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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Litmus-ing the Supremes.

The last U.S. Supreme Court justice to take the bench was Stephen Breyer, seven years ago, during the Clinton administration. As the Supreme Court now enters a three-month lull between sessions, and after a cycle of watershed rulings, speculation is again afoot that one conservative justice, at least, will retire, if not imminently, then over the next three and half years, when he or she can rest assured that the incumbent Republican president will nominate a Republican replacement.

In February Chief Justice William Rehnquist, age 76, hinted at retirement.

(Begin videotape segment.)

WILLIAM REHNQUIST (chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court): I think traditionally Republican appointees have tended to retire during Republican administrations --


CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: -- and Democratic appointees during Democratic.


CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: It's not invariable, but there's surely a slight preference for that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The high court, as it stands now, is closely divided. Conservatives barely outnumber the liberals, five to four. On the ideological right with Rehnquist are Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Sandra Day O'Connor. Justice O'Connor, age 71, is the court's key swing vote; although Republican, she does not side uniformly with conservatives. Justice O'Connor has recently tried to quash retirement rumors.

On the ideological left: John Paul Stevens, aged 81, the oldest member of the court; also Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The White House and Justice Department have been giving lots of thought to replacements and how such replacements would vote on the Bush agenda -- abortion, affirmative action, school prayer, capital punishment, faith-based initiatives.

Of course, being nominated by the president does not ipso facto mean landing on the bench. A nominee must get through the Senate's confirmation process, which is now controlled by Democrats, who now appear to be laying pipe for Borking nominees.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From videotape.) It's high time we returned to a more open and rational consideration of ideology when we view nominees.

C. BOYDEN GRAY : (From videotape.) I think it's very inappropriate to ask about specific cases or specific issues.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Charles Schumer's ideological litmus test revenge on the Rehnquist court for its role in the 2000 election? Is that what's behind this, Lawrence Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I think that might be a piece of it, John. But don't forget it's not difficult for Senator Charles Schumer from New York to just be highly political and highly ideological. He is, after all, a very liberal senator. So yeah, he may be spurred on by this post-election issue, but it comes to him naturally. I also think it's wrong. I also think it abuses the process of choosing Supreme Court justices.

And I also think for George Bush, President Bush, he's got to really stand tough and stick with his campaign pledge, which is to nominate conservative justices. He mentioned Scalia as one of his models, John, and I think he's got to stay with that approach, otherwise he will suffer politically.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Schumer's insistence on ideological vetting?

Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, Bush could not get a Scalia through this Senate.

And I think it's high time to give up the fiction that the Senate's role of advise and consent excludes the question of ideology. Instead, they've been going on witch hunts to find personal flaws in people's private lives. And I would set that aside and look where these people come from judicially.

When you have a president who didn't win the popular vote, when you have a country as divided as this, when you have a Senate that's divided, I think the Democratic senators have a right to ideologically vet whoever comes before them. And I don't think President Bush is going to be foolish enough to try to put somebody up there who he can't get through.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of this, Michelle?

MS. MALKIN: Well, the irony is that while Chuck Schumer is clucking and moaning about right-wing ideology poised to take over the Supreme Court with the next nominee, the sad fact of the matter is, for conservatives, who are now managing their expectations, that Bush's record on judicial appointments shows that we're probably going to -- he's going to do what his daddy did and we're going to end up with another Souter. Sadly, I think we're going to end up with someone who's pro-abortion, pro-regulation, pro-penumbra.

And, you know, if you take a look at what Bush said after the election -- never mind what he promised conservatives about Scalia and Thomas -- he is now saying that he would like to have the first Hispanic judge; he would like to have a quota judge. The White House Counsel, Al Gonzales, who is advising him similarly, just like Dick Cheney was advising on the vice presidential nomination, is a lead candidate for the next open spot.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If George Bush were to propose a litmus test for abortion, don't you think that the outcry of the press would be deafening?

MS. MALKIN: Well, the outcry is going to be deafening no matter. Even though the reality is, I think that Bush all along was going to nominate a stealth person who would disappoint the pro-lifers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean at least an ideological neuter, if not a left-winger?

