Pelosi Travels to Syria; Candidates Release Fund-raising Numbers
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off.
Mark, let me begin with you. Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria this week, a lot of criticism, especially from the White House. Was the criticism deserved?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: First, the criticism. I think it was a little over-reaction, but I want to defend the White House. If you had been through what they’ve been through the last six months, with losing the Congress, and the first White House official since the 19th century to be indicted convicted for crime, for a felony, to calls from Republicans for the resignation of the attorney general, to Walter Reed, the scandal of indifference, to wounded warriors, you know, you’d take every chance you could, and this was the first opening they’d had.
Nancy Pelosi had been remarkably sure-footed in her first weeks and months, I think, as speaker. I think this trip was ill-advised. It was legitimate. Republicans did not criticize her, and Frank Wolf and other Republicans went there.
But I think the fact that she went there and apparently slipped on the nuances of Middle Eastern policy and carrying a message, at least an alleged message, from the prime minister of Israel, who’s on political life support. And as soon as she said that, he had to repudiate, for domestic political purposes, the message that he was willing to negotiate with Syria.
I don’t think it worked. I think the principal, overriding concern of Democrats has to be a unified, united policy on Iraq. And while the other is legitimate and interesting, it is not important. And so I think it was a mistake.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rich, as Mark said, there were Republicans who went, too. In fact, there was a Republican congressman from Ohio who was with Speaker Pelosi.
RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Yes, Dave Hobson. With all due respect to Congressman Hobson, I wouldn’t necessarily make him the touchstone of wisdom in international relations. I think it was ill-advised for the speaker of the House to go there, and it’s ill-advised for any Republicans to go there.
The administration’s whole strategy is based on isolating Bashir Assad, who is a murderer. The evidence suggests very strongly he was directly involved in the murder of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Hariri.
And what he wants desperately more than anything else is not to be isolated and for the international community just to forget about that and other acts of wrongdoing.
And, unfortunately, the sheer act of the speaker of the House being there with him, sitting, you know, beside him in a chair, and getting photographed serves to send the implicit message, no matter what she says, that he is — if he just kind of waits out the Bush administration, he is eventually going to get out from under this isolation.
So, diplomatically, it was a very bad idea. And, politically, Mark is exactly right: Nancy Pelosi should be saving every ounce of her political capital for this huge battle coming with President Bush over the funding of the Iraq war. It’s a mistake to have exposed herself in this way.
MARK SHIELDS: I’d just say that the administration does not want to acknowledge that Assad’s very weak hand internationally has been strengthened by the disaster of the United States policy in Iraq. And that’s one of the ironies, that, while he was almost tottering and enfeebled, he has been strengthened, ironically, by the American disaster in Iraq.
Iraq spending bill
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk about Iraq, the congressional votes coming up. Rich, the president said this week, made it clear, emphatically, he said he's going to veto any spending bill on Iraq that has hard and fast deadlines. What is this all leading toward?
RICH LOWRY: Well, it appears to be leading to a huge clash and a very high-profile, high-wire act on both side. It will be, in some senses, a replay of the government shutdown fight in '94 and '95, between the Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton, and it's just very hard to game out how exactly this is going to play out.
You know, there could be extraneous things happening during this crisis that affect the politics one way or the other. And that '94 and '95 period, it was Newt Gingrich's famous gaffe of exiting from the back of that plane he'd gone onto in Israel, and then complaining about it, which shifted around the whole politics of that shutdown fight.
So this is going to be a very volatile situation. It's a huge battle, and it's a big milestone that you have the majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, now talking about actually cutting off the funding for the war if President Bush goes through with the veto, which would have been unimaginable three months ago. And it's just a sign of how far left the Democrats have gone on the war since the election.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, is one side or another -- we may not know who yet -- going to come out the clear winner, the clear loser of this?
MARK SHIELDS: No, we don't know. Just to clarify one point that Rich made, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, has endorsed and co-sponsored the Feingold bill. And Russ Feingold calls for the orderly, safe redeployment of the American troops, that the president has to begin that.
There is constitutional authority for the Congress to end a mission, just as there is to begin a mission and declare a war or to end a war. Just Somalia, we did it in 1993. I mean, the Congress ruled that we would withdraw American troops from a failed and unpopular mission that lacked popular support.
We don't know where it's going to end, Judy. At some point, I still do believe that the solution lies with the Republicans.
And as you see somebody like John McCain struggle under the burden politically of his own identification with this war, I think that message is not going to be lost on other Republicans who know that popular support and opposition to that war is growing, popular support is eroding, popular opposition is growing, and that the appetite for the American people to continue it has diminished and diminishing daily.
National Guard deployment
JUDY WOODRUFF: We also have the news that just came today, Rich, that the National Guard brigades -- this word comes from a senior Defense Department official -- National Guard brigades expected to be notified soon they're going to go back to Iraq the first of next year. This would be the first time, we understand, full brigades going back. Significance of this?
RICH LOWRY: Well, it's a huge strain on the military and on the National Guard. There's no doubt about it.
And I think it will be judged a very severe historical mistake on the part of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that they didn't immediately start ramping up the size of the military in the wake of the attacks on September 11th.
It made no sense to have a military, you know, for the last five or six years that is essentially the same size of the military on September 10th, when we thought we were living in an era of unprecedented international peace.
