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Special Report Roundtable - March 19

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Four years after the war has begun, the fight is difficult, but it can be won. will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through.

STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This legislation, for the first time, sets a date for the responsible redeployment of American troops from Iraq. It's not tomorrow, it is not the day after, but it is a date.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well there you have it, folks. That's the conflict between the president, who wants some for his program to work, and the Democrats who want time certain for the American troops to be out of Iraq.

I'm joined now by Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of the Washington Examiner; Jeff Birnbaum, columnist for the Washington Post; and the syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer -- all are FOX NEWS contributors.

Well, what about this state of play, here? There's a poll that we mentioned earlier the program that's worth bringing up again, and the only reason why this poll merits particular mention is that it was based on a very large sample, something like 5,000 -- what, 5,019 Iraqi adults, that's more than twice as large as the other contemporary pull that's out there now. You got a distinct majority saying no civil war, 49 to 26 percent like it now better than it was under Saddam Hussein, and 64 -- almost two thirds, want a united Iraq, in other words, they don't want the country just to be split into segments, which is surprising, perhaps.

But, all in all, with the surge now, sort of partly in place, what do we think about all this? What about this conflict between the president and the Congress? What is going to happen?

BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, it seems like the poll -- the people who took the poll they noticed a lot more optimism from the Iraqis, so it almost seems like Bush is more in sync with the Iraqi population, which is seeing some of the first signs of the surge's success, then perhaps even the American population, which I think is sort of caught up in pessimism.

HUME: Yeah, isn't he now at the point where -- that public opinion has simply not moved by presidential statements?

SAMMON: I think that's true. I think the president did his best today to sort of make -- you give it the old college try and, you know, and fly the flag about why we're there, but I think his real purpose was to counter the Democratic move to put a date certain on withdrawal. That was a part of his speech that actually had some real practical purpose and I think he understands that Democrats are not going to really succeed in this. Let's be honest about it.

If it passes the House, it will not pass the Senate. If by some reason it did pass the Senate, Bush would be able to veto it, and then they wouldn't be able to override his veto, because there certainly aren't 67 senators want to pull up by a date certain.

So, I think Bush's main goal is to -- you know, they're inching towards the acceptability of a pullout date. Use to be sort of a dirty word to talk about, you know, withdrawal of forces, now it's becoming more and more accepted and I think that Bush wants to sort of put the brakes on that -- on that process.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I think that it's pretty clear that least at this point, and probably for the next couple months, maybe longer, the Democrats have lost in their effort to force a date certain or even a timetable or even a set of benchmarks onto the president legislatively. It's not clear that later this week, on Thursday, when the House votes, on the timetable, on the supplemental appropriation that we saw Steny Hoyer talking about...

HUME: That has a timetable in it for getting out.

BIRNBAUM: That's right -- a date certain. It's not even clear that that will pass, and in fact, the Democratic leaders have to resort to a kind of legislative bribery to even come close to it. This bill includes $25 million dollars for spinach growers in order to get one vote, another $75 million for peanut storage to get another three votes, $500 million for wildfire suppression in order to get a bunch or Western votes -- even from their own party. It's not certain that that will pass even in the House, which normally is automatic for whatever the Democratic leadership wants.

HUME: Yeah, whatever the majority wants.

BIRNBAUM: The majority wants. So, in this case, this is mostly for show. This as an effort to put people on the record on this issue, but it's not -- but the president has actually won this issue -- the Congress is being forced into the patience he wants on the issue of withdrawing under a certain timetable.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is of show and his political positioning, that we just heard, with this disgraceful stuff inside the bill -- the billions of dollars, it's not cut and run, it's retreat -- it's pork and retreat. That's what this bill is, an amazing combination -- irresponsible on national security, irresponsible on spending.

But, it's going to fail because it was never intended to succeed. If Democrats wanted to succeed in what they say is there end, which is to get us out of the war now, they have the way to do it, they won't do it because they don't have the political courage to actually enact their will.

If they don't, nothing is going to happen, it'll all be in the hands of the president, and it's in the hands of Petraeus. It's going to happen, it's going to be determined by what happens on the ground. What essentially is happening now is the president has about six months into the fall to demonstrate success, and we see some inkling of that in Baghdad today.

But we haven't had even half the number of increased troops arrive in Baghdad...

HUME: That are coming.

KRAUTHAMMER: That are coming, and there's a good prospect of success that might change public opinion. Right now, Democrats think that public opinion is all behind them, but if Americans are looking starkly in the face of ultimate defeat, humiliation, and who knows what is going to happen in Iraq after we leave, if precipitously, they're going to think twice, especially if there's some success on the ground.

HUME: So, if you mean there's danger -- are you suggesting that there is danger for the Democrats, either way, here, that they -- that if the thing turns out to succeed, they look like they were against it and were on the wrong side, and if it fails, and they were for hurrying out of there, they still look bad?

