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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel Discusses the Rev. Wright Controversy and Whether We're Really in a Recession

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from April 30, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I made a statement yesterday that was hard to make, but it is what I believe. And what we want to do now, though, is to make sure that this doesn't continue to be a perpetual distraction.

SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: Well, I think that he made his views clear finally, that he disagreed. And I think that's what he had to do.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Reverend Wright — what do you think when you hear a fellow American citizen say that stuff about America?

CLINTON: I take offense at it. I think it is offensive and outrageous. And I'm going to express my opinion and others can express theirs. I sure don't think the United States government was behind AIDS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Now some thoughts on this controversy about Reverend Wright from Jeff Birnbaum, columnist for The Washington Post, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine, and Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent for The Washington Examiner, Fox News contributors all.

A couple of polls here — this one is one of our new polls out today, the Reverend Wright relationship and how it might affect your vote — less likely or more likely to vote for Obama. Overall, 44 percent said less likely — 36 percent of Democrats said that. No surprise that a lot of Republicans would.

Independents didn't think about it the same way as Democrats. Almost 40 percent said less likely. Now, 40 percent said no difference, and perhaps a surprising 12 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for him.

In addition, what do people think about whether this has hurt him or not? Well, the overall number, 70 percent say it's hurting — 64 percent of Democrats included in that, and even 43 percent of African-Americans feel that way. So the consensus is in on that.

So, panel, Hillary Clinton had never said anything as strong as she said today. What does all this tell us Bill?

BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I used to think that this would only hurt him in the general election. I used to think that the Democrats were basically going to shrug off the Reverend Wright controversy. Some of them weren't that bothered by it.

But when I see 36 percent of Democrats are less likely — forget about the higher number of Democrats that said this hurts Obama's campaign — 36 percent of Democrats say they are less likely to vote for him, I am now watching very carefully what impact it will have on Indiana and North Carolina next week.

I still think it's going to have a bigger impact in the general election. I still think this is Obama's nomination to lose, and he is probably not going to lose it.

HUME: You don't think what he said in the last couple of days has done much to turn this, because this poll was taken as that was all unfolding.

SAMMON: Well, I do think that he did a good job of putting everyone on notice, saying anything further that comes out of this man he's mouth that sounds crazy you can't associate with me. I think he did a good job of that.

I also think he — one of the silver-lining is that Wright had gotten so outrageous that Obama had political cover in a way that he wouldn't alienate the black vote. Back in Philadelphia six weeks ago he didn't want to alienate the black vote. Now he can do —

HUME: What did Wright actually say that went any farther?

SAMMON: Nothing different. He said the same things, but before they were able to spin it away as we put it on a loop and it was over and over on the loop. This time it was right there, and there was no denying it. But it was nothing really different.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I happen to think that given that the Wright controversy is out there, that this week was actually a good moment for Barack Obama. And I don't think the polls will capture it because they were done, as you said, as this was unfolding.

I think this is a good moment for him because what happened was he got pushed to the point where he had to react. And he was genuinely angry. You saw it in his face and his features.

He reestablished himself, I think, as a post-racial candidate at a time when he was so afraid of distancing himself from that church, and he had trouble like he was losing that mantle, I think, at one point.

I think this was a Sista Souljah moment that was even better because it was more authentic.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST : I have to disagree.

EASTON: I knew you would. I know everybody disagrees.

HUME: It's just Hillary — she can express her view and others people can express theirs.

BIRNBAUM: And, actually, that Hillary is going to express her views like this is one of the reasons why it's not good for Barack Obama. Every time Jeremiah Wright is on a television screen, it's not good for Barack Obama.

A very telling set of these polls is the favorable/unfavorable for Barack Obama. Looking at them from February, his favorability declined by seven percentage points there, and his unfavorable rating increased by nine percentage points. That's not good news. That's, in fact, terrible news.

And if you look at the polls in Indiana and in North Carolina, they are narrowing. That is —

HUME: The race's tighten as they get late.

BIRNBAUM: Yes, but in this case, this is exactly the worst time for Barack Obama to run into the buzz saw of Jeremiah Wright, even though I think he did do a good job of distancing himself as far as he possibly could. It's just that as long as he is there, he is an albatross around his neck.

EASTON: But he was there. And this favorable/unfavorable rating was this albatross that was sitting there. And it took Reverend Wright provoking him to this reaction. He had to do something. And I don't think he was going to do anything until he got provoked on Monday.

