'Special Report' Panelists Discuss President-Elect Obama's Potential Cabinet Picks; the GOP's Future

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from November 5, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This president goes into office with more expectations than any president I can ever remember in my lifetime.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I told the president-elect he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, the president-elect has made one selection at least of the man whom he would like to be the White House chief of staff, a very big and important job, and that is the person of Rahm Emanuel, known to all of us as a former Clinton White House aide who rose to power in the Democratic leadership in Congress first by running very successfully the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee which delivered the House to the Democrats two years ago.

And since then he has continued to be a member of the leadership. He is regarded, I think it's fair to say, as smart and tough and seasoned, and, Fred Barnes, what else?

FRED BARNES:, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, not bipartisan, that's for sure. I talked to a lot of Republicans. They didn't take this as a gesture of bipartisanship or an olive branch from president-elect Obama to them.

And then, of course, the legislative liaison that has been picked by Obama is someone who works for Henry Waxman, now, the extremely partisan and also very smart Democratic congressman from Los Angeles.

So if bipartisanship, if bringing the parties together and ending polarization is the top thing, that didn't reflect it.

But there are still things that they can — look, Obama is going to get a honeymoon. And what Republicans are saying is, OK, we'll give him a honeymoon, but we have some issues that I think Democrats are interested in as well. Let's do those first. Let's do energy.

There will be a stimulus package. If you want to get together on, then Democrats will have to have tax cuts as well as just spending on a whole lot of things.

HUME: — ram it through with no —

BARNES: They do have the votes there.

HUME: Easily. They had it before.

BARNES: If you had seen Nancy Pelosi today, you would have thought that all she was ever interested are in being in Congress is bipartisanship. She said the word "bipartisan" over and over again, governed from the middle.

These are things she has never done before, but now's the chance.

HUME: Back to Emanuel, Mort. He was a member of the Clinton White House. Bill Clinton had, in those days, at least, a centrist agenda.


HUME: I understand, but he had a more centrist agenda than Barack Obama ran on.

KONDRACKE: Rahm Emanuel is, ideologically speaking, a centrist. He has fought the left wing of the party, and he was the guy who recruited all of these Democrats to run in conservative Republican districts and win. That's how they got the majority in 2006, because he said you got to let these people vote their districts some of the time.

So he's not an ideologue, but he is a savage, ruthless partisan. And the whole idea that Barack Obama says we have to resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long, and then Rahm Emanuel? He is not exactly a bridge builder.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The reason Rahm Emanuel was picked is because Rahm Emanuel is the guy you bring in to make sure all the clocks and trains are running on time.

And what's the reality? We're dealing with a guy who's been in the Senate for two years, who doesn't know how to make the deals in Washington, and he needs somebody like this who can come in and whip everybody into shape.

Rahm Emanuel is very close to Nancy Pelosi. So what you've got here is an instant bridge to Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Obama's fearful, in fact, that the pressures will come from the left and come from people like Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and the like. And so here is his opportunity now to build bridges to the left and maybe give him some slack so he can do some of the bipartisan work.

Now that's putting the kindest light on this, but that's the hope.

Let me just say that there's also two other lines of criticism I heard today. One is Chicago is now running the world because Emanuel, as you know, is another Chicago man and close to Richard Daley. And so all of a sudden it looks like that.

And the other one is the black caucus thing — well, gee, we thought that was the kind of job that might have gone to a prominent black politician.

So I think that's an indication of the kind of pressures that exist already on the new president.

HUME: Already, right.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I will give you a kinder interpretation, that when a guy wins with 350 electoral votes, sweeps in with large majorities in the House and Senate, and he talks about reaching across the aisle, you don't believe him. There is no reason to.

In making his calculations to who is going to be in his White House, he is not thinking about the feathers of Republicans ruffled or not. It is about, a, as you said, protecting his back against either ideologues in his party, left-wing ideologues, or just against the rough and tumble inside stuff he doesn't know about.

So this is all about him. He will talk about governing in the center, but he doesn't have to. He will decide which way he is going to govern, what policies he will choose entirely on the basis of what he thinks will advance his status, advance his party, and get him reelected in four years.

This is a man who was elected on essentially no idea. Reagan was elected on a set of ideas. He was elected entirely on his persona, which means with the majority he has and with the sort of undefined nature of his own ideology, he can do anything he wants.

KONDRACKE: I disagree on that point. I think he was elected on the basis of some ideas, which is to say everything that George Bush is against, or was in favor of, he's against.

George Bush is a supply-sider. He's a Keynesian. He believes on building the economy from the bottom up. It is a reversion to traditional Democratic principles. There is idea content there.

KRAUTHAMMER: He ran on tax cuts. That's a Reagan idea.

KONDRACKE: But you know the tax cuts are actually checks.

BARNES: Here are the test whether they are really interested in any bipartisanship, and the issue is card check, the one that would allow unions to organize without having a secret ballot election by workers ahead of time.

And if they bring that up early on, they know that will drive Republicans crazy, the business community crazy. It is a divisive, polarizing issue. If they bring it up quickly, it will show you where they're going.

HUME: Also publicly unpopular.

We'll talk more about that as we go forward, but next we will talk about the Republican hangover. Who can help them get over it? We'll be right back.



REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: We need a housecleaning in our party, and we need a party that will go and tackle the problems facing the American people, take our timeless principles and apply them to today's problems.


