President Obama's Surprise Trip; Surprising Job Numbers

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One year ago, I ordered additional troops to serve in this country that was the staging ground for the 9/11 attacks. All of those troops are now in place.

And thanks to your service, we are making important progress. You are protecting your country. You're achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission.


We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum and that's what you are doing. You're going on the offense, tired of playing defense.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama with a surprise trip to Afghanistan today talking to the troops, expressing gratitude, giving holiday wishes and saying that the U.S. will continue to push on in Afghanistan with the mission.

There was an expectation and the White House briefed reporters there would be a face-to-face meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. However, White House officials said because of the weather they could not get the helicopters over to Kabul and they didn't have a face-to-face meeting. Then there was going to be a video teleconference, that didn't happen either, but they did talk by phone.

This visit happens on a day when bad jobs numbers came out. The numbers are these -- 9.8 percent unemployment. The rate is the worst in seven months and 19 straight months it's been above nine percent now -- that's the longest since the Depression.

When you add underemployment, it's at 17 percent -- that includes part- time workers who want to be full time and also people who gave up looking for work.

All of this on one day and we're going to talk about it all with the panel, Chris Stirewall, Fox News Politics editor digital, Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, there are cynical people out there who note this is the fourth time President Obama has been out of the country for the fourth time the employment numbers were released. The White House says this trip was planned for a long time. But still he didn't talk about unemployment today.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm sure it's entirely a coincidence. It's also the fact that the president likes to do stuff on his anniversaries. For example, he signed the START treaty or initialed it earlier in year on the one-year verse of the day he gave a speech in Europe about denuclearizing the world.

This visit comes a year and two days after announcing the escalation in the war in Afghanistan. He sees himself of world-historical and he see history starting and ending on the days he does stuff, and he honors his own anniversaries. So I think that was a larger issue here. But if he wanted to be a year on he could have gone on Wednesday and been home for announcement of the employment numbers.

But nonetheless, it's good that he goes. The troops need to see the commander in chief. And in some ways it makes up for the fact, although not entirely, that he doesn't keep the nation in on the war. He doesn't make the kind of speeches a president has to make, FDR did, that presidents have done in the middle of a war and it's a serious war. You want to address the country. He does it sporadically, and it's not surprising that there is so much unease and opposition to war that a president does not speak about often in public.

BAIER: Let's talk quickly about the Afghanistan trip and then come back to unemployment. He did not meet face to face with Hamid Karzai. There are these WikiLeaks document dump that includes some diplomatic cables about how concerns diplomats are about Karzai's leadership of the country.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: The bad weather was actually the best part of the trip for President Obama. That was good luck on his part, because he did not need to be seen face-for-face with Hamid Karzai right now.

Not only WikiLeaks, which show this is the third-most corrupt country in the world according to some figures, behind Somalia, where you see bribes and payoffs for political office and so on -- that's who we're fighting for. You also have Hamid Karzai a few weeks ago how grateful he is to the Iranians for the bags of cash they're bringing in the country.

So this is not, and I think to Charles' point, he does, the president is losing traction on making the case for the war because this is what the public sees. The public sees this corrupt regime and our troops fighting, in the public's mind, on behalf of this corrupt regime. We're also seeing here at home, the homegrown terrorists. Afghanistan was a link to terrorism and now we see terrorism here. He is supposed to make the case in 10 days and he's really got to work at that.

BAIER: Chris?

CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS POLITICAL EDITOR-DIGITAL: He has a serious problem with his base. The challenge for the president right now and basically what is going on is this. In 10 days what they're going to say is when we said 2011 we were kind of kidding. We were being too optimistic about 2011 withdrawal from Afghanistan. We really meant 2012, 14, 15, some another date down the road.

And liberals who are already very upset with the president and think he is not tough enough on taxes or this or that, they're in an angry mood. When the president comes out two weeks hence and says we'll be in Afghanistan longer than you expected, he will be in a difficult and unenviable political position, and that is reliant almost completely on Republicans to support the foreign policy endeavors, and that's not where the Democratic president wants to be.

BAIER: On the unemployment numbers, here is what the vice president said today to reporters about the news.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There is no denying that the report is disappointing because we were quite frankly hoping for stronger job growth. The bottom line is that while we made progress with creating jobs it's not enough. There is too much pain out there, there's still millions of people out of work and trying to make do without a paycheck and without the dignity and respect that goes with a job.


BAIER: Republicans were quick to pounce, Nina, the incoming House Speaker John Boehner saying the last thing our economy needs right now is a job-killing tax hike. Democrats pointed to these numbers and said this means unemployment benefits should be extended.

EASTON: More spending. In some ways I wish the president in the trip made a stop in Berlin. In Germany, unemployment is at seven percent and that country is leading the European Union out of a recession. Keep in mind this administration, how much pressure they put on Germany to spend. The resisted that, Angela Merkel, the chancellor, resisted that, and now they have this thriving economy.

There were disputes between the two countries about how much government spending, federal spending rally does create jobs. And we have to ask the question, did that create those jobs?

