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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT, AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2001
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JUNE 2-3, 2001

.STX


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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Can Bush reclaim the Senate? Time warp; November 5th, 2002, senators up for reelection. Of the 100 incumbents, 34 from both parties will have just finished a six-year term. Of these 34, 20 are Republican and 14 are Democrats. The stakes are enormous. Republicans could win back control but, on its face, one would see that as improbable. Republicans have six more seats in play than the Democrats, so the Republicans have more exposure.

Question: As noted, just 14 Democrats are up in 2002 versus 20 Republicans. Is that as advantageous for the Democrats as it seems, because of the exposure of the Republicans?

MR. BARONE: The answer to that question, John, is no. The fact is, look at who those states voted for in the 2000 presidential election. Twenty-three of them voted for George W. Bush; 11 voted for Al Gore. Of the Republican seats up, 17 of the 20 were carried by Bush last time. He got between 44 and 46 percent in the other three seats; in other words, none of them has terrain that is terrifically disadvantageous for Republicans.

Of the 14 Democratic seats up, you've got six which were carried by George W. Bush. Eight were carried by Al Gore, and a couple of those states were carried very heavily by Bush. So as chance has it, we're fighting on more Republican terrain in the Senate races in 2002.

One other factor, I think, will work against the Democrats if they continue to frame issues in the strongly partisan fashion that we've seen with this rat-a-tat-tat of constant vitriolic criticism of George W. Bush's policies -- (laughter) -- because the nation is basically in a mood for consensus, not confrontation. That worked for Bill Clinton in '96, it worked for Bush in 2000; it could work for Republicans in 2002.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, did you get all that math? (Laughter.) Have you figured it out?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I'm going to add to the statistical overload, but maybe simplify it a little bit. Only one vulnerable Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, is in a state that Al Gore won by more than a few percentage points, and 15 of the 20 Republicans who are up are in states that Bush carried by fairly wide margins. So the imbalance is not as obvious as it appears.

But, George W. Bush didn't have any coattails when he was selected president -- or elected president, whatever verb you want to use -- and four Republicans lost their seats, and typically, two years in, the president's party loses seats. So I think he's got some trends against him. And Michael talks about the rat-tat-tat of partisan policies emerging from the Democrats. I think the country, by 2002, is going to be in shock about how conservative this president has tried to govern.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear that crack about elected?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, something like -- elect.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear what she said? "If you can use that verb" with regard to how Bush got to be president. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shall we change it to "ruled"? It was ruled that?

MS. CLIFT: Why not?

MR. BLANKLEY: In the same way that Democrats ended up taking control of the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let me ask you a train of questions. What about the fact it was 1996? Who was Clinton running against in 1996? That's when this batch of senators were up in that election.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Bob Dole. Clinton ran against Bob Dole.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bob Dole. Bob Dole was whomped by Clinton, was he not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, he lost, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Therefore, with a 3 to 5 percent tailwind given to the Democratic contenders at the time, these 20 Republicans still won, did they not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the Republicans are, therefore, what -- strong?

MR. BLANKLEY: Stronger and, by the flip side, the Democrats who came in came in with a little bit of wind behind them.

To get back to your original question, I think when you actually pare down the races, the Republicans actually have an advantage of about eight to three. And the real question is going to be whether, in vulnerable states, whether the other party can find good candidates. That's going to decide, probably, who holds the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to comment on what kind of a campaign you think George Bush should run for those senators and when he should begin campaigning for them?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, he should be running a campaign saying I need them, I'm going to need these Republican senators to get in the rest of my legislative agenda. It's not at all clear what the rest of it is, by the way. This presidency was about tax cutting. The campaign was about tax cutting. Having achieved the tax cut, you know, he doesn't really have to do much else in this Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we assume that the present Senate, under the control of the Democrats, will be a do-nothing Senate, an obstructionist Senate? And if so --

MR. O'DONNELL: You cannot assume that, no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- should Bush move a little bit away from the compassion, get out there with his spurs and his Stetson on and do a Trumanesque campaign?

