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updated 5/15/2005 11:56:29 AM ET 2005-05-15T15:56:29

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, May 15, 2005

Guests: Ahmed Nazif, Prime Minister of Egypt

David Broder, Washington Post

Paul Gigot, The Wall Street Journal

Katty Kay, BBC

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

Moderator: Tim Russert, NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  President Bush pressures the world's largest Arab nation.

(Videotape):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Economic reforms are under way.  But when will we see free elections, a free press and more respect for human rights?  With us:  an exclusive interview with the prime minister of Egypt, Ahmed Nazif.  Then, John Bolton, Tom DeLay, Social Security, judicial nominations, North Korea and Iran:  insights and analysis from David Broder and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal and Katty Kay of the BBC.  And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on this program 25 years ago.

The Egyptian prime minister will meet with President Bush on Wednesday, but first, he joins us here on MEET THE PRESS.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.

PRIME MIN. AHMED NAZIF:  Thank you very much, Tim.  It's a pleasure to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice--here she is in Iraq this morning, a surprise visit greeting with Americans over there.  Do you believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was good for the Middle East?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, it's hard to tell.  I mean, you can't just classify it as good or bad.  There are good parts; there are parts that we need to make better.  And I believe that, in all, it has made some profound changes.  We're seeing an Iraq today that is changing, that's moving towards democracy, but at the same time we're still seeing unrest and instability in the area.  So it's still a wait-and-see situation.

MR. RUSSERT:  But it's good to have Saddam Hussein gone?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Definitely.  Definitely it's good to have Saddam Hussein gone.  I think that it's not just good for Iraq, it's good for the whole area. And I believe that it is important to make sure that we do not lose that part as we move Iraq towards stability and democracy.

MR. RUSSERT:  President Mubarak of Egypt said yesterday, "It is not good for U.S. troops to leave now."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  That's true.  I think for Iraq there are three important things that have to be achieved.  The first one is security.  We need to make sure that the Iraqis can take care of themselves, that these bombings that we hear about somehow stop.  And that's important, and that can only happen if we have a strong military--Iraqi forces, police and army.  And Egypt is willing to help there.  We've been trying to train many Iraqi soldiers in this area and willing to do more in this area.

The second part is that we need inclusion.  We need to make sure that the process, the political process that's taking place in Iraq, will allow everybody to participate.  If you leave some factions out, they will always bring trouble and security will not be there.  The third part, of course, is the economic side.  We need to make sure that this country can rebuild itself. Iraqi people on the street have to feel the difference that Saddam is gone.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the things Iraq has had is a free multi-candidate election.  Egypt has not yet had that.  The president has been speaking about it repeatedly.  Here he is just a few weeks ago on May 7, President Bush.

(Videotape, May 7):

PRES. BUSH:  Egypt will hold a presidential election this fall.  That election should proceed with international monitors and with rules that allow for a real campaign.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Will Egypt allow international monitors to oversee the campaign?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I think the important thing--the emphasis will be on free and transparent elections.  That's what we're looking for.  Now, whether it has international monitors or not, it's too early to tell, because we're still having the change of the constitution taking place on May 25.  After that we will have an election law in place.  Egypt is one of the few countries that has judiciary supervision of the elections.  That means that the judiciaries are the ones that take care of the elections.  Judges in Egypt do not--they feel that having foreigners sharing that with them will be an infringement on their own right of supervising the election.  So it's still a hot issue in Egypt.  I don't think...

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, would you prefer to have international monitors?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't mind having them.  I don't see a problem with that.  But we need to resolve this among ourselves.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you mentioned the judges.  They met yesterday, Mr. Prime Minister, and said that the election is "a fraud," and they are boycotting it because they do not think it will be a full and free and fair election.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't think that they meant that it's fraud.  I'm not sure if this is an accurate code.  But I think what they said...

MR. RUSSERT:  That's the word that they used, and they cheered when they heard it.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  What they said is that they would like to have more power in supervising the elections, which makes my point.  They're looking for having complete power in supervising the elections themselves.  Now, we didn't say no about that.  We just said that it's a process that has to take place through law.  Now, a new law will be coming out, because we're changing our constitution on May 25.  After that, we'll have to debate that law in parliament and make sure that it provides us with that.  The emphasis is we are, the government is, Mr. President Mubarak is, for a free and fair election.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you appreciate President Bush's pressure on Egypt or do you regard it as interference?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't see it as pressure.  I think that among friends we can get advice.  And I take it this way.

MR. RUSSERT:  Could it backfire?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Sometimes it does because, you know, you have to understand the Egyptian environment itself; not just the Egyptian environment, probably many countries in a similar case, who were subject to colonialists for a long time.  They don't appreciate very much foreign bodies telling them what to do. So it's been a thin line between receiving advice and receiving orders.

