. If he's renominated - he's been renominated. Obviously, that's not going to work.

The best that the Bush administration can do is give him a State Department job, and then send him on temporary duty to the U.N. to act as ambassador. That's kind of circuitous and would be criticized.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, if Bush were to reappoint on an - on a recess basis, the poor guy can't get paid. So I guess they - they won't do that.

BARNES: Item three: they're not coming out and saying outright that they'll raise taxes, but it's no secret Democrats want to change tax policy.

You know, it drives them crazy that the top rate is only 35 percent. I mean, this is a theological issue to Democrats. They want to raise taxes even though there's no reason except vindictiveness against the well-to-do for doing it.

KONDRACKE: You watch; here's what's going to happen: the president is going to submit a supplemental appropriation in January for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What the - the - the Democrats will attach an amendment to that saying that it should be paid for by raising taxes on the top 2 percent or 1 percent of the - of the - of the earning - earning group. And they're going to dare Bush to veto it, and say that if - if you - if you veto this bill, you're denying armor for the troops.

BARNES: (INAUDIBLE)

KONDRACKE: You watch. Yep.

BARNES: Boy, that is cynical. But it shows you where they are on Iraq and on taxes.

All right. Item four: raise the minimum wage.

You know, I think the minimum wage - you know, those referenda in six states, all red states, passed. And so it's going to go up some. It'll have to be negotiated. I think it'll be closer to what Democrats want, which is - what? -- $7.25 an hour?

KONDRACKE: Bush has already said that he'd - that he'd make a deal.

BARNES: Yes. OK.

KONDRACKE: OK.

BARNES: That was my point.

KONDRACKE: Yes.

BARNES: Item five: investigations, from Halliburton to NSA wiretaps. Inspect lots of congressional inquiries in the coming months.

The part that I think's going to stupid is going back over this old Iraq stuff, which I think the intelligence - the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to do under Jay Rockefeller - because all they're looking for is some memo where they can come out and say, See, the president lied.

KONDRACKE: Well, and - and they want to discredit the whole war policy. And, you know - and there is going to be investigations all over the place. I mean, the subpoenas are going to fly like confetti. Pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, you know, politicizing science. It's going to be all over the place.

BARNES: Yes. Yes. Good for journalism, bad for America.

And lastly, President Bush is going to expect a fight over judges and potential Supreme Court nominees. I think on the judges in the new Senate, he's not going to get anything he wants. They'll have to be moderate or liberal or they'll be dead on arrival.

KONDRACKE: Now, there are a few good things that are - that are going to happen. There's going to morning - more money for children's health. There's going to be full funding for the national - the No Child Left Behind program. And, you know, they're going to try to make college more affordable. That - that's going to help people.

For more visit the Beltway Boys web page.

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