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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel Discusses Barack Obama's Slippery Stance on the Supreme Court's Gun Ruling and North Korea

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from June 26, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, you said in Idaho recently, quoting here, "I have no in tention of taking away folks' guns." But you support the D.C. handgun ban, and you said that it is constitutional. How can you reconcile those two conflicting traditions?

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because we have two conflicting traditions in this country.

I have said consistently that I believe the second amendment is an individual right. And that was the essential decision that the Supreme Court came down on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Barack Obama then and now. He did support, he said, the constitutionality of the D.C. gun ban, but when it got struck down as unconstitutional today, he said he supported that as well, saying he had always supported an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Some thoughts on this and the decision itself from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, Fred, yesterday, when the Supreme Court came out, or whenever it was, and said that the use of execution in the cases of capital punishment and cases of people who raped little infant children, or little children, was unconstitutional. Barack Obama said he was against that.

What are we are seeing here with Barack Obama?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think he is commenting on results rather than reasoning in that decision about rapists of children.

He didn't comment on the grounds on which the majority said that you couldn't say that they automatically applied to the death penalty, because of evolving standards of decency, which is what liberals use to decide whatever they want.

And He didn't comment on that. He just liked the result, and he could disagree with the result, and that helped him politically.

Today, on the gun case, I mean, it is proof once again that someone in politics, and maybe just in life, that can keep two utterly conflicting ideas in their mind at the same time and continue to profess them and get away with it in American politics.

I mean, look, if you're for the D.C. gun ban, as the court said today, you can't be for the second amendment as an individual right. Those just don't work together. And yet he's maintaining that.

And it is also a little confusing, because at some point -- remember he said when there was some statement that his campaign had sent out that said he supported the D.C. gun ban, and then they all know that was some staffer error.

But now he says he was for the D.C. gun ban. That's pretty slippery.

LIASSON: The questionnaire was a ban on handguns -- it wasn't the D.C. gun ban back then.

HUME: Wait a minute, in that question that Leon Harris asked him --

LIASSON: That question was about the D.C. gun ban. What Fred is referring to is a questionnaire that he says his staff filled out mistakenly or erroneously.

Look, he is a very flexible guy, and he does think that these two things possible. He is on a very steady march to the center on many, many issues. Death penalty is one of them, guns is another, although I have to say that the Democratic Party in general has been throwing handgun control over to the side for quite some time.

But there are about ten other examples of how Barack Obama has --

HUME: This raises an intriguing question. We are all accustomed to politicians tacking in one direction to get nominated, and then adjusting to try to get elected. And everybody is willing to cut some slack in that regard.

Are we talking about something greater than that here? Are we talking about outright abandonments of earlier views, rather than merely some changes in emphasis?

LIASSON: I think some of them are outright abandonments. But you have to remember that he is mostly a blank slate. He did say, and I have heard him say in many debates, that he believes that the second amendment guarantees an individual's right to bear arms. I thought that was kind of interesting at the same time he --

HUME: But the D.C. gun ban?

LIASSON: But he has been consistently inconsistent, if you want to put it that way.

HUME: In other words, he has been inconsistent on this for a long time, so there is no real change here.

LIASSON: I don't think he is becoming a new Democrat or breaking with the orthodoxy of his party. He is still a liberal -- or progressive is what he prefers to call himself.

Democrats, on a lot of things -- NAFTA is a very good example. He called it a horrible mistake. Now he says that people can -- sometimes rhetoric can become over emphatic in a campaign, including his own, and he has come back on that.

None of these things are surprising. This does happen a lot in campaigns. But here is somebody who is moving steadily to the center on a whole number of issues, including surveillance, by the way.

HUME: And what about, Charles, what about what the court did today? Five to four -- Kennedy this time joins the conservative wing instead of the other wing, and it's become kind of the Kennedy court in a sense, although Scalia wrote the majority opinion.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think this is a triumph of Scalia in a way that is very interesting itself. It is not just that he got a majority on this and he got his way on the gun ban and on gun control.

I think what is really interesting is that the dissent by John Paul Stevens, the most distinguished of the liberals on the other side, was a homage to Obama -- I'm sorry, I have Obama on my brain -- -because it was almost entirely based on originalism, i.e. it was about what was intended by the founders at the time of the writing of this amendment.

