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updated 4/17/2005 11:18:41 AM ET 2005-04-17T15:18:41

PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS at (202)885-4598, (Sundays: (202) 885-4200)

NBC News MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Guests:  Representative Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) House Majority Whip;

Representative Barney Frank, (D-Mass.);

Dexter Filkins, New York Times;                    

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News   

Moderator/Host: Tim Russert, NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  this man, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, under fire for alleged ethical violations.  Are the allegations political or legitimate?  Should he continue in his leadership position?  With us, the third-ranking Republican in the House leadership, Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri and the 13-term Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank.  Blunt and Frank square off on the future of Tom DeLay.

Then Iraq:  What is really going on in that war-torn country?  With us, two correspondents who have been on the ground:  Dexter Filkins of The New York Times and Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News.

And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, 60 years ago this week, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died three months into serving his fourth term in office. His wife, Eleanor, appeared on MEET THE PRESS in 1956 and issued a challenge to the Democratic Party.

(Videotape, 1956):

MRS. ELEANOR ROOSEVELT:  And one concern the basic issue is whether the Democrats actually are prepared to think of the individual.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  But first the future of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.  With us, the Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.  Welcome both.

I want to take time and take our viewers through this very carefully because it is important.  I'm using The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is a conservative newspaper, to lay out what has been stated against Congressman DeLay and then have a good discussion.  This is how The Journal begins.

"Here is the abbreviated rap sheet against Mr. DeLay.  First we have the imbroglio with the House Ethics Committee, which last year rebuked him on three occasions.  Among his sins:  He offered to endorse outgoing Representative Nick Smith's son in a GOP primary if Mr. Smith would vote `yes' on the Medicare prescription drug bill.  ... Mr. DeLay has since changed Committee rules so that it can no longer launch investigations on a party-line basis and by packing the Committee with loyalists."

The Journal goes on, "There are the junkets.  ... In December 1997, Mr. DeLay visited the Northern Marianas Islands in the company of lobbyist pal Jack Abramoff, now under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee, who just happened to be representing the garment industry there.  Mr. DeLay later led a legislative effort to extend the Islands' exemption from U.S. immigration and labor laws.  In May 2000, Messrs.  DeLay and Abramoff took a $70,000-trip to the UK, (including a golf outing to the St. Andrews course in Scotland) in the company of two House colleagues and some staff and spouses.  Depending on which account you believe, Mr. DeLay's expenses were picked up by either an outfit called the National Center for Public Policy Research, on whose Mr. Abramoff then sat, or by Mr. Abramoff directly, who later charged the trip to his clients, the gambling Mississippi Choctaw nation.  Under House rules, members are not allowed to have their travel expenses covered by a lobbyist.

"In August 2001, Mr. DeLay and several House members (including four Democrats) visited South Korea on a trip sponsored by the Korea-United States Exchange Council, which has close ties to former DeLay staff chief Ed Buckham as was registered as a foreign agent just days before the trip.  House rules forbid members from traveling at their expense, but it is unclear whether Mr. DeLay or his colleagues were aware of the Korean Exchange Council's status at time of their departure."

That's all according to The Wall Street Journal editorial page.  Now, there's some later allegations over the last two weeks.  This is how Newsweek described him.

"Still more questions about [DeLay's] ethics emerged when the New York Times reported his wife and daughter have collected $500,000 in fees from [his] political action campaign committees since 2001. ... Potentially more troublesome was a Washington Post story that chronicled a six-day `fact-finding' trip to Moscow in August of '97 that was financed by...a Russian oil company."

Congressman Roy Blunt, you're a Republican, what does this say about Tom DeLay?

REP. ROY BLUNT, (R-MO):  I will say first when I heard the introduction, we're going have a Blunt and Frank discussion here.  You have got the two guys to do that.  You know, these stories, I think, are all based on some facts and lots of things that aren't factual.  The key to all of the things I believe you talked about today already, Tim, is that they were all reported.  They were all handled exactly as they should be.  The reason this information is out there is that it was reported.  Certainly the one incident where a trip was taken that I believe was cleared with the Ethics Committee and then three days before these members went on the trip, this group filed as a foreign agent, which no one on the trip knew had happened.  Subsequent to that, many members, Democrats and Republicans, traveled with this same group weeks and months after this filing had been made.  I think it's certainly the case that Tom DeLay had no way to know that when he was taking the trip or when he asked the Ethics Committee to clear that particular trip.  I think in all cases here, there is a good explanation and just as importantly, all of these are facts that is Mr. DeLay himself has put the basis on himself by filing the forms he needed to file.

MR. RUSSERT:  Has he done anything wrong?

REP. BLUNT:  My impression is he has not done anything wrong.  I know he has certainly spent lots of time and effort over the years, lots of money on ethics attorneys, to be sure he knew where the lines were, and those lines weren't crossed, and that's why we have those ethics rules so that members know where the lines are.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman Frank.

REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D-MA):  One of the things that bothers me, because I don't know the details of all of these things, it's that the Republicans--because Tom DeLay was three times last year criticized by the Ethics Committee, they didn't formally vote the whole House to be critical, but they sent three letters--they called them letters of admonition.  Mr. DeLay seriously resented that.  In fact, he complained on the floor of the House last week, that letters which said to a member.  He didn't mention it happened to be himself.  And, so, what happened was the Republican leadership decided to punish the Ethics Committee.

Hey, look, let me be very straight forward here.  I, 15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately.  The Ethics Committee stepped in. Newt Gingrich had a problem.  He was reprimanded the Ethics Committee stepped in.  The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior.  Mr. DeLay changed the Ethics Committee.  The problem is that we now have some serious allegations out there, and we don't have a process by which they can be determined because the Republicans this year did two things to the House Ethics Committee.

