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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Steel Magnolia?

HARRIET MIERS (Supreme Court nominee): (From videotape.) Throughout almost three decades of legal practice, bar service and community service, I have always had a great respect and admiration for the genius that inspired our Constitution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Harriet Ellan Miers, Supreme Court nominee: 60 years of age; single, no children; evangelical Christian; Southern Methodist University, B.S., mathematics; J.D., doctor of laws; federal judicial clerk, Dallas, '70 to '72; corporate attorney, '72 to '01, 19 years; corporate clients -- Microsoft, Disney, other major companies; Dallas Bar Association, 5,000 members, president, '85; Dallas City Council, member, '89-'91; Texas State Bar, 55,000 members, president, '92; Texas Governor George W. Bush, first-term transition, general counsel, '94; White House staff secretary, '01 to '03; White House deputy chief of staff to President Bush, '03 to '05; White House counsel to President Bush, replacing Alberto Gonzales, eight months and currently.

Question: Pat, I could hear you grumbling throughout that.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there something you want to tell us about this candidate for the Supreme Court named by George Bush?

MR. BUCHANAN: This is a faith-based initiative, John. (Laughter.) No, this is a very attractive lady. She's a very competent lawyer. And she's a good person, I'm sure, but she doesn't have the least qualification for the United States Supreme Court. If she were not a woman, if she were not the president's personal attorney, she would never have been nominated to this position.

The White House is arguing for her on the basis that she has no paper trail, which means in 40 years she has not taken a single position on a major court decision, has shown no knowledge of judicial philosophy. She simply is not qualified and has understandably outraged conservatives, who've been waiting for 40 years for this opportunity to remake the court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the president said she was the best candidate he could find.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, why, then, did he make her staff secretary when she came to Washington rather than his counsel or attorney general or put her on the appellate court? That is a preposterous statement, John, and it reflects more -- not on the lady; this reflects very, very badly on the president of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's preposterous if you exclude from the criteria loyalty. But on the loyalty scale, she stands alone.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, she --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, wouldn't you agree with that?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but the president doesn't own the Supreme Court, and you don't want somebody on the Supreme Court who has this personal tie. He's using the Supreme Court like a patronage post. And I think Pat has a right to feel betrayed. I think conservatives wanted not just a reliable right-wing vote, which she may well be. They wanted an intellectual force. They wanted a voice on the court. And there's nothing in her background that suggests that she has pondered constitutional law. The president reached out to her because he knows her. He knows her heart. She went to SMU, which is where Laura went and Karen Hughes went. And this is a miscalculation on his part, because he has disaffected his base and he's not getting anything with independents and moderates and Democrats because she's so clearly a crony, and nobody likes cronies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, wretched disillusionment.

RICHARD VIGUERIE (conservative activist): (From videotape.) We've spent our entire political life waiting for this moment, and the president ran from the fight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think there's any doubt that Richard Viguerie feels the way he just described. He's a movement conservative. He's like Pat. And his pain is really bad, because they've been waiting decades for the opportunity to move the court in a conservative direction, to maintain it for several years, and this is blown now. Do you share that view?

MR. BLANKLEY: Who is "they"? I started out as a Goldwater youth coordinator. I feel deeply disappointed by this decision. We have the deepest bench of brilliant legal scholars in living memory right now, and he reached so far beneath that bench for this appointment that it is frankly appalling.

Now, she may end up being a reliable vote, but we expect more than that. He's also, I think, obviously made a political mistake, but I disagree in one zone with the analysis of why he acted this way. People think he acted out of fear that he had to make nice with Washington. I think this was a very personal decision. I don't think he acted out of fear.

I think that he'd had enough of people telling him -- conservatives particularly -- telling him who to appoint -- I can't prove this; this is just my hunch -- and that he personally made this decision, because people very close to him, only days before the decision, were telling people, "Don't worry; you guys are going to love this appointment." I think that they thought somebody else was going to be named, and this was a -- my hunch is that it was a personal decision of his, and it was a disastrous one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he said he looked into her -- in equivalent, he looked into her eyes and he saw her soul and he admired her character. That's his criteria.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I don't doubt -- and the most comforting thing you can get out of this is that he knows her well, and presumably she's a solid conservative. The trouble is that he doesn't have the qualifications to discern her constitutional qualifications. That's a recondite skill. And he wouldn't be expected to have that, and so he couldn't make an assessment of that. And I think that we're going to pay in the future with a lack of scholarship. But let me say one thing. I'm not 100 percent sure this is a done deal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Caroline Daniel, welcome.