MR. RUSSERT:  Has President Bush crossed that line in your mind?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't think so.  But I think that we should take what President Bush said in its positive sense.  He said that Egypt is a great nation.  He said that Egypt has led peace in the Middle East.  He said that Egypt can lead democracy efforts in the Middle East.  And I do believe him and I do agree with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  The concern that the president has and others is that this will not be a free and fair election.  Already Reuters reports "A parliamentary committee proposed that non-party candidates" would need "65 of the 444 elected members of parliament," to sign off on it, in effect, a parliament "dominated by President Mubarak."  And then the Christian Science Monitor: "...in the past week, there have been ominous indications about the extent of the government's commitment to change.  The regime has arrested more than 1,000 political opponents, allegedly attacked an opposition group, watered down attempts to allow for a democratic election. ... `I don't think there will be any figure with stature in the country that can run against Mubarak,' said Mohammed Sayed Said, a political scientist at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and International Studies in Cairo.  `It will be a true farce.  The elections have already lost their meaning.'"

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  What they're not saying, Tim, is that this election will allow any political party in Egypt to present a candidate with no preconditions whatsoever; not the 65, nothing else.  This 65 applies only to independent candidates coming outside of political parties.  We have 19 political parties in Egypt.  We can have 19 presidential candidates this fall in Egypt.  It's up to the political parties to come up with those candidates. What I'm saying is, it's a process.  It will take some time because those parties are not yet mature enough.  They have been in the scene for the last 20 years.  They haven't brought in presidential candidate materials yet.  What we'll see in September, if they can bring them in...

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that a decision for the people to make and not you?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  It is and that's why we're allowing them to do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you yourself said--and this is Washington Times, "Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif downplayed any notion that his nation's coming presidential election will be a hotly contested, Western-style campaign and said President Hosni Mubarak will be easily reelected if, as expected, he decides to run. ...  [Nazif] suggested the opposition will not be prepared to run serious candidates until 2011 at the earliest."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Yes, that's true.  But that's my own personal opinion in the sense that we're not preventing them to run.  I'm just saying that they're not capable of bringing in presidential candidate material yet.  That's my own personal opinion.  Let them prove me wrong.  Let them bring in the candidates.

MR. RUSSERT:  So the minor parties will be able to run.  They'll have complete and fair coverage in the state-controlled media, access to the airwaves, access to the ballot?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  As head of the Egyptian government, I promise you, Tim, this will be the case.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a lot of thinking that, Mr. Prime Minister, what the real strategy here is to have President Mubarak re-elected, in effect, on an election that is not truly open, and then in 2011 turn over the reins of running Egypt to his son Jamal, a good friend of yours.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Don't you see this is a prejudgment, Tim.  I mean, people are already judging that the election will be a farce.  People are not even giving a chance to, I think, a very bold move before the president.  Nobody expected the president to present last February a move to change the constitution to have a multi-candidate presidential election in Egypt.  This is a fact.  We didn't have that, we never had that but we're having that this election.

Now, why can't we have the benefit of the doubt?  Why can't people wait and see how the election will run?  We've presented a very good amendment to the constitution.  It allows the parties to have viable candidates, 18 of them, in addition to President Mubarak if he decides to run.  And at the same time, as I said, this is a process that will take time.  Democracy is an evolutionary process.  You need to get people to build themselves.  Let the parties--if they fail this time, that's not a problem.  They have a parliamentary election this year after the presidential election.  They have another in 2010.  And then we'll have a presidential election in 2011.  And I think this process is a good one and we should allow it to run its course.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the Egyptian judges, the opposition parties, academics in Egypt are saying, "Why do they have to wait till 2011.  Why can't there be a full and fair and free election this year, right now in September?"

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  There can be.  There's no problem with that.  Tell me what stands in their way right now?  There's nothing there.  You can have other candidates.  Let them come out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will President Mubarak seek re-election?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  That's up to him to decide.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you be surprised if he didn't?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I would be surprised if he didn't, yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's the concern:  opposition party Ayman Nour.  He's a leader in the party.  Here he is in the orange scarf being released.  And this is the way The Washington Post editorial reported it:  "Mr. Mubarak's agents renewed their interrogation of Ayman Nour, the imprisoned head of the liberal Tomorrow party.  Six hours later--at 1 a.m.--Mr. Nour, a diabetic with a history of heart trouble, was `sweating, vomiting, holding his left arm, his left arm,' his wife told Reuters news agency. ... The charge against Mr. Nour that he is responsible for the forgery of some of the petitions submitted to register his party is dismissed as groundless by independent Egyptian lawyers. In truth, he is in jail because...he offered a fresh democratic alternative..."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Again, I mean, people are just jumping into conclusions in this case.  Mr. Nour's charges are very serious ones.  They are criminal charges.  They have nothing to do with any political charge.  Is it, I mean, not possible for a political leader to have criminal charges against him?  I think it's a possibility.  It did happen.  Mr. Nour, six months ago, was not known to anybody.  He is not a political heavyweight in any way.  And there is no reason for us to sort of have any political action against him as has been charged.  I mean, here is a charge that is unfounded.