First of all, they got rid of some of the members who have been critical of Mr. DeLay, the Republicans.  They purged some of the more independent Republicans, penalizing them for having been critical of Mr. DeLay.  Secondly, they changed the rules.  And this is very serious.  It used to be that if a serious complaint was lodged at the Ethics Committee, you would have to get a majority of the Ethics Committee to dismiss it, otherwise you went forward with an investigation.  In other words, you would have to get at least one member of the other party to say there's nothing there.  They have reversed that.  In baseball terms, the tie now goes to the runner not the fielder.

What now happens is this:  If a complaint--any of those issues that The Wall Street Journal thinks is serious, if they go the Ethics Committee, unless one of the Republican members of the Ethics Committee, it's a 5-5 committee, unless one of the members of the Ethics Committee decides to investigate it, it will be automatically dismissed in 45 days.  Now, what you get is a twofold thing.  First, you put more quiescent members on the committee, then you change the rules so that you have to get one of them to decide even to investigate it seriously.  And as a result, what you've got is a substantial weakening of the Ethics Committee, so we are unlikely to have an independent forum in which we can see whether these are valid or not.

REP. BLUNT:  Well, the three changes we made, I think, have been blown totally out of proportion in terms of their impact on the Ethics Committee. It's no more difficult to file an ethics charge than it ever was.  The three changes were made--one was you should be able to have your own counsel, that the Ethics Committee shouldn't be able to decide who your counsel were.  Two were, you should at least know you were being investigated before the Ethics Committee publicly criticizes you, which happened to one of our members last year.  And three was that it would take a majority to move forward with an investigation after--I think it's 45 days and then a virtual automatic 45-day extension.  You've got 90 days where one party can decide, "We want to continue to investigate."

But there's a reason that the Ethics Committee is divided equally.  It's the only committee divided equally, because the reason is it would take a member from the other party always to move forward.  Fifteen years ago--Barney mentioned 15 years ago--that's what the rule was 15 years ago:  It took somebody from the other party to decide to move forward.  Only in 1997 in a package of ethics changes, really without much thought, was it decided, "OK, we're going to have this one area where a majority doesn't have to make a decision and half of the committee can just keep a member perpetually under investigation."

Just remember, Tim, 45 days, then 90 days.  Ninety days is--that's an eighth of the time a person is elected to serve in Congress, and they're under this cloud, this interminable cloud, even with the current rule.  Under the old rule, you could be under this cloud the whole time you're in the Congress and nobody ever has to agree that this is enough of a problem to truly move forward and do anything but continue to investigate it.

REP. FRANK:  I want to respond because there's a very central point there. Mr. Blunt says that's the way the rules were until 1997, because there's a pattern here.  The Republicans took power in 1995 on the grounds that things were terribly corrupt and badly run and they were going to change things.  And it is true, initially, they changed them.  And, again, this is very critical. What--the difference is this:  Should you be able, by simply holding your own party loyalists in line, to stop an ethics investigation?  That's what the rule now says.  The Republicans came to power and they changed the rule.  He said it was done with very little thought.

I must say, Mr. Blunt, that's rather dismissive of your Republican revolution.  You say that in 1997--the Republicans came to power in '95 and fairly shortly after that they changed the rule.

But this is the pattern they've had.  They changed the rules because they said they were unfair.  Now, that they've been in power for a while, these rules are inconvenient.  Mr. DeLay was rebuked three times by the committee, admonished three times by the committee.  So they've changed the rules back. So let's understand what he just said, that the Republican revolution came in, changed the rules so that one party couldn't balk an investigation of its own member, and when it began to bite, they changed them back again.  That's the pattern, by the way,that the Republicans have engaged in on a whole lot of things.  But the central point is this:  I agreed with that change.  It used to be, until the Republicans changed it this year, that you could not have your own party dismiss the investigation.  Now, you can.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Blunt?

REP. BLUNT:  Well, let's say exactly what I said.  In a series of ethics changes, this is one that got added, I'm told, by the committee, the bipartisan group that looked at it, late in the process.  By the way, those weren't good enough for the Democrats, either, who didn't vote for that ethics revision package that Barney just talked about.  And even last week in an article that generally disagrees with my point here, by the former chairman Joel Hefley and Alan Mollohan, the point they made is that the reason--the cornerstone--the reason this process is equally divided is that it guarantees that no action will be taken without at least some degree of support from both parties.

The one thing you can do under the previous rules was without some degree of support from both parties, you could perpetually keep a member under investigation.  These days that would always be public.  That is a devastating thing for members in their district that they've been investigated the entire time they were there by the Ethics Committee in a situation where only one party could do that.  Remember, Tim, there is a reason...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why did you remove Joel Hefley as chairman of the committee?

REP. BLUNT:  Because he had served the amount of time that our rules say you can serve straight on the committee.  And I didn't remove him and neither did Tom DeLay.  This is a decision made totally by the speaker.  I am confident that the speaker never discussed this topic involving who the current or new members would be with the majority leader because he had been involved with the committee in the past year.  That's done by the speaker, not by me, not by anybody else, but he had served the eight years.  I think the rule says that no more than four Congresses out of five can you serve on the Ethics Committee without taking a break.  Again, he'd already done that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he wanted to continue.

REP. BLUNT:  You know, he said in our conference the other day that he did not want to continue.

