Huckabee on global terror threats, ethanol subsidies, polls

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Tonight we welcome Republican presidential candidate, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to our Center Seat. Asking the questions tonight, Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post, Amy Walter, national for The Cook Political Report, and Charles Hurt, political columnist for The Washington Times." Governor, thanks for being here.


It's been an interesting couple of days as we are learning more about this situation in San Bernardino. Even though we now know from officials in the U.S. government that at least one of these shooters pledged allegiance to ISIS, and there are many other connections that are being talked about, the White House again today was reticent to call it terrorism as of yet. And in fact, Josh Earnest went back to an argument he made yesterday. Just take a listen to today?


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Why on earth do we think it's a good idea for somebody that the government thinks is too dangerous to board a plane be allowed to buy a gun? It doesn't make any sense. But once again Republicans blocked legislation that would make that illegal.


BAIER: Your reaction to that and the White House response?

HUCKABEE: Was there any indication that either one of these shooters were unable to board a plane? No, there was not. In fact they were fully vetted. They were able to come back into the country. She had a passport, she had a visa. This nonsense, well, they wouldn't have been able to buy guns. This is the false argument that this White House has made in an attempt to dodge the real issue. There are people who are trying to kill us. They're Islamic jihadists. I don't know why they can't just come up and say it. They wouldn't say it after Little Rock, they wouldn't say it after Fort Hood, they wouldn't say it after Oklahoma City. You have the Boston Marathon. How many times does this have to happen?

He keeps asking us, how many times do he we have to have mass shootings to get gun control. I would like to ask him, how many times do we have Islamic jihadist terrorist attacks and him not be able to acknowledge what we're fighting against?

BAIER: On the specific issue since they keep coming back to it, what about someone on the terrorist watch list, should they be allowed to buy a gun?

HUCKABEE: The problem is most of the time it is a name, not a background. It's the full identity. So I've had friends, I'm sure all of us have, friends who ended up on the list because their name was the name of somebody that might have a suspicion, not necessarily even so much as a probable cause. But they were on the no-fly list and it took them months if not a couple of years to get off of it. In the meantime their lives were a living hell.

Why would you put people through that if you can't at that point really say that this is a person you're suspecting of terrorist activity, even suspecting of criminal activity?

BAIER: Charlie?

CHARLES HURT, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Governor, you know, we've seen this in Paris and in San Bernardino, this concept of the more home-grown jihadists, it's kind of you know, more alarming I think than when they're foreign. How do you get at that as the government?

HUCKABEE: How does the government get to that? I'm not sure that the government ever can completely understand what causes a person to be that demented, that off his rocker, because I don't think that any rational, sane person can think in those terms, except that if you are a religious fanatic about something and you believe that it is your God-given duty to go out and kill people because they're infidels, then you can convince yourself. But then it becomes a theological issue, not just a psychological issue.


AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I want to just pull it back and talk about ISIS in a broader sense. We've had a lot of discussion now with the Republican candidates taking sides about what to do about Assad -- keep him there, at least he helps fill a vacuum that would get filled without him there with radical jihadists, or take him out. Where are you on this?

HUCKABEE: Assad is not our immediate problem. Assad has not killed or kidnapped Americans. The Iranians have and we made a deal with them. That doesn't make sense to me.

It makes more sense to me to not worry as much about Assad even though I don't trust him, I don't like him, and I don't think he's a good guy. But our immediate threat is the Islamic jihad not only branch of ISIS and Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, but those that are beheading Christians, that are infiltrating the United States and doing dastardly deeds like we saw in San Bernardino. I have the same attitude about Russia and Putin. I know many of my Republican colleagues say I don't Russia, I don't trust Putin. We shouldn't have anything to do with them. Look, my feeling is, if the Russians and Putin are willing to go after ISIS members and kill them, we should not get in their way. In fact we should thank them for being will to do that. We'll fight the battles that we have with them on another day on another platform. Right now the immediate threat we have is let's get rid of this malignant cancer and cut it out before it metastasizes and kills more Americans.