BAIER: How much does this affect tax extensions and employment benefits?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it accelerates it. I think the president for all the rhetoric he has about how he doesn't want to raise the taxes, only on the middle class. He wants to raise it on the rich. He needs it for deficit reduction. He knows if the economy is weak in 2012, he loses. And he also knows despite the rhetoric putting taxes on those creating jobs, upper income, including small business, is a catastrophic error. Although he will argue against it, he wants across the board increase for his advantage. And therefore I think he will agree to it easily and in fact he'll get other stuff in return from the Republicans.

For him, it's win-win.

BAIER: Chris?

STIREWALT: Well, from the looks of Joe Biden today I would say he would rather have been in the Hindu Kush with President Obama in a sandstorm than sitting in the room talking about those numbers. These are terrible for their bargaining position. These are terrible for everything -- for the narrative change that they are trying to affect right now.

And yes, I think it strengthens both sides' chances of getting what they want, Democrats getting a 13-month, $58 billion extension of long term unemployment benefits, and Republicans are getting these tax cut established across the board for at least another year.

BAIER: Both things add significantly to the deficit.

STIREWALT: Quite so.

How high will unemployment go before dropping significantly? Vote on our online poll at The Friday lightning round is next.



ALAN SIMPSON, DEBT COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: We took a big banana and threw it into the gorilla cage and the gorilla has picked it up, like they do, they peel it, mash it, play with it. But they will eat some.



BAIER: Former Senator Alan Simpson. You know every week on "Special Report" homepage, the viewers vote on what topic we should discuss first in the Friday lightning round. This is it, deficit commission report won in the votes and that's what we'll talk about first.

Back with the panel. Chris, the vote today, 11 yes and seven no, fell short of the 14 needed to force Congress for an up or down vote on the plan, but even no votes sounded encouraging where they stood today with the plan going forward.

STIREWALT: Well, the no-votes sounded encouraging, but this was happening in a political vacuum where everyone feels like it's OK to say while I disagree, in principle, I think we ought to fix the debt and deficit. Well, heck, yes. Everybody thinks that. That's the easy part.

But we saw that it was the president's appointee, Andy Stern, formerly the head of the SEIU, the largest, most-influential labor union in the country, arguably -- most-politically active, anyway -- who voted no. And he may have said nice things about the concept of debt and deficit reduction, but when you get right down to it, I suspect it will be labor unions who force Democrats away from the issue of doing anything to adjust entitlement reform.

Because in the end, as I said, it's fine if it's in the abstract, but once you get in Congress and say now we're going to monkey with Social Security or now we're going to just make some changes about Medicare, I don't think big labor is going for it.

BAIER: You had to bring up the monkey, didn't you?

STIREWALT: Well, the senator said it.

BAIER: Nina, it has to go through the committee process in Congress anyway. Is this a starting point, a blueprint?

EASTON: I think it's a banana.


Labor has its liberal members in the House, but they don't control the House anymore. I think if you've got Dick Durbin on the left and Tom Coburn on the right giving you cover in the Senate in particular, I think it has political momentum and it's a banana they should pick up and run with.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: The correct answer is it's half a banana but it's still a meal.


I think this is really an important moment because what you have a national consensus that the problem is catastrophic, it's coming soon and you have to do drastic stuff.

And you do have a sense, even though the people who oppose it, opposed it, all of them said this is necessary and it's a good thing, meaning you can't speak against this new general conventional wisdom, which is now a consensus, that something has to actually happen. And you had the chairman come out with radical reform of Social Security and they weren't shocked, which I think is important.

I think what you're get out of this is the rise of two people. You will get Paul Ryan, head of the budget committee, who will incorporate a lot of this, except for the health care stuff. And that is going to be a Republican blueprint. Obama will have to have an opposing one, and we'll have a real discussion about this.

BAIER: We have just a couple minutes left. We had another item in here about the START treaty. We'll save it for another day. I want to end with the NASA announcement, that they found this new bacterium that operates on arsenic. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I always suspected E.T. lived in a lake in the US of A, and that's what was discovered, an organism that lives essentially without phosphorous which we had imagined as one of the six elements you have to have for any life. Now we know, or at least we think we know -- there was a trace amount phosphorous remaining in this organism, so perhaps it lived on that. Although it looks as if it substituted arsenic, which is a poison instead of it, which is a new kind of chemistry. Which means there are kinds of life either here or out there exist in ways we had never imagined.

It's what we talk about -- the known knowns and known unknowns. This is our first insight into the unknown unknowns of the kind of life we never imagined exists, and apparently it does right here at home.

BAIER: When you can quote Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on a bacterium, that's pretty good. Nina?

EASTON: Guess what we can -- we can thank for this brilliant discovery is Los Angeles' greed for water. Because this was found in Mono Lake, if you're from California you know that's Mono Lake is known for being -- all of its water was shut off and diverted to Southern California 30, 40, 50 years ago.

So now as you see the pictures, it's become high in alkaline. It's not good for life. Kind of -- and that's where NASA scientists were able to go in and find it there. So we have to thank L.A.'s greed for water.

BAIER: Quickly, Chris.

STIREWALT: We knew that NASA's budget had been cut, but I didn't know it was so bad they quit going to Mars and we're going to Yosemite National forest.

Times are really tough.


BAIER: That is it for the quick lightning round.

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