Obama a 'hypocrite' on super PAC stance?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Last week, the Supreme Court r eversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporation, to spend without limit in our elections.

(APPLAUSE)

I don't think an American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interest, or worse, by foreign entities.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: We were faced with a situation as to whether we could afford to play by two sets of rules. And the answer is obviously no. That doesn't mean that we believe this is the best way for the system to function. The president's gonna continue to fight for ways to reform that system in the future. But that is not going to happen in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, the president once called super PACs, these outside groups that run ads in campaigns now, he called them once a threat to democracy and he called out the Supreme Court for the ruling Citizens United back in that State of the Union address in 2010.

But as you saw Obama campaign officials say they just can't unilaterally disarm, and now the president and the campaign are encouraging folks to support the super PAC to try to help him get re-elected.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, A.B., a lot of people are charging hypocrisy. How far does this go? Politically Republicans are big in super PACs now, too.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, President Obama disappointed his good government base in the Democratic Party when he opted out of public financing in the 2008 cycle and went on to raise more than anyone had ever raised. And he would much rather win on the low road than take the high road to defeat. That is clear.

But what the administration, team Obama, also is aware of is that nobody cares. The voters don't care about campaign finance. If they did, they would have been a backlash to the Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission decision from the Supreme Court, and there has not been a material backlash.

So what the administration sees as they gear up for the campaign is that nobody cares. And he spent a few months or weeks before the 2010 midterm elections trying to warn us that the U.S. chamber of commerce was spending foreign money to buy the midterm elections, and nobody was listening. And they know that so they don't think it's going to hurt them.

BAIER: Steve, apparently the decision was made some time last night to have this turn. It coincides with perhaps the filing time of the New York Times, which had a story about the Obama campaign giving back several hundred thousand dollars collected by a family members of a Mexican casino owner who skipped bail 17 years ago after being arrested on drug and fraud charges.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right, some speculation that they released this at that time to overwhelm that story and cover up what could have been a difficult news cycle for them.

I agree with A.B. on the political impact of this. It is not something that if you ask voters, give them 20 options, campaign finance is going to be 19 or 20 in a survey of issues of political importance. So in that sense I don't think it matters.

Is it hypocritical? Of course it's hypocritical, it's tremendously hypocritical. You now have mainstream news outlets writing straight stories accusing the president of either flip-flops or a turnaround on the issue. So to the extent that it wears away his ability to say I'm straight and principled on this, it hurts. But this is not something that voters are going to care about in November.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The reason it's not going to hurt him is because the only people who care about campaign finance, the ones who have been pushing it for a generation-and-a-half are liberals who believe that somehow you can take money out of campaigns and do it in a way that's isn't a gross attack on the First Amendment, which is not so, but nonetheless it is believed. So by going against it and by acting hypocritically in name of expediency, which is exactly what Obama did here the way he did in 2008. The only people who could be offended are liberals and who are going to support Obama anyway. So the net effect on the election is zero.

BAIER: Something that is having an effect, increasingly it appears by the day is this mandate under the president's health care law that the cost of female contraception be fully covered. All employer health plans, even Catholic affiliated schools, hospitals, and charities, where that, of course, would go against and violate church doctrine. The backlash here, we've done a number of stories on it, another one with James Rosen tonight, Charles. It seems that it continues to gain and that there was an indication today that the administration might back down. But then Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said they are not reconsidering it.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, we had Axelrod this morning who began to walk it back, meaning to look for a way out, a compromise or a cave. Then you said you get Carney who walked back the walk back, who seemed to say we're not gonna change on this. I would predict that they're gonna have a third switch and they're gonna walk back the walk-back of the walk-back. They are going to cave.

And the reason is this is a very powerful issue. They might have imagined being liberals and secularists that it will only effect a small minority of devout Catholics who themselves don't practice contraception. But in fact it offends everybody. Whatever your personal look at or view on contraception, it's an assault on the church and the good work it does. And it doesn't respect that a church isn't only what happens in prayer, it is also what happens when it deals with the sick and poor and the hungry, and it has to practice its faith. And what it's doing -- what the administration has done is to ignore that and really curtail religious liberty. And that I think is a powerful issue. Other elements will gather, but the administration I think in the end is gonna have to cave on this.

BAIER: A.B., the shockwave really hit after Sunday when people, Catholics around the country went to church and it was topic of conversation in the homily.

STODDARD: Yes, and it is -- Charles is right. It has the potential to offend Catholics who voted for Obama in 2008 in very important pockets of the country, in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania where the president really needs to win. In a close election, he can't afford to alienate them and he knows it.

Mitt Romney kind of took this issue from Newt Gingrich we might mention. And he has his own issues on this. He was for what is called -- he recalled in 2005, emergency contraception, which he now refers to as abortive pills. So it is also going to be an issue on the presidential campaign stage.

But for President Obama, this is a big general election campaign issue for the Republican nominee. He knows it. I think Charles is right. I bet they walk it back.

BAIER: Are you saying that if Mitt Romney is the nominee that somehow President Obama is protected by --

STODDARD: He will use it --

BAIER: -- is protected by Mitt Romney as governor, his actions in Massachusetts?

STODDARD: I don't know what will ultimately happen, who will win that debate. I know that the conservatives in the race who are running against Mitt Romney will use it against him ultimately.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: They already have. Rick Santorum has an op-ed in Politico today in which he makes precisely that charge. He says Mitt Romney is not the person who can make this argument against President Obama because he is compromised by his own action in 2005 timeframe. It's similar to argument that Santorum is making on healthcare and individual mandates.

I think Charles is exactly right. I would just broaden his point a little bit. This is something I think the Obama administration has been taken by surprise and in particular taken by surprise at the attacks they've taken from the left, from liberal Catholics, who are totally offended by this, by this mandate. And what is interesting to me is it seems to me less an issue of a church-state issue and much more size of government issue beyond that.

BAIER: Well also, it touches on the libertarian aspect of get the government out of any kind of religious activity and any activity for these different institutions.

HAYES: Right. I think that is why I think there are these two groups. On the one hand you have liberal Catholics who are offended by its infringement on the rights of the church. And on the other hand, you have, it's a size of government issue for people who aren't Catholics who think what is the federal government doing making these kind of mandates?

KRAUTHAMMER: In the 2010 election, the big issue was Obamacare, which was a symbol of the obtrusiveness. And this is the perfect example, the one example now that has emerged, something everybody understands. It's not abstraction, big government intruding itself. Taking over healthcare in theoretical way. This is an example of exactly how it does. It hits at something dear to everyone, which is a religious liberty and protection from the intrusion of the state. And that's why it's a huge issue. I think the Obama administration hugely under estimates how important is it.

BAIER: You occasionally sit on a panel with Mark Shields, a known liberal who is Catholic.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right.

BAIER: Who --

KRAUTHAMMER: He went ballistic on the show we did last week. And I took that as at least an index. But I mean I've heard it from other people who are lay Catholics who aren't necessarily ones who follow all of church doctrine, even people who aren't Catholic. The idea that you would intrude on an important doctrinal issue is an arrogance of Washington that I think people hadn't understood, it's built into Obamacare. And imagine, it was a dictate from the secretary of HHS. It can be done arbitrarily. It's not even in the law.

BAIER: Next up, three contests today in the 2012 race.

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