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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT

TAPED: FRIDAY, JANUARY 27, 2006

BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JANUARY 28-29, 2006



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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Shock and Awe.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) When you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls, they -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush is exactly right. In this week's Palestinian parliament elections, the Palestinians were unhappy with the status quo, namely Fatah. So they let Fatah know and voted Hamas in.

Now Hamas will elect a new Hamas prime minister and a new Hamas cabinet. But the president of the Palestinian government will remain Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah party leader, because he was separately elected Palestinian president a year ago in a popular vote and now has three years remaining in his term.

So Fatah leader Abbas now has to deal with a new government assembled by his archrival, Hamas. And it will be President Abbas who will also represent Palestinians on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Abbas will deal with interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President Bush, who this week appealed to Abbas
now to resign as president.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) And our message to him was we would hope he would stay in office and work to move the process forward.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's in the best interest of Hamas -- to keep Abbas, member of Fatah, as president, or to let Fatah, which is now outraged at Abbas and Fatah for permitting their election to go down the drain, or permit Fatah to force his resignation? What's in the best interest of Hamas?

MR. BUCHANAN: The best interest of Hamas is to keep Abbas as the front man, John. This was a vote by Hamas against the inefficiency, the corruption, the incompetence of Fatah and their failure to give these people land, peace or independence.

It was also a statement by the Palestinian people that they'd rather basically stand on their feet and shake their fists rather than crawl to Bush and Sharon.

I think what this means basically is the peace process was dead. It is really dead now. Israel will not talk to Hamas. Hamas will not negotiate with Israel. This is going to be decided by blood and iron and demography.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about a deal with Hamas, Eleanor? A majority of Israeli citizens are willing to negotiate with Hamas. Forty-eight percent say yes, 43 percent say no, in a poll conducted before the final Hamas win was tallied.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think there's more sentiment with negotiating with Hamas in Israel probably than there is in this country. And if there is any kind of benefit to this, there is the possibility that Hamas, which does represent the people and has now been democratically elected, that it can be moderated and become a political party, a mainstream political party, like Sinn Fein or like Hezbollah, which
has stopped its terrorist activity since Israel got out of Lebanon.

And if they can keep Mahmoud Abbas there as sort of, as Pat said, a front man, and if there can be some sort of negotiating process -- it's going to take them a while to get their government up and running. And they're so dependent on outside resources. The West should continue aid, but they can put a lot of strings on that aid;
give the West some power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Fatah likely to be excluded from the new Hamas government?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't have an idea. Look, the difference between the Palestinian people and the German people is that a majority of the Germans never voted for a self-admitted genocidal regime. And I think we're deluding ourselves if we think that because they're not corrupt, because they keep their accounts well, that there's anything to negotiate with the people who are intent on
obliterating the Jews in Israel.

And, you know, the gathering storm is growing closer and darker. And you combine that with what's going on in Iran, and I think this idea that we can continue the habits of this nice little negotiating process we've had for the last 20 years and accomplish anything other than to confuse ourselves, I think, is just to deny the grim reality
coming at us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Tony is being excessively
pessimistic?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I don't think he's being adequately
pessimistic, to be honest with you. I think we are at a terrible place in the Middle East. If there's one thing the Israelis know, they know what the Hamas people are saying to themselves and what they're saying in Arabic, and that is, they are out to destroy Israel. They've said it publicly as well as privately. And that is their basic strategy, whatever their tactical moves may be.

Abbas would be useful for them for sure because he might be able to raise money from the West, but I can't imagine that the West is going to support a terrorist organization unless they give up their arms, reject terrorism, and accept 242 and 338, which they have
rejected forever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Fatah, which got a third of the votes, with Hamas roughly getting two-thirds of the vote, that Hamas will pull Fatah into the government and make it a coalition government? And would that ease any of your worry in the severity of your condemnation?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, because the basic policy is going to be what it has always been for Hamas, which is to destroy Israel and to eliminate the presence of Israel in that part of the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You complain repeatedly about Abu Mazen, the Fatah leader --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Who's a weak leader.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was a weak leader, and there was no partner.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There was no partner.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, at least that situation is relieved, is it not?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. But I'd rather have a weak leader who's not trying to kill me than have a strong leader who's trying to kill me.

MR. BUCHANAN: Israel --

MS. CLIFT: Look, Hamas has had --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait a minute. Now, wait a minute. You think there's any -- well, listen to what's at stake, first of all, with some of these people. You've got Mahmoud Zahar. He's co-founder. He's a surgeon. He's a hard-liner, but he's a closet pragmatist.