MR. RUSSERT:  He should not have been in prison?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, he has serious charges in front of him.  He'll have his day in court, very ordinary criminal courts, and we'll find out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you concerned about his treatment in prison?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I'll tell you what, I don't believe what his wife said. The reason for that is the next day that he was arrested, I sent--I personally sent two of the most renown Egyptian physicians, a diabetic expert and heart condition expert, to jail to Mr. Nour.  And they came back and said he refused to meet them and he opted to use his own physician, which we did provide him with.

MR. RUSSERT:  The concern people have is echoed in the U.S. State Department report on human rights.  This is our government talking about Egypt.  It's a country's report on human rights practices.  "Citizens did not have the meaningful ability to change their government. ... The security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and occasionally engage in mass arrests.  Local police killed, tortured and otherwise abused both criminal suspects and other persons."

That's our State Department talking about your country, Egypt.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, they're talking about it, but that's only part of the report.  The report also cites that there has been a lot of improvement in human rights developments in Egypt.  We now have a National Council for Human Rights.  It presented its first report that's an Egyptian, not coming from abroad.  It's just an Egyptian report that cites some of those violations, as well.  The Egyptian Cabinet just last week met and discussed the report for the first time and decided to do many things about it.  I'll tell you what, human rights is an evolutionary process, but I would claim that Egypt today has one of the most improving records of human rights in the area.

MR. RUSSERT:  With much more to do.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  With some more to do, yes.  But I think that it's important also to put things in the proper context.  We are a country that has been subject to terrorism.  Our police force sometimes has to take necessary actions to make sure that we have peace and stability inside Egypt, as well. So I don't blame them very much in many cases.  But we do tell them not to abuse their forces as much as humanly possible.

MR. RUSSERT:  But one person's peace and stability is another person's torture?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't believe so.  I believe that we can have peace and stability without having torture.  Torture is not accepted to me personally and to this government.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Human Rights Watch released this report:  "The U.S. and other countries have forcibly sent dozens of terror suspects to Egypt, according to a report on Wednesday.  The rights group and State Department have both said Egypt regularly uses extreme interrogation methods on detainees.  ...  The report said that total numbers sent to Egypt since Sept. 11 attacks could be high as 200.  American officials have not disputed that people have been sent to countries where detainees are subjected to extreme interrogation tactics but have denied that anyone had been sent to another country for the purpose of torture."

How many terrorists suspects have been sent to Egypt by the United States?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't know the exact number, but I know that people have been sent there.  The numbers have varied.  Some have the number 60 or 70. But I think that it's important--you know, when you have Egyptians that have been arrested abroad, we seek to bring them back to the country.  Now, to say that we're bringing them back to torture them, I think, is not a very accurate statement.  We shouldn't be doing that.  We're not doing that.  But it happens sometimes, and we've seen police abuses all over the world.  But I don't think it should be mistaken as a standard practice arrangement.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are no torture tactics being used in interrogating suspected terrorists?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  No, sir.

MR. RUSSERT:  Period.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Yes, period.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about Egyptian culture and attitudes towards the United Stares.  Zogby International did a poll that showed disapproval of the United States, over 90 percent now, in Egypt.  And I noted this the other day in the newspaper.  "Anti-Americanism a Hit With Egyptian Audiences.  In Cairo's entertainment world these days, it's hard to escape a wave of anti-Americanism.  Often, a sure way to fill a theater is to lambaste U.S. foreign policy, cultural habits or military activity.  One recent comedy lampooning the United States featured an exploding Statue of Liberty outside the lobby.  ...  In Egypt, the sentiments color popular music as well as film. Shaaban Abdel Rehim, one of the country's most popular purveyors of shaabi music, a kind of Egyptian funk, is turning out hit after hit critical of President Bush, his policies in Iraq, his allies in the Arab world and Israel. Abdel Rehim's first bestseller was a thumping, danceable number called `I Hate Israel.'  [His latest is called `Attack on Iraq.'  The music can be heard all over Cairo - in cabs, in cafes and on the little cruise boats that take tourists on jaunts on the Nile River."

The United States has given Egypt $50 billion--$50 billion with a B--since 1975.  Why is it after all that investment by the United States these kinds of films, this kind of music is so popular in Egypt?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, I think we have to really differentiate between two things.  The Egyptian- U.S. relationship is a strategic one.  It has been for some time.  Egypt, as President Bush has has said, has that peace.  It is a practical peace in the area.  And in that context, our relationship has been a strong one.  We see eye to eye on many things--in most issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraqi conflict, all things related.  And I believe that that's important.  And in that context, we have also the aid package to Egypt that started in the '70s during Sadat's time to make sure that we have a stable Egypt, that we have a military that is capable of defending the country and imposing peace and stability and as well helping others to make peace with the Israelis.  I think that's a factor that we should not challenge.  Egypt is important to the U.S.  Egypt is a regional powerhouse that has helped in promoting peace and stability, things that the U.S. has been trying to do in the area.

