This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL PRESS, LIBERAL TALK SHOW HOST: On some key issues people feel, look, you know, we didn't elect another George W. Bush. We didn't elect John McCain. We elected Barack Obama, and we expected results faster.
MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER GEORGE BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Obama, though, has invited some of this criticism by raising expectations so high rhetorically in many of these areas. The promises that seemed inspirational six months ago to various liberal groups now seem rather empty.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think if you put a number of our accomplishments up against certainly what other administrations in their first year have accomplished, I think already we have done well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST: One of the groups not happy is the gay rights groups. There you see them march this weekend here in Washington. And here is some of the reaction after that. One headline reads "Obama's gay outreach, all talk, no action."
Also, a gay rights advocate who traveled to Washington for that event said, "Obama lost me. He took gay dollars and gay votes and then it was like former President Bill Clinton, unkept promises."
Liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan writes on the Atlantic site, "Much worse than I expected." Sullivan says the president failed every test by offering no specifics on key issues. This speech was highfalutin bull- expletive."
It is one issue that the president is taking heat from the left on. Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, and Jennifer Loven, chief White House Correspondent for the Associated Press, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Jennifer, we welcome you to the panel. We'll start with you. What about this pressure from the left? Let's start with the gay rights groups and how upset they are with what the president hasn't done yet.
JENNIFER LOVEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think their complaints are obviously legitimate. They were made a lot of promises during his campaign that he has not yet kept.
But you have to look at other side of it, too. It is his first year in office, not even yet all the way completed. He spent a good part of the first of the year on the economy, which I think a lot of us are forgetting that first couple of months where that was the issue and was his intense focus.
I will say, I think what you will hear behind the scenes from the White House is that some of this is just the price you have to pay, that governing requires sort of centrist moves, where you might tack a little to the right, a little to the left here and there. Somebody is always going to be unhappy.
Parts of the left will probably always going to be unhappy with what they see out of this White House, and I think the White House knows that and isn't really prepared to do a lot to completely satisfy them because they can't.
BAIER: Steve, in fact, an anonymous advisor told NBC news, "Those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely-divided country is complicated and difficult." They walked it back later.
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, after awakening the left wing blog world and infuriating them.
I think to a certain extent is what you see is the president not taking aggressive steps on matters most to social liberals, social issues. But I think it is a hard argument for the White House to make that they haven't been hard enough. It is a hard argument for the left to make.
If you go down and look at what he's done, the major decisions, whether it is the stimulus package, whether it's never really backing away from the public option, whether it's the Iraq timetable, the Iraq drawdown, what have you, he consistently has come down on the side of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
And when he gives his speeches, I mean, we have talked about it quite a bit here, he gives his speeches that makes him sound like an ivy league sociologist, language that I think would please the left.
There are a couple of exceptions — the original 21,000 troops to Afghanistan and his decision against releasing the troop photos, are the only things that I could come up with really in the first nine months that weren't directed or at least would have the result of pleasing the left.
BAIER: Although prosecutions of Gitmo detainees and not being able to close Gitmo on time, and extradition of terrorist suspects to other countries — I mean, those are things that are continuing.
Charles, is this bubbling up now for the left?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, for understandable reasons. You're right in your list. There is rendition, which he has kept. He has kept detention without trial.
And it is what he hasn't done. He hasn't enacted the agenda of the left — for example, the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, which he could do by executive order, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, as an example.
And I think what is happening is that the left, which had looked at him as kind of a messianic redeemer, has decided that he a calculating politician. It is not as if he is more of a centrist than we would imagine. He's not. He is a man of the left. He would like to enact all this, but he can't.
The reason is that he is in the middle of the struggle of his life over health care reform. If he loses on this, he loses all authority and he loses a future of his presidency. And to pass that, he needs the center. He has the left. The left has nowhere to go. They are never going to have a president more to the left than Obama, and they know it.
So if you have to choose between the constituency that you have in your pocket and one that you could lose, namely, the blue dog Democrats, if you start a fight on the Defense of Marriage Act or if you start a fight in the middle of a war on don't ask and don't tell, or if you start a fight on health care where you insist on the public option knowing that you might lose the whole Senate on that, well, it's obvious which way he is going to go, and that's the way he has gone.
BAIER: Jennifer, when the White House sees the "Saturday Night Live" skits start, and they get a lot of traction, and the one where he does a checklist of all the things the left should be upset about, and it hits — it strikes a chord, does it worry them inside the White House about when this happens on "Saturday Night Live"?
LOVEN: I'm not sure it actually does, actually, and I think there is a practical caulk calculation at work here. Success begets success.
And they have put all their chips on health care, and decided if they can get health care, which they believe they can in some form, we'll see how that works out, that then that lays the groundwork for a lot things, like, for instance, don't ask, don't tell or climate change or even immigration, that they can move on and do some of the things that are very important to the left if they get one big victory, and that's health care. And they're putting all their clips in that basket right now.
BAIER: We even though the left step up and the Nobel Peace prize, and the reaction initially was pretty strong, even more so from the left than the right.
