MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Independence Day in Iraq.

The much heralded transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people was carried out on Monday, two days ahead of schedule. The event was stripped of all fanfare, and out of sight behind the high walls of the U.S. compound in central Baghdad. This was to forestall the threat of terrorist violence.

The ceremony lasted for five minutes and was sparsely attended. It took place in a nondescript room in the office of Iyad Allawi, Iraq's new interim prime minister. Alongside Mr. Allawi stood Ghazi Al-Yawar, the interim president, and Paul Bremer, the administrator of the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority.

Immediately after the ceremony, with no ruffles and no flourishes, Bremer departed Iraq on a C-130.

President Bush said that the decision to accelerate the hand-over had been made by Mr. Allawi.

Question: why did the White House choose a low-profile hand-over to Iraq, Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this was not the transfer of Hong Kong to China after 150 years.

Look, what Bremer did was he pinned the sheriff's badge on Allawi, and he got out of Dodge! They did it two days ahead of time to avoid the possibility of massive attacks, first. Secondly, John, it reflects reality. We are handing them a very tough situation, and this is not a great transfer of sovereignty or nationality. And they did what they had to do. I thought it was a success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think of it, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think it's been treated like a success. But actually the fact that they had to have a secret ceremony in an undisclosed location is a sign of the failure of our Iraq policy: that even with 140,000 troops in the country, they couldn't guarantee the safety of this ceremony. And I think the fact that the administration is treating it low-key is they're trying to take the American stamp off of this government, because the only chance this government has to succeed is if it's not regarded a puppet regime. And yet it's dependent on the U.S. for security, for money, for legitimacy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The press anchors were over there expecting it would happen on Wednesday. It happened on Monday. So it stretched out the coverage for a few extra days to a breathless journalistic corps. Do you think that figured in any of this?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, I think they certainly expected that this would come over well, and it did. I think it was a success in political terms.

But now I think they have the real issue of determining whether or not the Iraqi people will think the United States is the enemy or the terrorists are the enemy. And they're going to have to figure that out, and they're going to have to do that on their own. And the sooner they start that process, the better it is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean by that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, who are the Iraqi people going to support? Are they going to support the government? Are they going to, in a sense, provide cover for the terrorists, which, to some extent, they use the presence of America as sort of the front -- the face of government, as the rationale for, in a sense, giving them the -- the nationalist spirit to the terrorists? Now, they're going to say now we're an Iraqi government, okay? Now are you going to support us or are you going to, in a sense, disclose -- and provide the feeding ground for the terrorists?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before he left, Paul Bremer issued 97 directives which are binding on the government --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: On the interim government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On the interim government. He enacted an election law that gives a seven-man commission the power to disqualify political parties and candidates; any candidate or political party associated with a militia or funded by one can be disqualified -- the association there is a little bit blind; immunity for U.S. military from Iraqi law; also contractors are immunized. And it goes on and on, and it even includes a capping of a tax rate at 15 percent and drivers must hold steering wheel with both hands. (Laughter.)

Now, is the sovereignty --

MR. O'DONNELL: Not one of those things is binding on the new Iraqi government. Not one. They already decided --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about the interim government?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, the new one. They already decided we are going to have a death penalty, even though the Bremer government said you're not going to have a death penalty. It is politically impossible for the Bush administration to come out against any change that this new government makes in any one of those things, because the Bush administration contention is this is a new and independent Iraqi government, and it really is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now in moving it up, we said on the brilliant introduction to this, that it was -- in order to forestall terrorist attacks take them by surprise. When, in point of fact, the president's summitry both in Dublin and Istanbul was a disaster. In Dublin tens of thousands, if not more, came out and demonstrated against him. What Reagan accomplished and other presidents have by going to Ireland before a presidential election to win over the Irish- American vote totally collapsed. In Istanbul NATO gave him nothing. The so-called training of the paramilitary, the Germans say we'll do it for you, and we'll do it in Germany, and the president said fine.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the French, Chirac in particular, and Schroeder, to a lesser degree, have stiffed the Americans completely on Afghanistan; they've stiffed them on sending people in to train troops in Iraq. The point is is that America --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that got to do with the early handover of the government?