You've got Khaled Mashaal. He's Hamas's supreme leader. He's a physics teacher. He's a hard-liner. He's probably ultimately a pragmatist.

You've got Mohammed Deif, a commander of the military wing. He's an ideologue crazy, probably, and he's no pragmatist. He's a total ideologue.

You've got Ismail Haniyeh. He's the political chief. He's moderate. He's probably going to be the new prime minister, and he is certainly a pragmatist.

You've got Said Siyam. He's a teacher. He's the group's political coordinator. He's leading Hamas --

MR. BUCHANAN: (Off mike.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm almost finished -- and it's my program, not yours -- Hamas's operative in Gaza. And he is surely a pragmatist.

And finally, you've got Sheik Hassan Yousef. He's in charge of the West Bank and Hamas public relations. He's a moderate, an announced moderate, and he's clearly a pragmatist.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean to say that they're going to deprive themselves --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- also of their foreign aid, which amounts to $1.7 billion a year, including $900 million this year from Canada and the United States and the EU? They're going to renounce that because we won't give and they won't give to any state that declares itself to be bent on the destruction of Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, if you think these people have in any sense given up on their basic -- what they have been -- they have been a terrorist organization for all of their --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So was the Irgun, led by an Israeli leader.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, that is -- if you want to compare the Irgun to Hamas, there's no way I can have this conversation with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all know that they have history they'd rather forget.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is --

MR. BLANKLEY: John, let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Irgun switched over.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, that's --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm not pessimistic. I'm realistic.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a point about Irgun and about the IRA, because they sometimes compare these. They say, look, after the terrorism period they do governance. The difference is that the Irgun wanted Israel for the Jews. The IRA wanted Ireland for the Irish. Those were negotiable demands. And they got their objective and they
turned into governments. But for Hamas to get their objective, which is Israel, is inadmissible because the Israelis will fight. So they're never going to get to the point of legitimate governance.

MS. CLIFT: Hamas has had a truce in place for the last year. Since this election occurred -- and it surprised them as much as everybody else -- they have said that they are for an indefinite truce. They are making positive sounds. And they are now --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What sounds are they making?

MS. CLIFT: They now have an impoverished area that they're going to have control over. And, you know, it's possible for them to change their charter. And they will need to if they're going to get admitted into the world community.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One small point; it'll take me about half a minute. They're also stunned at their own win, and they're collecting themselves now. Hamas never expected to win. I was in Ramallah about three weeks ago, and I could sense, not only in Ramallah but elsewhere in the whole region, including Israel, there is an anti-incumbency
mood that is overwhelming. That's why Sharon, in one respect, pulled out of Gaza, to relieve the static situation and to get movement.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me tell you -- all right, here's why Sharon pulled out of Gaza, so he could take all the choicest cuts of the West Bank, plus Jerusalem, build a wall around them, and give the shank to the Palestinians. Now that is exactly what the Israelis are going to
do, because they've got no reason to negotiate and a reason for not negotiating, because it's Hamas. Hamas isn't going to talk to them. They're not going to talk to Hamas, John.

But I'll tell you what Hamas will do, if it's smart, is what Eleanor says, is keep the truce and put the front man up there and keep the money coming in and build for the future. And the future is a war with Israel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me point this out to you. Is this really more political than it is militant? Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar has said that Hamas will adhere to the cease-fire truce with Israel negotiated one year ago, as was pointed out by Eleanor.

I want to pick up that point. Don't you think that that's a positive sign?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, what has been going on --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, it respected the truce.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What has been going on during this so-called truce is that they've been building up all of their military supplies, training their cadre. They've done it eight times in the past. And the only reason they do it is when they get beaten up by the Israelis and they need a truce in order to rebuild their capacity.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the militaristic view.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It may be a -- it's what has happened. And let me just go to another thing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Israel may decide that they can get back on the peace road if indeed they negotiate rather than they combat.

MR. BUCHANAN: To talk --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It always happens in history.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They were prepared -- if you remember when Clinton was president, the Clinton parameters, the Israelis accepted it and Arafat did not. The Israelis have been prepared to do a deal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but you rue the day that Arafat is no longer here.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do not rue the day, because Arafat is what produced what we have --

MS. CLIFT: This is also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's true. It produced the corruption of Fatah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. What kind of corruption -- he never followed through when he had the chance to follow through.

