This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 19, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're focusing on how to get bipartisan support and how to get members of both parties who want to work on comprehensive health care reform. That's what we're focused on.
ERIC CANTOR, (R-VA) HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: They have, from the very beginning, tried to go it alone on this, much to the disappointment of we Republicans in the House, and certainly the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Over the weekend, the administration looked like it was setting to negotiate away the public option, government-run health insurance. Now it could be set to go it alone, at least that's what "The New York Times" said on the front page today, "Democrats seem set to go alone on a health care bill, site resistance of the GOP."
Also we heard from the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's spokesman saying, "We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation," this is the process of the vote, "until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill.
However, patience is not unlimited. We are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary."
So what about all of this? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the "Weekly Standard," A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of "The Hill," and Byron York, chief political correspondent of the "Washington Examiner."
Go it alone, Byron?
BYRON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Eric Cantor is right. In the House, Democrats have been going it alone since the very beginning. Remember the fight they had in the energy and commerce committee. It was between the liberal Democrats and the blue dog Democrats?
The reason they were having that fight was because they made the decision at the very beginning that they weren't going to get any Republican votes at all. They drafted the bill by themselves and they have been pushing it by themselves.
So as far as the House is concerned, the Democrats have always been going it alone.
As far as the Senate is concerned, they have been having negotiations with three, count them, three Republicans, and that's been the bipartisanship here. I mean, there hasn't been a whole lot.
BAIER: So held an event with NASCAR, the winner of the NASCAR race, the president did, and he was walking out, according to our reporters there, and he was asked about bipartisan health care reform bill. He said "I am absolutely confident we are going to get a bill, and I hope it's bipartisan."
Are we getting mixed messages here, A.B.?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": Well, they walked back the public option news from the weekend and they're walking back the news that they are going to go it alone.
They will continue. They have lost control of the message weeks ago, and now they're just bumbling it even more.
But they should — the message should be that they are still trying to work with Republicans. The message should be that they're not going to go it alone, that until the final hours that they should be seeking bipartisan support and bipartisan compromise and continue to work with the gang of six in the Senate, with Senators Grassley and Enzi and others to try to come up with something to get some Republican votes.
It is — not only is it technically almost impossible to use the reconciliation procedure to come up with a purely partisan bill, and it's too complicated to describe right here, right now, but you could literally end up with a bill that only spends or cuts. I mean, you can't end up with a bill that changes insurance policy, OK.
So that's a really complicated road. But also, it's a political disaster for them to leave out the other party and try to ram something through the Senate, using a procedure, by the way, that was designed to just keep the deficit under control.
BAIER: And you're talking about reconciliation.
STODDARD: The reconciliation procedure.
BAIER: Where the vote would be, just quickly, they would only need 51 votes instead of the 60 normally required. Reconciliation is what it is called now. It used to be called the nuclear option, didn't it?
STODDARD: Yes, yes. It was invented long ago by Senator Byrd, and it was to protect the deficit. And he has said adamantly he is against his party using this to ram a spending bill and a policy bill through the Senate.
It would be nuclear if they left the other party out and tied to pull this through with 51 Democrats.
BAIER: You mentioned the gang of six, group of six. Mike Enzi, Republican from Wyoming, came out after all this talk today and said this - - "If the Democrats choose to go it alone, their health care plan will fail because the American people will have no confidence in it."
For Republicans sitting at that table, Steve, do you think that they are feeling pushed away from the table?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think they should. The White House and even the president today, as you pointed out, is sending mixed messages about what they are doing.
The problem that the White House faces is a pretty simple one. They're trying to sell a plan that most Americans don't want. They're trying to appease the left wing of their party and please the left wing of their party at the same time that they're trying to make a broad appeal to most Americans by calling it health insurance reform and other things like that. It's hard to square the circle.
What's been interesting to watch in the past week is a White House without a message, total chaos on messaging. They have switched messages on the public option, as A.B. mentioned, on bipartisanship, on what have you. You can go back, and I think you're reaching a point at which the White House is beginning to make Brett Favre look decisive. They have switched messages about 50 times that. And that doesn't work when you're trying to sell a plan.
YORK: But pushing all of this is pressure from the left, because you have the Democratic base saying we have 256 Democrats in the House, we have 60 Democrats in the Senate, a filibuster proof majority, and we have a liberal Democratic president, and we can't pass this stuff?
That is the anger that is pushing the White House and making them go in every which way in the last few days.
HAYES: But it is such an ignorant thing to say.
YORK: People don't understand the details of reconciliation. These are big majorities
SHAHEEN: For the left to make these arguments — I mean, the primary fight here, as we've talked about before here on the panel, is between Democrats, is among Democrats. It's not really among Republicans.
And when you talk about abandoning bipartisanship, remember, it was Jim Cooper who said, what, about a month ago, that he had been told directly, he a Democrat, a blue dog Democrat, don't work with Republicans on this.
So that message had already come down at least on the House side of things. So bipartisanship has long been gone.