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's the thing: the good news is what Mort is talking about. What this forces the Iraqis to do is -- it says to them, look, you want the Americans to pull back? You want the Americans to leave? They are going. Now this is your war. If you people are not willing to fight and die and stop the Fallujah gang and these other gangs, you're going to lose it all. You're going to have to fight it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Will the Iraqi people see this transition as a handover of national sovereignty or dominantly as the appointment of an overseas U.S. agency head, Allawi?

MR. BUCHANAN: The Iraqi people see that power, authority and sovereignty are being gradually transferred to them, and they support the interim government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you feel it has legitimacy --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's moving --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in the eyes of the majority of the Iraqis?

MR. BUCHANAN: Thus far.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Only one thing matters, and that's security. And if this government can move quickly to restore community -- security, and they may be able to get away with things that the coalition couldn't, then they will be seen as legitimate. Otherwise, they will be dismissed and elections will be postponed from January and there will either be a low-level civil war or martial law or both. This is an important moment. This could go right. It also could go wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see this as blanketing the front end of the week, the bad news on the summitry? And also, of course, the insurgency rate has maintained its tempo and 10 Americans were killed this week.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, I mean, somehow or rather I detect a certain cynicism in question on your part.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, was it Lily Tomlin that once said --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But what --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Lily Tomlin once said about Washington press people, you know, no matter how cynical you are, it's difficult to keep up. I'm having difficulty keeping up. (Laughter.) I don't know why. Of course there is going to be a political dimension to this. There is a political dimension to everything. But there's also a substantive core to this thing, you know, and it's what Pat and I have been referring to, okay? Now the issue is really going to be on the table for the Iraqis, and if they're not up to it there we are. We move on. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the answer to my question? How are they going to read this?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, there are some small reports of the new Iraqi security forces being greeted much the same way that American troops were first greeted in Baghdad. They're being clapped for when they go by in their vehicles. But I, for one, have not spent enough time with the Iraqi people to speak for them -- (laughter) -- on this matter of how they're going to receive their new government. (Laughter.) But I'm sure you have a view -- a definitive view -- of how they're going to receive them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's too close to call.

MR. O'DONNELL: You do? Okay. (Laughs, laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back, does the Saddam trial have the potential to backfire?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Saddam in the dock.

L. PAUL BREMER (former CPA administrator): (From videotape.) Ladies and gentlemen, we got him. (Cheers.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seven months ago, U.S. troops dragged Saddam Hussein from his spider hole and put him in prison. This week, the former dictator appeared before an Iraqi court. He refused to sign legal documents and declared: "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq. You know that this is all theater by Bush, the criminal, to help him with his campaign." Saddam now faces seven criminal charges, including the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the gassing of Kurds in '88 in Halabja and the systematic murder of political opponents over thirty years.

Mohammad Rashdan is one of several lawyers appointed by Hussein's wife to represent Hussein, which he is doing already in the press. "Any trial of the president is illegal and unjust and it follows from the aggression that took place against Iraq. The trial is a farce and the guilty verdict had been issued even before the trial has begun," Rashdan told Reuters.

Until that trial does begin, Hussein and 11 of his closest associates will continue to be held in U.S. military detention at a base within Baghdad airport, where he has been detained since being captured in December. Legal custody of Hussein, however, was transferred to Iraq on Wednesday.

Question: The formal indictment was not prepared, Saddam's lawyers were not allowed into the courtroom. So what was the purpose of hurrying Saddam into court this week?

Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: It was a PR stunt with the goal of legitimizing the new Iraqi government, that they had taken control. And it also got Saddam Hussein back in the news stories in this country and got people's minds off of the bad news in Iraq and reminded them that President Bush got the bad guy in the end.

But I thought Saddam Hussein actually scored some debating points, and he was confrontational. And as the trial goes ahead, what will his defense be? He's unapologetic about Kuwait. He's going to say that okay the putting down of the rebellion of the Kurds was done with the full knowledge if not the backing of the first Bush administration and the Reagan administration. And he will say he never wrote any specific orders to use chemical warfare, a line that's been used by other people in high places in government.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Hannibal Lecter is also unapologetic about what he's doing, I mean --

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mean, you know what it is, frankly, first place, he looked great compared to the way he was when he was captured, which is implicitly a statement that we didn't treat him that badly. Second place, it is going to be extraordinarily popular among the Iraqis. It's going to give legitimacy to the Iraqi government because a huge number of the families in Iraq suffered from --

