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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; JOHN PODHORETZ, THE NEW YORK POST; LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC TAPED: FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JUNE 16-17, 2007

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Sinking Feeling in Iraq.

Blood-letting in Iraq this week reached a new level of intensity. The Golden Mosque at Samarra, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites, was bombed for a second time, this time leveling both the shrine's minarets. Only a clock tower was left standing in the rubble.

The attack was seen as extremely grave. Iraqis now fear a quantum leap of sectarian violence is soon to come. The ineffectiveness of Iraqi security in protecting the shrine has undermined Shi'a confidence in government forces, and that has bolstered support for militia death squads as the only effective response to Sunni insurgent attacks. General David Petraeus, America's top commander in Iraq, expressed worry at the prospect of impending danger.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: (From videotape.) Initially there is that, you know, that terrible sinking feeling. We are concerned, and certainly the Iraqi leaders share that concern; religious leaders from all sects, again, joining in declaring this an absolute disgrace.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why is the president reluctant to cut his losses in Iraq? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the president of the United States believes this war is not yet lost. He's said, "We're not winning it, we're not losing it" before. I think he's still hopeful that General Petraeus is going to do something. That's coming in around September, John.

But let me tell you, this playing field could change. General Petraeus also said, as did Nick Burns on Wednesday --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's Nick Burns?

MR. BUCHANAN: -- Nick Burns is undersecretary of State -- that Iran is deliberately -- and it's the government doing it, not rebel groups -- sending weapons and munitions into Afghanistan, into Iraq, into Palestine, into Lebanon. John, we could be on the escalator up toward a collision with Iran, which would change the whole playing field in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Nice diversionary tactic from Iraq, one that the administration is probably going to play the fear card about Iran. But with the focus on Iraq, the president is not a man given to self- doubt or reflection of any kind. He's determined to stay and win, whatever that means. I don't think anybody knows what it means. But to the president, it means at least staying the course.

But when September comes, if General Petraeus comes back and says, "We need more time to decide whether the surge is going to work," are the politicians going to be able to give it to him? And, you know, I think the answer to that is no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay -- September stall.

The new level of violence in Iraq has led to the Bush administration's back-off from its due date for an official report on the U.S. surge strategy. Two months ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that we would be able to assess the success of General Petraeus's surge by summer.

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) I think it's been General Petraeus's view all along that during some time, at some point during the summer, mid to late summer, perhaps, he has thought that he would be in a position to evaluate whether the plan was working so far.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then, one month later and one month ago, President Bush began to emphasize a Petraeus progress report by September.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) General Petraeus has said, "Why don't you give us until September, and let me report back," to not only me but to the United States Congress, about progress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also last month the president said, in a Reuters interview, that September would be a, quote, "important moment" to assess the Iraq surge.

This week Tony Snow, the president's spokesman, backed down on September as a due date.

TONY SNOW (White House press secretary): (From videotape.) I've warned from the very beginning about expecting some sort of magical thing to happen in September. This instead is, you know, in a time of war, things happen gradually.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is the White House backing away from the September assessment date? I ask you, John.

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, the White House knows that the total number of surge troops only arrived and is complete in Iraq about three weeks ago. So the question is, he can't exactly come back in July or in the beginning of August and say, "I know how the surge is working," because it really only started at the end of May.

The White House obviously wants to give this as much time as possible. The political system has now essentially declared that September is the month. There is really going to be very little backing off from that. Republicans on the Hill are not going to give Petraeus beyond September if he comes back and says, "The results are, you know, indecipherable as yet." There will be a meltdown in support in the Republican Party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you share that -- a meltdown?

MR. O'DONNELL: We don't need a report. Does anyone here need a report from the government to tell us --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the surge is a failure?

MR. O'DONNELL: Do we think we need a report to tell us how the surge is going? Is there anyone -- can anyone claim there's the slightest bit of evidence for any success in the surge at any stage -- MR. PODHORETZ: Absolutely. There is evidence.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- including the last three weeks from within --

MR. PODHORETZ: There is evidence. In Al Anbar province, Sunni insurgents are joining up with the government because they are sick of the al Qaeda infiltrations. We know that a certain level of violence is down in Al Anbar, which was a disaster area for three or four years. There is some evidence.

