THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
MICHAEL BARONE, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK
TONY BLANKLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC
DATE: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2001
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Bulletins from War Room.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): (From videotape.) We are resolved to work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO): (From videotape.) We're trying to talk to one another, communicate with each other, work with each other, respect one another, trust one another and try to do the right things for the American people in a time of national emergency.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, gentlemen, for those noble words. Now we'll hear from the skunk works in the war room. James Carville, Stan Greenberg, Bob Shrum, leading Democratic political strategists, who call themselves the Democracy Corps, began taking polls and holding weekly focus groups to probe for Republican soft spots almost at the same time that Daschle and Gephardt voiced the unity claims above, and when terrorist assaults on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were hardly two weeks old.
Here are a few items that give the gist of the Democracy Corps' 18-page, single-spaced memorandum titled "Politics After The Attack." Quote: "The September 11th attack has created a new period which, in many ways, is radically different from what has gone before. Many have suggested that Democrats step back. We believe that this is a moment of opportunity for Democrats. In fact, we believe voters are moving toward a decision framework for next year -- balancing the president's security focus with the Democrats' focus on the economy and people -- a focus that strongly favors Democratic candidates for office."
The Carville memorandum then outlines Republican weaknesses the Democrats should try to exploit now, while the country is still reeling from the terrorist attacks and while the Bush White House is riveted on security.
Stratagem I: Divide and conquer. On his role as commander-in-chief, "It is important to support the president and set a tone that lacks a sharp partisan quality. But Democrats should feel free to attack wrong-headed Republican congressional initiatives, even separating the House Republicans from the President." Divide and conquer.
Stratagem II: Set the stage for class warfare now. "While George W. Bush is popular, voters' doubts are close to the surface. We should not give voice to these doubts in this period, but we should be prepared to highlight issues that allow those doubts to emerge later. The character of Bush's budget and tax policies -- economic damage, undermining social programs and geared toward big business -- will help set up the congressional choice for next year."
Stratagem III: Take no prisoners. Another quote from the Carville memorandum: "The Democrats must attack the overall Republican approach -- which is just wrong for the country at this time." Unquote.
This memorandum is an attack primer for Democrats on how to carry out partisan warfare while mouthing support for national unity, analysts are saying.
Question: Is this memo the height of cynicism or smart politics or both? Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: John, I don't think it's really the height of cynicism. I think that the Democrats, Carville et cetera, and the members of Congress, do genuinely support the president on the war and disagree with him on some of the domestic issues, and they're entitled to try and make their case.
I don't think that the case for, you know, going in a Democratic direction is quite as strong as Carville and Greenberg say. I mean, the idea that we're going to want big government all of a sudden because government is fighting the war, I think, is overstated. It's been nimble and high-tech techniques that have won us so far in the war, not big lumbering masses.
And I think that, you know, Nita Lowey of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is going to attack "Bush's recession." Voters know the downturn started well before Bush took office and that, in fact, it was exacerbated by the September 11th attack.
So far I see the partisan balance, aside from President Bush's elevated standing, is about the same as it was, 49-49, 48-48, the same as it was in November 2000.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Well, John, you make it sound like Democrats conducting polls and holding focus groups like they're some branch of the al Qaeda association in a basement somewhere. You know, surprise, Republicans are polling and holding focus groups as well. I think both parties are legitimately trying to figure out if there are any trends out there and how they can exploit them.
