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Hot Stories: Senate Balance, Glam-a-Rama

Beltway Boys

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Coming up on "The Beltway Boys":

Senator Johnson may be out of the woods medically, but Democrats aren't politically. We'll explain.

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Hillary Clinton speaks out on Obama's star surge, and talks about her own presidential plans.

BARNES: Mitt Romney runs into trouble with some evangelical leaders. We'll tell you how he's digging out.

KONDRACKE: Goodbye Rummy, hello Robert. Iraq looms large for the incoming defense secretary, as Donald Rumsfeld bids a final farewell.

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

(NEWSBREAK)

KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke.

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

And the "Hot Story" number one is "50-49." Mort, that's the breakdown, of course, in the Senate with - with Democrats still in control after Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota had brain surgery.

Now, there are different ways to look at this. One is, if he - as long as he's alive but merely absent from the Senate floor - and he's expected live - Democrats will remain in control, and will - 50 to 49. And - and it - and they'll say, Look, this seat isn't vacant. Senator Johnson does - isn't here.

But it's different if he happens to die, and I know that's morbid to be talking about this. But - but if he happens to die, then it becomes a tie in the Senate. And - and who is - is the deciding vote, of course it's - after the Republican governor of South Dakota names a Republican to replace Johnson - again, this is morbid, but - but anyway, Dick Cheney is the guy - the vice president who - who breaks the tie.

Now listen to, for example, one of the people who's talked about (ph) about this, is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The fact that we have 51 elected Democratic senators give us a majority, if one senator is out for any reason - for family purposes, for - for health purposes, our majority still holds.

When it comes down to the actual votes on the issues, that's another story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: You know, Johnson's illness shows how fragile in this case the Democratic Party's majority in the Senate is. And I think you have to conclude from that neither party's going to be able to impose its agenda on the other one, even though if - if you had listened to Senator Pat Leahy, the Democrat from Vermont this week, you - he was certainly raising expectations that he could do this in areas of national security and so on.

But I'll - I'll have to say, anyone trying to do that - if you're a Democrat trying to do that, impose something - Johnson's illness makes that harder.

KONDRACKE: You know, this story is so Washington.

You know, here we have a nice-guy senator.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: .who's fighting for his life in the hospital. And what's the immediate discussion in Washington? The power game. You know.

BARNES: Well, what was your immediate thought?

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, I'm part of Washington.

BARNES: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. I am, too.

KONDRACKE: So the - who has the majority does not really affect much, what kind of bills pass in the Senate, because after it all, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, and only 40 votes to mount a filibuster. And therefore, you know - you know, the majority doesn't count so much.

But what - who's in the majority does count as to who is going to be the chairman of various committees, and who is going to issue subpoenas. And if the Democrats are in charge, like Pat Leahy in charge of the - the Judiciary Committee.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ..these subpoenas will fly like confetti, whereas under the Republicans, you know, it was, I know nothing. I want to know nothing.

So the - the - the other - the other factor is, who sets the agenda, who calls up bills in what order. Whether they pass or not, of course, as I say, depends on the - on the filibuster issue.

BARNES: All right.

Coming up, Donald Rumsfeld's swan song.

And Hillary Clinton speaks out on Barack Obama's recent visit to New Hampshire, and her own timetable for a decision on whether she's running for president or not.

Stay right here; "Hot Story" number two straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm talking to people who have opinions about, you know, what our country needs to do going forward, and whether or not I, you know, make any decisions about that, I won't, you know, really confront until after the first of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."

"Hot Story" number two is "Glam-a-rama." Hillary Clinton used to be the Democrats' top rock star. You know, best-selling book, big crowds, lavish attention and all that stuff. But she is being eclipsed, for the moment at least, by Barack Obama and Obama-mania.

Now it's true that in a head-to-head matchup for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Hillary leads by 52 percent to 30 percent. And Hillary has got $14 million left over from her Senate campaign, which she can transfer to a presidential campaign, whereas Obama has $2.5 million in a PAC that he is not allowed to transfer over to - to a presidential campaign,.

But nonetheless, Obama is all the rage. He's got a best-selling book. He's been on "Oprah." He's got these gonzo crowds, you know, like in - like in New Hampshire, where he is - he - he was compared to John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, and even the Messiah.

You know, here's Hillary reacting to all this hoopla over - over Barack Obama. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think it's terrific. I think that with the big Democratic win this November, we have a lot of great Democrats who are going to set the course for the country. And I'm excited that people are listening to us, paying attention. There's some enthusiasm about our leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: I - I think she would just as soon not have Obama trailing .

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: .trailing her this way, although she is - it has scooted her along. I mean, she is hastening her campaign faster than she had intended to do before.

Look, I - I think that the Democrats are perfectly capable of going with enthusiasm and letting it run away with them, as they did in 1976 with former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter - one-term governor to their - I think to their - to their regret.

But, you know, in this case, we're at war. And I think experience counts for a lot. And Barack Obama's only been a senator for two years. Hillary Clinton was assistant president after all, and has been a senator and a - and - and has done a - a very good job, and, you know, knows how the world is put together. So I would - I would give the advantage still to Hillary.

BARNES: Oh, yes. So would I. I agree with that.

But - but Mort, watch this - this ad by a group in Maryland, a Democratic group, that wants to draft Barack Obama to run for the presidential nomination, among the Democrats obviously, in 2008. Now he may not need a draft, but watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Do we participate in the politics of cynicism, or do we participate in the politics of hope?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We believe in making sure that everybody should have the opportunity to get a job that pays a living wage. That's some thing we believe in. We believe that nobody should be bankrupt when they get sick, and that every body should have access to decent health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: Well, that was Barama's (sic) voice, of course.

And I think that ad's very revealing. Notice how vague he is. He's for all these things, you know, and we - and elsewhere in - in speeches. He's.

KONDRACKE: You're - you're for .

BARNES: He's against.

KONDRACKE: You're for people going bankrupt, aren't you? And when they - when they suffer from an illness..

BARNES: He's - he's against partisan bickering. He doesn't like polarization.

KONDRACKE: I don't either. I don't either!

BARNES: He sounds exactly like you.

But - but.

KONDRACKE: But, but, but, but.

BARNES: There is a difference, Mort.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Right.

BARNES: He is considerably to the left of you, and to the left of Hillary Clinton. And voters are going to - and voters are going to figure this out. And I think that's going to hurt him eventually. He can't ride this wave that he's on right now.

A lot of it is based on personality, and I'll have to say, he has one of the political world's most winning personalities at the moment.

Watch him at this - you know, he appeared on - on the "Monday Night Football" on ESPN, and he laughed and he - you know, put on a Chicago bears hat. He is from Chicago. That helps. And he - and he - and - and he played along. You know, made fun of himself as a - as a candidate for president. And, you know, all in all, it was a - a wonderful appearance before a group of football fans. Zillions of them.

Now look, I think personality and likeability matter a lot in politics. And - and from - you know, we saw - we saw those two bites of Hillary. It is clear, personalitywise, Obama trumps her.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well.

BARNES: No question about it.

KONDRACKE: That's for sure.

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