MS. CLIFT: This is also the tip of the iceberg of Bush's grand dream of bringing democracy to the Middle East. You don't necessarily get people who are friendly to American interests.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: Islamism is on a roll.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: It won in Egypt. It won in southern Lebanon. It won in the West Bank. It won in Iraq. It won in Iran.

MR. BLANKLEY: John, let me make another point.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you had a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MR. BLANKLEY: You talked about history repeating itself. Seventy years ago this year, in London, my ancestral home, very sensible people, (sounding?) people, were discerning that Goering was the moderate and would moderate Hitler. It is a delusion to try to find moderates in a band of fanatics.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me move it in a different direction. We now have Qassam missiles being shot over from Gaza into Israel, even after this landslide upset. Who is in a better position to control these radiant multiple pockets of insurgency like the Islamic Jihad? Who is better able to control them, Fatah or Hamas?
Is not Hamas better able to control them?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If they wanted to do that, sure, they are. But they're a part of -- they are making the Qassam rockets.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that they will want to do it and they will want to preserve a total peace?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, they want the truce now, but --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is not what they -- they will blame the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They're all subsidiaries of Iran. Iran is financing Hamas, as it is PIJ. They've been doing it for years. It is an Islamic organization that is committed to Islamic rule.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you've got a point. There is a truce.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear it.

MR. BUCHANAN: There is a truce. There is a truce, and Hamas has a clear interest in maintaining the truce. They've got more power than they realize they're going to have. They want the money coming in, and they're going to keep the money coming in. I think you're dead right that they've got far more control over what happens there.
But down the road, they are not going to talk to the Israelis and the Israelis are not going to talk to them, so there's going to be no peace deal.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They've made it very clear --

MR. BUCHANAN: Israel is going to impose --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They've made it very clear. That's what they've said before, during and after.

MS. CLIFT: Israel was imposing a solution the other way when the so-called moderates were in power as well.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got a free hand to do it. They've got a free hand to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A lot of resistance on this program to this. I will say one thing that has been unnoticed in this, and that's the fence, the wall. I saw the wall. The wall is huge. I mean, when you see it across a rolling vista on the West Bank and it's snaking its way across -- and I do think that that has really brought this matter
to a head.

I'm talking about the psychological impact on the Palestinians. And I'm also talking about the sense of security that has been built up to some extent on the part of the Israelis. It's kind of frozen into -- (inaudible) -- oddly enough on that side. But oddly enough, on the Palestinian side, it is forcing --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I have a problem with your thesis, and that is, before the wall they had a terrific outbreak of terrorism. So it wasn't the wall that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I know, but I think --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The wall was there -- the fence was there to stop the terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't know whether it was a --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it was a splash of realism that swept over the Palestinians.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me answer the question. You asked the question. Let me answer it. The cause of the terrorism is that they have refused to accept the legitimacy of Israel in that part of the world, and that goes back 50 years and 75 years.

MR. BUCHANAN: The cause of the terrorism -- let me answer this. The cause of the terrorism is the injustice, long-term injustice of the Palestinian people, who have been robbed and stripped of everything and treated horribly. So they stood on their hind legs and said, "We're going to fight."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's not argue. I want to know this. What's the impact --

MS. CLIFT: And that's what brought them all to power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In eight weeks the Israelis are going to have elections. Okay? And they've got Netanyahu out there, who is regarded as the toughest and the most confrontational. And that's probably the mood the Israelis are in, although the poll does not reflect that. The poll -- (inaudible) -- at least before the final tally was in, when it looked like Hamas, the polls showed that the
Israelis do want to deal with Hamas. Does this give Netanyahu a leg up over Olmert? And would you regard that as a disaster if it did?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The poll on the day of the election showed that Olmert's party, the Kadima party, had 44 seats and Likud had 12 seats. There is no doubt but that Netanyahu is going to claim that the fact that the Israelis withdrew from Gaza contributed to the success of
Hamas and that this may give the hard-liners some reason to believe that it's going to work. I don't believe it'll work. I think Kadima is going to end up by far the overwhelming success in this election.

MS. CLIFT: The Palestinians --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know and I know, because of my visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, that they're strongly behind Olmert and Sharon --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the pullout of Gaza. So I don't think he can swing it around that much.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with you completely. No, I do not.

