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Special Report Roundtable - February 22

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would assess this administration's record on global warming is terrible and I have held hearings when I was chairman of the Commerce Committee for years, and got no cooperation from the administration on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: John McCain out in California with Arnold Schwarzenegger at his side -- you couldn't see him there, but he was -- announcing his view about the administration on global warming. Now, he went on to say that the administration's gone on to take more cognizance of the problem, and he's pleased by that, but this is not the John McCain we've been seeing in previous weeks, the one who was sticking up for the president's troop surge and the one who was doing his best to try to make himself acceptable to conservatives who have, in the past, distrusted him.

Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio -- all are FOX NEWS contributors.

So, what does McCain, at this stage of what he's been trying to do and get this nomination, think he gets out of trashing the president on global warming?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, look, I think he has to maintain his authenticity to keep support of Independents. I mean, in the effort to woo Bushies and Conservatives going, declaring latest -- that he's against Roe v. Wade, that he thinks it ought to be overturned, going to visit religious Conservatives, a lot of independents who had been in love with him are now beginning to doubt him and wonder whether he's still a straight shooter.

He's been in favor of a cap and trade system on global warming for years and the administration has been against the cap part and all of it, actually, for years, and so he's saying what he thinks. And I think that he's playing to his Independent base.

HUME: Cap and trade, just for the record, is a system where there would be worldwide limit set on the emissions you could have. But you'd have an allotment, and if you were going to be under an allotment, you could sell the rest of it to somebody else and they could emit more.

KONDRACKE: Right, you create a market.

(CROSSTALK)

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: But here's why you're about 100 percent wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

And that is that -- approximately -- look, Independents don't vote in the Republican primaries, but you know who does vote in the Republican primaries? The Bush base, that is the biggest group in the Republican Party. These are people -- I know Bush's polls are down, but among Republicans, and particularly among the base voters, they're not, they still approve. I don't know why he would go and alienate those people by, you know, first attacking Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld -- he could probably get away with that -- and calling Bush's global warming policy terrible, you know, he had been making great headway among Conservatives...

(CROSSTALK)

...social Conservatives. Why anger them?

HUME: What do we think about how this particular issue, out of global warming, plays among Republicans?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think that the issue is not the problem. His position on the issue is not the problem. I think there is a consensus forming that global warming is the problem...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: I'm talking about among the people nominate Republican candidates.

LIASSON: Here's what I think, I was in South Carolina with John McCain, I heard him talk to a group of South Carolina conservative Republicans where he talked about the war a lot, where he is in absolute lockstep with Bush and an eloquent and ardent supporter of his, I also heard him field questions on global warming and immigration, which are the two issues where he -- well, immigration he's with the president, but he breaks with Conservative orthodoxy on that and on global warming. And I think on the issue...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Did he, in the course of this...

LIASSON: No, he did not say those harsh things about Bush and that's the difference...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Well, why would he just express his position?

LIASSON: That's the curious thing. It's that his position on global warming is clear, as Mort said. I think that that is not a loser for him, I don't, even among Republicans, but to go out of his way to make such a harsh criticism of Bush is a little bit curious, although I think that's what he really thinks.

KONDRACKE: Well, the other -- I mean, the other part of what he's said is that he's happy to see that Bush is finally coming around. He could have easily done that. And there is an aspect to all of this of popping off.

I mean, the idea that he would attack Cheney, for example, and then when he next saw Cheney, at least according to Cheney, apologized for having gone after Cheney, suggests that John McCain is not entirely in control of his mouth, which happens sometimes.

BARNES: I know, but that is one of the things that's appealing about him, but it's not good if you're running for the nomination.

HUME: Well, it's appealing about him if you're...

BARNES: He is a maverick, after all.

HUME: ...if you're running a Sunday talk show in Washington, and you're looking for somebody who will -- a Republican who will criticize the president, which is the most prized form of guest you can possibly get.

