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'Special Report' Panel on Fort Hood Memorial; Abortion as Sticking Point in Health Care Reform

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from November 10, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving god looks upon them with favor.

For what he has done, we know the killer will be met with justice in this world and the next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama and the first lady meeting with the families of the victims at Fort Hood. Before that ceremony, the president calling the massacre there "incomprehensible." And there you see his remarks.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about this and also the political correctness surrounding this tragedy: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Mara, your thought on the president's speech, first of all.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I thought he gave a very eloquent speech. I think he rose to the challenge of being the mourner-in-chief. I think that many — most presidents have an occasion in their term when they have to do this, and I think he did it really well.

I talked to White House officials before the speech who said that when it comes to discussing striking the right balance between honoring Muslims who serve with distinction in the military and not allowing people who are attracted to the violent strain of Islam as opposed to mainstream Islam to serve in the military, he looked to George W. Bush as his model, actually.

And although he talked about that very indirectly compared to the way Bush would say Islam is a religion of peace and he would make that distinction, the president did say, and you heard in that bite, this was "twisted logic." He didn't say the guy was deranged or mentally ill. He talked about the twisted logic that I guess Hasan used to justify this act.

I thought he did a very good job.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I would agree. I think it was a very sober speech. It was respectful to the fallen and he did have that reference that we saw to the element of jihadism in this attack.

BAIER: Well, he didn't use that word. He used...

KRAUTHAMMER: He never uses the word. The War on Terror is over, and all this stuff. But there is no escaping it. It seems he didn't jump to a conclusion, but he has reached a conclusion or two, that if someone yells "Allah Akbar" as he shoots up a room, there might be an element of jihadism involved.

BAIER: You think he's reached that conclusion?

KRAUTHAMMER: I thought the statement he made today, although it was indirect, about murdering in the name of god indicated that. It is pretty obvious. You really have to be obtuse to deny it, and he didn't want to be obtuse.

I will tell you who was. General Casey's speech had one reference to the actual attack. He spoke of it as unimaginable. Well, he ought to imagine it. It has already happened.

And except for that single reference to the violence that is unimaginable, he could have been speaking about a bus accident, which it wasn't. It wasn't a tragedy. It was a murder, a mass murder.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: This is a piece with what Casey said on the Sunday shows, where he actually said that a greater tragedy could have its impact on diversity? Really? A greater tragedy than killing 13 people?

I think Casey, whatever the investigation shows about what he knew and what was reported to him about Major Hasan, that somebody should put him in a box somewhere and not let him give public speeches like this anymore, because it is, frankly, very insulting.

I think the president's speech actually was pretty good. I think there was room, probably, for some stronger language. He talked about the need to win the wars against the extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He could have said, you know, and even here at Fort Hood or something along those lines.

But really the point of the speech in his role was, as Mara says, to be the mourner-in-chief.

BAIER: As this investigation continues to unfold, we find out more about these communications between Major Hasan and this radical imam in Yemen. There have some who have taken this and the political correctness has surrounded it.

Evan Thomas of Newsweek, as we saw in James' piece, said he cringes that Hasan is a Muslim, because it inflames the right wing. You have others who have refused to acknowledge that. Mara, what do you think about that issue of political correctness surrounding this tragedy and how it is covered and how it is handled?

LIASSON: I actually think that after the first couple of hours where some people were suggesting maybe he was just deranged, and I think people hoped he was deranged, because it's a more difficult problem if he has ties to radical Islam, of course.

Now that we know more about him, I don't know if Evan would repeat the thing he said one day or 48 hours later. He said that on Friday morning right after the attacks.

We now know he was not only behaving erratically and seemed to be a little bit unhinged, but he was also becoming more — his religion was becoming more political sized and he was communicating with people who advocated a kind of violent strand of Islam.

I think the country is slowly coming to terms with this. I actually don't think this is going to be swept under the rug with a gesture of political correctness. I think that when all the facts are known, this will be seen as a domestic act of terror because it was connected to radical Islamic ideology and the country will know that.

BAIER: There are still some out there, Charles, who are questioning this communication, saying that it could possibly be benign.

You had in Catherine Herridge's piece the defense attorney for Zacarias Moussaoui, an Al Qaeda conspirator, who said, "Let's be serious. There is no benign communication between an American military officer and a know fundamentalist Muslim preacher who's advocating the killing of American troops by suicide bombings."

KRAUTHAMMER: He is right. It is very obvious. As I mentioned earlier, you have got to be obtuse to imagine you can have a benign communication with a jihadist who is urging Americans to go, Muslim Americans, to kill other Americans or join the bad guys in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

This political correctness I don't think is going to change; it is endemic. Look what role it played in the lead up here. Hasan gave a grand round, which is the most important academic event in a teaching hospital in which the doctors and students and residents gather in an auditorium. Somebody stands up and gives a lecture on a particularly instructive case.