MS. CLIFT: The Palestinians --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Olmert playing it right so far?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So far he's played it -- he hasn't made a false move yet. Netanyahu has a real problem. He has real credibility problems in Israel. They don't believe him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Bush's rhetoric has been perfect, what we played here and elsewhere, in that press conference on this matter?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don't know what the American policy is. It shifts all over the place. If, as he says, they will not provide funding and support for Hamas unless it renounces --

MS. CLIFT: First --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: May I just finish my sentence, please?

MS. CLIFT: Well, you've finished about 25 sentences. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Unless they renounce terrorism and unless they give up their weapons and accept the legitimacy -- will they do that? I don't believe they will do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the impact on neighboring Arab
countries? Do they want a coalition government and do they want peace with Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Jordan is now threatened by Hamas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Saudi Arabia want peace?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course they do, because they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Therefore, they will exert restraints on Hamas, will they not?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They may, and they may not. They --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Lebanon? Yes. Will Egypt? Yes. You don't think that's going to have an impact?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know the Saudi charities are among those funding Hamas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: What the Arab countries don't want is democracy, and they will clamp down on that. And President Bush is dancing all over the map. He loves democracy. Democracy is wonderful. But he's not going to deal with a democratically-elected government.

MR. BUCHANAN: He has to.

MS. CLIFT: The Palestinian people did not vote for the
destruction of Israel. They voted against a corrupt and ineffective government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Good point.

MS. CLIFT: And Hamas perhaps, (if brought along?), will
represent its people. And that's a hope that we need to keep alive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, this is not supporting the central proposition --

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush should deal --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the central proposition of Hamas. This is a no vote on Fatah more than it is a yes vote on Hamas.

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush should deal with Hamas. He's got to. He's argued for these elections. He said, "We've got to have them." You can't say, "We're only going to deal with the guys we want elected." He's got to deal with them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we've got to get out.

MR. BUCHANAN: But I'll tell you, Netanyahu, if he wins, means war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want a one-word answer. Ninety days from now, three months, will this upset, this huge upset by Hamas, be seen as a net minus or a net plus for peace?

MR. BUCHANAN: The peace process is dead.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think they're going to keep the lid on violence. And so, to that extent, it's going to be a plus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're calling a plus 90 days from now. What are you calling for?

MR. BLANKLEY: A minus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A minus.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's a disaster for the United States and for Israel. It's going to become a terrorist state right next door to Jordan and right next door to Israel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's a net plus.

Issue Two: Filibuster Alito?

The U.S. Senate will vote on Tuesday whether to confirm Sam Alito, President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, or whether not to vote for him. His confirmation appears to be certain simply by reason of the Republican majority, and they will be joined by at least four Democrats. But both senators from the People's Republic of Massachusetts, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, are calling for fellow
Democrats to join them in stopping Alito by a filibuster.

Is that a good idea, and would it work? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: No. It's a wonderful idea for the Republicans. If the Democrats really did it, what the Republicans would do, they would -- Alito would win. The filibuster weapon would be taken away from the Democratic Party and jammed down their throat. What's going to happen? He's going to win. And, as Tony and I were talking, Justice Alito will be on the floor of the Senate for the State of the Union --

MS. CLIFT: House of Representatives.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and his wife will be sitting beside Mrs. Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the filibuster call is such a desperate and futile tactic that it reveals both the ineptitude and the weakness of the Democratic Party?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they don't have the votes on this, and senators --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are they doing it?

MS. CLIFT: Because Senator Kerry is trying to launch his presidential race, and he needs to set himself apart from the pack. And he wants to show the liberal base, which feels that the Democrats have no spine, that they can fight, even if they're going to fight and go down losing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Eleanor's right. There's about 15 to 20
Democratic votes. The cloture vote will be 70 in favor of ending the filibuster.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's why Hillary Clinton joined them for the filibuster, because she wants the Democratic base to stay with her, to the extent that she can get it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The New York Times exhorted Kerry and Kennedy to march forward, even though, as your columnist, Wesley Pruden, says --

MR. BLANKLEY: Editor-in-chief.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's your editor-in-chief? Did you see his column, his exhortation? He called it a "suttee," quote/unquote, a "suttee," meaning the now-illegal Hindu custom of a wife flinging herself onto her husband's funeral pyre. That's what he says the Kerry-Kennedy axis has done.

MR. BLANKLEY: He has a way with words.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He says it was spooked by the demand of the New York Times for a filibuster, which the newspaper concedes would at best be a spectacular falling-on-the-sword ceremony, a demonstration of how desperate the Democrats are. Do you think the Democrats are desperate?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, they did not make the case against Sam Alito as they had hoped. And I think to try and make it now is, I think, a desperate move and will not serve the Democrats; except if you're running for the nomination in several years, you want to get the Democratic base behind you. That's all it's about.

