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'Special Report' Panel on Life, Legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 26, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Despite his giving us the opportunities denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us, the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Don't you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embrace him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: The president and the vice president reacting to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, who died at his home in Hyannis Port last night exactly one year almost to the hour after he delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the last big speech he would deliver.

Let's bring in our panel now: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Kirsten Powers, columnist with The New York Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, your thoughts on his life and legacy.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: My condolences to his family, obviously. I wasn't a big fan of his politics and I didn't really admire him, so maybe I won't say very much, you know.

In terms of his politics, though, just to get away from the personal stuff, he was a liberal. He didn't change at all in the 47 years he was in the United States Senate, and some people might call that admirable consistency. I would that as being blind to reality and refusing to learn from the facts.

He continued to advocate policies that had long-ago been proven — in my view — not to work, and the one thing, again, beside his personal life, the one thing I really would not forgive him for was the speech denouncing Robert Bork totally unfairly.

He was entitled to oppose Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, but this famous speech in which he made it seem as if Bob Bork was in favor of segregating blacks and discriminating against people was really not — a low-point in popular American politics.

BAIER: Do you buy the talk today that he was very effective behind closed doors in the Senate to make things happen?

KRISTOL: He was a good negotiator and I certainly knew plenty of senators and people in the Bush administration who negotiated with him. You went to give in a little bit, he didn't obstinately stick to absolutely straight liberal line and he kept his word I think in political negotiations in the Senate.

In that respect he was a very effective liberal United States senator.

BAIER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: And I think that that's something that a lot of people feel is missing in the health care debate. And then there has been a lot of discussion of what the health care debate might have been like without him.

You have people like Orrin Hatch coming out and saying they feel that he was somebody who actually could work with Republicans and would find some way to have some consensus, versus the way it's being done now. I'm a little skeptical about that considering the tenor of politics right now and the way things are on the Hill.

In terms of, you know, his legacy and who he is, I have a slightly different take, of course, than Bill, you know. As a Democrat growing up in this country, the Kennedys were always really represented as royalty of the Democrats, this very — well, I mean, he was more liberal, I guess, than his brothers.

But people who were very privileged, but still felt an obligation to give back to the country. They obviously loved this country very much, whether you agreed with their politics or not.

And I think that, you know, being an unabashed liberal in the way that he was and being a really vocal person who could talk about things like health care as a human right was something that I think is going to be missing with him gone.

BAIER: You mentioned health care. Here is just a snippet from that speech at the Democratic National Convention:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASS.: This is the cause of my life: New hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American, north, south, east, west, young, old, will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Charles, he used that line in many, many speeches throughout his career. What about his role in the health care debate and what Democrats should or could do in his passing?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I suspect they will name the bill after him as a way to gather sentimental support. I'm not sure it will have much of an effect.

But in looking at him and his legacy, I would take the middle road — the high road — between the Kirsten and Bill. Look, this is the most important senator since Lyndon Johnson, and I would say the most important senator in American history who never became majority leader.

And he was the titular and the de facto head of American liberalism as an ideology. And trying to look at it as a future historian might, I think they might say that his political life marks and heavily influenced the trajectory of American liberalism.

In a sense, they might conclude that he was one of its champions, but he took it too far; he overshot.

I will give you two examples: Civil rights, he and his brother Bobby were early, dedicated and sincere champions, courageous of civil rights. But Teddy took it into affirmative action and reverse discrimination, which were more highly problematic.

Secondly was in the social safety net. He was a strong supporter of Social Security, extending it to the disabled and Medicare, children's health. But he took it way into the Great Society which created a whole culture of dependency which ironically had to be undone by a moderate Democrat President Clinton.

In that speech that we saw, the most famous he ever gave of "the dream will never die," that was not a speech given against Reagan or a right winger. It was given against the moderate Jimmy Carter.

He represented the extreme liberalism in a sense, and in a sense, that's why the Democrats were denied the White House for almost all of the last 50 years with the exception of Clinton and Carter, the likes of whom Kennedy opposed.

BAIER: Bill, do you think that the old-style politics around personality and relationships is over?

KRISTOL: In the Senate, no, no.

But Teddy Kennedy also challenged a sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, and I approve of that since it probably made it easy for Ronald Reagan to beat him. So that was another contribution Ted Kennedy has made to American history.

BAIER: Didn't your former boss, Dan Quayle, work with Ted Kennedy?

KRISTOL: He did and look, I mean, I dealt with Senator Kennedy a fair amount — you know, sporadically in those years when I was Dan Quayle's chief of staff. And I did my job and I dealt with him professionally, and he was professional to me and he had a real charm.

And if one was willing to ignore what one knew about his personal history, one could, I think, be quite charmed by him and in any case he was pleasant.

And I want to say, I do think — it was one foreign trip we went on, he went on Air Force II with the vice president to Latin America, and I got to say there was a glimpse of that old liberalism there that I very much associated with John Kennedy, especially.

