This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 9, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: What the president is doing is asking House Democrats to hold hands, jump off a cliff, and hope Harry Reid catches them. And Senator Reid won't have any incentive to catch them because by the time the reconciliation bill gets to the Senate, the president will have signed the healthcare bill into law and he'll be on his way to Indonesia.
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: The information I passed on last week about March 18, the day the president leaves for Indonesia and ultimately Australia, was something that we gleaned from conversations had with Capitol Hill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: There appears to be disconnect on timeline of passing health care reform legislation between the White House and Democratic leaders with the House majority leader saying none of us talked about March 18 except Mr. Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
One thing they do say is that the health care reform legislation has to pass, and you just heard House Speaker Pelosi in Jim Angle's piece say this about health care reform: "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it away from the fog of the controversy."
We are back with the panel with process and policy, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's getting wild and wacky when you hear the statement from the speaker of the House. If I can give her the benefit of the doubt, which she probably intended — didn't actually say — I'm not sure why I'm defending her here — is that once you enact the bill people will see all the good stuff in it and then they'll appreciate it and all the negative public opinion on it will change.
I think that is the only argument the president and Pelosi have to persuade Democrats in the House who will get slaughtered in November over this bill.
What I see actually happening now is that some of the House members who appear to be staunchly opposed might be wavering. If you take Bart Stupak, who is leading the anti-abortion faction, and he is running up a white flag. He said there is a compromise that is reachable. I think in principle it is. You could find compromise language. The problem is the procedure, because if you find the compromise language it has to be done by the Senate after the House has accepted a bill that doesn't have the compromise language. As we heard Senator Alexander explain, that means that House Democrats have to have complete trust in Harry Reid and in the Senate Democrats. And that, I think, is the issue, the procedural labyrinth here.
BAIER: Steve, a lot of people are reading into Congressman Stupak and what he's saying about a possible compromise. Do you think it's there?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Our John McCormick from The Weekly Standard just got off the phone with Congressman Stupak and asked him point blank, what do you mean? Is this a compromise or not?
Stupak said, and this is a direct quote, "Everyone is going around saying there is a compromise. There is no such thing."
He went on to tell John basically what Charles is saying. Nobody how this works mechanically. How does it actually happen? John went back to Stupak several times and said can you explain this? How does this work? How does the language get incorporated?
He basically couldn't answer the question and he later said one of the things he wouldn't accept is a letter saying basically do this now and we'll send you this letter and take care of this later. Stupak says you can't do that because later never comes.
BAIER: Because, Juan, there is a trust issue here with House members not really trusting that the Senate can take the ball once they pass the Senate bill as it exists. So that we believed was the first step in the process.
But apparently we are hearing about this new process where you can pass a reconciliation rule, and at the same time, the Senate bill then becomes law. It gets messy and it gets in the weeds, but it seems like it avoids a way for the House to act first before the Senate.
JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Right, and part of the argument coming from the White House to Congressman Stupak is this is not about abortion. This is not an abortion bill. We're not trying to pull anything over on you. We simply want to accommodate you, and we want to get this through, so how can we make a deal? Which comes back to what they were saying to The Weekly Standard.
The problem from the House perspective is just this trust issue you highlighted. Because you really have to do a two-step. You have to rely if you cast your vote, you know that the U.S. Senate is going to go through the reconciliation process and hold to the changes that you enumerated.
And there is no way for you to be assured of that. That's why a letter won't do. A letter won't mean anything if they go back on it. But the key from the White House perspective is to say, gentlemen, we're in this together and going over the cliff together. If you looking to the 2010 elections, there's no way that's we're going to do better without this bill than we will with the bill.
BAIER: Charles, let's talk about that cliff. New polls out today — first, what will health care reform cost? And 81 percent says it will cost more than projected. That is overwhelming. Secondly, will middle class taxes be raised to cover health care reform costs? 78 percent — yes.
What will it do to the federal deficit? And 66 percent, increase the deficit. And what impact will healthcare reform have on the economy? And 57 percent hurt the economy.
Democrats oftentimes point to specific elements of the health care bill. These numbers deal with the overall cost.
KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. If you say to people, do you like this goodie, for example, no preexisting condition? Everybody will say, of course. If they say in principle do you want to insure the uninsured, who is going to oppose that? So all of that stuff separately will poll well.
But then if you actually invoke the cost, which is what we heard here with all of these questions, people understand that this is going to be overwhelmingly expensive. We are in a huge debt already now. We're going over a cliff in terms of fiscal sanity. Medicare is going broke, and we are adding a new entitlement.
And that's why when you put all the elements together and you ask as a package are you opposed or in favor, you get overwhelmingly negative results. Americans are able to add up the cost and the benefits and decide in this particular proposal and package, it's not worth it.
BAIER: Steve, finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while she said it perhaps inartfully, and we used the sound bite, Democrats are buying in to if you pass it, they have enough time to turn this around to a political winner by November?
HAYES: It's hard to tell if they buy in. We'll know when they actually cast the vote.
But certainly there are some suggestions that she is being persuasive with certain members of her caucus by saying in public we'll fix this and people will understand the benefits of it.
