'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Changing Rhetoric About Health Care Reform

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When the previous administration passed the prescription drug bill, that was something that a lot of seniors needed, right? They needed prescription drug help. The price tag on that was hundreds of billions of dollars. You know how we paid for it? We didn't. It just got added on to the deficit and the debt.


WALLACE: President Obama at a town hall in Montana today defending his man for health care reform by once again criticizing his predecessor.

Let's bring in the panel, Byron York of the "Washington Examiner," and A.B Stoddard of "The Hill" newspaper, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

So, Byron, the president is out selling at town halls, the one in Montana today, one in Colorado tomorrow. Can he use these town halls to reverse the political dynamic which seems to be trending against him on health care reform now?

BYRON YORK, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": This was a continuation of his effort to try to make this shift from health care reform to health insurance reform.

If you listen to him today, he spent all his time talking about, you know, if you've got a preexisting condition, you have got to be able to get insurance. People are worried about losing their health coverage when they lose their job.

He is pushing in much more modest set of goals, rhetorically. And if this was all that Congress was trying to do, preexisting conditions and portability of insurance, they could have done that last week. So he is not addressing still the question of why is this bill a thousand pages long and there is all this stuff in it.


A.B. STODDARD, "THE HILL": I think actually, this, if they are successful, he has another one on skyrocketing prices, I guess on Saturday. Then he is going on vacation.

I think the time is now to take this modified, ratcheted down, simplified, streamlined message, and try to push back, not only at the rumors about what is not in the bill, but to try to be realistic about the fact that they probably don't have the votes for the public option and that they really are looking at a much more simpler bill. And Byron is right. They pivoted to a message of insurance reform targeting the insured, who are now unsure about this reform package. They should have done it a long time ago.

WALLACE: Charles, I want to pick up on that. Some senators like Charles Grassley say, hey, look, we dropped the whole idea of end-of-life consultations a long time ago.

Should the president, and I know this is A.B.'s idea now, say, you know what, we're going to strip down some of the things that are causing such offense. We're going to take out the public option, maybe go to the co-ops, we're going take out the end-of-life consultations, make the deal now, or is it too soon for him to play down to what his bottom behind is?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, in a sense, it's too late, because all of this stuff is already out there. He can protest and pretend that all it's about is health insurance reform, and the pivot started at the press conference he gave on July 22, I think, where he mentioned health insurance reform five times.

It was new. It hadn't been used. And that was a signal that they were going to go to plan b.

The problem is that the bill is out there. The discussion out there, all people have heard about, and that Obama has to defend when it comes up is all this extraneous stuff, extraneous, at least, from the Obama perspective about the public option and about the death panel.

WALLACE: But that's not extraneous. That was one of his main goals.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's what I mean. It is extraneous from the context of what Obama wants. He wants it now to fall back. But I'm saying it is too late because all of that other stuff is out there. It's in the bills.

WALLACE: Well, he also wants, Byron, even though he doesn't talk about it much, is he wants to get 40-plus million Americans health insurance. There is almost no discussion of that. You could do that, could you not, without a public health option?

YORK: Absolutely. That's the mistake he made at the very beginning of all this, deciding early in his presidency to frame this as an issue of cost. We've got to bend the cost curve and somehow insure these millions of currently uninsured people and save money in the process, which today he admitted you can't do. It's very, very expensive.

WALLACE: I want to turn to the subject of the e-mail controversy that Major has had such an interesting response or non-response from the White House on, A.B., and that is the e-mail controversy, people who say I just got an e-mail from David Axelrod. I have no interest in it. I never went to a White House Web site and asked for it. I don't want it.

What do you make of that?

STODDARD: Of course, what they decided to do is use the technology to obtain this contact information from people who might have clicked on a site here and there, but, indeed, have never written to the White House to join either their list or the Democratic National Committee's list, or organizing for America, or any of these Obama arm organization lists.

It is exactly — he is playing exactly into the hands of people who think that he is Hitler and he is coming to police all of our lives, and he's going to kill off old people to cut costs in health care reform and burn up the constitution.

It is also, unfortunately, going to upset people who, you know, moderate swing voters, who he needs for political support and momentum in the future, who needs to survive the midterms, who he needs to get reelected in '12. It is a mistake and I imagine they have to pull back on this.

WALLACE: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I don't believe in conspiracy theories anywhere. I don't think Obama has a plan to target everybody and to makes lists. I think this is a result of some events.

What he needs to do is to explain how this happened. I don't believe it is a nefarious plot. It could be that they had information received in some way that got automatically fed into a mailing and e-mail mailing. If they explain it, I think it will dissipate.