These gentlemen here, these high-brows over here, want an intellectual from Harvard or Princeton or Yale. But we have an intellectual in there. His name is John Roberts, and he's the head of the court. Do you share the view or can you see the point of drawing from someone who has a multifaceted experiential background?

MS. DANIEL: I think there's a lot of history where it says that you can get good judges if you pick from someone who doesn't come from the judicial monastery. And instead he's gone for someone who could live in a monastery, given that she's an evangelical. She's a true believer. She's an evangelical; came to God in a way that Bush has. So it's a very personal relationship that they have.

But the concern is that the people who have been appointed as judges before who came from -- (inaudible) -- background came from being governors or came from running; they were much higher up in the executive branch than she has been. So I think there's a serious doubt about the kinds of experience that she brings to the court and whether she has the sort of intellectual reach to actually play the full role that her pivot position will give her. I think that he's actually had a lot of support because the previous nomination was such a success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Didn't I read in your graceful prose in the Financial Times the impression that he had no choice because he's been so weakened by a series of tumultuous negative events in his life, the president; he could not undertake a confirmation battle, and he really had to go with someone who was relatively safely through?

MS. DANIEL: I think there was a big issue about her being confirmable. At least that was the expectation. And at a time when he has so many other battles to fight, I don't think it was both -- he didn't want that fight, and I don't think many people in the Senate wanted that fight either.

MR. BUCHANAN: Why would you be afraid of fighting Harry Reid and instead start a fight with your own political base?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, she's --

MS. CLIFT: Everybody expected -- MR. BUCHANAN: Twenty-four hours after she's nominated, the president's in the Rose Garden, on the defensive, trying to defend it. John, on political grounds this was a disastrous choice.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, everybody expected --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, he should have undertaken a battle just to keep the front pages off Katrina and off Iraq --

MR. BUCHANAN: He should --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and off inflation?

MR. BUCHANAN: -- appoint the most qualified woman, if you will, judicial conservative. Let us take up the battle. He doesn't have to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He didn't have the political clout, Pat.

MS. CLIFT: It is insulting --

MR. BUCHANAN: He can do it. He can win with 55 votes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He could win by pressing the nuclear button and using the vote. He's got 51 plus --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's got 55 senators in there and you've got some Democrats --

MS. CLIFT: It is insulting to sell her as a candidate who believes in the Lord and who believes in George Bush. I mean, she's a sycophant when it comes to George Bush --

MR. BLANKLEY: Now, that's not fair.

MS. CLIFT: -- pronouncing him the most brilliant man that she ever met.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's not fair. That's not a fair statement.

MS. CLIFT: And everybody expected armageddon over the Sandra Day O'Connor appointment, but we thought it would be led by the left. Instead it's being led by the conservative intelligentsia -- Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Bill Kristol.


MS. CLIFT: You know why I think he wanted her on the court? Because he wants a voice there to uphold the unconstitutional acts he has taken in the name of terrorism over the last four years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we get into the Democrats here? Let's go to the principal Democrat, and that is the minority leader, Harry Reid, in the United States Senate, Harry Reid. And we have now Harriet Miers -- Harry and Harriet, Washington's newest power couple.

(Audio clip of "I'm Just Wild About Harry.")

SENATE MINORITY LEADER HARRY REID (D-NV): (From videotape.) From everything I've been able to learn, a very fine lawyer. I have to say without any qualification that I'm very happy that we have someone like her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Can you believe this? Here is Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate leader of the Democrats, embracing the qualifications of Harriet Miers, George Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, before there's even a confirmation process. What do his peers think of that? Did you research that?

MS. DANIEL: I think he's already living to regret that statement. I think you've seen some signs of him backing away from it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He can't back away too much or he looks like a fool.

