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Special Report

Obama's Full Plate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 4, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What George Bush has been trying to do is part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency is he's been saying, well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying I don't agree with this part or I don't agree with that part. I'm going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.

That's not part of his power. I taught the constitution for 10 years, I believe in the constitution, and I will obey the constitution of the United States. We're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST OF “SPECIAL REPORT”: That was Senator Obama on the campaign trail. We now understand President Obama is considering issuing a signing statement on a piece of legislation that passed Congress to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. And in there is a provision that prevents the administration from moving detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison to the U.S.

Here’s what the attorney general said about that language in the bill, quote, "It's an extremely risky encroachment on the authority of the executive branch to determine when or where to prosecute terrorist suspects. But what it would do is effectively block the promise to close the facility."

So what about all of this and some other items? Let's bring in our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

We ran that full sound bite, Charles, just to show how adamant Senator Obama was about, saying he taught constitutional law, he's against signing statements, but now he’s, it appears, going to write one.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And to show us why hypocrisy in politics is such a wonderful thing because it means you’ve grown up and you stop just taking the cheap shots from the outside. You notice that sign near Obama saying, "Change"? On this stop, the change has not come. The Patriot Act the Democrats had said was trashing the constitution was upheld by the Democrats, rendition trashing the constitution.

And then you have the Democrats as we heard Obama attack the Bush administration for the signing statements, again encroaching on the powers of the Congress, and also, for President Obama said in that clip accumulating the power of the presidency to transfer prisoners, et cetera.

All of that now is stuff Obama is doing. Why? He is commander-in-chief and in charge of safety of Americans and understands that Bush did what a commander-in-chief ought to do. Now the argument is over and they agree with Bush and Republicans that the president should have extensive powers how he deals with prisoners of war.

I think he’s right on that. I agree with the policy of not transferring prisoners into the U.S. But I also think the president has the power to do it and ought to have it as the commander-in-chief in time of war. And it looks as if the Democrats also agree that the president has a right to do a signing statement. That isn't end of run-around for Congress but expression of the approval of what's in the bill. And that’s perfectly OK.

What we have with the rotation of power is the exposing of hypocrisy but also the establishment of a national consensus on important stuff, and on this we now have it.

BAIER: Mara, the administration says if they do a signing statement, the president does one, "It would indicate that we oppose the language and they’ll seek reversal legislatively."

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: As opposed to just saying they're not going to follow this part of the law.

BAIER: However, now you have Republican House and fewer, more Republicans in the Senate. A change legislatively --

LIASSON: It's very unlikely. But look now we have Charles Krauthammer, the Democrats, and the president all agreeing that the executive has certain powers. Now all we need is the Republicans to come along in a principled fashion and realize what they were for when they had the White House should be what they were for when they don't.

KRAUTHAMMER: I agree that Republicans ought to have expansive powers invested in the president in time of war. On the policy I think it's a good idea. But if the president wants to challenge it, on constitutional grounds, be my guest. I would support him on that.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I want to say that I think Charles is being too nice to President Obama, a sentence I never thought I'd never say on this show or anywhere else.

KRAUTHAMMER: There is a pattern, isn't there?

KRISTOL: You give him credit for growing in office. I think he has learned a lot. But on this, his policy was reversed for him by the Congress even when it was a Democratic Congress, let's not forget, and by public opinion. On May 21, as late as May, last year -- two years ago, 2009, the president gave that speech at the national archives the data former vice president Cheney gave a speech contrasting visions how to prosecute war on terror. Obama was sticking to close Gitmo late in his first year.  Public rebelled and the idea of the trial of KSM in New York didn't go to well. The one trial in New York got convicted on one count. And it turned out Gitmo was full of Yemenis going back to war on terror and they couldn't send these people over.

Remember, the administration unilaterally in January of 2010 put a moratorium on sending anyone on Yemen because those guys just went back to the battlefield. There were studies leaking out of recidivism of the Gitmo detainees when they were released.

Obama was mugged by reality and public opinion and congress. And to his credit he's now to some degree acceded to the mugging and has now accepted an awful lot of Bush war on terror policies.

BAIER: So bottom line, Gitmo is not closing anytime soon?

KRISTOL: Correct. It wasn't before this legislation and it really isn't now.

KRAUTHAMMER: What would you say Congress, a Democratic Congress passed a law with a Republican president saying you can't do rendition?  You'd oppose that because it's an encroachment on the powers of the president.

KRISTOL: I'm not saying it's unreasonable. I'm not complaining about the signing statement.

LIASSON: He changed his mind.

KRISTOL: Or mugged by reality and finally acceding to it.

BAIER: OK, last thing on the increasing of the debt ceiling, just to point out this out. You had Austan Goolsbee, the economic advisor to president, talking about what would happen if the debt ceiling if the vote went down to increase the debt ceiling.

This is Senator Obama in 2006 saying "Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the back of children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. American deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."

So when the administration pushes back very hard against these people like Michele Bachmann and others who say we have to stop somewhere?

LIASSON: This is --

BAIER: I know --

LIASSON: The shoe is on the other foot. All this is about who will be blamed if the debt limit is not increased. When you are the party out of power, as then Senator Obama was when he said that, you want to make the other guys do the heavy, yucky job of rounding up votes to increase debt limit, which is very unpopular.

Now you've got a whole bunch of Republicans who ran on a platform that said "I will not vote to increase the debt limit by one penny." And you have people like John Boehner, incoming speaker, who says look, we have to do this. We'll be adults about this.

The question is what price is the new Republican leadership going to have to pay to get those Tea Party freshman or enough of them to vote for an increase in the debt limit? We don't know the answer yet.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: It has to come up with reasonable demands on the president in terms of spending cuts. If they're not outrageous, which the country will reject as being impossible, but say returning to '08 spending limits, or, I suggested last night a list of egregious spending frills which the country ought to dispense with, I think it will be acceptable in the public.

If you want to make a demand that looks reasonable, then Obama has to concede and everybody will say the Republicans are using this as leverage for achievement. I think that would be a political gain for them.

BAIER: Last word, Bill?

KRISTOL: I agree with Charles.

BAIER: All right, that was quick.

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