Well, Hasan gave one, apparently. NPR reported this on Friday, in fact, in which he began speaking about how if you're a non-believer in Islam, you end up in hell. Your head is cut off and you have hot oil poured into your throat. One of the psychiatrists who witnessed this and who NPR spoke with said it freaked everyone out in the room, and you would be if you are in that room, but no one spoke out. Why? Because nobody wanted to carry the accusation of being prejudiced against a Muslim member of the community, even though this was extremely strong evidence that the guy was either disturbed or dangerous. And in fact, he was both.

BAIER: Steve, last word.

HAYES: I would actually say that the reason people are talking about these so-called benign communications is because that is what the White House and intelligence community is putting out right now. They are the ones labeling that. Nobody has seen what these things actually said. So they're telling us these are benign communications.

I think that's actually evidence of political correctness, because as Charles said, there is no benign communications between somebody like this and an Al Qaeda leader. It doesn't — it simply doesn't exist, and the fact that we're continuing to talk about it this way suggests to me that this political correctness will be persistent and hard to overcome.

BAIER: The president is not happy with the abortion language in the House healthcare reform bill. We'll talk about that subject, the subject that won't go away, after we go away for about three minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want to make sure the provision that emerges meets that test, that we are not in some way sneaking in, funding for abortions, but on the other hand that we're not restricting women's insurance choices. There needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo. And that's the goal.

REP. BART STUPAK, D-MICH.: I hold the president to these words: No federal dollars, no matter how you try to disguise it, should be used in this legislation to fund abortion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: It is a sticky issue for Democrats on Capitol Hill. Now the Senate is dealing with it, the subject of abortion and healthcare reform.

We're back with the panel. Steve, what about this?

HAYES: I have absolutely no idea what the president of the United States just said in that sound bite. It doesn't make any sense. I think he said other things about it in the Jake Tapper interview that also didn't make sense and served to muddy the issue rather than clarify it.

The bottom line is that there will be 38 Republicans in the Senate who will likely vote to ban federal funding of abortion. That means you need to get 12 Democrats, basically, to sign on. If you look back at the recent history of where Democrats have voted on federal funding, that's going to be a hard number to get.

And then there's the separate issue of having to get to the 60 to avoid a filibuster.

BAIER: Mara, there have been some lawmakers who have been talking openly that the conference committee will yank this amendment out and they're just going to move forward from there.

LIASSON: They won't get it passed in the House if they do that. Now, maybe, as Charles has suggested in other programs, maybe years down the road they could do something about it, but I don't think they can pass health care unless current federal law, which is the president's position, is upheld.

Federal funding is already barred from paying for abortions.

BAIER: But the president is saying that this House health care bill goes too far.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: No, he said something very confusing.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: This is the point. He wants to be confusing. Wait a minute. He wants to be confusing. He doesn't want to be clear. The White House spends a lot of time not saying how they interpret the Hyde amendment — the Stupak amendment.

The question is, does Stupak enshrine Hyde, which is current law, the ban on federal funding of abortions, or does it go farther than Hyde. That is the question.

Liberals say, pro-choice groups say it goes farther because somehow it would prevent women from buying with their own money, not federal money, their own money coverage for abortions.

Stupak and the supporters of the amendment say that's not true. All it does is ban insurers from selling coverage for abortion to people who get subsidies, federal subsidies. That's the question.

And maybe the language has to be clarified. I know from a lot of reporting at the White House that the president has no problem enshrining Hyde in this health care reform bill.

KRAUTHAMMER: The liberal interpretation of the Stupak is correct. It is Hyde squared. It is stronger and goes way beyond Hyde.

In the end, I think it will stay in a modified form because the threats on the left of the 40 members of the House who said they will oppose the bill, that is not a credible threat.

But they are within reach of an historic once-in-a-century attempt to take over a sixth of the American economy. A liberal is not going to sacrifice it because of the Hyde amendment or Stupak.

I suspect a version of this will end up, Stupak or Hyde or something in between, will be in the bill, and the House liberals will swallow it because taking over a sixth of the economy was much more important.

BAIER: It will it be watered down from what we see now right now?

KRAUTHAMMER: Slightly, I think...

BAIER: OK, quickly, former President Bill Clinton was up on Capitol Hill today talking with senators, and here is what he is quoted as saying.

Now, this is from people who were in the room — quote: "The point I want to make is just pass the bill, even if it's not exactly what you want. When you try and fail, the other guys write history. The reason the tea baggers as so inflamed is because we are winning. This is an economic imperative."

He is talking about the tea parties obviously around the country that we saw all over the place. Charles, what about the former president and that wording?

KRAUTHAMMER: What is amazing is how open the Democratic leadership are, Clinton and apparently Obama in private, about how all of this is a political imperative. It is saving the Democrats. If it goes down, it will jeopardize their future.

It is not about the merits of this case. It is about fighting the right, and the epithet he used in describing them and it's all about us and them. It's not about improving healthcare in the country, which of course it won't.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: It's about two things: One of them is the Holy Grail for Democrats for more than 50 years has been to have universal healthcare coverage in this country. Now, whether this bill does it in the most perfect way or not is the subject of a pretty boisterous debate.

But I think the message that the White House and President Clinton is sending to doubting Democrats is: Swallow hard, vote for this even if it's not perfect. We can fix it later, because this is our chance and probably our one chance in this presidency to get this thing we have wanted for so long.

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