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, John, he's going to play --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's look at it from the eyes of the Iraqis. What this tells the Iraqis is that Saddam is not making a comeback; he is a spent force.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that is right. You are right in part. There are people over there that despise Saddam that want to hang him. Eleanor is exactly right, this man is going to do just as Goering did, only he's going to have a hearing in the Al-Jazeera. He is going to play the nationalist card --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- he's going to embed himself as the focus of Iraq invaded, attacked, overrun. He's going to turn it into Saddam versus the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the message to the American audience of this?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, you know, now that there is a new Iraqi government, it's time to start analyzing things in terms of domestic Iraqi politics --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- which is what Mort was leading to. There's a new strongman in charge, is what the message is, and this guy, Saddam, is going to kneel before me. That's what they were doing. And they were the people who were choosing when to do this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Allawi is the man now?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about on the American audience? I'm waiting for political insight from you. George Bush says I'm going to either kill him or I'm going to capture him and I'm going to bring him to justice. George Bush lives by his promises, right?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well -- well the trouble --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Kerry realize that? You're still supporting Kerry, right?

MR. O'DONNELL: The trouble is that George Bush can't come out now and make those claims. He can't claim that, "I'm delivering on a promise" because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush is good on his word.

MR. BUCHANAN: But, John, Bush --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He is delivering on a promise that he's already said, which is we're going to turn over sovereignty to the Iraqis. That's the promise he made.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. But Bush versus Saddam in the American scene is utterly different than Iraq. Here, this is win-win for Bush. He got the guy, he's juxtaposed with the monsters, all the crimes and the bulldozed bodies come out, and the moral case for the invasion of Iraq is made, which compensates for the failure of the legal case.

MS. CLIFT: But again, if they don't get the security under control, Iraq will be determined by the events on the ground. This is one week of positive news for this president, but there are many more weeks to go before November.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we are supposed to believe that this tin pot dictator -- right? -- we're supposed to believe that he's now through. And this is the guy who said our war would be treated as the mother of all evils and he would defeat us. Now we're supposed to believe that --

MS. CLIFT: Well, this was the most expensive --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: He's the total loser right now, John, but he only has to go up now.

MS. CLIFT: This was the most costly --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's going to put himself right in the middle of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish.

MS. CLIFT: This was the most costly manhunt in American history, in terms of American lives and American treasure, to go after that one bedraggled gentleman, if I can call him that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that this has terrific political potential for Bush as this unravels the more --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- when we see the criminal record of this --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, but it has the other --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's got potential for both of them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the human toll. The U.S. military dead in Iraq, 860. U.S. military medical evacuations, 23,600. Iraqi civilian dead, 17,300.

Exit: On a media gaming scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero gamesmanship, 10 meaning metaphysical gamesmanship, how do the hurried sovereignty handover and the hurried Saddam court appearance rate as a way to game the media? You got the question? Zero to 10.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think that we're in a whole new scene. I think it was a great job by the Bush administration and the whole --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean by hurrying him into that courtroom and getting the bad news out of sight.

MR. BUCHANAN: We're not talking about casualties; we're talking about Saddam, and Bremer out, and the new government.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You give him a ten.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was brilliant. It was brilliant. As good as Bush's trip to Baghdad.

MR. BUCHANAN: A lot of luck and it worked.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MS. CLIFT: He gets a 5 because it's July. If they pulled this off in October, it would have been a 10. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, the timing is off.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The timing is off. We may have a surfeit of Saddam by October. Interesting point.

What do you say?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I disagree entirely, because if you have this trial, although it is replete with dangers --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're not going to have the trial -- (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: They'll have the trial next year.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We don't know that. We don't know that. They could start the trial if they set up the right kind of court. Okay? That trial's going to hear a lot of evidence. And I would just remind you that 65 percent of the American public supported going to war against Iraq before they ever heard of WMDs, because of Saddam Hussein. So in political terms at home, it's going to be a major win for Bush if that trial gets under way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you happen to see the latest poll? Fifty- four percent think it was a mistake.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, you know, the capture of Saddam had everybody saying that this was going to give Bush a huge lift, and I thought it was going to give him about a two-week bump, which is what it did, you know. So this thing, I'm not sure --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about gamesmanship.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, okay. I think the Bush media team is not nearly good enough to actually pull this off.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think this is a big comeback?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think these things played well, but it was an accident by an incompetent White House media team.


MR. O'DONNELL: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this was chance that this happened?

