SPECIAL REPORT

Conservatives talk policy going forward at CPAC

The 'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in

 

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 23, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We've known it since August
15th. And I think if you look at the opposition party and how they have
portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they are
portraying the administration, it's always wrong.

If you remember, the campaign was the most chaotic, by the media's
description, most chaotic, most disorganized, most unprofessional, had no
earthly idea what they were doing. And then you saw them all crying and
weeping that night.

They are corporatist globalist media. They are adamantly opposed,
adamantly opposed --

(APPLAUSE)

BANNON: -- to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has.

Hold us accountable. Hold us accountable to what we promise. Hold us
accountable for delivering on what we promised.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Steve Bannon, chief strategist for President Trump, senior advisor
to the president. A lot of people have never heard his voice before. It
does not sound like Darth Vader. It sounds like the chief strategist for
the White House talking today at CPAC, the conservative meeting happening
right now. Again, waiting for Vice President Pence to speak.

Let's bring in the panel: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The
Federalist; Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and
syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Mollie, your thoughts on Bannon,
his message, and the delivery at CPAC, which is a different meeting this
year.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: What a really great discussion between
Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. We've had so many things coming out of
the White House anonymously sourced and you don't know who to trust or
whatnot, and they had a really great discussion.

I thought it was interesting how he said that they would like the support
of conservatives there. They also need them to hold the administration so
that the pressure they are getting inside D.C. is to moderate the agenda
that brought them to the White House. And he was asking the gathered
crowds to make sure that they do what they promised to do during the
campaign.

BAIER: Susan, clearly the fight against the media that he refers to as the
opposition party is going to continue. And they think that that is a
winning strategy.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: He doesn't seem to like the mainstream media I'm
picking up from these sounds, and he's certainly not backing off from a
fight. So he said it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse.
I guess I think that's right. If this kind of rhetoric persists in this
attitude towards the press as the opposition party.

The whole CPAC thing is interesting, I think, because I remember when
Reagan was elected president, he went to CPAC. That was the first CPAC I
covered. I was then working for "News Day." And Reagan's embrace of CPAC
signaled the conservative takeover of the Republican Party.

I think what we saw today was Trump's stamp on the movement because I
didn't see any protests there against Trump even though Trump is not a
traditional conservative. I think there are some adjustments going on both
sides, and that is a very significant political force. The conservative
movement and the Republican Party are in sync.

BAIER: That's a great point, Charles. Last year, candidate Trump did not
show up to the event. He did not win the straw poll. Ted Cruz won the
straw poll. And today his adviser and aide Kellyanne Conway said it's no
longer CPAC. It is "TPAC," Trump PAC.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There's no tonic like winning.
He came in third last year. And he was booed the year before when he
talked about putting boots on the ground in the Middle East.

No, I think Susan is right. This is a coming together of the conservative
movement or at least part of it. This is mostly the younger, more edgy
part, the one that would've been more receptive to a Milo presentation.
And I think it marks an important moment.

And what was interesting was Bannon. He came in. He had no horns. He
sounded rather amiable. But, on the other hand, he was absolutely
unswerving, and he sort of gave intellectual have to Trumpism. He was very
specific about the goals, foreign policy, domestic economic policy, and
what he called the undoing of the administrative state. The first volley
in that war was the abolition of the bathroom bill, or at least the
directive coming from HHS, essentially the federal government has no
business here, and in all the cabinet opponents. So I think it was a plus
for them, and it presented a picture that for many conservatives, not all,
some have trouble about the trade issue and the protectionism issue, but
for many conservatives it was a kind of homecoming.

BAIER: Mollie, the words "economic nationalist agenda" he said numerous
times, "economic nationalist agenda," and also said that they are going to
fight every day and it's going to be a fight every day to kind of break the
china, the bull in the china shop.

HEMINGWAY: The term economic nationalist agenda he used in part to talk
about how different parts of the conservative movement can come together
under Trump. And he was saying whether you are a social conservative, a
libertarian, one of these economic nationalists, there is a belief that
this is a nation and it has a culture and an economy and that these things
are important.

I was still concerned though Kellyanne Conway said it's going to be TPAC
instead of CPAC. And it was just kind of a funny joke about it being a
Trump event instead of a conservative event. And it is wonderful to see if
you're a conservative activist Trump reaching out to the grassroots. Mike
Pence went to the pro-life march. That's unprecedented for any Republican
administration.

