This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we were willing to talk to Gorbachev, if we were willing to talk to Khrushchev, then there is no reason why we shouldn't talk to Iran. It seems like common sense.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama has declared and repeated reaffirmed his intention to meet the president of Iran without any preconditions.
Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: So what was it that got this whole discussion started? It was a debate question back in 2007—and here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
OBAMA: I want the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Well, there you have it.
Some observations on all this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributor all.
The president really joined this argument, or started this fight last week with his comments from the Middle East at the Knesset about people willing to negotiate with terrorists, and he linked that to the chain of thought to the possibility of appeasement.
Now McCain has taken up the cry. Obama is fighting back with some vigor. How does this pan out, Fred?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It was better when Obama could attack President Bush. Now he's just stuck with McCain, and this is the losing part of the argument for him.
And particularly the examples he has used, I guess, today—the meetings with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in 1961, I think in Vienna, and the meeting in 1985 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
They were very different from what he's talking about, except that the Kennedy meeting was similar. And that was a meeting in which Nikita Khrushchev took the measure of John F. Kennedy and thought he was weak, and it led directly to the Cuban missile crisis the next year.
Now, obviously that is an example that Obama doesn't understand or he wouldn't keep citing.
Jump to the 1980's and Ronald Reagan meeting Gorbachev. Reagan had been president four years. And during those four years the balance of power had shifted dramatically in favor of the U.S.
Reagan had much more leverage. Remember, he deployed the Pershing missiles in Europe that were aimed at the Soviet Union. He had strong allies like Margaret Thatcher. The U.S. had begun to either start or finance these anti-Communist wars of liberation ...
HUME: And there was a deal in the works with preconditions.
LIASSON: Look, this was a very popular thing to say in a primary race, and he got big applause when he said it in that debate.
But the problem is now he's in the general election. He has to pass the commander in chief test, and that's a big test, especially against John McCain. He might have it all over McCain on almost every other issue, but on that one he's got a hill to climb.
And I think it's not so much the notion we should talk to our enemies, I don't think people find that so objectionable. But he has to flush out what he means...
HUME: Well, he's talking about doing it himself on a presidential level in his first year, no preconditions.
LIASSON: I think he needs more than that.
The fact that people like Gary Hart and Joe Biden, who are two supporters of his, when they are asked about it are saying no, he certainly can't mean no preconditions. I mean, they're trying to walk it back. He hasn't done that himself yet.
But he needs to explain exactly what all those "preparations" that he has said would occur first would mean. And he talks about "tough, direct diplomacy." Well, what kind of tough diplomacy? What would he be asking them? What would he be talking to them about?
I think he has to fill in this picture a lot more.
HUME: or what would he be warning them about, or threatening them with?
LIASSON: But he has to fill in this picture.
LIASSON: Otherwise it looks like he just wants to negotiate right off the bat.
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: For sure, Iran and what we're going to do about Iran deserves to be a top level issue in this campaign. And right now the issue is do you talk to them, how do you talk to them, whether you talk to them, preconditions, no preconditions.
The question is how do you get them to stop developing nuclear weapons? How do you get them to stop aiding Hezbollah? I haven't heard any answers from McCain either on that subject, except that we won't talk to them. So I want to hear answers from both of them.
But since we're talking about Obama, it is ridiculous, the idea that he's going over there and starting a conversation without preconditions? I mean that doesn't make any sense. And, as Mara said, most of his foreign policy advisors are talking it back.
Dennis Ross, who used to be President Clinton's man from the Middle East and also worked, by the way, in the George Bush the first administration, has a whole series of ideas about what to do—have secret talks to get things started, then have both coercive diplomacy and, with conditions, lots of preparation, sanctions at the same time that you offer them carrots and sticks and stuff like that. That makes sense. And that's what we ought to hear from Obama.
HUME: Having said this as directly as he said it in that debate, can he get this thing off from around his neck?
KONDRACKE: Sure he can.
LIASSON: Sure. Yes, he can.
BARNES: Well, he can start talking about the preparations to include preconditions, of course.
You know I'm surprised. I didn't realize Obama was such a stubborn guy. This was July of 2007.
Are remember, Hillary Clinton in that debate, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought she differed with him rather strongly...
LIASSON: She said "naive" and "irresponsible."
BARNES: ...and she was regarded as having come out ahead because her position was a stronger one.
The only thing he can be thinking about is...
BARNES: ...that polls generally show that the American people like talks. They like our leaders to talk with other leaders around the world. I can't believe they want Obama, however, to precipitously go into talks with Ahmadinejad of Iran.
