Immigration Reform or Political Opportunism in Florida? Plus, Gibbs vs. 'Professional Left'

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 11, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BILL MCCOLLUM, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENER AL: We're not changing any of the existing guidelines. We're simply codifying them and we're simply mandating that when you stop, detain or arrest somebody that you -- and you have a reasonable suspension that they are an illegal, that you check.

Racial profiling, none of us want to see happen. That is why I originally opposed the very first version of the Arizona law. It was too big. They've amended their law. It's fine now. We have improved it in this bill a lot. This is our own law, not theirs. And I think when we're done passing this law, Arizona is going to want our law -- they're going to want to pass our law, because we're better, we're stronger, we're tougher and we're fairer.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Florida's Attorney General Bill McCollum is with some lawmakers there in Florida today introducing, proposing a new piece of legislation they say goes further than Arizona's immigration law, but, as you heard there, is better.

McCollum is also of course in a big race down there for the GOP gubernatorial race to become the governor of Florida. He is running against Rick Scott. The latest polls have him down to Scott by about 10, depending on the poll you look at.

What about the policy of immigration, the politics of immigration? Let's 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.

Charles, first of all, what about this proposed law and what it looks like?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it looks like the Arizona law. It's modeled on the law. It says it's a little bit tougher, but it just says it gives the tools to prosecutors. But in its substance, if you stop anyone for another offense and you have suspicion of illegality in terms of immigration, you can ask, and you need to ask.

I think the fact that it was announced today is pure opportunism. This is a candidate who is down by ten. His opponent has supported the Arizona law; he had equivocated. So now he wants to trump the opponent with a few weeks to go in a primary. It's probably a safe bet on the Republican side even though in the same state -- Florida -- Marco Rubio is running for the Senate has stayed away from the Arizona law. It's not like Arizona itself, where it's a winner and you know it's a winner. Florida, it's a difficult proposition, a much more mixed state, more liberal on that issue. And it will be interesting. We have to wait until the general election to see which side actually uses it against the other side. But it looks like it's a Hail Mary he's throwing with a few weeks to go. I'm not sure I would take it that seriously.


A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I agree that Florida is not Arizona. And if you look at the Republican establishment in Florida, former Governor Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, the Senate candidate for the Republican side, who Charles mentioned, they are sort of straddling this issue. They are not coming out to really tough on enforcement, pro-Arizona law.

What is interesting is that Rick Scott, McCollum's opponent, is tough on immigration. So he's not exactly cornering him. If this is something he really wanted to do, he should have done it a while ago. His primary is two weeks from yesterday, and unfortunately in politics, perception is reality. And it does, I agree with Charles, look like desperation at the 11th hour.

BAIER: Voting has already started in Florida for that primary, early voting this week, I believe.

Steve, what about the issue of immigration this year, as we see the states across the country, Virginia, the attorney general there, Ken Cuccinelli and his ruling that we talked about here in the panel. And we have seen other states try to tackle immigration in the face of an Obama administration that is not going to deal with comprehensive immigration up on Capitol Hill.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, I mean, ultimately I think, people are going to go to the polls and cast the votes that they cast largely because of the economy. There will be people who vote on immigration. I don't think it will change races across the country depending on how people campaign.

But in Florida, it is interesting, because it's not Arizona. But at the same time, there was a Rasmussen poll taken in the middle of last month: 62 percent of Floridians in favor of an Arizona type of law, only 24 percent oppose. So I think what you're seeing with Bill McCollum and Rick Scott is people want to get ahead of the issue.

I do think that this is a place where the Republicans have to be very careful about making their argument and making it in a sophisticated and principled way. If you come in at the last minute and do something that certainly gives the appearances of being political before it's being principled, I think that can really backfire. It can have the short-term and long-term consequences.

And, you know, whether that was the case in this instance is unclear at this point. But it certainly doesn't smell right.

BAIER: And what about the Obama administration's action in filing suit against Arizona?

HAYES: Well, yes. I mean, that certainly gives Republicans, you know -- this is a place where Republicans can make a principled argument and say look, this is what the federal government should be doing. We've been calling for enforcement for years. It's been rejected. The administration is not engaging us on it. And there are indications -- whether it's in draft memos, whether it's in things that ICE has said -- there are indications that they are not even actually going to be enforcing the laws.

BAIER: So it's paid off, Charles, in Arizona for Governor Jan Brewer, whose popularity has skyrocketed there. But you're saying you're not sure if it pays off in Florida in the general election or even in this primary.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. Look, in Arizona, it was so important that John McCain had to change his tune on immigration. He was a big guy for comprehensive and now he wants to close the border first, which is the sort of mainstream conservative position.

I think overall in country, if you look at the polls, on the Arizona law it's 60 percent in favor. However, it differs on regions, so it's not as if it applies everywhere. It's an uneven support. It's in some states heavily concentrated, like in Arizona, and in other states it won't work.

BAIER: Quickly, A.B., I want to play the soundbite of the Senate majority leader talking to a Hispanic group and some of the reaction to it:


SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, D-NEV.: I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican. OK? Do I need to say more?


BAIER: There are a lot of Republicans weighing in tonight about that. A.B., what about that statement?

STODDARD: Well, the majority leader is in the fight for his political life and he is working very hard to reach some members of groups in his base in Nevada.