But how does he balance continuing to be true to himself, which is the maverick, which appealed to people in 2000, and getting the nomination in the Republican Party. He can't totally remake himself or as Mort said, he wouldn't be authentic, but his feelings about Bush are exactly what his feelings are. And his feelings about the war are also pretty honest.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: The big trick of John McCain in the primary -- in the whole campaign, is how does he balance being -- continuing to be true to himself, which is this maverick, which appealed to people in 2000, and getting the nomination in the Republican Party. I mean, he can't totally remake himself because, as Mort said, that he wouldn't be authentic anymore. But I believe that his feelings about Bush are exactly what his feelings are and he didn't make that up. His feelings about the war are also pretty honest.

BARNES: Why can't he -- why can't he...

LIASSON: Why can't he be nice?

BARNES: Well, yeah, why can't he curb his tongue now, be authentic later?

(LAUGHTER)

After you get the nomination, then go for that authenticity and then the Independents matter. They just don't matter right now (INAUDIBLE).

KONDRACKE: You know, I have a feeling that doing something about global warming is a popular position even among a lot of Republicans.

LIASSON: That part is sure, it's the criticism of Bush. But you know what, Republicans are so angst, they're in a big turmoil about Bush anyway, they don't need somebody who's with the president in lockstep on every issue, they just don't want someone who's gratuitously attacking him.

BARNES: The Republican candidates are going to point out the bill with Joe Lieberman that McCain is sponsoring, it is called a "Kyoto light," by its critics, Republicans aren't going to buy it. The issue is -- that is going to going to hurt not help John McCain among Republicans, now in the general election, they help him, that's different, but not in the primaries.

LIASSON: You know, we also don't know if a lot of those places, New Jersey, Illinois, Calif -- well, California's already moved up -- Florida, those are primaries with slightly different kinds of Republican voters, and that might not hurt McCain so much.

HUME: Next up with the panel, how should political candidates respond when their opponents attack? We'll find out how that works -- or we think it works with the example of this week in mind, stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: It's best if Senator Obama apologized for the comment made by David Geffen about the Clinton administration. We don't want to have negative attacks on each other.

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I can't be responsible for the statements of every single individual who contributes to our campaign. I mean, you get thousands of people who are contributing, some who may have real differences with the other candidates. It doesn't reflect my views.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, there you go. That's sort of the last round in the exchange that started yesterday between the Obama and Clinton camps in which David Geffen the Hollywood mogul and one-time friend of Bill, and indeed, one-time overnight guest of the Lincoln bedroom during the Clintons years, described the Clintons as such great liars that it was a little bit -- they do it with such ease, he said, among other things and that triggered a fierce response from the Clinton camp that demanded Obama disown Geffen's remarks. Geffen's supporting Obama and raising money for him. And Obama responded as you saw.

Bill Richardson, who had a moment in the spotlight when he was asked about it, as a lot of Democrats were, out in Nevada yesterday, said what he said, so it raises an intriguing question, which is (INAUDIBLE)politics. A candidate makes a statement about another candidate, which the candidate about whom the statement was made thinks is offensive and highlights it and goes on the attack demanding an apology. Sometimes it works. Was this such an -- a case -- did this -- was this -- did this successfully tarnish the Obama image as the clean-fighting candidate?

KONDRACKE: Yeah, a little bit, insofar as -- look, Geffen is a fundraiser, he is not an official of the Obama campaign. He had an interview with Maureen Dowd and dumped all over the Clintons...

HUME: We reviewed that.

KONDRACKE: ...and the Clintons acted as though, you know, it were nuclear war, but Obama in the retort said, or at least through a spokesman, you know, well, the Clintons were perfectly happy to collect money from Geffen way back in the old days and let them sleep in the Lincoln -- I mean, that was not in the spirit of Obama, the great unifier, the great peacemaker, the great empathizer...

HUME: The man troubled by the narrowness of our politics?

KONDRACKE: Exactly. So, this -- I think it's overkill on both sides and it -- I don't think it does them, either one, credit.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: I think that the risk for the Clinton campaign, if voracity with which they responded to this, I think, tells you how much they were affected by it. I mean, this seems to have really shaken them, David Geffen's comments, but also...

HUME: I think they saw it as opportunity.

LIASSON: Yeah, OK, maybe an opportunity, but you know what, Barack Obama was never going to be this angelic figure for the rest of the campaign, it never was going to happen. Now, what he also said...