MR. O'DONNELL: You cannot assume it because, even though the chairmanships will have changed, the voters have not. Jeffords is a very reliable Bush voter on the biggest issue of the year, which is this tax cut. So you can't say that Jeffords is always going to line up against him. The alignment on the votes on the Senate floor will be the same.

MR. BARONE: John, I don't think the Democratic leadership in the Senate will be able to prevent George W. Bush from getting votes on the floor on his major issues. They will prevent him from doing it on some of the minor issues and so forth, but the big ones, no.

MR. O'DONNELL: But they can tie up conference committees for a very long time.

MR. BARONE: Oh, they can delay things a lot.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Is it smart for Bush to run a Truman-style campaign against a, quote-unquote, "do-nothing, obstructionist Democrat Senate" if, in fact, the Senate conducts itself in that fashion? Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: The answer is no. He wants to run, as he did in 2000, a consensus-minded, not confrontation-minded, campaign. And to the extent he refers to Democratic obstructionism, it should be more in sorrow than in anger.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that he should conciliate with the Senate, with the dominantly Democratic Senate, he should be more centrist in his views than the conservative Bush that he is?

MR. BARONE: He should position himself as the champion of bipartisanship. His program has been designed to win some votes from some Democrats and has been doing so, and he should continue in that vein.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll go to Eleanor, but I don't think that's an answer to my question.

Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, champion of bipartisanship can't even get -- can't even smooth the feelings within his own party, so I'm not sure he can wear that mantle. The Democrats are not going to give him the opportunity to run against a do-nothing Congress. They're going to try to, with the help of nervous Republican moderates, pass some legislation that he will feel forced to veto and set up some confrontations, the way they did with the former President Bush over family medical leave.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. He's also got the nervous Democrat moderates and conservatives, like the 14 who voted for his tax plan.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it's interesting. The Congress that Truman ran against, the 80th, was not do-nothing, but Truman selectively made the point. And I think that's what Bush can do. He can pick, say, energy. If the Democrats block his energy initiative and if energy is still a problem, they're a do-nothing Congress -- Senate regarding energy. So a carefully crafted do-nothing charge could work, but I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying you do not want him to trim, you don't want him to go centrist or a little bit to the left to accommodate a Senate that is Democratic, because he has his House? He's got to play to his base, does he not?

MR. BLANKLEY: You've got to play to your base and you have to keep it happy, but not too happy. He may need to compromise a little bit. It's a carefully calibrated judgment when you can pick up a few more seats -- a few more votes -- and pass some important legislation, and that's a delicate decision.

MR. O'DONNELL: You know, he's not going to be facing very many vetoes at all, because the House of Representatives isn't going to pass anything that he has to veto, and anything that the Senate passes has to go into a conference with the House. So I don't think it's going to be a big veto presidency.

There's only one issue left in this Congress in front of this presidency, and that's energy prices. There's very little the government can do about it, so now Bush has an excuse for why they will have done very little on it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that Tony is the one who scored on his answer to my question. I don't think the president should trim and I think he should be very alert to any obstructionist tendencies -- (laughter) -- and that he should play them to the hilt.

When we come back, was your Memorial Day a holiday or a hell day because of airport misery? If so, we'll give you and the nation a remedy.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: 2002, "Safe," "must watch," "vulnerable;" 2002 "safe" Senate seats.

Eleven Republicans and six Democrats. Safe Republicans: Cochran, Craig, Domenici, Enzi, Gramm, Hagel, Inhofe, Roberts, Sessions, Stevens, Warner. Safe Democrats: Biden, Durbin, Kerry, Levin, Reed, Rockefeller.