Having said that, let's look at the other side of the coin now.  Now, Egyptians by nature have been trained over the years to hate colonialism, for example.  Now, when they see foreign forces in countries like Iraq, when they see the Palestinians not taking their fair share of rights, they attribute this in many ways to the United States not doing enough.  The United States is the leader of the world today.  And in that respect, they see her as responsible for getting many of the things that they see are fair.  If that doesn't happen, then you would see those kinds of responses.

Now, when those responses happen, it doesn't mean that peop--Egyptians by nature does not hate the United States.  And I've been meeting many of my U.S. friends here, many tourists from the U.S. that go to Egypt can tell you that I met about 30 congressmen in the last few months and they all say the same. They see Egyptians--when they meet Egyptians--you must have gone to Egypt, if you've gone there, you know that Egyptians don't hate the U.S.  Now, if you want us to arrest because he's doing that, the popular Shaaban Abdel Rehim, singer that's, you know, badmouthing the U.S., then I don't think that would be something that the U.S. stands for, arresting people because they're voicing their own opinions.

MR. RUSSERT:  But many people who voice opposition to President Mubarak are arrested?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  That's not true.  People in the streets today, today, voicing opposition to President Mubarak and getting home.

MR. RUSSERT:  No protesters have been arrested in the last few months?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Only if they turn violent.  This is has nothing to do with saying their own opinion.  It's just that because then they start turning violent and that's not allowed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Some observer said that the Egyptian state-controlled media is very anti-American and there was a deliberate calculation to let off steam against the United States rather than be focused on concern about President Mubarak.  Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek wrote, "...were the Egyptian Street to voice its views--I mean the real Egyptian Street, not President Mubarak's state-controlled media--we would probably discover that its deepest discontent is directed not at the president of the United States, but at the president of Egypt."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't think that's true as well, and there are many, many cases where this is not true.  We see demonstrations in the street for President Mubarak, for example, spontaneous demonstrations as well.  Nobody mentions that.  How come?  How come the media in other places of the world do not mention that.

MR. RUSSERT:  The article yesterday said at the Judicial Conference that the protesters for President Mubarak had been paid?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, did they see them being paid?

MR. RUSSERT:  I'm just asking that.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't think so.  They are not being paid.  There are spontaneous--President Mubarak is popular in Egypt, I can tell you that, and there have been many, many examples where this happens.  Of course, there are people who are requesting change and they are also voicing their opinions in the streets of Cairo today and nobody's stopping them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why aren't there any Arab democracies?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, there will be.  I think that we are in an evolving process.  It takes time.  I don't believe that the U.S. had arrived to a democracy that it can accept for itself in 10 years or 20 years or 50 years. It took them 200 years to get there.  So we should not deny others about 30 or 40 years to get there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, Dennis Ross, the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, wrote this:  "If Iran goes nuclear, it is likely to trigger a wave of others in the region doing the same.  ...  The Saudis...might decide they need the bomb as either a deterrent or a political counterweight against Iran. Egypt, not wishing to cede its prominence in the Arab world to the Saudis, will almost press harder to acquire a nuclear capability..."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, we've declared opposition on this very clearly.  We will not pursue nuclear capability in terms of military use.  And I think that we are one of the most--advocates today of NPT, and I believe that the Egyptian position is very clear on this.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if Iran develops a nuclear capability, Egypt will not follow?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  No.  I don't think it's a necessity for us to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  What if Saudi Arabia does?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  I don't believe they will.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think Iran can be stopped?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Well, I think all countries should be stopped.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including Iran?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Including Iran, and including the ones that already have them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would Egypt join in sanctions against Iran?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  If they do that, we'll have to look into it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you.  We hope you'll come back in September after your presidential election and come talk to us about it.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF:  Thank you, Tim.  I enjoyed it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thank you very much.

Coming next, back home to U.S. politics:  Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, David Broder and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Katty Kay of the BBC, on the upcoming confirmation vote on John Bolton, judicial nominations, the so-called nuclear option, Tom DeLay and more, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, Paul Gigot, Katty Kay and Gene Robinson after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we're back.

Welcome all.  This was the scene on MEET THE PRESS, Senate debate between John Thune, the Republican, Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader.  Mr. Thune won that campaign.  One of the things he said during it was:  "He will make the future of Ellsworth Air Force Base a top priority if voters elect him to the U.S. Senate.  With the Pentagon's next round of military base closings just a year away"-- that's now--"Thune, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, said his relationship with President Bush would give Ellsworth additional clout.  `It puts Ellsworth in a lot stronger position than having someone who's going to be in the minority, someone who doesn't have a relationship with the president of the United States.'"

David Broder, the second-largest employer in the state of South Dakota may be closed.

