Democratic Leadership Council Ends

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 8, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JASON ALTMIRE, (D) PENNSYLVANIA REPRESENTATIVE: I don't feel like we're on the same page with the direction of the party and the direction of policy for the country moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did she say to you?

ALTMIRE: Well, there is a difference of opinion of why we had the outcome in the election that we did. It's my view that we were not speaking to the American people. We were going further to the left than we should have. And the people who gave the Democrats a chance in 2006 and 2008 decided the were gonna go a different direction.

I think there are some in the Democratic caucus that believe and honestly believe, although I disagree, that we didn't go far enough to the left.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Moderate House Democrats complaining openly that they don't get any respect from their leadership in the House in the name of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. This as the Democratic Leadership Council, once chaired by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who, of course went on to take the presidency, the DLC was believed to be a place, a laboratory for the moderate policy ideas that really got Clinton on the road to the presidency. Now it is no longer, soon to be no longer.

What about this? What does it say about the nation's political discourse? We're back with the panel. Mara?

MARA LIASSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well it says that sometimes it's hard to keep a think tank or a policy shop going. I mean the fact is the DLC won the fight it set out to win, which was to move the Democratic Party to the center, and it elected Bill Clinton.

And when you look at the number of DLC veterans, Clinton veterans who are now in the White House, recently hired by President Obama, you know you've Bruce Reid who actually ran the DLC and he's also the executive director of the Deficit Commission and now the vice president's chief of staff. You've got Gene Sperling, you've got Jack Lew, you've got Bill Daley, I think that the DLC's demise should not be interpreted as "ah, the centrist wing of the party has just crumbled away."

Now, what Jason Altmire was just talking about there was the House Democrats. Now he has a complaint there about Nancy Pelosi and the leadership of the House Democrats which is to the left. But I think that the Obama administration and president himself have moved steadily in the DLC direction ever since November.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think it was a repositioning in the center, and I think the administration will govern in the center for the next two years because it has to. If it had a liberal agenda that was not gonna get through a Republican House anyway. And if Obama wants re-election, and he doesn't want a second shellacking as he's gonna have to act as a centrist and having all these centrists is gonna help him.

But the fact is that this administration, the House, and the Senate as well, have governed from the left for two years and achieved a lot, including Obamacare, stimulus, financial reform, et cetera.

The center of the Democratic Party has been in jeopardy ever since the Vietnam War. It dwindled away in the 70s. It had Pat Moynihan, Senator Scoop Jackson. When they left the scene you had Clinton and the DLC who was the last hurrah of Democratic centrism as the major force in the party. It's still is an element in the party but it's much weaker. It's now really a token. And we saw in the house where they, the Blue Dogs, lost half of their members in November and it was unlamented.

BAIER: Yea, 54 Blue Dog Democrats and now there are only 25, but Steve, the DLC going away, Mara suggests it's not an indication that moderates in the Democratic party are somehow moving aside, but it is an indication that this big think tank that was once a powerhouse in this is no longer.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yea, I couldn't disagree with Mara more, I think. I think the reason that the DLC is no more is because the moderates have been cast aside. And this has been a long process. I mean -- I think back to the 2000 elections. I think about Joe Lieberman. He joined the ticket with Al Gore in 2000. This guy was the face of the DLC for a while. He was working with Bill Bennett on cultural issues, he was to the right of the most of the Democratic party on racial preferences, things like that. Foreign policy, he was borderline conservative. And he had to move so far over to the left to be acceptable to his own base. Remember, I mean, this is of course after the Democratic primaries, he moved to the left. He cast aside his old positions. And I think you have been seeing this --

BAIER: And then he got a challenge when he ran for Senate from the left.

HAYES: Exactly. You have been seeing this pretty steadily since the 2000 elections to the point now where the states that supplied most of the moderate Democrats, most of the Blue Dogs are now red states like Georgia, like Texas, like Alabama, like Mississippi.

BAIER: So you are saying, Mara, that it goes to the administration moving to the center. But on Capitol Hill, are moderates becoming extinct?

LIASSON: Well, they are certainly becoming fewer. Now wait a minute, if you are going to say that the Democratic Party has been getting more homogeneously less over time, sure. But the Republican Party has been getting more homogeneously right at the same time.

In other words there, the parties have sorted themselves out and now we're perfectly polarized. I don't think there is any overlap actually.

HAYES: I don't even disaggree with that.

LIASSON: I think the most liberal Republican now is still more conservative than the conservative Democrat. But I don't think that the DLC's demise is a symbol of the fact, that centrism is extinct in the Democratic Party, not after what President Obama has done for the past couple of months.

BAIER: Last words.

KRAUTHAMMER: That is if you belief it's authentic centrism in the administration right now. I think it's positional election centrism, and I can assure you Obama is re-elected with majorities in the House and the Senate, we will see a return to the hyper-liberalism of the first years if he can. But I'm not sure it's still -- it can be done, because the electorate had rendered the verdict on this.

LIASSON: Charles, he is going to have a Republican Senate if he gets reelected.

BAIER: We'll see. That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for yet one more reason to always know where the camera is and when it's on.

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