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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Political Charges of Racism

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DONNA EDWARDS, D-MD.: Mr. Wilson disrespected the office of the pres ident of the United States, and President Obama is president. And we also know that he violated the rules of the House and that that cannot be accepted.

REP. HANK JOHNSON, D-GA.: I guess we will probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again. That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Two Democratic lawmakers talking about this action. Late this afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 240-179 to punish Joe Wilson for his jeer of "You lie!" at President Obama last week during a joint session of Congress. The congressman responded and reacted late this afternoon:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WILSON, R-S.C.: I believe today was a low day in terms of how the political process — and this truly was a game of no meaning, and so now we need to put this behind us, and every person should work for health insurance reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: What about this vote today, and what about the issue of race in opposition to President Obama's policies? Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, first about this resolution of disapproval that passed late this afternoon?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, he was out of order. It was a lack of decorum. He shouldn't have done it. I suspect if it had been a different Joe Wilson, the husband of the outed CIA agent who was a liberal hero and martyr in the previous administration, if he had been in the House and he'd yelled "You liar!" to President Bush, the liberals would have carried him on their shoulders out of the hall as a hero speaking truth to power.

Nonetheless, even besides the hypocrisy, he shouldn't have done it. He apologized.

This is obviously a Democratic stunt as a way to take attention away from the health care debate they are losing. And every day that they don't have to speak about the specifics of a plan, and the more it is examined, the more it loses support, is a good day for the Democrats. So this was a good afternoon for the Democrats.

BAIER: Juan, several Democratic lawmakers in addition to liberal columnists, have found that South Carolina Congressman Wilson's heckling of President Obama was racist. They called it racist. Maureen Dowd wrote that she heard "You lie, boy!" in what she heard out of that remark during the speech.

What about that issue of racism in opposition to the president's policies?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I don't think there is any reason a rational person who could say that you are racist for criticizing president Obama.

All presidents, I don't care what their color, are subject to intense criticism. And we're in the midst of a very intense debate about health care in the country. So I don't see that that really is the case here.

I think what is the case is that people, including Maureen Dowd, are making a circumstantial argument that when they see Joe Wilson make his "You lie!" statement, it's unprecedented. We have treated no other president like this, and obviously Obama is our first black president.

And then other people who say, you know what? There are people who say that he is not even a Christian. He is a Muslim. Or they will say he wasn't born in the United States, he's not eligible to be president.

It is as if people are having a difficult time with his legitimacy and therefore want to somehow make him legitimate throughout these things.

BAIER: But you don't think that lawmakers questioned George W. Bush's legitimacy as president?

WILLIAMS: Of course after the 2000 election, there were questions about whether or not the Supreme Court had given him the race. But that didn't have anything to do with race. It had nothing to do with that. It was just people didn't like George Bush.

And they said horrible things about President Bush, too, but they didn't say it in the House of Representatives during the joint session. People hissed at him and some people may even have booed him, but they didn't say something like that.

And I think you're picking up this sensitivity. It's the subtext that people are picking up, and given our country's history of racial violence and animosity, you have to be careful with this kind of...

BAIER: But on the flipside, don't you also have to be careful when you level the charge? It is a blunt object of racism. When you say "racism," it is a big charge.

WILLIAMS: It is huge. I find it awful. I think you have to be very careful with it.

But this is a situation where if you have someone like Joe Wilson, and you heard the litany against him, Sons of a Confederate Veterans, someone who said Strom Thurmond's daughter was smearing Strom Thurmond by simply saying he is her daddy even though she was black, what you get is a situation where he then apologizes but then goes out and raises money on this, and playing to the sentiment, not only the anti-Obama sentiment, but the sentiment of people who may have problems because of Obama's race.

And that's where everybody gets a little ticklish.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: There is absolutely zero evidence that saying "You lie!" to the president of the United States has anything to do with race. And it is a disgusting smear for anybody to suggest that.

It is sort of a sad day when we get to the point where a columnist in The New York Times can just imagine that something is saying, literally putting words in their mouth. And she prefaced the statement by saying, "Fair or not, I heard him say you lie, boy."

You know what, that's not fair. As a journalist, you can't just imagine people saying things. You have to criticize them based on what they actually say, and he didn't way this.

I agree with Charles that he was out of line. He shouldn't have yelled at the president from the floor. It was inappropriate. He apologized.

There was a time right after it happened that both the White House and Nancy Pelosi wanted to just move on. That time apparently has passed, because I think they believe there is political advantage to making this a bigger deal.

I'm not sure it works. I think this could very well backfire, because I think the vast majority of people who disagree with the president disagree with him because they disagree strongly with his policies, but they do so with goodwill.

KRAUTHAMMER: You know, the accusation of racism is a sign of desperation by people who know they are losing the national debate, and they want to hurl the ultimate charge in American politics.

This is dealing from the bottom of the deck, and I agree that it is a disgusting tactic. It's done as a way to end debate. The minute you call somebody a racist, the debate is over. You don't continue. I mean, accusations of racism are the left refuge of the liberal scoundrel.