I think really what is convincing people is what is going on in private. All of these conversations that we had seen before the Christmas Eve vote in the Senate, the cornhusker kickback, Louisiana — all of these things, they are happening again, they're just not happening in public, and they won't be discussed until long after there is a vote on this.
BAIER: There's a meeting right now, Juan, up on Capitol Hill with Rahm Emanuel, some other White House folks, and the leaders, congressional leaders behind closed doors.
WILLIAMS: Right. They are looking for deals. One thing I heard about today was you have six retiring Democrats who voted against this last time. You know what, gentlemen, this is a real gift to Americans, is the argument from the White House. This is a moment to make history. So they're pulling out all the stops. And no doubt there will be deals that are revealed.
But I must say the consequence of cornhusker kickback, for example, was that Senator Nelson said can't tolerate it, don't want it because there was too much political baggage attached. It was smearing him. That might be a lesson for Democrats.
KRAUTHAMMER: I predict Stupak will accept a compromise because I think he does not want to carry the mark of Cain all his life as the man who sank the historic health care reform.
BAIER: OK. What will you think — what do you think will happen, rather, with health care reform? Go to our homepage at FOXNews.com/Special Report. Right there you can vote in our online poll. We'll be back in three minutes as the panel talks about what is next in Afghanistan. There is the poll right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What I take away from this as well as the visit here is I that think that it reinforces the notion that General McChrystal's strategy is working, but also that it's complex and it's going to take some time.
It's early March. Only 6,000 of the 30,000 troops of the surge have arrived in country. So I would say given where we are both in the calendar and in terms of how many troops are here in terms of the surge, that it's a very good start.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates today talking to our own Mike Emanuel after touring a town in southern Afghanistan that used to be in control of the Taliban. Talking about the war and how it's going now.
We're back with the panel about Afghanistan. Steve, you get a sense that the defense secretary is pretty confident about General McChrystal and his strategy.
HAYES: I think people around General McChrystal also seem pleased relatively. I think they know there is a lot of hard work to be done, still, but they seem pleased generally with the progression of what they've done so far.
One thing I think Gates is doing in Afghanistan now, one of the most important things he is doing is trying to get Hamid Karzai to put his face on what's happening in his own country. They want to get him out of Kabul. They want him to go around the country and show his face, even when he gets a negative reaction as he did this past weekend in Marjah.
They need him to be the face of what is going on beyond the gun fights.
BAIER: And there was an interesting exchange about Iran's activity inside Afghanistan with the defense secretary.
HAYES: Yes. Secretary Gates was asked about Iran meddling, and he said he was deeply concerned about what was going on that was backed by Iran, supporting the Taliban, including arms. And he said in effect they will be — they are going to have to face the consequences of what they're doing.
His press secretary later came out and said in Afghanistan specifically, but it was language, that I thought when I read it, suggesting maybe there is an increasing frustration on what Iran is doing, not only with the Afghanistan but also in Iraq and doing things like disrupting the election.
BAIER: Juan, thoughts on the secretary's tour and his confidence?
WILLIAMS: I think the striking thing to me is if you look at the Taliban, they don't expect to erase the Taliban, but instead they feel they can win their hearts and do that by offering the young men jobs and opportunities in a stable, democratic, economically sound society.
If you recall we had discussions on this show about General McChrystal's approach and whether it would be a success to tell our young men and women out there fighting, you have to exercise a great degree of caution in terms of how you deal with people.
BAIER: To minimize civilian casualties.
WILLIAMS: Correct, because you can't even shoot back at some sniper areas if you feel the civilians are involved. Would this in fact open the Taliban to additional ways to kill our people?
But what you hear from Secretary Gates is that he is pleased with the strategy. He thinks it's working, and he thinks the idea of winning over the Taliban rather than trying to wipe them out is actually an effective strategy.
BAIER: Charles, as they did with Marjah, the operation they forecasted that there will be another operation in Kandahar, another hotbed. It seemed to work the first time, at least so far. General McChrystal is saying that Kandahar might be different.
KRAUTHAMMER: What is so interesting is how counterintuitive their announcement is, the strategy is. Normally you don't announce months in advance we'll take x, y, z because you want the element of surprise. Here they announce the initial offensive and now they're announcing that Kandahar is next.
And I think it fits with the interesting strategy that McChrystal has because the objective is not the killing of the Taliban. The objective is to gain the confidence of the civilians.
So, if you announce in advance you will do Kandahar, the capital, the prize here, you hope that the small bands of the enemy roaming around will think twice about hanging around and facing the U.S. Marines, because they will lose.
And what you are doing is appealing to the less fanatical and ideological and the less suicidal enemy who will sneak around, join the population and the fight and become civilians. And we aren't against that.
The idea is once they get integrated in society, that's OK. You don't want a victory where you have to surrender on the battleship of Missouri. What you want is to win the confidence of the population. So interesting that they're announcing in advance.
Also interesting is how understated is the secretary of defense on this. Nobody is saying this is all swell and good. Nobody is saying it will be easy. This is the kind of caution that you heard early on in the surge in Iraq, and it's wise.
WILLIAMS: I thought it was impressive he is walking around without armor. That's incredible. What a testament that is to our forces and to our success.
BAIER: Pretty amazing.
HAYES: Yes, it was striking to see it captured on video.
BAIER: That close to the actual fighting.
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