REP. FRANK:  Well, that's very different than most of what he said in the--he's entitled to a waiver.  But--and I have to say if I was Speaker Hastert, I wouldn't feel too reassured by this distancing from his decision that he's now getting, but...

REP. BLUNT:  I'm not distancing myself.

REP. FRANK:  Well, you said...

REP. BLUNT:  Barney, let's be fair to the speaker.

REP. FRANK:  No, please, Roy, let me finish.  Come on.

REP. BLUNT:  I will, but...

REP. FRANK:  No, no, you won't.

REP. BLUNT:  ...I'm not distancing myself from the speaker.  I'm just saying...

REP. FRANK:  Roy, I thought you guys were against filibustering.

REP. BLUNT:  ...the question was you removed him.  You removed him.

REP. FRANK:  I thought you were against filibustering.

REP. BLUNT:  No.

REP. FRANK:  What I thought "by you" he meant the Republican leadership, but let me go back to a point--we're getting into the specifics here, and people get bogged down.  The central point is this.  Forty-five days is not a long time.  Being perpetually under investigation--the rule says that it can be dismissed and there has to be a Republican vote to give an extension in 45 days.  That's not a very long time.

Secondly, I would just--people ought to think about this.  Mr. Blunt basically is saying what Tom DeLay said last week.  "We had to change the ethics procedure because it was unfair to members.  We had to protect the due process right of members."  I must tell you that I have looked at the ethics procedure that time I'm in the House.  I do not think most people think it has been too tough on members.  I mean, if-- this is what Mr. Blunt is saying, that the ethics procedure, they finally decided after they had changed it in '97--they wanted to change it back to the old way that they kind of campaigned against because it was too tough on the members.  I don't think it's the general impression and I don't think it's accurate that we have been too tough on members of the ethics process.  If anything, I think it's probably been a little more lax than they should have been and now there will be a lot more because they have returned full partisanship to the Ethics Committee.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what Congressman DeLay said on March 30, 2005. He was talking about these allegations, these charges, and here's a tape with some of his response.

(Videotape, March 30, 2005):

REP. TOM DELAY, (R-TX):  Bring it on.  It's nothing but a bunch of leftist organizations that have a public strategy to demonize me.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Leftist organizations."  Former speaker Newt Gingrich, hardly a leftist, had this to say on Tuesday.  "Well, that's the famous Hillary Clinton defense.  This is the `vast left-wing conspiracy' as opposed to her description of a `vast right-wing conspiracy.'  ...when you're being attacked, the first thing you naturally do is you describe your attackers.  In this case, that won't work.  DeLay's problem isn't with the Democrats.  DeLay's problem is with the country.  And so DeLay has a challenge, I think, to lay out a case that the country comes to believe, that the country decides is legitimate."

Do you agree with that?

REP. BLUNT:  He wants to lay out a case.  Tom DeLay wants to lay out that case.  I think our friends on the other side know the only effective way he can do that is if the Ethics Committee does its work, and they're using what I think is a totally spurious trumped up reason to say that the Ethics Committee can't do its work.  The idea that a majority wouldn't investigate something has nothing to do with whether you could file a charge or whether a member could respond to a charge.  Tom DeLay said repeatedly he wants the Ethics Committee to be organized so he can make that case.  The Ethics Committee, the Democrats, have refused to organize it on the basis that this one issue that has really never been a problem, but potentially, when you look at it clearly could be a problem, that this one issue ruins the entire ethics process is just absolutely nonsensical and they know it and everybody else does, too, that looks carefully at what's really happened with the ethics changes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should Congressman DeLay have a full press conference, take any question?  We've offered him a full hour here on MEET THE PRESS, just come and sit and talk about these allegations and try to put them to rest.

REP. BLUNT:  You know, my guess is that the only way he can effectively do this is where you can sit down with counsel on both sides, look through all of the documents that are available and prove the point.

REP. FRANK:  All right.

REP. BLUNT:  You know, when you look at the press stories on this, Tim, the supposed related events often happen months sometimes I think even years after a trip or something that occurred...

REP. FRANK:  Well...

REP. BLUNT:  ...that was disclosed at the time and...

REP. FRANK:  You know, look...

REP. BLUNT:  ...I think the Ethics Committee is the best place for him to make that case.

REP. FRANK:  I think that's just--pardon me.  It's hard to take serious.  In the first place, one of the advantages of the Ethics Committee, of course, is that in the initial stage, it would will be very private.  And again, Mr. Blunt says you can file a charge.  I can file anything, but in 45 days, it would be dismissed.  That's the key point.  Under this new rule, unless one Republican agrees to go forward on this anti-DeLay action, or this investigation of DeLay--and these are Republicans who were carefully vetted for loyalty.  It wasn't just Joel Hefley who was kicked off the committee. Some others were as well because they had been too independent and had voted to admonish Mr. DeLay.  It's dismissed in 45 days.

What Mr. DeLay is saying is, "OK, let me have this secret process and then at the end of 45 days, if no Republican agrees that I did anything wrong, then it will all be dismissed."  You make a very good point, Tim.  He could come on this show.  The notion that you can't discuss this except in the privacy of the Ethics Committee is incredible.  He could bring his lawyer.  If you say, Mr. Blunt, he needs a lawyer, well, you can bring lawyers to press conferences.  He could sit there with the lawyers and the documents.  He could put it out.  His failure to address it, I think, is a very serious problem. And the notion that you can only address these issues in the Ethics Committee is the problem.