LOVEN: Remember, too, that we're in a process right now. As Charles said, there are lots of things pending that they want, and part of being this outspoken is to pressure the process.
KRAUTHAMMER: It's analogous to what the Bush administration did in its early days where it went along with a lot of liberal stuff on education, inflating the budget, no vetoes, passing all kinds of expensive programs and entitlements because the Bush administration wanted all the support it could get on the war and the war-related issues on which it succeed in getting support.
But it forfeited its ability to act — freedom of action on the social issues and ideological issues and, that's happening with Obama. Health care is his equivalent of the Bush administration's need for support on the wars. If he gets to, he'll be strong again, and perhaps he will enact a left wing agenda on social issues.
BAIER: And Steve, quickly, does this have an effect perhaps on 2010 if he really upsets the liberal base in that election?
HAYES: Absolutely it does, and that's exactly what I was going to say in response to Jennifer's comment that success begets success. In this case you have to be careful of your success, because if you have success, it could lead to rather dramatic failures in the election.
BAIER: The president talks about Afghanistan again with his national security team, and how much influence does Vice President Biden have on this eventual decision? We'll discuss it after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIBBS: We have gone through different aspects of the assessment, laid some of the resource requests over the basis for some of those assessments along with updates on the political and security situation in both countries.
GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This will be central to the new benchmarks and timelines we and General McChrystal will set out as part of the new framework for the transition to Afghan authority, Afghan forces taking responsibility for security for the Afghan people and doing so area by area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: As the president met with his national security team for the fifth time about the strategy in Afghanistan. You heard Great Britain announcing it's adding 500 troops to the 9,000 already in Afghanistan, that announcement coming today.
And the real question is when will we get this decision and what will it be.
Another question is how much influence is vice president Biden having in this discussion? Newsweek cover is out billing Joe Biden as "Why Joe is no Joke," a lot of articles saying he is no joke behind the scenes — Steve Hayes?
HAYES: I think it is interesting that there is so much about Joe Biden out there right now and that the White House is apparently happy with this or they would probably be doing more to rein that in.
But I think the thing we learned today or at least got some insight into came in a New York Times front page article about Biden about his role in this debate.
And there is a quote from Bruce Riedel, who led the administration's Afghanistan review back in the winter, and what he said was "I think a big part of it is the vice president's reading of the Democratic Party is this is not sustainable, cannot sustain it with political support at home."
Now, I'm not naive enough to know that these things often take place in the context of political decisions, but I thought that was a rather striking comment about the extent to which politics may be playing a role in this discussion while we've got troops in the field. I thought it was a rather remarkable comment.
BAIER: Jennifer, there was a report that he has already decided on 40,000 troops and the White House shot that down. We're getting close, though, right, to this decision?
LOVEN: I think we're a couple weeks away. I think we're looking at probably the beginning-ish of November. The president leaves on a long trip to Asia on November 11. I would be shocked if he left on that trip without having announced — made an announcement to this decision.
BAIER: And is there a sense in the White House press corps which way it is going or how this White House is looking at this?
LOVEN: I think you have seen some groundwork being laid, and I think you're right that some of this emphasis on Biden and his role and his prominence could very well be laying the groundwork for a smaller infusion of troops.
I think we're going to, you know, it is a sign that we will probably see some, but maybe not in the big numbers that have been talked about, the 40,000 or more cut of numbers.
But I don't think anybody knows. And I think it's true and accurate that the president has not yet actually settled on his decision on his approach. By all accounts, these meetings are still pretty vigorous debates, and not just about theories, but about where they might go and what that might mean.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think it's hard to believe this sudden media inflation of the wisdom of Joe Biden is accidental. It's clear that there is a debate inside the White House.
You got McChrystal, a man of incredible authority and stature, who says you got to go this way with a heavy troop involvement, and you've got Petraeus, the man who saved Iraq, saying the same, saying otherwise we're going to lose.
And the administration obviously is resisting, and it has to have a champion of the other side, and it's the hapless vice president. So some way you have to inflate his status and to make it at least somebody that will be a credible alternative.
I'm not sure that the Biden plan is a plan. It's an idea, and the administration obviously in its leaks is tending towards the Biden idea. But it needs to have some stature on that side, and that's why I'm little bit skeptical about the discovery of the vast storage of military wisdom in a guy, if you remember, opposed the Gulf War and opposed the surge and supported the Iraq war, which he now says was one of the great mistakes of American history — 0 for three.
BAIER: He also called for the partition of Iraq into three sections.
KRAUTHAMMER: He's 0 for four.
BAIER: Is it overblown, Jennifer, his influence?
LOVEN: I think it may be. I mean, to me, the most fascinating people to watch are the people who have been the most cagey about where they are, and that's the Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
They have shown very little leg about where they're leaning and tending, and even those closest to them say they haven't shown it in the meetings or to their own staff.
And I think those two voices have incredible sway with the president, particularly Bob Gates, and you know, to me, that's the fascinating sort of metrics to look at.
BAIER: That's it for the panel.
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