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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Arm-Twisting Senate Democrats; Closing Gitmo

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a long-standing and urgent problem for the American people.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: On paper, they have 60 votes. But I think they're having an extremely difficult time convincing 60 people to completely ignore the wishes of the American people with a weak, flimsy argument to make history, when we all know that many things that happen in history were not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, President Obama called the entire Democratic caucus to the White House today and there you heard him one day after moderates forced some significant changes in what the Senate was talking about when it came to health care reform. So where does it go from here and what about passage?

Let's about bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, what do you think?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think yesterday Joe Lieberman was the most important man in the Senate and we saw all of the things that he did to leverage his position, leverage his views to get what he wanted out of the negotiations.

I think now we may see that Roland Burris is the new most important man in the Senate when you've got 60 votes. Nobody would have guessed Roland Burris would be the most important man in the Senate, ever.

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You got 60 votes but he is still saying, look, I want a public option. You see in the Senate, and particularly you see public option advocates peel off one after another after another. You see Jay Rockefeller last week offer some conciliatory language. You've seen Sherrod Brown and others basically peel off and say I don't love it, but I can live with it.

Roland Burris is proving to be very stubborn. Now, ultimately will the man who holds Barack Obama's Senate seat be the one to bring down his signature domestic policy item? I don't think so, but Burris is pretty interesting. He's worth watching.

BAIER: A.B., another issue is the abortion funding issue. Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska, his amendment failed in the Senate, but there's the issue of, let's say it gets past the House -- I mean the Senate -- you still have the House Democrats who voted with the Stupak amendment to prevent federal funding. The abortion issue is still a sticky issue.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Is the final issue because now that the government health care program has been kicked off the table, abortion remains the final issue for Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. His amendment to change the language is something similar to the House language did fail.

But all along, he has also been saying it doesn't mean I won't support the final bill. I just don't know yet. They're still working with him. I think they can work with him. I'm not absolutely sure. But he sounds like he is amenable to voting for this bill at the end.

But those 40 Democrats we talked about in the House, they are dug in. They don't want that bill that they voted for last time to come back and become law. And so that remains a huge fight that we would see in January if the Senate bill does get out the door by Christmas Eve.

BAIER: And Charles, Steve mentioned the number of Democrats who may be wavering, we could still see many Louisiana purchases as we say with as it was called with Mary Landrieu where she managed to get $300 million in Medicaid additions to Louisiana.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The eminent junior senator from Illinois that my colleague was talking about, if Landrieu got $300 million, he gets an island in the Caribbean, several islands.

There's no way he is going to stop this bill. They will send Tony Rezko to knock on his door and tell him he hopes nothing happens to any of his close relatives.

Look, I think they are over the hump. I think the hump was Lieberman. The hump was the question of the public option. It's now gone.

On abortion, it's not beyond the wit of man to work out a compromise. Nelson, for example, he could vote with the Democrats to shut off debate and then he could oppose the bill itself when you only need 51. They wouldn't need him. Or, they swallow Stupak in both Houses and they get it.

This thing is too big. The Democrats are within reach of controlling -- of having the federal government control a sixth of the economy. You watch Mitch McConnell in the clip we just showed. He sounded like a guy with a losing hand. Remember, he's the man who said a few months ago that Congress will pass something because Obama will sign anything.

And what they get is going to be control of the insurance industry. They are going to have a mandate so individuals have to purchase insurance. They're going to turn the insurance companies into a utility, like the electrical company.

It will be proxy control of health care, and that is an amazing achievement if you're a believer in government control of health care.

BAIER: Steve, we were talking in the break that a list of these things that are in here could have been achieved on day one with a pretty short one-page bill and you're out of there.

HAYES: No question. And I think that's one of the reasons that conservatives who are celebrating, you know, all of the difficulties that the White House is having, and there are victories, quote-unquote, by having the public option out, by having the Medicare buy-in taken out.

People who are celebrating this are being tremendously shortsighted. There is a lot, from my perspective, very bad stuff in this bill. And it will essentially be the government controlling one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

And we still don't have the details on what kind of exchanges we're talking about. I mean, we don't know so many of the details that were in the 2,000-page Reid bill that will likely end up in whatever the final bill are still unknown and there remain fights from this point forward.

BAIER: That's the question, A. B. -- is there a backdoor to the public option or government-run insurance with what is on the table here? Is there another way they get there?

STODDARD: No, there is no Medicare expansion. They did not get what they wanted. There is no path to single-payer.

There are insurance regulations and I would argue that from the assessments of the bill so far, and I know that the final one in the Senate is pending and awaiting analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, and of course we could see changes before it hits the floor. Obviously we will see changes when the two chambers merge their legislation.

But us covered people not going to see a change in our life. Our premiums may never go down. People who are uninsured are going to be in these exchanges, but very few of us will have the choice in competition that we were sold by the president and the Democrats when they said they were going to reform health care.

So I actually don't think it will give the average person a lot of bang, a lot of benefit. I think that the bill will save before it spends in order to reach -- in order to get a good score on budget. And I think voters will not feel really happy about this bill for many years to come, if at all. I actually don't think it's going to be a wild takeover of health care and I don't know that the impact is going to be so great.

BAIER: And the politics, if you're saving and getting the taxes up front and spending later, it's not exactly...

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it hurts Democrats either way. I think if it passes it will be a catastrophe politically. Democrats will have to answer for a lot of additional taxation. If the Medicare cuts happen, they have to answer for a lost cut in services, a lot of doctors and hospitals that will go under or quit as a result of this new plan.