Does anyone wish to add or subtract from that "safe" list? Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: You could have some of those Republicans who are committee chairman, if it looks like the Democrats are going to continue to control, they may choose not to run again. I would put Pete Domenici of New Mexico in that category, Ted Stevens of Alaska in that category, and I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know more than we know?

MS. CLIFT: -- and John Warner in Virginia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does she know more than we know?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, she knows less -- (laughter) -- because I know that Domenici is not going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Withdraw?

MR. BLANKLEY: -- withdraw.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He will run?

MR. BLANKLEY: He will run.

MR. BARONE: And Stevens.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Stevens?

MR. BARONE: Stevens's retirement will be a massive blow to the economy of Alaska -- and I don't think --

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think he will.

MS. CLIFT: (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, did you want to add?

MS. CLIFT: It's no fun to be in the minority, and if they look like they're going to be relegated to the minority, you know, what they say today is not necessarily going to be true six months from now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Carl Levin deserving to be characterized as a safe Senate seat?

MR. BARONE: Some of the -- some of the Republicans are targeting that seat, some of the Democrats have been looking at Alabama. I think they're wrong in both cases. I think those are safe seats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Alabama's safe?

MR. BARONE: Yeah. You've got it right, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, 2002 "must watch" Senate seats. Six Republicans, four Democrats. The six must-watch Republicans: Allard, Collins, McConnell, Smith of Oregon, Thompson open seat; South Carolina, Thurmond retiring. The four must-watch Democrats: Baucus, Cleland, Johnson, Landrieu.

Question: Of the 10 Senators whom you've just seen their names on the eh screen, who bears watching the most closely? Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: I would watch Max Baucus the most closely. I would maybe move him into "more vulnerable" than just "watch." A Democrat getting elected in Montana is now a miracle, and for him to continue to pull that off is increasingly difficult. However, he now has the Finance Committee chairmanship, he did vote the way Montana wanted him to vote on the tax bill; he worked very closely with the Republicans on that. So he as done, as a Senator, everything he can do so far for that reelection, but it's very dangerous territory up there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that argues that Max Baucus ought to consider becoming a Republican or -- which would move the Senate into Republican hands, right?

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah. He would surrender his Finance Committee chairmanship to someone else.

MR. BARONE: John, I don't -- John, that's kind of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, now, no, but he could do his deal with the Republicans -- you keep your chairmanship.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BARONE: John, that's a pipe dream.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he were to, would it strengthen him with his conservative constituency in Montana?

MR. O'DONNELL: Not at this stage of the game.

MR. BARONE: I think --

MR. O'DONNELL: He's a known Democrat up there. He can't change the stripes --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We queried him directly and he says he has no intention of doing so --

MR. BARONE: Well, obviously not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but I think he ought to reconsider that. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I'm sure you do.

MR. BARONE: John, I think that's one of the daffiest things you've said in a long time -- (laughter) -- and there's some serious competition for that title.

MS. CLIFT: Give him time.

MR. BARONE: I think the one to watch there would be Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota. He won by 51-49 in 1996. He's not nearly as well-known as his colleague, Tom Daschle. He's already been casting some votes on the tax issue the Republicans' way. A big question is whether Congressman John Thune is going to run. And Thune says he wants to run for governor because he wants to be closer to his family that lives in South Dakota. That could be an important --

MR. BLANKLEY: I disagree. I think Thune is going to run. I don't think he's going to run for governor. And if Thune runs, he's going to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Well, I am saddened that you, particularly, Barone, did not get the right answer. The most vulnerable seat, you ought to know, is South Carolina. When there is an empty seat, it's usually easier for the opposition to pick it up than anything else. That's the controlling factor.

MR. BARONE: No. Lindsey Graham is solid shape for that seat, Congressman Lindsey Graham.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell us about that.

MR. BARONE: Congressman Lindsey Graham, whom we all saw in the impeachment hearings.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?