And let me ask you, is it more Machiavellian for the Republicans to exploit the concern about terrorism in this country and the need to do something about it with a stimulus bill that largely rewards big business and well-to-do taxpayers, or is it more Machiavellian for the Democrats to point that out? There are differences here that need to be debated, and they have to come out from under the cloak of anti-terrorism.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, let's put up on the board the Hill activity right now and determine whether the Carville strategy is working. If you look there, you see the economic stimulus, airport security, Arctic National Wildlife Reserve -- it should be Refuge -- and faith-based initiatives. Now, one by one, how is it working? How is the Carville strategy working on the economic stimulus?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's the most conspicuous case. The week after --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where it's hurting, hurting the Republicans.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, they're trying to hurt them. What happened a week after the Carville memo came out, Nita Lowey, the chairwoman, or charwoman, of the Democratic Campaign Committee --
MS. CLIFT: Ooh.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- used the word "unpatriotic" to describe the Republican economic stimulus package. That is catching the theme of Carville, trying to not only disagree on the basis of policy but to disparage the patriotism of Republicans, and specifically the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about airport security? Did Bush lose on airport security?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, technically he lost the issue, but I don't think politically he lost the issue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Daschle is hanging tough. He doesn't want to have a vote in the Senate because he knows he'd lose that vote. So he's blocking it. For the time being, he's also planning to block the trade vote until next year.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He lost faith-based initiative, correct?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, we've got some more Hill activity up there, if you take a look; education initiative. We've got the fast-track trade promotion authority, immigration policy, Social Security policy. Let's go to the education initiative. What's happening on that front?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the Democrats are still holding out for more money. I thought there was some chance they could reach an agreement, but I think that they're not going to reach --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, tell me about the win yesterday or this week in the House of Representatives.
MR. BLANKLEY: This is a huge vote.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is the fast track.
MR. BLANKLEY: The fast-track bill has not been able to get through Congress since before the Clinton administration. Bush won by one vote in the House. In fact, he had about 14 or 15 extra votes, but he gave them up as he needed them. What this did was I think it changes the chemistry up there a little bit, because now the Democrats understand that when the president gets into the game and actually plays it, he's a formidable force in domestic legislation.
MR. BARONE: Well, we've seen that before.
MR. BLANKLEY: Not this season we haven't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Immigration policy was on that list, too, but there's not much activity now in that sector. Then there is Social Security privatization, and that's now in mothballs because of the vast expenditure --
MR. BLANKLEY: Not entirely. Don't bet on Social Security being in moth balls.
MR. BARONE: Not entirely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the privatization.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no --
MR. BARONE: No, individual investment accounts. The Social Security commission is coming out with reports. I think we'll see a lot of discussion of it next year, not legislation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence, you've seen the --
MS. CLIFT: Actually, this is a Republican focus group right here, you three.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've seen the Hill activity in this session. You've heard about the strategy of Carville. Is the Carville strategy working? Is it playing any role? Is it being factored in? How do you evaluate what's happened thus far?
MR. O'DONNELL: Those documents are usually ignored on Capitol Hill. Those are selling documents that political consultants write, hoping to pick up clients and hoping to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we're helping them by airing it on this program?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, we're helping as much as we can, for any possible client who didn't know about it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carville, Greenberg and Shrum. Neither one of them need a dime, right?
MR. O'DONNELL: But it's hard to not notice that it's possibly the most reasonable document ever issued with James Carville's name on it, mostly, no doubt, because of the influence of the co-authors. But there's really not -- I mean, as much as you've tried to make it some incendiary thing --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to --
MR. BARONE: Carville behind the scenes is often a much less flamboyant person, when he's giving advice to political clients, than he is when he's making public --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --
MS. CLIFT: This is pretty shabby stuff, but it seems to me for both sides to be tossing around the phrase "patriotism" -- that what Nita Lowey wanted to say is that it is patriotic to --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, she didn't --
MS. CLIFT: It is --
MR. BLANKLEY: She said unpatriotic.
MS. CLIFT: Let me finish, please, Mr. Blankley.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, no, because you're misquoting her. She said it was unpatriotic.
MS. CLIFT: You called a member of Congress a charwoman. I think that's pretty ungracious.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's the person who takes out the garbage, right?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I --
MR. BLANKLEY: And that's what she did when she accused Republicans of being unpatriotic for their economic policy. She was a charwoman.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me move on. I want to --
MR. BLANKLEY: It was garbage she was throwing out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- get to the most important --
MS. CLIFT: Republicans are using the cloak of patriotism to try to discount anybody who dares to raise their voice in opposition.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, they're not. She's the only one who --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to break in here. I'm going to break in. My question is, there was a fulcrum win there in that list. What was that win for Bush?
MR. BARONE: Trade promotion authority.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The trade authority.
MR. O'DONNELL: Every president since Gerald Ford has had this, and the Clinton presidency was, in effect, emasculated by having it taken away from him. He had it in his first two years.