BAIER: Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: I was going to pick up on that, because it's really not that simple. Russia, as we know, is not really striking ISIS targets so far in Syria. And also Russia doesn't do anything for free. So my question to you would be this, to get Russia actually to fight ISIS instead of talking about it, which is what they're doing now, what would you be willing to trade? If Vladimir Putin came to you and said we want you to back off of the Baltics, we want to you back off in Ukraine, we want help with that, that and the other of our concerns, what would you be willing to give him?

HUCKABEE: Well, I'm not sure that we, we're in a position where we want to give him anything. I think it's a matter of making sure that he understands that the only reason we welcome him to the world stage without contempt is because he would like to do something in return and retaliation for ISIS knocking down an airliner with 224 of his people on board. That doesn't mean anything to him.

LANE: He's not doing anything militarily to ISIS.

HUCKABEE: I'm not sure that that's true. I'm not sure that he is doing nothing to fight ISIS. He may not be doing what we want him to do. He may not be doing what we wished he would do. But to say that Russia has no interest at all in taking any of the people from ISIS out, I don't necessarily agree with that.

LANE: In return for the little bitty thing he's doing against ISIS right now, you would be prepared to say let Assad, who is butchering all of these people and driving them into Europe as refugees, leave him in power just in return for that little, bitty, tiny thing?

HUCKABEE: It's not a matter of thinking he's doing a wonderful job and we should leave him there and let's give him a Nobel Peace Prize. I'm just saying that he is not the immediate target that we need to focus upon. If there are two houses, one's on fire and one isn't, where do you put the water? You put the water on the one that is raging in flames. Right now what's raging in flames is ISIS is cutting people's heads off, ISIS is gaining ground. They're not contained. That's where we need to take the fire truck and that's where we need to put the water.

BAIER: More with Governor Huckabee after a quick break.


BAIER: Governor Mike Huckabee is in our Center Seat tonight. Governor, you are a proponent of the fair tax.


BAIER: And there are many critics of the fair tax. One of them is AEI's Alan Viard. AD he calls the fair tax, quote "a big shift in the tax burden away from high-income groups toward middle income, lower income groups. And whatever you think about that politically, I think that's just not viable."

HUCKABEE: Well, he's wrong. And he takes the same position that a lot of people have taken without understanding the actual fair tax, most of which comes from a study that the Bush administration did on tax policy. They looked at the consumption tax. They didn't actually look at the fair tax, though they think they did.

The fair tax empowers people at the bottom third of the economy most of all by about 14 percent, 15 percent. People in the middle third of the economy benefit seven percent or eight percent. It's the people at the top who benefit the least, still four or five percent. But because there's a provision in the fair tax called a pre-bate that essentially un-taxes poor people for their basic necessities, that it is the single most-empowering approach to taxation. It's bold. It's different, and it brings jobs back to the very people in those middle class areas who don't have them right now.

BAIER: But on the back end of that, it's viable. Is it viable? Because tough get something through this Congress, and you know how Washington works.


BAIER: The big ideas --

HUCKABEE: It's not viable unless you have a president who can explain it, sell it, and lead it, because it isn't going to happen. It's 80 current congressional sponsors of the fair tax with the bill that's in place. It's not going to happen if you just have Congressional support. It's only going to happen if you have a president that actually can go out there and help the American people to see what this does to bring working capital back to America, get manufacturing jobs back and also help alleviate the economic incentive of illegal immigration, which the fair tax would help do.


WALTER: I want to talk about two of your proposals, Social Security and ethanol subsidies. In both cases you're arguing we don't need to have major reform, structural reform on Social Security and Medicare, and that you want to continue the ethanol subsidies. How do you square that with a philosophy that also government is too big and that our deficit is too high? How do you not have to tackle both of those things?

HUCKABEE: Let's take Social Security first. That's not the government's money. People paid that in. Every paycheck I ever had since the age of 14 when I started working. No one asked me if I wanted to give that money into an account at the Social Security fund. It was taken out of me.

Now you have people who are approaching the age of retirement, Social Security benefits, and then somebody says, hey, we're going to extend the age at which you retire. And oh, and by the way, we're going to means test you. All that money you put in, you may not need it after all. Talk about big government. How big government is it when the government makes the decision for me to take the money and then makes the decision not give it to me after I've paid it in? WALTER: Do you believe we can continue on this path that we're on right now without reform? HUCKABEE: If our economy were growing at four percent a year, just four percent -- I think we could do better than that, but at four percent we fully fund Social Security and Medicare. We've got more people talking about how we need to cut benefits for seniors and how we need to rid ourselves of these programs that people have depended on. With Social Security alone you've got 70 million people depend upon Social Security. More than a third of them, that's 90 percent of their income. Rather than talk about how to trim those benefits from them. Why don't we talk about growing the economy, giving everybody's boat higher water to float in? That makes a whole lot more sense to me.

