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updated 10/2/2005 11:07:47 AM ET 2005-10-02T15:07:47

  
MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  The war in Iraq; 1,935 Americans dead, 14,755 wounded and injured.  What have we achieved?  What is our military strategy?  With us, the head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas is indicted, causing him to surrender his majority leader position.  What now?  With us, the chairmen of the House congressional campaign committees:  for the Democrats, Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois; for the Republicans, Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York.  Emanuel and Reynolds square off, only on MEET THE PRESS.

And insights and analysis from Dan Balz of The Washington Post and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal.

But first, Iraq, through the eyes of a man who's overseeing the war, General John Abizaid.

General, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:  Thank you, sir.  Good to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  On Wednesday, the president of the United States was talking about your testimony and that of General Casey before the Congress, and this is what he said to the American people.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  Members of Congress will get the latest information about our strategy, and I want to thank them for taking time out of their schedules to listen to these two--to these two generals.  They will hear about the strategy and the progress in increasing the size and capability of the Iraqi security forces.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Increasing the size and capability of the Iraqi security forces," that's the central question.  Many people, particularly the senators, were surprised.  And here's a headline that suggests that your testimony: "Decline in Iraqi Troops' Readiness Cited.  The number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one, top U.S. generals told Congress, adding that the security situation in Iraq is too uncertain to predict large-scale American troop withdrawals anytime soon.  ... Officials did not say specifically why two battalions are no longer rated at Level I and thus unable to operate on their own.  ... Senators bristled at the disclosure that only one of Iraq's 86 army battalions is ready to fight on its own."

The war is two and a half years old.  Why are only 750 Iraqis fully combat-capable, ready?

GEN. ABIZAID:  Well, Tim, of course, you can parse the words any way you want.  But the war is two and a half years old, and when you think of where we were two and a half years ago, where we essentially didn't have any Iraqi security forces in the field, to where we are now, where we've got close to 200,000 Iraqi security forces in the field, we've come a long way.  Moreover, it's very important that people here in the United States understand that Iraqi soldiers are fighting and dying out there for their country.  They're standing with American forces in the field.  They own certain portions of the battle space that they never had before.  And they are making a contribution to the security of their country.  They're not fully ready yet across the spectrum, but they will be.  I'm optimistic.  General Casey is optimistic. And, more important, the commanders in the field are optimistic about the progress that has been made.  But building an institution takes time, especially where you think we were before, and we're pretty satisfied that, over time, the Iraqis will be able to take the lead in counterinsurgency operations.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you had three battalions in June that were considered Level I combat ready, why is there only one now?

GEN. ABIZAID:  Look, if you were to look at the readiness system of the United States Army and parse it for the American public, you could come to the same conclusion that somehow or other there's a lack of readiness and a loss of capability.  But I'm telling you, there's more people in the field fighting and participating in operations than at any time in the past and their casualty rate is double, if not triple that of which ours is, which means they're out there fighting.  The operations up in Talifar.  The 3rd Iraqi Division did a great job.  They were essentially more in charge of that operation than we were.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Republican senators, supporters of the war--here's Susan Collins.  "Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was discouraged by the lack of readiness by the Iraqi security force.  She said that it `contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is going,' and that `it doesn't feel like progress when we hear today that we have only one Iraqi battalion that is fully capable.'"

Is there a public relations challenge to you that the American people are losing confidence in the war?

GEN. ABIZAID:  Well, there's no doubt that we have got to continue to tell the story of what's happening in Iraq.  Iraq is a country in the middle of a counterinsurgency operation, and the Iraqis are more and more taking the lead. It is a difficult thing to start talking about one battalion here or two battalions there or three battalions in another place.  The important thing is whether or not the overall movement towards stability and security is falling more and more in the hands of the Iraqis.  And the answer is it is, but it's also a difficult road to go on.  There are peaks and valleys that you go through, but overall, the trend is good.  We're certainly confident.  And the most important thing we're confident about is that the Iraqis want to do this. They want to take the fight.  They will take the fight.  And ultimately, as they become stronger and they become better, we'll be able to reduce our own commitment over there.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president has said, and everyone seems to agree, our only exit strategy is when the Iraqi troops stand up, Americans stand down.  How long will it be before there are 150,000 Iraqi troops who can stand up, fully combat ready, to replace the Americans who are there now?

GEN. ABIZAID:  Already Iraqi forces are taking the fight in key areas.  For example, there are parts of downtown Baghdad where Iraqi security forces are in charge of the battle space.  There are parts in the south where Iraqi forces are in charge of the battle spaces.  Up in the north, there are about four provinces that are contested fairly interestingly, and the war for counterinsurgency operations is tending now to be pushed more and more to the west.

So progress is being made.  More and more Iraqi forces are in the fight.  More and more Iraqi forces are developing.  And, look, Tim, you know better than anybody else that you just don't bring an institution like an armed forces, all of a sudden an armed forces, in particular that used to only the whims of a dictator and now all of a sudden you're going to change it and have it serve the people.  I mean, there's a political revolution that goes on in Iraq and is going on in Iraq.  And you've got to have armed forces development keep pace with political development.  Those two have to work hand in hand.

