'Special Report' Panel on President Obama's Response to Iran; Health Care Reform

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from June 22, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The last thing that I want to do is to have the Unite d States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.

That's what they do. That's what we're already seeing. We shouldn't be playing into that.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I don't consider it meddling when you stand on the side of the principles that made our nation the greatest nation in history.


BRET BAIER, HOST: An interview with President Obama before the weekend's events, and then you see the reaction from Senator John McCain.

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today said after seeing the images over the weekend, President Obama has been moved by what he saw on television, particularly so, said Gibbs, of the images of women in Iran who have stood up for their right to demonstrate, to speak out and to be heard.

What about all of this? Let's bring in our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, and Kirsten Powers, columnist of The New York Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think the president has made a few missteps, but the worst was when he said there was no difference essentially in policy between the current president and the challenger Mousavi.

First of all, there are people dying on the streets of Tehran in the name of exactly the opposite proposition. But secondly, that might have been true a month ago, but revolutions outrun their causes. They outrun their leaders. They change their leaders.

Mousavi was an orthodox member of the establishment for 20 years, but he has been radicalized. And now the statements we hear from his spokesman in London are very radical, challenging the legitimacy of the regime. The government itself is calling him an instigator and preparing the grounds to arrest him and to execute him. He has become radicalized.

The question is: Has he become Yeltsin? What this revolution needs a Yeltsin, a man who is of the establishment, respected, and who stands up on a tank, mobilizes the opposition, and brings the regime down.

What has happened is that Mousavi has become a Gorbachev. He is a reformer. But he is now hovering on the edge. It will be Mousavi or another, but without a Yeltsin — a man who galvanizes the opposition, who brings a million people out on the street and calls for a general strike — the revolution, I think, will fail.

BAIER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the way that I heard what Obama said was essentially we don't know how different they are. And I think what he was specifically referring to, actually, is maybe their views towards the United States.

Now, Mousavi may be a little more pro-American than Ahmadinejad, certainly. But how hard is it to be more pro-American than Ahmadinejad?

And I think that something we have to remember is this is not about America. This is about what is going on in Iran, and the fact of the matter is the people are rising up against a completely oppressive regime that is completely inept as well, does a very bad job of the running the government.

And I think that he wanted to do is not appear to be endorsing one side, which would have hurt Mousavi certainly if he appeared to be a puppet of the Americans, and to sort of reiterate that this is a home-grown uprising, that it has nothing to do with the United States.

BAIER: Do you think there is a regret in the White House that he didn't come out more forcefully in the beginning?

POWERS: I haven't heard that and I have seen many people come out, including Henry Kissinger, saying that he handled this very well, and that, in fact, it would be bad for the United States to get involved in this.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It is not a question of getting involved. We're not going to send troops there or anything like that.

The question was whether we would support the democratic voices and condemn the regime — a tyrannical regime — as Kirsten said, no question about that.

Obama has gotten better, I'll have to say, over the weekend. He got better. His statements are a little stronger, but really not strong enough yet.

And it was clear from the beginning what he was trying to do. I think it was probably clear to Mousavi and the demonstrators and the democratic forces in Iran, too. He tried to protect whatever relationship he has with Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Khamenei because he thinks somehow he is going to get some grand bargain that they will back away from nuclear weapons.

They're not going to do that. They're the people who are not going to do it.

Mousavi might be. Mousavi is different on nuclear weapons too. He has said we will have nuclear power, but whether we have nuclear weapons or not, that's negotiable. That's the opposite of what the other regime has said.

He, also, is representing — I'm not sure how pro-American he is, but all of a sudden he represents the forces in Iran that are pro-American.

And then when you see, you know Obama has used — the most pathetic thing is to say, gee, well, we were involved in 1953 — 1953! This is an extremely young society. You think those demonstrators are thinking, well, we hope the U.S. stays out because they were involved in 1953? That's total nonsense.

POWERS: I think there is a history there.

BARNES: 1953?

POWERS: They do remember the United States meddling.

BARNES: No, they don't.

POWERS: I think the reason Obama didn't get involved I don't think is because of what you just said. I think it is because he truly believed that meddling in it would make them be able to come out and justify the repression.

BAIER: They were going to come out and charge that we were meddling even if we weren't meddling to begin with.

Charles, let me ask you about this image of this young woman, Neda, who now the image of her being shot and killed watching one of these demonstrations is now all over Internet.

It is a powerful image. And her family allegedly was denied a public funeral by Iranian authorities.

You have Senator McCain take to the floor of the Senate, saying "Neda died with her eyes open. Shame on us who lived with closed eyes."

It is a powerful image in this revolution. Is it enough to break the cleric's grasp on Iran?

KRAUTHAMMER: The opposition, the students, the demonstrators, have images and justice and the goodwill of the world behind them. However, the government has the guns and the thugs who are shooting.

I think that the government's suppression is extremely clever and effective. It is not yet the mass bloodshed in the streets like the Chinese had at Tiananmen. It's the shooting from the rooftops, which is real terror, because it means that only the most reckless and courageous will be out on the streets, so you don't have a mass demonstration.