And that's a mistake. And we've been paying the price for that, and these guys who have to go back for repeated tours are paying the price for it.
MARK SHIELDS: Rich is absolutely right. I would add that, in 2000, Dick Cheney and George Bush ran appearance after appearance before military audiences saying, "Help is on the way. Help is on the way."
This American military is about to be broken: We are talking about 90 percent of the National Guard units, according to an independent commission report last month, are unprepared, are unready for battle, in equipment and in training. They don't have the equipment to perform at home, let alone abroad.
We have, right now, a recruitment problem in the United States military. We have lowered the standards to the point we're taking people with drug problems, with criminal records, who aren't high school graduates. It's an enormous problem.
We're hemorrhaging manpower. And it is in large part because our Army is totally inadequate, because Don Rumsfeld and George Bush wanted to have this idea of a small, lean force that was totally inadequate to the mission they assigned it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Rich, just quickly, this is not having a bearing on the debate in Congress over deadlines and funding?
RICH LOWRY: The strain on the military?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.
RICH LOWRY: I think it is at the margins. But let me go back to something that Mark said about the Republicans being key to this, from his perspective.
The thing that's been surprising to me is just how strong the Republicans in Congress have held. If you look at the votes, they've lost on the votes over the supplemental bill, it was just a handful. And, you know, given the conditions in Iraq, given what you're seeing in the polls, that's really an extraordinary thing.
2008 campaign fund raising
JUDY WOODRUFF: Switch the subject, 2008 presidential campaign. You mentioned John McCain. Mark, we got the numbers in, at least as the campaigns report them for the first quarter, and some surprise here.
Barack Obama just about as far ahead, raising a phenomenal amount of money, $25 million. He's right behind Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, McCain having difficulty. Has the presidential race reshuffled itself somehow as a result of this?
MARK SHIELDS: First, I think this is interesting, but it's not conclusive. And I just would caution my brothers and sisters on the press bus that, remember Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who out-raised everybody, broke all records, and never even made it to the New Hampshire primary.
So money is not determinant, and we shouldn't be declaring people winners or losers or in or out of the race.
That said, Barack Obama, two years in national politics, 100,000 contributors, $25 million, is truly remarkable, up against the Clintons, who have been collecting Christmas card lists of contributors since 1964, it seems, I mean, whether for the presidential library or the governor's race, whatever else, and it was quite impressive, as was Mitt Romney's on the Republican side.
John McCain, by way, broke the record, the record for giving in the first quarter of the year before, at $12.5 million and finished sixth and is somehow wounded.
JUDY WOODRUFF: He's sixth this year. How do you see these money reports, Rich?
RICH LOWRY: Well, I think Mitt Romney is the big winner in this sense: I think he had the most to lose without posting a big number, because he's had a terrible year. He's facing a potential existential threat to his candidacy looming on the sidelines in the form of Fred Thompson, who, if he gets in, will make it very hard for Romney to unite the right.
So it was very important for Romney to post that big number. He got a lot of good headlines out of it, and some early indications are maybe a bump in the polls, as well.
McCain, it just put an exclamation point to what we've known for a while now. He has lost his front-runner status in this race, and in a big way.
And on the Democratic side, you see Hillary, although she raised a lot of money and put up a good number herself, also is not quite the front-runner we all thought she was going to be, in fact, arguably not the front-runner anymore, if you define a front-runner as someone with an overwhelming advantage in the polls and establishment support and in the money. She doesn't have that anymore.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So he's saying some shuffling around of who the front-runner is?
MARK SHIELDS: I think, you know, perceptions are important, but I think John McCain has enough money. They all do. They have enough money to go forward from here. It isn't like somebody is going to have to close up their shop tomorrow, Judy.
And, you know, I think the reality is, with everything moving up to February 5th, and all those big states...
JUDY WOODRUFF: Of 2008, we should say.
MARK SHIELDS: ... of 2008, the primaries -- that, if anything, the early primaries of caucuses of Iowa, the primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada will be more determinant. They'll be even more influential in the outcome.
Giuliani on abortion
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rich, one last question. It was noted that Rudy Giuliani, while in the state of South Carolina, conservative Republican contingent there, announced that he not only favors abortion rights, that he continues to favor public funding or financing of abortion. Is this a big deal or not?
RICH LOWRY: Yes, it's a pretty big gaffe, Judy. And what we've seen over the last couple of weeks is some of the bloom coming off the rose of the Giuliani candidacy.
And I think the Republican race is so dynamic and so fluid because conservatives fundamentally are not satisfied with any of the candidates yet. And you saw a lot of them parking with Giuliani, but if they see more statements like that from Rudy, it's going to be just a very temporary form of parking. So he did not help himself with that at all.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Final last word.
MARK SHIELDS: I'd just say, you know, the definition of a gaffe, I think, is when somebody speaks the truth and it isn't considered politically acceptable.
I mean, Rudy Giuliani admitted and kept his position that he's had all these years. He did it in South Carolina, a place that was probably not hospitable to that position. He could have done it on the West Side of New York City.
But, you know, it probably doesn't help him. He had three South Carolina politicians endorsing him at that moment. I want to see where they are Monday. If they're still with him, then maybe it isn't as big a thing as we thought it was.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We'll be looking. Mark Shields, Rich Lowry, gentlemen, thank you both.
RICH LOWRY: Thanks, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.