Let me say that what we're talking about here--I mean, you mentioned this. We're not just talking about trips.  This isn't just a case of "Well, he got to play free golf."  Part of it is the involvement with Mr. Abramoff, a lobbyist who was fired by his law firm, who has been accused and refuses to testify, invokes his own privileges not to testify, who is a very abusive lobbyist who used his connection, it appears--I mean, he told people that his connection with Tom DeLay and a former DeLay aide was the reason he was able to get large amounts money from Indian tribes, claimed to have done things in the legislative process that shouldn't have been done.  We're not talking about peccadillos here.  We're talking about a serious corruption of the public policy process.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman Blunt, let me show you some fellow Republicans, what they've had to say.  Tom Tancredo from Colorado said it "may be a productive move for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step aside while charges against him are investigated."  Chris Shays, Republican:  "Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority, hurting any Republicans up for re-election.  ...  My party's going to have to decide whether we're going to continue to make excuses for Tom to the detriment of Republicans seeking election."  Lincoln Chafee, the Republican senator from Rhode Island:  "We've got to uphold the highest standards of legality and ethics.  ... You can't have your leader under a cloud."  And Rick Santorum, conservative leader of the Republicans in the Senate:  "I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it..."  Santorum, Chafee, Shays, Tancredo, Gingrich--hardly part of a left-wing conspiracy.

REP. BLUNT:  Well, you know, you have to take those for what they are.  The Tom Tancredo article I happened to read--at the end of the article, his actual quote is, "It might not be the worst thing in the world," so I assume somebody asked him that question.  He also said he thought these were trumped-up charges.  It's easy to speculate on what might be the worst thing.

The other thing, you know, Chris Shays has often disagreed with us on lots of things, but what I always respected and admired about Chris Shays, he's never once threatened to leave our party because he understands that in spite of whatever disagreements he might have, that in the broad agenda that moves America forward, we're getting that work done.  I think this is largely an effort to distract from that.  This Congress is well on the way to being incredibly productive.  We've passed class-action reform, we've passed bankruptcy reform.  The House has passed a highway bill, the Houses will pass an energy bill next week.  We're not going to let this deter us from those actions.

And Chris Shays, by the way, I think in an article over the weekend said, you know, "I'm going stick with my party because they're doing the right things. I just happen to disagree on this one topic."

MR. RUSSERT:  So Tom DeLay has no interest at this time in stepping aside.

REP. BLUNT:  I don't--I would hope he has no interest in stepping aside. We're moving an agenda.  That would be incredibly disruptive to the agenda.  I think our friends on the other side know that.  You know, there was a Civil War principle in battle that developed over the course of the war that the generals on both sides begin to say, "Always shoot the leaders first.  Always shoot the bravest soldiers first, and the others will begin to turn back."

MR. RUSSERT:  Isn't this distracting from the agenda?

REP. BLUNT:  You wouldn't think so looking at the results.  Image what we'd be getting done if we were distracted now.

REP. FRANK:  Well, can I...

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman...

REP. BLUNT:  We've done class-action reform, we've done bankruptcy, we're going to do energy next week, we've done the highway bill.  It's the middle of April, and all of those things are accomplished.  So we're getting a lot done, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman Frank, let me show you the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Web site.  This is a new one.  It's entitled "Tom DeLay: House of Scandal."

REP. BLUNT:  I hope you give the Web address.

MR. RUSSERT:  And now this is...

REP. BLUNT:  Can we give the address?

MR. RUSSERT:  ...this is a tape that you can watch on the Web.

(Videotape from DCCC Web site)

MR. RUSSERT:  Democrats seem to be rejoicing on this.  In fact, here's a quote in USA Today.  Quoting one Barney Frank:  "Democrats think they can make DeLay an issue that costs Republican seats in next year's elections. `Democrats have gone from being frustrated that people weren't paying enough attention to DeLay to being afraid he's going be thrown out too soon.'"

REP. FRANK:  Yeah, this is a very, very different issue.  As I said, this is not a case of just peccadillos.  We're not talking about travel only, about, you know, the bed was too soft or the golf was too frequent.  We're talking about a whole approach to public policy, and we think that this illustrates, this very distorted approach to public policy that we've seen.

You know, Mr. Blunt mentioned, well, we passed the highway bill, and he's taking credit for that.  The highway bill was supposed to have been passed last year.  It expired.  If you talk to anybody who's in the business of trying to build highways of plan highways, they're terribly frustrated this Republican Congress has held it up so much.  They have held it up because the president, because of his other priorities, has insisted on holding highway spending and public transportation spending far below what even the Republican leaders in the Congress have thought was necessary.  But, yeah, it is true. We do think that Mr. DeLay is symptomatic of a corruption, frankly, of the public policy process.  That's more important to me than a question of this or that trip or this or that payment to this or that relative, etc.  It's the public policy process.

You saw it the Schiavo case, you see it in this assault on the judges.  What we have got are people who campaigned in 1994 as reformers, and they were going change things.  And in area after area after area, Mr. Blunt made that clear.  In 1997, they reformed the ethics process.  They have now de-reformed it.  They have shut down the debate in the House of Representatives and in public policy terms, they're using that.  He talked about some of the things that have come up.

Well, there are other issues that we would like to see come up on the floor of the House.  The health care for veterans.  You know, they didn't just dump Mr. Hefley as chairman of the Ethics Committee, they dumped Chris Smith from New Jersey, as chairman of the Veterans Committee.  His term hadn't expired, in terms of his length--because he had been fighting hard for veterans benefits. So, yeah, we do think that Mr. DeLay's grip on the Republican Party and the extreme right-wing position that he has articulated and used that grip to enforce are legitimate campaign issues.  That's what politics is all about.