SAMMON: Meanwhile the post-racial ship has sailed. He is never again going to be the post-racial candidate thanks to Jeremiah Wright. That's over. He is the candidate about race, for better or for worse.

I think half of the respondents to this poll said that they looked at Reverend Wright as anti-white, which he obviously could be viewed that way.

But, again, if you look at his first memoir, Barack Obama's first memoir, he spent several decades of his life having antipathy towards white people because of his mixed race heritage, by his own words. When that comes out in the general election, I think that will hurt him, too.

HUME: When the panel returns, it may not be a recession, but it is certainly a slowdown, for sure. We will look at the latest numbers and talk about what they mean. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: The president feels vindicated in rejecting the use of the word "recession"?

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESWOMAN: The president is mostly concerned with not what you call the economic slowdown that we're in, but with what you do about it.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D) CONNECTICUT: There is a technicality to describe a recession, but I think we are in one when you have a 26-year low for consumer optimism and confidence.

CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK SENATOR: If you factor out the highest 10 percent in income, the remaining 90 percent of Americans are clearly experiencing a recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: I have no idea how in the world Senator Schumer would know that. a "recession" is a macroeconomic term and relates to lack of growth in the economy, the GDP, as it's called, and in the first quarter of this year leading up to the first of this month, the GDP grew at 0.6 percent. That is not much, but it is not recession.

But, the public appears to agree with Democrats like Schumer and Dodd. Let's look at our latest poll on that question — is the economy in a recession? 54 percent say it is; 38 percent say it is a mere downturn, and 16 percent say it's doing OK.

So what about people's personal finances? They think the national economy is in a recession, but their personal finances, well, 76 percent say their personal finances are either OK, or even 15 percent say great — 76 percent OK or great; 23 percent say lousy.

So what about this issue, and what about this news today that the economy managed a bit of growth in the first quarter — Bill?

SAMMON: Well, there are a number of troubling aspects to the economy which will be legitimate political issues throughout this campaign. But you cannot call it a recession —

HUME: Yet.

SAMMON: Yet, because that would make it a much more potent political issue. A recession has the definition. It's generally agreed to be two quarters of consecutive GDP decline. So we haven't even had one quarter of GDP decline, much less two.

In fact, with today's report, we have six-and-a-half years of uninterrupted economic expansion. So it takes away a little bit of the political potency of the economy as an issue that the Democrats can beat up on the Republicans with.

Ironically you have John McCain, the Republican candidate, out there saying we are in a recession —

HUME: He said it, too.

SAMMON: — because he doesn't want to be betrayed as out of touch with the economy like the elder President Bush in 1992. But we're not in a recession.

EASTON: The "r" word, as we call it at "Fortune," is a very politically potent weapon. It gets into the political atmosphere, and it is a downer.

It is clear things are still struggling along. We're not terminal. It is anemic. ADP, the payroll processing company, said we added 10,000 jobs last month. But that's in contrast to like a 165,000 jobs that we would add monthly a-year-and-a-half ago.

HUME: Would anyone have expected that we would have added jobs? I think not.

EASTON: Nevertheless, you still have this decline. The problem is housing. You have this decline in homes that has not bottomed out yet, and that is what is going to keep dragging the economy down.

BIRNBAUM: I'm afraid that it's bad news for politicians that there is good news in the economy. That's what this is about — very slow growth. The last quarter of last year was 0.5 percent growth, and there is 0.6 percent, very anemic growth. And it's possible that these things could be recalibrated.

HUME: They will take another look at this. It is a little hard to imagine it going down to recession, into negative growth, but it could happen.

BIRNBAUM: But here is what could actually happen here. Most economists say we're really at or near the trough of what is a cyclical downturn. And there were other contributing factors, like the housing market, as Nina suggested, real problems with the price of things, all sorts of things.

Gasoline — people just get angry looking when they drive by gasoline stations, the prices are so high. Food is getting very expensive, in part because of its interaction —

HUME: Particularly around the world.

BIRNBAUM: Around the world, but also here as well. There is rationing of rice, for example.

But the definition of what is recession is, is completely separate from what politicians are doing right now.

HUME: It seems to be completely separate to some extent from what people think a recession is, too. You have a clear majority, 54 percent say we are in a recession.

BIRNBAUM: That's right. What they're saying is that things aren't good and someone should help me out here. And the politicians are reacting very strongly.

I think Hillary Clinton may, in fact, may do better in North Carolina and in Indiana because she's attacking Barack Obama on economic issues, which people really care about, whether it's a recession or not.

HUME: Which might offset the Reverend Wright.

BIRNBAUM: Could be.

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