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Special Report

Panel Discusses Polls About Obama's Handling of Oil Spill

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me say to people of Pensacola and the Gulf coast, I am with you and my administration is with you for the long haul, to make sure BP pays for the damage it has done and to make sure that you are getting the help you need to protect this beautiful coast and rehabilitate the damaged areas, to revitalize the region and make sure nothing like this happens again.

That is a commitment I'm making to people of Florida and people all across this Gulf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: The president in Florida today as we look live at the Gulf oil spill. The National Incident Command now saying anywhere from 45,000 barrels to 60,000 barrels is just spewing in the Gulf every day. That's roughly one Exxon Valdez spill every five days.

Here's Gallup's latest poll of the president's handling of the oil spill -- approve is 39 percent, disapprove is 38 percent. There you can see from May 12 until now.

Take a look at Louisiana, Public Policy, a Democratic leaning poll, approve 32 percent, disapprove 62 percent. This as the president prepares for the first Oval Office address about this issue.

Let's bring in our panel, Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Fred, you look at those polls and you see the daunting challenge the president faces with the speech. What about it?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The president is playing catch-up ball. No question about that. I think he can probably turn the poll numbers around. This isn't the same as Katrina was for Bush.

But he has to do three things in his speech. One, I think he needs to undo the harm that he's already done and lift the moratorium on the existing drilling that was going on in the Gulf and help the economy down there. And particularly stop demonizing BP. He will drive the company into collapse.

Greg Palkot said their credit rating has gone down and their stock price is half of what it was. What do people who own the stock if they see $20 billion moving out the door to some escrow fund they don't know exactly how that many is going to be handled. I think that would hurt the stock more.

He needs to build up this company so they can pay for the damage it's responsible for.

And then he needs to show his actions, not his words -- President Obama relies heavily on words and not on action -- that he is in charge of what he's supposed to be in charge of, his government. He's not supposed to be involved of stopping oil from spurting out, but that his government is operating effectively to minimize damage.

And I think he will show some things in the speech to do that.

And thirdly, don't overstate the problem. When he likened it in any way to 9/11 I think that was a huge mistake. It's not a national crisis. It's a horrible problem that affects very palpably a region of the country, and he should be perfectly honest about that.

BAIER: Juan, there was a AP poll, and here's another question there - - feelings towards increased drilling in the United States coastal areas, favor 45 percent to oppose 41 percent in the AP poll. As you look at this and how the nation is looking at it, what are the challenges for the president tonight?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think the first and foremost thing is for the president to assert that he is in control and knows what's going on. If anyone has any doubts as to whether or not he's truly concerned and this is not just a political exercise, I think he has to convey some sincerity about what he is saying and dealing with the situation.

By that, he has to demonstrate what is going on. The word of the day in Washington, "inflection." What does inflection mean? The White House says this is an inflection point when the thing goes from negative to positive on a chart.

And so here you have a moment when the president is going to use the power of the Oval Office. Think of Eisenhower doing Little Rock crisis or the time after the Cuban missile crisis. That's when you use the Oval Office. There are no reporters to distract people and no Congress out there, this is just the president talking to the American people. It's very personal, a little bit like FDR radio-side chats for the modern generation.

And he has to say here is what I've done, here is what I'll do, and here's the fact that I'm going to hold BP accountable, that they won't get away with not paying up their bills and have money in escrow. And finally, he has to say moving forward here is what we do to prevent it from happening again.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He's not very good at the I feel your pain stuff, the Clintonian stuff, although I'm sure it's in the speech and he'll certainly have anecdotes about people who are hurting, and he'll try to do it, but it's not his strength.

I think he's read the polls where over 70 percent of Americans think he hasn't been tough enough on BP. And I think this speech will be kind of a populist off with their heads. He will make "I'm in charge" mean "I'm kicking around BP" and I'll make sure they pay.

BAIER: Who he meets with tomorrow.

KRAUTHAMMER: Who he meets with tomorrow.

Look, there are questions about the legality of, I mean he doesn't -- I don't believe he has the legal authority to force a company to establish in an escrow fund to be administered by a third party. But he knows that the British Petroleum company is on the defensive. And even though he may not have the law on his side, he has public opinion on his side and so he may be able to force that.

On the other hand, you know, when he went and took over the auto companies, he nationalized GM and Chrysler, he wasn't worried about the law standing in his way, where at the time he overwrote all the precedents and basically stuck it to bondholders so he could protect the auto union.

So the law has not been an obstacle to what he wants to do in the past, particularly in a crisis when he feels Americans will give him leeway on that. But it isn't a good precedent, particularly since the oil pollution act of 1990, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez, has a cap on damages of about $75 million, and here we are talking about tens of billions.

You can't enact that retroactively but he will try to force it using the weight of public opinion behind him.

BAIER: Another poll from the Public Policy poll in Louisiana. This is "Who has done a better job in Louisiana dealing with crisis?" President Bush during Katrina, 50 percent, Barack Obama, 35 percent. The polls are going the wrong way for this president.