MS. MALKIN: Yes. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, the right wing is playing this perfectly for George W. Bush. If he can get right-wing outrage at a Supreme Court selection of his, nothing will do better for his reelection, because he's perceived now as being a little bit too much to the right of center for the general electorate. This would put him right back dead center and it would be perfect for him.

But Chuck Schumer is on to something. I don't think it's ideology. I don't think that's a good idea. But I think it's perfectly reasonable for the Senate to have "informed consent," which they never have on these nominations because the game is you just not reveal what you actually think on Roe versus Wade. Now, if you think Roe versus Wade is tortured legal reasoning and the nominee thinks Roe versus Wade is reasonable legal reasoning, that seems to me to be a perfectly good reason to vote against the nominee. And if you reverse it, it's a perfectly good reason to vote against or for the nominee.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, you've --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think --

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't see why we shouldn't know this stuff.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we establish what is the criterion for selection --

MR. O'DONNELL: There are none. That's an important point. None.

MR. KUDLOW: That's not true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about -- what about this --

MR. KUDLOW: That's not true!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- what about this, judicial independence. Can we look to judicial independence to be the goal --

MR. O'DONNELL: The Constitution says nothing --


MR. O'DONNELL: The Constitution says nothing about qualifications, including, by the way, you don't have to be a lawyer. You don't have to be a member of a bar to be on this court.

MR. KUDLOW: Yes, but Lawrence --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are certain verities that the Framers of the Constitution took for granted. And in the instance of a selection of a court justice, a high court justice, they expected judicial independence, not a litmus test --

MR. O'DONNELL: They didn't expect anything. They expected the branches to check and balance each other.

MR. KUDLOW: No, it goes beyond that.

MR. O'DONNELL: What they hoped for was judicial temperament, which you can have whether you're a lawyer or not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know --

MR. KUDLOW: No, no --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Since you've gone to California, you've become very cynical. Did you know that?

MS. CLIFT: Independence from who or from what? I mean, this is going to be an individual who's up there who is going to be judged based on a history of judicial decision. And what the Bush White House is probably going to do, they're not going to find somebody who has been outspoken in opposition to Roe v. Wade --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you a question --

MS. CLIFT: -- they're going to look for somebody who has narrow interpretations on the issue of privacy. There are ways to play this game.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you look at Justice Scalia, do you think you get independence of judgment?

MS. CLIFT: I think I get a very conservative and a very bright man --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you look at --

MS. CLIFT: -- and I wouldn't, from my perspective, want another one like him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg, do you think you get independence of judgment?

MS. CLIFT: I think I get a very bright woman who is able to -- (laughter) -- who is able to look at a lot of issues --


MS. CLIFT: -- who is on the liberal side of the process. And it's the best counterweight to Scalia that we have.

MR. KUDLOW: John, can I just weigh in? I think the issues of competence and qualifications and temperament have always traditionally been more important than ideology.

Second point is, I'm not as nearly as pessimistic as Michelle on this because I think a Scalia-type thinker is exactly what Bush wants. You know, the White House is telling folks they want a disciplined process to choose, not coming through the side door as Souter did through John Sununu after the Bork debacle.

And final point, Eleanor, Scalia was virtually unanimous with a Democratic Senate. He even had the support of former Governor Mario Cuomo. And if Bush can find a conservative Hispanic, I believe --

MS. CLIFT: Well, the point is -- the point is --

MR. KUDLOW: -- he will pass easily.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MR. KUDLOW: And if Democrats keep --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's an excellent point.

MR. KUDLOW: If Democrats keep knocking down people who are well-qualified, it will result in a clear disadvantage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we want to get out.

MS. CLIFT: The point is you don't know with certainty how somebody is going to turn out, but you know two things about this White House. They are focused on Hispanics and Catholics, and whoever that first appointment will be, he'll be one or both.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, that's -- (inaudible) -- Democrats to stop that, won't it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We want to get out. I have one -- I have two quick exit questions. The first one is can we expect a justice to resign for the next calendar year, yes or no?

MR. KUDLOW: Yes, I think there's a good chance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No. Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Maybe. (Laughs.)

MS. MALKIN: Yes, in months.


