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All-Star Panel: What's behind president's Republican outreach?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 7, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I do acknowledge that we -- because of changed circumstances with the imposition of the sequester, there is a increased focus on engagement because of the opportunity the circumstances provide. He's trying to make something good out of a bad situation.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY, R - PA: Approach of campaigning in America and really being quite confrontational hasn't been working so well.  So I'm hoping that this is a new approach on the part of the president to reach out, to have some dialogue, to see if there is common ground, because we have some really serious challenges and so much we can accomplish if we can find that common ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, the president is aggressively reaching out. That is what the Republicans are saying. Senator Toomey was one of many senators invited to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel here in Washington last night. There you see the list of Republican senators who attended. Then today, Representative Paul Ryan, of course, the vice presidential nominee, he's also the House budget committee chairman, was at lunch along with Chris van Hollen who was on our set last night. The speaker of the House is optimistic, but maybe not too optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OH, HOUSE SPEAKER: Now he is going to -- after being in office now for four years he is actually going to sit down and talk to members. I think it's a sign, a hopeful sign, and I'm hopeful that something will come out of it. But if the president continues to insist on tax hikes, I don't think we are going to get very far. If the president doesn't believe that we have a spending problem, I don't know if we are going to get too -- very far. But I'm optimistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: With that, let's bring in our panel, Jason Riley, editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Jason, welcome back. What are your thoughts of this outreach?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think the president is scared. He is on the defensive. I think his poll numbers are down a little bit. A Wall Street Journal poll last week said that Republicans are closing the gap with Democrats when it comes to the handling of the economy. He said the economy would suffer as part of the sequester but investors disagree. The Dow is up. And I think his biggest concern here is that the public might figure out that cutting $85 billion out of a $3.6 trillion budget will not end the world.

BAIER: A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I agree. I think the president did, unlike what Jay Carney said, did change his strategy. And they realized they had to. And his poll numbers were sinking very rapidly, actually. And that he was unable to campaign against the sequester cut while at the same time failing to really earnestly engage in replacing them and get away it with. It just wasn't help him drag down the Republican as well as the president --

Look, you know, I'm glad he is doing this. I'm always for it. It's quite late but it's not too late. If the president is going to do this just for show, obviously that is a waste of time. But if he actually -- like some Republican senators mentioned last night -- is trying to engage in an honest discussion about true concessions on Medicare reforms, then that is a good start.

BAIER: Where is the line, though, Charles, I guess is the question, with where he starts taking a hammering from his own party after their enthusiasm about his inauguration speech and his first strategy of going after Republicans; now it seems like its a much different strategy and does he start to take it on the chin from the left?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm not sure that he was responding to his base. He is a second term president. He is not going to be up for re-election. I think what he did starting with the election, fiscal cliff and sequester was for his own sake, for his own presidency and legacy to try to crush the Republicans to improve on the victory he had in November by neutering the Republican House, which is the obstacle to him enacting the vision he has of America that he outlined in his inaugural address, neutering it now in these two years and then beating it in the mid-term election so he'll control all of Congress in the last two years.

His strategy was to go against them, to make the case that they are coddling the rich. He tried it in the election, it succeeded. He tried it on the fiscal cliff, it succeeded. And it crashed on the sequester. The apocalypse he predicted made him look ridiculous and cynical. And when you close the White House and you keep out these Iowa kids, everybody understands that you are not leading, you are playing games. That has really hurt him in the poll numbers.

BAIER: Speaking of which, the White House press secretary was asked about these Iowa sixth graders who went to Facebook to make their appeal of going to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STUDENTS, ST. PAUL'S LUTHERAN SCHOOL, IOWA: The White House is our house. Please let us visit.

CARNEY: The Secret Service, like other agencies of government, is affected by the sequester. And the Secret Service presented options that ranged from canceling tours to potential furloughs and cuts in overtime.  The White House made the decision that we would unfortunately have to temporarily suspend these tours. The tradeoffs here are never good because of the nature of the cuts and the way that the law is written. If you are given flexibility your option is to give less money to disabled kids so you can give more money to poor kids, more support to poor kids. This is a similar kind of tradeoff and it's very unfortunate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Jason?

RILEY: This is ridiculous. It is unfortunate. I can agree with the last statement that Mr. Carney made. The stunts he is pulling here from releasing illegal immigrants from detention centers, talk about air traffic controller shortages, teacher layoffs. The president's goal here is to inflict the maximum amount pain as a result of these sequester cuts in order for the public to help pressure Republicans into agreeing to more tax hikes. We know that is his goal. And we know that every effort that the Republicans have made to try and ease the pain of these cuts the White House rejected.

BAIER: How many more Facebook appeals from sixths graders, and fourth, and third graders can the White House sustain before the tours start again, A.B.?

STODDARD: Well we are about to hit spring break so I have a feeling that they're going to relent, something tells me. But this was really part of the Republican mixed message on the sequester. They knew that the White House might somewhere secretly in a dark closet have the ability to monkey around with the sequester cuts. So there will be sequester oversight hearings, there will be general accounting office reports for years to come. About the sequester hocus pocus. But Republicans told us the sky was going to fall first, and then they said it was going to be fine. So they are so bungled up on the PR message themselves, knowing that the White House could probably do this was a risk that they took.

KRAUTHAMMER: But that Carney explanation was truly jumping the shark. He is talking about kids in White House and then all of a sudden he ends with throwing orphans in the snow. We don't really want to but we have to, because Republicans have forced us. I have an idea if you want to allow kids in the White House and support it with funds. The president's travel expenses alone for the golfing outing with Tiger Woods would pay for a year of White House visits. So I suggest that perhaps he curtailed the travel or perhaps auction off the set of clubs and he might be able to allow those Iowa tots to come through the White House.

BAIER: All right --

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not cynical enough.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: You're trying. Next up, another Al Qaeda figure in custody, this time inside the U.S. And what about all the documents from the bin Laden compound? 

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