Debate Over Obama's Education Secretary Pick

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands on of hands on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn't just a theory in a book. It's the cause of his life. And the results aren't just about test scores or statistics but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.


ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: That was President-elect Barack Obama nominating Chicago's school chief, Arne Duncan, to be the next education secretary, but some issues are popping up by their detractors. Reports say studies produced by the Chicago Annenberg Research Project helped shape the agenda for Arne Duncan. This is the same board on which Bill Ayers served.

Oh my.

Joining us now with reaction is former Ohio congressman, John Kasich, Democratic congressman, Steve McMahon, and contributor, Sophia Nelson.

Video: Watch Sean & Alan's interview

Sophia, I'm amazed that Obama didn't appoint Ayers secretary of education. (INAUDIBLE) Listening to conservatives I was sure that Wright — Reverend Wright would be the faith based guy, and Ayers would be the secretary of education. What happened?

SOPHIA NELSON, POLITICO.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the problem with this pick is, is that it's another insider, Chicago insider, and while I don't have a problem with people bringing folks from where they come from, Bush brought people from Texas, I do think with all that's going on right now, it probably doesn't serve Obama well to be picking from that insider circle.

COLMES: All right. Do you know anything about Arne Duncan and his achievements? Do you what he's done?

NELSON: Yes. I mean, yes, I do. He's been lauded as being very good at what he does, and Margaret Spellings has said good things about him. But that's not the point.

COLMES: It is the point.

NELSON: The point is, it's another insider and it's not a change pick.

COLMES: Wait a minute.

NELSON: And I've been looking for change and I haven't seen the change.

COLMES: Well, first of all, when he picks somebody from D.C., they say it's not change. When he picks a Clinton-related person, it's not change.

NELSON: Well, it's not.

COLMES: Now if he picks someone from Chicago, you're saying it's not change. He can't win in your eyes, can he?

NELSON: It's not just my eyes, and we know that's true, Alan. Come on.


COLMES: See, McMahon, this is unbelievable. Here's a guy who was the City Club of Chicago Citizen of the Year in 2006. He raised achievement levels, he closed failing schools. He got better teachers. He got rid of ineffective teachers. He improves student achievement graduation rates and college going rates in Chicago.

And his Annenberg association has nothing to do with Ayers. They weren't even members at the same time.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you, if you look at this pick, it sort of seems to me like it's one of those Goldilocks and the three bears pick.

Is he, is he too liberal or is he too tough? He's both. I mean somebody who comes out of a very touch school system, he closed down failing schools, he required more of teachers, which didn't make the teachers' union happy.

But he also believes that in order to close the racial divide that we see in this country and to bring African-American and Latino kids up to the same.

COLMES: Right.

MCMAHON: ... achievement levels as white kids, you've got to do more in their schools. And I think it's a great pick, and I think it's actually just the opposite of what Sophia suggests. It's not politics as usual. It's not some former governor. It's not some former senator.


MCMAHON: It's somebody who's an educator and has been an educator and gotten results.

COLMES: And...

MCMAHON: ... in a very, very tough school system.

COLMES: And John Kasich, in fact, what Annenberg did — when he was with Annenberg, he was praised by the Republican governor, Jim Edgar, at the time. Annenberg focused on greater collaboration among teachers, reducing isolation between schools and other schools, and schools in the community among other things that Annenberg did.

Everybody is lauding this choice, by the way.

JOHN KASICH, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I — you know what, Alan, let me tell you, he's a reformer within the box. He's never really taken on the teacher's unions. The lady who runs the D.C. public schools has offered school choice, vouchers, but this guy has never gotten close to that, because he doesn't want to offend the teachers unions.

And the lady in — in Washington who has a voucher program and does many unbelievably creative things says we're really not putting our children first.

Let me also say he did close down schools. You know what he did with the teachers? He moved them into other schools. Now the guy has been for some reform, but it's always reform in the box where he can play nice with — let me tell you, Alan, this is what threatens the long-term financial security of the United States.

Our students are not competing with the Chinese...


KASICH: ... the Indians, the Singaporeans, and we do not offer open competition to improve results.

HANNITY: You know.

KASICH: This is what's going to undo our financial system, and this guy is not for the vouchers.

HANNITY: Steve McMahon, I want to ask you a more broad question here. All right, so he's citizen of the year, as Alan pointed out. And we know that Bill Ayers is — in Chicago is considered a respected professor.

I just want to know something. We now know that — we now know that Obama, you know, helped run Blagojevich's gubernatorial race, hangs out with Wright and Ayers and Bernardine.

MCMAHON: Sean, what are you talking about?

HANNITY: No, no.

MCMAHON: What are you talking about?

HANNITY: Hey, Steve, if you listen.

MCMAHON: He helped run — he helped run Blagojevich's...

HANNITY: If you listen to the question, you might hear...

MCMAHON: ... governor's race? That's lunacy, Sean.

HANNITY: Hey, Steve, if you won't answer my question, I won't ask you any more questions. It's a simple thing. Why does Barack Obama end up hanging out with the most radical, corrupt people for decades and time and time again?

Why does that bother me and why does it not bother you? That's a simple question.

MCMAHON: Let's talk about some of the people he hangs around with. Colin Powell.


MCMAHON: He's a Republican.

HANNITY: He doesn't hang out with Colin Powell.

MCMAHON: Let's talk about some of the people — let's talk about some of the people that he's bringing in to his administration, people that you phrased in your program like Bob Gates.

HANNITY: Yes, Eric Holder?

MCMAHON: Let's talk about the people that he's — filling his administration with that came into his campaign.

HANNITY: All right. Let me ask the question another way because you're one big walking talking point. This is very simple. Does any — do any of these.

MCMAHON: Sean, tell me...

HANNITY: ... radical associations...

MCMAHON: Sean...

HANNITY: Do any of them, for decades, any of them raise any questions in your mind?

MCMAHON: No, because they're decades ago, and Sean, tell me what he did to Governor Blagojevich's campaign.

HANNITY: Decades — excuse me. He helped run his campaign.

MCMAHON: Tell me what.

HANNITY: He was one of his chief advisors.

MCMAHON: But he was.

HANNITY: So — they weren't decades ago. These relationships existed up until this presidential campaign. But none of them bother you, Ayers, Dohrn, Pfleger, Rezko, Wright.

MCMAHON: Unless there's some evidence, Sean...

HANNITY: None of them bother you. Blagojevich.

MCMAHON: Unless there's some evidence...

HANNITY: None of them?

MCMAHON: ... that they have some influence in his administration, in his campaign in some way.

HANNITY: All right.

MCMAHON: ... no, it's just — it's just an ad hominem attacks.

HANNITY: It's not an ad hominem attack.

MCMAHON: And Colin Powell who looked at both candidates last time, a number of other Republicans who crossed over the aisle.

HANNITY: I don't even know if they've ever met.

MCMAHON: ... they chose Barack Obama because they thought he offered change, and by the way — and by the way, what about...

HANNITY: All right.

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