The Latino vote is critical to Harry Reid holding that job on November 2 and I don't think he cares what Latino Republicans said today to criticize his remarks. I think he's going to turn out that vote and he's going to go really hard.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: It's totally offensive. Who is Harry Reid to tell people because they have a certain skin color what they should vote? It's offensive.

It's the kind of thing, of course, we've said this before, if a Republican were to say something or say the inverse, that person would be excoriated for weeks in the media. I suspect this won't get front page in The New York Times today or tomorrow.

BAIER: Last word.

KRAUTHAMMER: Reid is so clumsy with words that I hate to attribute any real deep significance here. I think what he tried to say is, we're the party who supports you and your interests, the others aren't. He did it in the worst possible way. But that for him is the norm.

BAIER: You're not applying for speech writer?

KRAUTHAMMER: No. And I'm not sure he's got one.

BAIER: Log on to the homepage at foxnews.com/specialreport. Get ready for "Special Report" Online which starts after the broadcast at 7 Eastern.

Next up, the president's press secretary becomes the news.



QUESTION: What do you say to progressives who, on reading your comments yesterday, say well if that's their attitude, I'm saying home in November?

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I don't think they will because what is at stake in November is too important to do that.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON, D-FLA.: I don't think he should resign. I think he should be fired. He's done a miserable job. People I know refer to him as "Bozo the Spokesman." He's so far in over his head he would have to reach up to touch his shoes.

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: I am a little bit surprised at the tone, because this really is like: This work is so hard and so difficult for us and nobody seems to appreciate it as much as we should. And our friends on the left are being unfair to us. And it's unbecoming and it's unnecessary, but it does show the state of mind inside the White House today.


BAIER: What are all those people talking about? They're talking about White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in an interview he gave to The Hill in which he said, among other things, this -- quote "I hear these people saying he" -- President Obama -- "is like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean it's crazy. They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality. They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president."

What about this? Calculated? Mistake? In-artful? What was it? We're back with the panel. Steve?

HAYES: I would just note the end of that JournoList, which was this list of journalists that coordinated messages among the left and defended the Obama administration, that ended a couple months ago. And all of a sudden you've got the left sniping at the White House. It's a big coincidence, if it's just a coincidence.


They're off-message now.

Look, I think Gibbs was angry. I think he was speaking off the cuff. I think he's sick of hearing the criticism he that he is getting from people like Alan Grayson, who's probably not in the best position to be offering constructive criticism given things that he's said in the past. But this is exactly the kind of fighting you see when the president has, you know, plummeted in approval ratings, when the country now more than before thinks that we're going in the wrong direction, exactly the kind of intra-party sniping that you expect to see.

BAIER: A.B., this is a guy who spends his time at a podium answering or not answering questions as best he can. And yet he gives full paragraphs about the left attacking the White House. I mean if it was in-artful, it was very in-artful.

STODDARD: It's the magic touch of the The Hill newspaper. I might start with that, and the colleague Sam Youngman who got the interview.


It sounds like more like bar talk. It doesn't sound -- not only did he go on and on, but it was very aggressive. The sentiment is understandable. The sentiment is understandable. The Obama administration has been taking fire from the liberal left since they got in the door. They wanted an earlier push on "don't ask, don't tell." They wanted card check for unions. They wanted to pull out of Afghanistan. They wanted a public option in health care.

They want things that the votes don't exist for the agenda that the liberal left wants. And so it is very surprising that Robert Gibbs expressed himself in this way, the fact that the sentiment exists in the White House and they feel they're under fire all the time for votes they don't have is understandable.

BAIER: So you don't think it's some effort to portray the president as somewhat of a centrist president?

STODDARD: I expect in 2011, early on in next year as the president pivots to President Obama 2.0 and begins his campaign for election in earnest and there's a midterm election behind him that we'll hear a lot more of this talk from Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod and others.

BAIER: If they are all still there. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Looks, this is utterly sincere and, I think it's also utterly correct. This is not political strategy because why would you alienate your base in the midterm election which are always base elections?

He is sincere because he is right about his left. This president has delivered more for liberalism in a year-and-a-half than any president in 50 years. He's given them national health care. He's given them heavy regulation on finance. He gave them $1 trillion to spend on every wish list the liberals have for the last 20 years. He has given them two appointments that the Supreme Court, each of which will gave quarter century of liberal opinions. He bailed out unions in the auto takeover. He bailed out the teachers unions just this week by supporting state and local governments.

He has given them everything he could possibly do and they're whining about him? It's unbelievable. If I were Gibbs I'd say it in private, but I don't think it's anyway strategy. This is exactly what he thinks.

I don't think that Gibbs is whining. It's his left that is whining.

BAIER: Quickly, Steve, this is a press secretary who was just smacked down by the House speaker for saying they could potentially lose control of the House, that there are enough seats on the table that they lose power. So that was in the back of his mind at some point.

HAYES: Yes. If you're the press secretary you don't want to be the story. The goal in the job is say as little as possible. You have don't want to be the news. You want to defend the president, defend the boss.

But I don't think he is going anywhere. He is by all accounts one of three or four people the president relies on most closely. And I think the president will continue to rely on him for as long as he wants to be there.

BAIER: That is it for the panel.