As far as public relations are concerned, it's very interesting.  I go up on the Hill and everybody's wringing their hands and everybody's worried, but when I talk to my commanders in the field, when I talk to Iraqi commanders in the field, people are confident.  They don't think it's going to be easy. They know that there's a lot of fighting ahead, but they're confident that they're moving in a good direction.  And I'd say we need to have confidence in the people that are fighting.

MR. RUSSERT:  In July, however, you--in a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials, you said that the U.S. could probably reduce its troops by 20,000 to 30,000 in the spring of next year.  Now, you seem to be backing off that kind of positive assessment.

GEN. ABIZAID:  I don't seem to be backing off of anything.  I think that the key points in front of us are really political right now; number one, the referendum in October, number two, the elections for a new government.  If a legitimate new government emerges--and there's a lot of "ifs"--but if a legitimate government emerges that is broadly seen as being representative of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish interests, I think that there's no reason to suppose that we can't bring force levels down in the spring.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe the level of U.S. troops now in Iraq is helping to fuel the insurgency?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I think that it is an art form getting the level of troops that are fighting any counterinsurgency operation exactly right.  And, of course, what we're trying to do not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, is to help the nations in the region help themselves.  Let's face it, the problem's just not Iraq.  The problem is a broad global insurgency against a very, very ideological threat led by people like bin Laden, Zarwahu and Zarqawi.  It's present in Iraq, it's present in Afghanistan, it's present in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.  And the key is how can we help them help themselves? And so over time you've got to bring the U.S.  footprint down because people don't like to have large numbers of foreign troops in their region and I think that's understandable.  So if you are concentrating on success, over time it's less Americans and more regional capability.

MR. RUSSERT:  How many insurgents are there in Iraq?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I think there's no more than 20,000 insurgents in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  There was a study done, and this is according to the Christian Science Monitor:  "Even if the U.S. can seal Iraq's borders, stopping the flow of foreign fighters would do little to eliminate most of the country's insurgents.  Only 4 to 10 percent of the country's combatants are foreign fighters, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies."

You agree with that?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I think we have to watch out hyping the foreign fighter problem to the point where it becomes unrealistic.  The foreign fighters are not the broad majority of fighters that are taking part in the insurgency. But the foreign fighters generally tend to be people that believe in the ideology of al- Qaeda and their associated movements and they tend to be suicide bombers.  So while the foreign fighters certainly aren't large in number, they are deadly in their application.  They've killed well over 5,000 Iraqis here this year alone in suicide attacks, and these are innocent Iraqis that are minding their own business trying to get through the day.  And all of a sudden somebody from Tunisia, Algeria, Libya or some other foreign country shows up and explodes a suicide bomber.  Very rarely do they ever hit a target of military value.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if there are 20,000 insurgents, and most of them Iraqis, it is largely then a home- grown insurgency that could not exist without the support of the people.  Is that fair?

GEN. ABIZAID:  It all depends on what you say the support of the people might mean.  Insurgency is not endemic throughout Iraq.  The north is calm.  The south is calm.  Essentially there are portions of the Sunni Arab community that are in insurgency.  And that's where we've got to concentrate our efforts both militarily and by the way, politically.  We need the Sunni Arab community in Iraq to be part of the future of Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  General Casey said there are about 500 attacks a week.  Vice President Cheney said the insurgency was in the final throes.  Is the vice president correct?

GEN. ABIZAID:  Tim, I knew somehow or other the final throes question would come.  I will tell you that the insurgency, as long as politics continues to move in the direction that it appears to moving and the Iraqi security forces continue to move in the direction that they're moving, the insurgency doesn't have a chance for victory.

MR. RUSSERT:  But is it alive and well?

GEN. ABIZAID:  It's certainly alive and well, and I don't think any of us that are military people have ever said anything other than the fact that we've got fighting on our hands, especially as we go through this political process.  The political friction associated with the referendum and with the new government is tremendous.  And in Iraq, unfortunately, they've got a long, long record of resorting to violence in order to solve their political problems.  This revolutionary change that's taking place is going to require some military effort to suppress it.

Senator Levin, the Democratic senator from Michigan, and General Casey had an exchange in the committee on Thursday about the referendum October 15th. Let's listen.

(Videotape, Thursday):

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D-MI):  If there's a strong majority of Sunnis, which is very possible, that vote against that constitution, could that not possibly lead to a worsening political situation rather than a better one?

GEN. GEORGE CASEY:  I think that's entirely possible, Senator.  I mean, as we've looked at this, we've looked for the constitution to be a national compact.  And the perception now is that it's not, among, particularly among the Sunni.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  So October 15, two-thirds vote against the constitution in three provinces would bring about its defeat.  Do you think that would happen?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I can't really predict what's going to happen politically in Iraq.  It's possible that the constitution could be defeated in the Sunni provinces, but on the other hand, if politics continues, if the Sunni community in particular decides that they're going to participate in the presidential elections to the extent that they can, if politics continues, it's really a victory for all of us and for Iraqis.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if the constitution is defeated, it's going to set back the political timetable considerably, which will set back American troop withdrawal considerably.

GEN. ABIZAID:  I'm not so sure I would necessarily buy those sorts of points. I think that politics has to continue.  If the constitution is defeated and they have to go back to the drawing board, I don't think it's necessarily an unusual or catastrophic event.  They have the ability to continue to work through the process.  The key point that we want to make sure happens is that they work through the process peacefully.