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  What are the politics of base closings, particularly in South Dakota?

MR. BRODER:  Well, I don't see any evidence that this--that the Pentagon was looking at electoral maps when they decided which bases to close.  But the local politics are powerful.  Military likes isolated areas for their bases for obvious reasons.  And when they close one of those bases, there's often no other immediately available employer there.  But over time I've seen real comeback from--anywhere from New Hampshire all the way out to Monterey, California, on what were once Air Force or Navy or military bases which have now found other uses.  So it's not the calamity, I think, that it appears to be in the first bunch of the news.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to have some real political fights:  Trent Lott fighting for Mississippi, Congressman Rob Simmons in Connecticut, Joe Lieberman as well.  That's something to watch.  Paul Gigot, what's your sense?

MR. PAUL GIGOT:  Well, the commission is designed so that these members can protest at the top of their lungs and yet the bill can still pass because all of them have to be done in a package, and that's basically a way to give the members of Congress their way to try to satisfy their constituents and still the national interest be done, so I think it's a good process and I think these--this will pass.

MR. RUSSERT:  Eighty-five percent of the recommendations from the Pentagon are usually adopted in the end by the full commission and by the president and by the Congress.  Let me turn to judicial nominations.  This week Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader of the Senate, is putting forward the names of Priscilla Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, and also Janice Rogers Brown, currently a California Supreme Court justice.  The Democrats have been filibustering these nominations.  Senator Frist has said if that doesn't stop, he will change the rules of the Senate--attempt to--so that you no longer need 60 votes to stop a filibuster, but can do it with a mere 51--the so-called nuclear option.  Gene Robinson, your sense.

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON:  Well, I--here we go, I guess.  I mean, I think that it could be the donnybrook that we've all been anticipating.  And it's important. I mean, judicial nominations are important.  This is different, for example, from the John Bolton nomination for U.N. ambassador.  He serves at the pleasure of the president, to carry out the president's policies at the United Nations, for better or worse.  These judges are supposed to be an independent branch of the judiciary.  And if there's a sense that the president is trying to pack the judiciary with judges of a certain stripe, I think Democrats, you know, have to stand up to that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Katty Kay?

MS. KATTY KAY:  Well, it's interesting.  We don't really know yet how the public will respond to this because, for the moment, this is more of a Washington story than a national story.  The American voters, by and large, are not fixated for the moment on judicial nominations.  But if the Democrats go ahead with their promise and start shutting down the Senate, then they might well be.  Republicans will try to paint the Democrats as being obstructionists.  And Democrats believe, on the other hand, that they do have public support on their side.  The public opinion polls suggest they do not want the rules change, that they do want to protect the rights of minorities. But both sides are going to try and spin this out to suit their own political advantage.  And at the moment, both could possibly lose.  Approval ratings for Congress are very low at the moment, somewhere in the 30s, the lowest that they've been since 1997.  Most of the public thinks they're pretty dissatisfied with the way Congress has been behaving.  If we have this kind of a battle now in Congress, I think it's going to increase that dissatisfaction.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, you think we'll see the rules for filibuster for judicial nominations change?

MR. BRODER:  Tim, there's an intriguing subtext to this fight.  The senior senators, those who have been around for a while in both parties, do not want this to happen.  They do not want to see the Senate changed fundamentally. And it's the younger people who have come in, particularly those who have moved over from the House of Representatives in the last couple of elections, who are saying, "Let's go for it.  Let's get this thing moving again."  My guess is that the senior senators will probably hold out against this change, but the pressures on them to go to the confrontation and have this showdown vote, whichever way it comes out--and nobody knows how it's going to come out--but the pressures on them from outside groups and from the White House are enormous.

MR. RUSSERT:  The White House would like to set the table for the Supreme Court nominations so they would only need 51 votes rather than 60, in fact, if a name came forward and there is that opening.  Paul Gigot, Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich, the American Conservative of the Union, Rush Limbaugh have all been very outspoken about wanting to exercise this so-called "nuclear option."  The New Hampshire Union Leader editorial said this the other day.  "We are quite sure the Presidential Primary voters of New Hampshire will be watching carefully to see how Republican senators act on this crucial matter."

Bill Frist wants to run for president.

MR. GIGOT:  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  George Allen wants to run for president.  Old Rick Santorum wants to run for president.  How much pressure is there on Frist and others to exercise this option?

MR. GIGOT:  Well, if the Democrats filibuster, which is, I think, a change of Senate traditions, I think the Republicans have no choice.  I think the real--but to go ahead--because the real danger is if they don't, not only because of pressure from the base but because it's important in presidential politics, and it's also important because so many of our disputes nowadays in politics, cultural disputes especially, are settled by courts.  They've taken a lot of power on abortion, gay rights issues, on environmental issues.  So you've got to--so those are very important, Republican constituents feel. They've won Senate seats two elections in a row, 2002, 2004, where this question of judges was very important, including with Tom Daschle's race.  So I think they're feeling this is probably more important for Republicans than the Social Security issue.  This may be the single most important domestic issue for George Bush and the Senate this Congress.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, Democrats will say when Bill Clinton was president, and he had a right to have his judges, Republicans blocked him in the committee, which was in effect de facto the same thing as filibustering.

