This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 22, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: First, fighting words from House minority leader John Boehner. His target, Democrats and the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, MINORITY LEADER: And this is Chicago-style politics, shutting the American people out and demonizing their opponents. They're writing a health care bill in secret, even though the president called for all of this to be out on an open table and have C-Span cameras in the room. Instead, Democrats are targeting those who don't fall immediately in line -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, doctors, Fox News. The administration promised during the campaign that they were going to usher in an era of post-partisanship here in Washington, but what they're doing is really flat-out despicable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: What about the White House strategy? Earlier, House Republican whip Eric Cantor went "On the Record."
VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, nice to see you, sir.
REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-VA, REPUBLICAN WHIP: Greta, great to be with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: I heard earlier today that you had some remarks about the sort of the spat that's been rising between President Obama and the White House and Fox News Channel.
CANTOR: Well, I mean, first of all, I think it is somewhat beneath the White House to even be bringing up a subject such as this. But listen, there are so many things going on right now. People are unemployed. The unemployment rate is close to 10 percent. We've got a health care bill that is threatening a significant, significant change in this economy, with a lot of people very uncertain about what it's going to do. We've got an energy policy that's on the table that needs to be ironed out, with a lot wrong with it. Why in the world would the White House be focusing on some -- on a news network that may or may not have an agreement on every issue that the White House is considering?
VAN SUSTEREN: I realize this is a bit of a sideshow, although I don't underestimate the importance of having the free press and the press being able to cover stories. But historically, White Houses have been -- presidents have been a little bit sensitive to the media. Is this any different?
CANTOR: Well, listen, I mean, I do think that when you have the White House focusing on one news outlet, it is a little strange. We believe in free press and freedom of speech in this country. And again, why would the White House choose to go after its critics instead of trying to bring people together? After all, this president ran on trying to unite this country, trying to bridge the differences so that we can actually get Washington working again. This is not the way I think the people thought that this White House or this president would conduct business.
VAN SUSTEREN: So why did this happen? How do you think this happened?
CANTOR: Well, yes, I think, you know, Greta, you make a point. There is a sensitivity, I'm sure, as all of us have sensitivities any time you are confronted with an adversary or an individual or an organization that doesn't necessarily agree with you on a given issue.
But again, it's not the American way for us to go in and see the White House go and single out a news outlet when so many other things are on their plate. I mean, we've got kids on the ground in Afghanistan. We ought to be worried about that, not see a White House going after Fox News.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, last night, the president was asked by a network about the -- about the spat and about the feud, about the White House calling Fox News "talk radio." We asked him. Now, he does respond, but in some sense, you know, we keep now putting the question to him. So do we sort of let them a little bit off the hook because we keep putting it in their face, or -- or not?
CANTOR: Well, again, I think the White House needs to be focusing on what American people care about. And I also think that the press, in general, needs to be very aware. If there is a tendency in this White House to react so negatively to criticism, we ought to stand up and protect the free speech in this country that we're about.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is this a big picture, important issue, or is this a schoolyard brawl?
CANTOR: Well, I think -- look, let's just say this, Greta. It's unfortunate, OK? They shouldn't have done it. They shouldn't have singled out Fox News or anyone else, for that matter. They ought to be sticking to the issues that the American people care about, and frankly, our national security, our economy that right now are in so much question.
VAN SUSTEREN: How does the White House save face and get out of this? Because they sort of -- I mean, they indict an entire news network, then they picked on a couple (ph) which seemed to dial back a little bit, and now the president again says the entire news network. So it's sort of, like, they've broadened it one again. What's the -- now what?
CANTOR: You know what I...
VAN SUSTEREN: Now what?
CANTOR: You know, I think that the president could send a big message if he were to say, Look, we were wrong. We shouldn't be singling out critics individually if they differ with us. America is about robust debate, but we are trying to bridge the gap to bring people together, and that's what we should do in a bipartisan fashion to try and fix the way that Washington works and address the fact that people are out of work, address the fact that we need some positive reform in health care."
VAN SUSTEREN: So aggressive, challenging, not a bad idea for the media to its government?
CANTOR: Well, listen, why should anyone be the exception? I think the press in this country is certainly very aggressive and challenging, and after a while, it is that freedom that we are about every day trying to protect.
VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Congressman.
CANTOR: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: So why is the White House taking on Fox News? Joining us live is former White House press secretary Dana Perino. Dana, nothing has profoundly changed at Fox News in the last -- since the president's been inaugurated, but on Sunday, the president sent two lieutenants out, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, and they indicted the entire network! And the president does the same thing last night. Any -- you read anything into the timing?