MR. BARONE: Remember when he said that anybody who's calling somebody on the phone at 2:00 in the morning, where I come from, is up to no good.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're predicting a retention of that seat by the Republicans.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, Lindsey Graham --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Thurmond seat.

MR. BARONE: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: I agree. I think the Democrats on that list are far more endangered than the Republicans you listed. And I would put Max Cleland at the top of my list, Georgia, because Zell Miller, the other senator from that state, has given him no political coverage. But the Democrats are going to go all out to protect him, and he's even going to bring Jane Fonda and Ted Turner together. After the divorce, they're going to host a fund-raiser for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why hasn't any --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- all out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why hasn't anybody on the set so far mentioned the predictable midterm losses to the party that doesn't hold the White House? I ask you.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's a historic fact, usually, though there have been exceptions -- '34 and '98 for the House, but there's going to be a lot of individual races. Now that the Democrats have the Senate, there's going to be a division of responsibility for the failures, if there are any, in Washington. And I don't think it's going to be a big factor. And you can't calibrate it, in any event.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you recalling, too, that these Republicans who got in in '96 notwithstanding Dole's tremendous defeat, that they are strong candidates to have resisted the 3 to 5 percent -- (inaudible word) -- that their opponents got from Clinton?

MR. BARONE: Look at the results in 1962, you had the same situation, six years before those people had been elected by a party opposite to the president in '62, Eisenhower. And John F. Kennedy's Democrats gained seats in the Senate.

MS. CLIFT: John, you only hear what you want to hear, frankly. But the number of moderate Republicans within this party are shrinking every two to four years, and they're the ones who are endangered over the long term. And if Bush chooses to go more down that right wing, I think he's going to force moderates out of his party. And Jim Jeffords may be the beginning of a trend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So I only hear what I want to hear.

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As opposed to Eleanor? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: No, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. The vulnerable. Three Republican senators, four Democrat senators. The three vulnerable Republicans: Helms, Hutchinson of Arkansas, Smith of New Hampshire. The four vulnerable Democrats: Carnahan, Harkin, Torricelli, Wellstone.

Question: Of the three vulnerable GOP incumbents -- Helms, Hutchinson of Arkansas, not to be confused with Hutchison, no "n" -- that is, Bailey Hutchison of Texas -- and Bob Smith of New Hampshire -- which is the most vulnerable? Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, people might say Bob Smith of New Hampshire because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you say that?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, he personally is the most vulnerable, but he is going to be challenged in the primary by John Sununu, the congressman, the son of the former governor. He will win, and then Sununu will win the general. So the seat will say Republican, but Bob Smith personally is the most vulnerable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because of his presidential bid? Because he defected from the Republicans, became an independent?

MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, he's had a wonderful career. He's a very admirable man. But I think he's positioned himself now to not win another election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When he did defect to independent status, did he caucus with the Republicans, as --

MR. BARONE: He did not change his vote for the leadership, but he did not get -- and he switched after the death of John Chafee opened up the Environment Committee chairmanship -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about Helms, O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: Helms is seriously vulnerable this time around. It's a big possibility

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they've been saying that for years and years and years, and every time, he squeaks by.

MR. O'DONNELL: And also, I would move Harkin off the vulnerable onto maybe a watch list, but not vulnerable. He has a way of pulling out the vote.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about Carnahan, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, she won, in part, because of a sympathy factor. But she's been voting right down the middle. She supported the tax cut. She's in a state that likes George Bush. And she doesn't have to run against John Ashcroft because he's now attorney general. So let's look who the Republicans come up with.

MR. BLANKLEY: She's got a real problem. Jim Talent is probably going to run. But she's got a real --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jim who?

MR. BLANKLEY: Jim Talent. The latest poll --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's Jim Talent?

MR. BARONE: Former congressman.

MR. BLANKLEY: Former congressman. Ran for governor; almost won.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: If there had been an honest count in St. Louis, he probably would have.

