Critics question whether Bernie's time has passed as progressives push ideas from Sanders' 2016 playbook

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 19, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You may recall that in 2016, many of the ideas that I talked about, Medical for all --

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-MINN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to get to universal health care in this country.

SANDERS: -- raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, D-CALIF., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're a minimum wage worker working full time, you can't afford a market rate for a one bedroom apartment, we need to course correct.

SANDERS: -- on making public colleges and universities tuition free --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should offer debt free college to anyone who wants to go out there and do it.

SANDERS: You know what's happened in over three years? All of those ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're saying the party came your way?

SANDERS: Well, I don't want to say that. I think most people would say that.

(LAUGHTER)

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BRET BAIER, HOST: Bernie Sanders is in. He is running for president. He joins a growing list. Who knows how big this list is going to be when all is said and done? Those are the declared, the exploratory, essentially in, possibles over there. If you look at the Real Clear Politics average at the top five right now, and again, this is way early, but these are early polls, you see Joe Biden still leading the pack, Sanders in second, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, who is not in yet, either.

Let's bring in our panel, Byron York, chief political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon." OK, Mara, the question is, is the party going to absorb like they did in 2016 the enthusiasm now that there are other, younger acolytes who are essentially saying the same thing?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Has Bernie been a victim of his own success? Yes. Why do you need a cranky old guy from Brooklyn when you can get these young exciting people who agree with him on almost everything?

So I think that there is something to be said for Bernie missed his moment. But he did shape the party, and I think he certainly can be proud of that. And he was remarkably modest where he said he didn't want to say the party moved his way, but most people would. I think he's right. Not everyone wants Medicare for all right away. His bill absolutely gets rid of private insurance in fell swoop. A lot of people want a Medicare buy in. But the point is that a lot of his ideas are being accepted widely, and I think the party does really want someone young and fresh.

BAIER: Here is Senator Sanders and the president today.

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SANDERS: Bottom line for me is I think it is absolutely imperative that Donald Trump be defeated, because I think it is unacceptable and un-American, to be frank with you, that we have a president who is a pathological liar.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: Personally, I think he missed his time. But I like Bernie, basically he is one person who, on trade, he sort of would agree on trade. But I wish Bernie well. It'll be interesting to see how he does.

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BAIER: It is going to be interesting to see how he does. For the progressive side of this group, it is another big figure who is coming into this race.

BRYON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": He was the big sensation of the Democratic race in 2016, but it is hard to recreate that. And part of the reason he was a sensation was because no big-name Democrat would challenge Hillary Clinton. Do you remember the first Democratic debate? It was Bernie, and Clinton, and Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. That was it. It was a very, very poor field. And progressive Democrats at the time did want somebody to talk about free college and about infrastructure and universal health care, and all that stuff. And Mara is right, they have a bunch of people who are ready to talk about it now.

And on the age issue, Bernie will be 79 years old on Election Day. That is older than Ronald Reagan was when he left office after eight years. That is really, really pushing the limit.

BAIER: The same as Joe Biden though, right?

LIASSON: He's a little younger. Not much. A little, little young, 76, I think.

BAIER: It's fascinating to see how this race is going to develop because you have the possibility of Joe Biden getting in. You have Amy Klobuchar trying to play I think the practical Democrat, touching both sides of the party. And then you have Howard Schultz out they probably applauding Bernie Sanders getting in this race.

MONICA CROWLEY, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Right, and reminding Democrats in a "Medium" post this week that I'm not here to spoil the race. I'm here to present a viable alternative if the Democrats go far left.

I think what's interesting, Bret, is Biden's reluctance to announce has created this vacuum on what you might call the business friendly side of the Democratic Party. And so all the energy is now in that weather system that Bernie Sanders stirred up in 2016. He is drawing all the energy to the left. And you have poor Amy Klobuchar there saying, you know what, we can't all have free college. I wish I was a genie but we can't afford it. And she needs reinforcements. Otherwise this will not be Barack Obama's party. It won't be Hillary Clinton's party. It will be Bernie Sanders' party, and that helps Donald Trump.

BAIER: Here is Kamala Harris being asked about Democratic Socialist.

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HARRIS: I am not a Democratic Socialist. I believe that what voters do want is they want to know that whoever is going to lead understands that in America today not everyone has an equal opportunity and access to a path to success.

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BAIER: And as Matthew mentioned, Amy Klobuchar last night.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, would you support free college for all?

KLOBUCHAR: I am not for free four- year college for all. If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: It seems like there is this aspiration, and then there is the realism. And this battle is going to be happening throughout.

YORK: She said I'm not for free four-year college for all. The definition of a right-winger in the Democratic Party is you're for free two-year college for all.

LIASSON: Or debt free.

YORK: Which she was, but is not for four years. So I do think in terms of inspiring voters and getting people's attention, when you start saying things like, well, that's just not practical, we can't afford that kind of thing, that is not going to set the Democratic Party on fire.

BAIER: Let me ask the question a different way -- go ahead.

LIASSON: Except Democrats want to beat Donald Trump. And this is a party that's in a pragmatic frame of mind. They are going to figure out who has the best chances. They're all pretty much similar ideologically. I think people are going to be voting with their heads as well as their hearts this year.