Now, look, throughout the region, there is a tremendous surge of reform activity taking place in places where you would have never thought, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan.  This reform activity is really revolutionary for the region.  And every step that it makes is almost certain to cause some form of violence somewhere.  And I think the good news is that the vast majority of people in the region are moving towards a form of moderate--a moderate future that the extremists can't dominate.  And that's hugely important for us to keep in mind.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the Sunnis do not succeed in defeating the constitution but turn out in large numbers, but they're defeated at the polls, if you will, is there a possibility that they will feel disenfranchised, and is there a possibility it could lead to, in effect, a civil war?

GEN. ABIZAID:  There's always a possibility that things could deteriorate, but I believe that the signals- -whether or not the constitution is voted up or down, that the signals of Sunni participation, especially against this culture of intimidation that the extremists impose upon them, are pretty good signals. I think the Sunni population coming together and participating is the key. Matter of fact, Sunni participation in Iraq is key to the future of the country, and everybody knows that.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a front-page story in The New York Times today:  "Middle Class Sees Daily Life Wither in Iraq."  In quotes, "Many people in Baghdad who say that their life in the middle class has gotten worse since the war."

GEN. ABIZAID:  I certainly could understand how certain people in certain places in Iraq can have a view that their lives have gotten worse, but I can also understand how a great many other people can think just the opposite. The promise of a better future is absolutely on the horizon, if they can grab ahold of the politics, if they can form legitimate security forces with our help and move towards a political reform that this very, very bright bunch of people is capable of presenting.  I'm optimistic.  I think many of the Iraqis are optimistic.  Can bad things happen?  Yes.  But if we stay the course, if we have courage and persistence and perseverance, I think Iraq will turn out well.  But it won't come without costs, either in Iraqi sacrifice or in American.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is there a possibility a year from now, if the political process does not improve, we could be sitting here and you would be saying, "We've lost the war in Iraq"?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I think as long as we continue on the path that we're on and we insist that people show the courage and determination necessary to stand by the Iraqis, this will come out well, for Iraq, for the Middle East, for the world.  And when it does, it will make a huge difference in our broader fight against al-Qaeda.  We've got to stabilize Iraq.  We've got to stabilize Afghanistan.  We need to help Pakistan help itself.  We need to help the Saudis.  We need to do those things that bring an environment of moderation to the region, and unfortunately, it won't come without the help of American forces.  But, over time, it can become less.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the American people should know it's a long-term commitment for American forces in Iraq?

GEN. ABIZAID:  I think those of us who have been fighting this war have said time and time again that it's a long war.  But it doesn't need to be a war at the same level of 200,000 American forces in the region that we currently have.  Months ago--matter of fact, you go back to March of '03, we had well over 350,000 people in the region.  Now, we're around 200,000.  If people in the region view us as partners as opposed to being occupiers, we certainly will win this war.

MR. RUSSERT:  General John Abizaid, we thank you for sharing your views.  And be safe in your travels in the Middle East.

GEN. ABIZAID:  Thank you, Tim.  It's a pleasure to see you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, the future of this man, Tom DeLay:  indicted and has now stepped down as majority leader.  How will his indictment affect Democrats and Republicans?  Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds--they're next, right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  The future of Tom DeLay:  the chairmen of the House campaign committees square off after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we're back.

Congressman Tom Reynolds, Rahm Emanuel, welcome both.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D-IL):  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman Reynolds, let me start with you.  The leader of your House Republicans, Tom DeLay, indicted, stepped down as leader.  Why shouldn't he resign from Congress?

REP. TOM REYNOLDS, (R-NY):  Well, first of all, I think it's one of the most political indictments I've seen in 30 years of politics and I think he has his day in court like everybody else.  What's important I think is to realize that the House Republican rules are that a leader that is indicted should step down and that's exactly what Tom DeLay did.  We had swift action by the promotion of Roy Blunt as the temporary leader in additional duties for Eric Cantor and David Dreier.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is not Mr. DeLay's first encounter with ethical violations. This is only an allegation in court now, but what I want to read now is not an allegation.  Here's how USA Today demonstrated and portrayed it.  "DeLay has been admonished more by the House Ethics Committee than any sitting member of Congress.  Last year, the bipartisan panel--the only House committee with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats--unanimously criticized DeLay for three things.  It said a golf fund-raiser with executives of an energy company created the appearance that he was giving donors special access.  It said he improperly tried to have the Federal Aviation Administration find Texas legislators who were hiding in Oklahoma to thwart action on his plan to redraw the state's congressional districts.  And it said he promised a retiring House Republican he would endorse the man's son to succeed him if he voted for Bush's Medicare drug plan.  In 1999, the committee warned DeLay after he threatened the Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group, for hiring a former Democratic congressman as its president.  And it cautioned him in 1997 about creating the impression that campaign contributions would bring `official action or access.'"

Three times unanimous, Democrats, Republicans, admonished Tom DeLay.  Isn't there a string of ethical violations here which should bring about his leaving Congress?