MR. BARONE: And he couldn't get Congress to reauthorize it.
MR. O'DONNELL: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, we know that of the $10 trillion U.S. gross national product, 6 percent of that, about $600 billion, is owing to trade. Count it: $600 billion, a substantial figure. We also know that there was trade legislation introduced on a bipartisan way by Graham and a Republican -- Graham from Florida -- and that that was done in June.
And Baucus had hearings. It was Baucus and Graham. Baucus had hearings on it, the head of the trade association -- trade committee in the Senate. And it's been around. And yet, nevertheless, we know that Daschle is determined not to take it up this year because probably it will pass. This is what Daschle had to --
MS. CLIFT: Wait a second --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just listen to Daschle.
SEN. DASCHLE: (From videotape.) My guess it would be sometime next year. It would be hard for me to give you any definitive date. We're already committed to energy, to stem-cell research, to a number of issues of great priority. So we'd have to put this in line. But clearly we'll do it sometime next year.
MS. CLIFT: Well, in the great tradition of trying to make more out of things --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, he says we have to put this in line. Now, the line has had trade -- had this trade issue out in front, number one. Number two, six months ago or a year ago, he was challenging Bush for being isolationist and he urged him to participate in multilateral deals.
This country has not participated -- in the 130 deals that have taken place relating to trade, we've participated in three, precisely because the president doesn't have fast track. Besides that, we are in recession, the world is in recession, and he is pulling this kind of craven behavior.
MS. CLIFT: It's going to pass early next year. No.
MR. O'DONNELL: We have participated in the most important trade agreements, including the last world trade agreement. We will participate in the next one. Daschle has been pro-trade in his time in the Senate. He will --
MR. BARONE: Well, he's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is he now being so craven?
MR. O'DONNELL: Because this is something the president, a Republican president, desperately wants. A Democratic majority leader should never say, "Okay, Mr. President, what day do you want it?" He's going to negotiate --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's playing politics with the U.S. economy and the world economy in recession.
MR. BARONE: He's holding out -- John, he's holding out for a bargaining point here. The fact is that the White House knows he's got to go for this because of the farm-state vote. Daschle's strategy as majority leader is based on the idea that he's got to do well in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, where the Democrats are defending four Senate seats, each of them in some degree of jeopardy. And Tom Daschle wants particularly to save his colleague Tim Johnson in South Dakota, so he's going to cave fairly easily on this.
MS. CLIFT: It's gonna pass.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of this whitewash? Can you endure it any longer? Is this not pure hypocrisy on Daschle's part?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, there's a big majority in the Senate to pass this.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. BLANKLEY: There always is a big majority. And it's outrageous that they're going to try to drag it out another three or six months --
MR. BARONE: As a favor to labor.
MS. CLIFT: No --
MR. O'DONNELL: It took seven years, John -- it took seven years to negotiate the last world trade agreement. It doesn't matter exactly what month in the next year --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You tell that to the 370 million people out of work today.
MR. O'DONNELL: It's impossible to negotiate a trade treaty next year --
MS. CLIFT: They can wait till January or February.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: On a Machiavellian scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero Machiavelli 00 only morality matters, power means nothing -- 10 meaning 10 Machiavelli, metaphysical Machiavelli -- you got it? -- only power matters, morality means nothing -- rate the Machiavellian purity of the Carville-Greenberg-Shrum strategy. Michael.
MR. BARONE: Oh, I think it's about a six, and I think that's an acceptable level.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MR. BARONE: You're entitled to go for political power in a democratic system.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: It's more intellectually honest than most things you see from political consultants. I'd give it a two on the Machiavellian scale.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you give it on the Machiavellian scale?
MR. BLANKLEY: Six-point-five or seven. Given the standard of the industry, it's there. Given the ideal standard, it would be a 10.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say about undermining our president when the troops are in harm's way?
MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I don't see that the memo does that, but it is what all good political consultants' memos are. It's a five. It's a perfect mix of cynicism and good governing policy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it's a 10 to the tenth power.
Issue Two: Traitorous rat or "poor fellow."
