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Special Report Roundtable - May 24

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is, I think, a recognition that by the administration that a new direction was called for by the American people and with the passage and signing of this bill, I think that a giant step will be taken in that new direction.


HUME: That was Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, explaining how you see this bill that the president is going to get which strips out the timetables for troop withdrawal, really a victory for them and not for him. Some thoughts on Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats and how they're doing now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio; and the syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer, FOX NEWS contributors, all.

Well Mara, they had six in 2006, which was a set of legislative measures that they passed through the House basically. They've had the demand that they stop the war which obviously they're struggling to do. They've got various other measures including a lobbying reform measure and a promise to clean up the House like never before. How's it all going so far?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, they obviously haven't got six in 2006 into law. Now, you cannot govern from the House of Representatives and you know, there's quite a different situation in the Senate. But I think on the one hand, the new House Democratic leadership has really ridden the anti-war sentiment for quite a while and they're running into some roadblocks. I mean, Nancy Pelosi didn't even vote for the bill that she says is going to be a giant step in a new direction, but I do think at some point.

HUME: Because politically she couldn't.

LIASSON: She couldn't. And I don't think she wanted to. But I think at some point, the Democrats do have to start delivering. I don't know exactly when that point is, but I do think that voters wanted them to do more than just stop the war. I think stopping the war was a big part of their victory, but they did want them to get certain things enacted and change the whole culture of the House. And Congress' approval ratings is just as low as it was when the Republicans were in charge.

HUME: Or lower. In some polls.


HUME: Charles, the left at the moment is almost hydrophobic about this measure that the Democrats, while many voted against it, are in the process of allowing to pass to fund the war.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, that doesn't really matter terribly much to the Democrats. First of all, the anti-war left has nowhere to go. Where are they going to go? To Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader? Ultimately they're going to support Democratic candidate who will be anti-war.

Secondly, this may be a tactical defeat for Pelosi, the resolution on the war -- the funding of the war, but it's a strategic victory. After all, the Democrats don't like the war, but they do like the Iraq issue. And they've had it under the table for weeks, it's been hurting the president, they're going to have it again in September. And what they're trying to do, if you look at how this is going to pass within the hour, it will pass in the House, it will be by a very small margin and it will be almost entirely Republican with a scattering of Democrats, which means that they're going to have an issue to pin on the Republicans next year.

Look, the objective of the Democrats in the House today, and in the Senate, is to win a smashing victory in '08, exploiting Iraq and the other weaknesses over the two-term administration and to do it using Iraq and these other issues of corruption that you have mentioned.

HUME: But, how are they doing on that corruption, by the way?

KRAUTHAMMER: On corruption, what they do is they trot out Monica Goodling and they trot out Mrs. Joe Wilson and when things are quiet they'll trot out Alberto Gonzalez for a good thrashing. And they succeed in embarrassing the administration. They would like to get the great white whale of Karl Rove and they won't, but embarrassing the administration is successful. It'll weaken the Republicans, looking up to -- heading into '08.

HUME: how about their own behavior on that and in terms of the reforms that they promised?

BARNES: Oh, I think these show trials that they're having, these hearings, they overshadow any of the crude stuff that John Murtha's done, you know, on earmarks and threatening other members of Congress and so on, which is, I think, probably basically background noise to most people out of Congress -- outside of Washington.

You know, I mean, the other part of that, I think it's Trent Lott who says this, you know, they were six for 2006, but they're zero for '07 and in fact they are. I think they've gotten one -- Democrats have gotten one piece of new major legislation on President Bush's desk and he vetoed that one. That was the earlier supplemental bill for Iraq. And, you know, this is not my line, but somebody said, you know, it took -- it took Bush -- Bush six years to get down to 30 percent approval rating. It took Nancy Pelosi to get the Congress' rating down below that only four months. And it has sunk since the.

LIASSON: It started out pretty low.

BARNES: It started out low, but.

HUME: What about Charles' point, though, that despite this, they're winning anyway?


BARNES: Charles' point is one that I hear from Republicans -- Republican senators who say Democrats believe that any week in which Iraq is on the table, here in Congress, is a god week for Democrats. That's what Democrats believe. That's also what Republicans believe.

HUME: So in fact, this is -- in political terms, if not legislative terms, they're winning.


KRAUTHAMMER: In political terms, I think we vastly actually overestimate what legislative achievements mean in politics. Passing a bill on corruption is not going to have any effect. Nobody believes that any of these bills on corruption in the House or the Senate have any effect in the long run. But having a show trial week after week and having a Gonzales to be a pinata every week is helpful. It embarrasses the administration and it hurts the Republicans.