MR. BUCHANAN: Petraeus says there is.

MR. PODHORETZ: It is not enough evidence, but there is some evidence. It's ridiculous to say there isn't.

MR. BUCHANAN: Petraeus himself says there is some success, John, that he's achieving some success there. But I tend to agree with Lawrence. If you come back in September and the situation is what we read about every day in the papers, I agree with John.

I'll tell you what's going to happen is some Republicans are going to -- the Democrats are unanimous, going to try to put time lines. Republicans will peel off. But I do think the president still has one more shot where he can veto and get it sustained.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. At the same time the military is saying there's progress in Al Anbar -- progress. They're worried about arming the Sunnis who are fighting al Qaeda, because the Sunnis are going to turn right around and use those weapons against the Shi'ites. And all the various sides are stockpiling weapons for the all-out civil war they anticipate, whether the U.S. troops leave in three months or in three years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't it true that the Sunni elders want to clean out the Sunni foreigners, the al Qaeda foreigners, and that's the reason why you're seeing what you see in Anbar province?

MR. PODHORETZ: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't want anybody else in control there.

MR. PODHORETZ: But wait. If you're seeing that, that still constitutes a positive development. If the war on terror is in part what we're fighting in Iraq, we're fighting a war against al Qaeda in Iraq. If the Sunnis inside Iraq are turning on al Qaeda in Iraq, that is a positive development.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The question, is it proof that --

MR. PODHORETZ: It may be fleeting, but we don't know yet that it's fleeting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not proof that the surge is a failure or the surge is a success.

MR. BUCHANAN: There is some success in Anbar, John --

MR. PODHORETZ: There is some success.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- but let me say this. When the Americans go, I'm convinced the Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere are going to get rid of al Qaeda, because they've been murdering everybody, right, left and center. And they like them as an ally of convenience, but after this war is over, after we're out of it, I think al Qaeda is going to be run out of there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the argument that there will be regional chaos if we pull out, Lawrence?

MR. O'DONNELL: There will be regional chaos if we pull out. We've seen it before. We saw the chaos when we pulled out of Vietnam. But this presidency has no intention of pulling out. That's what all the references to South Korea as a success story are.

When you talk about why isn't President Bush thinking about any kind of reversal of course there, it's because he believes that we should be there for a generation or longer, if necessary, in order to hold that territory.

MS. CLIFT: Well, and that may well be true. But the president is also beginning to revive the Baker-Hamilton Iraq study plan, which does contemplate taking troops out of the combat roles, where they're in the middle of a sectarian fight, and putting them in these outposts around the country.

MR. PODHORETZ: But that doesn't mean inevitability. If the surge --

MS. CLIFT: And I think that's what's going to happen.

MR. PODHORETZ: If the surge report is bad -- and that may be -- we'll either get a report or we'll see it on television -- then the inevitability isn't two months, six months and 12 months. Whatever the political calendar in 2008 declares, the troops will be pulled back into the super bases and --

MR. BUCHANAN: And I think it is utopian to think we're going to be able -- I think; everybody's talking about keeping 30,000. Look, if we lose this war and we pull our brigades out, I have -- I mean, all these civil wars end in victory for one side and defeat for the other, and I think that's exactly what's going to happen in Iraq. And the idea that we're going to be able to keep 50,000 or 30,000 troops there, I think, is ridiculous if we pull out and we lose this war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Maliki government has been relatively unmoved. They haven't met their deadlines, particularly on revenue- sharing from oil.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right. He can't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There'll be no surge in the Maliki government until our surge is out of there.