MR. RUSSERT:  You're trying to make Tom DeLay a poster boy?

REP. FRANK:  No.  Tom DeLay made Tom DeLay a poster boy.  I was trying--yes, I did think for years that Tom DeLay's influence as a very, very right-wing guy, who sincerely believes it by the way.  I don't think this is a man who's out to line his pockets.  He happens to believe very sincerely.  I think, you know, he gets carried away.  He, himself, admitted that when he kind of threatened judges with retribution, that that was a word he shouldn't have said.  But, yeah, we have been trying to get across to people that while there are some moderate-sounding Republicans, the heart of the Republican Party is this extremely conservative group that dominates.  And Mr. DeLay, I guess in part because of the Schiavo situation and his prominence there when they tried to order the federal courts to do something, and they are now, by the way--and I think this is relevant--the Republicans are threatening all kinds of action against these liberal judges, who include of course Justices Scalia and Thomas and  Rehnquist.  Yeah, I think it is very healthy for the country to understand who the Republicans really are and who they really are.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned the Schiavo case.  This is exactly what Congressman DeLay said about the Schiavo case on March 31.  "Mrs. Schiavo's death is a moral poverty and legal tragedy.  This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change.  The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

Now, he has said those words were inartful, but it has still resonated politically, Mr. Blunt.  Howard Dean, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, gave a speech last night and responded this way.

(Videotape, April 16, 2005):

DR. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee):  It is not a moral value to threaten judges of the United States of America because they made a decision that you don't agree with.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that harsh rhetoric, she said, "may energize people who are off base to take actions." Was it a mistake for Congressman DeLay to utter those words?

REP. BLUNT:  Well, I think he said it was inartful.  He shouldn't have said it the way he said it.  Clearly...

MR. RUSSERT:  Should he have said it at all?

REP. BLUNT:  Howard Dean has made some inartful comments, too.  And obviously you have to go back and try to explain what it was you were saying when you were doing that.  I made a statement, the speaker made a statement, Tom DeLay made a statement, all of those had some significantly different approach to this sad situation.

Now, the one thing that Barney said that I totally agree with is we need to be focused on public policy.  I think this is an effort to distract from that.  I don't believe that's going to be successful.  We have a difference as to whether we're moving forward in the right direction or not.  But clearly, we're moving forward.  The Los Angeles Times the other day in an editorial said, "Watching Congress is like watching a baseball game where one team is at bat all the time, and the other team can't figure out how to get them out."  I think in this case, the team's thought, "Well, we can't figure out how to get them out on policy.  We need to figure out how to get them out on something that doesn't relate to policy at all."

REP. FRANK:  Well, this...

REP. BLUNT:  And so we continue to move forward.  You know, we are a bicameral body.  What happens at the end of the day isn't always what we'd like to happen.

REP. FRANK:  That's not right because, yes, it is true.  They are at bat all the time, and we haven't been able to get up.  That's because they have used the Rules Committee.  And you get an illustration of this.  They punished the Joel Hefley as chairman of the Ethics Committee, they punished Chris Smith as chairman of the Veterans Committee, threw him out.  What happens is this: They use the rules.  It's true.  We have not been able to get to the floor some of the things we'd like to talk about.  And it's because one of the things the Republicans have done, having campaigned in the '90s for greater openness, they have shut down the House.  There is very little chance to debate.  You know, you don't have a chance to offer amendments.  You don't get much talk.  So it is true.  I will acknowledge that.  They have used--excuse me, Roy.

REP. BLUNT:  Well, let me go back...

REP. FRANK:  No, please, Roy.

REP. BLUNT:  No, you interrupted me, Barney.

REP. FRANK:  You did before.  Roy, no, this is filibustering.

REP. BLUNT:  It always seems like when I'm on this show with you, you talk more than me and I think that's because you probably do.

REP. FRANK:  Oh, I don't--Roy, I--this filibustering...

REP. BLUNT:  On the veterans issue--you talk more than me...

REP. FRANK:  Oh, I don't--Roy, I...

REP. BLUNT:  ...and I think that's because you probably do.

REP. FRANK:  No, I--this filibustering...

REP. BLUNT:  On the veterans issue...

REP. FRANK:  Tim, we're--what--are we going to talk over each other?

REP. BLUNT:  Was it my time, Tim, or his?

MR. RUSSERT:  Let him just finish a point and then I'll give you a chance.

REP. BLUNT:  OK.

REP. FRANK:  Yeah.  The point is this:  They have used these rules to shut down debate.  They have used these rules so that we can't offer amendment.  So it is true:  The Republicans, having talked about greater openness in the '90s, just as they reversed themselves on covering members of Congress under employment laws, under the ethics rules, they have shut down openness and debate.  I'll concede that.

REP. BLUNT:  Which, of course, is what the minority always says, whether we're in the minority, I guess--well, I wasn't there in the minority; hope to...

REP. FRANK:  You didn't mean it when you said it?

REP. BLUNT:  ...never be there in the minority.  I wasn't there, Barney.  And I'm sure that's what the...

REP. FRANK:  Were they lying when they said it?

REP. BLUNT:  ...minority always says, that they don't have the opportunity they need because they don't see their agenda moving forward.  On this veterans issue, in terms of veterans and military retirees, we've done thing after thing after thing that the Democrats never did when they were in the majority, including give military retirees health-care benefits and pharmaceutical benefits for the first time ever, even though they'd always been promised that.  Veterans spending has gone up dramatically, as has spending on education, doubled under this president.  The facts are on our side, and I don't blame the other side...

REP. FRANK:  Well...