MR. O'DONNELL: Within a year, I think there's a good chance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the answer is no, because they always make their announcements before the end of the term, which has just expired.

MS. CLIFT: Not always.

MR. O'DONNELL: I mean a year from now. A calendar year from when we are sitting here.

MR. KUDLOW: Yes. Right. A year, John. Twelve months ahead.

MR. O'DONNELL: But no, they're not going to -- not this term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it will be at -- they'll make the announcement before the end of the next term?

MR. O'DONNELL: That's my guess.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. The next question is, must we simply accept the Lawrence O'Donnell formula as fact? Namely, that the court's politicization, that each president has the right to pack the bench, to the victor belong the spoils. That's your view.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I'm not saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. I want to hear O'Donnell on this. Do you think we have to accept that? Are you as cynical as that?

MR. KUDLOW: I'm Kudlow, actually, but yes. (Laughter.) No, I'm not as cynical. I think Lawrence could be right, but I think there's an excellent chance he will not be right on this. I think in particular George Bush is going to choose his first nominee with great care, with respect to qualifications and temperament and past performance. So I'm not nearly as cynical on this.


MS. CLIFT: The president -- the president has the right, the Senate has the right to brush backs. Divided power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think? Do you think that we should accept the de facto politicization of the court?

MS. MALKIN: No, I don't, and, well, to the victor go the spoils, but the question is, you know, will conservative's dreams be spoiled when they see that Al Gonzales, who is in charge of helping pick the nominee, is a pro-abortion, liberal judge --

MR. KUDLOW: No, no. Al Gonzales is the chief counsel, Michelle, but actually George Bush is -- George Bush is going to pick the nominee.

MS. MALKIN: Who is the leading candidate for the next spot.

MR. KUDLOW: But you'll acknowledge that George Bush is going to pick the nominee.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't want to fight to maintain the ideal of independence of judgment, do you?

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, I think that you can have independence of judgment, but I think it's perfectly reasonable for the Senate to reject a nominee because of what they think on one side or the other is improper judicial reasoning. That is a perfectly reasonable way to pick somebody.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I do not think that we should accept the proposition that it's okay for an incoming president or any president to pack the court. I think we should hold to the ideal of an independent judiciary, and even though we sometimes fail, we should still strive for that goal.

When we come back: Janet Reno may challenge incumbent Governor Jeb Bush in Florida's gubernatorial race in 16 months. With Reno as their candidate, will the Democrats feel glad, sad or mad?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Reno's revenge.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R-FL): (From videotape.) I intend to run for reelection. After the legislative session, I had a chance to spend some time with my family and with my wife, who has been completely supportive of this. And I believe that we have unfinished business and there's a window of opportunity in our state to really change the things that need to be changed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixteen months from now, the governor's race in Florida will arguably be the single-most closely watched election in America, and for a variety of reasons. In one corner, Governor, Republican Jeb Bush, the president's brother, running for reelection. And in the other corner -- get this -- Democrat Janet Reno, former attorney general.

JANET RENO (former U.S. attorney general): (From videotape.) I'm in the process of reviewing the issue, and I'm looking at the issues that are of critical concern to me. I want to make sure that if I go into this, I go into this well informed as to his position. I would like to make the decision as soon as possible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If Democrat Reno runs against Republican Bush, should the Democrats be glad, sad or mad? Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Reconciled, I would say. (Laughter.) But it seems to me that Janet Reno has been underestimated. She's been laughed at in Washington, but she has high approval ratings around the country. She won five elections in Dade County, in Florida. She's got a base in Florida. She can raise money around the country. And there is a wellspring of anger in Florida that any Democrat is going to be able to ride. So, you know, laugh now, but, you know, she may get the last laugh on everybody.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's she going to campaign on, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: She doesn't like to comment on a lot of issues, but -- (laughter) -- I think the environment is going to be a big one, and that's a real Achilles heel, and plus the fact -- for George -- Jeb Bush, and Jeb Bush is not going to get any help from African Americans, so --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about law and order? Civil Rights?

MS. CLIFT: Law and order is a good one. Civil rights is a good one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the constituency that she should really focus on, that she has to win, and that is a vulnerable Achilles heel for Bush?

