'Special Report' Panel on President's Call to Hear GOP Suggestions for Health Care Reform

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 8, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward.

KATIE COURIC: So you are inviting Republicans here to the White House. Does that mean, Mr. President, you are willing to start at square one?

OBAMA: Well, I think that what I want to do is look at the Republican ideas that are out there.


BAIER: The president over the weekend in an interview with CBS saying he wants to restart the talks about health care reform legislation with Republicans at the table. Republicans are saying, sure, we are happy to come, but just scrap the bill that's currently there.

What is the next step with health care reform legislation? Let's bring in our panel, Brill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, let's start with you. What about this request and where does it go?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Obviously when the president invites you to the White House you go. They should politely go and tell him he should kill this terrible bill that the House and Senate — or two bills the House and Senate Democrats have put together and start over.

And they have got plenty of proposals. They have a nice one-page version of the bill that is published in our magazine, a lot of the best Republican ideas that would incrementally improve the health care system.

And Republicans should hold their ground and they shouldn't be apologetic, they shouldn't snipe at the president. This letter they sent today I think is silly: Is it really going to be bipartisan and transparent? You weren't bipartisan in the past when you said you were going to be bipartisan.

Forget all that. Just say we welcome a substantive debate. We have been engaged in substantive debate in health care, we Republicans, for a year, and we are perfectly happy to continue that debate. And Mr. President if you want to come to the position of small incremental, sensible reforms in the health care system, more than happy to work with you.

BAIER: Mara, let's talk about the motivation of the president and this White House on this issue. Take a listen to the health and human services secretary today speaking about what the president still wants out of health care reform legislation.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The president remains committed to the notion that we have to have a comprehensive approach, because the pieces of the puzzle are too closely tied to one another. It's disingenuous to say we are for the insurance reforms and yet don't support a notion that everyone would have to come into the marketplace.


BAIER: Mara, this sounds like a stalemate in the making.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think it's sounds like a stalemate. I think this is real Kabuki theater. This is a political spectacle.

I think the White House would like to show the country that the Republican ideas either don't add up, or I think the problem is they don't even have the same goals. The Democrats want to cover everyone. The Republicans don't. The Republicans, I think, would be OK with some insurance reforms.

And I think in the end nothing will come of this, but, from the White House point of view they could show that they tried. They are trying to be bipartisan. They could even — I think this would be a smart thing — say, hey, we will take medical malpractice reform, we'll take buying coverage over state lines, in others works, take a couple Republican ideas, just take them.

But the problem is the Republicans, I think, have an easy task at this meeting. All they have to do is say your bill is unpopular. The people don't like it. We want to start over. And the president will say, well you don't even want to cover everyone. And...

BAIER: Is this dangerous politics after saying that he heard Massachusetts and Democrats heard Massachusetts. Is it dangerous politics to say oh, let's go back to health care reform?

LIASSON: It depends on what you heard from Massachusetts. Did you hear from Massachusetts that the entire country wants to you scrap health care reform? The Democrats do not think they heard that.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: If they didn't, they need hearing aids.

This, you're right, is entirely political theater. The president saw his first year agenda go down in flames. Energy, cap and trade, died in the Congress, and health care died in public opinion as seen in Massachusetts.

So what he did now and what he's doing now I think is smart, politically. He returns — the president returns to what he does best: campaign, perform. And he did really well in Baltimore where he was up against 160 Republican congressmen, you know, and he held his own. He did really well.

And I think if he can do that again on health care, what he can do is recast the issue as one in which he has got ideas, he tried to get health reform, and the Republicans are obstructionists. If he does that, he doesn't expect he's going to get compromise. He doesn't expect he is going to get the Republicans on board.

And if he accepts tort reform he is going to lose liberals in the House. He is going to lose the trial lawyers. It's not going to happen. This is not going to eventuate in a bill. The only purpose here is to put the Republicans on the defensive and to make it into a campaign issue for the upcoming election.

BAIER: For all of the talk about Republicans, the president's real problem with passing health care legislation was on the Democratic side of the issue.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's the point. For six months he had a huge majority in the House and the supermajority in the Senate. It was all in his hands. And the reason it took six months is because Democrats couldn't agree.