REP. BLUNT:  ...from wanting to divert from what's really happening to talk about something else.

REP. FRANK:  Well, why did you fire Chris Smith?  Why did the leadership--and it's never you; it's always somebody else, or you weren't there when they said this.  But why did the leadership fire Chris Smith, a good conservative Republican, as chairman of the Veterans Committee, over his objections?  And it was--we were told, he said, because he had objected to budgetary cuts that were hurting the veterans and weren't fair to veterans.

REP. BLUNT:  Now, Barney, you know, why would you say it's never me?  Because I pointed out correctly that the speaker...

REP. FRANK:  Are you going answer me about Chris Smith?

REP. BLUNT:  Yeah, I am--that the speaker...

REP. FRANK:  I don't think you are going to give me...

REP. BLUNT:  Barney--that the speaker makes those recommendations.  That's absolutely accurate.  Doesn't mean it wasn't me.  I am on the committee that recommends to the conference who the chairman will be and we did think we needed to move forward...

REP. FRANK:  Why did you fire Chris Smith?

REP. BLUNT:  ...in a different direction...

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  Let me...

REP. BLUNT:  ...on the veterans committee.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn back to Tom DeLay.  Is Tom DeLay going to make it?

REP. FRANK:  My guess is that he will not quit soon and that--I do not think he will be a candidate for leader in the next Congress.  I think that too many Republicans will decide that this is a problem in marginal districts.  I think to model Trent Lott is likely to be something that he does.  He may not resign right away, but it's hard for me to believe that in a lot of the close districts in this country, people are going to want to run for re-election as the Republican pledge to the continued dominance of the Republican Party of Tom DeLay.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will Tom DeLay stay as leader?

REP. BLUNT:  Tom DeLay will stay as leader.  There are some significant differences in where we were and where we were when Jim Wright was the speaker a few years ago.  Tom DeLay is not going run away from a fight.  We've always understood we have to carefully guard our narrow majorities we've had.  We're going to work to do that.  And we have ideas, and I think the Democrats right now are not coming forward with ideas that compete with our ideas, so they have to figure out how to compete in some other way.

MR. RUSSERT:  Roy Blunt, Barney Frank, a blunt, frank discussion.  Thank you very much.

REP. FRANK:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  A close-up look at the war in Iraq is next with two war correspondents, Dexter Filkins of The New York Times and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski.  They have both been on the ground in Iraq.  We'll get their eyewitness reports.  Then, our MEET THE PRESS minute.  Eleanor Roosevelt from 1956.  We mark the 60th anniversary of the death of her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Reports from the front line with two correspondents who've been covering the war on the ground in Iraq after this station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Dexter Filkins, Jim Miklaszewski, welcome both.

Iraq--Mik, you just got back on Friday.  Our government leaders say they are cautiously optimistic.  What did you find on the ground?

MR. JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:  What I found on the ground, Tim, was that the American troops still have a pretty high morale.  They're still behind the mission 100 percent, but there's a growing concern among U.S. military leadership in Iraq that in this post-January 30 election period, when everybody goes so high on the fact that people stuck their fingers in the ink and declared that they were going to promote and actually participate in a democratic movement there in Iraq, that since that time, the slow rate of reconstruction in Iraq, the fact that 50 percent of men in parts of the Sunni triangle are still unemployed, that there's a growing dissatisfaction with the pace of democracy in Iraq may, in fact, lose the kind of momentum that had been gained during the election period.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dexter Filkins, you spent the better part of two years in Iraq. What's your sense of how things are going?

MR. DEXTER FILKINS:  I think it's better.  It feels better.  I mean, you know, in the last four or five months, you've had two pretty significant events. One was the recapture of Fallujah, which had become a safe haven for the insurgents, and the other was the election, which I think gave a lot of Iraqis a sense that they were going to get their country back and they were going to be able to control its destiny.  And I--just being on the streets there you can feel some of the anger having been drained away.  And it's clearly not as violent as it was, you know, six months ago, five months ago when there were--I remember the month of August, there were 45 car bombs.  Now, the level of violence, the number of attacks against American soldiers and Iraqi soldiers is down.  The number of Iraqi recruits into the security services is way up.  So at the moment, things are feeling a little better.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's a very important point, because our exit strategy is to have enough Iraqis volunteer for military service and be trained so that our troops can come home.  Realistically, how long, based on your reporting, do you believe it will take to have an Iraqi force in place that will allow the Americans to come home completely?

MR. FILKINS:  "Completely" is the key word there.  I mean, it's such a big job, and particularly--I mean, if you talk to the Iraqi commanders and the American commanders who are trying to do this, generally what they tell you now is that it's working, like so many other things.  It's working in the Shiite areas.  It's working in the Kurdish areas.  It's not working that well in the Sunni areas.  And that's kind of the--I mean, that's the linchpin for the whole enterprise.  So I think it's hard to imagine.  I don't like to make predictions, but it's hard to imagine that it won't be years, you know, maybe even a decade, before all the Americans could come home.

MR. RUSSERT:  A long investment.

MR. FILKINS:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are a lot of concerns, Mik, in the newspaper accounts I've been reading over the weekend where, as we put together this government, or the Iraqis put together their government of Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds, that there are some tensions, obviously, between the Sunnis and the Shiites, particularly.  There's a standoff now in part of the country.  What happens if the Iraqi government decides, "We have to put down this insurrection in the Sunni area," and the Sunnis in the government say, "Oh, come on.  That's my neighborhood.  You can't be going in there," and then they turn to the United States and say, "You're the honest broker; what do you think here?," what happens?  How does this play out?