REP. REYNOLDS:  Well, the Ethics Committee did render a decision of admonishment which isn't even in the House rules.  It's I guess the lowest form.  It certainly sounds like a tough word, but it's the lowest form of a message the Ethics Committee can give out.  The important thing here is, yes, the question on an indictment, should he resign, and I don't believe he should.  I think he'll beat that indictment.  I think when you look at--even the Houston Chronicle which is DeLay's home paper, the comments were that there was real caution on what this district attorney did in a very political indictment- -or the district attorney rather.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rahm Emanuel, Mr. DeLay was on CNN on Thursday, and I want to read this exchange.  DeLay:  "Ronnie Earle does this to all his political enemies.  ...And particularly in my case, he did it in conjunction and working with the Democrat leadership here in Washington, D.C."  Question:  "Well, that's an explosive charge you make, that there was some sort of collusion or conspiracy between Ronnie Earle and Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the Congress.  What evidence, if any, do you have to back that up?"  DeLay: "It's very good evidence, that they announced this strategy publicly, they put it on their website.  And this strategy is in their fund-raising letters." Question:  "Who specifically--who announced this?"  DeLay:  "The DCCC, the Democratic Campaign Committee, run by Chairman Rahm Emanuel.  ..."  Question: "What evidence is there they consulted with Ronnie Earle, that they talked to him or they had any dealings with him whatsoever."  DeLay:  "That evidence is coming."

REP. EMANUEL:  Tim, let me--this may come as breaking news.  Web sites don't indict members of Congress.  Grand juries.  Web sites don't admonish a member not once, not twice, three times, which is what happened to Tom DeLay.  The highest ranking official in the history of the House of Representatives to be indicted.  All that Web site does is reflect a culture, in my view, of corruption and cronyism that pervades the political system.

And I find it ironic that here we are on the 11th year anniversary, this week that just passed, of a Contract With America, where the Republicans said, "We're going to clean up Washington and clean up the mess and bring fiscal responsibility to Washington."  The House majority leader, indicted.  Senate majority leader, under question.  Other members of Congress like Congressman "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from San Diego, is not going to seek re-election because of a company that does business in front of a committee. He sold his house at inflated prices.

There is a culture of cronyism.  And what's interesting under one of those admonitions--and I also need to back up a little, on that Contract With America, when you look at it--and this week is one way of--this anniversary--they would be sued for breach of contract for what's happened. But here is...

MR. RUSSERT:  But the question is did you...

REP. EMANUEL:  No, nobody.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did you or anyone on your committee...

REP. EMANUEL:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...or any member of the House Democratic delegation have any contact involvement with Ronnie Earle?

REP. EMANUEL:  Absolutely not.

MR. RUSSERT:  None.

REP. EMANUEL:  I had none, and Nancy Pelosi--You know what's also interesting?  The day before Tom DeLay blamed the Austin paper made Ronnie Earle lose.  The day before--the next day he said Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel, the Web site we have up there.  The fact is, Web sites don't indict, and there is, as you went through earlier to the question to Tom, there's a history here of patterns from admonitions to this indictment, prior activities.  And what happens all the time--take a look at one of these admonitions was for the the bill on the prescription drugs.  Because what happened there?  That culture, Tom--Tim, rather, what they do here is they have a process that this culture of cronyism and corruption costs the American people money.  They told us it was $400 billion, they knew all along it was $800 billion.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there is some suspicion about Mr. Earle's political motivation.  There's a group called the Texas Values and Action Coalition, a group that was trying to get more Democrats elected to the state Legislature in Texas.  Mr. Earle was the featured speaker in May of 2005, raised $100,000.  Why can't his motivation be suspect when he's trying to help Democrats replace Republicans in the Legislature which is what Mr. Delay was trying to do on the other side?

REP. EMANUEL:  First of all, Ronnie Earle, that's a grand jury that indicted Tom DeLay.

REP. REYNOLDS:  A six-member jury.

REP. EMANUEL:  And he will have his day in court and we have a process for this, which is where it's going to be, in the courtroom.  And he'll have a chance to air his grievances with Ronnie Earle.  Ronnie Earle, as you know, there's a history, has indicted more Democrats than Republicans.  This is an attempt, in my view, to not deal with the problem we have here in Washington, which is--and there's always an attempt to divert other people and question other people's motivations.  We need to deal with lobbying and ethics reform, whether it's Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Congressman Taylor out of North Carolina, there's a culture here.  What we have to do is pass lobby and ethics reform that changes the way the people's business gets done.  Because too long, too many times the lobbyists and special interests literally pervade on the system and change what gets done.  And you see it through every one of those problems, the same thing happens.  A special interest gets priority on the political system and it comes at a cost to the American people.  It comes in higher...

MR. RUSSERT:  But it's true--Mr. Emanuel, Democrats and Republicans take special interest money.

REP. EMANUEL:  But, Tim, my point here is, there is a cloud hanging over this institution and it requires an institutional problem.  But you want to know what's interesting--an institutional solution.  Not one Republican will sign on to the lobbying and ethics reform legislation, and I would hope today that my good friend Tom would do that and join me and join others in signing on to that legislation and let's bring it to the floor so we do get action on this.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Reynolds, there is a perception here of the indictment of Tom DeLay, the SEC investigation of the leader of the Republican Senate, Bill Frist, the botched treatment of Hurricane Katrina, the dismissal of FEMA Director Brown, difficulties in the war in Iraq.  If the elections were held in November '05, would you as a Republican be petrified to go before the American people?

