This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from May 27, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In case you are wondering who is responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.
That doesn't mean it is going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged, and I'm fully engaged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: President Obama at the end of his news conference today talking about this, the oil spill in the Gulf. That was the picture earlier today. And now we have word that BP has temporarily suspended pumping mud to stop the Gulf oil leak to try to assess the effect.
This right now we're told is a live picture of the robotic arm moving. We'll see what happens as they assess the latest about that top kill effort.
What about the president's statement today and all the things the administration is doing and not doing? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I was stuck by the president after the last question emphasizing two points as if he wanted to check the boxes. And he looked to me and it seemed odd cross between Alexander Haig and Jimmy Carter. The first point he emphasized is I'm in charge here, which reminded me of when Al Haig stood up and said after Reagan was shot "I'm in charge here," and he wasn't. Really, Obama isn't in charge. In theory he is, but it's really out of his hands. It's all happening undersea.
And then he went on and said that he gave that anecdote about Malia knocking on his door in the morning and asking if the hole in the ocean had been capped, which reminded me of Jimmy Carter, the famous statement he made in the debate with Reagan which he said he had spoken with his daughter Amy, at the time age 12, and asked her what was the most important issue to her, and she said nuclear weapons, which earned the president the ridicule up to and including Election Day.
I'm sure it was a sincere anecdote but it's perhaps clear that President Obama had a meeting with President Clinton right before the press conference. You can almost hear the former president telling him to be human, be empathetic and sympathetic, and it looked as if this angle was designed for that.
Overall, it was an odd press conference. Why would he hold it for an event that's out of his control and for which he's getting a lot of hits? My calculation is he's a gambler. He was told there is two-third of a chance the top-kill working and if it works we'll know in a day or two, and he will look good. If it doesn't, he will be hit anyway, so why not have a presser and say I'm in charge?
BAIER: Erin, the emoting, the personal story that Charles talked about, happened at the end of more than an hour-long news conference.
ERIN BILLINGS, ROLL CALL: That's right. This is a president who is always cool as a cucumber. He doesn't really emote. That is a lot of time worked in his favor. He does not get too exercised and he doesn't show too much emotion as we say.
But in this particular instance, when you have people who are, you know, James Carville saying we're dying down here, I think the president had to deliver some emotion. But you're right, he waited until the very last minute.
It was a good closer, but taking it in totality, you know, this is a 63-minute press conference and it took the last five minutes to say I feel your pain.
BAIER: He also said, Steve, he was asked about the head of the minerals management service, MMS, Elizabeth Birnbaum, who was let go, resigned according to the Interior Department, others say she was fired. And it happened early in the day, in the morning. We got word about it. And he was asked about it. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Miss Birnbaum, I found out about her resignation today. Ken Salazar has been in testimony throughout the day. So I don't know the circumstances in which it occurred.
REPORTER: I'm curious how it is you didn't know about Miss Birnbaum's resignation/firing.
OBAMA: You are assuming it was a firing. If it was a resignation, then she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: He did have a lot of stuff going on, but one of them was the Duke Basketball team visiting the rose garden. What about that before a big news conference?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The news conference lasted a little over an hour, and the purpose of the news conference was showing the president being in charge and taking responsibility.
At one point he explained the difference between the federal government and BP and who was paying the 20,000 people down there working. He was in the weeds. That was the point. He was in charge.
And then he doesn't know that the woman running the organization that he spent a good bit of time, you know, both before the press conference and today blaming for this, the lax oversight from MMS, that he doesn't know that she was either fired or resigned I think undercut the entire news conference.
And it's why the New York Times reporter stood up and said how could you not possibly know that? How can you be telling us that you are in charge and you didn't know that very basic and important fact?
BAIER: Where does this go from here, Charles?
KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I think it all hinges on serendipity from the president's perspective. If the capping operation succeeds, then he'll take a lot of heat over the big clean-up, but particularly since it would come right after he stood up there and said I'm in charge, I think he will be politically OK.
If it doesn't, and we have to wait until August, when the relief wells will presumably be completed, then he is going to be savaged. It's going to be his Katrina politically.
BAIER: But even if they cap the thing and it stops flowing, you still have, Erin, the pictures of the birds and the turtles and all the marshlands down in the Gulf coast being covered by oil.
BILLINGS: This is the beginning, not the end. He went out on this PR offensive today and again tomorrow. But he is going to have to continue doing it, not just Ken Salazar, not Janet Napolitano, not Thad Allen. He has to go out and do it himself. He has to show that this is a priority to him. He can't just say it's a priority.
And you're right. We are talking economic, ecological, and political impact here.
BAIER: And quickly, the moratorium, the six-month extension on a halt of all of the...
HAYES: Yes, I think we expected he would do that. I think he's pleasing his left wing base.
But I disagree with both of them. I think the political problems are just starting. I think he cannot possibly go out now because it will only highlight by contrast, by way of contrast, how little he was out before in front of the situation.