MS. CLIFT: Well, African Americans.


MS. CLIFT: She barely has to focus on them. They are so angry about the 2000 presidential election that they are going to race to the polls to get -- they're the ones that want revenge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the Hispanic community and Janet Reno? I ask you, Michelle.

MS. MALKIN: Glad, sad, mad; you forgot "egad," which is what most grassroots Democrats are saying down there in Florida.


MS. MALKIN: I mean, she's radioactive on the Cuban issue, obviously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because of?

MS. MALKIN: Because of Elian Gonzalez. And you know, she was trying to make amends on Spanish radio recently by saying, "No comment." This is not going to get her very far.

The other unspoken issue, though -- and I think it has to be raised, and it will be raised, although I hope Jeb Bush has the stomach to say it -- is, is this woman healthy enough to hold office? This is a woman with a rapidly, you know, progressing degenerative disease.

MS. CLIFT: I don't know that it's "rapidly progressing." I would watch yourself on that one, and --

MS. MALKIN: Well -- well, then the question is, if she -- if, in the remote chance she were to win office, would she be healthy enough to keep it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a plus or a minus for Bush if Reno runs against him?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, it's probably a minus for Bush, because --


MR. O'DONNELL: -- because Reno is -- what has to be remembered in this discussion -- by far the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in Florida. No one else is even close. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which means that she's got it if she wants it.

MR. O'DONNELL: Which means that she --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that what it means?

MR. O'DONNELL: -- at this point, she has it if she wants it, if -- unless there's some surprise.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you --

MR. O'DONNELL: She would force Bush to spend more money than anyone else. Now he might get his victory, but he would have to go through a pretty hard road to get there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you imagine -- I'm a little surprised you missed it, because I know that you fancy yourself to be -- and some esteem you as -- a close political analyst.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But can you imagine how this, Reno running, is going to galvanize the Republicans --

MR. O'DONNELL: Oh, of course --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- who feel that she's such a total polarizer, and they detest her performance in the Justice Department?

MR. O'DONNELL: But Republicans are always galvanized. (Laughter.) You don't have to do anything to galvanize them against a Democrat in Florida.

She's got real problems in the numbers when you go to the general election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is she going to galvanize the Democrats? Is she going to split the independents? Yes.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, she's probably going to lose the independents. She has real problems in the general election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All of this adds up to a huge plus for Jeb Bush.

MR. KUDLOW: She's -- she's --

MR. O'DONNELL: No, but remember, this is still the strongest Democratic candidate in the state. That's his problem.

MR. KUDLOW: She's got to get killed in a general, for the very simple reason that she harkens back to all of the abuses of Clinton. She has, after all, made her reputation, or lack of it --

MR. O'DONNELL: Who else could be the Democratic nominee?

MR. KUDLOW: Hang on a second. Hang on a second.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Exit. In an --

MR. KUDLOW: The fact is, it's a tremendous plus for Jeb Bush, because in effect he'd be running against Bill Clinton, and Jeb will win that one easy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In an election, Jeb versus Janet, who will win and by how much, Lawrence Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: Oh, Jeb wins, with at least 55, 56 percent of that vote.


MS. CLIFT: Too close to call -- (laughter) -- a year-plus away.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm having difficulty reconciling this.

MS. MALKIN: Jeb, in a landslide. Janet Reno's announcement -- well, she hasn't announced yet, but this is the best news for Jeb Bush since his brother took office.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: The Democrats would pour more money into it than any other race, as a precursor to the presidential race, and I think she'd probably get within six points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's generous, but --

MS. CLIFT: In the right direction or the wrong direction?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- you're probably right on both counts.

MR. O'DONNELL: But she'd lose.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: You've got to have faith.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) We respect the separation of church and state, and the constitutional rights of religious people, but the days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious must come to an end if we want to heal America.

I'm honored the U.S. Conference of Mayors has strongly endorsed my administration's faith-based and community initiative. I'm extremely proud to announce that Rosa Parks, a monumental figure in the civil rights movement, has endorsed the initiative. These are unprecedented votes of confidence. They're important steps in our efforts to bring healing and hope to those in need.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Detroit last week, a Democratic stronghold, President Bush's faith-based initiative experienced a revival. His plan would let religious groups that provide social services compete for federal funding.