MS. DANIEL: I agree, but then you've got -- the Democrats have an issue about is it better to have a devil you don't know, i.e. Harriet Miers, or have the devil who you do know, who is a much more conservative judge coming out of the wood work after this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What could this mean? Could it mean that Harry Reid has come to the conclusion we ought to forget politics and vote on merits, and that's the way I feel? Could it mean that --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he's been brought up through -- wait a minute -- he's been brought up through the school of hard knocks himself and he sees that she's had to do work hard to get where she is, and that creates a kind of congeniality between the two?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. Look, it was a Mafia kiss of death for him to endorse her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's dying?

MR. BLANKLEY: Harry is the Mafia kisser, and she is the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, Harry's career is over?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, the person who receives the Mafia kiss's career is over, as I understand it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With whom? MR. BLANKLEY: He kisses you and then you're executed. Isn't that the Mafia rule?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's Judas. It's Judas. But, look, Harry Reid sold the president on the idea to go outside the monastery, pick someone with some practical experience. I think Tony's right. I think Bush is an arbitrary fellow. He said, "I've had enough of these right wingers giving me all this. I'm going to pick who I want. I like her. She's a woman.

Laura says pick a woman, so I'm going to go ahead and do it, and I don't care what they say."

MS. DANIEL: But he's always had --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, she really is a red-blooded Texas conservative. You know that.

MR. BUCHANAN: If she were for Congress or the deputy attorney general, I'd support her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Furthermore, the political revenue from this is enormous with the red-state voters. They like her. They're not crazy about intellectuals like you and your ivory tower, Buchanan.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Kindly assess Ms. Miers' qualifications for the court. Is she, A, exceptionally qualified; B, fully qualified; C, sufficiently qualified; D, minimally qualified; E, unqualified?

MR. BUCHANAN: She's a D-, between minimal and not.


MS. CLIFT: She's minimally qualified, and the hearings will be very important. She's really going to have to sell herself, her agility of mind and her intellectual heft, if it exists.


MR. BLANKLEY: On the basis of her curriculum vitae, she's E, unqualified. She may be able to establish, through her testimony, that she is a D or maybe even a C. That remains to be seen.


MS. DANIEL: She's, I think, minimally qualified. But she could reach out to the country by being a smart woman. And she may not please the intellectuals, but she may please the heartland. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She has appeared many times before the court.

MR. BUCHANAN: Supreme Court?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not before the court. Yeah, she has made --

MR. BLANKLEY: On the sidewalk, walking past, right? (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's appeared many times before the bench in various other locations, so she knows how to appear. And she's a courtroom litigator, and she has served with distinction. And she's respected by her peers. I think she's fully qualified.

Issue Two: Republican Angst.

Here's the grim litany of troubles that Republicans, in whispered tones, are saying President Bush has inflicted on them.

Item: Iraq occupation, Iraq reconstruction, Iraq costs. The most gruesome month since the operation started in March 2003, two and a half years ago, a period already over one year longer than U.S. involvement in World War I. The Sunni insurgency grows stronger, bigger, bloodier. Next Saturday the Iraq constitution will be voted on. If it passes, the insurgency worsens. If it fails, the insurgency worsens. But no matter.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Wars are not won without sacrifice. And this war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: Katrina and FEMA -- the badly bungled early response.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) To the extent that the federal government fell down on the job, I take responsibility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: David Safavian, White House top procurement officer, indicted -- obstruction of justice.

Item: Valerie Plame, CIA covert operator, identity leaked. Scooter Libby, chief of staff, Vice President Cheney, under investigation; Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff, President Bush, under investigation.

Item: Social Security private accounts -- kaput.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) There seems to be a diminished appetite in the short term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: Medicare prescription drug program -- unpopular. PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Of course, people who are on Medicare say, "Just leave me alone. I'm not interested." And if that's the way you feel, that's fine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Public doesn't understand it -- 61 percent. Seniors won't enroll -- a majority, 54 percent.

Item: Bush guest-worker illegal-alien amnesty programs -- splitting the GOP. One faction argues, "Secure the border." A counter-faction argues, "Legalize the labor supply." A Republican schism.

Item: Federal deficit/national debt skyrocketing.