BAIER: But on the second part, Larry Lawyer writes in on Twitter, he says "Adulterating our gasoline with ethanol is a bad idea for everyone except corn farmers. Why support it?"

HUCKABEE: Well, first of all, the government mandated it, and the government encouraged people to go out and build this extraordinary infrastructure to take care of not just ethanol but biofuels, which are renewable. Green people ought to love this. The result has been 16 percent lower cost in energy for the consumer and a greener outcome.

So on one hand you have people saying, well, you know this is what the government mandated. This is a classic bait-and-switch from Washington. They mandate it. Billions of dollars are spent to create the infrastructure to deliver biofuels, and then the next thing you know the government says we were just kidding. So all these people who made the investments, we're going to gut-punch them again? This is why people hate Washington. BAIER: So it's not about Iowa. It's not about votes at the caucus? HUCKABEE: I was saying the same thing when I wasn't a candidate. I was saying the same thing before I was a presidential candidate.

BAIER: Charlie?

HURT: It is interesting you had an op-ed this morning in "The Des Moines Register." And I was wondering why it appeared in "The Des Moines Register," but I think I know why.

HUCKABEE: I'm not going to kid you. I'm trying to win Iowa. Let's not be coy about that. But it's not that the position on that was just because of the election.

HURT: OK, but at a time, and you yourself have just said this, at a time when energy prices are falling, a lot of this innovation is appears to be working on its own now. Why do we -- why do I need to subsidize, why do the taxpayers and the rest of the country have to subsidize this?

HUCKABEE: Ultimately I think if you want to look at long-term, we won't need subsidies. But in the meantime, as we're developing the extraordinary necessary infrastructure to make this work, my goal is to see us become the number one energy exporter in the world. Do you have any idea what would happen if we changed the balance of power, if we became the exporter of energy to Europe, Africa, and Asia, and we took that market away from Russia, the Saudis, and the Iranians? We don't just improve the American economy. We transform the very essence of balance of military power itself.

HURT: So would you say you're in favor of phasing out subsidies for ethanol?

HUCKABEE: In the long-term if they're no longer needed to make sure that people whose investments have been made. You know, I just don't think you build this infrastructure, you cause people to follow a mandate, and then you just change the mandate in the middle. That's like changing the rules of the football game at halftime while the guys are in the locker room. That's crazy, you can't do that.

BAIER: Well, we are phasing out our time on this panel. We'll start with Chuck after we get back. More with Governor Huckabee talking politics when we come back.


BAIER: We're back with our panel, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Governor, you look at the latest poll out today, CNN-ORC. You are at two percent in this poll. Donald Trump is at 36 percent in the newest poll. The RCP, the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, you are at 2.3 percent, again up against 30.8. And in Iowa, where you just said you would like to win, you are 1.7 percent. How do you tell supporters that there is a path when you look at these polls?

HUCKABEE: The path is the way it's been for the past several election cycles. I was at a number worse than this eight years ago. Rick Santorum was at a number worse than that four years ago. We both ended up winning the Iowa caucuses.

BAIER: But 57 days out of the caucuses you were that low?

HUCKABEE: Yes, absolutely. And that's what people tend to forget. This is going to be a later caucus because now we are going to be February rather than early January. And so there's 60 days before we actually start voting. In the meantime, you know, Trump has got a great lead, but we're a long way from that moment. And historically, it doesn't mean that if you are leading now you are going to be leading when the votes get counted.

BAIER: Chuck?

LANE: A lot of people in the party are saying the probable with our field or one of the reasons Trump is running away from it is there are so darn many candidates. And you are just above an asterisk. Several people in that neighborhood, or at least one or two of them, Bobby Jindal comes to mind, have already dropped out, saying in part the party needs to concentrate its fire and get real. You've been processed by the Iowa voters as you pointed out yourself eight years ago. Why isn't this poll really a signal that it's time to do the right thing for the party and step aside?