She's right now 43-43 with Talent in polls that have been taken. She's very vulnerable because she didn't vote for Ashcroft, who's at 67 percent approval in Missouri, his home state. That was the biggest mistake and it will cost the Democrats that seat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that she fails to recognize that grief, like sympathy, or sympathy, like grief, passes?

MR. BARONE: I don't know whether she's thought about it, but that's true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Torricelli?

MR. O'DONNELL: Torricelli's in danger, you know, any time --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the danger?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, he's being surrounded by federal prosecutors investigating him now. Whenever that's going on, it becomes a totally unpredictable universe. You can't even say with 100 percent confidence that he'll be a candidate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the big problem?

MR. O'DONNELL: The big problem is campaign contributions --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- and tripping over those wires that are all over campaign finance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no, no, no, no. No, no. You're missing my point. You're almost there. You're almost there. Struggle with this. How could he raise money under the circumstances of a pending indictment?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, he can raise money because he's great at raising money and now he's on the Senate Finance Committee, which will help him raise money, more than he ever has.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think his money, from what I hear, is dried up.

Issue three: Leaving on a jet plane. Not!

(Recording of "Leaving On a Jet Plane" by Peter, Paul and Mary is played.)

Well, Mary, if you're jet-planing this summer, forget about it; it's airplane standstill -- a world of wait, endless lines, countless, delays, surprise cancellations. That's the fate of today's frequent fliers. The nation's top airports are packed -- too many planes, too few runways. Over the last 20 years, the number of U.S. commercial flights has tripled -- 8 million per year. The 30 busiest airports, handling 70 percent of air traffic, in the last 10 years have added only six new runways. Volume has overtaken infrastructure.

The air traffic control system, owned and operated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, is overwhelmed and mismanaged. What to do? Answer: Privatize. That's what more and more observers and analysts in both the private and public sector are saying: privatize air traffic control, as in Canada, Australia, Germany, plus Switzerland, Ireland, the U.K. and others. Get the FAA out of the business side of flying; they should focus on safety, just safety.

One, create an independent corporation run with business-like efficiency that can keep up with essential air traffic technology upgrades.

Two, make it self-sustaining. No more ugly politics over dollars from Congress; the new system pays for itself through -- don't panic -- user fees.

Three, include passengers on the corporate board. Represent all aviation interests, including and especially stakeholder passengers to oversee the operation.

Privatized air traffic control with its improved efficiencies would save $1.8 billion per year, experts say.

Does the FAA have an inherent conflict of interest in its mandate?

Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: I don't really think so. I'd think there'd be a much bigger conflict of interest if you brought in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shall I tell you what it is? Shall I tell you what it is?

MS. CLIFT: It's the promotion of aviation --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And?

MS. CLIFT: -- and safety.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. How do you do that?

MS. CLIFT: Much easier than if you privatize it and you have the promotion of profit versus safety.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you can do it with a non-profit corporation. Several of the nations do that.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You didn't think of that, did you?

MS. CLIFT: Well, the other nations don't have the traffic congestion we have.

MR. BLANKLEY: There is an inherent conflict, although that by itself has been managed over the years. I am in favor of privatization, though, but I don't think one should be deluded. Even a privatized system is going to be very hard to clean up because of the difficulty in building up new airports and new --

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, this brings out the Socialist in me like nothing else.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. O'DONNELL: These aren't real privatized systems that you're talking about; the government controls those entities. And it is a conflict of interest. We should get the FAA purely in the safety business and, yes, increase the budget.

MR. BARONE: You can split up the agency, but the real problem here is the FAA, under government rules, hasn't been able to get up to date in the computer age. This is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they spent billions --

MR. BARONE: It's one reason to get a private corporation --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We spent billions trying to get them to do it. They have failed miserably.

MR. BARONE: Efforts to change the computers have failed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A forced prediction. Based on the political dynamics in play today, will the Democrats keep the Senate in 2002 or will the Republicans could it back? That should be "would" maybe.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, I would -- my prediction would be Republicans would gain one seat and get control, such as it is, back; get the majority back. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Based on today's political dynamics?