In sum, many Republicans think Mr. Bush causes Cain. He likes to spring surprises. He's an iconoclast. He's an originalist. He's unconventional. He's a crap-shooter. He's a thrill-seeker. He's a mischief-maker. And he's exhausting. We have Bush fatigue. And if Miers goes down, he's effectively through as president.

Question: Is this true? Are Republicans fed up with their leader, and are they thinking of 2006, a year away, and how they're going to stay in office? And if they gripe about Mr. Bush in public, his approval rating will drop into the 30s. Is that what's going on in their mind? You have a feel for that.

MS. DANIEL: I think what's amazing is how well he's held up in the polls amongst Republicans so far. Eight out of 10 Republicans still support him, despite everything else which has gone on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What percentage?

MS. DANIEL: Eighty-five.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, his base.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is his base showing signs --

MS. DANIEL: Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of cracking?

MS. DANIEL: There were some signs around Hurricane Katrina, and I think that was the real turning point for Bush in terms of Republican support, because up until then he's held their support consistently.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is true. But do you sense any erosion at all?

MR. BLANKLEY: You have to distinguish between people like me, the activists -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The fanatics.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, the activist intellectuals in Washington. We are in a slough of despond right at the moment. The base is not, I believe, nearly at that point. I think this is overheated and disproportionate. The president is at 45 percent approval, up from 40 percent two weeks before.

He's got 85 percent of Republicans supporting him.

He's going through a very hard patch and he's made some mistakes, but the idea that you present every week, to write him off, is ludicrous. Most Republicans are a little nervous about his judgment in the last couple of decisions, but I don't think you're going to see a break.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask --

MR. BLANKLEY: But every Republican and every Democrat starts thinking about re-election a year out. There's nothing new about that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that in 2006 the worry is that Republicans will sit it out and stay at home, and that means death for the House.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it doesn't mean death for the House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, I want to know whether that is in the air. I want to know whether that's on the Hill.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from you.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, there is apprehension inside the Republican Party about 2006. It's the second off-year election. That's always a bad time. But Bush is not a lame-duck president. If he loses this nominee, he's not. He's not in as bad a trouble as Nixon or Reagan, when Reagan had Iran-contra. However, there's no doubt about it; there's a real roiling inside his political base. And 2006 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there Bush fatigue?

MR. BUCHANAN: There is Bush fatigue. There is a measure of it, the fact that he's stumbling and making mistakes and he doesn't have the aura he used to have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. This list did not include, Eleanor -- it did not include DeLay, it did not include Frist's problems, and it did not include gas prices, and it did not include the cost of winter oil and natural gas going up 143 percent already.

Now, when you factor those in, do you think that there are crevices and cracks in the Republican lineup?

MS. CLIFT: '06 is going to be a referendum on Republican governance. And the public knows one thing. They know the Republicans are in charge. And it's up to the Democrats to nationalize that election and maybe provide some clear alternatives.

But, look, in terms of the Miers nomination, it deepens the dissatisfaction that's already felt about this president in his base. And the right wing is very disciplined and they're vindictive. Just ask former President Bush. And they never forget.

This president is not up for re-election again, but they can make it very hard for him. I think they can effectively neuter his presidency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. Go ahead.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just make one quick point. All of this is, to some degree, true. But this is a deeply polarized country right now, and it's very hard to move too far off-center for either party's leaders because of the commitment that's built up because this is close to a 50-50 country. And that's why I don't think he's dipped nearly as far in Republican support as he might, given the facts that have occurred. I think that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that bad news or good news?

MR. BLANKLEY: That's good news for him that the country is so harshly divided that they're going to stick with their guy through a long, long time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, did he lose the opportunity to heal the country, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: They never had an opportunity.

MR. BUCHANAN: There are two mega-issues, the economy and Iraq. And I think those are going to be decisive by November next year. But the Democrats have no leadership on this. They're not out on any -- they don't have any program of their own.


MR. BUCHANAN: It is in Iraq, and they haven't taken an independent view on Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No. They've been gutless wonders on the whole subject of Iraq. It's a disgrace. How can Bush pull the rabbit out of the hat? What's the one thing he has to do? MS. DANIEL: Gas prices.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gas prices?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So far, by the way, we should take note that what relieves this whole picture is that the economy right now continues to be good and the market continues to be quite good.

