'Timid and Passive' No More?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: It is early Wednesday morning in Iran. Everyone is nervous. What is going to happen today? World leaders have been speaking out. Prime minister of England Gordon Brown has been tough. What about President Obama? Some say the president's been smart, patient, measured. His critics say, Nonsense! Our next guest says he's been timid and passive.

You can decide how President Obama is handling the uprising in Iran, the president at a news conference.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats and the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX CORRESPONDENT: In your opening remarks, sir, you were -- you said about Iran you were appalled and outraged. What took you so long? (INAUDIBLE) words.

OBAMA: I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying. Right after the election, I said that we had profound concerns about the nature of the election but that it was not up to us to determine what the outcome was. As soon as violence broke out, in fact, in anticipation of potential violence, we were very clear in saying that violence was unacceptable, that that was not how governments operate with respect to their people. So we've been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we've approached this.

CHIP REID, CBS NEWS: Following up on Major's question, some Republicans on Capitol Hill, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, for example, have said that up to this point, your response on Iran has been timid and weak. Today it sounded a lot stronger. It sounded like the kind of speech John McCain has been urging you to give, saying that those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history, referring to an iron fist in Iran -- deplore, appalled, outraged. Were you influenced at all of John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?

OBAMA: What do you think?


OBAMA: Look, the -- you know, I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues, and you know, I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail. But only I am the president of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.

Members of Congress, they've got their constitutional duties and I'm sure they will carry them out in the way that they think is appropriate. I'm president of the United States and I'll carry out my duties as I think are appropriate.

CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I want to follow up on Iran. You have avoided twice spelling out consequences. You've hinted that there would be from the international community if they continue to violate -- you said, violate these norms. You seem to hint that there are human rights violations taking place.

OBAMA: I'm not hinting, I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that's a problem.

TODD: Then why won't you spell out the consequences that the Iranian...

OBAMA: Because I think, Chuck, that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not, OK?

TODD: I mean, shouldn't the world...


OBAMA: I answered -- I answered your question, Chuck, which is that we don't yet know how this is going to play out.


VAN SUSTEREN: President Obama was specifically asked about two of his critics, Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham. So does Senator Lindsey Graham still think the president is acting timid and passive? And if not, are his words today too late? Let's ask Senator Graham, who joins us live. Nice to see you, Senator.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R - S.C.: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you got a little bit of a shout-out today from a reporter. What do you think? Are the president's words today, are they enough? Is the forum the right forum?

GRAHAM: I thought the speech today was much better. "Outraged," "appalled," is what we needed to hear early on. And he is the president of the United States. I'm fully aware of that and I appreciate it and respect the fact that he is. He's not just a president, he's a very gifted man who through his oratory could make a difference.

And my criticism has been that his initial response to this outrage was, in my opinion, timid and it was not forceful enough. And he said he didn't want to be accused of meddling. You're not meddling when you speak on behalf of freedom. This young lady who lost her life, you know, we need to speak for her, tell people why she was driven to do what she did.

And put pressure on this regime. There should be consequences. We should take this regime to the U.N. Security Council and condemn it in front of the whole world. We should have more sanctions against this regime. And the president needs to speak louder and bolder about freedom in general. But what he did today, I applaud. I appreciate the fact that he...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me ask you...

GRAHAM: ... came out stronger.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... about that. All right, let me ask you a couple of things. First of all, let's, you know, talk about sort of the track (ph) on what he said.


VAN SUSTEREN: On June 16th -- the election was June 12th. On June 16th, his statement was, Suppression of peaceful dissent is of concern to me -- not particularly strong. OK. Today, he doesn't -- he doesn't do a speech in a grand form. We've seen him in grand form.

GRAHAM: Right. Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we saw what he did in Denver. We saw what he did in Cairo...

GRAHAM: Sure. Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... up in Philadelphia. Instead, it's sort of -- it's at the beginning of a press conference in the middle of the day, and it starts with, First, I'd like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. Is that -- I mean, is -- I didn't get that that's sort of what you were talking about. I sort of thought that you were looking for a much sort of...

GRAHAM: A Berlin wall.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... "Tear down that wall" type statement.

