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Obama: No More Mr. Nice Guy?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 7, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JAMIE COLBY, FOX NEWS GUEST HOST: Over this weekend, Obama -- President Obama's, controversial green jobs czar, Van Jones, resigned his post. He had in the past called Republicans "a-holes," compared President Bush to a crackhead, railed against white polluters and even said that only white kids shoot up schools like Columbine.

Now comes word Mr. Jones never filled out the White House's vetting questionnaire. What does that say about accountability? Plus, the NAACP steps into the fray. They now have issued this statement. Quote, "Van Jones made a tough decision to step aside so that the nation's reform agenda will not be sidetracked by those who spin lies for profit."

With us now, FOX News analyst and Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill and from D.C., Washington Times columnist Amanda Carpenter. Welcome to both of you.

MARC LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA UNIV. PROF., FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.

COLBY: Now, it is not required, Marc, that these czars fill out these forms that cabinet posts and deputy cabinet posts require.

HILL: Right.

COLBY: But if it would have been filled out, what we would have learned from Van Jones -- I want to ask you -- let's put this up, if we can. I pulled -- I didn't have to go even further than the first page of seven. "Briefly describe the most controversial matters you have been involved with during the course of your career." We now know that he was involved in signing a petition that asked the question of whether or not the Bush administration had involvement in 9/11. He admits he signed it. He says, and Howard Dean says on his behalf -- we'll play that in a second -- he didn't know what he was signing. Would that have come up if he had been required to fill out this form?

HILL: Probably not, actually, because he -- if we believe in good faith that he didn't do it on purpose -- and I believe that he didn't do it on purpose -- then he probably wouldn't have put that down. And I'll tell you why I believe he didn't do it on purpose because he's been very straightforward. If nothing else, he's not shy. He could have ducked his. He could have said an aide put that -- signed me up, I didn't do this myself. But he was very straightforward, said, I signed up, but I didn't fully understand it. I believe him.

COLBY: There were some high-profile names on the list. Let me play what Howard Dean said on "FOX News Sunday," give you a little more perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER VT GOV., FORMER DNC CHAIR: This guy's a Yale-educated lawyer. He's a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down. I think it's too bad. Washington's a tough place that way, and I think it's a loss for the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLBY: It was the 911truth.org. That was the organization that had this petition. Amanda, there were -- he was number 46 on the list. There were some high-profile names ahead of him even -- Yale-educated, a loss to America not having him there -- should he have discussed this with the president? And do you think that the president, it seems distancing himself from the resignation, took the right approach?

AMANDA CARPENTER, WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, I'm not sure. The right approach would have been to vet this guy in the first place this easily would have come up with a Google search. And for the people like Marc Lamont Hill and Howard Dean, who buy that Van Jones didn't know what he was signing onto -- well, before even I wrote -- before I was going to write about this, I called the 9/11 truth group and asked them, How did you confirm your signers? And they told me, Two of our board members either personally spoke with these people in person, on the phone or via e-mail. I mean, their spokesperson said they did not know -- everyone that was on this list knew their names were going on it. And so unless they are liars, they were lying to me on the phone, Van Jones knew exactly what he was signing onto.

HILL: You know, but...

COLBY: The president, Marc -- what did -- the president has been busy, obviously, with other things, but had to have known this controversy was going on. And now that Jones has stepped aside, Dean says it's a loss, maybe because he has some green energy expertise. But the president hasn't said anything about it. Are we owed an explanation?

HILL: I think we are. I think the president has to answer a very simple question. Did you know this was the case already? If you did, why did you still hire him? If you didn't, why didn't vet him? It seems to me, though, that the president did know and that the Obama administration seemed to understand that this wasn't going to be -- or at least, they believed that it wouldn't be a problem.

Of course, they miscalculated that, as they miscalculated a few things lately. They were wrong. This turned out to be a huge problem. And that's why it's so disappointing that the Obama administration didn't fight for Van Jones. They put him up there. They hired the guy. And then throw him under the bus when it's politically expedient. It's very disappointing.

COLBY: You think they should have kept him in the position and supported him.

HILL: If you know someone has a background and you decide to post someone in that position anyway, then I think you have a duty to fight for that person. Absolutely. That's what has happened in the past with Bush, with Clinton and everyone else. He could have dispensed surrogates on the Sunday shows to defend Van Jones. Instead, they did nothing. And Gibbs gave the most superficial, you know, sort of light-hearted defense of him that I've ever seen of any -- of any presidential appointee.

COLBY: Amanda, should the rules change? Now that I've had a chance to look at this questionnaire, it seems -- it seems logical that anybody that is receiving taxpayer money as a salary, our hard-earned dollars, and serving the president should disclose the things that are on this form. What do you think?

CARPENTER: Well, I don't know if filling out a form would have done this, but if the White House would have done something as easy as a Google search, the would have realized how toxic this guy is. But then again, when I think about this, I wonder, Well, maybe they put him in this position exactly for the precise reason there was no vetting process and that's the only way he could survive.

COLBY: Well, how do you know...

CARPENTER: But regardless of all that...

COLBY: ... he wasn't vetted, Amanda? Maybe they knew and it wasn't a problem for the administration. Is that a possibility?

CARPENTER: Well, you have to wonder if they put him in this place because there was no vetting required, and that raises a greater question of why you would put someone with all this kind of power -- I mean, he's giving interviews to The Washington Post saying that he had the ability to influence up to $80 billion in stimulus spending that was devoted to green jobs. This guy was a major player, even though the White House is saying right now that he was of relatively low rank.

COLBY: All right...

CARPENTER: So right now, this isn't even about Van Jones anymore, it's all the other czars that have circumvented this confirmation process...

COLBY: And we have...

CARPENTER: ... to get...