MR. BARONE: Yeah, but that's with an error margin of plus-or-minus three seats, so there's a lot of room. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MS. CLIFT: I say the Democrats pick up one, maybe two seats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Political dynamics today?

MR. BLANKLEY: Republicans pick up one or two seats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

Political dynamics today?

MR. O'DONNELL: Democrats hold it at 51. With Max Baucus chairman of Finance, he can now win and that will --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I say based on political dynamics today, the Democrats would retain control of the Senate. But that doesn't mean it will take place in November of 2002.

Next week: At his request, Vladimir Putin will meet with Bush June 16th in Slovenia. An on-site report from Moscow next week on what Putin will say to George Bush.

Bye-bye.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Profile in forgiveness.

PRESIDENT GERALD R. FORD: (From videotape.) Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, president of the United States, do grant a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In 1974, this pardon of Richard Nixon by Gerald Ford caused an unholy uproar. The pardon was roundly condemned by Ford and Nixon critics. Well, this week the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library took a different view: It saluted the 87-year-old former president, Gerald Ford, for granting President Nixon the pardon.

MS. CAROLINE KENNEDY: (From videotape.) We are honored to present you, President Ford, with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for 2001. (Applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ford was moved.

PRESIDENT FORD: (From videotape of award ceremony.) No doubt, arguments over the Nixon pardon will continue for as long as historians relive those very, very tumultuous days. But I would be less than candid, indeed, less than human, if I didn't tell you how grateful, how profoundly grateful Betty and I are for this recognition.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: At the time of the pardon, Senator Edward Kennedy was exceptionally angry. He called the pardon "rotten." He said it was a payoff to Nixon for giving the presidency to his VP.

Well, this week Senator Kennedy spoke with healing comity and healing candor.

SEN. EDWARD "TED" KENNEDY: (From videotape of award ceremony.) I was one of those who spoke out against his actions then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did this pardon award come out of the blue?

Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I think now that Democrats have seen a Democrat president get impeached, they have a whole new view of what presidents under investigation -- what the outcomes of that should be. I think Ted Kennedy -- I think his language was wrong the first time, but I think he was right the first time; this was not an act of courage, this was an act of practicality. It was just a simple, practical thing. In fact, the Ford calculation was that this will clear up his ability to run for the presidency, he'll get this mess out of the way and make everything clear. So it wasn't -- there was nothing courageous about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, pardons are now in, huh? Is that --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I want to get back to what he said in a moment. But as to the timing, you do have to wonder whether the liberal Democrats are worried that another pardon for another president might be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the Marc Rich affair is not over -- it's not over yet, is it?

MR. BLANKLEY: And so now they have the precedent that they're in favor of pardons to presidents who made mistakes. I don't know whether that's the motivation or not.

I do think it's unfair, though, to Gerry Ford to say it wasn't courage. I remember at the time everyone assumed that was the end of the Ford presidency, and it was. He didn't win reelection. And so I think it was courage, in any event.

MS. CLIFT: Well, despite the innuendo here, President Clinton is not going to get indicted, and so there's not going to be a need for a pardon.

I, like a lot of other people, would have liked to see Richard Nixon in the docket and to have seen him prosecuted.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm sure you would have!

(Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: But 30 years later, Gerry Ford was a good president --

(Cross talk; laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear that?

MS. CLIFT: -- Gerry Ford was a good president for a short time, and I'm with Kennedy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor wants to rescind the Kennedy pardon of Ford! She wants to rescind it!

MS. CLIFT: No, I don't. No, I don't!

MR. BARONE: Well, we'll see what happens to Bill Clinton in New York. I don't think he's going to be indicted either. I think he certainly committed indictable offenses and has a criminal record that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think it was political calculation?

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