President Obama congratulates himself on a job well done

How did the candidates fare this week?


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 18, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is the argument that I've had repeatedly with Mr. Putin dating five years ago, at which time his suggestion, as I gather some Republicans are now suggesting, was, it's not so bad. Let him just be as brutal and repressive as he can, but at least he'll keep order. I said look, the problem is, that the history of trying to keep order when a large majority of the country has turned against you is not good. And five years later I was right.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama at his final news conference of the year, wrapping up his seventh year in office. He also talked about ISIS, saying the U.S. and its allies will destroy ISIS.

However on ISIS, our new FOX News poll shows Americans are not too confident in what the president is doing. President Obama on ISIS, there you see approve, 33 percent, disapprove 58 percent.

Meantime, The New York Times in something that was edited out of the paper, but was in its web story, "In his meeting with columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino." That raised some eyebrows, The New York Times explained taking it out of the paper version, there's nothing unusual here. That paragraph at the bottom of the story was trimmed for space in a print favored by a copy editor in New York late last night, but it was in our story on the web all day ready by many thousands of readers. Web stories without length constraints are routinely edited for print. So that's their response.

Let's start with the news conference, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Amy Walter, national for The Cook Political Report, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, on the story about the meeting with journalists and him saying that this is all hyped up, you know, he didn't see it on cable. I think I wasn't there. But I think -- of course I wasn't there.


KRAUTHAMMER: But to me he was being sarcastic. This is a way of dissing of showing condescension to the rabble. After all, this is an interview he gave January 23rd of this year. Asked do you think if the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism? Barack Obama, absolutely and I don't even blame the media for that. What's the saying? If it bleeds, it leads? You show crime stories and local newscasts, because that's what the folks watch.

This is Obama essentially saying, well, you know, the reason people are upset about this, is because it's been hyped on television and they are not as cool, intelligent, and far-seeing as I am. This is his usual professorial condescension. The fact that The Times took it out, I'm not quite sure if they saw it as straight or as sarcasm.


AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I'm going to pivot for a section to the press conference.

KRAUTHAMMER: Sorry about that.

WALTER: But it is -- I think we're kind of going to be on the same point here, which is, there was not a whole lot of news there in part because the answer on what are we going to do whether it's about terrorism or Syria. It feels like we're back in that same place, which is -- just trust us, it's working.

BAIER: Long game.

WALTER: It's a long game, it's not, yes, it would be great if air strikes alone could just do this in a minute. It's not going to happen that way. And so you sort of walked away from that saying nobody is going to go into the Christmas holidays or come into January 1st of next year thinking things are under control. I'm feeling better about the way the government is handling either terrorism or what we're doing overseas.

BAIER: There really wasn't a lot of news. We'll play something about Guantanamo Bay and the hopes that they have. But on Syria, we led with that. It was kind of interesting, Steve, to see the president pat himself on the back about Syria at the same day Chuck Hagel has come out with this interview. And former defense secretary, "President Obama had publicly warned Syrian strongman Basher al Assad that his regime would face consequences if it crossed a red line by employing chemical weapons against his own people. Assad did it anyway. Hagel, the defense secretary, had spent the day approving final plans for a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Damascus. U.S. naval destroyers were in Mediterranean awaiting the order to fire. Instead, Obama told a stunned Hagel to stand down." He also went on to say he was micromanaged by the White House.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, basically confirms what we all suspected when the president made the shocking speech after his walk around the White House with Denis McDonough.

I was struck by the president's comments on Syria because he not just once but twice patted himself on the back on Syria, saying in effect my policy there has been a success. And when you stop and think about that, you're talking about 250,000 plus people have been killed. You're talking about millions upon millions of refugees. You're talking about Iran cementing its role further in Syria as a satellite state. You're talking about Russia expanding its reach into Syria, growing its relationship with Iran, with the Syrian regime. You're talking about the chaos from Syria bleeding into Iraq after the president withdrew troops from Iraq.

And most importantly in terms of our national security interests, you're talking about the growth of ISIS, taking territory, holding towns, presenting a threat to the United States of America. This has all happening in Syria under the president's watch after he sent, remember he sent an ambassador to Syria in January of 2011 because he thought things were going to turn. And now you've got the president of the United States saying that this looks like a success, that this is good policy? If this is success, I do not want to see what failure looks like.

KRAUTHAMMER: What's amazing to me is how he looks at himself in his role. He ended that little soundbite that you had by saying Putin was wrong. I told him I was wrong. This is not going to work out well. And here we are five years later, I was right. And he sounds really satisfied with himself because he won an upper common room argument over another professor.

The fact is that whether he was right or not is irrelevant. He did nothing about it. Yes it was right. It would be a terrible thing if you let Assad go unrestrained, bomb his own people, you would end up with something horrible. He was right. But as president, you're supposed to do something. He was urged by everybody in the administration, the military, diplomats, everybody, his advisers, to go and to do something. He does nothing, and yet he seems to be satisfied that because he had the analysis right and he lectured Putin on this, it's OK. His job is to do something, not to offer analysis.

BAIER: I want to play the soundbite about President Obama talking about Guantanamo and the effort to close it.


OBAMA: My expectation is by their lead, by early next year, we should have reduced that population below 100. I'm presenting a plan to Congress about how we can close Guantanamo. I'm not going to automatically assume that Congress says no. We will wait until Congress has definitively said no to a well thought-out plan with, numbers attached to it before we say anything definitive about my executive authority here.


BAIER: Amy, the --

WALTER: I think Congress will sink. We don't even have to go through the motions about it.

BALDWIN: They're going to make the argument that it's so pricey, that their per detainee is costing so much, and we just got through this omnibus bill. I don't think that's going to be the argument.

WALTER: I think at a time when the number one issue now in the country is terrorism and the threat of terrorism, the idea of getting in a debate about closing Guantanamo Bay is not one that most members of Congress, even many in his own party are going to want to engage in. So the question is you know look, this is a president who has now signaled he wants to spend the second half of his final term doing stuff. He mentioned in his opening statements today about climate, I think we're going to see a lot more on that, obviously. This will be one of those issues. And where he can get as much done as he can doing executive orders, understanding that this Congress is not going to be with him.

KRAUTHAMMER: Where is he going to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

HAYES: He wants to accelerate the pace of Guantanamo transfers despite the fact that recidivism rate is about 30 percent right now. That means of these 17, five-plus are going to be back engaged in the fight. But it will be after he's out of office and he won't have to worry about it.

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