REP. REYNOLDS:  Not for Congress.  I can appreciate, I suppose, national elections or statewide elections, but House elections are built from the ground up, especially since Tom Davis and now I have ran them.  The last time we did a national air war was in 1998 when I came to Congress; we lost six seats.  And Bill Clinton is the only president who has actually gained seats in a second term, mid-term election since 1854.  So we're going to stay with the ground game that builds them from the ground up.  And when you look at the latest Pew poll of September 15, it clearly outlined that what do you think about the job your congressman's doing, it's 57-25.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you comfortable with what Congressman DeLay did?  In fact, the money that was raised, given to Texas legislators who then in turn drew up congressional districts, which brought about four--a gain of four Republican congressman from Texas which added to your majority in Washington.  Is that politics as usual?

REP. REYNOLDS:  Well, right now we have--Rahm Emanuel's allies are involved in Ohio, Florida and Michigan attempting to do referendums that will change redistricting in those states.  But what I see is a conspiracy charge that is pretty murky by anyone's standards.  And what I think is, he has his day in court to lay it out.

REP. EMANUEL:  Let me go to the question about elections and what does this means politically, given everything that's going on.  The American people have rejected the same policies that are giving us the same results and the status quo.  They want change.  They want big ideas, big reform.  This is going to be a big election, a national election because of the challenges this country faces.  We can do better than the policies that got us into the position we have right now.  And the fact is, the Democrats have an obligation to lay out to the country what those ideas are.

MR. RUSSERT:  So, for example, should we withdraw troops from Iraq?

REP. EMANUEL:  Well, I--let me--let's take what the general just said.  Let's deal with that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But what are the Democratic ideas?

REP. EMANUEL:  I'm going to lay them out.  I here to answer it.  You know, what you guys have provided, Tom, is a set of old policies, even in this crisis we have with Katrina, that got us to this result, which is a failed set of policies, where, in fact, we've added up $3 trillion in the nation's debt, more people are losing health care, and poverty's going up.  Democrats want to offer big ideas to change the direction of this country because we can do better.

On Iraq, we have a false choice between stay the course and get the same results and just pull up.  I think Senator Levin laid out a very good agenda, which is we're going to have measurements.  You can't say after two and a half years, like you asked the general before, two and a half years, nearly $400 billion, and we have one Iraqi battalion?  We're going to set standards every way and measurements from the political process, economic process and also on the military and national security where Iraq has to stand up.

MR. RUSSERT:  OK.  So--so...

REP. EMANUEL:  Let me go over--let's go...

MR. RUSSERT:  No, no, wait.  So if the Iraqis do not stand up, if there are not 10 battalions, 15 battalions in place, we withdraw?

REP. EMANUEL:  See, Tim, that's the wrong question, in my view.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well...

REP. EMANUEL:  I'll tell you why, because when we...

MR. RUSSERT:  But it's the question I asked.

REP. EMANUEL:  But the Congress has an obligation to hold a standard.  We have given the president a blank check.  It's been a rubber-stamp Congress that sent troops in there without Kevlar vests, without Humvees.  We have to have a standard in which Iraq and the administration measure up over the two years, and at that point we'll evaluate where we are.

MR. RUSSERT:  So was it a mistake for Democrats in the Senate and House to vote to authorize the war?

REP. EMANUEL:  Given the information that we were given them, they made their decision.  What has been a mistake is to let this type of administration basically run a policy of incompetence when it comes to Iraq.  Let me address, though, the future of this country.  I'll give you five quick ideas.  One, we make college education as universal for the 21st century that a high school education was in the 20th.

MR. RUSSERT:  And who pays for that?

REP. EMANUEL:  The American people, because it offers--Let me get to it. Second, we get a summit on the budget to deal with the $3 trillion of debt that's been added up in five years and structural deficits of $400 billion a year.  Third, an energy policy that says in 10 years, we cut our dependence on foreign oil in half and make this a hybrid economy.  Four, we create an institute on science and technology that builds for America like, the National Institutes has done for health care, we maintain our edge.  And five, we have a universal health-care system over the next 10 years where if you work, you have health care.  That says fiscal discipline and investing in the American people by reputting people first.  The policies that the Republicans have offered have gotten us in the ditch we have today.

MR. RUSSERT:  In order to pay for those programs, you'd consider raising taxes?

REP. EMANUEL:  I think in this time and age, when we face the challenges we have, everybody has skin in the game.  And I think the tax policies we have in place reward the type of culture of cronyism where, in fact, what we're doing is protecting the most well off while we throw middle-class families in front of the train.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think of that program?

REP. REYNOLDS:  Sounds to me like a liberal agenda:  bigger government, raise more taxes to pay for it.  That's the failed liberal policies.  The last 40 years, the Democrats were in control of the Congress.

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom, in the last five years the government's gotten bigger...

REP. REYNOLDS:  And when we look at this...

REP. EMANUEL:  ...under Republican rule...

REP. REYNOLDS:  I have not heard...

REP. EMANUEL:  ...than anytime in the history.

REP. REYNOLDS:  ...any agenda coming out of the Democrats in Congress.  It has been all slash and burn, nay.  There has been no debate, Tim.  This is not the debate of Dole and Moynihan.  This is slash and burn, have no new ideas, and attack.

REP. EMANUEL:  I...

REP. REYNOLDS:  There is no solutions on...