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  That's a very perplexing question for U.S. military leaders.  When I asked them about that very question--if the U.S. military, for example, should see an area where they need to launch an operation, yet the Iraqi political leadership says, "No, we don't want you to do that operation," the only thing they can say for now--Excuse me, Tim--is that it hasn't happened yet.  But there is a strong likelihood that, as the Iraqi government gains more strength, they will, in fact, start to veto specific military operations.  Again, it hasn't happened yet, but it's a very real concern on the part of the U.S. military down the road.

MR. RUSSERT:  In fact, there's a headline in the Los Angeles Times today, Dexter Filkins:  Iraqi leaders flexing muscles; U.S. officials may have limited influence on the direction of the new government.  There was a sense, when we talk about Iraq, it's going to be a democracy, a model democracy in the Middle East.  What, in fact, do you think is emerging from the political leadership in Iraq?  How would you describe the government, the country, the philosophy?

MR. FILKINS:  It's pretty divided at the moment.  I mean, essentially, when the elections were finished, you basically had a split between the Shiite majority, which ultimately came to control the government.  That's pretty theocratic.  And there's going to be a big tug-of-war over the next few months as they write the constitution, which is the main purpose for this government, about the role of Islam and about a theocracy.  But then that's about 50 percent of the National Assembly that was elected.  The other half is pretty secular.  I mean, you've got the Kurdish parties and you've got Allawi.  And so it's very-- there's going to be a really big, I think, tug-of-war over the soul of the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the more interesting issue is that the new president, Talabani, who's Kurdish in the north, during his campaign said, `We should consider amnesty for the insurgents, perhaps even those who attacked American troops.'  How does that play out?

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  Well, it's not going sit very well with U.S. military commanders, but at the same time, they acknowledge that the government and the overall military operations, in fact, will fall into the hands of the Iraqi leadership.  You know, that was a very strong point that the U.S. was trying to drive home for the past six months or so, that Iraq is now being run by Iraqis.  You don't see the U.S. military briefings that we used to see during the height of the war, certainly, and even in the postwar conflict that lasted for well over a year.  The U.S. military is trying to take a backseat in terms of a high profile, in terms of putting out any individuals to speak on behalf of the country of Iraq.  So it'll be difficult for the U.S. to try to veto that.  I suspect there's going be a lot of behind-the-scene negotiations.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you gauge the level and the intensity of the insurgency right now?

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  By all accounts, the insurgency is still reeling from a number of successful operations, as Dexter pointed out, in Fallujah, and the continuing operations in the Baghdad area in particular.  They've had some very major successes in rolling up insurgent and terrorist leadership. However, the U.S. military officials in Iraq are very pragmatic about this and say that there's enough money, there are enough disgruntled Iraqis around that this insurgency could go on for some time.  It's not certainly at the level that it was, but you'll see that just in the past week, the number of IED--the improvised explosive device--and vehicle-borne IED attacks has sharply risen.  That was anticipated by U.S. military leaderships.  What they say is that the number of high-level, sustained attacks has been reduced, and the period between them is much longer.  It's just taking the insurgency and the terrorists longer to regenerate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dexter Filkins, your dispatches are so rich with detail and understanding of what you're seeing and observing.  Tell us about your life in Iraq.  What do you do?  Where do you live?  How do you get up?  How do you function as a reporter?

MR. FILKINS:  Well, The New York Times has a huge operation there.  It's very expensive.  But it's...

MR. RUSSERT:  Heavily guard?

MR. FILKINS:  Very heavily guarded.  We've got a couple of houses, we've got 20-foot-high concrete blast walls topped with barbed wire.  There's armed guards, there's armored cars, searchlights, the whole thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you move around the city?

MR. FILKINS:  You just try to do the best you can, you know.  The--you go...

MR. RUSSERT:  With guards?

MR. FILKINS:  Usually with guards.  I mean, you know, none of that's desirable.  You want to be--as a reporter, you want to be as unintrusive as possible.  You want to put people at ease.  And--but that's not really possible anymore.  So you can--things have gotten a little better.  I mean, Baghdad is not as tense and as angry as it was even six months ago.  But doing something like getting out of your car and walking around a neighborhood and just talking to people on the street, you can't really go that anymore.  I mean you can do it for 20 minutes, you know, 25 minutes, and then get in your car and get out, because if you linger too long, you're putting yourself in danger.

MR. RUSSERT:  Have you had any close calls?

MR. FILKINS:  More than I can count, yeah.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  Even when you're accompanied by large numbers of American troops, if you're in one place for longer than 10 minutes, they start to get nervous, and they say, "Let's get this over with and move on," because word gets out very quickly who's where and how vulnerable they may be.  So you really do, as Dexter said, have to keep moving.

MR. RUSSERT:  There is a road, a highway from the airport to downtown Baghdad that's called the Road of Death by many.  I understand there's a taxi service on that road to take someone from downtown to the airport.

MR. FILKINS:  Yeah.  There's actually a company in Baghdad that does nothing except offer rides to the airport and back.  They've got an armored cars and some guards.  And they charge $35,000 for...

MR. RUSSERT:  Thirty-five thousand dollars?

MR. FILKINS:  ...for a ride to the airport.  And I think you know, if you miss your plane and you have to come back, it's another $35,000.  But...

MR. RUSSERT:  How long--is it six miles?

MR. FILKINS:  I think it's about six miles, yeah.  It's not a happy six miles. So, you know, they earn their money.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why have we been unable--or the Iraqis unable to protect that road, that stretch?