KONDRACKE: All he would have to say instead of saying "I would negotiate with so and so," is say we would negotiate, my administration would negotiate, and then eliminate the no preconditions.
LIASSON: That's not what he said.
KONDRACKE: I know that's not what he said. That's what he needs to say.
HUME: That would take about two-thirds of his original statement.
Next with the panel, the state of the Democratic presidential race. You may have thought the premise of that was established in this discussion, but we have Oregon and Kentucky and spouses and I don't know what all to talk about. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I'm going to make my case, and I'm going to make it until we have a nominee. But we're not going to have one today, and we're not going to have one tomorrow, and we're not going to have one the next day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Her husband used to use a phrase about fighting "until the last dog dies," and it appears that's exactly what she plans to do, Senator Clinton, against Senator Obama.
Total delegates; let's look at the numbers—Obama with 1,915, to about 1,721—that's about 194 delegates. Super delegates, where she once led, she's now down by current count 27 super delegates.
Let's look at Oregon. Barack Obama, 52 percent, Hillary Clinton, 40 percent. But Kentucky, this is the first one we will know about tomorrow night, Tuesday night—huge. Two to one. The last time it was two to one it ended up being more than that in West Virginia.
So where do matters stand, Mara?
LIASSON: Look, tomorrow night, as you yourself have pointed out, is going to be a particularly good night for her because the west coast, because Oregon reports so late. So everybody will go to sleep only knowing about her blowout in Kentucky, and they're not going to know yet, although we all assume he is going to win, the margin or the final results from Oregon which we'll wake up to.
HUME: And when we wake up Wednesday morning...
LIASSON: When we wake up Wednesday, however, it will probably be as it was before, it'll be a split. She'll win one, he'll win one, and it won't change those numbers at all, and maybe he has gotten another little tranch of superdelegates. So...
HUME: He got five today, right?
LIASSON: He got five today.
HUME: So, the trickle continues.
LIASSON: And he's going to keep on going. And there's only three left—Montana, South Dakota, and Puerto Rico. She will win Puerto Rico and probably won't in Montana and South Dakota. There is just not much more string for her to play.
I think it's fine if she goes until June 3, that's not very far away. And then she has to decide how she wants to get out.
KONDRACKE: I was talking to one of her best friends in town over the weekend who said—and I said, are you depressed? And he said no, I'm not depressed, she's going to win.
How is she going to win? Well, she's going to do great in the remaining primaries. The superdelegates are going to start flowing to her because they will realize he can't win and she can. The rules committee is going to decide to give her Michigan and Florida. And then there are lots of "ticking bombshells" out there.
And I said "what ticking bombshells?" Oh, can't talk about that.
So that is the equivalent of what I have said here before. This is the Mike Huckabee solution. — The miracle has got to save her!
BARNES: You know, when you hear this talk from the Obama campaign about how maybe they will declare victory having won the nomination— have they given that up now?
LIASSON: No, no, no! They're just going to get to a majority of pledged delegates, they never said they were going to declare victory.
BARNES: That's smart, because what does that get them? You know, this statement that Obama made a couple of weeks ago about, well, you know, after Oregon or something, we get here, and we're in the ninth inning and we've won. —But the ninth inning isn't over yet.
Look, I think you look ridiculous to say you have won when you haven't. And, besides, all that would do is stir up more bitterness on the part of the Hillary people. And May 31st is important.
LIASSON: May 31st.
HUME: We may talk about this more in one of our future panel discussions.
Obama said today on ABC News in the morning "Lay off my wife." Criticisms have been leveled at his wife, including an ad in Tennessee which took her to task for not being proud of her country until now, or really proud, was "low class." Is he on solid ground saying that, Mort?
KONDRACKE: I think he is on solid ground saying it, but it's not going to stop it. If you're for first lady, you're an issue.
HUME: Then why is he on solid ground?
KONDRACKE: Because the ad was stupid. And it was counterproductive when they tried it against Harold Ford who was the candidate...
HUME: He's talking about all these criticisms.
LIASSON: Well, I think that she has a problem because of the statement she made that she needs to walk back. But anytime a candidate says "lay off my wife," good day for them.
HUME: People like that?
BARNES: It is. Besides, I agree with Mort. Anytime the candidate has a chance to rush to the defense of his wife, he's ahead.
HUME: He ought to do it!
BARNES: It was a stupid ad.
HUME: Thanks, panel, that's it.
That is exactly happening here again. It ought to be left in the hands of the people.
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