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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on U.S. Policy With Cuba

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from April 17, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT(via translator): We have sent word to the North American government in private and in public that we are ready when they want to discuss everything — everything, everything, everything.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So we have seen Raul Castro's comments, and are welcome this overture. We are taking a ve ry serious look at it, and we will consider how we intend to respond.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The talk here is about a possible new policy between U.S. policy between Cuba and the U.S.

The president is down at this Summit of the Americas, just starting tonight, and according to his prepared remarks, he will say that, "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take towards a new day."

But what about all of this? Let's bring in our panel — Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of "Fortune Magazine," and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, with a new look on Friday — Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's a French existentialist look in honor of France rejoining NATO.

BAIER: Let's start with Cuba.

KRAUTHAMMER: It was said in the '50's that the way to win the Cold War with Russia was to send squadrons of B-52s and drop nylon stockings on the Soviet Union.

We actually won the Cold War in a different way. But with Eastern Europe, we won it with openness, the Helsinki process.

So it's arguable which is the most effective. We have had 50 years of an embargo on Cuba, but the grip of the Castros and the army and the party is so strong that it hasn't worked. So I'm agnostic on this.

If Obama wants to try openness, that's good. What he has done now is not a total openness, like Helsinki, but what he has done is to make a gesture, which is to allow some increased commerce and travel, and what he's waiting, appropriately, for is a response, which would mean seeing that the Cubans release some political prisoners.

If he gets a response, I think he ought to make a further gesture, and if, ultimately, it ends up with openness, that's a tact we ought to try. I don't think any of us should have an ideological commitment to a tactic. Whatever works in liberating Cuba, I think we ought to try.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Charles talks about nylons. I have always talked about college students on spring break and unleashing them on Cuba, I think, would have a far more damaging effect on that regime than the 50 years of what we have had with this kind of policy.

The only reason that we haven't opened relations with Cuba so far more, is that — and it's amazing how many politicians will say this off the record — is our electoral system. It's because of Florida, the importance of Florida and the importance of the Cuban-American vote in Florida.

BAIER: Well, there are some human rights concerns and political prisoners.

EASTON: Sure, but that doesn't mean you don't start the process.

And, again, you don't just open it. As Charles says, I think Obama is actually hitting it exactly right, which is we say OK, well, he fulfilled his campaign promise. He's allowing family travel back and forth with very limited contact.

If you want to go more, the ball is in your court, Castro. The ball is in your court. You come up with some signs that you are liberalizing and you're willing to move forward.

The other point to made is that the Castros aren't going to be around forever. And they are both aging. And someone is going to fill that power vacuum. Do you want it to be China? Do you want it to be Russia? Do you want it to be Venezuela?

I think it's important to take those baby steps now and at least start the process.

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Can I take my tie off?

BAIER: Do we have a turtleneck for Fred?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm never going to hear the end of this. I have to come in with a t-shirt next time.

BARNES: Look, China is not going to be a big factor in Cuba. And Venezuela probably isn't either, because Chavez is a declining force with oil prices down and great economic problems at home. He is not going to help Castro much.

The interesting thing is how eager Raul Castro is to develop new relations with the United States without doing anything. All he has to do is do something.

Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, was very good on. He said, look, he's free to release some political prisoners. He can stop skimming money that's sent by Cuban-Americans to Cuba. He can stop doing that. He can allow some freedom of the press. It's not that he has to sit down and talk to somebody in America in order to do that.

Look, this is a Leninist state, and what the Cubans want is to open relations with the United States and get some economic benefits from that without changing anything, without changing that kind of state.

And remember who the political prisoners are. These aren't people, these are not bomb throwers. These are not terrorists. They are people like librarians and writers.

The democracy movement in Cuba, these are the most mild-mannered, most peaceful folks you can imagine, and they're thrown in jail for 30 years.

BAIER: Charles, what about this summit we're hearing from the White House now that there might be a chance encounter between President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, any sustained encounter is going to diminish the president of the United States.

BAIER: Apparently they have shaken hands already, but there may be some sort of pull aside.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right. But Chavez is not a Stalin. He is not a Hitler. He's a Mussolini. He is a strutting, clownish thug who runs an insignificant country.

If there's a chance encounter, and Chavez offers his hand, Obama ought to shake it, otherwise it is a diplomatic incident. But he ought not be looking for a little chit chat in the corner. I don't think you ought to give that to a clownish thug who runs an insignificant country.

EASTON: Who has called President Obama "ignorant," by the way, in addition to calling George Bush "the devil" and everything else. I do think there's a danger in raising his stature by engaging him too much.