BAIER: But in that case, isn't Bernie Sanders in one case an existential threat to that possibility of beating Donald Trump?

LIASSON: I think so.

CONTINETTI: I think very pragmatically, it's very funny for Kamala Harris to say she's not a Democratic Socialist. She's been acting like one. What was her comment about eliminating private insurance, she's for Medicare for all. She's for the Green New Deal. She's going to be regretting a lot because she is slowly laying the predicate for Donald Trump to frame the 2020 election as a referendum not on him but on socialism. And that's a referendum he can win.

BAIER: Next up, the confusion over Andrew McCabe and at the latest.

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ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: The purpose of the briefing was to let our congressional leadership know exactly what we've been doing. Opening a case of this nature, not something that an FBI director, not something that an acting FBI director do by yourself, right. This was a recommendation that came to me from my team. I reviewed it with our lawyers. I discussed it at length with the deputy attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell congress?

MCCABE: And I told Congress what we had done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did anyone object?

MCCABE: That's the important part here, Savannah. No one objected, not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds, and not based on the facts.

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BAIER: Andrew McCabe out selling a book, describing briefing Congress on this investigation opened up to the president. But the so-called gang of eight called this claim confusing at best, possibly misleading, because they knew months earlier that the FBI had effectively opened up a campaign, an investigation. We are told that. We are back with the panel. Byron, what about this and the fallout from it?

YORK: It is confusing because this allegedly happens in May of 2017 right after James Comey has been fired. But everybody in the gang of eight new that earlier in July of 2016, the FBI had opened up an investigation into the Trump campaign. And I think most of the people in the gang of eight thought that covered Donald Trump as well.

But I think there is one other really serious thing about this McCabe story, which is he keeps saying I opened this investigation, it was a big deal, I told Congress about it. And to my knowledge, he has not been asked, what did you find? Did you find out the president was a Russian asset? Is he a threat to national security? Could you please tell us what you found? And he hasn't been saying much about that.

BAIER: Here is McCabe back in May of 2017 talking about what he did do, which is fire the FBI director.

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ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: I don't believe there is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the FBI. I suppose that's somewhat self-serving and I apologize for that. It was completely within the president's authority to take the steps that he did. We all understand that.

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BAIER: Obviously he's in a different position than, he's selling a book now. What about this?

LIASSON: He certainly was in the legal -- the president had the right to fire the FBI director. That's what he's saying, which is absolutely true. I don't think he could have said anything else, really. It was absolutely in the president's authority to do that.

What he does do in that quote is push back against the president's argument that Comey was hated inside the FBI, that there was a crisis of confidence, that the FBI wanted him gone, and he says no, that isn't true.

BAIER: "New York Times" story comes out today that says that the president called the acting attorney general Matt Whitaker and essentially asked if a U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman, for the southern district of New York could take over the widening investigation that included Cohen, and was told essentially no. This is the president on this "New York Times" story today.

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TRUMP: I don't know who gave you that. That's more fake news. There is a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn't. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he's done a great job. He's a very, very straight shooter. I watched him during the hearings, some of it. I thought he was exceptional. He is a very fine man. And he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation.

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BAIER: Berman, ties to Rudy Giuliani, had stepped aside from overseeing that investigation.

CONTINETTI: And it should be investigated. The president denies it, so we need to find out what the facts are. I think "The New York Times" story is indicative of the larger pattern, which is so many of the details and the narratives that we've learned about are being told by self-interested parties, whether it's James Comey, Andrew McCabe, or whoever gave this information to "The New York Times." We have yet to hear from a neutral arbiter other than inspector general, Horowitz, in his report which led to McCabe's denials today that he illegally leaked information.

So who is the neutral arbiter? We have a new attorney general, Bill Barr, who is immensely qualified and he's been in the job before. I think it's incumbent on him to, maybe once Mueller is finished, to lay out all the facts, to say this is where the DOJ-FBI went wrong, and this is how we're going to fix the situation.

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BAIER: The question is, and I've heard it more and more, is will we know everything? Will we know the end of Mueller? Will we know the answers?

LIASSON: That's a really good question, and a lot of people think we want. There is no guarantee that Bob Mueller is going to write some exhaustive report.

BAIER: Or that Barr is going to pass it on.

LIASSON: Or that Barr will pass it on. I think once it's written, there is going to be tremendous pressure to pass it on. Something like 83 percent of Americans think the report, if it exists, should be released in its entirety. But we don't know what Bob Mueller is going to do. We don't know if the indictments or his court filings are his report, is he going to write something exhaustive and answer all these questions? I think it's really important to get these answered.

YORK: In the Monica Lewinsky investigation, Ken Starr gave a report to Congress and then he gave all of the grand jury testimony. Congress immediately made it all public. We need to do something like that.

LIASSON: He was required to do that.

BAIER: We will see. When we come back, why police showed up at a six- year-old's birthday party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Finally tonight, a birthday invitation like no other. Jordi Olson of Waukesha, Wisconsin, invited some special guests to his sixth birthday party, the police, all of them. Although the entire department could not make it, officer Nick Sharon stopped by to wish Jordi a happy birthday. He also brought some presents. And then later, another officer drove the police Humvee to the party. Very well behave party we're told.

That's it for the “Special Report.” Fair, balanced, and unafraid. Here's Martha.

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