(CROSSTALK)

But I don't know I think has muddied them. I don't know if helps the Clinton campaign, it certainly makes them look as tough and bare knuckled as everybody thought they would be, as David Geffen even said in the interview that they were going to be.

But you know, Obama said, at the same time he made the comment that you just played, he said, "I have the utmost respect for Clinton, I consider her an ally," he said nothing but good things about here. He doesn't associate himself with these remarks and what's interesting to me is Hillary Clinton, in Nevada yesterday, said that she didn't, she said I'm not asking them to denounce this. She did not associate herself...

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: Oh, please!

HUME: Her own spokesman's remarks?

LIASSON: Well OK, what I'm saying is that she's not asking Obama to denounce this. Now she wants...

KONDRACKE: That does not work.

BARNES: Who is keeping this fight going?

LIASSON: The Hillary campaign.

BARNES: The Hillary campaign.

LIASSON: Of course, of course.

BARNES: For the simple reason, they think they're winning, they think they are beginning to reduce Obama to the level of a mere mortal.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: But it shows how worried they are about Obama.

BARNES: He never should have responded to this charge by what's his name...

HUME: Howard Wolfson.

BARNES: Yeah, Howard Wolfson of the Clinton camp that 00 you know, that he send the check -- he should have just stayed out of it. He shouldn't have been interviewed today, you just showed him. He's above the battle. He needed to stay there. Now he's down in the...

LIASSON: But he can't keep himself away from the press and he's going to get these questions.

BARNES: But he doesn't have to respond to that.

KONDRACKE: Well he...

BARNES: Wait a minute -- that's an argument I'm not involved in at all. He can just...

KONDRACKE: No, no, no, what he could have easily said...

BARNES: It's not just that. His campaign manager -- or his spokesman had said stuff. He needs to get out of the pit.

KONDRACKE: He could have -- he could have...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: So you think -- hold it a second -- hold it a second -- so you think that the Clinton camp has succeeded at some extent...

BARNES: I think they are beginning to...

HUME: ...and taking him down a peg?

BARNES: Yes. And they certainly think so or they wouldn't keep this thing going.

KONDRACKE: If he is the candidate he claims to be, then what he should have said was, I regret what David Geffen said, I've called David Geffen and I've said I don't want that kind of attack coming from my camp anymore...

HUME: But he's not really in the camp, he's just a supporter.

KONDRACKE: Well, that's all right, he can still -- he could have gone the extra mile...

HUME: So he should have slapped David Geffen down?

KONDRACKE: He didn't have to slap him down, he could have gently patted him to be shoulder and said this is not the way my campaign is going to work.

LIASSON: Look, there's two things that the Obama campaign is doing, they're on a very, very steep learning curve. He's never done this before. He's never run a tough campaign; the other ones were defaults in Illinois, but...

HUME: I know, but when you get Howard Wolfson on the one hand, and what's his name, Robert Gibbs on the other, you got a couple of veterans who've been at this...

LIASSON: I don't think that Roberts Gibbs did was inappropriate at all, that was Robert Gibbs. Now, maybe I agree with Fred and Mort that maybe Barack Obama could have been a little bit more above the fray, let Robert Gibbs answer it in the dueling press releases.

KONDRACKE: You are responsible for what your aides say and...

HUME: Yeah, he's -- this guy's a spokesman...

KONDRACKE: Absolutely. And Hillary cannot -- especially, cannot deny because this is two days of, you know, the cannons lowered to firing at -- you know, frontally.

BARNES: I had no idea that this campaign started so early, would be so much fun.

HUME: Now, we all keep expecting that there's going to be a lull in this and we're going to have to get off of it because the public will have lost interest. When is that going to happen? We've never seen this before.

LIASSON: But you know, the Obama campaign also wants to prove that it's tough, it's going to be able to fight back, that he can play in the big leagues, too.

KONDRACKE: But you know...

HUME: Quickly.

KONDRACKE: You know, I think both sides should have treated this more in sorrow then in anger and kept their dignity.

HUME: That's Mort. Mort wants everybody to be nice and bipartisan. I appreciate that, Mort.

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