HUCKABEE: That would be like asking since some the publications even represented around the table are not number one around the marketplace, why don't they drop out? Why don't they quit publishing? You're using up a lot of trees, a lot of news space. Why not get out? Why keep subjecting the audience to a bigger choice?

LANE: If you were losing money.

HUCKABEE: I'm not losing money. I'm gaining ground. I'm getting still the opportunity to talk about issues that matter to me. And as long as that is the case, and until somebody has voted, I'm not sure why I should surrender before a single vote has been cast. I just think it's a big mistake when people start predicting. Let me ask you this, did you think Donald Trump would be running way with the polls for as long as he has back in April of this year?

LANE: No, I did not.

HUCKABEE: Then you don't know and can't tell me who is going to be winning the Iowa caucus in 60 days. So I'm not going to drop out.

LANE: -- already had his shot at the Iowa electorate a couple times in the past.

HUCKABEE: Right. But let's wait until February 1st and see how it shakes out.

WALTER: In April of this year I said that the best candidate, most likely nominee was going to be somebody who was a governor. Republicans electorate loves governors. But now the top of the charts here, you got Trump, Carson, and two senators. And the governors have not been making much of a dent. What's going on? And is your experience not what people are looking for now?

HUCKABEE: Well, it should be, because, I mean, do you want to get on an airplane that's flown by somebody who has never been in a cockpit before?

WALTER: Apparently the Republican electorate says yes, they do.

HUCKABEE: This shows how angry people are at government and particularly at Washington. What we have to do is remind them I have never had a paycheck from Washington. Never worked and lived in the city. So don't blame me for what this mess is. Look at what I was able to do in a very partisan, the most partisan atmosphere in the entire country. Nobody had more lopsided legislature than me. And I think you want to put somebody who has actually sat at the desk in the executive office and made the real, tough life and death decisions.

BAIER: You took the pledge governor, but you would support a nominee in Donald Trump?

HUCKABEE: I would for a couple of reasons. Number one, I still think he would be better president than Hillary Clinton. I know both of them, and believe me, I would vote for Trump in a heartbeat.

Secondly, the Republican Party asked all of us to pledge our loyalty to the party. Isn't the party not going to pledge their loyalty to whichever one of us wins? If they don't, then that's absolutely unacceptable, and they should have to answer why they don't commit upfront that they will support whoever the nominee is.

BAIER: Charlie?

HURT: If you are not running for the nomination, could you see yourself with the rest of the field, would you support Donald Trump? And would you look at so many establishment Republicans who have such a hard time, you know, the acrimony that they have for him, you know, why don't, why do they not understand what so many voters right now see in Donald Trump?

HUCKABEE: And I would say one of the questions is, will Donald Trump throws his support to me if I get the nomination? Let's hope that happens, too. I've pledged I'm going to support the Republican nominee. I'm a team player, always have been. The party provides an extraordinary level of resources for us to be a part of this process. They spend millions of dollars building the party infrastructure. So we should respect that and we should support the party and its nominee. I just think that goes both ways and the party needs to support whoever our nominee is by the votes of the people.

BAIER: Governor, thank you. That is it for the Center Seat panel, but stay tuned for some political food for thought.


BAIER: Finally tonight, political issues can be complicated and hard to digest, but our Center Seat guest likes to simplify things with food metaphors.


HUCKABEE: I don't think we can just abandon the region for the simple reason that it doesn't get better with age. This isn't cheese. This isn't beef.

Republicans have a whole buffet, I mean, we are the Golden Corral of politics.

Politics is like opening a Baskin Robbins store.

If you are going to have sausage you have got to kill some pigs.

I wish I had had some meat that I could have put in that meat locker.

We better wake up and smell the falafel.

We're talking chicken and egg here.

It's like a 400-pound man saying I got to go on a diet but I am eating a sack of Krispy Kreme before I do.

President Obama got rolled like a California sushi.


BAIER: I mean, there is a lot of food metaphors there, governor.

HUCKABEE: There were when you put them all together.


HUCKABEE: It really was a funny skit.

BAIER: I didn't know you could get a sack of Krispy Kreme.

HUCKABEE: I will bring you one.


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