MS. DANIEL: But he's not getting any credit for it right now.


MS. DANIEL: He's not getting any credit for that right now. His ratings on the economy are worse than his ratings for the Supreme Court.


MR. BUCHANAN: When he starts to bring troops home, John.


MR. BUCHANAN: If he starts bringing troops -- if he can bring them down the way the generals are talking --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The constitution.

MR. BUCHANAN: The constitution wins; let's say they have elections and the generals draw down to 100,000 and move inside bases --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the government is stabilized.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and the government is stabilized, people will say, "Maybe the president was right."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's an unlikely miracle, is it not?

MS. CLIFT: That's wishful thinking. That's wishful thinking. That's like Vice President Cheney saying the insurgency is in the final throes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: How strong is the tempest brewing in the Republican Party? Is it, A, tropical depression; B, tropical storm; C, a minor 1 to 2 hurricane; D, a major 3 to 4 hurricane; E, a major 4 to 5 hurricane, Katrina? What is it, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Category 1.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Category 1 -- nothing. MS. CLIFT: I'm going between the tropical storm and the tropical depression. It's almost as bad as it's going to get, and I think it's going to get worse.


MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's a tropical depression, number two. And it could easily weaken or it could get stronger and come up to about a 1 or a 2.


MS. DANIEL: I think they're just depressed.


MS. DANIEL: I think they're just depressed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A depression.

MS. DANIEL: Yes, just depression.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's between a 3 and a 4 hurricane.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Foie Gross.

Foie gras means fatty liver in French, a culinary delicacy derived from the enlarged liver of a goose or a duck. Foie gras is expensive and increasingly difficult to buy. It's been banned in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K.

Last year California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a ban that phases out the production of foie gras. Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Oregon are considering the same. The upscale grocery store Whole Foods refuses to sell it. And after learning how foie gras is made, 77 percent of Americans said they also support a production ban.

This is how Chicago Alderman Joseph Moore describes the reasoning behind his proposed ordinance for a ban on the sale of foie gras in his city. "The ducks and geese that provide the liver are forcibly restrained three times a day and a steel pipe is forced down their esophagi. The handler pumps a fatty corn-rich gruel down their gullets, which causes extensive trauma. The birds' livers become enlarged, up to 10 times their normal size. They become too ill to walk and can only move by dragging themselves by their tattered wings." Question: Should the U.S. Congress enact a federal law that prohibits the sale and the production of foie gras? Caroline, speak to that as a true Brit.

MS. DANIEL: Well, I had foie gras --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're not a U.S. national, are you?

MS. DANIEL: Not yet, no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're a British national.

MS. DANIEL: Very much so. And I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you --

MS. DANIEL: I had foie gras a week ago and I don't want President Bush to take my foie gras away.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't want him to.

MS. DANIEL: No. I think it's ridiculous. Why would you want to ban -- people can make their own decisions about what they eat and how much they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it causes pain to sentient creatures.

MS. DANIEL: Well, so does killing them to make me a steak.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's one thing to go on for two to four weeks and another thing to be over in an instant. What about boiling a lobster? Do you find that acceptable too?

MS. DANIEL: I've never -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about hormones in veal?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, on the foie gras, I think this is manifest cruelty to animals, it seems to me. And it is a brutal thing. And I think I would certainly ban that type of thing being done in this country.

MS. CLIFT: I'm with Pat. And on the list of foods that are unnecessary, fatty goose liver we can do without. And it seems to me that it's only a food that the ultra-rich enjoy. And I know Tony wants to talk about the pleasures of it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Eating --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear from our resident gastronome.

MR. BLANKLEY: Eating any animal is cruel to the animal. We're all hypocrites who eat animals, and I am too. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Good news for Bush: Republicans capture Virginia in November.


MS. CLIFT: Anti-torture amendment championed by John McCain will be voted down in the House with White House active encouragement and aid.


MR. BLANKLEY: Just a hunch, not a prediction: Miers' nomination to be withdrawn.


MS. DANIEL: Bad news for Bush: There will be indictments in the CIA case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of whom? Of whom?

MS. DANIEL: Several people.


MS. DANIEL: I think he might, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I've given you all of my time, Caroline. Bye bye.