MR. BUCHANAN: He can't. He's too weak. Maliki is too weak, really, to take all these revenues and turn them over to the Sunnis and the Ba'athists and the others. I just don't think it's going to get done, John. That's one reason the political part of it's not getting done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what's the verdict on the surge strategy, to clear this up? Is it working or is it failing? Be brief, please. Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is not succeeding, but it has not yet failed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It was never going to succeed, and it has failed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John.

MR. PODHORETZ: It has not failed, but it is not yet succeeding. (Laughter.)

MR. O'DONNELL: I agree with John completely --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. O'DONNELL: I agree with that completely, and would phrase it as it is continuing to fail as of now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The surge strategy is a failure. It's not a state of suspended animation, as you say, John.

Issue Two: Release Me.

Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process. The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife and their young children and all that they're going through. And that's it. Sorry about that, Scooter.

That White House press statement is the official reaction to the vice president's former chief of staff's fate of 30 months in prison, beginning right away.

Question: Why is it in President Bush's interest to pardon Scooter Libby?

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, are you talking about his, you know, strict political self-interest --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. PODHORETZ: -- or his interest as a human being? His interest as a human being --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking politics. MR. PODHORETZ: -- as a boss, as a man, is to pardon Scooter Libby. His interest strictly as a politician is probably not to.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why pardon him? I still don't -- what's the point? He thinks Libby might sing if he goes to prison?

MR. PODHORETZ: No. If Libby were going to sing, he would have done it already.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if he sings in prison, then there'll be an arrangement. Of course, the scandal will be carried to a new level.

MR. PODHORETZ: That's not why you pardon him. You pardon him because he was -- because no harm was done in the case, because it was a case that was overreached. The sentence was an overreach. The indictment was an overreach. He did not do -- and we know, as a matter of tort, that, far form doing any harm to Valerie Plame Wilson, she got a two-and-a-half-million-dollar book deal.

MS. CLIFT: Well, wait a second.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor.

MR. PODHORETZ: She's got a two-and-a-half-million-dollar movie deal. Tom Hanks and Cate Blanchett are going to play them in the movie. It's a terrible thing that happened to Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. They're world-famous and immensely rich -- awful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember Susan McDougal?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're a Clintonian. And you remember G. Gordon Liddy?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, I do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Libby has the intestinal fortitude of either Susan McDougal or G. Gordon Liddy to weather jail at the request of the president?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think he can survive 30 months in a white- collar prison, federal prison camp that he's likely to go to, within driving distance of Washington, D.C. And I increasingly am leaning toward the belief that he may have to do some of those months.

The Libby defense has always been a pardon campaign. They presented no defense in the trial. It was a legal absurdity. He was convicted. The judge said overwhelmingly, overwhelming proof of guilt by a judge appointed by President Bush's father; perjury, seven counts, lying under oath.

George Bush respects oaths. This is a religious president who believes in oaths. (Libby) lied to FBI agents, lied to the grand jury. President Bush did not say anything in that statement that would give Libby hope for this pardon.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I've got to agree with Lawrence here. Look, this was an open-and-shut case of naked perjury again and again and again. And I don't think there's an argument for the president of the United States interceding, other than the fact that this was a loyal servant of his, and he would be giving special treatment if he did it now.

I agree he's going to have to serve some time. But I'll tell you what's going to happen. Dick Cheney, before he leaves office, is going to go in to this president and say, "Mr. President, I've done a lot for you, and you owe me one. I want his sentence commuted or I want a pardon." But my guess is it will not happen until Christmas 2008.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even the commutation? What's wrong with that now?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, yeah, he's got to go -- look, if Paris Hilton's got to go to prison for 45 days for driving without a license, Scooter can't walk.

MR. O'DONNELL: Remember, President Bush has avoided saying a single word about this case, and he's avoided it by saying this thing is under investigation. Now he gets to say this thing is under appeal. The worst thing for President Bush is to have to talk about this case. The only thing that can force him to talk about it is a pardon.

MS. CLIFT: Libby lied repeatedly and he destroyed the career, a very promising career, of Valerie Plame. There was no guarantee she was going to get a movie.