BAIER: A.B., "The Politico" writes that President Obama now realizes he will have to pass health care with Democratic votes alone and quote a senior official saying "We were forced into this by Republicans."
Isn't that disingenuous, just as Steve points out?
STODDARD: I would make the point that the Republicans should not confuse leading the opposition with leadership on this issue.
I do think that there will be reasons for them ultimately to vote against a final bill. But I think they should at least pretend to come to the table at this late date.
I'm serious about this. It's not that they shouldn't oppose the stimulus package and everything else they have opposed, but on this issue when they know Medicare needs cutting, when then know our system can't sustained, they should look like they are negotiating with Democrats as best they can.
BAIER: But as far as the White House being forced into it by Republicans.
STODDARD: But I was going to finish up that the White House cannot blame the Republican Party for where they are.
And for the White House to admit in "The Washington Post" today that not only that the Democratic Party and the Obama White House couldn't read the public, which is the true test of leadership, walked into a buzz saw on the town halls, but then they couldn't read their own party, they didn't know the public revolt on the public option was coming from the left, is stunning.
BAIER: Plenty of medical care has been needed in Iraq and Afghanistan today as violence continues to escalate in both countries. The panel weighs in next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER HILL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: These bombings as other bombing have been are truly dastardly acts that need to be thoroughly condemned by everybody. I think these particular bombings in targeting the foreign ministry and the finance ministry really targeted the entire international community.
ADRIAN EDWARDS, UNITED NATIONS SPOKESMAN: This is probably one of the most complex elections that's being attempted anywhere in 2009. You have problems of insecurity in Afghanistan. You have very difficult access to the country. You have very weak institutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Well, violence in two countries where U.S. troops are still in force on the ground in the hundreds of thousands in the two countries together — 95 dead, 400 wounded in Iraq today from the series of bombings there, and Afghanistan getting ready I did for elections tomorrow.
We're back with the panel. Steve, first let's go down on the line on Iraq and what's happening there with today, really the worst violence in more than a year.
HAYES: Yes. I think this is partially a result of the fact that he we pulled back some of the blast barriers, the posture of the Iraq army and the Iraqi security forces, especially inside Baghdad, has been lower profile. And insurgents pay attention to these things.
And I think anytime you have attacks of this magnitude, killing as many people as you have, it's something to be concerned about. But I'm much more concerned about the broader geopolitical problems in Iraq. You have the Kurds in the north still, I think, concerned about where exactly they fit in in a broader Iraq. You have a series of problems, I think local problems right now, that have the potential, I think, to grow into real significant problems down the road.
STODDARD: Well, this violence, I think, was really expected after the initial withdrawal in June, and it is much worse, the worst event in a year, the worst event of the year.
Any increase in violence is going to be a setback, not only for us in Iraq but for us in Afghanistan, if it causes the administration to reconsider their timeline for a complete withdrawal in 2011 and how we're moving troops around.
And I think there is a broader point on the public's mood souring. There is an ABC News/"Washington Post" poll out this afternoon that a majority now thinks the Afghan war is unwinnable. The public is souring on staying in Iraq.
And I think there will be political pressures from Obama's own party, progressives, who want to get out now, don't care what is happening on the ground, and spend that money elsewhere.
BAIER: And let's turn to Afghanistan, the vote coming up tomorrow, obviously a big presidential vote. But there are some parts of the country where the violence is still increasing.
YORK: Just like in Iraq in times past, the idea is to have so many threats of violence that you can just shut down the elections and declare it essentially illegitimate and go on from there.
And to what A.B. said about the anti-war activities, the interesting thing about Obama's position now both with Afghanistan where he is escalating 68,000 troops by the end of the year, and in Iraq, where we still have 130,000, is he is not facing this domestic pressure so far.
The so call net roots activists held a convention last week in Pittsburgh. Stanley Greenburg, the Democratic pollster did a poll saying what are your top concerns? Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan was at the bottom of the list, way beneath health care and the environment and all these other issues.
So far the president has not faced that domestic pressure.
BAIER: I said at the beginning hundreds of thousands. It's roughly 200,000 total between the two countries.
A.B., you mentioned this "Washington Post"/ABC poll. Is the Afghanistan war worth fighting? No, 51 percent, yes, 47 percent. This is supposedly the good war, Steve. Is this a problem for the president?
HAYES: It's a problem for the president. It's a problem for the country.
I mean, we need to win the war in Afghanistan. Winning the war in Afghanistan is going to take I think decisive and courageous political leadership. It's going to be hard for him to do that given the resistance I expect that he will get in his own party from net roots and from others.
And I do think he is getting some in Congress. Essentially you have the out of Iraq caucus is working is slowly morphing into the out of Afghanistan caucus in Congress. And that's a big problem for him.
But I think when you look at 24 percent approval, you're talking about a situation where the president will have to be bold and make decisions about escalating. He is going to have to mean it. He has said the right things thus far, but he is going to have to do the right things.
BAIER: Very soon.
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