MR. GIGOT:  No question that some individual Republicans--Jesse Helms, some others--behaved badly in some cases.  But there was no such thing as a systematic use of a procedural effort of a filibuster when you're in the minority to stop judges when Bill Clinton was in office.  The two times that some Republicans tried to use the filibuster in 2000, a majority of Republicans and Democrats overruled it.  So I think this is an escalation.  I think this is the real radical use of a different procedure in the use of the filibuster.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's the fallout going to be?

MR. ROBINSON:  You know, I'm not quite sure.  I think you have to look at the nominees, though, and look at whether or not President Bush is indeed nominating judges whose views are so far to the right, so far out of the legal mainstream, that, you know, what the Democrats are doing with the filibuster is in order.  And I think the public will ultimately look at the nominees themselves in addition to the politics involved there.

MR. GIGOT:  If it were one or two nominees, I think maybe that would work. But I think when you're talking about 10, and it would have been 12 or 14 had some of the others been brought to the floor last Congress, and it's on so many issues.  It's on abortion, it's on environment, it's on First Amendment, it's on temperament.  People begin to say, "Well, wait a minute.  Are they all radical?"  No.  And so that's where it escalates, and I think Republicans have to step in and do something.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the other issues before the Senate, the nomination and confirmation of John Bolton to be ambassador of the United Nations.  This was Thursday.  Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican.  Let's listen.

(Videotape, Thursday):

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH, (R-OH):  It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  That comment made the White House very unhappy.  David, the nomination was reported without recommendation to the Senate by a vote of 10-to-8, party lines.  The full Senate will now take up Mr. Bolton.  What happens?

MR. BRODER:  I think he gets confirmed because ultimately, as Gene Robinson has said, this is somebody who is an employee of the president in the executive branch.  And it takes a very high threshold for a United States senator to say to the president of the United States, "You can't have the person in your administration that you think you want to hire for this job." I don't think--I mean, it's clear that on both sides if they were making a choice, Mr. Bolton would not be their choice to send to the United Nations, both for policy and personality reasons.  But it's not their choice.  It's the president's choice.  And in the end I think he gets his way.

MR. RUSSERT:  Katty Kay, disagree?

MS. KAY:  No, I think he will get his way, and I think the Democrats are going to have to choose where to pick their battles.  You had Senator Boxer, Senator Biden, at various points suggesting that they might try to block or filibuster John Bolton.  I think when it comes to it, they will decide to let this one go.

Something interesting did emerge from those Bolton nominations, there was a huge amount of interest in this story around the world.  This really was front-page news both in Britain and in other European countries.  And there was a feeling that this sent a message about how the administration deals with other countries.  This is not really a personality issue.  Nobody expected John Bolton to be Mr. Nice Guy.  He doesn't have to do this.  But there was a question about why the U.S. would want to send somebody to the United Nations who has been accused of politicizing intelligence on the very issue at which America's credibility is so low at the moment.  And that does--as George Voinovich was suggesting, it could increase anti-Americanism, both in the United Nations but in other parts of the world, as well, and make the very process of reform, which is why he's been sent there, that much harder.

MR. RUSSERT:  Paul Gigot, in the whole situation regarding weapons of mass destruction, is John Bolton the best American to make the case against North Korea, against Iran and other countries with intelligence data?

MR. GIGOT:  Well, it's interesting.  You know, Mark Malloch Brown, who is the chief of staff of the U.N., Kofi Annan, he came in to see us at The Journal. He said, "You know, I like the Bolton nomination.  The reason I like it is because I think rather than being the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., I think of him as the U.N.'s ambassador to the U.S., that he has enough credibility as somebody who can forge a coalition to make a consensus for reform within the U.S. government, that he can maybe deliver some things that other American ambassadors could not because he's somebody with credibility on the right."

MS. KAY:  That predisposes that he's actually committed to the United Nations.  And some of the comments he's said might suggest otherwise, which is his attitudes towards the multilateral organizations also is one of the things that some other countries have concerns about.

MR. GIGOT:  But he's working for the president--he'll work for the president in New York so he's going to have to deal with the right.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the Republicans exercise the nuclear option and change the rules of filibuster for judicial nominations, might the Democrats decide to filibuster the nomination of John Bolton?

MR. ROBINSON:  I agree with Katty.  I don't think they will in the end.  I think the Democrats are having a grand time with the politics of the nomination and have raised some legitimate concerns:  Do you send a man to the United Nations who doesn't quite believe in international law, for example, or that such a thing exists?  Do you send someone who's so undiplomatic to be a diplomat in that sort of visible post?  Nonetheless, I don't think they will.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me...

