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Special Report

Obama Decides to Not Decide on Pipeline

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 10, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: A decision by the White House today not to decide. After weeks of pressure from environmentali sts came this statement about the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. They decided to delay the project, quote, "Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as they environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process we should take the time to ensure that all question are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood."

That quickly got a response from the House speaker who wrote, in part, "More than 20,000 new American jobs have just been sacrificed in the name of political expediency. By punting on the project, the president has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions - at the expense of American jobs."

We're back with the panel. It was touted obviously by environmentalist groups left and right. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, on the merits, it's a terrible decision. It's not gonna have any effect on the climate. The Canadians will develop this Tarzan oil and ship it over to China if not us. It's -- all the excuses about it are bogus; it would reduce our dependence on unstable regimes abroad.

But it's the process that is really amazing. The New York Times has this story not in the "Nation" section but in the "Politics." And it reports, it says that for days, the administration has been exploring ways to actually postpone this decision, not to improve it or to make it safer, but postpone it until after the election. The Washington Post reports that the political arm of the administration has said that had they approved the pipeline it would not have gotten them one vote. It also reports that the head of the Wildlife Federation has said they and others who opposed this project will now support Obama 2008. This is a president accuses Republicans every day of putting the nation over party, politics over the national interest. This is an egregious example of that, the most egregious that I think this administration has made yet.

BAIER: Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, honestly, I have no idea whether this pipeline is a jobs bonanza or an environmental disaster or what. But I am pretty sure that two things can be said. One, it's an awfully long time to make the decision. Even if it had been made now, 18 months to go through this thing. What couldn't be figured out or understood in that much time? That's point number one. Point number two, the president is almost transparently caught between two powerful constituencies in his party, labor unions on the one hand who are eager to build this thing, and environmentalists on the other. And he has this enthusiasm gap problem. It looks like the unions are enthusiastic as we just saw in Ohio. But environmentalists were not so much, and that may have tipped the balance.

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich has said in middle of 9 percent unemployment the president is doing what he used to do as a state senator, vote present, obviously coming under attack for this non-decision, Steve.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, it's clearly a punt. I think it's as much ideological, though, as it is political. And I think they're related. If it's a political decision it strikes me as an incredibly short-sighted political decision, because he's now gonna be beat up for a week by Republicans and by others for doing something that is in effect a job-killer. Whatever merits are, you see estimates of 20,000 jobs lost and the immediate construction of about 100,000 plus jobs potentially down the road.

BAIER: According to the --

HAYES: According to the people who want to build the pipeline. He is going to be beat up about this. This is going to be something that's thrown around. If you look at the Gallup polls or the Pew polls about what the issues voters care most about, number one is jobs. Number two is the economy. And together they total about 76 percent. On that list, which is an open-ended question, the environment rates as an asterisk, which means it gets less than 0.5 of one percent. If this is a political play, it's a payoff to please his base and I think a response to threats from the environmental groups that they would sit out if he didn't do this.

BAIER: Chuck?

LANE: Well, you know this issue goes wider. And that is an issue of the tremendous time it takes now in the United States of America to do any large building project, whether it's a pipeline like this, whether it's even a big solar energy panel out in the desert that the president wants. The red tape is crazy-making. It takes months and months. And what happens is people can jump in at any point in the process and short circuit it.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not a red tape issue. It's a political decision.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for a president who is internalizing a little bump in the polls.

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