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Special Report Roundtable - December 14

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN HARRY REID (D-NV), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: I was in his room with. He really -- he really looks good. The best care. It was perfect - - the unit that they have at Georgetown -- George Washington is just superb.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And so said Senator Reid it will be a 51-49 Democratic Senate not a 50-49 Democratic Senate and not a 40 or 50-50 Senate with 49-49 Senate with Senator Johnson gone. So, some thoughts on this.

Now, it is also being said tonight by Johnson's wife that he actually responded during the surgery and answered questions after the surgery. Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of the Washington Post -- FOX NEWS contributors all three.

All right, so does this look like this is -- that the most that could happen here, based on what we know is that Senator Johnson is incapacitated for a while, the Democratic strength shrinks to 50, but it's still 50-49 and the balance of power does not change? Is that how it look tonight or is it...

JEFF BIRNBAUM, Washington POST: That's how it looks and that's all the indication we have. We don't know anything in detail about the recovery prospects of Senator Johnson. What we do know is that short of his being thrown out of the Senate or his dying, he will maintain that seat, if history is any guide. And so the chances, I think, of the Democrats losing control, though very narrow control, of the Senate are slight.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: I mean, Conceivably the Republicans could threaten to filibuster or just demand that some arrangement be made as happened in 2004, the eventuality that there was a 50-50 Senate...

HUME: Wait, wait a minute. Some arrangement will be made?

KONDRACKE: Yeah, an arrangement -- a deal that would take effect if something happened that he had to resign...

HUME: Why would they need a deal if something -- if he resigned the Senate, a Republican govern in his home state would presumably -- presumably would appoint a Republican and then it would be 50-50.

KONDRACKE: OK, but what happened in 2000 when it was, in fact, 50-50, is that the Democrats insisted and there was a deal reached between Trent Lott and I guess it was Tom Daschle, for the eventuality that -- well, for a power-sharing arrangement whereby there would be equal numbers of members of each committee and equal budgets and stuff like that. Now, this is an eventuality that could take place and Republicans might say let's cover this eventuality or the Democrats might say let's cover this eventuality just in case. Now, I don't know that that's going to happen, but it could happen.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: I agree with Jeff, I think it's very -- there's a very slim chance -- slim to none chance, really, that there will be a change in the control of the Senate. But here's what I wouldn't advise people about. There is a long history of the doctors reports about politicians from the president on down about doctor's reports being untrue. You really have to be wary of them. I mean...

HUME: Of course we really haven't had any doctors' reports to speak of. We have a capitol physician, but we have not heard from his doctors yet.

BARNES: We haven't. And, but I think that you have to be sort of distrustful of this and wait and see. You know, wait and see how he is when he gets out of the hospital as he -- does he well (INAUDIBLE). Look, I'm not saying we -- anybody has told an untruth about Senator Johnson, but this does happen. Look, it happened with Ronald Reagan when he was president and so on, an I mean, there's going back to Senator Kennedy, we didn't know this terrible disease he had in his back and all these different things, so I'd just be a little wary of them.

HUME: One member's vote can make a big different in a Senate balanced on the knife's edge the way this one is. So, let's assume that the senator has to make a long recuperation and is unable to participate in Senate proceedings for some time, although he holds the office, isn't voting. What effect does his absence have on the issue balance there?

BIRNBAUM: Well, if the Democrats organize -- the important date is January 4...

HUME: No, the Democrats organize -- they're the majority, we got that. So there's one fewer Democrat. But what does it mean that it's this particular Democrat?

BIRNBAUM: It's this particular -- well, he is...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Go ahead -- Mort.

KONDRACKE: He is from a red state and he votes often on difficult issues about taxes and social policy and stuff like that, tends to vote Republican. He's one of those people...

HUME: Yeah, he's got like only an 80 rating. I mean, he's...

KONDRACKE: He's not high.

HUME: This guy's not a "blue dog."

BARNES: ...conventional liberal with a few exceptions and so I -- look, don't think it's going to have much impact at all and he may be out for months and Republicans will say he has to either come in and vote or he should resign or something and he won't.

BIRNBAUM: No, no, the issue -- you threw me off with this particular because...

HUME: I'm sorry to stump you.

BIRNBAUM: No, no, it didn't stump me, it's -- the important number is 60 votes for important issues and it really doesn't -- the Democrats are not close to getting 60 votes to stop a filibuster, you know, in an extended debate on the important issues without a whole bunch of Republicans anyway and so...

HUME: But it would be on some issues be one fewer gettable -- potentially gettable vote for the president...

