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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Handling of Harvard Professor's Arrest

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from July 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Cambridge pol ice acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

It doesn't make sense, with all the problems that he we have out there, to arrest a guy in his own home if he's not causing a serious disturbance.

In my choice of words, I think I, unfortunately, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently.

To the extent that my choice of words didn't illuminate but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, 48 hours of this story about the Cambridge police arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates. And you see the different sound bytes from President Obama on this incident.

Let's bring in our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, your thoughts?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think the president spoke stupidly on Wednesday night. But I don't want to give the impression that I'm maligning the president when I say that. Maybe I should calibrate that statement more carefully.

I love President Obama. He can't just apologize. He can apologize for America, incidentally, for all of our misdeed in the past, but he can't actually apologize when he maligns — what does it mean to say the police acted stupidly?

He means the police acted stupidly. He means Sergeant Crowley acted stupidly. He spoke knowing nothing about the case. He clearly was wrong, and he can't just simply apologize.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He should have apologized, labeled it as such, and moved on. Now he's not moving on. Professor Gates says the story is over. "Barack said it all," is what Professor Gates — he wishes this story is over. It has become a burden for president Obama that threatens his agenda.

The whole thing about this is you're supposed to stay on message. He has failed to stay on message. He has invited a major distraction. And the reason I say that is that he is doing damage to his image as someone who transcends ace. He is supposed to be a racial healing force in our country. I think a lot of people voted for him because of that.

Instead, he has put himself in the position of playing racial politics and its evident that he doesn't know what he is talking about, so it must be he is appealing to racial antipathy in the society and racial anger, and he brings in things like racial profiling that have nothing to do about a case where the police were called to protect the home of a black person.

There is enough complaints in my community about police not being there to do enough to protect black people.

So here is President Obama stepping in and hurting himself in a way that I think will damage his personal approval rating. And that has political consequences.

BAIER: And today the police unions and all the Cambridge police officials came out and they urged an apology from President Obama, saying they stood firmly behind Sergeant Crowley and his actions in this arrest. Do you think that precipitated the move of coming into the briefing room?

WILLIAMS: I think it precipitated the move into the briefing room was the understanding among his political advisors that he was no longer in charge of the story, that it had gone past him, was damaging him politically, and had derailed the discussion of health care.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it was important, because the Democrats have suffered for almost a half a century of a reputation of being soft on crime. The flip side of that is tough on cops, or insensitive to the duties and the sacrifices of law enforcement.

And this story, when the Cambridge police came out, a multi- racial police force came out and spoke unanimously about how this was wrong, this was not about race, and the president really ought to apologize, they understood it was a serious political issue. It seems that a lot of the Obama presidency is a contest between his intelligence and his arrogance. And I think he thought when he was asked that question Wednesday night that he can say anything on race and is so smart that he will be untouchable. And one reason is that he gave the famous speech in Philadelphia, the race speech, during the campaign, which, in fact, he did not renounce Jeremiah Wright. He blamed everybody for racism, black, white and grandmother, except for himself, and was hailed by a supine press as the second coming of Lincoln at Cooper Union. So after that, you think you can say anything on race and be hailed as a genius. Well, he now understands that you can't get away with that forever, and he got really caught on this one. BAIER: Bill, some people say he was tone-deaf when he made the original statement. But today's action, does that suggest that they were able to hear that this story was really getting away from them and he needed to make that phone call to Sergeant Crowley and get in front of this story? Is it over?

KRISTOL: It probably was wise of him to get out there and semi- apologize, even though, as I said earlier, he never really does apologize.

What strikes me though, is I really don't think this is about race. Racial profiling crept into his mind that. That is one of the things he worked on as a state senator and all that, taught about in class.

This is not a class. I do not believe that President Obama would have said this if some black kid from Roxbury who dropped out of high school and was thought to be a troublemaker had been arrested for shouting obscenities or whatever he shouted on the front porch of his house at 1:00 by a cop.

Henry Louis Gates is a Harvard professor. He is a friend, as President Obama said, of President Obama. President Obama likes hanging out with Harvard professors. This was about presuming that the Harvard professor was right and the cop was wrong.

WILLIAMS: That's an important point, because I think that there is a large class distinction here, and that, in fact — that's why I say it is not about racial profiling.

This is about someone — remember, the governor of Massachusetts is black. The president is black. Henry Louis Gates is black, and he is a Harvard professor, and he is immediately making calls to someone asking who is the police chief.

These are people with a certain level of status in the society, so there is no question.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's why it is so toxic politically, and that's why he had to recant, essentially, even though he won't do it fully. He's the one who, not knowing the facts, assumed that Gates had told the right story and the cop hadn't.

And secondly, accepted the Gates' narrative, that's the word that the left loves, the narrative that it was all about race, when obviously it was not about race.

BAIER: And over the past 48 hours, Juan, we heard a lot about Sergeant Crowley, how he gave these racial sensitivity classes at the academy, how he resuscitated or tried to Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtic player who died, and we heard a lot from his African-American colleagues on the force.

If these 911 tapes come out and it backs up Sergeant Crowley's story, does this story flare up through the weekend into next week?

WILLIAMS: I don't think there is any question it is the story of the weekend. And already, we have seen a report from a Hispanic officer who backs up what Crowley had to say thoroughly.