We were briefing him and the vice president and others on the trip and the national security people were briefing him, and I said to Senator Kennedy, you may not agree with the administration on this. He said, and this was 1990 or so. He said we're traveling abroad together. We'll represent the United States together. I'll follow the vice president's lead.

He didn't adhere to that, honestly, in the next 20 years. He bitterly attacked President Bush over Iraq, quite unfairly, I think. But I have to say, at that moment, one saw a glimpse of an earlier American politics where there was real bipartisanship on foreign policy.

BAIER: Go to FOXnews.com for all the information on Ted Kennedy's life and legacy. You can visit our interactive section you see here for a timely and a 45 picture photo essay online.

We will look at CIA inspector general's report on enhanced interrogations next and what influence Dick Cheney might have had when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I believe that the CIA's best days are still yet to come, and you will have my support an appreciation as you carry on this critical work.

We live in dangerous times. I am going to need you more than ever.

REP. PETE KING, R-N.Y.: They have kept us safe for eight years and now to have an attorney general of the United States opening up a criminal investigation against them is disgraceful, and I think it's going to have a demoralizing effect to the CIA, and it's going to take that edge off them that they need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The first clip there was the president talking to CIA officials there, saying that they have done a good job keeping the country safe. And of course, Attorney General Eric Holder this week announcing an investigation into the interrogation of terrorists.

So where are we with this? What does it mean to the intelligence community? We're back with our panel — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, they have been really badly damaged.

Look, the CIA is central intelligence; its role it to give intelligence. We are in the middle of two wars. It was aggressive in the eight years of the Bush administration and it prevented a second attack.

Now everybody who is interrogating is scared to death and nobody is going to do anything that is not exactly by the book and extremely passive and ineffective.

Secondly, the administration has removed the interrogation of high-
level Al Qaeda out of the CIA. It is now going to be housed in the FBI and directed by the White House.

That means that if you catch an important terrorist, the CIA is not going to investigate him. And if you catch, you know, a farmer in Afghanistan who is driving a consignment of sheep across a war zone, if you catch him, well, that's going to be CIA work.

It's been cut out of the main human intelligence gathering and I think if I were head of the CIA, as Panetta is, who has been trumped and rebuffed and humiliated, had his agency emasculated, he ought to resign on principle.

BAIER: Kirsten, is this a very tough issue for this administration, the action of Attorney General Holder?

POWERS: I guess. I suppose that it is. I don't think that it should be. It is a distraction from the things that Obama wants to focus on. He is certainly one of the little areas that he still actually has a high approval rating on is foreign policy, so he probably doesn't want to cause a problem there.

But I think substantively what Eric Holder is doing is correct. And the idea that, as Pete King was saying, they kept us safe for eight years, well, OK, setting aside whether or not that's true, let's say that they did, what does that mean? Therefore we don't investigate where we think maybe a law was broken? That doesn't make any sense.

I also am one of those people that believes that you can get very effective information not torturing or using enhanced interrogations. We have done it in Iraq — bad Al Qaeda people in Iraq where they didn't do the types of things that were being done in these circumstances that we're talking about and were able to get intelligence.

There is no proof that using enhanced interrogation got better information. We know that they got information. We don't know that it came from enhanced interrogation.

So I just think that it is correct for Holder to be doing this and I know Obama doesn't want to get in the middle of it and he wants us to be looking forward.

I just disagree with that.

BAIER: Bill, there was left-leaning blogs that were looking for the I.G. report to be the smoking gun against the allegation that the enhanced interrogation techniques did not work.

The former CIA inspector general, John Hellgerson, confirmed that did say he met with Vice President Cheney and that during the course of the investigation to brief him on the findings, and there was no effort by the former vice president to steer his work in one direction or another, suggesting, despite the charges or allegations, that somehow he may have had his hand in it in some way.

What about all of that?

KRISTOL: No, and the techniques themselves, the techniques of the CIA, the professionals of the CIA thought necessary and which, in fact, in the inspector general's report clearly were very helpful. These people would not talk and then the techniques were used and then they did talk, and the CIA professionals say they got very important intelligence and saved lives.

We can sit here and say, well, prove it. But that's what they thought.

I think what the president has done is really hard to square with him taking seriously his responsibilities as commander in chief if you think the War on Terror is serious and still going on.

If you think this was a one-shot deal, we were at risk for two or three years. The CIA did these extraordinary things, but now we can all relax and go back to a pre-September 11 posture, then fine.

But that's what we're doing. Charles is absolutely right. The FBI is now in charge of the interrogation of high-value targets. Think about that, the FBI, not the CIA. And they will use the Army Field Manual.

So forget it. If there is another Khalid Sheik Mohammed, if we capture the guy, we're not going to learn anything.

BAIER: I want to say one thing. Yesterday, last night, Juan Williams said this new group will find the best techniques that do not require you to be pulling out people's fingernails. He was not challenged on that. We received hundreds of e-mails.

Juan says it was a shorthand or euphemism for all of the techniques and not about torture. He said it wasn't about any specifics.

Thank you for the e-mails.

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