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Special Report

Friday Lightning Round: AARP, White House Transparency

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 1, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Every week, viewers vote for your choice online in our Friday lightning round poll on what subject you want us to discuss. And the winner this week, wait for it, AARP with a resounding 46 percent of the vote.

So for those who haven't been paying attention, the House Republicans are investigating whether or not AARP should keep its tax status as non-profit organization. Critics focus on the fact that AARP was very instrumental in lobbying for healthcare reform and now stands to make about $1 billion over the next decade according to its critics, because it supports sponsors Medi-gap, supplemental insurance Medicare which a lot of people will need with Obama healthcare reform. Did I explain that reasonably well?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Very comprehensive.

WALLACE: So, what do we think about the AARP? How much trouble are they in? How much trouble should they be in?

HAYES: Well, I think shining a light on them is long overdue. They got these exemptions back in December. This is an organization that brings in $650 million due to these royalties because essentially, what they do is they bless insurance plans using their name. And they make money off of doing that. Why shouldn't that be scrutinized, especially if they are getting exemptions?

WALLACE: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, NEW YORK POST: Well, it should be scrutinized, but a lot of criticism has been they're a non-profit that's making money. And plenty of non-profits make money. There is nothing suspicious about that. And they would argue that they are endorsing these plans because they think that they're good for the people who belong to AARP.

I find this to be is a curious political strategy considering that this has really, sort of become almost the base of the Republican party, the Democrats lost seniors by 20 points in the last election. So for them to try to separate it out and say we're not attacking AARP -- we're attacking AARP but not the seniors is gonna be, I think, a tough sell.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well if you are going against your natural political interest, you would imply you're doing it out of a national interest, which I think would be laudable. Look, AARP has a cozy deal. Non-profit, not taxed. It makes huge amount of profit on the healthcare industry, and the medi-gap. And incidentally or not, and that's the real issue, incidentally or not, is helped by Obamacare, which it lobbied in support of. It looks a little bit fishy so it warrants investigation.

WALLACE: Issue two. The issue of transparency inside the Obama administration, this president promised when he came in to be the most transparent of presidents. In fact, he even received an award for transparency, this week, at the White House, but it was closed to the press and it was held behind closed doors. You have can't make this stuff up.

One reason that they may have been sensitive Steve is because there are reports the department of Homeland Security has been slow and sometimes maybe even obstructionist in responding to Freedom of Information requests.

HAYES: Right, which is precisely what the administration said, not only at the beginning of the administration but within the first couple of days, that they would not do. And the president actually, specifically said that he would not withhold documents because they could cause political embarrassment. That appears to be exactly what has happened in the case.

WALLACE: Kirsten?

POWERS: I feel like this is one of these things that every administration does. I'm not excusing it. But there is always a tension between the political appointees and the civil servants. And that's what's going on here. The political appointees, clearly, were acting badly. Even one of the political appointees in the FOIA office complained about it. And I think that because Obama held himself up as being so transparent, that he is held to an even higher standard.

KRAUTHAMMER: My motto in political life, if you never expect anything, you will never suffer disappointment. Having never expected Obama would be hope and change, a messianic transcender or a guy who would redeem and heal the earth, I'm not surprised that he promised to be transparent and it turned out he isn't exactly. And I think Kirsten's right, all administrations have done this so I'm not surprised. They all want to hold on to secrets and will resist [INAUDIBLE] their efforts to actually uncover them.

WALLACE: Alright, final topic in the Lightning Round, and you're all being pretty good about it today, I gotta say, continued protests across the Middle East. In Jordan today; and in Yemen, big demonstration; and of course, in Syria, and more violence there. Which one of the three are you paying the most attention to, Steve?

HAYES: Well, I think Yemen has the potential to be a huge problem for the United States in part because we're still backing, at least tacitly, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is the president of Yemen, who has been a very uneven U.S. ally in the war on terror. The administration, and others, would argue that he has been a good ally, that he's helped us with the fight against Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, which is the most potent Al Qaeda franchise. I would argue that he hasn't been as helpful. And for whatever gain we've gotten by him helping us, we've lost, especially, now that he's been killing his own people in the streets, by continuing to back him.

WALLACE: Kirsten?

POWERS: Now, well, I think Yemen is interesting, but also because the person who could potentially take over from him has ties to Al Qaeda. So while he may not do as good a job as we would like, it would be even worse if the other person took over. And so, you know -- but, what is interesting about all of these is just how different they all are.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the most important is Syria. It's also the most surprising because it's the most effectively repressive. But it's the most important strategically because it's Iran's only strong ally in the Arab world. It's an ally of Hezbollah, it funneled fighters against us in Iraq. If there were a change of regime in Syria, it would change the entire structure of the Middle East.

And the administration's silence on this, reticence on this, and even having the secretary of state saying openly that it looks as if Assad is a reformer, at a time when he's shooting reform demonstrators in the street, I think is disgraceful. They aught to speak out about this strongly, because this is really an opportunity. It's like Iran in 2009 in which this administration withheld its criticism and it should don't that again.

WALLACE: That's it for panel, but stay tuned to find out what's making three-year-old Jesse so sad.

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