KRAUTHAMMER: Many of the Democrats on the floor of the House, have wagered against the success of their own military in Iraq by saying it can't possibly succeed. Well, what if it does? It makes them look retrospectively wrong and having an assessment of our capacities, which is out of whack which what actually is going to happen on the ground, it could hurt them politically in a serious way.

HUME: Next up with our panel, can Attorney General Alberto Gonzales survive this furor over their dismissal of eight federal prosecutors -- that discussion, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I think it's highly likely he'll be gone and pretty soon. Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man, but he has misconceived the role of attorney general. He is not just the president's lawyer to do whatever the president wants, he has another responsibility.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: None of us knows what's going to happen over the next 21 months, and that's why it's an impossible question to answer -- will somebody stay throughout; however, the reason I said we hope so, is we hope so. He has the confidence of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, that's not exactly what you'd call a ringing endorsement or a statement of support, and we should note here that our friends at The Politico, the new publication here in Washington which has a very active Web site, has a report tonight by our friend Mike Allen, a guy we all know, good reporter -- that says that Republican officials acting at the behest of the White House have begun soliciting ideas for possible successors to Attorney General Gonzales, or replacements, to be more accurate, to include Ted Olson, the former solicitor general; Larry Thompson, the former deputy attorney General; and Michael Chertoff, who is the current Homeland Security secretary, and Fran Townsend, a well known official in Washington who's the Bush White House terrorism coordinator. So, that's out there.

What about this controversy? Is it clear from the signs we're seeing they don't want always point in the right direction, but do the signs seem to be pointing to Alberto Gonzales' ouster?

SAMMON: He should probability be circulating his resume. When your employer starts making noise about, well, who knows what the future holds, that means get the resume out there.

You know, the only way this could change, I think, is if Bush came out with both guns blazing and said, look, I'm making a stand, I'm keeping this guy, I've had him with me for 13 years since I was in Texas at the governor's mansion, I'm not giving you Rove or Harriet Miers, I'm going to exert executive privilege. And by the way, he can pick up on this Arlen Specter accusation that Senator Charles Schumer has a conflict of interest, he's running a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but he's also running this investigation...

HUME: And he's using this issue to raise money.

SAMMON: As a fundraiser. You know, so if Bush got up there and used his fully (ph) pulpit and got the Democrats on the defensive, then you might say, well maybe you will stick by Gonzales, but all the signs coming out...

HUME: Every day that goes by that he doesn't do that makes you wonder...

SAMMON: Every hour, I mean, I feel less hopeful about Gonzales staying this afternoon, than I did this morning. It's that quick.

BIRNBAUM: I don't think has a very good shot at making it through the week. There are all sorts of landmine that are up coming. There will be more emails that will come out soon. Gonzales, himself, may -- is being asked to testify on Capitol Hill. The Senate Judiciary Committee is on the way to subpoenaing people like Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor, that's something that's a disagreement between the White House and the Senate, that the White House probably doesn't want considered how ham- handed -- Republicans use that word, including in this report, Senator Kyle used it -- ham-handed that's the way that they describe Gonzales' handling of the U.S....

HUME: Well, the president hasn't exactly supported it. He said that, you know, that it wasn't handled properly and so on.

BIRNBAUM: That's right. I think all the signs are that Gonzales should think about what he's going to be doing on his next vacation, because it could be coming soon.

KRAUTHAMMER: When the boss is -- when the boss says -- is asked about the chances of you escaping his firing you and his answer is "I hope so, you better start packing.

Look, I said earlier, last week, he's a dead man walking, and it's on the grounds of incompetents. He had an easy way to defend the administration on this issue early on. I would not have the president waste his ammunition in defending him now at the beginning he should have said -- Gonzales should have said, was the White House involved in this, if it was, I'm not sure, if it was, so what, it's perfectly legitimate.

The district attorneys are appointed by the president. Election are fought over priorities in law enforcement, we want that to be known by our district attorneys. Every administration ultimately changes over to enforce, those priorities. It's a perfectly legitimate executive function. We don't have anything to hide or be ashamed of. He didn't say that at the beginning, and now it's too late.

BIRNBAUM: I think one of the...

HUME: So, even if he came out with guns blazing, it's too late?

BIRNBAUM: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

KRAUTHAMMER: Wrong guy, wrong issue, wrong time.

BIRNBAUM: I agree with Charles on this, but it may be false hope for the Republicans that if Gonzales steps down that the Democrats will back off.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: If I were them, I wouldn't...

SAMMON: There's a school of thought that if Gonzales goes, maybe we won't go after Rove. They will never be satisfied. They're going to go after Rove, they'll be emboldened to go after Rove and Harriet Miers and everybody else if Gonzales...

BIRNBAUM: I agree.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not going to end it, but it's going to at least eliminate an impediment.

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