And at the end, it went — at the end there was a referendum in Massachusetts where the Republican opponent said you elect me, I will kill the bill. He wins, and that's over now.

KRISTOL: You're point, I think you implied this earlier — why did the president want to be discussing health care? I think it's a mistake. This is Rahm Emanuel's White House. They just want to keep on fighting.

What if the president said February 25th, let's have a big meeting on bank regulation, preventing the banking system from falling apart, and I want you Republicans to come to the table and work on that? That would be a different types of issue.

LIASSON: Because there is actually bipartisan ground on that.

KRISTOL: That's an issue everyone agrees has to be addressed. That's an issue where it's much harder to be defending Citibank or Goldman Sachs. Why doesn't the president insist on debating that the next four or five months?

They can't help themselves. It's like the war on terror stuff. They sent Brendan out yesterday to fight the Republican leaders on exactly who said what when, and that's a losing issue for them. They should drop it and move on. But they just can't resist the fight.

LIASSON: I don't think they should necessarily drop health care. I agree with you, this meeting seems a little bit poorly chosen for the topic of the first big powwow. But there is a deadline out there, and that deadline is April, because in April reconciliation runs out.

They are either going to do this in April under reconciliation or they will not do it at all.

KRAUTHAMMER: But the reason that the meeting is going to happen is because the president and the White House cannot accept a loss. They can accept not having a bill, but they want to have a political success, and that's what he is trying to do.

He wants to do a Baltimore, a meeting with the Republicans, turn it around, shine, and have them as the fall guy. That's what's intended. It may not succeed, but that's what he's trying to do.

BAIER: And he is having a meeting tomorrow on the jobs bill with leadersf rom both parties.

KRISTOL: But what are we talking about tonight?

BAIER: We are talking about health care reform.

KRISTOL: He was supposed to pivot to jobs, jobs, jobs. That's the number one priority. Instead he is debating terror on the Sunday shows and then the next two weeks it's going to be this silly health care reform meeting.

BAIER: It sucked a lot of oxygen out, Mara.

LIASSON: It sucked a lot of oxygen. That's why I think they either need to pass it, and they're going to have to use reconciliation to pass it, or not pass it. But just do one or the other and then move on.

BAIER: Iran's announcement that it will enrich its own nuclear fuel is the latest cause for international concern, of course. The panel will discuss that in three minutes.



ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think basically their strategy is if they did anything at all would be to slow-roll us. And the reality is they are continuing to enrich.

I would say weeks not months, to see if we can't get another U.N. Security Council resolution. I think that's important because then it provides a legal platform for the EU and individual countries to then perhaps take even more far reaching steps.

HERVE MORIN, FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER (via translator): We are certain, we are convinced that these programs are for military purposes.


BAIER: The French foreign minister accused Tehran of blackmail on this. There you saw the Defense Secretary Bob Gates in an interview with Greta Van Susteren you can see tonight "On the Record."

But the basic premise here is that Iran has announced it is moving forward with enrichment at 20 percent of nuclear fuel and it is essentially thumbing its nose at the world community. What about this as we get ahead for a big week of potential protests in Iran? We're back with the panel. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, on the one hand, this is yet another slap at the administration, where we turn the other cheek, another insult, and another challenge.

However, this one, I think, is a real escalation. When they openly announce enrichment up to 20 percent, the French know that this is the excuse that it's for medical studies and the medical reactor is a fraud, because only the French and the Argentinians have the advanced technology to turn the enriched uranium into the fuel rods that that work in the Tehran reactor. Iran doesn't have that.

So it's enriching uranium. The only way to proceed after that is to enrich it even more highly into a bomb. So, that's why the French are saying it's blackmail, it's very serious.

There is a concept in proliferation of "breakout" where a country decides all of a sudden it's going to make a race to acquire a bomb, ignore the world, and think it will get away with it.

