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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Obama Stepping Up His Rhetoric on Iranian Situation

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from June 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been a ppalled and outraged by the threats and the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.

I think it's important for us to make sure that we let the Iranian people know that we are watching what's happening, that they are not alone in this process.

QUESTION: Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What do you think?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: The president stepped up his rhetoric on the situation inside Iran today. And while it would appear the massive protests were largely squelched by Iranian authorities, we did receive some tweets, yes messages on Twitter from a trusted source inside Iran over the last eight hours.

Among them, these — "Yesterday we saw a ten-year-old die from tear gas in the face. Could not film because militia everywhere.

All hospitals surrounded by militia to check why people going in. If gun or baton injury, they arrest you and beat you.

Traveling through Tehran now is worse than Baghdad. Any moment you can be beaten or arrested. The people have lost all faith in this government. Iran can never be the same as before again."

Again, that's from a trusted source inside Iran according to our foreign desk.

What about all of this? Let's bring in the panel, Fred Barnes, executive editor of the "Weekly Standard," Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, was what the president said today at the news conference enough now?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It had two parts. The use of the emotive words "appalled," "outraged" was new and right. But the policy of engagement remains unchanged.

Major asked him about hotdog diplomacy, meaning the administration weeks ago had said U.S. embassies around the world will be open on the fourth of July welcoming for the first time in decades Iranian diplomats as a way to symbolizing opening and negotiation.

To do that at a time when the regime is shooting people from rooftops is bizarre. I mean, remember, even the senior Bush, the president who was the most hyperrealist and unsentimental, sent his national security advisor Brent Scowcroft to China after Tiananmen, after the massacre, but at least they waited six months.

This would be the welcoming of Iranians into American embassies to celebrate U.S. independence ten days after the shooting on the streets. That, I think, is disturbing in and of itself.

But secondly, the president speaks about all of these events in an odd way. He says there is a debate happening in Iran about its future. You know, when one senator yields to another in the Congress, that's a debate. Even, if you like, when you're having dueling demonstrations in Tehran, you could call that a debate. But when you have demonstrators out in the street being shot from rooftops, that is not a debate. That's a massacre or a revolution. And the president refuses to understand or to acknowledge that what's at stake here is the legitimacy of a regime and not just elections.

BAIER: Juan, the president was pressed six times in these questions today. And at times he appeared a little defensive, and he did try to insist that he has been consistent in his tone on Iran. What about that?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think he was back on his heels for much of the press conference. I think the press got much more aggressive with him, and specifically on Iran and the tone.

Now, his response was that he had been consistent. I think he has not been consistent. I think what you are seeing though, from the president, is an attempt to be consistent in these terms, that as the events in Iran have escalated, in other words, as the repressive regime has become more violent, and, of course, as the pictures of Neda that have galvanized world attention —

BAIER: The girl who was killed on the streets of —

WILLIAMS: Yes, and bled to death there, just horrible. if those pictures have galvanized world attention and made it very clear the extent to which its government is willing to use violence against its own people.

And I think he is saying, you know what, as these events have ratcheted up, my language and the tone have ratcheted up.

But if you would stick precisely to the wording, Bret, you would say no, clearly he has not been consistent.

But I will say this, that people from Dick Lugar to Henry Kissinger have said that what he has done in terms of moderating his tone is exactly right. You do not need here an aggressive American president inserting himself in. President Obama has said he doesn't want to be perceived as meddling.

I think that's a fair statement. So he doesn't want to go about cowboy diplomacy, Charles says hotdog diplomacy. It would be cowboy diplomacy before we know the outcome of this, before we know what we're dealing, to suddenly insert yourself and open up the U.S. and Britain to charges of being the great Satan.

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": You know, I just don't understand what this stuff is about "insert yourself." All I have been looking for, and I think Charles and millions of Americans is to choose sides. And he came pretty close to that today. He said the demonstrators were on the right side of history.

And when you use strong language, words like "outrageous" and "appalling" and "condemn," that's good. He changed his tune and his tone and his actual words greatly.

Juan, he should have said, rather than do the thing that we see politicians do all the time, say something that — or deny something that is obvious to the entire world. Obviously he changed his language from the days after the election to the last few days. He has gotten a lot tougher.

Why not just say what you said? Why couldn't he say that? Look, events have shown me that things are worse than I thought in the beginning, and that's why I'm using words like "condemn" and "appall" and "outrageous" and so on.

But he didn't say that. He said I haven't changed at all. I have been completely consistent, when everyone who can tie their shoes in the entire world knows that's not true.