MR. BRODER:  I think there's an important message in this for the president, however.  If he's confirmed 52:48 or whatever it's going to be, it sends a message to the president, there are limits as to how far you can go in pushing the Senate to accept anything that you decide to do.  And I hope that that message is heeded by the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House of Representatives.  Thursday night, a big dinner of support from conservative activists.  This is highlights of some of the comments made at that dinner. Remember, Tom DeLay's nickname is The Hammer, and that's how we start.

(Videotape, May 12, 2005):

Unidentified Woman:  Ladies and gentlemen, join in and let's sing "We've Got A Hammer."

Unidentified Man and Unidentified Woman:  (Singing) Now, we've got a hammer and we've got a hammer.  And he hammers in the evening all over this land.

MR. DAVID KEENE (American Conservative Union):  The message we send tonight is simple enough.  We're conservatives.  We're proud of our leaders.  We stand with our own.  And none of us are going away any time soon.

FMR. REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, (R-LA):  The leadership of the other side working in conjunction with the press has tried to pile on Tom and ruin his reputation.

MR. BRENT BOZELL (Media Research Center):  Ladies and gentlemen, this is a media out of control in their commitment to bringing down this man.

MR. TONY PERKINS (Family Research Council):  I think the message tonight is that if they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, has there been a cabal between the media and the Democrats to bring him down?

MR. BRODER:  Well, of course.  And I was at the meeting myself where we got our orders to do this.  No.  No.  I mean, Tom DeLay is in trouble because of things that Tom DeLay did.  And he has a lot of loyalty and a lot of support that he's earned from his fellow conservatives, but the notion that this is some kind of a press liberal conspiracy just doesn't wash.

MR. RUSSERT:  Paul Gigot, you probably have the most influential page of opinion on the conservative side in the nation in The Wall Street Journal, and you've taken a much different attitude towards Mr.  DeLay and his troubles. Let's read it.  "Smells Like Beltway.  The problem... is that Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1991 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits.  ... Rather than buck this system as he promised to do while in the minority, Mr. DeLay has become its undisputed and unapologetic master as Majority Leader. Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign finance rules is thus largely beside the point.  His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out."  I take it you weren't invited to the dinner?

MR. GIGOT:  I didn't get the phone call from the Democratic leadership either, I must say.  Well, part of the reason is that the Republicans have to remember why they came to Washington.  They came to change it.  They came in sweeping on an ethics platform against Jim Wright and clean the house and I think some of them have forgotten that.  They're passing big highway bills. They're passing entitlements, huge entitlements that will tax our children for years.  They love the gerrymander which protects a lot of seats and I think it was a big mistake to try to change the ethics rules earlier this Congress. Clearly now they've had to reverse that and that was very embarrassing.  So I think there is a percep--we have a perception at least.  Maybe--I don't live in Washington anymore, Tim.  I live in New York, and so there's a perception, at least by some of us outside the Beltway, that Tom DeLay and the others have to get back to thinking about why they were elected.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene Robinson, DeLay supporters will say four dozen members of Congress had their family members on their political payrolls, that countless Democrats have taken trips funded by lobbyists.  Maybe they weren't aware of it, but they did.  What's Tom DeLay done that is so different than what some Democrats have done?

MR. ROBINSON:  And, you know, I think--number one, Paul made the point that these Republicans were supposed to be different.  Number two, let's see what an ethics investigation really demonstrates.  I don't think necessarily that the things we believe Tom DeLay may have done are all that common or are just the same as what everybody does.  I don't think everybody does it.  Defense works particularly with some of the lobbying arrangements.  But I also think we learned two things from that clip that you played earlier.  Number one: Republicans, if they're going to try to sing "If I Had a Hammer," they're going to lose support, you know, minute by minute.  That was pretty bad.  And number two:  The tribute dinner, in and of itself, does not necessarily presage the outcome.  So we'll wait and we'll see what we find out.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's interesting watching that event and then looking at--two other things have developed, Katty Kay, over the last few months.  The first is--I'll call it political odd couples.  Here is President George Bush 41 and President Bill Clinton.  They're inseparable, saying nothing but supportive things of each other.  And then this emerged this Wednesday, a joint announcement on health-care legislation:  former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton.  And The New York Times wrote it this way: "Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, has been working alongside the former first lady on a number of issues...  More puzzling than that, Mr. Gingrich has been talking up Mrs. Clinton's presidential prospects in 2008, to the chagrin of conservative loyalists... Last month, he even suggested she might capture the presidency, saying `any Republican who thinks she's going to be easy to beat has a total amnesia about the history of the Clintons.'  What gives?  For Mrs. Clinton, standing side by side with her husband's onetime nemesis gives her the chance to burnish her credentials among the moderates she has been courting..."

What's going on?

