Matt Lauer and Tim Russert Attack Hastert & GOP On Foley

NBC’s Matt Lauer and Tim Russert continued their pile-on of Denny Hastert and the GOP overall, on this morning’s Today show. Still pushing the Mark Foley story, Lauer and Russert noted how Republicans were running away from Hastert and cited Bush’s declining poll ratings in a new NBC poll. In the 7am half-hour Russert ticked off the negatives for Republicans:

Matt Lauer: "Alright we got some new poll ratings. NBC News/Washington or Wall Street Journal ratings. We've got the President's approval ratings down to 39 percent from 42 just about a month or so ago. What's driving these numbers down in your opinion?"

Tim Russert: "Well Matt, we've, we've polled American people Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. So clearly the breaking of the Foley story, the National Intelligence Estimate came out on Iraq, the Woodward book. We've had 13 deaths now in Iraq over the last couple of days. It, it is a two-prong attack, if you will. The culture of corruption beginning to take hold--"

Lauer: "Right."

Russert: "--as symbolized by Foley. And the difficulty with the war in Iraq."

Lauer: "And, and last one. 'How do you feel about the President's handling of the economy?' 41 percent, in our recent poll, approve, 53 percent disapprove. When you think gas prices are coming down, stock market's kind of bursting at the seams, does that surprise you?"

Russert: "It does and it drives the White House crazy but it gives you the real clear sense that the American people are making a judgment on things other than the stock market or gas prices. They're looking at the whole picture of Iraq and Congressman Foley."

Just before their poll rundown Lauer and Russert depicted a GOP party as in disarray, running from Hastert:

Lauer: "But meanwhile you got Republicans running as fast as they can to put some distance between themselves and anyone remotely connected to this. You got this congressman from Kentucky Ron Lewis, who cancelled a fundraising appearance, a campaign appearance with Speaker Hastert, I think scheduled for next week. Can you imagine a Republican running for Congress who would turn down an opportunity to stand with the Speaker of the House a month before the election?"

Russert: "It just reels the mind. And you have three ranking members of the House Republican leadership all saying, 'Not my job, it's the Speaker's problem."

And earlier, in her setup piece to Russert segment, Kelly O’Donnell actually had the audacity to run a soundbite from Lanny Davis lending his advice to Republicans on how to handle a sex scandal:

Kelly O’Donnell: "Lanny Davis, who counseled President Clinton during the Lewinsky saga is now a crisis management expert."

Lanny Davis: "Mr. Hastert you simply have to say the words, 'I take responsibility for making misjudgments here. We should have acted a lot earlier, even based on the little bit we knew.'"

The following is a complete transcript of Matt Lauer and Tim Russert’s analysis on the October 5, Today show:

Matt Lauer: Tim Russert is NBC's Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press. Tim, good morning to you."

Tim Russert: "Good morning, Matt."

Lauer: "So this former senior aide to Congressman Foley, Kirk Fordham, says now to the Associated Press that he told Speaker Hastert's office about over-friendly emails from Foley to these teenage pages before 2004. Add that to the two high-ranking Republicans who said they alerted Foley or I mean Hastert or his office in the spring and, and Hastert continues to say he doesn't recall this. Now he is a savvy political operator, never been accused of being slow on the uptake. It doesn't seem to add up."

Russert: "Matt that's what's driving Republicans crazy down here, frankly. That the leadership still can't get a straight story together as to who knew what, when. And the drip, drip, drip continues. This crisis is a week old. Here's the debate here in Washington, Matt. Many Republicans want Speaker Hastert to step down. They think it will lance this issue. Others, including, the Speaker are saying, 'If the Speaker of the House, the man behind the Vice President of the United States, in line of succession to the President steps down, it will really underscore what a big crisis this is and make the issue worse.'"

Lauer: "But meanwhile you got Republicans running as fast as they can to put some distance between themselves and anyone remotely connected to this. You got this congressman from Kentucky Ron Lewis, who cancelled a fundraising appearance, a campaign appearance with Speaker Hastert, I think scheduled for next week. Can you imagine a Republican running for Congress who would turn down an opportunity to stand with the Speaker of the House a month before the election?"

Russert: "It just reels the mind. And you have three ranking members of the House Republican leadership all saying, 'Not my job, it's the Speaker's problem."

Lauer: "The Speaker gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune last night. Here's what he had to say about this unfolding scandal and how the base might react to his handling of it. He said, quote, 'When the base finds out who's feeding this monster they're not gonna be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros.' This is the Republican's version of that 'Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.' Is it gonna work?"

Russert: "It's pretty difficult Matt because it seems to have a whole set of facts that are so obvious to people in terms of the way this situation was handled."

Lauer: "Right."

Russert: "Now might an investigation reveal as to who put out these emails or might a Democratic congressman or more Republican congressmen be caught up in an FBI investigation? Sure. We still have a month to go but as for now what is front and center of the American people is that inappropriate messages were sent to young boys."

Lauer: "Right."

Russert: "And it appears the House leadership looked the other way."

Lauer: "George Will writes in the Washington Post today, 'If after the Foley episode the maraschino cherry atop the Democrat's delectable sundae of Republican miseries can't gain 13 seats they should go into another line of work.' Real quickly, because I want to get to the poll numbers. Do the Democrats have to be careful, though, of how they handle this?"

Russert: "Absolutely. If they look like they're piling on, if it looks like they're trying to exploit it the best posture seems to be stand by and let the Republicans continue to negotiate, discuss, argue with each other."

Lauer: "Alright we got some new poll ratings. NBC News/Washington or Wall Street Journal ratings. We've got the President's approval ratings down to 39 percent from 42 just about a month or so ago. What's driving these numbers down in your opinion?"

Russert: "Well Matt, we've, we've polled American people Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. So clearly the breaking of the Foley story, the National Intelligence Estimate came out on Iraq, the Woodward book. We've had 13 deaths now in Iraq over the last couple of days. It, it is a two-prong attack, if you will. The culture of corruption beginning to take hold-"

Lauer: "Right."

Russert: "-as symbolized by Foley. And the difficulty with the war in Iraq."

Lauer: "And, and last one. 'How do you feel about the President's handling of the economy?' 41 percent, in our recent poll, approve, 53 percent disapprove. When you think gas prices are coming down, stock market's kind of bursting at the seams, does that surprise you?"

Russert: "It does and it drives the White House crazy but it gives you the real clear sense that the American people are making a judgment on things other than the stock market or gas prices. They're looking at the whole picture of Iraq and Congressman Foley."

Lauer: "Alright Tim Russert in Washington. As always, Tim, thanks very much."

Russert: "Thanks Matt."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.