GRAHAM: A Berlin wall moment. The bottom line with President Obama - - they're almost suggesting today, our Democratic colleagues, that his Cairo speech sort of set this off. Well, if you really believe that, then keep speaking because -- end it with a noble speech. So what I would like see the president do is take action, introduce a Security Council resolution condemning this regime and have the world speak about what side they're on, put more pressure on the regime, try to isolate them.

Things are -- it's not over. You asked a good question. Is it too late? No, it's not. You had clerics today protesting against the government. There's something going on in Iran that needs to be seized upon that I think is historical shift, and we need to understand that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see a change in Iran. It's been 30 years of a terrible situation. We've had no relationship with Iran. But the Revolutionary Guard, the military has not turned -- has not turned on the government. I mean, you often see revolutions when the military or the police turn on it. Today, there weren't demonstrations, where you hear there might be tomorrow.

GRAHAM: It's coming.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's hard to tell if the video we're getting is one block of -- you know, of 50 people or whether it's widespread, but...

GRAHAM: The reason you know it's not one block is because they kick all the press out. The reason you don't know any more about Iran is because the people in Iran who run the country don't want you to. So at the end of the day, I think we do have a chance here to make a difference.

And my point that I'm trying to make is it is not too late. When you have clerics breaking with the supreme leader, joining the people, we've got a chance to make a real difference, and we got to act and speak. And he is the president of the United States. He is a voice unlike any other voice.


GRAHAM: He's not the prime minister of England. He's not the president of France. He is the leader of the free world, and today he was leading. Before he was not.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm surprised you've said that because to me, watching this, it seemed like he was one the defense. It wasn't like this was the president -- we've seen him, you know, be spectacular in his speaking and be on the offense. Here's a -- here's a -- he's now answering questions from the media, where they're saying, We've now asked you twice, what are the consequences. And that was Chuck Todd saying, We've now asked you twice. Major Garrett said, What took you so long? There are -- you know, there's a recorded statements where he says on the 16th something much weaker. Today it's just a few words before a presidents conference. This isn't exactly -- you know, this is not a -- someone who's sort of taking control of the -- of the public relations line on this which has an impact in terms of sending a message.

GRAHAM: Well, I'm supporting him in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. I don't want to be a blind critic. I will help him close Gitmo if we can come up with a plan that will work. I want this president to be successful against Iran and North Korea, but do I have an obligation. I think I understand -- he has -- we don't know how this ends. Ronald Reagan didn't know how the cold war would end but...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you said you're satisfied with today, with the way he said it!

GRAHAM: No -- well, it's a start. I want him to do more. Ronald Reagan was asked a question, How does the cold war end? We win, they lose. What I want my president to say is that the outrage and appalling events in Iran have consequences and this regime will pay a price. As president of the United States, there will be no more business as usual.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, did you get...

GRAHAM: This regime will pay a price.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you get that today?

GRAHAM: I would like to see action following the words. I would like a grander speech.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, but -- but did -- but did you get that sort of definitive, decisive presidential theme...

GRAHAM: I am...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... that you're asking for? Or are you saying, Well, it's a start, it's getting better?

GRAHAM: Well, all I...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that what you're saying?

GRAHAM: All I can say is I don't want to be the story here. I want the president to do the things that I think would change history at a moment in time when history can be changed. I would like him to do more. I would like him to make a -- he's moved audiences in Germany, in Egypt, in Chicago. He should, in my opinion, use a grand stage. Go to the Statue of Liberty and speak out about this young lady and all the other people who are dying in the Mideast to try to change the culture and stand up to extremism. But that's his decision to make.

When he says things that I think will help the situation, I want to say, Well done, Mr. President. Today was a "well done," but it needs to be built upon. It needs to be -- you know, don't say, I don't know how it ends, I need to be cautious. Tell the world how it should end, what should happen. Whether it will or not, nobody knows, but I want the president to speak about how it should end.

The young lady didn't know how it would end, but she risked her life. Surely, as a nation, we can risk offending this regime. We'll never be in their good graces, and they're no longer legitimate in my eyes. I can't imagine sitting down with the same people who killed this girl and negotiating anytime soon.

He had a view after the election that he could talk the Iranians out of getting a nuclear weapon. Now their own people have turned on the regime, and we don't need to do anything to give the regime a signal that business as usual will go forward because it cannot after the murders.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, Thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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