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom, I just...

REP. REYNOLDS:  Those are the first solutions that have come out of anyone's mouth right there...

REP. EMANUEL:  I just off...

REP. REYNOLDS:  ...that you at least put on the table.

REP. EMANUEL:  Well...

REP. REYNOLDS:  Your leader doesn't do it.  The Democratic leader doesn't do it.  It's all slash and burn.

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom, first of all, I just want...

REP. REYNOLDS:  I welcome the debate.  I'm a minority leader of the state Legislature and the county Legislature.  I know what the loyal opposition is. And there has been nothing of alternative solutions put on the table till you just did it today.

REP. EMANUEL:  But we...

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Reynolds, are you surprised that George Bush is the biggest spender of presidents in American history with the largest deficits in American history?  I thought Republicans were supposed to be conservative and fiscally disciplined.

REP. REYNOLDS:  You bet it is, but he also faced 9/11, when New York was in need.  He's also faced Katrina and he also has the war on terror, all at the same time under his watch.

MR. RUSSERT:  So would it be a time, then, not to have tax cuts in order to pay for those?

REP. REYNOLDS:  There comes a time that we get on to moving to work on the oversight of Katrina, see if we can develop the offsets.  We need to continue working on the appropriations process, reconciliation.  He has a goal of reducing the deficit in half over five years.  We need to stay on track to get it done.

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom, you--over the last five years, we've added $3 trillion to the nation's debt, health-care costs have gone up for middle-class families, uninsured have gone up and poverty's gone up.  That's the failed policies of your party.  Now, I've offered an agenda and I asked you--I started with political reform.  Join Democrats in literally changing the culture of corruption that exists here, that affects all the institutions of the people's House.  You know what's happened?  When you look at the energy bill, you look at the prescription drug bill, the Congress has gone from the people's House to the auction house...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why...

REP. REYNOLDS:  Why don't you get your leader to convene the Ethics Committee...

REP. EMANUEL:  ...on specific things--I'm...

REP. REYNOLDS:  ...which is a 50-50 split...

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom...

REP. REYNOLDS:  ...between Republican and Democrats?  We'd get something noted.

REP. EMANUEL:  Now, we can--we...

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  I want to ask one last question on Katrina, because this caught my attention.  Alphonso Jackson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said this, according to the Washington Times:  that "New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of `500,000 people for a long time,' and `it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.'"

Then we learned that Craig Romero, the Republican candidate for Congress in the 3rd District of Louisiana, came to Washington and showed this bar graph, where he said it was a 50-50 district, but if you eliminate the parishes that were hit by Katrina, the Republicans would win 57-to-43.  In other words, he's saying that the poor blacks are not going to come back to the 3rd district and, therefore, a Republican can win.  Isn't that cynical?

REP. REYNOLDS:  I hope everyone that wants to come back to New Orleans comes back and those who want to pioneer there for the start of what would be a great rebuilding of that city come.

REP. EMANUEL:  That's right.  The people of New Orleans and people of Louisiana in Charlie Melancon's district appreciate his leadership during Katrina and what he's done.  What you just put up there is a sign of cynical politics.  And I have total faith that the people of Louisiana will reject it. And what we should be doing is trying to figure out how to restore lives down there, not trying to figure out political gain from this.

REP. REYNOLDS:  Well...

REP. EMANUEL:  And that's the failed policies of the past.

REP. REYNOLDS:  You...

REP. EMANUEL:  We can do better on strengthening America for the future.

REP. REYNOLDS:  The Democrats started with politics on Katrina to the extent that many of us in the House leadership had to call them on it.  Nancy Pelosi, so many others of the House leadership, Democrats, took on Katrina and made it a political issue when we said, "Let's get these people's lives back in order."

REP. EMANUEL:  Now, you...

MR. RUSSERT:  The federal government did not botch the response to Katrina?

REP. REYNOLDS:  What's that?

MR. RUSSERT:  The federal government did not...

REP. REYNOLDS:  I think the federal government has exposure, just like the local and state, and I want to see on February 15th...

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom...

REP. REYNOLDS:  ...the answers as that investigation comes under way.

REP. EMANUEL:  Tom, there...

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go...

REP. EMANUEL:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...do you believe that Tom DeLay will return as majority leader of the House of Representatives?

REP. REYNOLDS:  Yes, I do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you?

REP. EMANUEL:  No, I don't.  And he shouldn't.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Rahm Emanuel and Tom Reynolds, thanks very much.

Coming up next, Iraq, Katrina, Tom DeLay and the next Supreme Court nominee. Our roundtable is next.  Dan Balz of The Washington Post, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And, John Harwood, Dan Balz, welcome both.

Here's the cover of Newsweek magazine.  "Power Outage, DeLay:  How The Hammer Got Nailed; The GOP:  A Mounting Crisis of Competence & Cronyism."  A picture of Tom DeLay, recently indicted; Bill Frist, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate who's under investigation by the SEC; Michael Brown, who was dismissed as head of the FEMA; and President George Bush.

Dan Balz, is that legitimate, overstated?  What's your sense?

