'Special Report' Panel Reacts to Exclusive Interview With President Bush

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 17, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I will be known as somebody who saw a problem and put the chips on the table to prevent the economy from collapsing.

I'm a free market guy, but I'm not going to let this economy crater, in order to preserve the free market system.

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: Would letting one of the big three automakers go to bankruptcy be a big mark on your legacy.

BUSH: I'm looking at all options. Disorganizing failure, a disorderly bankruptcy could cause great harm to the economy. And that concerns me.

And the other point is I am not interested in really putting good money after bad.


BAIER: That's President Bush today talking about the auto bailout. I tried to press him about when that may come from the administration. I said "This week?" And he said "relatively soon."

This comes as Chrysler has announced that it is shutting down all plants for one month. But we're getting word that Chrysler UAW employees will receive 95 percent of hourly wages and benefits during the plant shutdown.

Now some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.

Fred, you heard the president. What'd you think?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: On the auto bail out, it sounded like he agrees with Senator Bob Corker and Senate Republican who would try to do what a bankruptcy judge might do, but you wouldn't have a bankruptcy. And you would not have a disorganized failure or a disorganized bankruptcy.

There would be things that would be required of the auto companies and the United Autoworkers that is a part of accepting the package of money that the White House as pretty much said they are going to get some time — they would not give you an answer, but sometime between now and the first of the year.

And then he said he did not want to throw good money after bad. I think that means they have to have a plan that will make these companies profitable at some point.

BAIER: Do you expect it this week, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I would expect it pretty soon. He certainly suggested that. But I don't think that he's going to let these companies go bankrupt.

I agree with Fred. He does not want to throw good money after bad, as he said, and he wants to put some conditions on it. But, as Dick Cheney said, he does not want to be known as the Herbert Hoover of this economy.

And he said to you, "I am a free-market guy, but I am not going to let the economy crater just in order to preserve this ideology of a free market system." In other words, he is trying to save the free market system by not having the economy collapse.

This is really, really difficult, and a lot of the stuff that the administration is doing isn't working yet.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I was fascinated by the counting of how he developed this reactionary. He was told by Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke that this depression could be worse than the Great Depression. And that really caused him to act.

And he has not been Herbert Hoover-like, I the sense of what Herbert Hoover did was to raise taxes and impose tariffs, thereby making the problem worse. What Bush has done is to move big. I mean, they have thrown $8 trillion into the economy in loans, guarantees, and actual money.

But, you know, Bush said, "How did we get into this whole mess? We're an overleveraged society." America is over-leveraged.

Guess what is the biggest overleveraging of all is, meaning going in debt? Bush raised the national debt from $5 trillion to $10 trillion on his watch, passed a Medicare prescription drug benefit that will cost trillions of dollars over time, none of it paid for. So he is the great over-leverager.

BARNES: Mort, you have written that he caused the whole overleveraging by everybody else.


KONDRACKE: I think he inspired it.

BARNES: Who has said when I say Bush sign that Medicare drug benefit year, I knew that we were leveraged only 25 to one and we could go to 30 to one? Who has ever said that? What's the empirical evidence for that?


KONDRACKE: The president sets the tone of what other people do. And if he says deficits don't matter —

BARNES: He didn't say that.

KONDRACKE: Cheney did.

BARNES: All right, but Bush?

KONDRACKE: That was clearly the policy of the government.

BAIER: Clearly, the president is making the case that he is putting ideology aside here and doing whatever it takes to prevent this economy from collapsing.

LIASSON: His legacy I think the biggest part will be Iraq. And if Iraq is stable, over the long run that will help his legacy. But right now, he is presiding over the worst economic crisis, maybe even worse than the Great Depression. And the thing that's striking when you talk to people is they do not know if the things they are doing will actually work or not.

BAIER: Worse than the Great Depression?

LIASSON: It could be, maybe. We do not know yet. The bottom is not in sight, and, you know, so far banks are not lending. And that's what all this money was supposed to get —

BARNES: Right now it is not even as bad as the 1981-82 recession. But you're right about one thing — all of this money that was put out there, $8 trillion, and the results are pretty meager so far.

BAIER: OK. Coming up, I asked the president about his dismal poll numbers, what he said about that, and some more stuff with the panel when we come back.