BAIER: We know a lot of you are online right now watching at home. So visit the homepage at Foxnews.com/SpecialReport for the latest installment of our "Faces of War" series. Rick Leventhal talks to a captain in Afghanistan trying to engage tribal leaders there.
Next up with the panel, what the president did and did not say at today's news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue which I hope will answer your questions. You will get it from my administration. So — and it will be coming out when I say "shortly" I mean shortly, I don't mean weeks or months. I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: President Obama saying a statement will come out sometime soon. Asked by our own Major Garrett about Representative Joe Sestak, the Democratic representative from Pennsylvania who is now the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, his charge that the administration offered him a job to get out of the Senate primary.
Tonight, Sestak says he hopes the president will offer up his statement on them offering him a job very soon, in the next couple of days, and he plans to address the president's response on camera shortly after that. So we are waiting anxiously for the statements. It's one of the things other than the oil situation covered in the news conference.
We're back with the panel. Steve?
HAYES: Well, I think the first reaction to the way that the president handled that was if the truth is as simple as the White House suggests it, just let us have it. Say it. You don't need time, you don't need to delay, you don't need a formal response if you are just going to tell people there is nothing there and nothing happening.
What I think this really signals is the White House is taking this much more seriously. The lawyers are deeply involved in this. You have the Senate Judiciary Committee pushing on this. You have Representative Issa pushing as hard as he can, because fundamentally, they have a problem.
Joe Sestak says one thing, the White House says something else, how they can square the stories without dramatically altering them or amending them will be tough.
BAIER: Or dramatically changing the race in Pennsylvania.
HAYES: Right. It makes you wonder — I was thinking back to the decision not to go campaign for Arlen Specter one more time. I wonder if the White House isn't kicking themselves for making that decision.
BAIER: Is it that cut and dry, Erin? Is it that something illegal happened here or Sestak is lying?
BILLINGS: I don't know if it's that cut and dry. I think the big problem here is the White House let it hang out there for three months. Sestak spoke of this in February.
BAIER: Numerous times.
BILLINGS: And now it's starting to get a little hinky. I think what they needed to do is deal with this from the get-go. Now there are more questions and more questions and people are, you know, obviously thinking that there is something wrong here.
But I am anxious to see what the statement says. And my prediction is tomorrow afternoon as everyone gets out of town for the Memorial Day recess.
BAIER: That's a good prediction. We'll monitor that. Charles?
KRAUTHAMMER: I think the reason they delayed is they had all their eggs in the Specter basket. Had he won and Sestak was the loser we might have a word or two about it, and it wouldn't be an issue. But now that he is a nominee, you can't escape it.
I think there is a way to square the circle. There are a lot of very smart lawyers scrambling around the White House working on the language, definition of what the word "offer" is.
And I think the way it will be resolved if it's successfully resolved, they will say essentially there was a discussion and it was misunderstood, that one party understood it as an offer, and the other party was speaking hypothetically or asking about what his major interests are.
They will look for a way. It will be Clintonian. It's not going to be the new politics that Obama promised. But if you had to create a scenario and write an ending, it can be done. It might be fiction, but it might work.
BAIER: I want to play a sound bite about immigration. The president asked about Arizona's law again and what he will do about the border security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I understand the frustrations of the people of Arizona and a lot of folks along the border that that border has not been entirely secured in a way that's true to our traditions as a nation of law and as a nation of immigrants.
I'm president of the United States. I don't endorse boycotts or not endorse boycotts. That's something that the private citizens can make a decision about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Charles, that last line really perked people's ears up.
KRAUTHAMMER: It really did. When I heard him say I'm the president of the United States, I don't endorse boycotts, I thought he'd stop there. And if he had I would have said, why did he say "I'm president"? He would have said I'm president of all the United States and I don't want to see one state committed against another, one community boycotting another and conducting economic war on another.
And that would have harkened to the old Obama, the Obama of 2004 who captured the imagination of a nation when he said we're not red states, blue states, we're the United States of America, that transcendent figure he promised us he would be.
Well, that guy was put away a long good time ago, and Obama then added I also don't endorse. So he said if you want to endorse, that's OK.
BAIER: A boycott against Arizona.
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. As president he could honestly have said I'm against the law, I'll challenge it in court. The court is where we decide disputes among our community, not in attacks on each other.
HAYES: But that is the really old Obama. This is the community organizer Barack Obama, because you could see the community organizers around the country saying "boycotts are what we do." That's why we had to add I'm not not endorsing this.
BAIER: Quickly, John McCain, it seems like he is winning the battle for more National Guardsmen on the border out of committee. He said he won a committee vote.
BILLINGS: I think it's very difficult for Democrats to oppose this. More than 70 percent of the public believes the border is too porous and they want more enforcement and they want National Guardsmen, troops. They want stronger policing at the border. That is clear.
And so Democrats and now with Obama now suggesting, or saying he will deploy more troops and add more funding for enforcement, the Democrats can't go very far.
BAIER: Yes. We'll follow it.
That's it for panel, but stay tuned for an example of showing off just a little too much.
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