MR. FILKINS:  That's a real mystery.  It's a really bad neighborhood that it goes through, and you know, people come in from both sides.  And--but it's--you know, they'd have to occupy six miles of road 24 hours of day.  I think in the dead of night, people come out and plant bombs and they stage attacks.

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  The most heavily controlled city right now is Fallujah. You can't get into the city unless you go through a checkpoint.  Traffic backs up for three or four hours at a time.  It's heavily patrolled.  There's a curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM.  Yet last week they found five freshly made roadside bombs--they didn't detonate, fortunately--and it's believed that these bombs were made by people still in Fallujah with those weapon caches that still remain.  And even when we were at the camp for a couple of days, there was the thump and boom of mortar attacks from within Fallujah, the most heavily guarded city in Iraq right now.  It's just an impossible task, really, to control those--the Baghdad highway or large segments of Iraq because there are just too many people willing to either attack or blow themselves up on behalf of what they think is the insurgency or a fundamentalist or a terrorist cause.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dexter, talk about life in Baghdad as opposed to prefall of Saddam.  What is the average guy, the average lady--do they get up in the morning?  Are they going to work?  Is the city functioning?  Are kids going school?  Are the markets open?  What do you see?

MR. FILKINS:  All those things.  I mean, the truth is, you know, on most days, Baghdad is a very normal, Middle Eastern city.  You know, after the fall off Saddam, there was a huge economic boom.  They took down all the duties, you know, the amount of car traffic has, you know, quadrupled or possibly more.  The traffics--the streets are jammed, the schools are open.  There's lots of commerce.  So in that sense, it's a very vibrant, bustling place. It's just sort of punctuated by, you know, this terrible violence.  But, you know, it's difficult to describe the country because you have these very dramatic moments of violence.  But the truth is, you know, most of the time, it's pretty normal.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about the newspapers, the television, the radio?  What are the people in Iraq seeing and hearing?  Is there honest and open debate?

MR. FILKINS:  There is.  Yeah, there's plenty of debate.  I mean, the shadow of Saddam Hussein is still--still lingers over everybody, but--I mean, you can really see that.  But one of the things that everybody bought after Saddam fell was satellite dishes.  I mean, there's just zillions of them now.  And so everybody gets everything from, you know, CNN to Al-Jazeera.  So yeah, there's no shortage of information and opinions now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Reconstruction--Mik, there was a lot of emphasis by our government that we were going to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq.  In fact, the former deputy defense secretary, Wolfowitz, said that the oil revenues that would be generated from increased production would begin to finance a lot of our military and economic operation.  Every article I have read indicates that reconstruction is way behind schedule.  What's happening?

MR. MIKLASZEWSKI:  Again, I'll go back to Fallujah, because I was just there for a couple of days last week.  Nine thousand homes and buildings in Fallujah were destroyed when the Marines went in in November.  There have been 32,000 claims against the government by homeowners and business owners.  Of those 32,000 claims, only 2,400 have been paid off so far.  And when you walk in and--let's say your house is worth $10,000.  They will only give you 20 percent of the amount of your claim for now.  It's because--and those funds are controlled by the Iraqi government.  They're husbanding those funds for use in the future.  And as I stood next to the line of those claimants, all you have to do is ask them what their complaint is, and within seconds, their rage surfaces, so badly at one point the cameraman said to me, "Mik, we're about to start a riot here.  I think we'd better leave."

And the current president of the temporary council, Sheik Khaled, admitted to me that the people in Fallujah are already growing impatient, and predicted it will take at least another year before reconstruction actually begins to take hold.

MR. FILKINS:  If I could just jump in there--I mean, I think what's happened here--you know, Congress allocated $18 billion for reconstruction.  And what's happened is, you know, it's a lot easier to kick a barn down than it is to build one.  And so, so much of this money has had to be diverted for security training, for just security on the projects.  I mean, on any given construction project, as much as 35 percent of the money goes to protecting the workers who are working on it.  So the problem is just--has been the violence, and it's basically overwhelmed every attempt or most of the attempts to rebuild the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dexter Filkins, Jim Miklaszewski, thank you both for keeping your fear and emotions in check and giving us those kinds of straightforward, candid reports.

Coming next, we mark the 60th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt's death.  On our MEET THE PRESS Minute, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt from 1956.  She was right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Sixty years ago this week, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at his residence in Warm Springs, Georgia.  His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, made several appearances on MEET THE PRESS.  Here she is in 1956 speaking very much in the Roosevelt tradition.

(Videotape, September 16, 1956):

MR. NED BROOK (NBC News):  Our guest is Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

For years, Mrs. Roosevelt has led the list of the world's most admired women and her views on public affairs are followed by many millions of people through her syndicated newspaper column.

MR. RICHARD CLURMAN (Newsday):  Mrs. Roosevelt, I wonder if you can tell us what you think are the principal issues in this campaign?  What separates the Democratic and the Republican Party?

MRS. ROOSEVELT:  Well, I think the principal issue really is whether you are prepared to do anything new.  At present, we have a government where there is prosperity primarily in big business which does seep down to a certain extent, but that has not proved always to be lasting, and I think you will find that small farmers and small businessmen are feeling that life is not quite as easy as they thought it was.  Now, I think one of the basic issues is whether the Democrats actually prepared to think of the individual and to have new ideas as to how you broaden your base of well-being in the country and how you make life more worth living for everybody.

So I think if you compare what we have with what many other nations have, we have much to be thankful for, but that does not mean that we should be satisfied to know that there are any of our people who do not have what I call a really good life and we still have a fifth of the nation that does not have.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Eleanor Roosevelt 49 years ago.  We'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams.  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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