MR. O'DONNELL: They were forced by security reasons to do the turnover the way they did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm treating this as calculated -- the hurried hand-over and the hurried trial appearance --

MR. O'DONNELL: This was a security thing, not a press thing.

MR. BUCHANAN: It was necessity, John, and it turned out well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it just blanketed the week. And he had a lot of bad news this week.

MR. O'DONNELL: They got lucky.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I give him a 10, Pat. I'm with you. (Laughter.)

Issue three: The court steps in.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week sharply restricted the power of the Bush administration to detain terrorism suspects. The high court ruled that foreigners imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay and Americans held as enemy combatants on U.S. soil have the right to challenge their detention in court. This was a clear rejection of the Bush administration's claim that it can detain citizens and non-citizens on the authority of the president alone, beyond the reach of any court or any law.

The administration has asserted that authority, claiming that those captured in the war on terrorism are enemy combatants. They have neither status under the Geneva Conventions nor the right to petition U.S. courts for their release.

Under this court ruling, detainees may even have the right to bring lawsuits against the U.S. government if they believe they have been wrongfully imprisoned or abused or tortured.

Question: Was this court decision a rebuke to the White House, Lawrence O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: A rebuke would have been 9 to 0, and it would have been they all really do get their day in court. These were 5-4 decisions. There's an opinion and a dissent in there for every position you can think of in this situation.

And they don't get a day in court. The Supreme Court is saying this stuff has to be evaluated by a neutral fact-finder --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They can challenge their status.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- which can be a military tribunal.


MR. O'DONNELL: These people do not have the rights that I have, even after that decision.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, there is the belief now, by the experts, that they can bring a suit against the government for their treatment after they have challenged their detention.

MS. CLIFT: Well, it was a slight brushback of the Bush administration kingly powers --

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah. Yes. True.

MS. CLIFT: -- so that if the Bush administration wants to put you in a hole for the rest of your life, you can consult a lawyer. (Chuckles.) That's about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you not see this as a direct repudiation of the Justice Department, with that ruling, with regard to physical torture or near-torture, made by Bybee -- is that his name, Judge Bybee -- that that was not in violation of any of our treaties -- that was a repudiation of that, it was a repudiation of the Pentagon, it was a repudiation of the White House? Isn't that your view?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It was a repudiation of an earlier Supreme Court decision which said that the United States -- that the courts did not have jurisdiction over prisoners held in non-U.S. territory, and they now held that Guantanamo is not -- but that's not going to apply to Guantanamo anymore. They specifically restricted it to Guantanamo. So in that sense it was a change of the law, okay, that had previously operated here. It --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, doesn't it mean sunshine is now shining in Guantanamo, meaning that everything is now open for inspection?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think everything is open for inspection because, as Lawrence pointed out, you have -- you have an independent fact-finding; this judge, really court, which can be a military court. And the Supreme Court said the presumption that the government's case is the one to be made -- (chuckles) -- in other words, the burden of proof has shifted to the defendants from the government.

MS. CLIFT: And no right of appeal. No right of appeal to a civilian court.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So it's not quite as extreme as you describe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Fed up.

The Federal Reserve Board this week increased interest rates by a quarter point, the first rise in more than four years. This action kicks off what economists say is likely to be a long tightening cycle. The Fed reiterated its belief that it can raise rates, quote, "at a pace that is likely to be measured." Unquote. Fed officials have been surprised by the sharp rise in inflation in the first half of the year, but they expect a moderation in the second half. Between the start of 2001 and last month, the Fed slashed interests rates from 6.5 percent to 1 percent. This was done in the wake of the bursting of the stock market bubble and recession and terrorist attack, and last year's concerns about deflation.

Question: Did Greenspan get it right with the quarter-point rate hike?


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think he did. I think it reflects a dramatically strengthened economy, particularly a dramatically strengthened labor market, and labor or unit-labor cost, as they say, is the most important component of cost. And if -- they want to keep this under reasonable control.

Now they say that most of the factors that have led to an acceleration of inflation are temporary, but this is something -- as I say, it's likely to be measured but it doesn't mean it will be measured. They're just going to watch it. There will --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is he tippy-toeing around this and it's a quarter of a point, maybe in August a quarter of a point, and the cycle continues? Why this great delicacy? Can you speak to that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because there is not really a substantial amount of inflation.