This is not quite an announcement of breakout, but it's the beginning of an announcement. It's saying we are now prepared to do enrichment and we dare the world to do anything. And up until now, there is not a shred of evidence that the Obama administration is going to do anything about it.

LIASSON: It depends on what doing anything about it means.


LIASSON: They are trying to get sanctions in place. The whole idea of engagement was to see, a, if engagement would work, which everybody knew it wouldn't.

BAIER: Not everybody.

LIASSON: OK, not everybody, but I would say the consensus was it was unlikely that Iran was going to say yes, I'd like to talk to you and give up my nukes.

KRAUTHAMMER: Everybody except Obama.

BAIER: But the administration pushed the talks.

LIASSON: Yes, but the idea of engagement was to try so you could show all our allies, including the Russians and the Chinese, that we've tried everything and now it's time for tough sanctions and we can't ask for tough sanctions unless we have tried engagement.

Now the problem is you still don't have China on board for this, as hard as the administration has tried. And now we're talking Gates, Secretary of State Clinton are talking about tough sanctions, that has to be the next step. And if it doesn't work we are getting closer to an Israeli nuclear (ph) strike.

BAIER: Bill, they are encouraged, they say, about Russia, but China is publicly again and again saying we are not signing on.

KRISTOL: I had breakfast with a western diplomat last week who is very much involved in these things. He is a liberal and believer of going to the U.N. first. You have got to get some U.N. sanctions which will lay the groundwork for some EU sanctions.

I said, what are you talking about? How long? He said that of course would take at least until the summer, maybe even late summer. And even then no one has confidence those sanction would actually stop the regime from moving ahead with its nuclear program.

I hope and pray that the administration is doing everything it can to help those who are just demonstrating this week covertly. I hope they are making sure they can't shut down Internet access within Tehran. Twitter ability within Iran and doing a lot technologically to help the dissidents, because this regime is tottering, I think.

That will make them more dangerous, not less, because I think they think going ahead full pell-mell with the nuclear program will strengthen them not weaken them. We are in a dangerous situation, a weak regime pushing ahead with a nuclear program. Is there anything more intrinsically unstable and dangerous?

So I really hope the administration is focused on huge demonstrations that are coming Thursday on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

BAIER: What about that, the criticism that this administration has faced that it hasn't stepped up enough to support those distanced publicly?

KRISTOL: I very much agree. President Obama whatever — you know, I have been critical of the Cairo speech and all this outreach. But what was the point of all of that if not to have the credibility around the world and in the Muslim world that he wishes them well and that he is not some horrible George W. Bush type of imperialist.

This is the moment on Wednesday, this week, before Thursday, before the demonstrations, to say: do not use force against your citizens, Mr. Khamenei. Do not use force against the citizens of Iran peacefully demonstrating for human rights.

And we here in the U.S. and we around the world have a joint statement with EU leaders saying standing with the demonstrators. This is a moment for the president to use all the moral capital he says he has been accumulating over the last year, all the goodwill, and use it for the demonstrators in Iran.

BAIER: And Charles, Israel is not just passively watching this.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, Israel is watching the breakout here. If it ever has a sense that it is a full breakout, it will attack. This is the beginning of something, the rolling out of a breakout.

But in terms of the revolution, or encouraging a revolution, which our only hope of stopping the nuclear issue, it's not as if it hasn't happened before. The model is with Reagan and Thatcher and Kohl did the Pope did in the '80s, which was overt support, covert support, rhetorical support, moral support.

And from the evidence of people who lived in that era who were on the dissident side, that made a huge difference in their efforts. It gave them courage. It gave them an ability to expand their efforts. It gave them legitimacy, and it gave them hope.

And that is extremely — in a revolution that hinges on a moment — there will be a moment in which the Revolutionary Guards will crack. If that happens, you have a revolution. If it doesn't, you don't. It happened in the Soviet Union. It happened under the Shah. It could happen here, and we ought to encourage the moment.

BAIER: Ten seconds, Mara — do you get any sense in the administration that there is a concession that there will be a nuclear Iran?

LIASSON: I think that they've thought that there might be a nuclear Iran and that containment might be the only plan b there is, yes, of course.

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