BARNES: There is. And, besides, you can't have a rational discussion with some guy who makes wild and crazy statements, you know. It just doesn't work.

He's a bully. And he is a fascist. I think that's what Charles was getting at, like Mussolini.

BAIER: We'll talk about Sarah Palin's reemergence and the media coverage of the tea parties, that and more in the fright Friday lightning round, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Alaskan Republican Governor Sarah Palin may be trying to get to that house there at some point. Who knows? But she did speak in Indiana last night. She's back on center stage in a speech.

What about this? We're back with the panel. It's the Friday Lightning round — Fred?

BARNES: She is the most charismatic Republican, but she's not ready to run for president. She needs to govern well in Alaska and study and learn more about foreign policy and other things, and then she might be ready. But she's not now.

EASTON: Her biggest obstacle is reelection next year. Her ratings have dropped from a 90 percent approval to 60, which is still high. But people are cranky in Alaska. Oil revenues aren't there to fund the government. They're cranky that she is spending so much time out of the state.

And she has lost a lot of allies because she is considered a polarizing figure among some independents.

So I think that's her big obstacle. She needs to get reelected.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it's OK for her to leave the tundra every once in a while for a speech down in the lower 48.

But she really ought to spend these two years studying up on stuff where she was weak in the campaign, especially in foreign affairs, perhaps even writing an article or two on that, if she wants to be a national figure, otherwise she won't be and she won't deserve to be.

BAIER: Well, there was a lot of coverage this week about the tea parties, about 750 of them across the country. Some of our competitors covered it a little differently and had different guests on it. Here is one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANEANE GAROFALO: It is not about bashing Democrats. It is not about taxes. They have no idea what the Boston tea party was about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

GAROFALO: They don't know their history at all.

This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea bagging rednecks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: OK. Charles, she went on to say, Janeane Garofalo did, about the anatomy of conservative Republicans and conservatives in general.

KRAUTHAMMER: She is beneath contempt. She is as angry as she is clueless.

What's going on here is that in the last eight years the media told us that dissent is the highest form of patriotism, and now all of a sudden that a liberal is in the White House, dissent is a form of anger, it's borderline insurrectionism, it's nuttiness, its racism.

Rubbish. It's a rebellion against a president who wants to expand the reach of government in a major way, and it's a salutary rebellion.

EASTON: It was pretty offensive on Janeane Garofalo's part if you are going to disagree with this president over economic policy and be called a racist. That's truly offensive.

But I think these, whatever you think of the tax rebellion days, the tea parties, whether you think they were manufactured, whether you think they were real, it doesn't matter, because I do believe the taxes, raised taxes, are going to be a really animating issue for the Republican Party.

It's already the business community is united against the tax hikes from Obama in a way that is unprecedented. And I think both the tax and spend issues are going to be the way that the Republican Party can find traction.

One other thing, let's not forget the Democrats laughed in 1993 over the Contract with America, and we say where that went.

BARNES: They also laughed, and Republicans did, and bankers did, and everybody in California did when this guy named Howard Jarvis came up with this idea to really cut back on property tax in California.

You remember Prop 13? It didn't look like it was going anywhere. What's significant about the tea parties is they are grassroots. They began there.

And, look, I don't know whether they will build significantly or not, but they are certainly worth watching. And Democrats ought to watch them, because they could really develop into something and hook up with the business community and others who resent the spending and the tax cuts — tax hikes.

BAIER: For the last topic, we had some varied responses on what they wanted to talk about. So it is BYOC, bring your own comment —Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I want to commend the Obama administration on the regulations on stem cells issued late on Friday.

They decided to support the research that comes from discarded embryos at fertility clinics while at the same time not supporting research that comes from embryos explicitly created by either egg and sperm or cloning in order to destroy them to dissect out the stem cells.

I think that is a reasonable and tenable line, and Obama had not drawn it in his executive order. His administration has now, and it deserves praise for that.

EASTON: On the subject of the CIA torture memos that have been big in the news, the one little noticed fact is that while the memos released lots of juicy details about interrogation techniques, the memos that showed what those interrogation techniques prevented were largely blacked out. So perhaps the administration might want to release those.

BARNES: President Barack Obama's approval ratings since the 89, 90 days he has been in the White House, have been treated as if — 63 percent average over this period by Gallop, which is good, but it's not abnormal.

This is more than Bush. It is less than Carter. It's about average and shouldn't be treated as remarkable.

Let's see where they are thee months from now.

BAIER: Five topics on a Friday lightning round.

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