BAIER: Although he did at the end there say — he was pressed whether he changed his rhetoric based on what Senators McCain and Graham had said —

BARNES: You know what the answer to that is?

BAIER: What do you think?

BARNES: Yes.

The good part is it is the tough words that will get the coverage around the world.

WILLIAMS: Why do you think he changed in terms of what McCain and Graham had to say? Why didn't you say —

BARNES: That was a part of the whole thing that was leading him to get stronger, the events in Iran, what they were saying, including what some Democrats were saying.

Look, he said the right things today, but it did take him a while to get there.

WILLIAMS: Just let me say this, Charles. I just think we didn't know as Americans whether or not this was a fraudulent election. And what he said today was based on the response of the Iranian people and the kind of debate taking place among the Iranian elites, we now know something wrong took place.

KRAUTHAMMER: We knew it was a fraud on day one. And the reason he spoke up is because for an American president to wait until day 11 to condemn the violence in the streets and suppression of popular expression a week after the president of France is doing it is disgraceful.

BAIER: The other big issue today at the news conference is health care. But did the president really give us anything new? The panel discusses that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We are still early in this process. So we have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs, and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured.

Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense.

REP. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: I think most Americans know that the government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck. It consumes it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, the health care reform debate continues on Capitol Hill. The president was pressed today whether a public plan, in other words, a government-run option being on the table is negotiable. We didn't really get a firm answer to that.

We're back with the panel — Juan?

WILLIAMS: This is another example of the president on the defensive. He was asked repeatedly about this public option for insurance.

And he never could quite make the case, and he was trying desperately, to explain we need a public option to put more pressure on private insurers so that the private insurers, he said, would exercise discipline, because he believes that if the public insurance can offer lower prices, then the private insurance would say here is the kind of administrative cutbacks that we can take in order to offer the same prices. But it just didn't make sense because, of course, you know that the government could be subsidized. And if the government is offering subsidized care, well, then, exactly how is a for-profit enterprise supposed to compete?

And I think this put the president in a very difficult position. Ultimately what he was able to say is, look, this is important in terms of deficit reduction. We cannot live with the status quo. He was back to the same mantra.

BAIER: Fred?

BARNES: It is hard case to make or even to say the government can operate something and run it much better and really show the public sector what discipline is about. It has never happened in human history. And I don't think it will happen with the public plan that President Obama has.

I agree with Juan. It is a tough case to make. Obviously, you're going to have a subsidized program. It's one where the fees will be lower. They are talking about Medicare plus 10 percent, still something that most doctors don't like.

Obviously it isn't going to be administratively streamlined and everything and run better than the private plans. And it's not-for-profit, as Juan sense.

It is obviously won't be a fair fight, and it won't be a fair fight because underneath it all, whether it's Obama or the Democrats or whoever, they want to attract people to the government plan and lead us to a single-payer system.

BAIER: But the question is whether Democrats have the votes to push this through no matter what, even if there isn't —

BARNES: I don't think they do, but Obama may be equivocal about it as he was today about the public plan. But, boy, I would say the majority of the Democrats in the House and Senate think it is absolutely imperative.

KRAUTHAMMER: But he is getting a pushback in the Congress, and even appeared to be getting a bit in the press today, which I think is the big story.

There was defensiveness. There wasn't exactly aggressiveness on the part of the press, with a couple of exceptions. But it looked that the stupor that the press has been in for the last six months is lifting slightly.

I say that as a psychiatrist who has a lot of experience in watching these things.

(LAUGHTER)

And the president, and what it is is that his charisma can take him only up to a point, and that point is at which reality asserts itself. The two issues in which he is in trouble in the Congress on health care reform and on energy, he is up against the contradictions of the policy.

On health care, it is the idea that it is going to pay for itself. He repeated that today. There is no way that is going to happen. And the CBO has told us a week ago that his plans, his ambitious plans as translated in the Senate, are going to cost a $1 trillion or a $1.5 trillion.

And on energy, he persistent in making the case that by insisting on alternative sources, which are more expensive, and taxing and regulating the more efficient and older-style energy like oil and gas and coal, which we have in abundance, he's going to make us more prosperous.

That's an absurd proposition. And, in the end, the absurdity meets reality in Congress, and that's why he's in trouble.

BAIER: The energy bill, we should point out, might come up for a vote, is expected to come up for a vote on the House floor this Friday. We will keep you up to date with energy and health care on Capitol Hill.

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