This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume panel discussion, April 5, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order last night's entire transcript.
HUME: Some analytical observations now from Bill Sammon, White House correspondent of "The Washington Times," who is joining us from the North Lawn of the White House. Bill, welcome. Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call." And Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio. All three of these are FOX News contributors.
Bill, on China, give us a sense. We've heard the president joking with the American Society of Newspaper Editors today, seemingly in good spirits about all this situation. But we're not hearing any good news from
China. What's the situation?
BILL SAMMON, "WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, the situation is for two days in a row now the president has taken a lower-key approach than he did in the previous two days. I think he wants to let this thing work its way. But at the same, there are growing whispers and rumblings that if this thing doesn't get resolved by the weekend and we start to get into like week two of the what will certainly at some point be called "The Hostage Crisis," that then, you know, you may start to -- you know, you don't like to talk about it now, but let's talk about it. There may be some political fallout on the president, and it may not reflect well on his fledging presidency and on his effectiveness if it turns into a hostage debacle.
So there is sort of that concern on the back-burner, but I think you'll start seeing it being moved up as we move through the weekend and perhaps into next week and it's not resolved.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yeah, I agree with that. I think this is a very, you know, difficult situation for Bush. I think he is doing his best to make sure it doesn't turn into a full-fledged crisis. On the other hand, I mean, you heard Bill Kristol just a few moments ago. There's going to be, the calls for some kind of punishment for China are going to grow. And I also think that Bush is being watched very carefully.
Don't forget, this has been a president who hasn't tried to emcee his own presidency or dominate the news. He's been rather low-key. All of a sudden, people are going to start paying attention to him and looking at
his body language and see if he feels confident or in-charge, or does he look nervous. And I think all those things are going to be...
HUME: Mort, let's just suppose, just for the sake of discussion, that this does, that the word "hostage" becomes appropriate, as it would after a while. What is the near-term political effect of that likely to be?
MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Well, the first thing that would happen is that conservatives would be beating on him to get tougher with China and to escalate and to start playing the Taiwan card. And I would say, just right now this minute, the Chinese should just figure on canceling their plans for the 2008 Olympics, right now. You know, that sort of thing, that's just -- that's a weak card.
HUME: But that would need to be seen in some sense as precipitated by the administration, wouldn't it, for it to help Bush...
KONDRACKE: Well, I would think that the ministration might want to start playing at least that card right now and the pulling the ambassador card, something like that.
It seems to me that Bush to satisfy his own constituents and public opinion would have to be~ tough.
You know, now, if the thing goes on and on and on, then he also -- the Democrats are already starting to get ready to say that foreign policy is confusing, he -- one day it's Rumsfeld, the next day it's Powell, you know, that he's not in charge, that he's not -- you know, that the captain is only occasionally on the bridge and stuff like that. And if he fails at something, then he's getting it from both ends, from both the right and the left.
LIASSON: And you know...
HUME: Hold it a second. Go ahead, Bill.
SAMMON: I think you're right in the sense that, you know, Democrats are holding their fire now, and I think it's an American tradition in a time of international crisis to have bipartisan support. There's a rallying around the president effect. And that's natural and that's proper.
However, I talked to one Democratic strategist today who said there are those waiting in the wings who had criticized Bush during the campaign as not ready on the foreign policy front who are waiting for an opportunity to say "I told you so," if this doesn't turn out well. So for right now, there's some bipartisanship, but it may not hold all that much longer.
HUME: Well, let's look back for a second, if we can, to the Carter years. There was a president, I think it's fair to say, whose presidency was undone by a hostage situation. But the near-term political effects for him were actually quite pleasant, weren't they? I mean, if you look at what happened, he stayed focused on it. It ended the Kennedy challenge, destroyed the Kennedy challenge to him in the primary season. Public support for Carter remained very high for several months there.
Only when there was a long-term failure to get the hostages out did it reverse. Is that not likely to apply here?
LIASSON: Right. That was -- but the long-term was mattered in that case because he was running for re-election. I think the interesting thing about the kind of sniping or whispering you're going to hear from
Democrats, it's not going to be about ideology or about policy or how he would handle the crisis. It's going to be just this atmospheric "Bush isn't up to the job."
And that was -- you know, there's always a kernel...
HUME: How will that -- how will that play with the public, who may feel -- who may be in a mood to rally around the president if he hasn't seemingly put a foot wrong?
LIASSON: I think there might be sympathy for him, but you know, polls and focus groups already show that people think Cheney is really running the government. And I don't think in the short term it matters. And I think maybe it's the same with Carter. It doesn't matter. They'll be sympathetic to this president who's dealing with a crisis.
But maybe in the long term, when he has to, you know, draw on a well of public support...
HUME: He's supposed to go there in the fall. That will never happen, and one would have to assume that the Chinese could -- would be willing to brook the loss of the Olympics, no Bush visit, in order to hold on to this plane and these service people. Does that make sense to you?
KONDRACKE: Look, I don't think -- I can't imagine that the Chinese are going to be so stupid as to let this thing drag that long and permanently poison U.S.-Chinese relations.
HUME: It would be the end of WTO, wouldn't it?
KONDRACKE: Trade and all -- trade and all that stuff. You know, it seems to me -- my theory is that they are -- that this is post-Belgrade bombing stuff. That they -- that this is -- their right-wing in their country didn't think that they reacted strongly enough. We thought they overreacted. That they didn't react strongly enough so that, by god, in this case they are not going to give up the plane right away. But they're
going to give up the plane.
HUME: Go ahead, Bill.
SAMMON: I don't think anyone thinks this is going to be another 444-day standoff. But at the same time, you know, I don't think, for example, during the Florida standoff, day five, any of us thought we would have five weeks of it. So these things have a way -- you know, the parameters and the goal posts have a way of moving as we go through this.
It's my opinion that China sees there is a window where they can get away with stringing us along to a certain point and then maybe release them just before we have to take some punitive action, like canceling the trip this fall or like, you know, trying to get them out, you know, not having them host the Olympics.
And if they can -- and if they can, you know, sort of play that game of chicken and pull it off right before we punish them, they come out on top. But within the next 72 hours, I think we will take some punitive action and they may lose face.
LIASSON: Yeah. I mean, that's the hard thing to calibrate, if they're going try to pull that off, what Bill just described. But one thing that -- I'm certainly no expert on internal Chinese politics. But you don't see the riots outside the U.S. embassy. You don't see what you did see after Belgrade.
So -- and I believe that if the Chinese government wanted that to happen, they could make that happen. So, you know, reports that you read from China are things are not as hysterical and whipped up as they were in that crisis.
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