MS. KAY:  Well, it reminds me slightly, Tim, of when I think you asked Senator McCain on this program a few weeks ago whether the lady sitting next to him would make a good president, and it was Hillary Clinton.  He said yes. And we--this is an even odder couple, I think, than George Bush and Bill Clinton.  For Hillary Clinton, it seems, there is a very clear upside.  She puts herself next to Newt Gingrich and helps move herself, as she has been doing, on social issues, on defense, into the more moderate center of the Democratic Party, and perhaps in a bid for her run in 2008 to shed some of her past more liberal images.  For Newt Gingrich, though, I think this is a tougher call.  I think that Hillary Clinton really is the person who the members of the conservative part of the Republican Party find very difficult to deal with, and Newt Gingrich standing next to her could cause him, I think, some problems.

MR. RUSSERT:  David.

MR. BRODER:  The issue that brought them together is itself an important issue, bringing modern technology into the health-care system, which is an essential step if we're going to be able to make this system work.  But the history is a little different from what The New York Times story suggested. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton got together significantly in 1997 on the budget deal that led to the few years of surpluses.  They were ready to do a deal in '98 on Social Security, Gingrich and Bill Clinton, and then Monica happened.  So Gingrich has been ready to do work with both Clintons for a number of years.

MR. RUSSERT:  Paul Gigot?

MR. GIGOT:  Bringing technology to the health-care system, though, is not one of the great ideological fault lines in American politics right now.  I mean, this is not the hardest issue to kind of find a meeting of the minds on, and Gingrich has long been interested in health care.  So I think this is a marriage--well, it's not quite a marriage of convenience; maybe a first date. But I don't think it's going to--they'll find ways to disagree before too long, believe me.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene Robinson?

MR. ROBINSON:  I think it's a kind of mutual borrowing of star power.  I think each season it's some sort of visibility and political advantage, and that's basically what it is.

MR. RUSSERT:  And he's taking full advantage of it.

MR. ROBINSON:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Katty Kay, Tony Blair elected to a third term by a lesser margin but, nonetheless, re- elected.  It is striking that both Blair and Bush, who had a lot of internal opposition to the war in Iraq, both won re-election.

MS. KAY:  Yes, it is a historic victory for the Labor Party.  They've never won three elections in a row.  But the British public got what they wanted, in a sense.  They got Tony Blair back in office, but with a drastically reduced majority.  And they gave him a drubbing down because of his friendship with George Bush and because he took British troops into the war in Iraq.  It was noticeable that during the election campaign, the stickiest issue for Tony Blair was the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the legality of the war and his role in intelligence and whether the government had tried to politicize the intelligence in order to get Britain into the war.  It was an issue that didn't damage George Bush, particularly, during the election here, but which really did hurt Tony Blair.  The only question in Britain at the moment is when Tony Blair steps down, how soon he stands over.  In a sense, we had an election which was very American in style, we had a president and vice president running, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the question is when he hands over.

MR. RUSSERT:  We'll be watching.  We have to thank David Broder, Katty Kay, Paul Gigot, Gene Robinson.  We'll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

1978:  Under the leadership of President Anwar Sadat, Egypt signs the Camp David Accords with Israel, outlining the framework for peace in the Middle East.  Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin, share the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

And in 1979, Egypt becomes the first Arab nation to sign a unilateral peace treaty with Israel.  Several months later, Sadat appeared right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Videotape, September 9, 1979):

MR. BILL MONROE (NBC News):  Our guest today on MEET THE PRESS is President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.  President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin have been meeting in this Israeli city of Haifa on the Mediterranean Coast. Directly east of here about 50 miles, the Sea of Galilee.  MEET THE PRESS is usually broadcast live, but this program from Haifa is being taped here on the grounds of the Don Carmel Hotel.

MR. DON A. SCHANCHE (Los Angeles Times):  Mr.  President, to shift the scene slightly from this beautiful garden in Haifa, the peace process depends a great deal on your personal political health and on the political and economic health of Egypt continued help.  Recently you've issued several strong warnings to the religious fundamentalists, or religious right in Egypt, not to mix politics and religion.  At the same time, your government has found it necessary to arrest some 50 leftist opponents.  Does this indicate that you fear political unrest in Egypt?

PRES. ANWAR SADAT (Egypt):  Never.  Never.  It is just like you do in the States.  Those who were arrested, the 50, they were arrested by the attorney general, not by the government, not by the marshal law, not by anything, just by law because they have certain activities, and they have found the leaflets, the machines, everything.  They found everything.  And for that they were put in prison.  Let me tell you this, in Egypt--I should like you to come and see and meet the men of Egypt.  In Egypt, 5,000 out of 41 million has opposed the treaty with Israel and the peace.  Well, imagine, what does 5,000 out of 41 million.  Then, I invite you to come and ask the men of Egypt.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Two years later, October 6, 1981, Muslim extremists assassinated Sadat as he watched a military parade commemorating a 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

And 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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