As for Maureen Dowd, imagining a word that wasn't said, well, in my previous profession, I saw a lot of people who heard words that weren't said. They were called patients. Many of them were actually helped with medication.

The reason she won't be and others who are hurling the accusation is because it is a deliberate attempt to change the subject and discredit the opposition with an un-provable and unproven ad hominem.

WILLIAMS: One last thing here on this.

BAIER: Last word.

WILLIAMS: I don't think that the White House wants this conversation. I don't think Democrats on the Hill, the leadership, Pelosi didn't want the conversation.

I think Jim Clyburn, who is in the leadership from South Carolina, has pushed this heavily. I think it is being picked up and stoked by many who have a legitimate fear.

So you can talk about, you know, this is somehow ending the debate about health care. I don't think that helps the Democrats at all. I think there are lots of people who read it as if you criticize the president, you're called a racist.

And the last time the president got involved with this in the Gates' situation, it was to his detriment, not to help him.

BAIER: $880 billion, that is the price tag for the latest health care reform proposal. The panel will tell us if it's worth it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-MONT.: I think there is a growing sense of inevitability. This bill is going to pass. More senators want to vote for health care reform that passes than not.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, D-W.VA.: I cannot agree with him on this bill. There is no way in the present form that I will vote for it.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: It includes massive cuts in Medicare, tax increases on individuals and tax increases on business. I don't think that's a package that very many Republicans are going to support, but Senator Grassley and Senator Enzi can speak for themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, after eight months of work, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus still lacks a single GOP vote for his plan. Here is what the plan looks like, as we have reported tonight — $880 billion, mandates individual insurance coverage, excludes a government insurance option — that's a public option.

It also includes government-initiated non-profit co-ops instead of the public option, blocks illegal immigrants with I.D. verification, blocks federal funds for abortion, and reforms and reduces medical malpractice lawsuits in some form.

We're back with our panel. Those are the bullet points — Steve?

HAYES: Well, I think what we saw today is pretty much what we expected from Max Baucus. It's a far more specific set of policy priorities than the president had laid out to this point.

And I'd say it's far more honest. You have, I think, on the plus side for Democrats, or for at least Max Baucus, the Congressional Budget Office, as Carl Cameron reported, saying that it won't increase the deficit over ten years, and may ultimately lower health care costs.

But then you have the question of paying for it, and you have these massive taxes on insurance companies, which will no doubt be passed along to the insured.

So I think that's going to be a huge sticking point as the debate goes forward when we finally, after all these months of discussion, get down to serious discussions or serious negotiations about how to pay for it.

BAIER: Juan, we say that there is not a single Republican vote as of yet in that committee, but you just heard Senator Rockefeller saying there are Democrats who will not be onboard with this, either.

WILLIAMS: They have a strong majority, but when you hear Rockefeller, and I think Rockefeller is a pretty influential and moderate Democrat say that, that's a troubling sign.

This comes out of that committee really as Baucus' bill. I would be interested to hear, you know, if, in fact, you're going to get Senator Enzi, if you will get Senator Grassley offering any support.

But let's just imagine, just say that Baucus takes this to his commit committee and is able to get it out of the committee without the support of the Rockefellers of the world, then we happens on the floor?

The big news here is that Baucus says he has a bill and we finally are able to see the outlines of what Obama and the Democrats are going to stand for. And I think this is the point where you are going to see intense power play negotiations and bargaining take place.

BAIER: You may have pushback calling Rockefeller a moderate Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Baucus is a man that Diogenes has been seeking for about a few thousand years. This is an honest bill, and that's the reason it's getting hit from left and right. It's honest in the numbers.

The reason that the program has been in trouble at the beginning is because Obama had said expand the coverage and cut costs. Everyone understands that is a fantasy. So he amended it — expand coverage, but keep costs neutral.

The problem is you can't do that. Baucus has tried to do it, and in doing it he has two choices — huge amounts of taxes by huge subsidies on people who have to buy insurance now, which would make it extremely revenue non-neutral. It would cause huge deficits.

Or you do what he did, which is individual mandates, so people in the middle class, millions of them, are going to have to purchase insurance, which will cost up to 13 percent of their income, which is like doubling their rent.

So the burden is either on the government that will be subsidizing, or if the subsidies are kept low as a way to keep it revenue neutral, as Mr. Baucus is doing, the burden will fall on people in the middle class. So one way or the other, there is going to be a huge hit, either on the middle class or on the deficit.

What Baucus has done is to make all of that clear, open, and obvious. And he has a huge hit on the middle class and a huge burden in taxes.

And that's why it is going to be going left and right, and I don't see how it survives.

BAIER: Quickly, the bill will be unveiled tomorrow. Steve, does this administration sign on to this bill?

HAYES: I don't think they can afford to sign on. I think, as we have seen the president do, he will say he likes parts of it, doesn't like other parts of it.

BAIER: We'll see. That's it for the panel.

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