MR. BLANKLEY: It shows you that the best hope the Republicans have to win the election in the fall is the misfunction and dysfunction of the Democrats.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. The Democrats have just put on a disastrous performance for this whole thing. They've been hurt horribly by it. It's the best thing Bush has done. As a matter of fact, Bush has come up in the polls, I think as a consequence of Alito.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the New York Times --

MS. CLIFT: The Supreme Court --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's come up at least two points to 42 percent. I mean, it's a real giant leap forward.

MR. BLANKLEY: Thirty-seven to 43.

MR. BUCHANAN: He was at 36.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, okay.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear that again. It was the LA Times poll?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't know which one. Generally he was in the high 30s --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forty-seven to 43. That's the drop.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, he used to be at 37, 38, in early December, late November. Now he's 42, 43, 44.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's 43, but he dropped from 47 in the LA Times poll a couple of weeks ago.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, yeah, but that was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you make of that? Do you think he's now going down?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. I'll tell you exactly what's happening. Basically he's getting most, but not all, of the Republicans who left him last summer and fall over New Orleans and everything. They're coming back to him slowly. That's why he's at 43 or 44. I think he'll probably be at 47 or 48 by the fall.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's got anything to do with the warrantless wiretapping?

MR. BLANKLEY: That's good news for him too.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think he's been doing well on it, but he's been getting hurt, because I will say this; the media have been hammering him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is hurting him?

MR. BUCHANAN: The media have been hammering and hammering and hammering at the cable news. They talk about it all the time. After a while I think that has a drip-drip impact.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What else has gone wrong for him? The economy is good.

MS. CLIFT: He doesn't have --

MR. BUCHANAN: The Dow Jones went up two days in a row 100 points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you've got the General Motors and the Ford problem.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: He's got three years left in office and he doesn't have any domestic initiatives that capture anybody's interest or imagination, and he's got an unpopular and costly war.

MR. BUCHANAN: Tax cuts captured my imagination.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Lighten Up.

President Bush's often-tense Thursday press conference began with a merciful moment of levity. A piece of camera equipment got loose in the White House briefing room and then dangled over the heads of reporters during the president's remarks like a threatening condor.

(Begin videotape.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me give you some thoughts about what I'm thinking about. First, I recognize we live in a momentous time. (The president notices dangling camera equipment.) For those of you watching, we seem to have a mechanical flaw. (Laughter.)

Q That was an accident, right?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Are you wearing your helmets? (Laughter.)

Q (Inaudible.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Exactly. I'll take it up with the first lady.

(End of videotape.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What lesson do you draw from that, aside from the electrical one?

MR. BUCHANAN: The National Security Agency dropped that. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, to call them off-stride?

MR. BUCHANAN: They're bugging all the reporters. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bad bugging? What do you think? Quickly.

MS. CLIFT: That he can be pretty friendly and affable with reporters --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: -- whom he really doesn't like. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And fast on his feet. What do you think?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. I mean, Bush is good when he's being spontaneous and not calculating his words.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What'd you think?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's surprisingly quick-witted. And the surprise is for most of the American people, who don't realize he's quick-witted.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, a funny moment and a real plus for him. He's a genial guy.

Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Islamist triumphs all across the Middle East in free elections will cause Mr. Bush to revisit the idea that free elections are the way to go.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, we didn't say that Syria's probably going to be hurt by all of this.

Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: New and unlikely matinee hero, Al Gore, starring in an independent film about the importance of the issue of global warming. It'll be in your theaters, and I think it will change the thinking on the importance of that issue, dealing with that issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm glad people are facing up to that.

MR. BLANKLEY: He's predicting we have 10 years before the end of the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: President Bush, in the State of the Union next week, will say something to the effect of "Iran will not go nuclear on my watch."

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The weakness of the economy in the fourth quarter is going to extend somewhat into the next year, and there may be one more rise in the federal funds rate, and then it'll flatten out and begin to go down before the end of this year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The economy is weak now?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The economy -- the GDP grew by 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the lowest rate in several years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a bubble bursting we don't know about?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, the bubble -- it's not bursting. It's the housing has slowed down. That's a big part of the economy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unhelpful photos of President Bush and admitted felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff will surface in the media soon, calling into question White House claims that the president, quote/unquote, "didn't know Abramoff."

Bye bye.

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