MR. ZUCKERMAN: We still have a -- relatively have a lower --

MR. BUCHANAN: He doesn't want to knock the --

MS. CLIFT: Politics.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As much as I admire your achievement in life, nevertheless the reason is he does not want to disturb house sales. Don't you understand, the home realty market has boomed because we're down to a -- we were down to a 1 percent mortgage.

MR. BUCHANAN: He doesn't want to shoot this recovery in the head.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's one thing. On the other hand, if he doesn't move fast enough, inflation will take over and he will not be able to control it. So he's got a balancing act, does he not?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's exactly right. That's exactly what --

MS. CLIFT: Actually, the first --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It is a balancing act. And the real question is, how rapidly is this economy going to grow, even at higher interest rates? Because what you have now for the first time is a major sense of confidence in the business world that the economy is growing, and they are spending on capital expenditure for the first time in four years.

MS. CLIFT: The first President Bush has never forgiven Alan Greenspan for raising interest rates in the lead up to the '92 election, and Greenspan's not going to make that same mistake again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let's squeeze this in.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, not for raising them. For not cutting them fast enough, which was exactly the --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, for not cutting them. Okay.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's squeeze this in. Time warp forward, Christmas 2004. What will the inflation rate be, annualized?

MR. BUCHANAN: Over 3 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Over 3 percent.

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to go with Pat. (Laughs.)


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Excluding food and fuel, 2.5 percent.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, food and fuel -- (inaudible).

MR. BUCHANAN: Put them back in! (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fuel is the biggest source of the inflation --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right, and fuel is going down, if you've noticed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Moderately, the gasoline --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: All I'm saying is that you put that into one month, it lowers the annual inflation rate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are you saying, 2.5 percent?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Two and a half percent.

MR. O'DONNELL: I take dictation from Mort Zuckerman on this subject. (Laughter.) Two and a half percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm with the doubters. I think that the inflation is going to rise, and I would say 3.9 percent.

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Given this opportunity to make himself a nationalist Arab hero, Saddam will succeed.


MS. CLIFT: No one in the civilian chain of command will be punished for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: American intelligence has information on multiple car bomb attacks in Baghdad that they're scrambling very hard to stop, and I believe they will.


MR. O'DONNELL: Following the Republican landslide victory in the governor's's race in California, Barbara Boxer will win a landslide reelection victory in her Senate --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John Howard, third-term Australian prime minister, will be defeated in the upcoming election by the Labor Party's Mark Latham.


(PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Five: The Rockets' Red Glare

(Begin videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell us what we are seeing on television.

NASA ADMINISTRATOR SEAN O'KEEFE: This is a spectacular day. . . . It's a satellite that is now almost a billion miles away, that is now in the Saturn orbit and seeing it up close in a way we've never seen before in history. This is a remarkable scientific achievement, an engineering marvel, and an opportunity to learn an awful lot about our own solar system."

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: After a 2.2-billion- -- that's "b" as in boy, billion -- mile, seven-year journey from Earth, the unmanned spacecraft Cassini-Huygens fired its retro-rockets this week and slipped into the orbit of the planet Saturn. There it will remain for four years probing Saturn's secrets, shuttling between the giant orb's 31 separate moons.

Much public interest has been generated by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. That interest will grow over the summer and fall as new pictures come in.

Question: Will the popularity of Cassini-Huygens raise NASA to presidential issue status in the upcoming election?

MR. O'DONNELL: What it will raise is the Bush talk about manned space travel, which is just -- which is what this shows is so unnecessary, the tremendous and great accomplishments that they're achieving when they don't do manned space travel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think NASA's budget is okay after this phenomenal event?

MR. O'DONNELL: NASA's budget's always in trouble, because it doesn't really have a -- (inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it going to be made an issue in the election?

MS. CLIFT: Actually -- actually, the Bush administration boosted the NASA budget. But President Bush better hope that NASA doesn't become an issue in the election, because his suggestion that we mount this manned mission to Mars at a time of record deficits was such a bomb that after he introduced it, he never said -- never mentioned it again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, maybe it's because of the deficits we have and the condition of the economy, however, his advisory committee, NASA and NASA itself, said that the president's plan is A-okay. Does that surprise you?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it should be okay politically. It's not going anywhere. Unmanned -- this is -- unmanned space flight after this has made its case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it makes that case that the president is a visionary and he's optimistic?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. (Laughter.)