Question: How much of a boost did the Conference of Mayors give to Bush's faith-based initiative? Michelle Malkin?

MS. MALKIN: A slight boost. The reality about this is that it's a cheap way of bolstering some minority urban support, you know, from John Street, the mayor of Philadelphia, and some of these other (Milwaukee ?) Democrats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But these are constituencies outside Bush's base. And they're typically Democratic. I would think you would see this as a big boost to this initiative.

MS. MALKIN: You know, when I read that Rosa Parks had endorsed this, I said, "Great. So what? So what?" I mean, the fact is that, you know, he is kind of irking a lot of religious conservatives who are very worried about charities becoming handmaidens of the federal welfare state. It's not enough to alienate them completely. They're not going to leave, depart over this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to stick with the mayors. Why do the mayors -- to a man, I think -- support this initiative?

MS. MALKIN: Money. Money. Money for social services.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Money for social services. And they're at the grassroots of the urban problems; juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, narcotics and so forth. Correct?

MR. KUDLOW: Recidivist criminals.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me the cynical view of why you think that they voted for --

MS. MALKIN: Well, look. They're not going to be siding and campaigning for Bush in 2004, which is what some of the most naive of the Bush supporters of this plan are hoping. It's not going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the "walking around" money? In other words, you put the money in through government grants, and then the minister gets in the pulpit and he praises George Bush, and that means more people go to the polls

MR. O'DONNELL: The cynical view is even simpler than that. There's absolutely no percentage in a mayor coming out and saying, "I don't want churches in my city to get any of this money," which they're not going to get anyway, because the United States Senate's not going to let it happen.

MR. KUDLOW: Yeah. The problem with this -- I agree with Lawrence on this. I think it's dead in the water in the Senate. It's sort of barely struggling alive in the House. It's too bad in a way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well wait a second now. They got a resolution passed this week.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I know. That's why I say it's barely alive in the House. I'm not sure it could pass a final floor vote.

I just want to weigh in as a conservative who is worried about the government regulatory intrusion into churches and church-based -- or religious-based social services, I do believe that Bush is on the right track, because whether it's alcoholism or drug addiction or recidivism in criminality, it is all about a soul sickness that needs a spiritual solution desperately.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. But -- but --

MR. KUDLOW: But I think tax credits and deductions for charitable purposes is better than a new federal regulatory overhead.

MR. O'DONNELL: Of course, of course tax credits are better! (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it can be too easily misused?

MR. KUDLOW: I do. That's the big issue, is whether the -- see, DiIulio in the White House, who runs this thing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who is DiIulio?

MR. KUDLOW: He is Bush's top dog on this. He is the chief --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is he doing?

MR. KUDLOW: He wants to create, in effect, a sort of new welfare reform vision. There is something to this that I like, but I think it's too much heavy-handed federal regulation.

MS. CLIFT: Well, this is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think what's behind this is efficiency. These social-welfare-proven agencies know how to do it. I know that from first-hand.

MS. CLIFT: Look, this is --

MR. O'DONNELL: The current ones? The current ones? The ones at HHS as we know it today?

MR. KUDLOW: No, no, the church one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I'm talking about the church --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the faith-based groups.

MR. O'DONNELL: They do know how to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, before we move to the exit question -- we have to go out -- I thought Rosa Parks' letter to the president was extremely on the money. She said, "Churches led the way in the Civil Rights movement when we had nowhere else to meet. They must never be forgotten when it comes to helping those in need." That says it all and says it very simply.

Exit multiple choice: What is the outlook for Bush's faith-based initiative: A, Excellent; B, Good; C, Fair; D, Serious; E, Intensive Care/Life Support. We're talking about passage in Congress.

MR. KUDLOW: John, the outlook for faith is great.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Chuckles.)

MR. KUDLOW: The outlook for Bush's program, however, is not great.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Serious? Life support?

MR. KUDLOW: I would say it's somewhere between Life Support and Serious.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor? Quickly!