And Stevens consults, like Scalia, the contemporary dictionaries, documents, arguments, periodicals and debates, which is the conservative philosophy of the last 30 years which the liberal legal establishment had scorned for 30 years as well as being primitive and unusable.

And here is the liberals in this case arguing on the grounds that conservatives have argued in favor of for decades.

So I thought it was an interesting agreement on that, on the philosophical premise. On the actual evidence of what was intended at the time, it is a close call, and I tend to think that Stevens actually had the better of that argument.

But the evidence is murky, and there is no he definitive answer what was intended. Was it bearing arms only in a militia or bearing it in self- defense? And that's what it hinged on. And I thought the Stevens' dissent is really extremely interesting.

BARNES: It is, but if they want it only in cases of people that are going to be in a militia, they could have said so.

All these were individual rights in the Bill of Rights. And to call it judicial activism, as some have, that's when you create rights. What Scalia ruled on was just the simple language of the amendment.

HUME: OK, next up, North Korea. Did they really do anything, and did the U.S. really do anything in return? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Multilateral diplomacy is the best way to peacefully solve the nuclear issue with North Korea. Today's developments show that tough multilateral diplomacy can yield promising results. Yet the diplomatic process is not an end in itself.

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I will tell you, and the North Koreans understand, that the degree of easing of sanctions is relatively minor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: What Steven Hadley there is saying after President Bush spoke is that the sanctions that the United States has lifted against North Korea, and the intent to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror, are baby steps in response to what is seen as an important, but nonetheless small step by North Korea in furnishing to China, a partner to the U.S. in the six-party talks, a list of its nuclear activities.

It is not a comprehensive list, however, and it is a good question whether the North Koreans have done anything meaningful or not -- Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, there is an upside here and a downside. The upside is that we are getting a serious disabling of the plutonium process, which is what has yielded the nuclear weapons that North Korea has. So it's unlike what happened in the '90's, which was only a freeze.

Secondly, we are getting inspectors in, and we are getting intelligence and information which is otherwise almost impossible to get in a hermit kingdom like North Korea.

The downside is this -- we gave them relatively minor concessions in terms of economics, but highly symbolic -- taking them off the terrorist list and suspending the trading with the enemy act. And that we had said we would only give if we got three things -- plutonium, information on the uranium enrichment, and also on proliferation.

On the second and the third, we got nothing. This is after having declared that we would not budge on this requirement.

HUME: Correspondent James Rosen really caught it when he claimed we were about to do that

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. So it sends a signal to Iran and North Korea itself and to others that we can be rolled.

Now, the administration will say we don't have a lot of god cards, and they're right, and they got something, the disable something not nothing. Nonetheless, I think, on balance, it is a deal I would not have done, but I understand why the administration wanted to get something while it could.

LIASSON: Yes. I mean, it's better than nothing. I don't agree with some of the critics who say this is the first act of the Obama presidency, a real capitulation.

I don't think what we're giving them is anything that can't be reversed if it turns out that they're not going to live up to their end of the bargain. And according to the Secretary of State, we have ways of verifying this.

BARNES: I agree that there is good and bad in this. Mark Kirk, the congressman from Illinois, sent a letter to the State Department to ask them if they had actually gotten a copy of this declaration. It went to China -- and they haven't. And they haven't even read it or gotten their own copy, which is a little alarming.

On the other hand, their strategy is based on success on top of success. We do this, and then we can move on, I guess to uranium, and see what they have there. And so it makes sense, given their strategy. And I think, on balance, I probably would have done it. But it's not great, huge progress.

HUME: Where does this leave the argument that was made by many critics of the administration that the negotiations with North Korea should have been direct, that is to say one on one negotiations, bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea, and that to have handled it in this way with these other countries amounted to contracting out our diplomacy.

BARNES: I know, but there is one country that you had to have that the North Koreans were beholden to, and that was China. And, of course, if the North Koreans were just negotiating with the U.S. and then they broke off and said the U.S. is being horrible, a lot of the world will agree.

HUME: So it is probably meaningful that the list when it was sent was not sent to the United States, and indeed the U.S. didn't have a copy of it. It was sent to China.

KRAUTHAMMER: They will get it tomorrow morning. It is not a big deal.

HUME: But they made the decision to go ahead.

LIASSON: I actually think one of the most important parts of this was that it was multilateral, and some result came out of it.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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