MR. DAN BALZ:  I think it's perfectly legitimate, Tim, and maybe a little understated given the conditions in the party.  I mean, you have a situation here where the Republican Party is probably in more difficult shape at this moment than at any time maybe since they lost the government shutdown in 1996. I talked to Newt Gingrich earlier this week and he said that the party is at an intersection that's the most important intersection in politics since the 1980 Reagan victory.  You have a weak president who's at his all-time low or just slightly above it.  You have a Republican-controlled Congress that is at an eight-year low in terms of its approval rating, now made worse by the DeLay indictment.  And you have a Republican coalition that you can see has been splintering and is likely to splinter further in the weeks and months ahead.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the Democrats take advantage of this, John Harwood.  You know, out of the 435 House seats, as you know, there are only about 25 that are truly competitive because most states have made their congressional districts safe for the incumbent.

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  Tim, I think the question is:  How much does that roster of 25 competitive seats expand as a result of what's going on right now?  The line between a Republican majority, which is real in the country ideologically, but narrow, and the Republican Party falling apart is pretty thin.  And when you start getting the party portrayed as sort of ethically challenged stumble-bums, as we saw last night on "Saturday Night Live," which began with a very good Tim Russert imitation, by the way...

MR. RUSSERT:  Ouch.

MR. HARWOOD:  ...yeah--that's a real problem for them.  I talked to a Republican candidate for Congress in the Midwest on Friday who was door-knocking in a Republican primary, said his message was, "I want to go to Washington to change Washington."  That's not a positive sign for the Republicans' ability to hold together behind this president and behind the Republican agenda.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet, Dan Balz, Tom DeLay has not been shy.  Let me show you what you wrote on Friday.  "DeLay has chosen to fight his indictment the way he has waged most of his battles, with certitude in his cause and public expressions of confidence and resolve.  If his lawyers have advised DeLay not to talk about the case, he has ignored their counsel, giving interviews on television with the frequency of someone who has just won an election rather than one who has just received legal papers."  We did invite Mr. DeLay to be here today.  He chose not to come.  But he has been out there and now, in fact, saying this morning, Dan Balz, that he believes that Republicans will get even a larger vote because of the travesty of the indictment of Mr. DeLay.

MR. BALZ:  Well, I think you have to separate the legal case that Tom DeLay's facing--and there certainly are questions about that.  This may be a difficult case to prove.  And Ronnie Earle has had a history of bringing indictments that don't stand up once he goes into court.  So Tom DeLay may be right that he may be able to beat this.  I think the other part of this is whether Republicans will then want to invite Tom DeLay back into the House leadership, even if at some point next year he's successful.  I think that's a more dubious proposition.

MR. RUSSERT:  George W. Bush, the leader of the Republican Party, the president of the United States, USA Today noted this, John Harwood: "President Bush's response to Hurricane Rita won overwhelming approval in a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, a marked contrast to his low marks on handling Hurricane Katrina.  Overall, 71% of those polled said they approve of Bush's response to Rita, which included presidential trips to the region before, during and after the storm.  Just 40% said they approved of the president's handling of Katrina, which was marred by a slow federal response after the storm."  The president's disapproval is now up to--approval rating's up to 45 percent as it was to 40 right after Katrina.  Can a president rebound?  Can this president rebound, and it's November of '06 for the elections, not '05?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, they've got some time to recover.  I talked to a couple White House officials this morning who noted we're back up a few points as a result of what happened on Rita.  But look, the number one priority for this president is the war in Iraq and the Katrina response has hurt that effort in a couple of ways.  One, the spending priority squeeze we saw on our Journal-NBC poll that the number one choice for the American people for how to pay for the recovery of Katrina, which is very expensive, is cutting spending on Iraq.  And the other this congressional candidate said he was hearing from his voters was the question of competence, and it created the people's minds the idea that maybe this group doesn't know what they're doing.  We're now seeing this week a very aggressive White House effort to try to lead up to that vote on the Constitution.  We have Cheney out giving a speech.  The president will give a speech at the National Endowment for the Democracy this week.  They realize they need to get ahead of that effort because that's what really counts when you look at the legacy of this president.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was quite interesting listening to General Abizaid, Dan Balz, when I asked him about the vice president's comments about the insurgency being in the final throes, he said you never heard a military man say that.  There has been a mixed message, this kind of overt optimism coming from the White House and the Rose Garden and some parts of the Pentagon, but commanders on the field being much more cautious.

MR. BALZ:  I think that's right.  I think that the White House officials would like to believe that there is now at least a theory and a strategy that in the long run can work.  But I think they're quite cognizant of the fact that all of the facts on the ground and certainly the visual images coming out of Iraq work against that.  And I think what the president wants to do once again is try to expand this story beyond Iraq into the global war on terrorism.  And I think that that, you know, was a successful proposition in 2002 and in 2004 for them politically.

I think the important question, and, you know, we've touched on it, we shouldn't underestimate the difficulties Democrats may have in capitalizing on this, but midterm elections are often a function of which party is more motivated to vote.  And I think at this point would you have to say heading into 2006, the Democrats are going to be a more motivated party than the Republicans.

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, one point on Iraq and troops.  The president has a pretty good track record so far for not responding politically and pulling troops out.  Some Democrats thought he was going to do that in the fall of '04 to try to make himself more popular.  But there's going to be a lot of pressure from all those candidates running for Tom Reynolds on the Republican ticket next year for the administration to start seeing the glass a little more half full in terms of the ability to pull some troops back.

