START in the Balance?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 20, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL,SENATE MINORITY LEADER R-KY.: A decision of this magnitude should no t be decided under the pressure of the deadline.  They want to us take time to make informed and responsible decisions. So leaving aside for a moment any substantive concerns, and we have many, this is reason enough to delay a vote.

JOHN KERRY,SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN D-MASS.: I would say to my friend from Kentucky that just because you say something doesn't make it true. The facts are that this treaty is not being rushed.


BRET BAIER, HOST OF “SPECIAL REPORT”: The Senate is considering the ratification of the new START treaty, this is the nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. The administration is pushing hard. The president is making phone calls. The secretary of state is making phone calls.  The backers say they do have the 60 votes needed to end debate. That is to vote on cloture. But it's very close on the 67 with two-third of the Senate to actually ratify this treaty. That’s where we start with our panel tonight, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, Fox News contributor, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, let's start with START.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It looks as if the Democrats may have the votes but it shouldn't pass. Not because of the timing especially but because of the substance.

Look, the greatest advance that we made in our nuclear posture over the last decade was the withdrawal from the ABM treaty which had put restrains on our ability to build missile defense. The reason that is important is that defense is against the great threat of the coming century, meaning hyper-proliferation, proliferations of nuke and missiles in hands of rogue states.

It is the biggest issue we have over next 100 years and defense is the only way to deal with it. Today we are almost helpless, but we have the best technology. In fact when the Bush administration negotiated treaty of Moscow eight years ago, it was also about the reduction of offensive missiles. There wasn't word about any connection or any restraint on defenses.

The reason the treaty that is now up is bad is because gratuitously it includes a statement in the preamble asserting that there is relationship, interrelationship between offenses and defenses which we do not want, yet we acknowledge it in the treaty.

Now, Obama has written a letter where he says it won't restrict us in any way. The problem is the treaty is not negotiation between Congress and president. It's between the United States and Russia, and the Russian understanding of the preamble and the interrelationship is that if the United States does anything qualitatively or quantitatively to advance its missile defense, it will withdrawal from the treaty. It requires a status quo, which we do not want.

That is the reason that the treaty has to be defeated, or if not, at least deferred in the 112th Congress so it can try to work on repairing that defect.

BAIER: So you're saying Congress doesn't need a letter from President Obama. They need a letter one from President Medvedev of Russia.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly right because the president of Russia has stated openly that if there is a, quote, "change in circumstances," meaning the circumstances of our defenses, the treaty is null and void.

BAIER: OK, Juan, as you know, many Republican former administration officials, George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, former president H. W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, has come out and said "It's baffling to me why Republicans are holding this up." He says it does not tie our hands on missile defense as the president has already demonstrated.

So it's fairly forceful what you hear from the previous Republican administrations.

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I am listening closely to Charles and to others, but the best I can hear is Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, the Republican leader in the Senate saying we've got to be careful about the Iraqis throwing missiles and make sure we have sufficient defense. And we can't have anything to limit our ability to build those defenses. In addition Eastern Europe we have plans to extending our missile defense network there, and we can't bind anything from Russians that would say to us, don't build.

But the president has been clear that's not the case. In addition, at the Pentagon, what you heard from the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates, what you heard from the man in charge, Patrick O'Reilly in charge of the missile defense for the Pentagon is that's not the case. In fact, we have less constraints now than we did under the previous treaty.

And I would just add that I read today and when President Bush was dealing with then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, he made the clearest statement similar to what I just read in the Wall Street Journal that there is a link between smart defense and smart offense. And to play a word game and say oh it's a semantical line that's been crossed, it seems to me to boil down to simply wanting to deny a victory to this administration.

BAIER: Bill?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't think if I were in the administration I would have negotiated the treaty for what Charles said. We should not accept the notion of the interrelationship between Russian offensive capabilities and our defensive capabilities. We have a lot of other people unfortunately to defend against in the nuclear world.

And we want to have a robust deterrence anyway to deter people from going nuclear in the first place by devaluing offensive nuclear weapon. So I don't like the preamble to the treaty.

On the other hand, I suppose the administration would say, look, that's the Russian's interpretation. Any American president will act in our interest and build the missile defenses that we say are necessary. And President Obama has written this letter which is more forward leaning on missile defense than his administration had been over the last two years.

So I'm mildly against the treaty. It's tough, on the other hand, for the Senate to not ratify the treaty when the president puts his administration's prestige on the line. No one likes to have an American president embarrassed at home, and it does weaken his hand for future negotiations, one could argue, at least.

So I could see why Republicans are wavering. A lot of them are, I think, as to whether to try to insist on a better treaty or language surrounding the treaty or give this to the administration. They got from money for modernization of nuclear out of the negotiations over the last few months and they've gotten this letter from President Obama. And I think some Republicans in good faith will say let's get it ratified and move on.

BAIER: Last word on this.

KRAUTHAMMER: I would understand that and respect that, but I would say if that is how you feel, then there is no reason to rush it.  Defer it into the next congress and then you try to get the Russians to acknowledge our position on defenses.

In other words, perhaps a letter from the Russians to our Secretary of State, it doesn't have to be a capitulation, or at least statements from the United States through the secretary of state, not to the Congress but a letter to her Russian counterpart that says we do not recognize any constraint on our missile defenses. A letter from Obama to a member of the Senate is nice, but it doesn't have any import.

BAIER: OK, Juan, the 9/11 responders health bill. Where are we on this? Is it getting through? What has been the hold up for people looking at it and say why isn't this finished?

WILLIAMS: The cost. It's hard to justify the cost. Billions of dollars.

BAIER: It's $7 billion.

WILLIAMS: It was $8 billion.