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) We found a person who says he's an American, with an AK-47, in a prison with a bunch of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That person is Abdul Hamid, as he calls himself, a/k/a John Phillip Walker Lindh, who now faces the wrath of the U.S. military. Walker, 20 years of age, was captured last week in the aftermath of the bloody battle at Mazar-e Sharif prison. With an AK-47, Walker was fighting on the Taliban side, after being trained in combat at an Osama bin Laden camp.
Now in the custody of the U.S. military in northern Afghanistan and getting treatment from medics for a leg wound, Walker has a lot of explaining to do.
JOHN WALKER: (From videotape.) I was a student in Pakistan, studying Islam, and I came into contact with many people who were connected with Taliban. My heart became attached to them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Walker grew up in a wealthy San Francisco suburb and became interested in Islam at age 16 after reading the autobiography of Malcolm X. In high school he started wearing traditional Muslim clothing and asked to be called Suleyman. When he was 17, he persuaded his parents to let him go to Yemen to study Islam and learn Arabic.
A year ago he went to Pakistan to join an Islamic movement, then on to Afghanistan as a member of Ansar, meaning the helpers, an Arab-speaking fighters group funded and supported by Osama bin Laden. About six months ago Walker began fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance on the front lines near Kabul.
FRANK LINDH (FATHER OF JOHN WALKER): (From videotape.) He didn't go there to fight the United States. He went there to help the government. I don't think it was a good decision on his part, but he didn't do anything wrong against our country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was Walker, through deeds, not words -- has he met the minimal definition of traitor? Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I don't think so. First of all, if you want to try somebody for treason, you have to have a declared war, which we don't have. Second, you'd have to prove that he wasn't brainwashed and that -- I guess that he took up arms against the U.S. and he was fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, which we are somewhat allied with. So I don't see the crime that he can be prosecuted for in a federal trial.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look --
MS. CLIFT: And I think probably the government is going to finesse this to try to make him a scapegoat for all of the anger --
MR. BLANKLEY: This is not a scapegoat.
MS. CLIFT: -- that we have in this country. I think it's not going to survive in court.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear from Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Notwithstanding the fact that I have sympathy for anybody named Johnny Walker, this guy is a traitor. He was literally bearing arms against so far the only American, Johnny Spann, who was killed by the enemy in combat. He joined the al Qaeda organization six months ago. He'd met with bin Laden.
MS. CLIFT: How do we know that?
MR. BLANKLEY: He knew exactly what the doctrines were.
MR. O'DONNELL: Well, we now have the videotape of him being interviewed by Spann, by the CIA --
MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, it's an extraordinary --
MR. O'DONNELL: -- and refusing to disclose any information at all.
MR. BLANKLEY: This is --
MR. O'DONNELL: It also puts him in proximity to the first American casualty in the war. It is possible that he participated in that.
MR. BLANKLEY: He may have actually --
MR. O'DONNELL: This could be a murder case.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say about the fact that he's just a boy? He's only 20 years old. He's a man-child.
MR. BLANKLEY: There are 19-year-old boys who joined the Marines who are on the other side of that fight. And the fact that -- you know, he's turned out to be the poster child for liberal alternative lifestyles gone bad.
MS. CLIFT: Oh, man. (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should Bush show Walker --
MR. BARONE: We shouldn't blame liberal lifestyles for this. This guy may have come from a wiggy background in trendy Marin County, California, but what he did --
MS. CLIFT: He's --
MR. BARONE: Let somebody else have a chance for a change. I think that --
MS. CLIFT: Woo! Could you do that again for me, Michael?
MR. BARONE: The fact is that he went well beyond the trendy lifestyle of Marin into genuine evil-doing. He bore arms against the United States. Whether it's a crime of treason or some lesser charge of sedition will stand legally, I'm not sure, on the facts as I know them now. But it seems to me there's a very strong case for making an argument against that. A boy -- he's 20 years old. He's entitled to vote in the United States. Marines over there are younger than he is. I think that he ought to be held responsible.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of circumstances might mitigate his harsh judgment and Tony's harsh judgment? I ask you.
MS. CLIFT: The fact that he seems to have been, as his mother put it, brainwashed. He seems like the young people that went off into the service of Jim Jones. Second, he didn't come out waving an AK-47 against the Marines. I think it's going to be very hard to make these charges stick in a court.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's something else, too. I'll help you along.