It means the raids at night, where students are pulled out of dormitories, beaten, attacked, and disappear. And it means a very clever suppression of Internet and other traffic. So the opposition, right now, is, I think, on the defensive. Iconic images or not, it needs a general strike and a huge million people in the streets of Tehran.

BAIER: Very quickly, Kirsten, do we hear a different tone from the president at his news conference tomorrow in the Rose Garden?

POWERS: Well, I think we already started to hear a different tone. And I think he feels that he has to at least acknowledge that we do not condone this kind of behavior. But I think at the end of the day he still does not want to be seen as somebody who is propping up this revolt.

BARNES: But there is no way he can prop up demonstrators. All they want is expressions of support.

These democratic revolutions — wait a minute — these democratic revolutions, whether it is in Poland or the Philippines or South Korea or Indonesia or South Africa, they have always wanted international support. And it has always been important.

POWERS: But is there any doubt where Obama stands in this? Does anybody doubt that?

BARNES: Yes, there is great doubt. Of course there is doubt.

POWERS: Do you think the people of Iran don't know he stands behind them? Do you think he's on the side of Ahmadinejad?

BAIER: Got to run.

The president's health care reform effort gets a boost from the often demonized prescription drug industry, but health care reform still appears to be a tough sell for lawmakers to swallow.

The panel coughs up some answers next on that.


BAIER: What about healthcare reform and where this administration's plan stands? It is really Congress' plan. The legislation appears to be in trouble, at least if you talk to a lot of people on Capitol Hill.

Today the president said a significant breakthrough happened on the road to health care reform, and that's because drug-makers plan to contribute cutting in half the cost of brand name prescription drugs savings, contributing some $80 billion, he said.

So what about the status of health care? We're back with the panel. Fred, is it really in trouble?

BARNES: It's in trouble, but it's not dead. And I think the Obama administration thinks and a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill think they can get a bill.

But it has had two big bumps in the road. One is these cost figures, depending on which bill passes, it will cost an extra $1 trillion or $1.6 trillion. That's a huge amount of money and most people who are scared to death with the $1 trillion in spending on a stimulus which they don't think is doing much and these $9.3 trillion in deficits which the Obama administration has projected. It's actually, the Congressional Budget Office estimate of how much over the next ten years that.

Those really have scared people, and polls really show it. So the cost is one thing.

The second thing is now we're beginning to know all the parts of the bill. It's fine to say we're for health care reform and we're for reducing costs. But now we look at the bill, and there are a lot of things in it that people don't like.

They don't like — a lot of people Republicans and conservatives don't like the idea of a public plan, you know, now they are talking about taxing people benefits, which Obama said he wouldn't do.

And what this does is it cuts into the employer based system. It will encourage employers to drop health care and so on and go to the public plan. You will have a minimum benefit, which will mean that people will go and get more health care, and on and on and on. All these parts are being attacked.

This is what happened to Clinton-care back in 1994, and it is happening now to Obama care. I think Obama is in a little better shape than Clinton was at this time, but it is less than 50/50.

BAIER: President Obama in his even today, Kirsten, said "Don't listen to all the people that say the sky is falling." And he said "Yes, we can. We are going to get this done, yes, we can," pulling the campaign slogan.

Is that a sign that this is in trouble?

POWERS: I do not get the sense that they think it is in trouble. And their plan is to try to actually move this as quickly as possible, not let it languish like it did in the Clinton plan, where people had time to really pick it apart.

And I think Fred hit on an important thing is that once you start getting things on paper, then people can start picking them apart.

Right now what we have are a bunch of trial balloons. We don't know what's going to come of any of these, including taxing benefits, which of course was John McCain's idea during the campaign.

And, you know, I think a lot of people think what we will end up with is something along the lines of taxing the benefits of people at a certain income level.

But in terms of other things that have been tossed around, like possible exemption for unions, that is extremely unlikely. It is probably more likely they would do something at an income level which would have the effect of exempting unions without actually exempting them.

BAIER: Charles, the union thing, if they get exempted, that is a huge deal.

KRAUTHAMMER: That is a huge — the biggest payoff perhaps in history to organized labor. It would establish a two-tier system in America, where if you are in a union, you get a pass on taxation of your benefits that your employers pay. If you're out of a union, you get taxed that. That is a huge difference.

Secondly, it kicks in on the first of January 2013, which means that for the next of four years, people will be scrambling to get into unions in order that you will have your employer benefits non-taxed.

POWERS: Charles will join a union.

KRAUTHAMMER: I will join a union if I have to.

BAIER: The Employee Free Choice Act lives, perhaps?

KRAUTHAMMER: You won't even need card check to force people in with a thug who comes to your home at night and says you want to sign here to become a union member?

Instead, you offer a goody of a two-tiered system, and I think it will be a tremendous asset to anybody organizing unions. So it's a payoff.

Another payoff is the fact that you never hear any talk about tort reform, about the proliferation of lawsuits, which would save a lot of money on health care. The reason is it is not done is the trial lawyers own the Democratic Party.

BAIER: Give me the odds, down the line?

KRAUTHAMMER: 30 percent.

POWERS: 60 percent.

BARNES: I think Charles hit it pretty well, 30 percent. That's about right.

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