MS. CLIFT: It's dead. Bush isn't even fighting for it. It's great cocktail chatter and that's it.





MR. O'DONNELL: The Senate Democrats say it's dead, and I believe them.

But I'm really glad that Dr. Kudlow has found this tax credit idea as a way of getting welfare money to the rich.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it's extremely grave, but not yet intensive life care. We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Time for one prediction.


MS. MALKIN: Bush will cave-in and okay funding for embryonic stem cell research.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, an on-site special report from Serbia, Montenegro and Albania.





MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Life in the HOT lane. (Music plays, "Hot, Hot, Hot.") Are HOT lanes a political hot potato for Maryland Governor Parris Glendening? The liberal Democrat has put the brakes on a plan to road-test toll lanes in heavily congested Montgomery County just outside Washington.

A "hot lane" is an HOV, high occupancy vehicle, lane that allows access to cars without passengers if the driver is willing to pay a toll. That's the T in HOT -- High Occupancy Toll lanes -- say, $5.00 as a fee. California uses them; so does Texas and Toronto. Maryland's transportation secretary, John Porcari, is 100 percent in favor of testing HOT lanes. Governor Glendening approved a study of the concept at a cost of a cool $625,000 in state and federal funds.

With the study now over, Glendening suddenly pulled the plug, citing the interests of low-income drivers. HOT lanes are called "Lexus lanes" by their liberal critics. "Actually, they're much more like Lumina lanes," counters Glendening's appointed transportation secretary, Porcari. "We have one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the United States. We consider it our jobs to study every alternative that might help ease congestion."

After signing off on the $625,000 study outlay, Glendening disagrees. "It is unfair to link an easier commute with a person's ability to pay. Our goal is to ease congestion for all." AAA agrees with the governor, but HOT lane supporters, including business and environmental groups -- yes, environmental groups -- say that HOT lanes help ease traffic congestion and, consequently, pollution and raise funds for other transit projects at the same time.

Question: Why didn't Glendening at least let the test phase, which he authorized and which his appointed transportation secretary wanted? Why didn't he let it go forward? What do you think of this? You come from Maryland, Michelle.

MS. MALKIN: Because he was afraid of what the result might be, which is that it might actually work, which is what has happened in California where they've had experience with these kind of toll lanes for years, and he's got it all wrong. He's got it totally upside down, because this is something that's win-win for everyone. When I'm sitting in my '93 Nissan Sentra, John, and I'm in the regular lanes and you exercise an option to pay four or five dollars extra a week so that you can drive your --

MR. KUDLOW: In his oversized limo. (Laughter.) His oversized limo.

MS. MALKIN: SUV, of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I drive the car. (Laughter.)

MS. MALKIN: Whatever. Not only are you, you know, getting satisfaction out of paying more and saving time, but I am too, because congestion clears for everybody in that situation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's quite erroneous in his basic proposition, that he's relieving congestion by --

MS. MALKIN: Standard class war, elitist rhetoric. This (isn't ?) part of an anti-car, anti-mobility --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, and there are times -- are there not times when you could afford four or five dollars for that extra hour that you might save?

MS. MALKIN: If it's worth it to me to go to day care or the school or wherever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You might -- it might also redound to a capitalistic gain for you if you can get, let us say, to a speech.

MR. KUDLOW: Liberals don't like market choices, and that's Glendening's main problem.

MR. O'DONNELL: But Larry, this is a liberal idea.

MS. MALKIN: But why is Glendening opposing it?

MR. O'DONNELL: This idea has been around for over a decade. It started with liberal environmentalists, and the issue is congestion. And how -- the most important thing you can do with a car on a highway is move it as fast as possible. The slower it's going, the more it's polluting, and that's why the idea originated with liberals, and that's why it's a good idea.

MR. KUDLOW: Yeah, but --

MS. CLIFT: Right, and it's sad the original idea hasn't really worked, because these -- the lanes are frequently empty. But Glendening is much too much of a purist on this one. Why not let the rich have those lanes, fleece them in the process --


MR. KUDLOW: Rich. Rich people.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why, even the minimum wage, one hour, you can take that lane.