MR. PODHORETZ: I wish someone would destroy my career that way. (Laughter.) Please, God, destroy my career so that I can get played by a major motion picture star in a major motion picture. Lawrence, can you do that for me?

MS. CLIFT: I still don't think you can belittle what he did to a CIA operative.

MR. PODHORETZ: He didn't do it. Richard Armitage did it. That's one of the points. They know what the story is.

MS. CLIFT: No, no, he lied about it repeatedly. He obstructed --

MR. PODHORETZ: You said he destroyed her career.

MS. CLIFT: He lied about it repeatedly and obstructed an investigation, and there should be a lot more people in jail -- going to jail with him. That would be --

MR. PODHORETZ: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

MR. BUCHANAN: Who else should go to jail? (Laughs.)

MR. PODHORETZ: Richard Armitage named her. Richard Armitage -- (inaudible) -- named her to Robert Novak. No single thing that Scooter Libby did resulted in the publication of her name anywhere on earth. MS. CLIFT: Maybe you should have testified, and you could have turned the trial. Apparently the jury felt completely otherwise, considering Libby's complicity.

MR. PODHORETZ: The jury was not asked to decide that question.

(Cross talk.)

MR. PODHORETZ: No, I would be happy to school you about it. That's not what happened in this trial.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In that vein, I want to propose the perfect solution for the president in this regard. He should fire Alberto Gonzales and he should pardon Scooter Libby.

MR. O'DONNELL: And the theory of the pardon is what? Remember, if the president pardons him, he's going to have to stand up in front of the American --

MR. BUCHANAN: And say why.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- people and tell us why. Then he's going to have to answer questions --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think if he fires Gonzales, that should slake your blood appetite.

MR. BUCHANAN: But John -- where is your argument, John?

MR. O'DONNELL: My question now is about the Libby pardon.

MR. BUCHANAN: What would you have the president of the United States say when he stands up there to say, "I've just pardoned Scooter Libby?" Why?

MS. CLIFT: Why? He would say because he thinks it was an unfairly long sentence. And frankly, the ability to pardon is inscrutable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Memory lapse? Your memory is not perfect. I've been working with you for 25 years.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You forget things.

MR. BUCHANAN: Listen, I didn't forget a lot of our guys went to prison for saying, "I can't recall" during Watergate.

MS. CLIFT: Ah, so that's what this is about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see how strong that sentence is? I mean, Walton is convinced and Fitzgerald are both convinced that Libby was covering up, and they want to get him in jail for at least a year to see whether he sings.

MR. BUCHANAN: Walton wants to get him in jail because he's afraid the pardon is coming, and he's afraid that if the appeal goes all the way --

MR. O'DONNELL: The judge is following the guidelines.

MR. PODHORETZ: Walton was following the sentencing guidelines.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MR. BUCHANAN: He wants him in there now. He wants him in there now for a reason.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, now it's all up to the -- the appeals court can stay his having to serve.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The argument is that Bush's political capital is exhausted. So what difference does it make if he pardons Libby now from his own political point of view, that is, Bush's political point of view? If his capital is gone, then this is a freebie, right? The pardon.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Can Bush therefore afford to pardon Libby before he serves any time in jail, yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: He could, but he should not interfere with the course of justice unless there's some overriding interest. And there is none here. The man was convicted. Twelve jurors said he was guilty.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You were the one that professed to me over the years, Buchanan, the virtues of loyalty. You were loyal to Richard Nixon.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You went to Shanghai -- not Shanghai. You went to Beijing with him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. It was Peking then.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then, of course, you said to somebody that the Shanghai statement was a sellout. I remember that.

MR. BUCHANAN: It was a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But nevertheless, you've been relatively a loyal --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, listen, I believe in loyalty. But I'll tell you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So Libby was loyal.

MR. BUCHANAN: He was loyal. But a lot of our guys were loyal and went over there and told the truth to the grand jury, and others didn't, and they paid the price. You've got to pay the price if you break the law. I mean, Republicans have got to believe in that, and conservatives have to believe in that. And I think Libby did not tell the truth again and again and again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor. MS. CLIFT: I agree with Pat, and I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can he afford to do it, politically?