BIRNBAUM: Right. This is not as liberal a Democrat as there are in the Senate, it's true.

HUME: Next up with the panel, we'll look at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's accomplishments and what says is yet to be done. This from an interview I did with him today. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that if you're going to put more people into a combat environment, you better have a good military objective. You ought to have something that you believe is military in nature that can be accomplished. Otherwise you're putting people into a risky situation where they're just more targets for the enemy to shoot at. And if you don't have an understood military objective, I can't see that there's much purpose in doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And yet, that is what the president is said to leaning toward doing in Iraq. Rumsfeld in the course of the interview also outlined a number of things that he said might be affected by the military but that the military really couldn't do. He spoke of the fact that there is no banking system for Iraqi soldiers, so they go home once a month to distribute the pay they get in cash to their families. He talked about the lack of an agricultural system that would create jobs, the fact that the hospitalization and medical system isn't adequate for the needs of the Iraqi forces who may be injured and the U.S. military has to do all that.

It seems to me we're seeing there a reflection of the arguments made by generals Abizaid and Casey with whom Rumsfeld obviously enjoyed very good relations about the question force levels, and yet that's the direction the president seems headed.

BARNES: Yeah, but there is. But look, I think he makes a good point about the need for a military objective and the idea...

HUME: As opposed to some of these other nonmilitary things that ended up kind of falling to them.

BARNES: Yeah. But -- and the military objective of building up forces in Baghdad in particular, you know, this plan of a surge or whatever it is, but more...

HUME: That's not an objective. It's an approach.

BARNES: No, no. It is a military objective, Brit, it...

HUME: What building up forces is an objective?

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: Can I tell what you they're going to do?

HUME: Please.

BARNES: I mean, you don't build them up just to sit in chairs around the city. You have them -- the classic counterinsurgency strategy is to protect the people, to build up areas where people are safe and expand and expand, and it's what General Abrams did in Vietnam with great success and it has worked elsewhere, but you need the troops to get in there.

Then after you create security, then you go to the political objectives, then you would have to insist that the Iraqi government create a national reconciliation between the Shiites and Sunnis and so on. General James Keane, who was the vice chair of the Army, has developed this plan. He talked to the president about...

HUME: He was -- right?

BARNES: We was. I think he retired in 2003. He's developed this plan along with Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute others. General Keane gave the president a brief -- a short briefing on it when he was one of those who met with the president on Monday and he has given briefings to the National Security Council, at the State Department, and elsewhere.

I happened to hear one today. And it is what, I think, the president's going to do. It is a strategy for winning. And the one thing the president wants to do, and believes is quite possible is winning in Iraq.

KONDRACKE: I don't see how -- Rumsfeld said that he was listening to the combatant commanders and that he did whatever they wanted. I mean, that is so at variance with everything we know about Don Rumsfeld...

HUME: Which combatant commanders are you aware of who have asked for more troops than they got?

KONDRACKE: Well, I'm not talking about combatant commanders. I -- look, Donald Rumsfeld is a person who makes up his mind about how things ought to be. He doesn't just listen to other people, he is not a passive pass-through guy. Right? If he thinks something ought to be done he does it. I mean, he's been trying to transform the military, to get control of the Army, all that kind of stuff. He's held down end strength for as long as we have known about it. That's why we didn't -- he tried to minimize the number of troops that got sent into Iraq in the first place, that's why General Shinseki was...

HUME: I asked him a question about that and I asked him whether Tommy Franks was at any time -- he said Tommy Franks came to his own decision, he didn't need 400,000 troops, which was the original plan, they had been sitting around for some years. He said it was absolutely not the case.

Now, you got -- I mean, he may not be telling the truth about that, Mort, that may be true, he may have been lying to me. But it seems to me that the vague assertion that the generals wanted more without any specification doesn't get the job done.

KONDRACKE: Well, there were a lot of generals, including Shinseki, in advance, who said we need hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Iraqi afterward. Shinseki was bounced as a result of that -- just a second...

BARNES: That was before the war -- Mort.

KONDRACKE: Just a second.

BARNES: (INAUDIBLE)

KONDRACKE: Oh, just a minute, can I finish?

HUME: Go on the ground in Iraq has asked for more?

KONDRACKE: I cannot -- well, Paul Bremer, for one, when he was there...

HUME: Wait a minute, which generals have asked for more?

KONDRACKE: Look, Don Rumsfeld chose generals down to two star. People knew what Don Rumsfeld wanted and they tended to salute...

HUME: Jeff, (INAUDIBLE) we're running out of time.

BIRNBAUM: This debate will determine Rumsfeld's place in history. If he is telling us...

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