And even today, President Obama was wrong. He said that Crowley led gates out of his house. That's not true.

And, again, he doesn't have the facts, and that's just hurting him. He needs to get the facts straight. And he is trying to walk that line right in between to be the great arbiter, when the facts support the sergeant.

And I think it's important, because if you want to have credibility on race, you have to speak honestly in every situation.

BAIER: Is the president's spreading himself too thin, and is that hurting his message on health care? The Friday lightning round is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GENE TAYLOR, (D-MS) BLUE DOG COALITION: I hope that my fellow blue dogs will stick to their guns. I can only speak for myself. I can assure you at this point someone can put a gun to my head and I won't vote for this. And I hope the other members feel the same way.

ROSS: It pretty much fell apart this afternoon.

REP. JOHN SULLIVAN, (R) OKLAHOMA: The biggest majority of the energy and commerce committee, the Democrats have the largest majority in 50 years. Why can't they pass this bill? Because the American people can't stand it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Blue dog Democrats, and you hear the Republicans there, talking about health care reform legislation in the House. We heard the Senate is not going to pass anything before the August recess. And now the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer said they are going to keep working on this.

He said late this afternoon "Working on this does not mean we will be in session." So they may not have a vote before August 7th.

We're back with the panel and the Friday lightning round. Bill, the status of health care legislation?

KRISTOL: Suffering. I think Speaker Pelosi may still try to jam it through the House next week. I was up on the Hill today, and some of the staffer thought she wanted to take a shot at it and maybe can twist arms and get 218 votes.

But, look, it is unpopular legislation. It is pretty amazing. If you had said five months ago that President Obama's popularity would suffer because of his advocacy for this legislation, and then you ask people what do you like most or least about what President Obama is behind, they kind of approve of his foreign policy, there is some willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt on the economy — he is negative on health care, his major initiative.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I think the press conference did not make the case sufficiently. And you see it in the numbers. There was a Gallup poll today that has easily 60 percent of Americans — 30 percent say pass a health care reform law, but not necessarily by the end of this year.

The sense of urgency, the sense of moment, of history that President Obama wanted is gone. And I think that the hope that it is going to be resuscitated during the August recess is, at this point, on thin waves.

KRAUTHAMMER: As long as it was rhetoric and promises and a free lunch, more care, higher quality care, no cost, this idea was a popular idea. Now that it's in numbers, the blue dogs are rebelling because it doesn't add up.

BAIER: Is the president overexposed? Is he out there too much? He had 11 health care events in many as many days pushing health care reform legislation. A new poll out by Rasmussen today, daily tracking poll, has the president at 49 percent approval, the first time he was below 50 percent. And that just came out today.

Juan, is he overexposed?

WILLIAMS: He just had so many events and so many interviews granted. And it has just been a terrific strategy for a man so popular. His popularity, as we have often said, he is more popular than his policies are. And so it's important that he stay out there. But you're starting to see, for example, the ratings for that press conference this week were surprisingly low. So suddenly it is like people are tuning out that. That is not to his advantage. BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: He is overexposed. He is a great rock star, but even rock stars can outstay their welcome. He should only go out there on his own when he has something new to say and dramatic. He didn't.

I think that the faith he has in his own eloquence is larger than the reality of his own influence.

BAIER: Bill?

KRAUTHAMMER: As Charles said on health care, it is the substance of the health care bill that's hurting it. And as with President Obama's exposure, if he had nothing substantive to say, if here were willing to make a serious case for the health care bill and address the objections, I think it might be fine, go out and do it a lot.

But he's not saying anything substantive except he is attack unnamed Republican strategists for asking that the bill be killed and that we start over.

(LAUGHTER)

And I noticed he began that Monday, and it has been collapsing, his health care plan, and his personal approval has been dropping all week.

So what conclusion do I draw from that?

WILLIAMS: You're the best thing he had going for him all week.

BAIER: Bring your own comment, quickly, down the row.

KRISTOL: I think John Boehner, the minority Republican leader in the House, should challenge Nancy Pelosi and say you want to vote on this bill next week, fine. Bring it to the floor next week and let's vote up or down on this health care bill.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I just can't believe that the North Koreans would attack our secretary of state by calling her a schoolgirl, but even worse, a pensioner going shopping. What is the image of that? I guess it's North Korean humor. I will leave that to others. But I guess they're trying to put her down.

KRAUTHAMMER: The governor of Texas said today that his state will not accept or implement a federal health care reform, and he will resist under the tenth amendment, his interpretation of states' rights. I say to Texas, why stop there. Go all the way to secession. Health care secession today, cap and trade secession tomorrow. You stood up to Santa Ana, you can stand up to Obama.

It is true that with Santa Ana, you took a few losses —

(LAUGHTER)

— but Obama is more lightly armed.

BAIER: OK, quickly, Sotomayor vote in committee on Tuesday?

KRAUTHAMMER: Sails through.

BAIER: A number?

KRAUTHAMMER: Number — maybe six Republicans will resist.

WILLIAMS: I would be surprised if you get six Republicans to resist. I think people ultimately will look at politics of it.

KRAUTHAMMER: Sotomayor passes but health care doesn't.

BAIER: OK, last word.

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