MS. CLIFT: His conservative base wants him to pardon Libby, so I don't see that he loses politically. And I think most Americans are not exactly sitting at the kitchen table worrying about whether Lewis Libby is in jail or not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) Of course he can -- (inaudible) -- pardon him.

MR. PODHORETZ: Yes, of course, he can pardon him. He can. It is one of the positive benefits of having a 29 percent approval rating is that he can pardon somebody, because it can't go much lower.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. O'DONNELL: If he lets Libby go to jail, the story goes away quietly. If he pardons him, Bush raises the story to a whole new level. And then the Bush administration becomes just another one of those dirty White Houses where you have to issue pardons to people who work --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think --

MR. PODHORETZ: Oh, you think that anyway. Most of you think that anyway.

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't. I don't. I agree with you about the limits of this case and I agree with you about what Libby was not convicted of. He was convicted of stupidity and lying under oath. That's it, nothing else. Bush can take this to a higher level with a pardon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, of course, this is a freebie for Bush. He can pardon Libby.

Issue Three: How Dare You?

The president has no authority to declare legal residents in the U.S., quote-unquote, "enemy combatants," and then incarcerate them and refuse to tell them for how long and why, so ruled the federal court in its 2-1 decision, using language that sounded as though the court was scolding the president and that he should have known better.

Quote: "The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a suspect an enemy combatant. Continuing this policy would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution and the country," unquote. Question: Is this an enlightened ruling?

MR. O'DONNELL: Those simple declarative sentences are an inevitable interpretation of the Constitution. How could the 4th Circuit go any other way? It isn't even enlightened. It's just a basic reading of the Constitution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you can have -- first you've got rights as citizens; second, of legal aliens; and third, of enemy combatants who are not on American soil. I understand the reasoning on this. This is somebody on American soil. So I don't disagree with it.

MS. CLIFT: You also don't have to be a constitutional scholar to believe that it's not right to hold somebody indefinitely without ever charging them or giving them any access to a lawyer. I mean, this is America, isn't it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. What's this going to do with Guantanamo Bay?

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, I don't think it does anything to Guantanamo Bay. Those were people who were seized on a battlefield abroad.

MR. BUCHANAN: They're not in the United States.

MR. PODHORETZ: But, I mean, the fact is that this is not that easy a case, because we do have -- you know, the evidence against Amari is that he was an agent of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's in the United States.

Now, how do you handle somebody who is an agent of an enemy combatant in the United States?

MR. O'DONNELL: What the court is saying is take him through our prosecutorial and judicial process. That's what they're saying.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a quick answer to this.

MR. O'DONNELL: Just make your case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Was this ruling an example of soft-headed liberalism on the bench, or was it a judicial affirmation of our cherished freedom?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's somewhere in between those, John. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here we go -- suspended animation. MS. CLIFT: Judicial affirmation. And if a Democrat is in the White House next, Guantanamo will be closed, and I think those people will get judicial access.

MR. PODHORETZ: And if that happens, there will be a Republican in 2012. But I think -- I'm close to Pat on this. I think it's an arguable case.

MR. O'DONNELL: It was the right judgment. And we have prosecuted successfully terrorists in this country before. We got the guys who bombed the World Trade Center the first time. We put them through the judicial process. These judges know that. They know we can do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This was a great ruling, and it goes to the heart of preserving our Constitution.

Issue Four: Republicans Grieving.

The right track/wrong track poll is regarded as America's single most important survey. Right track/wrong track refers to the direction in which this country is moving. More than four out of five Americans think the nation is on the wrong track. Get these numbers: Right track, 19 percent; wrong track, 68 percent.

Pat Buchanan, what do you think of that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, that's the kind of polls they had in France at the fall of the Bastille, John. This is -- I mean, it is very, very bad news for the Republican Party generically going into the next election.