HUME: That's Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, considered a Young Turk, up and comer in the House among House Republicans last night. So that was last night on FOX News Channel, on our election coverage.

This is John Boehner, the current House Republican leader today in a letter to colleagues-quote-there is a lot more to it than this, but this is a part of it-"we fought a spirited battle in the face of overwhelming odds and some disadvantages we couldn't control. We now have a chance to focus on our future, apply lessons learned, and unshackle ourselves fully from the errors of the past."

He goes on, "I humbly ask you for your support and the privilege of serving as House Republican leader in the next congress." That was today from John Boehner.

Now, Adam Putnam, one of his members of the leadership team assembled by Boehner — he is the chairman of the Republican Conference — he has resigned. He is also one of the young guys that was thought to be an up and coming leader, a very articulate guy. He looks like he is about 14, as you can see. He decided to step aside.

Roy Blunt, I gather, did not. He was the Whip, and I guess he wants the job again, and so on.

So that's a sense of the situation in the House of Representatives. Boehner wants to continue as leader. Is it your sense, Charles, that this is a moment when Republicans are likely to insist on new leaders in the House, and, perhaps, in the Senate as well?

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think so. I'm not sure this is a failure of Republican leadership in the House. You could attribute the defeat in '06 to that, but this was a defeat at the presidential level, a tsunami of an economic crisis that swept away essentially all Republicans.

Although I must say the way it looks today with a bunch of races still undecided, to lose 19 seats when people were expecting perhaps 30 or more, is not a catastrophe as expected. Also in the Senate, losing five thus far is not what could have happened when you had ten or eleven at stake.

I don't think it's a question about leadership. I think that there's a temptation for conservatives to panic and to accept what Democrats are saying about a tectonic shift in the country.

Look, Obama has a mandate, and the Democrats have won. But in the polling, only 22 percent of the people have said they were liberals. There was a spread in Republican. It was a six-point spread in party ID, and that's repudiation of the Bush administration, and sort of a vote against any incumbent in a time of crisis.

But it's not ideological and it's not a question of leadership. I think it was being caught up in a moment. And to over interpret it, I think, is a mistake.

WILLIAMS: There is a lack of leadership here. I come to very concrete thing. Let's look at bailout bill. What happened in the House on the bailout bill embarrassed John McCain. Remember, he came back and he wanted to show leadership and wanted to show he could get something done.

It turns out there was a populist revolt among Republicans responding to this energy of resentment towards Wall Street, but what it meant was it signaled in a time of crisis, here were Republicans so self- involved that they weren't about the larger business of the country and then later had to go back and change that position.

Some people today are pointing out —

HUME: They changed the bill.

WILLIAMS: They changed the bill. In other words, they made it happen. They got a bill through. Previously they didn't get a bill through.

HUME: Who?

WILLIAMS: The Republicans, the Republican vote.

The other part of this that is coming is the stimulus package. So now you're coming up to exactly what are you willing to do if you're a Republican leader in terms of making a deal with Democrats, because Obama is going to push this. Pelosi is going to push this. How far will you go?

So there's a new face, I think, coming for the Republican Party. It doesn't matter what happens here. What happens out in the country, the Bobby Jindals, the Tim Pawlentys —

HUME: The Sarah Palins.

WILLIAMS: I'm coming to here. That makes a difference.

HUME: So you don't think congressional leadership thing is a big issue?

WILLIAMS: Not really.

HUME: Mort, your thoughts?

KONDRACKE: Roy Blunt is talking to his colleagues about succeeding himself as the number two person. But Eric Cantor, who was his deputy whip, is apparently making noises about challenging Blunt. Blunt heard from Cantor that Cantor wouldn't run if Blunt wanted to run.

But, look, I think there is a much bigger problem for the party. It is becoming an old white people's party. You just look at the Hispanic vote. It went — 44 percent of the Hispanic vote went for Bush last time, and it only got 30 percent of it this time.

They are going to lose Texas next time around. Texas is 32 percent Hispanic. And, at the rate they're going, if they keep up with this anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant stuff that the Republicans did last year, they're going to lose out everywhere Hispanics live, and they're the largest growing minority in the country.

BARNES: I agree with Mort on the Hispanic stuff, but, look, there's a bigger problem where the Republicans are being and have been driven out almost entirely, and that is in the northeast and across the upper Middle west.

And there are no Republican members of the House from New England. They lost three more seats in New York, one in Pennsylvania.

HUME: Chris Shays lost.

BARNES: Chris Shays lost. He was the last one in New England, Chris Shays from Connecticut.

And these are districts that are upper middle class districts with a lot of professionals, and so on, where they just happen to be more moderate districts than the ones in the south and west where Republicans do so well.

But Republicans cannot get the majority back if they don't have some breakthroughs again in Ohio and Michigan and the northeast. They got to figure out how to do that.

HUME: What agenda, in your view, would do it? Is it Reagan- style muscular defense, lowering taxes agenda?

BARNES: That's part of it. But you have to adjust conservative principles to a new era, to issues like healthcare, issues like college tuition, and things like that. And Republicans haven't been very successful at doing that.

But you had Paul Ryan on. He has a very extensive reform package that I think Republicans will adopt a lot of, and it would be very attractive.

HUME: We'll keep an eye on all that.

That's it for the panel.

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