'Special Report' Panel on Senator Specter Switching Parties and NYC Flyover

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from April 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, PENNSYLVANIA: I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate, not prepared to have that record decided by that jury.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has asked to campaign for Senator Specter. We'll be happy to do it. As the president told Senator Specter on the phone, he has our full support.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: This was simply nothing more, nothing less, than political self-preservation.


BAIER: Senator Arlen Specter, long-time Republican, said he will and is becoming a Democrat. And that could upset the balance of power in the Senate significantly, especially if Al Franken is seated from Minnesota. That could get the Senate Democrats to 60, which is a filibuster-proof number.

Senator Specter made no bones about it. His decision really came down to the fact that he was going to lose in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania.

Let's bring in our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard," Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of "Fortune" magazine, and Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio.

Bill, the significance of this, and your thoughts on the day?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's good for the Republicans. Let me be contrarian on this. It puts Obama and the Democrats unambiguously in charge. No one can say the Republicans are obstructing anything. Democratic President, 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, big majority in the House.

Let them run the government for the next year-and-a-half.

BAIER: So flat out you think it's a good thing for the Republican Party?

KRISTOL: There will be a lot of short term wailing about how moderates leaving the party, and this is terrible. But I don't buy it.

When Jim Jeffords switched in 2001 from the Republicans to being independent but he caucused with the Democrats, he cost Republicans control of the Senate.

And in a rare moment when I might have been right about something, I wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post" saying this is good for Bush and the Republicans because now he will get the same legislation through he was going to get through and not get through what he wasn't going to get through, which I think is true of Obama anyway this time. It's not going to change the outcomes.

And Bush was able to run against a Democratic Senate in 2002.

Obama — what was the great Obama Democrat talking point? Republican obstructionism. There are 41 Republicans in the Senate hunkering down and obstructing legislation. That's not going to happen.

BAIER: It's interesting that you mentioned Jim Jeffords back in '01. There was one senator who took to the Senate floor to say that they should come up with a rule that prohibits senators from changing parties midterm. That senator was Arlen Specter. And here's what he said, "How should these issues be handled by the Senate for the future? I intend to propose a rule-change which would preclude a future recurrence of a senator's changing parties in mid-season, organizing with the opposition to cause the upheaval which is now resulted."

I just thought I would point that out — Nina?


NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: And he may also find out the cost of switching parties, because we are all acting like this is a done deal. But, in fact, there is some obstacles down this path for Arlen Specter.

I mean, he is going to run in the — he is going to run as a Democrat, yes, but he's going to have possibly other Democrats running against him. Yes, the White House will be behind him, but he will have to balance all these issues for the Democrats with this race.

I will give you an example — card check, the measure that would make it easier to unionize. Well, he was a key person in practically killing that by saying he now opposes it. But he's going to have tremendous pressure from Democrats in that election, and unions, particularly in Pennsylvania, to switch on that. So I think he's going to be — he's going to have to walk a very fine line. And he probably, I suspect, will provide Harry Reid with this filibuster-proof majority, because he is going to have to caucus with the Democrats if he's running in that race.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think we're ignoring the obvious thing here, which is the Republican Party is a shrinking party. And I think that Bill will try to put a positive spin on this for the Republicans and say it is the Democrats' Party now, it's Obama party, and he has to bear responsibility.

I think the White House says "Great. We are glad to have that responsibility and have the opportunity to govern here with a freer hand."

But it all comes down to what I heard from Senator Specter today, that this is a man who came in, Ronald Reagan, big party Republican, and now finds himself in a party that's essentially a regional southern party of white men, and says wait a minute, if you look at the Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania, that they have been migrating to the Democratic Party. I think he said 200,000.

You look just generally. There was a poll this week by AP. It said now Americans self-identify 46 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican. That's just not good news for Republicans. If you care about the Republican Party at this time, you'd have to say something is going on when you lose a Senator Specter.

BAIER: But wasn't this more about survival than it was about ideology?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. In politics, everything is about reelection. People raise money here to get reelected. People position themselves to get reelected, no doubt about it.

BAIER: And you don't buy Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said this is a Pennsylvania story and not a national story?

WILLIAMS: This is a national story. When you see the numbers — it is not just AP. Everybody is saying it.

And you look on the other side of that, Bret. You look, are there Democrats that are likely to switch? Maybe you could look at Ben Nelson or someone like that. But, in large, no.

And then you go towards 2010, and you have Bond, Brownback, Greeg, Martinez, Voinovich, Bunning, Burr, Grassley, possible, and even McCain might retire. This is a party that's in trouble.

KRISTOL: In the early 1970's, a young Juan Williams was excited by the fact that John Lindsay switched to the Democratic Party and Michigan Senator Don Regal switched to the Democratic Party, and all those moderate Republicans were joining the Democrats, and the Republicans were finished.

A few years later Ronald Reagan was elected. So politics takes funny turns sometimes.

EASTON: But 2010 is clearly going to be a difficult for Republicans. There is no doubt about it, and even Bill Kristol will have to admit that.