WILLIAMS: How do you pay for it? Now the New York senators say we have a way to pay for it. But I think people, especially on the Republican side who are sensitive to the size the size of the U.S. budget raise legitimate questions. I don't think there have been any hearings on this, so this would be a rush. You can understand why people might have second thoughts.

But the contrary impulse is in this season of compassion is that these are people who came to America's aid at a moment of crisis, they were selfless, and they should not suffer health consequence without attention from our government.

KRISTOL: I think that's right. Who doesn't want to help the 9/11 responders? On the other hand, this is what gives big government bad name. There are legitimate times when the government has to step in to help people. But to do it without any hearings and with no serious -- no one knows why it's $7 billion as opposed to $5 billion. They don't know how it fits in with previous payments made to an awful lot of people who got sick after 9/11. So I think it's not good legislation.

Whether Republicans have the nerve to hold it up when it seems like everyone wants to help the responders, I'm not sure. One way to pay for it, I think an increase fee on visas for H1V, is that what they called?  The high-tech, highly skilled people coming to America overseas, many come from India. There is a deal made about the fee, a deal with the Indian government. Suddenly we're punishing Indians, the Indian companies, Indian individuals who want to come to the U.S. whose expertise we should want and welcome from friendly country, and this has been done at the last minute to find money because they double the fee of this visa arbitrarily.

BAIER: Charles, it's easy to talk about this in emotional terms because everyone feels that these heroes need to be respected. There are some who are saying this needs to be looked at before it just gets stamped through.

KRAUTHAMMER: I would agree. It's not a question of cost. It's a question of the absence of hearing and oversight and also conclusive scientific evidence conclusively showing a link between illnesses and activity at the 9/11 sight.

If America wants to say you're heroes and we want to recognize your service and we are grateful and as a result we'll generously offer you healthcare for the rest of your lives, that's one thing. But this is called compensation which assumes we have the scientific evidence of relationship between illness and activity, which has not been established.  So if you want to do it as a gift, a grateful nation that says you can have this as a result of your service, perhaps. But compensation, we don't know if there is a relationship.

BAIER: More on this, I promise.

Do you think the Senate should ratify the START treaty before Christmas or wait until the next session? Go to our homepage at to vote in our online poll.  Up next, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and its implementation. 



SEN. HARRY REID,SENATE MAJORITY LEADER D-NEV.: Some have said this is not the time to repeal this policy. And they're right. It should have been done yesterday.

SEN. JON KYL,SENATE MINORITY WHIP R-ARIZ.: Even those who favored it said that this will take a long time to implement because you are dealing with culture of the military that has not allowed it in the past and especially for those combat units for whom this has been very troublesome, I think they will take quite a long time to implement it.


BAIER: The Senate voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," that law, and now the Pentagon will implement the new policy going forward. How long will that take and what will it look like? Back with the panel.  Bill, what about the implementation?

KRISTOL: I think it will implemented pretty quickly, actually, about a year. The Military is good at doing things, maybe things it shouldn't be asked to do, especially in wartime and places it shouldn't be asked to do it, such as combat troops deployed to the outposts far away.  But the military is good at that and soldiers are good.

I hope the universities move as quickly to readmit ROTC to campus, which they have been excluding or discriminating from campus allegedly for the military discrimination against gays. That discrimination was political, not military choice. It was the Clinton administration. But nonetheless, now that the excuse is gone, I hope the universities move as quickly as the military directed by their discrimination.

BAIER: Juan, the Pentagon says it won't slow implementation but in the law it's written, the president and chairman of the joint chief and defense secretary have to sign off that this repeal will not hurt the troops' ability to fight. We saw that study. But implementing it is a different thing if you talk to commanders out in the field.

WILLIAMS: It depends which commanders you're talking.  Obviously, most of the folks are not in combat. The real source of, especially the last minute hesitation came from the Marine Corps with the marine commandant saying he felt it would be problematic in terms of the performance of the combat units.

So I suspect there will be resistance and he has to follow orders. But at the same time I think he will be respected. I don't feel as if anyone feels they will just stream roll in and force this on the military.

I was surprised that Bill said he thinks it can done quickly. I am not military person, but my sense is great care will be take with this, unlike those making a quick analogy to civil right and African-Americans, I think this will be a slower and much more difficult right.

For example I saw a question about what do you do if two soldiers are kissing in a mall? Well, jeez, I don't know, but apparently they'd be subjected to -- all of that is up in the air and it makes it difficult.

BAIER: Charles, supporters of this leading up to what happened over the weekend said the administration acting, Congress acting, prevented the courts from the arbitrary date in which it had to come to an end, the policy, the law. It doesn't make it any easier going forward from here, right?

KRAUTHAMMER: It's extremely important that we make the large important social changes through the Congress, the president, and not the curt as we learn to our chagrin with the abortion debate which has created instability and discontent for 30 years, longer than that, actually.

This is the way you want to do it. It was inevitable. It was always going to happen. It's a generational shift. It's good it happened in Congress not only because it lends legitimacy and authority but because of the way the language is written, unlike a court decision which would happen overnight, it will allow a gradual implementation which the military will appreciate.

There will certainly be no insubordinate resistance. They do what civilians tell them to do, but done in a reasonable way. I think it will be done in a rollout starting with the Pentagon and ending over retirement, the further outpost in Afghanistan where the integration and implementation is most difficult. I see this is exactly the way you want it to happen if it was going to happen and it was going to happen inevitably.

BAIER: No effort to turn this back around at all?

KRAUTHAMMER: No. I think everybody understands there has been a shift in the culture of public opinion. And the mores will determine how everybody acts, and this is sort of an expression of it. And now the military will have to adapt, but at least it will have understanding and respect as it does gradually with the deep respect for readiness and the feelings of troop.

BAIER: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned for an interesting farewell interview with something that we may have all missed. 

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