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Special Report

All-Star Panel: State of race relations in the US

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 30, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NPR)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the United States more racially divided than it was when you took office six years ago, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No. I actually think that it's probably, in its day-to-day interactions, less racially divided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, GUEST HOST: Less racially divided right now, Steve Hayes. Given what's happened in recent weeks, interesting statement from the president.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think I actually agree with what the president says if you take a step back and look at where we are today compared to where we were six years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, I don't think there's any question. But certainly the focus on these issues lately has generated a lot of heat, not as much light. And you have certain professional politicians and interest groups who see it as in their interests to continue to stoke these fires for racial division on both sides, and I think that's deeply unfortunate.

HENRY: Julie, we had a Fox News poll that just came out early December, how are race relations in the U.S. since the president was elected? And 19 percent said better, 62 percent said worse, 17 percent said no difference. More context from the president in that NPR interview.  He said, look, part of this is social media. You're seeing these videos, some of this happened before, but we're seeing it more now.

What are your thoughts?

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Look, I'm not a pollster, but I would imagine that having this be so much part of the public discussion over the last couple of months may be affecting some of the numbers that we see. I don't think it's bad thing, though, to have this be part of the discussion.

I think what's interesting from the perspective of the president right now is, what does he do in this moment? And what should he do? What is his responsibility in this moment? Do we let this kind of slide and fall by the wayside behind other issues? We talk about the president being perhaps liberated after this election, but issues of race are still a challenge for him, still a place where he's trying to find his footing. So I think it will be interesting over the next two years whether this is something he really latches on and tries to make a difference on.

HENRY: On that point, Charles, the president gets pressure from both sides. He gets conservatives saying why are you weighing in on every case that comes up? Then you've got the left saying he's not doing enough. They have the first African-American president and they want to see him get more involved. How does he sort this out?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think the sin is weighing in. I think -- and you ask is there anything he can do. I think he can lessen his contacts and his honoring of someone like Al Sharpton. That does nothing to advance race relations in America. It poisons them.

I do think that the president is right, that on a one-on-one basis, in ordinary lives, there's no question that every year things are improving. I see it in my son's generation with this sort of history over time sort of diminishes the bad history, the ill will, the racism, the hostility. So I think that sense it's happening. It has nothing to do with the administration either pro or con.

But certainly when it comes to the big issues and what's been happening right now, Black Lives Matter, the whole protest movement, I think who you associate with, who you honor, who you elevate is extremely important. And the wrong signal is sent when it's a race baiter like Al Sharpton.

HENRY: Thoughtful comments all around the table.

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