November 24, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

Vic, good morning. Nice to have you back with us.

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good morning, Bill. Happy Thanksgiving.

HEMMER: Well, thank you, and to you as well.

KAMBER: Thank you. HEMMER: Also former RNC communications director Cliff May in Washington here to talk about that matter, and also what’s happening at the Pentagon.

Victor, start us off. Was Dan Rather pushed?

KAMBER: I don’t think so. I think the Republicans would love to think so. Conservatives would love to think so. I think the reality is it’s — first of all, he’s 73. Secondly, 24 years, I guess, on March, in March that he’ll have served. And, No. 3, most importantly, his ratings are down. CBS has been low in the ratings pool of the three networks, or four networks. And I think CBS wants to try to build it and change. He’s staying at “60 Minutes,” so he’s not out.

KAMBER: He certainly has his enemies over the year, and they come from the right, directed at Dan Rather, who they believe is coming from the left.

Cliff, was he forced or not?

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: Look, I don’t think he planned to stay in that job for another 20 years, but the timing, I don’t think was his preferable timing. Just look at Tom Brokaw. When he left, it was immediately known who his replacement would be, Brian Williams. In this case, you don’t have that. It’s pretty clear he’s leaving after the election, but before the report comes out on the allegedly bogus documents he used for that story in the middle of an election.

HEMMER: Do we believe that report is coming out in December? Is that our understanding, about two or three weeks from now?

MAY: That’s my understanding, yes. I think it’s pretty clearly stated, including by people who speak for him, he wanted to leave before that report came out. If it comes out very badly for him, he’d want to leave after that, and look like it was just in response to that that he was stepping down.

HEMMER: Victor was shaking his head. Do you have more information on that then I have, Victor?

KAMBER: No, I think, I think it’s the same thing. Only thing I’m frankly agreeing with Cliff in the sense that he’s leaving on his terms. I mean, the question was you asked, was he forced out? He’s made the decision, I think, to leave before the report came out, and maybe it did catch CBS somewhat off guard because they weren’t ready with the immediate announcements. The Brokaw question had been obviously planned for a long time. I think Dan Rather, from all indications a year ago, looked at leaving at some point. The question was when, and I think he made the decision now.

MAY: I think he would have rather left on a high note than after a story like this.

KAMBER: I think that’s pretty obvious.

HEMMER: I don’t think anybody would disagree with that.

Let’s talk about what’s happening with 9/11 reform. Donald Rumsfeld yesterday say he’s agrees with the White House and he has not lobbied anyone on Capitol Hill to try and block this reform legislation. Cliff, if that’s the case, why hasn’t it passed, especially on the House side?

MAY: Yes, let’s try to understand this. I think everybody — Victor, you, me — everybody wants to see intelligence reform? The question is, what constitutes really good intelligence reform? Now General Richard Myers, who is the top military guy in the country, he has some misgivings about some of the things in this bill, as do some of the key committee chairman, such as Duncan Hunter of Armed Services.

Look, a few days ago the big controversy in this town was whether the president would have anybody who wasn’t a yes man, anybody willing to dissent, anybody willing to say to say no, and John Kerry said, and I agree with him, “We need healthy debate.” That’s his quote. We need diverse opinions. Now, we’re getting healthy debate, we’re getting diverse opinions, we’re getting somebody saying no, and people are saying, ah, why don’t these people stay in line and do what they’re told.

HEMMER: Look at the reality here, though, the vice president, Dick Cheney, goes to Capitol Hill and addresses them one on one. If Donald Rumsfeld wanted this passed, he could pick up the phone, probably get the same amount of feedback? You’re shaking your head no?

MAY: Bill, I kind of disagree, because if you are a committee chairman, as Duncan Hunter is, you do not take orders from the president or the vice president. You have a responsibility in a co- equal branch of government, and if you feel strongly that this bill is not correct, you can’t just say OK, I’ll do it.

HEMMER: Something tells me Victor doesn’t agree with that.

KAMBER: Well, I mean, that’s the problem, is right there, is that we have a president who doesn’t listen and does not want to cooperate or work with other people. I take Don Rumsfeld at his word. Let’s assume he did not lying to us. He did not lobby against this legislation. The problem is the president of the United States thought he had this mandate that he can just demand anything he wants. It’s a give-and-take process. Cliff’s absolutely right. Sensenbrenner and Hunter have every right to say what they want to say, but the president should have called them together, should have discussed it, and presented a solid front.

MAY: You know what, we shouldn’t have a solid front. We should have healthy debate. This is a debate, a discussion, not a conflict.

KAMBER: This is not the issue to have healthy debate three years after 9/11.

MAY: Bill, 70 percent of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations have already been implemented by executive order. The few areas of controversy are important.

KAMBER: The major few.

HEMMER: You guys aren’t making this easy on me today, are you?

MAY: Sorry, Bill.

HEMMER: In a word, in December, Victor, does this pass, yes or no?

KAMBER: Right now, 50/50, I don’t know.

HEMMER: 50/50 — Cliff, in a word, yes or no, December, is it done before the new year?

MAY: No.

HEMMER: Wow. Come on back. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, too, by the way.