(CROSSTALK)

COLBY: I want to tell everyone we have a new czar today. I don't know if he filled out a form. I don't know what questions he answered. But he's there and you're paying for him. So I think the American people should know that we're hiring these people, we're paying for these people, and we were promised transparence, maybe we should be asking more questions. That's why we're doing it here. We report, you decide.

Stick around, you guys, because I have more for both of you.

Coming up: Look who's talking! You don't want to miss this, Reverend Wright caught on camera, what he has to say about the health care chaos!

And later: The predator who held Jaycee Lee Dugard captive for 18 years -- he may go for an insanity defense. Are you buying that? Could a jury? Those reports straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLBY: Health care reform quickly becoming the make-or-break issue for this presidency, and sources are saying the White House is planning to draft its own bill to make sure that reform happens. And just when you thought the debate could not get any more heated -- you've seen those town halls -- enter Reverend Jeremiah Wright!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what do you think about the health care bill?

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PRES. OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: I think the racists in the right wing are upset because poor people are about to be helped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLBY: So shocking it is, I'm going to play it for you again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what do you think about the health care bill?

WRIGHT: I think the racists in the right wing are upset because poor people are about to be helped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLBY: I'm joined again by Marc Lamont Hill and Amanda Carpenter. Marc, let me start with you. The Reverend Wright -- we haven't heard much about him. Now he's speaking out, to all places, TMZ, on health care reform. What's going on?

HILL: Well, I mean, I love Jeremiah Wright sincerely, but he is the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans. Obama's against the ropes right now. He's had perhaps the worst month of his presidency in August. There's this grand narrative getting stronger and stronger about him being an outsider and a socialist and all these other things. And then Jeremiah Wright comes back into the picture. It's not a good thing for the Obama administration.

I think, though, that Jeremiah Wright is absolutely correct, you know, that issues of poverty, issues of race have to be injected into a conversation about health care reform.

COLBY: That's not what he's saying. He's saying that the wealthy people are upset that the poor people are finally going to get coverage. How can you make a statement like that?

HILL: Well, I don't think it's that simple. I think when you get caught in sound bites, particularly in the TMZ world, it gets reduced to that. But I think there's deeper issue here, which is what does it mean for all Americans to have access to health care? There's something at stake, and the people who will be sacrificed here, to some extent, financially, are the wealthy. I don't know if they're racist. I'm not willing to call them racist...

COLBY: But he did!

HILL: Well, Jeremiah Wright and I don't necessarily disagree -- don't necessarily agree on this point, but fundamentally, there's an issue about race and class that we have to talk about, and he's right.

COLBY: Amanda, is it about race, or is it about working versus not working or unable to find work when it comes to health care coverage?

CARPENTER: Well, there's always people like Reverend Jeremiah Wright, WHO want to politicize this and make it about race And I think the timing of Reverend Wright popping up isn't bad in terms of the health care debate, but there's also some similarities of Van Jones, who also had controversial thoughts about 9/11 and plenty of disparaging things to say about Republicans. So this once again highlights the ties that Obama has had to people that he would like to distance himself from and has said that are no longer fit to keep his company when those comments go public.

COLBY: He has definitely, it would seem, Marc, though we don't know, distanced himself from Reverend Wright, but there he is. And let me ask you, there are calls for the president to get tougher. No more Mr. Nice guy, right?

HILL: Oh, absolutely. I mean...

COLBY: On health care.

HILL: Absolutely. Bill Moyers is probably one of the most, you know, loud voices right now saying health care's a pressing issue for Obama's administration but also for the American people. And if he doesn't get tough and stand up and stop smiling and apologizing all the time to the right, they're going to keep beating up on him.

And Bill Moyers is absolutely right, and I think that's for a few reasons. One, I think Obama is reading his own press clippings too much. I think he's drinking his own Kool-Aid too much. He came in riding a wave of his own awesomeness so much that he thought he could convince the left and the right to just do what's right, and politics doesn't work that way. It's a much more dirty game. He has to get tough. He has to stand up for this -- for this -- his ideology and his belief system. If he does not, health care's going to die on the vine, and so is Obama's political future.

COLBY: On Wednesday, Amanda, specific does the president need to get on the health care plan that now the White House is saying he may draw up on his own?

CARPENTER: Well, he has to be very specific. If this is just another speech where he comes up and says, These are kind of my principles, and gives some vague guidelines for Congress to go work itself out again, it will be a failure. There's any number of things that he could go up and specifically ask for. He could say, I need the public option. It may be co-ops. It may be public option with a trigger. Nobody knows yet. But he has to come out with a specific plan because calling a joint session of Congress is a very big deal, and it's not something that's taken lightly.

COLBY: The lines in the sand line that came up on the Sunday shows, as the president dispatched his top advisers to talk about it -- what are the other options that he could lay out as he draws these lines in the sand? Is it a "take it or leave it" to Congress when they come back?

HILL: At some point, it has to be. I mean, Amanda and I actually agree on this. We may not agree on our ideologies, but we certainly agree that he has to be specific and he has to draw a line in the sand. Obama has done an amazing job if going around the country, talking to hundreds of people and not really saying anything in terms of specifics.

I think the line in the sand that most American people care about right now actually is this public option. I'm OK with the public option with a trigger. Many of us on the left are OK with the public option with a trigger. But what we will not allow is a public option to completely fall off the table. He will compromise his entire left-wing base, myself included. And so I think that's an issue that he has to address right now, as well as issues around Medicare and portability and co-ops and all these other issues. But the public option is so much at the front of the public conversation that he has to address it.

COLBY: Amanda, I want to thank you, and Dr. Hill from Columbia. Thank you so much for being with us. Thanks to both of you.

HILL: A pleasure.


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