DANA PERINO, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SEC., FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it seems calculated, and it also seems like it's coming from the top and...
VAN SUSTEREN: Coming from the top? I mean, the president said last night -- I mean, he sounded -- I mean, he didn't say he didn't know anything about it!
VAN SUSTEREN: He knew exactly. He used the same words, in fact, as his lieutenants!
PERINO: And he said, I'm not losing any sleep over it, which I think was an attempt to say, I'm focused on the more important things, like Congressman Cantor was just talking about. But the problem is that they have perpetuated this for weeks now. We're actually continuing to lead the news, and I can't imagine how -- at the White House, you are -- you want to show that you are focusing on the fact that 1 out of 10 Americans don't have a job, but we're still talking about this issue. And I don't know how they get back out of it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they may not want to be focusing on the job issue, I mean, that main (ph) issue, because the numbers are not responding to the stimulus bill like they'd anticipated, so maybe they don't want that. But the thing that I just can't figure out is that until last Sunday -- that's when they came out swinging, and nothing changed here. And you know, they're swinging isn't going to change anything at Fox. Fox aren't a bunch of cowards! But I mean, nothing's going to change. So they're the ones who brought this issue up.
PERINO: Well, what might have changed -- and we don't know. We know that they do a lot of polling internally, and White Houses do this, but to try to figure out where is the country going. What are they seeing? What are they learning? And it possibly could be that they saw something there that they thought independents were moving away and it was because of maybe something -- a message that was breaking through from critics.
That's -- you know, that's speculation on my part. I used to have a job where I didn't speculate, but I guess now I'm free to.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now you're free to. But what I don't understand is -- I mean, OK, go after the anchors. Go after Glenn Beck. Go after, you know...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... O'Reilly, go after me, go after Hannity. It's, like, but when you start going after the entire news organization -- we have got, you know, people like Jennifer Griffin, eight years in Jerusalem, doing a phenomenal job. We got Bret Baier. And who's been complaining about Bret Baier? Steve Centanni, Adam Housley -- and we go through the whole list. But they're -- they want to take everybody.
PERINO: Jim Angle. I mean, you could name a lot of different anchors. What's interesting to me is that just from my perspective, having been a White House, there is a network, MSNBC, that I could have said that about evening anchor or some people in the morning or I -- I could have taken that tack, but I thought it was not the right thing to do. And I think it's mostly because it's really unproductive. It feels un-American. And it's not inspiring.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, there's been some criticism about this meeting earlier this week with a bunch of journalists here in Washington. Of course, Fox was excluded. But in all fairness, President Bush, he met with conservative talk radio people...
VAN SUSTEREN: So that was not so peculiar that President Obama would be...
PERINO: I don't blame them for suggesting that they wouldn't want to put any administration officials on at 9:00 o'clock with Sean Hannity. I understand that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Right.
VAN SUSTEREN: If you're afraid of Sean Hannity...
PERINO: Well, I'm not afraid of Sean Hannity!
VAN SUSTEREN: No, no, but I'm saying I don't get that. I mean, it's, like, you know...
PERINO: If they feel like they're disrespectful -- look, I never would have objected...
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, not in a million years do I think Sean Hannity would be disrespectful.
PERINO: No, I don't.
VAN SUSTEREN: He might not agree. But I mean...
PERINO: You're right. You're right.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... you may not agree with him, you may not -- you know, for whatever reason. Sean is not going to be disrespectful.
PERINO: No, he's not going to be, but I think when they watch it every night and they think, Wow, all these -- all these attacks on us, give us a chance -- I think I would try to take that chance and try to win on the merits. But I would never have suggested to President Bush it would have been a good idea to go on MSNBC's evening programming. I think that probably would have been...
VAN SUSTEREN: See, I think...
PERINO: ... something I wouldn't do.
VAN SUSTEREN: ... they would have been respectful.
PERINO: I don't. I don't think that they would have been, no.
VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) I mean, when push comes to shove. But the thing is, I -- I mean, I don't think that a president should ever look unpresidential and get into a food fight. That's bad. But I think, you know, if there's a willingness to take hard questions, you look presidential if you're willing to take on, you know...
PERINO: Like Chris Wallace, for example. I mean, I think that if you want to reach an audience where you have a lot of independents, people who are persuadable and people who might want to come around to your point of view -- and people love the presidency. They respect the president. They might disagree with his policies, but that doesn't mean that they can't be persuaded if they think that they have the better argument.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, anyway, never dull. And of course, we'll be watching (ph) this (ph). Dana, thank you very much.
PERINO: Thanks for having me.
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