If they explain nothing, this conspiracy-mongering will only increase.

WALLACE: All right, we have to step aside for a moment, but up next, you're not going to want to miss it — the Friday lightning round, scandal and more scandal.



VICK: In the past, I made mistakes. I have done some terrible things and made a horrible mistake. And now I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.


WALLACE: That was football player Michael Vick today expressing remorse for his involvement in dogfighting and gratitude at being allowed back into the NFL.

And we're back with our panel for a scandalous Friday lightning round.

All right, first up, Byron, Mike Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles to play in the NFL. And of course he spent the last 18 months in prison because of his involvement in dogfighting and terrible torture and murder of dogs.

Does he deserve to be back in pro football? Would you want him on your team?

YORK: He served his time. He paid his debt. He gets a second chance. But that doesn't mean you get to go back to your original job and do what you want.

People don't know whether he's going to be great for Philadelphia football, but they love their dogs. There was an incredibly visceral reaction when the Vick case first came about. That is still there. You saw it in the report you aired tonight.

WALLACE: So you're saying he shouldn't be back in pro football?

YORK: He will divide every city they travel to. There will be people that don't want to see Michael Vick every NFL city they go to.


STODDARD: I agree with Byron. I think it's going to become a spectacle everywhere he goes.

I do think that you are, once you serve your sentence and you pay your price to society, allowed to move on with your life, perhaps working at and an animal shelter.

But I am not a huge sports fan. I don't know why they're paid so much. I don't know why he is returning — I am a huge dog lover — to a job where he will be an example for young people and he's going to earn a nice salary right back where he started from in his former career.

WALLACE: So is that another no?

STODDARD: I'm voting no.

WALLACE: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, he used the word "mistake." It wasn't a mistake. It was a crime. These are acts of unspeakable cruelty.

However, in America, when you commit a crime and you pay the price and it's done, you have a new life, and you should not be prohibited from practicing your craft. So I vote yes.

WALLACE: And would you want him on your team?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely not.


WALLACE: Issue two, the North Carolina TV station there, WRAL reports that former Senator John Edwards will admit that, yes, in fact, he is the father of that 18-month-old daughter with his former mistress Rielle Hunter after long denying it.

He is under federal investigation for allegedly or possibly using campaign money to try to keep Hunter quiet about the affair, let alone the allegedly illegitimate daughter.

Byron, can this story get any worse?

YORK: Probably so. We now know that everything he said in his tell-all, come-clean interview with ABC, he was lying all the time at that point.

So when he said that the child couldn't be his because of the timing involved and that he was not having this affair while his wife Elizabeth was suffering from cancer, all of that was a complete lie.

So me feeling is John Edwards has always got a comeback in his mind. But if this doesn't put an end to it, I don't know what could.


STODDARD: He is at rock bottom. I agree with Byron. He got on that ABC interview last summer and just lied. His extension of his denials has put his family through further pain and suffering.

He has an enormous ego. It is absolutely frightening that he tried to talk a staffer into taking the fall for him, thinking that the staffer would so look up to him that he would be willing to do this for him.

I don't think he has any future whatsoever in politics, and I hope we never hear from him again.

WALLACE: Charles, the former mistress played an interesting card when she appeared before the grand jury. She brought the little girl with her and paraded her before all the cameras.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, his behavior is unbelievably execrable. It can't get lower. I think we all of us agree on that.

I think the real story is that the mainstream press, dealing with a vice presidential candidate who is a liberal and Democrat, had no interest, didn't investigate, no story at all. This man almost became the president.

On the other hand, when the Republicans had a vice president candidate, Sarah Palin, who has lived an honorable personal life, having a Down syndrome child, she has been excoriated, attacked, and smeared all through. It's a remarkable demonstration.

WALLACE: All right, real quickly, and this is going to be a lightning lightening round. We have less than a minute left.

Rick Pitino of the Louisville college basketball team turns out and he admits he had sex with a woman, paid $3,000 either for health insurance and an abortion.

The University of Louisville has a morals clause, but the president says Rick is our guy.

YORK: This is the most sordid, perhaps, of all of the stories. How you could keep your jobs at a university that has a morals clause doing that is beyond imagination.

STODDARD: I just think it's the lowest, and I am stunned that he remained employed.

KRAUTHAMMER: This is the men are monsters segment. So I will vote and say that the stories he tells and she tells are so contradictory that as a juror, I have no idea who is right. It is a hung jury in my mind.

WALLACE: But the other two are hanging juries.

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