The question, and what you are relying on, is that, a, Obama overreaches and causes a backlash, and, b, the economy doesn't turn around.

So maybe some of this is the overreaching and all the money pouring into the economy, short term, at least, helps to turn the economy around, even with long-term consequences, which I think it will have, then they will be sitting well in 2010, the Democrats.

BAIER: And last thing — Nina, you talked about card check, but legislatively for this White House, does this move make their path easier? Some said Arlen Specter's was easier to get than a Ben Nelson was anyway. So does this change the legislative dynamics?

WILLIAMS: No, I think Specter said he is going to stick in terms of opposition. And I think that despite what Nina said, he won't kowtow to the unions in Pennsylvania.

BAIER: Do you agree?

EASTON: I think it will change the dynamic. I think the Democrats pretty much can count on that 60 now.

KRISTOL: It makes things a little easier for Harry Reid.

But remember, if you step back, the big picture now is why did Obama have Democratic defections anytime he doesn't get 60 votes, instead of Obama is picking up a few moderate Republicans. The Republicans can't hang together?

BAIER: It is becoming a major embarrassment for the new administration, Monday's flyover of ground zero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would we have liked somebody to have raised their hand and say "This is not a good idea?" Absolutely we would have preferred that. Unfortunately, that did not happen.


BAIER: We will talk about the flyover fallout next.



BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It was a mistake, as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK MAYOR: I'm annoyed - "furious" is a better word — that I wasn't told.

The good news is it was nothing more than an ill-considered, badly-conceived, insensitive photo-op with the taxpayers' money.


BAIER: Well, the idea, apparently, was to get a beauty shot of the plane used as Air Force One, with F-16 jets following it, a low-flying effort over New York City, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. The problem was it really scared people in New York and brought back images and feelings of 9/11.

This whole episode made the president, apparently, furious. And the Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called Louis Caldera, the head of the White House Military Office in, and apparently gave him the riot act.

We got an apology from Caldera, who said he takes responsibility for any distress that flight caused. We have now confirmed the cost of this operation. It is $328,835.

We're back with the panel — Bill?

KRISTOL: In my day, when I was Vice President Quayle's chief of staff, the White House Military Office was run by a military officer, but a general or an admiral. And I believe it has been up until January 20, 2009. President Bush's last director of the White House Military Office was an admiral.

The Obama people came in and chose not to leave it as a military villa, put a political appointee in charge, Mr. Caldera.

EASTON: Former secretary of the Army.

KRISTOL: Well, fine, but he's a former California State Assemblyman. He served in the military, fine.

But it was a military villa. They politicized that office, and now the gods are wreaking retribution on them.


BAIER: What about the whole issue?

EASTON: I think — it was Louis Caldera's decision to do this without informing New York City was a reckless and bizarre decision.

I don't care —

BAIER: They claim that some officials were informed, but the mayor was not.

EASTON: But clearly the mayor didn't know. And I don't think it's one of those decisions or actions that should be let off the hook with an apology. I don't think this guy is up to the job.

This is a job where you oversee Air Force One. You oversee presidential overseas trips. It is a highly sensitive, highly, you know, dangerous job. You're dealing with dangerous situations, potential terrorist attacks on the president.

And the fact that you wouldn't alert New York to — that this was going on, suggests to me sort of a short memory for 9/11. I think that's what is telling and scary in all of this, and coming right on the heels of releasing the CIA memos, which I think also shows a short memory about 9/11.

I just think that it is a troubling incident.

BAIER: Juan, how about photo shots?


WILLIAMS: It would have been a lot cheaper than $300,000 for a shot.

From what I understand, they did get authorization from the FAA. They did tell the New York City police. But they asked that it not be disclosed generally, and I don't understand why. I never have been told exactly why they didn't want anybody else to know.

For example, they said that Mayor Bloomberg's office was told, but it never made it quite to the top. They wanted this under wraps for some reason, and I guess they just wanted it to happen and be gone.

But they had no sense — I think Mayor Bloomberg is exactly right — insensitive. And I think that it was badly executed, and it led to this panic. So, does he need to be fired? No. I think that would be an overreaction. I don't think it suggests that he is incompetent. But I do think it suggests, again, that this was badly done and that they shouldn't ever do this again.

BAIER: But, boy, you look at some of this video, with the people running down the streets.

EASTON: People were panicked. And go back to this question, I mean, where were you on 9/11? Do you have any idea what it's like in New York now, which is basically like a no-fly zone? People are very sensitive with what is flying overhead there, and with good reason.

BAIER: Does this go away? Does it —

KRISTOL: There was a reason it was a military villa. As Nina said, it's a sensitive job. You oversee a lot of the White House communications, the secure and sensitive communications equipment that the president takes with him on trips. As I recall, a lot of that is run by WHMO, by the White House Military Office.

There was a reason it was considered that you don't want some political appointee. He was a political appointee as secretary of the Army, but basically a California politician running that office.

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