BUSH: Look, everybody likes to be popular, everybody wants to be liked. But what do you expect? We have a major economic problem, and I am president during the major economic problem. Do people approve of the economy? No. I do not like the economy.

So if you make decisions based on polls, you will be a failure as president. And I have been a wartime president. I have dealt with two economic recessions now. I have had a lot of serious challenges. What matters to me is that I did not compromise my soul to be a popular guy.


BAIER: That's President Bush in Carlyle, Pennsylvania, at the U.S. Army War College, where he talked about keeping America safe for the last seven plus years.

What about his legacy. We talked a little bit about it in the last panel. We are back with our panel. Mort, as you head into this time when people will be looking back at these eight years, right now —

KONDRACKE: Right now it doesn't look that good.

People who love President Bush refer to Harry Truman's example. He is rivaling Harry Truman. I think you compared his polls to the Harry Truman polls, and they were lousy, they were terrible. They were about at his levels.

And history has vindicated him because of things like the decision to drop the atom bombs on Japan and forming NATO, and all of that.

Now, Bush's legacy relies on success in Iraq, long-term success in Iraq, Iraq becoming something like a democracy which serves as an example for the whole Middle East and transforms the Middle East.

If that happens, then he is close to being Harry Truman.

And the other legacy, which we know too little about, I think, is what he actually did to keep America safe.

He made this speech today, and the White House put out a fact sheet which contained a couple of things that we stopped, or the Bush administration stopped from happening that I hadn't known about, like a plan to attack a Chicago-area shopping mall using grenades. I had never heard of that before.

And he also said that there was a plan to destroy the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles. That has to be different from the millennium attack, which was going to be on Los Angeles airport in 2000.

So there is a lot of stuff that apparently got stopped that we do not know about.

BAIER: What about, Mara, getting credit for no attacks for seven and a half years? We talked about it during the campaign, but—

LIASSON: I think it is a funny kind of credit. He gets credit for it. There certainly has not been an attack.

But I think because his focus was so much on Iraq that that really will be the national security criteria by which his legacy is judged. Over time, if Iraq is stable, he will have been proven to be right about that, and certainly right by changing tactics when he realized that it was necessary to do that with the surge.

But I do think the economy is a big blot, unless — and I will argue opposite of what I did in the first panel — that maybe it would have been a lot worse if he had not pour in the $8 trillion, even if the $8 trillion has not gotten money loaned to consumers.

BAIER: Fred, he did issue a complement to the Obama choices of the national security team, especially, obviously, Secretary Gates staying on at the Pentagon, but said that it was a solid team and that he really wants President-elect Obama to succeed.

BARNES: I think he sees that with those people that Obama has picked that there will be a lot of continuity between the Bush policy and the Obama policy, and foreign policy and national security policy. And I think he is probably right that that's the case. There will be some small changes, but I do not think they will be big ones.

When I think about President Bush, and you think about presidents where revisionism has come along and they look better. Truman is the obvious example.

Another one, though, is Eisenhower, who was popular but was not regarded was a real strong, heavyweight, meaningful president, until, ally, the revisionism began when a book came out with all of the memos and everything, and you realize that Eisenhower was a lot more in charge than you thought he was.

But I think Bush will get credit for the surge, which has won the war in Iraq, one of the most courageous presidential decisions ever because almost everybody in Washington was against it except for Mort and myself and a few others.

And then he will get credit, I think, for disrupting Al Qaeda. And he will also get credit for No Child Left Behind, so controversial, but it imposed testing and accountability on educators and school boards and principals and teachers. And they do not like it because they do not like accountability.

BAIER: Will people look back and say he governed as a conservative?

LIASSON: I think they will say he governed as a big government conservative, yes.

One of the messages will be how much not just of the personnel but of the policies that Obama continues — the approach to Iran, the approach to North Korea, the surge in Iraq. No Child Left Behind, Arne Duncan new education secretary is a reformer. He is not a captive of the teachers' union.

So there is a lot of continuity there.

BAIER: He also said he is going to write a book, he's probably going to go on the speaking circuit, and is not looking forward to Laura Bush's cooking. I do not know how that will sit during Christmas time.

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