At the same time, there should be some separation between the conservative
movement and the administration. They need to hold them accountable. You
saw how President Obama completely took over his party, and it was very
difficult to criticize President Obama from within the Democratic Party.
Worked well for him but at the end of eight years, there was kind of a
shell of a party. He had lost over 1,000 seats at the federal, state, and
local level. And without Obama, there's not much there.

So the conservative movement needs to understand where its interests align
with Trump and where they don't align, and they need to keep holding him
accountable to push their agenda.

BAIER: No speaker today, Susan. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary,
talking out there is not a free lunch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDUCATION SECRETARY BETSY DEVOS: I am Betsy DeVos. You may have heard
some of the wonderful things they mainstream media has called me lately.
I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life
partner of 38 years tomorrow.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVOS: And perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face
that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Obviously Susan, speaking to the choir here about school choice,
and she is hitting a lot of those tones. But when you look at the reaction
to Betsy DeVos and you see what she said today, there is a disconnect.

PAGE: One of the interesting things is who would have thought the
education secretary would become the center of so much controversy given
the fact that it's a secondary agency, especially when you're talking about
the federal role in education? And yet she was the cabinet official that
needed Mike Pence's vote to get confirmation. And she's become a real
rallying cry at the town hall meetings by Democrats challenging Republicans
who voted for her confirmation.

And on issues like school choice, on issues like the transgender rule,
which I agree, that's a moment that signals we are going to see this over
and over again I think on other rules that were promulgated by the Obama
administration that were important to liberals and got the opposition of
conservatives are going to be turned over.

KRAUTHAMMER: She came out there like the new Sarah Palin with good syntax.
She's sort of like what Jeane Kirkpatrick became in the 1980s, an unlikely
target. And because she was a target and she prevailed, again, there is no
tonic like winning, she is a kind of a heroine.

I do think at least if you can believe the reporting of the opposition,
mainstream media, she was against reversing the Obama rule on the
bathrooms. But nonetheless she lost the internal struggle to Jeff
Sessions. But I do think that is a signal that they're going to take a
wrecking ball to the idea that this country should be governed by unelected
bureaucrats interpreting laws that were written 30 years ago that could not
possibly have had these current issues in mind. And I hope they will apply
that to climate change when that was not an issue at the time that the EPA
was created and should be cut out -- the carbon issue should be cut out of
the EPA regulations.

BAIER: So there was a lot of applause obviously at CPAC today for a lot of
the presidents' policies, but it was not a day without controversy. There
was a little bit of a cleanup in talking about the operation along the
border. Here's the president and his homeland security secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You see what's happening
at the border. All of a sudden for the first tie we are getting gang
members out. We're getting drug lords out. We are getting really bad
dudes out of the country, and at a rate that nobody has ever seen before.
And they are the bad ones. And it's a military operation.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: There will be no, repeat, no mass
deportations. Everything we do at DHS will be done legally and according
to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States. And I
repeat, there will be no use of military forces in immigration.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BAIER: Mollie we have seen this a couple times where the president says
something kind of off the cuff, and then there's a clarification. The
White House was saying he was just talking about the type of operation it
is, not the forces actually used. But the homeland security secretary
making it clear there's no military involved in this operation.

HEMINGWAY: This will be the ultimate challenge in how to cover Donald
Trump. It's not totally new. We've known for decades that he's very
imprecise with his language. We have never had a president who was so
imprecise with his language.

At the same time he communicates the larger issues. I think that resonates
with a lot of people. And it's incumbent upon those of us who do cover him
to notice what are the actual actions taking place as opposed to some of
the overheated rhetoric even though that overheated rhetoric is also quite
useful as a bully pulpit to move public opinion on immigration, the media,
and other issues.

TRUMP: I think it's obvious that he meant military style. So you add that
in brackets and everything is fixed.

PAGE: I don't know. If you are a Trump supporter, I think you think it
doesn't matter. This is the plain spoken guy that we elected. But I think
if you're not a Trump supporter, it is one more barrier to coming around to
his side. I think it's one of the reasons he's had trouble expanding his
base of support since Election Day.

KRAUTHAMMER: I've never been known as a super-fan of Trump. I give him a
pass on this.

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