There are going to be a lot of consequences which are going to be felt by individuals which are going to hurt the Democrats. It will take a decade to undo the damage in this bill.

BAIER: We will keep digging, bringing you the latest details every day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-ILL.: We believe in security and safety at all times. This will be the most secure prison in America. No one has ever escaped from a federal prison.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: They're going to move these prisoners from Gitmo to northwest Illinois because of some campaign promise that was made in the dark.

REP. DON MANZULLO, R-ILL.: What guarantee do we have that the threat, the animosity, the hatred that the terrorists have towards Gitmo won't transfer to Thomson, Illinois?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The announcement wasn't made by President Obama. It came from a letter signed by Cabinet secretaries as well as the national intelligence director that Thomson Correctional Center in northern Illinois, a near vacant state prison the federal government will buy, will house up to 100 suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.

We are back with the panel -- Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, finally, a real jobs program. If you heard the governor of Illinois and senator Durbin, that was the big reason that they supported it. It is a hell of a way to get jobs. And like a lot of the jobs being so-called created by the administration, these are redundant and entirely unnecessary.

Guantanamo is a perfectly good place to house terrorists. It's humane. The reason it's being shut is because the international left has created through lies and calumnies an image of Guantanamo; remember the false story about the flushing of the Koran at Guantanamo. And Obama is reacting to placate the international left.

Now, it is not as egregious as, for example, the trying of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York, which is logically and morally a disgrace, undermining the sort of ethical foundation of the War on Terror. But it is a redundancy and it doesn't solve the problem.

The problem is that there are some terrorists that we will detain without trial, no matter what happens. And it's not the location that is the issue. It's either going to be in Guantanamo or Illinois or somewhere -- the issue remains. The left, the ACLU will be after this, and there will be a federal judge who will rule eventually that these people have rights beyond the rights that they have right now.

And even though the secretary of Homeland Security is assuring us that these terrorists are not acquiring residency, they are like immigrants outside of America, there is no assurance that the judge is going to uphold that and that ultimately some of these miscreants are not going to be released to into American streets.

The ACLU is already in action. They released this statement, the executive director saying: "The creation of a Gitmo north in Illinois is hardly a harmful step forward. Shutting down Guantanamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue the lawless policies onshore.

"Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue the predecessor's policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees with only a change of location."

KRAUTHAMMER: The rule is you can never appease the left. It's not going to work.

BAIER: A.B.

STODDARD: I want to state that this was Obama's first official mistake. In his exuberance in his first 36th hour in office said we will close it by January of 2010 -- Impossible.

And I agree that after no public option, an escalation in a war in Afghanistan that they oppose, no push on immigration reform or gay rights, nothing for the unions -- this might be a bone to the left, for sure. This will make them happy. I think the rest -- I think Americans are split on this issue. The polls show...

BAIER: A bone to the left because they are going to close Guantanamo Bay eventually? The ACLU is saying this is a bad move.

STODDARD: The ACLU is actually not the Democratic left however. And the Democratic left wants to see action on closing Guantanamo Bay. This is the Obama administration's effort at doing so.

They don't know where to send them. Other countries that were supposed to play along have taken a few but have not enough.

BAIER: I would argue that the left does have a problem with the indefinite detention process.

STODDARD: Yes, but I would argue also that the Obama administration is never going to give them what they want and will continue Bush administration policies on all those issues on which they disagree.

I think in terms of just getting them off of the island, that is one of the items left on the left's wish list and they have been ignored for month after month of this year.

I think there's going to be two debates: One is in Illinois where you see the governor making the case that no one will escape from prison and everyone will be safe. You see people in Thomson, Illinois, arguing that they need the economic activity that this transfer will bring.

There will be a national argument, which is a debate about this, which I think is a different one and we'll see how that plays out.

I don't know that Americans are as scared about these terrorists ultimately getting constitutional rights as they are about making their next mortgage payment and we''ll see that play out over time. But I think for now, it will be interesting to watch in Illinois where it goes.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: The key argument should be does this make us safer? The administration has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that it in fact makes us safer.

Their main argument seems to be, to the extent that they are making arguments, that this takes away a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. You can imagine they're celebrating now in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan or they're fretting because they no longer have this tool to use.

Since when does Al Qaeda make verifiable claims against the United States in its propaganda tools? It is such a preposterous argument on its face that it would be insulting to anybody who spent more than three seconds actually considering the merits of the argument.

The big problem with this is that we lose control, the executive branch loses control over the detainees. You send them to the United States, you send them to Thomson, the courts gain control.

And nobody can say at this point what will happen once they're on U.S. soil. Will they be released? The administration it seems to me has a low threshold for who these detainees are and who can be transferred or released.

The evidence I would give is Binyan Mohamed, who was sent to the U.K., who I think is a dangerous guy. Will they be forced by the courts to release some of these folks eventually on U.S. soil? The answer is we don't know, but the question is, why take the are risk?

BAIER: Current law, Charles, very quickly, says if they're not going to trial, they can't come here, but we don't know where this is going to go.

KRAUTHAMMER: Once they're out of Guantanamo and in the United States, they might acquire more rights and that will be up to a judge. And there are a lot of judges, and you can shop for a judge in the United States -- the ACLU will be doing that for a decade. And we have no guarantee that we won't have some of these people in our streets one day.

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