And the one hope the Republicans have, frankly, is a candidate who is more attractive than who the Democrats put up, because, party to party, the Republicans are in horrible shape and the country wants them all out of there.

MR. PODHORETZ: It is true. But there is a general disgust at Washington politicians that is being expressed in poll after poll. You've got Congress with 23 percent approval ratings. You've got Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, with 19 percent approval ratings; Bush in the 20s. There is a kind of general repulsion that does not seem to have been stayed by the results of the 2006 election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the gas prices? Does that have something to do with this right track/wrong track?

MR. PODHORETZ: Probably.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The economy?

MR. PODHORETZ: The economy's in decent shape now. The economy is on the upturn now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's some slippage in the economy due to --

MR. PODHORETZ: There was, and now it's going back up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- due to the housing bubble bursting --

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, yeah, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- slowly bursting.

MR. O'DONNELL: John, there's a war on in Iraq that has everything to do with the right track/wrong track.

MR. PODHORETZ: Well, that is it. We're not winning the war.

MR. O'DONNELL: That poll is nothing but Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Congress has always had low poll ratings. Even when Tip O'Neill had majorities of 150 seats and kept those majorities, they still had low poll ratings. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: O'Donnell, I love the way you followed my bait. You're terrific.

Issue Five: Election '08.

Top Republican candidates: Giuliani, 29 percent; Fred Thompson, 20 percent; Romney and McCain tied at 14 percent. What does that poll tell you? I ask you, John Podhoretz.

MR. PODHORETZ: What it tells me is that Rudy Giuliani has now, for two-and-a-half years, ridden atop the polls in the Republican primary. He is a very strong candidate. People who assume that he is not the front-runner and that he can be easily dislodged are deluding themselves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The air is going out of his balloon, John. Don't you see it?

MR. PODHORETZ: There's no sign of that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's lost 4 percent since the last poll.

MR. PODHORETZ: Four percent -- within the margin of error.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, what this tells you is McCain is fading. Romney is rising. Giuliani has pulled out of the Iowa straw poll. The guy to put your money on, as of now, is Mr. Romney.

MR. O'DONNELL: Almost half of Republican respondents to the poll don't know that Giuliani is pro-choice. It's still true that his social record is not known by a very large number of Republicans. His number, 29, can only go down. There's no way it can go up.

MS. CLIFT: And those are national numbers. If you look at the early states, Giuliani is not doing well. And so he will have to survive Iowa and New Hampshire in order to get to the mega-states. I don't think he can do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In a contest between Hillary and Giuliani, Giuliani comes out second with 43 percent and Hillary comes out first with 48 percent, by the way.

Top Democratic contenders: Clinton, 39 percent -- look at that number; Obama, 25; Edwards, 15 percent. What do those numbers tell you? I ask you, John.

MR. PODHORETZ: They tell me that Hillary also is a front-runner who is proving increasingly difficult to dislodge, as I discuss in my book, "Can She Be Stopped?" out in paperback in September. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's actually -- MR. O'DONNELL: As of now, it's a Hillary versus Obama race. No one else has been able to get in that race. Obama is holding, which is very, very important. And he's raising a tremendous amount of money to hang in there.

MR. BUCHANAN: But if Hillary wins Iowa, it is over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think what General Petraeus and Nick Burns said the same day in these accusatory statements of Iran -- they were not qualified -- I think we're going to have a confrontation and maybe American air strikes on Iran by September.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The Democratic Congress will repeal the tax breaks for extra-heavy SUVs, known as the Hummer loophole, because Congress is finally seeing the light on energy independence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John.

MR. PODHORETZ: Congress will close the loophole that allows hedge fund traders to get their salaries of $200 million in capital gains rather than in salary.

MR. O'DONNELL: The Democratic presidential nominee, no matter who he or she may be, will choose General Wesley Clark as the vice presidential nominee.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that same subject of the presidential Democratic nominee, Al Gore will prove to be the biggest challenge to Hillary Clinton, and Hillary might lose it.

Happy Father's Day. Bye-bye.

END.