President's health care law vs. religious liberty?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 8, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to work with all these organizations to implement this policy in a way that is as sensitive to their concerns as possible. But let's be clear, we are committed, the president is committed to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra costs no matter where they work.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R - OHIO, HOUSE SPEAKER: If the president does not reverse the department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution that we are sworn to uphold and defend must.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, the uproar continues over the administration's requirement that Catholic institutions provide insurance for workers that covers contraception. Now, the White House said that the HHS, the Health and Human Services secretary and the department ready to talk with Catholic institutions on how this policy will be implemented, but they deny that there is a compromise or a back down in the works.

Meantime, some prominent Democrats and an independent who caucuses with the Democrats saying that they oppose this regulation -- this mandate. And there you see the list right there. A few senators, congressman, and the former head of the DNC, former governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine. We're back with the panel. Chuck, what about this?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Tim Kaine of all the names on that list is probably the worst sign for the president, both in the substance and in the politics. Tim Kaine is a moderate Democrat, he's very loyal and close personally to Barack Obama, and here he is coming out publicly saying, Mr. President, I disagree with you, Mr. President.

BAIER: He's also a prominent Catholic.

LANE: Exactly. And mind you, he is running in a very close Senate race in Virginia, so he has got his political antenna high up right now, too.

This has come about because the administration felt or because the president felt he was under a lot of pressure from his base to do it this way. I don't -- it's clear from the reaction they didn't reckon with the blowback from Catholics, and unfortunately he has gotten himself in position now where he's got to ask a large slice of the electorate in a way to choose between him and their own religious teachings.

BAIER: David, we saw the House speaker take to the floor today with a powerful speech. But many people up on Capitol Hill say this is less about contraception and more about the infringement, the government expansion, the threat to religious liberty overall. Mark Shields, the liberal commentator, saying it's the conscience clause deep in our tradition.

DAVID DRUCKER, REPORTER, ROLL CALL: That is correct. And I think that is why this is such a potent issue for Republicans and potentially very troubling for the president and in a very close election where particular issues can swing votes and push people to turn out and vote a particular way that might not have. It's problematic.

And I have to say we started the week, at the beginning of the week with improved economic numbers and the president's polling is up. And it's like the White House threw an interception. We've changed the momentum at least for the week of the politics of the country. And Republicans have been very smart in handling this as a religious freedom issue, which brings in a broad base of Republicans --

BAIER: -- and libertarians.

DRUCKER: Correct, but it also causes a lot of problems for Democrats because not only are they not lockstep on this particular issue, because it's so heartfelt for many, but it divides Democrats in a way that for instance, the payroll tax issue was dividing Republicans and it's not going away, because now the administration either has to back down and disappoint its liberal and progressive supporters, and many Democrats on Capitol Hill who are taking to the floor in the House and Senate saying this is a great policy, we need to keep it. Or you disappoint moderate Democrats, candidates like Tim Kaine who have tough races, and you leave the party divided.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This is a huge political mistake and miscalculation by Obama. And it's not going away until and unless he capitulates. And I think he would like to, but his left is not going to allow him to. Today there was an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by three senators, female senators, Democratic senators, urging for a hard-line stand on this.

And the reason it's so damaging for Obama and the Democrats is that it augments two stereotypes. The one of Obama as anti-religious, the seeds of which were planted when we had that tape and he thought he wasn't being heard about how the peasantry clings to gun and to gods because of its frustrations. And second, I think the larger issue is the idea of intrusive, large government. That was an issue that created and propelled the rebellion in 2010 that causes the shellacking in the election.

The fuel has gone somewhat out of that and it has become a dormant issue, Obamacare. But this is a perfect example of how Obamacare in a concrete way invades your life, institutions, and liberty in a way that really hasn't been seen. I think it revives Obamacare as large issue. And in a larger sense it revives the big government issue again.

BAIER: Supporters say, Chuck, religious freedom means that all women, Catholic or non-Catholic should have the opportunity to make their own decisions when out comes to birth control. Is that argument getting anywhere?

LANE: This is -- notwithstanding what we've been saying about the politics of it, this whole welter of issues when you have federal funds involved, what you can do with stem cell research, et cetera. These are not simple issues, right? What is happening in the political process, naturally it's getting polarized. And I do think people, you know, another side of this is you -- might be, well, the Catholic Church doesn't get to dictate how the federal government spends its money either. There are going to people who look at that.

BAIER: This will not be the end of this discussion. That's it for this panel, though. Stay tuned to see some hard-hitting reporting.

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