BARNES: That's as bad as you can get, because President Bush, unfairly criticized to some degree on Katrina, I mean that was a disaster politically for him, and if he is coming off better than Obama, that's bad for Obama.

I want to say one thing in response to Juan. This is not at all like a fireside chat. You know why? FDR gave them every six or seven months, and people waited for them, they wanted to hear it. Obama has used the bully pulpit so much, he's had so many interviews at halftime at basketball games and so on, I mean he has worn out the public. I'm not sure there will be a large crowd watching this evening that is receptive to his message.

WILLIAMS: Fred, this is a unique. He has never been in the Oval Office before. So I think it's an effort of political cleanup of sorts. And to say on that poll, most of the state of Louisiana are Republicans.

BARNES: No they aren't.

WILLIAMS: Yes, they are. And I think they reflect the general Republican attitude there towards the president.

BARNES: They are conservatives.

KRAUTHAMMER: If you poll lower than George Bush in Louisiana after Katrina it gives new meaning to hope and change.

BAIER: Not only that, but that was a Democratic polling organization, the Public Policy poll.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: Tell us your expectation for tonight's speech. Vote in our online poll at the newly upgraded foxnews.com/specialreport. The whole website is new. Check it out. Next up, how the oil spill will impact the president's push for new energy legislation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LOIS CAPPS, D-CALIF.: We need a safer, a cleaner, and a more economical approach to energy development, one that shifts us away from oil eventually and toward renewable sources that can't destroy our coastlines.

REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.: The American people don't want this administration to exploit the crisis in the Gulf to advance their disastrous energy policies. We won't cap that well with cap-and-trade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Some of the debate today over the pending climate change legislation that the president is expected to talk about in the Oval Office address tonight. This as people are also concerned in this economic environment about taxes. Back to polls, an AP poll, how important is the issue of taxes to you? Very important, 68 percent, moderately 20 percent. And we'll talk about the legislation pending on Capitol Hill, the most likely one to pass is sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry up on Capitol Hill right now. We're back with the panel. Juan, they say it saves jobs, creates energy jobs. Republicans say it kills jobs and increases taxes. This is what the president is stepping into tonight about pitching this specific legislation.

WILLIAMS: Without a doubt. Charles pointed out, people are concerned about the economy and people want jobs, especially in places like Louisiana where they are hard-hit by the recession. At the same time, people are angry at BP and want BP to be held accountable. So he has to walk a fine line. But I don't there's any question when it comes to this legislation, what you're hearing from Senator Lieberman and Senator Kerry is it will cost the American people about a dollar a day is what the estimate is. That's all it will cost. They think the American people are willing to pay this amount of money in order to have cleaner air and in Lieberman's opinion, lessen our dependence on oil coming from countries that don't like it.

BAIER: In this bill, Charles, there is an effort to cut CO2 emissions by 70-80 percent in decades ahead. That means dramatically cutting coal usage, and that specifically goes to Midwest states that rely heavily on coal.

KRAUTHAMMER: And it's an American fuel. That is why the cap-and-trade is a huge intellectual swindle. It's about climate change and global warming and not about energy independence, although it will be sold that way or attempted.

The reason is this. If you want to talk about oil security, you have a gas and oil import fee. That would do it. That would be a tax and there are ways to handle that. Some of us recommended that you refund it by reducing the payroll tax so the government won't keep any of your money. That is about oil. That is about security. That is about reducing the amount that ends up in the hands of the Saudis, of the Russians and Hugo Chavez.

But if you do cap-and-trade and a tax on coal you undo all of that. Here you will have a huge tax on coal, which is how our energy is supplied to half of our electricity. It will increase the cost and decrease its use, and thus, it will call us to import the energy from outside.

BAIER: Fred, is there enough anger about the BP oil spill to propel legislation that deals not only with the oil spills but energy prices overall, and people at home will likely see utility prices go up dramatically in an election year?

BARNES: In a word, Bret, no. It's not enough. I think it detracts from his speech if he does this tonight to be pushing some unrelated basically, non-emergency piece of legislation.

Why is he doing it? He is doing it for the reason that he is trying to get the legislation passed before November 2nd when the huge democratic authority that got the health care bill through it and might get cap-and-trade through are still existing. But when they go away, there is no chance of this.

But to exploit the crisis to try to push this thing is ridiculous. I chuckle when I hear you say you believe the dollar a day stuff. In Congress, when someone is pushing a bill, they lowball the cost usually by a multiple of five or six what it will cost, and that's obviously what they're doing here.

WILLIAMS: But they are independent --

BARNES: You weren't born yesterday.

WILLIAMS: Oh, stop. There are independent assessments that give you some idea of what people think it will cost. It's not as is being described here on this panel, some grand huge cost. There are costs attached --

BAIER: But as a political analyst, is this analogous to the health care legislation push in that there was a lot of 30,000 feet talk, and we will find out details when it's passed. Is it that set-up in what we are looking at here?

WILLIAMS: I think that dynamic exists. The people will have to discover what it means. How many jobs will be created? Who knows? Will company have an incentive to invest in alternative energy? We'll see. But we are sold something and we don't know what is in the bag.

BAIER: We'll try to find out.