MR. RUSSERT:  And when we asked people across the country which should be the highest priority, helping the victims of Katrina or the war in Iraq, it was 60-to-5, people looking inward toward domestic concerns.  Let me pick up on your...

MR. HARWOOD:  Don't forget gas prices, either.  That's a huge concern of the American people

MR. RUSSERT:  And let's pick up on that.  We talk about the motivation of the voters, Dan.  We expect perhaps as early as tomorrow the president to nominate someone for the Supreme Court to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.  Different cross-currents in the Republican Party, some saying, "Mr. President, now's the time for diversity, a woman, a minority, show the compassionate conservatism you talk about."  Others say, "Mr. President, you pledged a hard-nosed conservative strict constructionist.  Give us that.  Let's go to Congress, the Senate, and fight, and if we have to exercise the nuclear option and change the rules against filibuster, we'll do just that."  Where does he come down?

MR. BALZ:  I don't know where he's going to come down.  We were all somewhat wrong on the Roberts nomination.

MR. HARWOOD:  I thought were you going to tell us who it was going to be.

MR. BALZ:  I thought you were going to tell us.  But it will be an interesting and revealing moment, I think, for what the White House thinks their situation is.  As you say, he could nominate somebody like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and split the Democratic coalition.  Mr. Gonzales would have support of traditionally Democratic Latino organizations if he were the nominee.  It would also set off a revolt on the right.  But it would be a nomination that would get through.  I don't think it would be as easy certainly as John Roberts was, but it would not be nuclear war up in the Senate.  On the other hand, there are people who think that this is a party whose base is so anxious for a fight and they need to motivate that base, and he may want to do it and go in the direction of going farther to the right.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, rather than talk about Katrina and debate Iraq and talk about Tom DeLay or Bill Frist, would the president politically benefit from a battle, a debate about moral values and cultural values by appointing a hard-nosed conservative nominee?

MR. HARWOOD:  I'm not sure more fights is what this president needs right now.  The one thing I know about--I don't know who he's going to pick.  The one thing I know about Alberto Gonzales is the president would have the power by making that pick to make history.  He would be picking the first Hispanic justice to the Supreme Court.  And I agree with Dan.  Alberto Gonzales would be confirmed.  The paradigm we have for this administration has been pleasing the base as opposed to moving toward the middle.  Is that still the right strategy for them?  I talked to a White House official this morning and he said.  "Well, how would you categorize John Roberts?  Was to that for the base or for the middle?"  Obviously that was a grand slam home run that pleased both sides.  If they've got another John Roberts in their pocket, this would be a good time to pull it out.

MR. RUSSERT:  The first lady has recommended a woman.

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, she has, and she recommended a woman the first time, too. That's not a bad bet, either.  The president said last week, "I acknowledge that diversity is one of the strengths of the country."  We don't know which way he's going to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  Speaking of women, a new television show called "Commander in Chief," Geena Davis playing the president of the United States, which received a pretty sizable audience.  And I noted this picture in the newspapers: Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  Dan Balz, are we seeing a situation where, in 2008, there's a very strong--2008 there's a strong likelihood that there could be one, if not two women for president of the United States?

MR. BALZ:  Well, there's certainly a strong likelihood, if Hillary Clinton runs for the Democratic nomination, that she will be the nominee.  I mean, she is certain the early front-runner.  She has all sorts of reasons why she would be able to win that nomination, not without a fight, but she's in some ways in the same position George W. Bush was in, although a little farther advanced, when he ran for president.  She enjoys a star status in the party, she has good ties to the left and to the base, and she has worked pretty hard to try to present herself as a moderate.  Republicans will go after that.  So I think she would have certainly a good chance to be the nominee.

Whether Condoleezza Rice really wants to make the leap into elected politics, I don't know.  I mean, there are a lot of Republicans who would like to do that, including some people who'd been involved in past Bush campaigns would like to see her run, but I don't know whether she wants to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  She could be a logical candidate for vice president for any nominee in the Republican Party.

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, I don't think there's any doubt that a woman could be elected president right now.  Whether Hillary Clinton is that woman or not, I don't know.  Probably a little bit easier for a Republican woman to be elected because of some of the stereotypes that voters have about the two parties. But Hillary Clinton will definitely be a strong candidate.  The question is what sort of opposition she might run up against.  John McCain, a maverick Republican, somebody with a more unifying message, would be tough competition for her.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dan, but what's the likelihood of a strong anti-war Democrat emerging in the primary process, criticizing Hillary Clinton for supporting the war?

MR. BALZ:  Well, I think there's a very good likelihood of that, Tim.  I mean, what you have in the Democratic Party, if you could sort of simplify it, is you have MoveOn v. the Clintons, particularly over the Iraq War.  And Hillary Clinton has worked to try to prevent herself from being cast as soft on defense, anti-military.  There is a real opening on the left over the war for somebody to try to fill it.  The question is, who's really going to make that strong argument?  It might be John Kerry.  It might be Russ Feingold.  We haven't seen who exactly it's going to be, but somebody will try to make that argument.

MR. HARWOOD:  But of every Democratic politician who's supported the war, there's no one better positioned to hold off the left in their objections than Hillary Clinton is.

MR. BALZ:  That's right.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, Dan Balz, thanks very much.  We'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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