BARNES: There is disappointment, though, among rank-and-file Democrats about their lack to even pass a minimum wage law that, increase, which is popular.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it's going to pass today.

BARNES: Well, we'll see.

HUME: The measure, by the way, the House is acting on this war funding bill in two stages. And they have now enacted both. The vote on the second and more important of the two aspects of this is 280-142 which means that in addition to Republicans, there to be a considerable number of Democrats voting for it as well, presumably those that are in marginal districts and have to be a little more careful.

Coming up on SPECIAL REPORT, President Bush meets the press to discuss everything from Iraq and Iran to immigration reform. Did he have anything to say? We'll ask that question next.



DAVID GREGORY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Can you explain why you believe you're still a credible messenger on the war?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm credible because I read the intelligence, David, and make it abundantly clear in plain terms that if we let up, we will be attack (sic), and I firmly believe that.


HUME: Well, that is the kind of question you're likely to get when you come out to a news conference at a stage in your presidency where you're down in the polls and you're in a rocky patch. Back with our panel now to discuss this question of presidential speeches and news conference by this president at this stage, and the question I have is, are they effective anymore?

BARNES: I'd say you can sum that up and say no.

HUME: Why not?

BARNES: This is not -- and this has been true for other president, particularly hurtful when you're late in your term and you're fairly unpopular, and then at that point, the press is more hostile and disrespectful in their questions and often the presidents have a lot less to say and so they're free game. Look, if you come late and you have a press conference and announce something new and important rather than just a repeat of your old arguments, look, I agree with a lot of those arguments, but the fact is, without something new, without something fresh, with out something even major which the press would have to ask about, well, they're just going to pound you over Iraq and other things, and it doesn't help at all. It's harmful to the president and his message does not resonate.

HUME: Did he make any news that you.

LIASSON: He didn't make any news that I could determined. Now, he did give a press conference on eve of members going out for recess, which is pretty traditional time to do that. You want to try to influence the debate. I think that when you're hovering around 30 percent in the polls, it's pretty hard to do that. I think the one area where he was actually the most impassioned came at the end when he talked about immigration and that's almost a kind of -- a painful thing for him to discuss where he was begging to leave politics out of this and this debate brings out the worst in people. I mean, he was talking to his own party there and there he's had almost zero influence. I mean, maybe, maybe this compromise will stay together, but he is looking at a wholesale abandonment by Republicans.

HUME: So from the point of view of using the news conference to make news and have an effect on the debate, you would say he didn't have any news to make or at least he didn't make any. Fred seems to make the same point.


HUME: Charles, what about the strategy here, I mean, for the president did he make -- I remember Lyndon Johnson, during the latter stages of his presidency, had a -- made a lot of speeches and he made some Oval Office speeches. I remember them well. I was a young reporter and watching them from a distance at a news bureau in Connecticut. And I remember thinking that, you know, each time they might move the needle a little bit, but not for very long. Does this president need a new media strategy?

KRAUTHAMMER: No. He needs a new world. Because it's not his words, it's what's happening out there. People have heard his arguments for seven years. On the war, they have heard his arguments for four or five years. It's not as if people believe he's lying. It's they have heard the arguments and weighing his case against the pictures of the dead and the wounded everyday they have decided it's not worth it, or at least a fair number have decided that. And you are not going to sway people by repeating the old arguments. Essentially these are the old arguments.

His problem is that he can offer words, but al Qaeda can offer pictures. You know, I think there was a definition of terrorism as the propaganda of the deed. They kill people in large numbers; it shows up on our screens every night. Our soldiers come home wounded, that shows up on our screens. And you have the story, as we heard earlier, of the tribal leaders in Anbar banding against al Qaeda. How do you portray that? I mean, it isn't as if the -- that they all get together and pass a sense of the sheik's resolution for a photo op. You can't have that in a way that is as dramatic as a terror attack. So, our enemy has an intrinsic advantage in everything that the president says really is almost futile. Either there's going to be a change on the ground and not. If not nothing he says is going to make a difference.

BARNES: That's true, but, you know, this asset the president has of making public appearances.

HUME: A big megaphone. The bully pulpit.

BARNES: But it is an asset of declining value. The more you use it the less valuable it is and presidents always overuse it. Ronald Reagan did. Lyndon Johnson did, as you said, and so by the time you get to the seventh term, it's not of that much value at all.

HUME: So he's.

BARNES: I mean, you can go -- look, the other part though is, the president doesn't show up -- what will the press start writing about? Why's he hiding?

HUME: Yeah, but has anybody ever thought that the public gets feeling all deprived when they don't have enough presidential news conferences?

BARNES: No, but the White House Press Corps does.

LIASSON: I don't think coming out and talking can hurt him, it just, in this case, doesn't help him.

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