MR. BARONE: Who was he waving the AK-47 against?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he had walked away, he would have been shot by the Taliban. He was coerced into staying. Was he not? What do you say to that?
MS. CLIFT: That's the other thing. He could possibly argue that as well.
MR. O'DONNELL: They were not coercing him into doing a thing --
MS. CLIFT: We don't know that.
MR. O'DONNELL: -- when he was being interviewed by the CIA. He was alone in a room with our agents, one of whom is now dead. He was not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did he say about the USS Cole and the bombing of the USS Cole?
MR. O'DONNELL: He was very sympathetic.
MR. BARONE: He wrote his father and he said that the Cole should not have been in Yemen because it should not go to an Islamic country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, therefore, the bombing was justified.
MR. BARONE: The father sent him $1200 --
MS. CLIFT: But that's not a crime unless he participated in it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did he say about September 11th?
MR. O'DONNELL: He was very sympathetic to the objectives of the terrorists on September 11th. And he was in the custody of the CIA, where he could have easily crossed the line and said, "Look, I'm not with them anymore. I'm American. Take care of me." He did not do that.
MR. BARONE: He didn't do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've seen the footage.
MS. CLIFT: We can hate him --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've seen the footage.
MR. BARONE: The evidence is --
MR. O'DONNELL: They have the transcript of it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They have the transcript. Is there anything in the transcript that suggests to you that he is suffering from delusions or from being brainwashed?
MR. O'DONNELL: No, it's the old Patty Hearst defense. Brainwashing is a nice, quaint, 20th century concept that actually doesn't exist.
MR. BARONE: And it's not legal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, do you think he should be tried in a military tribunal?
MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think so, no. American citizens should be tried here in the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (They say?) he has forfeited his citizenship because he has taken up arms against our side in a war.
MR. O'DONNELL: We'll see the legal argument. If he does not have American citizenship now, then he is eligible for the military tribunal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think the first stop will be for him after he has his day in court or his day in the tribunal?
MS. CLIFT: Psychiatric unit.
MR. O'DONNELL: Well, it depends whether it's a day in court or a day in the tribunal.
MR. BARONE: If he's convicted of treason, it'll be a firing squad.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Treason is aiding and abetting the enemy. Did he do that by his actions?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, he did.
MR. BARONE: I believe he did.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. BLANKLEY: And you're going to have more than two witnesses.
MS. CLIFT: First of all, we don't have a declared --
MR. BLANKLEY: You're actually going to have the constitutional Article III two witnesses in this case.
MS. CLIFT: We don't have a declared war on a declared enemy, so I don't see how you can --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Ten years from now, where will Walker be -- free, free after prison, in prison, in a psychiatric ward, or dead by execution? Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: In prison.
MS. CLIFT: Not in prison, and I hope he is reformed and returned to society and maybe pardoned by a future president.
MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughs.) Future Democrat president. He'll be either -- I think he'll be in prison, most likely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In prison?
MR. BLANKLEY: Most likely.
MR. O'DONNELL: My guess is prison, but if F. Lee Bailey gets back his right to practice law, he might have him at Patty Hearst's cocktail parties 10 years from now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what are you saying? The dream team --
MR. O'DONNELL: Well, that in American -- well, in American jurisprudence, the chain of custody of evidence and all sorts of things that are necessary for conviction will be very difficult on an Afghanistan base of evidence. But in the military tribunal, I would expect him to be in prison in the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You need the answer in this group. You need the answer. Do you crave the answer?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is free after prison.
A forced prediction in the form of an answer to a question: George Bush will have fast-track trade authority before March 1, 2002. Yes or no? Michael.
MR. BARONE: No, but by April 1st, yes.
MS. CLIFT: I think he'll get it by then and he'll boast about it, as he should, in the State of the Union address.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, and maybe even earlier.
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I think Tom Daschle will help him get it by that time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Tom will see the light.
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We can only hope. What a transformation and miracle that would be. The answer is yes.
Next week: An on-site report from the nation that intrigues Vladimir Putin, Ukraine, including an interview with Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma. Bye bye.